A Shot of Red ONLY
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After fleeing DC following a one-night stand that had her reeling, biotech company heiress Mia Moncure has thrived working with a humanitarian aid team administering vaccines in Haiti. When the United States is threatened with a flu epidemic, Mia’s grandmother demands her return to unveil a new flu vaccine for Moncure Therapeutics. She arrives to find that her ex-boyfriend, the company’s PR Director, has died in a suspicious accident in Switzerland that Mia soon suspects was murder.

Determined to reveal a killer, Mia heads to Switzerland, where she’s threatened as she discovers a plan to infiltrate the vaccine for nefarious purposes. Desperate for backup, she turns to sexy Gio Lorenzo, Communications Director for her mother, a high-ranking senator—and Mia’s one-night stand. While negotiating their rocky relationship, they race to uncover a deadly scheme that could ruin her family’s reputation. But millions of people are being vaccinated, and there’s more than her family’s legacy at stake. Mia and Gio struggle to discover the truth about the scheme and their feelings for each other, but it just might be too late.

 

Information:

Title: A Shot of Red
Author: Tracy March
Genre: Romantic Thriller
Length: 312 pages
Release Date: April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62266-126-8
Imprint: Select
 
 
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
 

 

Praise for A Shot of Red:

“A twisty, page-turning thriller that has it all: suspense, duplicity, romance, and a compelling heroine you’ll root for. Exhilarating!” – Allison Brennan, New York Times Bestselling author, on Girl Three

 
 
 

An Excerpt from:

A Shot of Red
by Tracy March

Copyright © 2014 by Tracy March. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Chapter One

Tabarre, Haiti

 

Mia Moncure squinted against the piercing Haitian sun, unable to see an end to the line of anxious people waiting in front of the makeshift clinic. It only took simple math to figure that there weren’t enough flu shots in the humanitarian aid team’s coolers to vaccinate everyone waiting. Hopefully there was more on the way from Moncure Therapeutics, the biotech company her grandfather had founded years ago and built into a powerhouse in the industry. But the vaccine never seemed to arrive fast enough or in large enough quantities to ease her constant worry about protecting people before… before it was too late. She took a deep breath of the stiflingly humid air and blew it out slowly as the sun inched closer to the bleak horizon. Even if more vaccines were on the way, they wouldn’t arrive today.

And that could mean trouble…

She turned, stepped beneath the tent, and veered off track a little as her eyes adjusted to the shade. Her knee caught something solid, yet frail. She stopped short and glanced down to see a tiny Haitian girl she’d knocked off- balance. Grasping for the child’s bony arm, Mia hoped to save her from scraped hands and knees, and from dropping her tattered baby doll in the dirt.

At the last second, Mia managed to grab a fistful of the girl’s once-bright lime-green sundress that looked dull next to her creamy brown skin. The fabric strained but didn’t tear, and the child stayed on her feet.

“I’m sorry, ti pitit.” Mia spoke in a soothing, remedial version of the Creole patois she’d picked up without instruction. She glanced around quickly, looking for the girl’s parents, apology in her eyes. The Haitians had already survived a devastating earthquake and a deadly cholera outbreak. Tempers were frayed now that they faced a flu outbreak that could turn epidemic, with a limited supply of vaccine. The slightest misstep might cause an incident— the politically correct term the aid team used for all sorts of trouble. There had already been some tense moments, yet Mia liked to think that she, the aid team, and Moncure Therapeutics had done more good than harm here.

She searched the snaking line of people, but no one looked her way. No one paid any attention to the little girl. Mia knelt and gently placed her hands on the child’s shoulders, her bones as delicate as a bird’s. Unshaken, the girl gazed at Mia, her large eyes an unexpected pale green, her lips pursed in a bow. She clutched the plastic baby doll to her chest. Mia’s heart hitched.

“Where’s your mommy?”

A fleeting look of question passed behind the toddler’s eyes, but her solemn expression didn’t waver.

“We’ll find her,” Mia said. I hope. On the ravaged island, there’d been numerous cases where desperate mothers abandoned their children, or simply died.

“What’s your name?” Mia waited expectantly.

No response.

A delicate barrette dangled from the end of one of the girl’s pigtails, attached to just a few strands of hair. Mia unclasped the barrette—enamel white daisies soldered on a metal backing—then clipped it more securely. “There you go.” Mia smiled.

The little girl tipped her head and studied Mia, her brow furrowed. Slowly, she held out her doll and offered it up.

