Gray forced his fist to relax. It had taken all afternoon, but in a calmer frame of mind, Gray had learned to accept the restraints Logan had placed on him. He had no idea what was really going on here, and to operate blindly, rashly, might only get more people killed.
Still, a large measure of guilt ached at the base of his spine, making it difficult to sit still. He had spent most of the afternoon pacing his hotel room. The past days had replayed in his mind over and over again.
If he had been more careful to start…taken more precautions…
Gray's cell phone vibrated in his pocket. Taking it out, he checked the incoming number. Thank God. He snapped open the phone, stood, and stepped to the balcony railing.
"Rachel…I'm glad you called back."
"I got your message. Are you all right?"
He heard both the personal concern and the professional interest in a more thorough debriefing. He had left her only a short note on her cell phone, warning that their rendezvous would have to be cut short. He hadn't gone into the details. Despite their relationship, there were security clearances involved.
"I'm fine. But Monk is flying in. He'll be here a little after midnight."
"I've just arrived in Frankfurt myself," Rachel said. "Laying over for my last leg to Copenhagen. I checked my messages after we landed here."
"Again. I'm sorry…"
"So I should head back?"
He feared involving her in any way. "It would be best. We'll have to reschedule. Perhaps if things calm down here, I can make a short side trip to Rome and visit you there before returning to the States."
"I would like that."
He heard the disappointment in her voice.
"I'll make it up to you," he said, hoping it was a promise he could keep.
She sighed—not in irritation, but in understanding. They were not naive about their long-distance relationship. Two continents, two careers. But they were willing to work on it…to see where it would lead.
"I'd hoped we would have a chance to talk," Rachel said.
He knew what she meant, reading the deeper meaning behind her words. They had been through much together, witnessed both the good and the bad in each other, and still, despite the difficulty in a long-distance romance, neither had been willing to throw in the towel. In fact, both of them knew that it was time to discuss the next step.
Shortening that distance.
It was probably one of the reasons that they'd been so long apart since the last rendezvous. Some unspoken acknowledgment that they both needed time to think. Now it was time to lay the cards on the table.
Move forward or not.
But did he even have an answer? He loved Rachel. He was ready to make a life with her. They had even talked about kids. Still…something unsettled him. Made him almost relieved their tryst here had been delayed. It wasn't something as mundane as cold feet. So then what was it?
Maybe they had better talk.
"I'll get to Rome," he said. "I promise."
"I'm going to hold you to that. I'll even keep some of Uncle Vigor's vermicelli alia panna warming on the stove." He heard the tension easing from her voice. "I miss you, Gray. We—"
Her next words were cut off by the strident beep of a car horn.
Gray glanced down to the street. Below, a figure ran across two lanes, heedless of traffic. A woman in a cashmere jacket and ankle-length dress, hair bundled up in a bun. Gray almost didn't recognize her. Not until she flipped off the driver who had honked.
What the hell was the girl doing here?
"Gray—?" Rachel said in his ear.
He spoke in a rush. "I'm sorry, Rachel…I have to run."
He hung up, pocketing his cell phone.
Below, Fiona rushed to the auction house door and pushed inside. Gray darted back to his laptop. His camera captured the girl's image through the glass entrance. She was arguing with the doorman. Finally, the uniformed man checked a paper she shoved into his hands, scowled, and waved her farther inside.
Fiona bulled past him and disappeared. The camera went dark.
Gray glanced between laptop and street.
Logan would not be happy. No rash actions.
Still, what would Painter Crowe do?
Gray swung back inside and stripped out of his street clothes. His suit jacket lay on the bed. Ready in case of emergency.
Painter certainly would not sit calmly and do nothing.
10:22 p.m. HIMALAYAS
"We have to remain calm," Painter said. "Sit tight."
Before them, the ghost lights continued to flare and subside, wintry and silent, igniting the icy waterfall into a shattering brilliance, then dying away. In the resulting darkness, the cave seemed colder and blacker.
Lisa shifted closer to him. Her hand found his, squeezing all the blood from his palm.
"No wonder they hadn't bothered tracking us," she whispered, breathless with fear. "Why hunt through this storm, when all they have to do is turn those damn lights back on and irradiate us? We can't hide from that."
Painter realized she was right. Maddened, they would be without defenses. In such a senseless state, the treacherous landscape and frigid cold would kill them as surely as any sniper's bullet.
But he refused to give up hope.
The madness took hours to take hold. He would not waste those hours. If they could reach help in time, perhaps there was a way to reverse the effect.
"We'll get through this," he said lamely.
This only irritated her.
She turned to him as the lights flared again, sparkling the cavern with a diamondlike sheen. Lisa's eyes shone with less terror than he had imagined. She was fearful—and rightfully so—but there remained a hard glint, also diamondlike.
"Don't talk down to me," Lisa said, slipping her hand from his. "That's all I ask."
Painter nodded. "If they're trusting the radiation or whatever to kill us, they may not be watching the mountains that well. With the storm over, we can—"
A spatter of gunfire erupted, splintering the winter's quiet.
Painter met Lisa's gaze.
It sounded close.
Proving that, a spate of bullets cracked into the wall of ice. Painter and Lisa scrambled back, shedding their space blanket. They retreated to the rear of the small cave. There was no escape.
By now, Painter noted something else.
The ghost light had not faded as it had before. The frozen waterfall remained aglow with its deadly brilliance. The light held steady, pinning them down.
A bullhorn boomed. "Painter Crowe! We know you and the woman are hiding there!"