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Authors: Cerise Deland

Tags: #Romance, #Military

The Omega Team: The Lion (Kindle Worlds Novella) (10 page)

BOOK: The Omega Team: The Lion (Kindle Worlds Novella)
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There was no one around that she could call out to.

No one to help her.

She bit her lips to stop a shiver. She would not show them fear. Would not.

Keep your cool.

They’d driven for so long that this could definitely not be Alexandria City marina.

She was out of her comfort zone.

And where are you, Mike?
She wished she had a crystal ball.

Valmont got out of the driver’s seat and slammed the car door. He paced back and forth.

The man next to her did not move. She had tried to get him to talk to her, but each time she prodded him, John Corman only sneered at her and told her to shut up. He’d been the one to follow Valmont into the back room and help him tie her up. Why he was participating and what part he played in any of the moving parts of this scam was a mystery to her.

Outside the car, Robert Valmont cursed and fished out a phone from his pants pocket. He punched in a number and waited.


Oui.
And where are you?” he asked someone in French. Then he proceeded to bawl them out in some rather graphic French blasphemy. “Hurry!”

Corman and Becka sat there another few minutes.

When a dark red Beemer rounded the far end of the pier, Valmont muttered, “About fucking time.”

Whoever this was, Valmont wanted him here to see the proceedings. If they were going to kill her, wouldn’t fewer witnesses be better than a whole damn hockey team?

Her one hand was nearly free. If only she could hide it from Corman she’d be fine. She’d find a way to get free. Find a weapon, something, anything. She was rusty.

She’d courted too much danger on this case. More than she should have. And she was very grateful for the person who had sent her Mike Lyons.

Ha.

Like realizing that now did her a lot of good.

“Come!” Valmont urged her as much by pointing his revolver as he did verbally.

Corman tugged her out and held her up. She swayed, feigning weakness and maybe a bit more fear than she really felt. He cursed at her silliness and she hung her head as if to cower.

“Stand up!” Corman hooked a hand in her elbow and dragged her forward to a long floating pier.

Becka craned her neck to see who got out of the Beemer and stumbled when she recognized the person.

Diane Lavalle.

Why was she here?

Was she the forger? Was that how she had grown, matured?

Becka suppressed a cynical laugh. Lavalle had discovered her talent, all right. She’d learned she had a skill for copying others’ genius. How sweet.

And Corman. What did Corman do?

And why were Robert Valmont and Maurice involved with Vince Mayhew?

Ah. Because they had always been? They were old enough to have worked with Mayhew’s father. They may have known his grandfather. And if so, then they may know where many pieces of art stolen by the Nazis were kept.

Wow. This was more than forgery or fencing.

She stumbled again just to waylay Corman.

He pushed her up a small gangway and onto the deck of a yacht that had to be a hundred feet or more.

“Nice digs,” she said to him. “Yours?”

He scowled at her. “I wish.”

“Why not? What are they paying you for all this? For doing this to me? It had better be enough for you to afford to disappear.”

“I’ll do just fine.”

“Yeah?” she baited him.

He led her along the deck and she peered inside. A few dim lights were on inside and Becka saw that the appointments were really amazing. A huge living area with wall-to-wall white sofas led into a big dining area with a table for twelve or more. There was a huge galley that put many a land kitchen to shame and a master bedroom that sported a king size bed. From the sheer size of it, this vessel would need a crew of three, maybe as many as five to handle her.

“Just as long as you’re sure,” she said as he led her into the galley and slammed the door.

A gift.

She checked the window. Could Diane see her?

But Becka saw no one moving on deck.

This was her chance. She shot to her feet, yanked open one drawer and the next. Finally! There.

She grabbed a serrated vegetable knife, long enough to make a nice hole, and tucked it up against her forearm, pulling the rigging rope taut against her wrist.

Now all she had to do was wait.

And hope her captors came back. But only one by one.

She shifted. The metal tracker in the right cup of her lacy black bra was a warm bit of comfort under the chilling circumstances.

How far did this thing broadcast anyway?

* * * * *

Riding in the back of the van alone was a little gift Maurice and Vince had granted Mike. Of course, they had no idea of that. Having done surveillance sitting in many a shit hole in a freaking hot ghillie suit for hours, sometimes days, meant that in the van, Mike could flex his muscles, stay limber, alert, and keep his composure.

