To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list.

John Aikin

Tác giả: Sandra Brown
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Bach Ly Bang
Upload bìa: Duy Phuc Nguyen
Language: English
Số chương: 15
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Cập nhật: 2015-10-22 15:11:14 +0700
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Chapter 1
e was drunk and, consequently, just what she needed.
She studied him through the smoky, dusty haze of the cantina, where he sat on a bar stool, nursing his drink. The glass was chipped, its dark amber contents cloudy. He didn’t seem to notice as he frequently raised it to his lips. He sat with his knees widespread, his head bent low between hunched shoulders, his elbows propped on the greasy surface of the bar.
The tavern was crowded with soldiers and the women who entertained them in rooms upstairs. Squeaky fans, rotating desultorily overhead, barely stirred the thick pall of tobacco smoke. The cloying essence of cheap perfume mixed with the stench of the unwashed bodies of men who had spent days in the jungle.
Laughter was everywhere, but the mood wasn’t particularly jovial. The soldiers’ eyes didn’t smile. There was an aura of desperation to their merrymaking. They took their fun as they took everything else, violently.
They were young for the most part – tough, surly men who lived on a razor’s edge between life and death every day. Most wore the uniform of the army of the current military regime. But whether they were locals or international mercenaries, all had that same hard look about their eyes. They were full of suspicion. Wariness shadowed every grin.
The man Kerry Bishop had her sights on was no exception. He wasn’t Latin – he was American by the looks of him. Hard, well-defined biceps bulged beneath his sleeves, which had been rolled up so tightly they encircled his arms like rope. His dark hair hung long and shaggy over his shirt collar.
The portion of his jaw Kerry could see was covered with several days’ growth of beard. That could be either a benefit or a handicap to her plan. A benefit because the partial beard would help disguise his face, and a handicap because few officers in the regular army would go that many days without a shave. El Presidente was a stickler for good grooming among his officers.
Well, she’d just have to chance it. Of the lot, this man was still her best bet. He not only looked the most inebriated, but the most disreputable – lean and hungry and totally without principle. Once he was sober, he would no doubt be easy to buy.
She was getting ahead of herself. She had to get him out of there first. When would the driver of that military truck, the careless one who had negligently left his keys in the ignition, return to find that the keys were gone? At any moment, he could come looking for them.
The keys now rattled in the pocket of Kerry’s skirt each time she moved her legs on her journey across the room toward the man drinking alone at the bar. She dodged couples dancing to the blaring music, warded off a few clumsy passes and averted her eyes from the couples who were too carried away by passion to bother seeking privacy.
After spending almost a year in Montenegro, nothing should surprise her. The nation was in the throes of a bloody civil war, and war often reduced human beings to animals. But what she saw some of the couples doing right out in the open brought hot color to her cheeks.
Setting her jaw firmly and concentrating only on her purpose for being there, she moved closer to the man at the bar. The closer she got, the surer she became that he was exactly what she needed.
He was even more fearsome up close than he had been at a distance. He wasn’t actually drinking, but angrily tossing the liquor down his throat. He wasn’t tasting it. He wasn’t drinking for pleasure. He wasn’t there to have a good time, but to vent his anger over something. Perhaps to blot some major upset from his mind? Had someone welshed on a deal? Double-crossed him? Short-changed him?
Kerry hoped so. If he were strapped for cash he’d be much more receptive to the deal she had to offer him.
A pistol had been shoved into the waistband of his fatigue pants. There was a long, wicked machete bolstered against his thigh. At his feet, surrounding the bar stool, were three canvas bags. They were so packed with the tools of his trade, that the seams of the bags were strained. Kerry shuddered to think of the destruction his private stash of weaponry was capable of. That was probably one reason why he drank alone and went unmolested. In a place like this, fights frequently broke out among the hot-blooded, trigger-happy men. But no one sought either conversation or trouble with this one who sat on the last bar stool in the row.
Unfortunately for Kerry, it was also the seat farthest from the building’s only exit. There would be no slipping out a back door. She would have to transport him from the rear corner to the door. To succeed hi getting him to leave with her, she would have to be her most convincing.
With that hi mind, she took a deep breath, closed the remaining distance between them, and sat down on the bar stool next to his, which fortuitously was vacant. His profile was as rugged and stony as a mountain range. Not a soft, compassionate line in evidence. She tried not to think of that as she spoke to him.
