Undercurrents, p.1

Undercurrents, page 1

 

Undercurrents
 


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Undercurrents


  Cover image by Ryan McVay © PhotoDisc/Getty Images, Inc.

  Cover design copyrighted 2004 by Covenant Communications, Inc.

  Published by Covenant Communications, Inc.

  American Fork, Utah

  Copyright © 2004 by Traci Hunter Abramson.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any format or in any medium without the written permission of the publisher, Covenant Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 416, American Fork, UT 84003. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Covenant Communications, Inc.

  This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination, and are not to be construed as real.

  First Printing: March 2004

  978-1-60861-512-4

  To my husband, Jonathan,

  for his unwavering support

  and

  To Rebecca Cummings,

  for helping me find my voice.

  Prologue

  Chase paced his apartment restlessly. Just another hour and he could breathe again. Tonight he would go out, spend the evening with the girl of his dreams, and find himself again. But first he just had to pass along a single piece of paper.

  The names on that paper would put an end to one of the largest smuggling rings in recent history. The Drug Enforcement Agency had initially thought the smuggling was limited to drugs, but they soon learned that narcotics were just a small part of the operation. The smuggling included weapons, art, jewels, even people—anything that could bring a price.

  No part of the country had been left untouched by these criminals, as Chase had already identified main hubs in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, New York, and more than a dozen other cities. Even now, after months of undercover work, he wondered how much more remained to be discovered about the depth of the operation.

  Too long, he thought, restlessly rubbing his hand over two days’ worth of beard. This assignment had kept him too deep for too long. Chase had never expected that serving a mission to Columbia for his church would lead him into this career. The knowledge he gained there about the people, the culture, even about himself, was invaluable in his work with the DEA.

  Only two weeks after returning from his mission, he had entered the police academy. Three months later, he was assigned to work with the DEA in their investigation of a smuggling operation based out of an area in Columbia where he had served.

  The knock at the door brought a frown to his face. His contact wasn’t due for another twenty minutes. He opened the door and smiled. Smiling back at him was the girl who had changed his life—all because she had said no when he asked her out that first time, even though, she told him later, she had wanted to say yes.

  Chase had been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Christal’s father a few short months after asking questions. By then, he already felt like he was part of the family. He had been Christal’s first date when she turned sixteen, just weeks before he entered the Missionary Training Center.

  Now, as she stood before him in a simple cotton dress, her deep brown hair falling nearly to her waist, he was amazed she had consistently written to him for those two long years. Her typically fair skin was tanned from the summer sun, and her clear gray eyes still showed the grief from the loss of her father.

  Her mother’s death had come early in her life, before she knew how to grieve. Chase had stood by her during those last hours in the hospital after her father’s heart attack just a month before. Christal had amazed him when she announced her father’s death so simply by saying, “Daddy’s with my mother now.”

  Her faith never wavered. Even when she struggled to understand why she was now without any family in this world, she knew completely that her suffering was part of the Lord’s plan.

  In just weeks she would leave for Stanford to begin her freshman year. Receiving a swimming scholarship had been a dream come true for Christal, and while he was happy for her as well, Chase could only hope their relationship would survive the distance.

  Chase reached for her hand now. “Hi, gorgeous.” He kissed her firmly on the mouth. “I thought I was going to pick you up at

  your place.”

  “Practice let out early.” Christal didn’t add that she had tormented her swim coach until he relented and let her leave thirty minutes early. After nearly a dozen years with this coach, the same coach she had started with when she joined Arizona Desert Fox, she knew how to negotiate. She wouldn’t think now about the extra hour she would have to put in the next morning to make up for the time off.

  “I didn’t think Olympic hopefuls ever got out of practice early.”

  “It’s not often you have the night off,” Christal countered. “I tried calling, but you didn’t answer.”

  “I just got home.” Chase motioned her inside, and glanced around again. Newspapers littered the coffee table, a handful of throw pillows and sports magazines occupied a corner of the couch, and his breakfast dishes still sat on the kitchen counter. “My partner should be stopping by in a few minutes.”

  “I thought you were done with this assignment.”

  Chase shrugged and changed the subject. “Why don’t you sit down while I go shave.”

  Christal picked up a stuffed dolphin on the couch and smiled. “I like your new toy,” she called out to him as he headed for the bathroom.

  Chase smothered the guilt. “It reminded me of you.”

  A few minutes later, Chase stepped back into the living room just as the front door flew open. Two men marched into the apartment as though they lived there, and Christal rose and looked at Chase, confused. Tension settled over the room as the door clicked shut. Chase tried not to focus on Christal as she clutched the stuffed dolphin he had left on the couch.

  “Well, look what we have here,” the taller of the two men snarled, eyeing Christal.

  Christal took two steps back and quickly found herself standing behind Chase, clutching his hand.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” Chase let fury war with fear. “I told Jimmy I would meet you tomorrow.”

  “Malloy had a change of plans,” the shorter man sneered. “Maybe with your little sweetheart here, we can get us some different answers.”

