The car stopped. Tabby heard the unmistakable sound of a garage door closing. A moment later, the back door of the car jerked open and she was yanked out. Led by the arm, she stumbled up two stairs and into what she assumed was a house. The familiar aroma of vanilla and rose–scented candles twitched at her nose. Stunned, she realized she’d been brought back to her own home.
She heard the scrape of her dining room chair being dragged across the cherry hardwood floor. Her captor pushed her down to sit on the chair. A rope was tied around her waist, securing her in place. The bag was untied and removed. Tabby blinked and gulped in fresh air. Her mind refused to accept what she was seeing.
Her sister sat curled up in the overstuffed armchair by the window, looking unharmed and wearing Tabby’s clothes.
"Beth, are you okay?" Tabby asked.
Beth’s smile didn’t reach her bloodshot eyes. "I’m fine. And you? My friends didn’t hurt you, did they?"
Surprise siphoned the oxygen from Tabby’s lungs, making the world tilt slightly. "Your friends?"
Tabby glanced at the closed kitchen door that muffled the sounds of the two men raiding her cupboards. "I don’t understand," Tabby said. "Why are we here? What’s going on?"
Dropping her feet to the floor, Beth smirked. "What’s going on?" She shook her head. "Tabby, Tabby. I came to you in need and you wouldn’t help me. So I found two people who would."
A deep sense of dread knotted Tabby’s stomach. Beth held a nasty–looking gun. "I gave you what I could. Beth, what have you done? You weren’t kidnapped at all, were you?"
"You catch on quick."
"Why?" Beth rose and stalked closer. "Because you have so much. It isn’t fair. You have everything they took away from me."
Mind reeling with this turn of events, Tabby struggled to track what her sister was saying. "Who took what away?"
"Don’t pretend you don’t know." Beth waved the gun as she pivoted and moved to the mantel over the fireplace. She picked up a picture of Tabby and her parents on her college graduation day. "They did this to me."
"What are you talking about? You ran away. It broke Mom and Dad’s hearts," Tabby said as anger clogged her throat. "Your disappearance tore our family apart. Now you’re trying to shred my life. Talk about not fair."
Beth’s expression twisted with pain and rage. She aimed the gun at Tabby. "Is that what they told you? That I ran away?"
Barely able to breath, Tabby nodded.
"Figures." Beth slammed the picture down, breaking the glass. "They locked me up in that nuthouse. And then when I was released, they told me I couldn’t come back. They had to protect you."
Shaken by her sister’s words, Tabby’s mind rewound the years since she’d last seen her sister. The lack of funds, her parents’ arguments and the way they refused to talk about Beth. The gnawing sense that her parents were keeping something from her. With a start, Tabby realized her parents had never actually said Beth had runaway, only that she was gone. Tabby had assumed Beth had left of her own accord. She’d never guessed that her parents had sent her sister away. To a hospital for the mentally ill.
"I’m sorry. I didn’t know," Tabby whispered, her heart aching with betrayal. Why hadn’t her parents told her? Why had they kept Beth’s whereabouts a secret? And why was Beth now trying to hurt Tabby?
"Doesn’t matter now," Beth said. "I just want the money and then I’m gone."
"But this is wrong, Beth," Tabby said. "You can’t do this."
"I already have." Beth came to sit on the coffee table facing Tabby, the gun a specter of death between them. "Your boss has agreed to another hundred thousand for your safe return."
Her words were like a blow to Tabby’s gut. "Why drag Jon into this? He hasn’t hurt you!"
Beth cocked her head with a puzzled look. "I didn’t bring him in to this. You did when you told him about the call. This is your fault."
Guilt clawed through Tabby’s fear. Beth was right. Tabby had dropped this mess on Jon. He didn’t deserve this.
"Don’t worry, little sister, when I get the money, you’ll get to see your boyfriend again."
"He’s not my boyfriend, he’s my boss," Tabby snapped.
A sly smile curved Beth’s lips. "Doesn’t look that way to me. You two seemed pretty chummy the other night at that fancy party."
Images of the dead man in Jon’s suite assaulted Tabby. "You killed that man, didn’t you? Why?"
