Private Maneuvers / Page 28

Page 28


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His hand falling away from his jaw, Max studied her face and found—determination.


He believed her. He didn't need any more words for confirmation even while all those pieces of information jammed against each other in ragged mismatching order.


Slowly she turned to the one-way mirror. Max felt her eyes smolder through. Connect.


No way could she see him, but her eyes locked dead-on. "Keagan might want to call and check up on his girlfriend."


Her implication popped right through the glass and into his brain like a bullet. Pierced him with a grinding certainty.


Snakes. The plane.


Screw wondering why Perry had it in for him. Where the hell was Darcy? She damn well should have arrived by now.


Max reached for the government phone on the wall. Snatched up the receiver. Punched in her room number at the VOQ.


Ring.


Pick up, damn it.


Ring.


Pick up.


Three more rings. He slammed the phone down. Maybe she was on her way.


Except, his gut told him that because of him she was being thrown back into the hell of twelve years ago that she'd only just begun to come to grips with. His heart slugged against his chest in protest.


His feet carried him down the hall to find backup, no more Lone Ranger when Darcy's life was at stake. Max forced himself to think. Think like an investigator. More important, think like the person who would have tortured an innocent woman with horrors from her past just to get to him.


Max focused on climbing inside Perry's twisted mind. He had to figure out where Perry would take Darcy. Find out—and get there before the sick bastard killed her for a personal revenge Max couldn't begin to understand.


"You're a sick bastard." Darcy pushed the words free.


She stepped out of the car into the isolated tropical clearing, each movement like flying through peanut butter thanks to whatever drugs had lurked in Dr. Demented's syringe.


The door slam echoed in the pre-dawn silence, in her throbbing head. She didn't even want to consider what animal tranquilizers might be pumping through her system.


This sure made for a rotten morning-after in the wake of the best night of her life with Max. She had no intention of dying today, but she couldn't help feeling a twinge of gratitude that she'd had her night with Max. Just in case.


And he loved her.


Slumping against the rental car, she stared up the deserted path to the looming cliff of Lovers' Leap. The whole climb looked so much more ominous in the haze just before the sun would break the horizon. Sweat trickled down the neck of her flight suit in spite of the salty breeze blowing in off the water.


The ocean roared in the distance like the roaring in her ears, almost as if she'd already been submerged underwater. She had no doubt but that Perry planned to drown her, one way or another.


Her chances of winning a fight were minimal with the drug in her system. Would the effects worsen? Should she take her chances now? Or would she rouse with time?


Soon, please.


Two Perrys wavered in front of her.


"You're one tough lady to kill. Puncturing that fuel tank was difficult to arrange and not as creative as I would have liked. But you're really frustrating the hell out of me."


Good. She intended to continue right on with that mode of attack.


Darcy planted her boots as a twelve-inch lizard scampered by in the negligible light. Odd how the critters bothered her less when put into perspective with the human reptile in front of her. "I can't walk up there. Not with what you've given me."


"Yes, you can." He tucked his shirt into the waistband of his khaki shorts with meticulous care as he scanned the landscape. "I was careful with the dosage. I enjoy the planning, the precision of lining up every detail. You can walk."


She let her legs fold until she sat on the soft pad of grass, too tired to care about lizards. "I won't walk."


If he had to carry her, his hands would be occupied. She would find a way to stop him if she didn't have to expend all her fading focus on standing.


Perry reached behind into his waistband. His hand whipped back around, her vision wavering in a jerky haze.


The cold barrel of a gun pressed to her temple.


"Walk," Perry ordered. "Or I'll shoot you now. Not creative at all, but in this case, I'll settle. Your choice."


No choice at all. She braced a hand on the warmed metal of the car, prayed for balance and shoved to her feet. Palm trees swelled around the stretch of dirt trail, animal sounds echoing from their branches. The twining vines and floral island scents that had seemed so lush and beautiful during her walks with Max now suffocated her.


Jamming a hand in the small of her back, Perry propelled her up the winding path. "I'd much prefer to weight you down and toss you into the ocean, then let you die of an air embolism as you rise. That would be so dramatic. Definitely creative. And it would be quite poetic for you to die in Max's world."


Perry swacked aside a branch to clear her path in a perversely gentlemanly manner. "But you're damned spunky. I would have to use too many traceable drugs to subdue you enough to put on a wet suit."


She let him talk and ramble while she searched the dense path for some sign of an early-rising tourist, anyone to help her.


"Plan B will work as well. The mild dose of animal tranquilizers I used on you should pass an autopsy. Max will know I did it, but will never have his proof. He'll have to live with that nagging question in his mind. He'll know that his picking up Kat Lowry alerted me to finish you. Now."


Live. Max would live. Relief soaked through her foggy brain. She pumped air into her lungs as she huffed up the path. At least Max would survive this nightmare. She could hold on to that.


She didn't even want to think about what it would do to him to lose another woman he loved.


Perry jerked her elbow to guide her. "I wanted to kill him, too, but time's running out before they'll be on to me. Given a choice between you and him, I'll pick you and let him tear himself up with guilt in a living hell."


