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Authors: Adrienne Giordano

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BOOK: Negotiating Point
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“Best that we can tell.”

“Let’s get someone to visit his office and his house to talk to his coworkers and neighbors. I need leverage with him. Maybe he’s in a custody battle and wants to see his kid. I can use that.”

Gavin tried the phone again.

Come on, Joe, pick up.
Which someone did, but yelling from the other end echoed through the phone line—whoa—and Gavin straightened up. “Joe? It’s Gavin. Everything all right?”

The line went dead.

Gavin tried again, but no answer. “Dammit. What the hell happened?”

“There’s nothing on the monitor. Whatever it is, it’s happening inside. Should we have the team take a look?”

He tried the phone again. “No. I need to get them calm again and they’ll go nuts if they see a tactical team approach.”

Someone picked up the other end. No yelling, but people were yapping at each other. “Joe? Talk to me. What do you need over there?”

“Nothing,” Joe said. “Our
prisoner
just tried to run out the back door.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw Janet look at him, her mouth partway open.
Don’t look at her. Focus.

“Well, Joe, you know, she’s probably terrified. Let’s get everyone to resume cool heads here, okay? Nobody is hurt, right?”

Agree with me, asshole. Agree with me.

“Nobody is hurt, but she won’t be trying that again. Stupid bitch.”

Something in the way he said
bitch
struck Gavin as wrong. Like maybe Joe Smith wasn’t used to using colorful language. He made a note and stared at his notepad until the lines blurred. “What do you mean she won’t try that again?”

“We were forced to
restrain
her. We were trying to go easy, but now she’s chained to the bed. No more talking.”

He hung up.

Gavin ripped his headset off, dumped it on the table and lowered himself to the folding chair. Next to him, Janet slowly peeled her headset away from her ear. “Well, just hell.”

“Give her credit for trying, but we now have agitated hostage takers who chained a pregnant woman to a bed.” He put his head down, ran two fingers over his forehead. “If one of them tries something, she may not even be able to defend herself.
Goddammit.

Janet reached over, touched his arm. “Take a break. A couple of minutes to regroup. That’s all.”

“If I regroup, they regroup.”

She stuck her hand out, where his iPod sat nestled in her palm. “Do it. Just a couple of minutes.”

Most negotiators had a thing they did to decompress. Some exercised, some did puzzles, he listened to classical music. And she’d figured that out about him. He reached for the miniscule device, closed his hand over hers and squeezed. Their eyes met for a few brief seconds and he smiled.

She set her other hand over his and rubbed it slowly across the top. The motion settled his tortured mind. Or maybe it made it worse because now he was conjuring other uses for those lovely little hands.

What are you doing, Sheppard? Roxann Taylor is tied to a bed and this one is support staff.
Problems everywhere and he was thinking about sex.

But—
yeah, it’s getting hot in here
—that heat drilling right through him, teasing him, begging him to make a move.

“This is tough stuff,” she said. “You’re used to dealing with people you don’t know. You’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself. It’s not fair that you need to do this, but I love watching you work. It’s a noble thing and not many people could do it.”

Make a move.

Janet beat him to it. Sure did. When she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his, he didn’t necessarily fight it. He, in fact, threw himself into the fray. Specifically, his
tongue
threw them into the fray. Not that it could be considered bad. Women like her, who understood his crazy life and the stress he faced during a negotiation, yet still managed to make him smile, hadn’t been in abundant supply for him.

She stirred something inside him and—weak-willed pig that he was—he wanted more. And then maybe more after that.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Like every other good thing in his life, she backed away first, but settled her hand on his cheek.
Nice.

“Wow,” she said.

He smiled and pulled his hand away, the iPod clutched between his fingers. “I’ll just take a minute to get my head together.”
The one I need to get my boss’s pregnant wife out of this.
“Let’s not share this chained-to-the-bed thing, okay? We’ll keep it between us? I don’t want to ignite the situation.”

She nodded. “Of course.”

Sunlight shafted through the barn door and Vic stepped in. He took one look at Janet and halted. “What happened?”

Chapter Three

“Nothing happened,” Janet said.

Vic assumed his arms-folded-scary-man stance. “You have that look you get when the shit is hitting the fan.”

