"I need your help. Please."
And with those words, tough-guy Jonathan Foley melted. It had been years since he'd seen the only woman to climb his wall of solitude...months since he'd joined an elite team of operatives called the Equalizers and hidden away his secrets. But now Melissa Shepherd needed him--and there was no denying her.
Melissa's niece was missing and she knew only Jonathan could see past the lies in her small Alabama hometown and find Polly. Searching alongside the man she'd loved and lost would prove difficult...and downright dangerous. But she'd have to--because for the little girl, time was running out....
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April 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Missing by Debra Webb
Thursday, May 27th, 10:30 pm
There were better ways to die.
But never a good time.
Jonathan Foley wouldn't have chosen to die in a vacant warehouse with the river lapping at its crumbling foundation. Definitely not while shackled to a cast-off swivel chair beneath the glare of a single bare bulb.
But life stunk that way sometimes.
"Amp it up another notch," the punk gripping the defibrillator paddles ordered. Then he smiled at his prisoner. "Last chance, tough guy."
Evidently the trigger-happy lackey was through playing. Foley braced for the electrical charge that would throttle through his chest the instant the paddles touched his naked skin. Nope, there was never a good time to die. But then he had accomplished his mission. This was likely as good a time as any. He lifted his gaze to the nimrod currently holding the power. "We both know I'm not going to talk."
The jerk laughed, his pale blue eyes glittering with anticipation. "I was hoping you'd say that."
The one manning the controls gave the appropriate knob a violent twist then checked the readout. "Ready," he announced.
Jonathan's jaw clenched and his fingers tightened on the arms of the chair, but he refused to close his eyes. He stared straight at the SOB with the paddles. Refused to allow even a glimmer of fear or defeat. This waste of DNA might kill him but he couldn't make him cooperate. Better men had tried.
The sharply issued order echoed in the stale air of the long-abandoned warehouse, wiped the smile right off the paddle punk's face.
Foley should have relaxed. After all, he was just a few volts from dead. This unexpected interruption provided a momentary reprieve. He shifted his attention in the direction of the footsteps coming nearer. Not that he needed visual confirmation. He knew the voice.
Tall, distinguished, with just enough gray at the temples to lend an air of wisdom. Even at a time like this--in a place like this--the man sported a three thousand dollar black silk suit. No doubt the leather shoes he wore were handcrafted. Nothing was too good for a Lennox. A similarly dressed underling, briefcase in hand, rushed after him.
Well, well, Foley mused. Would wonders never cease? He'd thought Lennox was long gone by now. Yet, here he was, in the flesh, assistant in tow.
"Sir," the underling urged, "the Learjet is waiting. There's no time."
Lennox held up a hand, cutting off his much younger colleague. "Before you die," Lennox said to Foley, his gaze narrowed with disdain and fury, "I have one question."
Foley licked his cracked lips, noted the taste of blood and sweat. "For the past two hours I've been beaten--" his ribs ached with each indrawn breath "--shocked with ever increasing amperage and--" he jerked his head toward the punk with the paddles "--I still didn't talk. What makes you think I have anything to say to you?"
"Let me give it another go," paddle punk pleaded. "He'll talk." He smirked at Foley. "They always do."
Lennox shook his head firmly from side to side. "Not this one."
"Sir." The assistant dared to intrude into the exchange yet again. "You must hurry."
Lennox ignored him. "I did my research, Foley. I know all about you." He made a disparaging sound deep in his throat. "And you're right, you won't talk." He crossed his arms over his chest then reached up and tapped his chin with a finger as if mulling over the situation. "I have friends in places you can't even fathom. I'm aware of your military career, Major Foley."
One corner of Foley's mouth twitched with the ghost of a smile. "Then you know it was over a long time ago." Bits and pieces of images flickered through his brain. He banished the memories.
"You endured days of torture," Lennox went on as if recalling documents he'd only just recently read. "Never uttered a single word while every member of your reconnaissance team was executed right in front of you." A hint of respect flashed in the man's eyes. "Still you remained strong. Loyal to the bitter end. Didn't let your country down." He gave another shake of that distinguished head. "No, no. You didn't talk then. You won't talk now."
"Then what's your point?" Foley looked him dead in the eye. He would have a point. A man who'd just been nailed for treason wasn't going to hang around for anything without a compelling reason.
