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On Thin Ice by Anne Stuart

On Thin Ice by Anne Stuart

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Published by LX Ae

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Published by: LX Ae on Aug 26, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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On Thin IceByAnne StuartKindle editionHide Table of ContentsTable of ContentsOn Thin IceContents CHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENCHAPTER TWELVECHAPTER THIRTEENCHAPTER FOURTEENCHAPTER FIFTEENCHAPTER SIXTEENCHAPTER SEVENTEENCHAPTER EIGHTEENCHAPTER NINETEENCHAPTER TWENTYCHAPTER TWENTY-ONECHAPTER TWENTY-TWOCHAPTER TWENTY-THREECHAPTER TWENTY-FOURCHAPTER TWENTY-FIVECHAPTER TWENTY-SIXCHAPTER TWENTY-SEVENCHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHTCHAPTER TWENTY-NINECHAPTER THIRTYCHAPTER THIRTY-ONEACKNOWLEDGMENTSCHAPTER ONEElizabeth Pennington closed the heavy cypress door behind the last ofher young students, shut her eyes and leaned her forehead against the thick wood. She had a miserable headache from the incessant South American heat, the children had been gratifyingly noisy after the first few weeks of polite whispers, and what she needed most was a few quiet moments in her small, darkened room anda cool damp cloth on her forehead. Father Pascal would be in the infirmary, dealing with the host of ailments so prevalent among the people in this small village outside the larger city of Puerto Claro
ear infections, dysentery, infected cuts, eyes and stomachs. As soon as Beth had rested she
d head out to help him. Father Pascal
s clinic was understaffed
until she
d volunteered with the Catholic Charities of Callivera he
d had no one but a couple of widows from the village to help.No one good at raising money, no one capable of teaching English. Father Pascalonly spoke French and Spanish, which made things tricky, since Beth had only studied French and Latin in school and hadn
t done well with either.But her Spanish was coming along, almost as quickly as the children
s grasp of English. The children had stronger motivation
she showed them superhero movies and cartoons withoutsubtitles to encourage them, and music was an even more powerful enticement. They loved hip-hop, though it still struck her as slightly odd when rail-thin, eight-year-old Manuela started singing,
what the bitches want with a
Only fourteen year old Carlos had remained aloof, treating her with a scarcely veiled contempt that bordered on hostility.Beth pushed away from the door. Things were unnaturallystill
the sprawling compound of Santa Luz was usually busy with the sound of children, with Father Pascal
s gentle drone, with the quiet chatter of the village women who
d come in to help. But now all was still, which she could only count as ablessing.Except that she couldn
t. She had good instincts, even if she
d never hadto rely on them. Growing up in the cocooned atmosphere of the Pennington Pharmaceutical dynasty, she
d always had people looking out for her, money to cushion every one of life
s more unpleasant moments. Ever since she
d arrived in the tiny, war-torn country of Callivera seven months ago she
d been alert, listening for a danger that never came. It just went to show that all those years growing up with bodyguards and chauffeurs had been silly precautions.She quite desperately needed to lie down to get rid of this blistering headache. And she would. As soon as shechecked on Father Pascal and made sure everything was all right.She moved through the long corridors of what was once the largest convent and mission on the eastern border of the country of Callivera. The floors were spotless, swept clearevery day, though the scent of rotting vegetation was strong in the air. Most ofthe place was now deserted, and had been for more than twenty years when the Calliveran army had taken over the government, ousting the current dictator and bringing their own brand of military control. When three nuns had been raped and murdered, the convent had been shut down and the current government had only grud
gingly allowed the mission to be reopened to help some of the desperately poor people of the neighboring villages. It had taken months for Father Pascal to getpermission to come in, and if it weren
t for the Pennington money greasing the wheels, Beth would still be in Philadelphia, waiting.She could smell the familiar scent of alcohol and pine-based cleaners that emanated from the infirmary, cutting through the damp smell of the undergrowth that was slowly encroaching on the mission. She listened for Father Pascal
s pleasant, soothing monotone as he dealt with whichever patient had come to him, but no sound came from behind the closeddoors. Beth pushed the swinging door open and walked into the deserted room. A room that was never empty.There were no children in the metal cribs that lined the far wall. Father Pascal liked to keep the little ones overnight until he was sure the ear infections were under control, and there were always at least two orthree babies in residence. Not today.No sign of the widows who lived at the compound and took care of Father Pascal, the building, and everything else they could get their capable hands on. Beth had been a constant frustration to them withher insistence on doing her own laundry, her own cooking, her own cleaning. Shehadn
t been about to explain that it was the first time in her life she
d been allowed to do so and she was finding it empowering. They wouldn
t understand that theheir to millions of dollars could always feel helpless.She walked through the infirmary to the small office. It was late autumn and the sun set early, the shadows long and deep, shrouding the place. She flipped the light switch but nothinghappened.She let out a sigh of relief. The generator must be down again, and Father Pascal would be out working on it. The generator was a dinosaur
temperamental and ancient, and only Father Pascal could soothe it into behaving. Beth was very good with children, a natural teacher, brave in the face of snakes and scorpions, but her mechanical ability was nil. She
d probably only get in his way if sheoffered to help him.On the other hand, if she was lying down trying to sleep and the lights suddenly blasted on it would make her headache worse. Best to makesure everything was moving in the right direction before she tried to nap.The generator was in a separate building around the back of the compound, surrounded by locked gates so that no enterprising band of soldiers would be tempted to liberate it. This part of Callivera had a great deal of unrest, and members of the self-styled liberation army, the Guiding Light, were always causing trouble. Absurd that a group of semi-terrorists had named themselves after an American soap opera, but she
d seen members of the organization in the village, young men barelyolder than the children she taught, with hollow eyes and the omnipresent tattooed lighthouse on their forearms. Father Pascal had promised her they were basically harmless, but there were times when she wondered just how naïve the sweet old man was.She was about to turn back, head for her room, when she heard a sound, short, sharp, brief. A cry that was cut off abruptly. She
d been in Callivera long enough to recognize most of the bird calls, and this sounded nothing like them. It sounded almost human.She was suddenly cold in the sticky heat of the infirmary. She could do the smart thing
head for her room, lock the door, and hide underthe bed until morning. That was what Father Pascal had insisted she do in case of trouble, but she
d taken the old man
s cautions with a grain of salt. Now they didn
t seem so ridiculous.But she wasn
t going to leave the frail old man alone in a dangerous situation. She wasn
t going to run and hide. She had come down to Callivera for many reasons, and to get over her childhood fears was only a small part ofit. But here was her chance to move past the sometimes crippling paranoia her parents and bodyguards had instilled in her. Despite the international news reports, Callivera was safe. Violence was kept to the big cities, and no one would want to hurt an old priest and a teacher.She pushed through the screen door, stepping out into the early evening shadows, and the thick jungle air closed around her like a wet velvet shroud. She took a shallow breath, annoyed that it soundedshaky, and headed for the corner of the building and the path to the generator.She saw Tia Maria first, lying face down, the dark pool flowing beneath her and sinking into the damp earth. The other woman, Juana, was a few feet away on her back, her dark eyes staring sightless into the darkening sky, her skirts pulled up to her waist.Beth froze for a moment, her stomach lurching, and then she stumbled backwards in a daze, hoping she wasn
t going to throw up, hoping she had enoug
h time to run. She spun around, and saw what was left of Father Pascal lying inthe shadows beside the building. He
d been savaged, and one old hand was clutchinga crucifix, holding tight as he faced a cruel death. She heard a small sob andknew it had come from her own throat.It was too late to help them, too late to help anyone but herself. There would be no reason to hurt the children
with any luck they would have reached home safely, never hearing the sounds of their teachers being hacked to death. Never hearing Senorita Pennington
s cries.She heard thenoise behind her, the rustle of movement, the smell of sweat and alcohol and anger, and there was no place she could run. She
d foolishly closed the door to theinfirmary behind her, and even if she made it that far she
d never get inside. Shehad no choice but to face them.She turned, slowly, knowing death was hovering near her on dark wings, waiting for the bullet to split her skull or her chest.They were standing there, the tattooed soldiers from the village. With young Carlos beside them, his own fresh tattoo oozing blood, the look on his face like theothers, like a wild animal incapable of mercy or fear.She didn
t have time to speak. She saw the rifle from the corner of her eyes, and a moment later everythingexploded as she sank into blackness, the walls coming up around her, and she knew she was dying.Finn MacGowan stretched his legs in front of him, keeping a lazysmile on his face. They
d stopped putting him in leg shackles, though the chainsaround his wrists had worn calluses against the bones. He picked up the bottle of home-made beer, carefully, and brought it to his mouth, letting the chains clank against the dark bottle. They
d started giving him beer and mountain brandy a year and a half ago, probably because they hoped it would keep him from trying toescape.It hadn
t, but they
d been watching him too closely for him to make a thirdattempt at getting away. The time would come
he just needed to wait for it.He
d been held for more than three years, dragged from one remote camp to another. He
d seen more than half a dozen other people come and go, South American millionaires, British petroleum experts, French nuns and priests, American and German businessmen. Some were ransomed, some were executed, none of them managed to escape. The closest had been the American mercenaries two years ago. He
d made the break with them, but the Guiding Light had caught up with them before they reached the foothills.They
d killed the other two and dragged his sorry ass back up into the mountains, and he still couldn
t figure out why. In three years they
d never asked forransom, but then, who the hell could they have asked? It
s not like they knew anything about the Committee, and the Ice Queen, Isobel Lambert, wasn
t about to spend money extricating an operative who never should have gotten caught in the first place.And that was assuming Madame Lambert was even still alive. It was hard to believe
she never would have left him there to rot for close to three years, she would have sent operatives to break him out. Her second-in-command, Peter Madsen, was another matter. There
d never been any love lost between them, and Madsenwouldn
t have given a crap. And if, as MacGowan suspected, it had been up to Madsen, he was going to see the sodding bastard paid for it. He
d find out the truth once he got out of here.And the third time was the charm.There were five other hostages in their current camp high in the Andes: a German engineer, the spoiled movie star
s son from California, two Guatemalan businessmen and the old nun. He couldn
t take them all when he left. The nun was too old to make it down the mountain; she was barely surviving the high altitudes. The Guatemalan businessmen wereon their way to having their ransom paid, so there was no reason for them to risk it. Hans Froelich, the engineer, had offered him a tidy fortune to take him out of there, and Dylan Hamilton would be worth millions to his grieving family inCalifornia. Unless they were smart enough to celebrate his disappearance. Dylanwas a major pain in the ass, and if he didn
t have the potential to be an asset,MacGowan would have killed him just because he was so damned irritating. But hewas pragmatic enough to consider taking them with him, just in case.He took another drink of the warm beer. He wasn
t sure whether it tasted more like piss or skunk, and he didn
t particularly care. Two more days and they were out of there, andif the Guiding Light decided to kill the hostages who remained, then so be it.He
d learned long ago that he couldn
t save everyone. He could only save himself.They
d been in their current camp for three months now, and they
d be moving them soon.MacGowan couldn
t afford to put it off much longer. They weren
t watching him close

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