She had a look? News to her. She met his stare dead-on because her boss understood body language and if she turned away, he’d know she was hiding something. “I consider Roxann being kidnapped one giant episode of the shit hitting the fan. That’s what happened.”

Vic’s gaze shifted to Gavin, then back to Janet. “You’re sure?”

Suspicious.

But she wasn’t sure of anything, except that loaded-for-bear kiss she’d just planted on Sexy Galore. What an idiot she was.
Way to flush your career down the toilet, Janet.

“Vic,” she said. “I’m sure. What’s the problem?”

He nodded, apparently not willing to fight. “Mike needs something to do. If he sits at that truck stop any longer, he’s gonna go ape-shit. How are negotiations going?”

They’re not.

Gavin stood and leaned back on the folding table. “Janet just discovered some info on our HT. His tax records show he files single with a dependent. Let’s get someone over to his house, see if we can get info to use as leverage.”

Vic nodded. “Mike can do that.”

Gavin gawked. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

“No. It’ll keep him busy and out of your hair and he’ll feel like he’s contributing. He can handle it. Trust me.”

Gavin looked at Janet. “What do you think? Can he handle this without blowing his stack?”

The answer came to her in an instant. If anyone could handle it, Michael Taylor was the person. He’d seen plenty of tragedy in his life. He knew how to carry a load.

“He’ll be fine.”

Gavin held his hand to Janet who scribbled Joe Smith’s address on a slip of paper and pressed it into his palm.

He read the address and gave it to Vic. “I hope you’re right about this.”

“We’re right,” Janet said. “Michael will get what you need.”

* * *

Minutes later, after powering down his iPod, Gavin leaned against the barn door, staring off into the miles of cornfields surrounding the farm. The soft sway of the old oak tree soothed his mind and he breathed in the fresh, warm air. Country living. He might like it.

He watched Vic step out of his Tahoe after calling Mike with his assignment.

“We’re good,” Vic said. “He’ll check out the address and call us.”

A boom—
gunshot
—coming from the direction of the hostage location destroyed Gavin’s moment of peace and he stood upright. His head hammered, the sound smacking against the inside of his skull and violating coherent thought. He hauled ass into the barn with Vic on his heels. “What was that?”

Janet shook her head. “Nothing on the radio.”

Gavin grabbed his handheld from the table. “Alpha team. Report!”

“Who’s firing?” Vic yelled.

“I don’t know,” Gavin said. “Didn’t you tell them to stand down?”

“Back off. They know what they’re doing. And yes, I told them.”

He grabbed the second handheld from the table. “Status. Over.”

“Farmland, not us, it came from the house, over.”

What was this about? First Roxann trying to escape and now this? Jesus, the situation was collapsing. “Why is he firing?”

“My fault,” someone said. “I wanted a better angle to the window and moved. They must have spotted me.”

Gavin’s blood pressure hit
launch
and he thought his head might disintegrate from the pulverizing pressure.

Dammit.

Fucking tactical guys always wanting to engage. Always wanting to go to guns. Always wanting a better shot.

“Stand down! Nobody fires until I get him on the phone.”

Vic stood, arms crossed, waiting, and probably hoping this would be the event that would allow him to go tactical.
Keep waiting, pal.

“Who the hell was it that moved?”

“Jessup,” Vic said.

“Jessup!” Of all the fucking people he didn’t expect to screw up, it was Peter “Monk” Jessup, by far the most reasonable of Vic’s knuckle-draggers. That could only be classified as shocking. Jesus.

Vic grabbed a headset so he could listen in on Gavin’s call to Joe. “One more shot from that house and we’re going in.”

The fuck we are.
Gavin grabbed his headset. “Relax. Jessup shouldn’t have been in motion.” And then something inside him blew and the pressure behind his eyes butchered him. “I’m trying to build trust with this guy and your team has already shot that to hell.”

“Hey!”

“Shut up!” Gavin roared just before Joe picked up the call. “Joe? What the hell happened? Who’s firing?”

“Tell your men to back off!”

The squealing panic in Joe’s voice? Not a good sign. Gavin breathed in, lowered himself to his chair. He had to repair the fractured trust. “Joe, let’s calm down, okay? Nobody is going anywhere. Our guy wasn’t trying to move on you. He was just shifting around. Okay? You see that? Nobody is moving.”

