Home > White Lies (Rescues #4)(3)

White Lies (Rescues #4)(3)
Author: Linda Howard

Jay went white, the ramifications of that quiet, sinister statement burning in her mind. Steve was dead. Even though the love she'd felt for him had long since faded away, she knew a piercing grief for what had been. He'd been so much fun, always laughing, his brown eyes lit with devilish merriment. It was as if part of her own childhood had died, to know that his laughter had been stilled. "He's dead," she said dully, staring at the cup in her hand as it began to shake, sloshing the coffee back and forth.

Payne quickly reached out and took the cup from her, placing it on the tray. "We don't know," he said, his face even more troubled. "There was an explosion; one man survived. We think it's Crossfield, but we aren't certain, and it's critical that we know. I can't explain more than that."

It had been a long, terrible day, and it wasn't getting any better. She put her shaking hands to her temples and pressed hard, trying to make sense of what he'd told her. "Wasn't there any identification on him?"

"No," Payne said. "Then why do you think it's Steve?"

"We know he was there. Part of his driver's license was found."

"Why can't you just look at nun and tell who he is?" she cried. "Why can't you identify the others and find out who he is by process of elimination?"

McCoy looked away. Payne's gentle eyes darkened. "There wasn't enough left to identify. Nothing."

She didn't want to hear any more, didn't want to know any of the details, though she could guess at the horrible carnage. She was suddenly cold, as if her blood had stopped pumping. "Steve?" she asked faintly.

"The man who survived is in critical condition, but the doctors are what they call 'cautiously optimistic.' He has a chance. Two days ago, they were certain he wouldn't last through the night."

"Why is it so important that you know right now who he is? If he lives, you can ask him. If he dies--" She halted abruptly. She couldn't say the words, but she thought them. If he died, it wouldn't matter. There would be no survivors, and they would close their files.

"I can't tell you anything except that we need to know who this man is. We need to know who died, so certain steps can be taken. Ms. Granger, I can tell you that my agency isn't directly involved in the situation. We're merely cooperating with others, because this concerns national security."

Suddenly Jay knew what they wanted from her. They would have been glad if she could have helped them locate any dental or medical records on Steve, but that wasn't their prune objective. They wanted her to go with them, to personally identify the injured man as Steve.

In a dull voice she asked, "Can't they tell if this man matches the general description of any of their own people? Surely they have measurements, fingerprints, that sort of thing?"

She was looking down, so she didn't see the quick wariness in Payne's eyes. He cleared his throat again. "Your husband--ex-husband--and our man are... were.. .the same general size. Fingerprints aren't possible; his hands are burned. But you know more about nun than anyone else we can find. There might be something about him that you recognize, some little birthmark or scar that you remember."

It still confused her; she couldn't understand why they wouldn't be able to recognize their own man, unless he was so horribly mutilated... Shivering, she didn't let herself complete the thought, didn't let the picture form in her mind. What if it was Steve? She didn't hate him, had never hated him. He was a rascal, but he'd never been cruel or meanhearted; even after she had stopped loving him, she had still been fond of him, in an exasperated way.

"You want me to go with you," she said, making it a statement instead of a question.

"Please," Payne replied quietly.

She didn't want to, but he had made it seem like her patriotic duty. "All right. I'll get my coat. Where is he?"

Payne cleared his throat again and Jay tensed. She'd already learned that he did that whenever he had to tell her something awkward or unpleasant. "He's at Bethesda Naval Hospital in D.C. You'll need to pack a small suitcase. We have a private jet waiting for us at Kennedy."

Things were moving too fast for her to understand; she felt as if all she could do was follow the path of least resistance. Too much had happened today. First she had been fired, a brutal blow in itself, and now this. The security she had worked so hard to attain for herself had vanished in a few short minutes in Farrell Wordlaw's office, leaving her spuming helplessly, unable to get her feet back on the ground. Her life had been so quiet for the past five years; how could all this have happened so quickly?

Numbly she packed two dresses that traveled well, then collected her cosmetics from the bathroom. As she shoved what she needed into a small zippered plastic bag, she was stunned by her own reflection in the mirror. She looked so white and strained, and thin. Unhealthily thin. Her eyes were hollow and her cheekbones too prominent, the result of working long hours and living on antacid tablets. As soon as she returned to the city she would have to begin looking for another job, as well as working out her notice, which would mean more skipped meals.

Then she felt ashamed of herself. Why was she worrying about a job when Steve--or someone--was lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life? Steve had always told her that she worried too much about work, that she couldn't enjoy today because she was always worried about tomorrow. Maybe he was right.

Steve! Sudden tears blurred her eyes as she stuffed the cosmetic bag into her small overnighter. She hoped he would be all right.

At the last moment she remembered to pack fresh underwear. She was rattled, oddly disorganized, but finally she zipped the case and got her purse. "I'm ready," she said as she stepped out of the bedroom.

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