TO THE BRINK, Book No.3 in THE BODYGUARDS series
Zamboanga City, Philippines
“Ethan. Um. Hi. It’s … it’s me. Darcy.”
Darcy Prescott had known this would be hard. She hadn’t
talked to Ethan Garrett in the five years since their divorce.
So yeah, dialing his number had been good and hard; saying his
name had been painful. Emotions strong with it made her voice break.
She gripped the receiver with both hands and dug deep for a steadying
breath. “Umm, look. I … I think I’m might
be in some trouble here.”
The admission was as difficult as the phone call. Saying the words
out loud gave them credence. It did horrible things to the rhythm
of her heart which had been getting a helluva workout in the past
That would show those misinformed souls who wondered in admiration
and awe over her seemingly unshakable and unflappable control. If
they could only see me now.
“Maybe some bad trouble,” she confessed, still reluctant
to believe it as she dragged a hand through her hair and blinked
up at the ceiling of her hotel room, working hard to hold back
tears. “Can you … can you call me at this number,
please? As soon as you can, okay? It’s… it’s
almost midnight here. I can’t … I can’t think,
you know, how that equates to West Palm Beach time. Maybe one in
the afternoon? Two? I’m not sure.”
She paused again when she heard a thread of hysteria creep back
into her voice.
God. This was great. Piggybacked with her current state
of mind – which was a little to the left of full-blown terror – she
felt like she was spiraling out of control. That soaked it. She’d
never dreamed hysteria would be a part of her vocabulary
in this lifetime – which may not be all that long, she reminded
herself with a grim compression of her lips.
“Okay,” she said, if not steadier, at least resolved
to calm herself down. She absently repositioned the base of the
phone on the nightstand sitting beside her bed. “I’m
at the Garden Orchid Hotel. It’s on, um, let me think. Governor
Camins Avenue, okay? Here’s the phone number.”
Darcy slowly closed her eyes, forced them open again and repeated
the phone number. “I’m in room 333. If … if
I don’t answer when you call, dial Sandy in London. She’ll … well,
Sandy can fill you in.
“Look, Ethan. I …” she cut herself off as a
hot tear trickled down her cheek. She brushed it angrily away with
the back of her hand. “Just call. Okay? And hurry.”
She hung up the phone. For a long moment, she sat motionless,
staring at the cradled receiver. And praying that he’d get
Before it was too late.
It probably should have bothered her that her ex was the first
person she thought to call the moment she’d realized she
was in trouble. And it might have if she could function
on a level separate from the fear. So far that wasn’t happening.
Yesterday morning, she hadn’t been afraid. Yesterday morning,
she’d had her usual busy day in the vice-consulate’s
office at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. But yesterday morning, Amanda
Stover had still been alive – and when Darcy had heard the
news of Amanda’s death later in the day after she’d
flown to down to Zamboanga, there hadn’t been a doubt in
her mind that the young embassy secretary had died as the result
of a sad and tragic accident.
Today, however, Darcy knew different. Today, she was certain that
the hit and run driver who had killed Amanda hadn’t done
so by accident. Amanda had been murdered. And because she now knew
what Amanda had known, more so, because she pretty certain she
was in possession of the reason Amanda may have been killed, Darcy
was also certain that she had been targeted as the next person
With trembling fingers, she picked up the envelope she’d
sealed as tight as Fort Knox. Then she slapped on enough postage
to send it to the moon. All the while she fought to gain the upper
hand on the rising panic.
Panic wasn’t going to help her get out of this alive. Clear
On a serrated breath she stood and walked across the room. Slowly,
she opened her hotel room door then looked up and down the empty
hall. Reasonably certain it was safe, she slipped outside and headed
for the elevator.
“Good evening, Miss Prescott.”
Rudy Mar startled her as she stepped out of the elevator into
the lobby. She paused to see the night clerk standing at his post
behind the registration desk where the older man appeared to be
reading the Manila Bulletin.
She forced a smile. “Good evening, Rudy Mar.”
She always stayed at the Orchid when her duties took her from
Manila to Zamboanga. She knew many of the staff on a first name
basis. Had learned that the Zamboangueños people were warm
and friendly. As a rule, she enjoyed a little pleasant banter.
Tonight, the rules had changed.
“Going out so late, Miss?” Rudy Mar’s smile
was tempered with concern.
“Actually, I need to mail a letter.”
Rudy Mar laid the newspaper, open to the front page, on the counter
top. Darcy caught a glimpse of the headlines and photograph: U.S.
Embassy Employee Victim of Hit and Run and felt her blood
Her gaze snapped to back to Rudy Mar. His expectant look made
her realize she’d completely tuned out something he’d
said. “I’m sorry … what?”
“I said I’d be happy to take care of that for you.
The letter,” he clarified with a nod toward the envelope.
Involuntary reflexes had her clutching the package tighter in
her hand. “Oh. Thank you, but I … I want to take
a walk anyway, get a little air. I’ll just drop it at the
post office while I’m out.” She smiled in what she
hoped was a credible impersonation of a woman who wasn’t
about to jump out of her skin.
“As you wish, Miss Prescott. Enjoy your walk. But stay on
the main streets, all right?”
