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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: On The Run
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“El Tariq. What was this raid at El Tariq? What the devil is this Pair? What were you after? Prisoners? Money?”

“Horses.”

“What?”

“There were two white horses in Marvot’s stables at El Tariq. White Arabians with blue eyes. A stallion and a mare. Marvot guarded them as if they were the English crown jewels.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. North never told us. Personally, I think they were some kind of hostages.” She held up her hand. “I know. It’s crazy. But it was true. Marvot was fanatical about them. I was there. I saw them trample a stable man, and Marvot was only concerned about whether the death had upset the Pair. The horses were fed and watered and allowed to run wild on the farm. Except occasionally they were taken to a place in the Sahara. I wasn’t allowed to go along, but I was at El Tariq once when it happened. And when they were brought back to the farm Marvot was in a terrible temper.”

“Why?”

She shrugged. “I listened, but I wasn’t about to ask questions that would arouse suspicion.”

“Weird.”

“Yes, but the CIA wanted those horses, so they must have known why Marvot thought them so valuable. North told Kilmer to go in and get them. And they sent me to him to help.”

“Why you?”

“My father was the one who went to the CIA and told them what was happening at El Tariq. He’d been doing some minor dealing with Marvot and knew Marvot was under surveillance. He thought he could sell the tidbit of information about the Pair to the CIA. North jumped on it. Evidently they knew something about what was going on. He wanted my father to go back and find out more.”

“And Papa sent you instead?”

“I wanted to go,” she said defensively. “I was tired of trailing my father around the world and he knew it. I’d never spent more than a few months in America. I wanted to know what it felt like to belong to a place. My father told North about my way with horses and they took me as a CIA trainee. We were a little surprised they were willing to wait to go after the Pair until I was ready, but my father said that it only proved how important the raid was to them. I didn’t care. I was going to have my chance. Do you know how difficult it would have been for me to be accepted if my father hadn’t asked North to take me on?”

“Lucky you.”

“I
was
lucky. You don’t understand. Everything would have been fine, but— It wasn’t my father’s fault.”

“The raid was a bust?”

“It was hard as hell, but we got the horses out of the stable and into the truck. Marvot’s men were waiting for us on the road. We barely made it out of there.”

“Sounds like a tip-off.”

“It
wasn’t
my father.”

“Whoa. I didn’t say it was.” He studied her face. “But maybe Kilmer did?”

“My father died. He was killed later that day in Tangiers by Marvot’s men. Does that sound like he betrayed us?”

“No.” He held up his hand. “Look, I don’t know anything about this. It’s between you and Kilmer.”

“No, it’s not.” She led Samson into the stable. “There’s nothing between Kilmer and me. That ended a long time ago.” She glared at him over her shoulder. “And Frankie does
not
look like him.”

“My mistake,” Robert murmured. “Sorry.”

She drew a deep breath. “No, I’m sorry. I had no right to snap at you. It’s not been a good few days for me. I don’t like relying on Kilmer for anything.” She tried to smile as she changed the subject. “Did you know that the music Frankie’s doing now is for Charlie?”

“No.” A smile lit his face. “He’d like that.”

She nodded. “She was talking about how she had to make sure there were plenty of cymbals. That Charlie’s life wasn’t always slow and easy.”

“From what he told me, she’s right,” Robert said. “She’s just a kid. How does she understand stuff like that?”

Grace shook her head. “I don’t know. She’s a miracle.” She started to unsaddle Samson. “Now, if you don’t have any more questions, I’ve got work to do.”

“In other words, I’ve wasted enough of your time.”

“No, you had a right. Have you gotten anywhere on tracking down that leak at Langley?”

“Not yet. Stolz is working on a lead. There’s a young kid who’s a computer whiz in records. He’s a possible. If not, Stolz will keep searching. I talk to Stolz at least once a day to keep him hopping.”

“But Stolz doesn’t know where you are?”

“Of course not. For God’s sake, do you think I’d risk leading anyone to you? I trust Stolz, but Kilmer told me up front that I didn’t have the right to trust anyone while I was being paid by him. That wasn’t in our deal. I told Stolz I was in Miami.”

