Authors: Anna DeStefano
Tags: #Romantic Suspense, #Contemporary, #Clandestine
Her Forgotten Betrayal
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Anna DeStafano. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Dead Sexy is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC
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Edited by Nina Bruhns and Liz Pelletier
Cover design by Heather Howland
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition June 2012
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Frigidaire, Glock, Kevlar.
The North Georgia mountains, particularly the ethereal Rabun County and the area around Clayton and Mountain City, boast some of the most starkly beautiful and untouched patches of earth I’ve been privileged to walk. This story’s high-lake setting came to me as I hunted for interior waterfalls within the abundance of the national parks and forests you’ll find preserved there.
I dedicate this book to the rangers who safeguard these magical worlds, so we can escape our busy modern lives, return to nature, and rediscover the best of who we are meant to be.
To Mike and Linda Johnson at Sylvan Falls Mill Bed and Breakfast, who’ve hosted many a writing retreat of mine. You’ve fed my family, as well as my body, soul, and spirit. You’ve honored my need for solitude and daylong hikes, from which I returned caked in the mud that thrives near my beloved falls. You’ve gifted me with the magic and generosity of your hospitality and friendship. Every writer and wandering spirit should be so lucky.
And, finally, to the amazing heroes in my life. Andrew and Jimmy DeStefano—your love and support are my very first and very best dream come true. Forever is too short a time to repay the blessings you bring to my life.
The thought screamed through Shaw Cassidy’s mind, her entire body, every instinct demanding that she escape.
You’re not going anywhere,
she silently scolded herself, crouched behind the closed closet door.
Not until this is over.
The cramped darkness shrank closer, choking off her oxygen like a fist clenching around her throat. She fought to swallow.
On the other side of the door, an angry argument escalated. Unholy plans seethed like brutal, living things. “That’s not the price we agreed upon!” someone shouted, every syllable laced with the threat of violence. The words held a foreign accent, though the man’s English was impeccable.
“The parameters of our deal have changed,” answered a raspy voice that was familiar, yet she couldn’t place it. “I’ve absorbed enormous risk to get you what you need. Pay up or our deal is off. And I assure you, sir, no one backs out of an agreement with me.”
The coldness of the second man’s response made Shaw’s stomach roll as they continued to argue. She shivered. What had she gotten herself into?
If she made the slightest noise, she’d be discovered crouching amidst the surplus office equipment and supplies. Frozen to the spot, she strained to hear each word, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. This was insane. But she had to know everything these men were up to, even if it took all night for them to finish so she could get away and finally alert the authorities.
The world she’d created from her empty life was imploding around her. These bastards’ clandestine activities would ruin her. They were putting countless lives—countries, even—at risk. Her multinational corporation, Cassidy Global Research, and the valuable work they did were the center of her world—if she didn’t count Esmeralda, who condescended to being petted twice a day when Shaw filled her geriatric Siamese’s food bowl. Every other waking moment was consumed by her research, client conferences, her smartphone, and an endless stream of reports and deadlines.
Her research made a difference in the world. Her company provided the government and other select clients with top-secret technology and scientific innovation in various fields, while she was rarely required to venture farther than her office or her labs. At thirty-two, she was successful. She was content. She was as close to happy as she’d been in fifteen years. As close as she’d ever be again. No way was she letting these men rip that away from her.
She hunkered deeper within the cloying dimness.
The only light was a sharp seam of illumination cutting across her bent knees from where the door didn’t completely meet the carpet. She’d been lying in wait for these guys, certain of the timing of the meeting, even though there’d been no mention of it in the Cassidy scheduling system. She had to stop them. She needed hard evidence, incontrovertible proof of the security breaches she’d uncovered. Otherwise, if an official investigation were launched, the trail of circumstantial evidence would lead authorities straight to her, not to these dangerous men.
She shifted her balance. Fresh blood circulated through her legs. Pain seared up her thighs. Pinpricks of sensation swarmed like bees.
“You won’t get away with this madness!” the foreign-sounding man raged.
“I will,” shouted the raspy-voiced man. Then he calmly added, “I always have.”