The armor Mia had constructed against emotional swells melted away in an instant. “She’s beautiful—like you.” Mia tucked the doll into the crook of the child’s arm. “Love her.”

Mia felt a surge of compassion that dwarfed countless others she’d experienced in her long but rewarding months in Haiti. She pulled the girl into her arms and held her tightly, trying not to imagine what might become of her.

“Pearl!” a woman bellowed.

The little girl flinched.

Mia turned to see a heavyset woman wearing a navy

skirt and a short-sleeved white blouse trudging toward them from beyond the tent. Mia took the girl’s hand, then stood.

“Pearl.” The woman stepped beneath the tent. “Ou pa ka kouri ale tankou sa. Vini non isit la.”

You can’t run off like that. Come here.

With little effort, the woman lifted Pearl and set her on her well-rounded hip. She quickly inspected the girl, then narrowed her gaze at Mia. “You already give her a shot?” the woman asked in her native tongue.

Mia interpreted the question and shook her head. “I just found her here,” she said in her best Haitian Creole. “Are you her mother?”

The woman gave her a rueful look. “One of them. We got about fifty kids under three years old in our orphanage right now. They want to give us more, but we can’t take care of the ones we got. We’re in line back there—twenty of us.” She pointed to a group of small children and several busy women about thirty yards away.

Dwarfed by her caregiver, Pearl stared at her doll with wide eyes. A miniature yellow flip-flop dangled from Pearl’s tiny foot.

Mia swallowed hard. The child had no mother, and her guardians were responsible for fifty children. No wonder she’d been willing to give up her doll in exchange for a little attention. Mia secured the flip-flop between Pearl’s toes. “What orphanage?”

“Maison des Anges.”

“Didn’t someone arrange for a team to come there and vaccinate you and the children?” Mia knew she’d butchered the question, yet she hoped the woman had understood.

The woman lifted her broad shoulders.

Mia made a mental note to check the schedule to make sure the orphanage was included in their coverage— sometime soon, if not today. But judging by the number of people waiting now, tomorrow would be the earliest they could make it there. She’d have to reserve the needed vaccine—if there was any left after they treated everyone in line, and it was doubtful they even had enough for that.

Their stock had dwindled as they made their way farther from Port-au-Prince. If they ran out today, the children and caregivers who remained at the orphanage would have to wait until more vaccine arrived.

If more arrives…

“Bring the children in here,” Mia said to the woman. “Skip the line and come to this table.” She gestured toward a rickety folding table nearby.

The woman nodded and turned to go, but Pearl’s gaze stayed locked on Mia.

“Wait,” Mia said.

The woman stopped and looked over her shoulder. Mia reached out and took Pearl’s hand again. “How old is she?”

“Almost two.” The woman started walking away, and

Pearl’s hand slipped from Mia’s. “I think.”

With a weak smile of encouragement, Mia held Pearl’s

stare until she and the woman rejoined the group from the orphanage. Then she rushed to check on the dwindling vaccine supply, hurrying behind the table and through the obstacle course of aid team supplies—portable cots, boxes, and coolers.

Three of the four large coolers that had held syringes of vaccine stood open and empty. Mia’s pulse pounded as she approached the last cooler, afraid of what she’d find. There had to be enough vaccine to inoculate the orphans and their caregivers.

Especially Pearl.

“Please be there.” She lifted the cooler’s lid, and her stomach knotted. The supply was critically low. Two, four, six…she rushed through a count of twenty-three, shut

the cooler, and rolled it toward the table. On her way, she signaled and whispered to her team, “We’re out.” Several of them exchanged wary glances, having experienced the unrest that had occurred when people were told they’d have to wait until more vaccine arrived.

Within moments, the aid team’s head of logistics briefed the Haitian government liaison assigned to their operation. Tall and rangy, dressed in a red polo shirt, the man narrowed his eyes, his dark features stretching into a grimace.

Ditto. Mia’s heart raced. Nothing good could come from a situation like this.

The liaison shared the news with the brawny officer in charge of the U.S. Marines who accompanied the aid team— in full camouflaged fatigues and loaded with gear in the searing heat.

Mia followed the unspoken message as it passed from soldier to soldier, their postures shifting from alert observation to readiness. The knot in her stomach twisted tighter.

