About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He slid into the seat of his BMW and pushed the hood away from his face. Dealing with multiple off-quality batches had kept him late every night this week.
If they didn't get a handle on their production issues soon, they ran a serious risk of missing shipments and losing customers. Losing customers meant losing jobs and Harrison Plastics International hadn't laid off an employee in sixty-three years. He didn't want to be the first Harrison in three generations to break faith with their employees. Their friends.
He shook off the gloominess. They'd had issues before and had overcome them without having to resort to personnel cuts. He had confidence in his engineering team. They'd get things working again. He'd be able to relax after he had a decent meal, a story time with his little Maggie-moo and a full eight-hour visit with his pillow.
He pulled out of the HPI parking lot and began the half-mile drive to his home. The rain made it hard to see the lines on the pavement and he kept his speed low as he entered the sharp curve marking the halfway point to his driveway.
Headlights coming up way too fast flashed in his rear-view mirror. Didn't that guy have the good sense to slow down? At least he wouldn't have to deal with him on his tail for long.
Without warning, the headlights grew larger in his mirror and a sudden impact threw him forward before the seat belt slammed him back into his seat. He tried to steer as the BMW skidded across the road but lost control on the wet pavement and crashed into the opposite ditch, tail-first.
He didn't know how long he sat there, hands clenched around the wheel. As his breathing slowed, he took a quick inventory. He could move his arms and legs. His neck and back would be killing him tomorrow, but he didn't think he'd suffered any major damage. He breathed a prayer of thanksgiving as he groped around in the seat for his cell phone to call for a tow truck.
Before he could find it, the passenger-side door flew open. He blinked in the brightness from the dome lights and tried to focus on the dark shape leaning into his car. He caught a glimpse of big green eyes filled with concern before a slender finger stretched out and extinguished the light.
"Can you move?" He could barely make out the words over the pounding rain. A small hand gripped his arm. "Blake? You have to focus."
What on earth?
She moved closer and unbuckled his seat belt. "Can you move?"
"Yes. What are you"
"Then move!" She reached around the steering wheel, pushed open the driver's-side door and shoved him out into the downpour. He slipped on the bank and had just gotten his footing when she grabbed his hand. "Let's go. We have to get out of here."
"Hey." He shook her off. "I'm not going anywhere with you. I don't know you. I have to find my phone and"
"Do you have a death wish?"
"They're turning around. We have to get away from the car."
Turning around? The meaning of her words soaked in. They'd hit him on purpose?
"This way." When her hand clasped his, he allowed her to pull him away from the wreckage and up the bank. As they dove into the trees, headlights flashed around the curve and the air filled with the unmistakable sound of metal dragging across asphalt.
He turned and watched in horror as a massive truck sped away from the mangled remains of his car.
"close." The mystery woman had her phone to her ear. "Send an ambulance."
"I don't need an ambulance," he said. "I need answers." Why would anyone do this? He didn't have any enemies. Well, a few, but none that would run him off the road and try to kill him. "Who are you?"
The sound of sirens pierced the air and she backed away. "Who I am doesn't matter. In fact, it would be best if you don't mention me to the authorities at all."
She disappeared into the woods faster than he would have thought possible. He could try to follow her, but in the dark and rain, he wouldn't have a clue which direction she'd gone. He stared at the spot where she'd disappeared and called out, "Thank you," before sliding back down the bank as the first police car pulled to the side, lights flashing blue and eerie in the gloom.
The next few hours passed in a haze of images. Police and ambulance lights illuminating the surrounding forest. The officer telling him an anonymous caller had reported the accident. His dad standing beside the remains of the car, shaking his head in disbelief. The smell of gasoline mixed with the scent of torn earth. The EMTs insisting he ride to the hospital in the ambulance. His sister, Caroline, clad in hot pink rain boots and jacket, tears streaming down her face when she saw him in the emergency room. His mother's relieved voice when he spoke to her and his daughter, Maggie, assuring them he'd be home soon.
One CT scan and several exams later, they released him as Saturday dawned clear and cool. Caroline drove with extra caution, for her, and took him straight to their parents' home to pick up Maggie. Through it all, not one person suggested he'd been the victim of an attempted murder. The police were treating it as a hit-and-run. Given his minimal injuries, and knowing he carried plenty of car insurance, he doubted the investigation would go far.