“I had to ask.” She stared him in the eye. “Frankie’s my responsibility, and I don’t have the right to take anything for granted.”

He nodded. “Not me. Not Kilmer. You’re not great on trust. Tell me, Grace, did you trust your father?”

“Of course I did.” She shook her head wearily. “Most of the time. When it was about him and me. He wasn’t very reliable and, yes, he wasn’t particularly honest, but he loved me. He wouldn’t have done anything that would have hurt me. And he knew I was going to be at El Tariq that night. He wouldn’t have sold me out.”

“It doesn’t seem likely.”

“Likely, bullshit—he wouldn’t have done it.”

Robert grimaced. “I seem to be saying the wrong things. I’m out of here.”

Grace watched him walk away. She shouldn’t have been sharp with him. He’d only asked questions that anyone would have asked. He hadn’t known how defensive she was about her father. Since earliest childhood she’d had to defend her dad from people who didn’t understand that her life with him wasn’t what they thought. He’d made life an adventure for her. Sometimes a terrifying adventure, but he’d always shown her love and kindness. In all the loneliness of her childhood she’d never doubted that he cared about her. That knowledge was important to her. In a world that changed every day, when she hadn’t been able to count on anyone or anything, she could count on her dad loving her.

And Kilmer had tried to take that certainty away from her.

Damn him.

         

T
onino showed up at Kersoff’s house last night,” Hanley said. “I was having her place watched by Lackman until the body was discovered. The woman seems to have had few friends, because her body was still undisturbed after twelve hours.”

“Tonino,” Marvot repeated, thinking. “One of Kilmer’s men.”

Hanley nodded. “He must have been sent by Kilmer to find out how Kersoff located Grace Archer.”

“Or you might have been followed when you visited the lady.”

“I was careful,” Hanley said quickly. “I’m a professional. I would have known.”

It was true Hanley made few mistakes, Marvot thought, but Kilmer had an extraordinarily skilled team. “I believe we’d still better scour the perimeter here for any surveillance. What was Lackman’s report?”

“Tonino was there for less than ten minutes. He evidently found the body and then flew the coop.”

“And you’re sure you left no evidence after you dispatched Kersoff’s wife?”

Hanley shook his head. “I went through the desk and her bedroom. No paperwork.”

“Then it seems we’ve got a jump on Kilmer.” He smiled. “And all we need is a small head start. Have you made contact with Kersoff’s informant in the CIA yet?”

“I’ve sent a man to Langley to make contact personally. If Kilmer knows about the leak, then we have to gather in the source before he gets ahold of him.” Hanley shrugged. “And there’s nothing more persuasive than cash in hand. Unless it’s fear. Fear is good.”

Marvot nodded. “So it is.” He stood up. “Either way I expect an answer by tomorrow night. You’ll remember that, won’t you?” He stared Hanley in the eye to instill a little fear of his own. “I’ve waited a long time to get my hands on this woman, Hanley. My patience is almost at an end. I won’t take it kindly if we lose her now.”

“You don’t have to tell me that.” Hanley’s gaze slid away. “We won’t lose her.”

“Excellent. Now, you contact Langley and stir them up a little.” He headed for the door. “I expect a report when I get back from my evening walk. I’ve promised to take Guillaume down to the paddock to look at the Pair as a special treat.”

Hanley shook his head. “Why is the boy so besotted with those horses? He has a fine horse of his own.”

“Children are always fascinated by the forbidden. He knows the Pair have killed before.”

“Aren’t you afraid Guillaume will sneak down and try to ride them?”

“He almost certainly will at some point. That’s why I’ve told everyone in the stable that if he’s permitted near them without me, I’ll tie them down in the stall with one of the Pair.” He shrugged. “But by giving Guillaume a taste every now and then, it will put off that time.” He opened the door. “Ah, there you are, Guillaume. Ready?”

“Yes, Papa.” Guillaume’s eyes were shining. “I brought my camera. I want to take photos of them for my room.”

