Authors: Elise Noble
Published by Undercover Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2015 Elise Noble
This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Edited by Amanda Ann Larson
Cover art by Abigail Sins
Because every girl needs a good stalker.
AS I SPED along the highway, the rain fell harder than the last man I shot with my faithful Walther P88.
Ahead, a fork of lightning lit up the sky, closely followed by the angry growl of thunder. I accelerated around a truck that was driving slowly, or as normal people would say, sensibly, and kept the pedal flat to the floor. The drive to Dulles International Airport normally took two hours, but at this rate I’d do it in just over one. Either that or end up wrapping my car around something solid.
At that moment, I didn’t particularly care which.
A bend came up and the back end of the car went loose, swinging from side to side in a wild fishtail. I grappled with the steering wheel, knuckles white, and managed to keep the vehicle pointing in the right direction. My Dodge Viper didn’t like the weather any more than I did. Metallic black, with an 8.4 litre V10 engine, it looked mean and sounded meaner.
Not exactly your typical girl’s car.
But, as my husband had pointed out when he handed me the keys on my birthday, “You’re not a normal girl, Diamond.” The nickname he gave me on the night we met had stuck through the years.
Fuck, I missed him.
Soon the road evened out, and the car settled back into a more-or-less straight line. The highway was almost empty. Only some long-distance truck drivers and a few desperate souls crawling along in the slow lane were crazy enough to be out driving in this storm. Fortunately, all the cops were most likely tucked up in their squad rooms too, munching on donuts and mainlining coffee, far too busy with the important things in life to worry about little old me, merrily barrelling along I-95 at twice the speed limit.
I flicked through the radio stations until I found one playing rock. Bon Jovi belted out “Livin’ on a Prayer,” which seemed quite appropriate given how fast I was driving.
By the time I hit the outskirts of Washington DC, the rain had slackened to a steady drizzle. The road was mirrored with puddles, the rippling reflections of the streetlights twinkling up at me. Just in case a stray cop was hanging around, I slowed down to somewhere close to legal as I drove through the city.
I’d kept a careful eye behind on the way there, and I was confident nobody had tailed me, especially with the speed I was driving. Even so, I made four consecutive right hand turns to be on the safe side, doubling back on myself and driving through a residential area. Only once I was satisfied I was alone did I make my way back to the main road and continue on to the airport.
The long-term parking lot stretched out before me, and I carried on to the back. I didn’t want my vehicle to stand out, although I appreciated that was wishful thinking with the Viper. Still, it wouldn’t have to remain unspotted for long. I only needed a day or so’s head start to disappear, and I figured it would be a couple of hours before anyone even started looking for me.
I opened the miniscule trunk and climbed out to collect the leather travel bag that lived in there, then threw it in the passenger seat while I slid back into the driver’s side. Once I’d closed the door, I unzipped the outside pocket and pulled out the wallet I’d stashed there a few months before.
The car’s interior light bathed me in a soft glow as I dumped the contents into my lap and took a quick inventory. Everything that should have been there was present and correct—a United Kingdom passport and driver’s licence; a matching credit card and a few thousand in cash, split between dollars and sterling; plus the other assorted detritus one normally accumulated. The body of the travel bag held a couple of changes of clothes, some toiletries, a Smith & Wesson .38 Special and a butterfly knife. Everything I might need for an impromptu weekend away.
I didn’t have all that stuff by luck. The man who trained me spent years stressing the need to be prepared at all times, and I’d taken it to heart. I could have been a fucking Girl Scout, if it wasn’t for the fact that while most little girls were learning the basics of how to cook an egg using a piece of cotton and a safety pin, I was busy learning how to survive in the real world.
He’d also taught me to act like a cold-hearted little robot, and I called on every one of those lessons now.
Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think. Just
The passport photo made me look like I’d just been rolled out of the morgue, and for good reason. Tramping through the jungle in Belize on a survival training exercise never did much for my appearance, and I’d spent a week living off twigs and berries and nasty tasting wriggly things while trying not to get eaten myself. I’d gone the final forty-eight hours without sleep as the trainers decided to play a fun new game that involved them hunting us like animals. Anyone they caught got treated to a nice trip to a facility that made Guantanamo Bay look like a five star hotel.
I didn’t get caught.
