Ill Wind


Chapter One


Cloudy and cool, with an 80 percent possibility of moderate to severe thunderstorms by mid-afternoon.

Well, thank God this is about to be over, I thought as I drove-well, blew-past the sign that marked the Westchester, Connecticut, city limits. Traffic sucked, not surprisingly; rush hour was still in full swing, and I had to moderate my impatience and ride the brake while I watched for my exit. Calm down. Things will be back to normal in just a few more minutes.

Okay, so I was a little too optimistic. Also unrealistic, since me and normal have never really been on speaking terms. But, in my defense, I needed all the optimism I could muster right then. I'd been running on adrenaline and bad coffee for more than thirty hours straight. I'd been awake for so long that my eyes felt like they'd been rolled in beach sand and Tabasco sauce. I needed rest. Clean clothes. A shower. Not necessarily in that order.

First, I had to find the guy who was going to save my life.

I found the exit, navigated streets and annoying stoplights until I found the residential neighborhood I was looking for. I checked the scrap of paper in my lap, studied curbside house numbers, and finally pulled the car to a stop in front of a nice Colonial-style home, the kind of place a Realtor would describe as a "nice starter." It had flame-red tulips planted in mannered rows under the windows, and the lawn looked well behaved, too. Weird. Of all the places I'd have expected to find Lewis Levander Orwell, the most powerful man in the world . . . well, this wasn't it. I mean, suburbia? Hello!

I tapped chipped fingernails on the steering wheel, weighed risks and benefits, and finally popped open the door and stepped out of the car.

The euphoria I'd felt when I was pulling into town vanished as soon as my feet hit solid ground, crushed under a load of exhaustion. Too much stress, too little sleep, too much fear. Speaking of fear ... I felt wind on the back of my neck, and I turned to look east. A storm loomed like purple mountains' majesty, big cumulonimbus clouds piled on top of each other like a fifty-car interstate pileup. I could feel it noticing me, in the way storms had. No question about it, I needed to be out of Westchester before that thing decided to pounce. I'd been watching storms crawl along the coast, paralleling me all the way from Florida. The nasty part was that it might actually be the same storm, stalking me.

They did that sometimes. It was never good.

Nothing I could do about it right now. I had bigger issues. Up the concrete walk, up three steps lined with geraniums in terra-cotta pots, to a spacious white front door. I knocked and waited, rocking back and forth on three-inch heels that felt like something from the spring collection of the Spanish Inquisition. Bad planning on my part, but then I'd been expecting a pleasant little business meeting, not a two-day panicked flight cross-country. I looked down at myself and winced; the blue French-cuffed polyester shirt was okay, but the tan skirt was a disaster of car-accordioned linen. Ah well. It would have been nice for Lewis to swoon with desire on seeing me, but I'd definitely settle for him pulling my bacon out of the fire.

Silence. I cupped my hands around my eyes and tried to peer through glass not designed for peering. No movement inside that I could see. With a sinking feeling of disaster, I realized I'd never considered the possibility that my knight in shining armor could be away from the castle.

I knocked on his door once more, squinted through the glass again, and tried the bell. I heard muffled tones echoing through the house, but nothing stirred. The house looked normal.

Normal and very, very empty.

Out where I was, Westchester was enjoying spring sunshine. People walked, kids whooped around on bikes, dogs ran with their tongues hanging out. Inside the house, there was winter silence. I checked the mail slot. Empty. Either he'd been home earlier, or he'd stopped his mail altogether. No papers on the lawn, either.

I considered my options, but really I had only two: get some idea of where else to look, or lie down and die. I decided to do some scouting. Unfortunately, the grass was damp, and