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A Drive-By Wedding

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Chapter 17

Chapter 1

The sight of the jogger’s tush stopped Allyn Meyer’s meandering thoughts on a dime, swiveled her attention a hundred eighty degrees.

Whoa, baby! her libido breathed. Never in her life had she seen anything to match it—or at least anything like it that had caught her attention. Perhaps it was the brief black shorts that gave her such a perfect view of where she suddenly and uncharacteristically wanted to place her hands. Or perhaps it was the length of muscular thigh and calf visible beneath, or the narrow waist and the expanse of broad, heavily bronzed, sweaty, shirtless back above, the straight shock of hair above that as black as his shorts, that took her breath and turned her cave woman enough to state without question, He’s mine.

Or perhaps it was simply that omniproblematical twin thing, that telepathic—for want of a better term—connection she and twin sister Becky had always had; that thing that had made Allyn feel it when Becky burned her hand on the frying pan or gave her morning sickness before Becky even knew she was pregnant.

That thing that had caused Becky to experience the sensation of drowning the time Allyn actually had been during a freak mishap with a faulty tank during one of Allyn’s research dives. Or that caused them to call each other to share in the good news before the one who was getting the news even knew there was some.

That thing that had forced Allyn to build psychological walls that were high, steep and thick enough to prevent her from, er, feeling some of the things Becky shared with her husband, to allow her sister privacy.

Or made them choose to take two completely separate paths, then suddenly wind up with the same seven-year itch and the desire for sudden and drastic change.

Anyway, perhaps it was only that coupled with Becky’s ever unruly hormones, blending with Allyn’s, mixing Allyn up and turning her into a lust-starved woman she didn’t recognize. Even though her love life had ever only included her husband, it was Becky who’d allowed herself fantasies enough for the two of them—then told her best friend-confidante-sister Allyn about them so that Allyn would be indirectly forced to use her imagination on something besides a life spent researching dolphins, whales or some as yet undiscovered reef fungus or freshwater mollusk.

Whichever, for the first time in her life, Allyn knew without doubt she’d finally spotted a man who majorly kick started impulses she’d never before entertained, and here she was driving on by and never going to meet him ever even once in her life. And all she’d seen of him so far was the rear view.

Lord, she’d led a spinster’s life, hadn’t she, getting hot and bothered over a guy in running shorts with a tight rear? Maybe Becky was right. Maybe it was time Allyn left academics behind for a while and explored the lustier side of the world. At least let herself find out what it was like to flirt a little.

Just a little.

A very little.

Smiling derisively at her penchant for equivocation, Allyn pulled ahead of the jogger, slowing for the light that turned yellow then red in front of her. Unable to help herself, she sneaked a peek in her sideview mirror to see what he looked like from this angle. No disappointment there, either. Every inch she could see of him—and the black shorts didn’t conceal much—was bronze and sculpted, gleaming with sweat.

Funny how good the sweat looked on him when she’d never particularly cared for the sight of it on herself or anyone else before in her life.

She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes and wondered exactly what was going on inside her this morning. Lord love us, she hadn’t even looked at his face yet, that’s how bad this libido thing was. And Allyn believed firmly that what was in a person’s face the first time you looked into it said everything about him. A naive viewpoint, perhaps, if her stepfather, Gabriel, a former deep cover FBI agent, hadn’t spent as much of the last seven years as possible teaching her what to look for in a person’s demeanor that could spell good or ill to a woman on her own. Summed up, Gabriel Book’s theory of life for stepdaughters went something like, Trust everyone, but a little bombproof glass never hurts.

Allyn grinned wryly and refocused her attention on the man jogging alongside her car. His body still intrigued hers mightily, but now that she got a real look at his face, she could see there was something dark, distinctly dangerous and unmistakably formidable about him. Also intense, a trifle skittish and more than a little wary. Almost as though he wasn’t running for pleasure or health, but running from someone or something instead.

The heavy-looking bag and the sweatshirt he shifted from one hand to the other while she watched seemed to confirm rather than deny the impression.

Allyn sighed, disappointed and relieved at once. Definitely not her type, then, regardless of what her body said. She’d get over never meeting him. Her mind was a lot brighter and more self-preserving than her body would ever be. Still…

Firmly Allyn grabbed hold of her wayward hormones and shifted her attention to stuffing a Prairie Home Companion tape into the tape player. Let Garrison Keillor take her mind off of—

The passenger door opened suddenly, the seat was slung forward, and the jogger’s duffel bag crossed her vision on its way into the back seat. The car filled with the overpowering scent of salt, musk and man.


Startled, she looked into the jogger’s beautiful but expressionless, and therefore infinitely frightening, face. Lord love us. An uncommon car jacker. She’d broken the cardinal rule of traveling alone by car in the city: bombproof glass doesn’t do squat if you leave your doors unlocked.

She pulled her hands off the steering wheel, held them up and open, pacifying. “Here,” she said, “take it. I’ll get out. I’ll leave the keys.”

She reached for her door handle, but he shut his door, grabbed her arm and hauled her back with a terse comment, “Uh-uh. Stay here. Drive.”

“But—” Idiot, idiot, idiot, the terrified half of her mind screamed at her. What are you, arguing with a madman? While the calm and collected, FBI-stepdad-trained half of her said, Stay alert. Do what he says until you can find a way out. You can find a way out. “But if you have the car, you don’t need me. You’ll only make things worse for yourself if you take me, too. You can have my purse, my cash—half my bank account’s in there—just let me get out—”

The gun hidden by his sweatshirt made a swift, hard impression beneath her ribs. She looked at him. His eyes were flat, his voice low and intense, terrifying. “Drive,” he said. “Now.”

