Authors: Barbara Elsborg
Tags: #MM;m/m;romantic suspense
Deefor ran to Conrad, jumped up and put his paws on his leg.
“Leave the dog,” Archer said.
Michaels cast Conrad’s father a despairing glance but left the room.
“What was that about?” Conrad asked.
“Our code word in case I ever needed them to leave quickly. They’ll take the Land Rover and stay with his sister in the village.” He rose to his feet, moved over to the window with his phone and spoke quietly into it.
Conrad wondered who he was calling.
“We should all leave,” Conrad said when his father had finished. “Go to a hotel for the night. Call the police.”
“No,” Archer said. “We’re better off in the castle.”
“I don’t want this to be Custer’s last stand.” Conrad shuddered.
“We’re in a castle surrounded by water,” said his father. “Unless whoever comes arrives with a pontoon, boat or wetsuits, they have to use the bridge. We can defend it.”
“We’re better off staying in the building,” Archer said.
His father turned away from the window as the sound of a car engine faded.
“Why are you so sure someone will come?” Conrad asked.
“Because this is an opportunity to make a clean sweep,” Archer said. “He won’t want to miss it.”
“We should go upstairs,” said his father. “We can see better from there.”
“Get your gun,” Archer said.
“I already have.”
“Were you going to shoot Archer?” Conrad asked. “Christ, don’t answer that.”
“What about the shotguns?” Archer said.
“We’ll collect them on the way.”
Conrad sat on the stairs waiting with Deefor as his father locked the front door and set the alarms.
“I’ve eliminated the motion sensors but left the doors and windows linked to the system. We don’t want the alarm to go off if we go downstairs.”
“How long do you have to cancel the alarm before it sounds?” Archer asked.
“Forty-five seconds,” said his father.
They went upstairs with a box of shells, two shotguns, outdoor gear, a knife, tape and rope and his father’s laptop. In Conrad’s old room that faced the front of the castle, his and Archer’s bags were on the bed
Conrad felt a surge of pleasure that Michaels had done that. Deefor jumped up and settled between them. Archer picked up a knife and strapped it to his chest under his jacket.
“I’m going to have a look around,” Archer said. “Keep watch through the window. Call me if you see anything.”
As Conrad watched his father loading the shotguns, his stomach churned. “We ought to call the police.”
I’m like a broken record.
“What do you think they can do, Conrad? We’re miles away from the nearest armed response unit and we don’t know for certain this Morgan guy or whoever is after Archer will come.”
“But you’re not going to shoot anyone.” His heart thumped.
“Let’s hope not.” He turned to him. “You do realize why you couldn’t know what I did?”
Conrad nodded. “Did Mother know?”
His father laughed. “No. She can’t keep her mouth shut. She thought I was a boring civil servant.”
“Why didn’t you marry again?”
“Never found anyone I liked enough.”
“Sorry to bring all this to you,” Conrad whispered.
“I’m glad you did. I’d have been very pissed off if you’d ended up dead at the hands of some gangland thug. And Archer? I knew the moment I saw him at the arms fair that he was different, special. I was disappointed when he wanted to leave the intelligence service.”
“Why did he want to leave?”
“Not my place to say, but what happened on the mountain to his friend damaged something inside him.”
When was Archer going to tell him about that?
“Be careful, Conrad. If we both die, your uncle will sell this place to some insipid hotel group.”
“You’re not just going to open fire, are you? I mean, you will try to take these people alive? How many times do I have to say it?”
His father handed him a loaded shotgun. “I don’t want anyone killed. Not even Archer. I went to get my gun because I wasn’t sure of his intentions.”
“And you are now?”
“He likes you.”
Conrad was only slightly reassured.
Archer came back into the room and took Conrad’s place by the window. Conrad slumped on the bed next to Deefor.
His father stood by the door. “There could be another explanation.”
“For what?” Conrad asked.
Why my world has turned into a movie?
