Authors: Sable Hunter
As soon as Grey was gone, Deacon raised his hand to gently touch her face. Putting a finger under her chin, he lifted it. “I don’t like this. I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat, but I do have faith in you.” He claimed a short, sweet kiss. “You can do this. But I’m telling you right now to be careful. Do not take any unnecessary chances. I will be as close as Grey will allow and if you get in trouble, you call my name. I’ll move heaven and earth to get to you.”
Taz was mesmerized by his words, the look on his face. “Okay.”
“And if you get hurt, I swear to God…”
“You’ll spank my sexy little butt?”
Deacon let out a harsh desperate laugh. “At least.
Do. Not. Get. Yourself. Killed.
Nodding, Taz threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you for being good to me.”
A knot lodged in Deacon’s throat. He started to tell her it hadn’t been a chore, she’d been the one who was good to him–but Grey called her name–and then she was gone.
* * *
As the EMT vehicle made its way to the gate leading onto the Ainsley’s property, Taz mentally reviewed everything. She touched the small transmitter, ensuring it was in place. The vest she wore was snug, didn’t allow for much breast room. Taz smiled, adjusting the small latch as much as she could.
“Now, you’re clear on what to do for the kid?” Morris asked for the third time.
“Yes.” She patted the bag containing her weapons as well as the medical supplies she would need. Just before she’d boarded the ambulance, the Zachary’s had arrived. Neither seemed surprised she would be the one going in. Melissa had begged her to save her child and Tex had thanked her for being willing to go in.
Grey seemed the most assured. He’d given her a wink and let her say a few words to Athena on the phone. Like Grey, Athena was positive and encouraging. Taz felt much better after talking to her friend. The last person she’d seen was Deacon and he hadn’t said any more, but the look they’d exchanged melted her heart. She was afraid to assume what it meant, but his eyes had locked with hers as if he were willing her to be safe.
As her father taught her, she centered herself, focused on the task at hand and put her fears and other emotional entanglements to one side for now. Her goal was to tend Mickey, gather information and if possible, get out safely with the child. What else might transpire, they couldn’t be sure. She wasn’t going in to diffuse the situation, but if opportunity or necessity arose, she’d be ready.
The road they were traveling was rough and bumpy, she swayed from one side to the other with the vehicle. “Morris? You will be standing by?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The EMT glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. “I’ll be at the front gate.”
She nodded. “Thank you.” Grey also told her he and Deacon would be near the fence-line that served as the boundary between Ainsley and Baxter property. They’d been told how one officer received sniper fire when they’d attempted to enter that way, so their actions would depend on any information Taz could provide or if she ran into trouble.
Trouble. She hoped this went smoothly, but one thing her father always told her was to expect trouble, prepare for trouble, then nothing caught you off guard. Closing her eyes, she offered up a quick prayer for all concerned. She prayed for protection, she prayed for Mickey and she prayed Deacon would forgive her. That wasn’t too much to ask–was it? Taz hadn’t been faithful, she hadn’t darkened a church door in years. But she was sure God watched over her. Taking a deep breath, she added a hasty postscript to her petition. “Please God, I’m not asking for a miracle. But if there’s any way Deacon could see it in his heart to let me stay…” The truth hit her hard. Her priorities had changed. She still wanted to be on the Omega Team, if possible, but she’d trade that honor and anything else she’d ever possess for a chance to be part of his life. “Please let him want to keep me.”
“We’re here, Miss.” Morris announced. “I see someone coming up to the gate and they have a gun.”
Taz looked over the front seat. The gate to the Ainsley property was painted red, white and blue like the Texas flag. She’d forever have this image stamped in her mind, a symbol of the stand-off. Texas was famous for those. The battle of the Alamo came to mind. Of course, this was not the same, but she did feel for the Ainsley man and his family. All they’d wanted to do was preserve their land, their family heritage. If these other individuals hadn’t become involved, perhaps a resolution could’ve been reached.
