Just a quick announcement that I will Be Waiting for You… is free on Smashwords until January 1st.
Here is Chapter 1, so if you like it, go ahead and download the full book.
Also, my last Christmas review is coming up on Sunday, Dec. 18th.
I knew it was going to be a complicated day; I just didn’t expect it to involve an unconscious man bleeding on the light marble floor in the hallway.
The anticipated difficulty was more of an emotional sort and involved Jamie Breckenridge, my daughter’s father. It was Sunday, half past eleven in the morning; later that afternoon Jamie would bring Lyra back home, after a weekend spent with him and his parents in Denver.
He’d asked if he could stay to talk. I’d agreed. It was time for us to sit down and have an honest conversation.
And now, just hours before Jamie and Lyra’s arrival, I had to figure out how to move the dead weight of a six-foot-three man prostrated beside the door and where to hide him, providing he wasn’t injured badly enough to die on me.
God, what was I going to do?
My unexpected visitor wasn’t a stranger to me, and that was why I didn’t run out of the house screaming: Ty Prince was my late husband’s closest friend and teammate. We’d met on my wedding day, years ago. I recognized him as soon as he came out of his car and took a few shaky steps, then zig-zagged the length of the pathway leading to the house. I caught a glimpse of his expression—he seemed baffled by his lack of balance as if he hadn’t realized something was wrong with him.
My late husband—Frank Altman was his name—and Ty had been military intelligence officers involved in missions so secret I didn’t know almost anything about them.
I hadn’t seen Ty since my wedding day. He didn’t have any trouble finding me, however, even though the small town of Bonnybrook was my quite recent and temporary residence.
It didn’t surprise me, it only made me pissed off. Which wasn’t a bad thing; it kept my shock and confusion at bay.
Ty was in some kind of trouble, and he needed help.
I knew better than to call the police or the ambulance unless necessary, or without Ty’s permission. I moved his legs enough to close the door, then crouched down and pressed two fingers to the side of his neck. I let out a sigh of relief—his pulse, although somewhat weak, was steady.
A quick assessment revealed a blood-soaked shirt from a chest wound right below his right collar bone, not expertly dressed and not fresh, a gun tucked in the waistband of his pants—Glock, I’d say—and a mean-looking knife in a leather sheath. The car keys were still clenched in his fist, and his phone was in the breast pocket of his shirt.
I placed the weapons and the keys on the entryway table and dashed to the kitchen. I grabbed a glass and the coffee pot, filled them with water, and snatched a clean kitchen towel.
Kneeling beside Ty’s motionless body, I damped the cloth and gently touched his face. His light brown skin was shiny with sweat and had an ashen undertone.
Ty’s eyes fluttered open. His gaze was blank for a moment before his vision cleared.
“Hey, Harper,” he whispered. “Hope you don’t mind I stopped by. I was in the neighborhood.”
“Hey, Ty,” I said as calmly as I mustered. “Long time no see.”
He gave me a faint smile. At the same time, his fingers closed around my wrist with great speed and strength. “Are you all by yourself here? Where is everybody else?”
“Away till the end of the week,” I said.
He exhaled and closed his eyes. “Thank god for small mercies.”
I didn’t bother to mention that Jamie and Lyra were about to show up soon; it was clear to me that I had to stop them from coming at all costs.
I squeezed Ty’s hand in reassurance, although I needed it as much as he did, and his grip released. “Here, have a sip of water.”
I brought the glass to Ty’s lips, helping him lift his head with my other hand.
“The ranch hands?” Ty asked, after taking a few gulps.
“Some on vacation, some have the day off, a few are outside on the ranch, a good few miles from here. They won’t show up unless there is an emergency, or I call them.”
“Better if nobody knows I’m here.”
“Can’t argue with that. We have to get you to the living room. Can you walk?”
He didn’t answer. He breathed in and out several times, and some blood returned to his cheeks. “I didn’t expect I would faint. I felt fine. Damn, I could’ve fucked up everything… Give me a minute.” He pulled himself into a sitting position with great effort, leaning his powerful frame against the wall. “You probably realized this isn’t just a social visit.”
