Standoff

( 69 )

Overview

A fearless reporter trapped in a volatile siege, two young lovers turned fugitive, and a holdup that transforms a small desert town into a powder keg… Now #1New York Times best-selling author Sandra Brown demonstrates her unparalleled powers of invention to once again tell a story that combines deep emotion with edge-of-the-seat suspense.

Poignant, riveting, and offering a new twist or turn on every page, STANDOFF is suspense at its best, as ...

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Overview

A fearless reporter trapped in a volatile siege, two young lovers turned fugitive, and a holdup that transforms a small desert town into a powder keg… Now #1New York Times best-selling author Sandra Brown demonstrates her unparalleled powers of invention to once again tell a story that combines deep emotion with edge-of-the-seat suspense.

Poignant, riveting, and offering a new twist or turn on every page, STANDOFF is suspense at its best, as only Sandra Brown can create it.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
TV reporter Tiel McCoy is driving through New Mexico when she hears on the radio that the teenage daughter of a Texas multimillionaire has been kidnapped. McCoy calls her editor and learns that the girl is pregnant and was kidnapped by her boyfriend. When the reporter stops at a gas station and an armed couple (the missing girl and her boyfriend) rob the cashier, a tense standoff ensues, and it becomes clear that the couple would rather die together than surrender and be kept apart.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Workaholic Dallas TV reporter Tiel McCoy thought she would take a well-earned vacation, but while driving to a secluded condo in New Mexico, she hears a radio report that changes her plans. Teenager Sabra Dendy, only daughter of Fort Worth multimillionaire Russ Dendy, has been kidnapped. Soon Tiel learns that Sabra, who's pregnant, has run away with her boyfriend, Ronnie Davison. Smelling a story, Tiel heads for the remote town of Hera to interview Ronnie's father, thinking the couple might go there for help. But when she stops at a convenience store for directions, Tiel encounters Ronnie and Sabra bungling a hold-up attempt. As Sabra goes into labor, Ronnie takes everyone in the store hostage, and Tiel and a handsome cowboy who seems to know a lot about medicine deliver Sabra's daughter. Tiel learns that the desperate young couple are fleeing to Mexico to escape Sabra's dictatorial father, who has vowed to separate them and put their baby up for adoption. He has even threatened to kill the child, and Sabra and Ronnie have vowed to commit suicide if they are thwarted. Bestselling author Brown (The Alibi) sets up believable conflicts (Ronnie once killed a puppy, rather than return it to an abusive owner). If the dialogue and sex scenes occasionally seem stilted, this popular author's tale still hits hard and keeps moving briskly to its satisfying conclusion. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446609616
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 395,391
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty New York Times bestsellers, including TOUGH CUSTOMER (2010), SMASH CUT (2009), SMOKE SCREEN (2008), PLAY DIRTY (2007), RICOCHET (2006), CHILL FACTOR (2005), WHITE HOT (2004), HELLO, DARKNESS (2003), THE CRUSH (2002), ENVY (2001), THE SWITCH (2000), THE ALIBI (1999), UNSPEAKABLE (1998) and FAT TUESDAY (1997), all of which have jumped onto the Times bestseller list in the number one to five spot. Brown now has over eighty million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work has been translated into thirty-four languages.

Biography

In 1979, Sandra Brown lost her job at a television program and decided to give writing a try. She bought an armful of romance novels and writing books, set up a typewriter on a card table and wrote her first novel. Harlequin passed but Dell bit, and Brown was off and writing, publishing her works under an assortment of pseudonyms.

From such modest beginnings, Brown has evolved into multimillion publishing empire of one, the CEO of her own literary brand; she towers over the landscape of romantic fiction. Brown has used her growing clout to insist her publishers drop the bosom-and-biceps covers and has added more intricate subplots, suspense, and even unhappy endings to her work. The result: A near-constant presence on The New York Times bestsellers list. In 1992, she had three on the list at the same time, joining that exclusive club of Stephen King, Tom Clancy, J. K. Rowling, and Danielle Steel.

Her work in the mainstream realm has taken her readers into The White House, where the president's newborn dies mysteriously; the oil fields and bedrooms of a Dallas-like family dynasty; and the sexual complications surrounding an investigation into an evangelist's murder. Such inventions have made her a distinct presence in a crowded genre.

