Title: Clandestine

Fandom: Xena Uber/Alt/Original

Author: Cheyne

Rating: 18 or NC-17


Summary: A company burned, ex-CIA operative, who seeks absolution in a bottle, is forced into a situation that could be the defining moment of her life.  Burnt-out and long ago thinking herself incapable of feeling, her numb complacency is tested when she meets an innocent woman who must now suffer the ultimate consequences of her bad choices.

Disclaimer: Just in case there is a need to say this because a few of the characters might slightly resemble some cast members of a TV show we know and love, no infringement is intended to the powers that be at MCA/Universal. Other than that, the story, the characters and the fantasy are mine.

Warnings: This story contains lesbian sex. If that offends you but you continue reading anyway, then I take no responsibility if your retinas catch fire. Once again, I must mention that there is one fleeting recollection of heterosexual sex that is nonconsensual but not violent (you can tell from her snoring). There is also another scene that starts out as nonconsensual but changes very quickly.

Big Warning: My Spanish is rusty. Oh, let's not mince words, it sucks. Crossing my fingers that it isn't too far off.

This is for Ren, who really took me to task on this one. Thanks. I needed that.

And for Canna, whose initial reaction to this story inspired me to finish it. ;-)

Archive: Only with permission from the author

Chapter One

The loudest lies are the ones we tell to ourselves.


She was on her fourth beer chaser which was accompanying her sixth shot of Scotch. It was her routine, one she fell into far too easily every night. She was surprised she still had a functioning liver. She liked to drink. She liked blurring the line between her past and her present because she knew she would be too drunk by the time it came to thinking about her future. If she even had one. Every day brought it closer to home that she was slowly but surely flushing her life down the toilet.


She had been accused of betraying her country but her country had betrayed her. She had been a good operative, a dedicated officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and she had followed orders which, collectively, was her success and her downfall. The assignment could have been, should have been her greatest glory, should have garnered her a coveted Distinguished Intelligence Medal for a performance of outstanding services for achievement of a distinctly exceptional nature in a duty or responsibility. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

She had bravely come forward and outed herself, stepped up for the company, solved a huge problem for them. In a burst of brilliant counterintelligence, they removed her from a very successful, long-term assignment up close and personally monitoring Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna, a Basque group fighting Spain for an independent Basque state, and briefed her on infiltrating, any way she could, ELN, a Marxist guerilla group operating out of Columbia, known for kidnapping foreign businessmen for ransom. During her initial surveillance, she discovered that Maria Maladin, wife of one of the ranking lieutenants in the National Liberation Army had a preference for women, therein creating a weakness and an 'in' for the enterprising CIA operative. And, because she had a deeply rooted Latin heritage and spoke fluent Castillian Spanish, she effortlessly made her move on the seductively enchanting Seņora Maladin, sweeping the powerful woman off her feet.

They began an intense, torrid affair, creating a scorching atmosphere easily visible to anyone in the same room with the two women. Everything was running like a well-oiled machine, progressing at a remarkable pace with her getting deeper and deeper into the organization that the government suspected was funding and training groups of aggressive covert warriors to arrange a scenario where even the President of the United States could possibly be abducted.

And then the unthinkable happened. One of her overzealous colleagues screwed up badly, hanging her out to dry with not only ELN and Maria Maladin but with the Agency, as well. She had been burned and with her cover blown, even through no fault of hers, she needed to lay low for a while for her own personal safety and the integrity of the case. In the meantime, her superiors wanted, needed a scapegoat and she was the most convenient mark. Her supervisor was never a fan of hers to begin with, never a supporter of females in the Agency, period, but the officer who blew the case was his second cousin. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who was going to be the one deemed culpable. When Seņor and Seņora Maladin and their entourage perished in a suspicious explosion less than a week after the incident exposing her as an operative, she knew there was no way it was just a coincidence.  Regardless, she had been scheduled to be with Maria that night...either way, she would have been a dead woman. It wasn't the first time she faced her mortality and she was positive it wouldn't be the last. One did not become a spy with the CIA if one was looking for a stable, secure and safe life.

Tia Ramone was like a cat with nine lives. Eight of them were already gone.


Her life had not been easy but that never discouraged her. Obstacles only proved to make her existence more interesting. It was lucky she enjoyed challenges because she endured many, all of which shaped her and pushed her to become the person she was. The tougher the situation, the better the sense of accomplishment. At least that's how it used to be. Now? Her only challenge was how much alcohol it would take before the bartender shut her off and sent her home or some pretty young thing took pity on her or advantage of her and allowed her to take refuge in their anonymous fucking.

She had felt disgraced, disgusted, disheartened, and randomly out of control for the first time in her life. She was spiraling downward faster and more menacingly than a tornado, destroying everything in its path. And she didn't care. She seemed to be slowly killing herself without the quick and efficient benefit of pulling the trigger. Suicide by self-loathing.

Tia refused to openly admit that she had started to develop actual feelings for the engaging Maria Maladin but it was difficult not to. Maria was fashion model beautiful, deceptively clever, iridescently classy and, regardless of her involvement with her husband's business affairs and Tia knowing it was just a case, extremely hard to resist. It was not only nice but flattering to have someone as attractive and as sexy as Seņora Maladin in her bed, not to mention that the woman was certainly not a novice lover by any means. It may have been just an assignment but the way Maria made Tia feel during sex was anything but a charade. Now Maria was gone, the job was gone, her life was gone...the only thing that made her feel better was to drink herself into oblivion and look for the next cheap thrill.

She wasn't going to have to look too far.


Anthony Holt Montgomery, Jr., had been watching her for a while. He had been pointed in her direction by a less than sterling employee who unwisely couldn't stay away from his abuse of illicit steroids and his debt to his boss was skyrocketing. Montgomery had a job most foul that needed to be done and was seeking someone whose conscience had deserted them long ago, who had no respect or regard for life (including their own), and who could be easily blackmailed if their fleeting scruples suddenly decided to make a reappearance.  His muscular but cowardly minion was too reluctant to follow through, regardless of how much money was involved, but to save his own hide, the underling supplied the name of a friend of a friend of a friend. However, that didn't let the beefy, computer savvy employee off the hook. His calculating boss had other uses for him, pledging that if he completed these little 'tasks,' his debt to Montgomery would be paid in full.

Montgomery hired a prostitute, one he had enlisted the services of a few times in the past, to enter the lesbian bar where Tia was drowning her sorrows and pick her up, persuade her to leave (which, he knew, depending on how much alcohol Tia had consumed, wouldn't take much, especially since his hooker friend was quite comely) and lead her to his car where they would talk. Where he was positive he could convince her to do his dirty work if the price was right. And he'd make it right.


Crime begins in the mind. One only has to think wrong before he acts wrong.


Her name was Trisha but Tia didn't even need to know that. She had already sensed the second the auburn-haired woman occupied the stool next to hers at the bar what the hooker's intentions were. There were times when all Tia required for foreplay was, "meet me in the bathroom," but she wasn't in that kind of mood tonight. She'd had a rather good day, breaking even at the casino on the wharf. Let this woman work a little for her attention.

"So...Trisha, I haven't seen you around here before. Just browsing, experimenting or thinking of becoming a regular?"

Catching Tia's eye, the younger woman winked and said, coyly, "Does it really matter?"

Shaking her head, Tia laughed softly, arching an eyebrow and fingering the torn label on her beer bottle. "No. I guess it doesn't."

Indicating the empty glass, Trisha placed her hand gently over Tia's which was resting idly on the bar. "Can I buy you another one?"


"What's your pleasure?"

A sly, lascivious smile curled the corner of Tia's mouth as she didn't try to disguise her appraising once over of the redhead. "I thought we'd get to that later."

Nodding, almost embarrassed at leaving herself so wide open for the inviting comment, she emitted a sigh and a laugh at the same time. "What's your favorite shot?"

"The next one." Looking directly at Trisha, the former CIA officer said, "Do you really want to buy me another drink? Didn't you have something else in mind?"

Trisha studied the beautiful woman on the stool next to her. Yes, she did have something else in mind. It was unfortunate that she really wasn't going to get to bed this exotic creature with the bronzed skin, sensuous mouth and pale blue eyes, which seemed devoid of any and all emotion. The dead glare just confirmed to Trisha that there would have been no attempt of commitment after sex, which would have been fine by her. She had been picked up by or hired to do women in the past and it never worked out well. They always came back for more but not to be a client...to be a lover full time or on the side, something she was definitely not interested in. Instinctively she knew that would not be an issue with this woman and she made a mental note to look her up again sometime when she could really experience her. She may not even charge her. "Yes. I did have something else in mind. But I really would like to buy you a shot or another beer, at least."

"I don't know if old Jane here will let me have anymore," Tia nodded in the direction of the bartender, then smirked, knowingly at Trisha. "And, besides, that's just wasting time, isn't it?"

"Boy, you don't mince words, do you?"

"Nope. Life's too short."

"You don't even want to do the minimal 'let's get to know each other a bit' thing first?" Trisha grinned, trying to buy a little time to give Montgomery a chance to get in place.

Sighing almost impatiently, Tia wasn't in the mood for this. She just wanted a nice random encounter with which to end her day. She glanced around the bar to see no other intriguing prospects...at least not as enticing as the sure thing seated to her left. "Okay...you get one question. Make it count."

Trisha tried to think of something that would draw out a long answer in the stunning, sable-haired woman. "All right. Hmmm. Okay, I think I've got a good one...what do you want most in a woman?"

"My tongue. So...your place or mine or somewhere neutral?"

Laughing, Trisha drained her glass and stood up. "Let's go to my car and decide."

Tia finished what was left in her beer bottle, said goodnight to the bartender who just shook her head, and followed the prostitute outside. Trisha led her to an Expedition with darkened windows, opened the door to the back seat and slid in next to Tia. Trisha knew that Montgomery would climb into the driver's side in a few minutes, so she decided to get what she could while she had the opportunity.

