Authors: Loreth Anne White
He didn’t want to run into Hannah McGuire.
Rex pulled open his desk drawer and fished out a magnifying glass. He hungered to see her more clearly.
Useless. It just made things bigger, blurrier, grainier. He put the magnifying glass back into his drawer and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets before reading the story.
There was no reference to Hannah. The article noted that the body was presumed to be that of Amy Barnes, a young reporter who’d gone missing last fall.
He looked at the photograph again. Then something new caught his eye and, for a second time, his heart beat faster.
It couldn’t be.
In his preoccupation with Hannah he hadn’t noticed the man standing near her. It had been six years since he’d last seen him. If it wasn’t him, the likeness was incredible.
Rex needed to know more.
This was more than coincidence. Two people on Powder Mountain, both linked to a tumultuous period in his life six years ago. Hannah and this man. The last time he had laid eyes on either of them was in Marumba.
He leaned forward and pushed the phone intercom button to ring his secretary. “Margaret, did you tape the news last night?” She usually recorded the CNA news. It aired at six o’clock, before she returned from work. She liked to watch it when she got home.
“I always tape the CNA, Rex.” Margaret’s voice came back through the intercom. “It comes on again later at night, but way past my bedtime. Even an old-timer like me needs beauty rest.”
“You’re beautiful to me, Margaret. I need that tape.” There would be something on the CNA news, he was sure. The missing girl’s parents were high profile, and the search for Amy Barnes had been one of the biggest search-and-rescue missions mounted in recent years.
Rex took his pizza slice out of the microwave and cracked open an ice-cold cola. He had to do something about his eating habits. Always on the run. He settled in front of his television set, inserted Margaret’s tape, took a bite of pizza and pushed the play button.
It had been a long time since he’d watched Hannah on TV. The last he’d seen of her work was her acclaimed CNA documentary on conflict diamonds in Africa. That was what she’d been working on when she had first caught his eye and held his libido hostage in Penaka, the capital of Marumba.
Rex leaned forward as the camera cut to a TV reporter on Powder Mountain. The reporter was saying there would be an autopsy. Then, as the camera moved to pan the faces in the crowd, it caught the gold of her hair and lingered on the profile of a woman made for television. Hannah McGuire’s lambent image sprang to life, invading his living room.
She stole his attention from the rest of the news report.
Rex slowly swallowed his mouthful of food, fixated with her image. She was in khaki hiking shorts and a green jacket. She was lightly bronzed from a summer of sun, the way she had been in Marumba, her limbs long and strong.
And then she was gone.
Rex quickly rewound the clip, took a swig of his cold drink and focused on the other faces in the crowd.
There was no doubt. It was him in the suit, standing near her on that mountain. Mitchell. The CIA agent Rex blamed for botching the Marumba laboratory raid.
If it hadn’t been for Mitchell’s preemptive strike on the secret biological weapons research lab in Marumba six years ago, they would have in custody the man the world had dubbed the Plague Doctor.
Mitchell had called in the Marumba government troops too early. And he had made too much noise about it. Dr. Ivan Rostov, the Plague Doctor, had been forewarned. He had slithered back into the murk of the underworld, taking his lethal secrets with him.
The question now, thought Rex as he remembered the pizza cooling on his plate, is why U.S. Central Intelligence was interested in the death of this young Canadian reporter. And why Agent Mitchell in particular? His specialty was biological warfare intelligence. Perhaps he was in White River early for the toxicology conference. The CIA always kept tabs on get-togethers like these. Yet, the conference wasn’t due to be held for at least another week.
There was no way Rex could avoid going to White River now. And if he knew the Bellona Channel board of directors, they would want him on a plane yesterday.
He reached for his secure phone and punched in the number of the Bellona Channel board chair, Dr. William J. Killian.
“Killian, it’s Rex Logan.”
“Rex, how the hell are you? I heard you were back in Toronto.”
