The Marcelli Bride

Page 37

She was going to pass out. The good news was, she wouldn’t have to listen to Ian anymore. He was speaking so calmly, she thought, unable to believe any of this was really happening. How could Ian be doing this? Ian, who had stayed at the Marcelli house. Ian, who had dated Mia and driven them all crazy with his talking.

“They’ll find you,” she said.

“I don’t think so. They won’t know where we are, and I’ve found a spot they’ll never even look.”

He nodded at the other man, who then pulled her to her feet, bent down, and shoved his shoulder into her midsection. When he stood, the pain of her bruised side nearly made her pass out. She thought she was going to throw up.

They started walking toward a small boat pulled up on the sand. She didn’t like boats, especially small ones. She didn’t like being kidnapped, either, she thought grimly.

“We’re going to a cave,” Ian said. “I found it years ago, when I went fishing around here with my grandfather. I used to think it was a really cool hideout, but I never thought I’d use it for a headquarters.”

She slipped free of the man’s shoulder and felt herself falling and falling. When she hit the boat, the impact was hard. Her head cracked against a wooden seat.

“Watch it, Jesse. We don’t want to kill her.”

Not yet, she thought as the world started to fold in at the corners and then fade to black. Not yet.

Joe stared at the maps spread out on the counter of the kitchen. Where would they take Darcy? They had an hour’s head start, which gave them a lot of leeway. Still roadblocks were already up, and the heavy fog meant all regional airports were closed.

Would they try to get distance between themselves and the winery or were they holing up close by? What would he do?

Joe touched the largest map, but he couldn’t think, couldn’t figure out the plan. Ian had done this. He’d been the enemy all along, and no one had noticed.

Had he planned this from the beginning? Joe didn’t think that was possible. No one had known Darcy was coming here more than forty-eight hours before it had happened. Which meant Ian had taken advantage of a lucky break.

Who was he? The name had to be false, along with the identity. He’d been completely clean. No one that clean pulled off something like this.

“The bleeding’s slowed,” Paige said, sounding relieved. “Hold on, Alex. The helicopter will be here soon. You, too, Brenna.”

Brenna waved from her sprawled position on a kitchen chair. “Don’t worry about me. I’m sure I’ll be in labor for hours. I appreciate the ride, though. Right now the thought of a thirty-minute car trip is very disheartening.”

Nic crouched next to her and held her hand. “Just breathe, okay.”

She smiled at him. “I can breathe and scream. I’m good at both of those. It’s the whole birthing process I’m worried about. And the fact that I swear I can feel more than two feet pressing against me.”

Joe blocked out the conversation and concentrated on the maps. But before he could figure anything out, Mia walked over and touched his arm.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

He took a second to give her a hug. “It’s not your fault.”

“Yes, it is. I’m the one who brought him here. I can’t believe I didn’t know who he really was. I traveled with him, I slept with him. I should have guessed.”

“You can only see what you see. You can’t read minds.”

She shook her head. “I should have known. Somehow.”

Joe led her into the dining room. “Did he ever say anything about his family? About friends? Do you have any names?”

Mia stared at him. “No. He talked about his grandfather all the time. The one who took him fishing. But not his parents. He was more interested in mine. I just…” She stifled a sob. “He was so excited about meeting Darcy. I thought he was starstruck. Then, later, he asked me all kinds of questions. I figured he had a crush on her or something. But it wasn’t that. Now Alex is shot, and they have Darcy, and it’s all my fault.”

She began to cry. Joe pulled her close and kept his mouth shut. A part of him did want to blame Mia, but he was as guilty as she.

Darcy regained consciousness when she was carried from the small boat and put onto a canvas chair in the middle of a cave. Her hands and feet were still tied and her ribs ached, along with her head. If this kept up much longer, she was going to be one big bruise.

She waited until Ian and someone she hadn’t seen before walked away, then she raised her head and looked around. The cave was larger than it looked from the outside, for which she was grateful. She’d grown to dislike small, dark spaces.

The boat had been tied up next to one just like it on the side of the cave, not that far from where she sat. On the other side were a couple of tables covered with electronic equipment. Bottled water and canned foods filled a pallet by the rock wall.

She could hear men talking, which made her nervous. She didn’t want to know who they were. She wanted to be set free and not be able to identify them later so they wouldn’t have to kill her.

The cave itself seemed to bend around, perhaps creating a second room. She wasn’t sure, as she couldn’t see it, but that’s where the voices came from. Maybe the rest of them would stay there, she thought.

Ian reappeared. He walked toward her and held out a length of chain with bands at each end. “For your ankles,” he said cheerfully. “So you can’t get away. Oh, in case you’re wondering, these are heavy. If you head for the water, you’ll sink right to the bottom. No swimming for freedom, Darcy.”

He was so calm, she thought. Calm to the point of pleasant, which just wasn’t right.

