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Authors: Paula Graves

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Secret Identity (8 page)

BOOK: Secret Identity
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“Whoever’s after you probably doesn’t know or care who I am. They may not even know about me at all. They’re certainly not going to know to tap the phone of a no-tell motel room in the middle of Nowhere, Tennessee. And they won’t know my brother Jesse from Adam.”
“We don’t know how that guy found me in the first place,” she argued. “Or how the men on the highway tracked us down.”
“I checked my car for a tracker back at the gas station outside Athens,” Rick assured her. “And we looked at our bags, too, just in case—”
“You don’t survive in this business if you take stupid chances,” she said flatly. “Calling someone—at this stage of the game, at least—would be very stupid.”
“It’s not a game, Tara.” He clamped his mouth to a tight line before correcting himself. “Amanda. You’re not on a mission. Your life is in danger, and you don’t have to worry about breaking cover this time.”
“Oh, but I do,” she answered, realizing in that moment just how much she hated the truth. It hadn’t taken very long after she’d stepped into the spy game to realize there would be only two ways out when she was done. She could quit the CIA and make a concerted effort to be so famous an expert on the agency that killing her would be more trouble than it was worth—or she could live the rest of her life under the radar. As a covert operative who’d crossed a lot of dangerous people, she didn’t have any other viable options if she wanted to survive.
She’d chosen the latter, especially after the ordeal in Kaziristan. All she wanted to do was hide from the world as long as she could afford to.
“Why aren’t you using your real name?” Rick asked carefully, as if he knew what a volatile question he was asking.
“Because I haven’t been Audrey Scott for so long, I don’t know how to be her anymore.” She knew the reply seemed flippant and nonsensical, but it was true. The little girl from Mississippi had lived a long, hard life before she escaped on a scholarship to college and met the CIA recruiter who’d changed her life. Even if it were safe to return to her old life, she wouldn’t want to do it.
Some things were worse than living a lie.
His watchful gaze felt intrusive, forcing her to look away. She knew he had questions about her past. He’d always had questions, though he’d never asked them again after her light rebuff of his first queries so long ago. Still, she’d seen the curiosity in his eyes, even in the throes of passion. He wanted to know who she was. All of who she was.
She just couldn’t share that much of herself with Rick.
Not with anyone.
“Okay,” he said finally, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen between them like a wall. “No phone calls.”
She looked up, grateful for his concession. But she saw determination lurking in his eyes.
“Yet,” he added.
She held his gaze, an idea forming at the back of her mind, driven into hiding by Rick’s relentless scrutiny. “I
am
hungry,” she admitted quietly, careful to keep her voice or expression from revealing even a hint of what she was planning. “That protein bar didn’t do the trick. You know, I saw a burger joint down the road, just before we reached here. Could you run back there and pick up some food for us while I take a shower?”
He seemed surprised by the sudden change of topic. “Sure. What would you like?”
“A burger and some fries will be great.” Her mouth watered at the thought of the meal she wouldn’t get to eat.
Because she didn’t plan to be around when he got back.

 

 