“I’ve figured that much out. Why are you here?”
He looked at me. “Harper, before Frank died, did he leave anything with you? An envelope with some documents, or a USB drive, something like that?”
During our short marriage, my husband had gone on three missions. Before his last one, he had indeed given me a blue, plain-looking USB flash drive.
I said that to Ty. “Frank asked me to keep it safe until he returned, or to give it to you if you ever come for it.”
Frank never came back, Ty didn’t show up to claim it, and the flash drive stayed in my safe and at the back of my mind. A small mystery I’d never expected to be solved.
“Did anyone ever ask about it? His superiors? Someone from his unit?” Ty asked.
My legs hurt from prolonged kneeling, so I sat on the floor, facing Ty. “No. They came to take his computer and documentation, but I never mentioned the drive to anyone.”
“Have you opened it?” he asked, eyeing me.
I denied with a quick shake of my head. I knew better than to stick my nose where it wasn’t wanted.
“Good,” Ty said. “You can now give it to me.”
I gladly would if I could. “How did you know I had it?” I asked, instead.
“A hunch,” was all Ty said, which explained nothing, and probably wasn’t the truth, but I wouldn’t press him for more. Not now.
“Did Frank die because of what was on there?” I asked. The official report was that Frank died when his helicopter got hit somewhere above the Persian Gulf. His body had never been recovered.
Ty closed his eyes and I thought he might’ve lost consciousness for a brief moment. Either that or he’d done it to avoid answering me.
But when I placed my hand on his upper arm, he whispered, “No, he didn’t.”
“But now someone’s after you because of it?”
Ty’s voice was low but confident, and this time I believed him when he said, “Those who are after me don’t have anything to do with the flash drive.” He managed a soft chuckle. “You may also say I’m after them, depending on your viewpoint.”
“Glad your sense of humor hasn’t leaked out with all that blood you’ve lost,” I said, a trifle less tense. Ty’s explanation sounded reasonable. Frank would’ve never deliberately put me—and ultimately—his son, in danger.
“It’s just a scratch,” Ty tried to assure me. So typical. “Listen, I’m working on a case—”
“A case I can’t tell you anything about.”
No kidding. “But if someone’s followed you here—”
Ty shook his head. “No one’s followed me here, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try to find me. I don’t have lots of time anyway. I have to send the content of that drive to… er, well… to whomever I need to send it, by Thursday.”
So, we have a couple of days to sort out this mess, I thought, unsure if I should be relieved or even more worried.
On the one hand, I was grateful that I was home alone. The rest of my household, as I’d said to Ty, was away: my cousin Simon Archer and his wife Daria, who happened to be Jamie’s sister, were on their honeymoon; my six-year-old son Mathew was on winter break and my grandfather Hugh took him to Denver to spend a couple of days with our relatives. No one would return before the end of next week. If Simon, Daria and Grandpa were home, there would be too many questions: who, how, when, why. Not to mention Mathew’s curiosity.
On the other hand, Simon and Grandpa would know exactly what to do without compromising Ty’s safety, knowing his line of work, especially since Ty was still unaware of the crucial fact—the USB drive’s current whereabouts.
I was on my own, however, and it had to stay like that. I had to convince Jamie to keep Lyra until my inconvenient guest recovered enough to leave. In the meantime, I had to bring Ty the drive, praying that we would all emerge from this strange adventure alive and well.
I would help Ty, of course. Frank had been an honorable man; whatever was on that device was important, and neither Frank nor Ty would get themselves involved in anything wrongful. Slightly illegal, yes, but not unethical.
No, I wasn’t too concerned about the content of the drive. The “case” Ty was working on was a horse of a different color, though.
Two unrelated stories had gotten tangled up, with me in the middle. I could feel another wave of panic stirring inside me and pushed it back.
As if he could hear my thoughts or smell my fear, Ty said, “Just give me the stick, and I’ll be out of here.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t have it with me. And you wouldn’t get very far with that hole in your chest. We have to patch you up first.”
Ty groaned in frustration. “Where is it, then?”
“In my personal safe in my parents’ house in Calgary.”
