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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: Last Bridge Home
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He had to think, to plan his next move in case he was wrong about the way Bardot was
going to react. He was grateful to have some thing to think about during the long night ahead. It would distract him from remembering the image of Elizabeth touched by firelight. God knows, he’d need that distraction.

“M
RS.
R
AMSEY, MY NAME IS
K
ARL
B
ARDOT
, I’
M
with the National Intelligence Bureau. I have to speak with you.” The large man standing on the steps was staring at her with belligerence, as he flicked open his wallet to show his I.D. “May I come in?”

Bardot. A tiny tingle of fear ran through her. She had been telling herself Jon Sandell was mistaken, that she would never be confronted by Bardot. But just because he was now here there was no reason to assume he was a threat to her, she assured herself quickly.

She stepped aside. “Come in, please, Mr. Bardot.” She turned and preceded him across the hall and through the arched opening to the
sitting room. “I’ve just made some coffee. Would you like a cup?”

He shook his head. “This isn’t a social call. I have a few questions to ask you.” He was gazing at her with cold dislike. “How you answer my questions will determine whether it’s necessary to take you into custody.”

“Arrest me?” He couldn’t be serious. “That’s absurd. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Not yet maybe, but I said I could take you into custody, not arrest you. Sometimes it’s necessary to remove the source of an infestation before national security is actually endangered.”

The scene was playing like a Grade B movie, Elizabeth thought. Bardot was definitely a Grade B villain she decided, with his heavy jowls, thinning gray hair and pale blue eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She met his gaze calmly. “But I do know my rights as an American citizen. Without a specific charge you can’t touch me. That’s the law, Mr. Bardot.”

“Can’t I?” His lips twisted unpleasantly. “You’re a bit out of touch with reality, Mrs. Ramsey.” He glanced around the room appraisingly. “This is quite a place. All of these eighteenth-century antiques must be worth a bundle.”

“This is my home. I’d never think of putting a price tag on any of my possessions.”

“No, I guess not. You’ve never had to worry about money. Your father left you a tidy little sum in insurance money when he died, didn’t he?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “And I’m sure your husband set you up so you’d be safe and sound as far as funds are concerned. Money can buy a hell of a lot of protection.”

“My husband left me nothing. He was a professor of English at the University of Michigan.” She tried to keep the anger from her tone. Answer his questions and get him out of here, she had thought initially, but it was be coming increasingly difficult. “Teachers don’t make a lot of money, you know.”

“The University of Michigan never heard of Mark Ramsey,” Bardot said. “Oh someone took the trouble of planting a dossier in their computer to substantiate his story in case it was checked. But an on-the-spot investigation revealed that he never set foot on the campus.” His cold gaze raked over her face. “You appear shocked. You were married to the man. You must have been privy to his secrets.”

“No!” Her head was whirling and she felt sick. Mark had lied to her. Why? He must have known there could be nothing in his past that would alter the way she felt about him. Well, whatever the subterfuge, it must have been for
a good reason. Mark never would have done anything wrong. “There must be some misunderstanding. Mark was no criminal.”

“You’re a very good actress. Ramsey chose well.” Bardot paused and then asked sharply, “Where were you earlier today? I came by and you weren’t at home. You don’t have classes on Friday.”

“How did you know—” She broke off. Of course he’d know. If he’d been thorough enough to find out Mark hadn’t taught at the university, his investigation of her must have been just as painstaking. “I took my dog to the vet.”

“Your dog?” A flicker of surprise crossed his face.

She nodded absently. “This is ridiculous, I know nothing about any plots that might en danger security, and neither did Mark.”

“You know. You think you’ve bamboozled us. You
have
fooled some of the idiots upstairs. They think I’m crazy to believe the intelligence reports from Said Ababa.” His pale blue eyes were burning with a fanatical passion. “But you haven’t fooled me. I know what you are and I’m going to stop you.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “Your superiors are right. You are crazy. There’s absolutely nothing to stop. Mark may have lied about his background, but he couldn’t have
been guilty of any wrongdoing.” Her voice was trembling and she tried to still it. “You don’t understand. Mark was very special.”

