Authors: Rebecca York
Found Missing (Decorah Security Series, Book #14)
A Paranormal Romantic Suspense Novel
By Rebecca York
Ruth Glick writing as Rebecca York
“Any progress on finding the little bitch?”
The question came from a man with iron-gray hair and a scar that cut across his chin. Leaning back in his comfortable chair, he regarded Carlos Mardano through slitted eyes.
Carlos knew that look. Often it was the prelude to dangerous anger that would flare like boiling lava spewing from a volcano. His boss’s dark, hooded eyes were one of the reasons he’d gotten the nickname Rambo. The other was his ruthless pursuit of any goal he set.
Carlos stood a few yards from the man’s chair, staring over his shoulder at a weird-looking sketch on the wall. One of the other security guys had told him it was by a big-time artist named Picasso. It was supposed to be an original—and supposed to be expensive, but it looked like someone had taken a face apart and put it back together wrong.
Trying not to think about failure, he pressed his hands to his sides to keep them from trembling. But this whole damn screwup was not his fault. It was a case of shoot the messenger. He’d been off the evening the girl had escaped. He wasn’t the one who had been stupid enough to leave car keys lying around. And he sure as hell wasn’t the one who had chased her at dangerous speed—then watched her vehicle skid off the road on a sharp turn and plow into a stone wall. Yeah, right. That guy was long dead.
Carlos licked his lips. “We know she was taken to the hospital and admitted as Jane Doe—not Jenny Seaver—because she had no identification. And she was unconscious.”
Rambo rocked forward in his chair and let his Gucci loafers slam down on the inlaid parquet floor. “Jesus Christ, you’re not telling me anything new. But people don’t simply vanish from the hospital.”
“Someone checked her out. And whoever let her go tampered with the paperwork. There’s no record of her having even been there.”
“Yeah, well, something weird is going on. I want to know who took her away, what they did with her, and why.”
Despite the air conditioning in the room, Carlos felt sweat collect at the back of his neck and trickle down the inside of his shirt. “I did some snooping around the administrative offices. I think the hospital was glad to get rid of her because she had no insurance, as far as they knew. So who was going to pay the bills of some no-name chick in a coma?”
Rambo pushed himself up straighter. “Probably somebody was paid to take her off their hands. I want you to find out who it was—and I want them brought here for interrogation.”
The younger man shuddered, thinking about the holding cells in the basement below the high-class rooms on the house’s main floor. People went down the steps to the lower level and never came out again—at least under their own power.
He wanted to ask, “What if she’s dead?” But he kept the question locked behind his lips. If she was dead, that might be the same as failing to find her.
“Go on. Get busy.”
Thankful to escape, Carlos turned on his heel. As he exited the wood-paneled office, he heard the boss muttering, “If that bitch has fucked up my plans, I’ll kill her.”
Carlos hurried down the corridor and into the sunshine, where he stood on the back patio taking gulps of air. He didn’t much like the position he was in now. But at least he wasn’t Jenny Seaver. He remembered the girl as a complete wimp. Who would believe she had the balls to escape?
And now she was missing, probably badly injured. It still amazed him that she’d managed to run away, but her unlikely escape only spoke of her desperation.
Where the hell was she? And how long did he have to find her before the boss went batshit and struck out at the wrong target?
She’d had the foresight to call herself Jenny Seville, not Jenny Seaver when she’d first arrived here. The assumed name had helped her feel less conspicuous. Now she was a lot more at ease in this place. Dressed in comfortable stretch jeans and a sunny yellow tee shirt, she walked across the grounds of the Mirador Hotel, smiling as she took in the lush greenery, the tropical flowers, and the high wall that marked the edge of the property.
Above her the sky was a brilliant blue, set off by a few fluffy clouds drifting lazily in a light breeze. Not thunderheads, because it only rained here at two o’clock in the morning on Tuesdays.
The complex practically defined lavish excess. The public areas were filled with priceless art from around India. Each luxury room overflowed with comfortable furniture and fine antiques. The dining room had anything you might want to eat. The exercise facilities were top of the line. And there were even features installed especially to accommodate requests she’d made.
She stopped for a moment beside the Olympic-sized pool bounded by a wide deck of concrete and Moorish ceramic tiles, then continued on to a new building that was quite different from the rest of the venue.
Pulling open a heavy door, she stepped inside a room that was about thirty feet long and about twenty feet wide. At the far end was a floor-to-ceiling projection screen so that the wall could be transformed into any scene stored in the computer.
Familiar with the setup, Jenny picked up one of the specially modified Sig Sauer automatic pistols lying on a table near the door and checked to make sure it was ready for action. When she saw that it had a full charge, she brushed her chestnut hair back from her face and pressed the activation switch on the simulator unit. Immediately she was facing a scene that she had never seen before. The screen at the far end of the room showed a parking lot, but it was so real she might actually have been there. From where she stood, she saw a man approaching his car about fifteen yards away. Just as he reached it, another guy sprinted over, a gun in his hand.
