Authors: Pamela Palmer
“Got it, chief.” Larsen snapped her phone closed and rose on trembling legs, her pulse pounding in her throat. She now understood why she'd never thought about being a cop, never even considered going into the military.
The rush of fear was something she absolutely detested. Unfortunately she'd fought long and hard to win a place on the front line of this battle when Jack had wanted to keep her safely behind the scenes. But safety was an illusion. If they didn't catch the albino, they'd both be dead before the week was out.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk and into a blast of humid heat. Police cars lined the street in front of the station, making her feel like a duck in a shooting gallery. Were the guns even now risingâ¦aimingâ¦?
If she didn't quit thinking about it, she was going to make herself sick. If someone had a gun trained on her, then her life was over. Period. There wasn't anything she could do about it except hide. And hiding wasn't an option.
She had a bald girl to follow.
Larsen hurried her pace and pushed through a small knot of suited businessmen until she was close enough to keep a good eye on her.
She still had a hard time reconciling the shy girl sweetly wistful over a slice of wedding cake with her cold-blooded assailant. To Larsen's relief, the girl never once glanced over her shoulder, but walked with quick if uncertain steps, looking neither right nor left. When she turned down a side street, Larsen followed, but allowed a little more space between them. The street was more residential than commercial and lacked the pedestrians of the main road.
Larsen was half a block back when the girl started up the short walk to an old brick apartment building and pulled a card out of her pocket. A key card.
Once she was inside, they wouldn't be able to reach her unless someone else came along and let them in. Larsen's footsteps quickened and she managed to close the distance between them as the girl pulled the door open and slipped inside without a backward glance. Larsen grabbed the open door, heart pounding.
She'd done it.
Jack was going to kill her.
With her foot propping open the door, she called him and gave him the address. “I'll be waiting for you inside.” She hung up before she had to listen to his rant, then eased into the building, praying her disguise would be enough to keep her alive.
Jack reached her seconds later, after the longest two hours of his life. If one of his men had recognized herâ¦
He'd never forgive himself if something happened to her.
Luck, for once, was with him and he found a parking space behind the building, though he'd have ditched the car in the middle of the street if he'd had to. His only concern was getting to Larsen.
As he climbed the steps to the building, she opened the door for him. Her black hair and makeup startled him anew. Even dressed as a Goth, she was sexy as hell.
Relief filled her coal-rimmed eyes when their gazes met. He had to resist the urge to pull her hard against him. Instead he took her hand, feeling the dampness of her palm and the faint vibration of nerves as he closed his fingers around hers, her touch silencing the voices in his head.
“Where are they?”
“Second floor.” Larsen pointed to the door on the right, above them. “I saw two of them, but there may be more. The second was an older male version of our cancer kid. Just like Sabrina described.”
Probably the little punk who'd shot at him in Tony Jingles. She started to pull him toward the stairs but he stopped her.
“Larsen, you're not going up there. I want you outside where she can't shoot you again.”
“You don't even know what you're walking into.” There was fear in her eyes, he realized. Fear for him as well as herself. “At least let me wait in here. You may need me.”
With a quick squeeze of her hand, he let her go. “All right. But stay here.” Jack quickly climbed the stained linoleum stairs, then paused outside the apartment door, heart thudding against his ribs.
Be here, you white bastard.
He took a deep breath, then with a swift, hard kick, broke down the door and swung inside, gun drawn.
Two women sat on the sofa watching an old
I Love Lucy
repeat, the smell of popcorn circling around them as the light in the darkened room flashed and changed with the television. Their backs were to the door, but neither so much as glanced behind at Jack's shout. As if they hadn't heard him.
He heard something to his right and swung toward the sound, gun raised. Running toward him, knife in hand, was the little bald man from Jingles. Barely five feet tall, his lined and weathered face wore a look of cruel determination.
“Freeze!” Jack aimed his gun at his chest but the man never slowed. “Stop or I'll shoot.” But he might as well be talking to a shrub.
If he shot the little devil, he'd never get any answers. Jack shoved his gun into his waistband and braced himself for the attack. As the small man lunged for him, Jack shot his hand in and under the knife, grabbing the man's small wrist, immobilizing the deadly weapon.
Stronger than he appeared, the little man kicked and struggled against Jack's hold and it was all he could do to keep that knife from a lethal swipe.
“Jack, watch out!” Larsen yelled from behind him.
“Get out of here!” he shouted, but his gaze swung up in time to see a second assailant, the cancer girl, running for him in an awkward, loping run, a butcher knife held in both hands above her head.
Terror for her surged through him, lending him the added strength he needed to quell his small opponent. He clipped him hard under the chin, sending him sprawling, unconscious.
Then Jack grabbed his gun and swung toward the girl, prepared to shoot her down before she hurt Larsen again. But the girl, her bald head glistening with sweat, seemed to be locked in some kind of invisible battle, her limbs jerking, her muscles corded with tension.
“Flee!” she shouted, her cry anguished. “Flee or I must kill you.”
“Stop right there. Drop the knife!”
“I cannot. He orders me to kill you and I must obey.” She continued forward in that same awful gait. If she wasn't fighting every step, she was a damned good actress. “You must flee. Or stop me.”
“If I shoot, I'll kill you.”
