“You want to tell me how the hell we got into this mess?” Jackson Deveau demanded as he whipped his arm around Jonas Harrington’s waist and half-dragged him toward the flimsy cover of an industrial garbage container. “We have a nice comfy job on the Mendocino coast and you decide you’re bored out of your mind, which is pure bullshit by the way. You’d think getting shot once was enough for you.”
If he could have answered, Jonas would have sworn at Jackson, but he only managed a glare as he forced his feet to keep moving. The pain was relentless, stabbing white-hot like a branding iron. He could feel the breath rattling in his lungs, bile rising and reality fading in and out. He had to stay on his feet. He sure as hell wasn’t going to let Jackson pack him out on his back—he’d never hear the end of it. Jackson was right. They’d made new lives, lived good, found a home. What the hell had he been thinking?
Why wasn’t it ever enough for him? Why did he have to keep going back, over and over, dragging Jackson and other men down into the muck and garbage of the world? He was no noble crusader yet time and again he found himself with a gun in his hand, going after the bad guys. He was weary to death of his need to save the world. He didn’t save anyone, he only got good men killed.
The alley was dark, the shadow of the surrounding buildings rising above the small lane turning the edges black. They kept the garbage container between them and the street where it seemed everyone with a gun and a knife was hunting them. Jackson propped him up against a wall that smelled of times Jonas didn’t want to remember, where blood, death and urine all mixed together into one potent brew.
Jackson checked their ammo situation. “Can you focus enough to shoot, Jonas?”
That was Jackson, all business. He wanted the hell out of there and was going to make it happen. The men hunting them had no way of knowing they had a tiger by the tail. When Jackson used that particular tone of voice, men died, pure and simple.
They had to get past the entrance of the alley and it was blocked by the Russian mobsters. It had been a recon mission. Nothing more. They weren’t supposed to be seen—damn it—they hadn’t
been seen—but it had all gone to hell fast, turning into a bloodbath.
They’d come to film what was supposed to be a few low level Tarasov soldiers meeting with a couple of Nikitin’s soldiers on the docks in San Francisco. An undercover agent had informed Gray and he wanted to know why the two rival families would be meeting. Jonas’s first twinge of alarm came when he recognized the Gadiyan brothers among the participants. There was nothing low level about them. Brothers-in-law to Boris and Petr Tarasov, they were definitely the upper echelon in the murderous crime family, enforcers reputed to be so bloody and violent, that even men in the Tarasov family avoided them. And when Boris stepped out of the shadows with his brother, Petr, their nephew, Karl, close behind to ensure their safety, Jonas knew something big was going down. Karl was reputed to be far, far worse than the Gadiyan brothers.
Jonas and Jackson had looked at each other with their guts churning and hearts pounding because they were right in the middle of a hornet’s nest with no way out. The group of Russian mobsters stood for a moment, all laughing together and then Karl had grabbed one of the men they were conversing with and shoved him to his knees in front of his uncles. It looked to Jonas that all of the men were Tarasov soldiers. He couldn’t identify the man Karl had singled out. His face was in the shadows and it all happened too fast. Petr calmly pulled out a gun and shot him in the head without a single word. The violence had been swift and ugly, with no warning at all.
Jonas and Jackson had gotten the murder on tape and were looking for a way out when another man walked onto the dock. He obviously was aware of the camera, his face hidden, a long bulky coat covering his body. Keeping his face averted, he talked briefly with the Tarasovs and then everything went to hell fast. Karl Tarasov had reacted instantly, sprinting toward the road, finding their car and driver and executing him without preamble. Bullets were flying as the Russians spread out and began to hunt Jonas and Jackson. Jonas took two hits, neither should have been serious, but he was losing enough blood to make the wounds fatal if he didn’t get help fast. Jackson had two knife streaks across his belly and chest, injuries suffered as they fought their way off the docks into the alley. The mobsters wanted the film back.
No way were they getting it
Jackson slapped a full clip into Jonas’s gun and shoved the gun into his hand. “You’re good to go.” He slammed home a full magazine and shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet. “I’m going up top for a few, Jonas. You put another pressure bandage on the wound in your side and no matter what, stay on your feet. I’m going to shake things up a bit in a few minutes and you’ve got to be ready to run.”
Jonas nodded. Sweat dripped off his face and beaded on his body. Yeah. He was ready to run—and fall flat on his face—but he’d keep his feet and the gun and back Jackson in whatever crazy scheme he had. Because, in the end, he could always count on Jackson.
