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Authors: Pamela Palmer

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BOOK: The Dark Gate
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They were deep in the woods by the time Jack found the man they were looking for. The volume was set so high on the phone, he had to hold it away from his ear, allowing Larsen to hear both sides of the conversation.

“Mr. Rand, this is Detective Jack Hallihan from the Metro Police.”

To Larsen's surprise, the man didn't question the early hour of Jack's call. “Thanks for getting back to me, Detective. Are we still on for ten?”

“No. It's not safe. In fact, it's imperative you and your family leave your home at once. Leave town for a couple of weeks, if you can manage it.”

“What in God's name is going on?” Harrison Rand demanded, his voice hard.

“The man who hurt your daughter is somehow controlling the minds of the entire police department just as he did the audience in the Kennedy Center.”

“How?”

“I wish I knew. Only a handful of us can't be controlled. He sent my own men to kill me last night. There's every reason to believe he'll try to get to you and your kids, as well.”

The man on the other end of the phone went momentarily silent. “My kids aren't here. My ex-wife swooped in and grabbed them out of here yesterday.”

“How's your daughter?”

“I don't know.” Even from a distance Larsen could hear the pain and frustration in those words. “We had to drug her to stop her screaming. She hasn't spoken a word since she woke up. Doesn't even seem to know us. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I want to know who that son of a bitch is and
what in the hell he did to my daughter.

“You and me both.”

“What
do
you know?”

Jack met Larsen's gaze. “Tell you what. I need a ride back into town for myself and another who's caught up in this.”

“The woman in the scarf?”

Jack's brows dipped in confusion, but Larsen made a wry face and nodded.

“Yeah. Apparently so. Come get us and we'll fill you in on the way back.”

“Deal.”

Jack gave him their location, though how he knew it from the surrounding woods was beyond Larsen, then hung up.

She looked at him thoughtfully. “We're trusting a complete stranger, you know.”

“I know. But Rand's got as much at stake in this as we do, and he can't be hypnotized. That alone is reason enough.” He made a rueful twist of his mouth. “My gut says I can trust him.”

Larsen heard the certainty in his tone and glanced at him, meeting his gaze for the first time since she woke. Something leaped between them. Awareness.
Memory.

She tore her gaze from his and cleared her throat. “Aren't we putting him in danger by involving him?”

“He's already in danger. Just the fact he wasn't controlled makes him a prime target.”

“Then what about…” She stopped herself and thought about what she knew before she said too much yet again. “Was there anyone else, anyone at Tony Jingles?”

“Hell,” he said. “Brenda Kettering. I've got to reach her, too.” He made a few phone calls and warned the woman Larsen had watched strangled by her own husband—a premonition that had, thankfully, not come entirely true.

The sun rose over the horizon, spearing through the trees as the pair walked in silence. Larsen strode gingerly over the painful twigs and rocks, her feet soft and uncalloused. Jack didn't try to take her hand again. Neither did he try to draw her out. Finally, through the trees, a school came into view.

At the woods'edge, Jack brought them to a halt. He called Harrison Rand and told him where to meet them, then tossed the phone on the ground and sat beside it, looking up at her.

“How did you sleep?” he asked.

Larsen raised a brow. “Fine.” After that amazing release of tension, she'd slept like a baby. “Why?”

“I slept well enough, but those four hours barely made up for all the sleep I've lost the past few nights. Do you feel up to keeping watch while I nap?”

He'd be asleep—she wouldn't have to wonder what he was thinking…what he was remembering. “Absolutely. Sleep away.”

Something warm, yet guarded, moved in his eyes. “Can I use your lap as a pillow?”

“Jack…” She was trying to regain some distance between them. This wasn't the way to get it.

His gaze wrapped her in cotton. “I won't sleep unless I know you're safe.”

She gave up the fight. How could she possibly argue with him over that? He wanted to lay his head in her lap so that he'd know she was safe. To protect her.

He was making it awfully hard to retain any distance.

Larsen sighed. “Suit yourself.” She sat beside him, leaning back against a thick oak where she could watch for their ride.

Jack rolled sideways and laid his head in her lap. “He has a royal blue convertible,” he said, closing his eyes.

“Perfect,” she said dryly. “A car that won't draw attention.”

A smile appeared briefly on his mouth. “He'll drive through the parking lot twice. Wake me up when you see him…or anything else that looks or sounds suspicious.”

“Aye, aye. Now go to sleep.”

He took her hand and slid his fingers between hers. But as he pulled their joined hands against his heart, Larsen's vision began to waver.
No.
She tensed for the onslaught of another premonition.

