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Authors: Iris Johansen

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“As far as I know. Donavan is keeping his finger on Marvot’s pulse at El Tariq and I’ll have notice.” He paused. “I already have a plan, Grace. And I have a good team to protect you.”

“Robert said you weren’t with the CIA any longer.”

“You know half my people weren’t CIA even when you were with me. It wasn’t difficult to replace the government agents. And a lot of them chose to stay with me.”

She could believe that. Kilmer inspired loyalty without even making the effort. “To do what?”

He shrugged. “To do what I’m hired to do. There’s always use for a well-oiled military machine in this world. I’ve done everything from rescuing kidnapped oil executives in Colombia to ridding the U.S. Army of terrorist snipers in Afghanistan. Nothing much changed when I quit the CIA.”

“Then why did you quit?”

He met her gaze. “The same reason you quit. It all went bad.”

“And you didn’t help.”

“I’m not going to justify myself,” he said quietly. “I did what I had to do. I’m not a miracle man. I had to make a choice.”

“Your choice sucked.” She looked away from him. “It might have killed my father.”

“It didn’t, but there was that possibility. I had to move fast to save the four other men on my team who we had to leave at El Tariq that night. Your father was in Tangiers. I wouldn’t have had time to reach him before Marvot could set up a trap.”

“And you didn’t let me go to him.” Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “You knocked me out and then locked me in that damn cellar. I didn’t ask for your help. I didn’t need you. I could have reached my father on my own.”

“Marvot would have been waiting for you. I sent your father a warning just in case I was wrong. He didn’t leave Tangiers. Does that tell you anything?”

“Maybe he didn’t get the warning.”

“He got it.” Kilmer shook his head. “But he didn’t need a warning. He knew what had happened at El Tariq.”

“He
didn’t
know. He was the one who told the CIA about Marvot in the beginning. He got me the job at El Tariq. It wasn’t his fault that Marvot was tipped off.”

“I’ve told you before. Your father tipped him off, Grace.”

“No, that’s a lie. He wouldn’t do that. He knew I was there. He loved me.”

Kilmer didn’t answer.

“He
loved
me,” she repeated.

“Maybe he thought he could get you out before the sky fell in. But we were moving very fast toward the end of the mission.” He shrugged. “We’ve gone through this before. You didn’t believe me then. You won’t believe me now. So let’s put it behind us and deal with what’s happening. You need me to protect Frankie, and I have the means and the willingness to do it. Let me help you.”

She tried to control the anger and sense of betrayal those memories had brought flooding back. She jerkily shook her head. “I can do it myself.” She gazed across the stable yard at Frankie and Robert. “I have to get over there. Frankie doesn’t look too upset, thank God.”

“She’s very close to him?”

She started across the yard. “Yes.”

“Close to you too?”

She glanced at him over her shoulder. “What?”

“Do you sleep with him?”

She stopped. “That’s none of your business.”

“I know. It doesn’t seem to make any difference.”

His tone was quiet, but it was charged with all the intensity she remembered.

Oh, my God, and her body was readying, responding, as if their intimacy had been yesterday instead of nine years ago.

No!

“It won’t matter what I feel, Grace,” he said. “You’ll be totally in control if you decide to trust me to take care of the problem.”

She’d never been in control with him. He’d only had to touch her and she’d melt. That sexual attraction had bewildered and frightened her. At first, she’d thought it was just hero worship but it had become like a drug in those following weeks, totally out of control.

It couldn’t be the same feeling. She was older now and she had every reason not to feel anything but anger and bitterness toward him.

His smile held a slight element of sadness. “It doesn’t seem to make any difference to you either, does it? Don’t feel bad. Hormones have nothing to do with cool logical thinking.” He turned away. “I’ll be close to your motel tonight. I gave Blockman a card with my cell number to give you. If you need me, call.” He strode away from her toward the road.

She was glad he was gone. That moment had shaken her and she didn’t want to deal with him right now. She had thought she had put him out of her life but evidently that didn’t include physical instincts.

She could handle it. Maybe their affair had ended too abruptly for there to be closure. Some remaining tendrils of emotion were probably natural in situations like this. Maybe the next time she saw him it would be with no sexual tension at all. She had to remember who he was and what he had done and everything would be back to normal.

Normal?

What was normal in this world where sweet guys like Charlie could be killed for no reason?

