She leaped into the boat’s open cockpit, searching frantically for the keys. Where in heck had she put them? There they were. In a cup holder. She dived for them, prayed she’d grabbed the right key, and jabbed it at the ignition. Missed! She tried again.
Four thuds in quick succession made her duck instinctively. What was that noise? Whatever it was, it sounded bad.
The Baby Doll’s three Merc 700 horsepower motors turned over with a single smooth rumble. The man with the duffel bag was almost on her. She threw the engines into gear and yanked hard on the steering wheel. The boat pivoted around practically in place, the rear hull digging deep into the water.
As the Baby Doll exploded away from the dock, a dark shape went airborne, crashing onto the boat’s deck behind her. Kinsey jerked violently. The guy in black. She started to throttle back.
“Go!” he shouted from where he sprawled. She hesitated, and he shouted, “Hit it, lady! You and I are both dead if they catch us!”
Wha—? She slammed the throttles forward while her brain hitched and stumbled, tripping over itself. Dead? Both of them? What had she done to merit getting killed? The boat shot forward like a thoroughbred bursting out of the chute, slamming her back into the pilot’s form-fitting leather seat. In the time it took Kinsey to jerk in a startled breath and release it, the Baby Doll had accelerated to nearly seventy miles per hour.
Kinsey risked a glance at the man crawling into the seat beside her. His hair was black-coffee brown, his skin bronze—by sun or genetics, she couldn’t tell. He looked Italian in an elegant, lounge-around-a-Tuscan villa way. He righted himself and commenced fishing in his duffel bag. His left sleeve was ripped at the shoulder seam and—holy cow—blood gleaned wetly over the tear.
“Who are you?” she shouted over the roar of the engines. She sincerely hoped this man was the good guy in that little chase scene back at the dock; otherwise, she could be in a world of hurt, alone and on the open ocean with a potentially violent man. Heck, even if he was the good guy, she could very well be in deep trouble.
He looked over at her. Their gazes locked and time stopped for an instant, the power of that split second staggering. His eyes were amber. As gold as the sunset beginning to form in the west and positively hypnotic. Was he the cop or the robber? No telling by his dangerous good looks. A distant roar behind them sounded like an angry lion.
“Here they come.” His voice was raspy from exertion and sent an involuntary shiver down her spine.
She glanced back toward shore. A boat was just pulling away from the next dock over, another long, sleek cigarette.
“Who are they?” she shouted.
He stared grimly over her shoulder at the cigarette roaring toward them. His reply was succinct. “Hired killers.”
Terror rushed over her; cold certainty that death was very near. Her legs abruptly felt unbearably restless and she restrained an impulse to jump up and run away.
“Can we outrun them?” he asked.
She took a closer look at the boat pursuing them. A forty-three or forty-four foot Super Vee. “Nope. This boat tops out around eighty-five miles per hour. That one will push a hundred.”
His metallic gaze swung back to her. It was cold. Utterly devoid of emotion. And that scared her worst of all. There wasn’t any question of not doing exactly what he told her.
“Then we’ll stand and fight.”
The link between reality and the nightmare unfolding around her stretched. Broke. Fight? The synapses between her conscious thoughts and having any idea what to do next shut down. Completely.
“How good a driver are you?” he demanded, yanking her back from the void.
She answered without even thinking. She’d been around water and boats since she was born. “Very good.”
“Can you get me close enough to that boat to shoot at it?”
“Get close? Intentionally?” she squeaked.
“Yes. So I can shoot them,” he repeated impatiently.
Shoot? As in guns and bullets? Was she about to die? The thought gave a terrible clarity to every breath, every sound. Her hands gripped the contoured steering wheel until they ached.
“Damn,” her passenger muttered. “He’s got an angle on us.”
If she could’ve forced words past the panic paralyzing her throat, she might have asked who “he” was and why having an angle sounded bad. But then her passenger reached into the duffel at his feet and pulled out a short, thick machine gun. Oh. My. God.
“Turn right!” he ordered tersely.
Kinsey yanked the wheel, and the nimble boat whipped around so hard it made her neck hurt. The Baby Doll slashed across the path of the black cigarette at nearly a right angle.
A flash of light exploded beside her. A burst of rattling, deafening sound. Her passenger had fired his gun at the other boat! As the other vessel passed behind them, he whirled and fired again.
“Bring us around for another pass!” he shouted. “Keep our nose or tail pointed at him and don’t give him our broadside if you can help it.”
