But a real hunter would never stay at a place like this. Not with the golf course, the fake Persian rugs, the ornate imitation antique furniture and the kitschy Old West touches, like brass spittoons. Spittoons? This pricey hotel didn’t allow smoking, much less chewing tobacco.
“You ticked off that bodyguard,” said the twin named Caine.
“He’ll get over it.”
The other twin—who she always thought should have been named Abel but was actually Shane—tilted his head to one side and gave her a freakishly mature look. “I think you like that bodyguard.”
How could he possibly know that? The kid was right, of course. She was drawn to Mason like a spinster moth to a muscular flame, but she didn’t intend to discuss her personal feelings with the kids. “Mr. Steele seems like a nice man.”
Caine tugged her right arm. “You really like him.”
Shane snickered. “You want to marry him.”
Ignoring the twins, she stared at the lighted numbers for the floors as they passed the fourth. An interruption would be most welcome, but she wasn’t having any such luck. The twin monsters prattled back and forth about how she wanted to kiss Mason and “do it” with him, about how she was in love with him.
Though tempted to respond with a childish and extra loud “am not,” she kept her voice trained to a calm level. “That’s enough.”
“But we got more, lots more.”
“If I hear another word from either of you, there will be no pizza tonight, no ice cream, no TV, no computer games, no nothing. We clear?”
They went silent, nodded and stood up straight. Though the boys were only ten, they’d had a growth spurt and were almost as tall as she was at five feet three inches. Like golden retriever puppies, their feet and hands were too large for their gangly bodies. Someday they’d be huge, handsome dudes like their matinee idol father.
She liked big men, but not big babies like the twins’ irresponsible daddy. She preferred a guy like Mason who was physically fit and in the business of protecting other people. A steady, stable guy, someone she could count on, a man she could trust.
Rein it in, Lexie. Sure, Mason was handsome with his buzz haircut and his square jaw and his butane-blue eyes. But she knew nothing about his character. He might be a cheat or a liar. Being drawn to him wouldn’t be the first time she’d been fooled by a man with a pretty face and muscular shoulders.
With a scowl, she reminded herself that she had no proof that Anton Karpov had betrayed her. He’d disappeared while doing a job that might be connected with the admiral. That was what he’d told her. Most likely, he’d been lying. The admiral had never heard of Anton and didn’t recognize him from photos.
At the seventh floor, the elevator dinged and the doors swept open. A man in a security guard uniform assigned by the hotel stood waiting, but she didn’t recognize him. He didn’t look like an employee, not with that stubble on his face.
She sensed a threat. She could smell it. Spreading her arms, she kept the twins on the elevator. Down the hall on the left, she glimpsed a body on the floor.
Backing into the elevator again, she said to the phony security man, “Oops, I forgot something.”
When she reached back and hit the elevator button for the lobby, he reacted. His arm blocked the door from closing. He grabbed her shoulder. “You ain’t going nowhere.”
Lexie hit the red alert button for TST Security and said to the twins, “Go to the lobby.”
She shoved the guard in the chest, keeping him away from the twins. Lexie went on the offensive. Her first flying kick was aimed at the guard’s midsection. He bent double. She fired another kick at his right kneecap.
Behind her back, she heard the elevator doors snap shut. The twins were safe. Good, she’d do anything to keep these kids from harm.
The fake guard clutched at his gut. His knee bent sideways as he made a gurgling noise in the back of his throat. Then he collapsed onto the fancy Persian carpet and rolled around while grabbing his injured leg.
She had to move fast. Where there was one thug, there would be others, and she didn’t want to take on the whole gang with no other weapon than her karate skills. Lexie delivered another sharp kick to the head of the first thug. He went limp, unconscious. Since she’d chosen flats instead of pointy-toe stiletto heels for tonight’s event, this fake guard might survive.
She dropped to her knees beside him and yanked his gun from the holster. Aiming high, she fired at two other men who were running toward her.
Her warning shots had the desired effect. The phony hotel guards sought cover, which gave her a few seconds to locate a better position.
* * *
MIDWAY THROUGH HIS elevator ascent with the children, Mason heard the warning squawk from Lexie’s emergency alert button. What the hell? Had she run into trouble on the seventh floor? The sound of gunfire overhead was his answer.
He jabbed the elevator button, stopping the car on the sixth instead of the seventh floor. When the doors opened, he spoke to the other bodyguard. “Take the children to the lobby.”
“What about you?”
“I’m going up.”
Leaving the elevator, he listened to the babble of confused voices coming through his headset. They had all gotten the alert from Lexie. He heard Sean take control inside the banquet hall. Following procedure, Sean ordered most of the other TST guards to the front lobby, where Dylan—who was stationed at the reservation desk—would organize their operation.
The gunfire from above had not abated. What the hell was going on up there? He gave Sean an update. “It’s Mason. I’m going up to the seventh floor where shots are being fired.”
“Copy that,” Dylan responded from the lobby. “I have the twins and the other kids. All secure.”
The children were safe. Good. “What about Lexie, the nanny?”
“The twins say she’s on the seventh floor.”
Mason’s gut clenched. If anything had happened to her because he’d let her take the elevator alone, he would never forgive himself. He spoke into the headset. “I’ll be out of touch for a few minutes.”
He unscrewed the earbud and welcomed the attending silence. His entire focus needed to be on Lexie.
Drawing his gun from the shoulder holster, he sprinted down the hotel corridor and through the door below the red Exit sign. He rushed up the concrete staircase to the seventh floor and eased his way through, moving carefully until he got his bearings.
The difference in decor on each floor was as subtle as the varying shades of beige on the wallpaper above the waist-high wood wainscoting. Antique-looking picture frames held sepia photos from the early 1900s, including many of Theodore Roosevelt, who was known for hunting in the Colorado Rockies and for establishing the National Park Service. Against the wall opposite the elevators was a claw-foot table with a floral arrangement and a teddy bear with the stuffing blown out of its chest. An unconscious man in a hotel uniform lay on the floor. Good guy or bad?СКАЧАТЬ