First You Run - Roxanne St. Claire Page 0,1

and took one last look at the woman, blood oozing from her stomach, her eyes open and lifeless.

What had this beautiful blonde’s sin been? Had she said the fateful words, too? I’m going to have a baby.

Swallowing bile, Eileen ran, her legs wobbling. She tripped on a cobblestone, stumbled, and gasped. If she could just get to her car without being seen, she could get home. The streets of Charleston were abandoned. No one knew she was here.

Trying to be calm, she forced herself to maintain a brisk walk, just in case someone was watching, all the way to her Dodge Dart. She opened the driver’s door, slipped in, grabbed the keys from under the seat where she always hid them, and started the car.

She put the car in reverse, then placed a shaking foot on the accelerator. She hit the pedal too hard, and the car jerked back, tapping the car behind her and yanking a grunt of despair from her chest.

I can do anything, Leenie.

She had to get home.

With each passing mile, her breathing slowed, her shaking stopped. Had she even seen that? Maybe she’d imagined it. Maybe this was just a bad dream.

She reached the Ashley River, the rickety old bridge the last barrier between her and home. Blowing out a breath, she glanced into her rearview mirror—and saw a flashing blue light behind her. How long had that cop been following her? Her heart slid around like the back end of the Dodge as she checked the speedometer and smashed the brakes. Thirty-five. Relief and worry all warred in her muddled brain, but she managed to pull over. Before she even touched the handle, the door was whipped open.

“Get out of the car.”

She froze, blinking and shading her eyes, unable to see anything but the blinding light in her face. She pushed herself from the car and saw another policeman, aiming a gun.

“Was I speeding?” She sounded remarkably composed.

Wordlessly, the first cop moved his flashlight to the passenger seat. His eyes narrowed. She turned, following the beam, somehow knowing what she was about to see.

The gun. It had been right next to her all the way home.

“Eileen Stafford, you’re under arrest for murder. You have the right to remain silent…”

And she would. He knew exactly how to keep her silent. He could do anything.

With a sob, she fell to the ground and let them take her away.


Astor Cove, NY

The Hudson River Valley

Spring, 2008

ADRIEN FLETCHER WANTED something, and he wanted it bad enough to skip his beloved Sunday afternoon rugby game, remove his single hoop earring, cover his Aborigine axe blade tattoo with a long-sleeved shirt, and make small talk with his boss.

Amused and curious, Lucy Sharpe obliged.

“The client on the diamond drop sent me an e-mail last night,” she told him, clicking through her BlackBerry for the message from the Dutch jewel trader. “He said you performed the job flawlessly and has requested you as his Bullet Catcher escort next month, when he plans to deliver another forty million dollars’ worth of…” She smiled as she read the rest. “Useless overpriced carbon to the jewelers of the world.”

Fletch chuckled, deepening a set of heartbreak dimples. “He’s a good bloke, that Maurice Keizer.”

“He’s also one of our very best clients. I’ve already e-mailed him back that you will be assigned to him next month.” She set the device on the desk. “I’m delighted with your work for him, and for the company, Fletch.”

He tested the fortitude of Lucy’s Louis XVI salon chair with a backward tilt of six-foot-one, two hundred pounds of sinew and muscle. “Then it’s a perfect time to ask a favor.”

She lifted her brows. “You can always ask me a favor.”

“That’s what I like about you, Luce, and that’s why I’m here.”

“Here in the United States working for the Bullet Catchers or here in my library on a fine spring day, when you’d rather be getting covered with mud and bruises?”

He glanced at his watch and shook his head, his honey-toned mane grazing his shoulders. “Game’s long over. The boys are on their last pint of Four X by now. But it’s the latter. I’m here for my next assignment.”

“I thought you were taking a month off. I expected you to be headed to Tasmania to have that conversation with your father you’ve been putting off for most of your life.”

He let the front legs of the chair thud back into place, tumbling one burnished lock toward a sharp cheekbone. “Don’t you have