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Authors: Paula Graves

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BOOK: Secret Identity
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She made herself go into the kitchen. Made herself look at the mess her mother had made. Jerry was on the floor, still alive, feebly swinging at her mother with a butcher’s knife even as his life blood poured out onto the grimy linoleum—
Amanda woke with a start, that sound still ringing in her ears. All around her was darkness and cold. Beneath her aching side, the ground was hard stone.
She was in a cave, she remembered. She was decades older than the ten-year-old in her dream, and in the intervening years, she’d seen worse than the scene she’d walked in on that morning in the kitchen of her mother’s home.
Much worse.
She felt movement next to her, and her heart skipped a beat. Then she remembered more about where she was and why she was there. Rick Cooper lay on the cold ground beside her, his large, hard-muscled body radiating heat like a furnace. She felt a powerful urge to scoot closer to him, to bask in his warmth. She held herself in check, however, remembering how easily she’d fallen into his arms at the motel the previous day.
Some mistakes didn’t need to be repeated, however tempting they might be.
Rick shifted next to her, making a low groaning sound deep in his throat. His breathing, harsh and rapid, didn’t sound like normal sleep respiration.
It sounded like a man having a nightmare.
A flutter of sympathy dancing in her chest, she reached to her side and found the small survival kit she’d taken from Rick’s bag before she fled the motel. She took the compact flashlight from inside and snapped it on, letting the narrow beam glance across Rick’s face.
His eyes were still closed, but there was nothing peaceful about his expression. Deep furrows creased his forehead and the skin around his eyes, making him look ages older than his thirty-five years. Despite the cold, sweat beads had formed on his brow, glittering in the flashlight beam.
Was he ill?
Edging closer, she laid the back of her hand against his forehead and found him warm but not feverish. Releasing a soft sigh of relief, she started to sit back.
Like a striking snake, Rick reached out and grabbed her hand, his eyes snapping open.
For a second, even though she knew she was strong enough and well-trained enough to hold her own in a fight, Amanda felt a flicker of fear. Because the cold light in Rick’s dark eyes was nothing short of lethal.
“It’s me,” she whispered, not because she was trying to be quiet but because her voice failed her.
His expression softened, though he didn’t let go of her wrist. “Turn off the light,” he commanded softly, sitting up.
Her finger trembled on the switch, unwilling to extinguish the only thing keeping this cave from once again becoming a cold, black void.
“Amanda?” His voice remained quiet but with a harsh edge that made her stomach knot. “The light.”
She forced herself to push the button, plunging them into inky nothingness. For a second, she thought she felt icy fingers crawling down her spine, trailing goose bumps. She felt the immediate jump in her pulse and tried to slow her breathing to compensate. But the only thing she succeeded in doing was making herself feel light-headed.
“Rick?” she whispered, not because she had anything to say but just to reassure herself he was still there.
“I’m here,” he answered, his voice little more than a breath in the dark.
She reached for him, her fingers colliding with the rock wall of his chest. She felt his heartbeat quicken beneath her touch, and for a moment, the urge to curl herself around him was almost more than she could resist.
“How’s your arm?” she asked.
“Hurts like an SOB. But I think I’ll live.”
“I could put some more ointment on it.” Anything to take her mind off the gaping maw of blackness.
“You can’t see it in the dark.” Humor tinted his low murmur. “I don’t think I want to risk you poking me right in the wound.”
His voice was so familiar, even after almost three years apart. Of course, she’d held on to his voice, trapped it in her mind during the worst of those days in Kaziristan, when the icy night winds rattled the eaves of the mud house where they’d kept her prisoner.
For the first days, she’d been kept utterly in the dark. Al Adar’s version of sensory deprivation, she supposed. For the first couple of days, she’d even kept her spirits up. They hadn’t raped her, and she considered that fact a good sign that she’d be able to get through the ordeal without coming apart.
But that had been before she realized just how many ways there were to rape a person that had nothing to do with sex.
After the first session with a man she’d known only as Raa Baber—The Tiger—she’d conjured up Rick’s soft voice, bathing her wounds in the remembered sound of his faint Southern drawl.
He’d told her, just yesterday, that living back in the South had reanimated her Mississippi accent. His was stronger now, too, richer and more fully formed, as if he’d rediscovered a missing piece of himself when he left MacLear behind.
“How long have you been back home in Alabama?” she asked.
There was a long pause, as if the question caught him by surprise. She had the strange sensation that he was staring right at her, even though there was no way he could see her in the dark.
“A little over a year,” he answered. She heard his body shift in the void beside her, as if he’d stretched back out on the hard cave floor. Tempted to curl up next to him and let his heat drive away her bone-deep chill, she dug her fingertips into her palm and turned her gaze in a different direction.
Though she expected to see no variation in the unrelenting gloom, she spotted a faint lightening a few feet away, diluting the dark. The cave entrance, she realized. Moonlight must be drifting in from outside. She felt the tug of that soft whisper of light as if it were a living thing.
“Maybe I should check to see if someone’s outside.” She sat up on her knees, preparing to stand.
“Where are you going?” He caught her arm, holding her in place. She bit back a soft gasp as his fingers tightened on a sore place on her arm. Had she injured herself during her mad dash through the woods?
His fingers loosened and fell away. “Did I hurt you?”
“No,” she said, but the burning in her arm hadn’t subsided. She lifted her fingers, pressing the sore area. She felt a rip in her jacket and a sticky wetness. “I think I cut myself—”
She heard a rustling noise, then a snick. Light cut through the gloom, making her squint.
“Let me see.” Rick pointed his flashlight at her arm.
Looking down, she saw a ragged furrow in the arm of her olive-drab jacket, just above the elbow. The edges were singed and damp with drying blood. She knew exactly what it was, even before Rick spoke.
“They shot you,” he said in a strangled voice.

