Authors: Jennifer Harlow
"She-She-She told me you were dead," I say when I can finally speak.
"We are," Lexie says. I look to her. "Well, Liberty and Nightingale anyway."
I glance at Jem. "It's for the best. For Lexie. If they think Liberty's dead, and Lexie isn't, suspicion should dissipate. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, my love." He kisses my forehead again. "One of us was supposed to be here at all times until you woke."
Lexie pulls up a chair to my bedside. "My fault." She touches my leg. "You gave us quite the scare there."
a scare?" I hold up my demolished hand. "What the hell took you so long? When the fifth signal popped up, you were supposed to swoop in and attack.
was the plan."
"I'm sorry, okay? It took longer to fly in from Independence than I thought. I couldn't exactly come commercial, and I had to instruct the decoy and fight Ache in the morning so Cain would believe I was still there. It was your plan. And it worked. He's dead, and we're alive. We win."
I stare at Jem, who doesn't remove his gaze from the floor. "He's dead? You're sure?" I ask. "What happened?"
"Well, I rescued you," Lexie begins, "went back in, yanked the rod from Jem, picked him up, and flew us out just as the boat blew. My force field shielded us from the worst of it. Guess the marine unit missed little old us as we were a hairsbreadth from that huge fireball. Knocked us into the drink."
"You're sure Jordan was on the boat when it exploded?"
"Oh, yes," Lexie says with a miniscule smile. "I saw him right before we took off."
"He must have regained consciousness when Lexie reached me," Jem says solemnly. "Pressed the detonator. Tried to take us out with him."
"But he didn't have--"
I stop myself. Though Lexie's face has frozen and her slightly scared, downcast eyes tell all. Understanding fills me. I can even picture the scene. The avenging angel swoops in to save her friend, yet on her way to Jem picks up the detonator from the platform. Jordan remains unconscious on the floor as she saves Jem, then triggers the bombs as she glides out. She murdered him. She could have gone back to arrest him, instead she blew him up. And his goons. Holy fuck.
"But he didn't have what?" Jem asks.
Lexie finally meets my gaze. All I see inside their dark pools is pain. I'd recognize that look anywhere. The same look I saw in mine whenever I thought of Justin. Cain tormented her for years. He beat her, burned her, tortured her. Then he slaughtered the love of her life. He'd escaped custody once, escaped death another. He'd keep coming for all of us. Without question. She did it for love. For us. How can I condemn that? And what good could it serve for him to know? I'll carry this one for him. For them both.
I break our wordless exchange to turn to Jem. "What? I'm sorry?"
"You said something. 'But he didn't have' what?"
"What? Sorry, the drugs are making me loopy."
"I'll, uh," Lexie says as she stands, "go tell your police friends you're awake. Give you two lovebirds some time alone."
As she's about to step out, I call, "Lexie?" She stops to look at me. I give her a reverent nod. "Thank you."
"Thank you." My friend nods back and steps out.
Just the two of us now.
"Can-Can I get you anything?" he asks.
"Can you just hold me?" With a content, sweet smile, the man I love nods. I turn over on my good side as he climbs onto the small bed, spooning me. I hug the arm he drapes over me. The entire process hurts, but is so worth it. I relax for the first time in weeks. It's over. It is really, truly over. And here's my prize. "Are you alright?"
"Far better now," he whispers.
"Are you really retiring from the superhero racket?"
"I think for awhile at least. Why? Would you love me any less if I did?"
"Oh, absolutely. No question. I love the cape, not the man."
"Well, I do still have the cape. Perhaps we can get you one too."
"No, thank you Dr. Ambrose. I've faced two supervillains. I've met my quota for life. I'll do my life saving from behind Doris or through charity work from here on in." I squeeze his hand. "Besides, I promised you a million nights. And I always keep my word."
The love of my life remains silent for a moment, then kisses the back of my neck. "You saved my life, Joanna Fallon. In every conceivable way." He pauses. "You're my hero."
"I'm no hero, Jem. I'm just the woman who loves you."
"As I said…" His lips curl into a smile against my neck. "My hero."
"My goodness, you look like hell."
"Sensitive and considerate as always, Ryder. Thank you."
I sit curled up in our new comfy black leather lounge chair. Our first purchase together. I told him if I was staying at his apartment for the foreseeable future, I'd need one piece of furniture not rock hard or worth a fortune. The matching sofa arrives in two days. The laptop linked to Doris rests on his coffee table with Ryder's face filling the screen. Jem's out picking up our dinner, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to make my obligatory call. A promise is a promise.
"Seriously, Joanna. You look dreadful."
"Well, you should see the other guy. He's in pieces at the bottom of the ocean."
"Yep. I finally met a man more twisted and depraved than you, Jimmy. Jealous?"
"I assume we're discussing Emperor Cain. I saw the news. Quite the ordeal you endured."
The official story is Cain found out my affiliation with his sworn enemies, threatened my life, then killed my friend in retaliation. That was when I discovered the connection between Nightingale and Cain and decided not only to finally involve the police but to force the hero from town. It was also when I started fighting with Jem so Cain wouldn't make him a target as he had Brendan. The day of the boat, I received word Jem was injured and contacted the police, but Cain still grabbed me to lure the Triumvirate in. Nightingale and Tempest arrived first and while they were battling Cain, Liberty rescued me, then went to help her friends. Cain blew the boat with all inside. A tragedy. V even interviewed Lexie for confirmation. She claimed we had a falling out after I informed her why her husband was murdered. Still, she rushed to my side after the event. There were people who swore they saw her in Independence when the boat blew then boarding a plane with records to back up her story. I love it when a plan comes together.
