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Authors: Pamela Palmer

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BOOK: The Dark Gate
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I'm going to kill you, Sitheen.
The words knifed through his memory and he sat up, suddenly wide awake. “Who told you to kill me, buddy?”

“There's an APB out on you, man. We've been ordered to kill you. I shouldn't be telling you. We're coming for you now. But you're like a brother to me. Like the white brother I never had.”

“Hank…” But his partner of ten years, and best friend, had hung up.

Jack stared at the phone.
I'm going to kill you, Sitheen.
No, the devil was sending Jack's men to do the deed.

Son of a
bitch.

Chapter 7

C
ar breaks screeched to a stop in front of his house. Multiple cars.
Police cruisers.
Jack ran for the window, propelled by a surge of pure adrenalin. That white bastard, Baleris, was behind this, which meant Jack didn't stand a chance of reasoning with these men.

As he opened the back window, a volley of gunfire shattered the front.
Damn.
They hadn't called for him to give himself up. They hadn't given him any warning at all.
We've been ordered to kill you,
Henry had said. And that's exactly what they were going to do. Unless he got out of here, fast.

Jack leaped out the window and tore across the small fenced yard in nothing but his boxer shorts. As he dashed through the high gate, he heard the sound of gunfire move into his apartment. If he were a sound sleeper, he'd be dead.

But as he ran down the dark alley, it was fear for Larsen that twisted his gut. If she was still in hiding, she might be safe. But what if she'd gone home? Baleris knew where she lived. He'd already sent his minions after her once.

Now the evil thing had the cops under his control, and he wanted them
both
dead. If Jack didn't find a way to warn her, it would be Larsen who would die.

 

She ought to be celebrating. The nightmare was over, the villain caught, the dad and his two kids saved from a terrible death. But as Larsen stood, barefoot, in front of the microwave oven in her houseboat, waiting for the water to heat for a cup of tea, the pulsing, aching knots that twisted her stomach only seemed to worsen.

She pressed her fist against her abdomen and the soft knit shortie pajamas she'd donned for bed. A day and a half since the incident at the Kennedy Center and the ache wouldn't go away. She could still hear that little girl's screams.

The microwave beeped. Larsen dropped a tea bag into the steaming water and carried the mug to the sofa. She couldn't remember when she'd felt so lousy. Or so lonely. She missed Jack. She kept thinking he'd call her. Even his probing questions would be better than this…silence. Had he forgotten her so quickly?

And wasn't that what she wanted? As she took a sip of the hot tea, her cell phone rang. It was nearly eleven. Too late for most callers, but maybe not for Jack? Maybe he hadn't forgotten her, after all. She set down the warm mug and grabbed the phone from the coffee table.

“Hello?”

“He's turned the M.P.D.,” Jack said without preamble.

Larsen blinked. “He's what?”

“He's turned the cops. Larsen,
tell me you didn't go home.

“Where else would I go? It's over, isn't it? What do you mean he's—?”

“Get out! If they're not there already, they will be at any minute.”

He wasn't making any sense. Or maybe her brain was just too tired to make sense of what he was saying, but his urgency came through loud and clear, easing her pulse into second gear.

“Where should I go?”

“Get in your car and drive. Then call—”

The window behind her shattered on a crack of gunfire. A small squeal escaped her throat as she fell to her knees behind the sofa.

“Jack…”

A second shot hit the kitchen light. More bullets sprayed the outside of the houseboat.

“Larsen, get out of there! Into the river. It's your only chance. I'll find you.”

Terror pinned her to the floor as bullets took out the lamp beside the sofa, throwing the houseboat into darkness.

Was he crazy? “I can't!” If she stood, they'd kill her.

“Larsen, go!”

Her pulse pounded in her ears as the sound of gunfire shredded her nerves.
They were going to kill her.
Jack was right. She had to try to escape. No one had boarded the boat yet. She'd have felt them. They were shooting from the dock, which might mean she could escape out the back door.