"A drink, senor? " Her heart was pounding. Her mouth was as dry as cotton. But she conjured up an alluring smile and tentatively laid her right hand on his left one.
She was beginning to think he hadn’t heard her. He just sat there, staring down into his empty glass. But, just when she was about to repeat her suggestion, he turned his head slightly and looked down at her hand where it rested on top of his.
His, Kerry noticed, was much larger than hers. It was wider by half an inch on either side, and her fingertips extended only as far as his first knuckles. He was wearing a watch. It was black, with a huge, round face and lots of dials and gadgetry. He wore no rings.
He stared at their hands for what seemed like an eternity to Kerry, before his eyes followed her arm up, slowly, to her shoulder, then up and right, to her face. A cigarette was dangling between bis sullen lips. He stared at her through the curling, bluish-gray smoke.
She had practiced her smile in a mirror to make sure she was doing a fair imitation of the women who solicited in the cantinas. Eyes at half-mast. Lips moist and slightly parted. She knew she had to get that come-hither smile right. Everything hinged on her being convincing.
But she never got to execute that rehearsed, sultry smile. It, like most everything in her brain, vaporized when she gazed into his face for the first time. Her heavily rouged lips parted all right, but of their own accord and with no direction from her. She drew in a quick little gasp. The fluttering of her eyelashes was involuntary, not affected.
His face was a total surprise. She had expected ugliness. He was quite goodlooking. She had expected unsightly traces of numerous military campaigns. He had but one scar, a tiny one above his left eyebrow. It was more interesting than unsightly. His face didn’t have the harsh stamp of brutality she had anticipated, only broodiness. And his lips weren’t thin and hard with insensitivity, but full and sensual.
His eyes weren’t blank, as were those of most of the men who killed for hire. His eyes, even though they were fogged with alcohol, burned with internal fires that Kerry found even more unsettling than the heatless glint of indifference. Nor did he smell of sweat. His bronzed skin was glistening with a fine sheen of perspiration, but it gave off the scent of soap. He had recently washed.
Quelling her shock and trepidation – because for some strange reason, his lack of standard looks frightened her more than reassured her – she met his suspicious stare steadily. She forced herself to audition that seductive smile she’d spent hours perfecting and repeated her request as she pressed his hand.
"Beat it."
His abrupt words took her so by surprise that she actually flinched, almost falling off the slick, vinyl pad of the bar stool. He turned his head forward again and jerked his hand from beneath hers to remove the cigarette from his mouth. He ground it out in the overflowing ashtray.
Kerry was dumbfounded. Was she that unappealing? Weren’t mercenaries supposed to have the appetites of animals? And wasn’t that voraciousness particularly true of their sexual appetites? Fathers hid their daughters from them in dread of the unthinkable. Men protected their wives at all costs.
Now, when Kerry offered herself to one, he had ungraciously said, "Beat it," and dismissed her with a turn of his head. She must look worse than she thought. Her year in the jungle had apparently taken its toll in ways she hadn’t been aware of.
True, her hair had forgotten the luxury of a hot-oil treatment. Mascara and moisturizing face cream existed for her only in another lifetime. But how attractive did a woman have to be to tempt a man with a bestial sex drive?
She weighed her options. Her plan was foolhardy at best. Success was improbable. It would be risky under the best of circumstances. It would work only if her "recruit" was cooperative. If he wasn’t, it would be almost impossible to do what she had set out to do that night.
She glanced over her shoulder, wondering if she should desert this man in favor of another prospect. No. Her time was limited and rapidly running out. Whoever had left that truck parked outside could return at any moment. He might demand a shakedown of everybody in the cantina until the missing keys were found. Or he might have a spare set of keys. In either event, she wanted to be long gone before he returned. The truck was just as important as the man. She had to steal it, and now was the time.
Besides, she told herself, this candidate was her first and best choice. He fit all the criteria she had outlined in her mind. He was drunk, unscrupulous and obviously down on his luck.
"Please, senor, one drink." Pushing all caution aside, she laid her hand on his thigh near the lethal machete. He mumbled something. "Que?" She used her whispered question as an opportunity to move closer to him.
"No time."
