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West Palm Beach, Florida
Dark she could do, Eve Garrett
thought as she sat by the curb, her Mazda's motor running. Rain was another story. She didn't do rain.
"Or wind," she grumbled as a strong gust rocked her little car and the downpour pelted the windshield like BBs.
Why couldn't she be curled up in her apartment, comfy and dry and reading a good "It was a dark and stormy night" mystery novel, instead of muttering to herself out here in one?
Because of Tiffany Clayborne, that's why.
Eve was a long way from her apartment. A long way from comfy. Instead, she was wiping steam off her driver's side window on a night that was also damp and muggy. And she wasn't even a little bit at ease about parking on this sleazy backstreet just off Blue Heron Boulevard in a seedy neighborhood that stank of garbage and rot while she waited for Tiffany to show.
She squinted into the rain. Where is that girl?
Despite the fact that Tiffany had stormed off in a huff the last time they'd talked, Eve cared about the little brat. God bless her. But she'd better have a damn good reason for dragging Eve out in this mess, or when she finally did show up, there might be serious hair pulling involved. Especially since Eve hadn't heard boo from her in three months.
And why the theatrics? Eve wondered uneasily, losing the battle to clear a spot on her window. Eve had barely recognized Tiff's voice through the tears and the almost incoherent begging that Eve meet her here at one in the morning, no explanation provided.
"Just come, Eve. Please. Please hurry."
The last time Tiff had done something crazy she hadn't had an explanation, either. Starting with her eighteenth birthday six months ago, Tiffany had shown signs of turning into the quintessential spoiled little rich girl, monetarily gorged and emotionally starved for attention. In fact, if the newspapers were to be believed, she'd recently pulled any number of stunts to make sure she got that attention, really firing up the afterburners in the spoiled rich department—like anyone could really compete with Paris Hilton.
But Tiff still gave the local paparazzi plenty of fodder to sensationalize stories about her exploits. Eve figured it was a case of Tiffany's age proclaiming she was capable of making adult decisions but her brain not yet grasping the concept of maturity. Or coming to terms with the new reality that she was now an adult.
Come to terms, little girl. Soon.
The steam finally got the best of Eve. Giving up, she rolled down her window and killed the motor, thinking back to Tiffany's eighteenth birthday party—the one she'd thrown for herself at Club Asylum because her father never would have thought to celebrate the milestone event. Of course, had Jeremy Clayborne staged the party, Eve wouldn't have been within a hundred miles of the guest list. Tiffany was still speaking to her back then.
Anyway, you had your basic cake and balloons and candles. And then, in Tiffany's case, you had your instant access to a multibillion-dollar trust fund.
That kind of money would screw with anyone's head. Add a father like Jeremy Clayborne and, well . . . Clayborne was a whole other story and the main reason Eve put up with Tiffany's mercurial mood swings.
Rain blew in through the open car window and sprayed her in the face. "Come on, Tiff. It's getting wet out here."
Eve checked her watch and told herself that to an eighteen-year-old fifteen minutes did not constitute late. To a thirty-two-year-old who'd been on the job since seven this morning and had been anxiously awaiting the end of a roughly sixty-hour workweek, however, fifteen minutes constituted the beginnings of a very bad mood.
She flipped out her cell phone and punched in Tiffany's number. And got a no-service message.
"What the hell is going on?" Eve sputtered aloud, then sharpened her focus out the window when she saw a flash of movement by one of the buildings directly across the street. She leaned over in the seat so she could get a better look; through the rain, she saw movement again.
"Tiff? Is that you?"
Whoever it was stopped when Eve yelled, hesitated for a moment, then ducked between two buildings.
It didn't much matter that Eve had spent seven years as a Secret Service agent. Didn't much matter that she'd logged her share of stakeouts during that time. Neither did it matter that three years ago she'd teamed up with her brothers at E.D.E.N., a security firm that was regularly presented with its fair share of dicey situations. At least it didn't matter to her heart rate, because it ratcheted up several beats per minute.
Something was off here. Gut deep, she knew that something was way off. She just hadn't wanted it to be.
As the daughter of one of the most written about, speculated about, and richest men in the United States, Tiffany Clayborne was vulnerable. Prime predator bait. And the dark figure Eve had just seen duck between the buildings looked a lot more like predator than bait.
A healthy, intuitive wariness spiked an adrenaline rush and had her popping open her glove box and digging for her flashlight. She hesitated over the .38 S & W that she pretty much went nowhere without, then tucked it in her waistband at the small of her back. With a muttered oath, she stepped out into the rain.
Her white T and capri pants were completely drenched by the time she ran across the street and tucked in next to a dingy gray cinder-block building. She dragged her sodden hair out of her eyes and, reaching into her waistband, pulled out her gun.
The adjacent building was an ugly mustard brown brick. The walkway between the two was narrow and dark; the weeds growing in the dirt that had softened to muck were the primary landscape materials. Just like Tiffany was the primary reason Eve was soaked to the gills and, she suspected, about to put her life on the line.
She flicked off the safety on the S & W and, gripping the weapon in both hands, swung into the gap.
Water gushed from the roofs, bypassing debris-clogged eaves. Nothing. She could see nothing through the deluge.
And then she felt nothing. Nothing but pain.
An arm hooked around her neck and dragged her back against a body as hard and unyielding as the building she was suddenly slammed into.
She could barely breathe, wouldn't be on her feet if her attacker hadn't pinned her between him and the rough cinder-block wall. Somewhere at her feet was her gun. And somewhere in the dark she heard the wail of a faraway police siren. Too far away.
"You're dead," the man said, his hot, sour breath fanning her cheek as the rain poured down like a waterfall.
Oh God. "Wait—"
The forearm crushing her throat jerked viciously. Pain knifed through her windpipe. She gasped, fought for a breath that wasn't gorged with rain and pain, and willed herself not to pass out.
"You're dead," he repeated, his voice as void of emotion as the night was void of light. "You just don't know it yet."
Something hard jabbed into her ribs. Exquisite, mind-searing pain ripped through her system. She felt an involuntary scream boil up just as another jolt tore into her body and her muscles started to spasm. By the third jolt, her eyes had rolled back in her head.
And by the time he let her fall in a boneless lump to the muddy ground, the prospect of death was a welcome relief.
Copyright © 2005 by Cindy Gerard. All rights reserved.