Straddling Tia's lap, Trisha took Tia's face in her hands and moved in for a searing kiss. She could taste the remnants of scotch and beer on the luscious lips and the gifted tongue that was now exploring every inch of the inside of Trisha's mouth. As the prostitute pressed in for deeper contact, she felt long fingers move down her shoulders taking the thin straps of her top with them, thumbs moving expertly over each nipple which stood up to greet the touch.

Trisha moaned into Tia's mouth as Tia cupped her breasts, tracing circles around the erect tips and started an almost imperceptible gyration with her hips. Breaking the kiss and hungrily nipping an earlobe, Trisha worked her way down Tia's throat to her shoulder. The ex-CIA officer had just lifted Trisha's shirt to reveal two perfectly perky and, obviously, implanted breasts and had just sealed her lips around one rosy nipple when the car door opened.

Drunk or not, her survival instincts were still intact and she quickly tossed Trisha to the side and reached for the .22 Stinger stashed inside her jacket pocket. She pulled the weapon out only to have Trisha tackle her, startling her and knocking it out of her hand. This action pushed her into the male intruder, sending the 9mm in his grip upward, causing it to smash against his chin, nicking his flesh. Wiping a small trickle of blood away, he bit his lip to hold his temper, as he thrust the former operative back to the middle of the seat. The cold muzzle of a Glock 26 was pressed to her temple and she stopped all movement, knowing she was outgunned and temporarily unarmed.

Easing into the back seat, Anthony Montgomery, closed the door behind him, not saying a word.

"Look, I don't know what game this is but I'm not into threesomes, especially not with men -"

"What in the hell were you going to do with this?" Trisha asked, incredulously, holding up what had fallen from Tia's hand when she knocked her over. She displayed what looked like a tube of toothpaste.

"Be careful with that," Mongtomery spoke, finally. "It's a single shot survival weapon."

"A what?"

"A gun. And it's probably got a bullet in it. Let me see that," Montgomery requested and Trisha handed it over to him. Inspecting it in his gloved hands, he arched an eyebrow. "CIA issue? They let you keep this?"

Tia and Trisha looked at him, surprised, each for different reasons, the prostitute then scrutinizing her almost-lover. "CIA? What -? What the fuck have I gotten myself into?"

In the blink of an eye, Montgomery aimed the tube at Trisha and fired, hitting her square in the heart. Too stunned to speak, Tia watched as Trisha slumped back against the window, lifeless eyes staring at nothing.

"Oops," Montgomery commented, without remorse, "it was loaded...imagine that. Is it still registered to you?" He didn't wait for Tia to respond. "Pity. I can imagine what the police report will say...they left the bar together and were seen getting into the back seat of this stolen SUV. The bullet that killed her was shot from a weapon registered to former CIA Agent Tia Ramone, the last person to see her alive. Looks like you just found yourself a whole shitload of trouble." He was smiling at her.

She took one last glance at the woman with whom she had been about to get intimate and then fixed her gaze on the handsome man holding her Stinger and his Glock in his gloved hands. "What do you want?"

Chapter Two

Sometimes the safest way to start the day is to go back to bed.


She hated it when she tripped over nothing, an action this time that nearly caused her to step on her own foot. Doing goofy things like that so completely contradicted her aura of the refined, dignified, poised socialite she was brought up, but never really believed herself, to be. The first thing she did was immediately look around to see if anyone else had noticed her clumsiness, finding it hard to keep the smile of embarrassment from attacking her face.  She always found it uproariously funny when stumbling over invisible objects happened to someone else, although she would never laugh out loud at them to cause them any further humiliation. She needed to keep reminding herself what it felt like each time she witnessed another's bumbling. Smoothing out her blouse, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she continued her walk through the upscale department store as though nothing had happened.

She recalled the last time she did that, she had been at a charity event with her mother and wasn't watching where she was going. She, a waiter and a full tray of hors douvres ended up on the floor. No one was hurt, she apologized profusely to the young man (much to her patrician mother's dismay) and, as he helped her up, he was charmed by her humility during the whole situation. He had expected to have his ass handed to him on one of the platters he had just been serving food on but, instead, this very attractive woman with very expressive, jade eyes, took full responsibility, helped him clean up the mess and offered to speak to his boss if there was any problem over the incident.

Locating her overbearingly perturbed mother before she cleaned her dress off in the ladies room, she battled her own overwhelming discomfort brought on not by her sometimes lack of grace but by her mother's attitude toward her occasional inelegance

"Good Lord, mother, I have the right to make a fool of myself every once in a while," she explained, quietly defensive.

"Unfortunately, dear, you abuse the privilege," her mother sniffed, not caring if she hurt her daughter's feelings. It was all about appearances, nothing more, nothing less and the younger blonde woman never quite seemed to measure up, no matter how hard she tried.

Joanne Dyson Wainwright Montgomery  - Jody to her friends and relatives - was a very wealthy woman. More importantly, her family - descendents of the Mayflower, were downright filthy rich. The accumulation of old money in her ancestry made the Rockefellers and the Gettys look like paupers. An only child, she stood to inherit the bulk of the enormous family estate when her parents passed away, which would only add to the excessive trust fund she was living off now. Because she didn't have to work, she donated her time and an impressive amount of her monthly allowance to hospitals and, her special weakness, animal shelters. She was fortunate to live in the mansion she did because since she had started volunteering at the neighborhood pound, not one dog, cat, ferret or guinea pig had been euthanized.

The only shelter resident she passed on was a boa constrictor they named Beelzebub. The old boy had been found coiled around the branch of an apple tree in the local park's botanical gardens, an irony not lost on anyone, and no one came to claim him. If it hadn't involved feeding the snake other living, or once living, creatures, she might have adopted him also, because he really was kind of a sweet natured guy but instead, she found him a home with a young couple whose beloved Burmese Python had passed away recently. They doted on him instantly which made Jody feel happy and relieved since she couldn't take him.

If anyone hadn't known that Jody Montgomery was one of the 'Plymouth Rock' Dysons, they never would have suspected she was anything more than possibly a post-college age (maybe an ex-cheerleader), sharp, kind and beautiful woman. She carried that air about her, one that shouted spirited and tenacious before she even opened her mouth. There weren't too many people who knew Jody who didn't like her...except for, possibly, her mother and her husband.

It wasn't that Anthony didn't like her, per se, he had married her, after all. But that wasn't because she was a knockout or smart and fit and delightful and sweet and lovely beyond compare or even that he loved her (which he didn't but if he had to have a trophy wife, why not her?), it was because she was worth a freaking fortune. Plus, she wasn't bad in the sack, either...a little inhibited in his book but he could always get what she lacked somewhere else. It never occurred to him that maybe he was just too selfish in bed to understand or even care about her needs. Or that maybe she just didn't love him and just couldn't muster up the passion that belonged in a marriage between two such physically desirable people.

The question always seemed to be why did she marry him? She had her pick of every eligible bachelor around (and even a few of the not-so-eligible ones) and she ended up with Anthony Montgomery. Sure, he was darkly handsome, charismatic, owned his own company, had impeccable manners and was also sought after in similar social circles as Jody but none of that was the reason. Quite simply, after the young, ambitious Joanne Wainwright continued to show no interest in settling down and having babies to carry on the family legacy, her father arranged the union as a business deal. Jody and Montgomery had dated a few times, seemed to enjoy being with each other and John Wainwright liked the way they looked together. Fine with Jody...Montgomery wasn't so bad, it kept her parents off her back and if she found someone she actually fell in love with, she would divorce him. She was well aware that he had discreet affairs, which was okay since their sex was always protected, and that he pretty much felt the same way about her as she did him. Besides, her father had insisted they both sign a prenuptial agreement, so he most definitely would not walk away empty handed.

Except, Anthony Montgomery had no intention of walking away at all.


After outlining his plan and what he expected from her, Montgomery and Tia left the SUV, with the body of the dead prostitute still in it, parked on the side street around the corner from the bar. The former operative walked involuntarily and tightly beside Montgomery through two alleys to a rented Volvo wagon. Had she been sober, she had no doubt she could have disarmed him and shot him with his own weapon. In fact, under different circumstances, he would have been the one with the .22 bullet in his chest instead of Trisha. Unfortunately, Tia knew the real reason she had been unable to react quickly and properly was that both she and her gun had been loaded.

They had driven for approximately thirty minutes, listening to a CD of Carmen at a tormentingly loud decibel. It wasn't that Tia didn't like Maria Callas but when one's head was beginning to pound, the strains of 'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle "Habaņera" set on continuous replay was enough to rival Chinese water torture. By the time they reached the small wharf where a dilapidated, abandoned speedboat awaited their occupancy, Tia would have confessed to just about anything had she been in an interrogation room.

The eleven-year-old Wellcraft 218 Coastal had seen its day, the tall woman thought, studying the beat up, once-white fiberglass fishing boat/cruiser as it cut through choppy waves. It thread its way around a small maze of deserted islands, carrying them to the diminutive but magnificent yacht anchored about six miles offshore, nestled inconspicuously close to a cay. It looked like whoever lived on this boat wasn't exactly trying to conceal their whereabouts but definitely wanted their privacy respected. Hide in plain sight...it was a concept as old as the day was long and it worked better than the authorities liked to admit.

When she expressed her surprise at finding no one else on board, Montgomery told her that since it was a small yacht, a captain and a deckhand were the only crew and, even then, they were used sparingly as his wife rarely moved the vessel from this luscious and isolated location. He advised her that there was a security officer who was paid specifically to keep an eye on the boat when no one was aboard but, because of his exemplary service and dedication to his assignment, he had been rewarded with an all-expenses-paid vacation to Tibet to do something he had always wanted to do...climb Mount Everest. This, of course, was perfect as it would keep the conscientious young man not only away from the yacht but out of communication until his climb was done and hopefully this situation had been resolved. Acknowledging Montgomery's explanation with barely a shrug, Tia moved on with her tour.