He didn't know why he hadn't mentioned the mystery woman's involvement. Not even to his dad. There had never seemed to be a good time to bring it up.
But she'd been there. She'd appeared out of nowhere, jumped into his car and pushed him to safety, risking her own life in the process. And somehow she'd known his attacker would turn around to try again.
Which left him with two burning questions.
When the driver, whoever they were, found out he had survived, what then?
And who was she?
FBI Special Agent Heidi Zimmerman pulled through a fast-food drive-through minutes before they stopped serving breakfast. She'd spent the night at the hospital keeping an eye on the Harrisons while a tactical operations crew worked in the rain to install surveillance equipment at all three of the Harrisons' homes.
No one ran surveillance like TacOps, but the parameters of her mission hadn't included keeping tabs on the Harrisons. Until now.
When she'd called the agent in charge of the TacOps team, Special Agent Kyle Richards, and explained what had happened, he'd offered to expand their surveillance parameters to include the Harrisons.
If anyone decided to sneak around on their property, the TacOps guys would let her know.
She sat at the small desk in her hotel room and spread out her breakfast. She'd taken one bite when the phone rang.
"What on earth were you thinking?" Special Agent in Charge, Frank Cunningham, her boss and godfather, sounded like he wanted to strangle her.
"You'd rather I'd sat back and let someone kill him?"
"You went in there with no backup"
"I called Max."
"blew your cover"
"Blake Harrison's the only one who saw."
"could have been killed"
"Like that isn't an everyday occurrence."
"and defied a direct order."
Someone else spoke, but she couldn't catch the words. Uncle Frank sighed. "Jacobs is defending you. Says he'd have done the same thing."
"I said I hope I would have," her partner, Max Jacobs, said. He must have stepped closer to the speaker. "Are you okay?" In spite of her frustration, Heidi smiled. Max was the brother she'd never had. She had no doubt he'd chew her out later, but just like most siblings, he wouldn't sit back and let anyone else rip into her. Whenever she was under fire, he always, always had her back.
"Need some sleep." She yawned. "Otherwise, I'm fine."
"And Blake Harrison?"
"No concussion or broken bones. Wouldn't be surprised to learn he has whiplash."
"Beats the alternative." No doubt.
"Who saw you?" Uncle Frank's tone hadn't softened.
"They didn't notice your car?"
"Give me some credit." Uncle Frank's skills included knowing how to push every button she had. He wouldn't talk to his other agents this way. No. He reserved this level of tough love for her and her alone. "I left it in an overgrown abandoned driveway. That rain was no joke. You could barely see the road, much less a car hidden in the brush twenty feet off the pavement. No one saw me leave, either."
"Can you identify the car?"
"Truck. Full-size. Dark. Plates covered in dirt. Matches the description of half the trucks in the county. Should have some paint transfer, but my guess is they'll wipe it down and ditch it. And I doubt they bought it legally in the first place."
"We'll check for stolen trucks in the area," Max said. "Maybe we'll get a hit."
She appreciated the effort Max was making to diffuse the tension.
"Can you explain to me what you were doing there in the first place? Or why on earth someone tried to kill Blake Harrison?"
Heidi snapped. "I don't have a clue why someone tried to kill him, Uncle Frank. Maybe he's got more enemies than we knew about. I'll be sure to ask him." Did he expect her to solve the case before she even started the job? "As for what I was doing there, I believe it's called running surveillance. It's what I do when I go undercover. I'm pretty sure it's what you taught me to do."
Uncle Frank didn't respond.
"I was sitting at the edge of the parking lot and I saw a car leave at an odd time. The shift didn't end for another hour. I thought I'd have time to follow the driver to see if they did anything suspicious and be back by the end of the shift. My plan had been to see if anyone hung around late on a Friday."
"Good idea, Z." Bless Max.
"The rain was so heavy, I didn't realize it was Blake Harrison until I'd already pulled in behind him. He turned onto the road and I almost let him go, but this truck came up fast and "
"And I don't know why I followed them. I just did."