The verbal sparring escalated to even greater decibels. She winced. At any moment, they’d come to physical blows. Who was arguing like they wanted to kill each other in her father’s abandoned conference room?
A winter storm battered rain against the outer windows, drowning out more and more of what was being said. One of the men moved closer to her, his body blocking the light filtering under the closet door. She cringed, her hand grabbing the doorjamb until the person stepped away.
How had she convinced herself that the solution to stopping their criminal activity was to spy on them herself? In a closet. In the middle of the night.
With an ominous wail, wind buffeted the high-rise that housed her corporate headquarters. An agonizing cramp grabbed at her right calf. Her leg slipped. Her shoe banged into the closet wall.
The room beyond her stilled, the sudden silence terrifying her. She held her breath, her hands plastered against the door, hoping. Praying. Maybe they’d think the noise had been caused by the storm.
Someone approached the door. This time, she could hear his footsteps. Steady. Measured. The tread of men’s dress shoes, muffled by carpet. He slowed, stopped, stalling mere inches from her. Another wave of fear sucked away the air around her. Her lungs burned. Her hands balled into fists. She wanted to pound them against the door.
God, how could she have been so reckless, so stupid?
The doorknob turned. She grabbed it—as if she could prevent whoever was there from getting inside. The knob was wrenched away. Light from the conference room pierced her hiding place. She blinked against the brightness and squinted. The barrel of an ancient-looking revolver emerged through the glare. Her gaze tracked from its muzzle up a man’s arm and then his torso, both covered in an expensive-looking, dark suit coat. Until she was staring into the face of a monster.
Her mind seized.
Reality seemed to contract, then expand. One second, she thought the carpet was rising up to smack her. The next, she realized she’d crumpled to the floor in a boneless heap at the man’s feet. Her thoughts blanked to nothingness except for the conviction that it wasn
“You…,” said the raspy, eerily familiar voice. His menacing hand grabbed her hair. Its grip kept her from crawling away. He jerked her head up. The muzzle of the gun bit into her temple.
“No!” She stared at her captor and saw nothing but death. Her mind refused to process the rest.
The ruthless, emotionless logic she’d mastered since she was a teenager deserted her. She fought the all-consuming confusion that replaced it. She strained to focus. To really see him. But his features wouldn’t register. There was only the gun and the terror, the ominous sound of a vicious storm. And the absolute certainty that he was going to kill her.
“I don’t understand,” she said. This wasn’t happening. It
“Kill the bitch,” said the man with the foreign inflection. “She’s heard everything we said.”
“No, please…” Shaw struggled against her captor’s hold, hating that she was begging, that she once more felt like a desperate teenager—petrified, fighting for her life, and crumbling under her fear. “I won’t tell anyone you were here. I swear.”
Pain burned across her scalp, her hair pulling out from its roots. She tried desperately to crawl away. Her legs tangled in something from the closet.
“Sorry, Shaw,” said the man restraining her. His tone was annoyed, hassled, maybe even a little amused, as if killing her were a special treat just for him. “It’s time for you to learn your true place in my world.”
She heard a click. The sound of a revolver’s hammer being cocked. She stared up at him in defiance, wanting to spit in his face so he’d know he hadn’t won.
Instead, she screamed when the gun fired and her world dissolved into darkness.
Cole Marinos jogged through biting-cold rain toward Atlanta Memorial Hospital’s ER entrance. The entire eastern seaboard had been socked in by slushy winter storms. It had been a bitch of a night to catch a flight in from New York, and then catch a cab to midtown from the airport.
Stepping inside, he shucked his leather jacket, which was soaked even though there’d only been a few feet between the cab and the sliding doors that now whooshed shut behind him. Rubbing a hand over his face and through his longer-than-regulation hair, he dripped water onto the admissions counter.
“Sorry.” He flashed his badge, then asked for the directions he required.
An older woman in a starched white shirt and pink jumper consulted her computer, then jerked a tissue from the box at her elbow.
“Sixth floor,” she grumbled, sopping up his mess. “Ask at the desk.” The button pinned to her shoulder said she was a hospitality volunteer. Evidently, three o’clock in the damn morning was no place for hospitality to make an appearance.