"Brown is perhaps best known now for her longer novels of romantic suspense. The basic outline for these stories has passionate love, lust, and violence playing out against a background of unraveling secrets and skeletons jumping out of family closets," wrote Barbara E. Kemp in the book Twentieth-Century Romance & Historical Writers . Kemp also praises Brown's sharp dialogue and richly detailed characters. "However, her greatest key to success is probably that she invites her readers into a fantasy world of passion, intrigue, and danger," she wrote. "They too can face the moral and emotional dilemmas of the heroine, safe in the knowledge that justice and love will prevail."

Critics give her points for nimble storytelling but are cooler to her "serviceable prose," in the words of one Publishers Weekly reviewer. Still, when writing a crack page-turner, the plot's the thing. A 1992 New York Times review placed Brown among a group of a writers "who have mastered the art of the slow tease."

Staggeringly prolific, Brown found her writing pace ground to a halt when she was given a different assignment. A magazine had asked her for an autobiographical piece, and it took her months to complete. Her life in the suburbs, though personally fulfilling, was nonetheless blander than fiction. That may be why she dives into her fiction writing with such workhorse gusto. "I love being the bad guy," she told Publishers Weekly in 1995, "simply because I was always so responsible, so predictable growing up. I made straight A's and never got into any trouble, and I still impose those standards on myself. So writing is my chance to escape and become the sleaziest, scummiest role."

When she started writing, her goal was always to break out of the parameters of romance. After about 45 romances, the woman who counts Tennessee Williams and Taylor Caldwell among her influences told The New York Times that felt she had reached a plateau. In fact, she doesn't even look at her books as romances anymore. "I think of my books now as suspense novels, usually with a love story incorporated," she said. "They're absolutely a lot harder to write than romances. They take more plotting and real character development. Each book is a stretch for me, and I try something interesting each time that males will like as well as women."

Good To Know

  • "I hate to exercise and only do so because I absolutely must."

  • "I love to eat and my favorite foods are all bad for the body. Fried chicken and gravy, TexMex, red meat (hey, I'm from Texas!). My only saving grace is that I'm not that fond of sweets. Salty is my thing. Chocolate cake and ice cream I can skip. But a bag of Fritos. . ."

  • "It takes me a long time to go to sleep, usually because I read in bed and hate to put down the book. But when I do nod off, I'm a champion sleeper. I can easily do eight or nine hours a night."

  • "My worst "thing" is mean-spirited people. People who deliberately belittle or embarrass someone really irk me. The people I admire most are the ones who find something good about even the most undesirable individual. That was a quality my mother had, the one I hope most to emulate."

  • "I have a fear of gravity. Recently my whole family went to Belize. We had several adventures. We tubed a river through miles of cave, wearing head lamps so we'd have illumination. No problem. I scaled Mayan ruins. I rode horseback (on a monster named Al Capone) through the rain forest. No problem. But I couldn't zip line. Even though my five-year-old grandsons did it with glee, I just couldn't make that leap."

  • "I and my husband are huge fans of Jeopardy! We never miss it if we can help it. Does that make us complete dorks?"

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      1. Also Known As:
        Laura Jordan, Rachel Ryan and Erin St. Claire
      2. Hometown:
        Arlington, TX
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 12, 1948
      2. Place of Birth:
        Waco, Texas
      1. Education:
        Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Texas Christian University, 2008
      2. Website:

    Read an Excerpt



    Chapter One


    "I just heard the news bulletin on my car radio."

    Tiel McCoy didn't begin this telephone conversation with any superfluous chitchat. That was her opening statement the instant Gully said hello. No preamble was necessary. Truth be known, he had probably been expecting her call.

    But he played dumb anyway. "That you, Tiel? Enjoying your vacation so far?"

    Her vacation had officially begun that morning when she left Dallas and headed west on Interstate 20. She had driven as far as Abilene, where she stopped to visit her uncle, who'd lived in a nursing home there for the past five years. She remembered Uncle Pete as a tall, robust man with an irreverent sense of humor, who could barbecue a mean brisket and knock a softball out of the park.

    Today they had shared a lunch of soggy fish sticks and canned English peas and watched an episode of Guiding Light. She'd asked if there was anything she could do for him while she was there, like write a letter or buy a magazine. He had smiled at her sadly and thanked her for coming, then gave himself over to an attendant who'd tucked him in for his nap like a child.

    Outside the nursing home, Tiel had gratefully inhaled the scorching, gritty West Texas air in the hope of eradicating the smell of age and resignation which had permeated the facility. She had been relieved the family obligation was behind her, but felt guilty for the relief. By an act of will she shook off her despair and reminded herself that she was on vacation.

