Driven by Fire(2)

By: Anne Stuart

Holding her breath, she stepped over him, stumbling up the stairway. She found two more bodies on the next deck, and she almost turned around. In the distance she heard noise and shouting, and she wanted to run in the opposite direction, off this horrible boat with the stink of death all around her. How innocent could Billy be, with all the hideous things that were happening here?

She had just reached the next deck when she saw them—a group of men, some uniformed, some not. Three men were lying facedown on the deck, handcuffed, and another man lay bleeding up against a wall.

She darted into the shadows when one man turned, some preternatural sense telling him that he was being watched. She only had a brief glimpse of him—a tall man, in dark clothes, a gun in his hand. She had no idea whether he’d seen her or not, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She didn’t hear his footsteps approach, but instinct told her he was the kind of man who wouldn’t let anything go, and she managed to back into one of the cabins, closing the door silently behind her. She turned and came face-to-face with her baby brother.

He looked like hell. His face was smeared with smoke and blood, his mouth grim, and the look in his usually sweet brown eyes shocked her. For the first time he looked like their father, kingpin of the notorious Gauthier family of organized crime and political power, and in one hand he held what she recognized as a Glock 25, her father’s gun of choice. He was texting furiously on the cell phone in his other hand, and she almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it. Even death and disaster couldn’t pry Billy’s cell phone from his sticky fingers.

He looked up and saw her, and suddenly he was her baby brother again, looking lost and troubled. “What are you doing here, Sissy?” he whispered. “You need to get out of here! I’ve screwed up, and they’re going to kill me if they find me.”

“Father sent me,” she whispered, her voice just a breath of sound. “I’m trying to save your life! What the hell have you gotten yourself mixed up in?”

“I didn’t know,” he said helplessly. “By the time I realized what was going on I was in too deep to back out.”

“Oh, baby, of course you didn’t,” she said, her heart breaking. “You can turn state’s evidence—I can work something out . . .”

“I won’t make it that far,” he said with a trace of bitterness. “I’ll be dead before I get off the boat and you know it. The Committee is out there, and they don’t bother with due process.”

A chill rocketed through her. “Then we’ll have to get you out of here,” she said in a decisive voice.

Billy’s laugh was without humor. “Good old Sissy, always ready to save the world. There’s nothing you can do . . .”

She heard the hand on the doorknob, but Billy was even faster, diving behind a huge desk that took up most of the small room. Jenny tried to pull herself together in time to face the man who pushed open the door.

She knew it would be him, of course. The tall man with a gun even bigger than Billy’s, looking at her out of cold and dangerous eyes. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded roughly, and that gun was pointed at her chest.

She didn’t make the mistake of moving. She could feel the tension in the air, and everything narrowed down into one thing. She had to get this man and his gun away from her brother. It didn’t matter what Billy had done, he was still her baby brother, and she knew he hadn’t understood what he’d been doing. She certainly wasn’t going to watch him be gunned down in front of her eyes.

“I’m Jennifer Parker,” she said in as calm a voice as she could muster, trying to ignore the gun. “I’m a lawyer and a victims’ rights advocate. I get called in on cases like these.”

“Who called you?”

Shit. Should she lie? No, he was clearly the kind of man who checked the details. “No one. I heard the news on the police band on my car radio and decided I should show up and offer my help.”

“Alone in an empty cabin?” His voice was derisive. “So why did I get the impression that you were hiding out from someone?”

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