“Why Phoenix paid Archer to do hits that weren’t sanctioned.”
“Money makes the most sense,” Conrad said.
“Phoenix might be being threatened, coerced into cooperating,” his father said.
“It’s not an excuse,” Archer said.
“You realize how difficult this is to prove?” said his father. “It could be that those particular hits were agreed to at a higher level than mine.”
“But why was I targeted in Paris?” Archer asked. “I have the DNA of the guy who shot at me. He had my photo in his pocket. It was taken in Moscow a few weeks earlier. How the fuck did whoever took the photo know what I looked like? An independent broker shouldn’t have known. But the SIS did. You did, even if Phoenix didn’t. But he could have found out. My photo has the shooter’s blood on it. I took a picture of him with my camera, sent it to Phoenix and he told me the guy’s name was William Connor, that he was a freelance American.”
“You didn’t check it yourself?” his father asked.
“I don’t have a contact I can trust. I don’t think it would have been too difficult for Phoenix to make sure I had the answer he wanted me to have if I’d sent the sample in. The shooter’s identity is my trump card. I’m not giving it up to anyone I don’t trust.”
“Do you still have the photo you took on your phone?”
“I destroyed my phone. For all I knew I’d be set up for his murder. I wanted nothing to link me to the scene. Connor, if that’s his name, was in his mid-thirties. Sandy hair. Curled over his ears. Brown eyes. Five ten approximately. Slim build. Tiny scar on the left side of his mouth.”
Something in his father’s expression told Conrad he recognized that description.
“He spoke with an American accent but I don’t necessarily think it was genuine. Around a hundred and eighty pounds. Used a Dakota T-76 Longbow. He took four shots. He should have hit me with his first. He was on the only roof with a vantage point over mine. He was also careless. He’d left his exit route unsecured and he shouldn’t have had my photo in his pocket.”
His father’s phone rang. “Persia,” he said into it and put it down. “Michaels and his wife are safe.”
“Do you really think people are coming here to kill us?” Conrad asked. It still sounded crazy.
“We used a phone and your laptop within striking distance of this place. I’d imagine Phoenix has worked out where we are. While Morgan might not have the capability to trace us, Phoenix could tell him. Why not let Morgan get rid of his problem for him?”
“But Morgan’s guys killed two of Phoenix’s guys,” Conrad said.
“Revenge for that might be less important than getting rid of me. He’ll assume I’ve told your father everything. He’ll want us all dead and if a London gangster does it, so much the better. He might even send a group of guys to protect us who’ll have orders to finish the job if Morgan fails.”
Conrad glanced at his father. “The SIS would do that?”
Conrad wasn’t convinced.
“What was the code name of your handler before you resigned?” his father asked.
“Dane. I saw him once. Five ten. Eyes a little too far apart. Bald. Fifties. Going to seed. Sucking a lozenge.”
His father exhaled. “George Kinsale. Very friendly. Highly intelligent. And a rather manipulative bastard.”
“You think he’s reinvented himself as Phoenix?” Conrad asked.
“He might well have.” His father scowled.
“Dane had an Irish accent,” Archer said. “Phoenix doesn’t.”
“Nor does Kinsale.” His father sighed. “But he’s originally from Northern Ireland.”
“We should call the police.” Conrad felt he needed to keep saying it, even though he knew it wasn’t going to happen
Both men shook their heads.
“It’s not police business,” his father said. “It will make life too complicated.”
Conrad sighed. “Okay, your side of this isn’t something you want the police involved with but according to Archer, Dave Morgan is the one most likely to want me dead and that
police business. We can’t just sit here and hope it keeps snowing or start shooting people if they do turn up.”
“I’ve made a call,” his father said. “Unfortunately, if there are already people on the move, help might not get here in time.”
He stepped out of the room with his phone.
“You okay?” Conrad asked Archer.
“No, I’m fucking not okay. I’ve been lied to, stage-managed, almost killed.” Archer clenched his teeth then blew out a long breath. “Sorry. Not your fault. Mine for not seeing through this a while ago.” He continued to stare out of the window.
“You really think Morgan’s men will come? Why would he trust Phoenix after he’d killed two of Phoenix’s men?”
“What if Phoenix wanted the pair dead? Officially he might claim he’d sent them up there to protect you, or to rein me in. They could be the ones who took my picture in Moscow. Another link broken in the chain.”
His father came back into the room. “George Kinsale is at a charity gala in London tonight. I was hoping to get him on the line so you could listen to his voice. Dave Morgan is not at his family home. The people I have en route won’t get here for at least another forty-five minutes.”
Conrad’s heart jumped.
“If the front gate is breached, an alarm will go off inside the house,” his father said. “Same with the main door, all windows on the ground floor and the back door. We’ll know the moment they get into the house.”
“Is it linked to the police?” Archer asked.
“Yes. But the nearest manned station is thirty miles away. They won’t be armed. By the time they arrive, it will all be over.”
Conrad kept quiet for a while. Archer stood by the window and his father was tapping on his laptop. They were too calm and panic surged in Conrad’s chest.
“You two are worrying me,” Conrad said.
“Go to sleep,” Archer said.
“Fu—” Conrad glanced at his father and cut off the comment. “How will we know which are the good guys and which are the bad?”
“The bad guys will be shooting at us,” his father said and Archer laughed.
“Do you have to shoot back? I mean, isn’t there another way?”
“You think they’re going to turn around and leave if we ask nicely?” Archer didn’t take his gaze away from the window. Deefor’s growl grew louder.
“How come you believe us?” Conrad asked his father.
He looked up from his laptop. “You’ve never lied to me. You’re a good judge of character. What you’ve both said makes sense. If you’re wrong, all we’ll lose is a night’s sleep. If you’re right, someone will come here tonight. I have a team of six on their way. They’ll call when they’re five minutes out.”
“Ah,” said Archer. “Then the guys I can see messing around at the gate aren’t here to hold our hands.”
Conrad reared upright, the flare of pain in his back reminding him he wasn’t supposed to make sudden movements, or get shot at.
“Once I’m sure how many, I’m going downstairs,” Archer said. “The pair of you stay in here with the dog. Barricade the door.”
“No,” Conrad blurted.
“I can handle a gun,” his father said quietly and slipped his laptop between the mattress and the base.
“Handle it from in here,” Archer snapped. “They’re coming around the courtyard. Four of them.” He moved away from the window toward the door. “Make sure Conrad knows how to use a shotgun. And try not to shoot me.”
Archer pulled a revolver from the back of his pants and closed the door quietly behind him.
“I’m not cowering in here while he tries to deal with these guys all on his own.” Conrad stepped toward the door and his father blocked him.
“He knows what he’s doing. He needs no distractions. You might get him killed. Stay in here, block the door and only open it for the word Constantinople. Sure you remember how to use the gun?”
He nodded. His father followed Archer, and Conrad darted back to the window. There was no sign of anyone. Conrad picked up the shotgun, then pulled and twisted the lever on the side of the bookcase. A panel slid open and he slipped inside, taking Deefor with him.
Had his father forgotten this secret passage was here?
Archer was unsurprised when he heard Conrad’s father behind him before he reached the stairs. He had a different footfall to Conrad. No point wasting time arguing, trying to make him go back.
“I’ll cover the back door,” Archer whispered. “Stay up here. Watch the front door.”
“Don’t kill unless you have to. We need evidence against Kinsale—if I’m right.”
Archer nodded and hurried down the stairs. He’d made a mistake in not scouting out the interior of the castle more thoroughly. The windows at ground level were high and had leaded glass. They weren’t impossible to get through but didn’t offer easy access. He suspected two guys would break through the front door. The other two would come through the door at the rear. Both doors were made of solid wood, but locks could be blasted out. They’d had no problem with the main gate.
