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You have to get me out of this!" Lucy Miller hissed into her encrypted cell phone, the one that had been delivered to her home a few weeks ago. The phone had rung just as she'd left a staff meeting. She'd ducked into the ladies' rest room, where she'd checked every stall to make sure she was alone.
"Relax, Lucy," said the soothing voice Lucy had come to know so well. She had often fantasized about what the man who owned that deep, sexy voice might look like, but not today. Today she was too terrified to fantasize about anything but getting out of this situation with her skin intact.
"Don't you tell me to relax," she whispered back.
"You aren't the one stuck in this bank trying to act normal when she knows she's about to get liquidated."
"Liquidated? You must be watching too much Get Smart. No one is trying to kill you."
"You didn't see the man who was following me. I know a hit man when I see one. He was wearing a coat, and it's like ninety degrees outside."
"It's also raining in D.C. today. He probably had on a raincoat."
"Casanova, you're not listening! My cover has been blown. Someone has been in my apartment. Either you get me out of here, or I'll hop the first plane I can find to South America and I'll take all my data with me!"
"No! Lucy, be reasonable -- "
"I'm done being reasonable. I've done everything you asked without question. I've trusted you implicitly, though I've never met you and don't even know your name. Now it's your turn to trust me. I'm not stupid. If you don't get me out, this very expensive little cell phone is going into the nearest sewer, and you'll never hear from me again."
"All right! I'll bethere by five-thirty, six at the latest. Can you hang tight till then? Can you make it home?"
Lucy took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She'd spotted her tail three days ago, and she'd realized yesterday that someone had searched her apartment. But so far her observer was keeping his distance. Maybe she could make it a few more hours. She struggled for a reasonable tone of voice. "I'll do my best. But if anything happens, tell my parents I love them, okay?"
"You'll be fine, drama queen."
Lucy disconnected before she said something she'd regret. Drama queen? Did Casanova think she was some flaky paranoid? Hadn't she proved her worth over the past weeks? Casanova. Who'd come up with that handle, anyway, and why?
She put the cell phone back in her purse and started to exit the rest room, but then she caught a look at herself in the mirror. She looked like a mad woman, her wavy brown hair escaping from its customary bun and frizzing around her face, her cheeks flush with panic, eyes wild with fear behind her glasses. She took five minutes to neaten her hair, powder her nose and apply her pink lipstick. The shade did nothing for her, but that didn't matter. She wasn't exactly supermodel material these days. She only wore a little makeup because she was in an executive position and the other female executives did.
She'd been trying to fit in, not call attention to herself.
When she looked and felt more composed, she left the sanctuary of the rest room and headed for her office, hoping she could close the door and hole up in there for the rest of the afternoon. She was afraid that if she had to deal with anyone, she would fall apart.
Some spy you turned out to be, Lucy Miller. Disintegrating at the first sign of danger.
As luck would have it, she rounded a corner and ran right into the bank's portly CEO, the man who'd hired her.
"Oh, hello, Lucy," he said politely. "I was just looking for you."
"Sorry, I was in the ladies' room. My lunch isn't sitting well, I'm afraid." She figured he wouldn't ask too many questions about that. He was easily embarrassed, she'd discovered.
He scrutinized her face with his one good eye. The other had been destroyed in some kind of accident, though she didn't know the details. Her skin prickled with nerves. Could he see her fear? "You don't look well," he said. "You're very pale. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, really." Just like Mr. Vargov to be concerned. He was a kind, fatherly man, a friend of her uncle Dennis who'd given her this job when she sorely needed a safe, stable employment. She'd been under-qualified for the fund auditor's job, with her piddling bachelor's degree in finance and no experience to speak of, but she felt she'd performed the job well.
Too well, in Mr. Vargov's opinion. He thought she was too conscientious. He hadn't taken her suspicions about embezzlement very seriously. That was why she'd gone to Homeland Security. That was how she'd gotten involved with Casanova.
"Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off?" Mr. Vargov suggested.
"Oh, I couldn't.You said you wanted those reports -- "
"The reports can wait. Your uncle would have my hide if he found out I was cracking the whip over you when you're sick."
"Thanks, Mr. Vargov. Maybe I will leave just a little early if I don't feel better."
"I think you should."
And maybe, she thought, if she left early, she could fool the man or men who'd been following her. She wouldn't mind saying goodbye to this place. She'd needed a place to recover, to heal, to get her bearings, and Alliance Trust had provided that. Her co-workers had been kind, the working conditions pleasant. Her boss hadn't required too much of her, and the salary had been much higher than someone her age and experience normally earned.
