Undercover Avenger. Rita Herron

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Undercover Avenger - Rita Herron

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“She spent some time in a hospital down there.”

      “You mean she worked at one? Was she a nurse, an aide, a doctor? What?”

      “She was a patient, Miss Fagan. She attended college in Savannah and got involved in some kind of research experiment at the hospital where she volunteered.”

      “What kind of experiment?”

      “I haven’t been able to find that out. Records are sealed. No one is talking.”

      “And my father?”

      “Nothing so far.”

      Her mind veered off on a tangent—could the research experiment have caused her seizure disorder? The doctors hadn’t been able to explain the exact cause, but suggested it was genetic. And though not life threatening, the disorder deterred people from adopting her. Worse, she was afraid she might pass it on to a child. Maybe if she discovered the cause, the doctors could prevent her offspring from inheriting the condition.

      “If I were you, I’d forget the search.” He stood, inhaling smoke and shuffling papers, his demeanor indicating an end to their meeting.

      “Can you keep looking?” Melissa asked.

      “I told you everything, Miss Fagan. Now, I’d let sleeping dogs lie.”

      Melissa shivered and gripped the chair edge. She didn’t believe him. He was hiding something.

      Still, learning her mother’s name should have been enough. Melissa had been born in Savannah; she had a place to start. But the fact that Candace had been involved in a research project, and that Melissa suffered from seizures no one could explain, triggered more questions. “All right, thank you for your help.”

      He snapped the file closed as if glad to be finished with it. “Goodbye, Miss Fagan.”

      Melissa headed to the door, still contemplating his odd behavior. The elevator dinged, and she waited for the people to exit, then stepped inside, fighting off the stench of body odors, stifling perfumes and smoke lingering inside.

      Frustration clawed at her as the doors closed, claustrophobia choking her. She pulled at her collar and inhaled, wrestling with bitter memories of being locked in a small room by her foster parents. They’d claimed they wanted to prevent her from wandering around at night, had been afraid she’d stumble into something. Instead, they’d confined her like a prisoner.

      The elevator whirled to a stop, the doors buzzed open, and she stepped outside, breathing in the fresh air. A warm spring breeze brushed her neck, the scents of freshly baked bread and Italian cuisine floating from the neighborhood restaurant. The hum of Atlanta traffic whizzed around her—a horn blowing, a siren wailing, pedestrians passing. A homeless man in ratty clothes reeking of booze and filth hugged a bottle of wine to his chest, his glassy eyes staring up at her, glazed and disoriented. Compassion filled her. She understood how it felt to be homeless, unwanted.

      She slipped inside a neighboring bagel shop, bought a bagful of bagels and a cup of hot coffee, then hurried out and handed them to him. Then she hailed a cab. At least she had more information than she’d had the day before.

      Tomorrow, she would check out the research park in Savannah and get a job there. Once she located her parents, she could put the past to rest.

      ERIC STILL COULDN’T believe he was alive.

      Although the pain he had endured for the past few months had been excruciating, the doctors had claimed his strong will had brought him through.

      Eric knew differently. He had survived so he could get revenge.

      So he could find the person responsible for killing his witness and make him pay. And when he’d learned that the killer had also tried to murder his brother, an innocent woman and baby, he’d decided to do whatever was necessary to catch him.

      Even work with the FBI.

      “You can’t go undercover, Eric. For God’s sake, you’re in a wheelchair. You’re too vulnerable.”

      Eric rubbed a hand along his jaw, ignoring the distress on Cain’s face. “I don’t want your damn pity, Cain. And I won’t be in this chair long.”

      Still uncomfortable with the chair and his new image, Eric gripped the metal arms. But his new face beat the hideous one he’d awakened to three months before. And he would walk again, no matter how much physical therapy he had to endure.

      “Hell, Cain, I thought you’d be glad I finally hooked up with the Feds.”

      “But working undercover at the Coastal Island Research Park is too risky,” Cain argued. “What if someone realizes who you are?”

      Eric pointed to the hospital mirror. “Look at me, bro. You didn’t even recognize me. How will anyone at CIRP, when they’ve never seen me?” He wheeled the chair toward the door. “I’m the last person they’d expect to show up as a patient.”

      “I don’t like that, either,” Cain said. “Damn. If it weren’t for Alanna and Simon, I’d take the job.”

      “No, they need you,” Eric said. “Besides, the people at CIRP would recognize you.”

      His brother couldn’t argue with that point. “If Hughes has resurfaced, and they discover you’re with the Feds, there’s no telling what they’ll do to you. Do you have any idea the lengths some of those scientists have resorted to in order to cover themselves?”

      His brother was right. The Feds had already briefed him on earlier questionable events at the center.

      Eric’s mind ticked back to what he knew so far. Arnold Hughes had co-founded the research park, but years ago, he’d tried to sell research to a foreign source, then committed murder to cover his actions. When the police tried to arrest him, he’d escaped. His boat had exploded, but his body had never been found. Recent rumors suggested he’d resurfaced. That he’d not only supported a memory transplant experiment in which a former Savannah cop, Clayton Fox, had had his memory erased and been made to believe he was a man named Cole Turner, but he’d spearheaded an experiment to explore creating the perfect child. The child had been Simon—the baby his brother’s wife had protected by kidnapping him from the center.

      Hughes was Simon’s father, only he didn’t know it.

      And now a manhunt was on for Hughes.

      The fact that the Feds suspected Hughes had resurfaced with a new identity had sparked the idea for Eric to capitalize on his own new face and work undercover. Ironic, but cunning—he’d use their own game to trap them. He’d even adopted a fake last name, Collier, to cover himself.

      “The doctors are going to patch up my body,” Eric said with a wry grin. “It’s the least they can do after destroying it.”

      “That’s just it, you’re not physically strong enough to defend yourself right now.”

      Cain’s comment cut to the bone. “Another reason I’m having therapy. Besides, I need time to heal before the doctors can perform more skin grafts. I might as well be useful in the meantime.” The rehab arrangement at CIRP offered private bungalows on-site for recovery, which would allow him mobility and a beach view, a helluva lot better setup than another god-awful hospital, or having to arrange transportation from his own cabin to a rehab facility on a daily basis. He refused to be dependent on his brother.

      Cain caught his arm just as Eric reached for the doorknob. Déjà vu flooded him. Another time when his brother had tried to stop him. If he’d listened to him then, the witness might still be alive.

      But one look at the wheelchair, and he had to follow through. After all, it was spring. Cain had a new wife and a baby. A life to live.

      Eric’s future was bleak. No spring roses or kids or lovers in his future. He had nothing but a battered, scarred body. And a dark soul, to boot.

      One no woman would want.


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