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Authors: Iris Johansen

On The Run (11 page)

BOOK: On The Run
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And now he might never know.

         

H
er cell phone rang at three forty-three in the morning.

She jumped for the phone on the nightstand. “Hello.”

“We’re coming home,” Kilmer said. “We’re boarding the plane now outside Tangiers.”

Thank God.

She couldn’t speak for a number of seconds. “You said you’d call last night.” Jesus, that was an idiotic thing to say.

“I was a little busy,” he said dryly. “And I couldn’t use the cell phone anywhere near El Tariq. Marvot’s men were all over the area and I couldn’t risk them picking up the signal. I’ll be home tomorrow.”

“Donavan?”

“Alive. We patched him up and got him a transfusion, but he’s not good. I picked up a doctor here in Tangiers to take with us on the plane. I can’t put him in a hospital. Marvot has too many local contacts. Everything okay there?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” He hung up.

She slowly pressed the disconnect. Dear God, her hand was trembling. She was almost dizzy with relief . . . and joy.

“Mom?” Frankie had raised up on one elbow. “Was that Jake?”

“Yes.” She had to clear her throat. “He’s safe. He’s coming home.”

Frankie sat upright, her face alight. “When? May I go tell Robert?”

“He’ll be back tomorrow.” She steadied her voice. “And I believe that letting Robert know would be a very good idea. Go on.”

Frankie jumped out of bed and streaked out of the room.

She should have gone to tell Robert herself, but she didn’t want to face anyone now. She was too shaken. Christ, she’d thought it was over. How could it not be over?

It might be over, but this emotion she was feeling was too strong to ignore. It had to be identified and resolved. She couldn’t go through the rest of her life like this. In a state of denial but torn to pieces by memories and feelings that she couldn’t banish. The sensible thing would be to face it and rid herself of any lingering emotion for Kilmer she’d suppressed. Yes, that would be the logical, sensible thing.

Oh, God, he was
alive
.

         

S
he heard the throb of the helicopter rotors an hour after she had gone to bed the following night. She jumped out of bed and ran to the window. Blue-white light was spearing down from the helicopter as it slowly descended.

“Is it Jake?” Frankie asked.

“I think so.” She grabbed a robe and headed for the door. “Stay here until I’m sure.” She met Robert on the stairs. “Kilmer?”

He nodded. “He called me ten minutes ago and told me that he was coming in and to get a room ready for Donavan.” He jerked his head. “I’m giving him my room. I’ll bed down with the rest of the team in the bunkhouse. I changed the sheets. . . .” He ran down the steps and out the door.

She followed him and reached the porch in time to see the helicopter doors open and Kilmer jump out. “Get Donavan inside.” He turned to Blockman. “Everything okay?”

Robert nodded. “My room. Second on the left. How is he?”

“Dopey. Dr. Krallon has kept him under sedation from the time he left Tangiers.” His gaze shifted to Grace as two of his men carefully lifted Donavan out of the helicopter on a stretcher. “He’s going to make it, Grace. The big threat was the shock.”

“Thank heaven.” She looked down at Donavan’s face as he was carried past her. “Jesus, he’s pale.”

Donavan opened his eyes. “Kilmer’s fault,” he whispered. “He let all those leeches suck the blood out of me.”

“Ungrateful bastard,” Kilmer said. “I’m the one who got eaten alive.” He gestured to the men carrying him. “Get him inside and up to bed before I open those stitches and let him bleed to death.”

“Too late,” Donavan said. “I have Grace to protect me.” His eyes focused blearily on her. “Hi, Grace, how you doing?”

“Better than you.” Nevertheless, she was relieved to see that he was well enough to joke with Kilmer. “But we’ll take care of that,” she called after him as he was carried up the stairs. “So give Kilmer hell whenever you feel like it.”

“Thanks a lot,” Kilmer said. He turned to the short, dark-skinned man who had come to stand beside him. “Grace Archer, this is Dr. Hussein Krallon. He’s taking care of Donavan.”

“My pleasure, madam.” The doctor bowed politely. “And now I must get to my patient. With your permission?” He didn’t wait for her assent but hurried after Donavan.

“Is Donavan safe with him?” Grace asked as she watched him disappear down the hall. “Marvot wields a lot of influence in Morocco.”