Tia did a perfunctory walk-through of the place where she was to hold Montgomery's wife hostage. He advised her to get familiar with everything and how it worked because once they were there, the ex-CIA operative and his Mrs. were going to be spending all of their time together, isolated...until it was over. Whatever that meant. Tia Ramone, a born cynic who looked both ways before crossing a one-way street, didn't trust anyone anymore, not even her own mother, why would she believe a calculating, obviously greedy and heartless stranger to mean 'concluded' instead of 'dead'? He had nothing to lose by killing her when this little adventure was done...unless she could get something on him in the meantime, something to barter with. Hopefully, she would do her part, collect her ten million dollars and he would allow her to disappear into obscurity...exactly where she thought she had been when he found her. How had he found her, anyway?

Obviously he had done his homework and, well, it wasn't as though she had been exactly cautious about keeping herself inconspicuous. Reckless and careless would have described her behavior much better. She had no one to blame but herself. And did she really care at this point? Just give her enough of a supply of scotch and beer and she'd be fine.  She didn't really need to be sober to babysit a rich, spoiled, heiress who was probably afraid of her own shadow, anyway. She immediately pictured this chick as an undeserving snob who obviously knew how to make the most of her birthright.

"This is where you will be keeping her until I get the ransom...I hope it's doable for you," Montgomery smirked, as they stood on the deck of the fifty-six foot Meridian 540 Pilothouse yacht, christened The Quintessence.

Although she was not a stranger to being around material wealth, she couldn't hold herself back from being impressed. He had called this his wife's 'little getaway tub' but Tia had never seen anything quite like it. The exterior size was very deceiving...it was a floating townhouse. She glanced over at the sundeck and at an imposing entertainment system. Shoving her hands in her pockets, the ex-CIA officer looked the other way, noting the direct, easy passage from the bridge to the helmsman's deckhouse which included a cockpit with stand-up access to the engine room. He would have to show her how to drive this 'tiny vessel,' not that she probably couldn't figure it out on her own but they didn't have that kind of time.

Tia moved down the molded staircase, unabashedly wide-eyed, and strolled around the galley which included a dishwasher, a trash compactor, a double stainless steel sink, a microwave, stove top, oven, and a full-size refrigerator. This kitchen was more utilitarian and bigger than her entire residential motel apartment....the only sink in that place was in her tiny bathroom. Rounding out her other personal culinary possessions, she had a mini-fridge, a microwave, a hot plate and a temperamental automatic coffeemaker that only worked when it felt like it.

In the past, Tia had never been overly taken with affluence. The Maladins were wealthy people but they weren't excessive. And they didn't have a yacht. Montgomery had told her that this was the smallest of three yachts the Wainwright family owned. She got the feeling that the Montgomerys and the Wainwrights were exceedingly opulent and that she had a problem with because people in that category were usually never grateful for their good fortune. What was it her grandmother used to say? It is not wealth, but the arrogance of wealth that offends the poor.

She absentmindedly ran her hands over the smooth Karadon custom solid-surface dark, bronze ember countertops. Turning, she studied the rest of the decor, admiring the high-gloss real cherry wood interior. "How much does something like this cost?"

"About nine hundred thousand...pocket change to my wife's family," he scoffed, making his way over to the bar and pulling out a crystal decanter of scotch, a container filled with ten-year-old Talisker, and held it up to his 'guest,' removing two glasses from the shelf in front of him. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess you want some of this," he smiled sarcastically at her. He then poured some of the brilliant gold liquid into a small tumbler.

Abhorring his smugness and the lose-lose situation he had trapped her into, Tia cut him a look that should have struck him dead, "It's the least you can do. And you'd better have more where that came from."

He snickered. "Ice?"

"And bruise it? I think not." She watched as he added a couple cubes to his glass. "Ice is for pussies."

He was not insulted, in fact, her words broadened his smile. "Living your life as a drunk and finding courage in a shot glass is for pussies. I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself," he handed her the alcoholic beverage, which she snatched out of his grasp and downed in two swallows. This was good scotch, she admitted to herself as it mildly burned down her throat but then she really didn't expect this pretentious bastard to have anything less. It was warming and strong, leaving a rich, smokey, malted aftertaste. She savored it, feeling comfort in its intensity.

"Redeem myself?" she arched an eyebrow, looking into the bottom of her empty glass and shoving it back toward him for another round, which he gladly obliged. "Funny, redemption is something that shouldn't even enter this realm of conversation," she indicated the both of them with the hand that possessed the glass. "On either side." She drew the drink to her lips and threw her head back, the liquid disappearing quickly. It was even better the second time. "This is good stuff," she commented, unnecessarily.

"We import it from Loch Harport in Scotland, they make it in the village of Carbost -"

"Like that's supposed to mean something to me?" She looked up at him, bitterness almost seeping out her pores. Her voice was harsh, nearly a growl. "All I said was it's good, save that pompous crap for someone who gives a shit. Your wife drink this stuff?"

"No," he shook his head, not at all bothered by her rancorous attitude. "She sticks to her wine and champagne. This is for when she throws little soirees out here, when her closest sorority sisters come to visit...you know, she needs to play the part. Smoked salmon, oysters on the half-shell, grilled mackerel...and this brand of scotch...ostentatious bitch."

"Hmmm...sounds to me like the pot calling the kettle black."


The lonliest place in the world is the human heart when love is absent.


Jody settled into bed, wondering when her husband was going to be home. She was not only getting used to seeing him less and less, she was actually beginning to like it.

Most people in their situation would have opted for separate bedrooms, separate private lives and, as long as they kept up the charade for public consumption, could have managed perfectly well perpetuating the faįade of being the ideal couple without much personal interaction. Although they did pursue other singular interests, Jody wanted very badly to be as much as a wife as she could be to the man she married. Even though their circumstances were a little eccentric, she kept hoping something more intimate would click between them if they continued to share the same bed. Yet after three years together, she had still not learned to really love Tony like her father had told her she would and even though she liked him immensely and he had been a good companion for her at all the right times, the marriage had not become what she had hoped it would. And, in all honesty, she wasn't even sure what that was anymore.

They had yet to produce heirs and the pressure was on from her parents. Her mother had told her that if she was as clumsy in the boudoir as she was everywhere else, that certainly explained her lack of children. She wasn't about to dignify that with a response or share the details of her sex life with her mother but she felt she could more than hold her own in bed.

Sondra Wainwright's rude, insulting, sniping aside, the Montgomerys hadn't had any babies because Tony had not wanted any yet and neither did a relieved Jody. She did not feel ready to become a mother, didn't really want to create children with this man who was her husband. She couldn't explain it and certainly would not attempt to expound on it with her parents but her gut told her that starting a family with Tony would be a mistake.

They had been drifting apart  - Tony spending more and more time at the office, tending to his business and, she was quite sure, with whatever 'flavor of the month' happen to tickle his current fancy and she was being indifferent to it all, anyway. When they did decide to have marital relations, there was never a question as to whether or not he would wear a condom, it was understood on both their parts that he would, for protection.

Jody had even contemplated taking a lover of her own but then she had to admit that she really wasn't interested. She could barely work up the enthusiasm to be with her husband when the opportunity presented itself and the only reason she did have sex with him had more to do with just plain feeling horny than any kind of love or obligation. Tony seemed to know just when she was going to be 'in the mood,' too and those were the nights he always seemed to be around. Yet, how her husband 'serviced' her was nothing so outstanding that she usually ended up shutting herself in the bathroom and finishing the job herself.

He had been acting strange lately, well...stranger than usual...and Jody wondered if he had somehow read her mind, her gradual realization that her attraction was starting to run more on the feminine side, wondered if he somehow knew that her curiosity about this new revelation was starting to become an obsession. She had never been with a woman and the thought frightened and electrified her at the same time, however, as quiet as she would try to keep a lesbian affair, or even experimentation (if she even had the mettle to attempt it), Jody knew her life was too public to ever try to hold on to a secret like that. Her parents would certainly not disown her but they would never forgive her for bringing scandal to the family name, especially her mother who would just add that to her list of disappointments, and as much as the idea of it might turn Tony on, it would assault his male ego and his behavior would no doubt become unpredictable and surly. She was well aware he had a temper and although he had never used it on her, she was not naive enough to believe he never would. After all, it was not just her reputation she would be fooling around with, it would be his, as well.

She just knew, though, that making love with a woman would not leave her unsatisfied in bed like having sex with a man always did. Or would it? Was it her? Was her mother right that her displeasure in the bedroom really was the result of her own awkwardness or sexual inadequacy? She had to laugh to herself. Here she was, looking for greener pastures when she couldn't even mow the yard she already had.

Glancing at the clock again, Jody read 1:17. She sighed and turned out the lamp on her nightstand. She had to admit that even if Tony was right there beside her, she would still feel alone and lonely.


He had left her there, to get familiar with her temporary digs, to get acquainted with and gain working knowledge of this pleasure craft. Pouring herself another scotch, chasing it down with another cold beer, Tia walked around this spectacular little boat, absorbing all it had to offer and then wondering if maybe she couldn't get the pot sweetened by having it thrown in. Yeah, she could definitely get used to living here.

The full width salon had plenty of windows, all tinted, which was good. She loved dark places, loved being able to look out as long as no one could look in. In the past, she could have chalked that up to job security but now it was just self-preservation. As her bare toes grasped the wheat-colored Berber carpeting, Tia ran her hand over the back of one of the two ultraleather sofas, the port side couch equipped with two recliners, while the starboard side divan had what appeared to be a large drawer below. As the visual of sinking herself, relaxed, into one of the sofas washed over her, she snapped herself out of it and continued her tour.

