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By Cynthia Cooke
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCaracas, Venezuela
Dr. Emily Armstrong grabbed onto Dr. Robert Fletcher's shoulder. "We've been kidnapped!"
Robert's lips twisted in amusement as he patted her fingers. "Let's not be dramatic, Doctor."
Emily withdrew her hand and leaned back against the seat. "I should have known the moment I saw this black monstrosity of a vehicle with its leather seats and tinted windows that we were in trouble. Only bad guys and government agents drive these things. I know - I was married to one."
"Really?" he said dryly. "I always find it amazing that before the marriage we're Mr. Perfect, Mr. Wonderful, yet after -"
"Not a bad guy," she corrected. "A government type." She screwed her lips into a don't-you-know-anything expression, leaned in closer, and lowered her voice. "CIA, if you must know."
"I've heard," Robert replied. "The illustrious missing Peter Vance. Heard he gave it all up and headed for the woods to find himself. What was that, three years ago? You must have done quite a number on him."
Emily snorted, though a pang shot through her. "Peter loved his work, loved the danger. I couldn't see him giving it up for anyone, not even me." She swallowed the lump in her throat and watched the South American city pass by.
"Whygive it up? You seem like a girl who likes a little danger in her life."
Emily turned from the tinted window as high-rise apartments gave way to ramshackle shacks, and brushed her long blond hair behind her ear. "Who, me? I don't do danger."
It was Robert's turn to snort.
"What?" she demanded, not sure how he could possibly get the impression from her boring, nothing-ever-happens-to-me life that she could be the type of woman who liked danger.
"If I believed that, even for a second, then you'd be home right now in your safe little apartment, in your idyllic American town and not on your way to a primitive Venezuelan clinic."
Emily lifted her chin in indignation. "I said I don't like danger, I didn't say I don't like helping people. When Kate Montgomery told me about the condition of the poor children living in the barrios, how could I not agree to come down here and help?"
"Even after what had happened to Adam?"
"Adam's shooting was an extraordinary circumstance. Dr. Valenti was a desperate man who got himself addicted to painkillers. Otherwise, I don't believe he ever would have tried to steal drugs from the clinic. But you're right, whatever he got himself into, he got in too deep. Thank the Lord he's a bad shot and Adam survived. In any case, Dr. Valenti was caught and extra security measures at the clinic have been put into place. We shouldn't have to worry about anything like that happening again."
Robert looked grim. "Unfortunately, Valenti was killed in jail so we'll never know the truth of what was behind it all, or who."
"You're looking for conspiracies where they don't exist," Emily said matter-of-factly. "Nothing else could possibly go wrong." But even as she said the words, she realized she was worried. Something didn't feel right, but she couldn't put her finger on exactly what was bothering her. The town? The car? The driver? "Unless of course we've been kidnapped. You know kidnappings are very popular in this region."
Robert's shoulders shook with an unsuppressed chuckle.
"I'm glad you find me so amusing," she said and leaned forward to speak to the driver. "How much longer to the clinic? I thought it was just outside Caracas." She glanced out the window. "We've been outside of Caracas for a while now."
The man didn't respond, just continued driving as if she weren't even there. She couldn't say she liked his looks much, all dark and swarthy with a large coiling red-and-black snake tattooed on his arm.
"Relax," Robert said, nudging her. "We have nothing to worry about. It's a good thing you don't 'do' danger. I have a feeling you wouldn't do it very well." His smile grew wide and generous.
Emily gave him a serious pout. "And what about you? It's not like I'm leaving a family behind. What's your story? Why would you leave Pamela and those two precious sons of yours to come down here?"
"No story, just doing what I do best."
"Ha!" Emily blurted. "Just a small dose of arrogance to go with that cup of ego, Doctor?"
He laughed a hearty sound that reached deep inside his chest. "All right, I confess. This stint on my résumé 'will do wonders for my career. I'll only be gone three months, not long enough for my family to even miss me."
"Don't count on that."
He nodded, suddenly serious. "I know. I miss them already."
She gave his shoulder a pat, then looked past him out the window and saw a sign for Santa Maria de Flores. "I think we're here."
They continued through the small primitive town, passing run-down houses and barefoot, half- clad children playing in the street. Emily frowned as the driver turned onto a small dirt road on the outskirts of town that led up into the hills. "Is this right? Shouldn't the clinic be back in the town?" Robert looked as nonplussed as she felt. She turned back to the driver. "Excuse me?" she said loudly.
"He probably doesn't understand English," Robert said.
"Con permiso?" she amended. Something was wrong with this driver. Joking aside, something really had been nagging her ever since she saw him in the airport holding up a Doctors Without Borders sign. Without question, they'd followed him like little lambs to the slaughter. "Con permiso," she said a little more forcefully, and this time tapped the driver's shoulder.
Excerpted from Peter's Return by Cynthia Cooke Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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