He could also hear the two men converse. Vince was silent. But Maurice had the shakes.

“What will we do with him?” the man asked Vince.

“I’m figuring that out.”

From little things they’d said, Mike had concluded that Vince had taken over as driver. And what a piss-poor one he was, at that. He had a heavy foot and bad aim on turns. Nerves would do that.

Mike smirked in satisfaction.

What he needed now was a chance, just a second, to take them out.

After what Mike estimated was two hours of driving, Vince slowed the van, took it off a major highway and onto a rough side road.

Mike smelled the salt air. A crack in the van doorframe lit briefly, then passed on.

A searchlight? Was this a marina? Chances were good.

That meant people were nearby.

Get out, boys. Come and get me.

He rolled his shoulders and flexed his thighs.
He rolled to his feet.

The van door on the driver’s side clicked open and slammed shut. Vince was out. Maurice did the same.

Two pairs of feet crunched the stones as they walked toward the back of the van.

Ready when you are…

When Maurice yanked at the back door of his side, Mike slithered against the wall. The darkness inside the van conspired to hide him and Maurice cursed, ducking his neck inside.

That’s when Mike twisted it for him.

Maurice sank like a sack of potatoes face down—
splat
—to the van floor, then
thunk
to stones.

Vince cursed. Without a weapon, he had only his wits and his hands to get to Mike.

But he didn’t.

Mike braced himself on the van floor, reached down and yanked him up as if he were a marionette. Strangling him with his own shirt, Mike twisted, holding on to him as he jumped down from the van to the stones.

He blinked, the lights on the pier playing havoc with his eyesight. But he held on and Vince, gasping and grunting, had to be silenced.

Mike was ready to squeeze the last breath out of him to learn which yacht he should be searching when he saw a shadow, a woman get out of a car. A Beemer.

The college friend of Becka’s.

Twisting the neckline of Vince’s shirt even tighter, he hauled him a few feet to the left, out of sight of the Beemer. Eager for anything he could use to keep Mayhew quiet, he searched the dock. The first thing he saw was a short, fat bollard, useful to moor large vessels. And beneath it sat a chain.

The metal chain of torus-shaped links sat looped, unused, awaiting a craft to tie to its mooring. The links of doughnut-shaped iron would be hell on ol’ Vince’s teeth, but it would fill his mouth so much that he wouldn’t be able to peep.

Sorry, man. But life’s no beach for you tonight.

Mike tied him up, as Vince fought for breath and clawed at Mike’s hands until he had little air to continue. And he sagged.

Dream awhile, Mayhew. Good for you.

Mike laid him on the dock. Then he sidled over a few feet, crouched down behind a refuse bin. There he watched Diane Lavalle scurry up the gangway to the deck of a yacht where Corman waved to her.

Once she went inside with Corman, Mike hurried over to the van, hunted in the stones for Maurice’s Sig Sauer and tucked it in his waistband.

His run to the gangway was double-time.

Up on the deck, he peeked inside to see Corman, the butler Valmont and the girl Diane chatting it up in the living room.

And in the galley…

Joy swamped him. Pride took over.

There sat his woman, face forward, alert. Unhurt. Obviously listening to the conversation beyond the door.

He leaned up—and tapped a fingernail on the window.

She startled, turned, saw him—and the look on her face was one he’d remember until his last breath.

Gratitude, joy, love.

He smiled, put a finger up to his lips, showed her his gun
and, wow
—he’d kiss her silly in a few minutes.

The woman lifted her wrists, indicated the loose rigging and displayed the knife she held smack up against her wrist and forearm.

He winked at her.

She nodded.

He hurried down to the stone driveway and picked up a handful of stones. He might be minus a few fingers, but so far tonight, he’d held his own.
Disabled my ass.

He hustled back up to the deck and tapped the galley window again.

This time when Becka looked up, he showed her his stones.

She nodded.

He hurled one stone onto the open deck above the living area. It made a really sweet little
plunk-atty-plunk
.

Corman stiffened. “What’s that?”

Mike read his lips.

“Someone’s on the roof,” Diane said.

Mike threw another stone to the rear deck.

“Someone’s back there, too?” Valmont said. “I will go.”

Do that.