Beth rolled her eyes. "William turned out to be a liability. So I had to off him."
A feral gleam entered her sister’s gaze. "William was supposed to lure you away from the party, not get himself locked in a room with a guard. I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t crack if pressed so…whap." She made an arcing gesture in the air with the gun.
Horror filled Tabby’s mind. "What about the other two men? Are you planning on killing them as well?"
Beth gave a negligent shrug. "If need be."
Dismayed, Tabby asked, "Why would they help you?"
"I’ve promised them a cut of the money."
Tabby had a feeling trusting her sister to keep her word wasn’t an option. She didn’t know this woman sitting across from her. How could Tabby be sure Beth wouldn’t just kill her once she got more of Jon’s money?
"Jon, this is Special Agent Mark Gorman," Kyle said.
Jon jerked his attention away from the video monitor. The image of Beth Grant, the same cleaning woman he’d seen at Fenway, holding a gun on Tabby burned in his mind.
It took a moment for Kyle’s words to register. Surprise rocked through Jon as he met the hard–eyed gaze of the agent standing next to Kyle. He was mid–fifties, with dark hair that had a sprinkle of gray at the temples. He wore a flak vest beneath a jacket with the FBI logo emblazoned on the breast pocket. "You called the FBI?"
"Trent Associates works closely with the Feds," Kyle replied. "When an arrest needs to be made, the FBI takes over."
That made sense, sure. But Jon wouldn’t feel better until Tabby was safely back in his arms. "What happens now?"
"Using infrared heat imaging, we’ve placed the victim and one lone kidnapper in the living room—which corresponds with the audio and video feed and two more accomplices in the kitchen," Agent Gorman said. "Our people are in place. We’ll be moving on the premises shortly with a two–pronged approach, hitting the kitchen and the living room simultaneously."
"I’m going in with you," Jon said, determined to make sure Tabby survived this unscathed.
"Sir, you’ll have to wait here. We can’t have a civilian interfering."
Jon held up his hand to stop the protest. "I’m ex–military. MP."
"Then you’ll understand that you hold no legal authority to be involved in this extraction."
"I’m going in, with or without your okay."
Gorman’s eyes narrowed. "I can have you forcibly detained and placed under arrest."
Jon stared him down. "I don’t care."
Kyle stepped between them. "We’re all here trying to accomplish the same objective. Let’s work together. There’s no need to arrest anyone. He’ll stay at the perimeter." To Jon he said, "Let the Feds do their job. Once they’ve secured the premises, then you can go in."
Better than nothing, Jon supposed. And at least he’d be close by if he was needed. "If anything happens to Tabitha Grant, I’ll have your head."
Gorman gave him a grim nod. "Understood." He turned to another agent standing a few feet away. "Beck, get Mr. Spangler a vest." To Jon, Gorman said, "Just in case."
The agent’s words hung in the air. A boulder–size lump of anxiety, dread and fear pressed down on Jon’s chest. A deep need to reach out to God swelled within his soul.
God is waiting for you to invite Him in, Tabby had said.
He turned away from the other men on the pretext of donning the flak vest. Closing his eyes, he allowed the need to overwhelm him and heeded Tabby’s words. And he prayed.
Beth jumped to her feet. "Did you hear that?"
Tabby stared at her sister. Was paranoia part of her illness? "I didn’t hear anything. Beth, please, just let me go. You have some money now. Why can’t that be enough?"
"Because it isn’t!"
Greed drove Beth now, Tabby realized with a start. This wasn’t about her or their parents. This was about money. The root of all evil. Pity filled Tabby, making her sad for her sister.
Beth grabbed Tabby’s hair and yanked her head back. "What is that look about?"
A shaft of fear hit Tabby, but she forced it aside. "Beth, I’m scared for you. Scared about what this is doing to you."
Pulling harder, Beth said harshly, "Your concern is touching. But I—"
The front door burst open. A deafening noise reverberated through the room and a bright flash blinded Tabby. Terror stabbed through her mind and pierced her soul.
Please, dear God! No!
She wasn’t ready to die.