He is a dog, Tracy told herself. An animal, wild and deadly and without compassion.
His hands began to close around Tracy’s neck, the fingers coiling around her windpipe like a boa constrictor. “I’m sorry, Tracy,” he told her, wheezing with the effort of holding her down. “I never wanted this.”
To her own surprise, Tracy felt panic start to sweep over her like an icy wave.
She’d told herself countless times since Nick’s death that she no longer feared her own. But now, as Cameron’s grip tightened and she fought and gasped for breath, her body’s survival instinct took over. She felt frightened, and angry.
Who was this man to rob her of life?
Who was he, Cameron Crewe, to decide who lived and who died? Whose lives mattered and whose did not? What truths got to be told and what hidden?
No. Tracy wouldn’t allow it!
But there was nothing she could do.
Her legs flailed wildly, uselessly. Her arms, pinned down by Cameron’s knees, twitched and jerked pathetically of their own accord in a grotesque dance of death. Froth was forming at her mouth as she strived vainly to free herself from his choking grip, her energy failing with each oxygen-starved moment. Tracy could feel her eyes bulging, the blood racing around her skull as if her head were about to explode. In the movies strangulation was quick, a few seconds of struggle and then peace. But this wasn’t like that at all. She hadn’t blacked out. Instead she could do nothing but look up and watch as a man she had once thought she loved murdered her, slowly and painfully, the effort of snuffing out her life visible in his flared nostrils and ugly, popping veins.
Frustrated himself by how long it was taking, Cameron began to shake her violently like a terrier with a rat between its jaws. He’s trying to break my neck, thought Tracy. She visualized her brain bouncing off the walls of her skull, like a soft pupa inside its cocoon. The pain was excruciating. She no longer thought of survival. Only of the agony being over.
And then, just like that, it was.
There was no bang. At least none that Tracy heard. Instead the bullet sounded like nothing more than moving air, a gentle whoosh, as if somebody—God?—were blowing her a last merciful kiss.
Cameron Crewe opened both his eyes wide in surprise. Then he fell on top of Tracy, his arms sliding off her neck and hanging, doll-like, by his side.
The last thing Tracy remembered was the agonizing sensation of air flooding back into her starved lungs, like swallowing a fistful of razor blades.
Then she passed out.
LONDON, THREE MONTHS LATER . . .
TRACY STROLLED THROUGH KENSINGTON Gardens, enjoying the autumnal beauty of the park and the surprisingly warm September sun on her back. She was wearing striped pants tucked into riding boots, a navy-blue sweater with a matching blue scarf, printed with an anchor motif, and an open trench coat. Her dark hair was shoulder length now, the longest it had been since before Nick died, and her cheeks shone pink with health as she walked. She was still slim—too slim, according to her doctors—but her figure was starting to soften at the edges. She was no longer the skeletal creature she’d been in June, during the height of her pursuit of Althea and Hunter Drexel.
It was late morning on a weekday. London children were back at school and their parents back at work after the long summer. But the park was still busy. Locals walked their dogs, trainers warmed up with their clients beneath the beech trees, retired couples wandered hand in hand or read their newspapers on slatted wooden benches. And of course the ubiquitous tourists swarmed in chattering huddles around the palace, hoping for a glimpse of Will and Kate, or at least the chance to take a selfie outside what had once been Princess Diana’s London home.
Tracy felt at home here too. In this park. In this city.
She had always loved London. Nicholas was conceived here, and although she had fled the city soon afterwards, haunted by her broken marriage to Jeff, she knew now she had left a part of her heart behind. Colorado had been a new start, a new life for her and Nick. Thanks to Blake Carter, that too had been a joyous time in Tracy’s life. But with Nick gone and her work with the CIA now at an end, it was time for a new chapter to begin.
Tracy had flirted with the idea of returning to New Orleans, where she grew up. Or Philadelphia, where she’d been happy for a short time as a young woman. Before her mother’s suicide. Before prison, and Jeff and Nicholas. Before her real life began. But it was London that spoke to her most strongly, London that seemed to be calling her home.
Climbing up the hill from Kensington High Street, Tracy skirted the palace, making a left along the path that led towards the Princess Diana Memorial playground and Notting Hill beyond. A man in an old-fashioned tweed coat stood up from one of the benches and waved as she approached. Tracy waved back, quickening her pace towards him.
“It’s sweet of you to do this.” She greeted him warmly with a smile and a hug. “I’m sure you’ve got many more important things to be doing today than having lunch with me.”
“More important than lunch with Tracy Whitney?” Major General Frank Dorrien raised a bushy eyebrow. “I don’t think so. At any rate, I can’t think of anything more fun. Shall we?”
He crooked his elbow, offering Tracy his arm. It was an old-fashioned gesture, chivalrous, and, Tracy now knew, typical of Frank. She was embarrassed to think how completely wrong she’d been about him.
He’d had nothing to do with Prince Achileas’s death, although he admitted to disliking the boy.
“It had nothing to do with his being gay. I couldn’t give two hoots about that. It was his support for Group 99 I couldn’t forgive, especially coming from his background. Even before they turned violent I despised what 99 stood for. Envy and bitterness, dressed up as social justice. But it was after they kidnapped Bob Daley that the gloves really came off, at least as far as I was concerned. Bob was a wonderful man and he’d been a friend to Achileas. How he could continue to flirt with them after that . . .” Frank shook his head angrily.
It was Frank who’d saved Tracy’s life at Villa Michele. Frank who’d shot Cameron Crewe and put an end to his reign of terror. Later, he explained to Tracy how he and his bosses at MI6, right up to the prime minister, had come to suspect both the U.S. government and Cameron Crewe of playing a double game when it came to Group 99. He also filled in some of the blanks left by Hunter Drexel, about Kate Evans’s motivations for involving Tracy in the first place.
“As you know, Kate was part of the American team charged with tracking you down, back when you and Jeff were still top on everybody’s wanted list. She’d always admired your ingenuity, your ability to stay one step ahead of the agency. I think she came to see you as emblematic. Someone who had played the CIA at their own game and won. A sort of antihero, if you like. She admired you.”
“She had a funny way of showing it,” Tracy said.
Frank Dorrien shrugged. “She wasn’t mentally well. You mustn’t forget that.”
In one way, all this had been good to know. It finally closed a circle. But in another way it left Tracy bereft. Now she might never know who was responsible for Nick’s death. Frank Dorrien was quite certain that Kate had done nothing to hurt him.
“There’s not a shred of evidence linking her to that accident,” Frank told Tracy. “Indeed we’re as sure as we can be that she was in Europe at the time. Greg Walton fabricated all of that nonsense to give you a motive to help him.”
“So if not Kate, then who?” Tracy asked.
Frank took her hands kindly. “Maybe nobody. Maybe it truly was an accident, Tracy.”
That was the hardest part for Tracy now. Living with the maybes.
Today though, life felt bright and the future possible. Tracy and Frank walked on through the park together, slowly. Tracy was officially fully recovered from her ordeal on Lake Maggiore. But her doctors had warned her to take it easy, and for once she was heeding their advice. The strain of the last six months had taken a toll that Tracy hadn’t been aware of until it was over.
Now, reluctantly, she’d been forced to admit that she wasn’t twenty-three anymore. Stress and exhaustion no longer bounced off her like stones skipped across a river. They hit. And they hurt.