Copyright © 2010 J.L. Saint
For a moment there, Jack thought he was about to be dog food and had the rolled up newspaper ready to strike, a trick an old postman showed him. Many dogs were more intimidated by a newspaper than by anything else, because owners often disciplined puppies with one. Thankfully, the White Shepherds decided he was a good guy because he seriously questioned if he was up for the challenge of fighting them both off.
Walking out of Walter Reed had been easy, but the effort to get from DC to Atlanta, get armed, and make it through traffic to the Collins’ house had cost him more than he’d thought. His head pounded and his back and leg ached like hell, telling him he’d been relying on the hospital pain killers more than he should. The beating sun made sweat trickle along his spine and his head swim with dizziness. He hoped his strength would improve, but for now he could use a seat and a cold drink. Something about him and this encounter was really off.
Blame his weakened state or being celibate too damn long, but Lauren Collins’s sex appeal hit him with a knockout punch the moment she cracked open the door. His instant let’s-do-it attraction took him by surprise. Not only because he hadn’t felt that in forever, but also because he was a smart man and long past knee-jerk hormones.
But blunt honesty had him acknowledging he’d have made a move on her if they’d been in an acceptable, social environment and both available. He was that attracted. Her sultry blue eyes, long wavy red-gold hair and lush Angelina Jolie lips fit his fantasies to a T. Even the light sprinkling of golden freckles across her nose was a turn on.
She’s the fresh widow of a terrorist, he reminded himself.
Hmm. There’s a big red flag he should have noticed right off. She appeared upset but not badly grieving. Surely she’d heard the reports of her husband’s death.
His sixth sense grew more uncomfortable with the situation.
Though no apparent details in Bill Collins’s life remotely connected him to terrorists, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah or any other radical associations or persons bent on jihad, Jack was sure he’d find them if he searched hard enough, which meant he needed Lauren Collins.
He looked pointedly at the chain latching the door, thankful he’d scouted out a nearby neutral location for her to meet him. “Would it be possible to discuss things sitting down? If you’re uncomfortable here, I wouldn’t mind meeting you at the Mad Jamoca Coffee House out on the main road. Oh, and here’s your newspaper.”
She hesitated only a moment then unlatched and opened the door. The dogs ran into the house, and she grasped the rolled paper from him, carefully avoiding contact with his hand. She’d obviously experienced the same zinger he had.
“No, here is fine.” She looked at him oddly. “Sasha and Sam never accept someone that quickly.”
“Dogs find me irresistible.” He lowered his voice to a conspiring whisper, aiming to put her at ease. “It’s an alpha thing.” Which was true, but was totally outrageous for him to claim.
She shook her head, but he could see the corners of her full mouth lift slightly in response to his grin. He found himself wondering just how much sexier her real smile would be and axed the thought quick, wondering what in the hell was wrong with him. She stepped back and motioned him inside. “I’m waiting on a repairman to— Oh God, you made me forget for a moment. My house has been ransacked. I need to call the police.”
“What?” Jack asked, about to enter the house. Suddenly the sixth sense niggling at him mushroomed into a bomb of warning. He whipped around and saw a ski-masked, black clad man running toward them from the shadows of the trees. The man had a Sig Sauer P226 Blackwater Tatical with a kick-ass silencer pointed their way. Jack recognized the weapon because he had the exact same 9mm pistol tucked in the back of his jeans. Only Jack’s silencer was way smaller, which meant this guy had experience and meant business.
Damn. Not a good day when someone else was better equipped and got the drop on you. The wood on the door jamb to Jack’s right splintered before he could move.
“Get down!” Jack reached for his gun and plowed himself into the woman, knocking them back into the house. Bullets ripped across the door and shattered the side glass panels. As he fell with the woman, he wrapped one arm around her and twisted in order to take the brunt of the fall.
Pain wrenched his back as he landed hard. He squeezed two shots at the threat coming their way, aiming much lower than he should have. The bullets would hit the ground, but damn it, this was a neighborhood. He didn’t want bullets going anywhere but into the bastard shooting at them. No collateral damage on his watch.
Before the man could return fire, Jack kicked the door closed; feeling damn glad the house was brick. Their only vulnerability would be the windows and the wood.
A quick glance around revealed a large mahogany hallstand on the right. With an adrenaline-charged push, he rose up and sent the heavy stand tipping over. It slammed against the front door and wedged it shut. The muscle strain left his arms shaking. He slid back to shield the woman with his body as two more bullets hit the door.