Tears filled her eyes. “Do what you must. I wish you no more harm.” Her gaze fixed on Larsen. “Forgive me. He bade me shoot you with my arrow.” A flash of rebellion tightened her mouth. “I shot you in the shoulder so you would not die, and tipped the arrow in healing dust so your wound would heal quickly.”
Healing dust. Jack remembered his shock at how quickly Larsen's shoulder had healed. Despite the girl's protestations, she was still advancing with the knife, but after what he'd seen the past few days, he could too easily believe she was being controlled. He was going to have to stop herâwithout hurting her, if such a thing were possible.
“Is Baleris here?”
“Nay. He is with your guard. Your M.P.D.”
The police station. “Are there any more of you? Anyone else who's going to rush me with a knife or arrow?”
“Nay.” She was almost upon him and the tears were running freely down her cheeks now. “You must stop me.”
Jack shoved his gun into his waistband again, then circled behind her. With a single swift motion, he grabbed her arms and wrenched the knife out of her hands, then pinned her hard against him, absorbing her struggles.
The voices in his head went berserk, screeching like banshees.
“Damn.” Jack ground his teeth, struggling against the press of noise on the inside of his skull, half afraid the very bone would crack.
“Jack?” Larsen looked at him with worry in her eyes. “What's the matter?”
“I'm okay.” Hell, no, he wasn't okay. It was as if the voices were pressing their mouths to his ear, blasting him with everything they had. He could hardly hear through the screaming. Could hardly think. He hadâ¦toâ¦getâ¦control. With everything he had, he fought the noise, pushing at the voices with his mind until he couldâ¦almostâ¦think again.
“Jack, you're hurting her.”
“What?” He focused on Larsen, saw her staring at the girl he still held. The girl's gasps for breath reached his ears.
Hell. He was crushing her. Jack loosened his grip, but not enough to let her escape, and handed Larsen the knife.
“If the little man wakes up, kill him. This one and I are going to take a look around.”
“Tarrys,” his captive said, struggling against his hold.
“I am called Tarrys. I am slave to Baleris, but that oneâ” She spat in the direction of the man lying prone on the carpet.
“Yuillin serves our master willingly.”
“All right then, Tarrys. Let's you and me have a look around.” He half carried her, half pushed her around the sofa until he could see the two women clearly. Recognition kicked him in the chest.
“It's them.” His gaze met Larsen's. “The two congressional interns kidnapped from the pharmacy.”
Larsen's eyes went wide. “We've got to get them out of here.”
“See if you can move them whileâ¦Tarrys and I finish our tour.”
He lifted the small woman off the ground, tucking her still-struggling body beneath his left arm. She weighed next to nothing, but the roaring in his head was going to crush him.
“You are in danger,” the girl said as he carried her down the short hallway. “Your people. You cannot let him return to Esria with the Lost Stone.”
A memory poked through the screams that filled his head as he checked the bathroom. “The Stone of Ezrie?”
“What's the Stone of Ezrie?” Larsen asked behind them.
“I thought you were going to get the women out of here.”
“They won't budge. I couldn't even drag them away.”
“I'll have to carry them out.” He grunted as Tarrys's elbow slammed into his gut. “The Stone of Ezrie was the name of the artifact stolen from the Smithsonian the morning of the first rape,” he told Larsen.
“Baleris stole it,” the girl said. “'Twas what called him through the gate. The stone has great power. You must not let him take it.”
“Where is it now?”
“Baleris wears it around his neck.”
As he approached the bedroom he heard a sound and raised his gun. “I thought you said there were no more of you.”
“She is controlled. 'Tis her home.”
He eased into the bedroom where a thirty-something Hispanic female sat on the overstuffed chair in the corner, staring straight ahead as if heavily drugged. A quick search of the room assured him there was no one else.
“Is she in danger?” he asked his captive.
“I feed her and the other females. Baleris has not harmed any of them.”
“Yet,” Larsen said.
Jack met her gaze. “We've got to get them out of here.” He set the still-struggling girl on her feet and turned her to face him, his hands clamped on her shoulders to keep her still. “How does he control them?”
She looked at him as if she didn't understand the question. “He is Esri,” she said as if that explained it all.
The Stone of Ezrie.
His hands convulsed on her shoulders as the screams tore apart his brain. “
The girl winced. “Do you not know? They were much feared by humans in the old days before the worlds were sealed from one another. They stole into your world at midnight to enchant your virgins and steal your children. The humans once called them elf. Or faerie.”
“Are you kidding?” Larsen whispered, wide-eyed beside him.
Jack scoffed. “Don't be ridiculous. She's not a damned elf.”
“Nay, I am not.” She squirmed in his grasp, still fighting him. “Baleris is Esri. I am Marceil.”
Jack shoved her against the wall. “I want the truth!”
“Jack, you're hurting her.”
Larsen grabbed his arm, blessedly ending the scream fest between his ears until her fingers slipped away and the banshees once again took up residence.
“She's playing us for fools.”
“Why?” Those dark, coal-rimmed eyes of hers snapped with excitement. “Maybe this is the answer we've been looking forâthe reason he's so much more powerful than he should be.”
Denial shot through him, sharp and hot. No way was he believing in elves. He already had one foot caught in the quicksand of madness. He wasn't about to shove the other in there, as well.