“What's the matter?” Jack stared up at her.

“Nothing.” This vision wasn't like the others. No splitting pain. No complete blackout. Over Jack's face was superimposed a tiny bedroom of sorts, small and sunlit and very, very rustic. Straw littered the floor and the window was simply a hole in the wall, open to the outside, allowing the sun to stream in.

“I think I left the iron on,” she told him. “But I guess it doesn't matter now. Go to sleep.” She consciously worked to slow her speeding pulse. She didn't know what was happening, only that Jack could never find out.

The vision became clearer and, oddly, noisier as her real vision faded. Unlike her death premonitions, she could hear sounds in this one. She could hear chickens squawking. And the sound of a girl crying.

A door opened and two women bustled in, middle-aged women dressed like peasants from long ago, their dresses long and drab, covered by stained aprons, their hair completely covered by white fabric. Wimples? Was that the term? They looked like they'd stepped out of the Middle Ages.

It seemed so real. She could almost feel the sun pouring into that small room.

The women crossed to the bed and Larsen's vision followed, allowing her a view of the owner of the tears. A girl of perhaps ten or eleven, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, her head in her hands, her fingers digging into her scalp. The women began to speak, but the words were in an old language Larsen couldn't understand. Gaelic, perhaps?

One of the women knelt in front of the girl and pulled her hands from her head. The girl, a pale thing with a narrow face and a smattering of freckles, looked at her with an expression filled with dread. But the older woman was there to do a job and she didn't seem the least concerned about the girl's fear.

She motioned the girl to lie down, but the girl shook her head fearfully. The other woman grabbed the child and held her while the first woman placed her thumbs on the girl's temples and began to chant, the same odd words over and over.

Eslius turatus a quari er siedi. Eslius turatus a quari er siedi.

The girl began to writhe and scream. The women held her, ignoring her terror.

And then it was over. The girl stilled, her eyes wide. Her expression turned to wonder, a grin blossoming on her thin face as she began to talk excitedly to the woman who'd caused her so much pain.

The woman smiled at her with warmth and love, grabbed the child's face in her hands and planted a kiss on her thin cheek.

Larsen came back to herself with a smile, a smile that quickly died. She blinked and looked around, afraid something had happened while she'd zoned out, but all was still and quiet as before.

Jack snored softly on her lap.

What just happened? It wasn't a premonition. Was it? Premonitions foretold the future, yet everything in that sun-filled room had screamed the distant past.

Heaven help her.

She dropped her head back until it hit the tree with a soft thud as tears stung her eyes.

All she wanted was to be normal. To live a life without lies and secrets and subterfuge.

Without visions.

Instead, her visions were spinning out of control, multiplying, transforming. Minute by minute her life was growing stranger, more frightening.

More deadly.

Chapter 9

“Y
ou're not going after Baleris with me.”

Jack stormed across the small, sparsely furnished living room of the borrowed Massachusetts Avenue apartment. His bare feet tread the worn carpet, while a car horn blared on the street four stories below, ratcheting his blood pressure another notch.

As promised, Harrison Rand had picked them up several hours earlier and deposited them in his brother Charlie's currently unoccupied apartment in Adams Morgan, not far from Dupont Circle. Then he'd gone to snatch his kids out of his ex-wife's hands before the albino managed to turn her, too. He'd promised to return tomorrow, leaving Jack on his own to attempt another capture of the Pied Piper.

No, not on his own. Larsen wanted in on the action, but he refused to put her in that kind of danger.

She sat on the stool at the counter that separated the small kitchen from the living room, smelling like soap-scented heaven and looking like a queen despite the oversize T-shirt and men's jeans she'd borrowed from the dresser drawer. Her damp hair curled around her jaw.

“You're staying here where you'll be safe,” he told her. Right here, where no one could find her or shoot at her. Where he wouldn't come close to losing her yet again.

“Jack, you're not being reasonable. The only way to catch him is to stake out the police station, and you can't do it. Every cop in that place will recognize you. You need my help.”

“I'll find another way.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I'm going with you.”

Damned stubborn woman. Her chin was high, her full mouth set and determined. And he wanted her with a fire that hadn't dimmed since he'd nearly made love to her last night before coming, screeching, to his senses.

Her golden brown eyes weren't flashing with passion this morning, but with the light of battle. A battle he didn't intend to let her win.

“You're staying here.”

“You can't go after him alone.”