Jackson melted into the night soundlessly, the way he always did. He had come home with Jonas when they’d both been sick to death of the life of living in the shadows—when Jonas just flat out missed the hell out of his adopted family. They’d joined the sheriff’s department and lived a cushy life until Jonas had gotten himself shot on the job and became restless and edgy recouping. His old boss, Duncan Gray, from a special ops team buried deep in the defense department had come asking. Jackson would have given him a hard look and they would have stayed safe. But no, Duncan had known to come to Jonas, because he fell for the ‘we need you’ line every damn time.
It was a hell of a thing he’d done, pulling Jackson into this mess. And it wasn’t the way he’d planned to die, a soft recon on Nikitin’s rival mob to see who was coming and going and why. Nothing special, but here they were, shot to hell, and blood leaking out all over the place. Jonas opened the packet to the pressure bandage with his teeth and spit out the wrapper, slapping it in place before he could think too much about.
Fire ripped through him, stabbing so deep his body shuddered in reaction. He had to hold himself up by gripping the garbage retainer hard—and wasn’t that sanitary? Damn, he was in real trouble this time. He stood swaying, the only thing steady was his gun hand.
Reaching into his shirt pocket he pulled out a photograph, the single one he carried, the one that mattered. He should have destroyed it. He could see his own face, the terrible raw truth caught on film. He was staring down at a woman and the love on his face, the stark hunger, was so evident it was a betrayal, there for everyone—even him—to see. His finger glided over the glossy paper, leaving a smear of blood. Hannah Drake. Supermodel. A woman with extraordinary, magical gifts. A woman so far out of reach he might as well try to pull the moon from the sky.
He heard footsteps and the whisper of clothing sliding against the wall. Ramming the photograph back in the pocket of his shirt, close to his heart, he shook his head to clear it. More sweat dripped into his eyes and he wiped it away. The hard asses were coming in first, staying to the shadows but definitely advancing. The sweat stung his eyes and blood ran steadily from his side down his leg, mingling with the rain that had begun to come down in a relentless pour. He steadied the gun and waited.
At the end of the alley, a man dropped and the first shot rang out almost simultaneously. Jackson was hell on wheels at that distance. Lying up on top of the roof, he could just pick them off if they were stupid enough to keep coming—and they were. Jonas took his time, waiting for a muzzle flash as one of them gave his position away by firing up at Jackson. Jonas squeezed and the count was two for them, but the entrance to the alley still looked a long way away when the stabbing fire was spreading through his body and his blood was leaking all over the ground.
Don’t be such a pansy ass. You’re not going to die in this dirty alley cut down by a few low life rats. Geez.
He spoke sternly to himself, hoping the pep talk would keep him from doing a face plant in the muck. The trouble was, these weren’t just low life rats, they were the real deal, trained in tactics just as Jackson and he had been and they were going for the rooftop too. He heard sounds in the building behind him—the building that should have been a warehouse empty of people.
The murder caught on that video tape tonight was worth a lot of lives. Jackson fired again and another body dropped. No one had ever gotten anything worthwhile on the Tarasov family. Jonas waited for the flash of return fire, but not a single bullet was fired. He groaned softly as realization hit him. They knew his position exactly
. He should have moved the moment he’d fired. He was even further gone than he’d thought. He swallowed hard and stayed low, trying to be a part of the retainer, knowing he had to get out of there, but afraid his legs wouldn’t hold. A wave of dizziness hit him hard, nearly putting him on the ground. He hung on grimly, breathing deeply, desperate to stay on his feet. Once he went down, he’d never be able to get back up.
Jackson came out of the shadows, blood dripping from his chest and arm, his face grim, eyes savage. He touched his knife and drew a line across his throat, indicating another kill—and that kill had come between Jackson and Jonas which meant they were surrounded. He held up four fingers and directed Jonas’s attention to two positions close and two behind them. He pointed up.
Jonas felt his heart skip a beat. No freakin way was he going to climb a fire escape ladder three stories up. He doubted if he could have run the gauntlet, straight down the alley, but it looked a hell of a lot easier—and shorter, than three stories up. He took a breath, ignored the protest as a thousand dull knives sawed into his insides, and nodded his assent. It was their only chance to get away clean.
Jonas took a step away from the receptacle, following behind Jackson. One step and his body went ballistic on him, the pain crushing, robbing him of all ability to breathe. Shit. He was going to die in this damn alley and worse, he was going to take Jackson with him—because Jackson would never leave him.
Enemies were closing in from every direction and there was just no way he could climb that ladder. They needed a miracle and they needed it fast. There was only one miracle that he could count on, and he knew she was waiting for his call. She always knew when he was in trouble. Jonas spent a lifetime protecting her, wanting her so bad he woke up night after night, sweating, her name echoing through his bedroom, his body hard and tight and so damned uncomfortable he sometimes wasn’t sure he’d live through the night. But he refused to give in and claim her when he couldn’t stop himself from taking jobs like the one he was on—because he was damned if he’d get her killed.
