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Mike Madrid knew something big was going down the instant the call came in on his secure line at four o'clock in the morning. The call itself wasn't unusual, considering he worked for a top secret agency. He knew it was bad when Sean Cutter refused to give him details over the phone.
"I want you at MIDNIGHT headquarters by oh five hundred," Cutter said.
Madrid made the drive from his apartment in an upscale Washington, D.C., neighborhood to the top secret MIDNIGHT Agency headquarters in record time. He'd expected Cutter to have already assembled the team for whatever assignment had warranted the call out, but he found only one man in the room. When Sean Cutter looked up from where he sat, Madrid suddenly knew this wasn't about an assignment or a mission. It was personal.
"What happened?" he asked without preamble.
"I don't want to sit down." Madrid's heart began to pound. "I want to know what the hell is going on."
Cutter leaned back in his chair. Within the depths of his eyes Madrid saw knowledge. He saw regret. Caution. Worst of all he saw a damnable amount of sympathy. "We lost an agent last night."
"Who?" But even before Cutter answered, he knew.
The name struck him like a brass-knuckle punch. Disbelief and grief tangled inside him, but Madrid didn't let himself react. A master at schooling his expression and body language, he stood perfectly still, his face carefully blank, his eyes level on his superior.
"You sure?" he asked after a moment, surprised his voice sounded so normal when he was coming apart inside.
"How did it happen?"
"She was on assignment in Northern California. Deep undercover work."
"Are you being vague on purpose?"
"You know how it works."
A deep-cover operative himself, Madrid knew all too well that the fewer people who knew about an operation, the better the chance that the agent's cover would remain intact. He shouldn't take Cutter's silence personally, but he did.
"Did someone make her?" he asked. "Blow her cover? What?"
"We don't know the details."
"I'm not in the mood to be stonewalled."
"Then stop asking questions I can't answer." Cutter sighed tiredly, and Madrid realized the other man had been up all night. "Look, I didn't want you to hear about this secondhand. That's why I called you in."
Madrid didn't want this to be about emotions. It was about the loss of an agent. But he could feel the emotions burgeoning inside him. "You put someone on it?"
Madrid smiled, but the stretching of his lips belied the emotions slashing his insides to bits. "You know better than to try to lock me out of this."
"I know better than to assign an agent something when he's too personally involved."
"I'm not some damn rookie, Sean. I can handle it."
"No dice, Mike."
Fury joined the chorus of emotions singing through him. "What about the boy?" Nicolas, he remembered. A sweet kid with special needs.
The word hit him like a punch. Angela had loved that kid more than anything in the world. He wiped his wet palms on his slacks. "Why would someone take her kid? Was it a kidnapping? What?"
"We don't know yet."
Liar. "Do you have a suspect?"
Cutter's jaw flexed. The silence that followed spoke more than a thousand words.
"Witnesses? Anything at all to go on?"
"We think the boy witnessed her murder."
The knot in Madrid's chest tightened. Poor kid. "Aw, man."
"I'm sorry," Cutter said after a moment.
The last thing Madrid wanted was sympathy. "If you want to make me feel better, give me this assignment."
Cutter grimaced, softened. "Mike, I know you and Angela were...close."
"It was a long time ago. She was a friend. That's all." Judging from the look on his face, the other man wasn't buying it.
Madrid didn't waste his time asking any more questions. Cutter wasn't going to tell him what he needed to know, and time was of the essence if he was going to bring that boy home. There were multitudes of ways to glean information, a task Madrid had always been very good at.
Reaching into his jacket, he removed his MIDNIGHT identification badge from his wallet. Next he tugged the Beretta .380 from his shoulder holster and set both on the conference-room table.
Cutter shook his head. "Don't do this, Mike."
"Then give me this case. Tell me what I need to know."
"You know I can't do that. Damn it, this isn't about revenge."
Another smile twisted Madrid's mouth. "It's always about revenge," he said, and walked out the door without looking back.
MIKE MADRID WAS LIKE a bloodhound when it came to tracking killers. Once he had the scent, there was no stopping him. After speaking with Cutter, he went back to his place and began calling in favors. He put his notso-aboveboard computer skills to work and hacked a secure database the feds had deemed unhackable. Within hours he had a name.