"After a few years of doing nothing significant, you joined a firm called the Equalizers," Lennox explained, as if he had all night and wasn't the slightest bit worried about the feds who no doubt had already turned Chicago upside down to find him. "Your most recent assignment was to do what no one else had been able to do."
"That's right." Foley had gotten Lennox. Gotten him good. No one else had been able to penetrate the perfect shield he'd built around himself. No one had had a clue that it was the esteemed Victor Lennox who was selling out his own company, his own country. Now his crimes were bared to all. He could run, but he would never again possess the power he had flaunted. Checkmate.
Lennox leaned down, stuck his face in Foley's. "Who sent you?"
"The head of the Equalizers."
Rage tightened the features of the man's face better than the Botox he likely used on a regular basis. "Three people were involved in that aspect of my business," Lennox hissed. "Only three. Not one of them sold me out."
Foley shrugged. "I guess you'll never know for sure."
"Oh, I already know. You see, every man has his breaking point. Each of the three broke eventually. Like you, they remained loyal until the end. Though I suspect they were motivated by fear rather than anything else. You," he accused, "already knew coming in what you were after. All you had to do was find concrete evidence."
Foley stared at him. He wasn't denying or confirming that assertion.
"It's not necessary for you to corroborate the statement," Lennox assured him. "I know."
"Mr. Lennox," the well-dressed assistant interrupted again, "we must go. Now."
Continuing to discount the warning, Lennox demanded, "Tell me who sent you."
That ghost of a smile materialized fully on Foley's lips. "I told you. My employer--the head of the Equalizers."
"A name, Foley," Lennox pressed. "I want a name."
Foley could tell him that he didn't know, because he didn't. No one did. The man behind the Equalizers was a complete unknown. So Foley did what he did best. He said nothing.
"You've won," Lennox fairly shouted. "I've been exposed. I'm on the run. Even I know that it's only a matter of time before they catch up with me. What difference does it make now? I simply want to know the identity of the man who discovered what no one else could."
Foley wondered if Lennox had any idea just how much satisfaction his sheer desperation prompted.
"Cut him loose," Lennox ordered.
"What?" the paddle punk demanded.
"Sir!" the assistant declared, his panic clearly mounting.
"He's going with us," Lennox announced. "I will know who sent him." He stared directly at Foley once more. "Every man has his breaking point. All I need is time to find yours."
While the assistant argued with Lennox, the punk tossed aside the paddles and reached for the knife lying on the cart next to the controls. He grumbled curses under his breath but followed the order. His cohort passed a handgun to Lennox.
Lennox waved the weapon toward the rear door through which he'd entered. "Let's go."
Foley pushed to his feet, the pain radiating through his muscles and settling deep into his bones.
Lennox nudged him in the side with the weapon. "Move," he commanded.
Foley had taken two steps when a cell phone blasted a familiar tune. He glanced over his shoulder at the phone lying on the table next to the portable defibrillator. His phone. He'd been relieved of his weapon, his wallet and his phone hours ago.
"Check the screen," Lennox directed.
Foley resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Wouldn't matter if it was his employer, the name and number would reveal nothing. A trace on the call would divulge the same.
"No name," paddle punk reported as he scrutinized the screen. "Out of area call."
A frown attempted to stretch across Foley's brow but he schooled the expression. His employer's number usually showed up as a local call. A different number every time.
"Accept the call," Lennox instructed his torture technician, "and put it on speaker." He glanced around the room. "Not a word from anyone."
The creep holding Foley's cell punched the necessary buttons.
Another waste of time. Foley's employer wouldn't leave a voice mail or speak into dead air. Maybe if Lennox wasted enough time, the feds would be waiting for him at whatever airfield where his Learjet waited on standby. "Hello, Jonathan..."
Emotion exploded in Foley's chest. Three years...three long years of sleepless nights and pent-up frustration leached into his blood. Haunting snippets of whispered words, the brushing of lips and the hot, smooth feel of bare skin against bare skin rushed into his brain.
It couldn't be...
"I hope this is your voice mail..." A shaky release of breath sighed across the silence. "Call me, please." She stumbled through a number. need your help. Please. It's a matter of life and death."
Silence reigned for three beats, then Lennox smiled. "Ah. Perhaps we've found the missing piece we need." Certainty glinted in his eyes.
Foley's mind churned with emotions. Why would she call him now?