  Christal clutched the dolphin tighter.

  The threat of violence was in their eyes, leaving Chase with few options. He squeezed her hand, and his voice was firm. “Chris, go into the bedroom.”

  “But . . .” Christal looked from Chase to the two men. Could these men work undercover with Chase? They didn’t look like cops, but then undercover officers rarely did.

  Chase turned to Christal, his eyes wary. He framed her face in his hands, forcing her to look at him. “Go into the bedroom.” The demand was delivered in a calm voice, but she could feel the threat of violence shimmering beneath the cool exterior. “Chris, please.”

  Nodding, she broke eye contact with him and let Chase lead her to the bedroom. Even as she turned, he was flipping the lock and closing the door between them.

  She stared at the lock and shuddered involuntarily. Who were these men Chase was locking her away from? And how could she just stand here while Chase was on the other side of the locked door? Her knees trembled as she pressed her ear to the door.

  On the other side, angry demands met with determined resistance. Even as voices raised, the words didn’t make any sense. The organization . . . payment . . . diamonds . . . A popping sound caused Christal to jump back from the door. She realized, to her horror, that it was gunfire.

  Her hand reached for the doorknob. She stared down when it didn’t turn, startled back to reality to see it locked.
Terror battled with the urge to rush to Chase’s aid. Hide. The word came to her mind so clearly she stepped away from the door.

  Panicked, she stumbled to the window, losing a shoe. She glanced outside and saw a dark car down the street. Focusing on her shoe, she picked it up and dropped it out the window.

  The doorknob rattled as she slipped into the closet. Remembering the attic space from when she helped Chase move in, she climbed up the closet shelves and crawled into the tiny storage area above the apartment.

  The bedroom door burst open just as she reached her hiding place. Her heart pounded as furniture crashed below. She held her breath when the closet door opened and she heard someone rifling through the clothing and boxes beneath her.

  Tears streamed down her face as she silently prayed, “Oh, Father, please let Chase be okay. Please send someone to help us.”

  “I found the list, but the diamonds aren’t here,” one man said.

  “I know he had them.” Another crashing sound. “Maybe he gave them to the girl.”

  The voices faded, but even after the front door slammed, Christal was too terrified to move. What if they came back? Had they taken Chase with them?

  The minutes stretched with the silence. Concern for Chase and constant prayer finally helped Christal overcome her paralysis. As she stepped out of the closet, she heard the front door burst open. Men shouted from the living room, but before she could retreat to her hiding place, a policeman was at her side.

  Her legs felt like rubber, but she let herself be guided through the debris strewn across the bedroom. In the front room, ambulance attendants were moving Chase onto a stretcher. Christal ran to his side, taking his hand.

  His face was pale, but he looked up at her and tried to speak.

  “Oh, Chase,” Christal sobbed.

  “Chris . . .” Chase managed. “Rush . . . don’t let him find you.”

  “Who? Don’t let who find me?” Christal asked. Chase kept his eyes on her, gasping as he tried to speak again. The paramedics worked around her, putting pressure on his wounds. He kept his eyes on hers until, moments later, his eyelids flickered, then closed. The hand that clutched hers weakened and fell limp as he was wheeled to the ambulance.

  “Don’t leave, Chase.” Christal barely recognized her own voice, but even as her words echoed she knew it was too late.

  When Christal arrived at the all-too-familiar hospital, she hesitated. Then, taking a deep breath, she forced herself to step inside. The smell was the same as it had been a month before: despair almost disguised by disinfectant. Tears filled her eyes as she thought of the doctors working frantically at her father’s bedside, trying to revive him. Her family was gone now. All she had left had been Chase, the friend who had been such a constant during the past few years. Even as her footsteps echoed through the sterile halls, Christal knew she was now really alone.

  She couldn’t feel anything as the doctor approached. She had seen him before, and he apparently recognized her as well, as he took her hand and began speaking. The words barely penetrated her numbness when the doctor offered in a sympathetic voice, “Chase died en route to the hospital.”

  Officer Noys, the policeman who had driven her to the hospital, arranged for Chase’s family to be informed. Christal could hardly imagine how they would cope, losing the son they had all but disowned when he had accepted the gospel. They wouldn’t understand that they could see him again someday if they would just open their hearts and minds to the truth.

  By the time Christal found herself at the police station, an agent from the DEA was already there. Christal answered questions the best she could. The routine of the squad room seemed undisturbed until she mentioned the name Jimmy Malloy.

  Everything stopped for a heartbeat, then everyone sprang into motion. The FBI and federal marshals were called. Christal was shown mug shots, and Chase’s killers were identified rather quickly once the police narrowed their search to Jimmy Malloy’s associates.

  Christal soon learned that Jimmy Malloy was one of the men Chase had been investigating during his last assignment. While Jimmy had been arrested before, convictions had been impossible to come by, as witnesses rarely survived to the trial dates. Christal was escorted by a policewoman to a safehouse, where she was kept under guard. That was the last night of her life as Christal Jones.

