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Authors: Tiffany Snow

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“You
can’t look at that,” he said, reaching for the file. “That’s FBI property.”

O’Connell
maneuvered the folder out of his reach. “It has my name on it,” she protested. “I
should be able to read my own file, shouldn’t I?”

“No,
that’s not how it works,” he insisted. “Give it to me.”

O’Connell
raised an eyebrow. “Make me.”

Shit.

Her
lips twitched as he glared at her then reluctantly turned back to the road. The
paper rustled as she turned the pages.

The
file wasn’t very thick, but Erik had memorized its contents. Among other
things, it contained a brief history of the O’Connell family. Mother dead
shortly after Clarissa’s birth. The father hadn’t remarried, but he’d had a
string of live-in girlfriends. The older brother, Daniel, had been arrested for
petty theft numerous times as a teenager, then graduated to grand larceny as he
got older.

The
father had been arrested, tried, and convicted of theft and manslaughter ten
years ago. A security guard at the jewelry story he’d robbed had died while trying
to intervene. Although Flynn O’Connell had said he hadn’t meant to kill him,
those things had a tendency to happen when you hit someone over the head with a
brick. Flynn was currently serving a life sentence in Ireland’s Mountjoy Prison.

Erik
glanced back over, watching as O’Connell read. She was frowning, the skin
puckering between her brows.

The
file went on to describe what they knew of Daniel and Clarissa’s ties to
Solomon, though information on Clarissa herself was sketchy. When Flynn had
gone to prison, Daniel and Clarissa had disappeared.

“You
want to fill in the missing information?” Erik asked. “What were you and Daniel
doing before he hooked up with Solomon?”

Clarissa
glanced up from the file, not sure how to answer. It was like reading about
someone else’s life, not hers. When she’d gone into the woods this morning,
she’d thought of her dream but hadn’t been able to recall much of it. It was as
though she could almost remember the elusive something just out of reach, but
it disappeared like smoke when she got close. She’d been upset, that she’d
known, had felt a deep sadness that dragged at her but hadn’t known the reasons
why she felt that way.

“I’m…not
sure,” she answered truthfully. To her surprise, Langston didn’t react in
anger, as she’d expected. He just looked at her, his expression unreadable
before he turned back to the road.

“Who’s
Mary?” Langston asked.

The
name provoked the same wave of sadness Clarissa had felt earlier. “I know I
sound like a broken record, but I don’t know,” she said. “The name…it sounds
familiar, but I don’t know why.” She shook her head in frustration, hating the
feeling of helplessness, of not knowing things she should.

Langston
didn’t ask any more questions, so Clarissa continued reading the file.

There
was no known address for her, which was disappointing. She’d been hoping they’d
know where she lived, which was an idiotic thought. If the FBI knew where she
lived, they would have arrested her before now.

The
file held only one photo, a grainy profile shot taken at a distance. The woman
had red hair tied back in a French braid and large black sunglasses. Clarissa
stared at the photo.

“Are
you sure this is me?” she asked, holding it up next to her face.

Langston
glanced at the photo, then her. “I’m sure,” he said, his voice flat.

“I
don’t know,” Clarissa muttered. “Could be anybody, really.”

“It’s
you,” Langston insisted.

His
vehemence sparked Clarissa’s temper. “I think your evidence is a little thin to
say that I’m this Clarissa O’Connell.”

“Then
why were you at that villa? Why did you kill that man? And why were you shot?”
Langston’s angry questions were rapid-fire.

“I
don’t know,” Clarissa retorted. “Maybe I just got in the way or…something.” She
didn’t really have any good answers for his questions, but dammit! She wasn’t
going to just let him win the argument because of that minor detail.

Langston
snorted in derision. “I’ve spent the better part of a year digging up every
piece of information on you, tracking down every lead, no matter how vague. Followed
every trail, every whisper or rumor I heard. Grainy video footage in Monterey. A
couple witnesses in Chicago. Trust me. I know who you are.”

The
fact that Erik had watched that video footage until he saw it in his sleep
wasn’t something she needed to know.

“The
file isn’t that thick,” O’Connell observed.

“That’s
just part of it.” Erik didn’t want to say how he had three full file boxes in
his apartment in DC.