When he bent at her feet, she thought about kicking him but decided it wasn’t the time for an escape. Not when she was tied up and didn’t know how many other men were around. He secured the chains around her ankles, then unfastened the ropes. Finally he used a smaller chain to attach her left arm to the chair itself, leaving her right arm and hand free.

“Thirsty?” he asked, motioning to the bottles.

She nodded.

He brought her water and opened it, then crossed to the table of communication equipment. “I’m going to call your dad,” he said as he put on a headset. “I don’t mind you screaming, but you can’t tell them where we are. And as I don’t trust you…”

He motioned with his hands. Jesse appeared with a gag. Darcy tried pulling away, but she was weighed down by the chains and the chair. Jesse quickly secured the gag, effectively silencing her.

Ian hit a button on a console. Instantly the sound of a dial tone filled the cave. He punched in a phone number, then waited until a woman said, “This is the White House operator. How may I direct your call?”

“I need to speak to the man in charge,” Ian told her. “President Jensen. I’m the guy who has his daughter. She’s right here. I’d let you talk to her, but she’s all tied up.”

He laughed at his own joke.

“One minute, sir.”

There was a moment of silence, then a man picked up. “This is Special Agent in Charge Allister. Who is this?”

“I’m Ian Welton, Allister, but you already knew that. I’m sure the folks back at the ranch, or winery in this case, have already told you all about me. And you’re not who I want to speak with. I called for the president.”

“He’s not here right now.”

Ian glanced at Darcy and raised his eyebrows. “Daddy’s not home. Where do you think he is?”

Darcy didn’t have a clue.

“I’m sure you can patch me through to him,” Ian said, returning his attention to the call. “Which I want you to do. I have a list of demands. And before you tell me you don’t negotiate with terrorists, I’ll remind you I have his daughter here. He only has the two, so I think he’d miss this one if we had to return her in pieces.”

Stay calm, Darcy told herself. Stay calm. People were looking for her and they would find her. She would be okay. She had to be. For Joe. Because if he’d been shot, he would need her. And if he hadn’t, then he would come find her.

“Threats don’t help your cause,” Allister said. “What do you want?”

“Right now I’d like a really good burger, but instead I’ll take the release of Jonathan Misner from prison. He is to be picked up by helicopter and taken to the county airport. There you will have a plane waiting, along with two million dollars in cash.”

Misner, Misner. The name was familiar, but she couldn’t place it at first.

“The domestic terrorist?” Allister asked.

Then she remembered. Jonathan Misner was responsible for the bombing of a large suburban Chicago mall nearly three years ago. Dozens of people had been killed and hundreds injured. He and his men had been opposed to money being sent abroad for foreign aid. They’d wanted the funds to stay home, along with jobs and technology. Their demands had been for the United States to isolate itself from the rest of the world.

Misner had been captured nearly a year after the bombing. It had been one of those quirks of fate—a routine traffic stop had brought him to the attention of a small-town deputy. Later, the deputy had followed him to a local motel and called in federal authorities. Several of Misner’s men had gotten away, but the leader had been captured. He had been arrested and convicted, and was on death row in federal prison.

“We see him as a revolutionary,” Ian said calmly. “Imagine what the king of England thought of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Not an original argument, I’ll grant you, but accurate. You have twelve hours. If I don’t see Misner staring on CNN as he’s led out of prison, I’ll have to hurt Darcy.”

Ian glanced at her and gave her an apologetic smile. “Funny thing is, I really don’t want to do it. I like her a lot. But the cause is bigger, and I want Misner out of prison. If he’s not released by”—Ian glanced at his watch—“seven-forty-three P.M. Pacific Time, I’ll have to make my point. We’ll start small. Her little finger from her left hand. She’ll be gagged, so you won’t hear her screaming, but trust me, she will be.”


T he task force arrived by air. Shortly after eight in the morning, three Sikorsky Superhawk helicopters descended from the sky and landed on the open grassy area by the long driveway leading up to the house.

Most of the personnel were navy, with a few Secret Service agents thrown in the mix. Joe knew that other members of the team would arrive as soon as they could be flown in from other parts of the country. Captain Phillips had driven from his hotel to act as a liaison.

Joe stood by the front of the house as the helicopters shut down. When the team was assembled, he stepped forward to lead them toward the winery. He’d already commandeered the conference room and had Marco call the office staff to tell them not to come in to work. The team could spread out into the various offices and have access to the phone lines if necessary, although it wouldn’t take long for them to establish their own communications system.

“Through here,” Joe said as they walked into the main building of the winery.

One of the team members, Admiral Grant, moved next to Joe. “The fire was started as a diversion?” he asked.

Joe nodded. “We have preliminary confirmation of arson. A final report will take some time, but there’s enough evidence for our purposes.”

“There were two Secret Service agents with Darcy?”

“No. Just Alex. Alex Vanmeter. The agent who was shot.”

The admiral raised his eyebrows. Yes, Darcy should have been protected by two agents. She also shouldn’t have been sent off with the very man trying to kidnap her. Joe had already beaten himself up about it a dozen times.

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