Smoky Mountain Setup (The Gates: Most Wanted) Mass Market Paperback – December 15, 2015
Elsewhere by Dean Koontz
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About the Author
As a child, Paula Graves's favorite books were Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin Romances. When she realized there were books that featured both romance and mystery, she knew she'd found her calling. Now Paula writes for Harlequin Intrigue, where she gets to play both matchmaker and murderer and has a blast doing it.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He'd had cracked ribs, for sure. A dislocated shoulder he'd been forced to reduce himself, since the rough men who'd taken him captive hadn't cared much about his comfort.
Cade Landry had escaped on the thirty-first day of his captivity, and he'd been running ever since.
Given the icy chill in the air and the heavy clouds overhead threatening snow, he should have headed south to Mexico instead of wandering around the Southern Appalachians while he tried to figure out what to do next. He could be sipping cerveza on a beach somewhere, flirting with pretty cantina waitresses and soaking up the tropical sun.
It wasn't as if he had any kind of life to get back to now.
And still, somehow, he'd never completely given up on the idea of clearing his name, though he'd spent the past several months avoiding the issue altogether.
No more. It was time to see if there was anything left of his life to reclaim.
Clouds overhead obscured the sun he'd been using as his compass, but he was pretty sure he was still headed west, which would take him out of these mountains sooner or later. Sooner if he was on the Tennessee side, later if he was in North Carolina.
Either way, he was heading for Purgatory.
Where she was.
You don't know if you can trust her anymore.
Maybe not, he conceded to the mean little voice in the back of his head. But she was the best shot he had.
He squinted up at the gray sky overhead, enough sunlight still filtering through the clouds to make his pupils contract. Definitely still headed west, he decided, but he hoped he'd reach civilization sooner rather than later. He had to make a stop in Barrowville first. He'd made a point to shave that morning, to clean up and look his most presentable. Maybe he'd get lucky and somebody would give him a ride into town.
The money he'd hidden away before his abduction had still been there when he'd escaped, thank God, but months of living under the radar had taken a toll on his cash reserves. He needed to see if the money they'd put away a couple of years ago was still in the bank. It was a risk, but one he had to take if he wanted to get through the long, cold winter.
Technically, the account was in her name, but he was on the account, as well, and as far as he knew, she'd never closed it out.
Maybe it had been as hard for her to let go as it had been for him.
Landry could tell from the color of the sky and the chill in the air that snow was coming, and he'd lived in eastern Tennessee long enough to know that snowstorms in the Smokies could rise up fast, like a rattlesnake, and strike with power and fury.
Just like the men he'd escaped.
Olivia Sharp poked at the fire behind the grate and wrapped her sweater more tightly around her shoulders. Winter in the Smoky Mountains had so far proved to be a cold, damp affair, but tonight they were supposed to get the first snow of the season for the lower elevations.
Growing up on Sand Mountain in Alabama, she'd seen snow now and then, but rarely enough to blanket everything and shut a person in for more than a day or two. But the TV weathermen out of Knoxville were calling for as much as a foot and a half in the higher elevations, and the lower elevations could expect five or six inches by morning.
She was safe and snug, tucked in with about a week's worth of background checks to read through. In a company like The Gates, which specialized in high-stakes security cases, everything lived or died on the quality of personnel who worked the cases and kept the company running at peak performance, and the CEO, Alexander Quinn, had put her in charge of profiling prospective hires.
She was lucky to still have a job at all, she knew. Her first big job at The Gates had been a spectacular failure. Tasked with finding a traitor in their midst, she'd failed to smoke him out until it was nearly too late. Quinn would have been well within his rights to terminate her employment on the spot, but he'd given her another chance.
She had no intention of screwing up again.
She had made it through three files and was starting a fourth when her cell phone rang. No information on the display, which usually meant her caller was Quinn or another agent who didn't want his identity revealed. "Sharp," she answered.
"Hey, Olivia, it's me." The distinctive mountain drawl on the other end of the line belonged to Anson Daughtry, the company's IT director and one of the people who'd saved her bacon during the investigation into the mole at The Gates, mostly by putting his own ass on the line.
Of course, he'd had a good incentivethe pretty payroll accountant he'd fallen hard for had been right in the middle of the danger.
