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By Cindy Dees
SilhouetteCopyright © 2005 Cindy Dees
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Diana Lockworth lurched bolt upright in bed. She blinked, disoriented, at the blanket of darkness around her. Something had ripped her from a deep, dreaming slumber to full consciousness. But what? Even the street outside was quiet, deserted at this hour. Silence pressed against her eardrums. Nothing.
Sheesh. She was letting work get to her again. But then paranoia was the logical price of sitting around day after day hunting for conspiracies for Uncle Sam. At least Don Quixote had real windmills to joust with. She tilted at shadows and innuendoes, vague rumors and possibilities. Maybe that was the problem. The reason her predictions had gone sour lately. She'd moved so far away from concrete reality in her thinking that she could no longer tell the difference between the possible and the actual.
She flopped back down on her pillow in disgust. The tell-tale whirl of disjointed thoughts in her head did not bode well for getting back to sleep anytime soon. Crud. She propped herself up on an elbow to plump her squashed eiderdown pil-low. And heard a noise. Either the biggest mouse in the history of mankind was in her house, or else someone had just bumped into something in her living room.
Intruder. Autonomic responses programmed into her relentlessly since she was a child kicked in. Adrenaline surged through her veins, sending her brain into high gear and preparing her body to fight. She rolled fast, flinging herself off the far side of the bed. Counted to sixty in the thunderous silence. Nobody opened her door. But no doubt about it, someone was out there. She could feel it.
She reached up onto her nightstand for the telephone, her hands shaky, and dialed 9-1-1. She whispered into the receiver, "There's someone in my house."
The 9-1-1 dispatcher efficiently asked her address, name, physical description, and current location in her home. He was in the middle of telling her the police would be there in under five minutes when Diana heard another noise. The distinctive metallic squeak of her computer chair as someone sat down in it. She heard a faint, rapid clicking. Typing! On her computer full of sensitive and highly dangerous material.
She pushed upright, the phone forgotten, her bare feet silent on the hardwood floor. On bent knees, she moved catlike to the bedroom door. She opened it inch by cautious inch. A fast spin out into the hall. Empty. She plastered herself against the wall and tiptoed toward a blue glow emanating from the computer workstation in her living room. She leaped forward, surging into the living room on a wave of fury and fear.
One male, dressed in black. A ski mask over his face. He jumped to his feet and spun to face her in a fighting crouch. Wiry body. Hands held open and ready at shoulder height.
Weight centered and balanced. A trained martial artist. Fortunately, so was she. In Krav Maga, the deadly system developed by Israeli Defense Forces for street fighting. Dirty, deadly street fighting.
She settled herself before the intruder. He rocked on the balls of his feet, noncommittal about attacking. She didn't want this guy to flee. She wanted to know who he was. Why he was poking around on her computer. She needed him to stand and fight.
"You think you can take me?" she taunted. "Think again. You're not man enough."
The guy snarled audibly. Excellent.
"Go ahead. Try me," she urged.
Another growl, but no attack.
She laughed derisively. And that did it. The guy came in with a fast roundhouse kick aimed at her face. Impressive in a Bruce Lee movie, but completely impractical in a real fight. She ducked under it easily. While he was still regaining his footing from the kick, she stepped in and stiff-armed him in the sternum. He staggered backward. But to his credit, he came out swinging. Fast hands. She blocked three quick jabs, but took a glancing hit from the fourth on the nose. Pain radiated outward from it, making her eyeballs ache. She blinked fast to clear the involuntary tears oozing from her eyes. And as she did so, she lashed out with her foot toward his knee. A solid hit. The guy cried out. Staggered. But righted himself and charged.
He was too close. She couldn't avoid the tackle. They both went down on the floor. She got an elbow between them, but the guy was pissed off now. He went for her neck with his gloved hands. She heaved and came around hard with her elbow. And clocked him in the jaw. The guy reeled back. A mighty shove and he was off her. She jumped to her feet.
"Who do you work for?" she demanded.
The guy's only answer was a nifty back-bend-and-jumpto-his-feet move. Damn. She should've stood on his head while she had him down. He launched at her with a flurry of kicks and punches that forced her to give ground. She banged into the coffee table. Knocked it over. Stumbled over it and righted herself barely in time to get a hand up as his foot came flying at her face with lethal intent. She grabbed his ankle and yanked, using the momentum of his kick to propel him into the sofa. But she was off balance herself and crashed to the floor flat on her back. She rolled, pulled her feet under her and shoved vertical. And felt faintly nauseous as the room spun around her. She saw double images of her assailant bouncing off the cushions and spinning to face her. She huffed hard a couple times to clear her head and focus.
His gaze flicked over her shoulder for an instant. Toward the front door. Either he had a partner who'd just walked in and she was hosed, or the jerk was contemplating getting out of Dodge. With a wordless shout, he charged her. But at the last second, he veered left. She dived for him as he ran past and wrapped her arms around his legs. They fell hard, his heels jamming into her gut until she nearly barfed. He kicked furiously, twisting and wriggling frantically. She hung on as best she could, but he slipped through her grasp. He jumped up and took off for the door. She pushed up and gave chase, bursting out onto her front porch. There! To the left. A sprinting figure.
She charged after him, the concrete sidewalk rough and cold beneath her bare feet in Maryland's January chill. He screeched to a stop by the door of a car. Ripped it open and jumped in. The car peeled away from the curb. She dived between two parked cars as the getaway car sped past, both to take cover and to get a closer look at the vehicle. Silver, midsize foreign sedan. The license plate was covered with something black.
Maybe a plastic garbage bag. It rippled as the car accelerated away from her into the night. Helplessly, she watched the vehicle turn onto River Road. Her Bethesda home had ready access to major highways in several directions, no telling where her assailant had gone. The bastards had gotten away.
And she was standing in the middle of the street on a freezing January night, with snow on the ground for God's sake, in nothing but a cropped T-shirt and soft cotton short-shorts.
Excerpted from Target by Cindy Dees Copyright © 2005 by Cindy Dees. Excerpted by permission.
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