“I’ve used him before. He hates Marvot’s guts. His son was murdered in a drug-related crime by one of Marvot’s thugs five years ago. He won’t smother Donavan in his sleep and he’ll get him well just to spite Marvot.” He paused. “How’s Frankie?”

“Fine.” Lord, he looked tired. “When did you get any sleep?”

“I dozed on the plane.” He rubbed his jaw. “But I need to get rid of this stubble.”

“Jake!” Frankie was at the top of the stairs. “You look like a pirate.” She ran down the stairs, her wary gaze on her mother. “Sorry I didn’t stay in my room. But I saw Jake get out of the helicopter and I knew it was all right. I think you forgot me.”

“I think you’re right.” She smiled. “So I’m the one who should be sorry. As you can see, Jake’s safe and sound.”

“Good. We were worried about you, Jake.”

“Were you?” His gaze went to Grace. “Both of you?”

“Naturally. I was worried about you getting Donavan out.”

“What a cut.” He grimaced and then smiled at Frankie. “Since you don’t know Donavan, may I assume you were worried about me alone?”

“Of course. I like you.” She glanced at Grace. “Could I get Jake some hot chocolate? He looks like he needs . . . something.”

“It’s late.”

“I can’t go back to sleep now. I’m too excited.”

“Jake can take care of—” She saw the disappointment in Frankie’s face. “Sure, go ahead. I’m going up to make sure Donavan’s settled. I’ll be down in fifteen minutes and then you go to bed. Deal?”

“Deal.” She ran down the hall toward the kitchen.

Grace started back up the stairs. “If you don’t want to bother with her, send her up. She just wants to do something for you.”

“Not in a million years. I’m honored.” He paused. “I’m just curious as to why you’re letting her associate with me.”

She looked back over her shoulder. “It must have been rough over there. She’s right; you look like you need something. Maybe it’s not hot chocolate, but Frankie is a great healer. When I’m hurting, just being around her makes me feel better.”

“I can see how that would be true.” He turned away. “Thanks, Grace.”

His tone was filled with weariness, and she stopped on the stairs. “How close was it, Kilmer?”

“Close enough for me to regret a lot of things I haven’t done in my life. And close enough for me to regret not having a will made up to protect you and Frankie.” He smiled faintly. “But I guess that would have offended you too.”

“We don’t need it. Charlie left Frankie the horse farm.”

“Good. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an obligation.”

“It’s a little late.”

He nodded. “I know. But I have to play the cards the way they’re dealt. Good night, Grace.” He started down the hall. “If you want to go on to bed, I’ll make sure Frankie gets back to you.”

“I’ll do it.” She didn’t want to leave him, she realized, shocked. She wanted to stand there and look at him. She wanted to do something, anything, to smooth away those lines of exhaustion on his face. Christ, she was as bad as Frankie.

No, worse.

Because it wasn’t a hot chocolate she wanted to offer him.

“Grace?” He had stopped and was looking back at her, his gaze reading her expression.

“No.” She shook her head, panicky. “It doesn’t mean anything. I’m just grateful about Donavan. It’s crazy to think—”

“Easy,” he said quietly. “I’m not thinking anything. I’m too scared to even hope. I just want you to know if you want to use me in any way, I’d be happy as hell. I wouldn’t expect more than you want to give. I wouldn’t ask more than—” He shook his head and said roughly, “The hell I wouldn’t. I’d devour you and ask for more. It was always that way with us.”

His words sent a jolt of tingling electricity through her body. Yes, they had always been insatiable where sex was concerned. “No.” She moistened her lips. “There are too many years, too much else between us.”

“It wouldn’t get in the way of sex. I guarantee it.”

“You couldn’t guarantee— Why am I even talking to you?”

“Because you’re looking for a way to take what you want. Take it, Grace. No consequences. I promise.”

She shook her head and hurried up the stairs. She was running away, she thought in exasperation. So much for coming to terms with what she was feeling for Kilmer. She’d only had to see him and she was caught up in that intensity that made her dizzy and weak in the knees.

And heat. She felt as if she had a fever, tingling, her breath coming short and shallow.

As it had been nine years ago.

