Authors: Penny McCall
Aubrey looked up at him, her eyes shining and her breath coming in tight little bursts that told him her adrenaline was pumping as hard as his. It gave him a surge of we’re-still-alive lust that had him putting her up against the vine-covered trellis, pressing close, feeling her body soften for just a split second before she shoved at him, hard, and said, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
He backed off, giving his brain a minute to kick in so he could tell her—except he couldn’t tell her. He didn’t want to admit to himself that both their lives were on the line and what was on his mind was sex. With a woman who drove him crazy, no less . . .
God, she loved books.
Her eyes snapped open, her face heating. “Aubrey. With a B,” she said without turning around. No need putting a face to the voice to know it was one of the never-ending procession of law clerks, interns, and government staffers who came into the Library of Congress with a list of wants a mile long, the patience of a gnat, and the kind of libido that made dogs hump table legs.
Her last boyfriend had been a congressional aide, fairly normal when it came to sex, if she didn’t count those sounds he made when he was just about to—
Okay, no need to go there. She’d remained friends with Tom Cavendish, just not the kind of friend who had to fight off the urge to warble “E-I-E-I-O” in the bedroom.
She wasn’t about to get involved with another of the same breed, especially not when she could feel him staring at her butt. “If you’re waiting for something, go to your table and I’ll have it there as soon as I can.”
“You and the books want to be alone?”
She stiffened, her embarrassment turning to a more hostile kind of heat. She whipped around, her scathing comeback morphing into a trickling little wheeze as her eyes crossed on the barrel of a gun. Pointed at her. Her gaze flicked up to the face of the man holding it. Narrowed eyes, tight jaw, generally menacing. As if the gun hadn’t made that abundantly clear.
“Who are you?” She edged slowly to her left so that the table where the books were stacked was between them. “What do you want?”
That brought her gaze off the gun and onto his face. “Me? What for?”
His mouth twisted into the sort of smile that conveyed humor without reassuring her in the least. “Let’s go.”
Aubrey stood her ground. Her tonsils were playing ping-pong with her heart, but strangely enough the filter of fear seemed to make everything snap into almost painfully sharp focus. Every bit of advice she’d read in every self-defense article she’d ever come across seemed to cram into her brain all at once, Point One being, “Get him talking.”
“All the really precious articles owned by the library are safely locked away, mostly in the Jefferson Building,” she said, “and even if they weren’t, I’ve worked here less than five years. I don’t have access to them anyway.”
“I’m not here for the books.”
No, she thought. He didn’t even like them; that much was clear just from the tone of his voice. “My purse is in my locker, and I doubt you’re interested in me . . . personally.”
She didn’t need to see his eyes to know they traveled over her. Traveled and dismissed. No surprise there. She was hardly the kind of woman to inspire a complete stranger to abduct her from a crowded building filled with security personnel.
Speaking of which, how had he gotten in there at all? With all the antiterrorist security measures put in place in the last few years, there was no way a random person could walk into the Library of Congress with a gun—
“You’re thinking,” he said gruffly. He stepped forward a couple of paces, the business end of the gun dropping to point to her left breast—or where her left breast would be if she’d had any breasts to speak of. She hefted a huge old atlas from the table and held it in front of her meagerly padded rib cage.
He closed the rest of the distance, the barrel of the gun ending up about an inch from the book. “That won’t do you any good.”
Of course not. She’d picked it up to hide her lack of female attributes from the crazed killer. What kind of woman worried about that sort of thing when there was a gun aimed at her?
“You’re thinking again.”
“I do that from time to time,” she shot back, reaching out to push the gun aside with one finger.
He swiveled it back to point at her.
She looked him straight in the eyes, one brow lifting in a show of bravado she didn’t come close to feeling. “If you were going to shoot me in cold blood, you’d have done it by now. And we’ve ruled out any rational motive you have for threatening me, unless you’re irrational—and you don’t look irrational.” Irritated, harassed, disgusted, not to mention attractive in a dangerous sort of way, but not irrational. “So you must be from security.”
“If I was from security, why would I be pointing a gun at you?”
“Maybe this is a test—a terrorist drill, you know, like a fire drill. You don’t look like a terrorist, but that’s the kind of gun the Feds use. Glock, forty caliber, maybe forty-five.” She caught the flicker of surprised acknowledgment on his face. With a slight smile, she answered the question he hadn’t asked. “You look like a forty-five man. Bigger gun, bigger kick, more bullets in the magazine.” Her eyes drifted down to his crotch. “Compensating?” she asked sweetly.
His face took on a dull red flush, his knuckles going white on the gun. “Keep it up, bookworm.”
“What are you going to do with all those witnesses out there?”
“You won’t care after you’ve taken a bullet between the eyes.” He stepped aside, careful to keep the gun pointed at her while he slipped it beneath his jacket. “Move.”
She didn’t, but she was beginning to think this was real, and if it was . . . Point Two. “I’m not going anywhere with you. All the self-defense experts say not to let yourself get taken to a remote location.”
He lifted his eyes to the ceiling.
“If you’re appealing to a higher authority . . .” She looked down at the floor.
“I ought to let them have you,” he grumbled. “You’d probably talk them to death.”
“Let who have me?”
“No more questions.” He jerked his head toward the open doorway behind him.
She stood her ground.
His shoulders slumped, he did a quick survey of the room behind her, found everything looking peaceful, then turned back to her. “You’re in danger.”
She eyed the gun peeking out from behind the edge of his jacket. “No kidding.”
“Not from me.”
“If you aren’t a threat, what would prompt me to go with you?”
There was a muffled thump and something thwacked into the atlas she still clutched to her chest. As if that wasn’t enough to knock her off her feet, the man dove over the table, flattening her to the floor.