He looked at her again. She made a motion that sent the scarf sliding off her head and from around her shoulders. She had previously decided to take off the scarf only as a last resort. When she had told Joe to find her a dress like the women in the taverns wore, she hadn’t counted on him being so knowledgeable about such things.
From a clothesline, he had stolen the dress she now had on. It was faded. The cloth was thin from years of wear and stone washing. The red floral print was lurid and tacky. The woman who had owned the dress had been a size larger than Kerry. The ruffled shoulder straps wouldn’t stay put and the bodice gaped open where it should have been filled.
She wanted to pull the dress against her chest and cover herself, but she forced herself to remain still. Rigid with shame, she let his gaze travel all the way from her exposed shoulder to her sandaled feet. He took his time. While Kerry burned with humiliation, his eyes drifted across her partially exposed breasts and down to her lap, which he studied for an indecently long time, then down her shapely, bare legs and feet to the tip of her toes.
"One drink," he said thickly.
Kerry barely kept herself from slumping with relief. She smiled flirtatiously as he called out for the querulous bartender to pour them two drinks. They watched each other while he carried over two glasses and a bottle of the potent, local liquor. The bartender poured the drinks. Kerry’s mercenary, without taking his eyes off her face, fished in his pants pocket and slapped two bills onto the bar. Money in hand, the bartender shuffled off, leaving them alone.
The mercenary picked up his glass, tipped it toward Kerry in a mocking salute, and drank it all in one swallow.
She picked up her own glass. If it had been rinsed out since last being used, she would consider herself lucky. Trying not to think about that, she raised it to her lips and took a sip. The liquor tasted like industrial strength disinfectant. It took a tremendous amount of willpower not to spray it into the roughly hewn, handsome face of her mercenary. She swallowed the ghastly stuff. Her throat rebelled instantly. If she had gargled thumbtacks, it couldn’t have hurt more. Tears flooded her eyes.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously, emphasizing the squint lines radiating from their outer corners. "You’re not a drinker. Why’d you come over here?"
She pretended not to understand his English. Smiling, she covered his hand with her own again, and tilted her head so that her dark hair spilled across the shoulder left bare by the slipping strap. "I love you."
He merely grunted indifferently. His eyes slid closed. Panicked, Kerry thought he was about to pass out.
"We go?" she said quickly.
"Go? With you? Hell no. I told you I haven’t got time even if I wanted to."
She wet her lips frantically. What was she going to do? "Porfavor."
He focused his bleary eyes on her face, particularly on her mouth when she used her tongue to moisten her lips. His gaze moved down and remained fixedly on her breasts. Because she was so agitated and afraid that her mission would be thwarted, her breasts rose and fell rapidly beneath the tasteless dress.
Kerry didn’t know whether to be glad or frightened when she saw his eyes glaze with passion. He rubbed one hand up and down his own thigh and she knew he was thinking about touching her. All his unconscious movements were indicative of his mounting arousal. That’s what she had wanted, but it terrified her, too. She was playing with fire. If she didn’t watch it, it could burn out of her control.
Almost before she had completed the thought, his hand shot out and grabbed her around the neck. She wasn’t prepared for the sudden movement and had no time to counter it before he hauled her off the bar stool and against him.
His knees were opened. She landed against him solidly. Her breasts came only to the middle of his chest, which was as firm as it had appeared. Something hard gouged her stomach. She fervently hoped it was the butt of the pistol tucked into his waistband.
Before Kerry could get her bearings, or even gasp in astonishment, his mouth covered hers. It moved hotly and hungrily. His whiskers scraped the delicate skin around her lips, but it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant sensation.
Every instinct urged her to resist him. But then her common sense asserted itself. She was supposed to be a prostitute soliciting customers. It wouldn’t be in character to stave off the advances of a prospective source of income.
So she let herself become pliant.
The shock of having his tongue spear through her lips almost sent her over the edge of reason. It thrust deeply into her mouth as though searching for something. Its assault was wildly erotic. Kerry’s reaction was to clutch handfuls of his shirt. His arms wrapped around her waist. He continued to kiss her, pulling her ever closer, until her back was painfully arched and she could scarcely breathe.