But she wasn’t that woman. She was Frankie’s mother, and that was enough.

No, dammit, at this moment it wasn’t enough.

Take what you want.

That would be too dangerous, too all-consuming. She’d been satisfied before he came back. She’d be content again after he was gone.

Content.
What a puny word.

Happy. She was always happy with Frankie. She didn’t need that madness she’d experienced with Kilmer. . . .

9
                                                                                                                                       

D
id you have a good night, Donavan?” She smiled as she opened his door the next morning. She glanced at Dr. Krallon, who rose quickly from his chair. “Has he been a bad patient?”

“Terrible.” The doctor shook his head. “He curses me and refuses to do what I tell him. He has no gratitude.”

“A bedpan, Grace.” Donavan shook his head. “He wouldn’t get me up to go to the bathroom. It was humiliating.”

“And practical.” She sat down in the chair the doctor had vacated. “Go get your breakfast, Doctor. I’ll stay with him.”

“Gladly.” The doctor headed for the door. “And if I can bring myself to forgive him, I’ll get him breakfast when I return.”

Donavan smiled as the door closed behind him. “He’s a nice little guy. And stubborn, damn stubborn.”

“Then stop giving him a bad time. And you know that you can’t get out of bed to go to the bathroom yet. Give it a couple days.”

“A man has to make a dignified protest.”

“A man has to be reasonable and stop making trouble.” She studied his face. “You have more color this morning. I was worried about you last night, but today I can see that you’re as mean as ever.”

“Certainly. I was only playing on your sympathies when they toted me off that helicopter. It was the dignity thing again. Kilmer comes striding in like a conquering hero and there I was lolling on that stretcher, weak as a kitten. I had to work it for all I could get.”

Her brows rose. “It was all an act?”

“Well, perhaps I was a little out of sorts. It was a nightmare trip.” His gaze fastened on her face. “You look older, Grace.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“No, it’s becoming. You were always interesting, but now you have a . . . depth. I want to keep on looking at you to see what’s hiding beneath the surface.”

“Nothing’s hiding. I’m as uncomplicated as I’ve always been.”

He shook his head. “Uncomplicated my ass. You were a mass of contradictions from the moment you got off the plane almost nine years ago. You were patriotic and yet you’d seen too much to totally trust any government. You were brave but you were scared to commit. You wanted friends but you were afraid to reach out and take them for fear they’d go away.”

“Good God, Donavan. Since when did you become a psychologist?”

“Just one of my minor talents.” He smiled. “But I only use it with people I like. And I don’t voice my opinions unless asked.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“And when I want to butt into something that’s none of my business.”

She stiffened. “What are you talking about?”

“I thought I was going to die in that river.”

“So?”

“Kilmer saved my bacon. It’s not the first time. There’s not much he’ll let me do for him, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.”

“What matters?”

“He cared about you, Grace. I don’t know how much. He won’t talk about it. But I know that he was crazy about you.”

“Sex.”

“Yeah, I know that had a lot to do with it. But there was more.”

She shook her head.

“See, you always saw things the way you wanted to see them.”

“You’re tired. I’m going to leave and let you rest.” She started to get up.

“Don’t you dare move.” He coughed. “You’ll cause me to have a relapse.”

“You’re not recovered enough to have a relapse.”

“Then be still so that I can reach that happy state. I’m about to be profound. I need an audience.”

She slowly sat back down. “You’re taking advantage of that blasted wound.”

He nodded. “Why not? It hurts like hell. I should get something positive out of it.”

“We’ll talk later.”

“What if I get a blood clot and die? It happens. No, it’s got to be now. It’s perfect timing. I’m too pitiful for you to slug me. And by the time I’m well you’ll have had time to get over it.”

“Get over what?”

“Your defensiveness when I tell you that you’ve been a close-minded bitch where Kilmer’s concerned.”

She went still. “I don’t have to take this, Donavan.”

“Yes, you do.” He coughed again. “See, you’re upsetting me. I can feel that clot forming.”

“Liar.”

“You can leave me alone. But the doctor may find me dead as a doornail when he comes back.”

“Bluff.”

“But it’s working.” He added slyly, “You’ve gotten softer over the years. It must be that motherhood thing.”

