Wincott was behind him. Alec could hear him panting as he tried to catch up. He was shouting too.
“Wait, Alec. Don’t go nuts. Let me get ahead of you. Don’t give the bastard a shot. You’re no good to her dead.”
Alec ignored him. He couldn’t think about anything but getting to her.
Two more shots were fired. Alec raced toward the sound.
GAGE WAS BECOMING FRUSTRATED. HE LEANED OVER THE WALL and looked down again. She wasn’t as easy to kill as he had anticipated. The ingrate. After all the trouble he had gone to for her. She’d made that list, and he’d played along, hadn’t he? She’d even told him what to do about Peter Morris—she’d given him the idea anyway—with those notes she’d written on her folder. Yes, he’d played along. He’d given her what she wanted. He had taken a risk for her by not letting the demon know what he was doing. He had thought to do a kindness for her, to make her happy, because none of this was her fault and he felt she deserved a little happiness and joy before she died.
She wasn’t appreciative. And that infuriated him. He could feel rage taking control. What a mess he had made of this. No, no, he mustn’t blame himself. This wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t done anything wrong. She had. She was the slippery one. She was responsible for this mess, not him. Oh, he knew what she was doing. She wanted him to blame himself just like he had after the accident, but the demon had helped him understand that it was all Walker Madison’s fault.
Gage could still see Walker clearly in his mind’s eye, the celebrity standing across the highway, his hands in his pockets, his expression solemn. He was surrounded by men and women, adoring fans who were all wanting a tiny piece of his attention while the paramedics peeled his Nina’s broken body from the wreckage.
The truck driver had died at the scene, and the police had placed the blame on him, but what good was it to rage against a dead man? No, Walker was responsible.
A voice jarred him. Someone was shouting Regan’s name again, an anguished cry he didn’t understand. Then it came again, much closer this time. He didn’t have time to swing over the wall and slide down into the pit to find her. Regan would have to wait a little longer. He straightened, leveled his gun on the path where he heard the pounding footsteps, ready now to kill again.
Alec broke through the trees with his gun drawn.
Gage had a clear shot at him. Suddenly a scream of warning came from the branch above him, and he looked up a scant second before Regan slammed both feet into the side of his head. She landed hard on top of him, rolled, and tried to crawl away, but he was as quick as a snake and latched onto her ankle. He was dragging her back as he swung the gun around.
Alec dove to the ground, waiting for a clear shot, and the second she scrambled to get away from Gage, Alec pulled the trigger. It was a clean kill, one bullet into his skull, but Alec wasn’t taking any chances. He kept his gun trained on him as he ran forward and kicked the gun out of Gage’s hand.
Alec dropped to his knees. It took him two tries to holster his gun. He grasped her shoulders in both hands. “Are you okay, Regan? Are you okay?”
She became hysterical. “Make him let go of me. Get his hand away from me. Make him let go.”
Alec ripped Gage’s hand away from her ankle. Then he stood and pulled her to her feet. He was checking her over as he asked once again, “You’re okay, aren’t you?”
He sounded frantic, but he couldn’t help it. He’d come so close to losing her. Now that he had her in his arms, he couldn’t make himself let go. He held her tight.
“I’m fine,” she told him. Her voice was surprisingly calm. Running that long and that hard had taken its toll, though. She was amazed her legs could support her. Her muscles felt like rubber.
She was thankful for his strength. She was trembling almost uncontrollably, and just when she thought she was getting over the trauma, she started crying. Alec didn’t seem to mind that she was sobbing all over his T-shirt while she was trying to tell him how scared she had been for him.
“You could have died,” she cried. “He was waiting for you. I knew it was you because you were shouting my name. Alec, he was going to shoot you. You could have been killed. Do you know how close you came?”
He was stunned. Gage had chased her, shot at her God only knows how many times, and she had worried about him. He wanted to kiss her and tell her he loved her, but she was going to have to finish crying first.
Wincott was standing by Gage’s feet staring at Alec.
“Did you see her?” Alec asked.
Wincott nodded. “I did. She came down out of that tree like a shooting star. Shocked the hell out of me. Sure surprised Gage too. She saved your life, Alec. He had you in his sights.”