“I don’t know.”

“Take a minute and go look.”

“Yeah. So someone can shoot me. No way. You fucking federal guys are all the same.”

“Joe, nobody is moving. My guy screwed up. He knows that.”

“Yeah, he screwed up all right. Maybe I’ll shoot this lady right now. How would that work? Maybe then you people will take us seriously.”

Gavin ignored Vic standing beside him, shaking his head. Just what he needed. A tense, emotional tactical guy. At the very least, he had to minimize the damage.

“Joe, you don’t wanna do that. Right now, you haven’t done anything all that wrong. I mean, yes, maybe you grabbed Mrs. Taylor, but you haven’t hurt her, right? So, as long as nobody is hurt, we’ve got a shot at resolving this situation. The police aren’t involved, so you could walk away from this. If someone gets hurt, then we have problems. Some jackass innocent bystander might be driving down the road and hear a gunshot. Before you know it, the cops are banging on your door. Am I right, Joe?”

Please say I’m right.
No answer. Gavin took a moment to sort the chaos in his head into usable pieces. “Joe, listen to me, what you’ve done so far, it’s not that bad. We can work out of it.”

“What about getting Mr. Spelling released? I want someone to call me and tell me what time he’ll be released.”

Gavin took a breath. Back in business. “We’re working on that. You didn’t want the authorities involved so we need to go through back doors. It’s gonna take a little while to get a hold of the people we need to. That’s all. How is everything else? Anything you need?”

“No.”

“You sure, Joe? You’ve been holed up there a few hours. How about some food. You got food in there?”

Silence.
They’re hungry.
The one thing about hostage takers, they always needed something. Not necessarily wanted, but
needed.
Whether it was food or smokes or water. They always needed
something.

“We could use some hot food.”

“No problem. Anything in particular? Pizza? Sandwiches?”

“Pizza. Three of them. Extra large.”

Three? Gavin made a note and did a quick calculation in his head. On a good night he could put away a medium pizza on his own. But he’d have to be famished. Three extra-large pizzas meant at least,
at least,
three people. And that number probably didn’t include Roxann.

“Sure,” Gavin said. “How about drinks? We’ll bring you some pops. What do you guys like?”

“We need a Mountain Dew, some bottled waters, a Coke and iced tea. And whatever the lady likes. I don’t care.”

Three different drinks, plus the waters. “Give us thirty minutes and I’ll call you back to arrange delivery.”

“You’re not coming near this house!”

“We’re gonna talk about that. We’ll leave the food somewhere and you can grab it. How would that be?”

The line went dead and Gavin removed his headset.

“Head-shrinker, what are you doing?”

Gavin held up his hand while he read over his notes. “Based on this food order, I’m guessing we’ve got at least three people, probably four, plus Roxann inside. Now I need to find out how many guns they have.” He handed over the food order. “Get this food while I work out a delivery plan.”

Vic snatched the slip of paper from him. “One of my guys delivers the food.”

“No. They’ll see a tactical guy and go balls to the wall. That’s the last thing we need.”

“Actually,” Vic argued, “that’s exactly what we need. These fuckers think they’re in charge. Let’s show them what kind of manpower they’re up against.”

“Guys,” Janet said. “Arguing won’t get Roxann out of there.”

But Gavin had his sights on Vic. “We’ve just learned new information and you need to back off while I work through it.”

“Oh? What have we learned?”

Gavin stood taller, took a small step toward Vic. “They’ve just proven to us they’re not afraid to use their guns.”

* * *

Craving fresh air and sensing her boss’s need to vent, Janet walked outside with Vic for a chat before he made the food run. She walked to his Tahoe with him and leaned against it, the heat from the front quarter panel seeping through her slacks. Hot day. “Gavin knows what he’s doing.”

Vic huffed out a breath. “Great, you too? Bad enough Mike is on his side.”

“No sides here, remember? All I know is Roxann is in that house. And she’s pregnant and I’m terrified for her. I think it would be a good idea if you gave Gavin a wee bit of room to do his job. He’s a reasonable man. Plus, the deal was, he’d have until nightfall to talk these guys down. That’s another four hours from now.”