“What a good idea.” He took Guillaume’s hand and glanced back over his shoulder at Hanley. “And if you bring me Grace Archer to work with the Pair, there may not be any reason for me to be concerned about my son. A twofold reason for you to do your job with utmost dispatch.”

Hanley nodded. “Of course I will.”

Marvot smiled down at Guillaume. “Hanley is going to bring us a playmate for the Pair. A young woman. Won’t that be interesting?”

Guillaume looked doubtful. “But they don’t like to play.”

“Perhaps they will with her.” He led Guillaume toward the paddock fence and motioned the stable hand to let the horses out into the paddock. “Climb up and watch them. They move like silk.”

“Or fire.” Guillaume’s eyes were fixed on the two white streaks that bolted into the paddock. “White fire. Lightning, Papa. Could this woman tame the Pair for me? Could I ride them then?”

Marvot thought about telling him yes but then thought better of it. After he got what he wanted from the Pair, it was quite probable he’d dispose of them. “Sometimes it’s better to enjoy a treat at a distance. Like this. Look at them run.”

The moonlight was shimmering on the horses as they ran around the paddock. It had been a bright, clear night like this that he had first seen Grace Archer working with the Pair. He had been sure that the Pair would kill her, and he had been curious to see how she would behave in the face of death. He could still remember how slim and fragile she had looked in comparison with the brute strength of the horses. She had not died that night, and he had been filled with hope as he saw how the Pair responded to her.

Bitch.

“Aren’t they pretty, Papa?” Guillaume’s eyes were focused on the horses. “Look at the way they arch their necks.”

“Magnificent,” he said. And totally useless to him. As useless as they had been for these many years.

But perhaps for not much longer. He had thought to rid himself of a possible encumbrance by putting a death bounty on the child. He’d thought perhaps the woman would be better able to concentrate on the Pair without the girl. But he was glad that Kersoff had not killed her. Now that he had a line on Kersoff’s contact, he could take over the operation himself.

And mothers were notoriously malleable when one used their children.

“They’re coming toward us,” Guillaume whispered. “Perhaps they want to be friends.”

“Get off the fence,” He told Guillaume. “That’s not affection you’re seeing. You have to learn to recognize and interpret.”

“What?”

Hatred. He stared at the horses as they ran toward the fence. The Pair never lost an opportunity to try to savage him. They had hated him from the moment he’d brought them here. He wondered why when he had never personally mistreated them. Was it some deep instinct that recognized that he controlled the pain and whether they lived or died?

He jumped down off the fence as the horses reared only feet from his head.

“Papa!”

He turned to Guillaume, who was staring at him with fear—and feverish excitement. For a moment he was filled with anger, and then it vanished. Guillaume was his son, and Marvot would have felt that same excitement if it was his father who had been at risk. Love sometimes existed side by side with the desire for the one in control to be knocked from the throne. It was his own nature that he’d bequeathed to Guillaume. “You thought I might die.” He clapped his son on the shoulder. “Not me. Never. I won’t be beaten. It won’t happen. Accept that.”

“I only thought . . .”

“I know what you thought. I’ll always know.” He looked back at the Pair. “But I believe you need to witness what death means. It would be a good lesson for you. I’ve protected you too long. I saw my first violent death when I was your age. A young man annoyed my father and he had to be punished. My father didn’t know I was awake and watching, but he found out later and asked me how I felt. I told him that I was proud of him, proud of his power, proud of him being able to lift his hand and crush anyone who disobeyed him. I was much closer to my father after that. He sent me to fine schools and gave me an education of which any scholar would be proud, but I never learned anything as important as I learned that night.” He didn’t take his gaze from the Pair. “Yes, we definitely need a lesson for you, Guillaume.”

8
                                                                                                                                       

T
he blood wouldn’t stop. . . .

No time to do anything but keep his hand pressed above the wound to try to stem the flow, Donavan thought as he tore through the shrubbery and jumped into the shallows of the river. They were right behind him.

He was going to die.

Screw it. This was no place for a good Irishman like him to bite it. Keep going. He knew a cave behind the waterfall a half mile from here where he could hide. He’d scouted it out the first week he’d set up surveillance of El Tariq.