"I thought you were on your honeymoon."
"I am." She could almost hear him grinning. "Ginny says hi."
"Hi, Ginny." She couldn't stop her own smile. She might like to play the role of a tough woman of action, but two good people crazy in love still had the capacity to make her go all squishy inside. "Seriously, Daughtry, why are you calling me on your honeymoon?"
"You remember that bank account you asked me to start monitoring for activity a few months ago?"
She sat up straighter, the muscles of her stomach tightening. "Of course."
"I got an alert in my email. Someone accessed the account a little after one. Withdrew five thousand dollars."
Olivia glanced at the clock over the mantel. About an hour ago. "Any idea what branch?"
"That's the interesting thing," Daughtry said. "It was the one in Barrowville."
"Oh." A cool tingle washed over Olivia's body, sprinkling goose bumps along her arms and legs. "Okay. Thanks for letting me know."
"Is there anything else you need me to do?"
"No," she said quickly. "I just needed the information."
She could tell from Daughtry's thick silence that he had questions about her request and what the information he'd just imparted to her meant. But she simply said, "Thanks. Go enjoy your honeymoon," and hung up the phone before he could ask anything else.
She could be in Barrowville in fifteen minutes. Ten if she drove fast, although the first flurries had already begun to fall outside her cabin window.
No. He wouldn't still be there an hour later. And the information she needed from whichever bank teller had handled the transaction, she could get over the phone.
She looked up the phone number for the bank and made the call, finally reaching the teller in question after a long wait. "How can I help you?"
"My name is Olivia Sharp. I have an account at your bank." She rattled off the account number she'd memorized ages ago. "I just received an alert that some of the money has been accessed and you were the teller who handled the transaction."
"Yes, ma'am," the teller answered. She sounded young and worried.
"He gave his name as Cade Landry?"
"Yes, ma'am. He had the right identification and he knew the account number. He's on the account."
"I'm sure you handled things by the numbers. I just need to know if you remember what he looked like."
The teller was silent for a moment, long enough for Olivia to fear the connection had been lost. But as she was opening her mouth to speak, the teller answered her question. "He was tall. Dark hair. Nice eyes. I don't remember what color, just that they were nice. Friendly, you know?"
Olivia knew about Landry's nice eyes. She knew their color, as well, a soft hue somewhere between hazel and green. "What about his build?"
"You knowheavy, slim"
"Oh, right. It was nice. You know, he looked good." There was a nervous vibration in the teller's voice. "Built nice."
"Yes, definitely. He looked athletic."
Olivia closed her eyes. "What about his voice? Low? Medium? Did he have an accent?"
"It was deep, I'm pretty sure. And he didn't have an accent, exactly. I mean, he was from down here somewhere."
"Down here" meaning the South, Olivia assumed. If it was really Cade Landry, he'd have spoken with a Georgia drawl. "I see."
"Is there a problem? Our files show Mr. Landry is still authorized to withdraw funds from the account." The teller was starting to sound worried. "Should I put the bank manager on the phone?"
"No," Olivia said quickly. "Mr. Landry is authorized to withdraw funds. I just wasn't aware he was planning to. Thank you for the information." She hung up the phone and tugged her sweater more tightly around her, trying to control a sudden case of the shakes.
So, someone claiming to be Cade Landry, someone who fit his description and spoke with a Southern accent, had withdrawn $5,000 out of a savings account she'd set up almost two years ago, back when the relationship between her and her FBI partner had been going strong.
Before the disaster in Richmond.
But if it really was Landry who'd withdrawn the money from the account, where the hell had he been for the past year?
The chill in the air had grown bitter as the cold front rolled in, sending the temperature plunging. Overhead, clouds hung low and heavy, threatening snow.
The bank in Barrowville hadn't given him any trouble with the withdrawal, so clearly Olivia hadn't removed his name from the account.
Maybe that was a good sign.
He pedaled harder as the newly purchased thrift-store bike started uphill on Deception Lake Road. Getting her new address had been easy enoughhe'd asked for and received the latest copy of the bank statement, which included her home address in Purgatory, Tennessee.
It had been a little too easy, really. What if he'd been an ex-boyfriend stalking her?
Isn't that sort of what you are? The mean voice in his head was back.
