Forensic sculptor Eve Duncan lies in a well-guarded hospital room in Carmel, California. But she and Joe Quinn have sworn to protect an innocent young girl, Cara Delaney, whose enemies are getting closer by the hour. Weighing her own health against Cara’s safety, Eve decides they must disappearand so she turns to her daughter, Jane MacGuire, for an unexpected solution.
After years of resistance, Jane has finally succumbed to the inevitable: John MacDuff’s insistent plea to track down a treasure presumed buried in Scotland. The remote mountains should be a perfect hiding place for Eve and Cara, but they soon realize there is nowhere distant enough from the ruthless predators who are on their trail. Greed and power war with honor and justice in this thrill-ride from the incomparable Iris Johansen.
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By Iris Johansen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Johansen Publishing LLLP
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COMMUNITY HOSPITAL OF THE MONTEREY CARMEL, CALIFORNIA
She was alone.
She mustn't panic. After all, she was eleven years old and had been taught to take care of herself. She had always been told that someday she might have to face this.
Cara Delaney leaned back against the door after leaving Eve Duncan's hospital room and tried to smother the fear that was surging through her. Her heart was beating hard and her throat was tight. They were going to send her away. It was all very well to tell herself she had known that it might happen someday, but it still came as a shock. She wasn't ready to face it yet.
But she'd better get ready. She'd been on the run most of her life and should have been prepared for the day that there would be no one here to help her. Her sister, Jenny, had been killed; Elena, who had cared for Cara since she was born, had been killed. Now Cara was the only one left, and if Eve had decided she didn't want her, she'd have to find a way to face the loneliness and protect herself.
What was she thinking? Cara thought in sudden disgust. She had been feeling so sorry for herself that she had forgotten that it was Eve that she was supposed to be worrying about. It was Eve who had to be taken care of as Cara had promised. Jenny had died so that Cara could live and so had Elena. Now it was Cara's turn to give back.
She drew a deep breath and opened her hands, which had been clenched into fists. She could work through this, she just couldn't give up. There had to be a way ...
Margaret Douglas was walking down the corridor toward her, a concerned look on her face. Margaret was Eve's friend, and she had taken over Cara's supervision to keep her out of the hands of Child Services. She had been kind to Cara since Eve had been in the hospital, and Cara liked her. But Cara didn't want kindness now.
She wanted to go back into that room from which Joe Quinn had sent her and start the battle to keep her place at Eve's side.
* * *
What on earth had happened to Cara, Margaret thought. Her gaze was fixed worriedly on the child's face as she came down the hall toward her. Cara's lips were tight, and there was a tension about the muscles of her shoulders. Maybe it was just the accumulated trauma of the last days that had finally hit home. What wouldn't be wrong with an eleven-year-old child who had gone through what Cara had suffered in the last few days, much less her short life, Margaret thought bitterly. She and her sister, Jenny, were the daughters of Juan Castino, the kingpin of a drug cartel in Mexico City, and they had been kidnapped as an act of vengeance by Salazar, the leader of a rival drug cartel. Jenny had been killed, and Cara had been taken on the run by her nurse, Elena, for eight long years. Just a few days ago, Elena had been murdered by a hit man, James Walsh, hired by Salazar to find them. Cara had later been cornered by Walsh, who had come close to killing her. Only Eve's intervention had prevented it, but it had landed her in this hospital with a concussion. Yes, Cara had every reason to look tense.
"Hey, what's the problem?" Margaret stopped in front of Cara and smiled gently. "Anything I can do to help?"
Cara shook her head. "I don't think so. I think it has to be me. Something has gone wrong. I could tell when Joe Quinn came into Eve's room and sent me out here. It's probably about me. He said it wasn't and that I didn't do anything wrong. But what else could it be?" Her hazel eyes were glittering with moisture. "Eve said they were going to take me home with them for a while. But Joe probably thinks that the reason Eve was hurt was because of me. He's right, you know."
Margaret reached out and gently touched the child's dark hair. "You don't know that he's upset with you, Cara. Joe is very fair. He knows that Eve does what she thinks is right, and nothing stops her. Yes, she was hurt trying to save your life. But Joe was there almost immediately afterward, and he was concerned for you as well as Eve." She cupped Cara's thin shoulders in her hands. "We were all concerned. It was a nightmare finding you and trying to keep you safe from that horrible man. There was no way Eve was going to stop."
"I know," Cara whispered. "Jenny said to trust Eve, that she would never stop until I was safe."
Margaret stiffened. "Jenny? Cara, your sister, Jenny is —" She hesitated. There was no other way to put it. "Jenny isn't with us. She died eight years ago."
Cara nodded. "I know that, but she ... I dream about her." She looked at Margaret defiantly. "And she doesn't seem ... Do you think I'm crazy?"
