Mistress Of The Game Chapter Twenty Nine
LEXI WATCHED THE TWO PLAINCLOTHES POLICEMEN WALK up the path toward the house.
Her plan was audacious. She calculated its chances of success at around 20 percent. Better odds than Jamie McGregor had when he survived those land mines in the Namib desert.
Forcing herself to stay calm, Lexi folded Eve's letter and slipped it into her bra. Then, making a deliberate effort to slow her breathing, she walked downstairs. By some miracle, the entryway was deserted. She could hear Gabe and Robbie's voices in her father's study. She would have to act quickly.
’’Come in. I've been expecting you.’’
She opened the front door to the house with a smile. Two cops stood on the porch. One was young, not more than thirty, good-looking and Hispanic. The other was older, about Lexi's own age, pale-skinned and balding. I wonder which one is the boss?
Both men looked awkward. To be greeted by Lexi Templeton herself, still in her wedding dress, seemed to throw them off stride. Didn't people like her have butlers to answer the door? And how in the hell was she expecting them?
Lexi said, ’’Follow me. I'll take you somewhere we can talk in private.’’
Detective Shaw looked at Detective Sanchez. Normally, they took the lead when making an arrest. But Lieutenant Carey had made it very clear he wanted this thing handled ’’softly softly.’’ They decided to let it slide.
’’Sure thing, ma'am. After you.’’
Lexi took them to the library. On the second floor of the house, it had once been Kate Blackwell's pride and joy. A sumptuous, welcoming room with wine-red brocade chairs and cozy, wood-paneled walls, it oozed understated wealth and breeding. Class. Lexi gestured for the policemen to sit down. She locked the door behind them. ’’So we won't be disturbed.’’
Detective Shaw began. ’’We're sorry to have to do this on your wedding day, ma'am.’’
Lexi shook her head. ’’Please, don't apologize. You're doing your job. I'm assuming you received a copy of a letter from my aunt, Eve Blackwell?’’
The detectives exchanged glances again.
’’That is why you're here, isn't it?’’
Detective Sanchez said: ’’I'm afraid we're not at liberty to discuss that, ma'am.’’
’’You do know she was insane? Toward the end, she barely knew her own name, poor thing.’’
’’I think it would be better if we had this conversation at the station.’’
Lexi's face fell. ’’I see.’’ She looked so beautiful, so vulnerable, in her wedding dress, Detective Sanchez felt horrible. He wanted to make love to her, not arrest her.
’’Am I under arrest?’’
’’Well...we'd rather not make it formal till we get to the station,’’ he said kindly. ’’You have the right to have a lawyer present. I think the less said right now the better.’’
Lexi nodded calmly. ’’I quite understand. Can you give me a few minutes to change and talk to my husband?’’
Detective Shaw looked uncomfortable. ’’I don't know about that, ma'am.’’
’’Please. I'd like to explain to him about this misunderstanding before we leave.’’
Detective Shaw thought: Misunderstanding, my ass.
Detective Sanchez said: ’’Of course. Take your time.’’
Once Lexi had gone, Detective Shaw let his partner have it. ’’What the hell was that about? We're supposed to be bringing her in for fraud, not asking her on a date.’’
’’Come on, man. It's her wedding day. Have a heart, would you?’’
’’She's a crook, Antonio.’’
Detective Sanchez shrugged. ’’It's still her wedding day.’’
Gabe ran into Lexi at the top of the stairs.
’’There you are. Where on earth have you been? I've been looking for you for hours.’’
’’I'm sorry, darling.’’ She kissed him, savoring the feel of his lips on hers. I can't lose him. I can't.
’’Do you know the police are here? Security just spoke to Robbie. They said they had to speak with you urgently.’’
’’I know. I let them in. They're here to arrest me.’’
Gabe's eyes widened. ’’Arrest you? Arrest you for what?’’
Lexi took his hand and led him back into the bedroom, locking the door behind them. There was no way around it. She would have to tell him the truth. Without Gabe's help, and Robbie's, her plan would fail.
’’You remember when you proposed to me? At the abortion clinic?’’
Gabe shuddered. Memories of that day - how close they'd come to losing little Max - still gave him nightmares.
’’Of course I do.’’
’’Do you remember what you said to me?’’
’’Something along the lines of ’’Will you marry me,'I suspect. Why?’’
’’No.’’ Lexi looked at him urgently. ’’Your exact words. Do you remember?’’
’’Not exactly, no. But why is it so - ’’
’’You said: 'Nothing is unforgivable.'’’ Lexi clasped his hand. ’’You said: 'Whatever you've done, Lexi, I don't care. I love you as you are.'’’
Gabe remembered. He remembered his desperation that day. He'd have done anything to get her back.
’’Did you mean it?’’
He thought for a moment.
’’Yes. I meant it. Whatever trouble you're in, Lex, you can tell me. We'll face it together.’’
Reaching down her dress, Lexi pulled out Eve's letter.
GABE READ THE LETTER IN SILENCE. THEN HE READ IT again. By the time he looked up, Lexi had changed out of her wedding dress into a jeans and a sweater and was hastily packing an overnight bag.
Gabe had a million questions: How, why, when? But there was no time for any of them. Lexi, as ever, was in control.
’’Two detectives are waiting in the library. When I get to the station, they're going to arrest me. We don't have much time.’’
