Into the lair, p.19
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       Into the Lair, p.19

         Part #2 of Falcon Mercenary Group series by Maya Banks
 
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  There wasn’t a part of her lower body he hadn’t covered with his tongue, and Braden was doing his damndest to cover the top.

  As Braden swirled around each nipple again, Ian mimicked his brother’s actions around her clit.

  “Oh!” she cried.

  “That’s it, sweetheart, let it go,” Braden softly encouraged. “Don’t fight it.”

  She closed her eyes tight and arched into both men, wanting more of their intoxicating sweetness. Light. So light. Like a feather stirring in the wind. Each lick sent her higher until finally her entire body tightened and clenched. Then, deafening still. She shattered, her body going slack.

  The ceiling blurred above her. Tears swam in her eyes, and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why she was crying. But weep she did. At first it was light. Silver tears trickled down her cheeks. But then those quiet tears gave way to noisy, messy sobs. Her shoulders shook with abandon.

  Strong arms gathered her close. Two men, holding her between them as they petted and caressed her. Murmured words against her hair, soft and understanding. But she didn’t understand. How could they?

  So much had been released, let go. For so long she’d held it all in, and now it flooded out, a broken dam that had no hope of being repaired.

  Braden held her to his chest, rocking back and forth as he kissed her hair. Ian’s hands were at her back, rolling over her shoulders, his lips pressing to her spine and upward to her nape.

  Then Braden relinquished her into Ian’s arms, and Ian held her as Braden had, touching her, reassuring her. And still she cried, for who or what she didn’t even know. All she knew that the relief was so strong, so sweet. It felt like the first rain in summer after a long July.

  Ian made no effort to hush her. He just let her go, holding her, lending her his strength.

  When finally she quieted, she went limp against him, her strength gone. She tensed, waiting for the questions, the judgment or even the analysis, but they said nothing. Ian continued to stroke her hair as the fire died down to brightly glowing embers.

  He arranged the covers around them, content to just hold her. Nothing had ever felt better. She’d never felt as whole as she did in this moment, as if she’d spent her entire life searching. For this.

  She reached for him, reached up and curled her arms around his neck, wanting to hold him as he’d held her. She tucked her head against his shoulder and looked over at Braden who still sat to the side. Their eyes met, and she found warm acceptance in the liquid green of Braden’s gaze.

  She didn’t smile but neither did he. And then she reached out her hand. He lifted his to meet her halfway. Their fingers twined and their palms met, flush against each other.

  Still holding his hand, she let her eyelids flutter softly downward. They drooped even as she fought to keep them open. Braden rubbed his thumb across the top of her hand then pulled it up to his lips.

  She snuggled deeper into Ian’s arms as his warmth bled into her heart…and soul.

  Her last conscious image was of Braden’s lips pressed to her hand.

  “She’s asleep,” Braden murmured a long moment later.

  Ian shifted carefully and looked down at Katie’s closed eyes. His heart turned over and did funny things in his chest. Then he looked back up at Braden.

  “What just happened here?” he asked quietly.

  Braden lowered her hand, careful not to awaken her. “I think I just decided that I can’t let her go.”

  Ian tensed and held onto her a little tighter. She was draped over him, her body warm and limp. Her soft breathing filled his ears, and he realized that there was no way he would let her go either.

  “What the fuck are we going to do?” he murmured.

  “Fuck if I know,” Braden said grimly. “I’m not going to risk her, Ian. She means…” He broke off and looked away. When he glanced back, Ian could see the emotion swirling in his eyes. “She means too much, more than Esteban. More than a cure.”

  Ian leveled a stare at his brother. “I agree.”

  Braden lifted one eyebrow in question. Ian merely nodded. They both wanted her.

  “Is that going to be a problem?” Ian asked evenly.

  Braden stared for a long moment then finally shook his head. “No,” he said slowly. “It’s not a problem.”

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Katie opened her eyes and blinked to clear away the cobwebs. She’d slept and slept hard, thanks in part to the drugs Ian and Braden had given her, but also their sweet lovemaking.

  She glanced around the living room to see it empty. The fire had been built up again, but the men were nowhere to be found. No sound came from the kitchen, and she frowned as she swung her legs over the side of the couch. Wrapping a blanket around herself, she got up and headed across the living room to the kitchen and did a quick check, but didn’t see them by the stove. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and zeroed in on the front window.