“And what if something happens before then? How do any of us live with it if she doesn’t walk out of there when we could have taken these assholes down?”

“How do you know she won’t get hurt in the takedown?”

He stared at her a second too long. “Vic, I know you think you can storm in there and save her. I’ve been around you guys long enough to get that, but I’ve seen what Gavin can do. Give him a break and quit bugging him so he can concentrate.”

“You do remember I’m your boss.”

“Yes, but there are times you need to be slapped.” She grinned. “I’m happy to do the slapping.”

He rolled his eyes. “Two things. First, get off my damned truck. Second, I’ll stay quiet until nightfall. Only because you asked me.”

“Gee, my hero. Bring back extra food for us.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He climbed into the Tahoe and fired the engine. With that task completed, Janet spun on her heel to have a go at Gavin and a food delivery plan. She was getting sick of these two arguing and if she could help Gavin come up with a plan Vic could agree to, they’d all get some semblance of peace in an otherwise crappy day.

Entering the barn, she found Gavin slouched back in the folding chair with his feet propped on the table. The man had the ability to look completely relaxed, but she knew his mind was active. She leaned on the table to face him. “What are you thinking about the food delivery?”

“I’d like to leverage it to get a look at Roxann. Make sure she’s okay. But they’re not gonna let us anywhere near the house, which means Roxann would have to come out. I doubt they’d let that happen. I’ll deliver the food.”

“Vic will freak. He’ll want to do it or have one of the guys do it.”

“I know. They’ll use it as an excuse to get closer to the house. I can’t risk it. I’ve got to rebuild trust and sending in someone in full-blown tactical gear won’t do it.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Uh, no.”

“Why not? Gavin, look at me. I’m tiny. I look weak and harmless. Send me up the driveway with the food. I’ll stand there and they open the door so I can see Roxann. Once I see she’s okay, I’ll leave.”

He puckered then shook his head. “Too dangerous.”

“I disagree. I think, of all our options, this one is the least dangerous. Plus, Vic won’t argue over it.”

“Yeah, he will.”

Had a point there. “You’re right. He will, but I can convince him. I’ve worked for him for four years. And whether he’ll admit it or not, he’s afraid of me.”

Gavin gawked. “Really?”

“Of course. Whatever secrets I don’t know about this bunch—” she waggled her fingers, “—I can find with a computer.”

“God, I love how you people work.”

You haven’t seen anything yet.
“I’m small, but I’m mighty.”

He twisted his lips, clearly trying to hide a grin. Making Gavin Sheppard smile had to be one of the few highlights in this miserable day.

“You are indeed.”

For thirty-six minutes they debated the merits of her plan until Gavin finally gave in. He may not have been completely on board, but he knew the only option Vic could be convinced of was her playing pizza delivery girl.

“You’ll support me on this?” Janet asked.

He stared at her from his seat, his gaze connecting with hers. “As much as I hate it, yes.”

A car crunching over gravel outside alerted them to Vic’s return. She stepped to the barn door and spotted him carrying four pizza boxes and a bag—probably the drinks.

“Hi,” Janet said.

He stepped into the barn and dumped the boxes on the table. “What’s the plan?”

Gavin waited a second for Vic to step over to where he sat. Nice power play there, making the big man come to him. Janet almost laughed out loud over the posturing these two did.

“First,” Gavin said, “let me finish before you comment. I have no doubt you’ll have issues with this idea, but you need to think it through.”

“Fine.”

Gavin nodded. “I would like to leverage the food delivery to get a look at Roxann. They insist she’s fine, but I want proof.”

“Agreed,” Vic said.

“I’m trying to build trust again. If they see one of the tactical team coming at them, they’re going to blow their minds.”

“Oh,” Vic said. “I’m gonna fucking hate this.”

“Hey,” Janet interrupted. “You said you’d listen.”

He held up his hands.
Good boy.

“Janet will deliver the food.”

“Fuck no,” Vic said.

Janet raised her hand. “I know I’m not a tactical person, but look at me. First off, I’m a woman. That alone will reduce the tension. Second, they’ll see how small I am and think I’m harmless.”

BOOK: Negotiating Point
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