“Oh, hell, oh, hell, oh, hell. I'm going!” Squeezing her eyes closed, she dropped the phone. It was now or never. She sprang up and ran for the back door as bullets peppered the walls and broke every pane of glass in the boat. In one continuous motion, she jerked open the door, ran and dove over the rail without looking, knowing the slightest hesitation would end her life. She hit the water surrounded by a hail of bullets.

 

Jack's hands gripped the steering wheel of the Toyota Highlander he'd coerced from one of his neighbors as he tore through the streets of D.C. toward the marina, his knuckles white as that devil's skin, his palms slick with sweat.

Larsen.
He had to reach her.

The remembered sound of gunfire and breaking glass echoed across his brain, drowning out the normal voices that filled his head, sending a rare pain arcing through his chest. She couldn't have survived such an attack. He'd get there only to find her bullet-riddled body floating in the river beside her boat.

“No.” He slammed his hand against the steering wheel. She
had
to survive. He needed her, dammit.

It was his fault. He'd had him.
Had
him. He should have killed the albino when he'd had the chance. Instead, he'd let him turn the tables on him, turn his own people against him. Now he'd sent Jack's fellow cops to snuff out the one light that had begun to shine through the darkness of his life. Larsen.

He pulled into a parking lot across the street from the marina, then slid out into the warm night in nothing but his boxers, palming the car keys. The gravelly asphalt was rough beneath his bare feet, but his fear was too great and his heart too heavy for the discomfort to matter.

Gunfire peppered the stillness of the night, igniting hope within him. If Larsen were dead, they wouldn't still be shooting, would they? He couldn't be sure. They weren't in their right minds.

The irony didn't elude him. He, who had been dealing with encroaching madness all his life, was the most sane man on the force tonight. He crossed the street and eased his way into the shadows surrounding the marina office. Immediately, he felt the presence of another and went for his gun, but his hand encountered nothing but cotton fabric.

“Who's there?” He could just make out a shape pressed against the wall.

“Jack?” The voice, so low it was barely more than a breath on the night breeze, sent his heart soaring.

“Larsen.”

He closed the distance between them and pulled her soaked body against him, the voices in his head evaporating as if sharing his joy in her survival. His nostrils filled with the smell of fish and salt water and God knew what else, but he pressed his cheek against her wet hair and held her tight. Never in his life had he felt such knee-buckling relief.

He felt her tremble and eased her away from him. “We've got to get out of here.”

“That gets my vote.”

His admiration for her swelled tenfold. Despite the trembling of her body, her voice was strong and sure. Grabbing her wet hand, he eased to the edge of the shadows. While the gunfire continued unabated at the water's edge, the pair stole across the street, climbed into the borrowed SUV and escaped.

 

Larsen huddled in the front seat of Jack's car, wet and cold. Shaking.
Oh, my God.
They'd tried to kill her. They'd shot at her, bullets slicing through her home, zinging through the water around her when she'd tried to escape. She'd thought she was going to die.
Again.
Against the wet leather seat, her body quivered like a building about to implode.

Cold, so cold. Not just her damp, sticky skin or her wet, matted hair. She was cold all the way down into her bones, into her blood. Cold with fear of an enemy who was too strong. An enemy who wanted her dead. And she wasn't even sure why.

A sneeze tore through her as she shivered.

Jack's warm hand brushed her damp shoulder. “How did you get away?”

She wiped her runny nose on the sleeve of her wet shirt, her gaze skimming over the needle-thin Washington Monument rising from a distant pool of light.

“I dove, like you said, then circled back under the boat and two more before I surfaced. They kept shooting where I went in.
Right
where I went in. Like they couldn't figure out I might have swum away. I climbed out and escaped without any of them even looking at me.”

“They're hypnotized.”

“He's getting stronger.”

Jack looked at her sharply. “Why do you say that?”

Her heart lurched. For a moment she thought she'd given herself away again, but then realized she hadn't. “You saw the ones he controlled in the Kennedy Center. They looked like zombies. Your cops were driving, shooting…
almost like normal.