’’Time for what?’’ Poor Gabe couldn't keep up. A few short hours ago he'd been the happiest man in the world. Now he was sleepwalking through a nightmare.
Stuffing her passport into the overnight bag, Lexi zipped it up and thrust it into his hands. ’’Time to escape, of course. Now listen carefully. This is the plan.’’
All the other wedding guests had left, but August Sandford was still in the kitchen. Deep in debate with Paolo Cozmici over a bottle of Ychem that was too good to be hurried, he'd lost track of time.
’’Christ.’’ He looked at his watch. ’’I gotta go. My wife'll think I've been fooling around with one of the bridesmaids.’’ Swaying happily, he staggered out onto the front lawn. Lexi, flanked by two cops, was climbing into the back of a squad car. A few feet away, Gabe McGregor stood watching, ashen-faced.
August rubbed his eyes. He must be drunker than he thought.
’’Gabe? What the hell's happening?’’
’’They're arresting her.’’ Gabe's voice was a monotone. He was clearly still in shock. ’’Eve Blackwell's lawyers are accusing Lexi of fraud. Something to do with short-selling Kruger-Brent stock. It's all bullshit.’’
’’Of course it is.’’ August put a comforting arm around Gabe's shoulders. ’’Jesus. What a screwup. Is there anything I can do?’’
’’No. Just keep it to yourself. Lexi's attorney should have things straightened out in an hour or so.’’ Gabe looked dazed. ’’We're supposed to be on our honeymoon.’’
’’You will be,’’ said August. ’’Seriously, don't worry. This is obviously just a crazy mistake.’’
Alone in his car two minutes later, sober as a judge, August put in an urgent call to his broker.
’’Bill? I think you'd better sell my Kruger-Brent stock. Uh-huh, yes. All of it. As soon as the markets open on Monday, I want you to dump the lot.’’
August Sandford had no idea what sort of trouble Lexi had gotten herself into this time. And he didn't want to know. She had brought Kruger-Brent back from the dead once. He'd always be grateful to her for that. But one more scandal and they were finished.
Not even Lazarus rose twice.
GRETA, MAXINE MCGREGOR'S NANNY, HAD MISSED THE drama of her boss's arrest. A thirty-year-old Swede with flaxen hair and strong, childbearing hips, Greta Sorensen had been a professional nanny for nine years. Long enough to know that jobs like this one, working for rich and famous clients like Lexi Templeton, might sound glamorous, but in reality, they were damned hard work. With so many people in the house today, it had taken Greta ages to settle little Max down to sleep. Now, with her charge at last dozing in her crib, the nanny was slumped on the nursery sofa in front of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, snoring loudly.
Gabe walked in and shook her by the shoulder.
’’Sorry, sir.’’ Greta jumped. ’’I was just resting my eyes. Max is fast asleep next door. I'd have woken up if she stirred.’’
’’It's all right, Greta.’’
’’I thought you and Mrs. McGregor had left for your honeymoon. Did you want to say good-bye to the baby?’’
’’Actually, there's been a change of plan. Mrs. McGregor's been...er...detained. She'll be flying out to join us in a day or two.’’
The nanny looked puzzled. ’’To join us?’’
’’Yes. We've decided to take Maxine on the honeymoon with us after all. Lexi couldn't bear to leave her in the end, so you'll fly out with me tonight. How soon can you pack?’’
Greta gritted her teeth and turned off the television. ’’I'll need an hour to get all the baby's things together, sir.’’ Why did rich people always change their minds at the last minute, and expect everybody else to pick up the pieces? Traveling with an infant was like a major military operation. You couldn't just get up and go.
’’You've got twenty minutes,’’ said Gabe. ’’Ask one of the maids for help if you need it. There's a boat waiting at the jetty to take us to the mainland. It's a short ride to the airport from there.’’
’’May I ask where we're going, sir?’’
’’Turks and Caicos.’’
’’Don't look so worried,’’ said Gabe. ’’You'll love it.’’
Lieutenant John Carey felt the sweat beading on the back of his neck. He had taken a big risk, arresting Lexi Templeton right here in Dark Harbor and bringing her in to the local police station for questioning. This case was so huge, the biggest fraud since Bernie Madoff. Once word got out, everyone would want a piece of it: the FBI, the fraud squad, Interpol. But John Carey had decided to make them all wait.
Why should I let some FBI hotshot waltz in and steal all the glory from right under my nose? We made a nice, clean arrest. All I need now is a nice, clean confession.
’’So, Ms. Templeton. Let's get to the point, shall we? Was bankrupting Kruger-Brent, Limited, your idea? Or Mr. Kolepp's?’’
Mark Hambly, Lexi's bull terrier of an attorney, whispered in her ear.
’’You don't have to answer that.’’
Lexi had known Mark for years. A squat, broad-shouldered man with a wide neck and short, muscled arms, he looked more like a bare-knuckle prizefighter than a lawyer. Appropriately, since plenty of prosecutors had left courtrooms where Mark Hambly was defending feeling like they'd gone ten rounds with Godzilla. Other defense attorneys relied on subtlety, coaxing juries, pointing out nuances and shades of gray in the evidence. Not Mark Hambly. He ran over juries like a dump truck. It was one of the many things Lexi loved about him.