“It’s all right, let me out and you can back a safe distance away. This is exactly what we expected. They’re coming to make sure we’re abiding by their rules.”
“But you’re not…”
His voice trailed off when the man drew nearer the gate. “Yes, Morris, I’m…prepared, but I have to appear harmless.”
As Morris watched the small woman make her way up to the burly, bewhiskered man who stood staunchly with an AK-47 pointed straight at her, he admitted she looked more than harmless. The image of a kitten facing down a Rottweiler came to mind. What those men were thinking sending this little girl into the middle of a stand-off was a mystery to him. “Well, I’m getting outta here while the gettins’ good.” He shook his grey head and skedaddled to a safe distance to await further orders.
“You the doc?” Ron Helmer pointed a gun straight at her.
“Yes,” Taz answered confidently as she strode up to within six inches of the end of the barrel.
“Set your bag down and open it up.” She didn’t hesitate, knowing full well the items were hidden, buried in a padded lining. “How is Mickey?”
“Shut up. I ask the questions.” He kicked the bag, jostling the contents. Taz was tempted to wrestle his gun from him. He was overweight, winded and reminded her of a redneck keystone cop.
She chose to ignore him. “How is Mickey?” she repeated.
“Looks fine to me, just sits and watches cartoons with the little girl. Always drinking cokes. Sleeps a lot.”
“Take me to him, those are signs of a diabetic complication.”
“Well if they are, every kid I’ve ever met has it.” He reached out and jerked her by the collar of her jacket, throwing her forward. She stumbled, but didn’t fall. Reaching back, she grabbed her bag before moving in the direction he indicated. The hard tip of the gun was poked into her back. She knew she’d have a bruise tomorrow.
“How far to the house?”
“Not far and shut-up. You make one wrong move and I’ll blow a hole right through you.”
Taz remembered he was the one identified as an extreme right-wing radical. His personality profile coincided with the shooter who’d attacked a planned parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. She didn’t flinch when he prodded her again. Instead, she focused on the horizon and was relieved when a two-story brick house came into view. Taz could see another armed man waiting for them on the porch. When she drew a bit nearer, she recognized Paxton Rice.
“Well, well, look at what we’ve got here.”
Taz felt an unpleasant disquiet creep across her mind. Paxton was much more dangerous than Helmer. Helmer was a follower. Paxton was more aggressive.
“Yep, not what we expected, huh?” Helmer sneered.
Taz kept her eyes on the man in front of her who assessed her with a grinning sneer. “What’s your name, honey?”
She would answer, her aim would be easier to accomplish if they felt a false sense of superiority and control. “Natasha.”
Paxton bent his knees and crowed. “Pretty name for a pretty girl. I don’t think we’ll let you leave.”
“Can I see Mickey, please?”
“I’m sure we can make a little deal. I let you see the kid and you let me see…” He licked his lips lewdly.
Taz didn’t blink. “I need to see the child. Now.”
His expression hardened. “You’ll do what I say, when I say it.”
Deacon had told her about the same thing, but even when they’d disagreed, she’d never felt threatened, always knew he had her best interest in mind. “Please.” Taz didn’t mind letting them think they had the upper hand.
“That’s more like it.” He opened the screen door. “Burgess! We’ve got company.” When Taz stepped through, Paxton ran his palm over her hip. She jumped, but she didn’t make back at him. This wasn’t the time to assert herself. As soon as she stepped over the threshold, Taz began orienting herself in the house according to the information she’d received from Lois Baxter. To her left was the den, to her right was the dining room and kitchen. The stairs sat off to one side. A florid faced man wearing a cowboy hat, his rotund belly protruding out of his belt stood wearily in front of the fireplace. Ainsley. A woman, undoubtedly his wife sat nearby. She was pale, her arm around a young girl with longish hair wearing glasses. Across from them sat a younger couple. The family resemblance between the man and the elder Ainsley was obvious. At his side was a pretty brunette, her face streaked with tears. Their assessment had been right. The Ainsley’s were nothing more than hostages. Taz made eye contact with them, but she said nothing.
