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Authors: Marliss Melton

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The Protector (10 page)

BOOK: The Protector
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Ike stiffened, concentrating all his energy on identifying the potential threat.








“He’s got her up there,” Brad
determined, glancing from his tracking program to the mountain looming over them.


In the reversed cones of the RV’s headlights, brick pillars bookended a gravel driveway which snaked precipitously though the dark trees. Amidst a web of semi-naked branches, a distant light twinkled near the pinnacle of the mountain. Resentment vied with curiosity as Brad pondered who General McClellan felt was better suited than the FBI to protect his daughter.


Hearing Maddox’s phone call come to a close, he craned his neck to look back at him. “Well?” he prompted.


“Sheriff’s Office says they have no idea who lives up there.” The rookie’s light-colored eyes cut through the darkness, seeming to mock him.


More like they’re just too fucking lazy to look it up, Brad thought.


“They said their records aren’t digital. But if we show up at Town Hall tomorrow, they’ll search their files. Office opens at


Brad sat back more heavily in the captain’s chair beside the driver’s seat. Luring the terrorists to the safe house had produced neither the quantity nor the quality of the leads he’d expected. Didn’t it just figure he’d run into more dead ends while chasing down their client?


“I don’t even think our car could get up that hill,”
chimed in. Their green sedan was
to the RV to make local driving more convenient. “Are we sure
safe with this guy?”


“She’s safe,” said the rookie with confidence that set Brad’s teeth on edge. “The soldier works for her father; he’s not going to hurt her.”


“Shut up, Maddox.” Brad couldn’t take anymore wisdom from a man who’d been a special agent for all of three months. He thought he had it all figured out, but he knew nothing about the internal politics of the FBI: what it took to get promoted, to be named a special agent in charge. Brad had been fighting for a SAC slot for eleven long years.


“Yes, sir,” the rookie said, his words respectful, his tone insubordinate.


flicked a nervous glance between them. “Where to from here?” he asked.


The Mobile Command Center had cushions to sleep on but the mattresses were as hard as rocks, and Brad had lower back issues. “Let’s go to that motel we passed on 33,” he said.


“Elkton Motel,” the rookie supplied, his memory annoyingly accurate.
It was bright, young men like him who made it hard for the older guys to get the positions of authority that they deserved.


backed carefully onto Naked Creek Road and pointed their RV back toward civilization. Hah, Brad thought. Civilized wasn’t the word to describe a county whose records were still kept in file cabinets.








Four minutes and ten seconds was exactly how long the unidentified vehicle idled at the base of his mountain.


It was possibly a delivery truck, Ike told himself, the kind that brought fresh ingredients to breakfast joints opening at the crack of dawn. Only how could anyone get that lost heading into Elkton?


As the gears grated and the accelerating engine faded, he eyed his watch, waiting. His advanced security system combined Doppler technology with a passive infrared sensor that did a fair job of distinguishing between human and natural intrusion. If anyone had dismounted from the vehicle to hoof it up his mountain, he would be alerted. Digital images would be forwarded wirelessly from strategically positioned cameras to his laptop.
But there was no intrusion; no reason for his heart to beat so unevenly.


Damn Stanley for reminding him of the war he’d walked away from! The Blue Ridge Mountains were as different as the ragged peaks of South Eastern Afghanistan as day was from night, and that was how Ike preferred it. He’d deliberately kept the radio off, refused to buy a television, and avoided surfing the Internet for news. But whenever he went to town, the headlines jumped off the magazines and papers, letting him know that the war raged on without him. Plus it had taken on a new expression of homegrown terrorism.


The golden sense of security Americans enjoyed within their borders would be shattered if these new terrorists weren’t stopped.


But that wasn’t his problem. Some other sniper could thin the ranks of Taliban and al Qaeda and do a better job of it. Homeland Security and the FBI could deal with the homegrown threat. They didn’t need him to win this war.


Oh, really? Then why is
running for her life?


He pushed his cold hands into his pockets, determined not to think about it.








“Our asset doesn’t recognize the kid from the UPS store,” Brad announced, his voice disembodied in the dark motel room.


A minute ago, his cell phone had awakened him and
—but not Jackson, who’d just returned from a morning run. Fourteen years in the Marine Corps had conditioned the jarhead to roll out of bed before dawn and run five miles.


That’s because the kid’s not a terrorist,
Jackson wanted to say, only why get on
bad side first thing in the morning?


“What about the guy pretending to be Pedro?”
asked, stifling a yawn. “Did the asset recognize him?”


