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The hostage is Luke Vaughn, a three-year-old boy," Colin Forester heard the tech explain.
Colin didn't react. Not on the outside anyway. Inside, however, there was a firestorm of emotions. Colin had been an FBI hostage negotiator for seven years, and he'd seen the worst of the worst.
A kid hostage was the worst.
This one was hardly more than a baby. And the boy was in big trouble because this wasn't an ordinary hostage situation.
According to the preliminary info Colin had gotten from his director at the Durango FBI office, the hostage taker wasn't the usual perp for this sort of crime. He was a professional hit man. That's the reason Colin had left Durango as soon as he got word of the kidnapping, so he could get to Kenner City and try to put a stop to this.
"Tell me about the hit man," Colin said to Rusty Cepeda, the young Kenner County Crime Unit lab tech who was driving him to the estate. Rusty was obviously a rookie tech since he wasn't on scene but rather playing chauffeur to Colin.
"His name is Boyd Perkins. Age forty-one. His rap sheet goes back nearly two decades, and he works for Nicky Wayne, a Vegas crime boss."
So, not just a hit man but a career criminal.
Rusty continued to maneuver the four-wheel drive up the rain-slicked steep mountain road toward the Vaughn estate where the child was being held. It was a fifteen-minute trek from Kenner City to the estate, Rusty had told Colin when he'd picked him up in town. Colin wanted to use every second of that time to learn whatever he could about the persons involved.
"Boyd Perkins," Colin repeated under his breath. When he made contact with him, he would call him by his first name. He'd try to establish arapport while he diffused a situation that could turn deadly. "And Boyd's ties to the Wayne crime family have been verified?"
"Oh, yeah," Rusty confirmed. "And I guess you heard Boyd murdered an FBI agent?"
"I heard." Colin had to take a deep breath. That alone made him want to take Boyd down, but arresting him for murder would have to wait. "Go over the details of the kidnapping again." And Colin shut out the summer wind and the rain that were assaulting the vehicle. He shut out everything so he could focus.
"About ten hours ago, the boy's father, Griffin Vaughn, reported that his son had been taken hostage inside the estate. The sheriff then called the Kenner County Crime Unit and the FBI, and we all hurried out to the scene. The estate has a gate, and it was locked up tight. Boyd's controlling the gate from the inside. One of the FBI agents, Tom Ryan, was able to make phone contact with Boyd, but Boyd wouldn't negotiate."
Not yet anyway. Colin would have to change the hit man's mind. "What about demands? Has Boyd made any?"
"Only that he wants us to move away from the house. We figured you could help with getting him to tell us what he's after."
It was near the top of the list, and then Colin could start to work on a compromise. "Did Boyd say if the child was okay?"
"He says he is. But Boyd warned us if Luke's parents and the officers didn't stay far away from the place, the boy would pay the consequences."
That clenched Colin's gut into a tight knot. The threat of violence. God knew how the kid was reacting to that. He didn't know much about three-year-olds, but Luke probably realized he was in danger.
The Jeep crawled up the last leg of the road, and Colin spotted the house next to a lake that reflected the iron-gray sky. The place deserved to be labeled an estate because it sprawled out in front of them, seemingly taking up most of the mountain top. It'd be a bear to secure a place that size, but on the upside, the lake and the rugged terrain surrounding it might make it impossible for Boyd to escape.
"Any idea where Boyd's holding the hostage?" Colin asked.
"We're not sure, but he seems to be using the security system to monitor what we're doing, and that system has cameras. Lots of them. He knows when we get too close to the fence, for instance. That's why we set up operations on the east side of the property. The owner, Griffin Vaughn, said that's a blind spot for surveillance. We've been bringing in the team that way so Boyd won't know we're putting agents in place in case we have to rush in for a rescue."
A rescue. That was being optimistic. Because if it came down to the point where agents had to storm the house, Luke Vaughn's chances of survival were slim.
"I heard you saved a kid over in Mesa Ridge about a year ago," Rusty commented.