I figured I’d sleep on the plane on the way back, but the pilot went down with food poisoning. That meant I’d ended up flying the bloody thing instead while the pilot alternated between throwing up and pouring coffee into me. I crawled into work for a meeting straight after we landed, and following that, when I was just about to pass out on the sofa in the corner of my office, my assistant walked in with a make-up artist and photographer for another round of passport photos.
All that seemed a lifetime away. Right now, I was barely capable of brushing my teeth, let alone taking on a team of the best special forces the US could offer.
From the bottom of the bag, I fished out a wig and a fresh pair of coloured contact lenses that matched the ones in the photo. I’d already had a wig on all day, and my head was hot and itchy. I’d have liked nothing more than to fling the damn thing under a moving car and then climb into the shower to wallow in misery, but I couldn’t allow myself that luxury. Instead, I swapped out the honey blonde bob for something longer in a dull, mousey brown. The fringe tickled my eyebrows. That was going to get old, fast.
I went on autopilot, changing my identity as I had done many times in the past. The only difference was the quake in my hand as I popped the mud-coloured contact lenses out of their blister packs. Even though I had 20:20 vision, I wore a pair of contacts most of the time, because in my line of work my piercing violet eyes were far too noticeable. Despite all the practice, it took me four tries to get them in, and I bit my lip hard, trying not to scream in frustration. As the metallic tang of blood filled my mouth, I relished the pain. Anything to distract me from my thoughts was welcome.
A pair of wire-rimmed glasses completed the effect. When I looked in the mirror, I found I bore an uncanny resemblance to the morgue shot, which was both a good and bad thing. Good because it meant I was unlikely to get hauled off going through passport control. Bad because it served to remind me of just how horrific the last nine days had been. Things started off terrible, then this afternoon, they’d progressed into a nightmare of such epic proportions I wasn’t sure I’d ever wake up.
Or if I even wanted to.
Still, I didn’t have time to sit around basking in self-pity. I needed to get moving.
I fished my three phones out of my handbag and threw them into the glove compartment. Anything relating to my true identity—credit cards, driving licence, my real passport—joined them, as did the gun and knife. Some people say it’s liberating to go without a cell phone, but I didn’t feel that. I just felt…lost. Sure, I may have had a habit of going through phones faster than a frat party goes through beer, but I normally managed to keep at least one of them with me.
After a moment’s deliberation, I gave in and retrieved one of the mobiles, removed the battery and returned it to my handbag. I couldn’t use it—turning it on would allow the people I worked with to locate me instantly—but I felt better having it with me, like a kid who needed a comfort blanket. It was some kind of connection, however tenuous, back to my life. I allowed myself that one concession.
Five minutes had passed by the time I removed my tailored black jacket and stilettos. The jacket in particular, a military style that accentuated my waist and drew attention to my chest, was too noticeable. I hadn’t wanted to wear the outfit, but my assistant picked it out and I was too tired to argue.
I replaced them with a pair of grey ballet pumps and a shapeless cardigan. My white shirt and black trousers were plain enough to keep. An olive green wool scarf was the final touch, leaving me looking like a librarian who got dressed in a thrift shop. In the dark.
Finally, I tugged my wedding ring off and swapped it onto my other hand. I couldn’t show I was married, but I wasn’t going to be parted from that last connection to my husband, even if every glance at it made my eyes prickle with tears.
“I will not cry,” I whispered to myself as I climbed out of the car. “I will not cry.”
I swung my travel bag over one shoulder and my handbag over the other then headed for the terminal. The rain had slackened but it was still falling, a persistent drizzle that made me wish for an umbrella. I sighed and carried on. The walk would only take a few minutes and I wasn’t going to dissolve. It was just one more shitty nail in the coffin of the second worst day of my life.
The airport was busier than I expected, and a quick glance at the departures board showed every flight was either delayed or cancelled due to the storm.
“Fuck it,” I muttered under my breath, as I paid homage to my British roots and headed for the nearest queue.
Grumpy passengers milled around the check-in desks berating the airline staff as if it was their fault that the planes were running late. To my right, a red-faced man chewed out one poor girl who looked on the verge of tears.
“I’m holding you personally responsible if I miss my meeting,” he yelled, spit flying as he got in her face.
“I’m sorry, sir.” What else could she say?
The old me would have called in a favour to ensure the arsehole got rewarded with a cavity search as he went through security. New me stared blankly into space as I waited my turn.