Dead Ringer: Softcover
Mercy Lawrence is terrified. Bermuda airport facial recognition software has identified her as missing runway star, Traci Wallace. Despite Mercy’s protests, Traci’s husband, ex-CIA agent Thomas Wallace, is convinced Mercy is the mother of his ill six-year-old son. With only his son’s welfare in mind, he abducts Mercy and takes her to a private island to care for the boy.
But Mercy soon discovers there are men much more dangerous than a father desperate to save his son. Her doppelganger has made deadly enemies–a relentless team of killers who now want her dead.
When Thomas is lured into a covert mission to rescue a CIA asset and uncover a government mole, Mercy is left isolated and alone–and Thomas finds himself stranded on foreign soil with a compromised mission and a wounded agent.
Fighting against a rogue nation’s timetable for launching a nuclear strike, he has to escape Saudi Arabia alive and rescue Mercy and his son before assassins finish the job they started.
Friday, May 5
Mercy Lawrence wouldn’t have noticed the large man standing by the silver Mercedes except for the way he was dressed. Unlike the tourists on the sidewalk, he wore a light gray business suit and tie. Sunglasses hid the upper portion of his face, and the grim set of his mouth detracted from his otherwise handsome appearance. He stood beside the car’s open back door, arms crossed as if waiting for someone.
Not wanting to stare, she tore her gaze away. In jeans, T-shirt, and sandals, she blended easily into the vacationers along the boulevard. She’d spent the last five months in this wonderful country, recuperating from a head injury. Most of her memory remained intact after the accident, but dark recesses still refused to reveal their mystery.
But tomorrow, like a good soldier, she would return to Houston and report to her new job at Sabine Oil, the fulfillment of a goal she’d worked towards for the past six years.
The city’s main drag ran four lanes wide with a palm-tree-lined median, the sea on one side, shops and hotels on the other. A soft wind filled the air with the scent of sea kelp and brine, mixed with a light floral fragrance from the purple bougainvilleas hanging on the walls along the walkway. Seagulls swept low over the water, looking out past the rolling surf for lunch.
She shook her hair loose from the confines of its ponytail clip and turned her face to the balmy sunshine—mainlining vitamin D. Her path took her within four feet of the parked car.
The man moved onto the sidewalk and grabbed her arm.
“Having fun, are we?” He spoke with a slight Scottish burr, the strange question more an accusation than a greeting.
She tried to jerk her arm away. “Let go of my arm.”
His grip tightened. “I’ll just bet you’ve been living it up.” His voice was harsh, his jaw tight.
No one intervened. Casual observers would think she knew him.
One hand locked on her arm, he shoved her into the backseat, slid in beside her, and slammed the door. His movements were so quick, so smooth, she had no time to struggle, no time to scream or put up a fight.
She swallowed the lump in her throat choking off oxygen. Women disappeared all too often on foreign soil, never seen or heard from again. “Who are you? What do you think you’re doing? Let me out. Now!”
He ignored her protests and leaned forward in the seat. “Airport, Fergus.”
Blood pounded a persistent rhythm in her ears. He couldn’t be police. They had to tell one the charges before making an arrest. Besides, she’d done nothing wrong.
Her heart skipped a beat. She wanted to run, but it was too late for that. Pivoting towards him, she drew back her arm and aimed the heel of her hand for an upward thrust under his nose. The move from a seated position lacked the needed momentum.
He blocked the blow, slamming her back against the seat with a forearm of steel across her chest. “You dropped off the map six months ago. To do what, find yourself?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She squeezed her eyes shut. This couldn’t be happening. “This is kidnapping. My name is Mercy Lawrence and people are expecting me back at my bungalow.” She struggled against the vise-like grip, slapping at his hand.
“Stop it, and cut the crap, Traci, or I’ll slap you back. Taking a wife, a mother, home to the son she abandoned is not kidnapping. Besides, you’re not a kid.”
Friday, May 5
His words startled Mercy into momentary shock. She stopped struggling, and sputtered. “My name isn’t Traci. Y-you’re crazy. Or delusional. I’ve never seen you before in my life. My passport and ID are in the bungalow.” She pointed to the rear window. “Back there.”