The group from the orphanage moved closer to the tent with little sense of urgency—several children in the arms of their chaperones, the rest hand in hand. Pearl remained on her caregiver’s hip. Mia motioned for them to hurry, though only she knew why. Surely those left in line wouldn’t begrudge the orphans getting the last of the vaccine.

Mia approached the Marine closest to her, a very tall, broad guy who faced the crowd with his back to her. She tapped him on his arm, which was like steel beneath her touch. He turned and her heart jackknifed. For a split second, in the glare of the sun, he reminded her of Gio Lorenzo, the man she’d spent months in Haiti trying to forget. She blinked

several times. Of course the Marine wasn’t Gio, but her adrenaline had kicked in, making her hyperaware of their similarities—the shape of strong shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist, the sturdy jawline, the olive skin highlighting heavily lashed, rich brown eyes, the perfect lips…

Mia’s breath hitched. The young Marine’s good looks only hinted at Gio’s, who was probably ten years older and wore them with a manlier edge, but the resemblance had brought Gio front and center in Mia’s imagination. Tingling warmth surged in her body as her mind replayed sultry scenes from the night they’d spent together months ago. Heat rose in her face, as if the Marine could sense the abandon Gio had aroused in her—intensity as she’d never experienced, but regretted ever since. She knew all about the hurt and confusion that kind of passion could cause.

Her one-night stand with Gio had happened just a week after she’d ended her safe and predictable relationship with her boyfriend and former co-worker, Brent English. He’d startled her with an unexpected proposal, and Mia had turned him down. Her feelings for him hadn’t been deep enough to commit to marriage, and his proposal made her realize they probably never would be.As much as she’d loved Brent, something had been missing in their relationship. She hadn’t been able to explain that to him, or really understand it herself. But her night with Gio had made it clear. Nothing she’d experienced with Brent compared to the fire she felt with Gio. And she knew what a scorched path a fire like that could leave. Frightened and confused, she’d quickly rearranged her life and left for Haiti.

Hindsight told her that hadn’t been the most mature strategy, but her impulse to run had won out at the time. She owed Brent an honest explanation—maybe Gio, too, since she’d ignored his calls and texts. Most nights she lay awake in bed, planning what she’d say to each of them face-to-face when she returned to DC in a couple of months. Surely she’d be thinking about it again tonight. Until then, she’d stay focused on helping the Haitians.

Mia set her gaze on the Marine, struggling to shove aside her thoughts of Gio. “Let this group through, please.” She tipped her head toward the orphans approaching the tent.

With a brave expression and worried eyes, he gave her a quick nod. The corners of his mouth turned up in a half smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

At twenty-nine, she didn’t consider herself old enough to be called “ma’am,” but she appreciated his manners just the same. “Thank you for helping.” Mia shot a weary glance at the M16 dangling from a strap on his shoulder. “And for keeping us safe.” She hoped this time, unlike several before, the Marines wouldn’t be forced to brandish their weapons. She mirrored his half smile. “Good luck.”

A flicker in his dark eyes. Another efficient nod. “Yes, ma’am.”

As soon as the group from the orphanage gathered beneath the tent, the soldiers moved, as if choreographed, and formed a barrier between the aid team and those remaining in line. The government liaison announced that no more vaccine would be administered today, and the people would be notified when more was available.

Amid shuffling and shouting but behind the buffer of Marines, Mia and her team vaccinated the women and children from the orphanage. Needles plunged into arms, and cries pierced the sweltering air. Mia wiped sweat from her forehead.

Children’s cries mixed with the terse yelling of orders, angry retorts, and the rhythmic thud of boots on the ground. Mia dared not look beyond the shield of Marines. She took wide-eyed Pearl from her caregiver and sat in a folding chair with the child on her lap. Pearl’s bottom lip quivered.

Mia swabbed Pearl’s upper arm with alcohol, reached for a syringe, then hesitated. What is wrong with me? She’d vaccinated countless people—all for their own good—but she couldn’t bring herself to stick this child with a needle. “I need someone to give her a shot,” she called out.

Pearl flinched, and Mia hugged her closer.

Two of her teammates exchanged bewildered glances. One, a fifty-something woman who was den mother of the team and a registered nurse, took the syringe from Mia and went to work.

Mia turned Pearl’s head so she wouldn’t see the needle. She braced herself for a shriek from the little girl, but all that came was a whimper. And huge, glistening tears that trickled down her dusty face.