There were three staterooms, the forward bedroom featuring an island double-berth with a private head and stall shower, the port side stateroom had a queen berth, private head, stall shower and tub and a stacked washer and dryer. Down three steps and aft was the master stateroom which was equipped with a king-sized berth, vanity table, salon seating and storage lockers on each side of the bed. It also had a stall shower and a separate Jacuzzi tub. Montgomery told her that this is where she, for the most part, would be keeping his wife but studying the quarters, Tia felt new plans might be in order. Regardless, she would definitely take advantage of that hot tub tonight and the thirty-six inch flat-screen television and entertainment system equipped with surround sound. She couldn't remember when the last time was she watched the news or a movie or listened to music that wasn't in a bar.

Heading back up through the galley, Tia made her way to the Bimini topped bridge, admiring the powered sunroof, the entertainment system with its six exterior speakers, the wet bar and looked into the small refrigerator. It was stocked with two magnums of champagne, two dozen champagne splits and several oil cans of Sapporo. Despite what Tia was about to spend the next couple of days doing, she felt as though a little bit of her had died and gone to heaven. She drained the contents of her bottle and hauled out one of the twenty-two ounce silver cans of the Japanese beer, smiling fondly at the crack and hiss of snapping the tab backward. There were certain sounds she would never get tired of hearing. That was one of them.

Sitting down on one of the purposely stressed vinyl seats, Tia kicked her feet up to rest them on a cushioned bench and watched the three-quarter moon dominate the clear sky, freckled with stars, constellations and planets. This was the life, she thought, an existence she could get used to very quickly, a life she might have even had - for a little while - if only the assignment with the Maladins had worked out differently. Who knows? She may have even left the agency for Maria, may have given up her job for the beautifully intriguing woman of proud Hispanic ancestry. It became a badly guarded secret that she would have traded her life for her lover's if it had been necessary for the case and maybe that leak of information had been her real downfall. But saving Seņora Maladin and sacrificing herself may have also been for the good of her country and that part seemed to have fallen by the wayside of facts during the poor excuse for the investigation that ended her career.

Well, wasn't that just a bitch...here she was feeling pretty damned good about having a night to herself on a nearly million dollar yacht with all its amenities and she had to go and get herself depressed by rehashing and overthinking everything again. Who was she kidding? She didn't deserve this kind of life, she deserved exactly what she had...nothing. She fucked up. She always fucked up and this Montgomery guy would probably find a way to kill her after all this was over and, so what? Maybe he would actually be doing her a favor.

And she suddenly realized that she wasn't afraid to die, she was afraid to live.

Chapter Three

The power of love will never replace the love of power.


It was well past three A.M. before Anthony Montgomery slipped into bed next to his wife. Feeling his weight next to her, she automatically turned into him, resting her head on his shoulder, her arm across his chest. His cheek touching the top of her head, he envisioned his beautiful spouse, naked on their wedding night, not exactly naīve but vulnerable in her inexperience of not having had many partners before him. They had debated whether or not to engage in the customary wedding night ritual as neither one viewed this endeavor as traditional matrimony nor did they feel toward each other as a husband and wife should but they had both been caught up in the romance of the moment and her inhibitions were lower due to all that toasting with champagne during the reception. She was eager to please him and he would have been an idiot not to take advantage of that. Even though the sex just got better from there, she was never more attractive to him than she had been that night. He thought then that this modern day arranged marriage might not be such a bad deal after all.

And maybe it would have worked out if he had not gotten pissed off at Daddy Wainwright. Montgomery had his own business, MediMont, a distribution company which was solely dedicated to supplying hospitals, physician's offices and pharmacies with medicines, narcotics and medical supplies and which had been independent of the Wainwright fortune. Then John Fletcher Wainwright, his father-in-law, acquired the majority of shares in his company's stock and even though Montgomery was still the boss, he no longer had control over his own business or its decisions. Slowly, almost deliberately it seemed, he began to lose command of his ship, his authority diminishing day by day by the domineering influence of the more than possessively shrewd Wainwright, who professed to be doing it to keep his daughter's best interests at heart. What started out to be Montgomery's pride and joy, his one true, unassisted accomplishment, was now almost completely out of his hands and direction.

It certainly had nothing to do with him enjoying and taking advantage of his alliance with the family or spending any of his allotted fortune from his joint account with his wife, that was all to his liking and benefit. Had it not boiled down to a power, control and survival issue, Montgomery would have left well enough alone. After all, to the outside world, MediMont was still very much his baby and Wainwright was content to let the public still believe that. But he hated having to go through anyone for permission to make decisions involving a successful business he started from the ground up and when, last month, his father-in-law suggested he change the name of the company to MediMont-Wainwright, he was consumed by such a black rage, every breath he drew was homicidal.

If his father-in-law really wanted to sic his personal accountants and advisors on the company to turn it into a corporation, they would be sure to find out about his other business of importing and distributing illicit anabolic steroids. Montgomery had a specific online clientele, selling these controlled substances to gym owners and managers, competition athletes and coaches, his illegal market including oxymetholone, nandrolone, methenolone, stanozolol and methandrostenolone among other various preparations intended for human use.

He got into the cartel long before he got hooked up with the Wainwrights and quite by accident, having gone out on a limb by using bluster, ingenuity and wile to obtain Anadrol for an old college buddy who basically bartered with his life to get it. The fraternity brother's doctors had taken him off the compound because of the effect it was having on his liver  and because of his unpredictable and uncontrollable violent mood swings but by then, the steroid had blessed his friend's body with Schwartzenegger muscles and definition and procuring the synthetic testosterone had become an obsession.

When Montgomery realized how much money people like his buddy would pay for specific steroids, he was seduced into the enterprise by the good old-fashioned, deadly sin, Greed. From this, MediMont was born, a legitimate company he could use as his cover. Once again, the income from the steroid business was something that was all his, something he felt the Wainwrights could not take away from him and, if for some reason his marriage to Jody dissolved, the money he had secretly stashed away, in addition to the profit from MediMont and the funds from the prenup, would keep him able to live within the means and life style to which he had grown accustomed.

Now the distinct possibility existed that he could lose it all...MediMont, the illicit import business and the contract he signed ensuring his wealth, should for some reason the union not work out, being that he was guilty of violating the only negative clause in the agreement - breaking the law. He was desperate. It was then he came up with the plan he was now putting into effect.

Anthony Montgomery was not a man to be trifled with. His Jekyll and Hyde disposition, while hidden from his in-laws, was legendary among his underground adversaries. If you messed with Tony's status or income, you literally took your life in your hands, as he was described by some as vicious and cold-blooded and not opposed to murder if you got in his way. This was a side of him he never exposed to the Wainwrights. Up until now, he never needed to.

It was unfortunate that Jody was going to have to be a casualty of this war between him and her father. But Wainwright was hitting him where it hurt and Montgomery knew the only way to exact his revenge was to hit the billionaire where it hurt. It would have been different if he had been in love with his wife - maybe - but he wasn't and even though he was fond of her and she was a very nice woman, she was the perfect expendable pawn. With Jody gone, Wainwright's grief would be so encompassing that Montgomery was sure he could write his own ticket, without any more interference, to the family fortune. He was actually surprised that one of his rivals had not thought of or succeeded in kidnapping his wife long before now. There was serious money to be made here.

Still asleep, Jody snuggled closer and sighed. Yes. It was a shame the lovely little blonde was going to have to go through this. He thought of her terrified, at the hands of that burnt-out drunk Tia Ramone, wondering if the ex-CIA operative's proclivities toward women and lack of conscience would prompt her, at some point, to sexually overpower Jody and suddenly he found himself aroused. He stirred his wife with some gentle but effective touching, knowing this would be the last time they would ever be intimate.


Tia had fallen asleep almost instantly once she climbed into the king-sized bed. The hot water whirlpooling around her tired and worn out body had relaxed her to a state she never believed was possible again. Drying off and retreating to the large berth, she laid nude atop the comforter, flipping television channels with the remote.

Tomorrow, when she awoke, she would take the boat for a little spin, getting used to how everything worked. Montgomery had told her that chances were she would not have to move the boat but in case something went terribly wrong with their plan, she should get familiar with how to pilot the vessel. Then tomorrow night, she would pick up the package and deliver it personally to the yacht and the assignment would begin. Montgomery would not say that he wanted his wife to be 'eliminated' but Tia saw in his eyes that he did.

She had killed before, in the line of duty, and she had been detached during all three incidents. She had learned at spy school in Camp Perry, Virginia, also known as The Farm, how to, basically, disengage her mind from her body to accomplish this task with little or no psychological damage or after effects. After all, it wasn't like she was taking out Santa Claus or Tinkerbell. These targets were ruthless, unconscionable individuals who would have thought nothing of spilling a child's blood to save their own skins, much less sending Tia to meet her maker. She wouldn't go as far as to say they deserved being executed but, in her eyes, they were better off dead.

However, the individuals she had disposed of had either personally committed or ordered carried out multiple crimes against the United States (as defined in her CIA bible), not to mention the horrendous depravity to people in their own countries and all three seemed to be living by a similar Machiavellian code of (un)ethics. This woman she was about to abduct and hold for ransom had done nothing except be innocently born into an obscenely wealthy family and, obviously, marry the wrong guy. But the lure of ten million dollars in reward for a job well done just might be enough to persuade Tia that she would be able to go through with killing Montgomery's wife if that's what he really wanted in the end...and she was convinced it was. She was also pretty sure that, should something go awry, Montgomery would not hesitate to point a finger in her direction to take any possible focus off him. If that happened, she knew the first thing the authorities would do, if they caught her, is force her to take a lie-detector test.

Fortunately for her, she had also been taught at The Farm how to beat a polygraph, trained not to believe in the machine's ability to read her mind which would cause her to not have the sudden nerve jump when she lied, which would further result in her passing. She sighed, blinking sleep out of her eyes, knowing that she was getting way ahead of herself. She would analyze her options more clearly in the morning. Until then, the exquisite feel of this European baffled box, goose down comforter against her skin was luscious and was easily lulling her deeper into slumber.

