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He slid in the framed picture of his daughter Abigail he kept on his nightstand, his Sig, and two extra clips of ammo. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and stopped. He was lean and hard from a summer of chopping wood, hiking and fishing the Bitterroot Mountains. He was toned and strengthened, and in better shape now than he was at thirty. His full beard was peppered with gray, as was his hair that easily fell past his ears, a by-product of cutting himself off from civilization.

A few weeks earlier he'd turned fifty, but the reflection was that of a younger man. He'd shave and get a haircut when he could. He made a mental note to call the real estate agent and have her come and close up the house. He zipped the leather bag, snatched his briefcase, wallet, phone, and keys, then ran for the helicopter. When the pilot spotted him, the turbine engine immediately began to spool toward full power. The moment the door was closed and he was strapped in his seat, the helicopter lifted off, pivoted smartly, and began to accelerate down the valley. Donovan wore a headset against the noise of the helicopter.

He stared at the shadow of the helicopter as it raced across the trees, rivers, and hay fields of Southwestern Montana.

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Lost in the maelstrom of his thoughts, he inevitably spun back in time to when he'd last seen Stephanie. It had been a little over three months ago. They'd been together in the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He'd been there to pay his final respects to a friend, and Stephanie had shown up unannounced and helped him through a difficult time.

She ended up staying with him a week. She'd traveled with him to Montana and helped him set up the leased cabin. They'd talked at length about death and transition, his separation from Lauren and the state of his marriage. They also spent hours discussing her return to professional photography. He'd urged her to pick up her camera again, and to get back out in the world. She was a brilliant artist. A decade ago, her photo reporting from Africa, chronicling child soldiers, had put her in the running for a Pulitzer. The fact that she'd been shooting pictures in Guatemala made him feel even worse, as if his nudging had led to her disappearance.

He couldn't imagine what his longtime friend William must be going through. Stephanie was all that was left of his family and the two were close. He doted on her, as would any uncle. Donovan thought back to when he first met Stephanie. They were just kids, brought together because his family was close to her Uncle William. She grew up in London, but spent almost all of her summers with William—Donovan remembered her natural grace and athleticism were trumped only by her keen artistic talents.

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From the time she was ten, she always carried a camera that her Uncle William had bought for her, taking pictures of everything except other people. Her habit of waving him out of her field of view was maddening, and he could remember trying to peek into her shots, only to receive a verbal tongue lashing. In the end, what Donovan most liked about Stephanie was that she could mix and float in and out of any different social setting.

A proper upper-crust debutant one moment; the next, yelling and cursing at him they chased each other through the trees and meadows on his family's country estate in Northern Virginia.

Aftershock: A Donovan Nash Novel

When he was fourteen, Donovan had lost his parents at sea. He'd been the only survivor as their private yacht, caught in a storm, began to break up and take on water. It had been William who'd flown halfway around the world to be at his side after he'd been thought lost, and, not long after that, Stephanie had made it clear that she was there for him as well. In those dark days, she once described to him that she felt like they were cousins, and then later revised her position and pronounced that they were more like brother and sister.

She was one of the few bright spots in a very difficult time in his life. Donovan loved her and would do anything for her. She'd been instrumental in getting him to talk about the loss of his parents. William tried, as did many others, but it was Stephanie who got through to him, helped him honor his grief, yet keep pushing forward.

Two years later, her own family was killed in an automobile accident on the M4 outside London. It was July, and Stephanie had been with him and William in Virginia when they received the news. The three of them boarded the Concorde, and Donovan remembered the depths of her sorrow and loss as they flew to England faster than the speed of sound. They each had seen how quickly the universe could snuff out the life of a loved one, and the specter of that violence created an even tighter bond.

As time had passed, the one element they always had in common was the fact that they were both identically wounded. Donovan noticed the change in the sound and speed of the helicopter. Missoula airport was straight ahead. After Donovan said his good-bye to Agent Charles, he walked across the ramp toward what looked to be a brand new Falcon , the airplane that would have him in Northern Virginia in three hours.

He settled into his seat and his thoughts drifted not to Stephanie, but to Meredith Barnes. A woman he'd loved and lost twenty years ago in Costa Rica. Instead of suppressing the inevitable memories of Meredith, he allowed his guilt, anguish, and rage to wash over him. It was a volatile mixture that threatened to undo him, but it also provided an almost divine focus and clarity of purpose. Meredith was dead and Stephanie was alive.

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Despite what William, or Lauren, or anyone else thought of his current emotional state—Donovan promised himself that nothing on earth was going to stop him from going to Guatemala. Regardless of the cost, he'd do everything in his power to save her. The clock was ticking, and rescuing Stephanie became as important as if he were trying to save his own life.

He'd do whatever it took—even if he died trying. He'd spent his time on the chartered flight on the computer, pulling up everything he could find about Guatemala. He'd found it odd that Stephanie's disappearance wasn't mentioned in the news. He'd debated calling Lauren, announce his arrival, but since she was the one who set it up, she knew damn well when he'd land.

He decided to wait and talk with her in person. He let himself into the hangar. On Sunday, no one would be around, which suited Donovan. The hangar was home to Eco-Watch's two highly modified Gulfstream jets. The Spirit of da Vinci was out of the country on a research mission in Africa, and the Spirit of Galileo was flight-testing a new instrumentation platform in California. Very few people knew that he'd not only founded the company, but that his hidden fortune also funded parts of the private research organization.

Besides the two Gulfstream jets, Eco-Watch operated two ocean-going research ships, and the keel had been laid for a third. One was based in Hawaii and served the Pacific Ocean arena; the other called Norfolk, Virginia, its home port and sailed the Atlantic. Donovan walked into his office and found it exactly as he'd left it all those months ago. Michael had taken over the day-to-day operations, and all that waited on Donovan's desk were several pieces of personal correspondence.

He turned to go, but hesitated at the sight of a picture taken the day Eco-Watch had begun. Twelve years earlier, he and Michael had arrived on the ramp outside with the very first Eco-Watch Gulfstream. Standing in front of the jet was the first handful of employees, but the person truly responsible—was missing.

Donovan's thoughts once again spun back in time to Meredith Barnes, the woman he couldn't ever seem to bury. It seemed a lifetime ago they'd met, but in ways it felt like yesterday. In all that time she'd remained the same—the dead earn that privilege. She was still twenty-eight years old, an intelligent, fiery redhead with emerald green eyes and freckles.

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