"She's got the best instincts of any agent I've ever worked with," Max said. "They've saved my life more than once."
"I guess it's good for Blake Harrison that you followed your gut," Uncle Frank finally conceded.
Heidi knew that was as close as she was going to get to an apology.
"You're going to have to read him in. Soon. He needs to know who he can and cannot talk to about this." At least Uncle Frank's voice had returned to normal decibels.
"I'll take care of it."
"Great," Max said with enough brightness to rival a high school cheerleader. "Z, you need to get some rest. We'll let you know if we learn anything on the truck."
"Heidi, remember what you promised me." Uncle Frank's words erased all her frustration with him. His anger wasn't directed at her. His anger reflected his fear for her safety.
"I'll be careful."
She ended the call, finished her breakfast and took a long shower before falling across the bed. She'd found the cheap mattress hard for the past month, but today it didn't matter.
The ringing phone jolted her back to consciousness. The clock on the bedside table read five-thirty. She'd slept seven hours?
"Hello." She stretched and cleared her throat. "Did I wake you?" Max laughed.
"What do you want?" Heidi sat up and scanned the room. Satisfied she was alone, she leaned back onto the pillows.
"First, Sara would like you to know that if you ever do something that stupid again, she will no longer be your best friend."
"Sara's survived worse. I'm not worried."
"Well, she is."
"How does she even know about this?" Sara had been her best friend since the first night in their freshman college dorm. When she'd woken up screaming, she'd expected Sara to bolt. She wouldn't have blamed her.
Instead, Sara had stayed. She'd kept Heidi's secrets. She'd taught Heidi how to laugh again. And she'd made no secret that having a roommate with a traumatic past had led to her decision to make PTSD her specialty. She was now Dr. Sara Elliot, a practicing clinical psychologist who consulted frequently with the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Her security clearance was even higher than Uncle Frank's.
Heidi had never understood why Sara and Max weren't on better terms. It would make her life a lot easier if her two best friends could get along but she seemed to be the only thing they could agree on.
"She came in to see Frank about fifteen minutes after he hung up with you. He's the one who ratted you out. Not me."
"Well, good. That will save me some time the next time I talk to her."
"Seriously, Z. We're all concerned about you. The Ko-vacs don't play." Max wasn't laughing anymore. "I know that better than anyone." Max didn't respond.
Heidi let him stew for a minute. He was worried. Sara was worried. Uncle Frank was worried. She appreciated the concern, but there was no way she'd pass up the chance to take down the Kovacs. She'd never been this close before.
"Did you have a reason for waking me up other than to fuss at me?"
"I called because I thought you might like to know a forest ranger found a burned-out Ford F-150 in the Pisgah National Forest, next county over. Matches a vehicle reported stolen on Wednesday."
"I'm not sure this is going to be as straightforward as we'd hoped."
"It never is."
"You need to find out what Blake Harrison has done to tick off the Kovac family."
"I don't think he has any idea."
"What makes you say that?"
"The look on his face last night. He wasn't expecting to be run down on a rainy highway and he never imagined they'd done it on purpose. I spent the entire evening watching the family at the hospital. The dad, Jeffrey, and the sister, Caroline, were worried, but they weren't scared."
"They should be."
"They will be."
"Have you thought about how you're going to handle letting him know what's going on?"
"I'm hoping to catch him alone. TacOps is monitoring the place."
"No small job."
"Tell me about it."
The Harrisons owned a huge swath of property. The land had been in the family for over a hundred years. The family business, Harrison Plastics International, known by everyone in the area as HPI, sat on one side of the road in the valley between two small mountains. One mountain was undeveloped and used as a recreation area for the employees of HPI. The Harrisons' homes dotted the small mountain on the other side.
Blake's home sat on the backside of the mountain, while his parents' home sat in the middle overlooking the valley and the plant. Caroline's home perched near the top of the mountain above their parents'. A gate blocked the winding driveway leading to their houses, but it wouldn't stop anyone determined to get inside.
"Richards is leading the TacOps team," Heidi continued.
"He's supposed to let me know if there's a good opportunity to pay Blake Harrison a visit. If nothing comes up soon, I may just have to knock on his door."