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Taking the Heat Brenda Novak The small town of Florence, Arizona, is known for one thing–its prison. Gabrielle Hadley is in Florence for personal reasons, though; she's seeking the mother who abandoned her more than two decades ago.In order to support herself and her two-year-old daughter, Gabrielle is working as a prison guard–just about the only job available in this bleak desert town.Randall Tucker is a prisoner at Florence, convicted of murdering his wife. He has one goal: to survive until he can prove his innocence–and reclaim his seven-year-old son, Landon, now living in foster care.In the prison's atmosphere of tension and corruption, Gabrielle discovers that Randall Tucker is far from the murderer he's said to be.When he escapes during a prison transfer, she follows him into the unforgiving desert. To protect her job, her own integrity–or him? But the guard becomes the prisoner's captive…and more. It's a relationship that's not supposed to exist, and yet it might save them both. Praise for Brenda Novak Brenda Novak’s Snow Baby “should appeal to readers who like their romances with a sophisticated touch.” —Library Journal “Brenda Novak weaves a vivid, completely unforgettable romance.” —Lisa Ramaglia, Scribes World Reviews “Brenda Novak has an engaging, realistic writing style with characters who are very real and true.” —Shirley Kawa-Jump, syndicated journalist “I will not be surprised when I see the name Brenda Novak on the bestseller lists!” —Detra Fitch, Huntress Book Reviews “Brenda Novak skillfully blends richly developed characters and emotionally intense issues to create a powerful romance.” —Pamela Cohen, Romantic Times Brenda Novak’s books are “must-reads for the hopeless romantics among us who crave sweeping adventure, pulse-pounding reunions and gloriously satisfying endings.” —bestselling author Merline Lovelace Brenda Novak’s “powerful storytelling voice” provides “the novel with depth seldom matched in this genre.” —Cindy Penn, WordWeaving “One thing is for sure: I know I never, ever want to miss a book by Brenda Novak.” —Suzanne Coleman, The Belles and Beaux of Romance Dear Reader, The research for this novel took me to the small desert town of Florence, Arizona, a unique place where seven prisons (including the juvenile detention center) dot the arid landscape. Atmospheric and intriguing, Florence still has the feel of the Old West, without the gimmicks and tourists that clog so many towns with similar roots. The Old Territorial Prison is there, as authentic and captivating as the town, from the Pauper’s Graveyard behind the complex to the original cell blocks. But this isn’t a story about the town or the prison. Not really. It’s about an innocent man stripped of everything he holds dear, a man left only with his character and his courage, and the woman who sees him for what he is. It’s a story about a woman who is torn between justice and mercy, and ultimately follows her heart. I hope you enjoy their journey. I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me at P.O. Box 3781, Citrus Heights, CA 95611. Or simply log on to my Web site at www.brendanovak.com to leave me an e-mail, check out my news and appearances page, or learn about my upcoming releases. Best wishes, Brenda Novak Taking the Heat Brenda Novak www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) To my third daughter, Alexa, for possessing the purest heart I’ve ever known. Alexa, you’re always loving and remarkably kind, quick to smile even when things don’t go your way and the first to sacrifice for others. I truly admire your generosity. In short, you’re a rare jewel and a blessing to all who know you, especially your mother. If you forget everything I’ve ever taught you, remember this: my love is everlasting. ACKNOWLEDGMENT I owe special thanks to the state of Arizona’s Department of Corrections for their willingness to provide me with a tour of the Arizona State Prison, Florence. Rhonda Cole, Public Information Officer, and Blaine Marshall, Deputy Warden, ASPC-Eyman/SMU II were both more than kind and provided me with a wealth of information. I would especially like to thank Officer James A. Robideau, CO II, for the time he spent reading this story when it was only in manuscript form and double-checking my prison facts. Meeting these wonderful people was truly a pleasure. They made my trip to Arizona well worth the time. I would also like to thank my husband, Ted, for his support of my career. He’s read every book I’ve written and always gives me plenty of love and encouragement. This is a work of fiction. I saw nothing at the prison that would indicate corruption of any kind. “The truth which is certain is known by means of intuition, the probable truth by means of proofs.” James Beattie, Scottish professor of moral philosophy CONTENTS PROLOGUE CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO EPILOGUE PROLOGUE “DON’T WORRY, Mr. Tucker, it’s almost over now.” Randall Tucker sat next to his attorney in the courtroom, feeling utterly alone, even though the gallery behind him was packed to overflowing. He prayed to God she was right. In all his thirty-two years he’d never experienced anything so confusing, so terrifying or so painful. “They can’t convict you without a body,” she said, repeating what she’d told him the moment he hired her. “When the jury gets back, you’ll see.” When the jury gets back… They were sure taking a long time. They’d been deliberating all day, and every minute seemed like an eternity. Regardless, it’ll end well. They won’t put an innocent man away. Truth and justice will prevail. “I never touched her,” he said, but he’d been saying that ever since his wife had gone missing, and it hadn’t made any difference before. His attorney smiled confidently. “You’ll be home with your son in a few hours.” He might go home, but their lives would never be the same. Andrea wouldn’t be there. They’d lost his wife, Landon’s mother, and there’d be big adjustments to make— The door opened and fear clutched at Tucker’s throat as the jury filed into the courtroom and resumed their seats. Their foreman, a tall, balding man with a dark mustache, remained standing. “Have you reached a verdict?” the judge asked. “Yes, Your Honor.” “Will you read the verdict, please?” The man glanced nervously around the room, then looked down at the paper in his hand. “We the jury find the defendant, Randall C. Tucker—” he cleared his throat and peered at the judge, who nodded for him to continue “—guilty of the crime of murder in the first degree.” Guilty? The word hit Tucker like a crowbar to the gut, momentarily stunning him. Numbly, he tried to raise his hand to rub away the pain, but it was no good. His chest had constricted so tightly he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. “But I’m innocent,” he said, or maybe he only thought it. Someone was screaming inside his head, drowning out the chaos that erupted around him, drowning out his lawyer’s soft, concerned words, blocking everything but the memory of his promise to Landon. I’m not going anywhere, buddy. I won’t leave you, I promise. And then the judge, his voice mere background noise until that moment, said something about reconvening for sentencing. Randall was pushed and prodded from the room. He spent the next few days in numb incredulity, caught in a nightmare he couldn’t escape. When he faced the white-haired Judge Forester again, the subtle contempt Tucker had sensed during the actual trial was more apparent. Forester said it was a sad commentary on the state of society that such a successful man as Randall would murder his wife in cold blood. He asked Randall to tell authorities where he’d hidden the body so Andrea’s friends and family could receive some sense of closure. And he added his regret that the death penalty wasn’t an option in this particular case. Then he said the words that echoed through Randall’s soul. “I hereby sentence the defendant, Randall C. Tucker, to prison for the rest of his natural life.” CHAPTER ONE OH, GOD, a fight! Gabrielle Hadley quickly turned off the bathroom faucet and sought a paper towel to dry her soapy hands as hoots and hollers resounded outside. What had started as a few distinct shouts was quickly growing into a loud roar that bounced off the prison’s cinder-block walls. It was a sound she knew, a sound she feared. “Not again,” she moaned. “This is only my third day!” Her heart in her throat, she tossed the wadded paper into the wastebasket and left the small corner rest room in the guards’ station. Lunch break or no, she had to get out there and back up the other officers. And she’d probably have to wield her baton, as well, even though the thought of actually cracking it against someone’s skull still turned her stomach. “Have you radioed for the Designated Armed Response Team?” she asked Eckland as she dashed by him. The only other officer in the small caged station outside the bathroom, he didn’t answer. But she was in such a hurry to get inside the cell block, she scarcely noticed. “Open the door.” He cocked an eyebrow at her. “I don’t think—” “What are you waiting for?” she cried. Through the metals bars that separated her from the inmates and their cells, she could see a small group of jumpsuit-clad men circling something or someone in the cement-floored common area. Feverish cries rang out from those who watched, along with a chorus of support from the men still locked in three stories of old-style cells above. Yet she could hear the thud of fist on bone, a grunt of pain and a few muttered curses. “Eckland!” Finally the gears began to turn. The door slid to the left. She slipped inside the cell block and began looking for the other officers as the door closed immediately behind her. She caught a glimpse of brown and khaki, a uniform like her own, and realized Hansen and Roddy were already in the middle of the fight. Swallowing hard, she started after them, hoping the Designated Armed Response Team would arrive soon, their shotguns filled with birdshot. “Back off. Go to your cells now, or we’ll lock you down for three days!” she shouted, hoping to sound far more forceful than she felt. Someone showed her just how much he respected her authority by grabbing her ass. Brandishing her stick, she whirled to face at least five inmates who could have done it. They grinned, their eyes alight with insolent challenge. But a particularly filthy string of curses called everyone’s attention back to the blows being leveled only a few feet away and they forgot her in their effort to gain a better view. Forging on, Gabrielle broke through the ranks to find four men ganging up on one. “That’s enough! Break it up,” she said. She half expected one of the brawling men to punch her in the jaw, but Sergeant Hansen was the only one who touched her. He took her by the shoulder and yanked her back, motioning for her to wait. Then he spread his arms wide to keep the onlookers from crowding too close. Roddy was doing the same. What was this? Gabrielle gaped in surprise at the look of rapt attention on Hansen’s and Roddy’s faces. They weren’t trying to break up the fight; they were only keeping things from getting out of hand. And they were enjoying the spectacle as much as the inmates, maybe more. “They could kill him!” she cried, hoping to bring them to their senses. “They’re not gonna kill him.” Hansen’s terse words barely reached her ears for the noise. “They’re just teachin’ the cocky sonuvabitch a lesson,” Roddy muttered, closer to her. “It’s about time somebody did.” But it wasn’t up to the prisoners to teach anyone a lesson. And it certainly wasn’t up to Roddy, or Hansen for that matter, to decide whether or not an inmate deserved a beating! Fortunately the lone prisoner knew how to fight, or he wouldn’t have lasted this long. He was lighter and more thinly built than his assailants, but as Gabrielle watched with wide eyes he whirled and knocked one of them to the ground with a karate-style kick. He deflected a fist aimed at his face and smashed a third man’s nose with a rapid jab, but he couldn’t possibly recover quickly enough to prepare for the man coming up from behind. A blow to the back of his head sent him face-first to the ground, and the others instantly swarmed and started kicking him. Blood spatter brought another round of raucous cheering. The crunch of each blow caused bile to rise in Gabrielle’s throat. The victim was curling up, trying to protect himself as best he could, but she was afraid they were going to kill him. Someone had to do something. Her heart pounding so hard every beat vibrated out to her fingertips, she raised her baton, jumped into the fracas and clubbed one of the four attackers. Adrenaline must have lent her strength because all two hundred and fifty pounds of him dropped to the floor like a stone, giving her the chance to hit another before the rest knew what was happening. “Get off him,” she cried. “Get off him or I’ll club you senseless.” She glared at the remaining two, who paused to look at her with hatred contorting their sweat-and blood-streaked faces. They shuffled a few steps away, but their eyes flicked repeatedly to her baton, and she knew they were only waiting for an opportunity to disarm her. The two on the ground stirred and shoved themselves up, but before anyone could make a move, Roddy and Hansen finally rallied and began to break up the fight. “That’s enough now. You’ve had your fun,” Hansen said. “That’s enough for today.” Roddy grinned with satisfaction. “You finally took him, Manuel. You finally took him.” With a little help from his friends, Gabrielle wanted to add as she stared, shaking, at the man on the floor. Eyes closed, lip and forehead bleeding, orange jumpsuit torn, he was lying perfectly still. Was he unconscious? Seriously hurt? The violence sickened her. Fighting the urge to throw up, she bent to feel for a pulse at his neck and found herself staring into a pair of the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Framed by long, thick lashes that matched the black of his hair, they were also, by far, the prettiest. “Are you okay?” she asked. He didn’t answer. He tried to sit up, but she gently pushed him back. “Wait. Let me check a few things first.” Quickly she threaded her fingers through his hair and felt his skull, searching for cuts or lumps, anything that might indicate a concussion. She knew he’d been hit in the back of the head. He could have been kicked there, as well. But she didn’t find anything indicative of serious injury, other than the knot she’d expected, the obvious busted lip and the gash above his left eye. “I’m fine,” he insisted, batting her hands away as though impatient to escape her probing. He staggered to his feet but favored his left side so badly, Gabrielle was sure he had some damaged ribs. He held his hand at an odd angle, too. “I’m afraid you’ve got a few broken bones,” she said. “And your forehead probably needs stitches.” She glanced at his blood on her hands and knew touching him had been foolish. He could have AIDS. Prisons were full of HIV. In training, they’d warned her about that. She even carried a pair of gloves on her belt. But she hadn’t been at the job long enough to have established any kind of habit and in the heat of the moment her natural impulse had won out. “Why don’t you sit until I can bring a doctor in here?” she asked. “He doesn’t need a doctor. He’ll be fine. Get him back where he belongs.” It was Sergeant Hansen, her supervisor. He’d overseen the herding of the men back to their cells, but now he hovered over her, frowning at the injured convict, who stood half a foot taller than both of them. “Afterward I want to speak to you at my desk,” he told her. Maybe she’d been stupid to break rank with the others; maybe it was going to cost her her job. But Gabrielle had acted according to her conscience and wasn’t prepared to back off yet. “He needs a doctor,” she insisted. “I’m pretty sure he’s got a couple of—” “Save your breath,” the inmate interrupted. “I’m not going to get a doctor because, according to your boss and his henchmen, this little incident never happened. Too many fights in one