“I would agree that one of us is delusional.” He removed the sunglasses and slipped one temple arm into the top pocket of his jacket. A cold, dark gaze bored into hers. “Ironic choice of name. We just left your cabin. The forgeries were excellent, but then your low-life friend can afford the best.”
“You’re speaking in riddles. What friend?”
He ignored her question, and his voice softened. “Traci, Daniel is sick. Three months ago, his doctor discovered he had a damaged heart valve. I started looking for you as soon as I heard. The surgeon repaired his heart, but it may be months before he’s fully recovered. He’s asking for you. I couldn’t deny him—have him get upset. It could delay his recovery.”
The man’s obvious pain touched her, but it wasn’t her fault. “Look, I don’t want him upset, but I’m...”
He held up his hand. “I have a proposition. Come home and stay until he’s well. Perhaps, no more than a month, or two. When that day comes, you can leave. You can go with my blessings and enough money to keep you in Gucci splendor the rest of your life.”
Mercy shook her head. “Look, Mister Whoever-You-Are, I am not Traci. In two months, the job I’ve worked for all my life will be gone. This is some horrible case of mistaken identity. You can verify what I’m saying with fingerprints and DNA.”
His jaw muscles twitched. “Spare me the denials. You think I don’t know the woman I’ve been married to for seven years? The hair is longer and darker blonde, but if that’s supposed to be a disguise, it fails miserably. Airport facial identification software picked you up. There’s no mistake.”
That sounded familiar, but she had no idea how it worked. “Then the software is wrong. It obviously has a serious malfunction.”
“When you disappeared, I thought Daniel and I were free of you.” His tone turned harsh. “But Daniel hasn’t forgotten. He still cries himself to sleep, calling for you, and now he’s seriously ill. You owe him, Traci. You can’t be so devoid of maternal instincts that you ignore him when he’s sick.”
If what he’d told her was true, his wife must have been a piece of work. That, or her husband made life so intolerable she had to escape. His overbearing demeanor made the latter a distinct possibility. “I’m sorry about your son—”
He growled. “Our son. Don’t play games with me where Daniel is concerned.”
She shook her head and covered her face with her hands. “For the last time, my name is Mercy. I’m not who you think I am.”
He turned a hate-filled gaze on her. “You either come willingly, or I’ll tie and gag you. All I’m asking, all your son is asking for, is two months out of a lifetime to do the right thing—do something unselfish for once in your life.”
How could she get through to him? He wouldn’t listen and wasn’t open to verifying her identity. Perhaps he was psycho. And she had no experience dealing with insanity.
She squirmed in the seat, chewing on her inner lip. “I don’t have two months to spare. If I’m not in Houston on Monday, I’ll lose the job, and I’m not Traci.”
He put the sunglasses back on, visually shutting her out.
Sliding to the far corner of the seat, she crossed her arms and tried to calm down enough to think straight. She didn’t want him to bind and gag her. That would lessen any chance to escape. Inhaling a deep breath, she asked, “Where’s home?”
He glanced at her but said nothing. Oppressive silence filled the automobile until they reached a small private airfield near Wade International Airport. The Mercedes rolled to a stop next to a corporate jet poised on the runway. Wallace, Ltd., was emblazoned on the side. The name seemed familiar. She’d seen or heard the name before, but couldn’t remember where.
The sight of the private plane kicked up her panic level another notch. The scent of pure fear enveloped her. Frantic prayers seared her thoughts so fervent the words ran together. Letting this stranger put her on a plane headed for a destination unknown was out of the question. He could be involved in human trafficking.
Everything he’d told her could be a lie. Once the doors closed, she would be at his mercy. He could toss her into the sea for all she knew. No one would ever know. Another missing woman among thousands.
He got out and slammed the car door, came around, and jerked hers open, a disapproving sentry.
She slipped into the warm air, scanning the landscape for passengers, airport personnel, anyone to come to her aid.
He had chosen the spot well. The tarmac stood empty. Only private aircraft neatly tucked into hangers dotted the panoramic view.
If she was to make a move for freedom, time had run out. No one would come rushing to her rescue. She’d lied about someone waiting for her. Since he’d been at the bungalow, he already knew that. There were no close friends here, or for that matter, back in Houston. She’d never had time to make friends. Fending for herself came as natural as breathing, and she did not intend to go peacefully into the dark night.
A terrible thought struck her. In all the commotion, she’d forgotten about Paddy. Her cat. He was waiting for her at the cabin and with her gone, there’d be no one to take care of him. She couldn’t leave him alone on the island.
Sucking in a resolute breath, she shoved past her captor, dodging as he lunged for her. She dashed down the runway and soon realized her sandals were never designed for sprinting. Feet pounded the cement behind her, the sound growing closer by the second. A strong arm grabbed her T-shirt, lifting her off the ground.
When he turned her to face him, she slapped him with every ounce of strength she possessed. The blow landed with a sharp smack. She raised her hand for another strike, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her in close, arms pinned to her side.
She tried to knee his groin, but he twisted her sideways. Thwarted, she drew her right leg back and kicked his shin.
He swore, and the next thing she knew she was upside down in a fireman’s carry over his shoulder.
She dug her fingernails into the corded muscles on the back of his neck. A warm, wetness covered her fingertips. He swore again and two sharp slaps struck her backside, numbing both cheeks.
With her still struggling and kicking, he stomped back to the plane, up the stairs, and into the aircraft’s entrance. Somewhere behind them, lights flashed. She scanned the field and watched as a man with a camera over his shoulder disappeared into the trees outside the runway.
Great. Perhaps he had recorded her abduction.
She pounded the man’s back with her fists as he marched down the aisle to the back, opened a door and tossed her onto the bed.
Breathing heavy, his face flushed a smoldering red. “You’d best calm down before you force me to do something we’ll both regret.” He rubbed his neck, stalked out the door, and a lock snapped into place.
She scrambled off the bed. A weapon was her first priority. She checked the lamps. No good—bolted to the desk. A computer desk in the corner held possibilities. In one of the drawers, she found a letter opener and a metal stapler. She placed the opener in the back waistband of her jeans, the stapler under a pillow.
The aircraft rumbled down the runway and lifted off, tossing her back onto the bed. She brushed the hair from her face and moved to the leather chair in the corner. All she could do now was wait for his next move.
Hours later, the door opened, and his frame filled the entrance. He had changed into jeans and a long-sleeved polo. “If you’re over the hysterics, there’s food and drink in the galley. You’ll have to help yourself. There’s no steward aboard.”
She shook her head. “No thanks.”
“It’s up to you.” He leaned against the doorjamb. “Where’s Rossellini? I didn’t find him or his clothes at your bungalow.”
“I’m not surprised. I don’t know anyone named Rossellini any more than I know you.”
He shot her an icy glare and shook his head. “Daniel worships you. Why, I have no idea. You’ve never had time for him. But by all that’s holy, you will see him through this or suffer the consequences.” He turned to leave.
“Wait. My cat. Paddy. No one will feed him.”
He came farther into the room. “I didn’t see a cat at the bungalow.”
“You wouldn’t see him. He’d hide. He doesn’t like strangers.”
He gave her a your-giving-me-a-headache look. “I’ll call the rental agency and have them to take care of it.”
“How do I know you will? I have no way to check.”
“You know because I said I would.” He bit out each word. Straightening, he took a step towards the door. “It figures you would have more compassion for a cat than you do for your son.” Then he was gone, leaving the door open.
She leaned back against the soft leather. What now? Could she stab him with the letter opener? Yes, if he tried to harm her. So far, he hadn’t, except in retaliation from her attack. She’d have bruises on her backside for weeks.
The room began to close in on her. She rose from the chair and walked out into the main cabin.
As she passed him, he held out his arm to stop her and jerked the letter opener from her waistband. “I thought you might find that.”
Question 1: What was your favorite part of Notorious and why?
Question 2: What part of the novel did you not like and why?
Question 3: Did you relate to Mercy? In what way?
Question 4: Did you understand her reason for staying after she had the opportunity to escape?
Question 5: What part of Mercy's character did you like best?
Question 6: What part of Mercy's character do you see in yourself?
Question 7: What would be the best part of living on a private island? What would be the worst part?
Question 8: Did you feel Thomas' actions in abducting Mercy were justified?
Question 9: How could he have handled the situation better?
Question 10: Do you believe that all things happen for a reason? Explain why or why not?