Playing the odds, p.15
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       Playing The Odds, p.15
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         Part #1 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  couldn’t bring himself to go into the bedroom. “Blade.” Closing his eyes, he fought frustration, then held out the receiver. “It’s for you,” he told the lieutenant.

  When he came back into the living room, Justin found Alan and Caine standing in the center of the room, speaking quietly. “Alan’s going to call our parents,” Caine told him. “They’ll take it better from him. They’ll want to be here.”

  Justin struggled not to let the panic through, or the grief. “Of course.”

  As Lieutenant Renicki came into the room, he waited until all three pairs of eyes were on him. “My men found an abandoned maid’s cart down in the garage. The lab will go over it thoroughly, but they found a rag soaked with ether inside. Apparently, that’s how he got her out without anyone seeing her.” Watching closely, Lieutenant Renicki saw Caine’s knuckles whiten on his glass, saw the wave of terrified anger in Alan’s eyes. He saw no change in Justin’s expression. “We have your description of Miss MacGregor, Mr. Blade, but a picture would be helpful.”

  Justin stared as pain sprinted from his stomach to his throat. “I don’t have one.”

  “I do.” Numb, Alan reached for his wallet.

  “We’ll have the trace on the line right away, Mr. Blade,” Lieutenant Renicki went on, glancing at the picture Alan handed him. “We’ll be recording everything that’s said. The longer you keep him on the line, the better. Whatever demands he makes, insist on speaking to Miss MacGregor before you agree to anything. We have to establish that she is indeed with him.” And alive, he added silently.

  “And if he refuses?” Justin demanded.

  “Then you refuse to deal.”

  Justin forced himself to sit down. If he stood, he would pace—if he paced, he would lose control. “No,” he said evenly.

  “Justin,” Alan interrupted before Renicki could speak again. “The lieutenant’s right. We have to be certain Rena is with him and unharmed.” It’s Rena, he thought wildly as he struggled to keep his voice even. Our Rena. “If you make it clear there won’t be a ransom unless you hear her voice, he’ll put her on the phone.”

  You have a price to pay. The words flashed through Justin’s mind. Not Serena, he thought desperately. God, not Serena. “And after I’ve spoken to her,” Justin began, “I’ll agree to any terms he asks. I won’t bargain, and I won’t stall.”

  “It’s your money, Mr. Blade.” Lieutenant Renicki gave him a thin smile. “I’d like you to listen to his voice very carefully when he phones back. Chances are he has it disguised, but you might recognize a phrasing, an inflection.”

  There was a brisk knock on the door, which the lieutenant answered himself. As he stood talking in undertones to one of his men, Caine again approached Justin with the offer of brandy. For the second time Justin shook his head.

  “They’re going to catch him,” Caine said, just needing to hear the words aloud.

  Slowly, Justin lifted his eyes. “When they do,” he said calmly. “I’m going to kill him.”

  * * *

  Feeling groggy and sore, Serena woke, moaning. Had she overslept? she wondered. She’d miss class if she didn’t—no, no, it was her shift in the casino and Dale … Justin—no, Justin was coming up for lunch, and she hadn’t even called room service.

  She had to get up, but her eyes refused to open, and there was a light, rolling sense of nausea in her stomach. Sick, she thought hazily. But she was never sick. How … the door, she remembered. Someone at the door. Nausea swelled again, and with it, fear. Drawing all her strength together, Serena opened her eyes.

  The room was small and dim. Over the one window a shade was drawn. There was a cheap maple bureau against one wall with a mirror streaked with dust and a small, straight-backed rocking chair. There was no lamp, only a ceiling fixture overhead. Because it was off and some light filtered through the shade, Serena knew it was still day. But her sense of time was so distorted, she had no idea which day.

  Someone had once painted the walls an airy yellow, but the color had faded so that they now seemed more like the pages of a very old book. Serena lay in the middle of a double bed on top of a worn chenille spread. When she tried to move her right arm, she discovered that it was handcuffed to the center bedpost. That’s when the fear overcame the grogginess.