“Check on her,” Corman said to Diane. “I’m going up.”

He took the far steps up…and away from Mike.

Only a few seconds now.

Mike ran like hell. Around the deck to the entrance to the living area where he rushed in to the galley to see Diane and Becka locked hand-to-hand.

“Back off,” he yelled to Diane.

She whirled for him and he shot her aiming to wing her.

She slid against the refrigerator, her mouth open, her eyes shocked, a red rose of blood blossoming on her shoulder.

Footsteps rushed down the stairs.

Mike sank against the galley cabinets.

Becka sank against the opposite ones.

And when Corman came charging in, he didn’t know where to fire…and didn’t.

Mike kicked out a leg and knocked him to his knees.

“Tie him,” he yelled to Becka as Corman sagged.

She used her own rigging to bind the man’s wrists and secure them, hooking him to the galley stove handle with expert speed.

More footsteps.

Mike motioned for her to press herself to the cabinets again.

Valmont burst in, yelling, firing wildly, bullets pinging on metal and wood in abandon.

And Mike took him down with one sure shot to his arm. The gun fell from his fingers. The old man twisted, snarling at him in French, stretching across the floor with a spider’s fingers to reach his gun.

Mike kicked the gun away. Opened a cabinet, pulled out a pot and hit the butler on the head.

“Sleep for awhile, why don’t you,” he said, breathless.

He sought out Becka. Smiled.

Froze.

“Sweetheart, you—“

She stared at him, one hand to her opposite wrist as blood dripped from a gash across her too white flesh. “Mike. We won.”

And then she sank to the floor in a dead faint.

Chapter Seven

 

Mike sat in her hospital room, wary of doctors and nurses who flitted in and out and constantly reassured him that Miss Tierney was responding very well. All night long, he’d fielded questions from Stafford County police, an FBI agent and Grey Holden. He had all the facts sorted. He’d even had Holden put in a call to London to Becka’s employers, Coldwell Insurance.

All he needed now were good words on Becka’s condition so he could get her out of here.

“Her vitals are steady now,” said the ER doctor who had received her last night at a small hospital south of Quantico and had quickly hooked her up to an IV and authorized a transfusion. The woman had been no nonsense as she received Becka off the medevac chopper that had flown her and him from the marina to the hospital. “She’s a cooperative patient. As soon as she’s stable for twenty-four hours, she can go home.”

But Becka looked pale as death as she laid flat on her back in that hospital bed.

Mike knew pale. Knew death.

And to sit there and wait, just fucking
wait
for her to come to and look at him ate away at him. He relived his own ER experiences. Winced at the gaping wound of his hand after the IED had gone off, killing two of his teammates. He paced, pain shooting up his arm and through his brain that this time, the one wounded was Becka.

“You look like you could use a good night’s sleep, Mr. Lyons.” Doctor Fisher appeared at the door and examined him. “There’s a small hotel in town that—“

“I’m not leaving her.”

“Okay. Why don’t you go get some breakfast? A big one. And a large coffee?”

He shot her a look. “Caffeine?”

“One cup. That’s all. It’s helpful for those with brain trauma.”

“You can tell?” He snorted. “I should get a sign.”

“Sadly, too many people have head injuries these days. Football players, military. We’re trained to spot it. How about that coffee, hmm? I’ll stay with her, if you like.”

“I’d be grateful if you would. Thanks.” And off he went to pile up on eggs and bacon and one large cup of java.

As soon as he returned to the room, he went to Becka’s side.

“Hey, sailor boy,” she said with a weak smile on those beautiful lips of hers.

The doc strode off.

“Hi, glad you’re back.” He took her hand and kissed her forehead. She looked ethereal, as if she’d float away from him any second.

“You waited for me,” she said, her voice thick, her tone full of pleasure.

“Wouldn’t leave. Had to see you were out of the woods.”

She closed her eyes, her smile dreamy. “I want to go home. When can I?”

“Pretty soon. Maybe tomorrow morning.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Soon after you fainted. Eight hours, plus. Your wound is not too severe. You’ve had stitches. Don’t know how many. But—“

“What happened to them?” She locked her gaze on his.

He could see that she was still under the influence of painkillers but she wanted news. He gave her the headlines.

