by Anna Steffl
Jack rolled to his back. The black hole of a silencer pointed at his face.
Where was his gun?
Damn. Two feet away.
He glanced down the corridor Rachel had taken. She was peeling her shoulder from a door she’d just wedged open.
Get out of here, he tried to mentally warn her.
Rachel had gotten so far ahead of him she didn’t realize they were being tailed. She’d already turned the corner when he’d heard muffled footfalls behind him. Gun in hand, he’d instinctively twisted around.
Pain rocketed through his ribs and deep into his chest. He stumbled and pitched forward. His mind blanked white.
The next moment, Watson’s bodyguard, Dameon, was looming over him.
Rachel’s high heels were clicking back down the corridor.
Dameon heard her shoes, too. A wicked, lopsided grin spread over his face.
Something told Jack that if he found enough breath to yell for Rachel to run, Watson’s bodyguard would shoot him, then lean around the corner and take out Rachel. He had to stay conscious, had to play Dameon’s game, until either Tom showed up or luck dealt a less sure-fire losing hand.
Rachel stopped short of entering the corridor where Dameon was. “Jack?” she whispered.
If he didn’t have a gun pointed at him, he’d have risked a look up her dress at those silky thighs. It flashed through his mind that if he was going to die, that wouldn’t be a bad last image to take with him.
“We have company,” Jack wheezed and darted a glance in the direction of the lower half of his body, then looked back to her.
Her eyes, though red and swollen from tears, narrowed into a severe focus. She wasn’t going to fall apart. There were some things he knew intuitively about Rachel. One was that she was self-made, just like he was. At their core was something hard, relentlessly determined to fight against all odds. The only difference was she was soft around the edges, a woman. She might cry, but he could trust her gut instincts to get the job done.
“Mrs. Willoughby, please join us,” Dameon said.
Rachel stepped into the corridor.
“Stop. Now don’t move,” Dameon barked at her. Then, keeping his gun aimed at Jack, he bent to pick up Jack’s gun. He gave it an appreciative nod. “Glock 23. Not bad, but lots of cops carry them. You a cop, Jack?”
“More than gambling,” Rachel grumbled.
Damn, she was good at keeping her cover.
Dameon snorted and shoved the Glock in the pocket of his black leather coat. “Now that we got that little matter taken care of, I’m supposed to tell you that Mr. Watson sends his apologies for leaving, but he has other guests to entertain. He hoped you’d understand.”
The phony politeness set Jack’s teeth on edge. These lowlifes always seemed to think that a bit of congeniality made their bullying civilized.
“That’s generous of Mr. Watson,” Rachel said tartly.
“What can I say?” Dameon shrugged. “Mr. Watson’s a generous man.” Waving the gun between them, he asked, “How much money you lose?”
“Two—” Jack began but started to cough.
“Two million,” Rachael said.
Dameon whistled. “That’s not chump change.” He raised one of his bristly black brows, pursed his fleshy lips, and shook his head. “Your wife deserves better, Mr. Willoughby. You’re making her do your dirty work after you lose money having a little fun. That’s not cool.”
Dameon jerked his chin for Rachel to join Jack. “I’m not a doctor, but it sounds like he punctured a lung,” he said to her. “You should get him to a hospital. It’s a terrible thing, his getting drunk and passing out in the bathroom, isn’t it?”
Jack eased to his elbows. Was Watson going to let them go with merely a little roughing-up as a warning?
Rachel hooked her hands under his arms to help him sit. He eased his legs to the side, came to his knees, and staggered to a stand.
“Lift your arms,” Dameon said.
Jack started to raise his arms. The broken rib shifted. He groaned and stopped with his arms chest high.
Dameon barked, “All the way up.”
As he raised his arms, Jack clenched his jaw against the pain. Daemon patted him down roughly.
A different, soft touch on his coat sleeves guided his arms down.
“He’s done, Jack.” Rachel wrapped his arm over her shoulder.
Rachel scanned the area behind the house. Their limo, its engine purring at idle, was waiting in the drive leading to the five-car garage. No Watson. Maybe Tom was somewhere in the shadows, watching.
Victor, their limo driver and a fellow agent, opened the car door.
“Go ahead, Mrs. Willoughby,” Dameon said in his creepy, nice voice. “I’ll make sure her husband gets in,” he said to Victor.