Rex did not waste time on platitudes. “We have a situation developing, Killian. We need to get the board members together for direction. I have some interesting data from my Cairo trip, and there are some developments in White River. Could be related. Looks like a hot spot.”
“Give me one or two hours Rex. I should have everyone assembled for a secure telecon within that time.”
Killian, a reclusive eighty-year-old billionaire and founder of Bio Can Pharmaceutical, knew firsthand the blight of biological weapons. In his youth he had worked for a United Nations special commission to disarm rogue states of their offensive bioweapons programs.
The billionaire was widely regarded as a visionary. He believed biology in the wrong hands could ultimately spell the end of the human race. Killian felt governments around the world had not fully grasped the implications of the biological threat. In his mind not enough time and resources were being thrown at the problem.
He set out to do something about it.
He formed the Bellona Channel. It was a civilian organization and civilian funded, but the Bellona Channel operatives assembled by Killian were all gleaned from the elite ranks of some of the world’s crack government organizations including the Navy SEALS, the CIA, Britain’s Special Air Services and MI-6, Israel’s Mossad and the FBI.
Killian had hand picked Rex from the SAS in Britain and brought him to Canada to head up the indigenous-medicine arm of Bio Can Pharmaceutical. The position served as a cover for his covert work with Bellona.
Rex grabbed the phone at the first ring.
“Rex, we have the full board present, go ahead.”
The greetings were hearty and intimate, coming in from around the world. For some it was an ungodly early hour. Rex was proud to work for this team. The Bellona board was comprised of some of the brightest minds of this age. They shared Killian’s vision and were bound by loyalty and a common code of ethics.
Once the social niceties were over, Rex outlined the scenario. It was his mention of CIA agent Ken Mitchell’s presence in White River that really piqued the board’s interest.
“The way things unfolded with that lab raid in Marumba, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Ken Mitchell was double dipping,” noted Killian.
“A double agent?” The question came from the Australian director.
“It’s feasible. The question now is, what is he doing in White River? We need to find out and we need you on the job, Rex. You’re the one with the background on this case.” There were murmurs of agreement at Killian’s assessment.
Rex felt a sick little slide in his stomach. There went his hope of sending a replacement to White River. Hannah’s lambent image swam back into his brain. He squeezed it out and channeled his attention back to the teleconference.
“Right. I’ll make arrangements. Any word on the Plague Doc?” Since the botched lab raid, the hunt for Dr. Ivan Rostov, one of the biggest international manhunts in history, had turned up nothing. Not even a lead. The Bellona Channel was just one of the many intelligence agencies after him.
“Nothing so far, Rex. It’s been six years now. For all we know, he could be dead.” Killian cleared his throat. “But he did escape that lab fire with his latest work, the work on ethnic bullets. And that’s what has us worried. Even if Rostov was taken out, his work could still be completed by another rogue scientist and sold to the highest bidder.”
Rex grunted in acknowledgment.
was the term the Bellona Channel had given to the Plague Doctor’s efforts to genetically modify a range of lethal viruses including smallpox, Marburg, Ebola and bubonic plague. The Plague Doctor had started designing these bugs in his Marumba lab so that they would target only people with a specific genetic makeup, creating scourges that could potentially kill only people with blue eyes, for example, or only people of a particular race. The Human Genome Project had made this possible.
The potential was horrendous.
“We need you in White River immediately, Logan.”
The waters of Howe Sound sparkled in his rearview mirror as the road twisted and climbed up into the thin air of the Coast Mountains.
Margaret had seen to it that Rex had a rental vehicle waiting at the Vancouver airport. He’d asked her to make sure he got something with off-road capability. He was heading into rough country.
The narrow, treacherous road snaked up through forest and raw canyon. The view of the tortured Tantalus range in the distance was breathtaking. Rex felt his spirit wanting to soar as he gained elevation, but as he neared White River, he saw dark clouds up ahead.
They were massing over the distant snow-capped peaks, threatening to unleash their heavy burden.