“I know she did.” Alec tightened his hold on her. “I’m going to get her out of here.”
“There should be at least one ambulance waiting in the parking lot. I’ll catch up with you after I get the crime scene crew in here.”
Regan pulled away from Alec. “What are the ambulances waiting for?”
Wincott answered. “They’re prepared for just about anything. One of the paramedics will clean up those cuts for you.”
Alec put his arm around her and started walking.
She leaned against him. “Alec,” she whispered.
She sounded bewildered when she asked, “Who was that man, and why was he trying to kill me?”
NINA GAGE WATCHED THE NEWS BULLETIN ON THE TELEVISION.
She saw her husband being placed in the ambulance by the paramedics and the police. They weren’t in a hurry. A sheet covered the body, but Nina knew the unidentified male was Eric. They knew who he was too but were withholding that information until the next of kin was notified. They would be knocking on her door any minute now.
She felt no sorrow or pity for Eric. Had he failed or had he succeeded? That was all that mattered.
She waited to see another body. The TV camera scanned the parking lot, and she saw her. Regan Madison was alive. For a split second, Regan turned and looked into the camera’s lens, her eyes, like daggers, piercing Nina’s heart. A low, keening sound in Nina’s throat erupted into a scream.
She heard someone knocking on her front door.
She picked up the gun Eric had so thoughtfully left for her and pressed the barrel to her temple.
SWASN’T KIDDING ABOUT BEING A CRYBABY. EVERY TIME ALEC thought she was finished, she started in again. He wasn’t concerned. He knew that crying was her way of getting rid of all the tension inside her. She had been through hell today and had shown remarkable courage and strength and grace, but now that it was over and she was safe, she could let it all out.
Alec sat next to her on the sofa in her suite, and had they been alone, he would have lifted her onto his lap and cradled her in his arms. They weren’t alone, though. The room was crowded with family and friends.
Aiden and Spencer were sitting in easy chairs, leaning forward as they listened to John Wincott explain once again how their brother Walker had unknowingly triggered Gage’s obsession for revenge.
Sophie and Cordie, looking as if they were about to burst into tears themselves, sat in straight-back chairs by the French doors leading to the bedroom.
Regan was dabbing at the corners of her eyes and trying to pay attention to the conversation, but Alec kept distracting her. He had taken hold of her hand. She pulled it away. He grabbed it again. When she looked up at him, he winked at her. She was confused. He shouldn’t be teasing her. Had he forgotten he was leaving? Maybe she should remind him.
She didn’t know how she was going to get through another good-bye. Just thinking about it made the tears flow again. John Wincott leaned forward to hand her another tissue from the box he’d placed on the coffee table and said, “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yes,” she assured him. “It’s just what I need to do sometimes.”
Wincott glanced around the room. Her brothers and her friends were obviously used to the tears because they all nodded. Alec didn’t seem fazed either. Wincott smiled then. In the crisis, she’d been incredible, and if she wanted to cry now, it was fine with him.
“I do this a lot,” she admitted.
Everyone nodded again. Even Alec. She decided to ignore him and turned to ask Cordie a question, but he distracted her again. Before she realized what he was going to do, he’d put his arm around her and pulled her in to his side.
Regan noticed that neither one of her brothers looked the least bit surprised. Sophie and Cordie, on the other hand, looked astonished.
“So that’s some good news, isn’t it, Regan?” John had asked the question.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“It’s been a long day. I was talking about Peter Morris and saying that the murder charges were dropped, of course, but he had already confessed to stealing that grant money and gambling it away. If the judge throws that confession out, they’ll still get him for embezzlement. Seems Morris was dipping into the center’s bank accounts. He’s going to be doing some hard time.”
“That’s good to hear,” Spencer said.
Regan agreed. Both of her brothers were calmer now. When they had arrived at the park, they were half out of their minds with worry. Regan was sitting in the back of an ambulance with Cordie and Sophie while the paramedic cleaned her cuts. Regan had never seen Aiden or Spencer carry on so. It was another revelation. Aiden was actually shouting at a detective. Spencer had tried to punch out one of the TV cameramen when he tried to climb into the ambulance to get a close-up of her. Spencer needn’t have bothered. Alec wouldn’t let the man get near her. He reined in Aiden too and got him to calm down.