At last, he lifted his mouth from hers and pressed it, open, against her throat. Kerry’s head fell back and her eyes rolled toward the ceiling. The lazily circling ceiling fan made her dizzier than she already was. She felt as though she were spinning in slow, diminishing circles, and that when she reached the center of this maddening vortex, she was going to explode. Yet she was powerless to extricate herself from it.
The mercenary slid his hands below her waist. One boldly fondled her bottom. The other came around and stroked the side of her breast. Kerry endured the caresses, but her breathing was quick and shallow. He muttered something so blatantly sexual, so disturbingly accurate, she wished she hadn’t heard or understood him.
Nuzzling her neck in the sensitive spot just below her ear, he mumbled, "Okay, senorita, you’ve got a customer. Where to? Upstairs? Let’s go."
He stood up and swayed on his feet. Kerry’s equilibrium, being what it was at the moment, forced them to cling to each other until she regained her balance.
"Your house?" he grumbled.
"Si, si," she said bobbing her head enthusiastically. Not giving him an opportunity to argue, she bent down and picked up one of the canvas bags at their feet. It was so heavy, it almost tore her arm from its socket. She could barely lift the bag, but managed to work the leather strap up her arm and over her shoulder.
"Jus’ leave that crap and I’ll – "
"No!" She bent down to pick up another of the three bags. In rapid Spanish, she began warning him about thieves and the danger of weapons getting into the hands of enemies.
"Stop that damned gibberish. I can’t unnerschtand… Oh, hell. I changed my mind. No time."
"No. Back soon."
As she bent down to assist him in picking up the last of the heavy bags, she caught his eyes on the gaping front of her dress. Though she blushed beet red, she smiled at him seductively and looped her free arm through his, pressing her breasts against his upper arm the way she’d seen prostitutes do to their customers. Mutely, he fell into place beside her.
They staggered their way through the bar, which, if anything, had become even more crowded since she had come in. The mercenary drunkenly stumbled at Kerry’s side. She nearly buckled beneath his weight combined with the heavy bag she was carrying over her shoulder. The other two were hooked over his shoulders, but he seemed impervious to them.
When they were almost to the door, a soldier who looked like he’d been weaned on nitroglycerin, stumbled against her and grabbed her arm. He made an obscene proposition to her in Spanish. She shook her head vehemently and splayed her hand on the mercenary’s chest. The soldier looked ready to argue, but he happened to catch the fierce, possessive gleam in the mercenary’s eyes and wisely changed his mind.
Kerry congratulated herself for making such a good choice. Her mercenary inspired fear in even the most fearsome. No one else accosted them on their way out of the cantina.
Her lungs were starved for air, and she greedily sucked it in. The tropical air was heavy and humid, but it was brisk and bracing compared to that inside the cantina.
Kerry was grateful for it. It cleared her head. She wished she could rest, wished she could say, "Thank God that’s over." But there was still an awesome task facing her. The pickup had been easy compared to what lay ahead.
She practically dragged her staggering escort toward the military truck, which, she was grateful to see, was still parked beneath the impenetrable shadows of an almond tree. She propped the professional soldier against the side of the Japanese-made pickup while she opened the door. The truck, having once belonged to a fruit vendor, now had the government insignia stenciled over the farmer’s logo.
She pushed the incoherent mercenary inside the passenger side door and closed it before he could fall out. Then, furtively glancing over her shoulder, she lifted the bags of weapons and ammunition into the bed of the pickup. At any moment she expected to hear the rat-a-tat of a machine gun and feel bullets ripping through her body. In Montenegro, they shot first and asked questions later.
She threw a tarp over the bags and climbed into the cab. Either her mercenary hadn’t noticed that the truck belonged to the regular army, or he didn’t care. As soon as she closed the door behind herself, he pounced on her.
He kissed her again. His desire hadn’t abated. Instead, it had increased. The cooler outdoor air, which had cleared her head, seemed to have done the same for him. This wasn’t the haphazard kiss of a drunk. This was the kiss of a man who knew exactly what he was doing, and knew how to do it well.
His tongue pressed insistently against her lips until they opened, then it rubbed sleekly against hers. His hands were busy. His caresses kept her gasping with shock and outrage.
"For favor," she whispered urgently, slapping his hands away and dodging his mouth.
"Micasa. We go."
