Authors: Jami Alden
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Romance, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Adult
For barging into his life and getting him involved in her mess. For putting him in the crosshairs of a killer.
For the way she pierced through his numb shell and made him excruciatingly aware of how beautiful she was, reminded him of how long it had been since he’d touched a woman, the silk of her skin, the wet heat of her body taking him inside.
“I’m sorry,” Krista whispered, “for getting you into this.”
Sean didn’t trust himself to speak. He shoved himself as far away from her as possible and dug his fingers into the vinyl upholstered seat.
As they pulled out onto the road, the car seemed to close around him. It was a patrol car, so of course the back windows didn’t roll down. Sean could feel the sweat beading on his forehead, the shortness of breath like an elephant was stepping on his chest.
Suddenly, a slender hand reached across the seat to cover his. Forgetting his anger for a minute, Sean clutched at her, concentrating on the cool softness of her palm as it lightly caressed the back of his hand. “How far out are we?” Sean felt like the words were being wrenched from his chest.
“About ten minutes.”
A fucking eternity.
“Do you mind cracking a window? I’m a little shaky from the accident and I tend to get carsick on these windy roads,” Krista said.
“We wouldn’t want that,” Armstrong said with a chuckle. He cracked the front windows a couple of inches.
Sean sucked in lungfuls of the cold, fresh air, stifling a groan of relief.
“Better?” Krista whispered so only he could hear.
He nodded, his relief mixing with humiliation that she got an up close and personal look at how weak and messed up he was. Real fucking tough. A former member of one of the military’s most elite branches, and now he couldn’t even ride in a closed car.
Still, it took some doing to make himself release her hand when she tugged it free. Damn it, he didn’t want to be grateful to her for anything, even something this small. Why couldn’t she just stay the same no-nonsense, ballbusting bitch he’d encountered in the courtroom?
But ever since the night she had come to visit him in jail and promised she was going to get him out of there, she’d been chipping away at that image, revealing a woman who was not only beautiful but honest. Decent.
And tuned in to him enough to see the signs of him starting to freak out, and kind enough to do something about it.
Damn it, she was nothing but trouble for him. Tonight had proven that in spades. His discovery of a few redeeming qualities couldn’t make him lose sight of that.
“Do you know if they’re looking for the SUV?” Krista asked. “The one that rammed us?”
“We’re keeping an eye out, but without the license number it will be hard to track.”
“They hit me pretty hard. There has to be some damage,” Sean said, not holding much hope they would find the car even if they really were bothering to look for it.
“I’m sure they’re accounting for that,” Armstrong said, craning forward as he slowed the car at the sign for a forest service road.
Sean sat forward as Armstrong turned off the main highway. “I thought you were supposed to take us to Chelan.”
“Just making a quick detour.”
Sean looked at Krista, uneasy. Every sense went on high alert, just like it had earlier that day when he’d passed the two men in town, every instinct shouting that something wasn’t right.
The car rolled to a stop and a foreboding washed through Sean as the deputy got out of the car.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Krista asked, tugging futilely at the door handle. With the doors locked from the outside, there was nothing they could do but wait for what happened next.
Sean braced himself, ready to move at the first opportunity.
The deputy unlocked Krista’s door first and motioned her from the car.
Sean gave a resigned sigh when he saw Armstrong had pulled his gun and had it pointed straight at Krista.
“What’s going on here?” Krista said.
“You too,” Armstrong said. “Out of the car, hands where I can see them.”
Sean scooted out of the car, hands up. An unnatural calm settled over him as he clicked automatically into combat mode, years of training kicking in as though a switch had flipped. He stepped from the car, searching in the rapidly dimming light for anything he could use as a weapon.
“What the hell are you doing?” Krista demanded. “I’m with the prosecuting attorney’s office,” Krista said. “You won’t get away with—”
“Shut up!” Armstrong yelled.
Sean picked up the undercurrent of nervousness in his voice. The guy was shaky. Good. Any way Sean could throw him off balance would work to their advantage. Sean took a step forward and the gun whipped in his direction.
“Don’t move! Stay where you are.”
