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"Kate, I'm in trouble," Angela Giordano, her former college roommate, whispered urgently through the phone. "You have to help me!"
Kate Townsend frowned and tried to ignore the churning in her stomach. She tightened her grip on the subway pole as the Chicago train lurched around a curve. "What kind of trouble?"
"I think my uncle is trying to kill me."
She sucked in a harsh breath, but couldn't say she was surprised. Angela's uncle was Bernardo Salvatore, suspected Chicago crime boss. "Why? What happened?"
"I can't tell you now," Angela whispered. "I need you to meet me here in the back of the restaurant. Hurry!"
No way was she going to the restaurant owned by Salvatore. Talk about walking straight into the lion's den. "Try to remain calm. I'll help you escape, but we have to meet someplace else." She tried to think logically. They needed to meet out in the open, in neutral territory. "I'm on the red line, heading north. Let's meet at Stanton Park. It's not far from the restaurant."
There was a long pause. "I'd rather wait for you to get here." Angela's voice had dropped so low Kate almost couldn't hear her. Had someone come outside to find Angela? Someone spying for her uncle? Salvatore wasn't the type to do his own dirty work.
"Stanton Park," Kate insisted, glancing at her watch. "I can meet you by the northeast corner of the building in forty minutes."
"Okay," Angela agreed, before quickly hanging up.
Kate clutched her phone, trying to calm her racing heart. She was worried about her former roommate, but she also hoped this might be the break she needed. Now that Angela was in danger, too, there was no reason for her to protect her uncle. Surely Angela would cooperate, giving the authorities inside information about Bernardo's activities.
And maybe, just maybe, Kate would find a solid link to her father's death. His murder. Her chest tightened painfully and the grief she'd tried so hard to keep at bay threatened to erupt.
She took several deep breaths, battling back the wave. She missed him so much. She still had trouble believing he was gone. The pastor at their church reminded her he was in a better place, but that knowledge didn't stop her heart from aching. Didn't stop her from crying herself to sleep at night.
From being determined to seek answers.
In the four weeks since her father's death, she'd become obsessed with trying to find a way to link Salvatore to the crash that had claimed her father's life. But she wasn't getting any help from official channels. According to the police report, her dad, a Chicago cop, had been on the way to the courthouse when he was killed in a motor vehicle crash. His driver's-side door was T-boned at a busy intersection. A witness had come forward claiming it was a tragic accident, and based on that statement, the cops were willing to close the case.
But Kate wasn't buying that story. For one thing, the driver of the other vehicle hadn't been hurt at all, and when she'd tried to track him down, it seemed as if he'd vanished without a trace. She couldn't find proof that a person with that name and address had ever existed. Also, she had thought it was suspicious that her father had died on the way to the courthouse to testify against Dean Ravden, one of Salva-tore's goons. But since the only charge against Ravden was a DUI, no one believed that her father had been the victim of a mafia hit.
Not even her oldest brother, Garrett, who was also a Chicago cop. He'd listened patiently to her theory, but then told her she was imagining things. Their father's unexpected death couldn't possibly be the result of a professional hit. Garrett told her the mafia wouldn't bother to stage a car accidentthey would have simply shot him in the head. Or the heart.
Still, she knew deep down that somehow, someway, Salva-tore was responsible. With Angela's help, she might be able to prove it. Turning her grief into grim determination wasn't easy, but she steeled her resolve and focused on the upcoming meeting with Angie. It was nearly eight o'clock in the evening, which meant that it would be dark by the time she reached the park. She needed to arrange some sort of backup.
For a moment she considered contacting FBI Special Agent Logan Quail, but almost as soon as the thought formed, she rejected it. She'd only talked to Logan once in the six months since she'd been his informant while working as a waitress at Salvatore's restaurant. With his help, she'd left the mafia-owned restaurant without raising Salvatore's suspicions.
But once she'd recognized Dean Ravden during a news story, she'd called the number he'd made her memorize. Much like her brother, Logan had listened while she explained how she had seen Ravden meeting with Salvatore at the restaurant and why she thought her father was murdered. But while Logan thanked her for the information, he also told her in no uncertain terms to stay out of the investigation. He seemed distant and impatient with her for calling, so she simply agreed and hung up.
