Unbound

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From #1 New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods comes a sizzling new adventure featuring perennial fan favorite, Stone Barrington.

Stone Barrington has wiggled his way out of some tricky situations before, but his latest adversary might pose the biggest threat he's ever faced. This time, it will take every bit of his shrewd cunning to come out on top.

Praise

Praise for the Stone Barrington Novels:

"[An] irresistible, luxury-soaked soap opera."--Publishers Weekly

"Woods creates another action-packed thriller for his readers to devour, with plenty of interesting twists and turns that make for a nonstop, can't catch-your-breath read."--Booklist

"Mr. Woods knows how to portray the beautiful people, their manners and mores, their fluid and sparkling conversation, their easy expectations and all the glitter that surrounds and defines them. A master of dialogue, action and atmosphere, the Key West resident has added one more jewel of a thriller-mystery to his ever-growing collection."--Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Excerpt

1

Teddy Fay stared into the smog-filtered rising sun and set his speed control to seventy-five miles per hour. The road seemed for a moment to rise into the flaming ball, then, as he crested what passed for a hill, it fell back into its proper place. He reached into the center armrest, fumbled for his Ray-Bans and put them on. No need to drill a hole into his corneas.

Teddy, who for some time had been called Billy Barnett, had done all the right things. He had identified his wife's body in the morgue, though he had winced at her injuries. The instrument of her death had been a huge SUV, driven down Rodeo Drive at an incomprehensible speed by a woman who had, reportedly, just finished a three-cosmo lunch with some friends. His wife's only participation had been to go shopping and to cross with the light in her favor. She had been the definition of innocence, and her killer had been the definition of murderer. Apparently, as he'd been told by police, the woman was the wife of one of Hollywood's most famous producers, who specialized in the kind of mayhem inflicted by his spouse on that sunny, sunny L.A. day.

Teddy Fay had done the right thing. He had engaged an undertaker, sat through a well-attended memorial service, and scattered her ashes in the surf at Malibu Beach in front of their house, a place she had loved. He had asked Peter Barrington, for whom he worked, to be relieved of his duties on a film he was scheduled to produce, and had been told to take all the time he needed. She would be missed, he had been told, having been the heart and soul of the business side of the production company and a fixture at Centurion Studios.

Teddy had then packed a couple of bags, tossed them into the rear of his new Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which had, seemingly of its own accord, found its way onto I-40, pointed east, toward Oklahoma City. The car may have known the way, but Teddy had no idea where he was going.

An hour after sunrise, Teddy surprised himself by feeling hungry. He had not eaten for nearly two days. He got off the interstate and found a small-town diner-he didn't know which town-and ate a big breakfast. He gassed up and got back onto I-40. He passed exits to places with familiar names, but none of them had any life for him.

He spent the night in a motel and continued at dawn the next day. He was in the western outskirts of Albuquerque when he saw a sign for Santa Fe. The name resonated for Teddy; he had visited, even lived there when he had been on the run from most of the law and intelligence services in the United States. He took I-25 north. It might be a nicer place since he had been presidentially pardoned for his many sins-more than the President knew about, but all covered.

He was at five thousand feet of elevation at Albuquerque, the same as Denver, the Mile-High City, and as he drove north the landscape rose before him, until his GPS told him he was nearing seven thousand feet. He knew the name of a hotel there: the Inn of the Anasazi. He had always liked the name, and now he phoned ahead for accommodations. He noted several calls received on his iPhone, but the ringer had been off, and he didn't feel like returning them.

He lay staring at the beamed ceiling for a long time before he fell asleep.

Stone Barrington was at his desk in his home office in New York when Joan, his secretary, buzzed him. ÒYour son is on line one.Ó

They normally talked once a week, and it had only been three or four days since their last conversation, so Stone was immediately worried. He picked up the phone. "Peter?"

"Hello, Dad."

"You sound sad. Is anything wrong?"

"It's Billy Barnett," Peter said.

"Is he ill?"

"No, his wife was run down and killed by a drunk driver in Beverly Hills a few days ago, and now he's missing."

"I'm very sorry to hear that. I liked her. What do you mean, 'missing'?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound ominous. I just mean that he asked for some time off, and I haven't been able to reach him since. I went out to his house in Malibu this morning. His car was gone, and the place was locked up."

