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On Wings of Love
By Becky Barker
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2006 Becky Barker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJillian Brandt heard Special Agent Bill Stroyer whispering to someone on the phone, and a chill ran down her spine. As she strained to hear his side of the conversation, the blood started pounding so loudly in her ears that she couldn't decipher his words, but his hushed, secretive tone set off a clamor of mental alarms. A highly developed sense of self-preservation warned her he was up to no good. She was on her own again. The government's safe house was no longer safe. Stroyer had never been very friendly, but now she suspected he was conspiring with her enemy.
Waves of fear and despair almost overwhelmed her, but she forced them aside as her survival instincts kicked into overdrive. She and Stroyer were alone in the house. The other guard had succumbed to a sudden illness and his replacement wouldn't be here for a while yet. It was just a little too convenient and beyond suspicious. She knew she had to escape before becoming just another grim statistic.
What few personal belongings she had were on the opposite side of the house, and she didn't want to risk trying to collect them. Stroyer's overcoat and hat were hanging on the back porch, so Jillian grabbed them. She'd need them later, but right now her main concern was putting as much distance as possible between her and her would-be assassin.
The safe house was located on the outskirts of Miami. Daylight had completely faded when she quietly let herself out the back door. She could see a collection of lights and hear the sounds of traffic in the distance. As soon as she'd picked her way across the rough yard to the alley, she began to race toward the more heavily populated area.
She hadn't gotten far when she heard Stroyer shouting her name in an alarmed, angry voice. Bundling the coat and hat into a tight wad, she tucked them under her arm and ran harder. He would be faster than her and in better physical shape, so she knew it wouldn't take him long to close the distance between them. He kept yelling at her to stop, but Jillian concentrated on running and breathing, running and breathing. By the time she reached a busy intersection, Stroyer's tone had grown harsh, and he was threatening to shoot her if she didn't stop.
She'd paused for traffic when she heard the first explosion of his gun. Panic surged through her. With the second shot, she felt the fiery impact of a bullet slicing her right side. The force of the blast knocked her sideways, but propelled her forward until she was darting recklessly through the traffic. Horns blared and brakes squealed as she stumbled her way to the opposite curb.
Stroyer followed her across the street. A renewal of angry honking alerted her to his continued pursuit. More brakes screeched, and then she heard the sickening, unmistakable thud of a human body being struck by a heavy vehicle. A frantic glance backward proved that Stroyer had been hit by a large commercial van. Jillian had no time for remorse or relief. He was just one of many who wanted her dead. She had to get as far away as possible before she could afford to rest or relax.
She ran for several blocks until the sight of a restaurant and truck stop offered the first real glimmer of hope. Her running had slowed to a labored, pathetic pace, so she wove her way between two big rigs to hide and catch her breath. Leaning heavily against the cold metal of one truck, she dragged air into her burning lungs. Chest heaving from exertion, she reached a hand to her injured side. Her blouse was already soaked with warm, sticky blood.
When she'd caught her breath enough to think straight again, she jerked the wide fabric belt free of Stroyer's coat and wrapped it around her midriff, tightening it over her wound to slow the bleeding. Then she slipped into the coat and tucked her hair under the felt hat. It was the best disguise she could manage under the circumstances.
Having been warned all her life that it was dangerous to accept rides from strangers, Jillian understood the risk she was about to take. She didn't have much choice, so she found a rig bearing license plates from several western states. The engine was running to keep the refrigeration system active. The cab door was unlocked, so she climbed inside and crawled into the sleeper section behind the front seat.
Inside the confines of the truck's cab, her ragged breathing echoed with frightening loudness, so she fought to regulate each breath. After covering herself from head to toe with a blanket she'd found, she managed to calm down just minutes before two men climbed into the front seat. Fortunately for her, their laughter and good-natured teasing made enough noise to block out any other sounds.
It didn't matter where the truck headed, so long as it was headed out of Miami. Jillian hoped they'd be a long way from Florida before making another stop. With two drivers, there was a chance of a long, nonstop night. She should be safely hidden until one of the drivers decided to use the sleeper. When discovered, she would handle the situation in whatever fashion necessary.
Her father had been a truck driver, so she instinctively trusted truckers. She knew there were good people and bad people in every sector of society, but she was desperate and had run out of alternatives. The price on her head was a cool million, dead or alive, but preferably dead. She had to trust her instincts.
It was a matter of life or death.
Excerpted from On Wings of Love by Becky Barker Copyright © 2006 by Becky Barker. Excerpted by permission.
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