Thank God I invited him to the wedding, thought Lexi. If Mark had been in New York and I'd had to get some local lawyer...She shuddered at the thought.
Lieutenant Carey pressed on. ’’Were you aware that Mr. Kolepp was intending to flee to South America?’’
Mark Hambly shook his head at Lexi. Don't answer.
’’When was the last time you spoke to Mr. Kolepp?’’
Another head shake.
Lieutenant Carey lost his temper. Who did this fancy New York attorney think he was dealing with?
’’Listen, you arrogant prick. I'm asking the lady, not you. She's not doing herself any favors by being so obstructive, you know. You think these tapes are gonna sound good in court? Do you?’’
Lexi spoke up. ’’It's all right, Mark. I'm happy to answer the Lieutenant's questions. I've got nothing to hide. You can go home now.’’
Mark Hambly's jaw practically hit the Formica table. Lexi Templeton was a smart cookie. She couldn't be serious about talking to this schmuck without a lawyer present. Could she?
’’Lexi, trust me, that's not a good idea. You're not thinking clearly.’’
’’Really, Mark. It's fine.’’
A grin of triumph spread over Lieutenant Carey's face.
’’You heard her, Mark. Go home.’’
’’Perhaps there's a more comfortable room we could use, Lieutenant?’’ Lexi gave John Carey her most winning smile, the same one that had melted the heart of Detective Sanchez earlier. ’’My sense is this is going to take a while. These chairs are awfully hard.’’
Mark Hambly pleaded: ’’Lexi, come on, this is crazy. Don't talk to this idiot alone.’’
’’This idiot?’’ It was all John Carey could do not to grab the lawyer by the throat and throttle him. ’’Are you deaf, buddy? She asked you to leave.’’
Mark Hambly looked helplessly at his client, but it was no use. He picked up his briefcase and left without another word.
Lieutenant Carey turned his attention back to Lexi.
I'm starting to like this woman.
’’We'll move into room three, Ms. Templeton. There's a couch in there. I'll have my guys bring you something to eat if you like.’’
’’I'd appreciate that. Thank you.’’
My pleasure. You talk to me, sweetheart, and you can have anything you want.
Greta Sorensen looked worried. She was in the back of a limousine with Gabe, speeding toward the airport.
’’I'm not sure, Mr. McGregor. I could get into trouble.’’
’’Not if you stick to the story. The airline is fully informed.’’
’’I'm still not sure.’’
Gabe pulled out his checkbook. ’’Would fifty thousand dollars help to ease your mind at all?’’
Greta looked at the check. Then she looked at Gabe. Finally, she looked at baby Maxine, dreaming away in her car seat, blissfully unaware of the high-stakes game in which she was about to become an unwitting pawn. Greta held out her hand.
’’You know what, Mr. McGregor? I believe it would ease my mind.’’
Gabe grinned and passed her the check.
He'd always liked Swedish girls.
The new interview room was painted a bright, cheery yellow, with a striped rug, paintings on the wall, and a pair of matching faux-suede couches. Someone brought Lexi a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Lexi thought: This must be the ’’good cop’’ room. Perfect. The clock on the wall said a quarter after eight.
She had thirty minutes.
’’Talk to me about Carl Kolepp.’’
Lexi talked, slowly. It was important that she sound relaxed on the tape. But at the same time, she had to measure every word. I can't afford to incriminate myself. I have to tread carefully. She told Carey about her first meeting with Carl. Her respect for him as a trader. She talked about Kruger-Brent. ’’It's important you understand a little bit about the company history, Lieutenant. What happened to our stock price was not simple cause and effect. It was not one single event but a complex web of events.’’
John Carey nodded. ’’Go on.’’
Twenty minutes...Keep him talking...
John Carey didn't understand half of what Lexi was saying. Indices and margin calls and hedges, it was all Greek to him. But it didn't matter. The point was she was talking. And it was all on tape.
Hawaii. That'd be a good place to retire. Maybe a time-share on Kaanapali Beach?
Lexi checked the clock. Seven minutes. Frowning, she rested a hand on her belly.
’’Yes. I...’’ Lexi clutched her stomach again. ’’Would you mind stopping the tape for a moment, Lieutenant?’’
Carey got up and switched off the recorder. It was irritating having to stop when they were on a roll, but he didn't want to alienate Lexi, not when she was being so helpful.
’’Are you sure you're all right, Ms. Templeton?’’
’’I'm fine. Thank you.’’ Lexi smiled bravely. ’’I didn't want this to go on record. But I actually just found out I'm pregnant again. The sickness...you know.’’
’’Oh. Sure.’’ Carey looked embarrassed. He wasn't good with women's problems. ’’Sorry. I didn't know. Can I...is there anything I can do?’’
’’I'll be fine. I could maybe use some fresh air.’’
’’Of course. You want to use the ladies'room first?’’
Lexi nodded gratefully. ’’Thanks.’’
Carey led her down the hall to the restrooms. Normally suspects would be escorted to the toilets by a female officer, but he didn't see the need in this case. This is Lexi Templeton. She's hardly likely to try to shimmy out of the window like a common criminal.
Sure enough, five minutes later, Lexi emerged into the corridor. She looked deathly pale.
’’I know you want to get back to the interview, Lieutenant. But do you think I could step outside for a few minutes? I don't feel at all well.’’