Mia rocked her and wiped away her tears. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

Gunshots crackled in the distance. Mia opened her eyes to see the Marine who reminded her of Gio standing in front of her with several others, knee-deep in Haitian children.

“We’ll escort them back to the orphanage.” He reached for Pearl, but Mia couldn’t let her go.

She balanced Pearl in her lap and cupped her face in her hands. “You’re going to be okay, sweetie.” One of the straps of Pearl’s sundress had fallen from her bony shoulder and Mia smoothed it back in place. “I promise.”

Mia stood, holding Pearl. Before she could hand her to the Marine, Pearl began combing her fingers through Mia’s ponytail, her gaze curious.

“Jòn,” Pearl said in a small voice that was barely a whisper.

Yellow.

Mia’s heart tumbled.

“Jòn?” Mia waited and was rewarded by a single nod. She pointed to Pearl’s dress and gave her an expectant look.

“Vèt,” Pearl said.

Green.

Mia beamed. “Good job.”

The Marine cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we need to head to the orphanage.”

Mia nodded, although she wasn’t anywhere near ready to let Pearl go. “There’s one more thing we need to do.” With Pearl on her hip, she dashed over to her duffel bag, pulled out her camera, and returned to the Marine. “Could you take our picture?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He took the camera from Mia, snapped several shots, and handed the camera back to her.

Mia hugged Pearl tightly. “Go with the nice man,” she said and passed her and her doll to the Marine.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

She gave him a wan smile. “You guys are the heroes.” He nodded politely and turned to go. Pearl gazed over his shoulder, just as she had done when her caregiver had walked away with her earlier. After a beat, she waved good- bye. Mia waved back just as the den mother of the team tapped her on the shoulder.

“There’s a phone call for you.” She handed Mia the team’s satellite phone. “It’s your grandmother.”

Mia’s heart jumped up into her throat. They rarely received phone calls, and then only in emergencies. She held the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“It’s nice to hear your voice,” Lila Moncure said sincerely.

“Yours, too. Are you all right?” Mia couldn’t help but

sound kind of frantic. Her grandmother was her rock. The thought of anything bad happening to her tipped Mia’s world off axis.

“I’m fine, sweetie.”

“Thank goodness.” Mia tried to walk off the shakes caused by her alarm. “Please tell me you’re sending more vaccine. We ran out again today. Had to turn people away. And there wasn’t enough for all the children at the orphanage.”

“That’s why I called,” her grandmother said. “I’m sorry to have to deliver the news, but there’ll be a delay getting more vaccine to your team.”

Mia’s heart sank.

“We’ve depleted the supply of vaccine you’ve been using,” her grandmother said,“and its efficacy is questionable anyway in light of the new active strain information we got from the CDC. All production was switched to the tiered vaccine with the new formulation. We’ve gotten it ready much sooner than we anticipated and, initially, we’ll be distributing it in the U.S. only.”

“Why?”

“There’ve already been fatal flu cases in several states, so the threat of outbreak here is dire. Shipments to Haiti will have to wait until we can fulfill domestic orders.”

Mia hated it when her grandmother used her CEO voice, and she hated what she was hearing. She’d known that the Haitian people weren’t getting the latest-generation vaccine, but the flu virus was fickle, the CDC wasn’t always right, and the shots might end up protecting people. The vaccine they’d been administering was certainly better than nothing, which was what the Haitians would get now.

“The good news,” her grandmother said, “is that we’re launching the new vaccine early. We need you here. I’ve arranged for you to come home tomorrow.”

Mia’s stomach clenched. “Tomorrow? I’m supposed to be here two more months.”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no more vaccine for Haiti, and there won’t be for a while. Come home tomorrow. We need you here.”

Mia had rarely questioned her grandmother’s judgment, but given seven hours traveling from Port-au-Prince to Northern Virginia, she began to second-guess herself. She’d often become discouraged during her eight months in Haiti, wondering if she and the aid team were making a difference. Day to day, it had been difficult to see progress. But over time, she’d realized that each seemingly insignificant accomplishment had contributed to noticeable improvements in the Haitians’ health and welfare. She’d been inspired by their desire to rebuild their communities, educate their children, and help their neighbors, despite all the devastation and disease.

Mia made her way toward Immigration at Dulles airport, worrying about Pearl and the children at the orphanage. Would the rest of them get the vaccinations they needed? Mia vowed to make certain they did.

