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Authors: Iris Johansen

On The Run (9 page)

BOOK: On The Run
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“If we’re not going to see any fireworks, why are you here?”

He was silent a moment. “Because if there are fireworks, the gray could kill her. I have to be here.” He glanced at Robert challengingly. “And why are you here?”

“The same.” Robert’s lips tightened. “But I wasn’t sure that the gray really posed a threat. Grace always seems so confident around horses.”

“He’s a threat. Grace wouldn’t have it any other way. She says a horse without spirit is a horse without heart.”

“You seem to know her very well,” Robert said slowly. “How long was she on your team?”

“Six months.”

“Not long.”

Kilmer felt a surge of irritation. He gave him a cool glance. “Long enough.”

Robert studied his expression. “Look, I don’t know what was between you two, but I’m not getting in the middle. I take it that whatever you had going was pretty heavy. If I thought I had a chance with Grace, I’d step in. She’s special. But I don’t have a chance or I’d have done it before this. I might compete with you, but not with Frankie. She’s too much to—” He broke off. “Is Frankie your kid?”

Kilmer’s gaze flickered warily. “Why would you think that?”

“The age is right. Eight years. And you were together sometime in the months before she came to Tallanville. I started adding up the possibilities. And after I came up with that one, I took a good look at Frankie. She resembles Grace, but there’s something of you in the shape of her eyes.”

“There is?” Kilmer stiffened in surprise. “I didn’t see that.”

“I did.” He smiled. “My God, I believe I’ve caught you off guard.”

He had done just that, Kilmer thought. He had been careful to keep from thinking about Frankie as belonging to him. He had given up that privilege when he’d left Grace to raise Frankie by herself. Even though he hadn’t been able to smother the possessiveness he still felt for Grace, that would necessarily be an equal passion. In the end, it would be her free choice. Frankie was . . . different.

“She really looks like me?”

Robert nodded. “She really does.”

“Hot damn,” Kilmer murmured. “Not that it changes anything.”

“No.” Robert glanced at Grace. “I think she’s going to mount him.”

Kilmer’s gaze swung back to Grace. She was still talking, her foot in the stirrup.

The gray shied, almost pulling her from her feet. She freed her boot just in time. She was shaking her head and laughing. The gray stared at her indignantly. She started to move toward him again.

Three times she tried to mount him.

Three times he shied.

She kept talking.

Two more times she made the attempt.

He shied.

The next time he only moved slightly, as if bored with the game.

The following time he let her slowly, painstakingly, swing into the saddle.

Kilmer held his breath.

The stallion wasn’t moving, but Kilmer could see the muscles of his haunches tense.

Grace was bent over his neck, talking, murmuring, letting him get used to her weight.

“Look at his eyes. He’s going to blow,” Kilmer whispered. “Watch him, Grace.”

She didn’t appear to be worried, dammit. She was stroking the gray and seemed perfectly at ease. Kilmer tensed and found himself preparing to slip off the fence and go to her. No, that would only startle the horse and make Grace furious. Let her do it. She would know what—

The stallion exploded!

Bucking, gyrating, making Grace’s slim body jerk and toss back and forth like a puppet’s.

“Jesus,” Robert said. “Hold on, Grace.”

She rode him.

It went on for minutes, and a dozen times Kilmer was sure she’d be tossed.

“Can’t we get her off of—” Robert broke off. “Stupid. Of course we can’t. It’s— He’s stopping.”

The stallion was standing still, shaking. Grace bent over him and murmured something. Then she gently kicked him.

He didn’t move.

She nudged him again with her boot.

He took a step forward, then another.

Grace took him around the corral, gently asserting, never forcing.

She finally stopped him and slid from the saddle.

Kilmer let his breath out. Christ, he hadn’t realized he’d been holding it.

“Shit.” Robert jumped down inside the fence and headed toward Grace and the stallion. “That was damn scary.”

Kilmer started to follow him and then stopped. He’d been crowding Grace, and she wouldn’t appreciate having him near her at this moment. He watched Blockman laughing and ruefully shaking his head as he fell into step with her while she led the horse from the corral.