She reached into the pocket of her skirt and produced a key. She crammed it into the ignition and started the truck, trying to ignore the nibbling he was doing on her neck and around her ear. She felt his teeth against her skin. Despite the muggy heat, her arms broke out in goose bumps.
Kerry put the truck in reverse and backed away from the tavern. The ramshackle building seemed to vibrate with raucous laughter and throbbing music. She braced herself for shouting and gunfire, but the truck moved into the street unnoticed.
Kerry was tempted to leave the headlights turned off, but decided against it. It would arouse suspicion for a military truck to drive through the city streets without its headlights on. And, it would be hazardous to drive without lights on the rutted lanes that were likely to be littered with battle debris. So she turned on the headlights. They threw light onto the war-scarred commercial buildings and shuttered housing. Even in the darkness, which was flattering, the capital city was a depressing sight.
Getting out of the city was a problem that Kerry had spent hours mulling over. No one entered or left it without having to drive through a military checkpoint. After running several reconnaissance missions, Kerry had selected the gate she would drive through now. It was one of the busiest checkpoints. Had she picked one of the less-traveled roads, the guards might be more thorough. They would more than likely stop and search a military truck driven by a woman. At the busy gate she had chosen, she would probably get no more than a cursory inspection. At least, that’s what she was hoping for.
She mentally went over her plan and what she intended to say one more time.
However, it was difficult to concentrate on anything. She hadn’t picked up a belligerent drunk or a funny drunk. She had picked up an amorous drunk. Between mutterings about not having much time, he planted ardent kisses on her neck and chest.
She nearly steered the truck off the road when he slipped his hand under her skirt and between her knees. There was no way she could continue to work the clutch and accelerator with her knees clamped together. She had no choice but to allow his strong fingers to curl around the lower portion of her thigh and tease the smooth underside of her knee.
She had almost adjusted to that when his hand began to reach higher. Each touch was a jolt to her system. The floor of her stomach dropped away, and she closed her eyes for a fraction of a second when he lightly squeezed a handful of her inner thigh. The skirt of her dress inched higher. Most of it was already bunched up in her lap.
"Senor, por favor." She tried to work her leg free of his questing hand.
He muttered something that sounded like "Need a woman," but Kerry wasn’t sure. Knowing that they were only a few blocks from the crucial checkpoint, she pulled the truck over to the side of the road and let it idle.
"Please, senor, put this on." She reached beneath the seat where she had previously stowed the jacket and cap that she had found lying on the seat of the truck.
He didn’t seem to notice her improved English or the absence of an accent, but he blinked at her stupidly. "Huh?"
She draped the military jacket over his shoulders. The jacket didn’t quite accommodate their breadth, but all she needed for the guard to see was the officer’s rank. The badge had been ineptly embroidered onto the sleeve, which Kerry made certain was visible. She plopped the cap down onto the mercenary’s head and adjusted it, while he just as earnestly tried to lower the shoulder straps of her dress.
"Good grief," she muttered in disgust as she pulled them back up onto her shoulders, "you’re an animal." Then she remembered that she was supposed to be a whore accustomed to being manhandled. She laid her hand against his whiskered cheek and smiled in a manner that she hoped was beguiling and full of lewd promise. In melodious Spanish she told him he was a lecherous pig, but made the insult sound like a lover’s enticement.
Engaging the gears of the truck again, she drove the remaining blocks to the checkpoint.
There were two cars ahead of her. The driver of the first was arguing with the guard. Good. He would welcome a military truck because there would be no hassle.
The mercenary raised his head and blinked, trying to see through the dirty windshield, upon which a thousand insects had given their lives. Patting his head back into place on her shoulder, Kerry told him to leave everything to her, that they were almost there. His head lolled against her shoulder as she drove the truck up to the barricade.
The guard, no older than sixteen, sauntered toward the driver’s side and shone a flashlight directly into her face. She forced herself to smile. "Buenos noches." She lowered her voice to a sexy, husky pitch.
"Buenos noches," the guard responded suspiciously. "What’s wrong with the captain?"
She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "He had too much to drink. Poor man. He’s a brave soldier, but he is defeated by a bottle."
"Where are you taking him?"
"Out of the kindness of my heart, I’m driving him to my house." She winked seductively. "He asked me to nurse him through the night."