He didn’t like that they were outnumbered, that he didn’t know exactly what they were facing, that he had little experience of this type of situation, and he didn’t like being this worried about Conrad. Archer hadn’t needed to be told it was preferable no one was killed. One of these guys could be the path to Kinsale, the way to freedom and the chance of a future for a killer and a barrister.
Archer positioned himself in the breakfast room close to the rear entrance and left the door cracked open. The other door opened into a windowless pantry and he’d set that ajar. He stood hidden from view at the side of a large oak dresser, gun in hand, and waited.
Two loud blasts and a crunching noise suggested the back door had been blasted open with a shotgun. The steady beep of the alarm confirmed it. Forty-five seconds before the main alarm sounded. All the intruders needed to do was follow the sound of beeping to the room he was in. Archer hoped for a single guy.
“Get the alarm,” a man snapped.
Archer heard two more distant blasts and assumed the front was under attack too. A slim-built figure in dark clothes stepped into the room and stood with his back toward him. As he reached to wrench the box from the wall, Archer slid up silently, wrapped his arm around the guy’s throat and squeezed. By the time he threw him inside the food store and locked it, the man was unconscious.
He dropped to his haunches behind the table. His guess was that the other intruder or intruders, depending on whether his first assumption was correct, would be heading farther into the house expecting the alarm to be dealt with. Even if it wasn’t, they’d continue on a fast in, fast out basis and the blaring of the alarm would be an annoyance but not an issue.
When no one followed the first guy into the room, Archer crept to the door and headed down the corridor toward the hall. His heart pounded so hard he could feel it in his throat. He wasn’t a fighter. He didn’t do close combat. He was way out of his comfort zone.
He heard a sound behind him, registered he’d miscalculated, and flung himself down rolling onto his back before he hit the floor, finger already on the trigger of his gun, ready to fire. At the same time as a bullet struck something farther down the corridor, the full alarm sounded and Archer fired.
The bullet hit the guy in the thigh and as he dropped with a loud cry to the floor, Archer threw himself forward and wrenched his handgun out of his grasp.
“You fucker,” the guy spat, his hands clasped to his thigh.
“Yes,” Archer said and shot him in both feet before checking for other weapons and taking his cell phone.
Two down, two to go.
He left the guy writhing on the floor and resumed his journey down the corridor, pausing at the point it kinked before opening into the hall.
“Get the fuck out here or I’ll kill him,” someone yelled.
Archer edged forward and saw Conrad’s father on his knees in the middle of the hall.
He felt a surge of relief it wasn’t Conrad but chances of the idiot doing as he’d been told and staying in the room were small. Conrad’s father had his hands clasped behind his head, blood dripping down his cheek, a shotgun pressed against his head held by a beefy guy with a crew cut. An equally tough-looking bastard hovered by the broken front door, automatic pistol in his hand.
“You have twenty seconds,” the guy with the shotgun shouted. “Are you listening, Black? You’re the only one I want. The others can go but you better get your arse down here right now.”
No, I don’t think so.
Archer could have killed the guy by the door. He wanted to, but instead he shot him in the shoulder and the man stumbled back through the opening.
“What the fuck?” bellowed the one with the shotgun.
“Put the gun down,” Archer called with no expectation he’d comply. He couldn’t risk firing at him in case it caused him to pull the trigger on Conrad’s father. “Your colleagues are out of action. It’s just you. Put the gun down and step away from it.”
“Conrad Black,” the man screamed. “You want me to kill your father? Get the fuck out here.”
Archer clenched his jaw. Conrad’s father was between him and the guy. He’d—
“Drop your weapon,” said a voice in his ear and cold metal pressed into his neck.
Oh fuck. I miscounted?
Archer dropped the gun. A hand shoved him forward. The guy was breathing heavily. Had to be the one he’d wounded who’d snuck around to the back door.
The other couldn’t be walking. He gritted his teeth in fury. This was what came of not shooting to kill. When Conrad’s father saw him coming, he groaned.