The lights of a passing car illuminated the lines of strain on Jack's face. “Except they kept shooting in the exact same spot.”

“True. I guess there wasn't a
lot
of brain function.”

Jack slammed his fist against the steering wheel. “How in the hell is he doing it?”

How in the hell was any of this happening? She'd thought it was over. Less than an hour ago, she'd sat on the sofa with a cup of tea, for heaven's sakes. Now they were on the run with nothing but the river-soaked clothes on their backs.

Her gaze skimmed over Jack's half-naked form. Strike that.
Not
the clothes on his back. A giggle erupted from her mouth, followed by another, but her giggles quickly turned hysterical. It was just too damn…awful. The D.C. police force was using her for target practice and her beloved boat now had more holes than a window screen. She began to cry in earnest. Not until after Jack crossed the Potomac into the Virginia suburbs did she manage to regain some measure of control.

Finally she wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands and looked at the man beside her. His gaze was fixed on the road, his mouth set in a grim line. “What are we going to do, Jack?”

He reached for her, covering her hand and giving a quick squeeze. His gaze met hers, a fine layer of sympathy softening the hard core of determination.

“We're going to survive, Larsen. The first thing we're going to do is survive.”

Chapter 8

J
ack pulled the stolen SUV into the parking lot of a deserted industrial park. It was dangerous to stay with the vehicle, but Larsen needed to get warm and at least partially dry before he exposed her to the night air. He glanced at her, huddled against the door, looking as lost as he felt.

Larsen glanced over at him as he pulled the car behind the low white building, parked it in the shadows and turned off the engine. “What are we doing?” she asked, her voice tight. She was visibly shivering.

“We're almost out of gas.”

Larsen's head dropped back against the seat with a defeated, disbelieving sigh. “And we have no money.” He could barely see her in the dark, but in the glow of the dashboard light he watched the way her lush lips moved with every word.

“No.” He got out, came around to her side and opened her car door.

“Where are we going?”

“The backseat.” He ushered her into the back and climbed in behind her.

“This is a bit high-schoolish, isn't it?” Her teeth were clattering together.

He pulled her against him, silencing the noise in his head as he wrapped his arms around her. “You want to complain or you want to get warm?”

She tilted her wet head against his shoulder. “W-warm.”

A wet strand of her hair brushed his cheek and he pulled her closer. The night was mild enough that he didn't feel the urgency to get her out of her wet clothes. Besides, trying to stay unaffected by her naked body was a hell of a lot more than he could handle right now.

“We need to talk,” he said, running his hand up and down her arm. He felt her tense, felt her muscles bunch as if she were about to pull away.

“Larsen…if we're going to get out of this alive, you can't keep holding out on me. I've got to know what you know.”

“You already d-do. I swear to you, Jack, if I had any information that might help us get out of this mess, I'd share it. But I don't. Can't you
please
believe me?”

The cop in him didn't want to let it go, but he could feel her body quaking with cold and he knew…he
knew
…she was as much a victim in this little scenario as he was. Trusting her when she wouldn't trust him was damned hard. But his gut told him to do it anyway. Whatever she was hiding wasn't important. Or at least it would wait until later…until their lives were no longer in imminent danger.

“Yeah,” he sighed against her hair. “I believe you.”

He felt her slowly relax beneath his hands. Her arms went around his middle and she pressed her shivering body tight against him. Hard nipples brushed his bare chest through the thin, damp fabric of her shirt, making every one of his senses stand at full attention.

Her shivering was becoming contagious, but his own body's quaking had nothing to do with cold and everything to do with heat. His hands shook as he stroked her arm, his palm sliding along the raised gooseflesh. Flesh that was slowly evening out, warming beneath his touch.

Larsen pressed her lips against the sensitive skin beneath his ear, sending shards of need slicing through him. If he wasn't such a gentleman, he'd have her naked and beneath him in a heartbeat. Now
that
would warm her up.

Get a grip, Hallihan.
She'd been through enough tonight. She didn't need to fend off his advances, too.

Then something warm and damp touched his neck. Jack froze. It couldn't have been. Could it?

