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Authors: Iris Johansen

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BOOK: On The Run
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“She’s fine with the keyboard.” Grace paused at the top of the stairs to look back at him. “You told me the amount of the bounty Marvot put on Frankie and me. What’s the price on your head?”

“Enough to set up a small kingdom.” He straightened and headed back to the porch. “He’s a little irate with me. Imagine that.”

A shudder ran through her. Why the hell hadn’t he just turned his back on Marvot as she’d done? No, he’d had to dig in and bide his time and risk everything.

But had she really turned her back on Marvot? That surge of sheer ferocity she’d felt had taken her again by surprise.

Feelings weren’t actions.

It was Kilmer’s decision to go forward. The only thing she cared about was keeping Frankie safe.

The bedroom Kilmer had indicated had two queen-size beds covered with embroidered floral quilts. The picture window across the room revealed the same breathtaking mountain view that had enthralled Frankie.

She went over to the window and looked down at the paddock. A gray and a chestnut were ambling lazily around the area. Handsome horses. Small bone structure. Arabian blood?

The blue-eyed Pair at El Tariq were white Arabians, she suddenly remembered. Splendid in every physical detail, and those blue eyes made them even more unusual.

And smart. Very smart. She’d never handled smarter or more responsive horses. They’d seemed to sense her every thought, every emotion.

And she’d
known
them. It had been totally exhilarating being with the Pair. At first, it had been impossible to think about them singly. They were always just the Pair to her and everyone else at El Tariq. But toward the last she’d been able to start separating them, make them respond as individual beings. They’d been frisky and high-strung and totally fascinating. Would they still be that way? They were almost ten years old now. . . .

Stop thinking about them.

She’d told Kilmer she wanted nothing to do with the Pair, and she meant it. It was too dangerous and they had already cost her too much.

She turned away from the window and lifted her duffel to the bed and unzipped it. After she’d finished unpacking the bags, she’d take a shower and then go down to the kitchen and see what she could find to fix for Frankie’s supper. Her daughter was usually a healthy eater, but during these periods of creating she was a bit abstracted and had to be reminded to eat.

On second thought, she’d unpack one bag but leave the other one packed and ready to go. She trusted Kilmer’s efficiency, but not the kindness of circumstances. It was always best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

El Tariq, Morocco

W
e think Kersoff located the woman and child,” Brett Hanley said as he came into the sunroom. “Alabama.”

Marvot looked up from the game of chess he was playing with his ten-year-old son. “When may we expect them?”

“Well, it’s not exactly . . . It wasn’t an entirely successful mission.”

Marvot moved his piece. “Checkmate.” He frowned. “Guillaume, I’ve always told you to watch your queen. Now, run along and think about what mistakes you’ve made. This evening I want you to tell me how you could have won this game.”

“I’m not sure—” Tears filled Guillaume’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Papa.”

“Sorry isn’t enough.” He cupped the boy’s cheek with a gentle hand. “Listen, you must concentrate and get better so that I may be proud of you. That’s what you want, isn’t that so?”

Guillaume nodded.

“And I will be proud. You do better with every game.” He hugged the boy and then swatted him on his rump. “Now go do as I told you.” He watched the boy run away. “What absurdity are you trying to hand me, Hanley?”

“Kersoff has disappeared.”

“Then how do you know he found her? More to the point, how do you know he failed?”

“Kersoff’s wife, Isabel, called me an hour ago. She said he’d found the woman and planned on completing the job two nights ago. But she hasn’t heard from him since early that evening. I followed up and found there were a woman and a child of the appropriate age living on a small farm in Tallanville, Alabama. The owner of the farm met with an automobile accident on the night in question and the woman, Grace Archer, and the child have disappeared.”

“And Grace Archer is supposed to be our Grace Stiller?”

Hanley nodded.

“Then perhaps Kersoff is on his way to deliver them to me.”

“Kersoff’s wife was—she was most concerned.” He smiled sarcastically. “She asked if you’d pay for information about her husband’s informant who’d located this Grace Archer. She evidently was more afraid that she was missing out on the gravy train than that her husband had disappeared. What shall I do?”

