About the Author
Mary Alford wrote her first novel as a teen and was hooked.
Mary loves hearing from readers, so please send her an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and check out her upcoming releases at www.maryalford.net.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
She slowed to a snail's pace as an onslaught of ice and snow clung to the windshield, making visibility next to zero. The storm had continued to intensify since she'd been up on the mountain. She had never felt more terrified or alone than she did at this moment, yet turning back wasn't an option. Behind her lay almost certain prison timeor worse. Agent Martin had all but promised as much. Still, no matter what lay ahead, she had to find out the truth. Was Jase Bradford dead or alive? Reyna believed her life might depend on the answer.
Her eyes darted fearfully to the rearview mirror. What if the men watching her house had somehow managed to follow her here to Defiance, Colorado? She couldn't let them find the laptop and then kill her before she had the chance to clear Eddie's name and prove her husband had been murdered. To keep that from happening Reyna had devised a plan. After she'd called the hospital to let her supervisor know she would be taking an extended leave of absence, she had left the laptop in a secure storage facility in Eldorado, Colorado. Then she'd sent a letter to Sara letting her know where to find it if something were to happen to her.
Reyna scrubbed her hand over her weary eyes. The frantic thirteen-plus-hour drive from Stevens, Texas, to Defiance had taken its toll. She was exhausted beyond belief. Thinking clearly took more strength than she had. She'd hit Defiance a couple of hours before darkness descended and just as the edge of the storm arrived.
Maggie, the woman working the night shift at the diner, told her there were only four houses up on Defiance Mountain and none of them belonged to a Jase Bradford. Still, Reyna pressed on because she was all out of options. She believed Eddie had been murdered for what he'd discovered on the laptop. If she wanted to stay out of prison long enough to prove that, then she'd need Jase Bradford's help to unravel the contents of the files hidden there.
Reyna leaned forward in her seat. She'd driven past three of the houses already and there were clear signs no one had been home in quite some time. One house remained. The last one up was almost at the top of the mountain, according to Maggie, and the storm wasn't showing any sign of letting up.
She could now barely see the hood of the car, much less the road. The conditions were deteriorating quickly and she had no idea how much farther the car could make it.
Even facing all those dangers, her biggest fear was that Eddie had been wrong and the man buried in Arlington National Cemetery was indeed Jase Bradford. After all, they both had attended his memorial service at Langley. Everyone including the CIA acknowledged Jase was dead.
Why then had Eddie been so convinced in the weeks before his death that Jase was still alive?
She eased down on the gas pedal and the tires spun on the slick gravel, spewing debris against the underside of the car. Since she'd moved from DC back to her childhood home, Reyna had grown accustomed to mild winters. Nothing in Stevens, Texas, had prepared her for this.
The tires finally caught, the car lurched forward, and Reyna remembered to breathe. The road continued its upward spiral broken only by a series of switchbacks that snaked around the side of the mountain. Her heartbeat pounded a frantic rhythm in her ears when she reached another ninety-degree bend. She'd been at it for over an hour and had only managed a quarter of a mile.
Up ahead, the headlights flashed across the left side the road. It appeared to slough off a good foot from the edge. It was pitch-black out and she had no idea how steep the drop-off was. A fall would almost certainly result in major injuries or death. If she did survive, hypothermia would set in quickly. She'd be dead by morning.
Reyna nudged the car along. She had almost reached the end of the switchback when she felt the vehicle slide on black ice and inch closer to the side of the mountain. Panicking, she jerked the wheel hard in the opposite direction. The small car skated backward some twenty feet. As a result, the tires lost their tenuous grip and slithered closer to the edge.
She floored the gas and the vehicle wrenched forward, swerved sideways and headed straight for the drop-off. Reyna screamed and tried to turn the wheel but it was useless. It moved freely in her hands. She had lost control.
Reyna closed her eyes and prayed with all her heart. She didn't want to die up here. Not alone like this. Not without proving Eddie's innocence.