Rachel slid across the seat while Dameon helped Jack in.
As the limo pulled away, Dameon waved them off like they were longtime buddies leaving a Super Bowl party. Rachel gripped the armrest. There was so much anger in her hands. She wanted to hurt Watson for what happened to Jack. Watson’s slavery ring was wrong to the core. It made her sick to her stomach to think of what the women had to endure. But what he’d done to Jack, right before her eyes, was personal. She was mad as hell—and she couldn’t do anything about it. They’d blown three years of work and plans A and B. There wasn’t any plan C.
The moment the limo lurched out of Watson’s drive, Victor’s head whipped around. Through the glass divider, his finger flew to his lips.
He was telling them the limo was bugged. They had to be careful what they said.
The electric motor of Jack’s window began to whir. “Need air,” he said, then tilted his head back in the headrest’s cradle. In the faint green glow of the instrument panel and orange flashes of streetlight, she saw that his eyes were fixed in an intense, inward-looking expression. She knew what he was thinking. He’d screwed it up. Kissing her had screwed it all up. She wanted to say something, but nothing seemed right. She bet he was thinking the kiss wasn’t worth the price he’d had to pay.
Victor turned down the street where the surveillance van was parked.
Tom. The gunshots in the basement corridor ricocheted through her memory. Her heart stopped. Tom could still be back there. She wanted to ask Victor if he’d heard anything, but she couldn’t.
Her cell phone rang. She flipped it open. Unknown number. Should she answer? It might make Watson more suspicious if she didn’t.
“Rachel, darlin’.” Frank’s smarmy sweet accent sickened her. Rachel mouthed his name to Jack.
“That husband of yours likes to gamble,” Watson said. “Would he up the stakes to 2.5 million?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s pretend tonight went just as you and your husband planned. Just as I promised, I’m going to take care of those two little problems you told me about. Wednesday at midnight I want to see you, and your two little problems, at 385 Griffin Street. A black Lexus will be waiting for y’all. If your husband is smart, he’ll follow us. If he’s really smart, he’ll tell Santos he has something worth his while to see. In person.”
“We’ll try.” Rachel was vaguely aware the limo had stopped, but she had to concentrate on the call.
“You better do more than try, Rachel. Santos isn’t a gentleman like me. I worry what he’ll do to you if he finds out how tonight really went. I said I’d take care of you, darlin’. I meant it.”
The call disconnected.
“What did…he want?” Jack asked.
A smirk spread over Jack’s face.
They had a plan C.
Suddenly Jack’s smile hardened into a grimace. He was looking past her.
Rachel swiveled in her seat.
Tom was glaring in through her window.
Relief that he was fine, mixed with alarm at his ticked-off expression, flooded through her.
Holding a finger to his lips, Tom opened the door and motioned her out. He reached behind her headrest and pulled out a cell phone. His thumb pressed over its microphone. “Anyone say anything to bust your cover?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Victor warned us.” Relieved that Tom was fine and hadn’t been shot, she wanted to hug him. But the Vargas sisters and Victor were watching. All she could do was put her hand on his arm. “I’m glad you didn’t get hurt coming in for us.”
“We never went in. We were about to when they ordered the limo around back. One of Watson’s men slipped Victor a tip to look the other way while they hid the phone. I figured they were going to let you go.” Tom motioned to the van. “Lucinda told me about what happened in the basement. Watson must have believed your Santos story.” He held up the phone, his thumb still blocking their conversation. “He wanted to make sure, though.”
“You didn’t go in? Who were they shooting at in the corridor?” Rachel wondered aloud.
“You,” Jack said from behind her. “Frank was furious at…you. He never stopped looking at you. When he saw us—”
“What the hell did he see, Jack?” Tom snapped.
Shit. Tom knew about the kiss. He must have heard them on the wire.
“Excuse me,” Tom said. “I have something to say to our partner.” He slid into the limo and slammed the door behind him.
Rachel crossed her arms tight over her chest and clutched the tops of her bare arms.
Looking at Tom, guilt stabbed at her stomach.
Looking at Jack, her heart melted. His eyes glinted with the same steeliness as when he’d faced Frank’s inquisition.
* * * * *
Wow. Things are heating up in more ways than one!
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