He didn’t like it. It stung like hell.

It didn’t matter what Blockman had said. Kilmer was experiencing the same primitive response that had stirred him since the moment he’d realized what a big role Blockman was playing in Grace’s life.

Then get over it. There were more important things to deal with than the—

His cell phone rang. Donavan.

“Problem?”

“Maybe,” Donavan said. “Hanley left the compound last night. I had Tonino follow him. He went to Genoa to see Kersoff’s wife.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. We weren’t able to bug her place before he got there. Hanley stayed two hours and then flew back to the compound.”

“Information?”

“That’s my bet. Kersoff’s wife might have had an ace in the hole she wanted to barter.”

“Can you have Tonino verify? If Marvot has a chance at finding out Kersoff’s informant, we want to get to him before Marvot.”

“I’ve already sent him back to Genoa. I wanted him to make sure that Hanley wasn’t stopping over anywhere else before he went back to Marvot.” He paused. “How’s Grace doing?”

“Fine. I just watched her breaking a damn stallion.”

“And the kid?”

“Kids are kids.”

Except this one looked like him. . . .

“Yeah, nothing special about any of them.” Donavan chuckled. “Tell Grace I can’t wait to see her again.” He paused. “And it may not be too long. I have a hunch. . . .”

“You said nothing was happening there except with Hanley.”

“It’s not. Maybe I’ve been doing this surveillance too long. Don’t pay any attention to me.”

“Be careful,” Kilmer said. “If you see even a sign that puts you on edge, get your butt out of there.”

“I will. I want to stay alive to see that kid of yours.” He added slyly, “Even though she’s nothing special, just another kid.” He hung up.

Bastard. Kilmer was smiling as he pressed the disconnect button.

His smile faded. But that bastard had great instincts that had saved both their necks any number of times. If he thought there was something brewing, then the chances were that he was right.

And Kilmer wasn’t ready for the game to start. Not with Grace and Frankie tying his hands right now.

It could be that Donavan was wrong. Maybe camping out on that hill by himself was making him edgy.

It wasn’t likely. There were few situations that made Donavan edgy. He ambled along until the situation exploded, and then he acted with deadly skill and swiftness until it was under control.

But Kilmer hoped to hell Donavan was wrong.

Genoa, Italy

I
sabel Kersoff lived on a winding street two blocks from the waterfront. It was a decent house, Mark Tonino thought as he knocked on the front door. Clean and freshly painted, with that red door to give it a little style.

No answer.

He knocked again. It could be that Hanley had given her money and she had left this little house flush with success.

Still no answer.

Even if she wasn’t there, it didn’t necessarily mean that there was no information to be had. She might have left papers, cards, telephone numbers.

He pulled out his skeleton keys and tried two before the door swung open.

He turned on his pen flashlight as he entered the living room. A small desk was set against the wall. He went through it carefully. Nothing but unpaid bills and brochures for cruises. Kersoff evidently had had big dreams and no funds.

And his wife might not keep valuable information in a desk drawer. It had been Tonino’s experience that women were more inventive when hiding treasures. They stored items in freezers or in hollow curtain rods.

Bedroom first. There were more places to—

Oh, shit.

He reached for his cell phone. “Donavan, it’s a wash. She’s dead.”

“How?”

“Tied up, throat cut.” He shone the beam of his flashlight on her face. “Cuts, lots of cuts all over her face and upper body. Nasty. Hanley spent a long time with her. Evidently she wasn’t being cooperative. What do I do?”

“Get out of there.”

“Do you want me to keep looking around the house?”

“No, she wouldn’t be dead if they hadn’t got what they wanted. Hanley would have kept at her.” Donavan paused. “She’s been dead how long?”

“I’m not a medical examiner, but I’d guess about twelve hours if we’re to assume it was Hanley.”

“Then Marvot’s known what Kersoff’s wife was selling for almost a full day. Not good. Get rid of any fingerprints and any other evidence you were there and come back here. I have to call Kilmer.”

