He felt the Saturn slow slightly, hesitating.
“Turn here?” the woman asked, glancing at him.
Jeth forced himself not to note the all-too-evocative huskiness of her voice or the unnerving depths of the one green, one blue eye looking at him, and nodded. “Drive. I’ll tell you where to turn next.”
God bless the universe, Jeth swore. Where in Satan’s hell had he mislaid his mind?
Trying to keep her mind clear and focused, Allyn drove automatically, noting pedestrians and traffic signals, paying only enough attention to where she was to make sure she wasn’t passing any of Baltimore’s police precinct houses. Finding a spot with a lot of cops around seemed like a promising way to dump this situation.
Or maybe not. A lot of cops around meant the possibility of a lot more casualties than just her. She’d never particularly thought of herself as either noble or heroic, but the idea of bringing a man desperate enough to car jack her at gunpoint into an arena of even more weaponry suddenly didn’t appeal as strongly as she’d supposed it might. She didn’t want anyone shot or killed. And she knew, because it was one of the things Gabriel had taught her, that minimizing a situation like this was not only possible, but plausible.
She let her eyes flick carefully toward the rearview mirror where she could glimpse only a small portion of her kidnapper. Her lungs were tight, the muscles in her throat contracted to keep from breathing him in. He still had the gun in her ribs, but a significant portion of her mind was traitorously occupied with the taste the scent of him left on the back of her tongue. Never in her life had she inhaled anything that matched him.
Probably fear, the incorrigible half of her brain said, and snorted. His and yours.
The thought, unexpected as it was, caused Allyn’s mouth to quirk sideways, made her relax. So she liked the taste of fear—or was it adrenaline—did she? Well, that was something she wouldn’t have thought of herself.
Always before she’d considered her life a matter of choosing the safer path: ordered, straight, narrow-paved and without potholes. Now all of a sudden she’d hit a totally unforeseen and rather dangerous chuckhole, and she found it terrifying but interesting.
And downright exciting.
Mentally rolling her eyes at herself, Allyn risked another glance at her abductor. His face was turned mostly away from her while he did something to adjust the bundle in the back seat. There was strain in the set of his shoulders, obvious strength in the cord of muscles along his arm and neck when he struggled one-handed with the duffel bag. She heard the light whishk draw of a well-soaped zipper, felt rather than saw the man beside her strain harder for a moment before relaxing slightly. His left arm remained stretched over the seat, apparently to keep his bag propped upright.
Curious, Allyn stretched her neck slightly to see what divided his attention. A bag full of ill-gotten cash? Drugs? Some rare and priceless artifact? Or maybe it was—
Her heart caught, slammed upward into her throat and started to pound. Her foot reflexively pressed the gas pedal, hands stuttered on the steering wheel, and the car veered sideways toward a power pole. A baby. Oh, holy mother. Oh, sweet merry Christmas. However unwillingly, she was aiding and abetting someone whose picture would wind up on a milk carton alongside somebody else’s baby’s. She couldn’t let him do this, couldn’t let him threaten a child. She had to do something, she had to—
In one swift move the man beside her jerked, dumped his weapon and grabbed the steering wheel, forced the car away from the pole, out of the line of oncoming traffic and into a side street lined with houses, cars and scraggly trees. Tires squealed as the Saturn swerved back and forth, jockeying a none-too-straight path down the street. A lone, early morning cyclist swiveled hard between two parked cars and over the curb to avoid them.
Allyn’s captor swore and reached for her clam-digger-clad knee. “Get your damned foot off the freaking gas,” he ordered, yanking the steering wheel so they skidded into the empty school parking lot at the end of the street.
“Quit telling me what to do, you baby-stealing bastard,” Allyn retorted. With a furious twist she wrenched control of the Saturn back. Nobody who kidnapped kids for a living was getting away with it on her watch.
She spun the steering wheel hard, sending the car into a controlled sideways skid over the parking lot gravel, gave the wheel a second tug and stamped on the brakes. Unbalanced by trying to keep the duffel-bagged toddler safely on the rear seat, the man rocked back and forth across the seat, then banged forward into the dashboard before winding up on the floor. Momentarily stunned, he waited a fraction too long to regain control of the situation. Before he could react, Allyn did something she’d done only once before in her life—and that was at her stepfather’s insistence when he’d taken her to the shooting range to teach her how to handle them. She picked up her captor’s weapon. Then she got out of the car and did something she’d never before done: pointed the gun at a human being and threatened him with it.
“Get out of my car,” she told him flatly.
Jeth viewed her, stunned, trying to decide whether or not she’d actually use the weapon. Hard to tell. He couldn’t read her eyes from here, but she certainly held his Browning properly.
Like she knew exactly how much kick to expect from it.
