Death Angel (Chapter Fifteen)

DREA LOOKED IN HER REARVIEW MIRROR TO MAKE CERTAIN no one was coming up behind her, and saw the man getting into the pickup truck. Her heart gave a huge lurch, then skipped several beats. The road swam before her eyes as blood drained from her head. He was too far away for her to see his face, but she'd seen the way he moved, all grace and lethal power. She'd seen the way he held his head, the set of his shoulders, and she knew, knew in a way she couldn't explain but that went all the way to the bone.

That pickup. She'd seen that pickup before, or one very similar, and she couldn't stretch coincidence that far. It was the same color and make as the truck that had gone by just after Mrs. Pearson had pulled into the dollar store parking lot. It was him, and he'd been watching her even then. Somehow he'd figured out what she was doing and who to follow, and knowing that terrified her. He was too good at what he did; how could she possibly get away from him?

She had just enough control that she didn't jam the gas pedal all the way to the floorboard, but she steadily increased the power until the speedometer needle edged toward ninety and the front end began shimmying, then she eased off just a little. Her only hope was to get far enough ahead of him that she could take a side road or hide behind some structure, but she wouldn't be able to do that if the car fell apart.

The geography of Kansas didn't help. The land wasn't completely flat, but as good as. There was no way-

She was breathing too fast again, her heart pounding so hard and so rapidly she could barely think. She couldn't let him get to her like this; she had to be on her toes, she had to think, and she couldn't let herself panic.

She fought her nerves, fought her instinctive reaction, and forced herself to ease up on the gas pedal until the car had slowed to a far more reasonable speed. She couldn't outrun him; she'd be stupid to even try. The pickup was a full-size truck, with a more powerful engine than the six-cylinder she was driving. He was sitting higher, too, so he'd be able to see her for quite a distance, and she couldn't pull far enough ahead of him that she was out of sight for even a few seconds.

The question was, would he try to catch her now, when the countryside was so wide open that any other vehicle at a distance might be able to see him, or they might pass a farmer in his fields at any time? Or would he be content to shadow her and wait until nightfall provided him with cover?

He'd have to pull even with her to have a decent shot. He could force her off the road, but, contrary to the movies, cars didn't usually explode and burn when they crashed, and the combination of seat belts and air bags meant the people inside often survived. Of course, if he forced her off the road and her car was so damaged it was undrivable, then he could take his shot at his own leisure, but unless she hit a power pole or something, being run off the road wasn't going to accomplish much; she'd tear up a field of wheat, but that would be about the extent of the damage.

In her favor was the fact that he didn't know if she was armed. She wasn't, damn it, because guns hadn't been part of her arsenal. Sex and guile were her weapons, along with makeup and perfume, but he didn't-couldn't-know if she'd acquired a gun in the past eight days and he'd have to use caution.

She glanced at her fuel gauge, and wondered what his gas mileage was. Her six-cylinder got pretty good mileage, certainly better than his big engine would get. Maybe she could go farther than he could on a tank of gas. If he ran out of gas-no, fat chance he'd let that happen. But if he had to stop for gas, she'd have a chance to get away, to turn off the road and hide, take some other route to Denver.

He'd know that, though. If he began getting low on gas, he'd be forced to make a move. Maybe she could stop at a gas station, run inside, and ask for help. Hell, she had a cell phone; she could call 911 and say she was being followed by a strange man.

Except…except she didn't want to draw a cop's attention, and a cop would pull both of them over. The license plates on this car weren't kosher. She'd stolen two million dollars, and even though the cash wasn't in her possession, she sure as hell didn't want her name on the cop computer network. Not only that, he was behind her; he could simply say he had no idea who she was; all he was doing was driving down the highway. She didn't even know his name, so she couldn't claim he was an ex-boyfriend or whatever.

She checked the rearview again. He was still there, closer than he had been before. He wasn't gaining fast, but he was gaining.

Had he realized yet that she'd made him? She hadn't taken any evasive actions, but unless she pulled over, ran into the wheat, and crawled on all fours for the next fifty miles, her options in evasion were limited.

Still, she wasn't going to give up. She was in a moving vehicle and so was he, so the odds of him getting off an accurate shot were very low. She knew from listening to Rafael and his men talk when they were watching some action movie on television how improbable things like that were. Just to see if they'd known what they were talking about, she'd done some research on it and found that, in this instance, they were right. Even the best snipers in the world had to shoot from a fixed position, or luck mattered more than skill.