Jack turned away, running a hand through his hair. Why did he even try to argue with her? She was a lawyer, dammit. A professional arguer.

He stalked into the kitchen and rooted through the cupboards until he found a glass, then filled it with tap water and drank it in one long gulp.

He needed Harrison here to back him up. In more ways than one. The man was all right. He'd left them with money and the keys to his brother's car, since his brother, Charlie, was out of the country on some top-secret gig. Harrison wanted the white devil caught, hung and castrated every bit as much as he and Larsen did. This time they'd do it themselves.

Meanwhile, he and Larsen were on their own. Alone. In an apartment with condoms. He knew because he'd looked in the medicine cabinet. Heat coiled low in his body. How in the hell was he supposed to stay in the same apartment with her when all he could think of was making love to her until she came again, this time with him buried deep inside her?

Unfortunately, she didn't seem to be having any such problems. Sometime between falling asleep in his arms and waking up this morning, she'd retreated behind her walls. She was acting as if nothing had happened between them last night. Or as if she wished nothing had. Which was so much worse, dammit.

He wanted her safe in his bed. She wanted to fight at his side. She was killing him on every front.

“I'm not risking your life, Larsen.” She belonged in the courtroom, in neat lawyer clothes, protecting abused women and children, not running from a band of murderers. Certainly not confronting them.

He set the glass in the sink. The discussion was
over.

As he turned, Larsen hopped off the bar stool and came around the counter. “All I need is a bit of a disguise. Maybe some hair dye.” She ran a hand through her damp gold locks. “I've always wanted to be a brunette.”

His gut tightened and churned at the thought of putting her life in danger yet again. How had she, in just a matter of days, become so vital to him? She was the key to his sanity. But when he thought of losing her, he felt the ache not in his head but deep in his chest.

“No, Larsen. N-o. You're staying safe if I have to tie you to the bed.” He groaned at the picture
that
put in mind. With a frustrated yank, he opened the refrigerator door and stared at the nearly empty shelves. A half-full jar of dill pickles, an inch of ketchup and a chunk of fuzzy green cheese were all that occupied the fridge. Not only wasn't Charlie here often, he hadn't been here in a while.

“I can certainly get a lot closer to the albino than you.” Larsen peered over his shoulder. “Yikes. I guess we won't be eating in.”

“I'm going to have to do some shopping.
You're
staying here.”

“What are you trying to do, make me your prisoner?”

Tempting. So tempting. He turned on her, grabbing her upper arms, causing the noise to evaporate from his head.
“I'm trying to keep you alive.”

She looked at him calmly, almost pityingly, and lifted that eyebrow. “By getting yourself killed?”

“By not getting
you
killed.”

Her eyes softened, the hard edge of stubbornness melting.

“Jack, this is a war, whether you've noticed or not. You need to think of me as one of your soldiers.”

The spicy scent of her newly clean hair wrapped itself around him as he slid his fingers over the soft flesh of her arms, his gaze falling to her lush mouth. His grip tightened as the need to pull her against him nearly overpowered his control.

“You've got to forget I'm a woman,” she said, her voice low. Husky.

“Like hell.” He hauled her against him and kissed her like he'd wanted to all morning. As he'd wanted to since the first time he'd seen her. With passion and fire and little gentleness.

For a few joyous moments she rose with him, meeting his tongue thrust for thrust, digging her slender fingers into his hair. Victory surged through him on a burst of hot need. He wanted her. He wanted her gasping and moaning the way she was last night, but this time he'd be buried deep inside her, their bodies slick and naked when she came.

Larsen lifted her soft hands to his chest and pushed him away. He nearly sank to his knees, ready to beg. She retreated to the other side of the counter, putting an effective barrier between them.

She rested her forearms on the Formica and leaned toward him. “So, tell me this, Jack Hallihan. You want to go off and play cowboy—”

“Cop. I want to play cop.”

Her mouth, still damp and swollen from his kiss, twitched. “All right, so you want to play cop.” The flicker of humor evaporated from her eyes. “What am I supposed to do if you're caught? If you're killed?”

He mirrored her position, covering her hands where they touched, leaning forward until he could see the flecks of gold in her eyes. “I'm not going to get killed.”

Her gaze searched his face, a gaze that burrowed inside his chest. “If you die, I'm the next line of defense. If you die, I've got to fight them alone.”

“I'm not going to die.”

She rolled her eyes on a sigh of exasperation and pulled her hands from his. “Right. There's no danger. Which is why you won't let me go with you.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “What general fights a battle one soldier at a time? His men would just get picked off that way. There's power in numbers. You know that. Let's maximize our chance of success right from the beginning.”