’’Of course. Take your time.’’
He led her out into a small paved area at the back of the station. There was a metal table and a couple of chairs, both littered with cigarette butts. A lone ceramic planter stood forlornly in the corner, containing something very, very dead.
Lieutenant Carey was babbling. ’’Not the most beautiful yard, I'm afraid. None of my guys are what you might call green-thumbed...if you know what I mean...anyway. I'll be in room three when you're ready.’’
’’Thanks. I won't be long.’’
Lexi waited for the door to close. Grabbing one of the chairs, she dragged it over to the back of the garden. At first glance, the wall looked relatively low. But when Lexi stood on top of the chair, she realized that there was a good three feet between her outstretched fingertips and freedom. She'd have to jump for it.
Bending her knees, arms stretched upward, she leaped as high as she could. The chair slipped from beneath her feet, clattering loudly onto the concrete. Panicking, Lexi looked behind her at the station door.
Don't open. Please don't open.
Agonizing seconds passed. Nothing happened.
Hanging by her fingers from the top of the wall, Lexi could feel her hands sweating. I'm slipping. Her feet flailed in the air, desperately scrambling for some sort of hold, a protruding brick, a crack, anything. It was no good. The wall was like ice. She was losing her grip.
Oh God! I'm going to fall.
A warm, male hand clamped down over hers. Then another. Fingers tightened around Lexi's wrists. Someone was pulling her, so hard Lexi thought her shoulders were about to dislocate. Seconds later, she was flying headfirst over the top of the wall.
A garbage can broke her fall, but Lexi still landed hard, bruising her elbow and hip on the hard ground of the alleyway. She cried out in pain.
Someone scooped her up off the ground like a rag doll. Bundling her into the back of a car, he took off at full speed. Lexi lay on the floor of the backseat, her heart pounding. Memories of her childhood kidnapping came flooding back to her. Only this time she knew where she was going.
After ten minutes, and numerous sharp turns, the car began to slow down. Lexi felt the bumps as they turned off the road. At last, the engine stopped.
’’You okay?’’ Robbie's voice sounded shaky.
’’I'm fine. Thanks. I didn't know if you'd make it.’’
Overwhelmed with relief, Lexi burst out laughing.
’’I wouldn't celebrate just yet if I were you,’’ said Robbie. ’’That was the easy part. Now we have to get you off the island.’’
’’US Air flight twenty-eight to Providenciales, you may board the aircraft at this time.’’
Gabe and Greta were in the first-class departure lounge at Bangor International Airport. Maxine lay sleeping like a black-haired cherub in her nanny's arms. Two floors below, at the gate, an army of paparazzi was waiting, hoping for a picture of Lexi en route to her honeymoon. Baby Max would be an added bonus.
’’You ready to go?’’
’’Yes, sir. Ready as I'll ever be.’’
Gabe looked at his watch.
Come on, Lexi.
Lieutenant John Carey waited for five minutes. Then ten.
Should I go out there and get her?
What with Lexi being so unexpectedly forthcoming, he didn't want to look insensitive. He remembered his ex-wife when she was pregnant. Hormones out of control, like an angry hippo. You could tick a pregnant woman off just by breathing. I need that confession.
Fifteen minutes. This is getting ridiculous. Maybe I should bring her a glass of water or something? Yeah. That's a good idea. Act like I'm concerned for her health.
Three minutes later, Lieutenant Carey walked outside with a paper cup full of water. When the duty sergeant heard his boss's scream, he thought he was having a heart attack. He rushed outside.
’’Don't just stand there!’’ Lieutenant Carey was apoplectic. ’’Put a call out to all units. The suspect has absconded. I want roadblocks. I want guys at the airport, the docks. I want helicopters.’’
’’And get me Sanchez and Shaw.’’
’’Yes, sir. Should I call anyone else, sir?’’
’’I don't know, sir. I thought maybe...the FBI?’’
Lieutenant John Carey closed his eyes and watched his retirement condo on Kaanapali Beach crumble into dust. He glared at his sergeant.
’’No. This stays within the department. Understand?’’
’’She must still be on the island.’’
I'm gonna find that conniving little bitch if it's the last thing I do.
The flight attendant smiled at Gabe.
’’I'll show you to your seat, sir. Right this way. My name's Catherine.’’
’’Thanks, Catherine.’’ He followed her to the front of the plane. Max had woken up a few minutes earlier and was now gurgling contentedly in his arms. The flight attendant thought: How cute to see such a hands-on dad. Most fathers would give the baby to the nanny for the whole flight and open a newspaper.
’’Congratulations by the way, sir.’’
Gabe looked blank.
’’It was today, wasn't it?’’
’’Oh! Yes. Thank you.’’ The wedding. It felt like a lifetime ago already.
’’Mrs. McGregor's not flying with us today?’’
’’No.’’ He didn't elaborate. The flight attendant hoped she hadn't inadvertently put her foot in it.
’’Well, anyway. I hope you'll both be very happy.’’
Gabe didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
So do I, Catherine. So do I.
It was so dark Lexi could barely see her hand in front of her face. She heard the lapping of the waves. Holding her brother's hand tightly, she inched along the dirt track toward the water.
’’Danny!’’ Robbie hissed through the blackness. ’’You there?’’