         

I
like Mr. Kilmer,” Frankie said as she settled down in bed that night. “I mean Jake. He told me to call him Jake. I think he’s cool. But you don’t like him, do you?”

“I used to like him,” she said noncommittally. “Why do you think he’s cool?”

“He listens. Most people don’t really listen to kids. But he does.” She yawned. “And I think he’s smart. He doesn’t say much but he sort of— Is he smart, Mom?”

“Very smart.”

“And you worked with him when you were a super-duper spy?”

“I wasn’t a super-duper anything. I just did a job.” She kissed her forehead. “Are you feeling any better, baby?”

“I don’t know. When I was in the barn, I started crying again.”

“That’s natural. You think you’re okay and then something happens and you’re crying again.”

“You too?”

“Me too. But the important thing is that we did what Charlie would have wanted today. And that we remember him every day with love. And we can do that, can’t we?”

“Sure.” Frankie reached up to brush Grace’s lashes with a gossamer touch. “They’re wet.” She suddenly buried her head in Grace’s breasts. “It hurts me when you hurt. What can I do?”

Grace’s throat was tight as she hugged her close. “Love me. And I’ll love you. That’s the cure for almost everything.” She pushed her back down on the pillows. “Now go to sleep.”

“Everything’s going to be okay, isn’t it?” Frankie whispered. “Nothing bad is going to happen to us again?”

Grace nodded. “Nothing will happen to you. I promise I’ll keep you safe.”

“And you,” she insisted.

“And me.” She tucked the blanket around her. “I have to keep myself safe so that I can keep you safe. It’s a package deal. Good night, baby.”

“Good night, Mom.”

Grace turned out the bedside light and turned back the sheet on the other bed. She doubted if she could sleep, but she wanted Frankie to have the comfort of someone in the room if she woke in the night. Her daughter had had enough insecurity and terror in the past few days to last her for a lifetime.

Frankie was already asleep. She could hear her steady, deep breathing.

Grace went over to the window and looked down at the parking lot two floors below. What did she expect to see? An elite militia force invading this small town? Perhaps. Marvot could afford an elite force if he could afford that bounty he’d put on their heads.

But no force he could hire would be as good as Kilmer’s team.

Her hand clenched on the drape. Her lack of shock at that thought demonstrated that it hadn’t come too far out of left field. No matter how she wanted to push his offer of help away, it kept returning. Kilmer was qualified to help Frankie on a scale that no one else could come near. If Grace went off on her own, it would mean being on the run and a million times more vulnerable. She’d scoped dozens of possible bolt-holes, but none of them was as safe as being under Kilmer’s wing.

Frankie was murmuring in her sleep. Dreaming?

And would that dream become a nightmare? Grace had promised her she would be safe. Did she have the right to turn down Kilmer when he could guarantee Frankie her best chance?

Yes, blast it, Grace was intelligent and capable, and she didn’t want interference from—

Screw it. It was what Frankie needed, not what Grace wanted. Let Kilmer bust his butt protecting Frankie. She deserved everything he could give her.

She reached for her cell phone and dialed Kilmer’s number written on the card Robert had given her. She said as soon as he picked up, “I don’t have a choice, dammit. She’s got to be safe.”

“Clarify.”

“The answer is yes. But it’s going to be on my terms, and if I don’t like how you’re handling anything, I’m going to bail. Understand?”

“Understood. I’ll get cracking. Have her ready to leave by five in the morning.”

“Don’t run in here like a steamroller. I don’t want her scared.”

“I’ll surround her with all the familiar comfort I can. But you’ll be the deciding factor. You’re the center of her life. You’re the one who’ll have to give her confidence in what we’re doing.”

“You’ve already made inroads,” she said sarcastically. “She thinks you’re cool.”

He was silent a moment. “Does she?”

“She’s a kid and she doesn’t know you.”

“I’m properly deflated.” He paused. “She’s extraordinary, Grace. You’ve done a remarkable job.”

“I did my best. She’s very special.” She added harshly, “And nothing’s going to happen to her. So you’d better do a damn good job of planning
and
executing.” She hung up.

It was done. She was committed.

She went back over to Frankie’s bed and looked down at her. Beautiful. Sleeping, she still had the glowing vulnerability of a much younger child. “We’re on our way, baby,” she whispered. “It’s not what I wanted, but I think it’s best for you. Jesus, I hope it’s best for you.”