Fine, he thought. I'm her ex-boyfriend. And I'm about to drop by her place unannounced. And I'm armed.
But the last thing he'd ever do was hurt Olivia, no matter how badly she'd hurt him. He just needed to talk to her. He might not be sure he could trust her, but he knew there was nobody else he could trust.
He'd learned that painful truth the hard way.
By the time he reached the turnoff to Perdition Gap, sleet had begun to fall, making crackling noises where the icy pellets hit the fallen leaves blanketing the roadside. He picked up speed as the road dipped downhill toward the narrow gorge cut into the mountains by Ketoowee River, hurried along by the bitter westerly wind that drove sleet like needle pricks into his bare cheeks.
He'd made his choice. Set himself on a course it was too late to alter, at least for today. Snow was coming, and he had to find shelter soon.
And the cabin looming out of the curling fog ahead was his only choice, for good or for bad.
There was a car parked on the gravel driveway, the same sleek black Mazda she'd driven when they had been together. It gave him pause, the sight of something so achingly familiar in a world that had turned alien on him almost two years ago.
He dismounted the bicycle and walked it slowly up the driveway, still staring at the Mazda, noting a tiny ding in the right front panel that hadn't been there the last time he'd seen it. And there was a small parking decal on the front windshield, as well.
The sound of a door opening drew his gaze back to the house.
She stood there in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a snug blue sweater that hugged her curves like a lover. In one hand she held a Mossberg shotgun at her side. He knew from experience that she could whip that thing up and fire before he could reach for the pistol tucked in his ankle holster, so he froze in place.
He realized he could see her better than she could see him. He was bundled up against the cold and damp, a scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face and a bike helmet perched atop his head.
"Hey there, Sharp."
She stopped short.
"Sorry to drop by without calling," he added, moving slowly toward her again, pushing his bike closer to the cabin.
She took a few steps closer to the porch steps, a tall, fierce warrior of a woman blocking the entry. "So it was you at the bank."
He stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked up at her. God, she was beautiful, he thought, taking in the perfect cheekbones, the snapping blue eyes and the windblown blond waves framing her face. She'd cut her hair since they'd worked together. The short style suited her.
"It was," he admitted. "I was afraid you'd closed the account, but I thought I'd take a chance."
"Is that how you found me? Through the bank?"
"Your address was on the account."
"And you found a way to get the teller to show it to you." The faintest hint of a smile made the corners of her mouth twitch.
She took a deep breath and released it. "But now you've left a paper trail. You have to know it won't take long for people to connect you to me and come looking for you."
"It was a calculated risk." He was beginning to feel a potent sense of unreality, standing here in the cold, gazing at a woman he'd once loved more than anyone or anything in his life.
Sometimes, he thought he still did.
"You should turn yourself in."
"Already tried that," he said bluntly, the heat of old anger driving away some of the cold. "Ended up chained in a backwoods cabin for a month. You'll forgive me if I'm not eager to try it again."
Her eyes narrowed. "Is that supposed to be a joke?"
"No. Believe me, there was nothing funny about it." The phantom sting in his wrists returned. He tried to ignore the sensation, hating the frisson of dread that jolted through him each time he experienced the burning pain.
"You look cold."
He couldn't stop a wry laugh, looking around him at the light snowfall. "You think?"
She made a huffing noise but stepped back, opening a path to her door. "Get inside before you freeze."
He grabbed the used duffel full of thrift-store clothes and climbed the stairs slowly, keeping an eye on her and her Mossberg. She didn't look as if she was inclined to shoot him where he stood, but a lot had changed between them since Richmond.
She entered the cabin, leaving the door open for him. A wave of delicious warmth washed over him when he entered, and he quickly closed the door to shut out the cold.
- Item Weight : 4.8 ounces
- Mass Market Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0373698798
- ISBN-13 : 978-0373698790
- Publisher : Harlequin; Original Edition (December 15, 2015)
- Product Dimensions : 4.25 x 0.61 x 6.54 inches
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,390,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Throughout the story Olivia worked with Landry to find out who was behind the leak. They both wanted to clear his name. Olivia Sharp worked for the Gates. I loved how close the team of agents were, and how they supported one another. I loved the suspense, action, and romance.