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Authors: Becky Barker

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense

Stowaway (5 page)

BOOK: Stowaway
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“I could be a lot more help if you’d unfasten these stupid handcuffs,” she reiterated in an effort to halt the escalating tension in the tiny bathroom.

“I don’t need more help. I’ll be okay in a minute,” he declared, leaning against the wall for support while he dried. “At least if I die, I’ll die clean.”

Keri stopped arguing. She turned her back on him again and waited impatiently while he went through the laborious process of pulling on clean clothes. She glanced toward the gun.

“Don’t even try. You can’t reach it, and I don’t think either of us is up to another wrestling match right now.”

She didn’t plan to initiate any physical contact. “All I want is some sleep,” she grumbled, facing him again. He’d donned the sweatpants.

“Toothbrush?”

Before she could answer, he’d opened the medicine chest and found what he needed. She helped him get a new brush out of the packaging and spread toothpaste on it. Watching him brush his teeth seemed to intensify the intimacy between them, and she didn’t welcome the heightened awareness.

“Now what?” she asked.

“I’m going to get something to eat and a glass of milk, if you have any. Then I’ll figure out something.”

Keri sat and stewed while he collected the gun and moved into the kitchen. She heard the refrigerator open, milk being poured and thirstily drank. She waited another long few minutes while he helped himself to her groceries.

Leaning against the toilet, she laid her heavy head on her shackled arm. It was a poor substitute for a pillow, but it would do for now. Just about anything would do right now.

The next thing she knew, Lamanto moved close again. The gentle stroke of his finger against her cheek startled her awake. She abruptly straightened and stared at him through sleepy eyes. He fitted the key into the cuff and unchained her from the towel rack, but kept a handcuff around her left wrist. She rubbed it, her eyes searching his.

“Bedtime,” he stated softly.

Keri didn’t hesitate or even realize he wasn’t holding her metal bracelet. She went straight into the bedroom and sprawled on her stomach across the left side of the bed.

Lamanto shook out a blanket and covered her with it. He snapped the handcuff around the bedsprings. She didn’t fight him. Exhaustion had pulled her into its depths.

In another minute, the light went out. The mattress dipped as he sat down on the opposite side. She drifted closer to sleep, wondering why she wasn’t in fear for her life or at least her virtue, why she felt comforted rather than alarmed by the presence of a man in her bed. A stranger, no less. An unpredictable, fugitive of a stranger.

Maybe because he was incredibly sexy, with the deepest, darkest eyes she’d ever seen. Maybe because he’d never really threatened her. Or maybe just because he was an errant knight. Whatever the case, her weary brain had no logical explanation.

Finally, sleep enfolded her in its blessed embrace.

 

Nick eased himself onto the bed, routinely slipping the ammunition clip from the pistol before placing it within reach on a bedside stand.

The .45 caliber was a big gun and a familiar one. His own piece was similar, and guaranteed to stop a perp with the first shot. Most times, an officer only got one chance to defend himself. Smaller caliber guns weren’t much use against a dope head wielding a sub-machine gun.

He carefully stretched flat on the mattress and turned his head toward Keri. She’d fallen sound asleep within seconds of her head hitting the pillow. He imagined she’d been on the go nearly as long as he had.

The soft, even sound of her breathing was music to his ears. Not as beautiful as her singing but just as pleasing. And he didn’t even know why.

She wouldn’t be sleeping so peacefully if she feared for her life. Maybe that’s what soothed him. He hadn’t wanted to involve anyone in his flight from the local law. Despite the fact that her family was the local law, she couldn’t be held responsible for their actions.

At this point, he didn’t know how deeply her family was involved in whatever was going down in the county. Her brother Jack had been nearby when the shootings took place. Nick needed to figure out what was happening in Thornsbury and if the whole sheriff’s department was dirty.

Don Monroe worked for the department too. They’d trained together at the academy, but after graduating, Don had returned to his native Tennessee. He’d issued an open invitation to visit. Last month, Nick had called him to discuss concerns for the area. They’d agreed to let people believe he needed a vacation. It hadn’t been far from the truth.

