Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (36 page)

Yanked to her feet, she lost her balance and nearly toppled into the destroyed camera, its parts spread all over the floor. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a soft green light glowing from the shadows.

Zeb was getting everything, God bless his old curmudgeon-y heart. The damn fool better get out of the building in time. If not, Savanna hoped Trace would save him. She knew better than to believe Trace had left like she’d instructed. She’d known what she was getting into; Zeb was an innocent bystander.

The first agent hauled her out the front door into the snow. Linc Norman stood idling beside a black limo, head tipped back, stargazing. A third man stood guard a few feet away.

Norman wore a dark wool trench coat, his blond bangs lifting in the breeze as he tipped his head down and looked her over. “See, I knew you’d do something stupid, Van, and I really hate it when my high school football replay is interrupted by mindless drama.”

The agent holding her kicked her in the back of the knees, forcing her to kneel at the president’s feet.

The wet snow instantly soaked through her pant legs, the freezing air biting at her skin. She scanned the front parking lot; the lights here were in working order, but still fighting with the night to illuminate the place. They reflected off the snow, throwing weird shadows over the president’s face.

“Where’s my sister?” Savanna demanded.

Norman laughed. “Actually, I have no idea.”

“What? You said you had her.”

He shrugged. “I lied. Sue me.”

“But…we had a deal.”

The door banged open and the second Secret Service agent shoved Zeb out into the snow. He was cuffed, too, and blood ran from his nose.

Norman shook a finger at him. “You’re in deep doo-doo, Zeb, helping this traitor. I thought you’d retired.”

Zeb spit on the ground.

Retired? Zeb would never retire from broadcasting.

“Leave him out of this,” Savanna said. Her teeth were chattering and her head pounded. She could feel a lump coming up on her forehead. “He had nothing to do with this. I forced him to open the studio for me.”

“Really? You
forced
him? What did you threaten him with, a microphone?” Norman smiled at his own joke. “Where’s your bodyguard, Van?”

“He’s not my bodyguard anymore. I fired him. Where’s my sister?”

His smile faded. “She’s still in the wind.”

“You said she was at Langley. I heard her voice on the phone.”

“You heard a recording.”

At her look of confusion, he continued. “On her last trip abroad, I had her phone conversations recorded. I suspected she was up to something and I might need some leverage down the road. Oh, Savanna. I miss you!” he mimicked and laughed.

The saliva in Savanna’s mouth went dry. A sharp stab of hate set her chest on fire. But if he didn’t have Parker, that was good. “Thank God she’s too smart for you, you conniving son-of-a-bitch.”

“You think you’re the only one who can trick people?”

“Seems like you should win a Golden Globe for tricking people. You’ve done a bang-up job of deceiving the American public.”

He waved a hand. “A bunch of whiners and slackers. I’m building a super army and getting ready for the future. To protect them while they sit in front of their televisions eating fast food and watching
The Bachelor
.”

“Without any oversight or Congressional approval. You’ve become a dictator.”

“I don’t have time to wait on Congress. I thought Parker understood that. Her program was going to be a pivotal turning point in my administration, in the future of counterterrorism. But don’t worry, I
will
find her, and when I do, I’ll make sure that incredible brain of hers is turned to dust.”

“You’re using people for your own devices, just like the female soldier in the program you drugged and raped. When you found out she was pregnant with your child, you sent the only super soldier you had left from Project 24 to kill her.”

He smiled and held up his hands. “I admit, I got a little greedy, but with great power comes great responsibility. That child would have destabilized my presidency, don’t you see? Should I be judged by one unfortunate accident after all the good I’ve done for the country?”

He’d twisted the famous quote around for his own self-serving purposes. “You call drugging and raping a woman an unfortunate accident?”

“Always hung up on details, aren’t you, Van? Well, here’s a detail for you. You’re about to die.”

He snapped his fingers at the guard holding onto Zeb. “Where’s the file?”

The agent produced her laptop from inside his coat and handed it to Norman. “It’s on here.”

“I assume this isn’t the only copy?” Norman said to her. “You’re too smart for that. The good news is, no one can corroborate this information. It’s sad, really. I’m going to tell everyone that you were so distraught after being fired, you had to make up some crazy story about me in an effort to get your job back. You staged everything to dupe the American public. Now, you’re feeling guilty and are about to commit suicide, taking Zeb, here, with you.”

He tossed the laptop through the limo’s open window, cocked his chin at the man holding Zeb. “Burn the place down. We don’t want any evidence.”

“Yes, sir,” the man said, heading into the building.

Norman held out a hand to the closest guard. “Give me your weapon.”

“Sir?”

Still holding out his hand, Norman took a step closer to Savanna, towering over her with a sinister look of glee on his face. “I’ve waited for this moment for a long time. This kill is mine.”

The Secret Service agent took a black gun from a shoulder holster inside his coat and handed it to the president. Then he stepped back.

Bloodstains and brain splatter were so hard to get out of clothes after all.

Norman’s leather glove squeaked in the cold air as he tightened his grip on the stock of the gun. The sterile metal barrel bit into Savanna’s forehead and she clenched her teeth to stop their chattering.

Where was Trace? Had he really left her?

Her body felt frozen, her heart doing a staccato beat in her chest.
Think, think, think!

The president had the upper hand, but then, he’d had the upper hand all along. All she could do was hope she’d gotten enough of the information out there that someone would take up her cause. Parker was still alive and so was Trace. They could corroborate the facts.

