In the forgotten corners of Rina's mind there is a very valuable secretone that the Chavez family will kill for.
Almost two decades ago a car accident thrust Rina Morell's life into darkness. Unable to deal with the traumatic loss of her mother, Rina's young mind erected a wall that blocked her vision and her memories of the event. Years later Rina still suffers from psychosomatic blindnessunable to see the danger that lies next to her. Until a series of 'accidents' restores her physical sight, and a mysterious secondary vision...
When she discovers that her husband is the head of the infamous Chavez family, a drug cartel with powerful political and terrorist connections, and that he's responsible for her mother's death, Rina is terrified. With the help of CIA agent JT Wyatt, she escapes into the Witness Security Program. But even anonymity can't protect her from the knowledge locked inside her head...or the fact that her ex-husband, a cold-blooded killer, is still on the loose.
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Forty years later, San Francisco
The sound of the gun was an insignificant pop. The entry wound was even less startling, a hole about the size of a nickel.
FBI agent Lance Williams blinked, but the surprised flicker was a reflex only. The instant the .22 slug ploughed through his temple, slicing at an angle that sectioned both right and left hemispheres of his brain before lodging in his occipital lobe, he was clinically dead.
Agent Edward Dennison watched as Williams crumpled with an angular sideways grace, his shoulder brushing one of the potted palms that was positioned either side of the wide, elegant portico of one of Nob Hill's most prestigious addresses. Methodically, he wiped the gun and slipped it back in his shoulder holster. The weapon was a Saturday-night special, the most popular handgun in town and the most difficult to trace; every career criminal and junkie-not to mention a lot of ordinary citizens- owned one. He would dump the gun and the body later, somewhere they would both be found after a decent interval had passed, in which time he would be able to voice his concern about his missing partner and maybe even raise the alarm.
He pressed the doorbell for the second time and tensed as the door swung open, startled when Alex Lopez answered the door himself. But then, he was aware that he and Williams had been on camera from the moment they had driven through the electronically controlled entrance gates.
Lopez studied the body, his expression bland, and Dennison felt a chill that was becoming familiar penetrate even his cynical exterior. He'd worked for Lopez on and off for the past eighteen months, but the kid had been busy since the last time they'd met. The baby-faced handsomeness had grown into the trademark cheekbones and heavy jaw that made his father, Marco Chavez, instantly recognizable, but some of the changes weren't natural. Dennison knew enough about facial reconstruction to recognize that Lopez's nose had been thinned, his cheekbones shaved, the distinctive hollows beneath filled. Even the slant of his eyes was subtly altered. The jaw hadn't been touched, yet. He guessed that was a more complex procedure.
Despite the extensive surgery, Lopez was still recognizable as the heir apparent of one of Colombia's most brutal and successful drug cartels, but the changes were enough to create uncertainty.
Lopez bent and touched Williams's throat, checking the carotid. As the sleeve of his jacket slid back from his wrist, Dennison noted that the small tattoo on the back of his right hand had been removed. The patch of skin was noticeably lighter and faintly pink, which meant he'd gone for a skin graft instead of laser treatment. Given Lopez's plans, the removal of the tattoo was expedient.
When Lopez was satisfied Williams was dead, he straightened. Not for the first time, Dennison wondered if Lopez saw anything more than the potential to satisfy his own needs when he looked at another human being. Williams had had a wife and two kids. On the drive up the hill, Dennison had heard it all, chapter and verse. Both of his boys had graduated from college, one was teaching math, the other had gone into the academy, following in his old man's footsteps. With both his boys working, Williams had been looking to quit the bureau and sink his pension into a small business. Then he'd had the misfortune to stumble across Joe Canelli.
Canelli was a petty criminal and, when money was tight, a hit man. He was also an unfortunate link between the murder of a number of organized crime figures and the sudden boost in the amount of cocaine being trafficked along the West Coast by the new boy on the block, Lopez.
Dennison had dispatched Canelli, neatly tying off that loose end. He hadn't wanted to kill Williams, but he'd had to be pragmatic. With the capture of Canelli, Williams had been on the verge of implicating Dennison in the series of killings, and that was something he couldn't allow. After twenty years of climbing the slow, slippery ladder in the bureau, what Dennison needed was simple-money, and lots of it.
Murder didn't sit easily with him. He had always walked a measured path between what the bureau wanted and his own personal needs, but lately his needs had become paramount. Lopez was dangerous, but the rewards were enough to make his head spin. Whether or not he lived to collect was another question, and that depended directly on his usefulness to Lopez. Dennison intended to be very useful.
Lopez met his gaze, dark eyes subtly amused, as if he knew exactly what had just passed through Dennison's mind. With a jerk of his head, he indicated Dennison should precede him into the house.
A queer thrill ran up Dennison's spine. He had passed the test. He was in.
Seconds later, Dennison stepped into a dimly lit reception room, and any thoughts of backing out of the deal he'd just contracted died an instant death as he made eye contact with a four-star general and a key official with the San Francisco Police Department. A wealthy financier and property developer recognizable from the society pages rose to his feet.
The fact that Cesar Morell was here surprised Dennison. "Mr. Midas," as he was known, was money, not power.
