Read an Excerpt
"Kate. I need your help."
The urgency in the caller's voice made Kate Murphy's heart race. "Who Who is this?"
Kate flinched at the name she hadn't heard in three years. Images of death and betrayal flashed through her mind. Images Kate wanted to forget.
"Maybe I shouldn't have called." Tina's words were clipped, her tone wary. "It's been so long, but"
Cupping a free hand over her ear, Kate tried to drown out the whirr of the centrifuges that filled the medical research lab where she worked.
"Wait, let me step into the hallway. I'll be able to hear better." Static crackled across the line as Kate changed locations. "Still there?"
"I know this sounds crazy, but I stumbled across something in the woods and need your medical expertise. Remember when you used to joke about what would happen if the bad guys ever unlocked the secrets of science?"
"I think they have."
The tone of Tina's voice made Kate's skin crawl. Her former friend was right. The whole thing did sound crazy. "How'd you find me, Tina?"
"Your name was in the paper. The article said you worked at Bannister Scientific in Atlanta."
Kate raked a hand through her hair. She had only given one interview and suddenly she was front-page news. "I can't leave. I'm in the middle of a project."
No reason to mention her research had been put on hold. Tomorrow started her two-week probation while Bannister Scientific decided whether she'd keep her job.
"It's Friday," Tina pleaded. "Surely you get the weekend off? I'm only living two hours away."
"I I may be on call."
"Growing up you said you'd always be there for me, Kate. I don't have anyone else. We're kind of kindred spirits in that regard."
"What about your mom?"
"She died last Christmas."
A lump formed in Kate's throat. "I'm sorry, Tina."
"So am I. You deserve an apology. What came out after Eddie's death I should have believed you."
The last thing Kate wanted was to open old wounds concerning Tina's brother. "Where are you?"
"Mercy, Georgia. About two hours north of Atlanta. I'm a housekeeper for a man named Nolan Price and his teenage daughter. I needed a job. Nolan was kind enough to take me in."
"Listen, Tina, I don't think"
"Remember your grandfather's cross?"
How could Kate forget? Of all things to give Eddie as a token of her love, handing him her most cherished possession three years ago had been the most foolish.
"I found the cross in Eddie's safety-deposit box," Tina said. "Just like my brother to tuck it away."
Kate's shoulders slumped with relief. The cross hadn't been destroyed in the fire.
Her grandfather's face floated through her mindthe man who'd loved her, raised her, taught her about a God she had eventually shut out of her life.
"I'll give you the cross tonight. You can stay the weekend and see for yourself what I'm talking about."
Kate shook her head ever so slightly. "Sounds like you're trying to blackmail me into visiting you."
Tina laughed, a self-deprecating sound that for an instant touched Kate's heart. "Call it a bribe, okay?"
Kate sighed. Bribery or not, she needed the cross back around her neck. Sure, Tina could mail it to her, but Kate wouldn't risk losing the cross again.
"Give me directions," she finally said.
"Take the connector to 400 North." Jamming the phone between her ear and shoulder, Kate reached into the pocket of her lab coat. She pulled out a small tablet and ballpoint pen and jotted down the instructions. "Tell me what you think you discovered, Tina."
"Not over the phone. You've got to see it. With your scientific background, you'll know if it's worth my getting worried."
You already are, Kate wanted to say. "Surely there's someone else who can help you."
"I don't know who to trust."
"You're scaring me, Tina."
"Yeah. I know. That's the way I feel. Scared to death."
Kate hadn't wanted the phone call from Tina, hadn't expected it. Yet, here she was zooming along a desolate back road, heading into rural North Georgia on the coldest day in February to meet a woman she never thought she'd see again.
Dark clouds rolled across the evening sky and added to the anxiety eating at her ever since she'd heard Tina's voice. Usually the levelheaded pragmatist, Kate had done an about-face. Driving into an approaching storm to revisit a friendship that probably should remain dead didn't make sense.
Her cherished cross was the only reason she had agreed to meet Tina. Ever since she'd given it to Eddie, her life had fallen apart, as though God had left her when she'd parted with the necklace. Maybe retrieving the cross would turn her life around. Right now she'd do anything to get back on track.
She looked at the empty can of diet soda perched in her car's console. Too much caffeine and too little sleep over the last few days working on her research project had taken its toll.
Now she had two weeks to kill.