The guard grinned at her. His eyes moved over the slumping occupant of the truck. Assured that the officer was unconscious, he asked, "Why bother with him? Wouldn’t you rather have a real man?" He made a crude reference to the dimensions of his manhood, which Kerry found not only unbelievable, but revolting.
Nonetheless, she simpered and lowered her lashes. "I’m sorry, but the captain has already paid me for tonight. Perhaps another time."
"Perhaps," he said cockily. "If I can afford you."
She tapped his hand flirtatiously. Making a moue of regret, she waved goodbye and put the truck into gear. The young guard commanded his partner at the checkpoint to raise the gate and she drove through it.
For several miles, Kerry tenaciously gripped the steering wheel and kept her eyes on the rearview mirror as much as she did on the winding road ahead. When it became apparent that no one was following her, she began to tremble in delayed reaction.
She had done it!
The mercenary had stayed blessedly quiet during the entire exchange with the guard. Now they were on their way and no one was even chasing them. She made a wide loop around the city and took the turnoff, which led straight into the jungle. Soon the tops of the trees interlaced over the road to form a leafy tunnel.
The road narrowed and grew bumpier with each passing mile. The mercenary’s head grew heavy where it lay against her breasts. He weighted down the entire right side of her body. She tried to shove him away several times, but she couldn’t budge him. Finally she gave up, concluding that having him asleep against her was better than having to fight off his aggressive love play.
She gave considerable thought to stopping before she reached the place she had sighted earlier, but talked herself out of it. The more distance she put between the mercenary and the city tonight, the more bargaining power she would have tomorrow. So she kept driving over the corrugated road with the man’s head bouncing heavily against her at every chuckhole.
She became sleepy. The monotony of the headlights being mirrored off the encroaching jungle was mesmerizing. She became so drowsy that she almost missed her turn. The moment she saw the slight break in the solid wall of trees, she reacted quickly and whipped the steering wheel to the left, then pulled the truck to a stop and cut the engine.
Jungle birds, roosting in the trees overhead, loudly protested this nighttime intrusion, then resettled. The quiet darkness enclosed the small truck like a black velvet fist.
Sighing tiredty, Kerry shoved the man off her. She arched her back, stretching out the aching muscles. She rolled her head around her shoulders. Her relief at having accomplished her mission was profound. There was nothing to do then but wait until daylight.
But the mercenary had something else in mind.
Before she could brace herself for it, he smothered her in an embrace. His nap seemed to have revived him. His kisses were more fervent than ever. While his tongue playfully flicked over her lips, his hands pulled down the oversized bodice of her dress. He plunged his hand inside and scooped up her breast.
"No!" Garnering her strength, Kerry placed her hands against his shoulders and shoved with all her might. He went toppling over backward and his head hit the dashboard. He rolled to his side and sagged forward. The only thing that prevented him from slumping all the way to the floorboard was his size. His wide shoulders pinned him between the dashboard and the seat.
He didn’t move. Didn’t make a sound.
Horrified, Kerry covered her mouth and waited several breathless moments. He remained motionless. "Oh, Lord, I’ve killed him."
She opened the door of the truck. The overhead light came on. When her eyes had adjusted to the sudden brightness, she stared down at the mercenary. Tentatively she poked at him. He groaned.
Her fearful expression turned into one of disgust. He wasn’t dead, just dead drunk and passed out.
She tried to pull him up by his shirt collar, but couldn’t. Levering herself up on her knees, she tugged on his shoulders until he flopped back, settling into the corner of the cab formed by the passenger door and the back of the seat.
His head was bent over. One cheek was resting against his shoulder. He’d have a crick in his neck by morning. Good. Kerry hoped he did. Anyone who drank himself into a stupor h’ke that deserved to reap the dire consequences.
But his position made him look much less threatening. His eyelashes were long and curled, she noticed, incongruent with the masculinity of his face. With the dome light shining on him, she saw that his hair was dark brown, but streaked with reddish highlights, and that beneath his deep tan, he was freckled across his cheekbones.
He was breathing deeply through his mouth. His lips were slightly parted. With that sulky, full, lower lip, it was no wonder he could kiss – She yanked her mind away from any thought of the way he’d kissed her.
