Authors: Jennifer Morey
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance, #Fiction - Romance, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance - Suspense, #Romantic suspense fiction, #Suspense, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance - General
“So you think.”
“Then I’ll have died trying to do something right.” And that would be a first, which had a certain appeal he’d never admit to anyone.
“You are willing to die for this cause?”
Without question. But he kept the thought to himself.
“You blame yourself too much. It is what drives you.”
“I don’t confuse the truth with blame.” He’d learned that the hard way. He’d also learned how to be hard to kill. Nobody learned survival like a fourteen-year-old working the streets.
Now Essam looked up. “You should go home and get an honest job. Put your past behind you, Rem. It is the only way you will ever find happiness for your black heart.”
“There are no honest jobs for me.” It was too late for that. He’d lie and cheat all the way to hell if it gave him Farid Abi Salloum’s head.
“You’ve made some bad decisions, I will agree, but it is never too late to change. It is your hatred that will get you killed if you don’t.”
Bad decisions. Rem had to smother a derisive grunt. He’d survived, that’s all. But that survival had led him down a dark and dangerous path, and now there was only one way off.
“Once Farid is dead, I’ll bury my hatred with him. You have my word.”
Essam shook his head. “You are a better man than you realize.”
Rem didn’t comment. Essam had said as much before, but he didn’t know the full extent of Rem’s past. He knew only the part that had driven Rem here. Better or worse, it didn’t matter to Rem. He was who he was and there was no changing that.
“When have you acted out of cruelty?” Essam asked. “Never once. Even at your lowest, you have not betrayed your morals. I do not have to know more than I do to be sure of this. You are not a man who can be bought. You are not a man who turns his back on the helpless. You are not a man who confuses right from wrong. You may think it is your failures that have cost you so much, but what you do not see is that it was your honor instead.”
His honor had cost him? He had no honor, so how was that possible? “You’re a good friend, Essam. I’ll always remember that.”
“Pah!” Essam swatted his hand in dismissal.
Rem backed to the only chair in the room and kept quiet. At last the doctor finished with the shot-up man and moved over to the woman.
“Is he going to live?” Rem asked.
“I do not know. He has lost a lot of blood and I have none to give him.”
Essam turned the woman’s head and cleaned a gash there. When he stitched the wound, he removed his second pair of gloves and faced Rem. “I have given her a strong pain medication. She may sleep for a while. I will see that they both make it out of Liberia. There is no point in you staying any longer. You did right to bring them here.”
“The woman stays with me.”
“I need her.”
“She’ll be safer outside this country.”
“She stays with me. At least until I’ve had a chance to question her. After that, I’ll make sure she gets to the United States unharmed.”
“Where will you take her until then?”
“As long as she is with you, she will never be safe.”
aley opened her eyes and winced with the steady thud piercing her skull. She blinked her vision clear. Above her, a colorful mural spread over the recessed and elegantly trimmed ceiling. She rolled her head to see the rest of her surroundings. The room was richly appointed. She lay on a queen-sized bed with an off-white quilt. Across from the foot of the bed was an ornately carved armoire. A chair was angled beside it. Through a balcony door to her right, she could see the ocean in the distance.
Where was she?
This couldn’t be Monrovia.
Sitting up, she put her hand on her head when the thudding boomed stronger with each heartbeat. She pushed the covers aside and slid off the bed to stand. The cool, taupe-colored tile chilled her feet until she stepped onto a dark blue rug. She was wearing the same clothes she’d worn when she and Travis were on their way to dinner.
Then it all came crashing upon her. Travis. The hat shop man.
Her pulse fired into frantic beats. She tried to calm her fear. It would only hinder her ability to escape.
She searched the room for her gun. Not seeing it, she went to the armoire and opened the center door. Television. She opened the left side of the armoire. Her duffel bag was on the bottom shelf. She opened it and rooted through her things. No gun. She opened the first drawer below the television. Nothing.
Who had brought her things here? And where the hell was her gun?