“I called the local PD, but Grey Holden had already called back-up for us. Two of his men charged in, a minute or so after you fainted. They saw the damage, secured the suspects. By the time the Stafford police showed up, we had all the suspects lined up.”

“Diane?”

“A shoulder wound. She’s under police guard here on another floor.”

“Vince?”

“In custody, too. Here. Poor Vince had to see a reconstructive surgeon when he was admitted. He lost a few teeth last night. In an effort to keep him silent, I stuffed his mouth with a chain that was tied to an old bollard. Naturally, he yanked on it a bit too hard and well—”

She grimaced.

“Maurice is in very bad shape. I hit him rather hard. He’s got a broken nose and jaw. Valmont has a shoulder wound. He’s here. Stable condition. Corman is the one in best shape. He had first aid and was taken away to the county jail.”

“But their crimes—“

“I know. Save your energy, babe, and let me talk. We have a lot to sort out here. Vince will be charged with fraud for the Cassatts along with Diane. He’s under investigation by the FBI and Interpol for selling and acquiring stolen art. Valmont and his pal, Maurice, along with Corman will stand for many of the same charges. We’ll see how the evidence plays out.”

She sighed, her eyes closing. “So good. All of it.”

“By the way, did you have any idea that Vince has a Leonardo da Vinci in his Watergate condo?”

Her mouth dropped open.

“Yeah,” he said with a grin. “My reaction too.”

“Where did you see it? What does it look like?”

He recounted the painting’s details.

“That sounds like a painting of a Venetian woman that’s been missing since the First World War.”

“Well. Vince has been viewing it privately in his own little condo for God knows how long.”

She looked breathless, as if she’d been running a marathon. Her lashes fluttered and she grinned. “Wonder what my supervisor at Coldwell will say.”

“Holden called him. You’re the new miracle worker. The man is dancing in the street.” Mike thought it best to avoid asking her if she wanted to call the man. “You can settle anything else with him tomorrow or the next day after I take you home.”

Her green eyes went dark with pain.

“What’s wrong? You need the doc?”

“No.” She squeezed his hand. “You’ll take me home?”

“You bet.”

She probed his expression. “And then what?”

He hadn’t gotten too far in his thinking beyond taking care of her. “I want you to get well.”

“Oh.” She released his hand and turned her face to the windows.

“I have a few things to settle,” he told her, his voice a rasp.

“Sure you do.”

“Look at me. Please.”

She did, but her eyes were glassy.

“I’m not leaving you. Not again. I promised. But I want to do it right this time.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she said, anger tingeing her words.

“I want to be sure that I know what it means. Give me a chance.”

“I’ve given you lots of them,” she said in reproach.

“One more. I need to work out a few details.”

 

 

Grey Holden greeted him at the front door of the Tampa warehouse that was Omega’s headquarters. Clamping him on the back, Holden’s smile—which had always been rare—was the best payback. “Welcome. Fine job.”

“Thanks. You tied up the loose ends for me. I’m grateful.”

“Come into the office,” Holden said. “I’ll bring you up to speed.”

He settled into the chair opposite Holden’s desk. “My FBI contact in Washington told me you’d had word from the Tampa office on Mayhew’s warehouses here. Did you get inside?”

“We didn’t but we had enough evidence to help the local agents issue a search warrant. The buildings were humidity-proofed. Perfect for preservation of canvasses. As of this morning, they’d catalogued more than three hundred pieces of art. Some of it, they say, is very old. We may have just found a lot of art that the entire world has been searching for for decades. Thanks to you and Rebecca Tierney.”

“She’ll be delighted.” She might be thrilled with Holden and the FBI but as of this morning, she was not tickled with him.

He’d driven her home to her Florida Avenue condo, retrieved Roger from his own house and the care of his housekeeper and settled her in. But Becka had given him a very cold shoulder.

He hated like hell to leave her like that, wondering if after he left her she’d let him in to her condo or her life ever again. But after two days of debating with himself, he was certain what he wanted to offer her. And he couldn’t do it until he’d made peace, not just with himself, but with Grey Holden.

“So that’s the deal. We’ll need you to file a report for us,” Grey said.

“No problem.”

Grey stared at him. “What is the problem then?”

“I realize our relationship has been short.”

Grey nodded. “But positive. All the way around.”

