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Authors: Raine Weaver

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BOOK: Lucidity
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But when his buddy turned back toward them, his expression suddenly serious, Parker was all attention. Shep’s hazel eyes, so striking against his bronzed skin, narrowed to slits as he tucked his phone away.

“My sources on the outskirts say you’ve got three minutes to bail, Munroe. Four, if you wanna leave me an extra gun to help discourage them.”

Dammit. Barely time to breathe. How had her enemies found them already? They’d been here less than a
day
.

Parker turned the stove off and tossed the soup into the sink, cursing as he dashed into the living room. “Get your ass in gear, Carly. We’re on the move.”

 

Carly was one quick step behind him, making tracks toward the tiny bedroom.
Time
. There was never enough time for them.

Rather than changing, she shimmied into her favorite old jeans, tucking her gown into the waistband. She jammed her bare feet into the short boots that had seen too much wear, slammed her single piece of luggage shut and made a grab for her shoulder bag.

Parker was already behind her, snatching her suitcase and hauling it through the door. They’d done this so often in the past weeks they worked like a well-oiled machine. “Do we know how many men?” she asked.

“We’re not hanging around to find out.”

“Front or back?”

“Is that a proposition, Ms. Phelps?”

She lost one hurried step to a wry laugh. “Why do you only get kinky when we’re on the run?”

“Back door. Shep’s got the front.”

She took a fleeting half second to admire the tattoo of a golden triangle bisected by a sword on the bicep that stretched the sleeve of his T-shirt, the way he effortlessly managed the baggage and the heavy case filled with ammunition. He was all powerful precision beneath that dark blond brush-cut hair. With his buff body and no-nonsense attitude, the man could’ve been a walking ad for the Corp—if not for the scruffy trace of beard that proved he didn’t give a damn.

And that was the problem. He
didn’t
give a damn, didn’t care about anything other than keeping her safe, as ordered. He was the best bodyguard she’d ever had, and he’d move hell and high water, take on any living soul and a slew of the undead if it meant accomplishing that mission. Admirable, but unbelievably frustrating. She missed being thought of as a human being.

“Carlotta. No time for daydreams. Let’s roll.” He glanced back at her, frowning. “I think you’re forgetting something.”

Of course, he was also as straitlaced as her great-great-grandma’s corset. No wonder she enjoyed baiting him. “Don’t be such a prude, Munroe. If you’re gonna freak over the fact that I’m not wearing drawers at a time like this—”

He stopped in his tracks, nearly dropping their baggage. “Drawers?”

“Yeah. You know—panties?” Clucking her tongue in frustration, she bent at the waist to pat her behind. “See? You can hardly tell. And you were just about to waste time chewing me a new one for not—”

“Panties? What the hell?” He spluttered, eyes glued to her rear end. “I was not referring to your… I didn’t mean… Oh, for God’s sake. I was
trying
to remind you it’s
cold
outside, woman.”

Carly froze in the middle of the living room, her mind gone blank. Gawd, if only she could focus half as well in the real world as the other. Winter. Right. She needed a coat. Damn. Where had she put her parka? She’d been in such a hurry to respond to her sleep alert when they first arrived…

A second later, the coat sailed through the air and into her arms. Parker wasn’t the easiest man to be stuck with, but he was the best.

“If you’d wear clothes sometimes instead of lingerie, we’d cut our escape time in half, young lady.”

“But gee, Dad.” She snickered. “All the vestal virgins are wearing these this year.”

He flushed, obviously embarrassed she’d overheard him. “Then I’d say they need a sound spanking too.”

“We’ve had this discussion, Parker,” she retorted, slipping her arms into the sleeves. “It’s important for me to feel comfortable and secure to do what I do.”

“Forgive me. So, Victoria’s
real
Secret is how to look sexy when you get shot?” His neck snapped back as he eased the rear door open. “Shep?”

“All clear so far. Spare?”