There was a saying that the best sedative was a good conscience but that was obviously a myth, if Tia Ramone was any indication.


A true test of someone's character is not what they do in the light but what they do in the dark.


When Jody awoke, Tony was gone. Blinking away the last fragments of sleep, she stretched out her leg muscles and the memory of making love hours before slowly crept into her mind. Snapping her eyes open quickly as the vague visual of her husband performing on top of her came into focus, the startled blonde sat up on her elbows, now feeling the remnants of intercourse lingering around her lower body. She thought she had dreamt it.

Torn between being angry and surprised, she tried to recall exactly when Tony got home and when, precisely, they had gotten affectionate. The prescription sleep aid she took to battle her insomnia contributed to making it all too misty for her but she was pretty sure she had not initiated it. This was unusual for him to behave in such a selfishly uncharacteristic manner concerning their sex life and obviously, if he had left some of himself on and inside her, he had not used a condom. Pounding her fist on the bed, Jody rolled over to a sitting position and reached for her cellular phone. Speed dialing his cell number, she got his voice mail and hung up. She glanced at her alarm clock. 10:27. He would be at work.

"Nina, this is Jody. Is my husband there?"

"Yeah, Jody, he just got out of a meeting," his secretary advised her. "Hang on."

The longer she waited on hold, the more disturbed she was becoming. They had an agreement, for God's sake, it wasn't the point that he may have gotten her pregnant, what if he had given her something? She was pretty sure he was as careful about protection with his other women as he was with her - Tony seemed to be one of the few, rare men who actually enjoyed wearing a condom - but she only had his word to go on. Not that he had ever given her any reason not to trust him but to do what he did to her, semi-unconsciously, in the early hours of that morning, was just unacceptable.

"Hi, Mrs. Montgomery." There was a smile and fondness in his voice she was not used to hearing and it threw her off-guard and rendered her momentarily speechless. "Thank you for last night."

He was thanking her for sex? Who was this man and what had he done with her husband? "Tony...what's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

Nonplussed, her reaction was to laugh. "What do I mean? Well, first, we had unprotected sex and, second, since when do you just climb on board without, well, not just my permission but my knowledge, too?"

"You didn't seem to mind last night." His tone was playful and teasing and, again, it stopped her.

Finally, she said, "When was the last time you were tested for any kind of STD?"

"Last week and I'm clean and I haven't been with anyone else in over a month," he lied.

"What if I'm pregnant?"

"If you're really concerned, call Dr. Santos and get a morning after pill. But...would it really be so bad to produce an heir to get your parents off our backs?"

"Tony...!" She was flustered to a point of stammering. "I...you..." She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and concentrated. "We talked about this. Regardless of whether or not you have changed your mind, I have not changed mine. And that still doesn't address the issue of you basically having sex with me without my consent."

"You make it sound like rape." He didn't sound defensive or insulted, he sounded...smug. He wished he could tell her there was really no reason to be upset. She wasn't going to live long enough to suffer the effects of either a deadly disease or pregnancy.

"Well, in a way," she agreed, quietly, "it was."

"Like I said, you didn't seem to mind last night. Look, let me make it up to you. I'll call Santos for you and you can stop by his office in an hour and then why don't you meet me at The Cypress later for dinner?"

The Cypress? They had not had dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town since they had celebrated their third anniversary there. She had been there twice for charity events but not with her husband. What was he up to? Again, she asked, "Tony, what's going on?"

"Nothing. I'd just like to have a nice dinner out with my beautiful wife. I realize that we don't have a traditional marriage in the sense of most marriages, okay? But occasionally I like to feel like your husband in a more intimate manner. Don't worry. It's a phase. It will pass," he added, with humor in his voice.

She thought about his explanation. It sounded plausible enough. She sighed. "Just...wake me up next time, okay?" If there is a next time, she thought, as she was still pretty steamed.

"Okay. I promise."

"What time do you want to meet at The Cypress?"

"Six works for me."

"Okay. I'll see you there."


Tia had taken the modest yacht out for a nice little ride around the collection of small, uninhabited islands of which it had been nestled in the middle. It was a powerful little tug and complicated to maneuver at first. Fortunately, she was a quick study and had absorbed the directions that had been written out for her by Montgomery. It also hadn't hurt that mostly everything in the pilothouse seemed to be color-coded. After three hours of wide circles and piloting the craft in and out the cays like an obstacle course, she felt confident enough to move the Meridian in a hurry if the circumstances dictated it.

Relaxing before her big assignment, Tia reviewed her instructions one last time. As long as the heiress was where Montgomery said she would be, it should be no problem to carry out the abduction phase of this mission. She just wasn't sure where the rest of this project was going to take her. She wondered if Trisha's corpse had been discovered yet and, if so, whether or not the police had traced the fingerprints in the car, the saliva on the body and, even more incriminating, the Stinger Montgomery left on the floor in the back seat, to her. She had not heard anything on the news about a dead prostitute being found in a stolen car near her former favorite watering hole yet and even though scenarios like that weren't commonplace, maybe the press didn't feel it was a big enough story to report. But she was pretty sure when word got around that the hooker was allegedly murdered by a disgraced female CIA operative in sordid circumstances, shit would really hit the fan. And now this.

She really wanted, needed a drink right now but knew it was best to stay sober until she was back on the yacht with her package. This was the first time since she left the Agency that she had not been well on her way to drunk by noon.

Chapter Four

Never judge a person's actions until you know their motives


The restaurant was crowded and noisy, just the way he had hoped it would be. The more witnesses to see how 'cozy' they looked together, the better for him. They shared a nice, pleasant meal and some neutral conversation, avoiding the obvious subject of the previous night and then he left for his weekly Pai Gow game with a few of the town's more prestigious businessmen at the club...a perfect alibi for when the estimated time of her disappearance would be. Before he exited the restaurant's parking lot, he had contacted Tia via a random calling card so that the phone records could not be traced, and made sure she was already at the rendezvous point. So far, so good.

Montgomery knew once Jody felt the effect of the drug he had smoothly and discreetly put in her second glass of wine that it wouldn't take long for her to start feeling groggy. He further knew that she was a responsible enough woman that she would pull over rather than drive while sleepy. And that's exactly what she did.

He had calculated perfectly the distance she would be able to put between her and the restaurant before the sedative took full effect because he had practiced on Bruce Wechsler, his indentured employee. Accounting for the difference in weight, the steroid-abusing young man's dosage was a little higher than what he would administer to his one hundred twelve pound wife. Bruce had minimal but specific guidelines which were to drive a fixed route from the restaurant and pull over at the first sign of really being overwhelmed by sleep. Each time, he found refuge at the same rest stop which was not highly populated and not extremely well-lit but it appeared to be safe. This would be the perfect place for Tia to walk out of the shadows, get into Jody's car, move her to the passenger side and drive away.

His insides were shaking with anticipation of the plan finally being put into motion, fear of something going wrong and just a twinge of sadness. Sex with Jody had been very sweet the night before, even if she had not been awake enough to participate fully and she looked particularly bewitching at dinner. When she walked into the restaurant to meet him, she had captured the eye of every red-blooded male in the place and he got a somewhat warped sense of satisfaction in that, his ego being what it was. He would miss her, as much as he hated to admit it, but Wainwright was to blame. If Jody's father had not gotten so unreasonably covetous, none of this would have been necessary.

Still, when she left him at the entrance of the distinguished eating establishment, waiting for the valet to bring up their cars, he could not stop thinking about just how beautiful she had become over the short time span of their marriage. She had matured quite a bit and even though she was still Daddy's Girl, she had no problem standing up to her pretentious parents when their convictions did not match her own and she had also become quite adept at defending him when either her mother or father decided to take a verbal pot shot at him. No, he and Jody were not in love but he had grown to love her in his own way. He studied her intently one last time before she got in her car and drove away.

What a waste.


Tia spied the vehicle from behind a tree. She had tied off the dinghy from The Quintessence at a deserted, unlit dock about three miles away and had jogged on the beach to the approximate location. Walking up through the forested area into the wooded rest stop, she spotted the Mercedes GL450 and surveilled the figure in the driver's seat, apparently asleep. Looking around, she noticed that the occupants of the four other vehicles did not really pay attention to Jody Montgomery's SUV, they just attended to their business, using the restroom, buying refreshments out of the vending machines, checking maps, exercising pets and themselves. When the last of the cars had driven off, Tia walked swiftly to the shiny, gun metal gray vehicle, used the duplicate key Montgomery had given her to unlock the door, pushed Jody's unconscious form over the console, to the passenger side and drove away.

She was able to ease the Mercedes close enough to the dock without having to drive off the pavement therefore not leaving any evidence of deep tire tracks that might not be washed away in a timely manner by the tide and making the transference of her captive from the vehicle to the boat a lot easier. She removed the battery from Jody's cell phone and tossed it into the ocean, keeping the phone itself, knowing now the signal couldn't be traced if anyone tried to zone in on the pings before the battery died. She then drove the car a quarter-mile away and into a storage unit rented in Bruce's name over a month earlier, closed and padlocked the roll-down door and then jogged back to the small motorboat that held the unconscious form of Jody Montgomery.

She had removed the license plates and all identifying information from the vehicle and had taken it with her to put in a bag and discard in the ocean later. Montgomery had removed the vehicle recovery system, replaced the VIN on the dashboard and driver's side door with a fraudulent number one day when his wife was off with her mother, driving another car. It had been professionally done and it wouldn't completely throw the authorities off if they located the SUV but it would buy Montgomery more time if the vehicle was discovered...which he was quite sure it wouldn't be. To link his wife in any way with Bruce would be a stretch, as they never had any contact and he made sure Bruce had a solid alibi for the time frame in which Jody disappeared.

