Driven by Fire(10)

By: Anne Stuart

She turned to Soledad, trying to ignore him. “I’ll take you back to my place for the time being—I’m sure Mr. Ryder will do his best to get you settled as soon as possible.” She turned and gave Ryder an even glance. “You will, won’t you.” It wasn’t a question—Ryder was someone who would use any uncertainties to his advantage.

“Your wish is my command,” he said, moving toward the door. He stood there waiting for them to precede him into the hall. At least that mama she couldn’t tattle to had taught him good manners.

They walked in silence down the darkened hall, with Jenny reaching the front door first. It had an array of locks and safety measures that looked as if it belonged in a nuclear facility, and she waited for him to start unfastening them. He did so quickly and efficiently, pushing open the door into the bright, hot midday sun of New Orleans.

“Have a good day, Ms. Parker,” he said, and she knew he was mentally saying don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. She could feel relief and regret pulsing through her.

“I have every intention of doing so. I’ll call you first thing tomorrow morning to see what the plans are.”

“It depends what you consider first thing. I don’t get up before ten o’clock.”

She didn’t believe him, but she was hardly going to say so. “I’ll call at eight.” Moving past him, she stepped out onto the marble entranceway when something whizzed past her and a piece of stone went flying. For a moment she froze, looking back in confusion, and then the sound came again, like some crazed bumblebee had decided to attack. It stung the side of her head and she put her hand up when suddenly Ryder grabbed her, yanking her back into the darkened house so quickly she stumbled and went sprawling on the hardwood floor. He slammed the door behind them and Soledad quickly knelt at her side, her soft small hands touching Jenny’s face, a look of worry in her beautiful dark eyes.

And then it was Ryder’s face looming over her, looking both disgusted and inpatient. “Just how big a fucking idiot are you?” he demanded. “Don’t you know when you’re being shot at?”

Chapter Three

“Shot at?” Jenny echoed dizzily. “Why would anyone shoot at me?” She reached up to touch the stinging spot on the side of her head, and her fingers came away wet and sticky. She didn’t have to look at her hand to know it was covered with blood, and she gulped. She’d never been good with blood, particularly her own.

“You tell me,” he said. “And it may be your little friend they were after. Whoever they were, they were a piss-poor shot. If it had been me, your head would have been blown apart with the first bullet.”

Jenny wasn’t sure which was worse, her nausea at his gruesome image or his calmly stated expertise. “Thrilled to know you’re so accomplished,” she muttered.

The bastard actually smiled. “You have no idea how talented I am,” he said. Before she realized what he was doing, he slid his arm behind her back and helped her into a sitting position. She didn’t want him touching her, but she wasn’t strong enough to sit by herself—not with a ridiculous amount of blood pouring down the side of her face.

“Am I dying?” She realized too late that it gave him the perfect opening. He was probably going to respond with “I should be so lucky.”

Once again he surprised her. “No, though you might have a hell of a headache. Head wounds bleed like crazy.” She felt the pressure against her waist as he slowly helped her to her feet. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

She really wanted to stand on her own two feet, but the feel of the blood sliding down her skin and Soledad’s horrified little squeaks only added to her dizziness. She started to sink back, and Matthew Ryder simply did the unthinkable and picked her up in his arms.

“Put me down,” she gasped.

“Don’t be an even bigger pain in my ass than you’ve been already,” he said tersely, starting up the curving front stairs with Soledad keeping pace with them. “Once you get cleaned up you’ll feel a lot better.”

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