Staying Alive

Staying Alive

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by Debra Webb

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A selfless act of bravery had propelled Seattle schoolteacher Claire Grant into the center of a terrorist manhunt. Now, catching him depends on her—and her ability to play the deadly revenge game the terrorist is plotting. One wrong move, and she'll die. And so will an innocent.

Her best chance for staying alive is charismatic FBI agent Luke

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A selfless act of bravery had propelled Seattle schoolteacher Claire Grant into the center of a terrorist manhunt. Now, catching him depends on her—and her ability to play the deadly revenge game the terrorist is plotting. One wrong move, and she'll die. And so will an innocent.

Her best chance for staying alive is charismatic FBI agent Luke Krueger—a man with his own agenda. Separate, Claire and Luke are pawns. But together, can they uncover the terrorist's weakness and stop the madman once and for all?

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Silhouette Bombshell Series , #124
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"The transport is set for 1:00 p.m. tomorrow."

Habib Nusair absorbed the information without comment though the news was not what he had hoped for. There was no time for second-guessing now.

From his high-rise apartment he stared out over the city of Seattle, Washington, his hatred searing through him with such force that he shook with the roar of it.

This had been his mistake.

His miscalculation. But he would right that grave injustice no matter the price.

Today. "Assemble a team of four to include me," he said to the man who waited nervously for his response. "Our timing must be precise. There is no margin for error."

"Habib." The man who served as his personal advisor moved closer. "The risk is far too great. Allow me to serve in your stead. You know I will not fail you."

Habib glared at him, anger snarling inside him. "No. I will make this right. I will not bring shame on my father's name by sending someone else to right my wrong."

His confidante humbly bowed his head. "Of course. I will inform the others that our retaliation is imminent."

Habib turned his attention back to the view beyond the glass. He would strike quickly with a blow that would bring the imperialist pigs to their knees.

He had waited his whole life for a moment to shine outside the shadow of his father.

Now the time was at hand.

No matter that the coming strike had been motivated by an error in judgment, he would ensure that his error evolved into a monumental turning point for the cause.

He would not fail.

Claire Grant cradled her cup of coffee and inhaled deeply of the rich aroma. She closed her eyesand relished the heavenly scent.

Five minutes of peace in the teachers' lounge. That was all she needed.

Everything had gone wrong this morning, starting with a soggy trip to school. The rain would do her flowers good, but it did nothing for her mood.

From the arrival of her first student until the fourth-period bell rang and the group filed down the hall for art class, she hadn't had a moment of quiet time to herself. To make matters worse, it was Monday. No one wanted to be at school on Monday, especially not a room full of fifth graders. They wanted to sleep in as they had done on Saturday and Sunday. Plus, Saturday-morning cartoons were far more entertaining than math, history and science.

Claire wasn't immune to the curse of Blue Monday herself. She couldn't remember the last time she'd slept in...until this weekend. Now she, too, paid the price. Her usual patience had thinned far too early in the day for comfort, hers or her students. And the day was scarcely half over.

Maybe this cup of coffee and a few minutes of peace and quiet was all she needed and she would be good to go. She hoped.

The entire fifth-grade wing was now gloriously silent. The rooms, even the halls, were absent of the usual noises of running feet and teasing banter. The next forty minutes were not to be taken for granted.

The first sip of caffeine-infused heat was no letdown. The savory brew tasted every bit as good as it smelled. Darlene Vernon must have made this pot. No one at Whitesburg Middle School made coffee the way Darlene did. Claire felt certain that whoever created Starbuck's had lifted the house recipe from Darlene. Claire had to smile when she considered the probable name the popular coffee house chain would have ended up with had Darlene been the one to conceive the idea. Something like Brewing with Darlene or the Grind, she imagined. Her friend had a fiercely wicked sense of humor for a middle-school teacher.

Speak of the devil. "I hope your morning is going better than mine," Darlene noted, that famous sense of humor apparently having gone temporarily dry.