When Tia carried the limp body of the heiress, fireman-style, onto the yacht, she deposited the smaller woman on the berth in the master stateroom, making sure the blonde was still breathing and her respiration was as regular as it should have been under the circumstances. Locking her inside, Tia returned to the dinghy and proceeded to retie it securely to the bigger craft. The water had become choppy, and she wanted to ensure that the little boat was firmly tethered to the Quintessence. She climbed back aboard the yacht and went to check on her captive again before she took a shower and dried off.

She stepped over to the port side of the king-sized bed where she had slept so peacefully the night before and looked at the face of the heiress, which was illuminated by light shining into the room from the open door to the salon. Tia was startled by what she saw.

This woman appeared younger, slighter, than the photograph Montgomery had given her, than what she had recalled seeing from the press releases...her features unblemished, it seemed - at least in this state - by the obvious contempt, maliciousness and deviousness that consumed her husband, traits that he wore like armor. She was well aware that looks could be deceiving but instinct told her this woman was not that way. Before she realized it and could stop herself, she reached over and pushed a damp tendril of blonde hair away from the wan face of her captive, the sea spray from their trip across the water getting them both quite wet. Drawing her hand back quickly, Tia ensured that the heiress was comfortable and left the room, securing the door behind her.

Well, it was done. The car was hidden, the vehicle items disposed of, the dinghy was securely tied back up and her prisoner was safely in her custody. Now she would just sit back and wait for instruction from Montgomery. She was only to contact him if something had gone wrong and if not, he would call her on his way home, after his poker game. The plan had come off with near military precision, just as though she was back at the Agency and she felt it surge life through her veins again. She moved to the bar and dug out the decanter of scotch, pouring herself a double shot and when that was gone, another demitasse full of the deep amber liquid disappeared down her throat.

She would crack open a nice, cold beer once she was out of the shower.


Jody fluttered into consciousness slowly, painfully and disoriented. It took her a few minutes to recognize that she was not in her car, where she remembered falling asleep. Letting her eyes adjust to the darkness, she looked around for a lamp or light switch. Objects in the room began to come into a better focus, thanks to the moonlight coming into the porthole and then it hit her. The circular window meant she was probably on her yacht. But how did she get there? Attempting to sit up was a mistake as a searing pain of migraine proportion sliced across her forehead just above her eyes, making her at once, dizzy and nauseous. Lying back down, she closed her eyes and felt around for a lump or bruise but found nothing.

Slowly rolling to her side, she reached for the bedside light only to find it not working. Again, she tried sitting up, managing the throbbing ache that attacked her skull and the queasiness that clawed at her stomach. What the hell happened? How did she get onto The Quintessence? Why did her head hurt so badly? She shakily stood, reaching out to steady herself against the vanity, getting her bearings and walked to the door. Her whirling and nausea had begun to subside and the hammering in her head was lessening by the second. Twisting the handle, she was stunned to find the door locked from the outside. How could that happen? She felt above the doorknob where the flip lock used to be and it was gone. Tugging on the handle, her curiosity soon turned to alarm when the door would not budge.

"Hello? Hey...hello?! Kevin?" Now that she was capable of cognizant thought again, her mind was racing. What the hell was going on? "Kevin! Open the door, let me out of here!" She began pounding on the door and the wall, to no avail. Stopping, she placed her ear to the door and listened, hearing nothing on the other side, no sound of movement. Where was the security officer who guarded The Quintessence?

Jody started to pace the length of the stateroom. Although unsettled, she tried not to panic. There had to be a reasonable explanation for this. What had happened back at the restaurant? She and her husband had a nice dinner and she had two glasses of wine...nothing out of the ordinary there. Then she left the restaurant and got very sleepy and had to pull over...okay, that was odd. Two glasses of wine did not get her drunk. Had someone slipped something in her wine? No, she never left the table and the only person who came near it was their server. Did something happen to her medically to cause her to pass out? If that was so, why wasn't she in the hospital? Well, there was only one way to find out any answers. Probing her belt for her cell phone, she was surprised to find it missing. Okay. Now she was experiencing some major trepidation. What the fuck was happening here?


Tia shut the shower off, stepping out of the stall and wrapped a huge bath towel around her body. She pressed the excess water out of her hair and scrunched it dry with the towel. She smiled at the thought of the hot tub working the soreness out of her bones again except tonight, if she indulged in the luxury, she would have to use the deck Jacuzzi. Opening the door to the storage area in that stateroom, she pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of cotton lounging pants that must belong to Montgomery and put them on. Although a little big, they fit and that's all she cared about. Exiting the stateroom to the salon, she crossed to the galley and took a cold beer out of the refrigerator. Twisting the cap off and taking a long swig, her attention was drawn back to the master stateroom by pounding and an uncertain, tremulous voice.

"Kevin? Is that you? Let me out of here. What's going on? Kevin??"

Tia tilted her head and took another swig of beer. It was showtime. Strolling down the stairs, toward the voice, the ex-operative stopped. "Step away from the door!" Tia commanded. Dead silence was the response.

"Who are you?" finally came the voice from the other side.

"I said: step away from the door." Tia placed her half-empty bottle on a table.

Sliding the huge bolt-lock backward, Tia opened the door and was nearly knocked down by a charging blonde. Grabbing the heiress around the waist with one arm, she used Jody's own momentum against her and flung her back through the door, onto the king-sized bed, where the smaller woman landed on her back, the wind almost knocked out of her.

"When I tell you to do something, you'd better damned well do it. Are we clear on that?"

Jody was stunned. She was not a weak woman. She worked out every other day, she rock-climbed once a week, she was in shape, yet she had been tossed around like a hacky sack. A dark-haired woman leaned against the frame, which silhouetted her tall body against the backlighting of the salon and gave her an ominous appearance. Jody tried to make out facial features but could not. The stranger's strength aside, what concerned Jody even more was the woman's calm. When she found her breath, she said, "Where's Kevin?"

Knowing she was referring to the yacht's guard, Tia said, "Kevin's on vacation."

Somewhat distracted by the honeyed silkiness of the woman's timbre, Jody tried to place if she had ever heard her voice before. Tilting her head, skeptically, not quite believing her answer about Kevin and trying to shake the last remnants of her headache, Jody again asked, "Who are you?"

"Who I am is not your concern right now."

Uh oh. This didn't sound good at all. "What do you want?"

"I want you to behave. It's as simple as that. Just do as you're told, don't give me a hard time, don't do anything stupid and you should be fine." Tia reached around and hooked her beer, taking a drink.

"Are you...did...have I been kidnapped?" She lost her breath again on that last word. Before it even left her mouth, she knew the answer.

Tia's throat went momentarily dry as she studied the heiress who lay on the berth, facing her. Jody was in the same position in which she had landed when Tia had thrown her back on the bed. This, along with seeing the fear growing in the wide, expressive eyes and hearing the quiver in her voice, was tempting the ex-operative to think thoughts other than what was expected of her. She shook it off, knowing the alcohol was lowering her restraint. In a different setting, Tia would have been all over this sexy little babe but not here. Not now.

Finding her voice again, Tia said, "You have been abducted, yes. A ransom will be asked in exchange for your safe return. So, it's really very simple...as long as the ransom gets paid with no complications, you'll be back in your rich little playground in no time...a little lighter in the bank account but nothing I'm sure you or your parents can't make up for in a few weeks."

"I can't believe it..." Jody slowly raised to her elbows.

"I can't believe it hasn't happened sooner." Tia casually took another swallow.

"How did - how did I get here?" Jody slowly sat up, leaning her back against the wall. She was still obviously in shock. "How did you know about this yacht?"

"Come on...it's not like you and your husband and your family exactly hide yourselves. Every other day someone from your family tree or little social circle is on the gossip pages of every newspaper in the world. Your private life is an open book. But then, that's what you get for being famous."

"So this is where you're going to keep me until you get paid?"

"Trust me, sweetheart, I can think of much worse places to be held hostage than on a million dollar boat."

Drawing her knees up protectively to her chest, Jody hugged them close to her, putting her head down. Her voice broke as she spoke. "How much are you asking for me?"

"Why? If it's over a certain amount, Mommy and Daddy won't pay it?" There was antagonism in her voice, making her sound unaffected by the anxiety in the heiress' speech, which wasn't true. Something about Jody's bearing and the wounded look on her beautiful face caused Tia to want to get drunker to forget what she was doing to her innocent victim.

"No," she responded in almost a whisper. "They'll pay it." Just something else Mother can blame on me, she thought.

"So, before I lock you back in here, are you hungry? Thirsty?"

Shaking her head, without looking up at her captor, Jody said, "No, thank you. There's water in the mini-fridge here...unless you removed that, too."

"No," Tia's voice almost sounded as though it had softened, "there's water and club soda in there, still."

"Thank you."

As Tia resecured the door, she knew the heiress was crying and for some, unexplainable reason, it tugged at her heart.

Chapter Five

There is nothing consistent about human behavior except its tendency to drift toward evil.


As Montgomery folded his last hand, his evening uninterrupted, he bid goodbye to his peers and began his drive home. Connecting to Tia with his phone card, she picked up on the second ring. "Where are you?"

"The bridge."

"And she's in the master stateroom?"


"How is she?"

"Scared. Tearful."

"That's to be expected. But no problems?"

"Nope. Everything has gone as planned."

"Good, good. Okay, well, I'll do my part and the old man should be getting the notification and ransom request first thing in the morning." Montgomery would start calling around as soon as he got back to the estate, to try and find out where his wife was. When he finally contacted the Wainwrights, he would tell them that things were fine at dinner, that Jody left and said before she went home, she might stop by the local PetSmart to pick up some treats and toys for their four-legged menagerie. When he pulled into the garage, he would notice her car wasn't there, nor was it parked anywhere in the driveway and he would ask the staff if they had seen or heard from her and they, of course, would tell him they had not. He would then start calling her friends who would not have seen her nor heard from her, either, and then he would begin calling her cell phone every fifteen minutes, calling all the area hospitals and police stations in case she had been in an accident and by two A.M., when he had still not heard from her, that's when he would make the decision to wake up her parents. There was no conceivable reason why it should not go just like that.