Just as Atlanta was no place for Cole himself tonight.
He draped his jacket over his shoulder, dampness soaking through his T-shirt. The foreboding that had hounded him since boarding the plane grew stronger as he strode to the central elevators, rode to the sixth floor, then followed a second set of directions—given by an equally irritable nurse—down the hallway to the right. After flashing his badge twice more at plain-clothed officers who were either Atlanta police detectives or federal marshals or, like Cole, FBI, he stopped at the room’s observation window and stared inside.
The patient was a fragile-looking blonde, even though he’d read she hit the private gym at her corporate headquarters seven days a week and was a devotee of several eastern meditative disciplines. The single light over the bed shrouded her in shadow. If it weren’t for the bandage covering the right side of her head where a bullet had grazed her skull, the breathtaking beauty would have appeared to be resting peacefully. Like a princess awaiting the hero who would kiss her back to awareness. Cole rubbed a hand across his still-damp neck, echoes from their childhood whispering through his mind. He brushed them away.
He didn’t have to look to know that the man stepping to his side was his latest supervisor. Cole tensed, instinctively anticipating the worst. He’d been summoned to Atlanta ostensibly to offer an in-person consultation on their task force’s prime suspect. But he wasn’t buying it. The escalating stakes of the Cassidy Global situation had put their team on high alert. With Shaw Cassidy’s shooting on top of everything else, there were too many unanswered questions now for their investigation to continue without a significant shift in tactics.
“You said she was hysterical,” Cole began.
“The doctors had to sedate her again,” Chief Inspector Rick Dawson replied, unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and slipping it into his mouth. The faint, cloying scent of tobacco clinging to the man hinted that Dawson still hadn’t fully kicked his addiction. “Each time she wakes up, it’s as if she realizes that she can’t remember anything all over again. It’s happened twice already. At this point, the doctors think it will take considerably longer for her condition to resolve itself.”
“For her memory to return?”
Dawson nodded stiffly and chewed faster.
“Like what?” Cole asked. “A few more hours?”
“Days. Weeks. It could be months, for all they know. Or possibly never if we push her too hard for answers and her fucking mind closes down for good. That’s what the experts say, anyway.”
Cole winced. He reminded himself for the dozenth time that the spiraling-from-bad-to-worse circumstances of this case meant nothing more to him personally than any of his other assignments had. “Because of her injuries?”
“Because of the trauma of whatever happened. Her brain’s intact, but it’s shutting down for some reason. We’ll try interviewing her, but—”
“Don’t you mean interrogating?” Cole snapped.
“Whatever.” Dawson shot the gum wrapper at a nearby wastebasket and missed.
The calculating look in his gaze said he’d relish the opportunity to close this case once and for all. Any way he could. Shaw had been on their radar since the beginning of the Cassidy Global investigation. Yet legally they’d been unable to touch her. Most of the team would be happy to use any means necessary to finally get some real answers.
Including ruining a woman’s mind.
Dawson’s jaw clenched in frustration. He patted his pants’ pockets, as if searching for a pack of cigarettes that didn’t materialize.
“The neurologist says to give her time,” he said, chewing even louder. “Quiet. Isolation. Familiar surroundings. Additional agitation or trauma will worsen her condition. Maybe make it permanent. Which means, at least for now, we still keep our hands off.”
Cole gave the taller, fairer man a measured stare. Feeling as if a guillotine had been positioned precariously above his head, he shrugged back into his soggy jacket, already calculating how long it would take him to backtrack to the airport. “Then my interviewing her personally is a nonstarter. Of all the people who might agitate her, I assure you I’m tops on the list.”
Dawson’s focus tracked back to their patient. “I didn’t call you in to interview her.”
Cole froze. The moment that he’d somehow known was inevitable had arrived. He let his head fall forward, picturing a razor-sharp blade swiftly dropping toward him. He glanced into Shaw’s hospital room again. “Then why am I here?”
“Don’t you still own that piece of junk fishing cabin up on her family’s mountain?”