She shouldn't have been surprised at the way he'd shut her down, since Logan didn't think much of her goal to become a police officer. He'd made it clear he didn't believe women belonged in law enforcement.
During the few days they'd worked together, six months ago, she'd felt close to him, but once they were out of danger, he'd walked away. To be fair, he'd first tried to convince her to go into a safe house. When she refused, he left barely saying goodbye.
After Logan bruised her heart, she decided it was better to keep her distance. She'd thrown herself into her schooling, finishing up her criminal justice degree.
Being a cop was all she had ever wanted to do. Her grandfather, her father and her three older brothers were all in law enforcement. She'd intended to try out for the police academy, but then her father had died. And her world had spun out of control.
Now it was time to get back on track. She grimaced and pulled out her phone to call her eldest brother, Garrett. He hadn't believed her before, but surely he'd come through for her now that she had Angela as a potential witness. Maybe Angie could even verify that Ravden was one of her uncle's thugs.
For the first time in days, she felt a quiver of anticipation. She quickly dialed her brother and waited for him to answer.
"Katie? What's up?" Her brother's deep voice helped calm her nerves.
"I need your help. My old roommate Angela needs to get away from her uncle, Bernardo Salvatore. I'm heading over to meet her now. How quickly can you get to Stanton Park?"
"Are you crazy?" Garrett shouted in her ear, so loud she winced and pulled away the phone. "No way, absolutely not. It's too dangerous." Her brothers were always overprotec-tive, but she couldn't remember the last time Garrett had yelled at her.
"But she might be able to give us key information," she pointed out, striving to remain calm. "I can stall until you get here."
"I'm more than an hour away and can't leave in the middle of my shift. Don't go, Kate. I mean it. I forbid you to go!"
Forbid? Since when did her brothers forbid her to do anything? She was so upset and shocked she could barely speak.
"Katie, please." Her brother's tone softened, as if he'd sensed he'd gone too far. "We'll meet her first thing in the morning, okay? Call her back and let her know we'll meet with her then."
"What if tomorrow is too late?" She knew only too well how Salvatore got rid of people. He murdered them in cold blood and then dumped their bodies into Lake Michigan. At least that's what he'd done six months ago, when a waitress at the restaurant had crossed him.
"Tell her we'll meet her later tonight then. I get off work in a couple of hours. Just don't meet her alone," her brother insisted.
"All right, I'll call her back." She hung up on her brother and then dialed Angie's number, but the call went straight through to voice mail.
She sighed and chewed her lip as she considered her options. Her brother didn't want her to meet Angela alone, but she wasn't helpless. She knew basic self-defense moves; her brothers had taught her well. She'd picked the location, not Angie. Therefore, she had the upper hand.
Again, she considered calling Logan Quail, but knew his reaction would be very similar to her brother's. She tried Angie one more time, and when she still didn't pick up, Kate decided she had no choice but to go to the park as planned. Her brother called, but she sent the call to voice mail. She didn't have time to argue with him, and besides, he was too far away to help her, which was why she'd called him in the first place.
When the subway stopped near the park, she elbowed her way past the crowds to exit the train. Stanton Park wasn't far from Old Town, a short distance from Salvatore's restaurant. She walked quickly, avoiding direct eye contact with any of the other patrons.
She arrived at the park a good ten minutes early, and made sure she wasn't followed as she wound her way to the back of the park, where the recreation center was located. She'd thought a public place would be safe, but because of the late hour, there weren't many people around. Still, she rested against the side of the brick building before sending Angela a quick text.
I'm here. Where r u?
She waited a few minutes, but didn't get a response from Angela. Her stomach knotted with worry. First no response to her phone calls, and now no response to her text message. Had something happened? Had Salvatore or one of his men caught her at the restaurant before she could leave? Was Kate too late to help her?
Please, Lord, keep Angela safe.
Kate stood with her shoulder pressed against the brick wall, peering cautiously around the corner toward the front of the building, scanning the area. Her heart thudded painfully, as the seconds passed with agonizing slowness.