Illuminated by a handheld gas lamp, a familiar face jumped out of the gloom. ’’Hey, Lex. Long time.’’
’’Oh my God. Danny French?’’ Lexi hugged him. ’’I don't believe it.’’
Lexi had known Daniel French since she was a little girl. They used to play together during summer vacations at Dark Harbor. Once, when Lexi was thirteen, they'd even kissed under the nets of his dad's trawler. She hadn't seen him in decades.
’’Robbie told you?’’
’’He told me you were in trouble. That's good enough for me. Hop aboard.’’
Taking Lexi's arm, Danny walked her to the rotting jetty at the end of the track and helped her onto a small fishing boat. There was a makeshift hiding place beneath some nets and tarpaulin. It reeked of fish. Lexi couldn't have been more grateful if Danny had been showing her to her suite at the Ritz.
’’Thank you.’’ Her voice was choked with emotion. She'd never done anything for Danny French to deserve this kind of loyalty. Danny should have been at my wedding, not a bunch of stupid senators. When will I learn?
’’You're welcome. I figured if anyone can work her way out of a jam, it's Lexi. When this is all over and you're stinking rich again, you can pay off my mortgage. Deal?’’
Lexi grinned. ’’Deal.’’
Danny started the boat's engine.
Robbie Templeton watched from the shore until the darkness swallowed his sister completely. He had no idea when, or if, he would see her again.
’’CAN I GET YOU ANYTHING ELSE BEFORE WE LAND, madam? A hot towel perhaps? Something to drink?’’
Greta Sorensen shook her head. She gestured toward the tiny pink bundle strapped to her chest. ’’I don't want to disturb her.’’
’’She's been good as gold, hasn't she?’’ The flight attendant smiled. ’’I don't think we've ever had an infant as quiet as that.’’
’’She likes her sleep. Takes after her father.’’
Across the aisle, a pile of blankets heaved rhythmically up and down. The only sign that there was a human being underneath them was the tuft of white hair sticking out of the top.
’’Bless him,’’ said the flight attendant.
Lieutenant Carey was on the phone.
’’What do you have for me?’’
’’They're booked into the honeymoon suite at the Amanyara. Turks and Caicos.’’
Detective Antonio Sanchez spoke quickly.
’’They were both booked on the nine-fifteen P.M. flight to Providenciales. But Gabe McGregor changed the reservation this afternoon, right after we came up to the house. He canceled his wife's reservation and had new tickets issued for the nanny and the little girl. He kept his own seat.’’
’’He went on the honeymoon on his own? With his wife in the slammer?’’
’’Yes, sir. It would appear that way. He should be in the air right now.’’
’’Hmm.’’ Lieutenant Carey thought for a moment. ’’Anything else?’’
’’Yes, sir.’’ A note of excitement crept into Detective Sanchez's voice. ’’Right after he changed the first reservation, he booked a third ticket. Also to Providenciales, on a private charter. That plane is due to leave Bangor at midnight tonight with twelve passengers.’’
Lieutenant Carey's heart skipped a beat.
’’What name did he book it under?’’
’’That's the best part. The passenger name is Wilson. Jennifer Wilson.’’
Lieutenant Carey closed his eyes. The name rang a bell, but he couldn't quite place it...Finally, it came to him.
Of course! Jennifer Wilson. President of Cedar International. Chairman of DH Holdings. Lexi Templeton's trading alias.
Had Lexi honestly believed it would be that easy? That she could use a false name and join her husband on their honeymoon, as if nothing had happened? Perhaps she'd gotten away with so much for so long she believed she was untouchable. Well, not this time, sweetheart. I've got your number.
Lieutenant Carey hung up and looked at his watch.
He had to get to the airport.
The blond woman with the oversize sunglasses handed her passport to security.
’’Would you please remove your sunglasses, ma'am. I need to see your face.’’
She did as she was asked. For a few tense moments, the man in the booth looked at her in silence. Then he smiled.
’’Have a good flight, Ms. Wilson. Enjoy Turks and Caicos.’’
’’Thank you. I will.’’
Gabe stared out of the plane window. The carpet of clouds below him looked soft and welcoming. Peaceful.
He thought about Lexi. Where was she right now? He hated not knowing. Gabe had played his part. But had Lexi played hers? Was she safe? Even if she was - even if, by some miracle, her plan had worked - what then? He wondered what the future would hold for them? What kind of life would it be for little Max, growing up as the daughter of a criminal on the run?
Make that two criminals. I'm up to my neck in this now. Too late to turn back.
Gabe thought about Eve Blackwell. How her hatred and bitterness had destroyed so many lives. Would his be one of them? Would his daughter's?
He heard his father's voice ringing in his ears, that familiar Scottish brogue: The Blackwells ruined this family. Thieves, the lot of them, nothing but stinking thieves!
’’Are you all right, sir? Can I get you anything?’’
Lexi's a thief. But I love her. I can't help it.
’’No thanks. I'm fine.’’
Lieutenant Carey felt his blood pressure start to soar.
’’What the hell is with this traffic? Put the sirens on.’’
His driver hesitated. ’’I thought you said we were doing this hush-hush, Chief?’’
’’Just put the damn sirens on and go already!’’