The door clicked shut behind him as a fourth figure rose to his feet and Dennison's stomach contracted.
Becoming Alex Lopez's mole in the FBI had always been a risk. He had negotiated the money; the initial down payment alone had made him a wealthy man and had relieved the financial pressures that had squeezed him dry. The money had enabled him to make ample provision to get out. He had formulated three separate identities. The passports were secured in a safe-deposit box, and he had deposited large sums of money in offshore accounts. He had done everything possible to ensure his survival and the survival of his wife.
Now the fail-safe escape plan he'd formulated seemed entirely useless.
Lopez had been a step ahead of him all the way. The man who had just risen to his feet knew everything there was to know about Dennison practically from the moment of his birth, including fingerprint records and his blood type. For all he knew he had Dennison's inside thigh measurement.
And he knew where Anne was.
Dennison could escape. He could alter his identity and leave the country within a matter of hours, but Anne couldn't. There was no way he could organize a quick flight out and a change of identity for a woman who needed around-the-clock care and a nurse in attendance at all times. There was no way Anne could even be moved without risking her life.
His wife had been a quadriplegic for almost three years. The accident that had caused her disability had been relatively minor, an intersection snarl that hadn't done much more than shunt her car a few feet, but somehow the jolt had broken her neck. With only partial mobility in one arm, she needed help to feed herself, to wash and dress and go to the bathroom. She needed help to turn over in bed and, periodically, to clear fluid from her lungs. Some days she needed help to breathe, and only twenty-five percent of the costs were covered by insurance.
Lopez made the introductions. The tall, clean-cut man stepped toward him, and Dennison wondered that he'd ever thought of him as a straight-down-the-line career man.
He held out his hand and accepted the handshake. The eye contact was acute and faintly amused, reinforcing the facts. Dennison wasn't the pinnacle of Lopez's incursion into the FBI. He was just a subordinate.
The afternoon sun slanted through open French doors, gleaming on cut crystal and silver cutlery as Esther Morell checked the place settings for dinner. Eyeing the lush arrangement of scarlet roses and glossy green leaves in the center of the long table, she paused to straighten a fork. As she continued on through a large, airy sitting room, she glimpsed her ten-year-old daughter, Rina, sitting out on the patio, eyes half-closed and dreamy as she stared at the setting sun, the ever-present easel and paints beside her.
Stepping out onto the patio, Esther paused to ruffle Rina's dark hair and examine the unfinished watercolor. As always, she got lost in the image. She had an analytical mind, a mind that grabbed numbers and chewed them up. Usually she got caught up in financial reports and stock options, occasionally in the purity of Mozart, but when she looked at Rina's paintings something else happened. Her mind stopped and her chest went tight. As adept as she was at grasping concepts, she couldn't understand the ephemeral, ever-changing quality of the way Rina arranged paint on canvas. It simply grabbed her inside.
Somehow, she knew that if she could explain what happened, if she could break down the spectrum of light and turn the transparent drifts of color into an equation, she wouldn't feel it. And lately, feeling something-anything-had become increasingly precious. "What are you looking at, honey?"
Rina's finger traced a shape in the air, as if she could see something that Esther, and everyone else, couldn't. "The light."
"Why don't you paint it?"
Esther didn't try to extract a logical explanation. Rina was special, so gifted that sometimes Esther panicked that she wasn't doing enough, providing enough, to feed and stimulate her talent. Cesar had money and he lavished it on his only child, but expensive day school and tutors aside, for the most part Rina remained oddly separate, her focus inward. When she was a toddler, Esther had taken her to a specialist, worried that she might be autistic, but the specialist had put her fears to rest. Gifted children were often misunderstood, and Rina was gifted on more than one level. She was normal, as far as "normal" went; she just had a different way of viewing the world, and a different agenda to most people. The reason she retreated was the acute sensitivity that made her gifted. Parts of her brain were highly developed. In essence, the incoming data could be overwhelming. She could see more, feel more, than most people. With time and a more adult perspective, she would adjust more fully to the "normal" world, but in the meantime they should hang on to their seats. Esther's daughter would never be Joe Average.
Rina stretched and straightened, the dreaminess abruptly gone. "You look nice. Red suits you, but you need different earrings. Those long dangly ones with the diamonds."
Esther lifted a brow at the autocratic assessment. Rina might be gifted and a little introverted, but more and more she was being reminded they had a precocious almost-teenager in the house. "I'll tell you what. You go and get changed, then we'll discuss earrings. Don't forget we've got guests."
Rina's dark gaze sharpened, reminding Esther of her husband, Cesar: demanding, and with a stubborn, ruthless streak. "I'll eat in my room, thanks."
"Not tonight. Your father wants you at the dinner table."
Which reminded Esther that she needed to check on the kitchen. Carmita was short-staffed tonight and Cesar wanted to make a big impression.
Frowning, she strolled back through the dining room and headed for the kitchen, not for the first time uneasy about the new business partnership Cesar was researching. She'd metAlex Lopez once, very briefly, and she didn't like him. There was nothing logical about her response to Lopez, like the effect Rina's paintings had on her, the emotion had simply been evoked.