“How about that?” He grunted as more bullets whizzed overhead and thunked into various flat surfaces or pinged off slanted ones.
Screams came from the reading room, glass shattered, and chairs were overturned. Legs and feet—which was all Aubrey could see below the table edge—scurried around like demented finger puppets as their owners scrambled for cover.
Hot breath bathed the side of her face. She turned back and found a pair of steel-gray eyes studying her face. They lifted to meet hers and her stomach gave a strange lurch. Not fear strange; something she didn’t have time to figure out before his sneer shoved her back into familiar emotional territory.
“Get off me.” Aubrey pushed at the roughly two hundred pounds of man pinning her slightly more than one hundred pounds to the floor.
“I’m protecting you.”
“You’re smothering me.”
“Jesus,” he muttered as he shifted his bulk half off of her. “Someone’s shooting at you and you’re still arguing.”
“How do I know it’s not one of your friends?”
“I don’t have any friends.”
“Don’t expect me to be your first.”
“Aw, that just breaks my heart.” He slapped a meaty paw around her wrist, hauled her to her feet and right out into the line of fire—except the actual firing seemed to be over.
Security personnel were streaming in from every stairwell; people were crawling out from under tables, some of them sobbing and huddled in one another’s arms. Aubrey opened her mouth to scream for help just as the man of mystery holstered his Glock and swept her off the floor, banding one of his arms around her rib cage tight enough to cut off her air.
“She’s hurt,” he said, hurrying up to the nearest security guard. “I think she was trampled. Probably a couple of broken ribs,” he added, squeezing hard enough to make Aubrey gasp out what little breath she had left.
She tried to get her predicament across with her eyes, but only ended up rolling them when he added in a convincing man-holding-back-unmanly-tears way, “I don’t know what I’ll do if she isn’t okay.”
“Ambulances are on their way,” the security guard said, clasping her abductor on the shoulder in unspoken male comfort. “Take her outside and one of the paramedics will have a look at her.”
He fast-stepped her to the stairwell leading up to the ground floor of the Madison Building, the iron band around her ribs easing off just enough for her to grind out, “Put me down.”
He sent her a warning glare and dumped her on her feet. His fingers closed around her wrist again as he towed her up the stairs and out to the sidewalk, shoving her into a car that was roughly the size of a boat. The engine roared to life just as the rear windshield shattered, raining safety glass into the backseat.
They shot out into traffic with a squeal of rubber followed by the inevitable blare of horns. Aubrey struggled upright and took in the scene. Cars were swerving out of their way and slamming to a stop, ending up at odd angles behind them—all but a shiny black car with a chrome grille the size of a bus front.
Her abductor drove with one hand while he took blind pot-shots over his shoulder with the gun he’d pointed at her. The black car waffled from side to side, but it stuck. They screamed up Independence Avenue at the breakneck speed of about forty miles an hour, which was pretty good in the normal tangle of cars and SUVs around Capitol Hill. It felt faster, Aubrey thought as they swerved in and out of traffic, tires squealing or galumphing against the curb.
An occasional bullet pinged off the car, sirens wailed somewhere in the distance, metal crunched as vehicles crashed in their wake, and the wind was blowing so hard it felt like a typhoon inside the car. She looked over her shoulder and there was the black car whipping in and out of traffic behind them, gaining steadily as it followed the path they’d already forged through traffic.
A bullet whizzed by her and plowed into the dashboard. She had no idea what was going on, but she intended to live to find out. “Turn here,” Aubrey yelled out, grabbing on to the door handle as the car slewed around the corner almost before she got the words out. The man had reflexes; guts on the other hand . . .
“This is a one-way street!”
“We’re only going one way.” She grinned foolishly as oncoming cars swerved wildly out of their way, horns blaring, just like in the movies.
“Great,” he shouted, biting off the words, “I’m stuck with a crazy woman.” He jerked the steering wheel to the right. The car lurched up onto the median and spun out on the grass. Muscles bunched as he fought for control and managed to bring it around, shooting back into the road, going the same way as traffic this time.
“What are you doing?” she demanded as they slalomed through a red light and the black sedan—which had opted not to play chicken with half of Washington, D.C.—picked up the chase right where it had left off, guns bristling out of the side windows. Aubrey ducked as a fresh barrage of lead came at them. “If you’d kept going, we’d have lost them.”
“Not to mention our lives.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, they’re shooting at us again.”
“I’ll take a nice, clean bullet to the brain over a messy head-on collision any day.”
“I can arrange that,” Aubrey retorted, “if they don’t accommodate you first.”
“Shut up,” he said, “and keep your head down.” He punctuated that order by cupping the back of her head—which might have worked better without the gun he was still holding—and shoving it down into her lap.
“That hurt.” She lashed out sideways, slamming her fist into something with the approximate density of a brick wall. The shock of it radiated all the way up her arm and made her skull vibrate.
He grunted slightly and gave her a look as he squeezed off a couple of shots. She took it as a sign of his self-control that they went out the back window. There was a sudden blast of sound behind them, screeching tires, busting glass, crunching metal.
Tall-Grim-and-Scruffy peered into the rearview mirror, then looked over his shoulder again. “That did it.”
He slowed the car then made a bunch of right and left turns that were so quick even she was confused. Whoever he was, the guy knew something about D.C., Aubrey thought as he worked his way steadily away from the proliferation of government buildings around Capitol Hill and into a corner of Rock Creek Park she’d never seen before.
He pulled behind a screen of trees, turned the car off, and just sat there, head down, hands on the steering wheel. “You okay?” he said after a long, tense moment.
Aubrey took stock: palpitating heart, rapid breathing, a nearly uncontrollable urge to pump her fist into the air that she was still in one piece. “I’m great,” she said. “Wonderful, incredible. How about you?”