His superiors had given him the okay to spend a couple weeks in Tennessee. While here, they’d hoped he could get a handle on a purported gunrunning operation from Miami to Tennessee. None of them had anticipated a double assassination attempt.

It meant he and Don had gotten too close to tracking down the ringleader of the operation. They’d gotten close enough to spook the bad guys, but now the investigation had to go on hold until his shoulder healed and he regained some strength.

He’d planned to disappear into the night without involving Keri, but her nursing skills had bought him more time. Besides, what better place to hide and recuperate than the sheriff’s personal hunting cabin?

He didn’t know what to do next. He’d have to work it all out in the morning. Right now, he felt too damn beat to think straight. Thanks to his guardian angel, though, he felt almost human again. He still had some pain and fever, but at least he felt clean, fed and rested.

Besides all that, he was in bed with a beautiful, intelligent, spirited woman. Just his type. Just where he liked to be. The thought brought a grin in the darkness. His buddies back at the station would say he always landed on his feet. Or flat on his back in bed.

Too bad he couldn’t take the opportunity to get to know his nurse a little better.

Wrong time, wrong place. What a waste.

The scent of her gradually wafted closer, enveloping him with its light, heady perfume. The familiarity and sweetness seduced once again. Nick reached toward her in the darkness, letting his fingers relay the satiny-smooth texture of her hair. Then his Braille investigation slid over her shoulder, down her arm and to her hand with its small, ringless fingers.

The contact felt good, surprising him with the depth of contentment he didn’t understand or have the energy to analyze. The silky feel of her skin and the melody of her breathing lulled him to sleep.

Chapter Four

Hours later, Keri started dreaming of bathrooms. It was a recurring dream. Trapped in a shopping mall with halls like a rat maze, she searched for a bathroom because she desperately needed to relieve herself. Every stall she found was occupied.

Bordering in a state of half sleep and half wakefulness, she knew she hadn’t gotten nearly enough rest. But she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore until she went to the toilet. Rolling out of bed, she tumbled to her knees with a grunt of surprise and irritation. Then dawning realization. She was handcuffed to the bedsprings.

“Hey!” she grumbled sleepily. “I have to pee!” She tugged on the metal links, still barely conscious, until the bed dipped and Lamanto reached over to unlock her restraint.

“Make it fast or I’ll come after you with a gun.”

She grunted and staggered to the bathroom. In a few minutes, she returned to collapse on the bed again. She went back to sleep while her stowaway snapped the handcuff on her wrist, the right one this time since she’d stretched out on her back.

 

Feeling like he’d been run over by a truck, Nick staggered to the bathroom and relieved himself too. Stomach rumbling, he wandered into the kitchen to check out the food supply. After eating two peanut butter sandwiches and downing a couple glasses of milk, he searched for the pain killers Keri had given him earlier. His shoulder throbbed like a sonofabitch, so he swallowed a handful.

Midmorning sunshine spilled through the kitchen windows. He should probably make a run for it, but he still felt too damned weak. His legs trembled, so he slowly made his way back to the bedroom. A couple more days, he thought as he settled down on the bed. Just a couple more days and he’d regain enough strength to head to Miami. He’d worry about the details later.

 

 

In town, Deputy Jack Merritt paced his father’s small, cluttered office. Thornsbury was the county seat of Boone County, with the sheriff’s department housed in the east wing of the county courthouse. Both men worked the day shift. It had been a quiet morning, but neither of them felt good about it. They still hadn’t found Lamanto.

Sheriff Walt Merritt sat behind his big oak desk and watched his son’s restless movements. Tall, broad shouldered and lean of hips, Jack had inherited his stature from the Merritt side of the family. He’d inherited his impatience from his mother’s side.

“Stop pacing, Son, you’re gonna wear a hole in my carpet,” he said, “and you know the budget’s too tight to replace it.”

His slow, Southern drawl and laid-back attitude had fooled many a man into thinking his mind and instincts functioned with equal slowness. Most wished they hadn’t tangled with him. He sighed when his small attempt at humor didn’t ease his son’s tension.

“What the hell are we going to do about Keri?” demanded Jack.

“Well now, your sister’s a grown woman, and, as she’s reminded us so much lately, we don’t need to worry about what she does with her time.”