Allyn swallowed. Becky, she thought, I’m in trouble. Can you hear me?

Sweet mother of God, she hoped Becky’s twin radar was in tune now, the way the two of them had always been tuned to each other’s frights in the past—and that her sister would somehow be able to focus in on where Allyn was, then figure a way to convince their overprotective stepfather to respond that didn’t involve calling out the National Guard.

Eyes never leaving the car jacker’s face, Allyn swallowed again and nodded. “Where?”

Mental note, she advised herself furiously, detours to visit friends in Baltimore don’t pay.

Jeth “never-call-me-Jethro” Levoie took his first look at the person he’d decided would be his and his burden’s salvation and knew without doubt he’d made the biggest mistake of his life.

The woman who’d left the doors of her dusty Saturn unlocked as if in open invitation to him viewed him through eyes filled with a shock and fright that was quickly replaced with an intelligence that bore just the right amount of fear to make her both careful and dangerous. She would do what he told her only as long as it suited her before she figured out how to dump him unconscious on his head in the nearest ditch and go for help. And then she’d do him as much damage as possible.

“Turn right,” he said, refusing to swallow, to reveal his own suddenly increased, cotton-mouthed fears. Heck, he was the one with the gun here, after all. What did he have to be dry-mouthed about? “Don’t wait for the light. Then floor it. Take the first left. Drive until I tell you to turn. Do it.”

Damn, what had he done?

The only thing on Jeth’s mind this morning when he’d eased his way out of the row house had been to get the toddler now sleeping in his duffel bag out of the crack house where the boy had been kept for the two weeks since his mother had sold him to her dealers in exchange for a cleared debt and two days’ worth of fixin’s. And now Jeth had this.

The possibility of stealing a two-year-old and car jacking a civilian hadn’t even entered his mind when he’d accepted the assignment to go undercover. The Baltimore prosecutor’s office had wanted him to look into allegations of corruption among the Drug Enforcement Agents working a major operation in Baltimore’s interior.

For one thing, Jeth didn’t do kids, and he’d considered civilian women of any age off-limits big-time since the day his youngest sister was killed three years ago by some goons looking for him. He’d tried, in fact, with everything he had to put that particular incident behind him and go forward with the knowledge of innocent blood staining his hands.

He’d used Marcy’s death to keep himself sharp and focused, to make sure innocence never tainted his hands again. But today he’d figured that, just for a minute, in these extreme circumstances and for the protection of the toddler for whom he’d assumed responsibility, a civilian woman, an unwary traveler alone, would be his best option for getting away clean—or as clean as would be possible under impossible circumstances.

For better or worse, he’d figured that maybe there would be some way to convince a woman to keep quiet, appeal to her maternal instincts where the child was concerned, but this woman… Hell, by choosing this woman he’d screwed up big-time, he could feel it in his gut.

His gut had rarely ever been wrong.

Damn, he was stuck now. No real good way to get this woman to drop him off so he could car jack a more likely prospect—or even simply steal a car. Besides, he was in too much hurry to waste time trying to find a car to steal. Not to mention that carting a kid about in a duffel bag—even a kid as tiny and undernourished as this one—didn’t exactly make the auto-theft option easier or safer to consider anyway. Nope, he was just flingin’-flangin’-flaming stuck.

The Saturn moved through traffic at a rapid pace, but not at a speed or in any other way that would draw law enforcement attention. Jeth blew out a mental breath; there it was, his worst suspicions confirmed. If this woman was a novice in the art of being car jacked, she was a damned smart one.

He eyed her profile, took in the tightness of her jaw, the determined set of the half of her mouth he could see—the length of curly chestnut hair French-braided from the top of her head to the nape of her long neck to keep it out of her way, then left hanging in carefree abandon from there—and something long ignored inside him tightened. If he’d seen her in a bar, a supermarket, the park, anywhere but here, he’d go out of his way to hit on her, and that was a fact.

No, actually, since hitting on her only implied doing some mild flirting that a guy hoped might lead to a night’s romp in bed, Jeth was pretty certain he’d go out of his way not to hit on her. He’d go out of his way to start a conversation, get to know her and head hip deep and sinking into the quicksand of starting a relationship with her. And if he wound up in over his head, he had the awful sense that he wouldn’t even care.

Judas, he was out of his mind. He didn’t even know her name. He was making use of her like some macho, chauvinistic PI in some old dime novel. And he wanted to slide his hand up along her ribs and let it replace where his gun was.

He blinked. Oh, for the love of… He’d snapped. Totally, completely. So far this morning he’d stolen a kid, blown his cover, car jacked a woman he’d never met but now was contemplating how to go about having a relationship with. What came next? Doing his damnedest to coerce her into a convenient marriage so she couldn’t testify against him when he was inevitably caught and tried for whatever the DEA could come up with and make stick even marginally because he’d fudged up their case?

Providing, that is, that she was single.

He caught himself checking the ring finger on her left hand and cursed himself silently, roundly. Oh, man, he was tired. Had to be it. He’d never be so stupid otherwise. Too much on guard recently…too little sleep waiting for his chance to rescue the kid from hell…the constant talk of women and sex that went on around him combined with a nonexistent love life… Yeah, it all added up. He was a fool. A worn-out, double-lived, paranoid fool.

But at least he could label himself.
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