There was no sure way of telling. Down the hall was another unconscious man wearing only his underwear. Quick conclusion: the men who had been stripped were the real guards. The uniforms were being worn by impostors.
The rat-a-tat of automatic gunfire came from his left.
There were only fourteen rooms on this deluxe level, including a massive suite for the admiral and his wife. The floor plan was a B-shape with the elevators in the middle. Peering around the corner, he spotted the backsides of two uniformed men. When they tried to advance, a single shot repelled them. Lexie? Where did she get the gun?
Mason fired twice and got two hits. Both men reacted but neither went down. They must be wearing Kevlar vests under their uniform shirts. When they turned toward him, he saw Lexie dash across the end of the hallway. He hoped she’d run to the relative safety of her room.
No such luck.
While he and the impostor guards exchanged fire, she circled all the way around and came up behind him. “Mason, do you have another gun?”
“Not for you.”
“Don’t be a jerk. I’ve only got one bullet left.”
“Where’s your room?” he asked.
She pointed behind them and waved her key card. “It’s over here. I’m not sure it’s safe. There are two other thugs who aren’t wearing uniforms. They could be hiding inside.”
They were outnumbered, and the bad guys had more firepower. The best option was to retreat. “Take me to your room, unlock the door and I’ll enter first to make sure it’s safe. Then you follow me in.”
“You and me in the bedroom? Well, that’s the best offer I’ve had in a long time.”
He didn’t take his eyes off the two men who were laying down a steady barrage of gunfire; he didn’t need to look at her to know she was grinning. Calm under pressure, he liked that. What he didn’t like was the way she squatted down and tugged at his pant leg. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for your ankle holster. Aha!” She undid the snap and took his second weapon. “Thanks, I need this.”
She hustled down the hallway, and he followed. At her room, she unlocked the door and stepped aside. He entered, holding his gun with both hands as he searched the bathroom, the closet and under the beds. “All clear.”
Instead of obeying his instructions to follow him inside and lock the door, she braced herself in the doorway and dropped to one knee as she fired down the hallway. It was obvious that she knew what she was doing. Earlier, he’d been wondering if she had self-defense instruction. The answer to that question was a resounding yes. Lexie was dangerous.
When he pulled her inside and closed the door, he noticed the slash of red across her upper arm. “You’re bleeding.”
“Just a graze, but it really stings.” She looked down at the angled cut that dripped blood down to her elbow. “That’s going to leave a scar.”
He dragged a heavy silk-upholstered chair and positioned it in front of the doorway. He added a desk. The barricade would slow down any attacker long enough for him to get off a couple of accurate shots.
From the bathroom, he grabbed a fluffy white hand towel and brought it to where she was sitting on a carved wooden bench in front of a mirrored dressing table. He wrapped the towel around her wounded arm and brushed escaped curls off her forehead. Under her freckles, her complexion had faded to a waxy pale.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
When the energizing effect of adrenaline wore off, he expected her to crash like a rock slide. And he wanted to be there when she unwound, to catch her before she fell, to hold her and tell her that life was going to get better. There was something about her that awakened his protective instincts.
As a rule, he kept his distance from other people and avoided committed relationships. Losing his brother had torn a hole in his heart and made him wary of deep connections. But Lexie’s grin repaired his pain. He wanted to be close to her.
He held her hand, marveling at her slender fingers and the delicate turn of her wrist. His gaze lifted to her dark eyes. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
“I know you’ll do your best.” She shrugged. “Sometimes there’s no way to prevent the bad stuff.”
Though she was acting nonchalant, the hollow echo in her voice surprised him. He could tell that this woman had experienced more than her fair share of tragedy. Immediately curious, he wanted to hear more about her life, her dreams and her plans for the future.
But this wasn’t the right time. Gently, he removed his gun from her clenched fingers. Her vulnerability touched him, but he also appreciated her strength. When she’d needed to be tough, she held off four bad guys—five including the unconscious one outside the elevator. Now she could relax.
He didn’t have that respite. An aggressive burst of gunfire echoed in the corridor like a call to duty. He stuck his earbud back in. Sean was screaming his name, demanding an update and informing Mason that they had a group ready to storm the seventh floor.
Gun in hand, he turned his attention to TST Security business.
Leaving Mason to growl orders on his intercom, Lexie slipped into the bathroom, locked the door and leaned against it. Stillness wrapped around her. Inside this pristine tile and marble cubicle, the gunfire seemed far away.
Exhaling a sigh, she slid down the wall. Sanctuary! Not that she was truly safe. This peaceful feeling was akin to being in the eye of a tornado while danger continued to swirl, but she was glad for the momentary respite—especially glad she’d made it into the bathroom before she swooned like some kind of whimpering Southern belle.
Mason didn’t need to know she was scared. She liked him and wanted him to like her. And something told her that he wasn’t the kind of guy who enjoyed being around girlie girls. She’d seen the gleam in his eye when he watched her taking aim and when he tended to her bullet wound. As if on cue, the red-stained towel fell from her arm. Oozing blood smeared and saturated the blue fabric of her jumpsuit.
“Bummer.” This was one of her favorite outfits.
It didn’t hurt. Not much, anyway. But her body was having a reaction that was out of proportion to the injury. Was this some kind of panic attack? She was acutely tense. Her muscles twisted into knots. Her gut clenched. Other symptoms slammed into her, one after the other. She was light-headed. Her breathing was labored, and she smelled the odor of rotting meat. The inside of her mouth tasted like ash. Shivers twitched across her shoulders.
Her spine buckled, and she ratcheted down to the floor. She lay on her side with her wounded arm up, the white marble cooling her cheek. She tried to breathe deeply and calm herself. But she was too tense...and too cold, ice-cold. Her fists clenched between her breasts. Her pulse pounded. She pinched her eyes closed, hoping to blot out the terrible fear that threatened to overwhelm her.
She had to get control. I’m going to be all right. No matter how many times her conscious mind repeated those words, a deeper place in her soul didn’t believe it. I won’t die. СКАЧАТЬ