A good agent never lets the job become personal...
Who wanted her dead? That's what Claire Samson wanted to know. On the run and alone, there was only one man she trusted to find her. Recovery agent Luke Hathaway was the best at locating and saving, and she needed the best if she wanted to live. But the handsome agent who promised salvation had some conditions of his own. If he were to help, she needed to stick close by his side. Very close. And the only thing more dangerous than her current situation was the way Luke made her feel. From the protective look in his green eyes, she could tell he felt the same. But every second that brought them closer together was also ticking toward an explosive confrontation that might tear them apart....
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March 15, 2010
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Excerpt from Under the Gun by HelenKay Dimon
Luke Hathaway scanned the surveillance monitors set up in the nondescript Washington, D.C., office building's underground security headquarters. The wall of television screens showed every inch of public area and private offices of the financial firm on the eighteenth floor.
He and partner Adam Wright had flashed a fake subpoena ten minutes earlier. The official-looking paper convinced the guard to give up his comfortable seat and call someone in charge for guidance. That provided Adam with just enough time to slide into the chair, tap into the system and send the feed directly back to Luke's office across town.
Luke put his palm on the console and leaned in close to the monitors. The move blocked the guard's line of sight and gave Luke a good look at every angle of the business on the small screens. "Seems only the bathrooms are sacred in that place. Every other square foot has a camera hidden somewhere."
"Yeah, no paranoia there," Adam said.
The security guard covered the phone's mouthpiece. "What are you two doing? You can't touch the equipment."
"Just looking." Luke smiled at just how easy it was to infiltrate a company in supposed lockdown.
Adam had tried to tap into the computer's hard drive from back at the office but needed direct access to the financial company's internal system. One cover story and a stack of forged documents later, they were in. Just proved Luke's theory that when the back door refused to budge, you used the front. He found that most people with something to hide spent their time covering all the tough routes to information and missed the obvious ones like an overweight fifty-year-old security guard who nearly wet himself at the sight of a sheet of paper with a big seal on it.
"Now there's something worth watching." Adam let out a low whistle and hitched his chin at the screen to Luke's right. "The lady with the fine--"
Luke saw the flash of jeans out of the corner of his eye. "Yeah, I can see."
Adam laughed. "It's your lack of enthusiasm that has me concerned."
Even in black and white Luke saw long dark hair and an impressive shape. Still, he needed Adam to focus on the job so they could get out of there before the guard hung up the phone and figured out what was going on.
"Drool on your own time." Luke returned to memorizing the area around the receptionist's desk in the financial office upstairs. But a prickling sensation at the base of his neck pulled his attention back to the image of the woman at the elevator.
There was something familiar about her. Something about her perfect posture with shoulders back and chin lifted high, almost daring anyone to question her. That curvy shape, from her full breasts to her slim waist to the way her dark jeans hugged her hips.
Just then she turned around and stared straight into the security camera. Didn't even pretend not to notice the device in the black bubble hanging above her head. Big eyes. Flirty smile. Hands resting on her hips in a way sure to highlight the rocking body underneath that slim-fitting T-shirt.
The hair was darker but Luke would know her face anywhere. Hard not to recognize the woman who dumped him right before their wedding two years ago. The same woman now on the run and wanted for murder.
"Is that...?" Adam came up out of the chair and pressed his face close to the screen.
The woman always did have the worst timing. "Yeah."
"Man, it can't be."
Luke fought off the urge to throw something. "Definitely is."
The security guard dropped the phone and joined Adam at the desk. "Who is she?"
Adam shook his head as if unable to believe his eyes. "Claire Samson."
Luke mentally skipped ahead to his next move. Analyzing how and why Claire had dropped right in front of him could wait. Catching her was the priority here.
He reached into his jacket pocket, grateful he'd worn a suit and brought the microphone just in case. "Got it."
"What are you doing?" Adam asked.
"Washing my car. What do you think?" Luke slipped the tiny disk in his ear and tapped it to test its strength. "We're good to go."
"Care to fill me in on where?" Adam asked.
Luke pointed at the screen. "You are staying here and watching her. I'm going to get out there and grab her before she runs again."
The guard looked back and forth between them. "Isn't she an escaped convict or something?"
"The official term is 'person of interest,'" Adam said.
Enough talk. "Adam, your job is to tell me exactly where she goes. If she moves, I want to know it. You're my eyes on this."
The guard shook his head. "Her photo's been all over the news for the past two weeks. We need to call someone or...wait. Are you the guys we call?"
Luke knew better than to sit around and debate the issue. The one thing he was an expert on was watching Claire leave. Give her a couple of minutes head start and she would slip into a crowd and disappear.
Adam grabbed Luke's arm before he could take off. "She clearly knows you're on-site. She wants your attention."
Oh, she has it. "Looks that way, yeah."
Even now while working this other job, watching an idiot businessman who made his chief financial officer disappear, Luke had been thinking about Claire and where she might be. About how he could drag her back to Virginia and put her in jail.
"It isn't our job to go after Claire. We're on this..." Adam shot the guard a scowl before lowering his voice. "We have another assignment, Luke. We need to stay here and let the police handle Claire."
Luke had tried that. He had sat back and watched law enforcement lose her trail. No way was he letting her walk out on him again. There was only one reason for her to be in this building, a place she didn't belong, on this day. She was following him. She wanted him to notice and come after her. He was happy to oblige.
When she hit the elevator button Luke knew his time was up. "I'm going after her. Do not call anyone official about her, hear me? She's mine."
He waited until Adam nodded before pushing open the door and hitting the emergency stairs at a run. Claire chose some millionaire over him--fine. Killing the guy, taking his money and trying to disappear--not fine.