7
                                                                                                                                       

T
welve hours,” Kilmer repeated. “It may not make any difference. If Kersoff’s leak was someone in the CIA, he’d be useless to Marvot as long as no one at Langley has information about Grace.”

“If,” Donavan repeated.

“They’re out of the loop. Grace has broken with them.”

“They’ve still got contacts with the FBI. What’s to stop the FBI from pulling strings with local cops to get information?”

“Nothing.” And the FBI and CIA were supposed to be much more cooperative these days. Kilmer hadn’t seen much sign of it, but this might be a different situation. Congress could inspire an amazing amount of togetherness when they talked budget cuts. “I’ll get Blockman on it. He hasn’t come up with anything yet, but it’s only been a couple days.”

Donavan was silent a moment. “Are you going to tell Grace about this?”

“Why? So that she can get more worried about something she can’t do anything about right now?”

“Grace wouldn’t like to be kept in the dark about anything that would affect her or the kid.”

“Grace isn’t liking much that’s happening. That’s why I’ll pick and choose until you bring me something I can get my teeth into.”

“You’ll be lucky if she doesn’t get her teeth into you. I’ll call you when I hear more.” He hung up.

Donavan was right; Grace wouldn’t appreciate having anything kept from her, even in the name of protection. Well, to hell with it. He’d been forced to stay on the sidelines and let Grace take megapunishment and hardship in the past. He wasn’t going to opt out now. He would do what he—

Music.

Radio? No, tentative, delicate strains. A keyboard.

He glanced at his watch: 1:40
A
.
M
. and the music was coming from the front porch. He crossed the living room and stood at the screen door looking out.

Frankie was sitting on the porch in front of her keyboard. She was dressed in a white flannel robe and fuzzy pink slippers, and her expression was intent as she bent over the instrument. She had a penlight beside her but she wasn’t using it.

She must have sensed him standing there, because her head lifted swiftly. “Mom?”

“No.” He opened the door and came out on the porch. “Do you know what time it is, Frankie?”

She sighed. “Busted. But at least it’s not Mom. I didn’t want to wake her. It always makes her tired when she breaks a horse.”

“Couldn’t this wait until morning?”

She shook her head. “Sometimes the music doesn’t stop just because it gets dark and it’s time to go to bed. And this one belongs to Charlie; I didn’t want to lose it.”

“I see.” Yeah, just an ordinary kid. Not. “But I’m in a bit of a predicament. I don’t believe your mom would want you to be out at this hour alone. And it’s very chilly. What would she do if she found you out here? Would she make you go to bed?”

“No, that’s why I sneaked out after she was asleep.” She made a face. “She’d stay down here with me until I was ready to come in. She knows about the music.” She frowned. “You going to tell her I’m down here?”

“No.” He smiled. “And I may not know about the music or bucking broncos, but I’m pretty good at keeping watch. Suppose I stay there in the living room until you’re ready to go up?”

Her expression brightened. “You’re not sleepy?”

He shook his head. “I never go to bed until the wee hours anyway. It would be kind of nice to sit in there and relax and listen to you play.”

She stared at him doubtfully. “Truly?”

“Absolutely,” he answered solemnly.

“Okay.” She bent over the keyboard again. “Thanks, Jake . . .”

“You’re welcome.” He went into the house, grabbed a chenille throw from the couch, and brought it back to her. “But you have to wrap up as part of the deal. You’re not in Alabama, and the nights here are chilly even in August.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” She let him wrap the throw around her, but she didn’t take her gaze off the keyboard. “Funny . . .”

He stood looking at her. She was so absorbed he doubted if she heard him. With her curly hair and loose robe she looked like a little girl from a Shirley Temple movie. Yet there was nothing childlike about the intensity that was gripping her. Her lashes were shadowing silky cheeks and he couldn’t see her eyes, which Robert had said were shaped like his.

Did Frankie look even a little like him?

And what if she did?

He . . . liked it.

Stupid ass. He turned and opened the screen door. A few seconds later he dropped into the easy chair close to the open door. He relaxed and closed his eyes.

