Kicking off her high heels, Vanessa ducked low against the outside of the building and hoped like hell she wouldn't get caught in the crossfire. Gaze locked on the back of the limousine, she darted in and out of shadows toward her goal. She heard someone calling her name so she ran faster. The sound of blood rushing to her ears blocked out everything else. Vision narrowed to one point—the car and the bag she'd stashed inside.
She tripped over a dark object on the sidewalk. Falling to her knees, she looked down and saw Clarence's lifeless body across the pavement.
"Clarence!" She fumbled for his wrist, conscious of how vulnerable she was and the need for speed. A faint thumping assured her that he lived. "Gotta go," she whispered against his ear before scanning his body and seeing the blood. "Why weren't you wearing a protective vest, old man?"
She shuffled to her feet and kept running. More gunfire. More shouts for her to stop.
She yanked open the back of the car, locked the door behind her, shimmied on her knees along the floor, and pulled the bag out. She had no idea where the driver was and didn't care as long as no one moved the car with her in it.
Hurriedly, she pulled jeans on under her dress, tucked the hem into the waistband, yanked on the leather jacket she'd brought, shoved her hair under a hat, yanked on a pair of boots, and looped the bag across her shoulder all within minutes.
Bullets smashed against the bullet-proof glass, the sound deafening in the empty car. Smash, smash, smash! Cracks formed but the thick glass remained intact.
Someone pounded on the side of the car. Simon.
"Damn it, Vanessa, open up!" he shouted. "Ms. Warren, what are you doing? Are you injured?"
She wished she could trust him, wanted to, but didn't dare.
"Ms. Warren! Damn it!" He ducked low and she heard him calling for back-up.
Sirens ripped through the night air, drowning out the screams of innocent people running for safety.
When he ran around to the back of the limo, gun drawn and proceeded to fire on an unknown assailant, she took the opportunity to sneak out the side door, remained low dressed in her dark clothing, and ran as fast as she could into the night. She ran and ran until her lungs ached and the sounds of chaos faded.
Needing a break, she pressed herself into a darkened doorway and tried to be as invisible as possible. She'd zipped up the black leather jacket to her chin. The leather fedora hat she'd stuffed on her head tilted low over her eyes.
She held her breath and listened for any sign of pursuit.
She needed to get to one of the stashed motorcycles she had placed in strategic areas between the hotel and her house without being seen. Or she'd need to get to the train station. She hadn't thought out the transportation portion of this escape very well, she realized with an exasperated sigh.
Think, think, think! There is no going back.
A silent sob lodged in her throat.
Deliberately, she put one foot in front of the other and walked toward the hotel as best as she could through the dark street. People — some couples, a few groups — walked past her on their way to a night on the town. She kept her gaze locked straight ahead, determined not to make eye contact with anyone.
An explosion sounded far off in the distance. Flames shot up over the tops of buildings and cathedral spires. The dull roar caused the people who were walking leisurely on sidewalks to roam to the center of the street, all looking at the golden glow in the distance.
She had nowhere to go and whoever masterminded this assault knew it.
Who the hell are these people? The idea that Barcelona had fallen under a terrorist attack gnawed at her conscience.
A pit formed in the center of her stomach. She increased her pace, alternating between speed walking and running, all the while trying not bringing too much attention to herself.
She doubled-over with agony at the sight in front of her. The top two floors of Dominic's hotel were engulfed in flames and guests flooded out the doors and down the stairs. People screamed. Smoldering embers flitted down like snapping glitter. Sirens cried out through the night.
She tasted vomit in her mouth. Guilt hammered her mercilessly. Clenching her stomach, she backed up until her bag collided with a wall behind her. All hell had broken loose and she had nowhere to run.
Aware that the perpetrators were most likely scouring the area for her, she shoved her hair further beneath the hat and double-checked that her jacket had remained zipped to her chin. She felt like a fox hunted by bloodhounds.
The stashed motorcycle was off limits now that the streets and alleys filled with screaming civilians, anxious government agents, and emergency vehicles.
They—whoever they were—were forcing her toward the train or bus station. She knew this with absolute certainty. She couldn't fly out, not without tipping her hand and, unfortunately, her delinquent skill set had never included hot wiring a car.
When her bag vibrated against her back, she remembered stashing her cellphone there earlier. Despite knowing she shouldn't answer, she wanted to know who called. Without removing the bag from her shoulders, she shifted it to the front, unzipped it only enough to dig around for the phone, and looked at the caller i.d.
But that wasn't possible. She'd seen him face down on the pavement, had tripped over his body, had his blood on her hands.
The phone vibrated again in her shaking fingers.
She answered but remained silent.
"Mike's truck in twenty minutes."
She frowned, breathing came in harsh, labored bursts.
The line disconnected.
She looked at the phone before realizing she needed to abandon it. With another glance at the flames snapping high into the air, she moved toward the sea and away from the scene. Mike had been working construction on her house, Dominic had said.
She dropped her phone in the nearest trashcan and walked as quickly as she could away from the chaos. Every inch of her shook with fear. Her mouth had gone dry. Blood rushed through her eardrums creating a white noise effect that amplified the sound of her own breathing in her head. One hand gripped the bag's strap looped across her chest.
She couldn't trust anyone she'd known before the threats had started arriving. She could only trust Dominic. Each step in the direction of her house was a step toward an uncertain future. What did she really know about him? Until an hour ago, she hadn't known that his late wife had murdered his child. What kind of hell must that have been to experience? She couldn't imagine, but she instinctively knew that trusting women probably wasn't easy for him...or his parents.
Yet here he was — with one of his signature hotels in one of the most beautiful cities in the world literally going up in flames — helping her.
Careful to walk a block out of the way to avoid crossing the sightlines of her house, she snuck up on the Varga Developments truck, crouching low to the ground and testing the passenger door. When it opened, she climbed into it as slowly as possible, not willing to release the bag or be seen.
No Mike. No Dominic.
Hunched in the front seat, she felt around for keys but didn't find anything. Sighing, she rested her forehead against the dash before peeking at her house. Every window was lit up. The front door opened and Cleo ran out flanked by two men she didn't recognize. She stayed low, eyes barely above the steering wheel, and watched Cleo gesturing madly toward the direction of the hotel.
Pam appeared on the stairs, phone pressed against her face as she ran past Cleo and toward her car. Vanessa assumed she was on her way to the hotel.
Agents were inside — but who else? If she ran inside, would she be safe or at risk? Dominic's construction crew was there, would they be in danger if she set foot across the threshold? Would it burn, too?
From the back cover...
One little lie leads to a whole lot of trouble.
Reclusive international resort developer, Dominic Piazza, needs a date to ward off his matchmaking parents. When he persuades the notorious Vanessa Warren to play his girlfriend for the night, he has no idea he's stepped into the crosshairs of kidnappers who will do anything—destroy everything—to get to her.
Power...it's a heady drug.
Vanessa Warren is America's favorite rebel. Daughter and granddaughter of US Presidents and sister to a future one, her family connections and notoriety are seen as leverage for manipulating the White House—if she's captured.
One true thing...
Trapped in a rapidly escalating international terror plot, Dominic and Vanessa's lie becomes the only real thing in the midst of betrayals, conspiracies, and murder. As their world falls apart, they suddenly only have each other to rely on against ruthless people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Who can they trust? Who is behind the plot—her own family, a political rival of her family's, or a terrorist organization? How far will the kidnappers go—what will they be willing to sacrifice—to control the power of the White House? Is there anywhere in the world where they can find safety?