His laugh was more of a mirthless bark. “Very amusing. I’m aware of how ‘special’ your husband was. I have a report in my files that verifies several aspects of his uniqueness.”

She shook her head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand.”

“You understand all right,” he said. “You’d be wise to avoid annoying me by playing stupid. I’ve waited a long time, and I’m getting impatient. If you’re not going to cooperate, then I think I’d better take you to our head quarters for interrogation. Go pack a suitcase.”

It was the second time in twenty-four hours that she’d been asked to pack a suitcase, she thought wildly. Only this time it was hardly an invitation. “It sounds like you plan on having me stay awhile.” Promise me you won’t go with him, Sandell had said. She couldn’t think straight. A government man couldn’t be a threat to her. She was a citizen with rights and privileges. Yet she had heard stories …

Her hand moved with instinctive protective-ness to her abdomen. “No! I won’t go with you. My child is due soon and I won’t let this in sanity threaten him. There are laws in this country protecting citizens.”

“Which can be suspended in wartime.”

“We’re not at war.” She realized her words were making no impression on the man. He was gazing at her with … Lord, the emotion couldn’t be hatred. He didn’t even know her. Yet, if it wasn’t hatred, it was close enough to fill her with terror. Hatred led to violence and she couldn’t run the risk of exposing her son to violence. They were both too vulnerable now. “I think you’d better leave.”

“I can force you to go.”

“You could try.” She met his gaze. “But I’d fight you and I think you should know I have a dog in the kitchen who can be very protective. A very large dog.”

Uneasiness flickered in Bardot’s face as he glanced around furtively. He turned to the door. “I’ll be back. If I were you, I wouldn’t leave the area. You’ll find the roads are being watched.”

The gray Ford sedan. She shivered and folded her arms across her chest. “Harassment is illegal. I’m going to phone my attorney.”

The glance he shot her was one of acid mixed with malice. “You’re up to all the tricks, aren’t you? I’m surprised you slipped up and signed your husband’s autopsy authorization after his automobile accident. Did you think you were safe with a small-town coroner? He was sharper than you gave him credit for.”

Elizabeth could feel the blood draining from her face. “Are you accusing me of murder?”

“You know what I’m accusing you of. It was very clever having him cremated.”

“Clever! He left a letter requesting his body be cremated. I was just obeying his wishes.”

“Very convenient.” He smiled crookedly. “Goodbye, Mrs. Ramsey. I’d pack that suitcase if I were you. My men might not choose what you’d like to wear when I come back.” A few seconds later the front door closed behind him.

Elizabeth stood motionless, feeling as if she had been hit by a truck. Bardot had meant every word he had said. His malevolence had been too clear to mistake. Why?

Sam was yelping and jumping against the kitchen door, and Elizabeth moved dazedly from the sitting room down the carpeted hall to the kitchen. What could she do? She couldn’t allow herself to be placed in Bardot’s hands, and she had heard too many stories of federal agencies and local law enforcement officials working hand and glove, to trust the lo cal police for protection.

Sam’s yelps grew wilder and more savage, almost frantic, as she drew near. He was throwing himself against the door as if he were trying to knock it down.

She opened the door. “Sam, are you trying
to hurt yourself? Stop—” She broke off as the dog catapulted through the opening, knocking her against the wall. He tore down the hall and leaped against the Dutch door, growling savagely.

“Sam, what’s gotten into you?” Then the significance of the dog’s actions became clear to her. Bardot. She remembered the surprise on his face when she had mentioned taking Sam to the vet. He was surprised because he thought he had killed Sam the night before! she realized. “Oh, no.” She sank down on the third step of the staircase, feeling sick. She stared dumbly at the dog, still hurling himself at the door trying to get at the man who had left him for dead in the woods. So much violence. How could her life have changed so radically in less than twenty-four hours?