“Talk,” she said through her teeth.

“You cheated Kilmer. You had something special going. I’ve never seen him like that with any woman. Kilmer never lies. Why the hell didn’t you trust him instead of running away?”

“You know why. He kept me from going to help my father.” Her hands clenched on the arms of the chair. “He’s lucky I didn’t strangle him.”

“He kept you from walking straight into Marvot’s hands.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do. Kilmer sent me to Tangiers to contact your father that night. Your sweet papa wouldn’t leave. He told me that it was better that you work with Marvot, that there was big money to be had if you left the agency and concentrated on gentling the Pair for that bastard. That’s why he made a deal with Marvot and tipped him about the raid.”

“No.” She glared at him. “You’re lying.”

“I don’t believe he wanted you hurt. He said he’d gotten a guarantee that you wouldn’t be killed in the raid. He honestly believed that what was best for him was best for you.”

“Three men died in that raid. You’re saying he as good as murdered them?”

He was silent.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Why should I lie to you? I have nothing to gain.”

“How could he expect me to work with Marvot? I’d never do it.”

“Not even if you thought that your father was being held hostage?”

“But you’d tell me differently.”

“If I was alive. I escaped being caught by the skin of my teeth when he called one of Marvot’s hoods from the next room. I got a bullet in the leg and I was on the run for two days. I did manage to call Kilmer and tell him to keep you the hell away from Tangiers.”

“My father was killed by Marvot.”

“Marvot obviously thought the trap was blown and your father wasn’t of use any longer. But he could kill your father as punishment for your part in the raid. It would be a warning to you when he caught up with you.”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Yes.”

“If it’s true, why didn’t Kilmer tell me any of this?”

“He told you that your father tipped Marvot. But that was the night your father died. Was he supposed to elaborate on what a scumbag your father really was and that he had proof? You loved your father. You trusted him. He was the only person you had in the world. I think Kilmer was planning on trying to talk to you later, but there was no later. You ran away. Kilmer got word that Marvot was after you and he had to find a way to protect you. Then North told him you were pregnant. That cinched it. He couldn’t be there to protect you and he wasn’t going to strip you of the little comfort you had.”

“My father loved me.” Her voice was shaking. “He did love me, Donavan.”

“Maybe. There are a lot of funny kinds of love in the world. He didn’t love you enough to keep you out of Marvot’s hands if it meant money in his pocket. I was there, Grace. You were being set up.” He met her gaze. “You know I don’t lie. I’ve got a scar in my left thigh as a souvenir of that night. Do you want to see it?”

She shook her head.

“You believe me?”

“I don’t know. Oh, God, I don’t want to believe you, Donavan.”

He nodded. “You believe me. I’d bet you knew in your heart that Stiller had betrayed us. You just couldn’t admit it to yourself. Now you have to admit it. Come to terms with it.” He closed his eyes. “Now I have to rest and fight off that blood clot so I can use it again sometime when I need blackmail. Do you think it would work with Kilmer?”

“No.”

“You can never tell. He’s not as much of a hard-ass as you’d think. . . .” He opened his eyes. “It’s the truth, Grace. As God is my witness, every word is true. Now tell me you believe me.”

“I can’t,” she whispered.

“Tell me.”

“I won’t.” The tears were brimming. “It hurts.”

“Tell me.”

“All right, dammit. I believe you.” The tears were running down her cheeks. “Satisfied?”

“Yes.” He closed his eyes again. “Go away. Nothing like a weeping woman to make a man feel bad. I mean worse. I want to meet your daughter, Grace. Will you let her come to see me?”

She didn’t answer as she headed for the door.

“I’d be a good friend to your daughter. Don’t let your bitterness hurt her.”

“I wouldn’t do that.” She opened the door. “I’ll bring her to see you tonight.” She rested her head on the doorjamb. “And I’m not . . . bitter with you. You did what you thought best. I’m just raw and hurting. And I know Frankie needs friends.”

“Kilmer could be a good friend to her too.”

“Back off, Donavan.”

“Just thought I’d strike while the iron is hot.”

“Hot enough to burn me alive.” The door shut behind her and she took a moment to try to compose herself. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. She couldn’t go down to breakfast with Frankie when she could barely cope. She’d expected to comfort Donavan, not be savaged by him.