Unless he tried to run her off the road, she was safe enough for the moment. If he started closing on her fast, then she'd know he had decided to make his move. She couldn't let herself panic, because if she did then it was all over. So long as she kept her head, she had a chance.

SHE'D MADE HIM. He knew it as soon as he saw the car gaining speed like a rabbit running from a hound. He also knew the exact moment she reined in her galloping panic and began thinking again, because she let off on the gas and slowed to around sixty.

He was content to lie back and keep her in sight. The miles spun by beneath their tires, and after about an hour they crossed the state line into Colorado, but this part of the state was damn near as flat as Kansas and she didn't have any opportunity to shake him. He watched the clock, and he watched his fuel gauge. The truck had a bigger gas tank than her car, but it also guzzled gas at a faster clip, so it was a toss-up which of them would need gas first.

He'd have to time his move; as they got farther west the country would get rougher, and nightfall became more imminent. He couldn't let her get so far ahead that she could cut her headlights and turn off the road-a risky move, but he had no doubt she'd try it. He'd have to tuck in close behind her when it began getting dark, and if she hadn't been forced to stop for gas by the time his gauge read lower than a quarter of a tank, that was when he'd make his move.

What he did depended on what she did. She could be armed. If she pulled a weapon on him, then he'd have no choice in the matter and he'd take her out. His own weapon, a Glock 17, lay on the seat beside his right thigh. He didn't worry about being caught with a weapon; he had a federal license that would pass inspection by any cop, state or local. The license was fake, but discovering that would take digging through several layers of camouflage. The weapon had no serial number on it, couldn't be traced to him, and if he needed to he'd ditch it without a second thought.

The time was fast approaching when he'd have to make up his mind. Take her out, or peel off and go back to New York? Why go to this much trouble unless he intended to do the job? Amusement and entertainment weren't good reasons for being here. He was spending too much time and money following her unless he collected his fee at the end of the ride.

None of his previous targets had meant anything to him, pro or con. Human life, as a theory, was no more valuable to him than, say, the life of a housefly. His hits weren't motivated by notions of right and wrong, politics, religion, love, hate, or anything else other than the fee he earned. Drea, though, was…different. He knew her, and not just physically, though their skin chemistry was stronger than anything he'd ever experienced before.

He knew her intelligence, knew her guts and her determination. She was a fighter, a survivor. He hadn't seen her relaxed, completely herself, but then he suspected she hadn't let down her guard in years. She had decided on her course of action, then never looked back.

He might disagree with the wisdom of hooking up with someone like Rafael Salinas, but he didn't know what Drea's circumstances had been before. Maybe Salinas was a huge step up, though that was difficult to fathom. Salinas was a thug; smarter than most, but still a thug. For Drea to keep up her act, without a single false note, for as long as she had indicated a level of self-discipline he hadn't seen before-except in himself.

Was that why he'd hesitated for so long? Because he saw something in her that reminded him of himself? Not his lack of emotion, because Drea had enough emotion for the both of them, but the things she'd hidden from Salinas were what he saw and enjoyed. Maybe that was why he hadn't yet taken action. On the other hand, he hadn't yet told Salinas where to wire his down payment, either, and he didn't do a job until he verified the specified amount was in his account.

Everything kept circling back to the same thing: yes, or no? Do the job, or drive away? Let her go, or take the two million?

If he didn't take the job, Salinas would send someone else after her. But she had a big head start, and once she had her stolen millions in cash her options were pretty much unlimited. If she got caught, it would be through pure bad luck. The only way she'd be truly safe, was if Salinas thought she was dead.

He could do that, take the money and tell Salinas the job was done, but he'd never faked a job before. His value lay in his reliability, and his accuracy.

On the other hand, if he was ever going to screw a client, it would be Salinas. He had nothing but contempt for the son of a bitch.

He glanced at the sky. There was probably another hour, hour and a half of daylight, and the terrain was getting noticeably rougher as the earth began wrinkling as the land rose toward the Rockies. The actual mountains were still a good distance away, but they didn't rise from a flat nothing; it was a gradual lift, an increase in the folds of the earth's crust, and then the big eruption. The longer he waited, the rougher the land, and the more opportunity she'd have to give him the slip.

He pressed his boot on the accelerator, and the truck began eating up the distance between him and Drea.