She'd meet Tina, get the cross and find a B and B on the way back to Atlanta. A good dinner and a soak in a hot tub sounded like a fit ending to a long day. About twelve hours of sleep were just what she needed.
Kate reached into her handbag and grabbed a bottle of antacid tablets. She could imagine her boss's voice. "You'll kill yourself before your thirtieth birthday." Jason Bannister often teased her about her marathon work habits. Probably the most savvy scientist Kate had ever worked for, Jason had hired her six months ago for research and development, confident she would succeed.
The partnership study with Southern Technology would have put Bannister Scientific on the map in diabetes research and ensured the two companies merged into the largest laboratory in the southeast.
Except the clinical trials hadn't supported Southern Technology's data. The newspaper article only compounded the problem.
Kate shouldn't have talked to the reporter. She'd had a lapse in judgment, which was something she didn't accept in others, and certainly not in herself.
She shook her head. She and Tina were exact opposites in that regard.
Tina saw the good, ignored the bad. Maybe that was why it hurt so much when her once-upon-a-time friend had cut Kate out of her life.
Kate glanced at her reflection in the rearview mirror. contrasted sharply with Kate's rather average looks. In Kate's opinion, her only attributesand that might be stretching the pointwere her fierce determination and blue eyes. Right now those eyes were bloodshot-red.
A roll of thunder forced her attention back to the road as twilight faded into night. Kate switched on the Mustang's headlights and took a left at the four-way stop. So far, she'd had no problem following Tina's directions, but the descending darkness and plummeting temperature threatened to make the last segment of the journey more challenging.
What had brought Tina to this isolated spot? A job? Nothing indicated the area was inhabited other than a few mailboxes by the side of the road and driveways that twisted into oblivion behind the tall pine trees.
Lightning flashed across the sky. Seconds later, a crash of thunder sounded as if it hit the edge of the road. All around her the pine trees danced, their groans mixing with the whistling wind.
A fine mist turned to drizzle. Kate clicked on the wipers and checked to make sure her window was closed tight, then shoved the heater knob to high.
A road sign warned of a sharp curve. Kate downshifted and felt the powerful engine slip into Second. From what Tina had said, a bridge crossed Mercy Creek just ahead.
The rain strengthened. Fat drops splashed against the windshield. A blast of wind hit full force. Kate gripped the wheel to keep the car from crossing the yellow line. As the wind surge died, she flipped the wipers to high and scanned the road for the bridge. The turnoff to Tina's should be on the far side of the creek.
From out of nowhere, a deer charged into the beam of her headlights. Kate pushed in the clutch and stomped on the brake while her hand shoved the gear into First. The tires squealed in protest as the car skidded across the road.
The animal hit the front bumper with a loud thump, soared in the air and crashed against her windshield.
The massive carcass blocked Kate's view. Instinctively, she turned against the skid. The deer shifted to the passenger's side, smearing a bloody trail along the windshield.
Her heart slammed against her chest.
The Mustang was headed for the creek.
The car broke through the guardrail. A jagged edge of steel grated against the door, ripping a gash in the passenger side. For half a second, the auto teetered on the edge of the bridge, then plunged into the raging current below.
Kate screamed. Ice-cold water rushed in like a tsunami, flooding everything in its path.
She floated somewhere outside the realm of consciousness until a searing pain in her leg and bonechilling cold snapped her back to reality. Where was she?
Try to think. The car, a deer, the bridge
Oh, dear God.
Water swirled around her knees. She couldn't feel her left leg, couldn't move it. The right one throbbed with pain.
Get out. Kate unbuckled her seat belt and pushed on the driver's door. Locked. She reached for the button to release the latch, grabbed the handle and shoved. Nothing budged.
She tried the automatic window. A grinding noise filled the car, and the glass lowered ever so slightly.
"Help me," she shouted through the crack. The wind caught her words and erased them from the night.
She wanted to cry, but she was too terrified, and there was no time. She had to free herself.
Dipping her hand into the swirling eddy, she grabbed her cell phone from the console and shook out the water. Kate pushed the power button. No light. No start-up jingle.
The rain pounded against the car with an unrelenting fury. The water continued to rise. Waist high. Cold. Dark. Her teeth chattered as she gasped for air. Don't panic.
She smashed the cell phone against the window, hoping to break the glass. Crash-resistant silicon proved stronger than cellular technology. Enraged, Kate threw the phone against the far window and heard the plunk as it dropped into the pool of water filling the car.