Lieutenant Carey had decided to go to the airport himself. This was too important a job to trust to some minion. If word got out that Lexi Templeton had escaped from police custody - his custody - he'd be a laughingstock. He had to keep her from getting on that plane.
At last they arrived. Lieutenant Carey jumped out of the car before it had even stopped.
’’It's gate sixty-two, boss.’’ Detective Sanchez's voice crackled through his earpiece.
Lieutenant Carey was running. His cheeks burned, his crumpled suit pants chafed at the waist and his white shirt was soaked with sweat.
Midnight exactly. Had the plane gone already?
The screens were still flashing: GATE 62, CLOSING. A few late-night travelers were milling around. Lieutenant Carey elbowed them out of the way. Hurry!
He increased his speed, sprinting down the corridor.
Gate 46...52...58...Gasping for breath, he turned a corner. There it was. Gate 62.
Gate 62 was completely deserted.
THE BLOND WOMAN WITH THE BIG SUNGLASSES FELT THE rumble of the plane's engine as it prepared for takeoff. She gripped the side of her seat.
’’Nervous flier?’’ asked the man sitting next to her.
’’Not usually. I'm a little stressed tonight.’’
’’Don't be. Just think, tomorrow you'll be lying on a beach under a palm tree without a care in the world.’’
The blond woman thought: Without a care in the world? Wouldn't that be nice.
A male steward appeared behind the desk. Lieutenant Carey flashed his badge. He was so breathless he could barely speak.
’’I...Police...I need to get on that plane.’’
’’I'm sorry, sir,’’ the steward began. ’’I'm afraid it's impossible. The cabin crew has closed the doors.’’
’’Don't give me that shit, Nancy Drew. Now you listen to me. You radio down there and you tell them to open the goddamn doors right now, or I'm personally gonna see to it that you spend the rest of your life wearing your balls as earrings.’’
The steward loved a macho man, especially a cop. Unfortunately this cop was old enough to be his dad, was fatter than Santa Claus and stank like an overripe Stilton cheese. Not that it would have mattered if he was George Clooney's twin brother. There was nothing he could do.
’’I'm sorry, sir. It really is out of my hands.’’
He turned and looked out the window. Lieutenant Carey followed his gaze.
The twelve-seater jet was already speeding along the runway. Seconds later, its wings shuddered as it soared into the air.
Bad news travels fast. It took Lieutenant Carey a full minute to wave good-bye to his Hawaiian retirement fantasy. About the same amount of time it took the jet to disappear from sight, its taillights swallowed up by the blackness.
Then he was on the phone.
One hour later, a group of senior Interpol officers was being briefed across the West Indies. A deputation would be sent to meet first Gabe's flight, then Lexi's, at Providenciales Airport. Both of them would be arrested on landing and immediately repatriated to the United States. After that, they were the FBI's problem.
Lieutenant Carey felt the bitterness well up in his chest.
Happy honeymoon, Mrs. McGregor.
I hope they throw away the key.
THE PASSENGERS OF US AIR FLIGHT 28 STREAMED INTO THE arrivals hall at Providenciales Airport in Turks and Caicos looking exhausted. It was almost two-thirty in the morning local time. Mothers with bags under their eyes as big as their suitcases cuddled fractious babies while their husbands struggled with the luggage. The Interpol officer studied them all. He was looking for one baby in particular.
’’There they are.’’
Emerging through the double doors, the trio was instantly recognizable, despite the silk cravat that the man wore over his nose and mouth. The Interpol officer remembered his brief.
Swedish female, thirty-one, blond, with newborn infant. White-haired male, six foot one. (Someone had f*ked up on that one. This guy couldn't have been more than five nine on a good day.) Minimal luggage.
Flanked by three colleagues, the officer stepped forward. He put a hand on Greta Sorensen's shoulder. Two other officers seized her companion, while a policewoman reached for the baby.
’’Excuse me, miss. Sir. We'd like a word.’’
The man lowered his cravat to reveal a face crisscrossed with deep wrinkles. The guy must have been in his seventies at least. When he spoke, it was with a pronounced European accent.
’’Is something the matter, Officer?’’
’’You're not Gabriel McGregor!’’
Paolo Cozmici smiled. ’’Indeed I'm not. Didn't the airline tell you?’’
’’Tell us what?’’
’’That I'd be flying in Mr. McGregor's stead. It's quite aboveboard, I can assure you, Officer. It's the blasted paparazzi, you see. They follow Gabe and Lexi everywhere. It got so bad with the wedding that they decided to leak false honeymoon details to the press, to throw them off the scent.’’
’’To throw the press off the scent?’’ The Interpol officer rolled his eyes. Was this guy for real?
’’That's right. US Air was most helpful about it all.’’ Paolo looked pleased with himself. ’’Greta and I are decoys! Isn't it fabulous?’’
Oh yeah. It's fabulous, all right.
’’Sir.’’ The female officer tapped her boss on the shoulder.
’’Not now, Linda.’’ He turned back to Paolo. ’’So you're telling me if I called US Air's head office right now, they'd know all about this little scam of yours?’’
’’Absolutely.’’ Paolo chuckled. ’’I thought it was rather ingenious.’’
’’Sorry, sir,’’ said the policewoman. ’’But I really think you should take a look at this.’’ She passed him the swaddled bundle that Greta Sorensen had obligingly handed her a moment before. The Interpol officer's eyes widened. Jesus Christ.
