“Figure out way to get onto the base or your sister dies.”
The threatening words kept replaying over and over in Felicia Bradford’s head, freaking her out so badly her hands shook as she steered her SUV into a shopping center a mile from the gate of the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base and pulled into a space. Putting her Nissan Juke in park, she leaned forward and rested her forehead on the steering wheel. She wanted to cry, but she couldn’t take the chance the people holding her sister would hear and think it meant she’d given up. They’d kill Stefanie for sure.
She took a deep breath and felt the tape holding the wire to her stomach pull a little, reminding her exactly where those horrible men had touched her as they’d attached the listening device to her skin. She shuddered at the thought that her baby sister, a sophomore in college at the San Diego campus of the University of California, remained in their hands.
Felicia lifted her head and glanced at the clock on the dash. Two hours ago, she and Stef had been in their yoga class, something they did every Saturday morning at the same time. They’d been laughing and planning their next girls’ night out when three men with accents had come out of nowhere and surrounded them in a quiet corner of the studio parking lot, taken Felicia’s keys then hustled them into a white van at gunpoint.
The next ten minutes had been the most terrifying of her life as she and Stef sat huddled on the floor of the van while one of the men had kept his weapon trained on them the whole time. She’d feared the worst, thinking the men meant to rape and kill them, but when the van pulled into a warehouse and the doors opened, they dragged her and Stef into an office where they’d found two more men waiting. One tall and muscular with a buzz cut, the other not quite as tall or as muscled with long, shaggy hair. When Buzz Cut regarded Felicia and her sister like interesting bugs he’d seen crawling across the floor, a voice in the back of her head said this situation was more complicated than she’d thought.
“What do you want with us?” she demanded, pushing her sister behind her.
Buzz Cut nodded at the men who’d brought her and Stef into the room. A moment later, one of them jerked her sister away and forced her down into a chair then duct taped her wrists to the metal arms. Felicia tried to stop them, but the second man grabbed her before she could do much good.
“You are brave,” Buzz Cut said in an Eastern European accent. At least she thought it was Eastern European. She wasn’t very good with accents. “Good.”
“What are you going to do with my sister?” Felicia demanded.
Buzz Cut crossed the room to stand in front of her. “I intend to kill your sister in the most painful way I can imagine unless you do exactly what I tell you.
Could someone so devoid of emotion be human? But the cold look in his eyes left Felicia with no doubt he told the truth.
“I’ll do anything you want,” she told him. “Just don’t hurt her.”
“Fortunately for you, what I need isn’t very difficult. I want you to take something onto the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base for me and wait at a specific location for a short period of time then come back here. If you do, you and your sister may leave alive and unharmed.”
Felicia almost started to hyperventilate. He made it sound so simple. “Coronado isn’t open to the public. There’s no way I can get on it.”
His eyes narrowed. “The gate pass on the dash of your car says otherwise.”
Crap. She’d forgotten she’d left it there. “It’s from last weekend, but it’s expired. I’m a wedding planner. I do a lot of weddings and receptions on the base.”
“Then get it renewed,” the man with the shaggy hair said.
Felicia looked at him. “It doesn’t work like that. I have to arrange a separate gate pass for each wedding and someone with a military ID has to agree to be my sponsor.”
Buzz Cut considered her statement. “How many times have you gone onto the station in the past six months?”
“I don’t know. Maybe twenty-five or thirty times.”
“With all those trips on base, are you trying to tell me a woman as attractive as you are couldn’t make an impression on the guards? I’m sure you could talk your way through the gate this one time. Say it’s for an emergency meeting with a client or something.”
She opened her mouth to tell him she was nothing special—at least not special enough to get an MP or security guard to look the other way while she drove through the gate without a pass—but then she hesitated, knowing this asshole would kill her and Stef in a second if he decided she wasn’t useful to him anymore. So, she’d nodded, telling him she could get on base.
The guy with the shaggy hair had then felt her up while taping the microphone wire to her stomach. When he finished, he and Buzz Cut took her out to where her Nissan Juke waited beside the van. Then Buzz Cut handed her a black plastic box about the size of a box of Kleenex along with a map of the NAB with a building circled in red.