The road sign ahead indicated the White River turnoff. Rex took the next exit and began the steep climb up through the valley toward White River and Powder Mountain. There were road-block booms at intervals along the road. They were raised up now, but Rex knew that when the winter weather turned foul and the roads deadly, the black and yellow booms would be lowered.
He felt a slight chill on his skin as he gained elevation. The bruised-ochre sky added to his sense of unease as he closed in on the ski town. Thunder rumbled faintly in the hills.
Well, he would just have to do his job and try to stay out of Hannah McGuire’s way for the next week or so.
With a stroke of luck, he might not see her at all.
“Take a seat, Hannah.” Fred LeFevre, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sergeant, motioned to a gray plastic chair. “Mind if I eat my lunch?”
“No. Go ahead. Thanks for seeing me.” She despised the way the RCMP staff sergeant allowed his eyes to range over her unabashedly. He was doing it now.
She sat. “Did you manage to get one of the guys to look into Amy’s case again?”
He unwrapped his cheeseburger as he spoke. “I did, as a favor to you. But there’s nothing there. You should let it rest.”
Hannah leaned forward. “But, Fred, you have to agree, the timing of the break-in was curious. Al and I went through all her things. The place was ransacked, but nothing is missing. Her CDs are there, her mountain bike, her video equipment, her climbing gear—”
“Hannah, Hannah.” Fred held up his stubby-fingered hands. “The robbery was one in a series last year. There’s no point in rehashing this now that we’ve found her.”
Anger prickled. “I’m not rehashing. It’s just that this whole business feels wrong.
now that we have found her. Amy wasn’t dressed for the weather. She had no gear. She left no note. It just raises more questions.”
She didn’t think Fred had even heard her. “We think the reason nothing was taken from her apartment was because the perpetrators were interrupted.” He lifted his cheeseburger with both hands and bit into it. Sauce slopped out the sides and splotched onto the waxed wrapper on his desk. The thick smell of fried onions permeated the air in the small office.
Hannah shook her head. “I just can’t believe it was unrelated to her disappearance. Neither can Al. It was like someone was looking for something.”
“Look, it’s out of my hands now. The coroner has ruled her death accidental.” He spurted ketchup onto his fries. “It’s hard. I know. But you have to let it go. We may never find out exactly what happened. Unless there is evidence of a crime, I’m obliged to close the book at my end.” He chewed as he spoke, squeezing his words around the fast-food mash in his mouth.
“Al still has the lease to her apartment. Maybe you could take one more look?”
Fred took another chomp out of his cheeseburger and followed it with a fistful of fries. He chewed a little before opening his mouth to talk again. “Like I said, there’s no evidence that the B and E is connected to her accident. I just don’t have the resources to—”
“So you’re not going to try and find the people who did this?”
“There were no prints. Nothing to go on.”
She rubbed her hands over her face, scrubbing at the frustration. This was a dead end. He was no help.
Fred stopped chewing. “Hannah…I’m sorry.”
She stood. “It’s okay. Thanks for your time.”
“Look, if you come up with something concrete, anything that will justify opening up the case again, I will.”
“Thanks, Fred. Enjoy your lunch.” She turned and walked out, feeling his eyes on her behind.
to be something. She just needed to find it. She’d promised Al she would help get to the bottom of this. Perhaps she might still find some clue in Amy’s apartment. Maybe she and Al had missed something a year ago.
Outside the RCMP detachment, the sky was darkening with the threat of a storm. The light in the village was a dim and unearthly amber under the bruised clouds, and there was a distant grumble of thunder up in the peaks. Branches nodded in grim deference to the mounting wind.
Hannah stood on the stairs and zipped up her jacket, irked at how the weather always affected her moods. The brooding clouds seemed to hold ominous portent. The sudden chill seeped up and into her spine. She felt as if things were closing in on her as she stepped out into the wind.
he concierge at Rex’s hotel was right, the Black Diamond Grill had one of the best patios in White River. It was located near the gondola station at the base of Powder Mountain, and the view of the grassy ski slopes was unobstructed.