"Please, Lord, no."
The car spun 360 degrees a couple of times until the front tires slipped over the edge of the mountain and were suspended in midair. The car rocked a couple of times and then stopped. Reyna slowly reached for the door handle. If she could just open the door, she could leap out before it was too late.
She tentatively lifted the handle; the vehicle tilted back and forth from the simple movement. An eerie silence surrounded her. The car hung in place for a second longer and then tipped forward. Reyna barely had time to scream again before the tiny car hurled itself headfirst over the side of the mountain.
Davis Sinclair stomped hard on the brakes of his battered SUV and somehow managed to keep from spinning out on the slippery road. The first storm of the season had hit hard and fast. It was barely September and already the storm had dumped a foot of snow in a matter of hours. It had piled up on the gravel road leading to his house.
He had been so focused on getting back home through the wintry mix that he hadn't noticed the skid marks on the road until he was right on top of them.
Someone else had been up his mountain.
The new-fallen snow covered most of their tracks. Still, he hadn't become aware of them until now, and that concerned him most of all. He was slipping. He'd been gone from the CIA too long.
A familiar fear coiled deep in the pit of his stomach. There would be no reason for anyone to come this far up the mountain. Especially in these conditions.
Davis squinted through the cracked windshield at the skid marks that started about twenty feet in front of him. That wasn't the part that worried him. It was the direction they were heading. Straight off the side of the mountain.
Was this just some innocent traveler lost in the storm, or the moment he'd feared for three years?
His heart drummed in his ears as he grabbed a flashlight along with his Glock and shoved the Jeep's door open against the howling wind. The freezing air mixed with sleet robbed him of his breath. Instinct had him panning the area for unseen trouble. Was it a setup? Had his identity been blown? It could be someone dead set on eliminating the threat he still posed. Old habits died hard. Three years, and he still hadn't broken his.
He shook off the past with effort and trudged through the additional snow that had fallen since he'd left home.
The flashlight's beam picked up a small car perched about ten feet over the edge. Another three feet to the left and the car would be halfway down the mountain by now. As it was, it had laid bare a five-foot-wide stretch of dirt once covered in heavy brush and small trees, before coming to rest in a grove of aspens.
Davis shoved the Glock inside his jacket pocket, braced his right foot against one of the mangled tree trunks and shone the flashlight's beam on the ground. Putting one foot against available trunks and another on an exposed rock, he slowly made his way down to the car.
He could see the drivera womanleaning forward in her seat, her head almost touching the steering wheel, the seat belt the only thing keeping her upright. The airbag hadn't deployed. He couldn't tell if she was dead or alive.
He yanked at the door. The woman moaned and Davis breathed a sigh of relief.
"Are you hurt?" he asked her, and watched as she struggled to focus on him. He noticed a quarter-sized red spot on her forehead that had the makings of one nasty bruise.
Davis moved closer and she shrank away, terror written on every inch of her face.
"No," she said at last. "I don't think so. It happened so quickly. I thought I had made the turn and then " She fumbled with her seat belt.
"Hang on a second. Don't try to move until we're sure you're not hurt."
She didn't listen and, instead, scrambled to undo her restraint. The woman was obviously suffering from shock.
The latch freed and Davis caught her before she could fall forward. His arm circled her waist and she froze. He lifted her out of the car and set her on her feet. The moment she was safely on ground, she pushed his hands away and distanced herself from him. It was clear he made her nervous.
The storm around them was no comparison to the one raging in her startling emerald green eyes. It had been a long time since he'd seen such panic. Was it just because of her near-death experience or fueled by something more?
Her light brown hair, once tied into a ponytail, was now mostly escaping. The first thing to strike him as unusual was that she seemed familiar. Impossible. They'd never met before; he was almost certain of it.
Davis realized he was staring and quickly pulled himself together. Too much time spent alone, obviously. "We need to get you out of here. The storm's not easing any. Can you walk?"
