Dani Oliver had driven this highway to her hometown countless times, but never with a dead man’s last wish as a passenger. She hadn’t even agreed to be Pat Sylvester’s attorney when the thick envelope of paperwork had arrived at her office. They’d shared only one phone call, where the older man had laid out some serious smuggling accusations against the tech investor Stanley Miller. When Dani had expressed her doubts that a man with the Silicon Valley clout of Miller would have to make his money with something so risky, Pat Sylvester laughed a long wheeze. Her would-be client said he’d been running illegal programs throughout the Bay Area for years, including Miller’s, and had the skim sheets to prove what Miller was doing.
She and Mr. Sylvester were supposed to meet tomorrow, where he was going to explain why he was ready to rat on his former boss. All she knew was that Miller was in a lot of debt and had skipped too many payments to Sylvester in order to keep other wolves at bay. And she was going to explain, again, that she was a corporate lawyer who handled merger and acquisition paperwork. Mr. Sylvester hadn’t cared about that. He’d found one of her law school papers on protecting whistle-blowers online and knew she was the only one he’d talk to.
But there would be no meeting. No chance to sit with Mr. Sylvester and go over the pages and pages of computer-printed and handwritten spreadsheets. Cargo invoices, inventory numbers, buyers and sellers. From her first glance through, it all looked like proof Miller was slicing off small segments of larger tech shipments and selling them off to unlicensed buyers at a steep profit.
Mr. Sylvester was silent on the subject. Forever. He was in a San Jose morgue. Somewhere above him, in the hospital ER, was the nurse who’d found Dani’s contact information folded in Mr. Sylvester’s coat, his pants pocket and stuffed into one of his socks. The call had come after midnight, waking Dani up and starting the chain of events that got her on this highway south of San Jose, heading toward Manzana, California, at this ungodly hour on a warm early-summer night. Mr. Sylvester had known someone was coming after him. He’d been silenced by a hit-and-run.
Now Dani was his only voice. And she had to be smart. He’d warned her that some of the police force was on Miller’s payroll, and the paperwork seemed to support that. The city DA might be in on it, too. Her job hadn’t brought her close enough to any San Jose police officers, leaving her without a solid foundation of who to trust. So she had to get out of the city. To the one cop she trusted without doubt, because they’d grown up together and her friend was still keeping the peace in their hometown.
The same hometown where Dani’s ex Ryan still lived.
But she probably wouldn’t even see him. She’d head straight to the police station and if Captain Sarah Gold wasn’t on, she’d have the desk sergeant get her out of bed to secure the evidence Dani wouldn’t hand over to anyone else. And if Ryan happened to be on shift as an EMT this night, she could handle running into him. Briefly.
The business with Mr. Sylvester’s evidence against Miller was more important than her and Ryan revisiting the conversations about her moving back to town and taking the teaching position at the local community college. Miller’s crimes were serious. And Mr. Sylvester needed justice.
She’d been a lawyer for years, but hadn’t served justice for quite a while. Ryan had known this. He’d seen how her heart wasn’t completely in corporate law and encouraged her to use her voice to teach the right ethic to the next generation of lawyers. But that involved a lot of risk, leaving behind a very stable living.
Clearly, Dani wasn’t shying away from risk tonight. If Mr. Sylvester had been deliberately taken out, and every reason to believe that was in the large envelope within the sleek peach-colored leather briefcase on her passenger seat, then whoever got to him could be looking for her.
She reached into the side pocket of the briefcase and pulled out her phone. She was less than ten miles from town, and Sarah and the rest of the police needed to know she was coming in with important evidence. The glow of the phone contrasting against the dark highway sent a pang of loneliness through Dani’s chest. This road was very familiar, even this late at night, from the time she and Ryan were doing their commuter relationship. For three years, they would talk during their drives, him up to her in San Jose or her down to him in Manzana. It was an intimate thing to talk to someone at this hour. Only one other car shared the road behind her. The connection she’d had with Ryan had been enough to overcome this isolation.
It hadn’t been enough to overcome the distance between their lives when combined with the increased hours her position in the corporate law firm had demanded. Those problems seemed so insignificant now. She was racing closer to him, to her hometown, with a clear mission riding next to her. It would be so easy to call Ryan. But would the connection still be there after a year apart?
She brought up the contact information for the police station front desk. Before her thumb could hit the call button, headlights flashed way too close in the rearview mirror. The other car that had been on the road raced forward. Dani swerved just in time and the massive SUV behind her only clipped her rear bumper.
The impact yanked the phone from her hand. It bounced against the dashboard, the seat next to her, then disappeared in the footwell on the passenger side. No chance to lean over and search for it. The SUV was coming on again. Dani fought white-hot adrenaline threatening to lock up her arms and steered across both lanes of the highway to make herself a difficult target.
The SUV missed once. Tires screeched as it corrected and came at her again. This game couldn’t last long. Her sedan was no match for the other car. Either she’d wreck into pine trees lining the side of the road while trying to evade the attacker, or the SUV would smash her so hard she’d lose traction and flip into a deadly tumble down the asphalt.
The next impact nearly did that. The wind was knocked out of her as she was thrown into the side of her door. Gasping with fear and rage, she managed to right her car, barely avoiding a spinout. If she needed any proof that the evidence Mr. Sylvester had given her was legitimate, this was it. She clenched her jaw and stood as hard as she could on the gas. She had to live so Mr. Sylvester got justice and these bastards behind her never hurt anyone else.
Her car’s engine whined high, giving everything it had. The small lead she’d gained quickly disappeared as the SUV approached again. Her fists gripped the steering wheel. The next impact was coming any second. No way could she outrun them. She had to outsmart them.
This was her territory. If she had any chance of losing them, it would be on the fire roads in the hills a few miles outside town. She yanked the wheel to one side and hit the brakes. The SUV swept past in what would’ve been a deadly blow. Their brake lights blazed red. Before they could turn toward her, Dani stepped on the gas again and took her car off the highway, across a ditch and lurching through tall weeds at the entrance to an old dirt road.
Her headlights barely beat the darkness back as she sped into the hills. She was going way too fast for any sense of safety, and her heart pounded in her chest as the car bounced on deep ruts. At least she was still alive. For now.
The SUV turned onto the fire road behind her and charged forward.
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