Dr. Jane Palmer had every intention of telling FBI agent Steve Woods he was a father. But the rehearsed lines and practiced responses were forgotten the moment her little boy was kidnapped. Now, heart breaking and on the verge of falling apart, Jane needed Steve more than ever….
After every attempt at putting old feelings to rest, Steve Woods never expected Jane back in his life. Especially not for this reason. Racing against a ticking clock, desperate to earn Jane's trust, Steve still sensed Jane wasn't telling him everything. Which made him wonder why she'd come to Texas in the first place. And what it had to do with the child he'd do anything to rescue.
About the Author
Using actual Texas settings and realistic characters, this USA Today and Publisher's Weekly bestseller, creates stories with characters who put everything on the line. Angi is an 11th generation Texan who lives there with her husband and 'four-legged' kids. Find her at AngiMorganAuthor.com
Read an Excerpt
Steve Woods focused on the woman pushing a million dollars through the Fourth of July spectators in Williams Square. They hadn't identified her yet. She'd taken possession of the stroller—and the hidden money—only four minutes ago.
Musical notes from the orchestra's "Baby Elephant Walk" faded into the background along with the chatter of the Texas crowd. His target swerved to the right so Steve ducked behind a double-wide plaid shirt, keeping out of her line of sight.
With the ease of a longtime mother, the suspect fussed over an imaginary baby. The Mustangs of Las Colinas sculpture loomed in the background as she stuffed the large bills into a pack she flung onto her shoulder.
The gut instinct that kept him alive through ten years of FBI fieldwork pumped adrenaline through his veins. He couldn't figure out what was wrong. But he would. Heart pounding, he searched for any sign of a weapon while wiping sweat from his forehead.
"Everyone count off." No one around him took notice that he spoke into a hidden microphone built into his earpiece. The bystanders appeared intent on following their noses, drawn by the aromas of funnel cakes, hamburgers and roasted corn. Or in grabbing the free samples of Starbucks coffee before the portable store packed up shop and went home. No one here knew that a little boy had been kidnapped.
"Greenback Two in position with a lock." George Lanning began the count. Only four out of the five followed.
"Where's Stubblefield? Does anyone have eyes on her position?"
"She was by the corn dog stand two minutes ago." Even without the help of his powerful scope, George had the best vantage point of the entire field from atop the north parking garage. "I can't find her ponytail."
"Greenbacks scramble. Switch to Bravo Tango Alpha," Steve said. The team changed frequencies to exclude Stubble-field in case her radio was compromised. "Granger, search her last position. I'm staying with the target."
The sun sank fast behind the surrounding buildings. Darkness was just as much their enemy as the kidnappers. Once the fireworks began, it would be hard keeping the woman in sight. They had to stay alert and not lose the target in the crowd, even while restrained to the meandering pace set by the woman pushing the stroller.
Wouldn't she be in a hurry to leave?
The money headed toward the middle of the activities, the center of a field of picnic blankets, lawn chairs and kids with glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Steve had his agents in place, but the large perimeter stretched their coverage. Their target was cut off completely by a man-made lake on the southeast side of the field. The kidnappers had chosen an ideal time and place to run their game.
"Where the heck is she going?"
"I've got nothing," George answered. "The monorail blocks my view of the other side of the lake. Who builds a lake in the middle of a business district anyway?"
"Apparently the city of Las Colinas," Winstrop mumbled.
"Cut the chatter," Steve commanded. "Keep your eyes open. Our area is overextended, and you guys know the Irving cops and highway patrol already have their hands full monitoring the crowd. Anyone see Stubblefield?" Blast it. Her first assignment after moving back to his team, and she wasn't following protocol. Terrific.
He needed to sort the facts and disconnect from the team's challenges. Thomas Brant Jr., son of the computer mogul, age twenty-nine months, had been snatched July 3 from his mother's arms just outside their Dallas home. One computer-generated note—free of fingerprints or any other identifying marks—left next to her unconscious body and broken arm. Intentionally broken by the monster abducting her son.
One million. Large bills. Unmarked.
Packed in small bag in kid's stroller.
Cover with blue blanket.
Williams Square, Irving Fireworks, 8:00 p.m.
No payment and he gets the same as the mother.
Their only lead was to follow the money.
Three adults and two children blocked Steve's view of the target. She stood five feet from the lake. He stood fifteen feet behind her, within his reach, but the sky was completely dark.
Time was up.
