Authors: Tara Janzen
I don’t need your charity.” She dropped the chopsticks and reached for her pack. Before she could take it, he put his hand on top of hers
It’s not charity.
Then what is it?
His answer, when it finally came, proved even more unnerving than him talking to the cops. “I don’t know. Probably the same thing that’s been bringing you up to this rooftop almost every night for the last two weeks.
He’d known she was watching for him?
Now she was really embarrassed
Right.” To hell with the backpack. She’d make it up tomorrow
She started to her feet, but he grabbed her wrist
Please,” he said, and carefully, slowly released her. “Don’t go, not yet.
It’s late,” she said—and she felt like a fool
Can I buy you breakfast, lunch, dinner tomorrow?
He wanted to see her again?
Which one?” she asked, skeptical as hell. Maybe he was working for the cops on the side. She knew the Denver Police wanted to clean out her crew. This one cop, Lieutenant Loretta, really had it out for her and Sandman. Social Services was that woman’s answer for everything
All three,” he said. “I’m headed out of town at the end of the week, the Army thing, and I don’t know exactly how long I might be gone. I’d like to spend some time with you.
She didn’t know. Somehow it seemed damned risky, and yet …
How about just breakfast?” he asked
Sure. She could agree to breakfast
All right,” she said, and then had to fight the stupid grin she felt coming on. She was going to see him again, talk with him. For the first time in a long time, she felt light inside, like all those things that weighed on her every day were lifting a bit
Great,” he said, a broad smile spreading across his face. He rose to his feet and reached his hand down to pull her up. “Do you know Duffy’s?
The bar on the corner,” she said, accepting his hand and standing up
Yeah. They serve breakfast. Can you meet me there at seven tomorrow morning?
He was still holding on to her hand, and as much as she loved it, she was also unnerved. In her line of work, it was hard to make a living if a person was holding your hand
Duffy’s at seven. Sure.” She pulled her hand free and swung her pack over her shoulder
Good God, she had a date at one of the classiest breakfast joints in Denver. So what in the world was she going to wear?
A skirt, she remembered. That’s what she’d come up with, a gauzy little ivory-colored summer skirt with black bows at the waist, a pair of pink-and-white striped leggings, and a black tank top, everything scored at a secondhand shop on her way home, a secondhand shop with a broken basement window.
She’d shopped there a lot back in the bad old days.
Still looking down the street, a pained sigh escaped her, echoing the ache in her chest. Why hadn’t she moved faster to stop him?
Shock had held her where she stood, but she should have moved faster. Instinct alone had guided her hand. She’d seen an opportunity, and she’d taken it, but, damn, she wished she’d said something to him.
J. T. Chronopolous
—he hadn’t been scarred back then, except for three straight lines he’d had on his upper left arm.
The man on the street had been scarred everywhere, on his hands, his neck, his face—but so help her God, she knew that face.
Looking down, she reached into her zebra purse and flipped open the wallet she’d just lifted off him. It was made out of olive green canvas, heavy-duty, with double-stitched seams, and she’d had to work like light-fingered lightning to slip it out of his back pocket. She was good—for all the good it had done her.
Conroy Farrel, that’s what his driver’s license said, the whole of it in Spanish, issued in Paraguay.
Farrel, not Chronopolous.
Her heart sank just a little bit, and she looked back down the street. Every sense she had was telling her she’d just seen J. T. Chronopolous, not some man named Conroy Farrel. It had been in his eyes. “Forever eyes” she’d called them, back when she’d been ridiculously infatuated with him, like she’d seen all the way to forever whenever she’d looked into them, like they’d opened onto the cosmos, a window not into his soul but out to the far, depthless reaches of the universe. What a romantic sap she’d been back then, and yet, as a woman, she would still call them compelling, intensely so, and the eyes that had held hers for that brief second of contact had been exactly the same as those she remembered from so long ago—J.T.’s.
The light changed at 20th and Wazee, and after checking both ways first, she crossed and kept heading north.