  The boy from housekeeping, she remembered. Ether. Oh, God, how could she have been so stupid! Justin had warned her … Justin, she thought again as she clamped down on her bottom lip. He’d be frantic by now. Was he searching for her? Had he called the police? Perhaps he thought she’d just gone out on an errand.

  I have to get out of here, Serena told herself desperately and scrambled closer to the headboard to tug on the handcuffs. The boy must have had something to do with the bombing in Vegas. It seemed incredible. He looked barely old enough to shave. Old enough to kidnap, she reminded herself grimly, yanking uselessly at the metal cuffs. When she heard his footsteps, she sat very still and waited.

  He’d planned it perfectly, Terry thought as he hung up the phone. Snatching the woman from under Blade’s nose had been risky, but, oh, so worthwhile. Better than the bomb, he decided as he drummed his fingers against the table. He’d had to give them too much time, and they’d found the bomb because he hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone. Just Blade. But this—this was perfect.

  She was beautiful, he mused. Blade would pay to get her back. But before he paid, he’d suffer. Terry was going to make sure of it. To relieve his own tension he reminded himself how clever he had been. Even while Justin had been in Vegas, Terry had been on his way to Atlantic City. At the time he’d been annoyed with himself for not choosing the East Coast hotel in the first place. But it had all worked out.

  He’d noticed Serena the first night he’d hung around the casino—then he’d learned she was Justin’s partner. It had only taken a few casual questions in the right places to learn she was much more than that to him. Then Terry had outlined his plan.

  At first he’d been frightened. Getting a woman out of a hotel was trickier than getting a small bomb in. But he’d watched. No one looked twice at the people in the plain white housekeeping uniforms. After a couple of days of watching Serena’s movements, he concluded there was a private entrance from the offices to the living quarters. Probably an elevator, he had reasoned. That was the way the rich did things. He’d been patient, spending most of his time at the slot machines, waiting.

  When he’d seen Justin come back, he knew it was time to move. Stealing the uniform had been easy, as easy as planting the letter. No one took any notice of a young, harmless-looking man in plain clothes. The minute he had seen the desk clerk deliver the envelope to the offices, Terry had begun to move. He’d had to force himself to go slowly. He’d told himself to give Justin a full ten minutes to get downstairs. On the third floor he’d changed his clothes in a storage closet, then he’d simply walked off with one of the maid’s carts that sat in the hallway.

  He remembered how his heart had been pounding as he had wheeled into the service elevator. There was a chance that she wouldn’t be there, that she’d gone down with Justin and he’d have to start all over again. When she had opened the door and smiled, he’d almost lost his nerve. Then he’d remembered Blade. The rest was easy.

  It had taken him less than five minutes to cover her unconscious body with linen and wheel the cart down to the garage where his car was waiting. With Serena in the backseat, covered with a blanket, he’d simply driven away. But she’d been unconscious for a long time. Maybe he’d used too much ether, or … Then he heard her moan. Terry got up to fix her a cup of tea.

  When he opened the door, Serena was sitting back against the headboard, staring at him. But she didn’t look as frightened as he’d imagined she would. He wondered if she was in shock. He expected she’d start screaming any minute.

  “If you yell,” he said quietly, “I’ll have to gag you. I don’t want to do that.”

  Serena saw that he was holding a cup and that it shook in his hand. A n
ervous kidnapper, she thought quickly, would be more dangerous than a calm one. She swallowed any urge to scream. “I won’t yell.”

  “I brought you some tea.” He came a little closer. “You might be feeling a little sick.”

  He was approaching her, Serena thought, as one approached a cornered animal. He expects me to be terrified, she realized. Well, he wasn’t far off. It might be more to her advantage to let her control slip outwardly. Inside she’d force herself to be calm. The first thing she had to know was where he kept the keys for the handcuffs.

  “I do. Please”—she let her voice tremble—“can I use the bathroom?”

  “Okay, I’m not going to hurt you.” He spoke soothingly as he set the tea aside and came to her. Taking a key from the pocket of his jeans, he fit it into the wrist lock. “If you try to run away or start yelling, I’ll have to stop you.” He paused as his hand replaced the metal on her wrist. “Do you understand?”

  Serena nodded. He was stronger, she discovered, than he looked.

  Silently, he led her into a small bathroom. “I’m going to be right outside the door,” he warned. “Just be smart and nothing’ll happen to you.”

  Nodding, Serena went inside. Immediately, she looked for means of escape and was frustrated. There wasn’t even a window. A weapon. A rapid search turned up nothing more than a towel bar that wouldn’t budge. She bit down on her lip as fear and helplessness began to take over. She’d have to find another way. She would find another way.

  Running cold water in the sink, she splashed it on her face. She had to stay calm and alert. And she couldn’t underestimate the man outside the door. He was dangerous because he was every bit as frightened as she was. So she’d be more frightened, she decided. She would cower and weep so that he wouldn’t know she was watching, waiting for the opportunity of escape. First, she had to find out exactly what his plans were.

  Opening the door, Serena let him seize her wrists again. “Please, what are you going to do?”

  “I’m not going to hurt you,” Terry said again as he pulled her toward the bed. “He’ll pay to get you back.”

  “Who?”

  She saw the fury in his eyes. “Blade.”

  “My father has more,” she began quickly. “He—”

  “I don’t want your father’s money!” At his fierce explosion, Serena didn’t have to simulate a shudder. “It’s Blade. He’s going to pay. I’m going to bleed him dry.”

  “Were you—were you the one who planted the bomb in Vegas?”

  Terry handed her the tea. Serena considered throwing it into his face, then decided against it. If it were hot enough to burn him, he’d probably leap back, and the key would be out of her reach.

  “Yeah.”

  She watched him. There was angry color in his face now and a look in his eyes that had her stomach rolling. “Why?”

  “He killed my father,” Terry told her, then strode out of the room.

  * * *

  Why doesn’t he call! Justin thought as he drank yet another cup of coffee. If he’s hurt her—He looked down to see that he’d snapped the handle cleanly away from the mug. Setting them both down, he drew out a cigar. Behind him, in the dinette, two detectives played Gin. Caine paced while Alan was already on his way to the airport to pick up Daniel and Anna. The living room extension had been repaired and was now attached to a recording device. But still they waited.

  It was growing darker as clouds moved in. There’d be rain before the night was over. For God’s sake, where was she? Why did I leave her alone? Justin wanted to bury his face in his hands. He wanted to hit something, anything. He sat perfectly still and stared at the wall. Why did I think she’d be safe here? he demanded of himself. I would have made her go away if I hadn’t wanted her with me so badly. I could have made her go away. If anything happens to her …

  He pushed the thought aside. If he were going to stay in control, he couldn’t even allow himself the luxury of guilt. The only sounds in the room were the desultory conversation of the detectives and the hiss of Caine’s lighter as he lit another cigarette. If the phone didn’t ring, Justin was certain he’d go mad.

  When it did, Justin lunged for it. “Keep him on the line as long as you can,” one of the detectives ordered curtly. “And tell him you have to talk to her before you deal.”

  Justin didn’t even acknowledge the instructions as he picked up the receiver. The recorder was running silently. “Blade.”

  “Want your squaw back, Blade?”

  It was a young voice, Justin realized. And frightened. The same voice he had heard on the police recordings in Las Vegas. “How much?”

  “Two million, cash. Small bills. I’ll let you know when and where.”

  “Serena. Let me talk to Serena.”

  “Forget it.”

  “How do I know you have her?” Justin demanded. “How do I know she’s …” He had to force the words out. “Still alive.”