Before she started feeling any softness toward him, she thought about how he might react in the morning. He might not take kindly to being recruited for her cause. He might react violently to finding himself in the middle of nowhere before she had a chance to make her sales pitch. These mercenaries were ruthlessly short-tempered.
She looked at the machete. Acting before she could talk herself out of it, she unsnapped the scabbard and slid the long blade out of it. It seemed to weigh a hundred pounds. She maneuvered it awkwardly, barely saved her thighs from being sliced in two and tossed it onto the ground outside the open door.
Then there was the pistol.
She stared at it for several moments. Her stomach became victim to an odd flurrying. She should disarm him. That would be the smart thing to do, but, considering where the pistol was…
Now certainly wasn’t the time to get squeamish! When she considered what she’d already gone through tonight, getting timid now was ludicrous.
She reached forward. Chickened out. Withdrew her hands. Closed her hands into fists, then flexed her fingers, like a safecracker about to undertake the challenge of his career.
She reached for the pistol again. This time, before she could lose her nerve, she closed her hand around the butt of it and tugged. Again. Harder. It wouldn’t come free of his waistband.
She snatched her hand back and debated her alternatives. She had none. She had to get that pistol away from him, and get it without waking him up.
She stared at his web belt. Closing her eyes for a moment and wetting her dry lips, she gathered her rapidly scattering courage. Forcing down her nervousness, she touched the belt buckle. Using the tip of her index finger, she slid the small brass button forward to release the teeth clamping down into the webbing. Gradually the tension eased. She pressed harder. The teeth popped free. Metal clinked against metal softly.
The mercenary drew a deep breath. Let it out on a sigh. Kerry froze. She inched her hands forward again and, working slowly and carefully, pulled the end of the belt through the brass buckle.
There was no rejoicing. She met with another obstacle.
She touched the heavy metal button of his fatigue trousers. He made a snuffling sound and shifted his legs, drawing one knee up onto the seat. Which rearranged everything. Everything. And wedged the barrel of the gun in even tighter between his stomach and his waistband.
Kerry’s hands were sweating.
She dared not think of what he would do if he should wake up and discover her fiddling with the fly of his pants. If he thought she was trying to take his gun away, he’d shoot her with it. And if he thought… The other was too horrendous to contemplate.
She reached for the button again, and this time didn’t let the purring sound coming from his chest deter her. Her fingers were clumsy. It was no small task to work the button out of the reinforced hole in the stiff cloth, but at last she succeeded. She closed her fingers around the butt of the pistol again, but it still wouldn’t come free.
She swore in whispers.
Gnawing on her lower lip, she pinched the tab of his zipper between her thumb and index finger. She had to yank on it three times before it moved. She had intended to lower it only an inch or two, but when it finally cooperated, it unzipped all the way. Suddenly. Shockingly. She dropped the tab as though it had bitten her, then jerked the pistol free.
He snorted, shifted again, but didn’t wake up. She clutched the pistol to her chest as though it were the Holy Grail and she’d dedicated a lifetime to searching for it. Her whole body was damp with perspiration.
Finally, when she was certain that he had slept through her fumblings and that she wasn’t going to have to use the vicious weapon to protect herself, she dropped it onto the ground. It clattered against the machete. She shut the door of the truck quickly, as though covering up incriminating evidence. A bird protested the noise, then silence fell again.
She sat there in the darkness, thinking.
Maybe her mercenary wasn’t such a good choice after all, if he could be disarmed so easily.
Of course he was drunk, and where they were going, he wouldn’t have access to alcohol. He had warned off that other soldier with one threatening look. He was physically suited to the job she had in mind for him. She had been close enough to him tonight to know that. Those lean, hard muscles could only belong to a man of strength and stamina. She knew also that once he made up his mind to do something, he was determined. If he hadn’t bumped his head against the dashboard, she would probably still be fighting him off.
She wouldn’t think any more about him. Suffice it to say that she had done well; she had made a good choice.
With that in mind, Kerry settled into her own corner of the cab, rested her head in the open window and fell asleep to the steady rhythm of his gentle snores.
It seemed that she had barely closed her eyes when she was awakened by a litany of words she had only seen scrawled on the walls of public restrooms. There was movement beside her and scalding blasphemy.
The beast was coming awake.
The Devil's Own The Devil's Own - Sandra Brown The Devil