    It wasn't even officially summer yet, but it was unseasonably warm for May. There'd been no shade in which to park at the nursing home;consequently her car's interior had been so hot she could have baked cookies on the dashboard. She flipped on the AC full-blast and found a radio station that played something other than Garth, George, and Willie.

    "I'm going to have a wonderful time. The time away will be good for me. I'll feel a lot better for having done it." She repeated this internal dialogue like a catechism, trying to convince herself of the truth of it. She had approached the vacation as though it were equivalent to taking a bad-tasting laxative.

    Heat waves made the highway appear to ripple, and the undulating movement was hypnotic. The driving became mindless. Her mind drifted. The radio provided background noise of which Tiel was barely aware.

    But hearing the news bulletin was like getting goosed by the driver's seat. With a lurch, everything accelerated—the car, Tiel's heart rate, her mind.

    Immediately she fished her cell phone from her large leather satchel and placed the call to Gully's direct line. Again declining any unnecessary conversation, she said to him now, "Give me the skinny."

    "What's the radio putting out?"

    "That earlier today a high school student in Fort Worth kidnaped Russell Dendy's daughter."

    "That's about the gist of it," Gully confirmed.

    "The gist, but I want details."

    "You're on vacation, Tiel."

    "I'm coming back. Next exit, I'll make a U-turn." She consulted her dashboard clock. "I'll be at the station by—"

    "Hold on, hold on. Where're you at, exactly?"

    "About fifty miles west of Abilene."

    "Hmm."

    "What, Gully?" Her palms had become damp. She experienced the familiar tickle in her belly that only happened when she was following a hot lead to a super story. That unique adrenaline rush couldn't be mistaken.

    "You're on your way to Angel Fire, right?"

    "Right."

    "Northeastern part of New Mexico . . . Yeah, there it is." He must have been reading a highway map as he spoke. "Naw, never mind. You don't want this assignment, Tiel. It would take you out of your way."

    He was baiting her, and she knew he was baiting her, but in this instance she didn't mind being baited. She wanted a piece of this story. The kidnaping of Russell Dendy's daughter was big news, and it promised to become even bigger news before it was over. "I don't mind taking a detour. Tell me where to go."

    "Well," he hedged, "only if you're sure."

    "I'm sure."

    "Okay then. Not too far in front of you is a turnoff onto state highway Two-oh-eight. Take it south to San Angelo. On the south side of San Angelo you're gonna intersect with—"

    "Gully, about how far out of my way is this detour going to take me?"

    "I thought you didn't care."

    "I don't. I'd just like to know. Rough estimate."

    "Well, let's see. Give or take . . . about three hundred miles."

    "From Angel Fire?" she asked faintly.

    "From where you are now. Doesn't count the rest of the way to Angel Fire."

    "Three hundred round trip?"

    "One way."

    She expelled a long sigh, but was careful not to let him hear it. "You said highway Two-oh-eight south to San Angelo, then what?"

    She steered with her knee, held the phone with her left hand, and took notes with her right. The car was on cruise control, but her brain was in overdrive. Journalistic juices were pumping faster than the pistons in her engine. Thoughts of long pleasant evenings spent in a porch rocker were swapped for those of sound bites and interviews.

    But she was getting ahead of herself. She lacked pertinent facts. When she asked for them, Gully, damn him, turned mulish on her. "Not now, Tiel. I'm as busy as a one-armed paperhanger, and you've got miles to cover. By the time you get where you're going, I'll have a lot more info."

    Frustrated and supremely irked with him for being so stingy with the details, she asked, "What's the name of the town again?"

    "Hera."

    The highways were arrow-straight, flanked on both sides by endless prairie with only an occasional herd of cattle grazing in irrigated pastures. Oil wells were silhouetted against a cloudless horizon. Frequently a tumbleweed rolled across the roadway in front of her. Once she got beyond San Angelo, she rarely saw another vehicle.

    Funny, she thought, the way things turn out.

    Ordinarily she would have elected to fly to New Mexico. But days ago she had decided to drive to Angel Fire, not only so she could visit Uncle Pete along the way, but also to get herself into a holiday frame of mind. The long drive would give her time to decompress, work the kinks out, begin the period of rest and relaxation before she ever reached the mountain resort, so that when she did arrive, she would already be in vacation mode.