"Any word on Stubblefield?" Everyone rose or stopped walking as the national anthem began. Some placed their hands over their hearts, and some sang their pride off-key, especially the guy in front of him. Pushing his respect aside, he concentrated on the target. He could see the white of her knuckles from her tight grip on the guide bar of the stroller.
"I'm here," Stubblefield said, out of breath. "I'm trailing a suspicious teenager and lost radio contact."
"I no longer have a lock on the target," George interrupted. "Too many civilians in the way."
Steve inventoried his target—small frame, hair stuffed under a floppy hat, a drawstring bag looped over both shoulders, flip-flops, and a red, white and blue oversize shirt that hung to the edge of her tight, blue jean shorts.
Why would someone prepared to grab the money and run wear flip-flops?
The first rocket exploded. The hushed awe now shattered by the pops, sizzles and crackles of fireworks. Steve didn't let the noise distract him. He stared at the woman's slender ankles and bright red toenails. They moved.
Closer to the lake.
"She's going in the water!" he shouted to his team.
Shoving through two cowboys, he snatched the stroller. Frightened blue eyes turned to him. Familiar eyes.
It couldn't be…
A prick burned his forearm. He heard "I'm sorry" from a voice he remembered only too well. Her hands grabbed at his belt before he realized his knees had buckled and he crashed into her body. The ground meeting his shoulder didn't cause him pain, which was odd. There should have been a jolt.
Had he been shot?
A blurry image waved off the concerned men. The world swirled around him, lit by the white and silver rockets exploding over his head. Her hands shifted from his chest to the bag of money, where she unrolled…a hose? No, a breathing tube. She replaced the bag on her back as quickly as the shoes came off her feet.
"George." He struggled with words, unable to force his mouth or hands to move.
"He just collapsed," she told the men around her. Then she forced something into his hand. "I'm really sorry, Steve. Here's the antidote. The paralysis is only temporary."
Damn, it was his Jane. What was she doing here?
"I'll guide the paramedics here," she said, but he knew she wouldn't.
Dr. Jane Palmer, chemist, genius, ex-lover. Not exactly who he thought he'd be tracking tonight.
Barely able to turn his head, he caught sight of her sliding into the lake. No one paid any attention. The men were stillshaking him, attempting to get a response. He couldn't move his pinkie, let alone follow. Jane disappeared in the water as the two guys trying to help him drew a crowd.
He struggled to keep his eyelids open. The guys shook him harder, as his team screamed "man down" and called for an ambulance. George shouted that the target was underwater and someone needed to follow her.
"Get out of the way!" Windstrom reached him first. The grass swished near Steve's ear before a friendly hand landed on his chest. "Woods? Can you hear me? Lanning, where are the EMTs? He's barely breathing."
"Where's he shot?"
"I can't find a wound." He pried Steve's fingers away from whatever Jane had placed in his fist. "Wait a minute. It's a note addressed to Zaphod? God, it's instructions to administer an antidote. There's a hypo here. Should I do it? George?"
Steve heard the voices. Everything in his brain seemed to work, but he couldn't focus past the blur in his eyes or force his mouth to move.
He wasn't about to die until he figured out why and how Jane was involved in this kidnapping.
Thank God she could figure out the breathing apparatus. If she had more than four minutes to make the underwater swim, Jane would question the motives of the universe. Question why the one man she prayed would rescue her, lay paralyzed from her drug 9RW6.
Special Agent Steve Woods. It had been almost four years.
She capped the flood of emotions that would block her from thinking clearly. She couldn't breathe from the pony tank and cry at the same time anyway. She kicked harder. Suppressed anger and frustration made her stronger with every stroke.
Rory needed her. Those bastards wouldn't hurt her son because she'd made a mistake. Following the kidnapper's instructions, she continued through the dark water.
The kidnappers had kept her and Rory for the past two days, keeping her awake and drilling their plan into her mind. The only chance Rory had was for her to follow their instructions. They'd taken her formula and forced her to use it against whoever chased her from the plaza. And great, it had to be Steve and the FBI. Did they know about Rory's kidnapping? Was that why Steve was there?
Maybe he'd be taken off the case, and she wouldn't have to deal with him. Anyone but him. She couldn't handle his explanations or accusations. Not now. She hadn't expected Steve to be there tonight but maybe they'd understand the note faster if he was involved. He would know what her cryptic message meant.
They were the FBI, for pity's sake. God help me. She prayed with each stroke that carried her closer to one of her son's abductors.