cell block might lead to the truth—that they’re being staged. And staging fights could cost your buddy Hansen, here, his cushy job.” His voice held a distinctly challenging edge, but even his anger couldn’t fully eclipse the smooth, cultured tones underneath. After seeing him fight like a man born to the streets and witnessing firsthand the power of his muscular body, the fact that he sounded more like a business executive than a maximum security prisoner came as a surprise to Gabrielle—but no more so than his accusation. “Of course it’ll be reported,” she said. “The response team is probably on its way right now.” She looked to Hansen for confirmation, but the narrowing of the sergeant’s cool gray eyes and Eckland’s strange reluctance when she’d demanded to be let into the cell block shook her faith. “I was thinkin’ of doin’ you a favor, scumbag,” Hansen said. “I figured you wouldn’t be too eager for me to report another fight, seein’ as how you could lose your privileges again. But maybe you don’t know when a guy’s tryin’ to be nice. So I’ll report it if you say so. Is that what you want?” The inmate didn’t answer, but a muscle flexed in his jaw and his eyes turned hard and glittery. Hansen grinned. “That’s what I thought. Now get your ass back where it belongs before I change my mind.” “WHAT DO YOU THINK you were doing out there?” Sergeant Hansen shouted once Gabrielle had composed herself enough to appear at his desk. “I was trying to stop a convict from sustaining physical injury,” she said. “I thought I was doing my job.” “You were risking your fool life, that’s what you were doing. I had things under control.” Gabrielle had promised herself she’d be diplomatic. She needed her job. The small desert town of Florence, Arizona, revolved around seven prisons, including the juvenile detention center. There wasn’t anything else that would pay her enough to survive, at least not anything she could get. After running away from home at least a dozen times in her teen years, she’d barely graduated high school. College had been out of the question. But she was too honest to suck up to Hansen and pretend she agreed with his actions, so she folded her arms and kept her mouth shut. “Randall Tucker killed his own wife, Officer Hadley,” Hansen announced as though he were playing some kind of trump card. “I’ll get his jacket so you can read it if you don’t believe me.” Gabrielle didn’t want to read his jacket or anyone else’s. The inmates’s wrap sheets were sometimes available to the officers, but she purposely avoided anything she didn’t need to know for fear she’d lose the nerve to do her job. Working for the state provided good medical and dental benefits, an excellent retirement plan and favorable hours. Arizona needed corrections officers in Florence so badly, they’d even offered her bonus money to work in this particular prison, and they’d given her days even though most rookies had to take the night shift. “That’s his name, Randall Tucker?” she asked. “I think I read about him in the paper when I was living in Phoenix.” He nodded. “Then you know he suspected his wife of having an affair, got insanely jealous and hired a private detective to follow her around. When he found out she was cheating on him, he flipped out and beat her to a bloody pulp with that karate shit of his. No one’s ever found the body.” “If they’ve never found the body, how do we know what happened? Did he confess?” she asked in surprise, wishing she could remember more about the story. She was new at corrections, but she’d seen enough court TV to know the rarity of such a conviction. “Hell, no. Tucker’s too smart for that. He’s still trying to get out of here. But a whole roomful of people watched him drag her away from an aerobics class the night she disappeared, and he was the last person to see her. He didn’t even report her missing for three days. By then her friends were getting suspicious, but all the police could find was blood spatter in the garage consistent with a blow to the head. The kind made with a fist.” Shying away from the mental picture Hansen was purposely creating in an attempt to intimidate her, Gabrielle went back to the name—Randall Tucker. For a moment his deep, angry, fathomless blue eyes flashed into her mind. She recalled his face. A rugged, very interesting face. The face of a man who’d killed his wife in his own garage. Gabrielle stifled a shudder. “I don’t care what he’s done,” she said, remembering her ideals. “It’s not up to me to punish him.” “I’m not punishing him. I’m just letting him pick on someone his own size.” “Four to one is hardly a fair fight.” The muscles of Hansen’s arm flexed as he rubbed the top of his blond flattop, studying her. What he lacked in height he tried to compensate for in the weight room, which made him appear almost square. “You think his wife would want him to have a pleasant stay here?” “I don’t have to answer that. The government dictates what his stay is like, not me. Or you,” she added. He chuckled bitterly, finally seeming to accept that he wasn’t going to convince her. “Damn bleeding heart liberal, that’s what you are. It’s a shame what people like you have done to this country. Prisoners are treated like guests at the taxpayer hotel while we work like slaves to keep food on the table.” “What good does it do to behave like them?” she asked. “Just because we work with depraved men doesn’t mean we have to lose our humanity.” “You think I’ve lost my humanity, Officer Hadley?” Gabrielle hesitated but, in the end, her natural frankness won out. “I don’t think what you did back there was right. And I sure as hell don’t think you should have denied Randall Tucker a doctor. He’s obviously hurt. We should send him to the health center.” “Let me tell you something, little lady. Randall Tucker is fine. He can take two men easily, and I’ve seen him take three. Far as I know, today’s the first time he’s ever been beat. He’s been fighting since he came here and he’ll continue to fight until he dies, or his appeal is finally heard and the judge overturns his sentence. But he’s already been denied twice, so I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that. He’s tougher than nails and stronger than a bull. He’s a survivor.” Hansen put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “And you know what? So am I. I’ve been workin’ here since college, nearly fifteen years, and I’ll be workin’ here in fifteen more. It’s only the weak who have to worry, the young, the old—” he cocked an eyebrow at her “—the fairer sex. At least those who don’t mind their own business and keep to their place.” Indignant, Gabrielle shot out of her chair. “I don’t appreciate the implication, Sergeant Hansen.” He sat back, laced thick fingers behind his head and smiled. “The implication? I’m not implying anything. I’m just reminding you of some basic facts, Officer Hadley. You lack the upper-body strength of a good prison officer. You lack a killer’s instinct. I don’t think you got it in you to do this job. Bottom line, you might need a lot of support from your fellow corrections officers, so you’d better be careful not to piss them off.” Or? The word hung in the air, but Gabrielle refused to say it. She was afraid she’d pushed Hansen too far already. The tentative relationship that had developed between them over her first two days had degenerated into open hostility, and she needed her job. She pictured herself trying to break up a fight like the one this afternoon and having him and his henchmen, as Randall Tucker had referred to them, hold back, stalling several minutes before coming to her aid. She could be seriously injured. She could be seriously killed. She hadn’t come to Florence to wage any wars against the powers that be. She’d come for other reasons, personal reasons. Her job was just that—a job, nothing more, nothing less. “So, no doctor for Tucker?” she asked. He shook his head in obvious disgust. “You don’t give up easily, do you?” Gabrielle returned his cold stare without speaking. “No doctor,” he said at last. “Then can I take a first-aid kit and see if he’s okay? There’s a cut above his eye that looks like it needs stitches. It should be cleaned, at least. And I’m pretty sure he’s broken a bone or two in his hand.” “If you want to nurse Mr. Wife-Killer, you can do it on your own time, once your shift ends,” Hansen growled. “But if he attacks you, don’t expect me—or anyone else—to come running.” CHAPTER TWO GABRIELLE CLUTCHED the first-aid kit in one sweaty hand and moved purposefully down the aisle toward Randall Tucker’s cell. Roddy and Brinkman, another officer, flanked her, walking a few steps behind. Worried about the possible repercussions should something happen to her while she was visiting Tucker, Hansen had finally relented and told the two officers to accompany her. But it was time to go home, and Roddy and Brinkman weren’t any happier about her errand than Hansen had been. Could she count on them? The fear that she couldn’t kept her eyes focused straight ahead and her chin held high while, inside, her heart thumped louder with each step. Randall Tucker killed his own wife. Hansen’s words seemed to echo through the cavernous cell block, and with them, his promise. If he attacks you, don’t expect me—or anyone else—to come running…come running…come running. Locked down because of the fight and with an hour still to wait before dinner, many of the convicts were listless and bored. They lingered near the front of their cells, tattooed arms dangling through the bars as they hollered back and forth to each other or simply stared at nothing, sullen and withdrawn. Unfortunately, Gabrielle’s passing seemed to be just the thing to relieve the tedium. “Hey, fine-lookin’ mama, let’s get it on!” someone called after her as small plastic mirrors began to spring up so the men could see her. “Shut up, ho, she’s lookin’ fo’ a real man, a man like me,” came a shout two cells further down. “Come on, baby, lemme take you for the ride of your life.” “Look at those tits,” a third man groaned. “What I wouldn’t give for five minutes with those—” Previously, Roddy and Brinkman and the other officers had put an end to the taunts and catcalls the prisoners flung her way by threatening them with no recreation and only a sack lunch for meals. The fact that they said nothing now, did nothing, told Gabrielle they were as angry as she’d thought. They didn’t like her interfering and wanted her to know it. But now that she’d taken a stand, she needed to see it through—or Randall Tucker would receive no help, and she would have ruined her relationship with Sergeant Hansen for nothing. In five minutes she’d be done with Tucker, she told herself. Then she’d be on her way home to Allie. “Come back and give me some love. I got nothin’ but love for you, baby, nothin’ but love.” Smooching sounds followed her on the rest of her walk to Tucker’s cell. When she reached it, she found him shirtless, hunched over the small stainless-steel sink in the back corner, trying to rinse the dried blood from his hair. Fortunately, all inmates in central unit lived alone. Singularly intent on cleaning up, Tucker didn’t seem to notice her. Or maybe he did and just didn’t care that she was there. He continued his efforts until the moisture glistening on his hair dripped onto his broad shoulders and ran in thin rivulets down his chest and back—a chest and back devoid of tattoos and any ounce of fat. Then he toweled himself off, straightened and turned. “Looks like I have a visitor,” he said, leaving his jumpsuit dangling around his hips. Unless Gabrielle missed her guess, he regarded her with the same scorn Roddy and Brinkman reserved for him. Hatred or enmity she could understand. She’d seen plenty of both since starting at the prison. Officers and inmates were never meant to be friends. But disdain? Disdain implied superiority. Who did Tucker think he was? He reminded her more of a doctor or a lawyer than a murderer. That didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous. Please, God, let this day end well, she prayed, telling herself that if there was trouble, Roddy and Brinkman would help. They might hesitate long enough to teach her a lesson, but they’d ultimately intervene. Problem was, a lot could happen in a mere sixty seconds. And there were any number of excuses for delay…. Suddenly seven weeks of job-training didn’t seem like nearly enough. In and out. Five minutes, that’s all. Hauling in a deep breath, Gabrielle removed the pin in the door and motioned to Eckland, down in the officer’s booth, to unlock Tucker’s cell. Metal screeched on metal as the door rolled to the right. “I’ve brought something to clean your cuts, Mr. Tucker,” she said. “Mr. Tucker?” He eyed Roddy and Brinkman, who stood with their batons drawn, as though eager for trouble. “Isn’t that your name?” she asked. “I think you’re the first person to use it since I came to this hellhole.” Still favoring his left side, he moved forward, and it was all Gabrielle could do to keep from dashing out and running for safety. Evidently he read her fear because he stopped, giving her some space, and his voice took on a mocking note. “It’s going to be mighty hard to dress a wound from back there. Or are you planning to leave that stuff here with me?” A nod indicated the first-aid kit she held in her hands. Inmates made weapons out of the most innocuous substances. Gabrielle could easily imagine Tucker honing a knife out of the plastic lid and stabbing someone with it. “I’m not stupid,” she said, waving him toward the bed. “Will you sit down, please?” “Please?” His lip curled into a bitter smile. “At least you’re polite.” “Are you going to sit down or not?” Holding his injured hand like an unwieldy club, he brushed against her shoulder as he sank onto the lower bunk. She suspected he did it on purpose, to test her, so she stood her ground and refused to back away. If she was going to do this job, she couldn’t act like she was about to run screaming in the opposite direction every time she came into contact with a prisoner. Besides, she’d noticed the lines of pain and fatigue in his face and was starting to lose some of her fear. He was hurting far more than he let on. “This is probably a waste of the courage you screwed up to come here,” he said. “Unless you brought an X-ray machine and some plaster, I doubt there’s anything you can do for me.” “Sorry, no plaster.” She set the kit on the bed beside him. “Some antiseptic and Band-Aids, though.” “I’d settle for a couple of Tylenol.” “It’s against the rules for me to dispense any medication. You can buy aspirin from the store.” “Aspirin doesn’t work for me.” “Well, it’s against the rules for me to give you anything else.” The look on his face told her what he thought of her response. “It’s against the rules for you to be here now, but Hansen makes his own rules. What’s a couple of Tylenol? Think about it, Officer—” his eyes flicked to the name sewn on her shirt “—Hadley. Two capsules of extra-strength Tylenol and you can consider your mission here complete. Then you won’t have to dirty your hands by touching a monster like me.” A monster like him? If he was a monster, it certainly didn’t show on the outside. Despite the injuries that marred his face, he was one of the most attractive men Gabrielle had ever seen. He practically exuded virility, from the comfortable way he fit his body to the aristocratic features of his face—the aquiline nose, the thin upper lip, the prominent jaw and those incomparable eyes. “What makes you think I have a problem with that?” she asked, snapping open the kit and rummaging inside. “You mean, besides the revulsion on your face? It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see you’d sooner touch a leper.” Gabrielle kept her focus on what she was doing and didn’t answer. He was right. He’d murdered his wife, and she didn’t want to come anywhere near him. But he could definitely use what little first aid she could give. Although the blood on his split lip had congealed, his hand had swollen considerably. The cut on his forehead was bleeding again, if it had ever stopped, and he had to keep wiping away the blood to stop it from rolling into