All fifth-grade students spent fourth period in one of three places, physical education, art or music, giving the teachers a free period for planning and, usually, a much-needed break. It looked as though Claire wasn't the only one extra thankful for the respite today.

Claire leaned against the counter next to the coffee station and shot her friend a challenging glance. "Would you like to compare war stories?"

Darlene fired back one of those skeptical looks, her eyebrow arching upward like a ticked off cat's back. "Matthew Pearson cut off both of Tessa Mott's braids." She faked a smile. "I win."

"You're right," Claire admitted, stunned, "you do win." She sipped her delicious coffee, trying not to imagine poor little Tessa's shock at seeing her waist-length braids on the floor.

"Poor you," Claire mused, suddenly realizing the rest of the story. "You have to tell Tessa's mother."

"Tell me about it. Maybe I'll change my name and run away," Darlene said dramatically.

A new kind of tension flared but Claire tried to ignore it. She didn't have to tense up any time changing names and running away was mentioned. Darlene knew nothing about that part of Claire's life. Her comment was in no way personal. She and Claire had been friends for a long time. Claire was just being paranoid.

Darlene poured a cup of coffee and took a swallow before changing the subject. "Did you hear about that big takedown this weekend? It happened at the University Village." She leaned in close. "Yours truly was there." Another of those eyebrow-raising looks followed the statement. "I saw the whole thing happen. It was really freaky."

Claire racked her brain for some memory of a big news event over the weekend. She finally lifted her shoulders in admission of her failure to stay abreast of current events. "Sorry. I spent half the weekend sleeping in and the other planting spring flowers." The reality sounded even more pathetic out loud.

Darlene glanced around covertly as if what she had to say was top secret, then she tugged Claire farther from the door. "Hamid Kaibar. He's on some kind of top ten terrorist watch list. Undercover agents pounced on him right in front of the Pottery Barn."

Claire felt a frown working furrows across her brow. "Do they have a top ten list?" Okay, she obviously didn't stay up to speed on that sort of thing to the extent that her friend did. But this sounded like something she should know.

Darlene rolled her eyes. "Duh. They have all kinds of lists. Anyway, this guy is supposedly connected to, like, the most infamous, evil terrorist on the planet. Abdul Nusair. Surely you've heard of him."

Claire definitely recognized that name. She nodded. "I've heard of him." She didn't follow the whole terrorist business too closely in an effort to ensure she slept at night. It was simply too disturbing. She was happy to leave it to her government to take care of the situation. She had faith in those she elected to office.

Still, with one of the top ten terrorists in the world captured in Seattle, at a mall near the Washington University campus at that, she probably should do a better job of keeping up. She did vaguely recall hearing that border states such as the one in which she lived were particularly vulnerable to the risk of terrorists slipping in undetected. She felt certain the government had taken additional precautions in those states. A couple of local politicians had voiced concerns, she remembered now that she thought of it. State Representative Reimes had been very vocal about it in a number of forums. Some of the teachers had suggested that he might not get himself reelected if he kept pushing the boundaries about terrorist profiling. Not that they discussed politics regularly but Reimes's son attended Whitesburg Middle.

"Apparently," Darlene said, "sometime tomorrow they're transporting the prisoner to some secret facility where he'll be properly interrogated. Mr. Allen thinks he may be the key to capturing Nusair."

Dale Allen was the principal of their school. A former social studies teacher, he liked staying in the know on the subject of world events.

"That should make his friends a little nervous," Claire suggested. "I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for asking him questions."

Darlene indulged her thirst for more caffeine before going on. "It makes me wish I'd bought some protection years ago. And learned how to use it properly," she added, her tone uncharacteristically somber.

"Sometimes that can do more harm than good." Claire really hadn't meant to make the comment but it was out of her mouth before she could stop it.

"And just what would you know about the subject? As I recollect, I was the one who had to chase that bird out of your classroom a week or so ago. I believe your excuse was something like 'I'm afraid I'll hurt the poor thing."

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