“What the hell are you trying to pull?” Krista snapped. The gun went back to Krista and Sean’s foot whipped out, cracking against Armstrong’s arm and sending the gun flying. The glow of the headlights showed where it landed and Sean dove for it.
Something cracked across his back—Armstrong’s nightstick. Sean rolled to his feet and turned just in time to take the next blow across his shoulder instead of his jaw. Sean feinted left and then darted in, catching the baton on the way down and wrenching it from Armstrong’s hand.
Krista dove right, scrambling for the gun in the dark as Sean’s arm raised to deliver a blow.
The baton came down across Armstrong’s shoulder with a meaty
. Armstrong went down to his knees, scrambling for the Taser on his belt and Sean raised up for another blow.
Footsteps pounded up behind them, the loud crunch echoing in the night. “Freeze,” a gravelly voice said. Sean turned in to the beam of a Maglite, unable to see much more than a hulking, shadowy figure and the outline of a semiautomatic machine gun.
What the hell? That was no cop, not with a weapon like that.
“Drop it, bitch, or I’ll blow your face off,” a lightly accented voice said from just beyond the glow of the flashlight.
He heard a struggle and Krista’s cry of pain, and it took every ounce of restraint to hold still and take in the situation calmly when everything in him rebelled at the thought of her being hurt.
He shoved aside the voices yelling at him to react, to protect, to punish. He raised his arms and put his hands on the back of his head and he forced himself to assess the situation calmly, without emotion, and he looked for a way out.
Easier said than done, he thought when he saw Krista’s white, terrified face in the glow of the flashlight. Her eyes were wide, pupils mere pinpoints, and he could see her pulse pounding in her neck even from several feet away.
“On your knees.” The bastard emphasized his words with a yank to her hair. Her cry of pain lanced through Sean like an electrical current.
“You too,” the thug holding the semi on Sean said. Sean dropped to his knees next to Krista, his muscles tense, coiled for action.
Deputy Armstrong didn’t seem concerned in the least that two heavily armed civilians had appeared out of nowhere. If anything, he seemed annoyed.
“What the hell took you so long? This asshole could have crushed my skull while I waited for you. I was told they’d be easy to subdue.”
“Not our fault you got faulty intel,” said the gravelly voiced one. “Now where’s your gun?”
“Over that way,” Armstrong said and pointed the beam in the direction Sean had kicked it.
“What’s going on?” Krista asked, her voice high and shaky. “Who are you working with?”
They ignored her.
“Try to stay calm,” Sean said.
“There it is,” the cop said as the beam caught the glint of gunmetal against dirt.
“Get it,” said the thug trained on Sean.
“How can I stay calm? We have three men with guns on us and we’re totally unarmed—”
“Shut up,” said the one with the accent, rapping Krista on the head with the muzzle of his gun for emphasis.
Sean’s fingers fisted in his hair as he glared at the guy. He couldn’t make out much in the spillover of the flashlight beams, but he made the guy as slightly above average height, athletic, and strong looking. His cohort was big, as tall as Sean, and had what looked like a good thirty pounds more weight on him—hard to tell in the dark if it was muscle mass or bulk that would slow him down.
Neither of them was going to be easy to take out.
The deputy, on the other hand, shouldn’t be a problem as long as Sean could keep the deputy’s hands off that Taser.
“Give it to me,” the big guy said and held out his hand. Armstrong handed over his gun and took a couple of steps away from the car, coming to a stop a few feet from Krista.
“Let’s do it over here,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want to get anything on the car.” He turned to the side, aiming his shoulder at the thug and turned his head away. “Through and through, right? I don’t want this to fuck up my golf game—”
Sean felt Krista jerk, heard her gasp as the shot cracked through the night. Saw Armstrong’s eyes bulge and his mouth drop open as the shot hit him not in the shoulder but square in the chest.
He sank to his knees and fell to the side. The ground underneath him darkened in seconds. “You asshole,” Armstrong gasped, his breath a wet rattle that Sean recognized. “You were supposed to do it in the arm.”
“Change of plans,” the big thug said. Another shot, this time in Armstrong’s head. The body jerked once and then went still.
“Oh my God,” Krista said, and audibly swallowed next to him.