Fear nipped at her system and caused her breath to hitch. Not good while trying to breathe underwater. Better to concentrate on the rhythm of her strokes, on her strength. On how she would methodically tear the kidnappers limb from limb if they harmed her little boy. They would wish they had killed her if anything happened to Rory.
Any time now. Bringing the illuminated diving compass closer to her goggles, she cautiously surfaced at the instructed coordinates. Exploding fireworks cast enough flickering light to see a black-clad figure steering a small rowboat about fifteen feet away.
A man wearing a pull-on President Clinton mask hauled her over the side. She wasn't seated properly before he threw a towel in her direction and wrenched the heavy bag from her back. His deranged laughter made her spine shudder.
"I don't care what the money is for, it doesn't matter.
Just don't hurt Rory. I'll do anything to get my son back." Anything.
"Clinton" ignored her plea and threw a lumpy grocery sack at her feet. Huddling under the dark towel, she pulled yet another tight stretchy shirt over her head. For the second phase in this nightmare to work, she needed to appear dry while driving away.
Separate yourself from the emotion, Jane. Her mother's voice rang clear. Panic never resolved anything. The one time she'd thrown caution to the wind, her sense of freedom had left her pregnant and raising a child alone.
She ignored the putrid pond stench and the rubbery feeling in her legs from swimming the race of her life. Once they reached shore, her captor held a Glock in his gloved hand. There weren't too many people on this side of the lake by the parking garage. None close enough to notice her or the man in the Clinton mask.
Now that they had what they wanted, she assumed the gunman wouldn't hesitate to shoot. So she obeyed her instructions by not calling out for help or drawing attention to herself.
They climbed over a half wall that formed the ground floor of a dimly lit parking garage. A car sat three spaces from the exit.
Judging from the vivid colors bursting in the sky and the John Philip Sousa melody echoing across the lake, the program had reached its finale. She needed to be in traffic when the fireworks ended.
"Clinton" tossed her the keys. Without a grunt in her direction, the guy took off. She had no idea what he looked like. She couldn't identify anything about him except his average height and slender build.
That summed everything up. She couldn't prove anything, give the police anything to go on, or assist in any way. The creep hadn't even spoken to her. The abductors' instructions were burned into her memory.
She popped the trunk and settled a long blond wig complete with dark roots onto her head. The walk alongside the car took a minute with new bright orange flip-flops on her feet. She pulled the seat forward as others began loading their cars with lounge chairs and coolers.
Adjusting the mirrors, she tried to achieve a bored look, and desperately tried to slow the beat of her heart. No use. She pulled out of the Omni Hotel's garage. Despite her best efforts, her protective bubble of self-control lay close to shattering. Willpower alone kept her alert, despite appearing relaxed behind the steering wheel. Her insides churned as if she were the contents of a giant milkshake.
The stream of automobiles thickened. She passed policeman after policeman directing traffic. The urge to scream for help grew until she had to cover her mouth with a shaking hand.
The cars came to a complete stop in all directions, and an ambulance siren screamed through the intersection. Guilt rattled her, creating another crack in her discipline. Steve. They must be moving him to a hospital, but he'd be okay. He had to be okay.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Hold on to the steering wheel. Follow directions. She steadily moved her hands to a ten-and-two position on the hard cool plastic.
Everything will work out. Follow the plan.
With or without Steve's help identifying her, the FBI would connect the antidote to Dr. Jane Palmer, research scientist. During the past two days, she hadn't been given an opportunity to contact the police or Steve. Now she was a fugitive, part of the kidnappers' plan. If she called anyone for help, she couldn't save Rory.
Every person she knew would be interrogated. Her home would be invaded, and everything she owned would be searched. They'd find the book. Now that Steve was part of
this, there was a good chance they'd understand the clue that much sooner.
Please God. Bring my little boy back to me. She prayed over and over and over.
Heading westbound on Highway 114, she eased her foot off the accelerator as she passed a black-and-white. The lake house would be there no matter how fast she drove.
"You have to pull through this, Steve. We need your help."
Three hours in the hospital and still no one knew what had happened to him. He'd been informed they'd found another antidote vial locked in a safe at her apartment. Antidote for what? Everyone wanted to know but Jane held all the answers. It was her serum.
Determined to leave, he'd forced his doctor to admit that nothing was seriously wrong with him. He pulled his shirt over his head just as George came through the curtains.
"Has the Brant kid shown?"
"We lost her." His partner dropped his eyes to the floor and shook his head.
"You've got a team finding out where she's working?" he asked and tucked his shirt into his jeans.