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CHAPTER ONE

The air was stale, rank with the stink of smoke, sweat, and old beer. Bob’s Truck Stop. Nice place for a meal.

Raina Bowen sat at a small table, back to the wall, posture deceptively relaxed. Inside, she was coiled tighter than the Merckle shocks that were installed in her rig, but it was better to appear unruffled. Never let ‘em see you sweat. That had been one of Sam’s many mottos.

She glanced around the crowded room, mentally cataloguing the Siberian gun truckers at the counter, the cadaverous pimp in the corner and his ferret-faced companion, the harried waitress who deftly dodged the questing hand that reached out to snag her as she passed. In the center of the room was a small raised platform with a metal pole extending to the grime-darkened ceiling. A scantily clad girl—barely out of puberty—wiggled and twirled around the pole. Raina looked away. But for a single desperate act, one that had earned her freedom, she might have been that girl.

Idly spinning the same half-empty glass of warm beer that she’d been nursing for the past hour, she looked through the grimy windows at the front of the truck stop. Frozen, colorless, the bleak expanse stretched with endless monotony until the high-powered floodlights tapered off and the landscape was swallowed by the black night sky.

A balmy minus-thirty outside. And it would only get colder the farther north they went. Raina had a keen dislike of the cold, but if she were the first to reach Gladow Station with her load of genetically engineered grain, there’d be a fat bonus of fifty-million interdollars. That’d be more than enough to warm her to the cockles of her frozen heart.

More than enough to buy Beth’s safety.

Keeping her gaze on the door, Raina willed it to open. She couldn’t wait much longer. Where the hell was Wizard? Sitting here—a woman alone in a place like this—drew too much attention. She wanted no one to remember her face. Anonymity was a precious commodity, one she realized had slipped through her fingers as from the corner of her eye she watched one of the Siberians begin to weave drunkenly across the room.

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