He could just see the expressions on the Wainwright's faces. John would be angry, terrified and beside himself. Jody was his pride and joy, just her existence pleased him to no end. Sondra would be annoyed and indifferent. He was looking forward to watching that glacial bitch's dispassionate, uppity guise finally crack when she realized her daughter wasn't ever coming back. Although, it really wouldn't surprise him if it didn't. Sondra constantly put herself in competition with Jody, especially when it came to John's attention and affection, as if her daughter was responsible for Sondra's own personal shortcomings and her husband's unyielding devotion to their child.

With everything Jody had going for her, she wasted so much time and energy trying to please her mother and gain Sondra's acceptance and respect and Montgomery knew it would never happen. Would she finally achieve that goal posthumously? Or would Sondra be even more angry that Jody's kidnapping and death would still overshadow her in John's eyes? Maybe he should have left Jody alone and eliminated her mother...but then, John might not have agreed to ransom her. At least not for five hundred million dollars.

"Listen, when do you think we can wrap this up?" Tia inquired, impatiently.

"When I get the money."

"Don't you mean when we get the money?"

He could hear her voice tighten, knowing she was automatically thinking the worst. Well...with her luck, he couldn't blame her. "No, I mean when I get the money. I told you, you will be paid accordingly."

"Right." She didn't sound convinced. "So when might that be?"

"Wainwright won't wait too long and he won't like the FBI running the show, either. If the feds can't find out who or what they're dealing with, I give him a week at the most before he takes matters into his own hands and agrees to pay whatever ransom to get his darling daughter back."

"A week? You've got to be fucking kidding me...!"

"Look, it'll take as long as it takes. Relax. When was the last time you got to live like this, anyway? Oh...that's right. Columbia."

"How the hell did you -?" Tia was stunned that he knew so much about her.

"It's a declassified case. It's all public record - if you know where to look. And I did." He sighed. "Can we get back our fucking little problem child in the master stateroom?"

"You sound like you really hate her."

"I don't hate her," he said, apathetically. "It isn't really about her."

"No, of course not, I forgot. It's about you. So let me ask...you going to kill her?"

"No. You are."

"That wasn't in the agreement," Tia told him, sharply.

"The rules change as I see fit."

"That was not what we agreed to and I'm not going to do it," she said, defiantly.

"You don't have a choice. If you had balls - which is in question - I would have you by them, don't forget that. That body in the Expedition's got to be getting pretty ripe by now so it's only a matter of time before it gets discovered. Your fingerprints are everywhere, your DNA is all over her, your bullet is in her heart and your gun is in the car. So what's one more body?"

"I didn't kill her - you did."

"Not according to the evidence."

"Why kill her? She seems like a nice woman. You'll get your money, I'll get mine and we can all go our merry ways. Killing that hooker was unnecessary but I can see in your sick mind why you felt you had to do it and yes, I will be wanted for that murder. But with the amount of money you're going to give me, I know I can vanish and not be pursued. If my captive dies and any of this gets linked to me, it doesn't matter how much money I have or where I go, I'll be looking over my shoulder the rest of my life."

"Not my problem. You're a loser, anyway, Ramone, if I hadn't found you and set you up, someone else would have. Now...when the ransom is safely delivered, you will either kill her or I will kill you both."

"How do I know you won't do that anyway?"

"You don't. I guess you'll just have to believe that I won't." Montgomery knew Tia didn't trust him and she had good reason not to.

"Yeah. That'll happen. I wouldn't believe you if you told me you were lying." The gears were already starting to turn. She had learned very quickly that there were two reasons why people could not be trusted: one, because she knew them; and the other, because she didn't. She should have run the risk of getting shot and taken this guy out when he got into the car with her. She was going to have to find a way out of this mess with the least amount of damage to herself and she was going to have to do it soon. Pouring another shot, Tia took a deep breath, staying silent, absorbing the implications of this conversation with this coldhearted prick and let the robust liquor continue to numb her senses.

"What?" he asked, smugly. "No more argument?"

"Why? Arguing with you is probably about as useless as trying to blow out a lightbulb."

"Now I know you're not going to give up that easily. And don't think of getting cute with me, either...because if I suspect you are doing anything to betray me, I will set the feds on your tail so fast, you won't know what hit you."

"You're kind of a soulless bastard, aren't you?"

He laughed, a sound that literally made her shiver. "Well...as they used to say in grade school: takes one to know one."

"Are we done?" She asked, curtly.

"For now."

Tia snapped the phone shut and tossed it on one of the sofas, sure that Jody had not heard her end of the conversation. The access to the bridge had been cut off by two closed doors, two levels, the hot tub had been running and the stereo had been on low in the salon. She wasn't sure why she cared...after all, once she got the money, the heiress really wasn't her concern...but she did care and she needed to dissect those feelings.


Jody sat on her berth, staring at nothing for a very long time. Of course this had always been a possibility and her father had spoke of it often when she was younger. But she had lived twenty-eight years without it happening and she had to admit she had become complacent as, she was sure, had her parents. Her husband brought it up a few times but didn't really seem too concerned that it would ever become a reality but maybe that resulted from him knowing kidnappers would most likely not contact him since it was her parents who had all the money.

Well...the woman did have one good point, if she had to be held hostage anywhere, there were worse places than The Quintessence. Who was this woman and how did she get her to the yacht and then get access to it? What had she done to Kevin? The thought of something nefarious happening to him made Jody shudder. Surely someone would miss him and come out to check on him. Surely someone would check the boat, explore every avenue, looking for her. And, then, what would happen if they found her there? The woman told her that if she played along, everything would be fine. Could she believe that? Was it only about the money? Hopefully it was. No, she would cooperate with this woman, whoever she was...no need to make this experience any more horrible.

Jody's thoughts moved from the circumstances back to the woman. Aside from the obvious, there was nothing about her that should have piqued Jody's interest the way it had. Yet this woman's deep, rich tone, her cocky stance, her total command over herself and the situation, fascinated the heiress. She could not stop herself from wanting to know more.

So why, when the woman came to the door and spoke calmly through it, asking her if she needed anything before she settled in for the night, did Jody feel such a sense of doom?


The first light of day broke at 6:32 A.M. Jody knew this because she was looking at her alarm clock, having briefly dozed twice throughout the night. She forced herself to stay awake, not really trusting the stranger who was sharing the yacht with her.

Getting out of bed, she stepped into the head, relieved her bladder and then cautiously washed her body, opting not to take a shower, not wanting to leave herself naked and defenseless should her captor barge in on her for whatever reason. She had noticed during the night that the locks had been reversed on the bathroom door, too. She could not lock herself in but she could be locked in.

While waiting for contact from her kidnapper, Jody inspected the room and immediately discovered why her bedside lamp and ceiling lights did not work - the bulbs had been removed. As had any connection to the outside world. Her television was gone, along with her radio which had been attached to her entertainment system. Maybe it was for the best that she didn't have to hear her father's anguished pleas for her safe return...or watch her mother stoically stand by, devoid of any emotion other than indignance.

Opening the porthole, putting her face up to it, she breathed in the sea air, grateful for the feeling of being alive. She prayed she would live to see another day, prayed her parents and husband would cooperate so that she could go home and prayed her house staff would feed and tend to her four-legged family in her absence. She was aware Tony couldn't care less about her pets but she knew Richard, their houseman, and his daughter, Melanie, doted on the furry creatures and was positive they would take turns ensuring the animals were taken care of.

She didn't know who this woman was who had kidnapped her but something about her warned Jody that it would be unwise to cross her. Her demeanor was beyond intimidating, it was frightening. She wondered what the woman had against her, or her family, or if she was just in it for the money.

She wondered if she would ever find out.


Tia awoke in her normal, hungover state. Nothing a cup of black coffee couldn't remedy. She was aware that coffee curing hangovers was a myth and all it really did was make someone a wide-awake drunk but it was a step toward rising out of the haze she was in. That, a cool shower and a little hair of the dog...

She almost wished she could have just stayed in bed. Unfortunately that wasn't an option and she rolled off the berth in the forward stateroom. It wasn't as luxurious as the room her captive was now in but it was still pretty damned nice. Much more palatable than her room at the North Avenue Arms.

The day before, she had moved some of Tony's clothes to the room where she would be sleeping until this was over. Since she had not been able to pack a suitcase for this little venture, she had to improvise. Going through the closet in the master stateroom, she found sweats, t-shirts, denim shirts and shorts and beach pants that were a little big for her but fit, nonetheless. There was also a windbreaker she had discovered hanging in the port side stateroom and she wasn't sure who it belonged to as it seemed too feminine for Montgomery and too large for his wife. Whose ever it was, she had adopted as it had come in handy protecting her against the mist that rolled in occasionally while she was on the deck at night.

Slipping into a pair of black lounging pants and a tank top, Tia climbed the stairs, used the head, moved to the galley, filled the small sink with water and ice cubes and dunked her face in it. That woke her up.

She regarded the coffee maker, some high tech, European-looking monster that didn't seem any less complicated to navigate than it did the morning before. Instead, she opted to make instant coffee in the microwave. While she waited for that to get done, she rubbed the nagging sting from her eyes and thought about the day ahead of her. She wanted to head off the disagreeable throbbing in her temples at the pass and she knew the coffee would help.

Tia figured the beeping from the microwave would alert the heiress that she was up and about and wondered if the small blonde had gotten any sleep. The younger woman had not reacted or behaved the way the ex-operative thought she would. Tia had expected the very wealthy, very privileged Mrs. Montgomery to be a handful, to yell and scream and kick at the door all night with that "Don't you know who I am?" attitude. The way Tony had talked about her, Tia presumed Jody to be a pompous, out-of-touch-with-reality, supreme bitch, a woman that would not have taken this too seriously, knowing her family would pay whatever the ransom was because they were all richer than God, a woman who would just impatiently consider this an annoyance more than anything.