Colin settled for a "Yeah." But that hadn't been one of his success stories. Yes, he'd gotten the child out of the domestic violence situation. But he'd lost an adult hostage in a murder-suicide. Colin hadn't been able to talk the twenty-eight-year-old man out of putting a bullet in the child's mother.
He always remembered the failures.
Those were the ones that ate away at him and made him want to work ten times harder so that it wouldn't happen again.
Rusty stopped about thirty yards from the estate fence and right at the edge of the activity. Even though everyone was dressed in rain gear, Colin spotted two fellow FBI agents and a man with a Kenner City sheriff's hat. In addition, there were two Kenner County Crime Unit members carrying field kits.
Rusty opened the driver's-side door but then turned and snared Colin's gaze. "You'll get this boy out of there?"
"I will." With that promise he wasn't sure he could keep, Colin threw open his own door. The rain came right at him, like razors whipping through the air.
"Colin?" someone called out.
Colin recognized the man walking toward him. Tom Ryan, FBI, and the commander for this particular crime scene. The lanky, somber-faced agent made his way to Colin, and they shook hands. "Damn glad you're here."
Colin nodded. "What's the latest situation report?"
"Hell in a hand basket probably isn't what I'd put in an official statement, but things aren't good. There are no injuries, but the kid's three years old, Colin."
"Yes, I heard." And Colin couldn't let the emotion in Tom's voice get to him. Focus. Shut out everything but the job. Because emotion wasn't worth spit right now. The job, his training, his experiencethose were the things that would free little Luke.
"My wife, Callie, is over there with Luke's parents. She's trying to keep them calm." Tom whipped his thumb toward the woman carrying a field kit. She had dripping wet blond hair and was looking around on the ground. Trailing behind her, with their gazes fixed on the estate, were no doubt the Vaughns. "Callie's the head forensic scientist at the crime unit, and she's looking for any trace evidence so we can try to verify that Perkins is working alone." He paused. "We're supposed to be on a romantic getaway," he added in a mumble.
Tough timing, but Colin wanted all of them there. Anything at this point could be valuable in dealing with Boyd Perkins, and maybe Callie or her team would find something that would help him with this negotiation.
Rusty left them to join two others who were hovered under umbrellas outside a police cruiser and a black four-door FBI standard-issue vehicle.
Tom led Colin toward an older-model white van. "We've set up a command post in here out of Boyd's line of sight, barely. We wanted to get as close as possible in case he tried to escape through the front," the agent explained. "Boyd's using a prepaid cell phone to communicate. No way to trace it. And so far he's refused to answer the house phones."
The prepaid cell phone could indicate this was premeditated, but then a man with Boyd's record probably used phones like that all the time. "You said we could see the front, but what about other escape routes?"
"All covered, and that's no easy task. We have an agent at the back of the estate, but there are miles of tunnels beneath this place. Boyd has the tunnel entrances on his end blocked off so we can't get to him that way. But I've put barricades at the end of each one, so he can't use them for escape. And Boyd knows that."
Good. Colin didn't want the man to have any options other than dealing with him. The job started now. And Colin took a deep breath, cleared his mind and stepped up into the van.
His clear mind suddenly got very cloudy.
Right there in front of him perched on the dull brown leather van seat was the last person on earth he wanted to see right now.
"Colin," she said as if she'd been expecting him.
Well, he sure as hell hadn't been expecting her. "Danielle," he greeted once he got his teeth unclenched.
"You two know each other?" Tom asked, apparently not realizing that was the mother of all loaded questions.
"Oh, we know each other," Colin snarled. "Danielle is my ex-wife. Or at least she will be " He checked the date on his watch. Not that he needed to. It was for show. He knew exactly when the divorce would be final. "In three more days." He stared at her. "What are you doing here, Danielle?"
She spared him a glance with those cool green eyes. Eyes the color of an Irish four-leaf clover, he used to say, adding that she was his lucky charm. But that was the old days. He wasn't feeling nearly as generous with the sappy compliments since she'd walked out on him three months earlier.
