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Her Hero After Dark
Cindy Dees

“Now what?” he asked her cautiously.

She lowered the weapon slowly. “Now we head up to the house. I imagine you’d like a shower, shave and a decent meal. Then we’ll talk.”

What he’d like was a nice fat injection of Doc Jones’s magic serum. Although he had to admit, a shower didn’t sound half bad. In the first days of his imprisonment, before his world collapsed down to a pinpoint of exquisite agony, he’d craved a hot shower almost more than he’d craved a good meal.

The foliage looked Caribbean … No way. They wouldn’t have brought him to the one place he’d kill to go, would they? A low-level hum of eagerness to do violence vibrated in his gut. Patience. Someone would pay someday.

He fingered his thick beard. He must look like some sort of wild mountain man. Although maybe the look wasn’t so far from the truth. Without comment, he followed as she slung the strap of her duffel bag over her shoulder then turned and walked toward a small, metal storage building.

She grasped the lock and dialed a combination. It didn’t open. She tried again. No luck. She swore under her breath.

“Problem?” he asked.

“They must’ve changed the lock since the last time I was here. I’d call and ask for the new combination, but you destroyed my phone.”

“What’s inside?”

“A golf cart. Trust me, it’s a long, steep hike up the mountain to the house without it. And it’s really hot out here.”

He shrugged. After the searing heat of Africa, this tropical climate felt almost gentle. Daytime highs in Ethiopia at this time of year routinely hit the high one-twenties. But the lady did look badly overheated. He eyed the lock and muttered, “Step aside.”

“Excuse me?”

He brushed past her and she gasped as his arm came into brief contact with hers. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the light sound. He took the lock in his hand and gave it a sharp jerk. The hasp tore half off the building. He yanked again and a rectangular piece of galvanized metal sheeting gave way. The entire lock tore free in his hand.

“Door’s open now,” he announced.

She stared at him in shock. “How did you do that?”

He shrugged. There wasn’t much to say. She’d seen exactly how he did it. He grabbed the lock and ripped it off.

“Do you have any idea how much strength it took to do that?”

He frowned down at the ragged hole in the building. “Aluminum of that gauge can typically hold something like twenty pounds per square inch. Given the size of the hole … maybe thirty square inches … that means it took about six hundred pounds of force.”

Her jaw sagged.

“Of course, if there was metal fatigue, the required force might have been much less,” he added lamely. What in the hell was he doing? He knew better than to show off for some woman he’d just met! Especially one who worked for the U.S. freaking government. It would be disastrous if she caught even a hint of his secrets, and here he was, laying them out before her like an open book for the reading!

He grabbed the handle and lifted the garage-style door hastily. Must distract the woman. Fast. His ploy seemed to work, for she ducked under the door as it was still rising and headed for the golf cart inside.

The vehicle groaned as he eased his weight down onto it. She threw him a strange look, which he pointedly ignored. After tossing her bag in the back, she drove the cart outside. He waited, arms folded, as she got out and closed the door behind them.

She guided the cart onto a dirt path that zigzagged back and forth up the steep side of a substantial mountain. It looked like a dormant volcano covered in heavy tropical undergrowth.

Near the summit, a small clearing opened up and a gracious one-story home came into view under a canopy of trees. It was long and low with a deep, covered front porch stretching its entire length. A ceiling fan cooled a pair of cane rocking chairs, and plantation shutters slatted the windows. Unquestionably Caribbean architecture.

The Caribbean, huh? So his guess had been correct. He eyed his companion speculatively. What were the odds she was attached to the secret government surveillance facility in that region of the world? The one that had gotten so many of his men killed and caused him no end of problems?

His more immediate problem asserted itself as a wave of molten agony engulfed him. He needed his drugs, and soon. At least he wasn’t far from the United States. He should be able to get his drugs flown in here fast.

Assuming the prickly woman beside him allowed it.

He stared at his beard in the mirror. He would need clippers to trim it down enough to be properly shave-able. Not to mention, the idea of dragging a razor across his super-sensitized skin made him cringe in abject terror. There were not many things in this world that scared him, but the prospect of inflicting that kind of pain on himself was one of them. He was already stretched just about to the limit of his tolerance.