Don’t give up on me yet, old man.
The coppery tang of blood became stronger. How badly hurt was the guy he’d shot?
“Tino’s bleeding all over the place,” said the man behind him. “The fucker put bullets in his feet. I don’t know where Mac is. He got me in the shoulder. Can I kill him?”
Archer stared at Conrad’s father and made a slight motion to the right with his head. The moment the older guy slumped, the attention of the one with the shotgun wavered. Archer pulled a knife from the sheath strapped to his chest, thrust back fast and hard, then flung himself down.
“What the fuck? Jack, you okay?”
No, he’s not.
But Archer had thrown himself farther than he’d intended, the slick knife had slipped from his fingers and the gunman still standing was close enough to kick him in the head.
His vision wavered.
“You fucking bastard,” the guy who’d kicked him screamed.
The alarm stopped and all Archer could hear was moaning. Some of it was coming from him.
“Drop the gun.”
Archer tried to drag sense back into his brain. Who’d said that? Deefor licked his face. He looked up to see Conrad standing behind the man holding the shotgun on his father.
“You won’t kill me,” the gunman said.
“No, you’re right, I won’t, Morgan,” Conrad said. “I’ll cripple you. The bullet will go through your spine. You’ll lie flat on your back for the rest of your life with plenty of time to appreciate what an idiot you’ve been. You’ll have a tube up your cock so you can piss. Fucking will be off the menu forever. You almost did that to me. Why shouldn’t I do it to you? Drop the gun or I’ll pull the trigger.”
Archer didn’t think Conrad had a gun. He was too close to be holding the shotgun. Deefor kept licking him.
Yeah, yeah, give me a minute. I’m still seeing stars.
“I’m sorry about what happened to your brother,” Conrad said. “I’m not sorry he got the sentence he did. A mother and child died. But I know it was an accident.”
“He should have been in an open prison.”
“That can’t happen immediately. It has to be earned. I told you.”
“He was killed by another guy you got put away.” Morgan spat out the words like venom.
Keep him talking while I get my head in gear.
He knew Conrad’s father would be thinking of trying something, but Archer caught his eye and shook his head.
“You’re not going to shoot me,” Morgan said.
“You kill my father and I will,” Conrad said.
“It’s not your father I want dead.”
Archer sprang up as Morgan spun around. Conrad gasped and dropped the candlestick he was holding. The shotgun was a hindrance to Morgan. Conrad was too close and as Morgan shifted back to pull the trigger, Archer collided with him and they fell to the floor. The gun went off between their bodies, the shot striking the wall. Archer flung the gun aside, knotted his fist and plowed it straight into Morgan’s stomach. One more blow and the guy doubled up on the floor. Archer pulled him onto his stomach and sat on his back, struggling to regulate his breathing. His chest felt as if he’d been stepped on by a horse.
“Where’s the rope?” Archer croaked.
Conrad unfastened a plaited tieback from a heavy curtain and brought it over. Archer tied it around Morgan’s wrists and rolled him onto his back. Conrad’s father had gathered up the guns, moved them out of reach and was now on the phone. Archer retrieved his knife and nodded toward the man he’d stabbed. “Press something against his stomach.”
Conrad tugged a cushion from a chair and pushed against the wound. Conrad looked shaken but okay and Archer exhaled.
“Are you all right?” Conrad asked.
“What part of
wasn’t clear?” Archer snapped. “A fucking candlestick? What happened to the shotgun?”
“I should have known you wouldn’t shoot,” Morgan snarled. “You fucking pansy.”
Deefor growled, his hackles went up, and Archer almost smiled.
“At least I’m not an idiot,” Conrad said. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? It’s not my fault your brother is dead.”
“Yes it is.”
“How did you know I was here?”
Morgan closed his mouth.
“One of you will talk,” Archer said. “Maybe Mac who’s in the pantry or Tino who’s going to find walking difficult for a while. Or you.” He crouched down, sliced open the front of Morgan’s jacket, and it fell apart.