Still, he had no choice. She was his ace in the hole and he had no other option but to use her, if he wanted to survive. He reached out into the night and connected with a feminine mind. He knew her. He’d always known her. He could picture her in his mind standing on the captain’s walk overlooking the sea, her platinum and gold spiral curls cascading down her long back all the way to her luscious butt, her face serious, gaze on the sea—waiting.
If he inhaled he could breathe her in. She would know he was in trouble. She always knew. And God help him, maybe that was what this was all about. Maybe he had wanted her attention—needed her attention—and this was the only way left to him. Could he be so fucking desperate that he would not only risk his life, but Jackson’s as well? He didn’t know what he was doing anymore.
He knew he touched her mind, that she touched his. That she had known the moment the trouble had started and she had been waiting, steady as a rock, in her own way as reliable as Jackson, she waited only for a direction before striking. Now that she had one, all hell was really going to break lose. Hannah Drake one of seven daughters born to the seventh daughter in a line of extraordinary women. Hannah Drake. Born to be his. Every harsh breath he drew into his lungs, every promise to stay on his feet, to stay alive, he gave for Hannah.
Jackson pointed back toward the building and Jonas swore under his breath. He took a tentative step back toward the shadows, bent over, stomach heaving, tossing up every scrap of anything he’d had to eat or drink in the last few hours. The terrible wrenching sent another wave of dizziness sweeping over him and jackhammers did a macabre tap dance, ripping through his skull. Sweat dripped and blood ran and reality retreated just a little more.
Jackson got an arm under his shoulder. “You need me to pack you out?”
They’d need Jackson’s gun if they were going to make it. Jonas had to find a way to dig deep and stay on his feet, crossing the distance and climbing for freedom with two bullets in him, and a still fresh wound from an earlier gunshot. He shook his head and took another step, leaning heavily on Jackson.
Hannah, baby. It’s now or never.
He sent the silent prayer into the night, because if there was ever a moment that he truly needed her unusual skills—it was now.
The wind answered, rising fast and furious. It blew down the alley with the force of a hurricane, howling and ripping strips of wood off the buildings. Debris swirled, rose into the air and flew in all directions. Cardboard and other trash, hurtled through the air, slamming into anything in its path as the wind made its way to the back of the alley where it curved and began to race in a horrifying circle around and around, faster and faster, building more speed and ferocity. The wind never touched either Jackson or Jonas, rather, it moved around them, creating a cocoon, building a shield where dirt and debris churned to form a barrier between them and the world.
Two little words, wrapped up in silks and satin and soft colors.
“We’ve got to move,” Jackson said.
Jonas forced his feet to keep shuffling, every step wrenching at his insides, the pain grinding through his body until he could only clench his teeth and try to breathe it away. His efforts didn’t work. Hannah. Baby. I don’t think I’m going to make it home to you.
The wind rose to a shriek of protest, throwing everything in its path into the air. Arms and legs tangled as men went down or slammed into the sides of the buildings along with the debris. Jonas could hear screams and grunts of pain as their enemies, caught out in the unnatural tornado, were tossed about in the fury of the wind.
Jonas stumbled, managed to catch himself, but pain, and the waves of dizziness and nausea were his enemies now. His stomach heaved and the ground tilted. Blackness edged his vision. He stumbled again and this time, he was certain he would go down, his legs turning to rubber, but before he could fall, he felt the pressure of the wind nearly lifting him, supporting him, wrapping him up in safe arms.
He let the wind take his weight and carry him to the ladder. Jackson stepped back to allow Jonas to go up first, all the while, watching the alley and surrounding buildings, squinting against the force of the wind.
Jonas reached up toward the last rung of the ladder and white-hot pain burst through him, driving him to his knees. At once the wind caressed his face, a soft fanning, as if a small hand touched him with gentle fingers. All around him raged a virtual tornado, yet tendrils broke off from the spinning mass and seemed to lift him up in strong arms.
He let Jackson help him to his feet, buoyed by the wind and he tried again, working with Hannah’s windstorm, allowing the strong updrafts to aid him as he bent his knees and leapt to close the gap between him and the lowest rung. The metal struck the palms of his hands and his closed his fingers in a tight grip. The wind pushed and he reached for the next rung before his body could absorb the shock of taking his weight.