There was no baby.
Inside the tightly wrapped pink blankets was a life-size plastic doll.
Gabe felt a sharp bump as the plane's landing gear hit the runway. In his arms, the real baby Max was screaming her head off.
’’She'll be fine in a minute,’’ said the attendant helpfully. Catherine Blake had only recently been hired to work on Gabe and Lexi's private jet. She wanted her new boss to like her. ’’I'll get her a bottle of something. Once she starts to swallow, her ears'll pop.’’
’’Will they? Okay,’’ Gabe shouted back over the din. ’’Let's give that a try.’’
Rocking his daughter in his arms, he wished Lexi were there. She'd know what to do.
’’How long till we take off again?’’
’’Not long, sir. We should refuel in forty minutes or so. The pilot will let you know our next takeoff slot.’’
Gabe sighed. He just wanted this whole thing to be over.
When the second plane landed in Turks and Caicos an hour later, the Interpol officer was there to meet it.
’’Yes, sir?’’ The blond woman smiled politely.
’’Would you take your dark glasses off, please, ma'am.’’
She was pretty. Definitely a looker.
But she was no Lexi Templeton.
Nor was she a criminal mastermind. Jennifer Wilson was just a secretary who'd worked for Kruger-Brent for years. Lexi Templeton had picked a name she knew for her alias. But that was no big surprise. Most people did. The original Jennifer Wilson had no idea what she was getting into when she accepted Gabe's offer of a free, all-expenses-paid vacation. A reward for her long, loyal service.
’’Am I in some sort of trouble?’’ Jennifer Wilson's face crumpled with anxiety. The policeman looked pissed
’’No, ma'am.’’ The Interpol officer sighed. ’’But someone sure as hell is.’’
Interpol blamed the local police. The local police blamed the FBI. Why had nobody checked with the airline? Everybody blamed John Carey, the schmuck in Maine who'd let Lexi slip through his fingers.
On a conference call in the early hours of the morning, the senior FBI agent in charge of the case mused aloud.
’’You've just pulled off one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history. You have one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. You're on the run with your equally recognizable husband and your newborn baby. Where the hell do you go?’’
From somewhere on the other side of the world, a lone voice echoed down the phone line.
’’Somewhere that has no extradition treaty with the United States.’’
’’Preferably with white-sand beaches, palm trees and a decent five-star hotel,’’ piped up another joker. Everybody laughed.
The FBI agent was silent for a moment. Then he laughed, too. It was staring him in the face.
I know exactly where they are.
24 HOURS LATER
SUNLIGHT FLOODED THE WHITEWASHED ROOM. GABE opened his eyes and quickly closed them again. ’’What time is it?’’
’’Almost noon. You've been asleep for hours.’’
Lexi was walking around the room naked, opening the wooden shutters. Outside, the Indian Ocean lapped at the sand. Their private beachfront villa had spectacular views of the ocean on one side and of the paradise island of Ihuru on the other. Lexi had bought the house years ago for a song, back when property in the Maldives had crashed. Now it was once again a valuable piece of real estate.
Not valuable. Priceless.
There were about fifty countries around the world that did not have extradition treaties with the United States. Unfortunately for Lexi, most of them were either impossible to get to, especially at short notice, or were the sort of backward, festering dumps that made the idea of a stretch in federal prison start to look appealing. Lexi had no intention of raising Maxine in a refugee camp in Cambodia, or winding up as an exotic item on the menu in Equatorial Guinea.
And why should I when I have the perfect honeymoon house sitting waiting for me?
’’Where's Max?’’ Gabe sat bolt upright in bed. He was sweating. ’’The crib's empty! Someone's taken her!’’
’’Relax.’’ Lexi came over and kissed him. ’’She's downstairs with the housekeeper. We're safe here, darling. We're together. You don't have to worry anymore.’’ Pulling back the sheet, she slipped into bed beside him.
’’Let's make love.’’
It was their first time as husband and wife and it was beautiful. By rights, Lexi should have felt tired. It had taken a day and a half to get there. Thirty-six hours in which she'd eaten nothing and not slept more than a few snatched minutes.
After Danny French sailed her safely to the mainland, he drove two hours into rural Maine to a friend's farm. From there, Lexi hitched a ride on a single-engine crop duster to a larger, private airfield where a jet was waiting to fly her to Le Touquet in northern France. Then it was on to London, switching planes again before the longest leg of the journey.
Gabe was already in the villa when Lexi arrived, passed out on the bed with one arm draped protectively over Max's crib. She touched his arm and he awoke, hugging her tight, his relief too profound for words. Seconds later, they were both deeply asleep.
Now, lying naked in Gabe's arms, their lovemaking over, Lexi felt more awake and more alive than she had ever felt in her life. There was so much to do. She sprang out of bed and opened the closet, looking for something to put on. None of the clothes looked familiar. She hadn't been to the house in years.
’’What's your hurry?’’ Gabe yawned, watching her discard one dress after another. ’’You're supposed to be on a honeymoon, remember?’’
’’I know, honey. But I have a lunch meeting at the Angsana Resort. I can't show up for it naked.’’ Settling on a plain brown sundress, Lexi slipped it over her head.
’’A lunch meeting? Here? Are you serious? Who with, for God's sake?’’
’’With my lawyer, of course,’’ said Lexi. ’’He checked into the hotel last night, just like we arranged. If anyone can prove my innocence, it's Mark Hambly.’’
’’Darling,’’ Gabe reminded her gently. ’’You aren't innocent.’’
Lexi looked at him reproachfully. ’’Whose side are you on?’’
Mark Hambly sipped his chilled Chablis and handed Lexi the latest copy of the Wall Street Journal.
’’Congratulations. You made the front page.’’
Lexi scanned the article impassively. As usual, the Journal was frighteningly accurate on the facts. She was more interested in the picture. Some bright young thing had gotten ahold of a shot of Lexi in her wedding dress. She looked stunning. I was so right to go vintage. She returned the paper.
’’You have to get me off this, Mark.’’
’’I'll do my best.’’
’’I can't stay here, I'll go crazy. I have to get back to the States.’’
’’Whoa, slow down a minute, would you? You only just got out of the States. And that wasn't easy.’’
’’I want my company back.’’
Mark Hambly laughed. ’’One thing at a time, Lexi. Let's focus on keeping you out of jail, shall we?’’
’’What do you suggest?’’
Mark explained the various possibilities for a defense: Eve Blackwell was known to be of unsound mind. Lieutenant Carey hadn't followed proper procedures.
’’But your best bet, honestly, is to pin all this on Kolepp. I don't know how you'd feel about that.’’
Lexi shook her head. ’’Uh-uh. No way. I can't do that to Carl.’’
’’Why not? The guy's in Paraguay, totally cashed out. He's happy as a clam.’’
’’Think about it. The feds can't touch him. And what does Kolepp need to go back for? Nothing. He's not married. His company's gone.’’
Lexi thought about it. Mark did have a point.
’’Or...’’ The lawyer took another sip of his wine. ’’You could take a page out of Kolepp's book yourself.’’
Lexi frowned. ’’What do you mean?’’
’’I mean forget going home. Settle down here. Chill out. Retire. Make a life. I'm assuming you have offshore funds you can access?’’
’’So, why not? There are worse places.’’
Lexi gazed out over the tranquil blue ocean. Twin sailboats bobbed on the horizon, bathed in pale butter-yellow sunlight. She thought about Gabe, still naked and asleep in their bed. And baby Maxine, content and sleepy in the housekeeper's arms. I love them so much. For a moment happiness flooded through her.
Then she thought about Eve Blackwell. Happiness turned to rage.
’’No. I have to go back.’’
’’Okay.’’ Mark raised an eyebrow. ’’It's up to you. But, you know, even if I get you off the fraud charge, you're going to have a ton of civil suits against you. All your U.S. assets will be considered fair game. You'll be declared bankrupt. Gabe, too. I can't protect you from any of that.’’
’’You'll be poor, Lexi. You don't know how to be poor.’’
’’I know. But Kruger-Brent...’’
Mark said brutally: ’’Kruger-Brent is finished, Lexi. I'm sorry. But you have to face reality. There's no way back from this. Not this time.’’
You're wrong. There's a way. There's always a way.
Later that afternoon, Lexi walked alone along the beach. The seawater was as warm as a bath between her toes. A gentle breeze blew the hair back from her face.
It's so peaceful here.
Gabe and Maxi were back at the villa. Mark Hambly was already on a plane, on his way back to New York to face the music on Lexi's behalf. It wouldn't be long before word got out that she and Gabe were in the Maldives. When that happened, the sleepy island of Ihuru would turn into a war zone. The paparazzi would attack by land, air and sea. Lexi would retreat to the seclusion of the villa. It was beautiful, but it was still a prison. She had to savor her freedom while it lasted.
Sitting down on the sand, she unfolded a piece of paper. She'd only received it two days earlier, but already Eve's letter was worn thin with use. Now Lexi read it again for the last time. Her aunt's beautiful handwritten Palmer script leaped off the page.
425 5th Avenue
October 12, 2025
May I call you Alexandra? Of course I may. If you're reading this, I have already gone to join my dear sister, your mother, in hell. The dead may do as they please.
They all think I'm mad. But I'm not. I'm the only one in this family who has kept her head. I should have been running Kruger-Brent from the start. Then none of this would have happened.
I know what you've done. I know everything. You were right to get rid of my son. Max was a fool, weak like his father. But did you really think you would get away with bankrupting my company? You're a thief, Alexandra. You stole from shareholders and you stole from me, just like your mother. Thieves must be punished.
The police are on their way. I've sent them another letter, detailing everything. You have no way out, Alexandra. Not this time. You and your friend Mr. Kolepp can reminisce about what might have been from the comfort of your jail cells. Jail is worse than you can possibly imagine, Alexandra. Take it from someone who knows.
May God curse you and your children, as He cursed me and mine.
Your loving aunt,
With the letter still in her hands, fluttering in the tropical breeze, Lexi hitched up her skirt and waded into the ocean. She walked far enough for the water to reach the top of her thighs. Then slowly, deliberately, she began tearing the paper into tiny pieces, scattering them on the waves like confetti.
Good-bye, Aunt Eve.
I may not have won the game. Not yet. But I'm still here. Still playing.
For Eve Blackwell, it was all over.
But for Lexi Templeton, the game went on.