his eyes. “Can you blame me? Your record doesn’t do much to recommend you,” she said, pulling on the latex gloves she carried on her belt. “You can’t believe everything you read.” She folded a piece of gauze and doused it with antiseptic. “Oh, yeah? I suppose you’re innocent, just like everyone else in here.” He sucked air between his teeth as she cleaned the gash above his eye. “I don’t think you give a shit whether I’m innocent or not. No one else does.” She fumbled with one of the butterfly bandages from the kit, trying to figure out how to use it. The wound on his head needed stitches. She’d never seen one quite so deep. But the gloves made it difficult to feel what she was doing, and the darn bandage wouldn’t stick. She looked back at Roddy and Brinkman, hoping they would finally see how unethical it was to deny Tucker the medical help he so obviously needed. But they stared straight ahead, stone-faced, and Gabrielle couldn’t decide whom she disliked more. Tucker, for being the murderer he was, the very scum of society. Or Hansen, Roddy and Brinkman for their refusal to do the right thing. She studied the wound some more, knew it was too deep to leave as it was, and finally stripped off her gloves so she’d have a chance of making the bandage stick. Tucker glanced at the discarded gloves. “Aren’t you taking quite a risk?” “It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think? I already got your blood all over me earlier.” “And now you think you’re going to die of AIDS.” “Am I?” He shrugged. “Depends on who you’re sleeping with. You won’t get it from me.” Ignoring his allusion to her love life, she concentrated on what she was doing so she wouldn’t ruin another bandage. Come on…come on. Once this is on, I’ve handled the worst of it, she thought, but his next question made her pause. “Why did you do it?” She met his gaze, then looked quickly away. There was something so clear and beautiful about his eyes, they could almost make her forget she was confronting a murderer. “Do what?” she asked. She’d finally got the bandage to close the cut and was nearly limp with relief. “Jump into that fight. If you don’t have a death wish, you’re either incredibly stupid or incredibly brave. I can’t decide which.” “Fortunately you don’t have to. I was just doing my job.” “If you were doing your job, what was Roddy doing?” He indicated Roddy with a slight nod. “I’ll show you what I’ll do if you don’t shut your freakin’ mouth,” Roddy warned, slapping his baton against the palm of his hand. Gabrielle shifted to block the officers’s view of Tucker. “You’re probably going to have a scar above your eyebrow,” she said to distract him from their hostility—and to distract herself from the odd sense of intimacy she experienced at standing between Tucker’s spread legs, only inches from his bare chest. She tilted his chin up so she could clean the cut on his lip and was moderately surprised to find she felt none of the repugnance she’d expected to feel at touching him. He might be a convict, but he was a man of flesh and bone, and the more honest part of her had to admit that his flesh felt better than most. The rough jaw she cupped in one hand and the soft lip she pressed down with her thumb to reach the cut in the very corner sparked a response someplace deep inside her—someplace that didn’t seem nearly as concerned with character as it should have been. She hurried to finish before he could read her grudging admiration of his physical attributes as easily as he’d read her earlier fear and reluctance. “How are your ribs?” He didn’t answer, but he winced as she ran her fingers over his injured side. She was searching for something obvious, something that could possibly puncture a lung, but if his ribs were broken, she couldn’t tell. So long as Tucker was still breathing, she doubted she could get Hansen do anything about it, anyway. “Maybe they’re only cracked,” she said at last, refusing to acknowledge how smooth and warm his skin was. His wife had probably enjoyed the same sensation…once. A heartening amount of distaste finally came with that thought. Gabrielle put some space between them and started packing up. “At least your cuts are cleaned and bandaged. Hopefully time will take care of the rest.” He said nothing. Now that she was finished, he looked even more exhausted and wrung out from the pain, which made Gabrielle do something she hadn’t intended to do at all. “Let me see your hand before I go,” she said. Tucker hesitated, as though his first inclination was to deny her, but then Roddy piped up. “Come on, you ain’t gonna to be able to do anything for his hand.” “You’re done playing nursemaid to this lowlife,” Brinkman added. Their intervention was enough to convince him. Defiance etched in every line of his face, he held out his injured hand. Shifting to block Roddy’s and Brinkman’s view one more time, she rummaged through the first aid kit, came up with two Tylenol tablets and dropped them into his palm. So much for rules. They’d all broken their share today. “Now get some rest,” she said softly and left. “TELL ME Allie had a good day,” Gabrielle said, stepping inside her single-wide trailer and letting the door slam behind her. “She did great,” Felicia said. The eighteen-year-old girl she’d hired to watch Allie was sitting on the couch painting her toenails blue, while Gabrielle’s thirteen-month-old daughter toddled around the living room, using the furniture to help her walk. When she saw her mother, Allie gave a huge smile that revealed two new teeth. “Hi, baby girl,” Gabrielle said, sweeping the child into her arms. “Boy, has Mommy missed you.” “Are you okay?” Felicia asked, putting the fingernail polish away. “Yeah, fine,” Gabrielle told her. “You seem a little…I don’t know, flustered.” “I feel bad for being late, that’s all. I was rushing, in case you have somewhere else you need to be.” “No, I’m good. You’re not that late, anyway. It’s only a little after four. And you know Allie’s okay here with me.” She grinned at Allie, who grinned back, and Gabrielle noticed that Felicia had painted her child’s fingernails the same color as her own. “She sure loves you,” Gabrielle said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you take such good care of her.” The girl shrugged. “We’re buds.” Gabrielle dodged Allie’s chubby fingers, which were reaching for the earrings she’d put in as soon as she left the prison—sometimes she needed just a little something to remind her that she was still a woman and still living in the world she’d always known. “I wish I could afford to pay you more—” “You pay me enough. A few more weeks with Allie and I’d probably be willing to do it for free. She’s such a good baby, aren’t you, Allie?” Allie gurgled in response, and Felicia stood. “Sorry I don’t have dinner waiting. We’ve been playing. Want me to help you cook?” Gabrielle stowed her purse on an end table. “Don’t worry about it. Dinner isn’t your job. Just keep me company for a minute. Tell me about your day.” Carrying Allie on her hip, she headed into the kitchen. Felicia followed her and started washing out an empty bottle she’d left on the counter as Gabrielle checked the cupboards. “We went for a walk this morning, before it got too hot. Allie played in her little swimming pool for a while after that. She loves it when I dribble water on her. You should hear her giggle.” She shook her head. “Crazy kid.” Gabrielle considered chicken noodle soup, thinking a salad sounded much better. But she was low on fresh vegetables, so soup would have to do. “Swimming is always a favorite,” she said. “Allie should’ve been born a fish. Did she nap?” “She slept for an hour in the morning and an hour and a half this afternoon.” “Good girl!” Gabrielle kissed her baby’s soft forehead as she delved into the freezer for something to add to their meal. “I was going to take her for another walk, but it was too hot,” Felicia said. Gabrielle noted the chugging of her air conditioner, knowing it had probably been on all day, and shuddered at the thought of opening her next utility bill. “August in the Arizona desert. We don’t get much of a break from the heat.” “Yeah. My folks are sick of it. They’re talking about moving to Idaho,” she said, setting the bottle in the drainer. Gabrielle felt a stab of worry and paused in her digging. “The winters here more than make up for the summer heat. We have months and months of beautiful, perfect weather.” “I know. After living here most of their lives, they’re not thrilled about encountering snow. But they’re convinced they want to live where it’s green for a change.” Though Gabrielle had spent the first seven years of her life in the Phoenix area, she’d moved with her adoptive family to the Oregon coast and knew all about green. She’d met Allie’s father while waiting tables in Portland. But a few years after she and David were married, she’d begged him to take her to the hot dry place she remembered from her childhood, trading the rolling, misty hills, forests and picturesque valleys of Oregon for the rugged, harsher beauty of the desert. Because his parents were already living in Phoenix during the winters, he was familiar with the area and agreed easily enough. Phoenix was growing; the economy was good. He’d felt confident that he’d be able to start his own mortgage company here, and his business had flourished almost immediately. Five years ago, his only brother had moved to Arizona, as well. So for most of the year his entire family lived in the valley. Gabrielle had no family. Though her adoptive parents and their two daughters remained in Oregon, she didn’t miss them. They stayed in loose contact, but they’d always treated her more like a guest than a part of the family. She certainly wasn’t close to them. “Would you go with your parents?” she asked Felicia, tensing as she waited for the girl’s answer. Gabrielle was finally establishing her independence. She’d moved far enough from David that she couldn’t lean on him too much. She had a steady job, a healthy baby-sitting situation for Allie and was just starting to find herself, to decide who and what she wanted to be. She couldn’t lose Felicia now. Felicia folded her arms and leaned against the counter as Gabrielle discovered some frozen peas that Allie, at least, would enjoy. “No, I’d stay. All my friends are here,” she said. “I’m going to live with my cousin and save up for school. But I doubt my parents will really move, anyway. They say they’re going to Idaho every time we have a monsoon.” Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief as she put the peas on the counter and pulled two pans out of the cupboard. Dust storms hit Arizona every August, usually out of nowhere, often accompanied by thunder and rain. Once, a monsoon broke several large branches off the old olive tree she and David had in their backyard in Phoenix and swept the limbs and a bunch of dirt and leaves into the pool. But the storms were so dramatic and such a startling change from the constant heat that she actually liked them. “The last one we had was pretty bad,” she said. “That’s what got them talking about moving again,” Felicia responded. “I hope that’s all it is, talk. In any case, I’m glad you’ll be staying.” Gabrielle gestured at the neat kitchen. “Thanks for cleaning up, by the way.” Felicia glanced around and smiled as though proud of the job she’d done. “You bet. I opened the bottom drawer, the one with all the plastic icebox dishes and measuring cups, and let Allie toss them out while I cleaned. She played for at least thirty minutes without a whimper.” She checked her watch and shoved off from the counter. “But I guess I’d better go. I’ve got a date tonight. You want me at four-thirty again tomorrow morning?” “Yeah. I have to be to work by five.” In a little more than twelve hours. Gabrielle couldn’t face the thought of returning to the prison so soon. Telling herself she’d let tomorrow take care of itself, she trailed Felicia into the living room and watched as the girl slipped on her sandals and gathered her purse. “See ya tomorrow.” Felicia gave Allie a quick kiss on the cheek and hurried out. “Have fun tonight,” Gabrielle called as the door banged shut. Then she and Allie were alone, with the whole night ahead of them and nothing much to do. “Are you hungry, babe?” she asked. Allie made another grab for her earring, and Gabrielle caught her hand just in time. “I hope that’s a yes,” she said, but before she could return to their dinner prospects, the telephone rang. “Gabby? It’s me, David.” Her ex-husband. Gabrielle smiled. She and David didn’t work as marriage partners—she didn’t love him in the right way—but they made great friends. “You always seem to know when I need to hear from you. How are you?” “Fine. Busy. Is something wrong? Did you have a bad day?” Gabrielle hesitated. David had never liked the idea of her leaving Phoenix to move to Florence, an hour and a half to the southeast. He’d liked the idea of her becoming a prison officer even less. It wasn’t exactly most men’s number-one job choice for the mother of their children. But then, he didn’t understand what was driving her, didn’t understand why she needed to support herself, why this strange, rather barren place somehow felt like home to her. “Come on,” he coaxed. “I’m not going to say anything. You’ve already heard all my arguments against what you’re doing.” Gabrielle handed Allie a toy and set her in the middle of the floor, then sank onto the couch. She generally told David everything. Holding out now was only delaying the inevitable. But when she finished relating the day’s events, he didn’t react as she’d expected. He was completely quiet at the other end of the line. “David? You said you weren’t going to say anything but I didn’t think you meant it quite so literally.” “I’m thinking,” he said, “and I’m fighting my natural tendency to beg you to get the hell out of there and come back to Phoenix.” “You know I can’t do that. I came here for a reason.” “And have you done anything about that reason? Have you spoken to your mother, at least?” Gabrielle closed her eyes. She didn’t want to have this conversation. “No, not yet.” “Gabby, the investigator found her weeks ago. How long is it going to take to summon the nerve to let her know you’re there?” “I’m not sure. I’ll do it someday. It’s not that easy, David. She abandoned me when I was three.” “I know that was rough, but it isn’t as if you weren’t adopted within months by a good family.” Gabrielle had no concrete complaints about the Pattersons. Her adoptive parents, Phil and Bev, owned a successful sandwich shop by the wharf in Newport, Oregon, and had, for the most part, provided for her physical needs. They’d never been abusive or overtly neglectful. They’d just never really embraced her as their own. They doted on their twin girls, who were only eighteen months older than Gabrielle. And the natural affinity between Tiffany and Cher had always made Gabrielle feel like an unwanted tag-along. She felt as though the whole family tolerated her presence, but didn’t really want her. Especially when she’d reached her teens and begun to rebel. Then she could definitely sense a limit to the Pattersons’s acceptance. They’d taken her in to do a good deed and had felt it highly unfair that she’d give them any trouble at all. But she hadn’t been trying to give anyone trouble. She’d only been searching for a place where she would truly belong. “It wasn’t the same,” she said, knowing from past experience how hard it was to describe the subtle difference in the way the Pattersons had treated her compared to their own children. David had met them a few times and couldn’t see anything wrong with them. The Pattersons had come to their wedding and been polite, grateful she was “settling down.” But Gabrielle and David had paid for everything, and David hadn’t really had a chance to get to know them. Since then, Gabrielle had gone back for Tiffany’s wedding, but David had been too busy with work, so she went alone and returned the next day. “It’s in the past, Gabby,” he said. “You’ve got to let it all go at some point.” “I will when I’m ready.” “Then introduce yourself to your birth mother, if that’s what it’s