“Where’s
the rest?” she asked, glancing in the back as though she might have missed
something.

“Back
in DC,” Erik said evasively.

She
frowned at him. “Aren’t you FBI guys supposed to work in pairs? Don’t you have
a partner?”

Erik’s
lips pressed together at the thought of Kaminski. “I…had a partner,” he
reluctantly explained. “We had a differing of opinion.”

“About
what?” O’Connell asked, flipping again through the file.

“You.”

Erik
saw her turn and look at him again, but he deliberately kept his eyes on the
road.

O’Connell
was quiet for a few minutes, as though digesting this. Finally, she asked, “So
what happens now?”

The
quiet resignation in her voice made Erik’s gut clench. His hands tightened on
the wheel.

“Now,”
he replied, “I’m going to feed you.”

O’Connell
glanced out the window just as Erik pulled into the parking lot of a country
diner. He gave a wave to the forest ranger, who drove on.

Putting
the car in park and pocketing the keys, Erik turned to O’Connell.

“I’m
starving. And I believe I owe you breakfast.”

She
smiled, and Erik decided he could really get used to that sight.

“I
like chocolate-chip pancakes.”

“With
whipped cream or syrup?”

“Yes,”
she replied.

Erik
bit back a grin.

“And
bacon.”

“A
woman after my own heart,” he quipped without thinking, then quickly moved on. “You’re
not going to run, are you? It’s hard to eat if one hand is cuffed.”

“Cross
my heart,” O’Connell promised.

* * *

The
diner was playing country classics on the radio and held only a handful of
customers, most of whom were old men out for their morning coffee and ration of
biscuits and gravy. The smell of bacon grease and coffee hung heavy in the air.

Clarissa
took an appreciative whiff as she slid into the vinyl booth where the
coffeepot-toting waitress had led them.

“What’ll
ya have to drink?” she asked, handing them each a menu.

“Coffee,”
Langston replied.

“Make
that two, please,” Clarissa added.

The
waitress nodded, pausing at a nearby table to refill their mugs with the dark
brew.

“Bad
luck,” Langston said, looking over the menu. “No chocolate-chip pancakes. You’ll
have to make do with plain.”

“So
long as there’s plenty of butter and syrup, I’m good.”

The
waitress returned with their coffee and took their order. Langston ordered what
seemed to be half the menu. Eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits with gravy, and
a dish of fruit. Sheesh. Did he always eat like that? You couldn’t tell by
looking at him, that was for sure.

The
crooning of Tammy Wynette imploring Clarissa to stand by her man filled the
silence as she added cream and sugar to her coffee. She noticed Langston
watching her.

“What?”

He
tipped his head toward her mug. “If you’ve lost your memory, how do you know
how you like your coffee?”

It
was a good question, and it stumped Clarissa. “I just…knew,” she replied with
some surprise. “I didn’t think about it.” The thought excited her. It meant her
memories were still there, just hidden behind a wall, but obviously some were
leaking out. She’d had the dream, for one thing. And for another, “Just like I
knew I liked chocolate-chip pancakes.”

Langston
looked skeptical as he sipped his coffee; black, she noticed. Of course.

“So
is there a Mrs. Langston, Agent Langston?” she asked, changing the subject and
causing him to choke on his coffee.

“Ah,
no, there’s not,” he answered once he’d recovered sufficiently to speak.

“Why
not?”

“That’s
a little personal, don’t you think?”

Clarissa
shrugged. “You and the waitress over there are the only people on the planet
that I know. If I ask her a personal question, she may spit in my food. You’re
already going to turn me in to the Feds, so I have nothing to lose.”

Langston
took another drink of coffee before answering. “There’s never been anyone I’ve
been interested enough in to last more than a few months. For the most part,
women are narcissistic, selfish creatures whose sole ambition is to land a man
with either looks or money, preferably both. ”

“Ouch.”
Clarissa winced. “Did your high school crush break your heart or something?”

“What
about you?” he asked, evading her question. “Boyfriend? Husband? Fiancé?”

“You
tell me,” she countered, raising an eyebrow.