Carly watched Parker toss a semiautomatic .45 to his handsome companion as casually as if it were a Frisbee. Four months ago, she wouldn’t have known one weapon from another. A few decades ago, she might’ve been a hippy, all peace and free love. Hell, she couldn’t swat a fly without apologizing first. She abhorred the idea of violence and wouldn’t have been caught dead around a gun.

Now she not only recognized them but had been forced to learn how to use one in a pinch. Parker Munroe had also seen to that.

Shepherd settled into a crouch before the front window, all glittering charm diverted to deadly intent. “Hey, why dontcha leave me that nice pearl-handled number you keep in your crotch?”

Parker scanned the trees behind the cabin, barely sparing his friend a last look. “Always suspected you had the hots for my rod, Shep.” Poised with his weapon sweeping the premises, he crept cautiously through the rear as Carly huddled against his broad back, matching him step for step.

She turned when he swiveled, listened when he stopped. She wondered if the enemy was upon them and tried to pierce the twilight with dry, weary eyes. Would Shepherd be all right? What kind of insanity made it acceptable for these two men to lose their lives for her? The people of the Temple weren’t monsters, any more than the One Hundred were mutants. They were average folks with staunch beliefs. And they were sure their cause was justified, as much as she was. In a world about to go rabid-dog mad, that was the most frightening thing of all.

The angry clap of a single shot sounded behind them. Shep, sending a warning burst over their visitors’ heads, she thought.

And then there was no time for thought. They ran for Parker’s Jeep, conveniently tucked beneath the towering evergreens in the nearby woods. As he tossed the bags into the back, she thought she heard angry voices shouting in their wake and said a silent prayer for Shepherd Bolt. The frigid air scorched her lungs as her heart pumped fear through her veins. She managed a quick peek at the indecisive sky as it fell victim to night—and then there was no time for that either.

Carly scrambled for the door he held open for her, thumping her skull in the process and nearly falling back.

“C’mon, c’mon.” Parker cupped her butt with one huge hand and propelled her forward, snapping impatiently. “Get that tight little tush on board!”

Gasping at the unintentionally intimate contact and seeing stars, she folded into the car and assumed her familiar position—cowering low in the passenger’s seat, her cheek hard against her knee.

The vehicle took flight, skimming over mounds of snow and lurching in ruts of mud until it leveled off, the tires singing along the smooth pavement of a highway. And still Carly remained huddled out of view, eyelids screwed shut. She didn’t want to see the blue shadows that rushed past like lost ghosts, or the fading away of yet another chance to rest from the insanity.

Only when Parker grunted an “all clear” and lightly touched her shoulder did she resurface, only when the lights that signaled human habitations were few and far between. Only then did she rise to face the road ahead and stare into the darkness once again.

Chapter Two

Carlotta breathed a small sigh of relief when they crossed the Pennsylvania state line without Parker shooting the toll booth operator. The middle-aged woman looked sleep deprived and harmless enough to her, but took much too long counting out their change. Carly had watched Parker’s fingers stroking the iridescent handle of the gun inside his vest, visions of Sonny Corleone’s murder dancing in her head, until the gate slowly lifted.

Thank God. You could never tell about the big guy.

This first week of spring in Ohio shared all the earmarks of a winter that didn’t want to leave the party. Six inches of snow followed by freezing rain had resulted in a polished Styrofoam landscape that glittered cold in the headlights of the Jeep. The huge pines that lined the freeway were dark, hulking shapes bearing no resemblance to their Christmas counterparts, swallowing the road behind them in a yawning embrace.

Carly nervously fingered her cell phone, stealing glances at a silent Parker Munroe. Sometimes the man was impossible to read. Right now he was glowering at the gleaming asphalt ahead, the sharp angles of his face cool cobalt in the light of the dash. Was he angry with her for being so much trouble? Sorry he’d taken the assignment? God, she hoped not. He could be a piece of work, but she didn’t know what she’d do without him. “Should I call it in? We’ll need another safe house.”

She thought his teeth might crack with the iron set of his jaw, and his knuckles were white knobs on the wheel. “Don’t bother. I know a place.”