going to take.” “I will eventually. I’m just hesitant, okay? I’ve never known my father. He wasn’t around when I was little, so she’s all I’ve got. And she obviously didn’t want me to disrupt her life twenty-five years ago. She probably doesn’t want me to disrupt it now.” “I don’t want to sound hard-hearted, but if she’s not interested in getting to know you, that’s her loss. Face it and get over it. Then you can leave Florence and that damn prison and come back to Phoenix where—” “David, I’m not coming back,” Gabrielle interrupted. “You know that. I want to be here, at least for now. I want to build my life on my own, see where I can go with it. Besides, I could have sisters, aunts, uncles, a whole family here in Florence. You don’t know how much that means to someone who’s never felt connected.” He sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to get into an argument. I grew up with both my parents, so I can’t pretend to know what being adopted means to you. I only know that I don’t like having you and Allie so far away. I don’t like you working such a dangerous job. I—” “We’re less than two hours away. That’s not far. And it’s not as if what I do is anything unusual. Thousands of people have the same job. Someone’s got to do it. Besides, I thought you didn’t want to argue.” “I don’t.” “So ease up, okay?” Silence, then, “What do you plan to do? About the problem at the prison, I mean?” Gabrielle let her hair down from its ponytail and ran a hand through it. “I’m thinking I have to report it to the warden.” “That’s what I was afraid you’d say. Why don’t you file a complaint with Hansen’s boss?” “Working my way up the ladder could take months. Tucker needs help now. Besides, Warden Crumb has an open-door policy, and I feel he should know what’s going on. There’s more at risk than Tucker. Someday Crumb might be facing allegations of major corruption. I’d want a chance to deal with the situation before I was hit with something like that, wouldn’t you?” “I don’t care about the warden. I care about you, and I don’t want you to go to him even if he’ll see you. What if this Hansen guy denies what happened? Won’t the other officers back him up because they’re guilty, too? It’s you against the rest. Not even Randall Tucker can substantiate what you say. A murderer sentenced to life doesn’t exactly possess a lot of credibility.” “I can’t let this kind of thing go on. It’s not right. Randall Tucker was seriously injured. He could’ve been killed.” “I doubt Hansen would’ve let it go that far.” “So that makes it okay? Tucker accused him of staging fights. The only thing missing is the bookie.” “I understand that. But you’re new there, Gabby. You don’t know how everything works yet. Why not lie low for a while and see what happens? Maybe it was a personal thing between Hansen and Tucker. Now that Tucker’s had his beating, it might be over. For all you know, Tucker deserved what happened to him.” “That’s not for us to decide.” “So don’t. Just wait a week or two, that’s all I’m asking. See what happens,” he said again. “If you won’t do it for me, do it for Allie.” “You and Allie are the only reasons I didn’t go to the warden today.” “Thank heaven for small favors,” he muttered. “You don’t want to alienate everyone your first week, Gabby. Did you get my child support?” “I did, but you sent more than we agreed.” “I don’t want you eating noodles every day.” “I’m not your responsibility.” “You’d send it to me if you thought I needed it.” That, at least, was true. “I’m working now. What makes you think I need money?” “I helped you move into that piece of junk you call a trailer, remember?” David was right about the trailer. Nearly eighteen years old, it had brown shag carpet, fake wood paneling and pieces of tattered, mismatched furniture. A small awning covered Gabrielle’s white Honda Accord, and various cacti dressed up the desert landscape that predominated in the park, but the place didn’t have much to recommend it. Except that it was cheap and clean and she could call it her own. “I remember. But this is only until I can afford something better.” “I’m sorry I haven’t been around very much since the move,” he said. “That’s okay. You can’t exactly schedule the deaths in your family. I feel bad about Grandma Larsen. I know she meant a lot to you.” “She was quite the old dame. I never dreamed taking care of her estate could take so long, though. I feel like I’ve been out of circulation for months instead of weeks.” “How’s your work now that you’re back from Michigan? You doing plenty of loans?” “Things have fallen off, but I have a new gal on the phones, drumming up refinances.” “I hope interest rates stay down.” “I pray to the interest-rate gods every day. How’s Allie?” “She’s happy and chubby and sometimes I look at her and think I could never love anyone quite so much.” He fell silent and, for a moment, Gabrielle feared she’d hurt him. “I didn’t mean—” “Forget it,” he said. “We’ve already been through all that. You love me, but you don’t love me, as if I’m supposed to be able to tell the difference.” “David, you’re my best friend. I never wanted to cause you pain.” “I know.” He cleared his throat. “Is Allie walking yet?” “Almost. She gets around by hanging on to the furniture. When are you going to come see us again?” David’s visitation rights included weekends and holidays, but Allie was still so little, he rarely took her to his place. Even when she and David had first separated and Gabrielle was living in an apartment in Mesa, he typically spent the weekends at her place, where they could all be together. “I’ve got a lot to do here at the office, and I was planning to get caught up this week. I could come down next Monday. Can you wait that long?” Five days sounded like an eternity. Gabrielle was tempted to say no. Her life was much easier when David was around. But she wouldn’t let herself use him. He needed to let go of her and to meet someone else, someone capable of being the kind of wife and lover he deserved. “Monday’s fine, except I have to work.” “Don’t you get off at three? I’ll come down late Sunday and spend the night so I can watch Allie while you work on Monday, then I’ll take the two of you out to dinner.” Allie started to fuss, wanting to be held, and Gabrielle gladly obliged. “Sounds great.” “You be good till then. Let Hansen and the others take the lead. Don’t risk yourself for an inmate again, you hear?” Gabrielle pulled the phone cord out of her daughter’s mouth, but Allie shoved it right back in. “I hear,” she said. “That doesn’t sound like a real commitment.” Gabrielle thought of Randall Tucker and his broken hand and knew she couldn’t make David any promises. She wanted Tucker’s hand X-rayed and set. She wanted him to have stitches so the cut above his eye would heal properly. And she feared the only way to make that happen was by going over Hansen’s head. But would Warden Crumb listen? Or would all hell break lose? “I’ll give it another day or so,” she said. “Maybe Hansen will change his mind.” “Yeah, maybe he will,” David agreed, but he didn’t sound any more convinced than she was. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Gabrielle said goodbye and hung up, but her thoughts didn’t linger on David. Instead she pictured Randall Tucker. Intelligent, articulate, handsome, he was so unusual for a convict. Was jealousy enough to drive a man like that to murder? CHAPTER THREE NIGHTS WERE THE WORST. Especially this night, Tucker thought. He lay on his bed trying to tolerate the throbbing of his hand and the snoring of the man in the next cell so he could get to sleep, but he couldn’t manage it. He’d waited until ten o’clock to take the Tylenol that Officer Hadley had given him, hoping that might help, but it wasn’t enough. Rodriguez and his gang had fixed him up good this time. He needed something stronger. Still, it wasn’t the physical pain that bothered him half as much as the images in his mind—images of Landon taking his first step, Landon playing T-ball, Landon learning to ride a bike. If a man could die of missing someone, Tucker had one foot in the grave. He’d sell his soul to see his son again, even for only a few minutes. At six years old, the boy had lost both parents. Death had taken one, prison the other. Now the poor kid was being raised by strangers in a foster home in Phoenix, strangers who, in the six months Tucker had been imprisoned at Florence, had never once brought him to see his father. Tucker’s own parents had brought Landon down a few times, but it was a bittersweet experience to see him sitting in a booth on the other side of a piece of thick glass. The guy next door rattled into a wheeze, then guttered out, giving Tucker a moment’s reprieve from the racket. Wishing he could ease the pain as well, he shifted, but he was in a world of hurt from which there was no escape, at least until his injuries healed. Perhaps he’d been stupid to let Rodriguez provoke him. He’d known from the beginning that the Border Brothers wouldn’t fight fair. There was no such thing as “fair” in prison. Most inmates did anything and everything they could to hurt and maim. His best defense against the Border Brothers would be to join a rival gang such as the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood, but he refused to align himself with that group or any other, refused to espouse their twisted ideals. So he had to fight to survive. Those who didn’t join a gang and wouldn’t or couldn’t fight got shoved so far down the ladder they couldn’t take a piss without permission from someone. And Tucker wasn’t about to ask a fellow inmate’s leave to do anything. Too many things had happened to him that he couldn’t control—the disappearance of his wife, the accusations that followed, the single-minded determination of the district attorney to see him behind bars. At least he could defend himself with his fists. At least he could retain control of that. His neighbor started to snore again. “Shut up, man,” Tucker hollered. “I can’t sleep.” His outburst brought no change, except a few curses from those he’d disturbed. God, he wanted it to be morning. Then, if he was still able to function with his injuries, he could focus on his job making thirty cents an hour as a “skilled laborer”—an electrician. It was a trade he’d basically taught himself since coming to prison. His other alternatives, come daybreak, were to take a walk in the yard, lift weights, read—anything to distract himself from the same subjects he dwelled on every night. Landon. His freedom. His dead wife. He and Andrea certainly hadn’t been the happiest of couples. They’d split several times, talked about divorce. They’d been going through a rough period right before the police had found her blood spattered on the cement floor of the garage. But Tucker had cared about her and he’d been trying to hold their marriage together for Landon’s sake. They might not have been as much in love as they were at first, but a lot of couples drifted apart during a marriage. The fact that he wasn’t a particularly doting husband certainly didn’t make him a killer. He couldn’t prove his innocence, though, because he’d never dreamed he’d need an alibi. His thoughts strayed to the strange way his wife had been acting before the night that had changed everything. He was sure she’d been seeing someone else—again. She wouldn’t admit it, of course. But Tucker had known something was different. He’d felt it. The private investigator had proved that she’d cheated on him more than once. But even that evidence had worked against him. The more suspicious of Andrea he appeared, the stronger his motive to kill her. The police hadn’t even considered that one of the men she was sleeping with might have done it. Or they hadn’t cared. They’d had their scapegoat. He sifted through Andrea’s friends and acquaintances but, as always, drew a blank. He didn’t know anyone who’d want to kill her. She was beautiful, successful, admired by all. If she was also a little selfish, overly ambitious and egotistical, most people didn’t know that. She had no real enemies. Even his friends quickly became her friends. His eyelids were finally growing heavy, his thoughts slowing. Closing his eyes, Tucker released the tension in his body and started to relax. The pain in his hand ebbed and his neighbor’s snores seemed to fade, along with the other background noise that never ceased in prison. Blessed sleep approached, promising oblivion at last— Wood clattered on the bars of his cell, jolting Tucker into wakefulness. He opened his eyes to see a guard walking down the corridor, his baton scraping against the cages for no apparent reason. For a moment Tucker wished for five minutes alone with that guard and his baton. But the fact that he’d even think such a thing told him he’d been locked up too long already. Violence was becoming more and more natural to him. The guards were sometimes worse than the inmates, or at least no better. Many of them were cruel, small-minded and shortsighted. It was little wonder Tucker had no respect for them—although Officer Hadley didn’t fit that mold. Only five feet six or so, maybe one hundred and twenty pounds, she’d jumped into the middle of the fight and started clubbing people. The memory of it made Tucker smile, despite everything. It was quite a sight—something he certainly hadn’t expected to see. The other female guards stood behind their male counterparts, happy, even grateful, to be somewhat removed and protected. Hadley had more spunk in her than that. She’d stuck to her principles even though she stood alone. Which didn’t mean she wasn’t frightened, Tucker thought. She’d been terrified when she came to his cell. But she hadn’t let her fear, or him, get the best of her. She’d cleaned his cuts and checked his injuries, then bent the rules just enough to let him know that some people still understood the meaning of compassion. Tucker knew he was stupid to let himself dwell on a woman, on a guard, no less. He’d ultimately only frustrate himself that much more. But he was so sick of the mystery surrounding Andrea’s death and the unfairness of it all, so tired of hating and being angry. What he wanted was to feel a woman smooth the hair off his forehead or to throw her arms around his neck. More than anything he longed to be in love with someone, to be loved in return, and to hear her soft breathing as she slept curled up next to him. Such simple things…things he’d probably never know again. Except in his dreams. When he finally drifted off to sleep, Officer Hadley smiled at him, pressed her lips to his forehead and told him everything was going to be all right. HE WASN’T GOING TO LOOK at her. Tucker kept his eyes on his Scrabble tiles and away from Officer Hadley, who was slowly circling the common area. She’d come on duty two hours and eighteen minutes ago, and he’d spent the whole of that time trying to ignore her. But certain things filtered through. Such as her perfume. Or maybe it was her shampoo or even her deodorant. He only knew that she smelled like heaven. After being imprisoned with a bunch of crude, sweaty men for more than two years, including the months he’d spent in the county jail throughout his trial, the scent of Officer Hadley drove him almost as crazy as the memory of her cool fingers on his face. At least Rodriguez and his gang were still in their cells. He wouldn’t have to defend himself today. Using his left hand because he couldn’t move his right, he formed the word “parley” on the game board and started counting up his points. Double letter score for the p makes eight— “Parley! What the hell is that?” his opponent demanded. “That’s no word! You think you’re so damn smart, but I bet half the shit you come up with isn’t even real.” Tucker shrugged. If he got upset every time Zinger accused him of cheating he would’ve choked the man long ago. And he couldn’t do that. Zinger was the only one who could challenge him at Scrabble or chess, and he knew he’d go stark raving mad without something to distract him. He worked thirty hours a week and spent a couple of hours each day lifting weights, but he had to fill the rest of his time somehow. Fortunately the warden had recently started a pilot program that rewarded inmates who worked hard and demonstrated good behavior with two hours a week to play games. Since prisoners came up for review only once every six months and Hansen hadn’t reported many of the fights in which Tucker had been involved, Tucker still qualified. “You’re missing the s,” Zinger insisted. “You were thinking of ‘parsley.”’ Maybe he would choke Zinger, Tucker thought. At least then he’d deserve to be locked up in this godforsaken place. “No, I was thinking of parley. Check the dictionary,” Tucker responded, knowing Zinger would, anyway. The five-foot-two, dark-eyed Chilean took nothing on faith. He looked up every word, even if it had only three or four letters. “It’s a word.” Officer Hadley had come to stand over Zinger’s shoulder and was studying the board. “If I remember right, it has something to do with meeting one’s enemy, doesn’t it?” She directed her question to him, but Tucker refused to glance up at her. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to look away. “I don’t know what it means. I just know it’s a word,” he mumbled, hoping his answer would suffice and she’d move on. Instead she came a step closer. “How’s your hand?” Tucker scowled and studied the tiles he’d drawn, hoping his silence would encourage her to leave. After his fantasies last night, he was even more convinced that a woman like Officer Hadley had no business in a prison. She was too soft, too friendly, too temptingly beautiful. What did she want, anyway—to be every convict’s wet dream? To have them close their eyes at night and see only her? Well, he’d been to that party once already, and it hadn’t made his life any easier. He wasn’t going back. At last assured that he wasn’t being cheated, Zinger set the dictionary aside and began trying to come up with his own word. Tucker wasn’t worried. He had him beat. They were getting down to the last few tiles, and he was fifty points ahead. “Aren’t you going to answer me?” Hadley asked. Tucker ran his left thumb over the smooth finish of a blank tile. “My hand’s broken. What do you want me to say? That it hurts like hell? Well, it does. Happy?” Ignoring their conversation, Zinger muttered to himself as he rearranged his tiles again and again. “Come on, you’re taking too long,” Tucker snapped. “‘Thanks for asking’ would’ve been nice,” Hadley said. Zinger cursed, a frown of concentration on his face. “Shit, man, I can’t do anything. I’m going to have to pass.” Tucker leaned back in his chair, finally giving Officer Hadley his full attention. “You don’t want to hear what I have to say. Because if I said what I think, I’d tell you to find another job. You don’t belong here.” She blinked in surprise. “I guess you were pretty glad I worked here yesterday when I stopped those thugs from killing you.” “I thought you were just doing your job.” He purposely lowered his lids halfway, feigning indifference, and looked at Zinger. “So you pass? It’s over?” “There’s nothing else I can do,” Zinger said. “I’ve got a z, a t, a q, a g, two a’s and a u. What can be made with that?” “Quagga,” Hadley supplied. “It doesn’t use the z, but you can play it off this g here.” She pointed to the word “grab” on the board. “Quagga?” Tucker repeated. She raised the finely arched brows above her green eyes and nodded toward the dictionary. “Check it out if you don’t believe me. I used to play Scrabble by the hour.” Tucker wasn’t about to rise to the bait, but Zinger eagerly seized the tattered paperback and fanned the pages until he found q. “Quadrennial…quaester…quaff…quagga.” He glanced quickly at Officer Hadley before continuing. “‘An extinct mammal of southern Africa related to the zebra.”’ He started placing his tiles. “Now, how the hell would she know that?” Hadley folded her arms across her chest. “Double letter score on the q. Double word score on the whole thing. That makes fifty-four points. I’m afraid you lose this game, Mr. Tucker,” she said and walked away. Tucker watched her go, telling himself he didn’t care if he’d offended her. At least he’d win the only game that really mattered—survival. She wouldn’t be smiling at him or asking after him or offering him any more kindness. And without her to remind him of what he was missing, he could remain strong and endure his sentence as he had in the past. He’d survived by not letting himself feel anything, least of all the kind of want that could harrow a man’s soul as nothing else. The kind of want he’d known last night for the first time since Andrea was killed—all because Officer Hadley had been compassionate enough to give him some Tylenol. “I HEARD we had a little excitement here yesterday.” Gabrielle put her sandwich down and swallowed so she could answer Officer Bell, who’d just entered the yard office, ending her precious solitude. Normally part of her shift, Bell had been off yesterday, so she’d missed the Tucker beating. But Gabrielle was sure the other guards had already shared every detail, including her role in it. “Four members of the Border Brothers ganged up on Randall Tucker. It wasn’t pretty,” she said, taking a drink from her water bottle. Bell dropped some change into the soda machine, pressed the Pepsi button and retrieved the can that clunked into the small opening. Then she threw a furtive glance over her shoulder toward the gray steel door that stood open to the hallway beyond. “That kind of thing’s been happening a lot lately,” she murmured. Gabrielle watched as Bell took a seat across from her. “Why do you suppose that is?” She popped the top of her soda and lowered her voice. “Hansen’s out of control, if you ask me. Thinks he can get away with anything.” “You’re saying he’s responsible for what’s going on?” Bell didn’t answer immediately. “Well, it’s not something in the water. You know what I’m saying?” “But if he’s staging fights, all we have to do is go to the warden and—” Bell interrupted her with a disbelieving look. “Oh, yeah? Good luck. Hansen’s the warden’s nephew.” Gabrielle let her breath seep out. No wonder Hansen felt so comfortable in his job. She remembered the “survivor” speech he’d given her in his office after the fight yesterday and did a mental eye roll. I’ve been workin’ here since college, nearly fifteen years, and I’ll be workin’ here in fifteen more. It’s only the weak who have to worry, the young, the old, the fairer sex… As though being related to the warden had nothing to do with his longevity! “So the warden knows Hansen is abusing his power?” she asked. Bell took a drink of her Pepsi, then played with the condensation on the outside of the can. “Abusing his power? That’s subject to interpretation. So far, no one’s been killed or seriously injured.” “So far? ‘So far’ acknowledges that it could happen in the future,” Gabrielle said, finishing her tuna sandwich. “Randall Tucker’s injuries might not be life-threatening, but I’d call them serious. And they could’ve been much worse.” Bell grimaced, took another drink of her Pepsi and adjusted the ponytail that held her long dark hair off a rather plain face. “He’s an inmate. Life on the inside isn’t supposed to be pleasant. You want pleasant, work at a day care, that’s Hansen’s philosophy.” “Is it the warden’s?” “I don’t know. I haven’t asked him. We have a chain of command here.” “Will it do any good to go to the lieutenant?” “Are you kidding? Whitehead and Hansen spend their weekends together barbecuing and drinking beer. You could try one of the captains, but I doubt you’ll get anywhere with them, either. Or the assistant deputy warden, for that matter.” “Then the warden is our only option.” “Believe me, he’s no option.” “So you don’t want to do anything?” “What can we do?” Bell demanded. “Our jobs are tough enough as it is. You know what it’s like being a woman in a place like this. We make waves, and we won’t be around long.” “But what Hansen’s doing is serious and you know it. Tucker could’ve been killed! I could have been killed trying to stop something that never should have happened in the first place. Next time, it might be you or someone else—unless we do something.” “Listen, I’m not involved in what Hansen’s doing,” she said, growing angry. “I just put in my time and collect my paycheck so I can feed my little boy. There’s nothing wrong with that.” “We can’t close our eyes just because we’re women,” Gabrielle replied, finally understanding why Bell had opened up to her in the first place. She’d thought they could commiserate because they were both women and therefore fighting the same battles. But she’d wanted Gabrielle to come to the same conclusion she had—that she was justified in ignoring the guards’ abuses—so she’d feel better about avoiding responsibility. Bell wanted her to say, “Yep, it’s not our problem, nothing we can do.” But Gabrielle didn’t agree. Someone had to stop what was going on, and she sure as hell knew it wouldn’t be Brinkman, Roddy or Eckland. “We could see the warden together,” she suggested. “I’m not excited about going over Hansen’s head anymore than you are, but if we—” “No.” Bell shoved away from the table and stood, glaring down at her. “I’m not a whistle-blower.” “Do you realize what could happen if we don’t?” “I don’t care. I need this job.” “But—” “Forget it. I’m sorry I said anything. I think the others are right. You’re nothing but trouble.” She threw her can in the trash and stalked out. Gabrielle sat with her lunch wrappers spread out on the table in front of her, staring after the other woman. She felt more alone than she ever had in her life—and she was used to feeling alone. No matter how many people surrounded her growing up, she’d always remained detached, a guest in her adoptive parents’ home, an outsider looking in. She’d married David to escape the emptiness, but even that hadn’t worked. When she’d left him, she did it believing there had to be one place in life where she’d fit, in a down-to-the-soul kind of way, but she was beginning to think she’d never find it. At least she wasn’t going to find it here, at the prison. Especially if she ratted on Hansen. She pictured Randall Tucker’s face when he’d finally looked up at her while playing Scrabble. He was a hard, unfeeling man. He hadn’t been very receptive to her help. And he probably was getting exactly what he deserved. Why risk anything for him? Dropping her head in her hands, Gabrielle pressed her palms to her eyes. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. GABRIELLE LET HER CAR IDLE, hoping the air-conditioning in her late-model Honda Accord would stave off the incredible heat that shimmered up from the asphalt. The magnificent Arizona sun was melting into the horizon like butter, creating streaks of red and gold far more vivid than anything she’d ever seen in Oregon. But Gabrielle hadn’t come to watch the sunset. She was parked across from a Spanish-style stucco house on the other side of town, waiting for Naomi Cutter, her birth mother, and hoping for something else: the courage to approach her. Sitting in her car seat in the back, Allie clapped her hands and kicked her feet. They’d taken this drive several times already; Allie loved the movement of the car, loved seeing everything fly past her window. But it wasn’t as joyful a ride for Gabrielle. Watching her birth mother arrive home from wherever she worked during the day, gather her things from her silver Toyota Camry and enter her small, neat house at 1058 Robin Way was a bit like pressing on a bruise—it hurt, but Gabrielle just couldn’t leave it alone. Today she’d knock on the door and demand to know why her mother had given her up, she decided. David was right. She needed to get it over with. Her adoptive parents had told her that Naomi had been having financial difficulties, but she’d also been twenty-four at the time, old enough to figure out some way to keep them together. As a child, Gabrielle had made up plenty of excuses for her mother. Naomi had cancer and was going to die. She’d placed Gabrielle in a good home so she wouldn’t be sent to an orphanage, or some variation along those lines. But Naomi was only in her early fifties and looked alive and well. Other than the somber expression she wore, and a certain weariness in the way she moved, she seemed perfectly healthy and capable. Gabrielle noticed the sound of a motor and checked her rearview mirror. Sure enough, her mother’s silver Camry was coming up from behind. Without so much as a glance at the Honda waiting just past her house, Naomi turned onto her drive and pulled into the garage. A moment later she appeared carrying her purse and a bag of groceries, which explained why she was a little later today than usual, and walked out to the mailbox. Now, Gabrielle told herself. There wasn’t any point in waiting. It had already been far too long. She paused, trying to visualize approaching the woman in the black pants and short-sleeved button-up blouse and telling her who she was, then shuddered at what her mother’s reaction would probably be. A blank look, followed by recognition, horror and finally repugnance. Gabrielle had imagined the scene at least a million times, hoping her mother would smile or show some hint of regret for what they’d lost. But if Naomi felt any of the emotions Gabrielle did, they wouldn’t have spent twenty-five years apart. Her mother wanted nothing to do with her, never had, and in Gabrielle’s imagined confrontation, the question Naomi always asked first was “How did you find me?”—as though being found was the single worst thing in the world. Gabrielle didn’t think she could bear the rejection. It was easier to live with not knowing, wasn’t it? No, she’d come this far. She had to know. It was time to deal with the past and to put it behind her. Bracing for whatever would follow, she shut off the ignition, got out and started to unbuckle Allie when another car pulled up and parked in the drive. “Mom! Hey!” a tall blonde called from the shiny red convertible. Naomi turned and the weariness that had existed in her demeanor immediately fell away. “Hi, honey,” she said, smiling in obvious pleasure. “What a nice surprise. I thought you had too much work to make it today.” “Are you kidding? You said you made me a German chocolate cake. I couldn’t miss that.” Gabrielle realized she wasn’t breathing. She stood in midmotion, transfixed, watching as this beautiful woman stepped out of her car and embraced her mother—their mother. Gabrielle had been right. She had more family than just Naomi. She had a sister, and there could be more…. Longing made her knees weak, and she put a hand on the car to steady herself. What would it be like, she wondered, to someday walk up to this person and smile that easy smile—the smile that denoted familiarity beyond friendship—and say, “Hi, sis, how was work?” “Was traffic bad getting here?” Naomi asked. The blonde shrugged. “I was visiting a client in Chandler, so I didn’t have that far to come. And traffic’s never bad this late, unless there’s an accident or something. How was the Historical Society today?” “Oh, you know I like working at the museum. They need volunteers so badly. Today someone donated some dental instruments that date back to the 1880s. Should go well with the chair we already have.” “Great. Here, let me get that for you.” She took the bag of groceries Naomi carried and began to follow her to the house. Gabrielle knew she should say something, catch their attention. But she felt like such an outsider, as though she was watching them through the front window with her nose pressed to the glass. She had no idea whether she’d be welcomed. Whether they’d invite her to come any closer. Allie whimpered, frustrated that she hadn’t been set free after the promising motions Gabrielle had already made, but Gabrielle couldn’t move. Approaching her mother would be difficult enough when they were alone, she decided. She couldn’t do it with her sister there and the two of them laughing and talking. Unless…unless one of them looked up. She’d do it if they noticed her, she promised herself. She stared after them, willing them to give the slightest indication that they’d seen her. But neither of them even glanced in her direction. They were too caught up in each other. Their voices dimmed as they