“You need to be at this location no later than ten-thirty,” Buzz Cut told her. “On the south side of the building is a picnic table under some palm trees. Sit at the table, turn on the machine, then wait there for exactly thirty minutes.”
She tensed, terrified even to be in the same room with the box much less holding it. “Is it a bomb?”
“No. It’s a listening device,” he said. “It will record a conversation taking place nearby. No one will be hurt.”
Felicia didn’t believe him. “If that’s all, why don’t you have one of your men take it on base? I’m sure there are lots of people who could do a much better job than me.”
Mouth tight, Buzz Cut jerked the box and the map away from her and handed it to Shaggy Hair. Felicia’s heart fell into her stomach as he grabbed her arm and hauled her across the warehouse to another office, then shoved her inside. She tripped over something on the floor, falling half on top of it. She pushed herself up and almost screamed when she realized it was a man in a Navy uniform, the front of his blue camouflage top soaked with blood. He stared unseeingly up at the ceiling.
She scrambled off the man as Buzz Cut jerked her to her feet.
“This is the man I got to do the job, but he had a change of heart at the last minute, and I had to kill him.” Cold, dark eyes bore into hers. “Don’t make me have to find someone else to do this job. The time window I have to get it done is small and, if you make me miss it, I’ll take it out on your precious sister.”
She didn’t say anything as he led her back out to her SUV, which one of the men must have driven there from the shopping center, and shoved her behind the wheel. She thought she’d been as freaked out as she could be when Shaggy Hair leaned in and put a handgun in the center console.
“Why are you giving that to me?” she asked.
Buzz Cut shrugged. “If things don’t go the way you plan, you’ll need to improvise if you want your sister to live. If it means you have to shoot someone, do it.”
Felicia couldn’t kill someone in cold blood. But, to save her sister, maybe she could.
They took her cell out of her purse and wrote down her phone number.
“In case I want to contact you,” Buzz Cut said as he handed it back to her. “Don’t get any brilliant ideas about calling the police. With the wire you’re wearing, we’ll be able to hear everything you say, and if you say something you shouldn’t, I’ll kill your sister. If you don’t get to the location on the map in time, I’ll kill your sister. If you don’t get us what we want and come straight back here, I’ll kill your sister. And if we suddenly lose the audio from the wire. I’ll kill your sister.”
Felicia had been so shaken by images of her sister being tortured and killed, she could barely drive across the Coronado Bridge to the base. She’d raised Stef ever since their parents died six years ago. The idea of something bad happening to her made it hard to even breathe. She had no doubt Buzz Cut would kill Stef if she didn’t show up with the information they wanted. He might kill both of them anyway once he had what he wanted, of course, but she could deal with only one problem at a time.
Unfortunately, as she’d expected, the guards at the gate refused to let her through, no matter how much she tried to sweet talk them. She batted her eyes and tried to convince one particular MP on duty who’d flirted with her on several occasions she had to get on base for a few minutes to scout out the location for an upcoming wedding, but the guy hadn’t budged.
She’d turned around and been driving away from the base when her phone rang.
“Figure out a way to get on base,” Buzz Cut ordered. “Or your sister dies.”
Felicia continued to stare at the clock on the dash as it slowly counted down the minutes. She had twenty-nine minutes left. She needed to figure out something or Stef would be dead.
In frustration, she reached into the center console and pulled out the weapon stashed there. She didn’t even have a clue how to fire a gun, but maybe she could use it to threaten her way through the gate. Then what? The military police would chase her once she got on base.
Felicia caught sight of a group of men and women in Navy uniforms coming out of the grocery store. An idea hit her. Insane and probably not workable, but the only thing she could think of was shoving her gun in the nearest sailor’s back and demanding he or she help her get on base. She only prayed she’d find a sailor who didn’t have a hero complex. She really didn’t want to have to shoot anyone—even if she could figure out how to do it. But, when it came to her sister, she’d do what she had to do.
Felicia turned off the engine and waited. It would probably be smarter to scope out the possible targets and pick someone smaller and preferably female, but as the clock on the dash continued to get closer to the ten-thirty deadline, she realized she didn’t have time.
She shoved the gun and the black box into her purse then got out and walked over to the store. The first few sailors came out in groups of two and three. Dammit, she didn’t have time for this!