Chapter Six

 

Amanda stared at the groove in her flesh, feeling a little queasy. She forced steel into her spine and lifted her chin to meet Rick’s worried gaze. “Must have grazed me—I don’t remember feeling anything.” Of course, she’d been hauling butt through the woods at the time—any number of branches and limbs had caught her clothing and skin as she ran, leaving plenty of scratches and bruises.
“I didn’t hear any gunshots from where I was,” Rick remarked.
She also didn’t remember hearing a gunshot, but she’d been running at full tilt, her pulse thundering in her ears. “Sound suppressors?” she suggested. She might not have heard the flat, muffled blat of suppressed gunfire in the chaos.
“If they’re former MacLear Special Services Unit agents, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he admitted, turning the flashlight to the ground, searching for something. “The SSU didn’t exactly want stories about what they were doing to get around.”
She watched the faint beam settle on her duffel bag. “What did they do, exactly?”
“Well, the rest of us didn’t know the SSU existed until everything blew up a little over a year ago.” Rick opened her duffel bag and withdrew the first-aid kit she’d packed inside.
His
first-aid kit, she thought with a touch of embarrassment. The arched-eyebrow look he gave her only exacerbated her sense of guilt. But he said nothing.
“What happened a year ago?” She pulled off her jacket and rolled up her sleeve to get a better look at the wound. Without the flashlight beam pointed directly at her arm, all she could make out in the shadows was a thin, dark furrow in the flesh above her elbow. At his look of surprise, she added, “I don’t watch a lot of news. I knew MacLear had folded, but I never heard exactly why.”
“Barton Reid sent a group of the SSU to kidnap the two-year-old son of a linguist named Abby Chandler.”
She looked at him, puzzled. “A linguist?”
“They wanted something her late husband had stolen from MacLear.”
When Rick flashed the light on her arm, she winced at the ragged, oozing sight. She should have checked before they settled down for the night—her arm had been aching a little then. She just hadn’t wanted to admit any weakness in front of Rick. “What time is it?”
“A little after 4:00 a.m.”
So the wound had been dirty for several hours now. “Better give it a good scrubbing,” she said grimly. “Infection’s had some time to set in.”
With a look of sympathy, Rick nodded and went to work on the wound with methodical thoroughness. He was trying to be gentle, Amanda could tell, but there was no painless way to scrub dirt and debris out of an open wound, especially one that had been allowed to fester all night.
He spoke while he worked, his voice soft but somehow bracing. “Abby—the linguist—didn’t know what her husband had taken or where to find it, so she went to her husband’s best friend, a fellow Marine named Luke Cooper.”
She looked up at the name. “Cooper?” she asked in a similarly hushed tone.
He nodded. “My cousin.”
“Ah.”
“Abby figured if anyone would know what her husband had taken, it would be Luke.”
“And did he know?”
“Not at first.” To her great relief, Rick stopped cleaning the wound and reached into the first-aid kit for the same tube of ointment she’d used to protect his earlier gunshot wound. His mind seemed to follow a similar path, for he smiled slightly as he started applying the ointment. “Look—matching wounds.”
“I take it, since MacLear went down in a blaze of infamy, that your cousin found what the linguist was looking for?”
“Yeah. And a lot more.” Rick put a piece of gauze bandaging over her bullet graze. “Found out her little boy was actually his son. It’s a long story, but one with a happy ending. He and Abby are married now.”
“And they put Barton Reid behind bars?” She’d had some dealings with Reid during her time in the CIA. Not good dealings—the man had been the worst kind of diplomat, one who thought his position in the State Department gave him a sort of
droit du seigneur
—not sexually, as far as she knew, but Reid had expected everyone else, fellow American and host-country citizen alike, to march to his tune. He’d been the kind of foreign-service agent who gave the rest of them a bad name, and she wasn’t sorry to hear that he’d been hoist with his own petard. “What did he do?”
“Profited from a drugs-for-arms deal down in Sanselmo.”
BOOK: Secret Identity
5.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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