IT TOOK A MOMENT, upon scanning the empty interior of the motel room, for Rick to realize he’d been well and truly had.
A faint flutter of hope propelled him into the bathroom to make sure she wasn’t there, but the bathroom was just as he’d left it, towels still damp from his shower, lying on the sink where he’d put them. There was no sign that she’d taken a shower of her own.
She’d ditched him. Probably why she’d sent him out for food in the first place—even as he’d obeyed his growling stomach’s order to do what she said without asking questions, he’d thought her reversal a bit strange. He just hadn’t wanted to push her too hard, one way or another.
He should have known better. It wasn’t the first time a woman had walked out of his life and left him wondering why.
He went to retrieve a small survival kit from his bag but found it was missing. So was one of the two boxes of 9 mm rounds he’d packed for the trip. She’d left one for him, he noted.
No matter. He had extra rounds stored in the trunk of the Charger, plus an extra survival kit.
He threw everything into his bag and carried it out to the Charger. Retrieving the box of extra rounds, he dumped about twenty into the outside pocket of the survival kit stored in his trunk and strapped the kit to his belt. The cooling food went in the passenger seat. If they had to make a quick getaway when he found her and dragged her back here—fighting the whole way, no doubt—at least they’d have food for the trip.
The motel was just off a busy county highway, but behind the building was nothing but wooded wilderness, stretching as far as he could see. No way would she risk traveling on the highway. She’d head into the woods, probably figuring she could escape him more easily that way. And she’d be harder to spot for anyone who’d followed them this far, too.
Probably thought she was pretty smart, he mused blackly as he looked for the most obvious entry into the woods. Thought she’d outwit the dumb merc by sending him off on a diversion.
A smile curved his lips as he saw signs of her escape imprinted on the bushes and underbrush she’d run through. At most, she was ten minutes ahead of him—maybe less, since she’d stopped to steal his supplies first. Her duffel bag would slow her down, too.
He started to head right after her, then considered the possibility that she was setting up a diversion to lure him into the woods so she could hotwire the Charger and make her getaway.
That wasn’t going to happen. He got back into the car and drove it about a hundred yards down the road, concealing it behind a scrubby stand of elderberry bushes that grew along the shoulder of the highway. He added extra branches as camouflage, then hurried back to follow Amanda from the place where she’d started out.
She’d tried to keep to a random, twisting route, he saw as he followed her trail, sometimes circling back but always moving southeast, toward the Georgia line. Because they were on Lookout Mountain, the terrain was hilly and boulder-strewn, making for a difficult walk.
He’d lost some blood and strength from the bullet wound, but the shower and the protein bar had done a lot to lift his flagging energy. Plus, he had a wellspring of irritation driving him forward.
Leaving was always her answer, wasn’t it? It didn’t really matter that he’d been the one to say the words that drove the final nail in their relationship. She’d been saying them in her actions for weeks. They’d both known their relationship would eventually catch the attention of their superiors. She worked with spooks, and his bosses weren’t much less omniscient. He’d received the first warning, and while he’d loved the work he was doing at the time, he would have chucked the whole thing to be with her.
But only if she’d felt the same way.
And clearly, she hadn’t.
Just like now, she’d run away from him the second things got complicated. Not so obviously then as now, but the signs had been strong enough to force Rick to stay silent about wanting to choose her over the job.
She’d started begging off their planned assignations. Made excuses not to be anywhere near him. And when she admitted that her superiors had told her to end the relationship or else, he’d seen clearly she had no intention of leaving the CIA for him.
So he’d ended things for them both.
He’d regretted that choice every day since. He knew she’d loved him. But leaving the CIA was harder than leaving MacLear. There were more consequences. Far more danger.
He’d expected her to make the same choice he had just as easily as he’d made it. That hadn’t been fair.
What if he’d given up on them too soon?
Maybe following her into the wilderness like this was a fool’s errand. Maybe there was nothing left of the woman he’d loved so much, nothing left to hope for.
But he wouldn’t know until he caught up with her, would he? This time, he wasn’t going to let her go without a fight.

 

 

AMANDA CONSULTED THE compass Rick had helpfully packed in a small survival kit in his suitcase. She was still heading southeast, though more slowly than she’d have liked. After the first mile, she’d stopped backtracking, feeling fairly safe that she’d have lost any pursuer after that first stretch of woods. Now it was just a matter of finding civilization again, hopefully before nightfall, and figuring out what to do next.
She had the money she’d packed earlier that morning. It would get her a room for the night and some food.
She’d figure out the rest after she got a little sleep.
Noise whispered in the woods ahead, hard to distinguish at first. In her haste to put more distance between herself and Rick, she pushed forward anyway, figuring it could be something as innocuous as a raccoon foraging in the woods ahead.
It was when the noise died into swollen silence that she faltered to a stop, the hair on the back of her neck prickling.
The quiet was tangible, as if some great beast sat just beyond the tree line ahead, holding its breath.
Instinct propelled her backward, first a couple of tentative baby steps to the rear, then a complete about-face. She started running back the way she came, daring only a quick glance behind her to see if she was being followed.
What she saw there made her pounding heart skip a beat.
A dozen men clad in black from their boots to their ski mask–covered faces were gliding through the woods in fast pursuit.

Chapter Five

 

The woods ahead exploded into noise and activity, sending Rick diving behind the largest piece of cover he could find, a dense mountain-laurel bush that grew along a clump of weathered gray boulders nearby.
Amanda came into view first, running at a full, coltish gallop despite the duffel bag strapped to her back. She almost made it to his position before he saw what she was running from at such a frantic dash.
Several black-clad men with semiautomatic rifles poured through the woods behind her, moving like a dark, lethal wave.
He looked around him wildly, hoping for some miraculous way out of the ambush Amanda had somehow walked right into. The only answer that came his way was a dark notch in the side of the bald mountain face nearby. If he was right—God, how he prayed he was right—there might be a cave carved into that mottled gray stone.
Amanda zigzagged toward him, putting a clump of young pines between her and her pursuers. Rick saw the men in black zigzag right behind her, disappearing momentarily out of sight, blocked by the trees.
It was the best chance he’d have to make his move.
He reached out and grabbed Amanda as she darted past, stifling her soft cry with his palm over her mouth. “Come with me,” he growled in her ear, dragging her with him toward the dark spot he prayed would turn out to be a cave.
He could hear the pursuers coming, but they remained out of sight long enough for them to reach the notch in the rock. It was a cave, he saw with shaky relief, small and cramped at the entrance but hollowing out to a larger chamber. He pulled the duffel back off her back and gave her a push through the narrow gap. He tossed the bag inside and followed.
BOOK: Secret Identity
3.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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