    At home in Dallas, she moved with the speed of light, always in a rush, always working under a deadline. This morning, once she had reached the western fringe of Fort Worth and put the metropolitan sprawl behind her, when the vacation became a reality, she had begun to anticipate the idyllic days awaiting her. She had daydreamed of clear, gurgling streams, hikes along trails lined with aspens, cool, crisp air, and lazy mornings spent with a cup of coffee and a fiction best-seller.

    There would be no schedule to keep, nothing but hours in which to be lazy, which was a virtue unto itself. Tiel McCoy was way past due to engage in some unabashed ennui. She'd already postponed this vacation three times.

    "Use 'em or lose 'em," Gully had told her of the vacation days she had accumulated.

    He had lectured her on how her performance, as well as her disposition, would greatly improve if she gave herself a breather. This from the man who hadn't taken more than a few vacation days in the past forty-something years—counting the week required to have his gallbladder removed.

    When she reminded him of this, he had scowled at her. "Precisely. You want to wind up an ugly, shriveled, pathetic relic like me?" Then he'd really hit the nail on the head. "Taking a vacation isn't going to jeopardize your chances. That job'll still be up for grabs when you get back."

    She easily inferred the meaning behind that sly remark. Miffed at him for homing in on the real reason behind her reluctance to leave work for any period of time, she had grudgingly consented to going away for a week. The reservations had been made, the trip scheduled. But every schedule should have a little bit of flexibility built in.

    And if flexibility was ever called for, it was when Russell Dendy's daughter was allegedly kidnaped.

    Tiel held the pay phone's sticky receiver pinched between the pads of her thumb and index finger, loathe to touch any more of the surface than necessary. "Okay, Gully, I'm here. Well, near, at least. Actually, I'm lost."

    He cackled. "Too excited to concentrate on where you're going?"

    "Well, it's not like I've missed a thriving metropolis. You said yourself, the place isn't even on most maps."

    Her sense of humor had worn off about the time she'd lost all feeling in her butt. Hours ago, her posterior had gone numb from sitting. Since talking to him, she had stopped only once, and then only out of extreme necessity. She was hungry, thirsty, tired, cranky, achy, and none too fresh because she'd been facing into the setting sun for a long portion of the trip. The car's AC had gone humid from overuse. A shower would be bliss.

    Gully didn't improve her mood any by asking, "How'd you manage to get lost?"

    "I lost my sense of direction after the sun went down. The landscape looks the same from every angle out here. Even more so after dark. I'm calling from a convenience store in a town with a population of eight hundred twenty-three, according to the city-limit sign, and I think the chamber of commerce fudged that number in their favor. This is the only lighted building for miles around. The town is called Rojo something."

    "Flats. Rojo Flats."

    Naturally Gully knew the full name of this obscure hamlet. He probably knew the mayor's name. Gully knew everything. He was a walking encyclopedia. He collected information the way frat rats collected coeds' phone numbers.

    The TV station where Tiel worked had a news director, but the man with the title conducted business from inside a carpeted office and was more a bean counter and administrator than a hands-on boss.

    The man in the trenches, the one who dealt directly with the reporters, writers, photographers, and editors, the one who coordinated schedules and listened to sob stories and chewed ass when ass-chewing was called for, the one who actually ran the news operation, was the assignments editor, Gully.

    He'd been at the station when it signed on in the early fifties, and had mandated that they would have to carry him out of the place feetfirst. He would die before he retired. He worked a sixteen-hour day and begrudged the time he wasn't working. He had a colorful vocabulary and countless similes, an extensive repertoire of yarns about bygone days in broadcast news, and seemingly no life beyond the newsroom. His first name was Yarborough, but only a few living persons knew that. Everyone else knew him strictly as Gully.

    "Are you going to give me this mysterious assignment or not?"

    He wouldn't be rushed. "What happened to your vacation plans?"

    "Nothing. I'm still on vacation."

    "Uh-huh."

    "I am! I'm not canceling my week off. I'm just postponing the start of it, that's all."

    "What's the new boyfriend gonna say?"

    "I've told you a thousand times, there is no new boyfriend." He laughed his phlegmy, chain-smoker's laugh that said he knew she was lying, and that she knew he knew.

    "Got your notepad?" he asked suddenly.

    "Uh, yeah."

    Whatever germs had been teeming on the telephone were probably living with her now. Reconciled to that, she propped the receiver on her shoulder and held it there with her cheek while she removed a notepad and pen from her satchel and placed them on the narrow metal ledge beneath the wall-mounted telephone.