neared the house, the door opened and shut, and they were gone. A truck rattled past on the street, windows down, its single occupant visibly sweating. Gabrielle let her breath go and closed her eyes. It was over. It was too late. Allie started to cry, letting her know she wasn’t happy about this strange neglect, but Gabrielle felt too numb to comfort her. She tugged mechanically on the car seat to make sure she hadn’t loosened the strap, then slid behind the wheel, still hesitant to go anywhere when what she wanted was inside. If she could only witness whatever her mother and her sister did when they were together, see the house, gain a sense of who these people were so she could know more about herself… Her mother was married, or at least she lived with a man; that much Gabrielle knew. She’d seen him pass in front of the windows before, wearing a plain white T-shirt and holding a can of beer or soda. She guessed he was retired, spent most of his time doing yard work and watching television. But today she could see nothing. The blinds were down to keep out the sun. Gabrielle started the car, adjusted the air-conditioning vents and gazed off to the other side of the road, where sand-colored desert spread in front of her as far as the eye could see. It gave her the impression that her mother lived on the edge of the civilized world. Paloverde trees, palm yuccas, mesquites, cacti, brown parched earth, it went on for miles and miles…. Go home, she told herself. You have plenty of other things to worry about for one night. And it was true. The warden’s secretary had responded to her phone call, informing her that he’d agreed to see her. They had an appointment first thing in the morning. “I’m sorry, babe,” she said to Allie, “I’m as disappointed as you are. But we’ll do it someday. Someday soon, I promise. Now let’s go home and give you a bath.” Shifting into Drive, she made a U-turn and headed back to her trailer. WARDEN CRUMB reminded Gabrielle of Jack LaLane. Five feet ten, or so, he was nearly sixty but took great pride in his appearance. Even though he wore a suit, Gabrielle could tell he had the body of a much younger man and, while his hair was gray, he’d managed to retain most of it. “How’s our new corrections officer?” he asked, flashing her a poster smile as soon as his secretary showed her into his office. Their appointment had been scheduled for seven o’clock, but he’d kept her waiting almost an hour. “I’m fine,” she said as the secretary withdrew and closed the door. Crumb didn’t get up, but he waved to a seat across from his desk. “Would you like to sit down?” Gabrielle perched on the edge of an upholstered chair and took a deep breath to ease the tension in her stiff muscles. She might become a pariah among her peers, but she was doing the right thing—wasn’t she? She knew David wouldn’t think so. He’d asked her to lie low, and she’d lasted only two days. But someone had to take a stand, even if Hansen was the warden’s nephew. Crumb rested his elbows on the arms of his high-backed leather chair and laced his fingers together. “What can I do for you?” he asked, his blue eyes sharp and focused on her face. Gabrielle swallowed against the dryness of her throat and told him what had happened in Cell Block 2. She mentioned Hansen and the others allowing the fight to continue, Tucker’s injuries and Hansen’s refusal to call the doctor. As she spoke, she expected a look of surprise or dismay to cross the warden’s face, but his pleasant expression never wavered. “I can understand how you might be concerned by what you saw,” he said when she finished. “But fights break out in prison all the time. It might be easy to blame the other guards for not paying more attention to who doesn’t like whom, but those kinds of things change, depending on which way the wind blows. Today two men might get along perfectly, tomorrow one might slit the other’s throat with a homemade knife. We’re dealing with hardened criminals here—rapists and murderers. That’s just how things are on the inside.” “But Hansen and the others did nothing to break up the fight,” Gabrielle repeated. “They didn’t even report it.” He chuckled softly. “There probably wasn’t any need. Prison life isn’t always as…straightforward as they paint it in training, you know. Give yourself some time to learn your way around before you panic and cry wolf.” His smile widened until his teeth glinted in the sun streaming in through the window that overlooked the prison yard, but his eyes had grown cool, and Gabrielle was no longer fooled by his friendly manner. He’d been prepped by someone—probably Nephew Hansen—before she arrived. He hadn’t shown one iota of surprise at her story. He’d taken it in stride, as though he’d heard it all before, then he’d dismissed it. “I’ve spent nearly forty-eight hours thinking about what I should do regarding this incident, Warden Crumb,” she said, refusing to let him invalidate her feelings or her opinion. “I’d call that concern, not panic. I’m concerned that Hansen and the others would allow a man to be injured. And I’m concerned that they’d deny Tucker medical treatment for those injuries, injuries that should still be looked at, by the way.” The warden’s smile finally faded at her persistence, and he leaned forward. “Are you a doctor, Officer Hadley?” “No, and that’s why—” “Then perhaps you should keep your medical opinions to yourself. I don’t appreciate you going around trying to stir up trouble in my prison. You’ve been here less than a week, which is why I’ve been willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. But one week hardly qualifies you as an expert on anything. I’m not going to let you tell Hansen how he should be doing his job, and I’m sure as hell not going to let you tell me how to do mine. So I’ll reiterate what I tried to say before. Let it go.” Gabrielle stared at him for several seconds. “That’s it?” “More or less. Tucker’s a troublemaker. Even if Hansen was at fault, it would be difficult to blame him or anyone else when Tucker gets into so many fights.” Gabrielle remembered the grudging admiration in Hansen’s voice when he’d said that Tucker could take two or three men at a time and seriously doubted Tucker deserved full blame for all the fighting. Entertainment value, possibly even gambling, played at least some role in those incidents, she felt sure. But she had no proof. “So you’re not going to do anything about it?” He began to straighten his desk. “The only thing I’m going to do is transfer Tucker to Alta Vista and let them worry about him there.” Gabrielle’s spine stiffened at this announcement. Alta Vista was a private prison that housed some of the most violent criminals in the country. For Tucker, it was definitely a step down, and she got the distinct impression it was all in the name of sweeping Hansen’s actions under the rug. Better to transfer Tucker, claiming he was a behavioral problem, than to risk a scandal. “Alta Vista?” “It’s near Yuma, not far from the California border.” “I know where it is,” she said. “When’s he going?” “Monday.” He smiled. “And you and Eckland are driving him.” CHAPTER FOUR WHAT THE HELL was going on? Tucker stood straight, jaw clenched, as he tried to keep the pain shooting up his arm from showing in his face. Eckland had barged into his cell at six-thirty, half an hour before he usually had to get up, and strip-searched him. Then he’d put him in handcuffs, leg irons and a belly chain and he’d cuffed his broken hand so tight the bracelet was cutting into his swollen wrist. “Move it,” Eckland said, prodding him forward and out into the corridor. “We need to get an early start.” “Where we goin’?” Tucker asked, breaking his rigid silence. Wherever it was, he seemed to be the only inmate making the trip. The others were still in their beds, though a few craned their necks to peer out at him when they heard the jangle of his leg irons. “You’re going to get some new digs, man,” Eckland told him. “You’re being transferred. Say goodbye to all the boys.” Tucker halted his chain-clattering stride. “Transferred where?” “Alta Vista,” Eckland told him with a smile. “Just your kinda place.” The only place on earth worse than here, Tucker thought as the despair that had been edging around his consciousness crept a little closer. He’d just received word from his lawyer that his appeal had been denied—again. And now this. He’d never get out, never get his life back. At times he felt so powerless, he was tempted to pound and kick and rail at everyone and everything until they simply killed him. Then the quest to survive would finally be over. Forever. But he couldn’t give up, wouldn’t allow himself to be such a coward…at least not until there was absolutely no hope he’d ever see his son again. The thought of how lonely Landon must be, how confused, cut Tucker to the quick; it was the only thing powerful enough to lend him the strength to keep fighting. Tightening his jaw against the nausea caused by the throbbing in his hand, he moved on. Eckland had been poking and prodding him in the back for several seconds, but Tucker hadn’t paid him any mind. He responded only to his own internal drive. Whether or not the guards understood that, Tucker didn’t care. “We’re gonna miss the excitement ’round here,” Eckland was saying as they made their way down the stairs. “You always put on a fine show, Tucker. Sometimes I wish I could fight like you. But I figure, why hit somebody when you can shoot ’im, eh? That’s the beauty of being a corrections officer.” Eckland wielded nothing more than a baton most of the time and, when he acted as a member of the emergency response team, his shotgun held only birdshot, but he enjoyed the power his job afforded him. He liked baiting Tucker and some of the other inmates, but Tucker generally didn’t bother to respond. None of the guards could compare to his real demons, the ones that taunted him from inside his own head. “Good morning.” Officer Hadley came out of the guards’ station just as they reached the outer door, but she was the last person Tucker wanted to see. She symbolized everything he’d lost—love, respectability, his wife, his child. And he couldn’t help but remember the way she’d touched him in his dreams, the kindness of her smile, the feel of her lips on his face, her hands on his chest…. “I’ve got the paperwork,” she told Eckland. Her eyes settled on Tucker and her pleasant expression immediately turned into a glower. “You’ve got him in full restraint,” she said, accusation in her voice. “He’s dangerous,” Eckland snapped. “’Course I’ve got him in full restraint. It’s standard procedure.” “But he can’t wear handcuffs. His hand is broken.” She took Tucker’s elbow to turn him slightly, probably to check the tightness of the bracelets, but Tucker shook her off. “It’s fine,” he growled, because he was too vulnerable to receive any kindness right now, especially from her. The pain lent him strength, fueled his anger, and he needed that. It was all he had. “Tell me you’re not going with us.” Her jaw dropped. “Does it matter whether I go or someone else does?” He shrugged as though he didn’t really care, but he did. He didn’t want Officer Hadley anywhere near him. Her decency weakened him, made him yearn for the past, for a better future…. A slight frown tugged at the corners of her full mouth as she told Roddy, in the booth, to let them out. Then they were in the yard, beneath a sun so bright it nearly blinded Tucker. A patrol car waited outside the front gate. Because he couldn’t use his hands, Tucker thought Hadley might try to help him into the back seat, but she didn’t. She stood aside while he climbed in. Eckland got behind the wheel, and she took the passenger seat. “I can see this is going to be a pleasant drive,” she muttered. Eckland didn’t respond. Neither did Tucker. Hansen had just come out of another cell block to give him a final, mocking salute. “We’re gonna miss ya, Tucker. Have fun in hell!” He laughed as Eckland started the car. Tucker kept his focus straight ahead until they began to move. Then he turned to catch a final glimpse of the hundred-year-old structure where he’d spent the past six months. Painted gray with blue trim, the words Arizona State Prison emblazoned above the central arch, it looked like something out of an old Western. Never had he thought he’d call such a place home. They went slowly down the drive, stopped for a car inspection, then continued through two fifteen-foot, chain-link fences topped with barbed wire and beyond, into a stretch of dry, packed earth. When they reached the perimeter gate, Eckland paused to speak to the guard stationed there, then turned left onto Butte Avenue, where palm trees towered on their left side and a trailer park sprawled on their right. The fifth oldest town in the state—or so Tucker had read somewhere—the city of Florence lay in front of them. It had once been a booming silver-mining town and was later known for growing cotton, but now its economy depended on prisons. Florence boasted a pair of state prisons, three private prisons, a juvenile center and a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service center, which meant it had to house at least twice as many inmates as the town claimed in citizens. An unusual place, Tucker decided, one he doubted had changed much in over a century. He remembered its dusty, sun-bleached buildings from the day they’d carted him there on a bus packed with other inmates, remembered thinking that it looked more like a ghost town. For him it was a ghost town, haunted by his own shattered hopes and dreams. “Who’s watchin’ the baby today?” Eckland asked Hadley, breaking the silence. “Her father.” So Officer Hadley had a child. And a man, too, from the sounds of it. Of course she would. A woman with a smile like Hadley’s would never lack for male attention. So what was she doing working as a prison guard? What kind of husband would go along with her pursuing such a profession when she had a baby at home? Tucker leaned forward to see if she wore a wedding ring, but his cuffed and swollen hand protested any movement, and it was difficult to see such details through the metal screen that separated the front seat from the back. He shifted to ease what he could of the throbbing just as Eckland threw Hadley a disgruntled glance. “Are you happy now?” he asked once they were headed toward Coolidge. Hadley didn’t look at him. “Happy about what?” “Your little visit to the warden.” “He tell you about that himself? Or did Hansen?” “It’s no secret, if that’s what you mean. And it was foolish as hell.” “I did what I thought I had to do. I don’t have to explain myself to any of you.” “Oh, yeah? You’ve been here a week. Not long enough to know the death house from the health center, yet you’ve already been to see the warden. What you did sure didn’t help Tucker any. You like where you’re going, Tucker?” he asked. “You glad Officer Hadley here came to your rescue?” Tucker said nothing. He’d wondered what this transfer business was all about. Now he knew. He had Hadley to thank, because she was green and idealistic enough to think she could make a difference. He glowered at the back of her head, but he couldn’t really hold it against her. Not after she’d risked herself more than once to help him. Going to the warden had probably been the gutsiest move of all. Didn’t she know that? “Tattling doesn’t go over very well with the boys, I gotta tell ya,” Eckland was saying. “If you’re going to give me Hansen’s survivor speech, don’t bother,” Hadley responded. “He’s already done the honors. ‘It’s only the weak who have to worry, the young, the old, the fairer sex,”’ she said sarcastically. “Frankly, I think his material’s a little dated.” “You should listen to him. Your life might depend on it sometime.” Tucker heard the subtle threat in Eckland’s voice and wondered if Hadley had picked up on it. If so, she didn’t say anything. She sat staring pensively out her window while Tucker considered the very real possibility that the guards might somehow punish her for trying to help him. The thought made something in his gut tighten, something strangely possessive and faintly reminiscent of emotions he hadn’t experienced in a long time. GABRIELLE COULD HARDLY keep her eyes open. They’d been driving through the monotonous desert for nearly three hours and the motion of the car, as well as the hum of its tires, was lulling her to sleep. It didn’t help that Allie had woken her several times during the night. Gabrielle had been so stressed about making this trip, she couldn’t sleep well to begin with. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She just had to survive the day. Then she’d be home with David. He’d arrived late Sunday afternoon as promised and was with Allie now, which was a comfort. She knew he’d take excellent care of their daughter. Glancing at her window, she fought the pull of sleep by studying Randall Tucker’s reflection, a habit she’d established almost from the moment they’d left the prison. She told herself she was checking to make sure he wasn’t trying to get loose, but deep down she knew she was worried about his hand. At Eckland’s insistence, Tucker still wore cuffs as well as chains. His hand had to be hurting terribly. If so, he gave no indication. He hadn’t spoken since they’d left. “How’s your hand?” she asked at last, turning to face him through the metal screen. Because of the way he’d acted, she’d promised herself she wouldn’t ask about his injuries again, but she couldn’t resist. “You okay, Mr. Tucker?” He was gazing out the window, a hard, impenetrable expression on his face. After a moment the full intensity of his blue eyes shifted to hers. “Would it make any difference if I said no?” Eckland chuckled, the coarse sound saying it wouldn’t, but Gabrielle ignored him. “It might,” she said. “You saying you’d take them off?” “I’m saying I could loosen them.” For a moment Tucker simply looked at her. From his tough, belligerent attitude, she doubted he’d admit to needing anything, but he surprised her with a slight nod. “Are you in a lot of pain?” she asked. “What do you think?” He scowled and turned back to the window. “Pull over,” she told Eckland. Eckland ignored her. Signaling, he switched into the fast lane to pass a slow-moving U-Haul. “Did you hear me?” she pressed. “I heard ya,” he answered. “Doesn’t mean I’m gonna listen.” “We should check his hand. He hasn’t been out of this car in three hours. Even an unbroken hand would hurt at this point.” “Then let it hurt. He made his bed, and he can lie in it. That’s what I say.” Gabrielle had expected this kind of response, but she refused to settle for it. A man was in pain because of Eckland’s petty meanness, and she planned to do something about it. “What are you going to tell them at Alta Vista when we show up with an inmate whose hand is swollen to twice its normal size?” she asked. “I’m gonna to tell ’em he’s a mean sonuvabitch who won’t quit fightin’, that’s what. That broken hand has nothing to do with me.” “Except for the fact that it was you who cuffed him. I’m sure it’s not going to reflect well on you when I mention that, along with the fact that there wasn’t anything wrong with his hand this morning.” Taking his eyes from the road, Eckland gaped at her. “You know his hand was already broken!” “I do? Too bad there isn’t a medical report to prove it.” Eckland’s pupils narrowed into small pinpoints of black. “Are you threatening me, Officer Hadley?” “Threatening you?” She forced a cool smile despite the tension wreaking havoc in her stomach. How had she gotten herself into this power struggle? She’d never wanted to get personally involved with the men she policed, never planned to get caught up in the kind of moral dilemma she’d been facing ever since Tucker’s fight. Like Officer Bell, she longed for nothing more than to do eight hours of work for eight hours’ pay. She had her own problems. But she couldn’t sit still any longer knowing how badly Tucker had to be hurting. “I’m not threatening anyone,” she said. “I’m merely suggesting we pull over and loosen the prisoner’s cuffs so the staff at Alta Vista won’t be overly concerned. We wouldn’t want them to start an investigation, would we? If they find out what happened last week, a few heads are going to roll.” “Yours will be one of ’em,” Eckland snarled. “Mine might be the first, but I guarantee it won’t be the last,” she said softly, and she meant it. If she lost her job at the prison, there’d be nothing to stop her from going to the press with the story of Hansen’s behavior. “I liked you when you started last week,” Eckland said, “but you haven’t done much to impress me since then. You’re treading on very thin ice, Officer Hadley. I suggest you watch your step.” Gabrielle squared her shoulders and gave him a withering glare. “I suggest you pull over and let me loosen the prisoner’s cuffs.” “Fine!” Nostrils flaring, Eckland slammed on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel to the right. The sudden deceleration threw Gabrielle against her shoulder harness. She glanced sideways at him to ask why he was driving so recklessly, but before she could say anything, they nearly clipped the front of a car in the other lane. Eckland overcorrected and hit the opposite shoulder, which spun them like a carnival ride and left them facing an oncoming pickup. Brakes squealing, the truck swerved, skidded and smashed into them. The hood of their car crumpled like an accordion. Gabrielle heard Eckland scream amid the crunch of folding metal. Tucker cursed and his weight hit the back of her seat as the impact tossed the car into a nearby gully. For a stunned moment Gabrielle sat there, breathing hard. They’d crashed. Thanks to Eckland and his giant ego, they’d nearly died. Gabrielle knew she was alive, but she wasn’t sure she was still in one piece. She did a mental checklist of her body parts, searching for pain or injury, wondering if the absence of feeling meant something worse than the presence of it. Was she in shock? Had she been paralyzed? She wiggled her toes and fingers and found them all in working order, but her knees had hit her chest. It soon felt as if someone had flung an anvil at it. Still, she was going to be okay, she decided. What about Eckland—and Tucker? Eckland was groaning and complaining about his leg. Gabrielle fumbled with her seat belt, trying to free herself so she could help him when she heard Tucker’s voice behind her. “Hadley, get these damn cuffs off.” His hand. His poor hand. She was shaking so badly she could barely unlatch her seat belt. “Are you okay?” she asked, twisting to peer through the metal screen. Tucker’s door was smashed in and he was doubled over. She couldn’t see anything except the thick black hair on the back of his head. “Tucker? Are you hurt?” He groaned. “Just get these damn cuffs off.” “No, don’t do it,” Eckland said between clenched teeth. “Just sit tight. I’ll radio for help.” He shifted, reaching for the radio, and Hadley cringed as she caught a glimpse of his torn pants and the leg beneath, which was obviously broken. She imagined she saw the bone jutting through the skin and nearly threw up. The only way they were going to get out of here was in an ambulance, she realized. They already had one broken leg. Then there was Tucker’s arm. Had he sustained further injury? Was there anything she could do to help? “What’s wrong?” she asked Tucker again as Eckland, panting through his pain, placed their distress call. “Do you have new injuries?” He didn’t answer. “Leave him be! Help’s on the way,” Eckland grunted when he got off the radio. She ignored him. Help could take an hour or more. Wrenching her door open, she rushed around the car. At least Eckland was free. At least he could move, to some extent. Tucker was still chained, couldn’t use his hands or his legs. The back door required all her strength to open and creaked loudly as she pulled it back. Hunched over, his wrists still locked in his lap, Tucker barely moved but she could see his hand. It was black and blue and so swollen she couldn’t see the metal of the cuff anymore. And his face, when he finally looked at her, showed glassy eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, fumbling with the ring on her belt for the key that would release him. “Hadley, don’t you dare, dammit,” Eckland said, but he was in too much pain to do more than curse. A thin sheen of sweat was popping out on Tucker’s forehead and he’d closed his eyes as though he didn’t have the strength to speak. “I have to. I can’t stand to leave him like this,” she told Eckland, unlocking the cuffs and kicking herself for not loosening them sooner. Tucker cradled his hand in his lap and sucked in an audible breath. For a moment, the gray tinge to his skin grew worse. Gabrielle thought he was going to pass out, but he surprised her by grabbing her forearm and pinning her beneath him. “What are you doing? Don’t make things any worse for yourself,” she cautioned, the terror of what he could do finally dispelling the dazed confusion caused by the accident. “You heard Eckland call for help. They’ll be here soon. Just sit back and relax.” Eckland growled Tucker’s name, threatening and swearing at him, but Tucker didn’t answer. Suddenly alert and quick-witted as a cat—and seemingly oblivious to any kind of pain—he used his left hand to search through her keys and unlock his belly chain and leg irons. Rolling over her, he held her down with one knee while he recovered the handcuffs, locked her right hand to the screen between the seats and got out of the car. Then he scanned the horizon—and started running. CHAPTER FIVE HE WAS ESCAPING. Gabrielle couldn’t believe it. She used what little room the cuffs allowed to stand outside the open door of the car, where she could watch Tucker cross the deserted highway. Once he reached the other side, he started jogging into the desert as blithely as though he’d planned the whole thing. Jogging! He was jogging! “Damn you, Tucker,” Gabrielle muttered, even angrier with herself because she’d let him fool her. This was what her compassion had brought her. An escaped convict, an injured guard, another disabled vehicle with God only knows how many people inside—and the burning desire to bring Tucker back, regardless of anything else. Eckland managed to meet her hand with his keys, and she unlocked herself. It took some doing and by the time she was free, Tucker was well on his way. Should she go after him? She glanced at Eckland, then the other car, and decided she’d better attend to the injured. Eckland was swearing a blue streak, but his condition hadn’t worsened. The truck, which had rolled at least once, was still partially on the highway. The windshield hadn’t shattered, but it was cracked into a spiderweb Gabrielle couldn’t see through. A peek in the side window, which was still intact, revealed two occupants—a middle-aged woman driver and a man who looked to be in his early twenties. The driver had hit her face on the steering wheel and cut her lip. She was bleeding, though not profusely, and the man was rubbing a knot on his forehead where he’d banged into the windshield or dash. They were both luckier than Eckland. Gabrielle helped them out and away from the truck, got a first-aid kit out of the patrol car for their use, and lit some flares to warn other motorists to slow down. Then she stood off to the side to wait for the ambulance. But the sight of Tucker’s retreating figure, growing smaller and smaller as he made his way up the mountain closest to the road, taunted her. If she let him get very far into the desert, they might never find him. The Mexican border was only fifty miles or so to the south. He could slip across and easily disappear…. If he made it to the border. Chances were better that he’d die of dehydration long before he reached Mexico. He was injured, had no water, and they were in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, one of the hottest, driest places in all of North America. Temperatures this time of year often reached one hundred and twenty degrees. Though Gabrielle wasn’t sure exactly how that would translate into surface heat, she knew the ground would be a whole heck of a lot hotter than the air, probably one seventy or one eighty degrees. What was Tucker thinking? That he’d rather die than go to Alta Vista? Evidently. Telling herself she’d worry about Tucker later, she walked back to see if there was anything she could do for Eckland, but he didn’t want her company. “Stay the hell away,” he growled. “You’ve done enough.” “Are you bleeding anywhere?” she persisted. “My leg’s broke. That’s it. Nothing we can do but wait.” “You don’t seem to have a back or neck injury. If it would make you more comfortable, I could probably help you out of the car.” “I don’t want your help. I don’t want to be touched.” “Okay.” Gabrielle took a deep breath. At least she’d tried. When she rejoined the people from the truck, the man was using some gauze to help the woman stanch the bleeding on her lip. Gabrielle could tell from their exchange that they were mother and son, but they weren’t particularly interested in speaking to her. She didn’t have much to say, anyway. Other drivers were stopping to see if they could help, creating a diversion. And she was too busy flogging herself for letting Tucker escape in the first place. Raising a hand to shade her eyes from the bright morning sun—which promised to raise temperatures even more by midafternoon—she watched Tucker’s progress through the haze of heat that shimmered all around him, making him look more like a mirage than a flesh-and-blood man. Though he was moving slowly now that he had to climb, he was nearly halfway up the first rocky mountain, which was probably a mile and a half away. Every step he took made Gabrielle grind her teeth in frustration. Soon he’d be out of sight, and then…and then there was no telling what would happen to him. She remembered the pain in his eyes, knew he couldn’t have faked that as easily as he might have exaggerated his moans and grunts, and made the only decision she could live with. She might be responsible for Randall Tucker’s escape, but she wasn’t going to be responsible for his death. Hurrying back to the car, she found Eckland, ashen-faced, head back, eyes closed. But the moment she ducked into the open passenger-side door and started rummaging around, he sat up and glared at her. “What are you doing now?” he asked. “I’m going after him.” His brows knitted and anger flashed in his eyes. “You’re what? Are you nuts? It’s got to be over a hundred degrees already. You’ll get heatstroke inside an hour.” “Exactly.” “Exactly what, damn you?” “He can’t survive.” “You’re still worried about Tucker?” He winced and stared down at his leg. “He could die if I don’t bring him back.” “And you could die going after him. You could get lost, run out of water, get bit by a rattlesnake or—” “I’m taking the gallon of water I brought and leaving you with yours,” she said, cutting him off because now that she was heading into the desert, there wasn’t any point in giving Tucker more of a lead. “I’ll have someone come and sit with you to answer the radio, in case—” she licked her lips “—in case you pass out or something. Help will be here soon. Try to hang on to that.” She checked the magazine in her semiautomatic Glock 9 mm, then slid the warm metal nozzle back into her hip holster. She was trying to save Randall Tucker’s life, not take it, but if he attacked her… She swallowed hard and chose not to think about what might happen if he got the better of her. The vast desert, the scorching sun, the scorpions and snakes would probably get her first. But that thought wasn’t much of an improvement over the last. Not with Allie waiting for her at home. Thank God, David was there. “I’d stay here with you if there was anything I could do,” she told Eckland as she gathered what food and water she had, “but there’s nothing. You said it yourself.” He’d closed his eyes again while she was talking, and this time when he spoke, he didn’t open them. “Don’t do it.” Trying to think of a way to carry the cumbersome water jug, which would prove heavy after a while, she grabbed her giant black leather purse that often doubled as a diaper bag. “I have to.” “Why?” he rasped. “What’s one Randall Tucker, more or less? Our prisons are full of filthy murderers like