Full Speed - Janet Evanovich

PROLOGUE

Jamie Swift paced the parking lot of Hank's Pump-n-Pay as she tried to decide her next move. She was mad enough to chew a barbed-wire fence, and her anger had a name to it: Max Holt.

Jamie needed help. She needed someone to talk to, and she needed a ride.

She spied the phone booth and hurried toward it. Who to call? It was after midnight. People with any kind of sense were usually home in bed at this hour. She had to calm down. She sucked in three deep breaths and was immediately hit with a wave of dizziness. She grasped the metal counter beneath the telephone. It would be her luck to hyperventilate right here in the parking lot, fall on her face, and be scarred for life. Yeesh.

Jamie spied the sticker on the pay telephone that read: desperate for help? call lend-a-hand hotline. She leaned closer and read the small print: We're Here for You Twenty-four Hours a Day.

Desperate , the advertisement read. That was her, all right. Desperate with a capital D. Plus, she was losing her mind. Or what was left of it after two weeks of dodging bullets from a drive-by shooting, almost getting blown to smithereens by

a car bomb, and falling into a river and into the path of a hungry alligator. Hell's bells, she was lucky to be alive.

Jamie plunked two quarters into the pay phone. Her hand trembled. The fact

it had started raining didn't even faze her. After what she'd been through, that

was small potatoes.

Big potatoes was being stranded in a Podunk town she'd never heard of in the middle of the night, with her best friend more than two hours away. Big potatoes was being ogled by a gas station attendant whose oil-stained T-shirt stretched tight across a belly that had obviously sucked down a record number of Budweisers. She glanced his way. Even from a distance he looked dumb as cow dung. Probably had a tattoo on his butt that read This Side Down just in case he forgot. He looked at her like he hadn't seen a woman since inside plumbing. Like the kind of man people wouldn't let near their barnyard animals.

She dialed the number.

"Lend-a-Hand Hotline, this is Tanisha."

"Oh, thank God," Jamie said, glad to hear another voice. "I'm, uh—" She glanced down at the ad once more. "I'm desperate."

"Could you hold, please?"

There was a click. Jamie blinked. And waited. She would not cry. She was made of tougher stuff than that. Tough as nails, that's what she was. She glanced toward the man inside the gas station, not more than fifty feet away. Yeah, he really did look kind of goofy. Like maybe there were a couple of orangutans hanging from his family tree. Like maybe his parents had been first cousins. Jamie stared right back at him. Finally, he looked away.

"Hello?" The woman named Tanisha was back.

"Yes. My name is Jamie, and I'm in trouble."

"Are you pregnant and scared and suffering feelings of isolation and helplessness? Afraid of telling your parents?"

Jamie blinked. "No."

"Are you depressed?"

"Well, I—"

"Are you having trouble sleeping at night or sleeping too much? Experiencing appetite changes, feelings of sadness or doom, unable to get up in the morning?" The woman paused, drew in breath, and went on in rapid-fire succession. "Have you lost interest in people, places, or things that used to bring you pleasure? Do you enjoy sex?"

"Sex?"

Huge sigh. "Girl, you got to work with me, 'cause I've got a possible jumper

on the other line and I'm the only one working the phones tonight."

"I've never done this sort of thing before," Jamie confessed.

"Me, neither.