  Agent Pratt of the FBI arrived early the next morning. Over the following week, Chase’s killers were arrested, and Christal testified in the preliminary hearings against them. She was then transported to a federal facility where she would learn to leave her old identity behind and become Shaye Kendall from Denver, Colorado. Now she had no friends, no past, and no family. And Chase could never be spoken of again.

  Chapter One

  Matt tossed his gym bag into his car in frustration. His sweaty bout in the weight room had done little to erase his most recent

  relationship from memory. Of course, it hadn’t really been a

  relationship—rather Erica’s perception of one. She truly thought that Matt would just fall in line as her boyfriend since her best friend and his roommate were a couple.

  For two months he had tried to discourage her romantic interest. Trying for simple friendship had failed. So had avoiding her. Ultimately, he had used the truth, which had been a disaster. When he had said they needed to talk, she had actually thought he was going to propose. He’d never even kissed her!

  Meaningful relationships were obviously not for him. Even casual dating seemed to get him into trouble since returning from his mission. Girlfriends were a thing of the past, he decided, and definitely something to be avoided.

  Shaking his head, Matt slid into the car. He glanced up just as a girl came out of the aquatics center. He was somewhat surprised by her appearance—not many people wore shorts around campus in November. Her bulky sweatshirt covered most of the flannel boxer shorts she wore, and her tanned legs told him she wasn’t from Virginia. She looked as though she were more suited for a walk on the beach in Florida.

  Even as he reminded himself he was avoiding relationships, Matt found himself staring at her as she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her dark hair. She turned and walked quickly across campus toward the dorms. Matt watched until she disappeared around a corner before driving the few blocks to his apartment.

  “I was wondering when you would get back,” Brandon told Matt when he walked in the door.

  “Why? Is it my turn to cook?” Matt asked his roommate, raking his fingers through his short, blonde hair.

  “Actually, I already ordered a pizza.” Brandon glanced down at his watch. “I picked up our football tickets today. We have an extra ticket for Friday.”

  “Don’t even think about setting me up.” Matt cringed. Even after watching him suffer through the past two months with Erica, his friends seemed determined to play matchmaker. Jenna, Brandon’s fiancée, was the worst.

  “Jenna has this friend who would love to meet you,” Brandon started.

  “No, thanks. I’ll find my own date.” Matt opened the refrigerator and took out a soda.

  “Just let me know if you need any help.” Brandon grinned.

  Matt shook his head and flipped on the television. Finding a date for Friday night was the last thing he wanted to worry about. Just once, Matt wished he could date someone who liked him for himself, not for the prestige of dating the senator’s son or the star of the baseball team. During high school, Matt never really cared if girls went out with him for such superficial reasons. In fact, he had to admit he had done the same thing far too often before he had left for his mission.

  After his mission, Matt couldn’t be sure if he had changed or if it had been the girls he dated. His few girlfriends over the past year had made him feel like half of a couple instead of two individuals sharing a relationship. Maybe he was just afraid of commitment now that dating was expected to lead to marriage.

  With only three days until the game, Matt wondered if he could even find a date in time
. He thought of putting it off until the last minute, hoping Jenna wouldn’t have time to fix him up with anyone, but that would be risky. Their singles ward always had an ample supply of last-minute dates, and most of them would be planning their wedding before the end of the third quarter. The doorbell

  interrupted his thoughts, and soon the smell of pizza filled the

  two-bedroom apartment.

  Matt ate three slices before lugging his book bag into his room. Though his homework was demanding attention, Matt pushed it aside and sat down at his drawing table. Opening a sketch pad, he began outlining a figure with charcoals. The face was vague, shaded by her hooded sweatshirt.

  He stared at the barely finished product for a moment, then gently pulled the page out of his pad. She looked intriguing, almost part of a mystery. Matt tacked the drawing on his bulletin board, among other pieces of his artwork.

  He then stepped back and studied all of them, trying to decide which one he should turn in for his next art assignment. The vague face staring back at him was captivating, and he wondered if the drawing would have the same effect on his art teacher. Most of his other drawings were similar to things he had done before. Many were of his childhood home and the horses that he loved. With over a week to decide, Matt hoped that more inspiration was just around the corner.

  “Who’s that?” Brandon asked from the doorway.

  “What?” Matt followed his gaze to his newest drawing.

  Brandon walked closer to the bulletin board and stared at the girl. “This is really good. Who is she?”

  “I don’t know.” Matt shrugged his shoulders.

  “You don’t know?” Brandon echoed, surprised. More than one girl had offered to model for Matt, but he routinely refused their offers.

  Matt shook his head. “She’s just a girl I saw on my way home.”

  “She certainly makes an impression.”

  “I guess so,” he agreed, wishing he had a clear image of her face.

  Matt turned his attention to his other homework. After finishing his reading assignments and calculus problems, he tried to outline his upcoming term paper. Fatigue made the task impossible, and he finally resolved to continue the effort first thing in the morning.

 
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