"Who, me?" She brushed the hair back from Cara's face. So much intensity in that small face, those wide-set hazel eyes that were more green than brown. The winged brows and pointed chin. In the few days since she'd come to know the child, she'd become aware of how much emotion and intensity lay behind that usually reserved expression. Intensity and strength. Strange to think of a child as being strong, but Cara's life had been different from that of other children. She'd had to be strong and enduring to bear the constant change and terror of being on the run. Even now when Walsh, the man who'd been hunting her had been killed, she knew she wasn't safe, that there might be another killer on the horizon. That life had made Cara mature beyond her years, and Margaret was constantly finding out new and different facets to her character. "I'm the last one to think anyone is crazy because of a few dreams. A lot of people think I'm a little weird because I don't march to their drummers."
"You don't seem weird," Cara said. "You seem ... nice."
"One doesn't exclude the other. You seem nice, too." She stepped back. "And a dream can just be a memory."
"Yeah," Cara nodded. "But it seems like more." She paused. "I think Eve dreams about Jenny, too."
"It wouldn't surprise me. Eve has a kind of sensitivity to people like us. That's why I get along so well with her." She added gently, "I know this is all strange to you, Cara. We're strange to you. It's only been a couple days since you met all of us. We blew into your life at a time when everything was terrible and scary. You even lost your best friend, Elena, to that monster who was hunting you. You probably don't know whom to trust or how to react to all of us. You don't know where you're going next."
"You're wrong. I know where I'm going." Cara looked over her shoulder at the door of Eve's room. "I'm going with her. I have to take care of her. She needs me."
Margaret's brows rose. "Really? Everyone needs affection. But other than that, Eve's pretty strong, Cara."
"I have to take care of her," she repeated. "I promised Jenny."
"In that dream you had?"
She didn't answer directly. "I promised her." She went on in a rush, "And, like I said, Eve was going to let me stay with her and Joe for a while. She said so." She was frowning. "But when Joe came into the room a few minutes ago, I could tell that he was upset. Maybe he changed his mind."
"I doubt it." She tilted her head curiously. "What would you do if he did?"
"I'd go with her anyway. I'd find a way." Her gaze was still fixed on the door. "I have to take care of her."
Determination, intensity, and total commitment. Margaret shook her head with amazement. All of them had been so focused on finding and saving Cara during these last weeks that they had been thinking of her as helpless. She might have been in danger, but there was nothing helpless about this child. "Well, soon she'll be out of the hospital and on her way home. She won't need taking care of." She smiled. "Though I'm sure that she'll still want your company, Cara. You're jumping to conclusions. Come on, let's go to the waiting room and I'll buy you a soda."
She thought Cara was going to refuse, but then the girl turned away from Eve's door. "Okay. I can't do anything right now anyway."
"Very sensible," Margaret said, as they strolled down the hall. "There's probably not going to be anything to do anyway. Maybe it's your imagination."
"No," Cara said soberly. "It's not imagination." She glanced back over her shoulder at Eve's door. "Joe was ... tense. Something is wrong ..."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Something was wrong, Alfredo Salazar thought impatiently. In his last report, Walsh had told him that he had located Castino's kid and that bitch, Elena Pasquez, who had hidden her all these years, and that they'd be dead within days.
Why the hell hadn't he heard from him? It was making him damn uneasy. He'd been losing faith in James Walsh lately, but there was no doubt he was an expert once he set his sights on a victim. What could have gotten in his way?
He reached in his desk drawer and pulled out the dossiers he'd compiled from the reports Walsh had given him.
Eve Duncan. Joe Quinn. Cara Delaney.
There were other dossiers but none as important as those three.
Eve Duncan, forensic sculptor who had restored the skull of Jenny Castino after her bones had been recently unearthed. He glanced at her photo. Not to his taste. Slim, red-brown hair with hazel eyes. An attractive, interesting face, but he preferred exotic and voluptuous. Evidently she was brilliant because she was considered one of the world's most gifted forensic sculptors.
Also very determined and stubborn. He'd warned Walsh that he should get rid of her before she got in his way. But she was an artist, a sculptor, and not equipped to go up against an enforcer of Walsh's capabilities.
He glanced at the Joe Quinn dossier. Brown hair, brown eyes, strong jaw. Detective with the ATLPD, ex-FBI, ex-SEAL. He had lived with Eve Duncan for a number of years and was said to be extremely loyal to her. He was undoubtedly deadly and capable of interfering with Walsh.
He glanced at the photo of the child. Cara had only been three when Walsh had taken her from the Castino home. Her sister Jenny had been nine, but they'd had the same high cheekbones and winged brows. That damn Eve Duncan had reproduced Jenny's features almost exactly when she'd been sent that skull of the skeleton buried in northern California and found by the Sheriff's Department. Now Walsh was sure that she was trying to locate Jenny's sister, Cara.
Which could mean disaster for Salazar.
And he wasn't about to sit here and wait any longer for word from Walsh. If he hadn't completed the kill, it was time he was taken out himself.
He reached for his phone.
It rang before he could dial.
Which did not bode well. When Salazar had begun to have his doubts about Walsh's efficiency, Franco was the young man Salazar had sent to shadow him and make certain he was performing effectively.
"Walsh is dead," Ramon Franco said harshly as soon as Salazar picked up the call. "Killed. I just found out last night, and I've been scrambling to get information. I told you that you should have sent me to take care of that kid. He bungled the kill, and now there are police all over the place. We'll be lucky if they don't trace anything back to you."