The patio was buzzing with the Friday-afternoon lunch crowd. People were lapping up the sunshine after last night’s fierce storm.
Rex was shown to a small table under a red umbrella at the rear of the patio. He counted himself lucky to find a spot. Luckier than he had been in his hunt for CIA Agent Mitchell this morning.
There was no Ken Mitchell registered at any of the hotels in White River. But that was not surprising. Mitchell would hardly use his real name. Still, Rex wanted to rule out the obvious.
A waitress with auburn braids approached his table.
“I’ll have the special. And I’ll try the White River ale.”
She took his menu, and Rex settled back to survey the ski town scene. The village was packed with tourists. He could hear British and Australian and American accents. The couple at the table next to him were conversing in Spanish, and next to them was a boisterous party of Japanese teens. Their animation was infectious.
His beer arrived. He spilled the cool amber liquid into his mouth, letting it pool around his tongue before swallowing. The local brew was good.
He stretched his legs out under the table.
And then he saw her.
How could anyone miss her?
Sunlight glinted gold off her hair. The waitress was showing her and two older men to a table at the far end of the patio.
Rex didn’t move despite the quickening of his pulse. He maintained his posture of relaxation. He did not want to draw attention to himself.
One of the men pulled out a chair for her. She sat with fluid grace, her back partially to him. He could just catch her aristocratic profile, her high cheekbones, the shape of her lush mouth. Rex closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, calming the edgy rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins. He felt as if he’d been winded. A punch to the solar plexus. Nothing could have prepared him for this. So many times he’d dreamed of her, conjured her up from the caverns of his mind. But this hit him straight in the gut. The sight of her in living, breathing, pulsing flesh was a physical assault on his system.
Time slowed. The patio buzz faded.
“You all right, sir?” His waitress was putting his club sandwich in front of him.
He opened his eyes. “Thanks. Just drinking in the summer weather while it lasts.” He was back in control. Cool. Composed. At least, outwardly. He had an ideal vantage point from the back of the patio under the umbrella. He donned his dark shades. She wasn’t likely to see him here.
He took another swig of beer, his eyes fixed on the woman who was once his lover. The woman he still ached for. Her hair was longer than he remembered. More feminine. The thick waves skimmed below her shoulders. It fell softly across her profile as she leaned forward to touch the arm of one of the men. It was a gentle, consoling gesture. He felt his stomach slip. That was Hannah McGuire. A mix of intelligence and compassion, guts and lithe grace. He was a voyeur, studying her jealously from the shadows. But he couldn’t tear his eyes away. Not for a minute. She was wearing white linen pants, a white tank top, her arms bare and sun browned. Fresh off the pages of a fashion magazine. He drank the sight in.
Every pore in his body screamed to go to her. Touch her. Hold her. Tell her he was sorry. He should’ve known it would be close to impossible to avoid her here. White River was a small town. Perhaps deep down, at some primal subconscious level, he’d even wanted to run into her. Perhaps that’s why he’d accepted this mission instead of trying to insist on Scott as a replacement. His body had brought him where his mind refused to go. Hannah McGuire was like a drug to his system. And the sight of her now, after all these years, made him feel like an alcoholic must feel after taking that first forbidden sip.
Forbidden. Hannah was off-limits. He forced his attention to the company she was with.
The man was talking to her, shaking his head, as if in disbelief. Rex didn’t recognize him.
But the other, there was something about the other man that butted sharply up against the deep recesses of his memory. He was familiar. Very. But Rex couldn’t place him.
The man sat ramrod straight, broad shoulders pulled back. Tanned, fit, strong. His dark hair was flecked with silver, but from this distance it was difficult to pinpoint his age. Rex mentally filed the facts, trying to come up with a match.
All three of them looked up as a fourth man approached their table.
Again his pulse quickened. Agent Ken Mitchell.
Rex bit into his sandwich and slowly chewed as he watched. Now, this was getting really interesting.
Gunter, Al and Hannah all looked up as the tall man approached their table.