him.” Gabrielle remained silent long enough that he finally opened his eyes. “He’s out there because of me. And respect for human life might be the only thing that separates us from them.” “Then you’ll be dead.” “Maybe,” she said, and slipped the strap of her purse across her body so she could carry the water on her back. “But I’ve got the gun and food and water. He’s hurt, and he has no water, nothing. Why not show a little confidence and have a car waiting for me just in case I manage to bring him back?” “Right,” Eckland said with a hoarse chuckle. “I’ll have a hearse parked right by the side of the road.” TUCKER COULDN’T BELIEVE his eyes. He’d known the police would come looking for him eventually. But he’d never imagined Officer Hadley would strike out after him on her own. Evidently she wasn’t only an idealist. She was a reckless fool. He had good reason to risk his miserable life; she did not. Pausing in the shade of a rock overhang—the only shade for miles, it seemed—he watched her approach, and felt his mood darken. The initial surge of exhilaration he’d felt at obtaining his freedom had staved off some of the pain in his hand, but now the throbbing surged up his arm and through his whole right side until he thought he might pass out. Battling the dizziness, he mentally pulled himself away from that void, and started climbing again. He had to reach Landon. He couldn’t care about what happened to Hadley. Climb. He wasn’t going to let her drag him back to prison under any circumstances. Climb. Her welfare wasn’t his problem. Climb. Breathe. It was steeper now. His foot, shod only in thin-soled, prison-issue tennis shoes, slipped, and he nearly went down. He barely managed to keep his balance, but even the concentration required to make the ascent couldn’t banish Hadley from his mind. Stop it! Eckland and the other guards can worry about her. There’s the ridge. That’s it. One foot in front of the other. After all, she was one of them. Focus. Shove the pain away. Ignore the heat. One more step… He imagined Landon calling to him, just at the top of the next rise, and then the next, and that made the going easier. “I’m coming,” he promised. “I’m coming for you, buddy. You can depend on me. I won’t let you down. I won’t ever give up. I won’t…ever…” He had to stop to catch his breath. Though some mountains in the desert rose eight thousand feet, this wasn’t one of them—thank God. Still, it was difficult climbing with the use of only one hand, the sun robbing him of all moisture. At least the pain was starting to ease now that the cuffs had been off long enough to allow his blood flow to return to normal. But the figure following undauntedly in his footsteps, slowly closing the distance between them, dragged at him like a lead weight. Why didn’t Hadley turn back? What did she think she could do, even if she caught up with him? Especially now that they were so far from the highway? He didn’t even know where he was going, just somewhere, anywhere, the first small town, outpost or ranch where he could call his brother or Robert, his old business partner, for help. He could wind up lost or dead before he made contact with the outside world, and so could she. Nothing but sun-baked earth and low shrubs—creosote bush and white bursage, the two most drought-tolerant plants on the whole continent, with a few cholla and columnar cacti thrown in—surrounded them on all sides and certainly didn’t provide much to navigate by. “You’re crazy, you know that, lady?” he said into air so dense with heat he could scarcely breathe. “What’s one more felon mean to you? Go back to the thousands waiting for you at the prison. Go back to the riots and the homemade-knife fights and the gangs, and leave me the hell alone.” He forged on, determined to forget the slight figure trudging through the barren valley below him. She wasn’t going catch him. She’d live or she’d die. It made no difference to him. He wasn’t expected to care one way or the other—and he wouldn’t. He didn’t care. She was a guard, the enemy, almost a stranger to him. She is also a woman, with a child at home, his conscience answered. A woman who wouldn’t be where she was if not for him. And she was one of the only people who’d shown him any compassion since the day he was accused of murdering Andrea. The memory of Hadley wiping the blood from his lip flashed through Tucker’s mind, and he imagined her standing over him again, her hands on his face. Only this time she was tilting up his chin to give him a drink of water…. Thirst so powerful it nearly brought him to his knees swept through him. The dryness of his throat made it difficult to swallow, and he feared it wouldn’t be long before he dropped like a stone. Then what good would he be to Landon? He had to get some water—and there was only one place to find it. Maybe he was fortunate Officer Hadley had followed him, after all. She might prove his salvation once again. Reaching the top of the mountain he’d been scaling, he hid behind a rock outcropping that rose like a spire into the broad cloudless sky and leaned against its solid mass to wait. The minutes ticked by, slowly. He felt her coming close, knew she’d pass the same way he’d come. She hadn’t deviated a step from his path so far. He doubted she’d change now. She felt too confident, toting that pistol that was about to do her no good. The thought that he’d be taking something she needed just as badly as he did sent a flicker of guilt through Tucker, but he knew it was only a shadow of what he would’ve felt before prison had turned him into the man he was. He ignored it. Landon needed him. And without her precious jug of water, Hadley would be forced to go back. WHERE WAS HE? Gabrielle paused to take another sip of water as she squinted at the dirt, rocks and thorny shrubs farther up the mountain. Tucker wasn’t hard to follow through the wide, flat valleys—there she could see for miles, and he was the only thing moving—but he’d disappeared over the crest of the mountain, which was still a hundred yards or so away, and she hadn’t seen him for ten minutes or more. He knew she was following him. He’d looked back at her several times already and increased his speed. Was he hurrying down the other side, still trying to leave her in his dust? Or had he settled on a more intelligent plan? She listened carefully, hoping for some indication of where he was. But she couldn’t hear any movement, just the hushed quiet of a desert in midafternoon, when even lizards knew enough to stay out of the sun. Maybe she was still too far away to hear him. Or maybe he’d changed direction and was slipping among the rocks of the mountain peak. In that case, she might never find him. Telling herself she’d definitely be smarter to imitate the tortoise than the hare, she resisted the urge to start jogging. Instead, she capped the water jug and resumed moving at the same measured pace. At first the oppressive heat had made her curse the warmth of her uniform. But now she was grateful for her long sleeves and pants. She had sunblock in her purse—she always carried it for Allie—but it was the small “glue stick” kind meant for faces and wouldn’t have gone far. The fabric of her uniform saved much of her skin from the sun, protected her legs from cacti and other spiney plants, and gave her some hope of withstanding a rattlesnake strike should one occur. The thought of surprising a rattler made Gabrielle shudder, but rattlers weren’t the only creatures she had to worry about. Though not nearly as common, the western coral snake, with its red, yellow and black bands, had a bite just as toxic. Then there were Gila monsters, the large poisonous lizards so common to the Sonoran Desert, and bark scorpions and brown recluse spiders. Even the Sonoran Desert toad was poisonous, although there was little chance of running into one of those. Checking behind a piece of fallen cactus before stepping over it, Gabrielle thought about picking up a stick—if she could find one of any consequence in this barren place—to use in case she happened upon any threatening wildlife. The small coral snake might not be a common sight, but enough snakes had similar markings to make her nervous about being able to tell the difference. Sweat trickled down the sides of her face. She wiped it away with one arm as she neared the top of the mountain, hurrying now despite the heat because she was beginning to feel so alone in the vastness. Tucker couldn’t be far. As soon as she saw him, she’d relax…a little. He might be more dangerous than any snake, but he was human, and knowing someone else was within earshot brought her a degree of comfort. Besides, the closer he was, the sooner she’d capture him. Then they could both turn back and by the end of the day, it would all be over. He’d be where he was supposed to be. She’d be safe. No more worrying about snakes or— Suddenly, Gabrielle stopped. From where she stood she could see part of the valley below. Tucker wasn’t there, but a giant rock stood between her and a full panorama. He could be hurrying down the mountain beyond her sight, in which case she was losing valuable time. Or he could be standing behind the rock that obscured her view, in which case caution could save her life. She carefully scanned the area, but nothing—no movement, sight or sound—gave him away. Pressing herself to the outcropping that could just as easily be providing him with cover, she pulled out her gun. “Tucker? Are you there?” No answer. She inched forward, craning her neck to see farther than a couple of feet at a time. “Tucker? I’m not here to hurt you. You know I’ll be as fair as possible. But what you’re doing isn’t right, and it isn’t safe.” She stopped, listened. Nothing. Was he even there? She was probably making a fool of herself. “Come on, Tucker. We both know I have to take you in.” She heard the sound of small rocks being dislodged farther down the mountain, and let her breath go in relief. She was jittery, that was all. He’d hurried on. Shoving her Glock into her holster, she abandoned caution in favor of catching a glimpse of him before he could disappear again. But her forward motion was halted midstride when he tackled her, bringing her down hard on her left side. The jolt of pain that accompanied her fall stole her breath as Randall Tucker landed on top of her. Blinking to clear the sudden spots from her eyes, she felt panic surge through her body like an electric current as he loomed over her. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to object to a return trip,” he said, keeping her pinned beneath him while he took her gun. Every muscle in Gabrielle’s body tensed as she waited to see what he’d do with the weapon. She stared into his eyes, hoping to read his intent so she could formulate some type of defense. But his face remained hard and resolute, his eyes empty. And that scared her more than anything. Until that moment of complete vulnerability, she’d never really believed something this terrible could happen to her. “What are you going to do?” She gasped because his weight made it difficult to speak. It would be all too easy for him to shoot her and walk away. Or maybe he’d rape her first. She understood how it was with the inmates, how they looked at her, what they said. He was already sentenced to life without parole. A man in that situation didn’t have a lot to lose. Only he wasn’t acting as though he had any interest in raping her. He didn’t even seem particularly interested in shooting her. He looked as though he was going directly for…the water! Tossing the gun almost carelessly out of reach, he eased himself up and began to slip the strap of her purse over her head. That was when Gabrielle made her move. Suddenly bucking and writhing, she managed to knock him off balance just enough to twist out from under him. He grabbed her with his right hand—an instinctive action, she guessed, judging by the expletive that came out of his mouth when his injured hand couldn’t hold her. By the time he corrected his error and tried to anchor her with his left, she had the gun. “Get up,” she said, scooting farther away and aiming the muzzle at his chest. The hot ground had burned her back through the fabric of her shirt, and she’d taken a few cactus spines in her hand when she’d lunged for the gun, but adrenaline was pumping through her body by the gallon and she could hardly feel a thing as she forced her shaky legs to support her. Her purse, and the water in it, lay between them. Fortunately, the cap was the screw type and had survived their little tussle. She watched Tucker’s eyes flick toward the jug as he got slowly to his feet. “Take a short drink, then shove the water over here,” she said. “No problem.” He shrugged, but his gaze was watchful, and Gabrielle didn’t trust his nonchalance. He closed his eyes in apparent relief as he drank, then capped the jug. But instead of pushing it her way, as she’d told him, he settled it in her purse as though it was as precious as a newborn baby and slung the strap crosswise over his body. Because of his size, the bag hit him between the shoulder blades and looked funny resting so high—and being carried by someone so masculine—but Gabrielle knew from experience why he’d want the purse to tote the water. “Give me the water and the rest of my stuff, or I’ll shoot,” she warned. “It’s over. We’re going back now.” He seemed to take her measure, then shook his head. “I don’t think so, Hadley.” Gabrielle’s heart started beating so loudly she had trouble hearing her own voice over the steady thrum in her ears. Sweat mixed with sunblock dripped into her eyes, stinging them, causing tears. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision and told herself to stay calm. She had him right where she wanted him; she just had to convince him she was in charge. “Do as I say,” she insisted. “I don’t want to use this, but I will.” His gaze locked onto the gun. “Have you ever killed anything before? Anyone?” he added softly. “I’ve never had to. But I will.” “I don’t think so.” “Oh, yeah?” She knew she needed absolute credibility now. Pointing to a prickly pear cactus sprawled to the left of him, she squeezed off a shot. The tip she’d been aiming at instantly disappeared, but the only acknowledgment she received from Tucker was a casual glance at the evidence of her marksmanship and a slight lift of his brows. “So you’ve killed a cactus. Nice shootin’, Tex, but I’m afraid that isn’t going to change my mind. Whether or not you can hit me isn’t the question. Not at this range, anyway. I’m more concerned with whether or not you will.” “I will,” she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. “No, you won’t.” Perspiration poured down Gabrielle’s spine, beaded on her top lip, wetted the hair at her temples. “Are you willing to bet your life on that?” “I guess I am,” he said. She told herself to aim for a foot and pull the trigger. A violent felon stood facing her, eyes sparking with challenge. Arizona State Law authorized deadly force in two instances: when human life was at stake and/or to prevent an escape. She was within her rights. But he wasn’t exactly attacking her, which made it feel unprovoked. Out here, even a small wound might kill him. She couldn’t drag a two-hundred-pound person across the desert for three hours to the highway. Neither could she get help in time to save him if the bullet did a little more damage than intended. She imagined the recoil of the gun traveling up her arm, pictured his blood spilling onto the hot, parched earth, and knew he was right. She couldn’t do it. She’d never killed anything in her life, and she wasn’t about to start now, regardless of who or what he was. They’d reached a stalemate. He wasn’t going to come with her; she wasn’t going to shoot him. Now what? “You’re not thinking,” she said. “You could easily die out here even if I don’t shoot you.” “Maybe. But it won’t be here and now.” He squinted at the horizon. “It’ll probably be out there somewhere. Tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.” At least he knew how precarious his situation was. Maybe she could reason with him. “That’s exactly my point. 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