    "Shoot."

    "The boy's name is Ronald Davison," Gully began.

    "I heard that much on the radio."

    "Goes by Ronnie. Senior year, same as the Dendy girl. Won't graduate with any honors, but he's a solid B student. Never in trouble until today. After homeroom this morning, he boogied out of the student parking lot in his Toyota pickup with Sabra Dendy riding shotgun."

    "Russ Dendy's child."

    "His one and only."

    "Is the FBI on it?"

    "FBI. Texas Rangers. You name it. If it wears a badge, it's working this one. Waco all over again. Everybody's claiming jurisdiction and wants in on the action."

    Tiel took a moment to absorb the broad scope of this story. The short hallway in which the pay phone was located led to the public rest rooms. One had a cowgirl in a fringed skirt stenciled in blue paint on the door. The other, predictably, had a similar silhouette of a cowpoke in chaps and ten-gallon hat, twirling a lasso above his head.

    Glancing down the hall, Tiel spotted the real thing coming into the store. Tall, slender, Stetson pulled down low on his forehead. He nodded toward the store's cashier, whose frizzy, overpermed hair had been dyed an unflattering shade of ocher.

    Nearer to Tiel was an elderly couple browsing for souvenirs, apparently in no hurry to return to their Winnebago. At least Tiel assumed the Winnebago at the gas pumps outside belonged to them. Through bifocal eyeglasses the lady was reading the ingredients of a jar on the shelf. Tiel heard her exclaim, "Jalapeño pepper jelly? Good lord."

    The couple then joined Tiel in the hallway, moving toward their respective rest rooms. "Don't dally, Gladys," the man said. His white legs were virtually hairless and looked ridiculously thin in his baggy khaki shorts and thick-soled athletic shoes.

    "You mind your business, and I'll mind mine," she retorted smartly. As she moved past Tiel she gave her a men-think-they're-so-smart-but-we-know-better wink. Another time, Tiel would have thought the senior couple cute and endearing. But she was thoughtfully reading what she'd taken down almost verbatim from Gully.

    "You said 'riding shotgun.' Strange choice of words, Gully."

    "Can you keep a secret?" He lowered his voice significantly. "Because my ass will be grass if this gets out before our next newscast. We've scooped every other station and newspaper in the state."

    Tiel's scalp began to tingle, as it did when she knew she was hearing something that no other reporter had heard, when she had uncovered the element that would set her story apart from all the others, when her exclusive had the potential of winning her a journalism prize or praise from her peers. Or of guaranteeing her the coveted spot on Nine Live.

    "Who would I tell, Gully? I'm sharing space with a fresh-off-the-range cowboy buying a six-pack of Bud, a sassy granny lady and her husband from out of state—I'm guessing by their accents. And two non-English-speaking Mexicans." The pair had since come into the store. She'd overheard them speaking Spanish while heating packaged burritos in a microwave oven.

    Gully said, "Linda—"

    "Linda? She got the story?"

    "You're on vacation, remember?"

    "A vacation you urged me to take!" Tiel exclaimed.

    Linda Harper was another reporter, a darned good reporter, and Tiel's unspoken rival. It stung that Gully had assigned Linda to cover such a plum of a story, which rightfully should have belonged to her. At least that's the way she saw it.

    "You want to hear this or not?" he asked cantankerously.

    "Go ahead."

    The elderly man emerged from the men's room. He moved to the end of the hall, where he paused to wait for his wife. To kill time, he took a camcorder from a nylon airline bag and began tinkering with it.

    Gully said, "Linda interviewed Sabra Dendy's best friend this afternoon. Hold on to your hat. The Dendy girl is pregnant with Ronnie Davison's kid. Eight months gone. They've been hiding it."

    "You're kidding! And the Dendys didn't know?"

    "According to the friend, nobody did. That is, not until last night. The kids broke the news to their parents, and Russ Dendy went apeshit."

    Tiel's mind was already racing ahead, filling in the blanks. "So this isn't a kidnaping. It's a contemporary Romeo and Juliet."

    "I didn't say that."

    "But . . . ?"

    "But that'd be my first guess. A view shared by Sabra Dendy's best friend and confidante. She claims Ronnie Davison is crazy about Sabra and wouldn't harm a hair on her head. Said Russell Dendy has been fighting this romance for more than a year. Nobody's good enough for his daughter, they're too young to know their own minds, college is a must, and so forth. You get the picture."