Somewhere far off, he heard someone’s hoarse cry of agony. His throat seemed ripped raw and his side on fire, but he let the wind push and push until he was moving up the ladder to the roof. He crawled out onto the roof, praying he wouldn’t have to get up again, knowing he had no choice.
Jackson dropped a hand on his shoulder as Jonas knelt on the roof, fighting for air. “You got another run in you?”
His ears were ringing so loudly, Jonas almost missed the thin whisper. Hell no. Did it look like it? He nodded and set his jaw, struggling back to his feet. The rain was relentless, pouring down on them, driven sideways by the wind, but still they seemed wrapped in a cocoon of protection.
Below, they heard shouts as a few of the braver men tried to follow them up the ladder. The wind built in strength, slamming into the building so hard more windows shattered and the fire escape rattled ominously. The ladder rocked with such force, the screws and bolts began to shake loose and drop toward the street below. The wind caught the small metal pieces and sent them hurtling like lethal missiles at the men attempting to scurry up the rungs.
Men screamed and let go of the ladder, jumping to the ground in an attempt to get away from the blast of bolts rocketing toward them. A few of the bolts drove deep into the wall and others into flesh and bone. The screams grew frantic.
“Damn, Hannah’s royally pissed,” Jackson said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” He got his arm around Jonas and half-lifted him to his feet.
Jonas had to agree. The wind was Hannah’s favorite medium to work with and she could control it. And man, was she controlling it. He didn’t want to think too much about how much of that anger might be directed toward him. He’d promised the Drake sisters he wouldn’t do this kind of work anymore. They’d know he’d dragged Jackson right along with him, and telling them Jackson had insisted on coming along wouldn’t do anything at all to get him off the hook.
He concentrated on his breathing, on counting steps, on anything but the pain as Jackson dragged him across the roof to the edge. Jonas knew what was coming. He was going to have to jump and land on the other rooftop where they could climb down to the street and safety. Hannah would hold the Russian mobsters as long as she could, but only Sarah was in the country to help aid her and Hannah’s strength would eventually give out. She’d be all alone up on the captain’s walk in the cold. He hated that—hated that he’d done that to her.
“Can you make it, Jonas,” Jackson asked, his voice harsh and clipped.
Jonas pictured Hannah standing on the captain’s walk overlooking the sea. Tall. Beautiful. Her large blue eyes fierce as she concentrated, hands in the air, directing the wind as she chanted.
If he couldn’t make it, he wouldn’t get back to Hannah and he hadn’t once told her he loved her. Not once. Not even when she sat by his hospital bed giving up her strength for him to recover had he actually said the words. He’d thought them, dreamt of saying them, once he’d even started to, but he didn’t want to chance losing her so he’d remained silent.
He protected people—it was what he did—who he was. Above all, he protected Hannah—even from himself. His emotions were always intense—his beserker rages—his need of her—the stark desire he felt when he thought of her. He had learned to shield his emotions from her almost from the time he was a boy, when he’d realized she was an empath and it hurt her to read people all the time. He’d been hiding his feelings for so long it was second nature to him and no matter the opportunity, he always fell back on the old excuse that his job would put her in danger.
It seemed pretty stupid now—especially when he called on her for help. He pulled his hand away from his side and looked at the thick blood covering his palm. Not bothering to answer Jackson, Jonas he took a breath and leapt, the wind behind him, pushing hard so that his body was flung onto the other roof. He couldn’t keep his feet or even begin to land gracefully. He went down hard, face first, the air driven from his lungs and pain burning through his body like a hot brand.
The dark closed in, fighting for supremacy, trying to drag him under. He wanted it—the peace of oblivion, but the wind whipped around him carrying a feminine voice, soft, entreating, enticing. She whispered to him as the wind ruffled his hair and caressed his nape. Come home to me. Come home.
His gut clenched and he fought his way to his knees, his stomach heaving again. Jackson hooked a hand under his arm. “I’ll carry you.”
Off the roof. Down to the street. Jackson would do it too, but Jonas wasn’t going to take any more chances with his best friend’s life. He shook his head and forced his body to the edge. He had nothing left but survival instinct and sheer will. He found the fire escape ladder and began his descent, every step jarring, his body screaming. The waves of dizziness and nausea began to blend together until he couldn’t really tell them apart. His head felt light and the ground seemed far away, reality distancing itself further and further until he simply let go and floated.
Somewhere far away he thought he heard a woman’s cry. Jackson echoed it and a hand caught the back of his shirt roughly, the sudden jar sending him right over the edge into the darkness. The last thing he heard was the sound of the wind rushing at him.