An authoritative rat-a-tat sounded at the door. “Beth, let me in. We don’t have much time.”

“Jon!”

Jumping up from the step, she ran the few feet to the front door, pushed Sam aside, and fumbled with the lock. “Jon, he was here. That Bardot man …” She threw open the door. Sam bolted past her only to be caught by Jon before he could leave the steps.

“Gall him. We don’t have time to chase him down,” Jon said tersely.

“Come, Sam.
Now!”

Sam gave a last protesting growl and trotted back into the foyer.

Jon followed him into the cottage and closed the door.

“Bardot was here. He said crazy things. He’s a terrible man.” The words were tumbling from Elizabeth’s lips. Her eyes were wide and stricken as she gazed up at him. “I think he shot Sam.”

“I suspected he did.” He stepped closer and pulled her into his arms. Warmth, safety, the scent of soap and musk. “Shh, it’s going to be all right. I won’t let him hurt you. No one will ever hurt you again.”

Her arms slid around his waist to clutch him desperately. The wool of his mackinaw was rough against her cheek. “He was going to take me somewhere. I told him I couldn’t go, but he wouldn’t listen. He thinks I killed Mark.”

“Killed?” His tone was puzzled. “He said that?”

“He implied it. At least I think he did. Oh, I don’t know. It was something about the autopsy and cremation.” She lifted her head, her eyes misting with tears. “He
hates
me, Jon. I don’t think anyone has ever hated me before. It frightened me. My baby—”

“—will be fine,” Jon finished with great firmness.

“He’s coming back. He said he was coming back with some of his men.”

“We’ll be gone by then. It’ll take an hour for him to get to the farm and back. By that time, we’ll be a quarter of the way to the lodge.”

“Farm?”

“Bardot’s agency has a charming compound not far from here known as the farm. It’s completely isolated.” His lips twisted into a grim frown. “Isolation can be very convenient when interrogating prisoners.”

“Was that where he was going to take me?”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t have let him.” His arms released her and his hands moved up to cradle her face. He looked into her eyes. “Will you go with me now?”

“I don’t understand any of this. I know Mark is innocent but—”

“I realize you could never doubt a paragon like Mark.” His lips tightened. “I’ll make no pretense of having any of his sterling qualities. You’ll have to accept me as I am. However, I think you’ll find I can keep you safe.”

The antagonism in his voice made her un easy and she made a motion to brush his hands away from her face.

“No,” he said fiercely. “Don’t flinch away from me. I may not be Mark but I …” His breath released explosively. “I’m not being very persuasive, am I?”

She shook her head. “Tell me what this is all about and I’ll come with you.”

“I can’t do that. Not right now. I hope I’ll be able to tell you everything soon. Is that good enough?”

“I don’t have much choice. It’s either you or Bardot.” Her eyes were suddenly blazing up at him. “I don’t like this, Jon. I don’t like being frightened out of my home or used as a pawn in a game I don’t understand. And I particularly don’t like my life disrupted, and my child’s welfare threatened. I’ll go with you, be cause right now it appears to be best. And I’ve already made arrangements with my professors to complete my courses at home after the baby comes. But you wait until my baby is born and safe from all this madness, and I’ll show you and Bardot I’m not to be manipulated.”

She didn’t know what his response to her statement would be, but she didn’t expect the mixture of pride and amusement she saw in his expression. “I’ll be looking forward to it.” His fingers brushed her cheek in a light caress before he stepped back. “Go turn off the gas and electricity while I put Sam in the truck. Will your friend, Serena, take care of him until we can reclaim him?”

Elizabeth nodded. “Do I have time to pack?”

“Just grab a warm coat and gloves. We’ll find
you something to wear at the lodge.” He stooped and picked up the dog. A moment be fore Sam had been fiercely aggressive, but now he appeared amazingly docile in Jon’s arms.

BOOK: Last Bridge Home
13.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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