“But—”

“Shep will contact our superiors. They’ll know you’re safe. I’ll touch base with him tomorrow.”

“You seem awfully sure.”

He gushed an impatient breath. “Worried about our dinner guest?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Don’t be. Just because you’ve
met
Shepherd doesn’t mean you
know
him. Trust me. He’ll not only come out alive, but within the hour, he’ll be laid up with some babe in a four-star hotel. Her treat.”

“And if he’s not?”

The implication was there, as painful as it was for her to say it, but Parker didn’t flinch, barely blinked. Turning the heat up a notch, he kept his eyes fixed on the road.

“Do you really think we were in danger back there?” she persisted.

“I think we’ve avoided it so far, and that’s the idea.”

“But—”

“Why don’t you take care of the airy-fairy stuff and leave reality to me?”

They’d spent the past ninety-three days together, sharing meals, bathrooms, even the same bed occasionally. Carly probably knew him almost as well as many women knew their husbands—better than some.

It was true that the man rarely seemed to sleep. But when he did, it was in the buff—and he managed to look like a Greek god in the process. Yes, she’d had occasion to peek. It was worth the paltry pang of guilt. He loved animals and energy drinks, hated freestyle jazz and the color yellow. He believed in treating a woman like a lady and in honor before self.

And she knew exactly what he was doing right now. Royally pissing her off.

He was good at making her mad, and fury was better than fear. Knowing she was being played, however, didn’t temper her reaction. Oh, she could despise this man. Oh yes, she could.

Carly turned on him, seething with anger. “It isn’t my fault these people are after me, y’know. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Never said you did.”

“And I really would feel awful if something happened to Shep.” She was rambling and she knew it. The weeks of isolation were finally getting to her. And she squeezed the phone tighter in her hand. “Couldn’t we just call to check on him?”

“I’d rather he focus on getting out of there alive. We can all kumbaya together later.”

“Love the way you wear your heart on your sleeve, Parker.” She imagined Shep being overwhelmed by a mob of gun-toting backwoodsmen and felt herself tearing up. She’d met him only twice. They’d barely exchanged a few words. But she’d never forgive herself if something happened to him. “I hate this.”

“What?”


This
. This sense of…impotence,” she fumed. “This ‘helpless woman’ feeling.”

“‘Helpless woman’.” He chuckled, scratching at the scrub on his jaw. “My favorite oxymoron.”

A man with a healthy respect for the female sex wasn’t as dense as he tried so hard to make her believe. “Stop deflecting. I hate all this running away. And dammit, you might have lost a friend back there. You never even said a civil good-bye, didn’t even wish him luck.”

“He may not have needed it.”

“Oh? I suppose you guys are bulletproof?”

“No.” He dodged a fallen branch protruding onto the road, grimacing. “But that attack was a little suspicious. Too sudden, too soon. We were in the boonies, for shit’s sake. Only Shep and my superiors should’ve known where we were. Unless your enemies have some serious networking going on—”

“You—you think Shepherd might’ve had something to do with it?” She turned to gape at him, amazed. “You actually believe your friend would betray you? Jesus, you’re crazier than I thought. He’s the one who helped us escape!”

“Yeah. Because he happened to be there at just the right time and made himself look good in the process. Convenient, if you’re angling for a promotion or planning something bigger. The government thinks you’re a valuable commodity. And anybody can be bought, Carlotta.”

She swallowed hard, trying to eliminate the bad taste that blossomed in her mouth. “But he’s your go-between, your link to your superiors. How can you suspect him?”

Even in the muted light, she could see a taut muscle twitch in his neck. It reminded her that she might enjoy teasing him, but Munroe was not a man to anger. “Let’s get something straight. They may be my supervisors, but they’re not my
superiors
. And in a pinch, they’re neither. I go with my own gut. Is it telling me Shep is guilty of anything? No. I think he’s good people. It’s just something I have to consider. We have no way of knowing who might belong to the Temple, and since whatever the hell you do is top secret, I’ve gotta wing it.”

BOOK: Lucidity
3.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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