Jesus, she was hurting. Was Donavan right? Had she known that her father had betrayed them but refused to admit it? Had she clung to the security of having just one person in the world she could trust to love her? Was she that weak?

Truth.

Think about it. Come to terms with it as Donavan had told her to do.

Go downstairs. Have breakfast. Don’t let Frankie know she was upset. Then go off by herself as soon as she could to get her mind clear and straight. Right now that seemed an impossible task. She was shaking and she had to stop these damn tears from falling.

She started down the stairs, pasting a smile on her face.

Don’t let Frankie know. . . .

         

F
rankie was sitting on the top bar of the corral, her gaze on the mountains. Waiting.

Kilmer watched her for a few moments before he left the porch and walked across the stable yard. “What are you doing here?”

“Nothing.”

“Mind if I join you?” He climbed the fence to sit beside her. “I haven’t done nothing in a long time. I want to see if I’ve been missing something.”

She smiled. “It’s pretty boring.”

“That’s what I thought. So why are we doing it?”

She didn’t speak for a moment. “Mom’s been gone a long time. I wanted to be here when she got back.”

He stiffened. “How long?”

“A couple hours. She rode out on Samson and hasn’t come back.”

“Did you see her go?”

She nodded. “She was acting . . . funny. It bothered me.”

“Funny?”

She shrugged. “Something like that.” She frowned. “Like she does when she has a headache or a cold and doesn’t want to worry me.”

“You mean when she’s hurting.”

“I don’t know. It bothered me.”

“She’s probably fine.” He paused. “Would you like me to go after her?”

“She wouldn’t like it. She never wants me to worry about her. That’s why I didn’t take Gypsy and go myself.”

“But I don’t have to worry about what she thinks of me. Most of the time she’s mad at me anyway. So I think I’ll borrow Gypsy from you and go find her. Okay?”

She nodded, relieved. “It’s not that I think she’s hurt or anything. I’ve never seen her thrown, and Samson loves her now. It’s just—”

“She was stiff.” Kilmer got down from the fence. “And you’ll feel better when you have her back.” He headed for the stable. “Which direction?”

She pointed to the west. “The foothills.”

“I have men patrolling the foothills, Frankie. If anything had happened to her, we’d know about it. But I’ll take a look anyway.”

“And you won’t tell her I was worried?”

“No, I won’t promise that. Sometimes it’s a comfort to know someone loves you enough to worry about you. Your mother probably feels pretty much alone since your friend Charlie died. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t feeling very happy today.” He smiled. “At any rate, we’ll ask her and then make it right. That’s the best way of handling it. Much better than ignoring it. Why don’t you go to the house and work on your music until I get back? I’m sure she’d rather hear that when she comes home than see you perched on that fence.”

Frankie nodded and climbed down. “I’ll try. But it’s hard to concentrate when something’s wrong with Mom.”

“I’ll make it right, Frankie.”

She studied him and then slowly nodded. “Okay.” She smiled. “I believe you.” She ran toward the house. “Gypsy doesn’t like to be near fences. She shies. Be careful.”

Kilmer watched her disappear into the house.

I believe you.

Be careful.

Christ, he felt like some medieval warrior knighted by his queen. Proud and full of hope and the fire of purpose to go out and battle dragons.

Is that how most fathers felt about their children? Probably. But for him it was new and fresh and made him remember a time before he was the cynical son of a bitch he was now. How long ago was that? Perhaps when he was younger than his daughter.

When you were eight like Frankie, anything seemed possible.

And when you had a Frankie in your life, you tried to make sure that even the impossible became possible.

         

D
on’t you think it’s time you started back?”

Grace whirled away from the stream where she’d been watering Samson to see Kilmer on Gypsy a few yards away. He was the last person she wanted here right now, she thought in frustration. She was still too upset, still on that emotional roller coaster started by Donavan. “Not unless there’s a reason why I should. Is this area hazardous to my health?”

“No, it’s safe.” He got off Gypsy and led her toward the stream. “But Frankie’s not too happy. She thinks there’s something wrong with you.”

“Oh, shit.”

His gaze searched her face. “Is there?”

She didn’t answer. “I’ll go back.”

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