**************** ******************** *******************
Hannah Drake stood on the captain’s walk overlooking the dark, churning sea, arms raised as she drew the wind to her, channeled it and sent it racing across the night to Jonas Harrington. Fear and anger mixed together, two powerful emotions, thundering through her heart, racing through her bloodstream to make a high octane brew, adding fuel to the power of the wind. Tiny pinpoints of light lit up the sky around her fingers as she continued to gather and direct the force to her bidding.
Far below her, sea spray rose into the air as waves crashed against rocks. The ocean heaved and rocked, spawning small cyclones, twisters racing across the surface, twin columns of whirling water raging right along with her.
She heard Jonas’s voice in her head, the sound a caress, a soft brushing note that both warmed her and sent a chill through her body. It sounded too close to good-by. Sheer terror swept through her. She couldn’t imagine life without Jonas. What was wrong? She’d woken up with her heart pounding and his name on her lips. She’d known something terrible was happening, that his life was in danger. Sometimes, it seemed to her that his life was always in danger. “Oh, Jonas,” she whispered aloud, “why do you feel the need to do these things?”
The wind snatched her question and flung it out over the sea. Her hands trembled and she bit her lip hard to maintain control. She had to get him home in one piece. Whatever he was up to, it was terrible. When he opened his mind to hers, when they connected, she only caught brief glimpses inside, as if he had compartmentalized his feelings and memories as hastily as possible. She saw pain and blood and felt his rage in a brief cataclysmic flash he cut off abruptly.
She needed direction to keep him safe and she found and maintained it through Jackson. He was more open to a psychic connection when Jonas was too worried about her using her energy up. Jackson let her see the layout of the alley, the condition Jonas was in, the building they had to climb.
She sent a small acknowledgement, using warmth and color, knowing Jackson would understand, and once again lifted her arms. She commanded the five elements, Earth, the most physical of all elements, fire, both powerful and frightening, air, always moving, her favorite, her constant companion and guide, providing visualization, concentration and the power of the four winds, water, the psychic mind and of course spirit, the binding force of the Universe itself.
Hannah, baby, it’s now or never.
Hannah took a deep cleansing breath and harnessed the power of the wind, aiming and focusing, using her mind to draw the elements to aid her. She whispered a small prayer of thanks and opened herself to the universe and all the potential force she could gather to aid Jonas. The air above her thickened and darkened, clouds beginning to boil and bubble in an angry brew. Electricity flashed and sizzled along the edges of the heaviest clouds and the wind began to pick up even more, so that the cyclones out at sea grew taller and spun faster across the water.
Terror squeezed her heart and knotted her stomach. She couldn’t imagine her life without Jonas in it. He was arrogant and bossy and always wanted his way, but he was also the most protective and caring man she’d ever met. How many years was this going to go on? How many times would he risk his life before it would be one time too many?
She whispered it in her head, sent Jonas the message, wrapped it in soft, warm colors and hoped the simple request would convey so much more. The wind picked up on her fear—on her anger as she received another flash of sight from Jackson. The two men were going up a ladder and Jonas faltered. Her heart stuttered as she saw him go down.
Hannah. Baby. I don’t think I’m going to make it home to you.
Her heart nearly stopped. For a moment there was a lull in the storm and then fury swept through her and she let it build, that terrible need for retribution that was a well inside of her, bursting open, shattering every restraint she kept so carefully on herself. She built the wind to a ferocious pitch, a shattering fury that raced through the night to crash down like a hungry tornado in that backstreet alley so far away.
The gale chased hapless men with puny weapons that were useless against the forces of nature. The violent gusts smashed windows and sent glass raining down. Boards were picked up and thrown as if an unruly child threw a tantrum. Sweet angelic Hannah directed it all, her flashes of fury sending Jonas’s enemies crashing to the ground, helpless under the onslaught of wind and rain and even icy hail.
In the midst of it all, she felt Jonas slip, move farther from her, pain knifing through him—through her, the connection beginning to tear. She sent a steady air-stream to lift him, the currents carrying him higher, shoving him up the side of the building to the roof and freedom. She teased at his face and neck with ruffles of a smaller breeze to try to keep him alert long enough for Jackson to get them both to safety.
She felt him gathering himself for one last huge effort and she sent one last blast of wind to coil around him and take him across one rooftop to the other. She felt the burst of tearing pain, an agony knocking her to her knees. She gasped, tears blurring her vision, running freely down her face. Come home to me. Come home to me.
The plea was edged in reds and golds, blazing with light and need.
She felt his reaction, the struggle to his feet, the fight to keep dizziness from taking over—the determination that he would make it back in one piece. There was another burst of pain and he slipped even more, darkness edging her vision. Desperate, she sent the wind, a rush of air to wrap around him and then the darkness took her too.