Son of a bitch!
Salazar's hand tightened on the phone as the fury tore through him. "That can't happen. I've spent eight years covering Walsh's incompetence. I won't let that bastard's death toss me into Castino's jaws for him to chew up. Who killed him?"
So he had been wrong. Evidently the artist had a few more lethal skills than her credentials suggested. He had warned Walsh that she was a possible problem when the woman had gone on the hunt for him after he had stolen her reconstruction of Castino's daughter's skull. Now she was no longer a problem; she was a major pain in the ass. "For God's sake, Duncan is only a forensic sculptor, and she managed to put down Walsh? How many people has Walsh killed over the years? He should have been able to squash her like a bug. How did it happen?"
"It could have been an accident. Her statement to the police claimed they were fighting on the high ledge of a cave, and he backed off and fell to his death." He added, "Or she might have outsmarted him. Castino's other daughter, Cara, was in the cave, and you told me she was the target."
"The last target," Salazar said bitterly. "And Walsh couldn't even manage to find and kill an eleven-year-old kid."
"He found her in that cave, but he couldn't finish the job. Eve Duncan got in the way. He managed to kill her nursemaid, Elena Pasquez, but no one else. I would never have let that happen."
"And when the police start digging into who that kid really is, they'll toss her back to her father, Castino, and he'll go after me. He's just waiting for a chance to break the coalition agreement."
"Then we have to make sure he doesn't have a reason to do it until we're strong enough to bury him and all the rest of the men in his damn cartel. Give me the word and I'll erase Walsh's death and that little girl as if they'd never existed." His voice was suddenly impassioned. "You haven't been fair to me. Haven't I always been loyal to you? From the time I was twelve, I did everything you told me to do. No kill was too hard. Yet you sent me here to Carmel to watch that bumbler, Walsh, just to make sure he was going to be able to finish the kill on the Castino kid. It was a job for a beginner. I may be young, but I'm no beginner."
"No, I know you're not." He tried to make his tone soothing. Franco's tone bordered on insolence, and he was tempted to cut him down to size, but he might need him. He was the man on the spot, with all contacts in place. Better to handle Ramon Franco with kid gloves. The young recruits always lacked discipline, but they were also the ones most eager to prove themselves in blood. He was only nineteen, but his kill record with the cartel was impressive. He was quick, lethal, and totally vicious. "That's why I trusted you to watch Walsh. I never knew when I would have to have someone good enough to take over. Walsh had the experience, but he was going downhill, and I couldn't trust him." He paused. "Not like you, Franco. I see myself in you."
"You do?" Franco was silent, then said haltingly, "I'm honored, sir. It's just that I don't understand. You told me so little about what was going on with Walsh. I felt ... like an errand boy."
Which was exactly how Salazar saw him. But circumstances dictated the errand boy be promoted until Salazar could take charge himself. "I don't want any of my other men to be jealous of you. Particularly not now. I'd rather you concentrate on getting me out of the mess Walsh made up there in Carmel. You're going to have to dance a fine dance to save the situation. But you're a smart boy, and I know that you can do it for me."
"I'm a man, not a boy."
"Of course you are. But it's not a bad thing that others believe you to be a boy, so they won't suspect how very deadly you can be. I've seen you use that ploy before."
"Often. Do you think I haven't been watching you? Use your brains and that smile the ladies like so much."
"Then tell me what I need to know. Tell me what Walsh knew, what I should have known from the beginning."
A definite touch of arrogance, Salazar noticed. "You know the beginning. You grew up with it. The drugs, the vice, that son of a bitch, Juan Castino, constantly moving into my territory. He acted as if his cartel was the only one in Mexico, and every time anyone came close to taking him down, he managed to come out on top. I had the brains and the plans but Castino had the contacts and was always just ahead of me. If I hadn't managed to form a mutual coalition of all the cartels in Mexico, he would have eaten me alive. I can rein him in as long as he knows I have the backing of the coalition behind me."
"Until we find a way to kill him. That's the best way. Don't worry. I'll do it for you."
So simple, so incredibly naïve. "I know you will. But it has to be staged very carefully. I can't let any of the other cartels know that I'm getting ready to jump Castino." He paused. "Or that I yielded to temptation eight years ago to twist the knife and make him hurt. They might turn against me."
"Because you arranged with James Walsh to kidnap Castino's two little girls and their nanny and kill them? They all probably wish they'd had the balls to do it."
"They'd chop me up and serve me to Castino. And then move into my territory and split it up." His voice was laden with frustration. "It was going to be so simple. Walsh would kill them, and there would be no bodies or anything to connect me to it. I'd be able to sit back and watch Castino suffer, then, when the time was right, I'd make sure he joined his little girls in the graveyard. But Walsh screwed it up. He left me hanging and vulnerable if Castino finds out I paid Walsh to kill them. We have to fix it, Franco."
Excerpted from Hide Away by Iris Johansen. Copyright © 2016 Johansen Publishing LLLP. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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