Darcy stumbled, twisted her ankle. Damn. The sting burned. At least the pain lanced through her fog.


She reached for consciousness. Rational thought. Stay alive. Just stay alive.


Lethargy pulled at her limbs and her will. She battied the urge to lie down and surrender to the driving need for sleep.


Darcy forced herself to put one foot in front of the other. Her boots thudded a steady cadence along the moist, black soil. March, soldier. Old ROTC days blended with childhood echoes. Quitters never win and winners never quit.


Her old man's philosophy had its merits.


Blinking away the grit in her eyes, she trudged up the slope. Finally, after twelve years of avoiding this place, she stepped into a clearing atop Lovers' Leap. Fading stars sprinkled the sky, blanketing the stretch of ocean ahead of her.


Memories whipped over her like the wind gusting across the cliff top, twining around her with inescapable force. She swallowed back bile. The drug was lowering her defenses, but she wouldn't let it conquer her. She would win, damn it.


Although this sure was cutting it close.


Darcy scanned the dense expanse of trees. She couldn't triumph in a hand-to-hand battle, but maybe she could run. Or find a weapon.


A sinister gleam sparked in Perry's eyes. "That's right, think about fighting."


God, had she been mumbling or was this guy that intuitive? She couldn't waste words on discussion, not when she needed to concentrate her fuzzy senses on finding a way out.


"Please do struggle." Perry inched closer, even swung his gun to the side, then arced it back on her tauntingly. "That will make it more fun. The bruises won't matter when your broken body is recovered at the bottom of the cliff. Or go ahead and try to run. That's fine, too. I like the chase and this is the last one I'll ever have."


Okay, Max. This would be a super time to show up. Fuel reserves were heading into the red with the crash only seconds away. Darcy scanned the trees—


And there he was.


Him.


Max stepped out of the forest, into the clearing, his Glock raised and steady just as the sun broke the horizon. The rising sun gleamed through the bleached tips of his hair, silhouetting him like an avenging angel. She knew the drugs were messing with her perceptions but didn't care right now. Max's strength was such a welcome sight she just wanted to soak up the view. He hadn't made her wait at all.


He'd been two steps ahead of them the whole time. How could she have ever doubted? And if she lived through this, she sure wouldn't question this man's love again.


Max measured the steps between himself and Darcy. Then between Darcy and the edge of the cliff.


Too close. He clicked through the options in his head, a head reeling with relief over finding Darcy still alive. Wobbly but alive. She stared back with glazed eyes as Perry jerked her closer.


Jammed a 9mm in her side.


What had Perry done to her since taking her? He couldn't let himself sink into that nightmare. The past half hour scouring the island had been beyond hell.


And then the answer had exploded into his mind with more of Darcy's Technicolor perceptions. He knew exactly where a sick bastard intent on replaying her past would go. Lovers' Leap, where her kidnapping had culminated before.


The SPs and Crusty were only minutes away from responding to his alert—hopefully hauling ass up the cliff right now.


If Darcy had minutes left.


Max searched her for signs of injury, but her flight suit seemed unmarred by blood. She squeezed her eyes shut, tight, blinked hard and shook her head. Drugged. She'd been drugged and was fighting it. Of course Darcy was fighting. Her slack arms took on a whole new meaning as he realized how hard she must be battling sleep.


Hang on a little longer.


Gun level, Max eased left, closer to the three-sided edge of the cliff. He searched for an opening, a clear shot at Perry that wouldn't put Darcy at risk, and damned well couldn't find more than a small patch of Perry's shoulder right beside Darcy's head. He needed more time. "Perry, I don't know what the hell's going on here, but think of your family. Your wife and your kids. Don't make them live with knowing you're a murderer."


"I'm already a killer, Max." Perry's gun pressed deeper into Darcy's side as he dragged her limp body nearer to the edge: "Every agent overseas I turned in who died. That's already on me. What's one more? It's over and I know it. I am so damned tired of playing second-string Robin to your Batman front and center. I want to take some satisfaction with me."


Satisfaction? What was he missing here? If he could fit that last piece into the puzzle, he would understand how to play this scene out longer and buy time for backup. "Satisfaction? For what?"


"You should have been the one to die that day instead of Eva."


Damn right he should have died in her place, and he would have to live with that for the rest of his life. But he'd never had a clue Perry took her death so hard. Their Agency connections had been minimal.


Whatever Perry had in mind, no way in hell did Max intend to accept a replay of the past today with Darcy.


"That's right, Max. Remember it all. Who do you think Eva cried to every time you disappeared for your next big-guy deep-cover assignment? She respected me, the way I was willing to take on low-level operative status for my family. I did all this for love."


For his family? What kind of twisted logic was that? The guy had sold out his country, turned traitor. That wasn't love for his family.


Love?


Max looked at Perry again and saw... Holy hell, the guy was married.


"Yeah, Max." He nodded, his gun hand wavering. "I loved Eva, too. And you let her die."


Darcy twisted to glare at her captor. "Bastards who sell out agents killed her. Bastards like you."


The full power of Perry's hatred pulsed through the air. Illogical but real. Max didn't need the words to confirm a thing. Perry was through waiting—ready to go over the edge.


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