Then she spotted a hunky guy with dark blond hair wearing blue camouflage coming her way, a couple of grocery bags in his hands—alone. He was also at least a foot taller than her and probably outweighed her by a hundred pounds. Her gut told her this guy wasn’t the best choice, but she couldn’t wait any longer.
Heart pounding in her chest and a hand on the gun in her purse, she turned and followed, hurrying to catch up with him. When they got close to his blue SUV, she pulled the gun out of her purse, closed the distance between them, and shoved the weapon in his back. He immediately stopped in his tracks.
“I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if you don’t help me get on base,” she said as firmly as she could. The words didn’t sound as intimidating as she’d hoped, but at least her voice hadn’t squeaked.
She didn’t know what to expect, but when the big man didn’t move at all, she got a little nervous.
“Don’t do anything foolish or you’ll be putting the lives of innocent people in danger,” she warned. “I’ve never fired a gun before, and if you make me do it now, I have no idea where the bullets are going to go.”
The guy still didn’t move. But at least he didn’t spin around and try to disarm her. Unfortunately, the seconds continued to fly past, bringing Stefanie’s death ever closer. Felicia might have to do something else—although she didn’t know what—to prove her seriousness. Could she whack him in the back of the head? Probably not without making the gun go off. Then what? Unconscious, he wouldn’t be able to get her on base.
“Did you hear what I said?” she prompted, shoving the gun more firmly into his back.
“I heard you,” he said. “Relax, okay? There’s no need to pull the trigger. I’ll get you on base. But I want your word you won’t hurt anyone if I do.”
She couldn’t believe he tried to bargain with her when she had a gun pointed at him. “It’s the last thing I want.”
He lifted his right hand, and Felicia tensed, until she realized he was only lifting the key fob for his SUV. He unlocked the doors with a beep-beep then opened the driver’s side. Felicia wondered if she should let him drive or if she should do it. After a moment, she decided the guards on the gate would never let them through with her behind the wheel, so it had to be him. But she couldn’t tell him to wait while she ran around to the passenger side, either.
Finally, she climbed into the SUV first and crawled over the center console to get into the passenger seat, keeping the weapon pointed at him the whole time.
“Get in,” she ordered. “And don’t try anything.”
As he climbed in, she saw the name ‘Dunn’ embroidered on a tag on his uniform. Nice name. It fit him.
She was wondering about his first name when she finally got a good look at his face. She couldn’t see his eyes because he wore aviators, but with a chiseled jaw and wide, sensual mouth, he was way more handsome than any man had a right to be. She hoped he did what she told him. She’d feel horrible shooting someone so attractive.
Okay, that was absolutely the dumbest thought she’d ever had. Would she feel better shooting him if he were ugly?
Dunn reached around to put his grocery bags on the floorboard in the back then fastened his seatbelt. When he finished, he lifted a brow. “You going to put on your seatbelt?”
Felicia’s jaw may have dropped. Seriously? Obviously, he must be since he wouldn’t start the vehicle until she buckled up. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get her belt on while holding a pistol. She glanced around for a place to put it, figuring wedging it between her legs wasn’t the best idea. She finally ended up putting it on the floor. The moment she had her seatbelt on, she reached down and snatched it up with trembling hands, turning to point it in Dunn’s direction.
He regarded her with a look plainly suggesting he knew this was her first foray into taking a hostage, but he thankfully didn’t say it out loud. Instead, he cranked the SUV and headed out of the parking lot.
“I hope this doesn’t take too long,” he remarked as he drove toward the Naval Amphibious Base. “I bought ice cream and would hate to have to throw it away if it melts.”
Felicia didn’t know what to say. How the hell could the man be so calm when he had a gun pointed at him?
As they neared the gate, Logan reached into his back pocket for his wallet and pulled out his ID card. She slipped the gun in her purse.
“Don’t make me hurt anyone,” she said to him.
“I told you I’d get you on base and I will,” Dunn said as he weaved through the barricades put there to slow people down. “Keep the gun in your purse and everything will be fine.”
Dunn had a very trustworthy-looking face and Felicia wanted to believe him, but she still tensed when they rolled to a stop beside the guard at the gate. At least it wasn’t the cute MP she’d tried to sweet-talk earlier. In fact, she didn’t recognize the older guy at all.