“We still haven’t been able to get hold of Walker,” Spencer said.
“Do you think he’ll remember the accident?” Sophie asked.
Regan frowned. “Of course he’ll remember.”
“He didn’t cause it.” Wincott repeated what he had already told them. “According to the patrolman’s notes, he cited the truck driver and Gage for reckless driving.”
“Then Gage did have a hand in the accident,” Cordie said.
“That’s right,” Wincott said.
“Why did the truck driver’s insurance company settle then?” she asked.
Alec answered. “There was an eyewitness who swore the truck driver deliberately increased his speed so Gage couldn’t get back in when he was passing him. I’m sure the insurance company didn’t want a long legal battle. It was cheaper to settle.”
Regan looked at Aiden. “And more practical.” She was thinking about Emerson and how they had decided to give him a small settlement to get rid of him.
“Gage shouldn’t have tried to pass that truck,” Sophie said.
No one disagreed with her. Then Alec said, “I don’t think Gage could accept responsibility for any of it.”
“Walker got around the truck without any trouble, but Gage couldn’t, and maybe that’s what set him off.”
“You should have seen that bedroom upstairs in their house. It was Eric’s private domain because Nina couldn’t climb the stairs. He had all sorts of interesting things sitting around.”
“Like what?” Sophie asked.
“Nina’s medical records from the hospital and the rehab facility. Among some of the papers were bills for Eric Gage from a psychiatric hospital.”
“How did he get medical files?” Sophie asked.
“He must have stolen them,” Cordie said. “But why?”
“Maybe she wanted him to steal them,” Wincott answered. “He was the unstable one in that marriage. She wasn’t, though.”
“How do you know that?” Regan asked.
“Bradshaw went through her records and read me some of the comments the doctors and the therapists had written about Nina and her progress. She was an extremely difficult patient,” he said. “And that’s putting it mildly. She didn’t want to get better; she wanted to get even. I think she pushed and pushed until Eric did what she wanted. Nina Gage was a bitter, broken woman.”
“I think Eric was real conflicted about killing you,” Wincott told Regan.
“He sure didn’t act conflicted when he was chasing her through that park and shooting at her.” Alec got angry thinking about it.
“He found your murder list, and maybe he was trying to fulfill your last wishes before he … you know,” Cordie said.
“What a sick bastard,” Aiden remarked.
“I’m with you on that,” Alec said.
“Do you suppose he wanted someone to stop him?” Regan asked. “And that’s why he sent the e-mail and the faxes? He knew the police would get involved.”
Wincott flipped his notepad closed, put it in his pocket, and said, “At first he did, but then Gage set Morris up to get us away from you, so he must have changed his mind. It appears to have been a game to him. Nina was the controller in their marriage, and Eric was eaten up with guilt. He did whatever she wanted him to do.”
“And they blamed my brother for their misery,” Regan said.
“She knew exactly what she was doing. As soon as she was strong enough, they packed up everything they owned and moved here, to Walker’s hometown. It’s my belief that Walker was their first target, and Eric was waiting for an opportunity to kill him.”
Alec nodded. “But plans have a way of changing.”
“There were photos on Gage’s kitchen table, and a clipping file on Walker. They were keeping track of where he was,” Wincott said. “And you know what else was on that table? About twenty copies of a photo of all of you that was in the newspaper. I think that’s when their plans changed. Imagine how she must have felt every time she looked at your smiling faces. In that picture, Walker is standing behind Regan, sort of looking down at her, and he’s got his hand on her shoulder. He’s looking so proud of her and happy, and that must have sent the Gages into orbit.”
“They wanted to make Walker suffer before Eric killed him,” Alec said. “They had a real hate going on.”
Regan shivered. “The accident turned them into monsters.”
“Sweetheart, I don’t think they were real nice people before the accident.”
“You almost have to pity them,” Regan said.
“The hell with that. He tried to kill you. If I could, I’d shoot him again.”