Barking loudly, the Shepherds came running around the corner.
“Stop! Lay!” Jack shouted. The dogs obeyed slightly, whining as they dropped close to the floor, but still inched toward them. He prayed they wouldn’t get shot. It was the best he could do to keep them safe.
“Who’s shooting at you?” the woman cried. Semi-squashed beneath him, she sounded seriously confused and panicked. She tried to wiggle away, making him even more aware of her soft curves.
“Me? This is your house.” Jack kept searching for the intruder from every angle he could stretch.
“You’re the one with a gun.” Her tone of voice clearly accused him of bringing this disaster on her.
Was she serious? “That gun happens to be saving your ass at the moment,” he hissed as she shifted and brushed something he shouldn’t even be aware of at the moment. Damn. He craned his neck, searching out the shattered windowpane for signs of the shooter.
“This just can’t be happening.” She pushed up from the floor.
“It is.” He urged her back down. “Keep your head low and move with me to the right. Make sure the dogs stay down too.”
“Sasha, Sam. Stay,” she commanded and the dogs stopped crawling. They were luckily positioned behind an upturned sofa.
She looked completely dazed, pupils dilated with shock, complexion sheet white. If she was involved in any terrorist activity it was obviously not in fieldwork. She was like a lamb in the crossfire, making him wonder how she could have any connection to her AK-47 toting spouse.
He regretted his irritation. She was upset, had a right to be upset. She didn’t know him from Adam, and the shooting hadn’t started until he came onto the scene.
Still, he could be wrong about her. Her shock could be an act to disarm him. So could her accidental contact with his groin. Whatever the truth was, he needed her glued to his side and far from any position to nail him from behind or run away. He slung a leg over her hip, keeping her anchored against him and focused on the threat. Out the side window, he saw the attacker approaching slowly, about two yards from the porch steps.
Locating a brass doorstop against the wall, Jack angled up and threw it. Sunlight glinted off the shiny surface as it sailed across the living room and demolished one of the front window panes some thirty feet away.
Somebody had done a number on her house. The place had been trashed big time. From his observation point low to the ground, Jack saw the attacker outside duck and turn in the direction of the broken window.
Jack had the perfect head shot, but his hand trembled. Bracing with his other hand, he squeezed off two rounds just as the woman shifted. And, hell, her thigh firmly brushed against his groin.
She froze, clearly realizing just how interesting he found her. He wasn’t at attention in that department, but he wasn’t exactly at ease either.
“Damn,” he muttered. The woman was deadly, like kryptonite. Distracted by her and her movement, he’d missed the headshot and hit the target in the shoulder. It wasn’t even the bastard’s gun arm, either. The attacker dropped to the ground, bringing his P226 up and firing on the house, close to where they were. The woman cried out.
Jack responded with a volley of shots out the sidelight then rolled with the woman to a new position, protecting her with his body. They were face to face, chest to chest, and everything else to everything else, right down the line with him on top. She was breathing too rapidly and would likely hyperventilate. He listened intently for the slightest sound from outside, but had to calm her down, or he’d have a bigger problem on his hands.
“Shh. It’s okay.” He met and held her frightened gaze as something potent arched between them. “Lauren.” He fixed her name in his mind. The thunder of her heart beat against his chest and the warmth of her seeped inside of him. “He can’t hurt you. I won’t let him, okay?”
“Try and take slow breaths and be as quiet as possible.”
Lauren nodded again, and he couldn’t stop himself from brushing his thumb along her cheek. If she was as innocent a bystander as she looked, then she was being damn brave.
Nothing but silence came from outside. Had he hit the guy with a lucky bullet?
He could hear the dogs inching closer to where he lay with Lauren and let them. A minute more, and he was going after the shooter. He wanted the dogs at her side then.
Though Jack’s edge wasn’t as sharp as it should be, he hadn’t lost it as completely as he thought either. Adrenalin and experience made up for his injured condition.
Just then a thud on the living room floor sounded. They’d rolled the opposite way after the gunfire and now he couldn’t see into the room. Had the killer crossed the porch and climbed inside the broken window without Jack hearing? He levied off Lauren and came up with his gun aimed as he ran across the foyer. Thick smoke billowed into the air.
Maybe he’d lost more of his edge than he’d thought.