The Medusa Proposition
Holy cow. She was a hellion when she blew up. He mumbled against her chest, “I want you too, honey, but do you think this is the place for—
“Shut up and stay down,” she snapped. He froze. That was exactly the tone of voice one of his buddies on his old Special Forces team would have used when bad things hit the fan.
“What’s up?” he bit out. Paige was vibrating again, but this time it was pure fight-or-flight adrenaline coursing through her. He could smell it on her skin.
Her breasts lifted away from his face far enough for him to breathe, but she continued to sprawl on top of him. And then it dawned on him—her stance was protective.
She spoke without glancing down at him. “Someone just shot at you. Stay here. I’m going after him.”
And then her weight lifted away from him and she was racing across the room in a flash of ice blue satin. He leaped to his feet. People around him were staring, still frozen in that moment of initial shock before they began buzzing like bees. He hadn’t experienced the time distortion of a hyperadrenaline rush since his Special Ops days, but damned if everyone around him wasn’t moving in slow motion now.
With preternatural strength, he bolted after Paige. She was already slipping onto the terrace and into the night. He put on an extra burst of speed. If she got to the gardens before he caught up with her, it’d be hell not to lose her in the thick tropical foliage and overhanging palm trees.
She dodged down a shadowed path between giant ferns and he followed suit, thankful for her pale dress in the blackness. Damn, she was fast! His legs churned as he chased after her. A branch whipped across his face and he ducked grimly, but pressed on.
Surely she was mistaken. They’d been on a crowded dance floor, for goodness’ sake. There was no way of knowing who the shooter had been pointing at … assuming there even was a shooter. He wouldn’t put it past Paige Ellis to have imagined the whole thing. She was a reporter, after all. She made her living sensationalizing things.
For all he knew, she was chasing nothing at all. But he couldn’t in good conscience leave her alone to the vagaries of whomever might be in this isolated area late at night. Although the way she’d knocked him down in the ballroom, she probably could take perfectly fine care of herself. Okay, so he was out here tearing after her because she interested him. And very few women did that.
He stretched into a full run, arms pumping, breathing hard. There. Another glimpse of blue satin ahead. He ran even harder. Sweat popped out on his brow. The path turned sharply and his dress shoes slipped on the crushed granite. He flailed his arms and managed to catch himself, but Paige had pulled away again.
How big was this stupid garden anyway?
Yard by yard, he gradually closed the gap on her. How on Earth was she running in high heels? The foliage thinned slightly. He vaguely recalled hearing about a rose garden that this resort was known for.
And then he glimpsed something that made his blood run cold. A second fleeing figure not far ahead of Paige. Attired in all black and running like his life depended on it. Worse, she was almost on the guy. And what exactly was she planning to do with him once she caught him? The guy was obviously a pro. He’d break her neck in a heartbeat.
For the first time tonight, true panic speared through him. He’d been shot at plenty during his military career, and he’d had plenty of bullets wing past uncomfortably close to him before. But the idea of watching Paige get her head ripped off scared him like nobody’s business. He dug deep and with supreme effort found an extra gear. Ten yards from Paige. Eight. Five.
A shot rang out and he flinched reflexively.
Rifle. High-powered, large caliber. Sniper rig, then.
The man fleeing before her went flying, tumbling head over heels and crashing into a bush. Paige hit the dirt beside the man and Tom slammed flat beside her. “You okay?” he bit out.
“Good. What about the other guy?”
Paige reached up awkwardly with one hand and felt the downed man’s neck. “Dead. Sounded like a sniper rig.”
He agreed with her assessment of the lone gunshot.
She muttered, “You need to get out of here. I can handle this on my own.”
“Yeah, well, you’re stuck with me.”
“I mean it, Tom. Go back inside. You’ll be safe there.”
“I don’t give a damn about safe. I want to know who just killed the guy who tried to kill me.”
She glared at him in the darkness. Although she sounded pissed, she looked closer to panicked. “I won’t have your death on my hands! You’ll be safe inside, and I need you to get undercover right now.”
Her mental wheels were turning so hard he could almost see them as she tried to cook up some reason to make him go inside. Time for a little distraction. “You packing?” he muttered.
“Where in this dress am I going to stow a weapon?”
He grinned as his hard gaze scanned the area. Too much cover out here. They’d never spot the shooter. Besides, assuming the sniper had killed his intended target, the guy would have already left the area.
“How ‘bout you?” she asked in turn, her head swiveling all around in search of the latest assassin. “You armed?”
“Nah. Hotel security forbade it,” he answered in disgust.
She glanced at him in surprise. “And you actually followed the rules?”
He snorted. “I sure as hell won’t from now on. Who’s the dead guy?”
“Dunno. His name badge says he’s conference security. Goes by Claude Dufresne. He looks European.”
He raised a skeptical brow. “And how does a European look?”
She answered absently as she rummaged in the dead man’s pockets. “Bad teeth covered with nicotine stains from unfiltered cigarettes.”
Okay, he’d give her that one. A certain group of Europeans certainly fit that set of parameters.
She continued under her breath, “His credentials look legitimate. I think he actually was conference security.”
“We’ll have to verify that. If this meeting is compromised, we’ve got a big problem on our hands.” A huge problem, in fact. “It’ll be a mess if the conference has to be delayed or rescheduled—”
She interrupted his train of thought as he started to spin out the alarming possibilities if this economic summit failed. “Tom, you’ve got a bigger problem than that. Someone just tried to kill you.”
“You don’t know that for sure—”
She cut him off briskly. “I was looking directly down the bore of this guy’s weapon. The back of your head was his target.”
“I didn’t hear a shot.”
“He had a silencer on the weapon. I saw the sideways flash when he fired.”
He frowned, still skeptical.
She added with scant patience, “The cops can recover the round and do a ballistics analysis to confirm it. But in the mean time, I’ve got to get you undercover. Have you spotted the second shooter?”
“We’ve got to assume he’s still out there, then. Stay low and follow me.”