  “I’ll think about it.”

  And the line went dead.

  * * *

  Serena huddled under the blanket. She was cold. Scared, she corrected herself brutally. The chill she was feeling had nothing to do with her thin sweater or bare feet. He killed my father. The flat statement ran over and over in her head. Could this be the son of the man who had attacked Justin all those years ago? He’d have been little more than a baby at the time. If he’d been harboring hate all those years … Serena shivered again and drew the blanket over her shoulders.

  She shouldn’t have doubted Justin’s instincts. He’d known somehow that someone was after him personally. How far would the boy go for revenge? she asked herself. Be objective, she ordered. This is real.

  She’d seen his face. Could he take the chance of letting her go when she could identify him? Yet, he didn’t seem like a cold-blooded killer. He’d planted a bomb in a crowded hotel, she reminded herself. Oh, God, she had to get away!

  Closing her eyes, Serena put all her concentration into listening. It was quiet, no sounds of traffic. She thought, but couldn’t be sure, that she heard the ocean. It might’ve been the wind. How far out of town were they? she wondered. If she threw the teacup through the window and screamed, would anyone hear? Even as she weighed the odds, Terry came back into the bedroom.

  “I brought you a sandwich.”

  He seemed more agitated this time, or perhaps, she reconsidered, excited. Make him talk, she told herself. “Please don’t leave me alone.” She grabbed his arm with her free hand and let her eyes plead with his.

  “You’ll feel better after you eat,” he mumbled, and shoved the sandwich under her nose. “You don’t have to be scared. I told you I wouldn’t hurt you if you didn’t try anything.”

  “I’ve seen you,” she said, taking the chance. “How can you let me go?”

  “I’ve got plans.” Restless, he began to pace the little room. He wasn’t big, she thought. If I could just get my hand free, I’d have a chance. “By the time I let them know where you are, I’ll already be gone.” He thought of Switzerland with grim pleasure. “They won’t find me. I’ll have two million dollars to help me hide in comfort.”

  “Two million,” she whispered. “How do you know Justin will pay?”

  Terry laughed, turning to look at her. Her face was pale, her eyes huge. Her hair tumbled wildly around her shoulders. “He’ll pay. He’ll beg me to let him pay before I’m finished.”

  “You said he killed your father.”

  “Murdered him.”

  “But he was acquitted. Justin told me—” The words slid back down her throat as Terry whirled.

  “He murdered my father and they let him go!” he shouted. “Let him go because they felt sorry for him. It was all politics, my mother told me. They let him go because he was a poor Indian kid. My mother said that his lawyer paid off the witnesses.”

  His mother, Serena thought, had been warping his mind for years. It would take more than a few words from her to change it now. Had his mother told him
about the scar along Justin’s side? Had she told him his father had been drunk or that the knife that had killed him had been his own? Serena studied Terry’s set, frightened face and hating eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said weakly. “I’m so sorry.”

  “He’s paying now,” Terry told her, and tossed a hank of errant hair out of his eyes. “I wish I could take the chance of holding you for more than a couple of days.” He gave a soft, wondering laugh. “Who’d have thought I’d make Blade crawl for a woman?”

  “Please, what’s your name?”

  “Terry,” he said briefly.

  Serena struggled to sit up straighten “Terry, you must know Justin’s called the police. They’ll be looking for me.”

  “They won’t find you,” he returned simply. “I didn’t start planning yesterday. I put a deposit down on this place six months ago, when Blade opened the hotel. I was thinking about squeezing him a second time after he’d paid off from Vegas.” He shrugged as if the business in Vegas meant little. “The old couple I rented this from are in Florida by now. They’ve never even seen me, just the check I sent them.”

  “Terry—”

  “Look, nothing’s going to happen to you. Just eat and get some rest. Ten hours after Blade makes the drop, I’ll call and let them know where to find you.” He stormed out of the room, slamming the door before she could say any more.