Twenty-eight years old. Waitress. Recent messy divorce. From Phoenix. No children. No immediate family. She and Angela had gone to college together some ten years ago. Atwood didn't have a record, but Madrid knew that didn't mean she wasn't capable of murder. Under the right circumstances everyone was capable of murder. The burning question now was what did she want with the kid?
He caught a flight from D.C. to Sacramento and drove straight to the small town of Lighthouse Point on the coast. Located on Luna Bay, the town was a shipping port and as picturesque as a turn-of-the-century seascape.
Surprisingly, no other MIDNIGHT agent's were in sight. Some could be there, undercover, he knew but in his mind, the MIDNIGHT Agency should have been all over this. After all, one of their own had been taken out by a killer.
"I can't believe Angela is gone," chief of police Norm Mummert said with a shake of his head.
The chief's office had been his first stop. Madrid had identified himself as an investigator with the U.S. attorney's office out of San Francisco. Thanks to his vast stock of fake IDs, he had the credentials to back it up. But no one had questioned him.
"Angela was a police officer?" he asked.
"One of my best."
"Tell me about Atwood," Madrid said.
"She seemed nice enough. Pretty and young. She was staying with Angela. From what I understand they went to college together."
"They were friends?"
Mummert nodded. "I made some calls and found out Atwood had some trouble back home."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Divorce. Things got ugly. She took some money and ran. She needed a place to stay. Angela opened her door." He shook his head so hard his jowls shook. "I never had Atwood pegged as a killer."
"Do you have evidence that she is?"
The chief looked at him as if he were dense. "She attacked my officer with a knife and made off with the boy. Her prints were all over the place, including the murder weapon."
"Hard to tell. We suspect she was after the child. It's the only scenario that could even begin to explain this terrible tragedy."
Mummert was a rotund man with sagging eyes and a drooping lower lip. Even though Angela had been murdered less than twenty-four hours ago, he looked as if he'd been up for a week. "Angela was like a daughter to me. She was a good police officer and a friend."
"Any idea where Atwood is headed?" Madrid asked. The chief sighed. "I've got every available officer working on this. The state police have put out an APB. I swear it's like she disappeared off the face of the earth."
"Maybe she had an accomplice who picked her up."
"We were pretty quick setting up roadblocks. I don't think that's the case."
Having gleaned all the information he was going to get here, Madrid rose and extended his hand. "Thanks for your time. I'll be in touch."
On the sidewalk in front of the police station, Madrid looked around the small town of Lighthouse Point and wondered what Angela had been doing here. She'd been posing as a police officer. He wondered if her assignment had gotten her killed. The old emotions taunted him with unexpected force—emotions he would be a fool to acknowledge when he had a killer to find.
He got into the rental car and started the engine. He'd already been to the crime scene, seen the bloodstains and the trashed house. Though he'd processed dozens of crime scenes over the years, this one had shaken him badly.
Putting his hands on the steering wheel, he looked around the small town. "Where did you run?" he whispered.
He knew where Atwood had last been seen. The area had been thoroughly searched by cops on foot and in a helicopter equipped with infrared. Scent dogs had been deployed. The police were baffled that she'd escaped.
But Madrid had a distinct advantage over other law enforcement officials. An advantage not even his fellow MIDNIGHT agents possessed. He'd known Angela Matheson on a personal level. He knew her hopes. Her dreams.
He knew her secrets.
He knew Angela kept an undisclosed refuge. Most undercover operatives did, on the outside chance they needed to lie low during a mission.
From what I understand they went to college together. The police chief's words reverberated in his head. Words that reiterated the fact that Jessica Atwood and Angela had once been friends. There was a distinct possibility Angela had told Jessica Atwood about the cottage, particularly if Atwood was on the run from some abusive husband. Located on Wind River Island just a mile off the jagged coastline, it would make the perfect hideaway.
Finding her there might be a long shot, but Madrid had always been a gambler. He knew from experience that sometimes a long shot paid off.
"You can run," he said aloud as he pulled away from the curb. "But you can't hide."