5
                                                                                                                                       

R
eady?” Kilmer asked when Grace opened the door.

She nodded. “Frankie’s in the bathroom. She’ll be right out.”

“How’s she taking it?”

“Good. She’s very resilient. I told her we had to find a place to go that would be safe, and she accepted it.” She made a face. “I think she’s more worried about me than she is about herself.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me.” Kilmer flipped open his phone. “Dillon, come up and get the bags. It’s a go.”

“Did you think I’d back out at the last minute?”

“There was a possibility. You weren’t too enthusiastic about—”

“Hi, Jake.” Frankie had come out of the bathroom.

“Hi, Frankie. I was glad to hear you’re going with us. We’re going to need your help.”

She frowned. “Doing what?”

“Taking care of the horses at the ranch.”

Her eyes widened. “Horses? How many?”

“Three. I didn’t get the particulars, but I imagine they’re going to need plenty of exercise and care.”

“Horses always do. Mom didn’t tell me we were going to a ranch. Is it your ranch?”

“No, I’m just leasing it for the next few months. I hope by that time you’ll be able to go back home.”

“Where is it?”

“Outside Jackson, Wyoming. It’s supposed to be a nice place.”

“Out west. A ranch . . .” Frankie’s eyes were shining. “Like Roy Rogers.”

He smiled. “But I’m afraid there’s no Trigger. If you want a wonder horse, you’ll have to train him yourself.”

“Can’t we take Darling? I’ve already started to train him.”

“Not right now. Maybe later.” There was a knock on the door and Kilmer opened it. “Frankie, this is my friend Dillon. He’s going with us to the ranch. Will you show him where your bags are?”

“Sure.” She led Dillon through the sitting room. “Are you a cowboy?” she asked as she pointed out the bags beside the bed. “You don’t look like one.”

“I’m a cowboy in training,” Dillon said. “Maybe you can give me a few pointers.”

“Maybe.” She looked doubtful. “But I don’t know much about cows. Charlie didn’t like cattle. Only horses. Are there any cows, Jake?”

“Not that I know about. We’ll have to find out together.” He grabbed one of the duffels. “But that will only make it more of an adventure.” He looked at Grace. “Okay, so far?”

“We’ll see once we get to this ranch. How do we get there?”

“We drive to a private airport outside Birmingham and board a jet to Jackson Hole. We take a rental car to the ranch from there.”

“No trail?” she asked.

“No trail,” Kilmer said. “You know me better than that.”

“I knew you nine years ago.”

“I haven’t changed.” He met and held her gaze. “Not about the important things.”

With an effort she pulled her gaze away from his.

He turned back to Frankie. “Go on down to the car with Dillon, Frankie. We’ll do the usual check of the drawers and closets and be right behind you.”

She looked at Grace. “Okay?”

Grace nodded and Frankie took her overnight case from Dillon. “I’ll carry this one. . . .”

Grace picked up her jacket from the couch as Frankie left. “Talk to me. How safe is this place?”

“As safe as I can make it. I’m bringing most of the team to the ranch to protect the two of you. I’ve buried the paperwork; except for the horses, the ranch is self-sufficient, so there won’t be any locals around.”

“Why a ranch?”

“I told you I’d make Frankie as comfortable as possible.”

Her gaze narrowed on his face. “But there’s something else, isn’t there?”

His lips turned up at the corners. “You know me too well.”

She stiffened. “My God, you’re actually going to try for the Pair.”

“Not while it will impact you.”

“You’re crazy. You lost three men at El Tariq nine years ago. Isn’t that enough?”

“Too many. Even one would have been too many. That’s why I won’t give up. They were my men and I didn’t get them out in time. You did get out but you’ve spent years hiding from the bastard, afraid to have a normal life. Any minute he could show up and take everything you’ve built away from you. Including your life, Frankie’s life. I’m not going to have that threat hanging over you any longer.” He paused. “I’m not going to let Marvot sit fat and sassy running his little empire. He’s going to lose everything and then I’m going to kill him. And I’m going to start with the Pair.” The last words were spoken without expression but with absolute conviction.

Marvot dead. A surge of fierce satisfaction exploded through her at the thought.

“You still hate the son of a bitch.” Kilmer was studying her expression. “I remember at the time you couldn’t decide who you wanted to kill more. Me or Marvot.”

