“You don’t understand.”
“No, Monsieur. You do not understand. If you need to see a doctor, we have one on board.”
Jeff slumped down in his seat.He didn’t need a doctor.
He stared at Tracy’s text for a full minute before getting up stiffly and walking into the empty train corridor to make his next call.
FRANK DORRIEN WAS DEEP asleep when his phone rang.
“I lost her.”
Jeff Stevens’s voice woke Frank instantly, like a glass of ice water in the face.
The general sat up in bed. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Never mind that,” Jeff said. “Tracy’s in danger. Real danger. I need your help, Frank.”
CAMERON CREWE STOOD IN front of his son’s grave.
It was a sweltering New York day, dank and humid and without the faintest whisper of a breeze. Sweat poured down Cameron’s back, but he barely noticed.
The cemetery of St. Luke’s Church in Queens was an unassuming square plot of land, much of it overgrown and weed-ridden, a tangle of rusty crosses and faded headstones. Many belonged to children. Forgotten children, it seemed. And yet there was something peaceful about the place, something beautiful and secretive. Cameron came here often, tending to Marcus’s stone, a clean but simple marble slab.
So did Charlotte, Marcus’s mother, although she hadn’t been recently. In fact, according to the police, Charlotte’s mother, Cameron’s ex-mother-in-law, had officially reported her daughter missing last week. Cameron had promised to let the detectives know if he heard anything from Charlotte.
He hadn’t heard from Tracy either, not in more than two weeks. Everyone seemed to be disappearing, drifting out of Cameron’s life as suddenly as they had once drifted into it.
Nothing is forever. Least of all love.
Cameron’s phone rang. He scowled at the intrusion. He must have forgotten to turn it off.
“Yes?” he snapped.
“We have a lead.”
It was a man’s voice. A voice Cameron hadn’t heard in a long time. Too long.
“Italy. The Lakes.”
“How soon can you be there?”
“Tomorrow. I need funds.”
Cameron gave a cynical snort. Don’t you always?
“I’ll wire you another hundred thousand.”
He hung up, trying to recapture the peace he’d felt a few moments ago, trying to feel Marcus’s presence. But it was gone.
Mopping the sweat from his brow, Cameron turned and walked wearily back to his car.
TRACY SMILED AS THE Airbus 300 soared up into the blue.
Poor Jeff. Eight hours on a train with no hope of rescue!
By now he’d no doubt found the most attractive woman on board and started chatting her up relentlessly. Anything to distract himself from being outwitted.
But he had been outwitted. They all had.
Tracy sipped her champagne gleefully.
The day of reckoning had come.
LAKE MAGGIORE WAS LIKE a dream, a postcard image come to life. Tracy was staying in a small pension just moments from the shore. Every morning, after a delicious breakfast of fresh berries, local yogurt and sweet bread rolls that were a specialty of the house, she wandered down to the lake and swam. More often than not she was the only bather. The clear blue water was all hers. She felt like a queen, oblivious in those glorious moments to reality.
Flipping on to her back, gazing up at the cloudless blue sky, the Monte Rosa looming over her like a benevolent giant, Tracy imagined that she were someone else entirely. A princess, floating in a fairy-tale kingdom. Or a restless soul, newly arrived in paradise.
Was Nicky somewhere like this? Tracy hoped so. She felt close to him here, peaceful and calm. Which was odd, given the reason she had come here.
An old friend had tipped her off about Hunter Drexel resurfacing in Northern Italy. Antonio Sperotto was a gentleman thief from Milan, specializing in stolen ecclesiastical masters. He was also an inveterate gambler.
“Your man turned up at a poker game at Rocca Borromeo,” Antonio informed Tracy. “At least I assume it’s your man. He’s going by the name of Lester Trent, and nobody’s ever heard of him.”
“Were you at the game?” Tracy asked.
“Not personally, no. A friend was there. Evidently Mr. Trent relieved one of the Agnellis of more than two hundred thousand euros. Caused quite a stir, I can tell you.”