“Go to see her. You have good judgment; use it. You can tell whether she’s just trying to squeeze me. If you think she knows something of value, find out what it is.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“You know I hate people who try to gouge me. As I said, use your own judgment.” Marvot gazed down at the chess pieces. “How many men did Kersoff have?”

“Three.”

“And do you believe Grace Archer could have taken care of them by herself?”

“She was very good. You told me so yourself.”

“But four men, presumably taking her by surprise. It would be difficult unless she had help.”

“Kilmer?”

“It’s what I hoped would happen. It’s possible. When I found out that the bitch had given birth to Kilmer’s child, it opened a door for me. I know the power a child can have over a man. If anything could bring him out in the open, it would be that.”

“But it’s the woman you really want?”

“It’s the woman I have to have. She was truly incredible with the horses. For a while I thought she was going to be my answer to the puzzle. I still believe there’s a chance. I’ve had to be patient for a hell of a long time, but I knew I’d find her eventually. And evidently she’s just as deadly as she was nine years ago.” He picked up the chess piece that had lost Guillaume the game. “But then, you always have to watch out for the queen.”

         

M
ay I help?” Kilmer stood in the doorway of the kitchen. He looked at the soup simmering on the stove. “I guess not. You seem to have everything well in hand. I don’t remember you knowing how to cook.”

“I learned. Frankie had to eat.” She got bowls from the cabinet. “And anyone can open a can of soup and put garlic bread in the oven.”

“She’s still sitting out on the porch. Do you think you can get her inside for a meal?”

“Yes. I’ll tell her she has to eat because we have to go to the stable and check out the horses. Do you know anything about them that I can tell her?”

“The gray stallion is a two-year-old and has never been broken. The chestnut is supposed to be gentle and will probably be a decent mount for her. The black is a little temperamental but not vicious.”

“What are their names?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t ask. I could call the owner and—”

“Never mind. Frankie will probably like naming them herself.” She started for the door. “Where’s Robert? I haven’t seen him since we got here.”

“I told him to take the jeep and do a little reconnoitering of the area. I figured it couldn’t hurt.”

“No.” She took the tray of garlic bread out of the oven. “What did you promise him to get him to quit his job?”

“A clear conscience about you and Frankie.” He handed her a plate to put the bread on. “And enough money to make sure his old age would be very comfortable.”

“Then you must be doing very well.”

“Yes, I always do well when left to my own resources. It’s only when I put my trust in others that I have problems.”

“My father didn’t—”

“I wasn’t referring to anyone in particular. Actually, I was thinking about the three years I was linked with the CIA. There were several times when they tied my hands.” He smiled into her eyes. “And wasted my time sending me greenhorns to train.”

She pulled her gaze away. “How sad.”

“Not at all. It was worth it. You made up for all of them.”

“Really?” She forced herself to look back at him. “I take it you couldn’t persuade any of the others to go to bed with you.”

“I didn’t try. North sent me only male trainees before you, and I’m not of that persuasion.” His smile faded. “I didn’t try with you either, Grace. It just happened. It was like an underground explosion. The first time I saw you I felt the ripples, and then all hell broke loose.”

It had been like that for her too. She had been so cocky, so sure of herself and what she wanted out of life. Then she’d met Kilmer and been swept out to sea. “Yes, it did. But I felt the ripples after I left you too. I was pregnant. It wasn’t over for me.”

“Grace, I thought it was safe. You told me—”

“I know what I told you. I lied. I was crazy. I wanted it and nothing else mattered to me at that moment.”

“I’m sorry, Grace.”

She lifted her chin. “I’m not. I got Frankie. How the hell could I be sorry about that? You’re the one who should be sorry. You spent those eight years without her and didn’t even know what you were missing.”

“I knew. North told me you were pregnant a day after you told him.”

Her lips twisted. “And you rushed to my side.”

“No. Would you like to know why?”

“It was inconvenient. You didn’t want a pregnant lover.”

He ignored the bitterness of her answer. “Marvot wanted you. You’d accomplished more than anyone else with the Pair. He was searching for you in every corner of the globe. I couldn’t find a place that would be safe for you. I was on the run and I’d lost half my team on that raid to get the Pair. I knew it was going to take a while to build it again. So I made a deal with North.”