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," Stone said. "Billy was a loner before he married, so maybe he just wants to be alone again for a while."

"But Billy has become more gregarious over the past few years, in his quiet way, of course. I wouldn't have expected him to just walk away from everyone he knows here."

"Peter, people don't always do what you expect them to, even when you think you know them well. Give him a while, then try calling him again, or just send him a text saying that you're thinking about him and you hope to hear from him soon."

"You're right, that's what I should do."

"When you hear from him tell him he's in my thoughts, and if he finds his way to New York he's welcome at my house."

"I'll do that, Dad." They said goodbye and hung up.

Teddy awoke late and had breakfast. As noon approached he thought heÕd take a stroll around the Plaza, which was a few steps from the inn. He passed through the large group of Indian craftspeople selling their silver jewelry under the portico of the old GovernorÕs Mansion and immediately thought of buying something for his wife but brought himself up short. He forced himself to walk on.

He was approaching some sort of commercial building when a familiar figure suddenly appeared a few yards ahead, leaving its front door. The figure was unmistakable, since he was something like six feet, eight inches tall and, further, wore a large Western hat that added another half a foot to his height. Teddy walked a little faster to catch up.

Then he saw a second man, and there was something furtive in his posture and movement. He had fallen into step behind the tall man, and there was something in his right hand, bumping against his leg.

"Ed!" Teddy shouted. Then louder, as he began to run. "Ed Eagle!"

Eagle turned and looked over his left shoulder but didn't stop, missing sight of the man, who was behind and to his right.

Teddy lunged at the man, striking him in the lower back with his forearm and knocking him to the ground. Teddy was climbing the man's back, reaching for the wrist of the hand that held the long blade, when Eagle turned around and, seeing what had happened, stomped on the wrist and kicked the knife away.

"Billy?" Eagle said. "Jesus Christ, what's going on?"

Teddy had the man's left arm behind his back, his wrist shoved up between his shoulder blades.

"I think you'd better ask this guy," he said to Eagle, "but maybe you'd better call a cop first."

2

Teddy sat at the dining table in Ed Eagle's home, with Ed and his wife, the actress and writer Susannah Wilde, as well. The business on the sidewalk outside Eagle's offices had been handled with dispatch by the Santa Fe police, and both Ed and Teddy had given statements.

"I'm sorry to hear about your wife's death," Eagle said.

"Thank you, Ed," Teddy replied, "I was sorry to hear about it myself."

"Of course. What brings you to Santa Fe?"

"Four wheels and a wandering nature," Teddy replied. "For some reason I suddenly craved the open road."

"I'm glad it brought you our way," Ed said. "Otherwise, I might be on a slab down at the morgue."

"I didn't get a chance to ask you," Teddy said, "who was the guy, and what was his beef?"

"His name is Sanchez, and his beef was that I talked his brother into taking a plea bargain of thirty years, instead of what would almost certainly have been the death penalty. Now his brother will be out in fifteen years or so, and the other Mr. Sanchez, the one with the sword, will likely be serving life, since he opposes plea bargains."

"It was a sword?"

"A Roman sword, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Last year Mr. Sanchez was an extra in a sword and sandal opus being shot somewhere out in the hills, and the company went back to L.A. one sword short. Except for you, they would have located it between my shoulder blades."

"I'm glad I was there," Teddy said.

"I'm glad you were, too," Susannah offered. "Mind you, I've occasionally been tempted to do much the same thing to Ed with a steak knife, but I must have a bit more personal restraint than Mr. Sanchez."

Everybody laughed.

"If I'd known you were here," Ed said, "you'd be occupying our guesthouse instead of the inn. It's not too late to make the move. We'd be delighted to have you."

"Thank you, Ed, but I think I'll move on in a day or two, so I won't trouble you."

"Do you have a destination in mind?" Ed said.

"Not yet."

"Do you intend to pursue justice with Mrs. Dax Baxter?"

"She's Dax Baxter's wife? I didn't know. In any case, I'll let the law have its way with her."

"I've made a couple of calls to L.A., and I'm afraid the law appears to have lost interest in Mrs. Baxter," Ed said. "She was unconscious when the police arrived at the scene and she was taken to a hospital. Before she could be admitted or even regained consciousness, she had been moved to a private clinic, where she had previously been treated for drug and alcohol abuse, and by the time the police got access, her bloodstream was clear of any substance. Mr. Baxter has hired a very competent attorney, one Rex Winston, to represent her, and I'm afraid that by the time the district attorney has completed his investigation, Mrs. Baxter will have been found to have had a small stroke while driving and was already unconscious at the time of the accident."

