A smile shadowed his lips but didn’t show itself plainly. “Probably,” he said. “But it’d slow you down.”
“So does a bag over the head.”
The smile, never really present, disappeared completely. Pat’s grip on her hands tightened, then deliberately loosened. “I will never, never do that to you,” he said. “You believe me?”
She did believe him, and always had—from the moment she’d first seen him on her second birth, she’d somehow believed in his essential goodness. And on impulse, she leaned forward and kissed him—caught him by surprise, for once, and for a second his lips were soft, yielding under hers before pressing forward, parting, meeting hers with equal amounts of need and longing. His tongue stroked gently over her mouth, and there was a buried wildness in her that broke free when she allowed it entrance. His body was tense against hers, and his hands traveled slowly down her sides, curved inward, cupped her hips, and pulled her tighter against him. She had no idea what drew him to her with such constant and consistent force, but it was always there, that buried attraction that required only a moment’s slip of control to surface. It was wildly sexy, but more than the pure attraction of him, there was a kind of beautiful strength to Patrick that she couldn’t begin to define.
Why he wanted her was such a mystery to her, but there was no question in her mind, no question at all, how much she wanted him. She wanted to blot out the world with the red race of pulses and bodies, the damp solace of kisses and sweat and hot, mind-wiping sex. She needed to feel alive, with Pat, now.
But she couldn’t. Because of Annie.
So she sucked in a deep, angry breath and backed away.
McCallister reached for her, but when he saw the look on her face, he let his hands fall back to his knees. He pulled in a deep breath, dropped his head against the cushion of the chair, eyes narrowing. “I still mean it about the zip-ties.” He almost succeeded in making it sound as if nothing had happened between them. Almost. But there was color in his face, and his lips were damp, and she couldn’t stop zeroing in on them.
On the shining focus in his eyes.
“I know,” she said. “And I want to…continue this. But if she’s out there, if Annie’s out there and loose, we need to find her before Mercer can. Please.”
It had been unfair of her to do that to him, but he only nodded and said, “Then we go in five minutes.”
He meant five minutes to tell Liam where they were going, put on body armor (Bryn didn’t need it to survive, but she did admit that not being shot was still preferable), and arm up with what Patrick kept on the premises—almost as complete a selection as Joe Fideli had in his workroom. Patrick and Joe had been friends a long time, and there was no doubt that part of what had built that foundation was how similar their backgrounds were—if they’d served together, they’d never spoken of it, but Bryn wouldn’t have been surprised.
Joe almost certainly provided Patrick’s armory.
It was five minutes on the dot when she met him downstairs. He was holding a shotgun and sliding a handgun into the holster he wore.
“Are you sure that’s enough?” she asked, as she checked her own sidearm. He handed her extra clips for her belt pouch, and after ensuring the magazine was ready and there was a bullet in the chamber, she safetied the weapon and put it away. “Remember who we’re dealing with.”
“I’m well aware,” Pat said. “But your sister’s in the middle of it, and as much as he probably deserves it, we can’t take the risk of killing Mercer. So pick your shots. Joe’s our backup. He’ll have the heavier stuff.”
She hadn’t seen him call Joe, but it didn’t surprise her that he’d managed to fit the call in while her back was turned. As she watched, Pat readied a small bag with more extra clips, shotgun shells, and three sealed preloaded syringes. “You said that Annie didn’t sound so great. She’ll need boosters, if so.”
“No,” he said. “Pharmadene standard’s all we can spare. We don’t have enough of Manny’s to use for anyone but you.”
He strapped on his own bulletproof vest with smooth, competent, almost instinctive motions, and Bryn was suddenly struck by the fact that he was the at-risk one in this equation. She could take a bullet. So could Annie. So could Fast Freddy, Mercer’s slimy little thug, equally Revived.
But not Patrick McCallister. He was still alive, and vulnerable. “Pat, you don’t have to do this with me. I can go alone and just check it out. I promise, I won’t do anything stupid.”
He glanced up at her and smiled—a real smile, one that lit up his eyes, crinkled the skin next to his mouth, and made her shiver somewhere deep. “I’m not that fragile,” he said. “Trust me. And I need the practice.”
She sincerely doubted that last part. Pat looked about as comfortable with weapons as anyone she’d ever seen; his movements with them were precise, careful, and had the grace of incredible familiarity. He’d never told her exactly what his military experience had been, but it must have been far, far more intense than her own. And the fact that he’d survived it without too many visible scars told her that he was either seriously good at it or lucky, or both.