“Let me do that,” his father said and took over with the pressure against the stab wound.
Conrad slid to Archer’s side.
Does he think he can stop me?
Conrad could have died. The thought choked him.
“No blood spilled yet,” Archer said, and flicked Morgan’s buttons with his knife. “How many more layers can I cut through before that happens?” He sliced again and the sweatshirt fell open. “I’m not an expert.” He slit the T-shirt. Morgan’s bare chest was heaving.
“You can’t just cut me,” Morgan gasped.
“Archer,” Conrad whispered.
“Why not? Four of you break in with guns. We have every right to defend ourselves.” He dragged the knife down the front of Morgan’s pants by the side of the zipper and the guy let out a cry of alarm. “Talk,” Archer ordered.
“Fuck you. A lawyer can prove you tortured me.”
“There’s a lawyer here who’ll say I didn’t. And anyway, you’re assuming I care.” Archer sliced open Morgan’s shorts to reveal his cock and balls and lifted the sac with the flat of the knife. “They’re not looking very happy. Don’t blame them. Tell me who told you we were here. Tell me who you did the deal with.”
He trailed the knife down Morgan’s cock and a tiny bead of blood followed the blade.
“Don’t,” Conrad said.
Archer lifted the knife. “You hear that? A guy who was left for dead, who was nearly crippled for life, is pleading for the one responsible. Because that’s the sort of man he is. A decent guy. A guy who believes in the law and did his best for your brother. I’m not like that. I don’t give a fuck what I have to do to get answers. Who told you we were here?” He rested the blade against Morgan’s cock. “An inch at a time. Not going to take long with a little prick like yours.”
Morgan gasped. “I don’t know who he is. I had a call telling me Black was staying in a cottage at Shennan Sands. Price for that was he wanted you dead too. He sent a picture of you. Two of my guys went up there, killed two men but when I saw the photo, I knew the idiots hadn’t hit the right ones.”
“Could you tell where the photo of me was taken?” Archer asked.
“Novotel. Looked like Moscow.”
“Why did he tell you we were here if you cocked up last time and killed two of his guys? You didn’t think it might be a trap?”
“No,” Morgan said sullenly but Archer could see realization dawning. Morgan had the wrong idea but it didn’t matter. “He said the men were expendable, they’d cocked up because they’d arrived too soon but if we dealt with everyone in this castle, he’d pay me two hundred thousand. He emailed pictures of this place a few hours ago. Told me where the alarm was, what the doors were like. Said it had to be tonight. Fucking bastard.”
Archer looked up when he heard the sound of snow being crunched under heavy boots. Armed men came through the front door. He’d wanted to be gone with Conrad before they arrived. Just because Conrad’s father said they were coming to help didn’t mean it was true. Archer had been wrong about the snow being impassable. A bad mistake. He made sure his knife was hidden.
“Drop your weapons,” one of them shouted. “Down on the floor. Hands behind your back.”
“It’s okay,” said Conrad’s father. “The situation’s contained, but medical assistance is required. The man tied up on the floor is uninjured. This man has been stabbed in the stomach and shot in the shoulder. The one in the corridor has been shot in the feet. The other…” He glanced at Archer.
“Locked in the pantry.”
Archer said a mental goodbye to his gun as he shuffled to the wall. He leaned against it as they secured the scene.
Conrad and Deefor joined him. “Well, that was exciting.”
“I haven’t forgotten you didn’t do as you were told. Where the hell did you come from?”
“There’s a secret passage and staircase that runs between rooms upstairs and downstairs.” He blew out a shaky breath. “That could have gone badly wrong.”
Archer didn’t waste time thinking about what
have gone wrong.
“I take it the photo Morgan described was the same as the one in the pocket of the guy in Paris,” Conrad said.
“Maybe a tech team can find out more from Morgan’s email and phone.”
“Possibly.” His knife would have been more effective if he’d had a few minutes longer.