“You know she went up to the cabin to nose around.” Jack ran a hand through straight brown hair. His normally level voice was low and agitated. “She’s been really restless lately and asking a lot of questions about the accident.”

Walt’s weathered features creased in a frown. “It’s only natural. She lost her mother, and she’s got survivor’s guilt.”

“Well, I wish to hell she’d deal with her guilt here in town. She’s bound to stir up trouble if she goes sniffing around in the mountains.”

Walt’s jaw locked in annoyance. Jack was right. Keri had inherited the Merritt ability to stir up trouble and the stubbornness to ignore all his warnings. He didn’t want her at the cabin, especially now. It was too close to the activities at the militia camp.

He understood her desire for answers, but she couldn’t have picked a worse time to start snooping. He’d hoped her memory of that night would stay blank because he wanted her to be safe. He just hadn’t figured out how to protect her from herself without divulging secrets.

“Keri radioed the rangers,” said Walt, “so she’s safe for the time being. I’ll have Dwayne stop by there today.”

“She’ll get really pissed if we start sending kin to check on her.”

“She’ll just have to be pissed. The shooting and attempts on Monroe’s life shifted everything into high gear. We can’t let our worry about her distract us from our ultimate goal.”

Jack frowned. “I know. You’re right. I just don’t like it.”

Their discussion halted with a knock at the door. Three men dressed in dark suits, snow-white shirts and ties entered the room without waiting permission. Walt’s jaw locked. Two of his uninvited guests were county commissioners Jeff Sturgis and Levi Patterson.

They, and their fellow commissioners, had control of the county’s purse strings. They never missed a chance to remind him his annual budget depended on their good will.

The youngest, Sturgis, was third-generation politician. Fit and trim, he stayed perfectly groomed and perfectly behaved. He rarely had an original thought, but the familiarity of his family name kept people voting him into office.

Shorter, balding and rotund, Patterson looked like a man who’d enjoyed far too many official dinners. Most of the time, he acted like a pompous jerk. Walt never did understand how he stayed in office. Probably from kissing a lot of important ass instead of babies.

Terrance Moville, the local funeral director, gave him and Jack a stiff nod of greeting. Everything about the man was stiff, from his spine to his facial expressions. Walt couldn’t remember ever hearing him laugh. Considering his profession, maybe he had the right to be grim. The Moville family had served the area for several generations.

“Good day, Sheriff, Jack,” said Patterson. “We’re just on our way to a Rotary meeting. I’m sure everyone’s going to want details about the escaped convict. What can you tell us?”

“First of all, his name is Nick Lamanto. You met him last week at the pancake breakfast. You told him we could use a man like him on our force,” Walt reminded and enjoyed the flush of color that crept up Patterson’s neck. “And he’s not a criminal or an escapee, he hasn’t been charged with any crime. He’s just a person of interest.”

“Person of interest?” demanded Moville. “Isn’t that just a politically correct term for a criminal who hasn’t been officially charged with a crime?”

“It’s just what it sounds like,” Walt corrected. “A person we’re interested in finding and asking questions.”

“What about Deputy Monroe?” asked Patterson. “All the doctors will tell me is he’s in critical condition.” His tone suggested he felt entitled to privileged information. “Has he regained consciousness? Does he know who shot him and why?”

“Not yet,” said Jack. “The doctor said it could be a while.”

“A day? A week? A month?” demanded Sturgis. “They have to have some idea if he’ll pull through. And what if he doesn’t? We can’t have a cop killer on the loose in the county. What are you doing to find this Lamanto? To protect our citizens?”

“The same thing I’ve been doing for more than twenty-five years,” said Walt, knowing he’d been a thorn in the side of the commissioners for every one of them. As an elected official, they couldn’t fire him. But they sure as hell irritated him.

“We set up road blocks, used the search dogs and put in some extra man hours, but those new budget cuts have limited our resources. My best guess is he hitched a ride out of State. I’ve contacted his superiors in Florida. They haven’t heard from him either. There’s not much more we can do unless he voluntarily comes to us.”

Patterson made an annoying, skeptical sound that grated on Walt’s last nerve, but he kept his temper. No one spoke as the courthouse clock chimed twelve times.

BOOK: Stowaway
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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