"So she will just walk away from killing another human being?" Teddy asked incredulously.

"That seems very likely," Ed said. "Dax Baxter is well acquainted with the wheels upon which his city rolls and knows how and which ones to lubricate."

"Then perhaps I should consider a civil suit?"

"Perhaps, but you should know that Mrs. Baxter, in her previous incarnation as Willa Mather, was a well-regarded actress, until her husband decided, given her history of substance abuse, that she should confine her career to red-carpet appearances in his company. She would probably regard taking the stand in her own defense as an opportunity for a comeback, and she would be a formidable witness."

Teddy nodded. "I remember her work, and I tend to agree with your opinion of her."

"I'm sorry I can't be more encouraging, Billy."

Susannah spoke up. "Or," she said, "you could just shoot them both in the head."

Ed smiled. "I'm afraid my wife, though she is a brilliant actress, a fine screenwriter, and an ace producer and director, would make a poor attorney. She lacks the patience."

"Tell me, Ed," Susannah said sweetly, "how would patience improve Billy's situation?"

Ed shrugged. "Improvement can be hard to come by, but patience is time, and time, though it may not heal all wounds, heals some of them and usually ameliorates the rest."

"My husband is so wise," Susannah said with a smile.

"I appreciate both your points of view," Teddy said, "though perhaps not equally."

The following morning Ed Eagle made a phone call east, where it was two hours later.

"Stone Barrington."

"Hello, Stone, it's Ed Eagle."

"Ed! How are you?"

"I'm very well, thanks to a friend of yours."

"Who and why?"

"Billy Barnett, as he is now known, and he saved me from having a long piece of sharp steel driven into my back." Ed filled in the details.

"You are a very fortunate man to have that man come along at just the right moment."

"I am very aware of that," Ed said, "but I'm worried about Billy."

"I heard from Peter what happened to his wife."

"Perhaps you haven't heard what's happened since?"

"Please tell me."

Ed brought him up to date.

"Well," Stone said, "I tend to think that Billy would be more inclined to take Susannah's advice over yours."

"That had crossed my mind. Stone, it's been a while since you've visited me in Santa Fe. I think the news that you were coming might cause Billy to stay on for a bit, and perhaps together we might slow him down, or perhaps even keep him out of prison."

"Have I ever told you how Billy saved the lives of my son, Peter, and Dino's son, Ben?"

"No."

"Then I'll tell you over dinner tonight," Stone said. "Sit on Billy until I get there."

"Call me an hour out, and I'll meet you at the airport."

"See you then." Both men hung up.

Stone buzzed Joan.

"Yes, boss?"

"Please call Jet Aviation at Teterboro and ask them to have my airplane on the ramp in an hour, fueled to the gills, and cancel anything I might have on the books for the next week. And ask Fred to have the car out in fifteen minutes."

"May I ask where you're going?"

"To Santa Fe. A little vacation."

"Consider it done."

Stone hung up and went upstairs to pack.

3

As Stone touched down at Santa Fe Airport and rolled out, he saw an unfamiliar SUV parked on the ramp. He taxied in and was directed to a parking spot near the car, where Ed Eagle was leaning against it.

Stone shut down, waited for chocks, then went down the boarding ladder and closed and locked the cabin door behind him.

Ed took Stone's hand in his more massive one. "I'm glad to see you," he said.

"What's this?" Stone asked, indicating the car.

"It's the new Bentley Bentayga," Ed replied. "First one in Santa Fe."

"What does Bentayga mean?"

"I've no idea. I'm not sure that Bentley does."

A lineman put Stone's luggage into the trunk, and both men got into the car.

"Very nice," Stone said, fondling the quilted leather upholstery.

"Lots of legroom," Ed replied. "A personal requirement." He started the car and was let out of the gate.

"How's Billy?"

"Placid, on the surface. Boiling underneath and deeply, deeply depressed."

"That's a dangerous combination with someone like Billy," Stone observed. "What can we do about it?"

"I don't know-a woman?"

"I think, at this stage, that would be both inappropriate and unadvisable."

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