The area in front of the recreation center was unusually quiet. Time passed slowly, until it was ten minutes past their arranged meeting time. She silently vowed to wait another ten minutes before heading back to the subway.
Then she saw Angela, dressed in the familiar Salvatore's waitress uniform of black skirt, black apron and crisp white blouse, walking briskly up the sidewalk toward the building. Kate let out her breath in a sigh of relief.
"Kate?" Angela called softly. "Where are you?"
For a moment she hesitated, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck lifting in sudden alarm, but before she could move the cold steel barrel of a gun pressed through into the center of her back. "Step forward very slowly," a low male voice said from behind her. "If you try to run, I'll shoot."
A trap! Stunned speechless, she could hardly wrap her mind around the fact that Angela had actually set her up. How else would the gunman have known she was here? Kate glared at her former roommate in horror as she followed the gunman's demand to take several steps forward.
Angela's eyes had widened in shock. "What are you doing? You promised you wouldn't hurt her!"
"Go back to the restaurant. This isn't your concern," the gravelly voice said. Battling her fear, she listened intently to the hint of an Italian accent in the gunman's voice. Her mouth went desert dry as she realized it wasn't likely Salvatore himself behind her, when he delegated the dirty work. He had plenty of hired muscle to do these kinds of things for him.
Like kidnapping her. Or flat out killing her. Feeling helpless, she thought of how upset her brothers would be to lose her. And for a moment, Logan Quail's broad grin, as he tipped the brim of his cowboy hat, flashed into her mind. He wouldn't be at all happy if she died here tonight. Especially since he'd gone out of his way to help her escape Sal-vatore six months ago.
Angela gave Kate one last helpless glance before turning and running back in the direction from where she'd come. Kate tried to slow down her breathing, assessing her escape options, which admittedly looked grim. If she ran, she had no doubt the gunman would follow through on his threat of shooting her in the back.
Obviously, she'd been a fool to believe her former roommate had really been in trouble. Angie knew what her uncle was, and went to work for him at the restaurant anyway. Convincing Kate to join her, no less. Kate foolishly had taken the job, only to find out the place was run by the mafia. She'd been so glad Logan had helped her get out of there. Yet all for naught, considering she was being held at gunpoint.
Swallowing a lump of fear, she briefly closed her eyes and prayed. Please keep me safe, Lord!
Feeling calmer, she lifted her hands up higher in the air as a gesture of surrender, as she addressed the gunman. "Tell me what you want. Money? Information? I'm sure we can come to some sort of understanding."
"I don't want anything, but Salvatore wants you!"
Oh, boy. She didn't like the sound of that. Why would Salvatore want her now after all this time? She didn't know what Salvatore wanted, but there was a slim chance of surviving this if she could keep the gunman talking long enough. If Garrett had figured out she hadn't listened to his advice, maybe, just maybe, he'd send a police cruiser to the park to help her. "I'm surprised to hear that since he's the one who fired me. Does this mean he'll give me my waitress job back? I could use the money, the tips were great."
The tip of the gun jabbed the area between her shoulder blades, making her suck in a harsh breath. "Don't play dumb. Turn around and walk to the back of the building."
Never go to a second location. The knowledge reverberated in her mind, but what choice did she have? With the gun prodding her, she walked slowly, twisting her neck in an attempt to get a glimpse of the gunman. But when the gun barrel dug painfully through her T-shirt into her skin, she gave up.
She would stall as long as possible so she could remain at her last-known location.
"I'm not playing dumb. I don't know what's going on. Mr. Salvatore fired me because I was so nervous I dropped dirty dishes into his lap. Surely he hasn't held a grudge all this time? I mean, is killing me over dirty dishes really worth it?"
As they reached the back of the building, the gun barrel pressed even harder, making her bend forward at the waist in an attempt to ease the pressure. "Down on your knees," he said in a harsh tone.
No! Was he really going to kill her right here in the park? She'd thought Salvatore wanted her alive, but maybe he only wanted her dead. She sank to her knees, closed her eyes and silently recited the Lord's Prayer.
"Well, now, who's this little filly?" The familiar Texan drawl made her eyelids snap open.