    "I do."

    And what was wrong with the picture was that Tiel McCoy wasn't in it and Linda Harper was. Damn! Of all times to go on vacation.

    "I'm coming back tonight, Gully."

    "No."

    "I think you sent me on this wild goose chase so it would be impossible for me to return."

    "Not true."

    "How far am I from El Paso?"

    "El Paso? Who said anything about El Paso?"

    "Or San Antonio. Whichever is closer. I could drive there tonight and hop a Southwest flight in the morning. Do you have their schedule handy? What time does the first flight depart for Dallas?"

    "Listen to me, Tiel. We've got it covered. Bob's working the manhunt–law enforcement angle. Linda's on the kids' friends, teachers, and families. Steve's practically moved into the Dendys' mansion, so he'll be there if a ransom call comes in, which I don't expect. And, bottom line, those kids'll probably turn up before you could get back to Dallas anyway."

    "So what am I doing out here in the middle of freaking nowhere?"

    The old man shot her a curious glance over his shoulder.

    "Listen," Gully hissed. "The friend? Sabra mentioned to her a few weeks back that she and Ronnie might just hightail it to Mexico."

    Mollified because she was closer to the Mexican border than she was to Dallas, Tiel asked, "Where in Mexico?"

    "She didn't know. Or wouldn't say. Linda had to twist her arm to get that much from her. She didn't want to betray Sabra's confidence. But the one thing she did say is that Ronnie's dad—his real dad; his mom's remarried—is sympathetic to their predicament. A while back he offered his help if they ever needed it. Now, you're gonna feel really bad about yelling at me when I tell you where he hangs his hat."

    "Hera."

    "Satisfied?"

    She should have apologized, but she didn't. Gully understood. "Who else knows about this?"

    "Nobody. But they will. It works to our advantage that Hera is a one-horse town, not on any beaten path."

    "Tell me about it," she muttered.

    "When word gets out, it'll take everybody a while to get there, even by helicopter. You've got a definite head start."

    "Gully, I love you!" she said excitedly. "Direct me out of here."

    The elderly lady emerged from the ladies' room and rejoined her husband. She admonished him for fiddling with the camcorder and ordered him to put it back in the tote bag before he broke it.

    "Like you're an expert with video cameras," the old man retorted.

    "I took the time to read the instruction book. You didn't."

    Tiel poked her finger in her ear so she could hear Gully better. "What's the dad's name? Davison, I presume."

    "I've got an address and phone number."

    Tiel wrote down the information as fast as he reeled it off. "Do I have an appointment with him?"

    "Working on it. He might not agree to go on camera."

    "I'll get him to agree," she said confidently.

    "I'm dispatching a chopper with a photographer."

    "Kip if he's available."

    "Y'all can meet in Hera. You'll do the interview tomorrow as soon as it's arranged with Davison. Then you can continue on your merry way."

    "Unless there's more story there."

    "Uh-uh. That's the condition, Tiel." She envisioned him stubbornly shaking his head. "You do this bit, then you're off to Angel Fire. Period. End of discussion."

    "Whatever you say." She could easily agree now, then argue about it later if events warranted.

    "Okay, let's see. Outta Rojo Flats . . ." The map must have been right there on his desk, because within seconds he was giving her further directions. "Shouldn't take you long to get there. You're not sleepy, are you?"

    She was never more wide awake than when pursuing a story. Her problem was shutting her mind off and going to sleep. "I'll buy something caffeinated to take along."

    "Check in with me as soon as you get there. I've got you a room reserved at the only motel. You can't miss it. I'm told it's at the blinking traffic light—the one and only. They'll wait up for you to give you a room key." Changing subjects, he asked, "Is the new boyfriend going to be pissed?"

    "For the last time, Gully, there is no new boyfriend."

    She hung up and placed another call—to her new boyfriend.

    Joseph Marcus was as much a workaholic as she was. He was scheduled to fly out early the next day, so she predicted he would be working late at his desk, putting things in order prior to his being away for several days. She was right. He answered his office phone on the second ring.

    "Do you get paid overtime?" she teased.

    "Tiel? Hi. I'm glad you called."

    "It's after hours. I was afraid you wouldn't answer."

    "Reflex. Where are you?"

    "The end of nowhere."

    "Everything okay? You haven't had car trouble or anything?"

    "No, everything's great. I called for a couple of reasons. First, because I miss you."