If Marvot didn’t know about that cave. It wasn’t on his property, but close enough. If he did, then Donavan would be caught like a fox in a trap.

Worry about that later. Get to the cave and then stop this damn blood. Call Kilmer and tell him what had happened. He’d come or send someone.

If it wasn’t too late . . .

         

I
’m supposed to help you with the horses.”

Grace turned away from brushing Samson to see Luis Vazquez grinning at her. “Hello, Luis. How have you been?”

“Well.” Luis came into the stall and took the brush away from her. “You have been doing well too. I saw your daughter. She’s very beautiful.”

“Yes, if I remember you have a daughter too.” Her brow wrinkled. “She was three. . . . How is she?”

“Mercedes? An angel.” He grinned over his shoulder. “But she’s becoming a young lady. It frightens me.”

“You were going to go home to Argentina when you had enough money for a horse livery shop. Yet here you are.”

“I tried to go home five years ago.” He shrugged. “It didn’t work out. I couldn’t settle. It’s difficult becoming a shopkeeper after you work with Kilmer. There was no excitement, no edge. I was bored and boring. My wife was glad to see me go.” He chuckled. “Now we have great homecomings every few months and don’t have to put up with each other for the rest of the time. A perfect arrangement.”

“And Mercedes?”

“I’m a warrior, a hero. I bring her presents and tell her tales and I dazzle her. Every man needs to be a hero to someone.” He took a step back from the stallion. “This is a fine animal. Good lines.”

“Yes.” She paused. “Did you go along when Kilmer stole Cosmo?”

He nodded. “Very scary. I thought Kilmer was dead meat. It was lucky the bullet bounced off his canteen and went into the rib cage instead of his heart.”

She went still. “He was shot?”

“Didn’t he tell you? He was bringing up the rear and one of Marvot’s men got off a round before we were out of range.”

The bullet bounced off his canteen and went into the rib cage instead of his heart.

A chill went through her. So close. Christ, he might have died and she would never have known.

“No, he didn’t tell me.”

“Donavan poked fun at him for a month. He said it would have served Kilmer right to die because he stole the blasted jackass. Kilmer didn’t think it was funny. He had the devil of a time getting that jackass here.”

“I can see how he would.”

“But if he’s going for the Pair, he had to have Cosmo. And now he has you, Grace. Everything’s falling into place for him.”

“He doesn’t have me,” she said coolly as she turned away. It was idiotic to feel this shocked. Kilmer lived with death every day of his life. There had been several close calls when she had worked with him.

But that had been different. She had been there, she had shared the danger.

“No offense,” Luis said. “I thought that was what this was all about. We were going to get that bastard Marvot and take the Pair. When I saw you, I knew that—”

“Luis!” Dillon was standing in the doorway of the stable. “Front and center. We’re heading out. The helicopter will be here in ten minutes. Get your gear.”

“Right.” Even as he spoke he was throwing down the brush and heading at a dead run for the door. “See you, Grace.”

Grace stood watching, stunned, as he disappeared. How many times had she answered that call and responded in the same way? But that call shouldn’t have happened here.

Not here.

She strode out of the stable and headed for the house. The stable yard was filled with Kilmer’s men, moving, gathering equipment, but silent, swift, efficient. Kilmer was on the porch talking to Robert and looked up as she came up the steps. He made a motion to Robert, who disappeared inside the house.

“What’s happening?” Her hands clenched into fists. “Where are you going?”

“I’m not leaving you and Frankie unprotected,” he said quietly. “I’ve ordered Blockman and four of the team to stay here. I should be back in two days, tops. If I’m not, I’ll call you. If there’s a problem, Blockman will take you and Frankie to another safe house in the mountains near here that I’ve told him about.”

“What’s happening?” she repeated.

“Donavan’s down. He’s still alive, but I don’t know how long he’ll stay that way if I don’t get him out. He says he’s lost a lot of blood.”

“Donavan,” she whispered. “Where?”