For now, he’d leave the beard be. He eyed the shower stall warily. Desire to finally be clean warred with his fear of the water hitting his skin. What if he couldn’t take the pain? What kind of a wimp would he be if he couldn’t even tolerate that small pressure? Fear won out over filth. Like his mother always said, a little dirt never killed anyone. But more pain could very possibly break him in his current state.

He backed out of the bathroom and headed down the hall toward the mouthwateringly delectable smell of meat charring.

“Steak okay for supper?” the woman asked from beside one of those indoor grill stoves that sucked down the smoke into a powerful fan.

He groaned as his mouth puddled with anticipatory saliva.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard you make a sound of pleasure instead of pain. What did your guards do to you, anyway?”

Not much, truth be told. He’d ripped out of a pair of metal handcuffs trying to save his guard’s life that first night in jail when the guy was murdered, and the rest of the jailers had stayed well out of arm’s reach of him ever since. They thought he’d been the one to garrote the cop in the interrogation room with him. With what, he’d like to know, since he had no wire, rope, chain or other material on him or in the room strong enough or long enough to wrap around a man’s neck and choke him to death. But that hadn’t swayed the Ethiopians.

His big problem had been the other prisoners trying to kill him for the huge bounty El Mari had put on his head. As miserable as he’d been never coming out of his tiny, dark, sweltering cell, it had been better than getting killed. But three months living in a five-foot-by-eight-foot box had been hellish.

The woman was speaking again. “Look, you’re far from the only guy I’ve debriefed. Nothing you can say to me will shock me. I’ve heard it all before.”

He highly doubted she’d heard anything close to the story he could tell. He’d bet a million bucks his tale would shock her speechless. But that wasn’t a theory he planned to test.

Wincing, he eased himself into a sturdy-looking kitchen chair. It held his weight, thankfully. If he were at anything remotely approaching full speed, he’d offer to help with the meal. Not that he could cook a lick. But he could’ve set the table or poured drinks or something. As it was, the room was starting to spin while invisible bad men poked him with cattle prods. His body jerked spasmodically as the pain assaulted him.

Clenching his teeth, he ground out, “What’s your name?”

She slid a juicy slab of sizzling steak onto a plate and set it down before him. “Jennifer. Jennifer Blackfoot.”

Desperate to distract himself, he concentrated on her name. Blackfoot? That sounded Native American. She looked Native American, too. Her face tended to roundness, her skin was a lovely walnut hue, and her exotic brown eyes were so dark they almost looked black. Her hair was true black with almost blue highlights glinting out of her long braid. He’d wager her hair reached past her slender hips when it was loose.

“What tribe?” he bit out.

“Despite my last name, I do not belong to the Blackfoot nation. My family is Chiricahua Apache. And yes, we were the violent ones who scalped white settlers and kidnapped white children. I am, in fact, a direct descendent of Geronimo, although in our tongue, his name was Goyakhla.”

A warrior woman, was she? Not surprising based on what he’d seen so far.

“Do your friends call you Jefferson?” she asked as she sat bowls of cold Caesar salad and hot green beans dripping with butter on the table.

“No. Jeff,” he muttered as he picked up a steak knife and fork. He swore as his palms cramped so violently he nearly cried out. The utensils clattered to his plate. His hands were too tightly clawed at the moment to master the fine motor skill required for steak carving.

The woman frowned but asked matter-of-factly, “Need some help with that?”

He scowled at her, too humiliated to admit that he couldn’t control his hands.

She leaned down next to him and efficiently cut his steak into bite-size pieces. Through the haze of his despair, he noticed incongruously that she smelled good. It was a floral scent, but not overwhelmingly sweet. It was green and wild and entirely fitting for her. His instincts flared in response to the light musk.

She stepped back a bit too hastily. Scared of him, was she? Smart girl. She mumbled, “If the fork’s too much to handle just now, go ahead and eat with your fingers. It won’t bother me. It’s how my people traditionally eat.”
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