She hurried to the door, swung it open, and walked faster than her head could bear. Passing a bathroom and a second bedroom, she slowed her pace when the hall opened to a landing area. A banister and stairway led to the lower level, where she could see the entry and living room and kitchen. Color greeted her everywhere. Through high windows to her left, she could see a tall, thick cement wall and an iron gate with a guard shack. Coiled barbed wire topped the wall.
Still in Monrovia.
Not surprising, she supposed, though the fence made her more than a little nervous. Sliding her hand along the banister, she stepped down the stairs, marveling at the grandeur around her. The villa was silent. On the lower level, she saw two open doors, one another bathroom, the other another bedroom. A third door was shut. It wasn’t a huge villa, but it was stunning. Diabolical in a country like Liberia, but she had heard there were some upscale estates near the embassy compounds.
Across pale tile flooring, beautiful French doors stained a rich brown led to a patio. She could see part of a pool, and a pair of male feet lounging on a chair. She opened the door and stepped outside.
The man who’d stopped her attackers lay there, the light covering of dark hair on his muscular chest damp and his smooth, tan skin shining with sweat. She took in the ripples of his abdomen all the way to the waist of the black swim trunks he wore. Beneath the material of the trunks, his thighs were slabs of lean muscle, and the bulge of his calves gave further evidence of his fitness.
Having to remind herself this was not a man she could trust, at least not yet, she looked at his face. His dark sunglasses kept her from knowing if he saw her.
“How are you?” he asked.
Now she knew. “Where is Travis?”
His abdomen bunched as he sat forward and rose to his feet in one continuous movement. She took a step back as he came to a stop in front of her, lifting his sunglasses to prop them on top of his head. The impact of those pale blue eyes both riveted and disconcerted her.
“Still with the doctor,” he said.
“Where is he? Is he all right?”
He didn’t say anything, and that only increased her apprehension. She was afraid to ask. “Is he going to die?”
“I don’t know. He was in pretty bad shape when I left him.”
Tears burned her eyes and she covered her mouth to the sound of her gasp.
His expression remained unmoved.
Did the man have no heart? “Where is he? Where did you take him? And why am I here and not with him?” Was he holding her against her will? She tried to control her quivering lower lip and the tears that threatened the fighter in her.
Oh, Travis…you can’t die.
“I can’t let you go see him.”
“What? Why not?” Had this man kidnapped her? The magnitude of trouble she might be in descended on her full force. What did he know that she didn’t? What did he think she knew? She took a few more steps backward. “Who the hell are you?”
He reached out and gently grasped her arm, stopping her withdrawal. “My name is Rem D’Evereux. If I hadn’t interrupted your encounter with those rebels, you’d both be dead by now. Travis before you.”
Yanking her arm free, she forced herself to remain calm. The bulk of him and the indomitable energy streaming from his icy blue eyes warned her this was not a man to cross. Whatever he wanted from her, she had to be careful.
“Why are you here?” she asked. “Why were you outside the hat shop?”
“I could ask you the same question,” he countered.
She decided not to respond.
His gaze roamed all over her face before drilling her with steadiness that unnerved her. “I knew you were just recon the minute I saw you. But what is it you want to know? What brought you here?”
“You saw me?” She ignored his other questions. How long had he been tailing her and Travis? And why hadn’t they noticed? “When?”
“Are you government?” he asked instead of acknowledging her.
“Answer my question first.”
“I followed Travis from the market.”
“He would have noticed someone like you following him.”
“Probably, but one of Ammar’s guards was ahead of me. I stayed far enough behind to remain out of Travis’s sight.”
“Ammar Farid Salloum.”
Was he the one talking to Habib in the market? Yes, it was the man in the picture she’d sent Odie. It had to be. “What do you mean his guard followed Travis? Why would he do that?”
“He saw Travis go into the market after Ammar. Travis didn’t know the guard was with Ammar.”
“Travis didn’t know who Ammar was until he saw him talking to Habib.”
“Yes, but to the guard, it looked like he followed Ammar into the market. The guard got suspicious and went in after him and must have seen him watching Habib and Ammar.”