“Agreed. But I’m going to turn in my notice. As of the date and time I turn in my report on this, I would like to leave you with great thanks for what you’ve done for me.”

“I hate to accept your resignation, but I will.” Grey stared at him. “I thought you made a superb operative.”

“The fact that you believed that, despite my injuries and my mental diagnosis, was a great satisfaction to me. Put me back in my right mind.” Mike laughed. “Much as I can be.”

“You’ll get better. Studies show. But you have to be good to yourself. Less stress. No booze. No drugs. No cause for self-pity. Lots of fun.”

“I want to go for it.”

Grey grinned. “I bet I know how. But humor me. Tell me anyway.”

“I want to start my own security company. Hire wounded vets. Guys I’ve worked with, some that come with others’ recommendations. I’d like your advice on how to set things up.”

Grey ran a hand through his silver hair. “Tall order.”

“I know. What do you think?”

“Where would you headquarter?”

“Washington. My home town.”

“Makes sense. Lots of contacts there for jobs that the Feds can’t handle. Coffee? It’s decaf.” Grey pointed to the pot on a credenza in one corner.

“Yes. Thanks. I have a lot of friends there. Contacts. All useful. I wouldn’t have to market so much as show up at parties to network. I’d like to think that when I got jobs I couldn’t or shouldn’t handle, I could send them to you.”

“I’d be grateful. Sure.” Grey strode over to pour them both cups of coffee. “All this takes funding though. Lots of it. How are you fixed?”

Mike took his mug from Grey’s hand. “Believe it or not, I have a nice nest egg. I always saved all my combat and hazardous duty pay. That mounts up. Plus I kept the family house on N Street in Georgetown. That’s just upkeep and taxes. My mother and father left me a nice six-figure trust fund. And my grandfather left me another. I’ve never touched them. So I think I’m set.”

“You’ll need staff. Someone to run the office. Someone you can trust who knows the not only the business, but also the challenges you’re up against when you have to step in for an operative who needs an assist.”

Mike took a long drink of his coffee. His head felt clear. His thinking was calm. His hand steady. “I have that person in my sights.”

“Ah.” Grey took a sip from his cup. “But she hasn’t said yes yet?”

Mike nodded, a sigh escaping him. “I wanted to settle all issues with you first.”

“Thanks for that. You’re a good man. You know it. You’ll do well.”

“Your vote of confidence is the best way to walk on.”

“That you worked for me was a shot in the arm, Lyons. Anything I can ever do for you, just ask.”

“I do have one question,” he said, putting his mug down on Grey’s desk.

“What?”

“Who was the client who ordered me on this case?”

Grey looked sheepish, then burst out laughing. “Do you really need to ask?”

Mike glanced out the window to the Tampa sunlight, chuckling. “Oh, hell. Who else could it be but her?”

* * * * *

“Go away,” Becka said through the barrier of her closed door.

“Quiet!” she said to Roger.

“Men,” was what she said to herself.

“Open this door, Becka.” Mike banged on it with his fist. “If you don’t, I’ll keep on until I bring out every one of your neighbors and Roger, there, will keep on barking. Won’t you, pal?”

The dog answered.

She gave the animal a quelling look. He yelped and padded away.

Then she yanked open her door…but only a crack. “Hurry up.”

“Let me in.”

“No.”

“Fine.” He leaned a huge shoulder against the door and with his weight alone pushed the damn thing wider.

She didn’t have the strength to counter him and threw up her hands. “Okay, okay. Speak and then leave.”

He strode in, closing the door behind him and scratching Roger’s head absently. He wore a black tee shirt stretching across those incomparable muscles, tapering down to dove grey slacks. He looked good enough to lick.

But she wasn’t interested.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

She whirled away. Her pants had
always
been on fire for him and look where it’d gotten her. No freaking where.

“I had a few errands to do and a few of them took me longer than I expected.”

“Goody for you.” She crossed her arms, wincing when she pressed her arm to her chest.

“You need to be careful,” he said, grinning, carefree as she hadn’t seen him in years.

“I am. Now.”

He walked around her sofa, looking into her bedroom and straightening when he saw her suitcase on the bed. “Careful now, huh? So careful that you’re going on vacation?”

BOOK: The Omega Team: The Lion (Kindle Worlds Novella)
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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