“Couldn’t see enough of his face,” said
, who’d begun to sound
pissed off.


“Pedro hasn’t shown up yet?” Jackson already knew the answer; he just wanted to make a point in a roundabout way.


“Not yet.”
swung his feet out of the bed he’d claimed for himself, forcing his subordinates to share. He reached for his laptop to consult the tracking program. “Our client’s still on the mountain.”


“What time is it?”


“Seven thirty,” said
. “If Town Hall opens at eight we’d better get moving.”


For whatever good it would do them. Jackson didn’t comprehend
need to identify McClellan’s soldier. If the man was as highly skilled as Jackson suspected, they weren’t ever going to get her back. She was as good as lost to them. And he hated to say it, but that was probably the best thing for her.








“There’s no hot water.”


Hearing a quaver in
voice, Ike turned from the window to realize she wasn’t showering before their trip to town, after all. Her hair fell in a riotous, unruly mass that had defied her attempt to tame it with the comb in her purse. Her bloodshot eyes were
by dark circles, and her eyes were watering.


Stressing or
wondered. She looked like she was barely holding it together. Empathy, unwanted and inexplicable, caught him off-guard.


“Let’s just go,” she said. “Maybe the water will be warmer in the afternoon. I’ll shower then.”


He wanted to shrug off his pity for her, but it wouldn’t leave him. Princesses didn’t do cold showers, obviously. They shouldn’t have to.


God damn it.
“Wait here,” he said.


Going outside he found the big tin cauldron he used for his trainees to dunk their canteens in. Carrying it inside, he set it on the woodstove, went outside for the hose, cranked it on, and dragged it through the house to fill the cauldron, kinking the line so water wouldn’t dribble across the hardwood floor.


The tremulous smile
sent him eased his irritation.


But thirty minutes later, as she dawdled in the bathtub, he regretted warming her bathwater because now he was sitting on the couch getting hot and bothered as he pictured her lolling in his tub. The scent of his soap stole out from under the closed door. The haunting tune she hummed reminded him of a mermaid’s enchantment, luring sailors foolish enough to listen to their deaths.


Shaking off his trance, Ike ordered himself to get up and walk the dog.


Half way to the door, he heard
pull the plug. The mental image of her rising from the water, her nymph-like body wet and gleaming, assailed him. She’d be reaching for the extra towel he’d located, nipples hardening in the colder air, goose bumps playing tag across her thighs and ass.


“Winston, come,” he called. She’d awakened his dormant desires the minute he’d laid eyes on her. So what? There were lots of things Ike craved that he did fine without—aged whiskey, a hot tub, a big old horse to ride.
would be just one more thing that he denied himself.








Jackson balanced the file he was perusing on his left arm so he could reach for his buzzing phone with his right. “Maddox,” he answered, recognizing his supervisor’s number.


“She’s moving,” said
, who got to enjoy breakfast at a local bakery while Jackson and
searched the records at Town Hall. “Finish up over there and come get me.”


“Yes, sir.”
Jackson put his phone away and closed the file. “
,” he said, jerking his head toward the door. “Ma’am, we’ll need to borrow these.” Tucking the files under his arms he started walking briskly past the secretary.


“Oh, no you don’t.” She jumped up and wrestled the files from him. “These originals don’t go anywhere,” she exclaimed. “If you’ll just sit tight, I’ll make you some copies.”


With a rueful smile, Jackson nodded and motioned
to wait. Even in the civilian sector, there were hoops to jump through.








“Thank you,”
said, as Ike reversed direction and pointed the Durango down the mountain. Winston strained against the back seat, content and quiet whereas, moments before, he’d set up such a ruckus that she had begged Ike to bring him along. Ike might be armed with a pistol under his denim jacket and a rifle on the floor behind his seat, but the dog was her security blanket.


“Welcome,” he muttered, negotiating the sharp turn that put them on the steeply descending driveway.


The lofty view, even more impressive when viewed from the front seat, made up for his less-than-friendly tone. The valley below boasted tiny toy houses, barns, and pastel-colored fruit trees. Nothing bad could possibly happen out there, she told herself.


Ike’s set profile told her otherwise.


Her gaze slid to his competent grip on the steering wheel, and her stomach flip-flopped as she imagined how it would feel to have those large, dexterous-looking hands touching her. Were hands that ruthless-looking capable of giving pleasure? Something told her yes, absolutely. He’d warmed her bathwater for her, hadn’t he? Obviously, he knew how to show consideration.


“Are you originally from here?” she asked, letting her curiosity show.

BOOK: The Protector
8.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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