“We beached in a friggin’ golf course,” Kowalski said with a shake of his head. “You gotta hand it to the Arabs for working with what they got.”
Gray returned to the pond, which served the island in multiple ways: as a landscape element, as a water hazard, and as a structural-design feature.
Jack remained aboard the Ghost, leaning half out of the hatch. He pointed a thumb toward the middle of the pond. “I’ll be hovering just under the surface, but I’ll keep a watch for you with my scope. If you can’t make it back here, you’ve got my signaling device. Set it off and I’ll find you.”
“Thanks.” Gray patted his shirt pocket, indicating he had it.
Jack hesitated before ducking away. His expression turned a touch embarrassed, like he wanted to ask something but held back.
“What is it?” Gray asked.
Jack sighed. “Maybe it’s not my place … but how’s Lisa doing?”
Gray had already spoken with Painter back in Dubai, so he knew the dire situation with Lisa and Kat. Worry for his friends remained a knot in his gut. But that wasn’t what Jack was inquiring about. Gray read the real question in his eyes.
Is she happy with her life?
Gray answered that question as honestly as he could, but in regards to what Jack had asked directly—how’s Lisa doing?—he thought it best to lie.
“She’s doing great.”
July 2, 5:46 P.M. EST
Charleston, South Carolina
Get somewhere safe … off the street, but stay in public.
The instructions rang in Lisa’s head. Agony lanced up her leg with every step down East Bay Street. She tried her best to hide her limp, baking under the late-afternoon sun.
When Painter had shouted his warning over the phone to get out of her hotel room, she’d not hesitated. She ran four miles every morning, did yoga most nights, and her brother, who climbed mountains for a living, had taught her a few mad skills.
Panicked, and needing her hands free, she had dropped her cell phone, twisted away from the door, and dashed to the balcony. She heard the splintering crash as the door burst open behind her—but she was already moving through the French doors and vaulting over the wrought iron. She caught one hand on the railing and swung around. With her legs dangling free, she lowered herself hand-over-hand down the second-story balcony ironwork. Once at the bottom, she let go and dropped the rest of the way to the sidewalk.
Even wearing sensible shoes, she landed hard enough to jam her left ankle. A glance up showed a masked assailant staring down at her. He raised a pistol, but she dashed forward under the balcony, out of the line of fire. Shouting erupted above—then gun blasts.
There had been no plan, except to put distance between her and the hotel. She had a choice of fleeing out into the neighboring waterfront park or into the narrow maze of historic homes with their quaint porches, filigree woodwork, and colorful gardens. She chose the latter, not trusting the open spaces of the park. Plus, tourists and locals crowded the streets, shops, and coffeehouses of the area. She instinctively knew to keep to public spaces.
It took her another twenty minutes to calm her heart, to let the adrenaline seep from her brain enough for her to think. Still, she kept peering behind her—not that she knew whose faces to be watching for or how many were searching for her. Anyone could be a threat. With no money, no phone, she didn’t know anyone in the strange city to trust. So she reached out to the one person who could help.
She borrowed a phone from a patron seated in a patio coffeehouse and called Painter. She couldn’t say who was more relieved to hear the other’s voice, but Painter stayed stern, authoritative. He ordered her to get off the street, out of direct sight, fearing her attackers might be closing a net around the district and looking for her.
But stay in public …
That meant she needed an indoor space: a bar, a restaurant, a hotel lobby.
A commotion drew her attention down a cobbled-brick alleyway off the main thoroughfare. A clutch of women in handsome gowns and men in tuxedos gathered a short distance away, laughing and hugging their hellos. It appeared a wedding reception or engagement party was under way at a restaurant back there, and from the richness of the attire, from the haughty edge to their genteel Carolina accents, the event had the air of old money.
She hid her limp, touched her hair to assure herself she was presentable for a restaurant of this caliber. She hoped the affair was in a private room and that she could still get a seat in the main dining room or bar.
A small gas lantern flickered above the sign.
Reaching the restaurant, she excused herself as she slipped through the partygoers—as she hoped, they were all filing upstairs to a private room. She stepped up to the host’s station.
“Excuse me. I’m afraid I don’t have a reservation. But I was hoping I could still get a table.”
The host, a slender man with a soft manner, smiled. “That shouldn’t be a problem this early in the evening. If you’ll give me a moment.”
Lisa stepped away, but she remained standing. She was afraid if she sat down, she’d never get back up again. Her leg throbbed all the way to her knee. To distract herself, she read a small sign about the restaurant, how the building dated back to 1788. Over the centuries, it had served as a warehouse, a tavern, and even a brothel. It stated that George Washington had once attended a grand dinner party here—hopefully not when it was a brothel.
Still, with such a pedigree, it was no wonder the upper crust of Charleston chose this place for special events. Laughter and music echoed down from above.
Another few stragglers of the party pushed into the lobby. From the amount of lace and piles of coiffed white hair, they were clearly a few of the grandes dames of Charleston high society.
“If you’ll follow me,” the host said to Lisa, drawing her attention away, “your table is ready.”
One of the older women glanced in her direction, eyeing her from the lofty height of her class position—then leaned to another and whispered. Other eyes stared toward her, judging her.
Suddenly self-conscious, Lisa smoothed a hand down her St. John dress and stepped away from them, joining the host.
He leaned conspiratorially toward her. “It’s cotillion season. They’re having a small debutante ball upstairs.”
Lisa glanced up, picturing a party of chiffon and diamonds, the official debut of a young woman to her high-society peers. Balls like this functioned in the past as an antiquated dating service, to present an eligible daughter to available bachelors within a select upper circle.