There.
He felt it again. Definitely her sweet little tongue.

“Larsen…” His voice sounded strangled to his own ears.

“You smell good.”

A laugh escaped his throat on a burst of air. “I don't know why. I haven't had a shower in two days.”

“Maybe because I smell like the Potomac.”

He slipped a hand into her damp hair and nuzzled her cheek. “No you don't. You smell like…like every fantasy I've ever had.”

“You must have had some weird fantasies, Detective. Do you dream of mermaids often?”

He put her away from him far enough to frame her face. In the dim glow of a distant streetlight, their gazes met and locked. “No,” he whispered. “I dream of you.”

Then he kissed her. He couldn't have stopped himself for any amount of money in the world. Her lips beckoned. Her eyes, her heat. He had to taste her and taste her
now.

But the moment their mouths came together, he knew it was a mistake. Their near-death experience was acting as a powerful aphrodisiac. As if he needed any additional kindling for the fire that simmered just beneath the surface whenever he was near her.

He devoured her mouth in an explosion of need, drinking her scent, her taste, the very feel of her tongue wrapped around his and the press of her soft breasts against his chest. Too much fabric. He reached for the hem of her shirt and pulled it over her head. If he didn't feel her bare flesh against his, he'd go insane—right here. Right now.

If he didn't bury himself inside her he'd die.

“Jack,” she breathed into his mouth as he tossed her shirt against the back window and pulled her against him. Skin met skin, the hard tips of her breasts slid over his chest as she straddled him. Heat built at his groin as his hard arousal strained against his cotton boxers.

He grabbed her buttocks and pressed her hard against him, letting her feel his need. She began to rock against him in her soft little shorts, a whisper of fabric keeping them apart. His thumbs swept under the bottom hems of the shorts to encounter bare flesh. No panties barred his way.

Her small hand reached low between them to cup his erection, setting him aflame and pulling a groan from his throat.

“Larsen…” She was open to him. Wanting him. And, oh, how he wanted her.

Dipping his head, he pulled one bare breast into his mouth, the soft tip turning hard under his stroking tongue. He hadn't been wrong. She tasted like nectar.
Heaven.

He slid his hand between them, burrowing it under the loose opening of her shorts until he found her moist, hot center. As he pushed his finger deep inside her, she gasped and rocked against his hand. “Jack…” Her passion spurred his own until he was sweating from the need to take her.

Releasing her breast, he shifted his hold on her. His hand shaking with a fine need, his finger deep inside her, he ran his thumb lightly over the nub that would pleasure her most. “Do you want this?”

“Yes.”
The word exploded on a sigh, wrapping him in rich, hot silk.

Jack squeezed his eyes closed against the pain of his own arousal and the exquisite joy of hers. Her body was tight and perfect, the finest of instruments tuned to his touch. Passion rose to her skin, filling his nostrils, his loins, heating his blood as he stroked her. The noises in her throat built until whimpers grew to the sexiest little shouts he'd ever heard.

He kissed her, swallowing her scream of satisfaction as she exploded, feeling the hard contractions around his buried finger and the quaking of her body as she came unraveled in his arms.

Larsen pulled back, wrenching her mouth from his. “Jack,” she gasped. “I want you.
Now.

Every cell in his body, every molecule, strained to give her what she wanted. What he
craved.
Never in his life had he wanted anything more than to bury his hard erection deep inside her wet, hot sheath, to bring her to another climax as he found his own.

His hands shook with the need to push himself into the opening of her shorts and pull her down on him. So simple. Never had anything been so simple. Or so complicated.

“We can't, Larsen.” The words shredded his throat. “We don't have a condom.” And he would not risk bringing a child into this world that would suffer from the madness that killed his father and was slowly killing him.

She stilled. Then with a harsh exhale, she collapsed against him. “You don't travel very well prepared, Jack Hallihan.”

He ran his palm up her bare back and into her soft hair. “Honey, if I'd had any idea I'd need a condom tonight, I'd have gone to sleep with one taped to my butt.”

