Hot ice - By Nora Roberts



He was running for his life. And it wasn’t the first time. As he raced by Tiffany’s elegant window display he hoped it wouldn’t be his last. The night was cool with April rain slick on the streets and sidewalk. There was a breeze that even in Manhattan tasted pleasantly of spring. He was sweating. They were too damn close.

Fifth Avenue was quiet, even sedate at this time of night. Streetlights intermittently broke the darkness; traffic was light. It wasn’t the place to lose yourself in a crowd. As he ran by Fifty-third, he considered ducking down into the subway below the Tishman Building—but if they saw him go in, he might not come back out.

Doug heard the squeal of tires behind him and whipped around the corner at Cartier’s. He felt the sting in his upper arm, heard the muffled pop of a silenced bullet, but never slackened his pace. Almost at once, he smelled the blood. Now they were getting nasty. And he had the feeling they could do a lot worse.

But on Fifty-second Street were people—a group here and there, some walking, some standing. Here, there was noise—raised voices, music. His labored breathing went unnoticed. Quietly he stood behind a redhead who was four or five inches taller than his own six feet—and half again as wide. She was swaying to the music that poured out of her portable stereo. It was like hiding behind a tree in a windstorm. Doug took the opportunity to catch his breath and check his wound. He was bleeding like a pig. Without giving it a thought, he slipped the striped bandana out of the redhead’s back pocket and wrapped it around his arm. She never stopped swaying—he had very light fingers.

It was more difficult to kill a man outright when there was a crowd, he decided. Not impossible, just harder. Doug kept his pace slow and faded in and out of the packs of people while he kept his eyes and ears open for the discreet black Lincoln.

Near Lexington he saw it pull up a half block away, and he saw the three men in trim dark suits get out. They hadn’t spotted him yet, but it wouldn’t be long. Thinking fast, he scanned the crowd he’d merged with. The black leather with the two dozen zippers might work.

“Hey.” He grabbed the arm of the boy beside him. “I’ll give you fifty bucks for your jacket.”

The boy with pale spiked hair and a paler face shrugged him off. “Fuck off. It’s leather.”

“A hundred then,” Doug muttered. The three men were getting closer all the time.

This time the boy took more interest. He turned his face so that Doug saw the tiny tattooed vulture on his cheek. “Two hundred and it’s yours.”

Doug was already reaching for his wallet. “For two hundred I want the shades too.”

The boy whipped off the wraparound mirrored sunglasses. “You got ′em.”

“Here, let me help you off with that.” In a quick move, Doug yanked the boy’s jacket off. After stuffing bills in the boy’s hand he pulled it on, letting out a hiss of breath at the pain in his left arm. The jacket smelled, not altogether pleasantly, of its previous owner. Ignoring it, Doug tugged the zipper up. “Look, there’re three guys in undertaker suits coming this way. They’re scouting out for extras for a Billy Idol video. You and your friends here should get yourselves noticed.”

“Oh yeah?” And as the boy turned around with his best bored-teenager’s look on his face, Doug was diving through the nearest door.

Inside, wallpaper shimmered in pale colors under dimmed lights. People sat at white linen-covered tables under art-deco prints. The gleam of brass rails formed a path to more private dining rooms or to a mirrored bar. With one whiff, Doug caught the scent of French cooking— sage, burgundy, thyme. Briefly he considered hustling his way past the maitre d’ to a quiet table, then decided the bar was better cover. Affecting a bored look, he stuck his hands in his pockets and swaggered over. Even as he leaned on the bar, he was calculating how and when to make his exit.

“Whiskey.” He pushed the wraparound shades more firmly onto his nose. “Seagram’s. Leave the bottle.”

He stood hunched over it, his face turned ever so slightly toward the door. His hair was dark, curling into the collar of the jacket; his face was clean-shaven and lean. His eyes, hidden behind the mirrored glasses,