“El Tariq. Or near there. Marvot’s men surprised him. One of Marvot’s scouts must have spotted him and then brought back the troops.”

“It will be hours and hours before you can get to El Tariq. Can’t you arrange for someone closer to go after him?”

“Not at El Tariq. The risk is too high. I checked with Tonino and the hills are crawling with Marvot’s men.” He checked his watch. “I’ll call when I reach El Tariq, but after that you won’t hear from me until we’re on our way back. Marvot’s men may be able to pick up the signal. I told Donavan not to call me again unless he changed locations.” He looked up at the sky. “There’s the chopper.” He started down the steps. “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. I’ve given instructions that—”

“You’re damn right I’ll be okay. I can take care of Frankie. I’ve done it all her life.” She glared at him. “And why do you think I’m such a bitch that I wouldn’t want you to go after Donavan? Are you supposed to leave him to bleed to death? Get the hell out of here.”

He smiled. “I’m going, I’m going. What a nag.”

She watched him trot across the yard toward the helicopter that had just landed. The wind from the rotors was blowing his hair and pressing his khaki shirt against his lean body. He motioned the team to board the helicopter and stood there until every man was on board. That was Kilmer’s standard operational procedure, Grace remembered. He was always the last man out.

And it was probably why Kilmer had almost bought it when he’d stolen Cosmo.

And why he’d gone back to El Tariq that night nine years ago to get his men out of the hills around the estate.

Always the last man out.

She’d understood that he had to go back and retrieve the rest of his team. She hadn’t understood why he didn’t let her go to Tangiers to get to her father when there was a chance she could have saved him.

“Where are they going, Mom?” Frankie was standing beside her.

“One of the men who works for Kilmer is hurt and in trouble. They’re going to help him.”

“Could we go?”

Grace glanced down and saw Frankie’s troubled expression. “Why? You don’t even know this man.”

“I don’t want Jake to get hurt too. Maybe we could make sure he didn’t. Don’t you want to go?”

“No, I—” She
did
want to go, she realized suddenly. She wanted to be one of the team jumping into that helicopter. She wanted to be part of the teamwork that would bring Donavan to safety.

If he was still alive when Kilmer got to him.

“Yes, I’d like to go,” she told Frankie. “The man who’s hurt is a good friend of mine. But sometimes you can’t do what you want. Sometimes it’s better if you stay at home and don’t get in the way.”

“I wouldn’t get in the way.”

“You might not mean to.” She paused. “Remember when we went to see
The Nutcracker
? All those dancers were used to doing exactly what they were taught to do. What would happen if someone from the audience got up on stage and tried to dance with them?”

Frankie chuckled. “It would be funny.”

“But it would cause the real dancers to make mistakes because they’d be trying to get out of the way. Can you see that?”

Frankie’s smile faded. “I guess so. I wouldn’t know the steps.”

Grace nodded.

“But you’d know the steps, Mom.”

Grace watched the helicopter leave the ground. Yes, she’d know the steps, and she wanted to execute them, dammit. “I might have forgotten a lot. It’s best that I stay with you.” She forced herself to turn away and not watch the helicopter disappear. “Let’s go inside and find Robert. It’s almost time to make supper.”

But Frankie was still staring at the helicopter. “I like Jake. He’ll be okay, won’t he, Mom? He won’t die like Charlie?”

How could she answer that without risking lying to Frankie?

Last man out.

“He has a great chance.” Her arm slid around Frankie’s shoulders. “Jake has dealt with situations like this for years and he’s very, very clever.”

Frankie didn’t speak for a moment, and Grace knew that she realized her mother hadn’t given her a positive answer. Then she said, “And he knows the steps. Right?”

“He knows all the steps. Every one.” She brushed a kiss on Frankie’s temple. “In fact, he invented a few himself.”

“That’s good.” Her expression was still troubled. “But Charlie wasn’t young like Jake. And he was smart too. He should have learned a lot in those years. But he died, Mom.”

Trust Frankie to come up with the comparison with Charlie’s death that was uppermost on her mind. And that comparison was sending a chill through Grace as well. She drew a deep breath. “Look, if Jake gets in trouble and needs help, I promise I’ll go and get him out. Okay?”