She laughed and patted his cheek. “Nice visual, Detective.” On a groan, she slipped her arms around his neck and he gathered her tight against the raging need of his body. “The one time I actually
want
to do it.”

Slowly, he felt her melt against him and knew she was falling asleep. For a long time he held her, feeling the gentle rise and fall of her bare chest against his, the soft whisper of her breath against his neck. Holding her not only quieted his brain, but soothed the aching fear in his chest, filling him with a surprising tenderness.

He would do whatever it took to keep her safe. He wouldn't let anything happen to her. He couldn't. She was becoming more important to him by the moment, in ways he'd never anticipated.

 

“Damn!”

Larsen reared back, startled out of a deep sleep, still in Jack's arms. “What's the matter?” she asked, trying to pry her eyes open. It wasn't exactly daylight, but it was no longer dark outside.

“Get dressed quick,” Jack said, sliding her onto the seat beside him. He reached for the door handle. “I can't believe I fell asleep. It's almost sunrise. We've got to get out of here before someone finds us.”

Memory came back with a rush, nearly swamping her. The bullets flying through her houseboat, her dive into the cool Potomac, Jack's finger deep inside her.

She groaned silently, knowing she'd acted like a horny teenager, begging him to do her in whatever way possible. Heat burned her cheeks.

She'd let him get too close. Under the circumstances, after all they'd been through last night, she could probably be excused for the lapse, but bottom line, she didn't let
anyone
get that close, emotionally or physically. Since she couldn't put the physical distance between them—they were stuck with one another until they found a way out of this mess—she needed to widen the distance between them some other way.

While she struggled back into her damp top, Jack fished a large, old-fashioned cell phone out of the glove compartment.

“Is that the one you used to call me?”

“Yeah. I found it after I stole the car.”

Larsen gaped at him, but ignored the hand he offered and scrambled out on her own. “You did not steal a car. You're a cop.”

The morning was damp. Dew seemed to hang in the air, coating everything it touched. Even the asphalt beneath her bare feet felt wet. At least her clothes and hair had mostly dried during the night.

“Well, it wasn't armed robbery, but I probably scared five years off the life of the eighty-year-old owner. I told him I needed the car on urgent police business.”

“Yeah, well, I guess things couldn't get much more urgent.”

She shoved her mussed hair off her face and licked dry, salty lips as they crossed the narrow drive to the trees beyond. “So, if you can steal a car, why not steal a tank of gas?”

Jack sighed. “Don't think I didn't consider it. But most gas stations have security cameras. They'll be able to pinpoint our location and potentially capture us before we get much beyond the gas station. The way it stands, no one knows where we are. For now. They'll be looking for the SUV by now. That's why we've got to get as far away from it as we can.”

“We need help, Jack. We've got the phone. Why don't we call someone?”

“I meant to do that last night, then fell asleep.” Jack made a sound of frustration. “Honest to God, I don't know who I can trust anymore. Not the M.P.D. I could call one of my neighbors, maybe, but how do I know the bastard isn't controlling them, too?”

“We need someone he
can't
control. What about the dad at the Kennedy Center?”

Jack stopped abruptly.
“Damn.”

“What?”

“I told him to meet me at the station this morning.”

“The
police
station?”

“Yeah. If that son-of-a-bitch sees him, he'll kill him. He already knows he can't control him.”

“We've got to warn him.”

“I don't have his number.” But his eyes narrowed with concentration. “Maybe I can remember. The first three were the same as mine. But what were the last?” he asked, muttering to himself. “Four, four something. Or maybe four, five. Eight seven. The last two were eight seven. Definitely eight seven. Or seven eight?”

Larsen watched with bemused anxiety as he dialed the numbers on the oversize phone. That man and his kids could
not
die. Not after all they'd been through.

“Hello? Is this Mrs. Rand?” A moment later he pulled the phone from his ear. Larsen could hear the virulent Spanish from where she walked, several feet away. “I guess not,” Jack muttered, disconnecting the call.

BOOK: The Dark Gate
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