“Dunn, my man,” the guard said. “I haven’t seen you in weeks. How the hell are you?”
“I’m good,” Dunn said conversationally. “How about you?
“Can’t complain.” The guard leaned down and regarded Felicia. “Who’s this? New girlfriend?”
Crap. She hadn’t thought about having a cover story. Passing her off as a girlfriend might work, though.
Dunn chuckled. “Nah. This is my sister, Claire. She’s staying with me for a while, and I’m showing her around. I’m going to get her base access on Monday.”
The older man smiled and nodded. “No problem.”
While they’d made it this far, Felicia refused to let herself exhale until the guard waved them through the gate. She glanced at the clock on the dash, comparing it with her watch. Ten minutes.
“Drive faster,” she said, pulling out the gun so she could point it at him and the map so she could figure out where she needed to go.
“If I drive over the speed limit, there’s a good chance we’ll get pulled over.”
“If you drive under the speed limit, there’s a good chance someone very important to me will die,” she told him. “So, drive faster.”
Dunn looked at her sharply. She expected him to say something, but instead he drove faster.
“Where are we going?” he asked softly.
Her knowledge of NAB Coronado was limited to the location of the church and the various clubs that held receptions, so she held the map up for him to see and pointed at the part circled in red.
“Right there,” she said. “And I have to be there in five minutes.”
He studied the circled area on the map for a moment then gave her another intense look. “You sure you want to go there?”
The spot on the map probably had some significance to him, but to her, it was simply the place Buzz Cut told her to be—in five minutes.
As Dunn turned down a side road and picked up speed, Felicia held out hope this might work. She wasn’t naive. She knew the men holding Stef couldn’t be trusted. But she had to believe if she did as Buzz Cut told her, maybe everything would work out okay. It was the only thing she had to hang onto until something better came along.
“We didn’t have a chance for a proper introduction, but my name’s Logan,” he said. “What’s yours?”
Felicia ignored him, or tried to, anyway, but he kept talking in a frustratingly calm, casual voice.
“Maybe I can help you out of your situation,” he continued. “You don’t really seem to be the kind of person to do something like this.”
She wasn’t. But she was doing it now—for Stefanie.
“Keep driving,” she told him.
Felicia hadn’t realized they’d reached their destination until Logan pulled the SUV into a parking space and turned off the engine. Off to one side of the large official-looking building was a sign that read Naval Special Warfare Command.
She looked around, trying to remember exactly where Buzz Cut had told her to take the box.
“Where’s the south side of the building?” she asked.
Logan pointed to the right.
She pulled the box out of her purse then motioned at Logan with the weapon. “Get out and walk in front of me to the picnic table over there. The gun will be in my purse, but I’ll have my finger on the trigger the whole time, so don’t try anything.”
His gaze locked on the box in her hand. “What’s that?”
The dash clock read ten twenty-nine.
“I can’t tell you anything, so stop asking me questions and get out,” she snapped.
He regarded her silently for a moment then shut off the engine and got out of the SUV. She climbed over the console and followed him to the south side of the building.
The table stood right where Buzz Cut said it would be, under some palm trees. The moment she and Logan sat down, she put the box on the table and turned the lone switch on the top until she heard a clicking sound. She kept turning it until it stopped moving. Then she sat there staring at the box—and Logan.
He took off his sunglasses, revealing gorgeous blue eyes, then reached into his pocket for his cellphone.
“What are you doing?” she asked nervously, fumbling for the gun in her purse and pointing it at him.
“Playing a game on my phone.” He shrugged. “I figure we’re going to be sitting here a while, aren’t we?”
She frowned. He clicked way too many keys for any game. Was he calling the cops? She didn’t want to have to shoot him, but he might not give her a choice.
But then he turned the phone around to show her what he’d typed.
I know you can’t talk, but I can help you if you’ll let me. Tell me what’s going on.
Felicia blinked. How had he figured out she couldn’t talk?
He nodded at her, then pointed at the words he’d written on his phone, specifically the part where he’d said he could help her.
A thousand thoughts raced through her head. Could she trust him? Could he really help her? She couldn’t imagine how, but she needed help from someone, and her instincts told her Dunn was that person.