Read Loose Ends Online

Authors: Tara Janzen

Loose Ends (10 page)

He could have saved her the effort. He was the guy in charge. He’d tell her what her situation was in just a second, maybe two, just as soon as he finished easing through his own latest shock.

Peter. His kid brother, Kid Chaos
.

Geezus
, he couldn’t go back in the building. He’d just gotten out. The rescue had gone exactly as planned, and now he and Jack and Scout had a plane to catch. This whole trip down memory lane could be dealt with later, like in Paraguay, or maybe he should pull rank and reroute the endgame to Bangkok. Denver had turned out to be far more complicated than he could have predicted, and Thailand was a lot farther away than Paraguay. He didn’t want anyone to be able to “reach out and touch” Scout ever again. Once she was out of the country and safe, the plan was for him and Jack to come back, a forty-eight-hour turnaround max, to get
right back on the trail and follow these SDF dogs back to their master. Like all the hunters who had come after him before, he didn’t have a doubt in his mind that SDF was taking orders from Randolph Lancaster, whether they knew it or not.

Yeah, the rescue mission had gone exactly as planned—except for the wild thing.

Get rid of her
—that was the only answer. The Quick Mart would do, or he could get a little distance between him and Steele Street. Drive for a few miles, get into the suburbs somewhere and hit the eject button on the GTO: a quick slam on the brakes and an order to get out. Given her day so far, his biggest problem was making sure she didn’t hurt herself scrambling out of the car and away from him.

Hell
. Since when had kicking beautiful women out of his life become his modus operandi?

Too long ago to remember
was the sad truth.

He gave her another quick glance and caught her watching him with an unnerving intensity, her still-startled gaze unabashedly holding his, her pale green eyes locking onto his own, as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

He didn’t blame her. He was a mess. He knew it and had made a point of not spending too much time trying to imagine what had happened to him before he’d woken up in Souk’s prison laboratory.

Jungle girl Jane had to be imagining plenty.

Looking back out the windshield, he tightened his hands on the wheel and shifted down into second gear to make a turn southwest on Blake. Forget getting a few miles between him and Steele Street. He was taking her straight to the Quick Mart.

“Don’t worry,” he said, putting the car back up into third after rounding the turn. “I’m dropping you off at the next block.”

“I-I’m not worried.” Her voice came from the other side of the car, a little shaky but clear.

Right. Not worried. Just scared half senseless. Well, it wasn’t going to last much longer. He could see the Quick Mart up ahead on the right. There was traffic filling all three lanes of Blake, but none of the cars he’d seen at Steele Street were on his ass yet, and that was good. It wouldn’t take them long, though. The drop needed to happen fast, and he needed to get the hell on his way to the Star Motel, a dump up on the north end of Denver, his and Jack’s rally point.

With a smooth turn of the steering wheel, he sidled Corinna up to the curb in front of the convenience store.

“Get out” was the order—clean, simple, direct, with absolutely no room for misunderstanding.

“No” was her answer.

Which set him back a bit.

No?

What the hell did that mean?

“Get out of the car,” he said, elaborating a little, in case in all the confusion of the last few minutes, she was still struggling with shock.

“No,” she repeated, her voice even clearer than before.

His hands inadvertently tightened on the wheel. He didn’t have time for this. He really didn’t. He flicked his gaze up to the rearview mirror and, when it came back to her, found himself staring down the barrel of a Bersa Thunder .380.

“Turn off the car,” she said. “W-we’re staying here. W-we’re going to wait for Hawkins.”

Good girl
. She had a plan, and a gun to back it up. He was impressed, but not with the plan and not with the .380. To his way of thinking, when it came to pistols, even hothouse-gorgeous, long-legged, slinky brunettes wearing a minidress should be carrying a .45, just
because that’s the way things ought to be. But she’d drawn down on him, and done it damn fast, which pretty much put
her
in the driver’s seat for the next couple of nanoseconds, no matter where his butt was sitting, and he was impressed as hell.