“And the guard followed Travis to the hotel.”
Haley absorbed that a moment. The guard who’d followed must have blended in with anyone else on the street. He hadn’t triggered Travis’s suspicion. It explained a lot. Then she realized how much Rem had pieced together.
She focused on him. Had he seen the picture she’d taken of him? Recalling her things in the armoire upstairs, she didn’t doubt it. He probably had her laptop, too. Quickly, she went through an inventory of what he might have discovered. The e-mail to Odie. Information on Habib. Nothing more. She kept her computer clean most the time.
The picture of him…
“Who are you?” she asked, not wanting to dwell on what he thought of her taking pictures of him.
“I told you, my name is Rem D’Evereux.”
“And I’m Haley Engen. Now tell me who you are.”
That pushed his mouth into a one-sided grin. “Where did you learn how to fight the way you do?”
She folded her arms and stuck out a foot, angling her head in a silent but clear message.
His grin spread, but never materialized into a full smile. No real humor in it, just an amused and cynical recognition of her tenacity.
“Ammar is a Hezbollah radical with whom I have unfinished business. Apparently you and I have something in common.”
Yep, he’d been all over her computer. “Are you government?”
“I believe it’s your turn to answer that question for me.”
She smiled much the way he had. “No.”
“Not government? Then who sent you?”
She cocked her head.
He chuckled, but again, it was cynical, not real humor. “No.”
Not government. She didn’t think so. He had too many rough edges. Or maybe
was a better word. Cocky, even, in a quiet, deadly sort of way.
“Who sent you?” he repeated.
No more playing around. She couldn’t answer his question and that was that. She kept her face blank.
Any trace of a smile left his face as he studied her, taking his time. “Who is O-324?”
That was Odie’s e-mail address, and quite untraceable. “Take me to Travis.”
Nothing changed on his face. He remained immovable.
“You can’t keep me prisoner here,” she said.
“We aren’t going anywhere until you tell me everything you know.”
He did think she knew something. “About Ammar Farid Salloum? I’ve never heard of him.”
“That I believe, but who were you watching?”
She was afraid to answer him. “Habib?”
If she told him everything she knew about Habib, what then? She couldn’t ignore the feeling he had his own agenda and it might not mesh with hers.
“Why Habib?” he asked in her silence.
She didn’t respond. She couldn’t trust him.
He blinked, giving away his recognition of her refusal to talk any more on the subject. “You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
“Tell me where Travis is.”
“He should be on his way to a hospital in Europe by now.”
“I didn’t ask.”
She stared at him, wondering why he’d gone out of his way to help Travis, yet had brought her here. He could have left Travis to die, but he hadn’t. The nobility of the act went against the way his taking her against her will made her feel.
“Why are you doing this?” she finally asked.
He only met her gaze. If she wasn’t going to talk, neither was he. That was the message she got. He didn’t have to say it for her to know.
Haley glanced at the pool and back at the well-maintained villa. Surveying the perimeter, she followed the jagged edge of the barbed wire and the wall that closed her off from freedom.
“You don’t have to worry. You’re safe here.”
She turned back to him, wary of believing him. “From you?”
The flash of displeasure in his eyes told her he didn’t like her question. Without answering, he headed for the door leading into the villa. There, he paused and turned.
“Make yourself at home,” he said, and then disappeared inside.
Haley rubbed her arms and once again looked at what she could see of the perimeter wall, wondering if the answer to her question would have been no.
Haley hissed a curse and slammed the armoire door shut. After resting the remainder of the day, her head felt better now. It was hard to believe a day had passed since she and Travis were attacked. She was ready to get out of here, but she still hadn’t found her gun. She needed her laptop, too. And the satellite phone that had been in her duffel bag until Rem had gotten hold of it.
She looked once again at the phone on the table beside the bed. The sun had set, and the bedside lamp was the only thing lighting the room. Had he left the phone there deliberately? Did it matter? If she could get a call through to Odie, maybe someone could help her.