Her eyes glowed with earnest determination. The worst of it was, he knew she was right. If she were anyone else, he'd agree. But he couldn't bear the thought of losing her.

With a sigh, he pulled away from her and straightened. She was right.

“You win. We'll go after him together.” He saw the flash of victory in her eyes. “But…” He crossed his arms over his chest, mirroring her stance. “You're not going anywhere without a disguise, and I mean a disguise so perfect your own grandmother wouldn't recognize you.”

She nodded soberly, but he saw the sparkle in her eyes. “I'll need some supplies.”

“Make me a list.” Her mouth opened to argue, but he held up his hand. “Just the things you need for your disguise.”

Larsen nodded. “Okay. But if you're not back in half an hour, I'm coming to search for you.”

And he knew she would.

 

Larsen stared at the business section of the
Washington Post
spread out in front of her, her hands clasping the hot Starbucks'cup so hard she was half afraid she was going to crush it. She forced the air in and out of her lungs in a slow, steady pace, desperately trying to ignore the two cops behind her ordering lattes. Two cops who probably read body language as well as Jack. Two cops who, if they realized who she was, would kill her.

Of course, the chances they'd recognize her were slim. Jack's little shopping trip had netted her a snug-fitting black T-shirt, black cargo pants and flip-flops, along with hair dye, eyeliner and lipstick all in the same dark shade.

Look calm. Casual. Not guilty.

She glanced out the window at the police station across the street, taking as normal a sip of her sixth cup of coffee as she could manage. She'd been sitting here drinking and reading for nearly two hours and still no sign of the albino. Her hand shook only slightly as she set the cup on the table in front of her and went back to pretending to read the paper.

She'd been so determined to help Jack with this stakeout. What was she thinking?
She could get herself killed doing this.

Then again, Jack couldn't very well have done it. For the past two hours a steady stream of cops had paraded in and out of the little shop, grabbing espresso, cookies or frozen coffee confections. And while a bit of black—a
lot
of black—had turned her from lawyer to Goth queen, no disguise was going to keep Jack's fellow cops from recognizing
him.

No, this was the right plan. The only plan.

When she got a glimpse of the albino, she'd call Jack and he'd take it from there. She'd quit arguing about not being included in the take-down. Just the thought of going anywhere near that white lowlife again made her heart thud with fear.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw the cops leave. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, thankfully, then jumped when her new cell phone vibrated against her hip. She grabbed it out of her pocket.

“Hello?”

“I'm stuck in traffic two streets over,” Jack said, his voice sharp with frustration. He'd spent the past two hours circling the neighborhoods nearby, prepared to tail the albino if he left by car, or to ditch the car and follow him on foot. “Some idiot hit a garbage truck. You doing okay?”

“Peachy.”

“Bored out of your mind?”

“You could say that.” Though terrified was probably more accurate.

Jack chuckled. “Stakeouts are the worst. Just don't get so bored you forget to watch.”

She sank into the rich, calming sound of his voice. “Yeah, well, I can't imagine missing what
I'm
looking for.” A startlingly white man in a tunic and leggings tended to stand out in D.C. “I'm getting hungry. Thought I might go grab a sandwich.”

“Don't they have sandwiches at Starbucks?”

“Sure, but…”

“You've been there too long already. Time to move on.”

“Exactly.”

“There's a deli at the other end of the block.”

“You're reading my mind.” Which was a good thing since she had to be careful what she said out loud in the small, always-crowded coffee shop.

She started to fold the paper. “I'll give you a call when…” Her gaze flicked toward the station just as a familiar figure stepped out.

“Jack…”

“What's happening?” Jack demanded.

“My little buddy with the bow.”

“The girl who shot you?”

“That's the one.” Her pulse, already racing from an overload of caffeine and adrenaline, hit the accelerator. “She's just leaving.”

The small, barefoot figure skipped down the steps of the station sporting a Nationals baseball cap and her usual uniform of Redskins T-shirt and oversize jeans.

“Alone?”

“Yes.”

“I can't get there. I'm going to have to…” A car honked in the background. “
Hell.
Does she appear to be armed?”

“No. At least not the way she was last time.” She lowered her voice. “That T-shirt could hide anything.”

“Follow her. I'll be there as soon as I can. Larsen, keep your distance and don't go inside any buildings, do you understand? Watch where she goes and I'll take if from there. If she makes you, get out of there.”

BOOK: The Dark Gate
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