Didn't matter. He knew her inside and out.
Something was very wrong.
Lennox nudged Foley in the spleen with the weapon. "That sounded exactly like the sort of leverage I need to obtain the answer to my question."
Ice formed in Foley's gut. No way was he letting this ruthless monster learn her identity and use her.
"Bring me that cell phone," Lennox ordered his underling. He reached out in anticipation of having it placed in his palm.
Foley whipped around and in one second had Lennox in a chokehold, the weapon he still gripped aimed at his proud brow. "Don't ever let yourself be distracted when you've got a gun to a man's back."
Paddle punk's cohort dared to reach for his weapon.
"Nobody moves," Foley warned. He bored the barrel of the nine millimeter into Lennox's temple.
Both men inched forward, testing the line Foley had drawn.
"Do as he says!" Lennox squeaked around the pressure on his throat.
Smart man. "You," Foley said to the underling who'd followed Lennox into the warehouse, "call 911 and give our location. Then give me my cell."
Weapons clattered to the floor as the two thugs who'd tortured Foley raised their hands in surrender. "You got what you want," the one who'd brandished the paddles said. "You don't need us." The two started backing away, most likely toward an exit somewhere beyond the scope of the single bare bulb's illumination.
"You're right." Foley studied the two men. "But you're walking away from your best chance at cutting a deal," he warned. "Your prints are all over the place." He nodded to the tools of the torture trade. "Chances are the police will find you eventually."
Paddle punk's eyes narrowed. "What kind of deal?"
Now that was loyalty. "I'm sure the DA will be very interested in any details the two of you can give regarding his--" he tightened his hold on Lennox "--activities. Your cooperation could earn you a very sweet deal."
Lennox attempted to blubber his own warning. Foley clamped his arm tighter around the bastard's throat and shot a look at the man who'd trailed in here after him like a puppy. "Make the call," Foley repeated.
While the assistant in the expensive suit entered the necessary digits, the two thugs dropped to their knees then went face down on the concrete floor.
"You might think you've won," Lennox screeched, "but you and your employer will suffer the consequences."
"Maybe." Foley nodded to the guy who'd made the 911 call. "Bring my cell to me," he ordered a second time, "then join your pals on the floor."
The younger man glanced at the filthy floor then swallowed hard.
"Now," Foley prompted.
The man inched close enough to give Foley the phone, then side-stepped in those same small increments back toward his partners in crime. It was almost worth the torture Foley had endured to watch that silk suit kiss the dirt and, during the short minutes before the cops arrived, to listen to Lennox's offers of excessive amounts of cash for his freedom.
But Foley had one thing on his mind. Her. She'd called. Unbelievable. He hadn't seen her, hadn't heard her voice in three years.
I need your help.
Worry throbbed in his skull, flexed in his jaw. She wouldn't call him...unless it truly was a matter of life and death.
Fear trickled into his veins. He had to get to her.
When the cops arrived, Foley gave one of the officers his business card and walked away. He ignored the warning that he wasn't supposed to leave until the detective in charge of the case arrived.
There wasn't a force on earth that could prevent him from going.
The cell in his pocket sang its annoying tune.
Foley withdrew it, checked the display in case it was her calling again.
It wasn't. It was his employer.
Not at all surprised his employer already knew Lennox was down--he seemed hotwired into everywhere with everyone--Foley hit the answer button even as he quickened his pace. "Foley."
"Outstanding job," the voice on the other end praised. "I knew you were the right man for this one. File your final report and relax. I'll contact the office with your next assignment."
What kind of man could position a player to bring down a man like Lennox? A god in the murky and political world of government contractors.
"Who are you?" Foley had been hired as an Equalizer more than five months ago. He'd heard this voice a dozen times, but he had no idea who the guy was or even what he looked like. Foley and the other two Equalizers currently on staff had done their research, gone to all sorts of lengths to find that answer.
And there was nothing. It was as if the man behind the voice didn't exist.
"One day you'll know," the voice promised. "For now, your payment will be deposited into your bank account today."
The connection severed.
Foley stalled, stared at the phone a moment. One day he would know? What did that mean? Then he shook off the questions and broke into a sprint.
She needed him.
He shouldn't care.
Stepping back into her life would be a mistake...for both of them.
But he couldn't ignore the call. Not even if he tried.