“Marvot. By a hair. He killed my father, but you kept me from saving him.”

“And I’d do it again. How did you manage to keep yourself from going after Marvot all these years?”

“Frankie.” She tried to suppress the emotional turmoil that anger against Marvot had ignited. Nothing had changed. The reason she had run and hidden and let Marvot go his way was still present and valid. “I’m out of it. I won’t help you.”

His brows lifted. “Who asked you?”

“Crane.”

“I’m not Crane. I don’t want your help.” He gestured for her to precede him. “I just want the two of you safe. I’ve taken care of business quite well without you all my life, Grace. The Pair will be no different.”

“Good.” She passed him and walked toward the elevator. “Because the moment I see any sign of you going after the Pair while Frankie is at that ranch will be the moment we’re gone.”

         

R
obert!” Frankie jumped out of the car and ran across the tarmac to where Robert Blockman stood beside the hangar. She hugged him boisterously. “Why are you here? I thought you—”

“So did I.” He picked her up and swung her in a circle. “But then I thought about how much you need me to get you from brown belt to black belt. If I let it go too long, you’ll lose all your moves. So I decided to come along.”

“Great.” She hugged him again and turned to Grace. “Isn’t it great, Mom?”

Grace nodded. “We wouldn’t want you to lose your moves.” She met Robert’s gaze over Frankie’s head. “But you have a lot more to lose than Frankie. Unless Crane changed his mind?”

Robert shook his head. “I was told to go mind my own business when I tried to talk to him.” He smiled down at Frankie. “And since I’d recently received a business offer difficult to refuse, I took his advice.” He glanced at Kilmer. “I called Stolz—my contact at the head office at Langley—and he’s trying to track down the leak that led Kersoff to Grace.”

“Time frame?”

Robert shrugged. “I don’t know.” He took Frankie’s hand. “Let’s get on the plane. I brought along a DVD of Sarah Chang’s latest concert. I thought you might want to see it.”

“I do.” Frankie nodded eagerly as she walked beside him toward the plane. “You know, she started young like me. But she actually performed with the New York Philharmonic when she was eight. I don’t think I’d like that. It would get in the way. Maybe later . . .”

Grace turned to Kilmer as soon as they were out of earshot. “Why?”

“I promised you a comfort cushion for Frankie. He’s part of her life.”

“So you lured him away from a government pension?”

“He won’t suffer for it, and all I did was dangle the carrot. He’s the one who grabbed it. He cares about you and Frankie and he was ready to try something new and different.”

“Being on your team will certainly fill that bill,” she said dryly. “If you don’t get him killed.”

“I promise I won’t play David to his Uriah,” he murmured. “No matter how tempted I am.”

“David and Uriah.” Her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. “Who were—”

“Never mind.” He was striding toward the plane. “Let’s get out of here.”

David and Uriah.

Then it came to her. The biblical King David and Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, who had been sent to his death by David because the king had lusted after his wife.

Lust.

No, she wouldn’t think about Kilmer’s words.

Jesus, but how the devil could she stop thinking about it? It had triggered memory followed by tingling sensuality, as dark accompanied night.

He’d meant her to remember. Subtle son of a bitch. He’d wanted her to know that it wasn’t over for him. He’d dropped that reference to the biblical passion that had been all-consuming and then made her associate it with the sexual frenzy that had—

Stop it.

He wasn’t David and she wasn’t some biblical bimbo who took baths on rooftops. What they’d had together was over.

She just had to make sure it stayed over.

         

T
he ranch was the Bar Triple X. The name was emblazoned on the wooden post beside the gate.

“Let me undo the gate.” Frankie jumped out of the car. She stopped, her head lifted. “It’s cooler here than home.” Her gaze shifted to the stark grandeur of the Grand Teton Mountains. “And pretty. Real pretty. But it’s different. . . .” She frowned, trying to get it right. “Charlie’s place was like a gentle pony, and this is . . . a bucking bronco.” She chuckled. “That’s it.” She opened the gate wide, waited for the car to drive through, closed the gate, and got back into the car. “But different is interesting, isn’t it, Mom? And you’ve broken a lot of bucking broncos. You were going to break that two-year-old, but you—” Her smile faded. “Everything happened.”