    This was the tack to take. Establish that the trip was still on. Establish that it was being delayed, not derailed. Assure him that everything was cool, then inform him of the slight wrinkle in their plans for a romantic getaway.

    "You saw me just last night."

    "But only briefly, and it's been a long day. Secondly, I called to remind you to throw a swimsuit into your suitcase. The hot tub at the condo complex is public."

    After a pause, he said, "Actually, Tiel, it's good that you called. I needed to talk to you."

    Something in the tone of his voice prevented her from prattling on. She stopped talking and waited for him to fill the silence that yawned between them.

    "I could have called you on your cell phone today, but this isn't the sort of thing . . . The fact is . . . And I'm sorry as hell about this. You can't begin to know how sorry I am."

    Tiel stared at the countless perforations in the metal surrounding the telephone. She stared so long without blinking that the tiny holes ran together. Absently she wondered what purpose they served.

    "I'm afraid I can't get away tomorrow."

    She'd been holding her breath. Now she released it, relieved. His change of plans alleviated her guilt over having to change them herself.

    However, before she could speak, he continued. "I know how much you'd looked forward to this trip. And so had I," he rushed to add.

    "Let me make this easier on you, Joseph." Meekly she confessed. "The truth is, I was calling to say that I need another couple days before I can get to Angel Fire. So I'm fine with a short postponement. Would your schedule allow us to meet on, say, Tuesday instead of tomorrow?"

    "You don't understand what I'm saying, Tiel. I can't meet you at all."

    The perforations ran together again. "Oh. I see. That is disappointing. Well—"

    "It's been very tense around here. My wife found my airline ticket and—"

    "Excuse me?"

    "I said my wife found—"

    "You're married?"

    "Well . . . yeah. I thought you knew."

    "No." Her facial muscles felt stiff and inflexible. "You have failed to mention a Mrs. Marcus."

    "Because my marriage has nothing to do with you, with us. It hasn't been a real marriage for a long time. Once I've explained my situation at home to you, you'll understand."

    "You're married." This time it was a statement, not a question.

    "Tiel, listen—"

    "No, no, I'm not going to listen, Joseph. What I'm going to do is hang up on you, you son of a bitch."

    The telephone receiver she had been so reluctant even to touch ten minutes earlier she now clung to long after replacing it on the hook. She leaned against the pay phone, her forehead pressing hard against the perforated metal while her hands maintained their grip on the greasy receiver.

    Married. He had seemed too good to be true, and he was. Good-looking, charming, friendly, witty, athletic, successful, and financially secure Joseph Marcus was married. If not for an airline ticket she would have had an affair with a married man.

    She swallowed a surge of nausea and took another moment to compose herself. Later she would lick her wounded ego, berate herself for being such a Pollyanna, and curse him to hell and back. But right now she had work to do.

    Joseph's revelation had left her reeling with disbelief. She was furious beyond measure. She was terribly hurt, but more than anything she was embarrassed by her gullibility. All the more reason she was not about to let the bastard affect her work performance.

    Work was her panacea, her life support. When she was happy, she worked. Sad, she worked. Sick, she worked. Work was the cure for all her ills. Work was the remedy for everything . . . even heartbreak so profound you thought you'd die.

    She knew that firsthand.

    She gathered up her pride, along with her notes on the Dendy story and Gully's directions to Hera, Texas, and ordered herself to mobilize.

    Compared to the dimness of the hallway, the fluorescent lighting in the store seemed inordinately bright. The cowboy had left. The elderly couple were browsing through the array of magazines. The two Spanish-speaking men were eating their burritos and talking quietly together.

    Tiel sensed their smoldering gazes as she went past them on her way to the refrigerated cabinets. One said something to the other that caused him to snicker. It was easy to guess the nature of the comment. Thankfully, her Spanish was rusty.

    She slid open the door to the refrigerator and selected a six-pack of high-voltage cola for the road. From a rack of snack food she chose a package of sunflower seeds. During college she had discovered that cracking open the salty seeds in order to get to the kernel inside was a good manual exercise to keep one awake while studying. Hopefully it would translate to night driving as well.

    She debated whether or not to buy a bag of chocolate-covered caramels. Just because a man she had been dating for weeks had turned out to be a married shit-heel didn't mean she should use that as an excuse to binge. On the other hand, if ever she deserved a treat—

    The security camera in the corner of the ceiling virtually exploded, sending pieces of glass and metal flying.