Abjectly grateful for something to think about besides dying, her panicked brain kicked into overdrive. The sailor in her latched on to the problem his instructions posed. His orders were easier said than done. And frankly, she’d rather have the bastards shooting toward her pointed prow and the compact living quarters inside it than at her stern where the engines…and gas tanks…were housed.
The black boat slowed abruptly and turned hard to face them. Its engines roared a challenge. Coming in for a head-on pass, like a knight on a black charger. She dared not get into a contest of straight runs against the larger, faster boat. It would eat them alive. She had to keep them both going in circles. Use her more agile boat and tighter turn radius to her advantage. Keep speed out of the mix altogether.
The other boat accelerated. Coming straight at them. Her passenger grabbed the top of the short windshield to steady himself and his weapon.
“Don’t get comfortable,” she called. “I’m going to turn hard right just in front of him and you’ll get a better shot to your left. We’re going to send up a hell of a wake and it’s going to rock him violently, so time your shots accordingly.”
He spared her a startled glance. Then he grinned at her, a fleeting expression that passed across his face almost too fast to see. But she caught the flash of white, the sexy lift of the corner of his mouth. His eyes briefly glowed whiskey-warm—and then the smile was gone. He was gone. With a bunch and spring of powerful thighs, he’d leaped aft to crouch behind the seats.
The distance between the two boats closed shockingly fast. She made out the face of the other boat’s driver, a swarthy man with death in his eyes. A second man stood up in the passenger’s seat, brandishing some sort of machine gun over the windshield.
He wasn’t looking at her, though. He was searching the deck of her vessel for her passenger. The black boat’s engines roared even louder. Obviously the other driver expected to make a straight, high-speed pass and let the gunmen duke it out.
Wrongo, buckwheat. Just a few more seconds… almost…there! She yanked off the throttles and whipped the steering wheel over to the right, standing the Baby Doll up practically on her starboard side. As the port propeller came back down in the water, Kinsey jammed in the power. The boat leaped forward, up and over its own wake. Her prow slammed down and stabilized, giving her passenger a great look at the black boat.
Clearly stunned by her maneuver, the other driver slammed his throttles back and jerked right to avoid a collision. They’d have never hit…the Baby Doll had cut across his path too fast. But the guy’s sharp turn combined with her wake hitting him full broadside rocked the big cigarette violently.
The other gunman staggered, grabbing for his windshield and hanging on desperately to avoid getting dumped out of the boat altogether.
“Now!” she screamed.
Her companion popped up, firing hard and fast. The crackling sound of bullets ripping into fiberglass peppered the air. The other gunman lurched left to face them…just in time to clutch at his chest and topple over into the water. Swear to God, it looked like a stunt straight out of a Hollywood movie. Except that rapidly spreading scarlet in the water was no movie prop.
And then the Baby Doll danced away, arcing away behind the black cigarette. The other driver craned his neck around, trying to keep her in visual range. His engines roared and the chase was on again. The guy tried to cut off the angle of her curve and come straight at her again, but she hadn’t grown up on the water for nothing. She continued turning back and forth until the black cigarette was forced into following the same turning track behind her.
“Hang on,” she warned her passenger. “We’re about to zig right and hope he zags left!” She whipped her boat into a counterturn, arcing back into the path of the other boat. It was a maneuver an old Vietnam fighter pilot had shown her once. He called it a counterturn. Whatever it was called, it was highly effective. In a matter of seconds, her prow was pointed straight at the black boat’s starboard side. Her client jumped up in the passenger seat and raked the black boat with automatic gunfire. Fist-size holes abruptly marred the sleek black hull.
“Lower!” she called. “Down by the water line!”
He didn’t acknowledge her instruction. But, he must’ve changed his aim, for immediately a new line of fissures erupted along the black hull mere inches above the water. The fiberglass cracked and shattered under the relentless spray of lead. She peeled hard left, sending up a rooster tail of water that had to have drenched the other driver. If she was lucky, the other guy’s hull should be badly compromised and starting to take on water.
“Get down!” her companion shouted.
She ducked as popping noises burst all around her. The Baby Doll shuddered as something—a whole bunch of somethings—hit her. Not good. The other gunman was firing back. Kinsey slammed the throttles forward. The Baby Doll bounded away from the spray of lead. The sound of the other boat diminished. She looked over her shoulder. The black boat wasn’t giving chase. For that matter, it looked to be riding noticeably low in the water.
She guided the Baby Doll around a rocky point and the crippled black boat disappeared from view. They raced onward for another two minutes or so, flying down the coast of Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands.