“Alright, is everyone on?” Taylor asks, placing his phone on the table between him, Luke, my father, Elliot, and Carrick. Ros and I both hover nervously behind them.
“We’re here,” Smith answers. Taylor turns to Luke and nods.
“I got into the city traffic cameras. There’s one at the intersection down here that caught an unmarked van leaving the parking garage at 2:41 AM, so I used that time stamp to follow them down the highway to the airport. They had a private plane waiting for them, and I couldn’t get the security footage from the airport, but I did manage to get the flight logs. No manifest, but there was a destination. Riyadh.”
My dad’s brow creases with surprise. “Saudi Arabia?”
The words trigger a memory that plays through my mind like a film reel. A conversation between Carmen and Christian the night he took me to that sex club in New York.
Don’t you realize what will happen if you pull this off? Eliminating the need for combustible fuel will eliminate the need for corporations who make that their business. The Saudis, Exxon, BP, Halliburton… You prepared to take them on too?”
The echo of Carmen’s voice fits our current situation like a puzzle piece, completing the picture of a nightmare I should have been prepared for. The warnings were there, I just stopped listening. I let my guard down, I stopped searching, and now…
The nervous energy I felt before suddenly becomes a little more tangible. A black thorn of fear coiling around my heart, it’s poison seeping dangerously into my thoughts.
“Did you forget about me, Ana?” Lincoln’s voice echos in the back of my thoughts, nearly drowning out what Luke says next.
“I still know some guys in that area. I put out an APB for the flight and got a license plate for the car that met them at the airport. That eventually led to an address, and a name. Ahmad Hassan, the co-founder of HD Oil. The largest private oil company in the world.”
“He’s got a partner. Nigel Dalton, who seems to be a real piece of work from everything I was able to find. We’re talking cartoon levels of villainy here. The man is personally responsible for the near eradication of three different marine species in the Arabian Gulf because of unsafe pollution from his oil rigs. He was being investigated over it, the investigator ended up dead.”
“He wouldn’t happen to be British, would he?” I ask.
“Yeah, he’s an expat.”
“He’s the one who called,” Ros says. “He’s the one who asked me to dismantle Endurance.”
Luke nods. “Then we’re on the right track.”
“So, what now?” Elliot asks. “Do we call the FBI back and tell them all of that?”
“No, that’ll take hours, maybe days, and I don’t think we’ve got that kind of time,” Luke says. “Ana’s got a plane and I know a guy still stationed in Kuwait who can get us over the border. We get into town, lay low until it’s dark, get inside the house, and bring Grey out.”
My father blinks at him. “That’s your plan? Some guy you know will get you over the border?”
“Do you know how far it is from your crossing point to Riyadh? Do you have any idea how many checkpoints there are or what the patrols are like along the way? Do you know what the road conditions are or if there are any kinds of hazards we’re going to deal with? What are you going to do if we run into trouble?”
Luke mashes his lips together. “Okay, maybe I’m open to suggestions.”
My dad gives him an incredulous look, then lets out a huff and throws his hands in the air. “Somebody get me a map, I guess.”
Jade perks up, eager for a way to help, so I direct her to the hallway that leads back to Christian’s office with my eyes. “In the library. Mia, will you show her?”
“Yeah.” Mia untangles herself from her mother and darts to Jade, snatching her hand and pulling her towards the library. They come back with the oversized, hardbound atlas that I’m pretty sure Christian bought more for how it looked on the shelf than for its intended purpose, but the maps contained inside are much better quality than I’d given them credit for. Carrick and Elliot end up stepping away from the table because my father, Luke, and Taylor pour over the maps, comparing them to pictures on Google Earth Luke pulls up on his phone, while laying out objectives and speaking in military terms that seem like a native language to them, but completely foreign to everyone else.
But I’m happy to let them handle the logistics. Both because any opinion I could offer would be grossly uninformed, and because I didn’t actually eat anything, so I only get to stand there for a few more seconds before my morning sickness hits me like a fucking wrecking bottle and I end up back on my knees in the bathroom.
Luke comes for me a few minutes later.
“Here,” he says, handing me a bowl of oatmeal. I take it and glance expectantly up at him, waiting for him to tell me the plan. Instead, he frowns. “I may have underestimated how difficult this was going to be. Your dad’s pretty firm that going in ourselves is a mistake. We don’t know what’s waiting for us and we have no idea really what these people are capable of. Turns out, an American billionaire being held hostage over Nobel Prize nominated technology that’s already been sold internationally, has like… huge implications, or something. I don’t know. He doesn’t think we should be taking this lightly.”
“So, what does he think we should do?”
“He and Taylor are talking about it now, but I think they’re going to call the FBI.”
“But you said—”
“I know.” He frowns, and I wonder if it’s because he has the same understanding that I do. That each and every second is precious, because right now, they’re counting down to Christian’s last. Tears start to well again and a horribly acidic taste fills my mouth. My body begins to hum with a nervous energy that makes everything feel uncomfortable and too restraining, like a phantom straight jacket.
“I knew this was going to happen,” I admit in a shaky voice. “Everyone treated me like I was crazy, but I knew this was going to happen again.”
“You weren’t crazy. Reckless, maybe, but not crazy. I told you before, Ana. You weren’t as wrong as he made you believe you were.”
I swallow the bitterness on my tongue. “All those people you told me about, all the things that Taylor’s stopped… did he know these people were out there?”
He shakes his head. “No, we weren’t prepared for anything like this. This isn’t some street thug trying to get a ransom or even some psycho with resources, like Lincoln was. These are the kinds of people that stage coups to overthrow foreign governments. The people who came in here are trained, just like we are. Maybe better.” He pauses, his jaw flexing like he’s chewing on his next words before deciding to say them aloud. “I wouldn’t have left if I knew this was coming. I’m sorry, Ana… I’m so fucking sorry.”
I take a deep breath and shake my head, refusing to accept the hint of defeat in his apology. “What would he do, Luke? If it were me who disappeared in the middle of the night, and he was here… what would Christian do?”
His shoulders rise and fall, but he gives me a starkly honest response. “He’d already be on that plane.”
I nod, and allow his words to give me resolution so that I can peel myself off the floor and march back out to the living room. Everyone is now surrounding Taylor and my father, trying to make arguments that they both seem to just be ignoring. I don’t give either of them a second glance. I move between them, pick up my cell, and begin scrolling through my contacts.
“Ana?” My dad checks. “What are you—”
A voice is speaking through the phone, so I hold up a hand to silence him.
“Yes, this is Anastasia Grey. I need to speak with Senator Blandino immediately.”
It’s incredible how fast things turn around once I have the chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services on the phone. In just a little more than an hour, the plan to extradite Christian goes from borderline childish, to clinical. We’re given access to whatever resources we need and are offered every piece of relevant intelligence the United States government has. The only caveat is that, to prevent any possibility of starting an act of war, the US government, and by extension the military, has to remain as uninvolved in Christian’s rescue as possible.
It’s a conundrum that pulls me back to countless memories over the last few months, desperate confessions from Christian about why Endurance meant so much to him.
“I want power. I want to build the kind of empire that controls what’s really important. Information. Policy. World Leaders. By the time I’m finished, wars will be fought before anyone ever gets close to you or Calliope again.”
Just like everything else, he was right. Maybe wars will be fought.
“So, with that understanding,” the military commander on the other end of the phone says. “Who do you have that could lead this kind of mission?”
“Jason Taylor,” Luke answers. “He’s got the most military experience of anyone on the team, and the most command experience.”
“No,” Taylor says. “I don’t.” He winces again as he shifts in his seat to lean forward. “I’m not in any kind of shape to get in a combative situation, and you need good men. Captain Steele has more expertise than I do, and more experience. I think I should stay behind with Calliope and the family, and Ray here should take the rest of my team with him, and take the lead.”
My dad nods. “I can do that.”
“Alright,” the voice calls through the phone. “Then Captain Steele will take point. We’ll coordinate military escorts into Saudi Arabia and ensure you’ll have a safe rendezvous point. You’ll have a vehicle waiting for you to get into the city, and personnel to back you up if you get in trouble.”
My dad glances around the room and gets a half-nod from Luke and Taylor. “Good,” he says. “It’s almost a 24-hour flight to Riyadh so better get going.”
“There’s a convoy headed up from Lewis-McChord. They’ll meet you at Boeing for take-off and they’ll give you everything you’ll need for us to stay in contact while you’re in the air.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” My dad hangs up the phone and Taylor gets out of his seat.
“All of you need to go back to the main residence. We’re going into lockdown until the team returns.”
“You too,” Luke says to Jade, and Taylor nods.
I take a deep breath and go to Kate. “Tell Calliope I love her, and don’t take your eyes off her, okay?”
She wrinkles her brow at me. “What are you talking about? You’re coming with us.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Ana…” Luke begins to argue, but I shake my head.
“I’m going with you. If it were me, there’s no way Christian would stay behind. It’s not any different the other way around.” I turn and stare my father dead in the eyes, leaving no room for argument. “I can’t stay behind and not know. I’m going.”
“You’re pregnant, sweetheart.”
“And I’m still going. Every second we stand here arguing about it, is another second we’re not getting to Christian.”
He hesitates, but only for a moment. The reluctance in his eyes is clear as he nods. Kate looks at me like she’s sure I’ve lost my mind and, maybe I have, but there’s just absolutely no way that I could stay here and not know what’s happening.
As everyone starts filing for the elevators, I feel a strong pair of fingers wrap tightly around my arm and yank. I turn to meet a pair of turbulent blue eyes. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Don’t, Luke. You’re not going to change my mind.”
His jaw tightens and I can see the storm of words ready to strike out at me like lightning teetering just on the edge of his tongue. But he meets my eyes and reads something there that makes him hold them back. Instead, he leans in and whispers in a voice so low that it’s almost threatening, “I swear to god, you will do every motherfucking thing I tell you to do, no questions asked. You got it?”
“I mean it, Ana. Even if I tell you to run away and leave him behind, you do what I tell you to do.”
“It’s not going to come to that.”
“Okay. I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.” He nods, but his eyes are still suspicious and he hovers behind me as I hug Grace and Mia goodbye. Kim sweeps me into her arms and offers words that are surprisingly encouraging, and Elliot makes me promise that I’ll tell Christian that he’s going to kill him the second he sees him for putting him through this. I give him a weak smile, then turn to watch Jade give Luke a long and deep good-bye kiss. Their eyes meet, exchanging a goodbye more personal than words ever could, and then she turns to me.
“You make sure he comes home to me, okay?”
I nod, then pull her into a hug.
Downstairs, Taylor funnels the rest of my family between the SUV and Grace and Carrick’s car. Transporting everyone back to the house takes every vehicle available to us, except one, and as I toss the keys to Luke his eyes widen.
“Holy shit, are you sure?”
I give him a very serious look. “Everyone else is already on the way to the airport. I expect you to get there as fast as possible.”
He hits the button on the key fob, and the lights to the Lamborghini blink back at us. He grins. “Ah, hell yeah.”
Luke quickens his pace as we take the last few steps to the car, while my dad glances uneasily through the windshield.
“There’s only two seats…”
I yank up the butterfly door and stand to the side for him to crawl in first. “There’s plenty of room for me to sit on top of you.”
A grimace crosses his face as he realizes how I know that, but he ducks into the car all the same and only bemoans its foreign status as I reach up to close us inside. Luke revs the engine while he shifts into gear and then peels out of the parking garage.
He keeps the speedometer above ninety, so we’re pulling onto the airfield at Boeing in less than ten minutes. Taylor has called ahead to have my jet prepared, but while we idle on the tarmac waiting for the rest of my team, I catch a glimpse of Christian’s plane still parked in the hangar. There’s an eerie kind of lifelessness that hangs heavily in the darkness around it. My own plane hums with life, the windows alight and welcoming, the stairs already stretching out to greet me.
It feels too much like a metaphor for what’s at stake.
“You ready?” Luke asks, turning to me as a familiar car pulls onto the tarmac behind us. I take a deep breath and nod. He reaches over and squeezes my hand before stepping out of the car and pulling me to the plane. We’ve already started to move by the time we take our seats, and the silence that had been so impressive the first time Christina took me up in this plane sounds oppressive as we take off.
It’s a long flight, and it’s not easy for me to sleep despite my father and Luke constantly suggesting I do just that. But every time I close my eyes, I’m terrorized by the echo of a voice in the back of my mind. It’s not Lincoln this time, it’s Christian. And the sound is filled with pain. The images my mind conjures of what they might be doing to him to get him to agree to destroy his life’s greatest achievement is more brutal than I would have through myself capable of. Eventually, it becomes too much, so I crawl onto the sofa next to Luke, lay my head on his shoulder, and wait with him in silence until we finally land.
It’s slightly disorienting stepping off the plane. It was dawn when we’d left Seattle, but the sun is low in the sky and somehow, still blazing hot in Riyadh. I don’t know what the time difference is, only that we have been on that god forsaken plane for an entire day, which means that they’ve had Christian for almost two.
I follow in the dusty cloud that pulls up from the sand with every step my father takes. He shakes hands with a man in a military uniform that has an impressive number of badges and bars displayed across the front. I watch the men the military has sent to our aid unloading a van from an aircraft carrier a few hundred yards away, and frown. When they said they’d provide a vehicle to get us into the city, I’d imagined a souped up Humvee with armored, reinforced steel and bullet proof glass. The drab and unimpressive shell of this vehicle looks too vulnerable, too ordinary. and for the first time, I think I really feel the danger in what we’re about to do.
“We can do this, right?” I hiss to Luke, holding a protective hand over my stomach. He reaches over to squeeze my arm.
“You don’t have to come if you’re scared. You can stay here, on the plane, with these fine men. You should stay here. They’ll protect you.”
I turn back and watch the soldiers milling around us again, my eyes narrowing in on the weapons laid across the table next to my father, and the guns on the jets that had landed on the sandy, makeshift airfield with us. It’s all a ‘Plan B,’ but I’ve been through this enough now to expect the worst case scenario. The threat of escalation is all around me, and if I’m not there to see how everything goes down, that’s all I’m going to think about.
“No,” I tell him. “I have to come. I need to see that he’s okay with my own eyes.”
His lips press together and his forehead creases with worry, but he nods and leans over to kiss me on the temple. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, okay?”
After listening to the life and death instructions given to us by the military commander running base camp, we pile into the van and start towards the city. It’s a good twenty-five miles of open desert between us and the first sign so life, and the drive gives me too much space and silence to think about what we’re moving towards. It’s tense, nearly unbearable, and the only thing I can do is stare blankly at the equipment around me and… hope.
As we make our way into the city, using military GPS to take us directly to the estate where Christian is being held, Luke pulls out his phone and curls into the side of the van as though it could give him any modicum of privacy. I try not to listen, but he’s the only one who speaks, so everyone in the van hears everything he says.
“Hey, we’re just about there… I just wanted to call and tell you that I love you.” He’s talking to Jade, and there’s a kind of vulnerability in his voice that sounds strange coming from him. Luke is normally the guy who’s looking for a fight, who gets excited by the prospect of danger. Now, there’s hesitation, and it’s because he has something to lose now. And listening to him say goodbye to the woman he loves, just in case, has me in tears when we pull onto the dark street where my dad finally kills the engine.
“Is everyone ready?” he asks, slowly unbuckling his seatbelt and peering through the windows for any sign that someone has noticed our arrival. There’s a rumble of agreement that sounds around me, then Luke takes a black, heavy case out from under his seat and passes earpieces around. I twist the completely invisible bud into my ear, and nod when my father tests to make sure we can hear him. But when everyone begins to file out of the van, Luke’s hand tugs me back inside.
“You’re not coming.”
“There’s a good chance it gets hairy in there and we can’t focus on your husband if we’re worrying about you. So, stay here, stay low, and stay quiet. We’ll be back with Christian in just a few minutes, okay?”
“You’ll be able to hear us, Annie,” my dad says. “The moment I have Christian safe, I’ll give him my earpiece.”
“We need you to do this,” Evan adds. “Sawyer’s right. You first, remember?”
I take a few deep breaths and try to consider what they’re telling me objectively. Everything inside of me is screaming to refuse. It’s taking every ounce of my control not to bolt from this van and just run to the house glowing at the end of the street, because I know that’s where he is. But I need every single person on this team to come back safe too, and if going with them could put any of them in danger, I can’t argue with them when they ask me to stay.
“Okay.” I nod, though the word tastes like poison on my tongue. “But… be careful, okay?”
“We will,” Luke promises. He hugs me tightly and kisses me hard on the cheek before he disappears into the blackness. I hug Woods next, then my father.
“Come back to me,” I make him promise.
“I always do.”
The door to the van closes and the dome light slowly fades into nothing, leaving me alone in blackness with nothing but the muffled sounds of breathing in my earpiece. It’s one of the most intense moments in my entire life. I can hear my heart beating furiously in my chest, my stomach churns with nausea that I can’t allow to overwhelm me. I cling desperately to every softly whispered command, every involuntary sound, every footstep… waiting for the worst.
“I’ve got two on the south side,” Woods murmurs. “I can see a Galil and an AK-47.”
“I’ve got an AR-15 on the east wall,” Wyatt adds. “Three men. The other two have pistols on their hips.”
“Damn it,” my father whispers. “I’m moving up the north wall, there’s a light up ahead about 500 feet. I think it may be an open gate.”
“I can see it from my position,” Harper says. “You’ve got two on the other side. I’ve got them in my scope.”
“400 feet,” my dad says. “300…”
“Wait, Ray,” Luke hisses. “I’ve got movement on the North side, you’ve got three people headed right for you. 12 o’clock.”
“You got cover?” Smith asks.
“No, I’m out in the open here.”
“You’ve got ten seconds,” Luke says. “They’re armed.”
I hear my father grunt, and I don’t know what that means. If he’s found somewhere to hide, if he’s trying to get away, if someone has him… he’s gone silent as he tries to remain concealed and my heart pounds in my chest with each passing second. I wait in agony for anyone to say anything, for one word of reassurance, but there is only dead silence in my ears and it drives me right up to the brink of insanity.
“Shit, they’re going to see him,” Luke says, urgently. “We need a distraction.”
“Is any one open enough that they can create a diversion?” Woods adds. No one answers.
I don’t even think about it. I leap from the back into the driver’s seat and twist the keys in the ignition. My foot finds the pedal and I shove it down against the floor and jolt forward up the street towards Christian’s prison. The engine groans as I try to coax every ounce of speed I can from it.
“What the fuck is that?” Woods asks.
“We’ve got headlights coming up the street,” Smith says.
The gate to the driveway materializes in the beam of my headlights and I hit the breaks, reaching over at the same time to roll down the window.
“It’s me,” I tell them.
“You?” What the fuck do you mean it’s you?” Luke demands. I reach through the window and press the button on the speaker outside the gate. A deep voice responds in a language I don’t understand, but I don’t have to. He just has to understand me.
“My name is Anastasia Grey,” I tell the voice in the box. “I’m here for my husband.”