And listened to Frankie create her music.

         

T
he Pair were running toward her. Their white coats shone silver in the moonlight. Their blue eyes glittered wildly as they tore across the field.

They meant to kill her.

She had to stand still, Grace told herself. If she turned and tried to run away, they’d be after her, stomping her. She’d seen them trample a stable man to death this morning when he’d panicked and tried to bolt for safety.

I know you have to do it.

I know you’re afraid too.

I’m no threat to you.

I’m no threat.

I’m no threat.

The horses were close enough that Grace could smell their sweat.

Don’t move, she told herself.

Her heart was beating so hard that it hurt. A few more yards and they’d be on top of her.

She held her arms out to her sides, careful not to put them in front of her in what they might perceive as an aggressive move.

No threat.

They were thundering toward her. She wanted to close her eyes. Keep them open. There might be some way she could avoid those hooves when they were—

Please, no threat.

She wasn’t making contact. Whatever was driving them was too strong. In seconds they’d be knocking her to the ground.

She was going to die.

One more try. All her strength. All her will.

No threat!

The Pair parted at the last moment and passed on either side of her!

She could feel the wind, the dirt churned up by their hooves striking her.

Triumph.

And relief. My God, the relief.

No time for this weakness. She had to move fast. Start the approach. She couldn’t let the Pair have time to recover. . . .

But there was something wrong. She couldn’t hear them. Movement, but not the sound of hooves. Soft, quiet movement . . .

A dream, she realized hazily as she opened her eyes. She was reliving that night in the field with the Pair. No wonder, after her afternoon with the gray.

And it was Frankie moving, climbing into her own bed, Grace thought drowsily. “Frankie?”

“It’s okay, Mom.” Frankie was pulling the covers up around her. “Go back to sleep.”

“Did you have to go to the bathroom?”

Frankie didn’t answer.

“Frankie?”

“I wanted— The music wouldn’t go away. I went down to the porch.”

Grace was suddenly wide awake. “Alone? You shouldn’t have done that. You should have wakened me.”

“You were tired.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter. It was okay, Mom. I wasn’t alone. Jake was there.”

“What?”

“He never goes to bed early. When he found me on the porch, he gave me a throw to wrap up in and stayed in the living room until I was through.”

“Oh.” She was silent. “You still should have wakened me.”

“Next time.” She yawned. “When you’re not so tired.”

“I’m never too tired for you.”

“But Jake wasn’t tired at all. He told me so and I could see he was telling the truth. And he’s a grown-up, so it was okay that he stayed with me. Right?”

“Not all grown-ups—” But Frankie had been given the usual generic warnings, and Grace didn’t want her to mistrust Kilmer when there might be a moment that it was important she obey him without questioning. “Yes, it was okay. Just wake me next time. It’s not as if—”

Frankie had fallen asleep.

Why hadn’t Grace roused when Frankie had left the bedroom? She always slept lightly and she was attuned to every change of breathing.

But not tonight, when there was imminent danger on the horizon. It didn’t make sense.

Unless she was trusting that Kilmer would keep them safe. Frankie certainly seemed to have that confidence.

Frankie was a child, and Kilmer managed to inspire confidence in even hardened mercenaries. It was a gift.

And after people gave him their trust, he never betrayed it. At least, that’s what she’d thought until the night they’d gone after the Pair. Her father had given him his trust. . . .

She turned over and gazed at the moonlight pouring into the window. It seemed peaceful, but she knew Kilmer’s team was moving, shifting, watching.

Where was he? Had he gone to bed after Frankie had come upstairs? He never slept much. He’d told her once that he was afraid he’d miss something if he slept more than five hours. That life was too short and they had to squeeze every moment of pleasure from every minute.

They’d been in bed together when he’d told her that, she remembered. It had been an unusual moment of confidence in a relationship that had been more concerned with sex and emotion than personal philosophies. She’d felt . . . close to him.