“Hello again, Hannah.” It was the Washington reporter she’d met on the mountain, the one in the suit.
“Mark, hi. Please join us, take a seat,” Hannah motioned to an empty chair.
“Thank you.” He was wearing dark glasses, a crisp white shirt. Formal for this resort town. He’d brought his big-city sensibilities with him.
Hannah made the introductions. “Mark Bamfield, this is Al Brashear, publisher of the
and this is Dr. Gunter Schmidt from the White River Spa.” She turned to Al. “Mark works as a freelance writer. He came to the
office this morning to talk about Amy.”
Mark Bamfield shook hands. “Actually, I’m here for the upcoming forensic toxicology conference. I’m generally a medical and science writer, based out of the States.” He pulled up the chair, sat down and lifted his sunglasses. “But since I’m here, I’ve been asked to pick up the Amy Barnes story.” He turned to Al. “This must be difficult. I’m sorry.”
Al nodded. “I understand the news value. I’m still a media man.”
“I was hoping I’d get a chance to meet you, Al. I want to do an in-depth color piece on your niece. With your consent, of course. Something that captures the spirit of who she was. I was wondering if I could take a look at some of the articles she’d been working on, get a sense of her life, her work.”
Al looked weary. “Of course. Feel free to call me at the office. We can set something up.”
“I appreciate that. Thank you.”
Gunter stepped in, changing the topic, breaking the subtle tension that had settled around his friend. “Tell me, Mark, the toxicology conference, is there anything in particular, any specific speakers you are interested in?”
Mark turned to Gunter. “I plan to attend most of the sessions, see what grabs me. Will you be there?”
“Ja, but of course. It’s not every day one of these things comes to your doorstep. You are covering this for a newspaper?”
Hannah knew of it. High profile. “Nice gig.”
“Not bad. Now that you mention it, you had a pretty good one yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I realized, after I met you yesterday, you’re Mac McGuire’s daughter.”
Hannah tensed. She felt instantly cornered, always did when anything about her past sneaked into the present she’d so carefully carved out for herself and Danny.
“Yes. Mac was my dad.” She forked a piece of lettuce from her Caesar salad but couldn’t find the impetus to bring it to her mouth.
“You were following in his footsteps for a while there, McGuire. One of the best. They were even calling you Mac, Jr.”
“You been checking up on me?”
Mark laughed. “Mac’s a legend in media circles. So why’d you quit? What brought you here?”
To this media backwater.
The words hung unsaid.
She forced a smile. “I needed a change. And I like the skiing.”
Mark raised his brows, studying her. She had an uneasy feeling about him. Like he could see into her, like he knew something. She forced the lettuce into her mouth.
Al was watching her, too. She’d never spoken to him about Mac. But she figured he knew she was the daughter of the famous Canadian international correspondent. She loved Al for the fact that he never pried, that he sensed her need to put the past away. That he just let her be while the scabs of her wound grew strong.
She saw Gunter Schmidt studying her, too, as if the fact she was Mac’s daughter suddenly meant she had to be judged by new standards. But the plastic surgeon made no comment. He pushed his empty plate to one side. “Well, that was good.” Gunter dabbed the corners of his mouth neatly with his napkin. “But my patients, they are waiting.” He called for the check.
Rex watched as the man with gray-flecked hair called for the bill.
So, Hannah knew Ken Mitchell. No matter how he looked at it, he was not going to be able to avoid her. She was working her way into his investigation. He’d need to ask her about Mitchell. And the other man, the one tugging at his memory.
He watched them stand, say their goodbyes. Hannah shook Mitchell’s hand. She looked unhappy. It tore at him.
Do you remember me, Hannah McGuire? Do you hate me? What is making you sad, my lovely?
God he wanted to ask her those questions. He’d have to shelve those for another life. Right now he needed to ask her about Mitchell. But how to approach her after all these years? For the first time in his adult life, Rex Logan felt lost. Helpless. He hadn’t planned for this. The cold, calculating, fearless agent was not only lost, he was afraid. But with the anxiety that sloshed in his belly was a sharp little zing. A spike of adrenaline. Unwanted, but there. It hummed through him at the thought of coming face-to-face with Hannah McGuire, hearing the smokiness of her voice, seeing those tiny forest-green flecks in her gold leonine eyes.