However, when the extremely attractive heiress responded to the news that she had been abducted by sitting in a fetal position, her voice becoming small and scared and crushed, Tia almost felt sorry for her. If it was an act, the former CIA officer would know soon enough.

Chapter Six

An honest man alters his ideas to fit the truth, and a dishonest man alters the truth to fit his ideas.


When he wasn't getting further and further financially obligated to his boss, Bruce Wechsler programmed computers for MediMont. He was good at what he did, he was self-educated as the mechanics of any kind of electronic components, devices and equipment were very easy for him to grasp. He made sure that he kept up on new technology as soon as it came out and applied it at every opportunity. He had a natural aptitude for computers and could have gone a lot farther than he was now if he hadn't hit a few snags along the way.

Bruce was proud that he had pulled himself up from his dubious beginnings as a juvenile delinquent, getting thrown into jail at sixteen for stealing parts from a friend's father's computer repair shop. Three months, eight hundred dollars restitution and fifty hours of community service later, Bruce felt he had learned his lesson, deciding he didn't like being incarcerated very much. His redemption lasted ten years.

To impress a woman who worked out at the gym where he was employed part-time, scrawny Bruce hooked up with a not-so-sterling-of-character trainer named Mitch. To ease him into bulking up, Mitch started Bruce on a course of steroids recommended for use on horses, dogs and cats only, Dynabol and Drive. When that wasn't enough, the trainer moved him to Stanazol. Before he knew it, he was addicted and in debt to his trainer who cut him off until he could settle up. Desperate, Bruce begged Mitch to fix him up and feeling sorry for the former convict, the trainer connected him with his distributor, who needed some major computer work done and was looking for someone less than ethical to do it. While programming his new boss' system, he found the name of the distributor's wholesaler, which indirectly led him to Anthony Montgomery.

Bruce, in an unrealistic way, had hoped Montgomery was his ticket out of the financial dregs he had come to be in, when the prominent businessman hired him for a junior programming and troubleshooting position at MediMont. But every week, he got deeper and deeper in debt to his new boss and while Montgomery was generous at setting him up with a more than adequate supply of Anadrol, he wasn't paying Bruce enough to afford his nasty little habit. If he had known Montgomery had ulterior motives, Bruce might have done what he could to break away. He was beginning to think that maintaining his muscle and looking as good as he did wasn't worth this.

He took responsibility for his addiction to steroids and he was faithful about working off his debt to his boss. But he wasn't too sure about what Montgomery was making him do now. He had only met Mrs. Montgomery once. Actually, that wasn't quite true, they had never officially been introduced. She had stopped by the office one day while he was installing a new inventory program on the boss' computer. She smiled at him, said hi and dropped something off for her husband. He thought she seemed nice. And that she was gorgeous.

Why Montgomery wanted to terrorize the poor woman just to get even with his father-in-law was beyond Bruce. There had to be other ways to get his point across, other ways to take Wainwright down without using Mrs. Montgomery as bait. Bruce had heard rumors that, in the past, Montgomery was ruthless when it came to competition and others had used the word 'sociopath' to describe him. Since he had been associated with his boss and doing a lot of Tony's online dirty work, he had even been advised that one or two of Montgomery's wholesalers who had attempted to rip him off had 'disappeared.' This was not an aspect of Montgomery that was advertised around the office and was clearly not the character he chose to show to his wife and in-laws. The fact that Montgomery was so cleverly and successfully capable of concealing that side of his personality scared the shit out of Bruce and fear prompted his allegiance which now saw the steroid addict in it up to his eyeballs. First he stole the Expedition and rented the Volvo, next he leased the storage space and now this. If any of this got tracked back to him, he was fucked.

Yet, as much as he hated doing this and despite his being nervous as hell, there he sat, ready to activate the phone call that would bring the world's attention to the woman who would soon be the most famous kidnapped heiress since Patty Hearst.

He set up the system to speak complex and emphatic information using a Text-To-Speech (TTS) program. TTS was computer generated synthesized speech where real voices were used to create the presentation in tiny fragments that then were glued together before being played to the person on the other end of the phone. So when John Wainwright asked questions, Bruce could type in the answer and the computer would speak it and sound exactly like a real person. He was instructed not to get too complicated. If Jody's father began to get overly inquisitive, Bruce would type in an advisory that Wainwright would be contacted again with further instructions and the call was to be terminated.

Today, he would not have to be concerned with the line being traced. Tomorrow, he would divert the call around a few relay stations and route it in such a way where it would appear as though it originated in Asia. The next call would trace to Canada, the next to Australia, etc. Bruce was sure, though, by at least the fourth day, the FBI would have caught on and, although he could still managed to bounce signals off satellites to make it look like the calls were coming from somewhere out of the United States, knowing what they were now looking for, the feds would be able to nail his location in one minute. This meant whatever Montgomery was going to have him say, would have to be done in fifty-eight seconds or less and even that would be cutting it close.

He hoped in four days, this ordeal would be over.


Anthony Montgomery was at the Wainwright estate when the first call came.

He had arrived there a little before nine A.M., acting frantic. He told Jody's parents that she had not come home all night, had not called, had basically disappeared off the face of the earth after dinner at The Cypress. He had called her friends, anyone whose place she may have gone to and no one had seen her nor heard from her. He called both local hospitals and any law enforcement agencies in the surrounding precincts, to no avail.

It was hard enough on John Wainwright that his precious daughter was missing, possibly the victim of God-knew-what but when Tony threw in for good measure that their dinner at the Cypress was to celebrate Jody announcing her pregnancy, the billionaire was beside himself. The finally joyous news of an heir was overshadowed by the fear that something bad may have happened to his daughter and his future grandchild.

Sondra remained her expected nasty, disdainful self, sniffing that Jody may have just negligently run out of gas and forgot to recharge her cell phone battery. Even after Tony argued with her that Jody had never been that irresponsible in the past and it had to be something...darker...that was going on, Sondra was ready to put the blame of anything sinister happening directly on the shoulders of her daughter. She knew whatever was going on, it probably wasn't good and all this would do is take John's focus off her - what little attention he paid to her anyway - and she resented it. And this would have to happen with a baby on the way...the eagerly anticipated heir, which would finally put John in a better mood. His constant whining about the lack of a grandchild had been pushing her over the edge.

As much as Tony wanted everything to go off without a hitch and was behind the impending death of his wife, he couldn't help but lash out at Jody's mother's indifference.

"You know, Sondra, you could be a little bit more concerned and a little less self-centered here. Your daughter has vanished. If she had run out of gas or even driven off the road, she should have been on a major or well traveled highway. She would have got word to someone. She's not helpless and she's not stupid, regardless of what you try to make her feel!"

Hazel eyes bored through him, punctuating an expression of barely controlled rage. "How dare you! You've only known my daughter a little over three years and we all know it wasn't true love that got you together, it was money. I've had her in my life for almost twenty-nine years! She's not the perfect little princess you and her father make her out to be." This statement earned her a sharp glare from John but he stayed silent. "You don't know her as well as I do."

"You don't know her at all," Tony threw at his spiteful and now pissed off mother-in-law. Those words caused a sudden streak of guilt to shoot through him, however, it left as quickly as it had appeared. Just then the phone rang.

It was ten o'clock. Everything was going just exactly as he planned.


Wainwright hung up the phone slowly, his face drained of all color. He had not been able to say much, the kidnapper doing most of the talking. He looked at his wife, who turned away from him, her face bathed in antipathy, and then to Tony, who anxiously approached him. They had heard John's end of the conversation and the content of the message was clear.

"What's happening?" Montgomery asked, putting the most alarmed tone to his voice he could summon.

"Jody's been kidnapped. She's safe. For now. He'll call back tomorrow with a ransom demand. We're not to go to the police."

Running his hand through his hair, Tony sighed, "Aw, Christ..."

"What do you think of your revered child now, John? She allowed herself to get kidnapped because she was, no doubt, careless. I wonder how much money this recklessness is going to cost us?" Sondra's voice was dripping with contempt.

"That's enough!" John bellowed. "I don't know how you can carry someone inside of you for nine months and conveniently forget she's your child when she's not doing things to make you shine. She is your child, too, Sondra, for God's sake. This isn't about you! Our daughter could be murdered during this ordeal. We're not dealing with Jody's occasional lack of grace here! We're dealing with Jody's life!"

Furiously stalking out of the room, Sondra passed both men who watched her, stunned. Her level of coldness exceeded anything Tony had ever expected from her. He turned back to John, whose crimson face echoed his sentiment. "Jesus Christ, John..." Montgomery folded his arms. "What is wrong with her?"

"She probably doesn't think this is real yet. The idea of it is probably too much for her."

"Stop making excuses for her," Tony admonished him. "Has she always been this indifferent to Jody?" The glacial mask that had covered Sondra's face the minute she determined from John's side of the phone conversation that there had, indeed, been an abduction was downright heartless. The chill from her was so evident, it almost made Tony shiver.

"I can't be bothered with her petty insecurities right now. We need to call the police."

"Didn't he say not to do that?" Tony smiled inwardly. His father-in-law was so predictable.

"I want my daughter back alive but God forbid that doesn't happen, I want the FBI already on this bastard's tail!" Wainwright snapped.

"I want my wife back alive, John, I think we should do what he says..."

Removing his cell phone from his suit jacket's inner pocket, Wainwright flipped it open. "He didn't call you to tell you that he had Jody. He's not going to call you for the ransom. So this is my decision."

"Then it's on your conscience if we never get her back," Tony told him, bluntly.

The remark prompted Waintwright to pause. Then he dialed 911.


Section 2


New Stories

Author & Genre

Main Index