Her weight was well balanced, two-handed grip classic and firm. Nuts, the functioning half of his brain thought. One of the new breed of women who believed in handling their own affairs—and being responsible for their own safety in all ways. Her mother was probably a member of the women’s lib generation. Damned do-it-yourself bra burners had a lot to answer for. Blasted woman probably believed in the turkey-baster school of procreation, too.
Good grief. Jeth shook his head lightly, checking for dizziness and nausea. Where had that come from? Must have hit his head harder than it felt like to even bring that thought up at a time like this. Especially when he had greater things to worry about.
Like if anybody from this neighborhood saw her with the gun, witnessed this standoff, they were well and truly cooked.
If the local cops got involved in this so, undoubtedly, would his own chain of command which, at the moment, included the FBI as well as the DEA and a few other agencies he wasn’t particularly comfortable with. Because whichever one got hold of him first would not only put his head in a basket, but they’d take the kid from him and put the baby—Sasha, Jeth thought that’s what he’d heard the boy called—back smack where Jeth had found him. And that, above all, was not going to happen. Because even if the locals were willing to take Sasha into protective custody, Jeth had seen politics win out too often to be willing to risk Sasha’s life anywhere but with him.
A tad arrogant, perhaps, to think that he could protect Sasha better than an entire unit of cops, but it was his experience that the fewer people in on a plan, the fewer places for leaks to pop up. And since he was currently the acting Dutch boy with his finger jammed into the dike, that made him Sasha’s best chance for survival.
The way it should have made him Marcy’s. He forced the thought aside. Now if only he hadn’t gone and screwed things up by choosing the wrong car to hop into.
Focus, babe, he commanded himself. Don’t let it get away from you. Probably ought to be glad the damned woman hadn’t chambered a round before she’d drawn down on him. Take it slow and easy. Don’t spook her. Gotta check the kid.
He held up his hands, offering appeasement. “Be careful with that thing, okay? I just want to get up and see if the kid’s all right.”
“He’s still in the bag on the back seat,” she said, as though he were an idiot to think otherwise. “Get out of the car and spread it across the hood. I’ll make sure you haven’t done him any permanent damage.”
Spread it across the hood? Jeth’s eyebrows crooked, and a startled grin trickled through him. He controlled the almost amusement before it reached his face. God almighty Moses, what had he gotten himself into? Sheesh, she probably carried a badge and handcuffs, too. And wouldn’t that just be super.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“The person with the gun gets to say what happens next,” she said coolly. “That’s me.”
He stared at her, disbelieving.
She shrugged, less a movement than an attitude. “You made the rules. I’m following them.” Then, when he still didn’t move, she motioned with her chin, not taking her eyes off Jeth. “Go on, back out that side.” She slid her thumb up to make sure the safety was off the nine millimeter. “Move,” she ordered softly, calmly, in a tone he’d have been foolish to ignore. “I’ve got a kid to look at.”
Oh, yeah, she was dead serious—or he was about to be. His gut was right on about this one—too late to do him any good, true, but right on nonetheless. She was afraid, but not so much that the fear had stopped her from thinking—or acting. Which meant he was deep in it now. Better come up with a way to make this work—for her sake as well as his, and to his and Sasha’s advantage, and fast, because if she found a way to take off with the kid but without him and the guys he was running from found out and caught up with her… Well, he didn’t want to think what that could mean.
His brain was full of the vivid images of what that could mean. Not nice people, these guys he’d rescued Sasha from. Cannibals and headhunters had better manners. So even did the men who’d killed Marcy.
“Look,” he said, sliding onto the seat and reaching behind him for the door handle. “I know what this looks like, but it isn’t what it seems. Well, it is, but there’s a reason for it. A good one.”
She looked at him over the top of the car as he rose out of it at the same time she reached inside and flipped the driver’s seat forward. “You’ve got a good reason for car jacking, kidnapping and baby snatching? Don’t tell me, let me guess. Ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, current girlfriend doesn’t want your child but has full custody and hates you enough not to let you see him. Or she wants your child, has full custody and won’t let you see him. Or she has full custody but is abusive and you snatched the baby for his own good. Or you’re gay and you didn’t find out until after your marriage ended and your ex won’t give you access—”
Startled once again, Jeth snorted. “I’m not gay.”
He thought he heard her mutter good before she said, “Fine, you’re straight. Pick one of the other scenarios, then.”
“Scenarios?” he asked, incredulous. Who talked like that? “How much TV do you watch?” Only FBI agents and people who watched too many FBI shows on TV, maybe a few corporate executives with delusions of danger talked like that. And he had the distinct feeling she wasn’t among either of the latter. Judas, she couldn’t be with the bureau, could she?
He could almost feel the grave opening at his feet ready to welcome him.
“How ’bout I pick E as in none of the above?” he asked.
“How ’bout you spread your legs, stretch out across the hood of my car facedown and lace your hands behind your head?” she returned.
Oh, yeah, Jeth thought, reluctantly doing as he was told. Deep in it and getting deeper all the time. Much as he hated to do it, he was going to have to tell her the truth.