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Книга Third Degree. Содержание - Chapter 6

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“Imitrex only shortens the headache, you know that.”

She closed her eyes again.

“You’ve got to get up,” Warren said. “I want to see your computer. You can lie on the sofa in the great room.”

Laurel prayed that Danny was already reading her message. She’d risked a lot to send it, and she hadn’t sent the message Danny would have wanted her to. But she still had the phone, and in her heart she still believed she could talk Warren down from this flight of rage-so long as her computer concealed its secrets. At bottom, the idea that Warren Shields, M.D., might shoot the mother of his children was preposterous. But what he might do to a man who had fornicated with and impregnated her was another matter.

“Get up, goddamn it!” Warren snapped, kicking the side of the mattress.

The violence of his anger was what worried her, for it was wholly new. Laurel stood slowly, gathered the comforter around her shoulders, and padded into the hall that led to the kitchen. Run, Danny, she thought. For Michael’s sake, run.

Chapter 6

Danny McDavitt was lying on his back in a sea of clover when his cell phone chirped, signaling the arrival of a text message. He hadn’t heard that sound since the day he’d told Laurel that he couldn’t leave his wife and watched her crumble before him.

Danny didn’t reach straight for his phone. He knew the true worth of lying in sun-drenched clover, waiting for the touch of a woman who loved him. There had been more than a few moments in his life when he’d been certain that he wouldn’t survive into the next minute, much less live to lie in a fragrant bower like this one, waiting for a beauty like Laurel Shields. In the air force, Danny had been known as an even-tempered guy, even among pilots. But falling in love with a woman he could not possess had rewired part of his brain. An emotional volatility was loose in him, and it frightened him sometimes. The chirping phone, for example. Laurel’s reply to the text message he’d sent after their “parent-teacher conference” had lifted him from depression to blissful anticipation in the span of four seconds. But this time the chirp had sent a tremor of fear through him. Laurel was already late, and a new text message was likely to tell him she’d decided not to meet him after all.

He couldn’t blame her. It had been unfair of him even to ask. Nothing had changed in his marital situation. He’d simply reached a point of such desperate longing that he’d been unable to keep from begging. He hated himself for the weakness he’d shown this morning. It was true that Starlette had bailed on the teacher conference; that was par for the course. But the second she’d started making excuses, Danny’s heart had soared. Her avoidance would give him an excuse to see Laurel-in private-and even though he’d known she would be upset, he’d gone to her classroom anyway.

Danny dug his hand into the deep clover and found his phone, but still he didn’t read the text message. He didn’t want to shatter his dream yet. Twenty-one years of military service had taught him to let good things linger while he could, even if they were illusory. Danny had seen the world from the cockpit of an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter, starting with the original bird in antidrug operations out of the Bahamas in 1982 (not the dream duty it sounded like), and winding up in the futuristic Pave Low IV in Afghanistan, where in late 2001 he was shot down and finally retired. In between, he had served on almost every continent, with Bosnia and Sierra Leone proving particularly memorable. Pave Lows from Danny’s group, the elite Twentieth Special Operations Wing, had opened Gulf War One by crossing the desert in pitch blackness and taking out Iraq’s air defenses, opening the skies for the army’s better-known AH-64 Apaches. Danny still remembered the unparalleled rush of flying a massed formation of birds into what everyone knew was going to be the first real war since Vietnam (his own personal Apocalypse Now moment). His sound track, rather disappointingly in hindsight, had been Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” rather than Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Though Desert Storm had ended faster than anyone expected, there’d been no shortage of adrenaline-charged missions to follow. But they paled in comparison to what he’d endured in the hellish mountains of Afghanistan, a land that bred warriors the way America now bred lawyers.

“Give me some good news,” he murmured, raising the cell phone at last. He held the device far enough from his aging eyes to read the tiny letters on the screen and pressed READ. Laurel’s message materialized almost instantly.


Danny stopped breathing. This was the last thing he’d expected. After all the times they might have been caught-and there had been some close calls-he’d thought the danger had finally dropped to zero. He reread the message as he got to his feet, trying to work out what might have happened.

Some sort of confrontation, obviously. But why was she telling him to run? Did she think he was in danger? That was difficult to imagine. Danny had given Warren Shields flying lessons for four months, and he’d come to know the doctor as a quiet, restrained, methodical man, just what you wanted in a physician, and indeed in a pilot. The idea of Warren Shields harming his wife seemed silly, and the possibility of him coming after Danny even more farfetched. And yet…Danny had seen enough men under severe stress to know they were capable of wildly unpredictable behavior. He’d seen soldiers do things in battle zones that no one back home would have believed-some good things, but more of them bad.

There was no question of taking Laurel’s advice. If she was in danger, he wasn’t about to cut and run. The question was, what could he do to help her? If he shed his anonymity as her lover, he would bring about the very thing he was trying to avoid by remaining with Starlette: he would lose custody of Michael. But if Laurel was truly in danger…

He started to text her back and tell her that she wasn’t alone, that he would solve whatever problem had come up. But she was alone, at least in the sense that he wasn’t with her. And fighting with Warren, almost certainly. One call or text message from Danny might give away everything or hurt her in some way that he couldn’t guess at.

He trotted to his four-wheeler, cranked the engine, and wrestled the Honda onto the track that led up to the house. His chest thrummed with nervous energy. The shock of her message had been profound. He’d been dreaming of the moment that Laurel would rush into his arms. After five weeks apart, she would melt under his hands. Hell, she’d started melting in her classroom. To be ripped from that fantasy into this reality had disconcerted him. But Danny knew how to shift neural gears in a hurry. Countless times he’d been roused from dreams by a klaxon calling him to battle, or to rescue men barely clinging to life, their limbs shredded, guts puddled in their laps like bowls of pasta. His ability to adapt quickly was one reason he was still alive.

He jiggered the Honda into his garage, hit the kill switch, and jumped off. First he needed to know where Laurel was. The school? Home? Warren’s office? He started to get his car keys from the kitchen, but stopped at the door. Danny drove a 1969 Dodge Charger he’d restored himself. Warren knew the car well, so it was useless in this context. Climbing back onto the Honda, Danny drove down to the shed where he kept his lawn equipment. He’d bought an ancient Ford pickup to make runs to the hardware store and to the nursery. He and Michael used it to tool around the property together. Michael had steered it from Danny’s lap several times, an experience akin to flying over Baghdad on a bad night. Danny parked the four-wheeler, jumped into the cab of the truck, backed out of the shed, and drove across his lawn toward Deerfield Road. As he passed his house, he considered stopping to get his nine-millimeter from the bedroom. But that would be plain crazy, he decided. Serious overkill.


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