Undeniable proof, p.1

Undeniable Proof, page 1

 

Undeniable Proof
 


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Undeniable Proof


  Undeniable Proof

  By

  B. J. Daniels

  Contents

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Epilogue

  Willa couldn't remember ever feeling so isolated.

  So alone. Not even in the middle of South Dakota, miles from the nearest town. Surely all the people looking for her would have a hard time finding her on Cape Diablo. But she didn't delude herself. She would never be safe. The sound of the boat motor died off into the distance. She looked back once but the boat had already disappeared from sight. All she could see was the horizon and the endless Gulf of Mexico.

  As she looked up at the villa, she wondered if there was any place safe enough or far enough from civilization to elude the men who were on her trail.

  If it wasn't Cape Diablo, then no place existed.

  Willa stopped in front of the villa. She could hear the waves lapping at the dock and the wind whispering in the palms as if it were hiding some sinister secrets…

  This book is for Tim and Elise who told us about these waters and gave us our first chart of the islands. Thank you for many hours boating through a blur of mangrove-green islands on endless water.

  There is no neater place to be lost.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-373-22936-9

  ISBN-10: 0-373-22936-4

  UNDENIABLE PROOF

  Copyright: © 2006 by Barbara Heinlein

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  B.J. Daniels's life dream was to write books. After a career as an award-winning newspaper journalist, she sold thirty-seven short stories before she finally wrote her first book. That book, Odd Man Out, received a 41/2 star review from Romantic Times BOOKclub and went on to be nominated for Best Harlequin Intrigue of 1995. Since then she has won numerous awards, including a career achievement award for romantic suspense.

  B.J. lives in Montana with her husband, Parker, two springer spaniels, Scout and Spot, and an aging, temperamental tomcat named Jeff. When she isn't writing, she snowboards, camps, boats and plays tennis. To contact B.J., write to her at P.O. Box 183, Bozeman, MT 59771, or check out her Web site at www.bjdaniels.com .

  Books by B. J. Daniels

  HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

  797—THE COWGIRL IN QUESTION*

  803—COWBOY ACCOMPLICE*

  845—AMBUSHED!*

  851—HIGH-CALIBER COWBOY*

  857—SHOTGUN SURRENDER*

  876—WHEN TWILIGHT COMES

  897—CRIME SCENE AT CARDWELL RANCH**

  915—SECRET WEAPON SPOUSE

  936—UNDENIABLE PROOF

  *McCalls' Montana

  **Montana Mystique

  CAST OF CHARACTERS

  Willa St. Clair—The artist's dreams were all coming true—until she witnessed a murder and was forced to hide on the island of Cape Diablo.

  Landry Jones—His life depended on finding the artist and making sure she never testified against him.

  Zeke Hartung—What had the undercover cop been thinking the night he died?

  Freddy D.—He'd do anything to get the name of the man who'd betrayed him—and the missing evidence that could save him from prison.

  Odell Grady—Was the writer working on a book about Cape Diablo? Or was he up to something that could get him killed?

  Henrietta "Henri" LaFrance—The good-looking redhead had come to the island to escape a bad relationship. Or had she?

  Blossom—All Cape Diablo needed was a surly teenaged actress.

  Alma Garcia—The former nanny had been on Cape Diablo so long everyone thought she was crazy.

  Carlos Lazarro—The old fisherman moved around the island like a ghost.

  Chapter One

  He'd waited too long. They knew. The realization turned his blood to ice water. If they knew that he had the disk, then they also knew what he planned to do with it.

  He felt the full weight of the disk in his breast pocket. In the right hands, the disk was gold. In the wrong hands, it was a death warrant.

  Simon didn't look back but he knew they were behind him, following him. Two of them. He could hear them. Feel them working their way along the dark street.

  All he could guess is that they weren't sure where he was headed. They would want to know who he'd planned to give the disk to. He had a pretty good idea that they knew exactly who he worked for—but just wanted proof.

  He'd changed course the moment he'd heard them behind and now found himself headed for the beach. Ahead was the artsy part of St. Pete Beach, the small southern Florida town at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

  Art galleries, studios, little shops. All closed this time of the night.

  No place to hide.

  He had to ditch the disk. It was his only chance. He was probably a dead man either way, but he might be able to talk his way out of this if the disk wasn't found on him.

  Ahead Simon spotted a light burning in one of the art studios. Was it possible it was still open? Could he be that lucky?

  He could hear the quickening of the men's steps behind him as he neared the shop entrance. Inside, the light silhouetted a figure at the back of the shop apparently working late. His good luck. That person's bad fortune.

  It took everything in him not to run. But that would make him look guilty. That would get him killed before he could hide the disk.

  Simon reached the front door of the shop and grasped the knob. He could see a woman working in the studio at the back. The men behind him were so close he thought he could feel their collective breaths on his neck. As he tried the door, he expected to fee! a hand drop to his shoulder and a cold steel barrel press against his backbone.