“The
data’s inconclusive, though you’ve never been spotted with a partner, and no marriage
certificate has been issued to you. You don’t wear a ring.” He glanced at her
left hand. “And no mark from one that’s been removed.”

“Maybe
I don’t believe in marriage.”

Their
food came then, and it was quiet for the next several minutes as they ate.

“I
can hear your arteries screaming in protest,” Clarissa deadpanned, watching
Langston shovel in a forkful of biscuit dripping with gravy.

“This
coming from the woman who likes a little pancake with her butter?” he quipped. “Besides,
that’s what the fruit is for.”

Clarissa
skeptically eyed the little dish of cut-up fruit.

When
the check came, Clarissa excused herself to use the restroom. Situated at the
rear of the restaurant, she was relieved to see it had a window. Ten seconds
later, she had removed the screen and lowered herself through the gap to drop to
the ground outside.

“That
was easy,” she muttered to herself. Now to get as much space between her and
Langston as possible. She was betting at least one of the pickups out front
could be hot wired.

Clarissa
felt a pang of disappointment to bail on Langston, not that he’d given her much
choice in the matter. She liked him, and truth be told, it was terrifying to
think she was running without so much as a dime to her name or any idea of
where to go. But even the unknown was better than the inside of a prison cell.

Rounding
the corner of the building, she scanned the area carefully. No one was around. Walking
quickly, but not so quickly as to draw attention, Clarissa headed for the
nearest pickup truck. God bless the old men who trusted their neighbors, she
thought ruefully, climbing into the unlocked cab.

The
passenger door jerked opened, startling a gasp from her.

“Going
somewhere?” Langston asked.

His
voice was hard with fury, his eyes cold.

“Langston,
I—”

“Save
it,” he bit out.

A
hard grip on her arm and sharp tug later, she was being dragged behind him to
the SUV and pushed into the passenger seat.

Clarissa
fumed, bitterly disappointed. She wasn’t mad at Langston. He was just doing his
job. She was mad at herself. She’d thought she’d gotten to a place of trust
with him, eased him into complacency. Obviously she’d made her move too soon. Now
she was back to square one with him.

Langston
slid behind the wheel of the SUV, jabbed the key in the ignition, and stomped
on the gas. Soon the diner was receding in the distance.

Anger
rolled off Langston in waves, the atmosphere in the car stiff and silent.

The
miles flew by as Clarissa stared unseeing out the window. Where was he taking
her? Was her freedom now counted in hours? Minutes?

“Thanks
for breakfast,” she said when she couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“Don’t
mention it.”

Clarissa
winced at the ice in his voice. She felt guilty now, and she hated that, so she
lashed out.

“You’re
taking me to jail,” she retorted. “For crimes I have no memory of committing. Did
you think I was just going to trot along obediently?”

Of
course she was right. Erik knew that. But that didn’t ease the feeling of
betrayal. He’d liked her. That had been his first mistake.

Trusting
her had been his second.

He
couldn’t afford a third.

* * *

Erik
paced alongside the deserted highway, waiting for the cell phone to make the
connection. Now that they were out of the woods, he had a decent signal.

He
glanced over at the SUV. The keys were in his pocket, and he’d left O’Connell
cuffed to the door. She wasn’t going anywhere.

The
ringing in his ear cut off as someone picked up the call.

“It’s
about time you called in. You’re in a shitload of trouble.”

“Why?
What happened?” Erik asked.

“Only
about two dozen witnesses who saw you fleeing the scene of a murder at some
ritzy place in Colorado,” Kaminski said. “You finally cracked or what?”

“I
didn’t kill the guy, she did.”

“She
who?”

“O’Connell.”

“Was
that before or after she got away again?” Kaminski’s sarcasm set Erik’s teeth
on edge. He didn’t know how he’d stood having the guy as his partner for as
long as he had.

“No,”
he said flatly, keeping a tight hold on his temper. “I got her.”

“You
killed her?”

“No,
I didn’t kill her! I arrested her. Now will you put Clarke on the phone?”

Leonard
Clarke was the SAC, Special Agent in Charge of the Solomon investigation. He’d
been investigating Solomon and his empire for the past five years. No one knew
more about the powerful crime lord than Clarke.

BOOK: Blank Slate
13.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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