It was a very good combination, if so, because right now, she could use some serious luck.
And so could Annie.
Pat was right about the area of the marina.…It was murky, industrial, poorly lit, and in a part of town where the police traveled in numbers if they came at all. As she braked the dark sedan in a spot as far from the wan security lights as possible, another vehicle coasted to a stop beside her—a big pickup truck, in the same basic, lightless black. She knew it by sight: Joe Fideli’s vehicle. It wasn’t a surprise when he stepped out, dressed for battle in dark gray urban camo, with a black watch cap over his shaved head. As Pat had promised, Joe held the heavy arms: an FN P90, or a look-alike. The military had classified it as a PDW, a personal defense weapon, but it was capable of some fearsome offense and was probably highly illegal to carry around in the wild.
That was the weapon she could see, but she had every confidence that Joe had a selection at his fingertips. He was the kind of Boy Scout who came prepared.
Joe leaned against the bed of his truck as she and Pat got out of the sedan. “Fancy meeting you here,” he said. “Going for a midnight sail?”
“Nobody goes for a midnight sail out of this marina unless their passenger is a hundred pounds of coke,” Pat said. “Thanks for coming out.”
Joe shrugged. “You know. Five hundred channels on TV, nothing’s on. What’s the op?”
“Annie called me,” Bryn said. “She may be out here somewhere.”
Joe looked toward the marina and the bobbing shadows of ill-kept boats. His eyebrows rose, just a little. “Somewhere,” he repeated. “So, very specific intel, then. That’s always just so great. We got a plan, or is it just as poorly defined as our objective?”
“It’s loosey-goosey,” Pat said. “But we haven’t got much of a choice. If she is out there, she’s in trouble and she needs help. Joe, I need you to stay put and watch our backs.”
“Right. I’ll be lurking here, by the transformer. Pat, what channel are you on?”
“Three,” Pat said, and reached up to touch a control on his earpiece. “Test.”
“I don’t get one?” Bryn asked. The two men exchanged a look.
“You don’t leave my sight,” Pat said. “So you don’t need one.”
“Are you kidding? There must be a hundred boats here. If we stick together, we’ll never get through this in time!”
“Nonnegotiable,” Pat said. “Are you coming?” He was already walking away.
Bryn looked to Joe for some kind of support, but he just shrugged. “He’s the boss tonight. Sorry.”
She had to take long strides to catch up, since Pat didn’t slow, but by the time she reached him, she’d calmed down. He was right, of course. This wasn’t an area where either of them needed to be poking around alone. It wasn’t just the risk of Mercer and Fast Freddy getting the drop on them; there were plenty of paranoid, well-armed gun enthusiasts out here protecting drug-related investments. She didn’t see anyone, but she could sense the danger; the shadows were shifting as the boats rose and fell on the waves, and the constant creaks and groans of wood whited out other telltale noises. It was calm in the bay, but never silent.
Pat said, “We start on the right and work our way left. Don’t board any boats without signaling me first.”
She nodded and took a deep breath. She smelled rotting wood, the low-level stench of the still water, a sharp, foreign tang of oil and metal. She had good night vision, but she saw no one moving.
Certainly no sign of Annie at all.
She tried to redial, but got nothing except a recorded message from a robotic operator telling her that the mobile customer she had dialed was unavailable. The phone was switched off, or (just as likely) tossed overboard.…If Annie had been caught, that would have been the most logical thing to do. And then they would have raised anchor and gotten the hell out of here, not waited around for us. Unless, as Pat assumed, it was a trap. Her gut was telling her that this was bad, and turning worse with every passing moment.
But damn her gut. What it boiled down to was that she could not, under any circumstances, let a chance to get Annie back slip away. Not without a fight.
The docks were as slimy and ill maintained as she’d expected, but Bryn had worn thick, gripping boots, and she had no trouble with her footing as they methodically examined the boats. Most were fast, light craft without a cabin; there were only two moored at the first dock that had any chance of holding Annie in concealment, and Bryn slipped aboard each of them and searched. Empty.
The second dock didn’t hold anything of interest, either, but the third was clustered with larger fishing boats (probably not used for fish, these days; she imagined they were prime smuggling vessels). She and Pat were very quietly debating which to choose when he held up a hand for silence, and turned his head slightly to the side.