He liked tough girls, even if she wasn’t tough enough to take him on.

In a move so smooth she couldn’t have seen it coming, even if he’d told her what he was going to do, he took her gun the same way he’d taken her knife. A lot of guys could have done it, but not a lot of guys could have done it without hurting her.

He didn’t want to hurt her.

But he did want her out of his car. He checked the gun’s safety, put it in his jacket pocket, and then looked up into the rearview mirror again.

“You’re running out of—”
Oh, hell
. The green Challenger had just turned the corner, two blocks back.

He spun the wheel and popped Corinna’s clutch, getting back into traffic, and when he saw the gold GTO pulling up to the corner at Wynkoop and 15th ahead of him, he had only two words for Jane.

“Buckle up.”

CHAPTER
NINE

Jack had spent four long days and three even longer nights up on the roof of the Bruso-Campbell Building formulating his plan, testing it out in his mind, going over it and over it, until he’d had all the kinks worked out—all the kinks, except this one.

Geezus
. He wouldn’t have had the balls for this kink, even if he had dreamed it up. Or maybe fantasized was the more accurate word, because, baby, this was as close to his favorite forbidden fantasy as he’d ever gotten, the fantasy that made him glad Con couldn’t read his mind, the one where he was plastered up against Scout, hip to groin, her long legs tangled with his, her bodacious breasts pressed against his chest, her beautiful, wondrous face so close he could have kissed her.

And in another world, some alternate reality in a galaxy far, far away, he might have kissed her, but not here, with the Denver skyline falling away above them and twilight descending, sending shadows streaking across her face. They were jammed into a corner of Steele Street’s gothic freight cage with a red 1970 Chevelle with black racing stripes taking up most of the space and a good damn bit of the breathable air.

He still had his arm around Scout’s waist from their drop over the side, and he was painfully aware of exactly how careful he was being to keep his touch impersonal,
to keep from holding her the way he wanted to hold her, the way he
needed
to hold her.

A hundred feet—that’s how much rappelling line he’d brought to the party, enough for them to drop six floors to the old freight elevator. There was no top to the cage, so he and Scout had landed right on the lift’s platform, where he’d planned to spend a couple of seconds unhooking the rope from his harness before they climbed down to the street. But two seconds had proven to be a second and a half too long. They’d no sooner landed than the garage door into the building had opened up and the Chevelle had roared in and come to a sudden, screeching halt.

He and Scout had melted back into the shadows so fast, the guy in the car hadn’t noticed. He knew this because the guy in the car hadn’t gotten out and tried to shoot his ass. It was dark. They’d been on the near side of the lift, where none of the interior light reached, and they were now laminated together, squeezed behind a support beam in the corner off the car’s rear bumper, both of them being as damned invisible as they could get.

They were good at it, with him mostly in black and gray and Scout about the same in a two-tone olive drab/charcoal gray T-shirt and a pair of gusseted dark cargo pants. Stillness, that was the key, and they’d both gone mannequin.

Except Scout’s heart was racing, her breath coming fast and shallow, and she was shaking, a low-level trembling she couldn’t seem to control—but man, she’d nailed the escape without missing a beat.


Jack,
” she whispered his name, and he gave a short nod, letting her know he’d heard her and was ready to receive whatever information she was ready to give.


Jack …
” A short sob escaped her, and every cell in his body went on instant alert. This wasn’t about intel.

When she sobbed again and her hand tightened on his waist, he instantly went into caveman mode, protecting what was his, pulling her in close, lamination-level close, and holding her tight. Scout crying?

Fuck
. What had those bastards done to her?

They would die for it. He knew that damn much.

“Scout? What happened?” He was thinking the worst, so help him God. “Whatever they did, baby, you’re safe now,” he whispered a promise he could keep. “I’m here. I’ve got you.”

And she whacked him, a solid torso hit. “You’re
never
here. That’s the damn problem.”

True, but
geezus
. He’d just blown up a building and thrown himself over the side of it for her.