She’d done her job.

But there was no way she was going down without a fight.

Raising her eyes, she stared up past the barrel of the gun at Linc Norman. “You’re done for, Mr. President.”

“Really?” He chuckled. “Because out of the two of us, Van, you’re the one about to die.”

And then, out of nowhere, a snowball hit the president in the back of the head.

Snow flew around his hair and he gasped, recoiling and whirling around. The agent who had no gun grabbed him and began to hustle him into the limo, but Norman shoved him away.

An explosion sounded from inside the building, making everyone flinch. Flames shot out from a busted window.

The agent next to Zeb drew his weapon and moved it in an arc, scanning the parking lot as he walked forward, ready to cover the president.

“Hunter,” Norman called. “Is that you? Show yourself, you coward.”

One second, there were only shadows at the edge of the parking lot, the next, Trace emerged. “I can’t let you shoot her.”

Norman laughed. “About time you showed up.”

Trace approached, walking casually, no weapon in sight. He didn’t look at her and, for a split second, Savanna’s thoughts went to a dark place. Was Trace Hunter in cahoots with the president?

Nonono
.

Suddenly hyperventilating, sensation disappeared in her fingers and toes.

“Let her go,” Trace said. He stopped a few feet from the president and held open his arms. “You can have me. Take your best shot. I’m the one you wanted all along. It’s personal between us, isn’t it?”

She couldn’t see Norman’s face, but she saw him raise the gun. “I like this arrangement.”

Trace finally looked at her, his eyes saying it all. Sadness. Regret. Love.

He was willing to sacrifice himself for her.

Savanna’s stomach fell.

“First, you let her go,” Trace said, returning his attention to the president.

“What? You don’t trust me?” Norman scratched at the back of his head where the snowball had struck. Snowflakes fluttered down. “Ah, Hunter, you know I can’t do that.”

She didn’t hear any cock of the gun. Didn’t sense any change in Norman’s body. But she couldn’t let him kill Trace. In an instance, she was up and moving, charging the man she hated most in the world.

A cry of anger left her mouth as she launched herself at his back. At the same time, Trace yelled her name, his voice lost in her own shout, his eyes wide as he ran toward her.

Startled by her cry, Norman turned. Savanna hit him full force, the impact forcing the breath from her lungs. She heard the crack of the gun, felt the tear of flesh.

She knocked him down, unable to stop herself from falling on top of him.

The gun went off again, the sound an explosion in her ears.

Above her, there was shouting, more gunshots. They seemed distant. She no longer felt cold.

She was lifted from Norman, who was spewing words at her that she couldn’t quite make out. White-hot pain drilled her body. The world spun.

Her eyes had to be playing tricks on her. From the corner of one eye, she noticed Zeb had taken down a Secret Service agent. Another lay on the ground in an unmoving heap.

Trace.

Solid arms held her. Over the ringing in her ears, she heard him saying her name over and over. He laid her on the ground behind the president’s car. A fireball went up; the building belching smoke and heat like a furnace on steroids.
Maybe that’s why I’m not cold
.

“Trace?” she said, but couldn’t hear her own voice.

Her eyelids were heavy. Too heavy. She saw boots, shadows, the president jumping up from the ground. The bastard was still alive.

Blood covered his wool coat, his hand. The hand still holding a gun…raising it…pointing at someone just out of her sight.

“No!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Trace!”

A boot came up. A boot she’d seen a hundred times. Connecting with Norman’s hand, sending the gun flying.

The glint of the fire—
so pretty
—reflected on the metal as the gun sailed through the night air.

Two men wrestling, snow flying, ashes from the fire falling.

Her lids fell, she jerked them open.

They fell again.

Help Trace! Stay awake.

Parker’s face swam into view, a dream. Her lips were moving, but Savanna heard nothing. Parker’s hands were moving, filled with snow. She was packing the snow.

Wanna play?
A snowball fight now?

I’m hallucinating.

Savanna blinked, trying to force the image away.

Love you, sis, but I need to help Trace
.

Savanna closed her eyes. Forced them open again. Parker’s face was gone.

She tried to roll over, tried to reach out and grab something, anything, to leverage herself upright.
Move, dammit.

Her body was numb, nothing would obey her commands. Not her hands, not her feet, not her eyelids.

The stars look so close
, she thought.

And then she couldn’t breathe.

Chapter Twenty-five

_____________________

______________________________________________________

T
HE PRESIDENT’S GOONS
were accounted for, their bodies strewn across the parking lot where snow was turning to water as the building burned.

The old man, the station owner, watched the fire with a stoic face. He’d tried to run to Savanna, to help her, but Norman had stopped him.

In the distance, sirens sounded. In his ear, Trace heard Rory briefing him on the coming deluge of police and fire fighters headed his way.

Trace stood motionless, facing down Linc Norman. The usual calm he felt in battle had deserted him. His mind whirled with takedown scenarios, his heart threatened to beat out of his chest.

Save Savanna, save Savanna, save Savanna
.

Norman had fired off three bullets by Trace’s count and recovered the gun in their scrimmage. If the magazine in the gun had been full, that meant he had twelve left.

Twelve bullets he’d be happy to put in Trace.

At least one of the three fired was now lodged inside Savanna. From behind the back of the limo where he’d moved her, blood now mixed with the snow.

Too much blood.

From the bloom of red on the front of her shirt, he knew she’d been gut shot. She would hemorrhage out if he didn’t get to her soon.

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