At first glance, it looked like a clear case of one man getting ready to rob the other, but she’d seen a lot of these scenarios, and she knew they weren’t always what you thought.
As she watched, the first guy whirled, gun in hand, and pumped several shots into the dude who had been coming after him. As the wounded man fell to the ground, the one still standing pivoted toward her, his malevolent gaze like a silent curse. Instinctively she fired, but not before she felt a hot jolt of pain in her left shoulder. Despite the simulated hit, she kept pulling the trigger. The guy went down, and she was left standing in the parking lot with two crumpled bodies. Her arm throbbed for a few more seconds before the injury miraculously evaporated as though nothing had happened.
She looked at the scene of carnage, analyzing what had just gone down. Apparently the first guy had been the robber and the second one had been rushing after him to get his property back. She had been assigned the part of an undercover cop.
Although she hadn’t been fast enough to avoid getting shot, she had felled the bad guy.
Turning to the console, she pressed the button to wipe away the scene and cue up another scenario. This time she was driving a car in a line of vehicles on a crowded road. Directly in front of her she could see a cute young woman in a late model sedan. In front of her car was a police van. The woman looked perfectly innocent, only it turned out that she was there to spring the prisoner in the back of the police transport. In the shoot-out that ensued, Jenny ended up with a bullet in the chest, thankful that the effects lasted only a few seconds.
She did better in the next confrontation when she walked in on a man stealing drugs from a hospital pharmacy.
The training was intense as always, with scenarios where you had to decide in seconds whether you were facing a criminal or an innocent bystander. After forty-five minutes of life or death decision- making, she turned off the equipment and put the gun back where she’d found it.
In the session, she’d gained some good insights into criminal behavior and into her own ability to react in an emergency. In this shooting gallery, she hadn’t hesitated to kill. But could she shoot someone in the real world? She couldn’t help thinking that she would get the chance to find out. And one thing she knew for sure—she had a lot more confidence in her ability to defend herself than when she’d first come to the Mirador.
Leaving the indoor training area, she walked to a secluded part of the hotel lawn where Art Landon, the guy who ran this place, had constructed an obstacle course for her. She worked her way around the setups, climbing a rope, jumping into a sandpit, scaling a wall, then wiggling through a series of body-sized rubber pipes that made her feel claustrophobic.
Finally as a reward for all the hard work, she stopped by the pottery studio that Art had also provided for her. She had many artistic talents, but she’d chosen to focus on her ceramic skills while she was at the Mirador. Yesterday she’d glazed and fired some decorative pots, and now she took them out of the kiln, critically inspecting her craftsmanship before setting them on shelves at the side of the studio. Working with clay was a skill she’d acquired before coming to the Mirador, but she was definitely improving her technique. Too bad she couldn’t take any of these pieces with her when she left.
Pushing that thought out of her mind, she headed for the pool where she’d left her suit in one of the private cabanas. After putting it on, she turned to the small computer unit where she brought up a list of music selections and chose a medley of operatic arias that she particularly liked. As Kathleen Battle began to sing a lament from
, Jenny walked to the deep end of the pool where she executed a perfect dive into the warm water. It felt good, but should it be a couple of degrees cooler? Perhaps she should speak to Landon about that. In her mind, she thought of him as the maintenance man. But he was so much more—the skilled computer operator who kept this place running, which was a lot more work than keeping the bushes trimmed and the walks swept.
When she surfaced, she began to swim back toward the cabanas, cutting through the water with long, graceful strokes. At the far end, she turned and started back the way she’d come, keeping a steady pace.
For a few minutes, she let the water and the physical activity soothe her, but when Sarah Brightman started to sing “Time to Say Goodbye,” she faltered in the water. It was one of her favorite concert arias, but it reminded her again that she couldn’t stay here forever. She could keep training and building up her defensive skills, but for how long? Surely she was putting all the other residents here in danger—if the wrong people came looking for her. My God, what if something happened to sweet little Shelly—the only child in residence at the hotel? And what about Grant Bradley?
Grant didn’t live here, but he came to the Mirador often. He’d showed her how to operate the shooting scenarios and given her pointers on how to use them. He’d worked with Landon to design the obstacle course for her. And he’d taken her to the outdoor firing range for target practice, using not only handguns but assault rifles. He had recognized her initial lack of self-confidence and done everything he could to build up her defensive skills.
But she knew the time he spent with her wasn’t just about a training program. Grant was attracted to her. And she was to him. That didn’t mean it was easy to deal with their relationship. She’d vowed to maintain the barrier she’d put up between them, because no matter how much she wanted to trust him, she couldn’t entirely let down her guard. Not after what had happened the last time she’d allowed herself to be vulnerable to a man.