  Lacked! He couldn't catch his breath. He jiggled the doorknob. His heart pounded so hard, all he could hear was the blood buzzing in his ears.

  The woman who'd been working at the back looked up. Obviously she hadn't been expecting anyone.

  Simon waved and called to her in a voice he didn't recognize as his own, "Sorry I'm late."

  Surprise registered in her eyes, but she stopped what she was doing and walked toward the door.

  He thought he heard the two men slide back into the darker shadows as the woman opened the door.

  "I'm sorry I'm so late," he said, stepping in, forcing her to step aside as he pushed past and into the shop. "I was afraid you'd already gone home. I called about one of your—" he glanced to see what kind of work the woman did "—paintings," he said, and stuffed his hands into his pockets so she didn't see how badly they were shaking as he turned to look at her.

  He'd thought her twenty-something but she could have been younger. It was hard to tell her age with such pale skin sprinkled with golden freckles and blond hair that she had pulled back in a single long braid that trailed down her back. She wore a sleeveless T-shirt, peach-colored, and a pair of denim cropped pants. He caught the scent of vanilla.

  "I'm sorry," she said, looking confused. "Are you sure you have the right gallery?" Simon could see that she was scared. If she only knew. But she closed the door behind her, failing, he noted, to lock it, though. Would the two men come in here after him? He couldn't be sure.

  But if they did, the woman was as good as dead.

  "Yes, this is the shop," he said, improvising as he moved to look at one of the Florida landscapes done in pastels. "My wife said she was told someone would be here late." A
man with a wife would make her feel safer, he hoped, as he saw that she hadn't moved. In fact, she seemed to hover by the phone on the desk by the door.

  He thought of the real wife he'd had. She'd left him because she couldn't take the line of work he was in. Low pay, ridiculous hours and always the chance that tonight might be the night he didn't come home. Tonight might be the night she got the phone call. Or worse, opened the door in the wee hours of the morning to see one of his buddies at the door bearing the bad news.

  He studied one of the signed paintings, trying to focus. Thinking about Evie right now was a really bad idea. Next to it was a poster announcing an art show at a gallery down the street tomorrow night. "Are you W. St. Clair?"

  "Yes." She sounded shy, maybe a little embarrassed. Or maybe it was just nerves with him in her studio this late at night. He could see where she'd been framing some paintings at a workbench in the back.

  "You say someone told your wife I would be here late?" she asked. He could hear her trying to come up with an explanation. "I can't imagine who would have told her that."

  He shrugged and moved through the paintings, trying not to look out the front windows. Just act normal. The thought almost made him laugh. A normal man would be smart enough not to have gotten caught. And he was caught. Even if he ditched the disk, he wasn't sure he could save himself. Those men wouldn't be after him unless they knew he'd double-crossed them.

  "I had to work late myself tonight," Simon said, making it up as he went. Nothing new there. "I was afraid I wouldn't get here in time. You see it's our anniversary. Ten years. My wife told me about a painting she saw here and I thought it would make a great anniversary present for her."

  Evie had bailed after six years. Hadn't even waited for the seven-year itch.

  "Your anniversary?" The artist smiled. She wanted to believe him. Simon knew he was laying it on a little thick but he needed her to feel safe. To act as if she'd known he was coming. Act as if nothing was wrong for the men who he knew were outside watching him. Watching them both.

  The ploy seemed to be working. He saw her relax a little, her movements not as tense as she stepped away from the front windows.

  "Do you mind if I just look around for a few minutes?" he asked. "I know I'll recognize the painting she fell in love with from the way she described it."

  "If you tell me—"

  "You do beautiful work. I can understand why she was so taken with your paintings," he said, cutting her off.

  "Thank you," she said, sounding less suspicious although clearly still cautious. "I have a show coming up tomorrow night so I was working late framing. I'm afraid some of the paintings aren't for sale—at least until the show tomorrow night. I hope your wife didn't choose one that's tagged for the show."

  "Well, if she did, I'm sure I'll find something that she'll love." Simon heard her go back to the bench. All she had to do was look up and see him from where she worked. He continued to move through the paintings, pretending to admire each as if in no hurry to find the one his wife wanted.

  There was only one spot in the small shop where she wouldn't be able to see him. Nor would anyone outside have a clear view because of several large paintings that hung from a makeshift wall.

  He found a painting that was marked For Show, Not For Sale and slipped the knife from his pocket. He quickly cut a small slot along the edge of the paper backing the framed painting—one of a colorful sailboat keeling over in the wind—and slid the disk inside between the paper and the artwork.

  The disk fit snug enough that it made no sound when Simon picked up the painting as if inspecting it more closely. No one should notice the careful cut he'd made. Not that anyone would get the chance. He'd be back tonight for the painting just as soon as he got rid of the two men after him.

  He breathed a sigh of relief as he picked up another small painting of a Florida street market, colorful and quaint and the painting was not tagged for the show.