Stay with me
, he thought, as though he could calm her by force of will. They couldn’t afford for her to freak out, not if they wanted to get out of this.
“Who the hell are you? Who sent you?”
The thug ignored her question and nodded at the guy behind her, who jerked her to her feet.
“Do you realize who we are? If you kill us, you’re going to be hunted down like dogs—”
“That’s why we’re not going to kill you,” the thug said simply as he held the gun up to Krista’s head. “He is,” he said, indicating Sean with a nod of his head. “And then he’ll do himself.”
Son of a bitch. They were going to make it look like a murder-suicide. The psycho ex-prisoner with a vendetta against the woman who put him on death row. A little melodramatic, but the media would eat it up.
“No one will buy it. They’ll know it was a setup when they examine the evidence,” Krista said in a rush, struggling against the smaller thug’s hold as he dragged her over to the big guy, who kept his semi trained on Sean.
“I think the investigation will go exactly the way we need it to,” the big guy said. “Now shut your mouth or I’ll make it look like he raped you first.”
Krista stiffened as the thugs traded places, the smaller guy covering Sean while the big guy lifted Armstrong’s gun and pointed it at Krista’s chest.
n the space of a heartbeat, Sean’s years of training and combat experience took over. He inhaled deeply as the world pulled into sharp focus, his brain, his body registering every detail as though the world was moving in slow motion. He could hear his own heartbeat, see the faint tremor in Krista’s hand as she stared the thug down with an unwavering gaze. He wanted to reach out and grab her hand, tell her he’d gotten himself out of worse clusterfucks than this, reassure her that he’d keep her safe.
He remained silent, motionless, his muscles coiled as he waited, ready to spring into action at the first opportunity.
“I think we do it anyway,” said the smaller thug, who gave a smug laugh and reached down to give his groin a squeeze.
The big guy shot his cohort a nasty smile, and in that nanosecond of distraction Sean launched. He dove at Krista, knocking her to the side out of the beam of light, and rolled after her. The big guy yelled and the spray of the semiautomatic kicked up puffs of dirt on the ground next to him.
A hot sting erupted in his calf. Sean ignored it and shoved Krista in the direction of the car. He ducked and rolled as another bullet whined past his year. He turned, lashed out with his booted foot, and caught the smaller thug in the chest and kicked his wrist hard enough to snap his forearm and send the gun flying.
The smaller thug lay gasping and Sean dove after his gun, trying to use the smaller guy for cover as more gunfire peppered the air. He just managed to hook his finger on it when a booted foot caught him in the ribs.
“Don’t even think of it, asshole.” Sean grunted in pain as the boot pressed into his hand, grinding the bones together as the guy reached down to retrieve the gun and then tucked it into his waistband. He pointed the guns at Sean. “On your knees. Hands where I can see them.”
Sean obeyed, half blinded by the beam of the flashlight, and prayed he’d hear the sound of the squad car starting up as Krista made her escape. Come on, what was wrong with her? He was most likely a goner, but she could get herself out of here.
The night was silent except for the smaller thug’s groan of pain as he breathed around cracked ribs, and the elevated breathing of the bearlike thug as he closed in for the kill.
“Hard to make it look like a murder-suicide if you hit me with that,” Sean said.
“Don’t worry, asshole. We always have a plan B. And a C and a D if that doesn’t pan out.”
Suddenly Sean saw something, a shadow of movement behind the guy, but in the glare of the flashlight it could have been a trick of the light. Sean gave away nothing. Silently and quicker than he would have imagined, a hand came up and hit the thug with something on his neck. His body jerked and convulsed.
Sean rolled to the side as the thug squeezed the trigger convulsively, firing wildly into the air until he fell backward to twitch on the ground like a dying fish.
Taser, Sean realized as he reached down to take the semi. He heard a yelp as Krista hit the smaller thug with seventy-five thousand volts and stifled a laugh at the way she said breathlessly, “You like that? Do you?”
Sean searched both men for ID and came up cold, but he took the cell phone clipped to the big guy’s belt. He would have loved to wait for them to come to and ask more questions, but the way the night was going he wouldn’t be surprised if another wave of assholes showed up to make sure the job was done. Right now they needed to clear out and regroup.