“I’ll do it when we go back.” Grace slipped her arm around Frankie. “But you’re right, it’s different here. We’ll just have to see what we can make of it.” She turned to Kilmer. “I haven’t seen any security.”

“They’re flying in tonight.” He glanced down at Frankie and smiled. “You’ll have a lot of cowboys wandering around tomorrow.”

She smiled back at him. “But no cows. I didn’t see any cows.”

“I’d bet a few of those cowboys have never even been on a horse,” Dillon said with a grin. “I hope so. I don’t want to be the only one.” He pulled up in front of the two-story brick house and jumped out of the car. “I’ll get the bags. At least I’m good as a pack mule.”

“I’ll help you.” Robert grabbed a duffel and two suitcases and followed Dillon up the steps. “What bedrooms, Kilmer?”

“Frankie and Grace have the first one at the top of the stairs. The others are up for grabs. After you finish, will the two of you check out the stable? Don’t forget the hayloft.”

“Sure.” Robert disappeared into the house.

Frankie got out of the car and ran to stand on the porch. “Pretty,” she murmured. “And listen to the wind. It . . . sings.”

“Does it?” Kilmer squatted down beside her. “And what’s the song?”

“I don’t know.” She gazed dreamily out at the mountains. “But I like it. . . .” She sat down on the steps. “May I stay out here for a little while, Mom?”

“If you don’t wander off.” Grace rumpled her curls as she passed her. “Thirty minutes.”

“Okay.”

“If you like, we’ll go take a look at the horses as soon as the stable’s checked out,” Kilmer offered as he took Frankie’s keyboard out of the backseat, where she’d insisted on keeping it, and climbed the porch steps.

Frankie shook her head. “Not now.” She leaned against the porch rail, her gaze on the mountains. “I just want to sit out here and listen. . . .”

“By all means,” Kilmer said as he held open the door for Grace. “Getting acquainted with the horses can wait.”

The decor of the interior of the house was more mellow, fine-hewn craftsman than western, Grace thought. A huge stone fireplace occupied one wall, fronted by a comfortable beige corduroy-covered couch. Several leather easy chairs were scattered about the room, and a splendid Tiffany floor lamp loomed over one of them. “Nice.”

“I’m glad you approve.” He was heading up the stairs with Frankie’s keyboard case. “There are four bedrooms. I’ve put you and Frankie in the first one.”

“You might as well leave the keyboard down here. She’s going to want it pretty soon.”

He looked back at her. “The wind singing?”

“Maybe.” She shrugged. “Or maybe it’s about something else. She was talking about needing the piano the night before last, even before we knew about Charlie.”

“It’s the first time I’ve seen this side of her.” He glanced thoughtfully back at the door. “It’s interesting. One minute a horse-crazy kid and the next . . . interesting.”

“It’s all Frankie. I’ve tried to make sure one side of her doesn’t unbalance the other.” She started up the stairs. “For instance, she’s not allowed to shirk her chores just because she’s toying with a melody.”

“Heaven forbid.”

She glared at him. “It’s important. Yes, she has to be encouraged, but building a strong character is just as vital.”

“I’d say she has a damn strong character.” He held up his hand. “I’m not criticizing you. You’ve done an incredible job and I’ve no right to interfere.”

“That’s the truth.”

He smiled. “But may I say I feel a certain amount of pride that my share of genes gave you the material to work with?”

“You can say it to me. As long as you don’t say it to Frankie.” She passed him and continued up the stairs. “Is Donavan coming tomorrow too?”

“No, I have him staking out Marvot. He’s the one who tipped me about Kersoff being one of the players who showed up at Marvot’s compound. I won’t pull him until I need him here.”

“And who else was invited by Marvot to try for the bounty?”

“Pierson and Roderick. Those were the big players, but I’m sure Marvot threw the game open to a number of smaller fish too. He wanted to stimulate enough competition to make sure he got what he wanted.”

“Bastard.”

“Yes. But by making them compete, it turned out lucky for us. No one was going to risk one of the others discovering they’d found you before they’d actually caught you and turned you over to Marvot.”

“Or gave him our heads in a basket.”

Kilmer nodded. “At any rate, it gave us time to get out, since no one was reporting directly to Marvot.” He turned and headed back downstairs with the keyboard. “I’ll put this by the couch in the living room. I guess I should have arranged for a piano.”

BOOK: On The Run
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