Standing in the immigration line gave her plenty of time to stress over what awaited her once she was officially back in the United States. No doubt her grandmother wanted her immersed in the drama at Moncure Therapeutics, but returning to the corporate world appealed to Mia less and less as she’d spent more time in Haiti.

She dreaded reentering the daily competition with her twin brother, Matthew, over which of them would run the company someday. Mia was preparing herself for the job, still deciding if she was suited for it, but she’d never let Matthew know she had doubts. It wouldn’t matter for a while yet, anyway. At seventy-two, their grandmother still impressed and intimidated as Moncure Therapeutics’ president and chairman of the board.

The immigration line moved steadily, Mia’s anxiety ratcheting up as she neared the front. Was she ready to face Brent and work with him again? They’d built mutual respect and friendship during their yearlong relationship. But then she’d turned him down, quickly killing the comfortable vibe they’d enjoyed in and out of the office. Things would be easier for her now if he worked in another department, but he’d taken over her role as head of public relations at Moncure Therapeutics when she’d fled to Haiti.

Fled?

Mia’s thoughts tripped on the word. She’d used a lot of euphemisms to describe her abrupt decision to go to Haiti months ago, yet she had indeed fled. Leaving had been preferable to working with Brent daily, and dealing with her overwhelming feelings for Gio.

She’d decided that the best way to move beyond her confusion and intense attraction was to go to a devastated country where there were much more important issues than her emotions, and other people to take care of and worry about. Not having constant contact with Brent and her family had been an added perk, but now she realized she’d only postponed the inevitable. Even so, she’d gotten used to life without gadgets that demanded her attention. After the peace of living without a smartphone and rarely seeing a computer, she wasn’t looking forward to being expected to answer calls and texts and e-mails, almost around the clock.

Mia handed her passport to the immigration officer, her gut telling her that she wasn’t ready to come back to the States—but her grandmother felt differently.

The officer glanced at Mia’s passport, stamped it with a thud, and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” she said halfheartedly, and walked back into the life she’d eagerly left behind.

At baggage claim, she waited by the carousel until it rumbled to life. Luggage clunked down the chute and landed with a thunk against the metal wall of the carousel. It made a couple of rounds before Mia’s luggage appeared. She lifted her bags from the belt, stacked her duffel on top of her suitcase, and headed toward Customs, even though she had nothing to declare. Toting her luggage behind her, she was amazed at what little she’d needed to live comfortably in Haiti. She wished she could live just as lean in the States, but figured that would be nearly impossible.

After making it through Customs, she tugged her bags through the bustling airport. A group of hired drivers stood near the exit for ground transportation, holding signs with names of people they’d come to pick up. She scanned the signs, saw her name, and glanced up to see Claude Deschamps’s familiar face. He stood taller than the other drivers, impeccably groomed in a dark suit, his silver hair meticulously cut and combed with a side part. Her grandmother had said she’d send a driver, but Mia hadn’t expected to see Claude.

Mia’s grandfather George had hired Claude years ago, soon after he founded Moncure Therapeutics. Until Grandpa George had died eleven years ago, Claude was his valet, chauffer, and business adviser, although he never accepted positions he was offered in the company. Since then, Claude had been working for Mia’s grandmother. Not only was he her driver, he was also her companion and confidant, and a de facto member of the Moncure family—most of whom suspected that a romance had developed between them, yet no one knew for sure.

Claude stepped toward Mia, his eyes twinkling. “Welcome home.”

Mia smiled, her tension easing a little. “Thanks, Claude. It’s good to see you.” She hugged him tightly, thinking he felt thinner than he had when she’d hugged him before she left. “I’m surprised you’re here. Grandmother let you out of her sight?”

He grinned, lines creasing deeply into his face. “Not for long. Her Highness is waiting in the car. She had some urgent calls to make.” He still had a trace of his French accent, which had become more and more Americanized over the years. He grasped the handle of Mia’s luggage and toted the bags, leading her from the busy terminal out into

the chilly, overcast early-November afternoon.

Seeing Claude made Mia realize how much she’d missed him and her grandmother. Even so, she could’ve used more time in Haiti to slowly adjust to the idea of coming home.The

quick good-byes and whirlwind trip had left her unsettled. After a short walk to a premium parking area, Claude stopped at the rear of her grandmother’s shiny white Mercedes S600, left Mia’s bags there, and opened the back door for her. She clasped his hand tightly, then slipped into the supple leather backseat next to her grandmother, who

tugged Mia into her arms and didn’t let go.