From the kitchen, another man emerged wearing a baseball cap and a hunting vest. He too was armed. “You look too young to be a doctor.”
“I’m a physicians’ assistant.” Taz had her answer ready. “Where’s Mickey?”
“Take her to him, Burgess. He’s sick and getting worse.” The owner of the house spoke up.
“Quiet, Ainsley! This is my rodeo now, not yours. Get up the stairs, bitch!”
“I thought there was only one hostage, now I know there’s six.” Taz spoke conversationally, her first message to whoever was listening in.
“Shut up. You don’t know anything.” He drew back and struck her with the butt end of the gun right between the shoulder blades.
A small gasp was the only sound she made. “I know that’s a pretty big gun you’re carrying. What are those? AK-47’s? Don’t you think that’s a bit of over-kill?”
“I said shut-up!” This time he cocked the gun. “I’ll blow your head off, cunt. Give me a reason.”
Taz knew when to be quiet, at least now her team knew what kind of guns the trio were carrying.
When she mounted the last of the narrow wooden stairs, the man behind her grunted out the words. “Left, first door on your right.”
Taz’s heart beat quickened as she realized she was about to find Mickey. “You’ve left him alone?” A sick feeling of fear overwhelmed her. What if he was already dead?”
“I’ve been too busy talking to those assholes who support a government takeover of America. We’ve got to stand up and protect our rights, protect the Constitution!”
“Right now I’m only concerned about the rights of an innocent little boy,” she whispered more to herself than the man behind her. When he didn’t reach around her to open the door, she did. The moment she stepped in, she could smell sickness. Sweat. Urine. Vomit. Sympathy rose in her soul. “Mickey?”
She went to him, kneeling on the mattress. He was a tiny boy with blonde hair and freckles like hers. Reaching over to the bedside table, she switched on the lamp. To her immense relief she could see the faint rising and falling of his chest. “He’s alive,” she announced, knowing her team could hear.
Immediately she went to work, taking his vitals, measuring his blood sugar. “Mickey, Mickey, you need to wake up so I can meet you.” His skin was clammy. “I need some warm water and ask them if they have any juice.”
Burgess, who stood at the door, barked at her. “I’m not the damn maid. Rice! Send up Ainsley’s daughter-in-law and tell her to step on it!”
In a few moments, the frightened woman came into the room where Taz worked on Mickey. Smiling, Taz asked her for the items she needed. “I’d like to wash him a bit. Do you have anything clean he could wear? He’s so small.”
“I might have some T-shirts my daughter used to wear and my nephew might have left clothes here. I’ll check.”
The reading of Mickey’s blood sugar indicated he needed insulin. She prepared a shot and hoped to heck she was doing the right thing. Carefully, Taz went over in her mind the directions she’d been given. Yes, this was right. “Okay, little buddy. This should make you feel better soon.”
* * *
Deacon groaned, listening to the transmission. “I’m going to kill them if they hurt her.”
“Here, have a cookie.” Grey handed him an Oreo. “She can handle herself.”
“I know, but right now she’s trying to help Mickey. She’s just putting up with whatever they want to do to her. She can’t afford to piss them off anyway.”
“No, but look what we know already. Ainsley and his family aren’t calling the shots. We know Mickey is alive and we know what weapons they’re carrying. She’s doing a good job.”
“When you talked to her alone, what did you tell her to do about getting out?”
“I told her not to leave without the child. I also told her if things start to disintegrate, get the child to the safest place she can find and call us in. She knows walking out with Mickey is the best possible scenario, but now that we know Ainsley and his family are at risk, the matter is a bit more complicated.”
Deacon understood. “A lot of things could go wrong, Grey.” No matter how much he hoped this all turned out well for everyone involved, Taz was undoubtedly his main concern. His feelings just confirmed what he’d feared. When she was part of the equation, his priorities changed–the job came secondary to his woman.