Then he’d rolled over and mounted her and she’d forgotten about everything but sex and need. She could see him now, his dark hair falling on his forehead, his chest rising and falling with each breath, each movement. The power and the precision and the—

Stop thinking about him. If she was feeling this vulnerable, it was because it had been a long time for her. It wasn’t Kilmer, it was sex itself. He’d just ignited the embers that she’d kept low and under control all these years.

And they were still under control. She just had to make a greater effort to keep them that way.

         

Y
ou’re riding him.” Robert propped his elbows on the top of the fence. “It was only yesterday that I watched you break him. Didn’t he buck today when you got on him?”

“Of course, but Samson thought about it last night and decided that cooperation made sense. So he let me off with three minutes of bucking to prove his independence. Tomorrow it will be less.” She got off the gray and patted his neck. “He’s got a nice gait. Smooth.” She glanced at Robert. “In a week or so he might be ready for another rider. Want to try him?”

“No, thank you. I’ve told you that I like comfy, sleek cars, preferably convertibles. Your Samson doesn’t appeal to me.”

“I wanted to give you your chance. There’s nothing like the feeling of riding a horse across a meadow or by the shore.”

“If you can stay in the saddle,” Robert said dryly.

“Practice.”

“I think I’ll stick to Lamborghinis and Corvettes. You can’t fall off them.” He paused. “Kilmer was a little on edge while you were riding that monster yesterday. I took the brunt of it.”

She glanced at him. “And that means?”

“He wanted to help you fight the stallion. He was frustrated and decided I was a prime candidate on whom to vent.”

“And did he?”

“I beat him to the punch. I knew what was bothering him and I jumped in first. I had to clear the air if I was going to work with him.”

She opened the gate and led Samson toward the stable.

“Aren’t you going to ask how I cleared the air?”

She didn’t want to talk about Kilmer. It was difficult enough just seeing him every day, and last night had proved that she was thinking about him entirely too much. “You’re evidently going to tell me anyway.”

“I told him I hadn’t gone to bed with you.” He chuckled as he saw her expression. “I thought that would get your attention. It’s hard to read Kilmer, but I’d bet that made him feel a whole lot better. He didn’t like the idea at all.”

“No wonder. The idea is ridiculous.”

“I didn’t think so. I thought about it, but I knew that wasn’t the role you’d cast me in. And that’s okay. I like being your friend. I like being Frankie’s friend.” He paused. “But I’d have appreciated it if you’d told me Kilmer was Frankie’s father.”

Her gaze flew to his face. “He told you?”

He shook his head. “I put the numbers together, and Frankie does have a look of him.”

“She does
not
.”

“Have it your own way,” Robert said. “And it’s only the tip of the iceberg anyway. I’ve been left in the dark about a hell of a lot of things. North only told me what I needed to know to protect you, and Crane wouldn’t give me the time of day. I’m tired of it, Grace. I’m not going it blind any longer.”

He was right. They hadn’t been fair to him. She couldn’t speak for the CIA, but she and Kilmer were responsible for their own actions. She hadn’t told Robert anything because dredging up the past hurt. Kilmer never confided in anyone as a matter of policy. “What do you want to know?”

“What did you know that made you important enough for North to keep you under longtime surveillance?”

“It’s not what I knew. None of us on the team knew why we were going after the Pair. We were just ordered to get them. I thought Marvot wanted to kill me just because I was one of the people on the raid we’d made at El Tariq. Marvot’s famous for his vendettas, and he knew my face because I worked on his horse farm. It was logical that I’d be a target.”

“Who is this Marvot?”

“Paul Marvot. Half French, half German. He inherited a criminal empire from his father, a kingpin who operated in North Africa and Southern France. He took over when his father was murdered by a rival mob leader and is every bit as lethal and as much a scumbag as his father. He lives in Morocco and has a palatial horse farm at El Tariq near the coast.”

“And this bastard wants you dead?”

“That’s what I thought.” She paused. “But Kilmer told me he’d had to make a deal with North. Marvot wanted me alive, not dead. And the CIA wasn’t protecting me out of the kindness of their hearts. They wanted to keep a rein on Kilmer. He promised them he wouldn’t go after the Pair.”

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