But not now. Not yet. He wasn’t ready. Right now he’d tail Mitchell. He watched them make for the exit, giving them time.
Mark Bamfield held out his hand. “Good to meet you, Al, Gunter. Thanks for inviting me to join you.”
He turned to Hannah and took her hand in his. “Nice to see you again, Hannah. Maybe dinner sometime?”
She just nodded and watched him go. He’d left her unsettled, off-kilter.
“You okay, Hannah?”
“Yeah, Gunter. Just tired. Thanks for lunch.”
“Anytime. You look after Al now, ja?”
“Ja, Ja.” Al jokingly waved his friend off, mimicking his raspy German accent. “You go back to your filthy-rich patients. I can take care of myself.”
Hannah affectionately took Al by the arm as they made their way down the pedestrian walkway back to the office. Sometimes she felt he was the father she never really had. “So you can look after yourself, huh?”
“Damn right. Just need a little time.”
To find out what really happened to Amy.
The words went unsaid. Hannah knew Al wouldn’t heal until he had the answer.
The sun was warm on their backs as they strolled through the summer crowds. Much warmer than an hour ago when Hannah had needed the extra comfort of her sweater. She realized suddenly it was missing.
“Oh, Al, my sweater. I must have left it at the restaurant. You go on ahead. I’ll see you back at the office.”
“No, no. I’ll come with you. Too nice out. Any excuse to extend my break is welcome.” He fell in step with her as she headed quickly back to the Black Diamond.
Al waited at the restaurant entrance as Hannah stepped up onto the patio and made her way back to the table. They had been gone only minutes. Her sweater was still draped over the back of the chair.
She gathered it up, turned to head out.
He stood in shadow at the far end of the patio.
He was looking directly at her.
The world around her faded away. Hannah reached absently for the back of a chair as her vision narrowed. She needed to steady herself. Her chest was like a vise. She couldn’t breathe.
He didn’t move.
She told herself it couldn’t be. It was someone who looked like him. But she knew. In her gut. She knew the lines of him, the stance, like she knew her own son. Her mind reeled. Irrational panic licked through her blood and gripped at her throat. For so long he had lurked in the shadows of her mind. Now he stood, in flesh and blood, in the shade of the patio.
Here, in White River.
The shock of it was too much. She wasn’t ready to deal with seeing him.
She turned, walked woodenly toward Al, clutching her sweater.
“Hannah, what’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” He grabbed her elbow in support.
“I…I think I am coming down with something. I just need to get out of here. I…I’ll see you back at the office.” She pulled away from Al and started to weave quickly through the groups of tourists thronging the walkways.
She headed for the park with its network of trails that ran along the White River.
She broke into a run when she reached the gravel path, ignoring the sharp little stones that slipped into her sandals. Usually running eased her pain. Now the air rasped in her lungs.
She stopped only when she reached the little waterfall.
She sat down on her rock, close to the water’s edge. Daniel called it Mommy’s Rock. The little one beside it was Danny’s Rock. They would often come to the park and picnic here beside the river. They would watch the whitewater churn over the boulders and throw a fine mist into the air. Danny liked the way the droplets would catch the sun and spin the light into a myriad of rainbows.
Hannah turned her face toward the raging water. She let the sound wash over her and the fine mist kiss her cheeks.
The knot in her gut slowly loosened, unraveled and bubbled up through her chest, threatening to spill out in a warm release of tears. She tilted her head back, scrunching her eyes, angry with herself.
Fight or flight. She’d had the classic response to a threat. And she’d flown. She’d run like hunted prey. The way she’d been running emotionally for the last six years. She knew she would have to face him one day. She just didn’t think it would be now. Like this. Here, in her mountain sanctuary.