She had been heading home, but she needed to get to 738 Steele Street to see Christian Hawkins.
Superman had saved her half a dozen times over the years. She owed him her life.
She sure as hell owed him the wallet she’d just lifted off the man heading south on Wazee Street.
From where he was settled into his hide on the roof of the Bruso-Campbell Building, Jack Traeger checked his watch, then looked through his binoculars one last time. Four days of recon on 738 Steele Street had finally given him what he wanted—a lock on Scout’s location.
Tenth floor. West side.
He hadn’t seen her, but he knew Morse code, and he sure as hell knew what
meant, and he’d seen it flashed from the tenth floor two hours ago; then an hour ago, he’d gotten
. Three dots, the letter
, the first letter in the international distress signal, SOS. The three dashes were the letter
Four days of chatter, with him switching from floor to floor with the laser mike and a laptop, and they’d only been teased with the sound of her voice a few times, each time from a different floor. She sounded good, but he wouldn’t be happy until he saw her for himself, and now he had a lock on her location—so they were going in.
The gods of war were with them.
He keyed his radio.
“Alpha Two, my money is still on the tenth floor,” he said, talking while he stowed his binoculars with the rest of his gear. Every move he made was practiced, smooth, timed. “Did you catch Cherie at the Quick Mart?”
“Roger,” Con replied. “Alpha One heading in. Give me fifteen minutes.”
“Roger.” Fifteen minutes to create utter chaos. Fifteen
minutes to get inside 738 Steele Street and turn the place inside out. Fifteen minutes for Jack to get to the tenth floor and rescue Scout.
That was his job, his only job. Con had all but beaten it into him:
Get Scout, and get her out
Nothing else. No sidebar heroics, no coming back into the building for any reason. Get her and get her out of Denver, out of Colorado, out of the country. That was the mission, and Jack was all for it. If he’d been in Paraguay doing his job, instead of in Eastern Europe picking up work on the side, she wouldn’t have been captured in the first place, and he’d felt the heavy weight of that mistake ever since Con had contacted him. By then she’d already been gone for over six weeks.
He didn’t blame Con for the delay. The guy had been fighting for his life. But they’d finally gotten here, and Jack had to save her, whatever it took. God forbid, if she’d been hurt in any way, these bastards would go down in fucking flames.
She wouldn’t be glad to see him, not after the last time she’d seen him, in Key Largo. He knew that much. He wasn’t an idiot. The Florida situation had been a disaster, but she was smart enough to put their personal situation aside to get the job done—he hoped.
. It was never supposed to have gotten to a “personal situation” between them. God knew he’d done his best to keep their relationship strictly on the up-and-up, purely professional, no entanglements.
He should have known better. They were tangled, all right. They’d been tangled from the minute he’d first laid eyes on her four years ago in Rangoon, a gorgeous mulatto girl, with Con the protector at her side. She’d been eighteen, and he’d known better—then. Now he didn’t know anything when it came to Scout, except that he was getting damn tired of keeping to the high ground.
Okay, the middle to the low ground, if a person included the blonde he’d shacked up with in Key Largo for a few weeks last winter. She’d been a great girl, a Key-easy cocktail waitress, short, round, sweet, and unlikely to kick his ass—the exact opposite of everything that was Scout.
Scout kicked him. She kicked him hard, especially in the small, unguarded part of his heart that he hadn’t even known he’d had until he’d seen her.
It was ridiculous, the height of stupidity, and had been for four years, ever since Con had found her. He didn’t need it. Scout was trouble. He and Con made a good team. For a price, they provided the best personal security on the planet. For a price, they guaranteed delivery of anything anywhere, from cargo, to cash, to ransom, to the unknown. For a helluva price, they did hostage rescue and facilitated negotiations between a hundred varieties of despots and governments, most of which were barely discernible from each other on any given day of the week. Today’s warlord was often tomorrow’s prime minister in the places where his and Con’s reputations ensured the highest remuneration for their services. They lived well. Jack had cash stashed in banks from the Caymans to Switzerland, and he wasn’t about to screw it all up wanting what he couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have—namely Scout.