“Thank you. I will. I’ll be back in just a few minutes.”
As she walked out the hotel door, Darcy understood both Rudy Mar’s
concern and puzzlement over her actions. American embassy people
were often targets of terrorists in the Philippines and she was
not employing hazardous duty procedure. Normally she followed protocol
to the letter – she buried her route to work in the mornings,
alternated modes of transportation, and when out of Manila, as
she was now, she would normally phone for a car and driver if she
needed to go out.
Tonight, there wasn’t time. She had to get the package out
of her possession, in the mail and get back to her room before
Ethan called back. And the bigger problem: she no longer knew who
she could trust.
She cut a seemingly meandering path along the main streets, checking
often to see if anyone was following her, hoping she’d spot
a motorcab or a jeepney and could hitch a ride. One or the other
would provide at least a little anonymity and make her a less of
a target. Tonight, however they were as scarce as taxies. So she
It was a typical Philippine evening. Close, hot, tropical. The
sidewalks had sucked in the sun’s rays during the day and
now breathed them back out like heat from a cooling oven. Darcy
had dressed for the sweltering night in a white, short sleeve cotton
t-shirt and kaki shorts. Still, her back was damp with perspiration.
In her Espadrille sandals, the souls of her feet were damp as well.
Another night, another time, she’d have enjoyed an evening
stroll as she had many times in this beautiful city that was heralded
as the city of flowers. But this wasn’t just any other night.
She caught a glimpse of herself in a storefront window and realized
how tense she appeared. Determined not to draw attention to herself,
she made her shoulders relax, deliberately slowed her pace in the
face of a warning voice that screamed at her to hurry.
Struggling to ignore it, she walked on. The streets were, for
the most part, deserted but should anyone see her, they would see
an American of average height and weight out for an evening stroll.
No one special. Nothing remarkable. Except, maybe, for the red
hair she’d cut short a year ago when she’d started
her permanent change of station with the embassy in Manila.
Tonight more than ever before, she regretted the bureaucratic
snafu that had re-stationed her from Mexico City to Manila. As
she’d always done when her rotation was drawing to a close,
she’d filled out her dream sheet requesting a PCS in
Paris. Paris, Philippines – easy to get the two mixed up,
she thought sourly, then sucked in her breath on a gasp when a
cat sprang out of an alley and yowling, ran in front of her.
Of course, it was a black cat.
When her heart dropped back into her chest, she made another quick,
visual search around. Only after she was satisfied that no one
was following her did she walk across Corcuera Street toward the
post office she’d intentionally by-passed the first time
she’d strolled past, playing tourist again, staring at the
Without breaking stride, she dropped the envelope in the outgoing
mail slot. And felt her first tentative sense of relief. If anyone
was watching her, they’d never have noticed what she’d
done. And if anything happened to her, at least now, someone would
know the reason why.
Now all she had to do was make it back to her room and wait for
Ethan to call and get her out of this fix.
She was three blocks from the hotel when she noticed the van behind
her. A quick glance over her shoulder told her the vehicle was
long and black and beat up, the windows tinted so dark she couldn’t
see inside. Even as she told herself it was nothing to worry about,
her heart rate ratcheted up several beats. And when the van crept
up and kept pace beside her, she almost jumped out of her skin.
Adrenalin fueled by apprehension rushed through her system so
fast it made her nauseous with fear. She prayed for the van to
move on down the street. When it pulled up to the curb a few feet
ahead of her and the side door slid open, the apprehension churning
through her chest shifted to flat out panic.
Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop. She
repeated the command like a mantra.
When the gruff voice belching out from the murky black interior
of the van ordered her to do just that, she didn’t even consider
it. She broke into a dead run.
She could see the blue neon sign - Garden Orchid Hotel – ahead.
Only a couple of blocks. So near. So freaking far. Her lungs burned
with the effort to propel her forward.
And then something slammed into her from behind. She dropped face
first into the concrete walk. And pain overtook the panic.
The leaden weight of a man who smelled like smoke and sweat and
hatred knock the air out of her lungs when he landed on top of
her. The white-hot abrasion of skin scraping against concrete seared
her knees; her palms, where she connected with the paving to break
her fall, burned like fire.
She tried to scream but he clamped a filthy hand over her mouth.
Something jabbed into her ribs, hard.
“Come with me or die here, Miss Prescott. You decide.”
She went limp, prayed for a miracle – the pulis,
police, an off duty Special Ops soldier. Anyone who might help
No one did.
Her attacker stood, made sure he stayed behind her so she couldn’t
see his face and hauled her roughly to her feet. With the gun still
buried her ribs, he pushed her toward the van then shoved her,
hard, into the back seat.
She hit her head on the opposite window and groaned, fighting
through the pain. Her abductor climbed in behind her and slammed
the door as the van shot off through the Zamboanga streets with
a squeal of tires. Coarse hands blindfolded her then wrenched her
hands behind her back and tied her wrists so tightly that she bit
back a cry when the rope dug into her skin.
She fought it, but there was no escaping the dirty rag that was
pressed over her mouth and nose. Loss of consciousness was frightening
Her last coherent thought was of Ethan. His name broke on a sob,
just before everything faded but the truth: Not even Ethan could
save her now.