Tears came to Mia’s eyes as she clutched her grandmother and inhaled the familiar spicy scent of her signature perfume. “I missed you, Lila.”

As toddlers learning to talk, Mia and Matthew had heard everyone calling their grandmother Lila. Instead of calling her Nana or Gran, they’d called her Laa-Laa. When they became teenagers, the name evolved into Lila, and they’d affectionately called her that ever since.

Lila pulled away and held Mia at arm’s length. “I missed you, too, sweetheart. And I’m glad you’re back. Like I said yesterday, we need you here.”

Mia braced herself, knowing she was about to find out exactly what Lila meant by that. People needed her in Haiti, too—and there was Pearl. She hoped Lila would let her go back as soon as Moncure Therapeutics’ vaccine was launched, but now wasn’t the time to ask.

“You look even better than you did when I left.” Mia combed her fingers through Lila’s chin-length white hair. Lila wore it dramatically swept up in the front and away from her still-beautiful, angular face. “You’ve let your hair grow. And changed your eye makeup.” The expertly applied shadow and mascara highlighted Lila’s ice-blue eyes, mirror images of Mia’s.

“Stop fussing over me,” Lila chided, although she seemed pleased with the attention.

Claude got in the driver’s seat and quietly pulled the car into traffic.

“Are we going home now,” Mia asked, “to your place?” She’d moved out of her apartment in DC before she’d gone to Haiti, so she hoped to stay temporarily in Lila’s guesthouse.

Lila gazed at her with gentleness in her eyes. “Would you rather stay with your mother?”

Mia’s chest tightened and she shook her head. Eight months away from Senator Catherine Moncure hadn’t been nearly long enough.

After a moment, Lila glanced at her watch. “Claude, let’s swing by the house so Mia can freshen up before her appointment.”

Claude nodded.

“My appointment?” The last thing Mia wanted was an appointment with anyone.

“At the salon,” Lila said. “The press conference is during prime time tonight. You’ll want to look your best. I knew your hair would need a trim, and probably some lowlights after all that harsh Haitian sun.”

Mia remembered Pearl combing her little fingers through her hair and calling it yellow. So many things were more important to Mia than what her hair looked like. She’d worn it in a sloppy ponytail every day since she’d left for Haiti.

“My hair is fine. I promise it’ll look better after I shower.”

“No arguing,” Lila said. “Do it while you have the time. You’ll be too busy during the next month to even think about your hair.”

Mia didn’t like the sound of that. Maybe now was the time to talk about going back to Haiti. “I was thinking—”

“This is already programmed for you.” Lila handed her a smartphone. “You won’t have to speak at the press conference tonight, so you’ll be briefed in the morning on the PR plans for the vaccine launch, and your appearance schedule.”

Mia’s temper flared. “My appearance schedule?” She respected Lila, but she also wanted a say in the direction her life took right now.

Lila leveled her all-business gaze on Mia. “This tiered- dose flu vaccine is the most important biologic Moncure Therapeutics has ever launched. We may be preventing a pandemic. It’s imperative that our PR campaign is properly implemented, and that it effectively reaches people.”

Mia stared out the window at the passing cityscape. Lila hadn’t argued with her decision to go to Haiti, so maybe she owed her grandmother, and the company. But there was an entire department at Moncure Therapeutics that was no doubt prepared to execute the PR plan, and Mia wanted no part of it, especially since the effort would be spearheaded by Brent English. She quickly decided she wasn’t anywhere near ready to face him, much less work with him daily.

“I understand how serious this is for the company,” she said, “and that it’s important not to cause public panic with an early launch.”

A siren wailed behind them, startling Mia. Claude pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road and allowed an ambulance to pass. Afterward, Lila seemed to be expecting Mia to say more.

“People need to understand it’s critical to get immunized,” Mia said. “I get that, and I’m more than willing to help behind the scenes. But can’t Brent and his staff handle the appearances?”

Mia caught a glimpse of Claude’s reflection in the rearview mirror. His gaze shifted to meet Lila’s, and they shared a serious look. Had neither of them expected her to mention Brent, even though Lila was insisting that Mia work side by side with him? Mia wondered which of them would be in charge, as if the arrangement wasn’t going to be awkward enough already.

Lila pursed her lips for a long moment. “I’m afraid Brent can’t…” She reached for Mia’s hand and clutched it tightly. “Sweetie, Brent passed away last week.”