Good. He was glad he had that all straightened out in his head—again.
Besides, Con had told him she had a boyfriend now, some Dutch asshole she’d met in London named Karl. He just hoped old Karl had enough brains to stay out of Jack’s reach, or Scout would be looking for a new boy.
. So glad he had everything all straightened out in his head. Con had made a damn point of telling him how great the guy was, how good he was for Scout, some kind of college professor idiot.
How in the hell Scout could take up with a professor was beyond Jack. Hell. The only degree Jack had was his Ranger tab.
He closed the last compartment on his backpack and slipped the straps over his shoulders, then bandoliered a length of climbing rope with a grappling hook across his chest. He’d rigged a zip line from the Bruso-Campbell to 738 Steele Street last night, running it behind the old freight elevator. With him accessing the building in daylight, he was counting on Con to provide the appropriate distraction with a few flash bangs or whatever the hell it took to get the job done. Once they got Scout out, he didn’t care if the building crumbled to the ground, not that the explosive devices he and Con had rigged were likely to do that much damage—but they sure as hell would get everyone’s attention.
Leaning over the roof, he used a carabiner to clip a handgrip onto the pulley on the zip line, and then he checked his watch again and settled in to wait—twelve minutes.
Karl, a damned Dutch professor.
What was up with that? She’d never had a boyfriend before.
He’d ask her. That’s what he’d do, ask her about her jerk boyfriend, clear the air between them, and then he really needed to move on.
Great. He had a plan. He was moving on.
He checked his watch.
“Fill me in,” Dylan said, coming out of the Steele Street elevator with Skeeter.
His second in command, Christian Hawkins, glanced up from where he was listening on the phone, signaled him to hold on just a second, then went back to the call. Skeeter headed straight to the security camera console and checked the monitors. A wall of windows in the office overlooked the seventh-floor garage.
Hawkins keyed a sequence into his computer and glanced up again after hanging up the phone.
“That was Jane Linden,” he said, his face grim. “She swears she just saw J.T. down on Wazee, heading south.”
“South?” Dylan asked calmly, controlling a sudden rush of excitement. The Quick Mart was south. “Have we heard from Zach?”
Hawkins nodded. “He checked in just before Jane called.”
“And?” Dylan asked.
“There was a distraction at the Quick Mart, a small amount of smoke and a rank smell coming out of the parking garage across from the store.”
“Diversion?” he asked.
Hawkins shrugged. “No sound, no visual noise, and the smoke and smell dissipated in seconds—pretty damn
subtle for a diversion. Could have been anything, a blown engine, a diesel belching out junk.”
“Or it could have been J.T.,” Dylan said, turning toward his wife. “Skeeter, are all the cameras on the seventh-floor garage up and running?”
“I’m going through them now.” She keyed in the security cameras and started checking monitor screens.
“Where’s Zach?” he asked, turning back to Hawkins.
“On Cherie’s tail,” Hawkins said. “He broke for the Quick Mart as soon as the smoke hit.”
“Go ahead and have him follow her in.”
J.T. was here. Now. He knew it in his heart.
The game was on.
And Dylan would win—absolutely, unequivocally. The only thing he didn’t know was what the final price might be. There were very few things he wasn’t willing to risk to save J.T.
“Jane got his wallet,” Hawkins said, dropping the bomb with the barest hint of a grin curving his mouth.
. One of Dylan’s eyebrows went up.
“No shit,” Hawkins said, his grin widening. “When she passed him on the street, she made the lift. She thought we might like to take a look at it.”
“Good girl.” He was impressed. Jane Linden was a street rat from way back. She managed Katya Hawkins’s upper-end art gallery, Toussi, in LoDo now, but he was damn glad to know she hadn’t lost any of her old-school skills. Lifting a wallet off J.T. had to have been some kind of trick. “Where is she?”