The phone awoke Evan Casher, and he knew something was wrong. No one
who knew him ever called this early. He opened his eyes. He reached
across the bed for Carrie but she was gone, and her side of the bed
was cool. A note, folded, on the pillow. He reached for it but the
phone continued its insistent shrill, so he answered.
"Hello," he said.
His mother said: "Evan. I need you to come home. Right now." She spoke in a low whisper.
He fumbled for the bedside lamp. "What's the matter?"
"Not over the phone. I'll explain when you get here."
"Mom, it's a two-and-half hour drive. Just tell me what's wrong."
"Evan. Please. Just come home."
"Is Dad all right?" His father, a computer consultant, had left Austin three days ago for a job in Australia. He made databases dance and sing for big companies and governments. Australia. Long flights. He had a sudden vision of a plane, scattered across the outback or Sydney Harbor, ripped metal, smoke rising. "What's happened?"
"I just need you here, okay?" Calm but insistent.
"Mom, please. Not until you tell me what's going on."
"I said not on the phone." She fell silent, he said nothing, and the uncomfortable tension of an unexpected standoff rose for ten long seconds until she broke it. "Did you have a lot of work to do today, sweetheart?"
"Just edits on Bluff."
"Then bring your computer with you, you can work here. But I need you here. Now."
"What's the big deal about not telling me?"
"Evan." He heard his mother take a steadying breath. "Please."
The naked, almost frightening needinessa tone he had never heard in his mother's voicemade her sound like a stranger to him. "Um, okay, Mom, I can leave in an hour or so."
"Sooner. As soon as possible."
"All right then, in like fifteen minutes or so."
"Hurry, Evan. Just pack and come as fast as you can."
"Okay." He fought down a rising panic.
"Thank you for not asking questions right now," she said. "I love you and I'll see you soon, and I'll explain everything."
"I love you, too."
He put the phone back in the cradle, a little disoriented with the shock of how the day started. Now wasn't the time to tell his mother that he was in love. Seriously, crazy, in Romeo-and-Juliet love.
He opened the note. It simply said, Thanks for a great evening. I'll call you later. Had early morning errands. C.
He got in the shower and wondered if he'd blown it last night. I love you, he'd told Carrie, when they lay spent in the sheets. The words rose to his mouth without thought or effort, because if he'd weighed the consequences, he would have kept his mouth shut. He never said the L-word first. Before, he had told only one woman he loved her, and that had been his last girlfriend, hungry for his reassurance, and he'd said it because he thought it might be true. But last night was different. No might or maybe; he knew with certainty. Carrie lying next to him, her breath tickling his throat, her fingernail tracing a line along his eyebrow and she looked so beautiful and he said the big three words and they felt as true in his heart as anything he had ever known.
Reprinted from Panic by Jeff Abbott by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA). Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Abbott. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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