In the water she balled her hands into fists. Sooner than later she would have to face—and say good-bye. To the Mirador Hotel—and to Grant.
When Grant Bradley stepped into the advanced medical center being maintained under the auspices of Decorah Security, his brother, Mack, was sitting at the front desk watching computer screens that gave him multiple views of the facility.
His twin gave him a questioning look. “You aren’t on duty now.”
“No, I’m just stopping by.”
When Mack gave him a knowing look, Grant kept his gaze steady. His brother didn’t have to read his mind to know why he was here.
Raised in rural Western Maryland the brothers were near identical twins. Both were tall and dark haired with the lean builds of men who had always enjoyed outdoor pursuits and athletics. The clue to telling them apart was that Mack kept his hair military short and Grant had a slightly longer cut. Mack had attended the Naval Academy and become a pilot. After college, Grant had joined the CIA, gotten disillusioned with The Agency, and gone back to running their dad’s outfitter business.
Both of them were now with Decorah Security. Mack was currently assigned full-time to the specialized medical unit. Grant was on a rotating staff of agents who pulled part-time duty there.
“You’re going to take another crack at getting Jenny Seville to talk?”
His brother looked sympathetic. “Good luck with that. Haven’t you been trying for months?”
“I’ve been making sure she feels like she can take care of herself. She was glad to focus on defense training, but she’s been avoiding talking about her problem.”
“She still doesn’t trust you?” Mack asked.
“Only so far. Not enough to tell me how she ended up at the Mirador.”
“You can’t force information out of her,” Mack said.
“Yeah, and if I push her—I could drive her farther away.”
Leaving his brother, Grant walked down the hall to the main patient area, where Lily Wardman looked up from her computer station. She was his brother’s wife and also the doctor in charge.
Behind her were twelve specially designed beds, most occupied by patients who had been unconscious since before they’d arrived here.
As always Grant felt his chest tighten when he looked toward the bed where Jenny Seville was lying. Like all the patients here, she had been part of a medical experiment formerly operated by Dr. Philip Hamilton. Hamilton had hooked her and the others up to a computer feed that immersed them in a virtual reality. Instead of simply lying unconscious in specially designed hospital beds, they were experiencing a full and very active life in a five-star hotel in India.
Hamilton had been so eager to try out his theories with comatose patients that he’d obtained many of them by questionable means. Lily Wardman had originally worked for Hamilton, not knowing he was bending medical ethics and the law to populate his experiment with warm bodies.
After Hamilton had been arrested, Lily had taken over the operation under the auspices of Decorah Security, which now ran the medical center for the benefit of the patients.
Before Grant could stop himself, he blurted the question that was always on his mind, “Any change in Jenny’s status?”
“As a matter of fact, I have observed something new.”
His whole body tensed. “Is she worse? And you haven’t wanted to tell me?”
“No. Actually, she’s very close to full consciousness. There have been signs for the past couple of weeks. She’s opened her eyes and looked at me. And I’m pretty sure she’s heard me talking to her.”
“Like Mack,” he said. His brother, who had been cleared for duty at the security desk, had been one of the patients illegally obtained for Dr. Hamilton’s lab. And when the facility had been under attack, he’d been able to wake himself up and help with the defense. Knowing that his brother had made a full recovery gave Grant hope that Jenny could do the same.
“Then why isn’t she conscious?” he asked now.
Before Lily could answer, he hurried to Jenny, where she lay in the special bed that kept her muscles toned and her skin healthy. Her eyes were closed, her arms at her sides, a blank expression on her delicate features. When he was with her in the VR, she was totally different—alive and well and full of vitality. Here, she was a shadow of what she could be.
She didn’t respond.
Lily had come up beside him. “I think she’s resisting rejoining the real world.”
“Can’t you—give her something?”
“I could, but I think it’s better if we don’t interfere with the natural process. Mack is lucky that he made the transition without any serious problems.”
Grant clamped his teeth together, then made an effort to relax his jaw.
“I’m going in there to talk to her.”
“It’s not that good for you to keep putting yourself under.”
He swiveled his head toward her. “You go in to see your sister, Shelly.” The girl had been in a coma since a long-ago car accident. In the VR she looked like a six-year-old child—which was her mental age. But in reality her body was that of a woman in her twenties.
He waited for Lily to say, “That’s different.”
Instead, she closed her eyes for a moment before giving him a sympathetic look. “Okay.”
“Thank you. Where is she?”
“She used the shooting scenario simulation, ran the obstacle course, and got in some practice at the firing range, then went to her pottery studio.”
“That’s good. She’s keeping busy.”
“Now she’s in the pool.”