He cursed under his breath.
“If you’d only phoned me before you decided to come,” I said, “I would have had it ready.”
“This isn’t something I had time to plan. Your parents are still in Calgary, right? Can one of them bring it here?”
I shook my head. “Impossible. The safe has fingerprint sensors. Only I can open it.” It was pointless to explain that, in fact, my parents could do it, but that the process would require a few legal steps which we didn’t have time for.
“Then you have to go,” Ty said. “How quick can you get it here?”
I shrugged. “Two days?”
Ty lifted his good arm and rubbed his hand over his face. “That should be enough.”
“It has to be.” I jumped up to my feet, took Ty’s hand and gave it a gentle tug. “Come, you can’t stay here in the hallway.”
Despite his condition, Ty was a man of formidable physical strength and, some laborious minutes later, he slumped down on the sitting room sofa. He didn’t faint again, which I took as a good sign.
“You okay, Ty?”
“I’ll live,” he said and attempted to smile at me.
“Let me check your wound.”
He gave me a stern look. “You should be calling the airport for the first flight to Calgary.”
I glared back at him. “My daughter and her dad will be here in a few hours,” I said. “Even if I could get rid of him, what am I supposed to do with Lyra? Are you going to babysit her while I’m away?”
He let out a frustrated sigh but didn’t ask me anything, which told me he knew about Lyra’s and Jamie’s existence. “You said you were alone.”
I shrugged. “Well, I am, am I not?”
“Can’t you ask him to keep her a day or two longer?”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I just need to come up with a believable explanation.”
“I guess you can’t tell him you have a hot date with a handsome new guy,” Ty said with a grin that instantly transformed his face.
He had a gorgeous smile, bright and friendly. I remembered him as a laid-back, well-educated and highly intelligent man. Well over six feet tall, handsome as sin and good-humored, at first glance he looked like a fashion model; his appearance and friendly demeanor didn’t fit the archetype of a tough-looking military intelligence operative at all. But under that polished and charming exterior, a careful observer would soon discover a core of steel: a man of great integrity, courage and strong moral compass. A capable and dangerous man at that.
I snorted, imagining Jamie’s reaction. “I think not.”
Ty rubbed his face, and the smile vanished. “You must bring me the drive, Harper,” he said quietly.
“I know, but I can’t go just like that. We need a plan.”
“Here is the plan: you tell Jamie to keep Lyra for two more days. Tell him you’re sick or something. Or that you have a bad period, a migraine, whatever. You go to Calgary, pick up the drive and come back. Couldn’t be simpler.”
Not only did he know about Jamie’s existence, he knew his name as well. A wave of anger washed over me; I pushed it down. No time for that. “And you’ll stay here?”
“I’m not going to throw a party in your absence.”
I shook my head. “How do you imagine I should explain my sudden appearance to my parents? ‘Hi Mom, Dad. I just need to grab something from the safe, and I’m leaving. Don’t pay attention.’ It’s not going to work this way. Besides, what if your wound takes a turn for the worse? Or some of the ranch people come looking for me? What if you—” I stopped right there.
Ty smiled. “I won’t die, I promise.”
“Stick to that, Ty Prince,” I said, as a skeleton of a plan for how to get out of this mess started taking shape in my mind. “It’s crucial that Jamie keeps Lyra for a few more days.” I had no idea how to ask him that without making him suspicious, but I’d do my best. “Then, I’m going to call my grandmother in Calgary. Bridget; you probably remember her from my wedding. She’ll need to keep my parents away from the house until I grab the drive.”
Ty immediately started to protest, of course, but he was not a match for me; after a decade of negotiating six-figure contracts for McCain Drilling, our family company, I knew how to hold my ground.
I raised my finger to stop him. “There is no other way. I’m not going to break into my home and risk getting shot by my own father.” This was a comic exaggeration; Dad didn’t possess any firearm, just a good alarm system, but to Ty, given his occupation and experience, my little lie might ring true. “Bridget can’t pose any risk to you. Now let me fix your shoulder.”
Ty sighed in surrender. “My duffle bag is in the trunk. You’ll find everything you need there.”