"Callie and I are old college roommates," Danielle volunteered. "She thought it'd be good to have a child psychologist on the scene, so she called and asked me to come out and help." Danielle held out her hands, palms up. "And here I am. I take it you're the negotiator they called in."
There went the clenched teeth again. "They wanted the best." Colin made sure he sounded as cocky as he could.
Since she was seated across from a narrow table that held phones and other communication equipment, Colin plopped down next to her, bumping his hip against hers to nudge her over. It wasn't the brightest idea he'd ever had. Danielle and he might want to claw out each other's eyes, but his body still reacted to her. Probably always would. Because even though their marriage had been a disaster, the sex had been the best ever.
His body obviously wasn't going to let him forget that.
The hip-to-hip contact earned him a little glare, but Danielle didn't budge. Colin gave her another nudge. This time, a verbal one. "I don't need a child psychologist. I can handle this myself. And you'd only be in the way."
Those green eyes suddenly weren't so cool. She mumbled something under her breath and shoved some wet wisps of hair from her face. Then he noticed her left hand.
No wedding or engagement ring.
Just the faint imprint where they'd once been.
Colin kept his own left hand hidden away. No need for her to see that he hadn't gotten around to taking off his ring yet. But he would now. He slipped it off and put it in his pocket.
He tossed her another stony glance. Got one from her in return. The glances turned to glares, and they sat there, staring at each other.
The rain had obviously gotten to her mop of shoulder-length caramel-brown curls. Not in an unattractive way, either. Much to his disgust. She looked as if she'd just stepped from a warm shower. Her face was all dewy, and her cheeks were flushed with color. She looked healthy and content and probably hadn't lost a minute of sleep over their breakup.
"Any time you guys are ready, I'd like to get started," Tom said. He was standing outside the van volleying glances at both of them. And probably questioning if they were real professionals. They certainly weren't acting like it, and that was Colin's cue to get to work. Later, after he'd established contact, he'd figure out a way to give the boot to his soon-to-be ex-wife, and she could take her dewy fresh look and get the heck out of there.
"Do we have any long-range eavesdropping equipment so we can monitor what Boyd's doing?" Colin asked Tom.
"Equipment's on the way. Should be here any time now. We've requested an infrared thermal scanner, too."
Good. Because they'd need both. The estate was a big place, and they'd have to pinpoint Boyd and Luke's exact location if the worst happened and negotiations didn't work. Then, they might have no choice but to move in.
Colin picked up the cell phone from the table and looked at what was written on the manila notepad. "Is that Boyd's number?"
Tom nodded. "I've tried to keep him talking, but he always hangs up."
Well, Colin would see if he could fix that. "Make sure the parents stay at a distance. I don't want them in on this conversation." He turned on the recorder, punched in the numbers and put the phone on speaker to free his hands so he could take notes and start creating the hostage taker's profile.
The first ring seemed to take several minutes. Waiting was the hardest part. Colin slowed his breathing to keep himself calm. Took another deep breath.
Boyd Perkins answered on the fourth ring.
"Boyd?" Colin didn't wait for the man to confirm it was him. He also jotted down the start time of the call. "I'm Special Agent Colin Forester."
"What do you want?" Boyd growled. But it wasn't overly emotional. More the tone of a man who'd been inconvenienced than one who was angry.
"I just want to talk. And I want to know how Luke's doing."
"The kid's fine. For now."
Colin wasn't immune to that threat, but he eased it aside. "Good. That's good, Boyd. Now, I need to know how we can keep it that way. You must have demands, but so far you haven't let anybody know what those are."
"I want time to finish up some things in here."
"Time?" Luke repeated. That sent an uneasy feeling through him. "For what?"
"Nothing to do with the kid," Boyd readily answered. "I'm looking for something. When I find it, I'll let you know. But for now, I want all you badges to back off and go back down the mountain."
"We have backed off." What they couldn't do, however, was leave the area. "But Luke's parents are worried about him, and I'm sure Luke misses them. He's a good kid and has no part in this. Why don't you let him go and then we can talk about giving you that time you want?