About how pretense had become reality.
She shook the thought away. Or rather, she almost shook it away. Something in it didn’t want to leave. “We should probably exchange names,” she suggested. “Make it look like we know each other. Then maybe you should tell me who’s out to kill you—and why, don’t leave that out—and therefore by default me and…did you call him Sasha?”
The grin came this time before he could stop it, wry—and a mite sardonic. “Yeah, I did. That’s what his mother called him when she sold him to her dealer. I was there. Jeth Levoie. Special Investigator for the Tucson prosecutor’s office.”
“Yeah. You want some ID?”
She ignored the irony in favor of keeping her wits from deserting her. Daughters’ lives were not supposed to parallel their mothers’, they really weren’t. But here was hers apparently paralleling the single deciding event that had happened seven years ago in Alice’s right down to the finding a man at the side of the road and the you-just-happenedto-be-there-and-I’m-from-out-of-town-and-need-your-help coincidence of it. “Please.”
Muttering something about her being a piece of work, Jeth rummaged around in his bag until he found the flat leather case that contained both his picture identification and his badge and tossed it to her. Allyn inspected it carefully, trying not to let her face betray her while her heart thudded hard against her ribs and her breath went short. Unless it was an elaborate fake—and really, since she’d had her nose stuck in her books and lab work for the best parts of the past seven years, how would she know?—he really was Jeth Levoie out of the Tucson prosecutor’s office.
She flipped the case into the front seat. “Allyn Meyers,” she said. “You’re a long way out of your jurisdiction, Jeth Levoie.”
“Hopefully not for long,” he said grimly. “And anyway—” he slanted a glance over his shoulder at her, giving her another glimpse of a profile she’d have really enjoyed looking at and meeting, getting to know and perhaps flaunting at Becky under other circumstances “—what do you know about jurisdictions?”
She made a face. The subject was at least as distasteful to her as being kidnapped by him. Or rather, actually, as often as she’d heard Gabriel fume over the subject of “co-operative efforts between the jurisdictions,” it was more disagreeable than being abducted by Jeth Levoie. “More than enough to fill a thimble, but not much more. Enough to know that Tucson and Baltimore are a long way apart, and I don’t just mean geographically. So what are you doing here?”
“Exchange program. Nobody knows me here. Same with the guy they sent to Nogales to work undercover in my place down there. You know anything about the Russian Mafia?”
“No.” Thank God. Or maybe not, since it appeared she was about to learn more than she ever wanted to about it.
“What about drug cartels?”
Allyn felt herself blanch. “This is about drug cartels?”
Jeth nodded unhappily. “Yeah, indirectly. Mostly it’s about territory. The Colombians have it, the Russians want it. There’s a war on. Sasha’s mama stuck him in the middle of it. Her ex is with the Russians. Courts gave her full custody in the divorce, but Daddy wants his heir. Her addiction of choice is Colombian cocaine. Her dealer found out who Sasha’s daddy was, sold the information to his source, who instructed him to offer Mama a deal. Sasha in exchange for clearing up the debt from her habit and a few days’ worth of highs. She took it. Sasha’s a hostage. His daddy’s supposed to trade for him, but everything goes kerflooey, and my guys tell me to get Sasha out. Only then I’m told they’ll be the ones exchanging Sasha to the highest bidder for information. I tell ’em no way I can live with that, I’ve seen the shape the kid’s in, so they pull me.”
“But you didn’t stay pulled,” Allyn said.
Something warm and unexpected fuzzed through Allyn. Maybe the body matched other things she’d wanted to see in him, after all. “Good for you.”
He snorted. “If you say so.”
“Hey,” she told him flatly, “I was brought up by practically the Good Samaritan of all Good Samaritans and her sisters and mother and other relatives. I don’t think a whole lot of the way you involved me in this, but I can appreciate the sentiment big time. Accept a compliment when you get one. I bet it doesn’t happen often. Now when are we going to stop and take care of Sasha?”
A chuckle, dry and unwilling, spilled from Jeth. “You don’t quit, do you?”
“Stubbornness is, like, one of my worst features,” Allyn agreed tongue-in-cheek, reverting to the Valley speak practiced in one of her favorite movies. If Sasha was all right, she might actually discover she was enjoying herself—except for Jeth Levoie’s assertion of danger waiting in the wings, of course. “Now when are we stopping? I think he’s starting to wake up. When he does he’s probably not going to be happy to be wet and cold. If he’s sick… I don’t know if you’ve ever traveled with a cranky two-year-old before, but I have. It’s not pleasant.”
