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Saving The Girl Next Door
By Susan Kearney
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe cop wouldn't be sticking her nose where it didn't belong, not anymore, not after some intensely smooth computer hacking. Thanks to a back door in the police department's computer program and two "solid citizens" who'd come forward and accused her of taking a bribe, detective Piper Payne had had her chain yanked good and tight.
She'd better get used to being out of the loop. Hung out to dry.
But just in case she persisted in her annoying inquiry, she now had bugs on her phone, worms on her computer and a miniature tracking and listening device in her wallet. She would be watched.
And if she made another wrong move, the chain would tighten around her neck. She wouldn't just lose her job, she'd lose her life.
* * *
Jack Donovan had a reputation for attaining success - even if it required dive-bombing his chopper through a hailstorm of bullets. Today no one was shooting at him, but if he'd known what waited for him down below, he might never have landed.
When he was a Navy SEAL, Jack had scuba dived five oceans and climbed mountains on four continents. Nevertheless, with his instinctive timing and superb reflexes, he'd been born to fly. For the military he'd flown test aircraft, and for his current employer, the Shey Group, he flew everything from gliders to jets to helicopters.
Blissfully unaware of his fate, Jack couldn't have ordered a better day for flying the chopper. The Florida sky above the Gulf of Mexico shimmered a rich silky blue that was full of promise. With not even a hint of a thundercloud in sight, Jack cruised above Clearwater's sandy shoreline with no more on his mind than his anticipation of landing smoothly, then kicking back with an icy brew in a honky-tonk bar along the beach, where he could watch the sun set over the Gulf.
He sighted his landing field. At one thousand feet above his target, Jack powered down his engines. Man and machine plummeted toward the earth. If he had been in a plane, he'd have had to dive the nose down to pick up enough speed to glide. But in a chopper, he maneuvered his hands and feet to autorotate the rotors, a basic landing maneuver that every pilot practiced in case the engines conked out during a flight.
Without his heart even skipping a beat, Jack lightly touched down and abandoned one dream vehicle for another, his latest acquisition, a new Mercedes coupe. He chose his cars like his women - fast and sleek and ready to run. After striding across the tarmac to his silver convertible, which had sat all afternoon in the baking sun, he slid behind the wheel. The leather seat was hot enough to make him wince.
He'd forgotten how extreme a Florida summer could be. Although Jack had grown up in Clearwater, he hadn't been back home in years.
Bad memories of fights with his parents during his wild and reckless teenage years had kept him away. A decade ago Clearwater hadn't been a big enough town for Jack Donovan. Except for spring break when college students flocked to the community's tacky souvenir shops and powder sand beaches, the sleepy beachside town wasn't a happening place.
Jack turned on the radio and air conditioner full blast. As Black Sabbath blared from his speakers, he pressed a button that caused the Mercedes' hardtop to automatically fold into the trunk.
Yes, baby. Wind and sun and surf, here I come.
Years ago Jack had yearned for Paris, Tahiti and Nepal, and the navy had given him the means to fulfill his dreams. He'd since circumnavigated the world by boat and plane more times than he could count. The navy had also given him the discipline to turn himself into a productive citizen.
Now he was employed by the Shey Group, a private team of men, formerly with the military or one of the intelligence agencies, who charged high fees to take on missions that required special skills and classified connections. Working for the Shey Group allowed him the luxury of this silver coupe with its souped-up engine that could go from zero to sixty in 4.6 seconds. Not to mention his friends, the elite of the elite. Good guys to have at his side in a brawl. Not that Jack anticipated a fight. Not while on vacation.
Whistling, contented, he burned rubber, exiting the private airport. The car handled like the high-priced luxury item that she was, and he headed for the beach.
A cute yellow VW Bug pulled out behind him.
At the next corner Jack turned right. So did the yellow VW.
He might be on vacation, but Jack's normal observation skills kicked in. That's why he could take so many chances and still have all his body parts - he took calculated risks. Just for the hell of it, he made two right turns and then another left.
The VW Bug stuck to him like a flea.
Dark tinted windows prevented him from identifying the driver. But Jack no longer had any doubts that someone was following him. He had several choices. Since the Volkswagen could never match his speed, he could accelerate and lose the tail. Or he could confront his pursuer and find out what the hell was going on.
Intel first. With a grin of pleasure Jack pressed his foot down on the accelerator, hard, but not enough to outrun the VW.
The car matched his speed. The other driver was determined, but kept a constant distance between them.
He sped through a green light and headed for the highway. The car stayed right with him.
Impressive. The driver of the other car didn't come too close, and yet Jack couldn't shake him, not without a flat-out race on the interstate. Exciting perhaps, and a choice he might have made as little as five years ago, but - no matter how much he wanted to stomp the pedal to the metal - he couldn't justify the risk to civilians.
Excerpted from Saving The Girl Next Door by Susan Kearney Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.