Driven by Fire(5)

By: Anne Stuart

The hair of the dog was supposed to cure his hangover—all it did was make him feel like dog hair. And Ms. Parker, Esq. wasn’t going anywhere no matter how determined he was to ignore her. Might as well face the music and get it over with.

He almost wished he were drunk, but he’d barely had time to settle down with his too-early drink when Ms. Goddamn Parker began ringing the doorbell. He slammed the door behind him, winced, slid the concealing wall across the space, and made his way down the wide, curving staircase at a leisurely pace.

She’d be getting really pissed off by now, and the thought made him slightly more cheerful. He’d never been big on martyrs and do-gooders, and Parker was just a bit too saintly for his tastes, despite the fact that she was absolutely delicious, with her mop of curly hair, her warm brown eyes, and that very fine body she disguised with too-proper clothing. Which was fine with him—she hated him even more than he disliked her. She wouldn’t be any happier showing up on his doorstep on a Sunday afternoon than he was.

At least he could cherish that thought.

Jenny was standing outside the huge old house in the Garden District of New Orleans, the bright winter sun beating down on her and her companion, and she would have given ten years of her life to be anywhere else. “Don’t worry, Soledad,” she told the slender young woman beside her. “I’m sure Mr. Ryder is here—he just takes his time when it isn’t normal business hours.” The thought was depressing—she couldn’t count on another reprieve, and she had to face him sooner or later.

“But I do not understand,” Soledad said in her softly accented voice, her gorgeous brown eyes downcast. “Why are we coming to see him?”

“Because his organization is responsible for stopping the criminals who kidnapped you and so many others and brought you to this country,” she said firmly, leaning on the doorbell. “It’s their job to clean up the mess, and we need his help. I wish we didn’t—the man is a distrustful pain in the ass, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

“I would have thought . . .” she hesitated, her English momentarily failing her, “just stopping those terrible men was enough. Really, Miss Parker, you do not need to do this. I can find work on my own—I do not need any help.”

“You’d be an illegal alien,” Jenny said. “And the Committee knows how to pull strings to get you your green card.”

“What is this . . . Committee?”

Jenny shrugged, shoving a hand through her unruly hair. “No one really knows, and I’m not about to ask. I just know they were responsible for your release from that container ship, and they’re so secretive they must have a huge amount of power. That was one thing I learned from my family,” she added wryly. “The more mysterious the organization, the more influential it is. Besides, they took care of the paperwork for the other women and children—if you hadn’t been sick, you would already have your papers as well.” Jenny suspected that if Soledad hadn’t gotten sick, she would have taken off before the papers arrived, but that was neither here nor there. She couldn’t blame the girl for being distrustful, especially after all she and her fellow captives had been through at the hands of the traffickers. At the hands, innocent though they’d been, of her brother. Had she been in the same position, she wouldn’t have trusted anyone either. “It was a good thing the police searched the ship thoroughly and found you in the sick bay. Otherwise you might have gotten towed out to impound and no one would have found you.”

Soledad gave her that sweet smile that had captivated everyone at the small, street-corner office that held Jenny’s practice. “Yes, I am very lucky,” she said in a tranquil voice. “We will have to hope that this Mr. . . . Strider will be as wonderfully helpful as everyone else has been.”

“Ryder,” Jenny corrected. “I’ve met him before, and he’s not likely to be wonderfully anything except an asshole. But he’s going to make sure you can either stay here or go back home, whichever you prefer . . .”

“Stay here,” Soledad said quickly. “It is too dangerous for me to go back to Calliveria.”

Also By Anne Stuart

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