“A deal?”

“He promised me witness protection treatment for you and the baby, with a bodyguard parked on your doorstep. The CIA was able to offer more protection than I could at that time. So I took the deal.”

“And what did you give him?”

“I did one very dirty job for him in Iraq and made him a promise I wouldn’t go after Marvot as long as they kept you under protection.”

“Not go after him?” She frowned. “The CIA wanted to stop him. They gave us permission to take him out if he tried to stop us from stealing the Pair.”

“But the winds of political opinion had changed even before the raid took place. Marvot clearly had several politicians in Congress on the payroll who were putting roadblocks in the way of the agency.”

“Politicians? What the devil did Congress have to do with a crook like Marvot?”

“Evidently quite a bit, from what I’ve found out from Donavan’s sources. Marvot was pouring lucre into several senators’ campaign funds to influence them to go over to the dark side. There was a big struggle going on in Congress and it centered on what was happening at El Tariq. The power kept shifting back and forth, and during one of the shifts the CIA was pushed by several members in Congress to raid El Tariq.” He held up his hand as she started to speak. “I know. It doesn’t make any more sense than anything else about the raid. We both wondered why the CIA wanted the Pair when we got orders to go after them. But like dutiful drones, we obeyed orders.”

“There’s nothing dutiful about you.”

“On the contrary, I consider doing my job well an irrevocable duty. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have asked questions after I had possession of the horses.” He shrugged. “But I didn’t have the chance. Everything was blown to hell. I wasn’t in a position to pursue the matter for a number of years.” He paused. “But I never forgot, Grace.”

No, he wouldn’t forget, and he would be relentless in getting what he wanted. “And Congress just changed their minds about Marvot?”

“Probably with the help of a stupendous increase in bribe money. All Donavan found out was that there was a final shift for Marvot’s benefit at the time. Then a few years later there was 9/11 and everything was in turmoil. I’m slowly putting the pieces together. I’m sure North thought that if he showed Congress a fait accompli they’d go along with him. It didn’t happen. We failed. So Marvot was allowed to continue at El Tariq and keep his fingers in a dozen dirty international pies.”

She shook her head. “No.”

“It’s the truth. Ask North. Though I’m not sure how much truth he’d be allowed to tell you these days.”

“It couldn’t be the truth. Crane wanted to set me up as bait for Marvot.”

“Then Crane may be Marvot’s man and wanted to turn you over to him. Or he doesn’t know how strong the congressional lobbies are that could topple him from his job.” Kilmer shrugged. “Either way I couldn’t let him get his hands on you again.”

“Let? It’s my choice, Kilmer.”

“No, I leave you free choice where Frankie’s concerned.” He made a face. “Though I’m finding it increasingly difficult. You have no choice whatsoever about whether the two of you are going to live or die. I’ll fight you tooth and nail on that score. You’re going to live.” He moved toward the door. “I’ve waited too long to be cheated now.”

“What the hell do you think you’re—”

He was gone.

And she was shaking. Anger? Indignation? Shock? Her reaction was a mixture of all three. All these years she’d thought the CIA had protected her because they were responsible for her being on the run from Marvot. That it was because a deal had been struck with Kilmer came as a shock. She didn’t want to be beholden to him for anything, dammit. And he had no right to think he could step in and run her life. She’d accepted his protection for Frankie, but there would be no—

She drew a deep breath. Calm. Kilmer had always been able to arouse a response no one else could. She couldn’t allow that to happen again. She had to think clearly about the content of his words. If what he said was true, then she couldn’t trust the CIA even if she made a deal with them.

And she didn’t doubt it was the truth. Kilmer had never lied to her. It was one of the attributes she’d admired the most about him. She could always count on blunt honesty if she asked for it. It had once made her feel secure to know that honesty was a rock she could cling to in the violence that surrounded them.

“Is that for Frankie?” Robert stood in the doorway, looking at the plate. “Would you like me to go get her?”

BOOK: On The Run
4.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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