  * * *

  “What are they doing to get her back?” Daniel demanded as he strode around the living room of Justin’s suite. “Look at these two”—he tossed out a hand toward the two detectives—“playing cards while some maniac has my little girl.”

  “They’re doing everything they can,” Alan told him quietly. “The phone’s tapped. He didn’t stay on the line long enough last time to trace it. They’re checking out all the fingerprints on the maid’s cart.”

  “Hah!” Letting his panic take the form of anger, Daniel rounded on his son. “And what kind of a place is it where a man can dump my daughter in a basket and go off with her?”

  “Daniel.” From her place on the sofa beside Justin, Anna spoke softly. She said only his name, but the pain in her eyes had him cursing again and striding to the window. She turned to Justin, putting her hand over his. “Justin—”

  But he shook his head, rising. For the first time in the six hours of fear, he knew he was going to fall apart. Without a word he walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind him.

  Her robe was tossed over a chair where she had left it. He had only to pick it up to smell her. He balled his hands into fists and turned away from it. The jeweler’s box with the earrings he’d given her sat open on the dresser. He could remember the way they had looked on her the night before—gleaming, catching fire in the dim light as she had knelt naked on his bed and held her arms out to him.

  Fear and anger rolled around inside him until his skin was wet and clammy. The silence of the room weighed down on him. There was only the sound of rain, falling cold and steady outside the windows. Only a few hours before, Serena had filled the room with life—laughter and passion. Then he’d left her. He hadn’t told her he loved her or kissed her good-bye. He’d walked out with his mind occupied with his own business. Left her alone, he thought again.

  “Oh, God.” Running his hands over his face, he pressed his fingers hard against his eyes. At the soft knock on the door, Justin dropped his hands and struggled against the sensation of despair. Daniel came in without waiting for his answer.

  “Justin.” He closed the door behind him and stood, looking huge—and for the first time in Justin’s memory—helpless. “I’m sorry for that.”

  Justin met his eyes as he balled his hands in his pockets again. “You were right. If I hadn’t been careless—”

  “No.” Coming to him, Daniel gripped both his arms. “There’s no blame here. Rena—he wanted Rena; he’d have found a way. I’m scared.” The big voice quavered as his grip tightened. “I’ve only been scared once before in my life. When Caine took it into his head to explore the roof and we found him hanging on a ledge two stories up. I don’t know where she is.” His voice shook as he turned away. “I can’t get a ladder to her.”

  “Daniel, I love her.”

  On a deep breath, Daniel turned back. “Aye, I can see that.”

  “Whatever he asks, whatever he wants me to do, I’ll do.”

  Nodding, Daniel held out his hand. “Come, the family should wait together.”

  Chapter 12

  She must have dozed because it was dark when Serena felt herself being shaken awake.

  “You’re going to make a phone call,” Terry told her, then walked over to flip on the overhead light.

  Serena tossed her arm over her eyes to shield them. “Who,” she began.

  “He should have sweated enough by now,” Terry mumbled as he hooked the phone in the bedroom jack. “It’s after one. Listen.” He jerked her arm down so that she could look at him. “You’re going to tell him you’re all right, and that’s all. Don’t try anything.” He began to dial. “When he answers, just tell him you’re not hurt, and you’ll stay that way as long as he pays. Understand?”

  Nodding, Serena took the receiver.

  Justin was on the phone in the first ring. A half cup of cold coffee tipped over on the table and dripped on the rug. “Blade.”

  Serena squeezed her eyes shut at the sound of his voice. It was raining, she thought dimly. It was raining, and she was so cold and frightened. “Justin.”

  “Serena! Are you all right? Has he hurt you?”

  Taking a deep breath, she looked directly into Terry’s eyes. “I’m all right, Justin. No scars.”

  “Where are you?” he began, but Terry clamped his hand over her mouth and
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