“Was it your two-year-old?” Jeth wasn’t sure why it made a difference—except from the standpoint that he didn’t want to deprive another child of its mother. But it was also more than that. It was that ringless left hand niggling uncomfortably at the back of his mind.
Whether this was the time and place or not.
“Not mine, no. Single, never married, no kids.” Then wickedly, because in her estimation he deserved the dig, “Just lots of relatives who’re expecting me to show up in Kentucky sometime tomorrow or the next day. You?”
He heard the denial with a sort of peculiar relief that fastened in his mind on many fronts: no child awaited her return, and neither did a husband. That made her fair game. Reaction to the part about relatives awaiting her arrival was delayed, made his gut wrench when he heard it. No way could he let her go tomorrow or the next day. The only place he felt certain Sasha would be safe was deep in the Grand Canyon reservation where Jeth had grown up, and where tourists needed to schedule visits well in advance and where there was only one real access open to non-natives. It was a place where those who didn’t belong were noticed at once, and where tribal members were friendly but closemouthed and didn’t encourage contact between themselves and the outside world. All of which meant that he had over twenty-three hundred miles to travel before he could even begin to feel Sasha might be safe, and public transport of any sort was out because it was too damned easy to trace. A car, a family off on a summer vacation, that was the way he’d intended to play this, and paying cash all the way. But if she had family that’d be looking for her…
Nuts. He didn’t even have a car seat for Sasha, nor much in the way of clothing for either himself or the baby. Grabbing opportunities when they arose didn’t leave a lot of time for the kind of planning traveling cross-country with a toddler required. He needed this blasted woman he’d stuck himself with—a trace of something soft and elusive swirled around his senses, and he felt himself tighten suddenly—in more ways than he cared to admit.
A lot more ways.
He couldn’t go with her to meet her family. He knew nothing about her, and they sure as hell wouldn’t be expecting their darling Allyn to turn up with a strange man and a sick baby in tow. Not unless they hadn’t seen her in a while, which he doubted, because that wasn’t the way his luck was running today.
But he couldn’t exactly just avoid the issue, either, now, could he?
Damn. You’re tired, but no falling apart. Sort it out, he ordered himself. Take it one thing at a time. You’ve bought a few hours, at least, before anybody figures anything out. Stop for food, clothes and a phone book with a list of free clinics. Make the rest of your plans from there.
He drew a breath. “There any place we can get clothes, food, diapers and a car seat all in one stop?” he asked.
Allyn rocked the beginning-to-whimper Sasha and shook her head. “This is your temporary stomping grounds. I’m just passing through.”
“Pig whistles,” he muttered.
Allyn swallowed the beginnings of a grin. She didn’t think she’d ever heard that particular expression before. “Excuse me?”
“Had to pick a damned out-of-towner. No use whatsoever.”
“I didn’t ask to be picked, you know.”
He grimaced. “True.”
She waited a few beats. “Where have you shopped while you’ve lived here?”
“Corner liquor store, corner grocery store, corner pharmacy.”
Allyn cleared her throat, trying hard not to laugh at how disgruntled he sounded. “I see.”
“I doubt it,” he assured her darkly. Then he sighed, checked the Saturn’s side mirrors and switched lanes, zigzagging through the city toward the expressway where he hoped to find an exit labeled Shopping.
They stopped fourteen miles from Baltimore at a super-store in Ellicott City.
After a fair amount of negotiation over who would go in, Allyn bundled Sasha into the smallest zip-front sweatshirt she had with her. Then all three of them went into the store.
This was what he’d wanted when he’d started out this morning, wasn’t it? Jeth thought. A woman whose mother tiger instincts would come straight to the fore once she took a look at Sasha? He simply hadn’t bargained on finding one who was quite so…uniquely qualified to hand him his head and stir up his senses at the same time.
Or quite so enthusiastic about helping him shop.
As Jeth watched, Allyn spent a fair amount of his cash on hand with a certain flair he found both impressive and frightening—as though she’d been trained by a take-no-prisoners master in the art of procurement. Other than for staples, he shopped as infrequently as possible.
But when she headed into the men’s department, Jeth had the most disturbing sense that he was doomed.
In the parking lot, she’d ransacked his duffel bag, then her suitcases in search of something to diaper Sasha in. What she found had made her roll her eyes and tsk disgustedly at him.