“Did this friend of yours talk to him?” Tracy asked. “What else did he find out?”
Antonio Sperotto chuckled. “My dear, these things aren’t like book clubs. This is serious poker. There’s no chitchat. Although apparently one of the Borromeo daughters wandered in at one point, which distracted some of the men.”
“But not your friend, I take it?” Tracy teased. Antonio was so gay he would have made Liberace look macho. Most of his friends fit the same mold.
“Giovanni can appreciate beauty, darling, in all its forms,” Antonio pouted. “But no. I suspect he was more distracted by the frescos. Did you know the Borromeo frescos are the oldest examples of nonreligious, Lombard Gothic work still in existence? They were painted in 1342, but the colors gleam as if it were yesterday!”
Tracy didn’t know. She was more interested in Lester Trent.
“Trent appreciated the young lady,” Antonio told her. “Although rumor has it he generally prefers his playmates a little further down the social scale. He likes professionals.”
“That’s what I hear,” Antonio said. “Apparently he’s had a string of girls ferried over to the place where he’s staying.”
Tracy thought about Sally Faiers, her love for Hunter and her loyalty. Sally had gone to Belgium to try to help Drexel and had been shot to death for her troubles. And now here he was, with Sally barely cold, already screwing around. In between planning his next act of murder on behalf of Group 99, no doubt.
“Where’s he staying?” she asked Antonio.
“In a stunning medieval villa, the Michele, on another of the private islands. It’s owned by the Viscontis, a local aristocratic family. He must have rented it from them.”
“Visconti,” Tracy muttered. “I feel like I’ve heard of them.”
Antonio shrugged. “They’re rich. Not quite in the Borromeos’ league, but not short of a bob or two either. She owns a fabulous collection of diamond jewelry, one of the largest in Italy.”
“That must be it.” Tracy grinned.
A look of worry crept over Antonio Sperotto’s face. “You’re not going to try anything foolish, are you, Tracy?”
“This Drexel chap sounds like very bad news.”
“He is,” Tracy said seriously. “But he knows things, Antonio. Things I need to know.”
“For God’s sake be careful.”
“I will.” Tracy hugged him. “I promise.”
The next step was to figure out how to get access to the Villa Michele, without alerting Hunter, or anyone else, to her presence. So far Tracy had seen no sign of MI6, the CIA or Group 99, but she knew for a fact that all three were devoting considerable resources to finding out what she already knew. It was only a matter of time before they showed up at the Lakes. Tracy needed to finish this before that happened, and before Drexel took off again.
Unfortunately, accessing the Visconti’s villa proved harder than Tracy had anticipated. Partly because the house itself was a fifteenth-century fortress, with four-foot-thick, unscalable walls designed to keep out centurys’ worth of marauders. And partly because it was situated on a small island, really just a rocky outcrop, in the extreme southern end of the lake. This meant it was close enough to the shore that anyone approaching by boat would be clearly visible from both of the major five-star hotels in town, as well as a good smattering of private homes along the lakefront. Not to mention the fact that the local police station faced the property almost directly, as if it were daring somebody to try and break in.
Despite these obstacles, within twenty-four hours, Tracy had a plan.
But before she took the final step, there was something she had to do.
BACK AT THE GUESTHOUSE, Tracy called Cameron’s private number from her new Italian phone. She was diverted straight to voicemail.
That’s odd. He must be traveling.
She hung up.
She had called him to say goodbye. And to apologize. And to tell him she loved him. But none of these were things one could say to a recorded message.
Perhaps it’s for the best.
Just as she was turning off her phone, it rang.
“Tracy?” Cameron’s voice was heavy with worry. “Is that you?”
Tracy hesitated. She was already regretting calling him but it was too late now.
“Yes. It’s me.”
“Thank God. I’ve been out of my mind. At least one of you is OK.”
“One of us?”
“Charlotte’s gone missing,” Cameron blurted. “My ex-wife. I’ve had the police here and . . . anyway, none of that matters. Where are you?”
Tracy took a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter where I am. I’m safe.”