"You don't know the half of it, Ryder."
"Called to gloat?"
"No. To say thank you."
"Thank you? Why?"
Oh, just tell him, Jo. You know you want to. And who is he going to tell? "You're really going to like this. Actually, you're the only one who can really appreciate it. It all goes back to something you said during our second conversation. 'Don't play the cards, play the player.' But first you need to know your opponent. Cain realized this first. When he broke into my house it wasn't for the computer, it was to plant cameras and microphones. He hid them all over my house. You said it yourself, you wanted eyes and ears in the mansion yet couldn't get in. He found a way. Now, my first instinct was to use this fact to feed him false information. Act as if I didn't know about them and misdirect him."
"Simple but smart."
"Nope. Stupid. Because he was listening to
conversation. He knew you planted the idea in my head about surveillance. He thought I was stupid, not a total moron. He also knew his brother and I were in love. I was on borrowed time regardless. He was going to kill me as soon as I lost my usefulness to him, if not sooner. So I knew I had to do something, not only to keep myself and Liberty alive but draw him out.
"So I thought about you, and asked myself the same thing I asked you: why didn't you just leave? Sail off into the sunset? And it came to me: hubris. You came after Justin because he deigned to challenge you, and he won. He believed he was better than you, and you had to prove he wasn't. So I considered this, what really drove Cain, and my two goals: stay alive and lure him from his hole. Thus began the farce.
"I knew he'd see through my crap plan, but he didn't know
knew he would. I stuck that farce until it hurt, giving Cain exactly what he wanted: his brother. Alone. Afraid. Weak so Cain could pick up the pieces. And while I was being entertaining, while I was acting as if I were smarter than he was, he'd keep me alive. It also ensured he'd want a face-to-face to lord it over me that he saw through my pathetic display, that I wasn't a worthy opponent or competitor for his brother's heart. That I was beneath him. Not up to the game. But that still wasn't enough. Deep down he's a coward, so he'd only surface if he thought he was losing control of his players. When the game wasn't fun anymore. We had to
our love. Our devotion. So I had to out Nightingale. And as I anticipated, when Cain realized his brother would risk everything for me, the person who truly had his heart,
when Cain surfaced. And in that moment, it was all over. We got him."
"But he could have killed you."
"I was dead already. Borrowed time, remember? Besides, once again, he underestimated me. He was so dazzled by our two person play, he forgot about the third player. Liberty. Liberty, who stormed into the Justice lair, practically shouted I tried to enlist her in my plan, then stormed out. Who was hundreds of miles away, making herself visible there every day, including D-Day. Nightingale did technically get her husband killed. She had a
reason to hate him, and me by association. What Cain didn't know was this entire plan was detailed in the note I slipped her at the memorial, and any changes that I thought necessary, I passed to Dobbs or Shannon, who then texted her on a secret cell."
"So the one bad con was to hide the two good cons. Clever."
"Don't play a player. Would you have fallen for it?"
He smiles. "No, but only because I learned my lesson the last time."
"Never underestimate you. Never. It would be a gross injustice."
I grin. "If only you could have known that sooner, right?" The front door opens, and Jem steps in with our Chinese food. I glance back at the screen. "Sorry, Ryder. Dinner's here. Oh, and you might not hear from me for awhile. I'm taking a long vacation with a very gorgeous man. I'll call when I get back. I need to pick your brain about the Albanians. Till then." I shut off the webcam.
"Albanians?" Jem asks as he unloads the cartons.
"They're a major drug supplier." I stroll over to him. "New target for the resurrected Captain Moonlight and his lovely silent partner and her supercomputer."
"Just a thought."
"Of course." I root around in the bag. "Crap. They forgot the sauce again."
"You mean…" He reaches into his pocket, revealing three packets of orange duck sauce, "this sauce? I grabbed some on the way out."
A huge smile creeps across my face as I move toward him. I throw my arm around his neck, slowly drawing him into a deep kiss. Oh, how I love this man. I break apart and stare into those eyes of his that melt me every time. "
Guess sometimes there is some justice in this world.
The Galilee Falls Trilogy will conclude with
FALL OF HEROES
First, thanks to Damonza for another beautiful cover. You're the best for a reason.
Thanks to my Betas: Susan, Jill, and especially Ginny.
Thanks to the Fairfax County Library, Prince William County Library, and Fayette County Library systems for providing me a place to write, otherwise I'd be known as the crazy hermit lady.
Thanks to all who spread the word about this and my other series. I mean it, you are all my champions. Really.
To my family who put up with me. And thanks to Mom and Liam for helping me come up with the ending.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Harlow spent her restless childhood fighting with her three brothers and scaring the heck out of herself with horror movies and books. She grew up to earn a degree at the University of Virginia which she put to use as a radio DJ, crisis hotline volunteer, bookseller, lab assistant, wedding coordinator, and government investigator. Currently she calls Northern Virginia home but that restless itch is ever present. In her free time, she continues to scare the beejepers out of herself watching scary movies and opening her credit card bills. She is the author of the Amazon best-selling F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, Midnight Magic Mystery series and
, the first in the superhero thriller trilogy. For the soundtrack to her books and other goodies visit her at
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