    Instinctively Tiel recoiled from the deafening noise. But the camera hadn't exploded on its own. A young man had entered the store and fired a pistol at it. The gunman then aimed his weapon at the cashier, who screeched a high note before the sound seemed to freeze inside her throat.

    "This is a holdup," he said melodramatically, and somewhat needlessly, since it was apparent what it was.

    To the young woman who had accompanied him into the store, he said, "Sabra, watch the others. If anyone moves, warn me."

    "Okay, Ronnie."

    Well, I might die, Tiel thought. But at least I'll get my story.

    And she wouldn't be going to Hera to get it. It had come to her.

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 3.5
    ( 69 )
    Rating Distribution

    5 Star

    (23)

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    (21)

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    (11)

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 69 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 22, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      I always enjoy Sandra Brown's books.

      A quick attention grabber summer read for those days when you just want to relax. Very hard to put down. Would recommend this for the beach, or a day when it is raining and you are stuck inside.

      4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 8, 2007

      A reviewer

      This book is probably one of my favorite Sandra Brown books. I couldn't put the book down once I started because it was so suspenseful. I couldn't believe some of the crazy stuff that was going on throughout the whole book. You never know what is going to happen next. I definitely would recommend this book.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted April 23, 2003

      GRRRRRRRRRREAT!!!

      This book was great. It had me not wanting to let go of it. A real page turning book.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 28, 2000

      Summer Reader

      I really enjoyed this quick easy reading. Lots of action kept the story moving. A couple of surprises at the end made it even more enjoyable. It could have been a little longer, though, so we could find out what happened to some of the characters.

      2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 26, 2012

      Another master piece from the best author ever!

      True Sandra Brown! A must read!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 17, 2009

      Disappointed, big time!

      I realy enjoy reading books written by Sandra Brown. But this one was just a disappointment. I cannot recommend this book at all. I have read quite a few of her novels and this one was just a waste of my time. I will keep on reading her books, though. As she is a very talented writer!

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 25, 2000

      A let down

      I always look forward to new books by Sandra Brown. I felt let down after reading this one. Too short for one and too formula. Did not find the characters very exciting. Her books had been getting better and better and this one fell really short for me.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted September 7, 2014

      Highly recommended

      I like all her books

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 4, 2013

      Not worth the time

      I have loved reading Sandra Browns books until this one.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 25, 2013

      Highly recommend

      Loved this book!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 13, 2013

      Good book!

      I always enjoy Sandra Brown books. This was no exception...good read!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 25, 2005

      Off topic

      This was the first Sandra Brown novel I have read. I think the characters' personalities and experiences were overly fake. About a little more than half way through, the focus came off of the two main characters, and onto two others. There was not enough information towards the end about the outcome of the main characters to satisfy me. Other than that there was a lot of action to keep my attention.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted December 22, 2003

      I am now a Sandra Brown fan! Love Self Help, Mystery, True Crime and Psychology related books!

      Great book. The first one I have read of hers and I really enjoyed it. It got my interest in the first couple pages and kept it. Nice smooth read and not too long.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted August 23, 2003

      Best one Yet

      I loved this book. I could not put it down. This book got me started and I have read almost all of her books. But this was the best one yet!!!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted July 23, 2003

      Easy reader, interest catcher!

      This was the first Sandra Brown novel for me. I love her style. It flows smoothly and is so easy to follow. I have bought every Sandra Brown title since!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted September 24, 2002

      just okay

      I didn't get into this book. The characters were not very compelling and the underlying love story was corny at best.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted April 29, 2002

      little dull

      It was good at that start but in mild. got little dull but its was good book

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted September 26, 2001

      A good audio book

      I listened to this book on tape and I really enjoyed it. The only part that I didn't care far was sexual parts at the end

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 12, 2001

      Not one of SB's Best

      I wasn't sure if this book was a romance novel or a made for TV movie. The chemistry between the main characters was unbelievable and unfounded. Once the robbery is over they have a meaningless encounter, departure and reconcilation. I was disappointed with this novel since SB is such an excellent writer/storyteller but we all have bad days. SB's contract must have called for a novel pronto and Standoff is what you get.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 25, 2000

      what kind of book is this?

      This book was going along pretty well thru the book until all of a sudden it seems to turn into a romance novel instead of a robbery. That kind of ruined the book for me. Although I certainly don't have anything against romance. I just wished it would have stayed in the same plan and plot.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 69 Customer Reviews

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