  "This is the one. What does the W. stand for?" he asked as he took it over to her.

  "Willa." She smiled as she saw which painting he had selected. "An excellent choice."

  Simon paid in cash and watched her carefully wrap it, priding himself on the fact that he hadn't once glanced toward the front windows. Anyone watching him from outside would think this had been his destination all along. At least he hoped so. Everything was riding on this.

  "You really saved my life," he said, smiling at the young woman. "I can't tell you how relieved I was to see that you were still around tonight."

  She handed him the package and smiled back. "Happy anniversary. I hope your wife enjoys the painting."

  "Oh, she will." Evie would have had a fit if he'd brought home a painting by an unknown. Evie liked nice things. And Simon had failed to give her what she needed.

  Swallowing down the bitterness, he idly picked up one of the flyers by the cash register announcing Willa St. Clair's gallery showing the next evening and pretended to study it before he folded the flyer and put it into the breast pocket of his jacket.

  She followed him to the door.

  "Good luck with your show tomorrow night," he said as she started to close the door. "Maybe my wife and I will stop by."

  "It's just down the street, at the Seaside Seascapes Gallery."

  Simon nodded as she closed and locked it behind him, then he turned and started back the way he'd come, taking his time, the small painting tucked under his arm.

  He waited for the two men to accost him as he walked down the street. Two blocks from Willa St. Clair's art studio, and he hadn't seen anyone who wanted to kill him. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe he'd hidden the disk and blown off his delivery meeting for nothing.

  He should have been relieved. But instead, it made him angry. He'd panicked for nothing. Now he would have to go back and get the damned disk after the studio was closed. Worse, he would have to set up another delivery meeting. Any change of plans always increased the danger.

  At his car, he beeped open the doors, the lights flashed and he reached for the door handle.

  They came at him from out of the darkness, surprising him. Simon reached for his weapon, but he wasn't fast enough. The small painting he'd bought fell to the ground with a thud as the larger of the two grabbed him, the smaller one taking his gun and searching him.

  "What the hell do you want?" he bluffed, recognizing them both. "You scared the hell out of me. You're damned lucky I didn't shoot you both."

  The smaller of the two men scooped up the painting from the sidewalk and tore the canvas from its frame, tossing it aside when he didn't find what he was looking for.

  Simon considered whether he could take them both and decided he'd be dead before he even had one of them down. No, he thought, he had a much better chance if he could get them to take him to their boss. He'd managed to bluff his way this far. He had to believe he could get himself out of this, as well.

  "Where is it?" the small one demanded as he jammed a gun into Simon's kidneys.

  He groaned. "Where's what?" The big one hit him before Simon even saw him move. The punch dropped him to his knees.

  "Not here," the smaller one snapped and Simon heard the sound of a car engine.

  A moment later he was shoved onto the floorboard of the back seat, something heavy pressed on top of him.

  He tried to breathe, to remain calm. The disk was hidden. If he played his cards right, he could get it back and still make delivery. Too much was at stake to give up now.

  If there was one thing Simon Renton was good at it, it was talking his way out of trouble. Didn't everyone say he was like a cat with nine lives?

  He just hoped he hadn't run out of lives.

  Chapter Two

  Simon was dead.

  Landry Jones stood in the large office of the Tampa warehouse fighting the urge to put a bullet hole into the brains of the two men who'd killed Simon. Stupid fools.

  But then he'd have to take out their boss, Freddy D., and that wasn't part of
the plan. At least not yet.

  "We almost got him to tell us who he was working with," said the larger of the two thugs, who went by TNT or T for short, no doubt because of the man's short fuse.

  The other man, known as Worm, was smaller, cagier and meaner if that were possible. "I told T to back off a little but Simon was giving him a lot of grief."

  Knowing Simon, he would have purposely got T going, so the fool killed him before he gave up the names of the other undercover cops who'd infiltrated the organization.

  Landry swore under his breath. "That's why I wanted to handle this. I would have gotten the names out of him."

  Freddy D. studied him from beneath hooded gray eyes. "Maybe. Maybe not."

  Landry shook his head angrily. "So where's the disk Simon supposedly made?" he asked the two thugs. "Or did you kill him before he told you that, as well?"

  "Easy," Freddy D. said, but turned his big bald head to take in T and Worm. "Tell me you got the disk." The tone of his voice made it pretty clear that T and Worm might not be around long if they didn't.

  Landry held his breath. T squirmed but Worm looked almost cocky. "He told us where to find it," Worm said.

  Landry let out the breath he'd been holding. "Great. You don't have the disk, you don't even know if it exists or if Simon was a cop or not." He felt the corpse-gray eyes of Freddy D. shift to him again.

  "My source said he was a cop and that there were two others working with him in my organization," Freddy D. said.

  "Yeah? And what if your source just wanted Simon dead and you running scared of your own men?" Landry asked, knowing he was stepping over the line. "Simon was smart. He was good for business. Now he's dead and there might not even be a damned disk."

 
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