She hit him again, but it was halfhearted at best, and then she crumpled against him, holding him like she wasn’t ever going to let him go.

Which would be damn fine by him. He’d been ready for her for a long time.

Too ready.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Sorry I wasn’t with you in Paraguay. You and Con needed me, and I was—”

“His name isn’t Con,” she broke in, her words harsh in his ear, her hands tightening on his waist.

The news set Jack back on his heels—not that he hadn’t been expecting it for years. Hell, he’d been looking for the boss’s real name since the day they’d met.

“What do you know?” he asked. If she had a name, everything changed.

“He has a brother, here, at Steele Street, and a whole family, a father, aunts, uncles, cousins,” she said through her tears. “He has a past, Jack, and it’s here, in Denver.”

Okay, that was great, really great, if it was true. All over the world, no matter the job at hand, the three of them had always been looking for clues to Con’s past, and maybe Scout had fallen into the mother lode. Maybe.

“He was a Marine, like my dad, Recon.”

And that explained a lot.

“They told me his name is J. T. Chronopolous.”

Geezus
. For something they’d wanted for so long, the name was surprisingly hard to hear.

“Sounds like you had a helluva eight weeks.”

She nodded, still trembling.

“Okay,” he said, moving ahead with the plan. “Let’s get out of here, and then we’ll figure out what to do.”

She nodded again and, to his everlasting disappointment, pulled away. He wasn’t surprised. She got only about an inch of distance, but he felt every long millimeter of it.

Yard after rattling creaking yard, the elevator ground its way down to the alley with the car rumbling and shaking. In all the diversionary tactics he and Con had gone over, there hadn’t been one that included a mass exodus of Steele Street’s classic muscle cars, but he noticed when, besides the Chevelle in the cage with them, another big-block monster, a midnight blue GTO, tore down the street. Moments later, another automotive street machine streaked past—the green 1971 Challenger the redhead had driven to the Quick Mart.

So where was everybody going? he wondered. For reinforcements? Or was it total surrender, an out-and-out retreat?

A small eternity of her silent tears later, they slid by the third floor, and he stifled an exasperated groan. The lift was taking for-fricking-ever, and he’d just about reached his maximum Scout Leesom saturation point, had about all he could take of breathing her in, of feeling her sadness and not being allowed to help. She owned the word “tomboy,” but she smelled like a girl, felt like a girl. Worst of all, when they were this close, even with that damn inch between them, she felt like
his
girl.

And his girl was wound tight, the tension rolling off
her in waves, and, more than likely, a boatload and a half of it was directed at him. There were a few things he didn’t know about her, like how she looked in a dress. But he knew how she felt about him: angry, day in and day out. It wore at him. The last time they’d been in the same room had been the day she and Con had come down to the Florida Keys to drag him back into the fold—his last great failed escape.

What had that woman’s name been, the blonde’s? he wondered, watching a white 4 painted on the fourth-floor garage door slowly disappear above them.

Ah, Maggie
, it came to him. That was right.

A big white numeral 3 slid into view, and the lift kept descending, and still neither of them moved.

Well, Maggie didn’t know how close she’d come to finally getting him banished forever. Scout had been so tight-jawed furious with him. And all he’d been doing was trying to forget her.

It never worked. Never.

For a moment, no more, he closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of her hair, let it fill his senses, but he didn’t move. He didn’t spread his fingers wider across the small of her back. He didn’t pull her back in closer to him.

Closer into love, closer into inevitable disaster.

There was no winning, not here, not between them.

He’d tried to forget her hundreds of times, thousands, sometimes with another woman, most times just with the sheer adrenaline rush of living as far out on the edge as he could get. So he took jobs even Con walked away from, and he took chances no sane man would hazard, and he did his damnedest not to cross her path.

But here he was again, crossed every which way he could get and as close as he’d ever been.

The freight cage rolled past the second-floor garage door with its big painted 2, and a heightened sense of readiness passed through Scout to him. He understood.
He was ready, too. He couldn’t have her, but he could get her out of Steele Street and out of Denver.

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