She took a tentative step forward. "Yes, I think so."
He gazed up at the sky. The weather conditions were definitely worsening and he had a decision to make. He couldn't leave her here and the car didn't appear drivable. But there was another option. He could take her back into town and deposit her at the hotel then wait out the rest of the snowstorm from Maggie's Diner.
His was the only house past the last curve. No one came this far up the mountain by accident. So what brought her here? Old fears from his past life slowly crept in. She didn't appear to be a threat, but he'd learned the hard way not to depend on appearances. Bad people came in innocent-looking packages, and in the spy business, you never let down your guard.
"What were you doing up here on the mountain in this storm anyway?" he asked through narrowed eyes, carefully gauging her reaction.
"I'm searching for someone."
Her body language told him she wasn't being completely honest and he needed answers.
"There's no one up here but me, so let's try this again. Who are you and why are you really here?"
Her gaze collided with his, and he lost his equilibrium for a second. Even scared to death and as cagey as a trapped bear, she had the type of beauty that took his breath away. He hadn't thought of another woman in such a way since Abby, and it bothered him that a total stranger could illicit such thoughts.
"My name is Reyna Peterson and I have told you the truth," she retorted, bristling at his tone. "I am trying to find someone. A friend of my husband's."
She was married. A simple gold band on her left hand seemed to confirm her story, but he couldn't let go of the doubts. "Oh yeah? What's the friend's name?"
She hesitated, evidently torn between answering his question and keeping her secrets. His internal radar pegged the top of the chart.
She cleared her throat. "Jase Bradford. His name is Jase Bradford."
Shock and disbelief threatened to buckle his knees. He hadn't heard that name in years. He had long ago buried the person he'd been back then.
Somehow, Davis managed to get coherent words to come out of his mouth. "There's no one by that name around these parts. Your husband is mistaken." A hard edge crept into his tone as it always did whenever he thought about the past.
Reyna stared at him in a way that conveyed she either didn't believe him or didn't want to.
"Eddie was so sure I would find him here " she murmured, almost to herself.
Eddie. Eddie Peterson? No, not possible. He couldn't have heard right. "Your husband's name is Eddie?" He latched on to the name as a distraction because it felt as if someone had slugged him hard in the chest. With the exception of his former handler, Kyle Jennings, Eddie was the last remaining member of the Scorpion team still alive. Eddie wouldn't be trying to make contact with him without good cause. And why send his wife? Had something happened to his former comrade?
"Yes," she confirmed reluctantly. The second the words were out, he could see she thought better of sharing them. "I'm sorry. None of this is your problem."
She had no idea how wrong she was. Eddie Peterson had been one of his own. He'd recruited him personally as part of the elite Scorpion team after the failed weapons mission near Tora Bora had taken the lives of two crucial team members. Eddie had been a good fit with the team and they'd grown close while serving side by side. Her husband was his problem. And now so was she.
Davis's plans had now changed. Instead of going back to Defiance, he'd take her to his place. See what he could find out by morning. Pray that all of this would turn out to be just some strange coincidence and then send her on her way. Unfortunately, he didn't believe in coincidences. Especially ones this huge.
A deluge of wintry mix pelted his face like tiny bullets and his feet were numb. "There's no way to get your car out of here tonight." He crooked a thumb in the direction of his SUV. "My ride's just up there. Let's get you warm. You're shivering. I can come back and get whatever you need for the night and we'll deal with the car in the morning."
Reyna didn't budge. He could see she didn't trust him. Not the normal reaction of someone just rescued from almost certain death.
"We'll be stuck up here if we stay much longer," he added, hoping to convince her.
She hesitated another second before giving in. "You're right. We need to get out of the storm. It's got to be well below freezing out here."
Try as he might, he couldn't get a good read off her, and he didn't like it. Not one bit. "Watch your step."
She clutched the edge of his jacket in a vise grip as she followed close behind, slipping over the icy mess.