“And not get hurt yourself?”

Jesus, so much for not making promises she couldn’t keep to Frankie in the name of honesty. “And not get hurt myself. Now, may we go and get something to eat?”

Frankie nodded. “Sure.” She glanced back at the sky, but the helicopter had disappeared over the horizon. “Helicopters are kinda neat, aren’t they? When the propellers go around, it’s like the sound of a whip. Kind of sharp but there’s still a rhythm. . . .”

         

D
on’t be stupid. Leave me,” Donavan whispered. “It’s too late. Get the team out of here.”

“Screw you.” Kilmer tightened his hold around Donavan’s waist as he dragged him through the muddy water. “Do you think I came all this way and got these blasted bloodsucking leeches on my legs to let Marvot have you for breakfast? This isn’t about you. It’s about my goddamn ego.”

Donavan started to laugh but ended in a cough. “Bastard.”

“Yes.” Kilmer moved quicker, his gaze searching the woods on either side. They had eliminated four of Marvot’s patrol when they came in an hour ago, but there could be more. “Now shut up. If I can get you through this creek and the woods, we’ll have a chance. We’ll rendezvous with the rest of the team at the road. And the chopper’s five miles on the other side of the road.”

“Five miles or five hundred. It’s still not—”

“Look, it’s going to happen. Now, put one foot in front of the other and keep your lips closed. I’m not going to die in this stinking river and I’m not going to leave you. That leaves only one other choice. I have to be a damn hero.”

“I’d never be able to stand it if you saved my life. You’d never let me hear the end of it. I’d rather give up the ghost now.”

“Donavan.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll shut up. I’m feeling a little weak anyway. If you don’t get me out of here soon, I may faint and make you carry me.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“I believe . . . it’s happening. . . .” His words were coming in gasps. “If you’re going to be a hero, I should make sure you . . . do . . . it . . . right. . . .”

         

Y
ou okay?” Robert asked as he came out on the porch. “You were quiet at supper.”

“Was I? Do you think Frankie noticed?” Grace grimaced. “God knows I’m trying to act normal.”

“Frankie was quiet herself. I think she’s absorbed in her music,” Robert said. “You’re worried?”

“He said he’d call by last night. Hell, yes, I’m worried.”

“Things happen.”

“I know that,” she snapped. She took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “And I know that some of those things that happen are bad. The entire team could be wiped out. Kilmer could be dead.” She crossed her arms across her breasts to stop their shaking. “We should have heard from him.”

“What do you want to do? Should I call North and see if he’s heard any word of a disturbance at El Tariq?”

“No. It’s dangerous for Frankie if we make any contact when we know there was a leak before. We wait.”

“Not long. I promised Kilmer I’d get you and Frankie away from here by tomorrow if he didn’t get back. He was afraid one of the team would be caught and forced to talk.”

“We’ll wait until day after tomorrow.” She shook her head. Christ, what was she thinking? “No, you’re right. We have to get Frankie away. I’ll have her ready to leave by dawn tomorrow.” She added wearily, “Dammit, I hate to have her forced to go on the run again.”

“I do too.” Robert turned away and opened the screen door. “But that’s life.”

Or death, she thought with a shiver. Kilmer’s death.

She looked out at the mountains. Why was that possibility hurting her so badly? She’d gone for nine years without even thinking about him, and now it—

No, that was a lie. Kilmer had always been there in the back of her mind in spite of her trying to deny it. How could it be any other way? He’d been the prime sexual experience of her life. She’d admired him and respected him. She’d given birth to his child.

And he’d kept her from going to her father when he’d needed her. It didn’t matter that she would have been too late to save him. Kilmer had taken away the choice.

Certainly that knowledge was still angering her, but the stark possibility of Kilmer’s death seemed to dwarf everything else.

She could hear Frankie playing the keyboard inside the house. She wasn’t composing right now. She was taking a break and playing Mozart. Beautiful. So beautiful. And Kilmer had never had the opportunity to realize just how beautiful she was in every way.

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