"She's on the elevator," Adam said.
Luke adjusted the small speaker in his ear. "Bring up the schematics and tell me how many exits there are to this building."
"You don't know she's leaving. She could duck into an office on another floor and wait you out."
"Wrong." Luke made the prediction as he took the stairs two steps at a time. "She's headed for the street. Her plan is to blend into the lunch crowd and metro commuters roaming around McPherson Square."
Then she'd be gone. The woman was playing some kind of game. Luke knew that much. Why else was she hanging around the D.C. metro area, instead of taking the money and heading for a country that wouldn't extradite her back for trial?
No, Claire had some sort of plot in mind. Something that involved him. Boy, would she be disappointed, because once he had her he was done running around after Claire Samson for any reason other than to turn her in to the police.
"She stepped off on the second floor and is headed toward the stairwell on the east side," Adam said.
"Exactly what I would do." It was the smart thing to do, and Claire was not dumb. As she came down the stairs, he went up. After one flight Luke stopped and stood at the door to the garage level. "Where next?"
"She's out on the first floor walking toward the west-side stairwell now. Looks like she's zigzagging."
Luke took the stairs to the lobby floor two at a time. "Can she get outside?"
Computer keys clicked before Adam answered. "Once she hits the lobby, she can turn to her right and take a service exit that dumps her in an alley off K Street."
Luke pressed the disk tighter against his ear. "Gates, locks, people? Anything there to stop her?"
"Once she's outside her only choice is a long alley to the sidewalk. She won't be able to turn around and reenter the building without a code."
Busy downtown street and one with loads of business traffic at this time of day. Definitely not dumb. "Got it."
"She's in the lobby now," Adam said.
Luke shoved open the door to the opposite end of the large area. The force sent it banging against the wall. Heads turned. Two people standing nearby stopped talking. Luke ignored all but the brunette at the other end of the lobby. She didn't even glance around, proving she had her escape route planned.
"Claire!" His voice bounced off the stone walls.
When their eyes met, Claire went still.
He pointed at her. "Do not move."
A hush fell over the businesspeople gathered at the elevators. Everyone glanced around and shuffled their feet as if embarrassed by being caught in the middle of a private conversation. Despite that, they listened in, but no one seemed to notice a notorious fugitive standing right there in front of them.
"Help! He's following me." The words barely left Claire's mouth and she was off. She threw open the door to the exit and let it slam shut behind her.
The race was on.
Luke ran past a security guard, ignoring the shouts to stop. Using a shoulder, Luke knocked a twenty-something male Good Samaritan to the floor when he tried to block the path to Claire. People crowded around Luke to slow him down. He dodged, even jumped over a chair someone threw in his way.
A high-pitched alarm blared through the building as he hit the door Claire had used for her escape. The piercing sound echoed throughout the lobby, making it impossible for Luke to hear Adam screaming directions in his ear.
But Luke didn't need any help from here. Even through the harsh scent of the alley, he could smell her familiar flowery shampoo. He was right behind Claire. As long as he grabbed her before she got to the street he was good.
He looked around for anything to stick in the door and slow down any do-gooders who decided to follow him out there. The piece of wood under his foot wasn't perfect, but it might buy him some time. He shoved it through the door handle, then raced down the pavement, following Claire and getting closer with each step.
She kept her body toned, probably from hours of aerobics like before, but he was still faster. Only a few feet away now, he could see her on the other side of the Dumpster, hear her heavy breathing and watch her hair fly around in the warm October breeze. Then she slid to a stop. Actually lost her footing and fell back on one hand.
Instead of getting up and breaking out of the dark alley into the sunshine and possible freedom, she scrambled to her feet and ran toward him with her cheeks puffing and eyes wild. She landed with a thump against his chest but didn't stop moving. With her hands wrapped in his shirt, she tugged him toward the door and back into the building they'd just left.
"We have to move," she said. "Inside. Now."
Luke planted his feet to stop the slide across the loose gravel under him. "Claire, stop."
She grabbed his jacket sleeve and pulled hard enough to rip the fabric at the shoulder. "No time. We have to get out of here."
Luke looked at the shadowed figure standing near the distant sidewalk. From the bulk, Luke knew it was a man, but that was all. "Who the hell is that?"
"I don't know," she said, her usually husky voice interrupted by huge gulping breaths.
Luke knew there was no way back into the building without a code, and he sure didn't have it. They had to go through the guy at the other end.
"Tell security to back off!" Luke yelled the order loud enough for Adam to pick up through the honking horns and other sounds of the nearby street.
"Who are you talking to?" Claire asked.
The shadow at the end of the alley moved closer. The figure took his hand out of his windbreaker pocket. The sun behind him glinted off the metal of his gun. The baseball cap pulled over his face hid his identity, but the casual clothes and quiet stalking told Luke they had a problem. This other guy was no cop.
Luke positioned his body in front of Claire's. A bullet or knife or anything else would have to go through him first.
He could hear people on the other side of the building's door and a dull thud as they pushed against it. He needed backup and a way out that didn't involve fighting through an angry crowd that viewed him as Claire's attacker.
"He with you?" Luke asked her over his shoulder.
"Does he look happy to see me?"
Adam's voice crackled in Luke's ear. "Luke, there aren't any security guards outside. They're all standing around the lobby with their thumbs up--"
"Then who's this guy I'm looking at?" Luke heard a short buzzing and saw the outside camera switch position to aim at the end of the alley.
The other man pulled his cap even lower. The gun pointed down, but Luke knew that could change in a second and didn't wait. He shoved Claire behind the Dumpster, ignoring her squeal of surprise.