But it was time to move on. She would spend another hour downloading as much information as she could onto her supercapacity memory stick, then leave here and never come back.
Casanova would take her to a safe house. He'd promised. And then, when all the arrests were made and the perpetrators were in jail, she could start over somewhere else. A new job, a new life.
It sounded like heaven.
At ten after three, she was ready. She stashed the memory stick in her bra. Taking only her purse and umbrella, she told Peggy Holmes, Mr. Vargov's executive secretary and the woman who knew everything, that she was going home early due to an upset stomach.
"Oh, my dear, I hope it's nothing serious. You've missed only one day of work since you started here, and that was for a root canal. On a lower-left molar, I believe." Peggy was in her sixties and had worked for Mr. Vargov for twenty-something years. With her tightly permed hair and dumpy, big-bosomed figure, she was everyone's grandmother. But Lucy knew she was highly intelligent with an astounding memory for detail and an efficiency that bordered on pathological.
"I'll be fine," Lucy said, hoping it was true. The idea of walking into the parking garage alone held little appeal. One of the security guards would have been happy to escort her, but if a hit man was waiting for her there, she might just be dragging the guard into danger.
She shouldn't behave as expected, she decided. She would take the bus. There was a bus stop just a block from her office.
The weather was warm and humid with an insistent, light rain falling, but Lucy felt cold inside as she exited her building. She put up her umbrella, taking the opportunity to glance surreptitiously around to see if she spotted the man in the raincoat. But she saw no one suspicious.
She walked up the block, her sensible low heels tapping against the wet sidewalk. She pretended to window-shop, not wanting to stand at the bus stop too long. When she saw the bus approaching, she hurried to the stop and dashed on board just in time. The only other people to board with her were a mom with two small children. Thank God.
When she got off at the stop near her Arlington, Virginia, town house, she still saw no one. Maybe she'd outmaneuvered him. Or maybe he'd given up on her, decided she was no one to worry about. He wouldn't have found anything incriminating in her home. She kept the memory stick with her at all times.
Her tiny town house had only one door, and this morning she'd rigged it so she would know if anyone had been inside. She checked; the tiny hair she'd caught between door and frame was still in place. She inserted her key and entered, pausing to close her wet umbrella and shake it off on the porch.
She'd lived here for two years. Her uncle had found it for her, and she'd committed to renting it without ever seeing it. It was nice but boring -- like her life had been until a few weeks ago -- and she'd made no effort to turn it into a real home. She wouldn't mind walking away from it.
As she closed and bolted the door, a hand clamped over her mouth and a strong arm hauled her against a rock-hard body.
Panic rising in her throat, Lucy didn't think, she just acted. The umbrella was still in her hand. She aimed it behind her and jabbed her attacker in the thigh as hard as she could.
Her attacker issued a strangled gasp and loosened his grip on her just enough that she could bend her knees and drop. As she did, she grabbed one of the man's denim-clad legs and yanked, throwing him off balance. He fell onto the marble floor with a painful-sounding thunk. Still gripping the umbrella, Lucy straightened, swiveled toward her attacker and went for his throat with the sharp tip of her impromptu weapon.
He grabbed the umbrella and deflected it. "Lucy, stop! It's me, Casanova!" He jerked the umbrella out of her hands and tossed it aside. Unfortunately, he also knocked her off balance. She fell on top of him and found herself staring into a pair of the most remarkable blue eyes she'd ever seen.
"Casanova?" But she knew it was him. She'd recognized his voice instantly.
"Jeez, woman, are you insane?You almost killed me."
"You broke into my home and attacked me, I fought back, but I'm insane?"
"You're not supposed to be home until later. I had no idea who you were. And where did you learn to fight like that?"
"I took a self-defense class. What are you doing in my house?"
"If you're under surveillance, I couldn't just come to the front door. I broke in."
"How? I have an alarm."
"Your neighbor doesn't." He grinned, and Lucy looked up and into the living room, where she saw a huge hole in her wall. "You came through the wall? You didn't frighten Mrs. Pfluger, did you? And what's my landlord going to say?"
"You won't be here to find out. We're leaving." That was the first comforting thing he'd said. "Then you believe me?"
"Your house is riddled with more listening devices than the American Embassy in Russia. Someone's been here, all right." His expression turned grim.
Lucy dropped her voice to a whisper. "Are they listening? Right now?