  She carefully pushed aside the worn curtain and peeked out to see Ian and Braden in conversation with Eli and Tits. They were standing beside sleek snowmobiles, and they all wore grim expressions. Had Esteban found them?

  Adrenaline surged. She moved to the door and eased it open the barest of cracks. Given their propensity to protect her, chances were they’d shut up the minute she made her presence known.

  Cold wind blew in, and she levered the door so that it was barely open a slit. Their voices carried to her, faint at first but then louder at intervals.

  “Esteban is on the move. We recorded a sudden burst of activity from men known to be loyal to him. They’re coming here,” Eli said.

  “The bait worked then,” Braden said with a satisfied nod.

  Tits looked up at Ian and Braden. “Does Katie know she’s being used to draw Esteban out?”

  Ian shook his head. “There’s no reason for her to know.”

  “I’d think she’d need to know so she doesn’t inadvertently do anything to endanger herself,” Tits said.

  Braden scowled. “We’re perfectly capable of taking care of Katie. She’s done what she needed to do which is stay with us in one place long enough for Esteban to pick up her trail.”

  The wind kicked up, blowing a smattering of snow. She strained to hear but only caught words.

  Trap.

  Bait.

  Expendable.

  Sacrifice.

  She stared woodenly at the men as they continued to converse, and then Ian and Braden turned to stare at the door. She eased it closed, making sure there was no noise, and then she hurried to the bedroom.

  She sat on the edge of the bed so it would appear she’d just gotten up from the living room and come in here to get dressed. All the while her mind raced to make sense of what she’d been able to pick up from their conversation.

  One part of her was pissed. She wanted to feel angry and betrayed, but that emotion was reserved for relationships. She had nothing invested in them and vice versa.

  She closed her eyes and swallowed the deep disappointment, the betrayal she shouldn’t feel but did. They’d made her no promises, not verbal. They’d made plenty with their bodies, though, promises she’d taken to heart. She didn’t want to feel hurt, but the truth was, she was devastated.

  Still, she didn’t appreciate being a sitting duck. They hadn’t told her anything, and once again, in her naïve stupidity, she hadn’t demanded more. She’d been too caught up in the idea that finally, after years of running, she was enjoying a moment’s respite. A brief escape from fear. When in fact, danger had never left her.

  She was to blame for being too trusting when Gabe had taught her never to trust anyone.

  She blew out her breath and willed herself not to become too emotional. Ian and Braden were doing what it was they did best. Act the mercenaries and use whatever means necessary to take down their target. Even if they’d become everything to her, she wasn’t anything to them, and she couldn’t fool herself into thinking she was. That would get her int
o a lot of trouble, not to mention turn her into a spineless moron. Who was she kidding? She was already there.

  So what was she going to do? It was obvious they didn’t mind sacrificing her if it achieved their objective. She didn’t particularly want to die nor did she want to end up in the middle of a fight that wasn’t hers. Which meant the best idea was to get the hell out of here.

  A few problems. She was in fucking Austria. In the mountains. Lots of snow. No money, no ID. She could stay and wait it out, but if she did, there was no question that she’d place herself in danger. Esteban was coming. For her.

  Her gaze went to the bag on top of the dresser. She did have some cash. Dollars, but still, it was better than nothing. She had her bankcard.

  Excitement stirred in her belly. Braden or Ian, she couldn’t remember which, had mentioned a fake passport when she said she didn’t have one. It hadn’t registered at the time because she honestly hadn’t believed she was leaving the country. But they would have needed something for her.

  She hurried over and rummaged through her bag. Just her stuff, money, cards, her clothes. Not that she thought they would have put her passport with her junk.

  With a quick glance in the direction of the door, which still remained closed, she tore through their bags. There, in the bottom, three passports. She opened one and discarded it, going on to the next.

  Brenda Mullins. A picture that could have been Katie or not stared back at her. It was fuzzy but passable. The woman had the same hair color and features. Someone only giving it a passing glance would be fooled. Bingo.

  She grabbed the passport and stashed it in her bag underneath her clothing. She needed time to formulate a plan of action which meant she was stuck here pretending that nothing was wrong and that she was the same clueless moron she’d been since she arrived.

  At least the sex would be good.

  ***

  Braden stood in the biting cold as he, Ian, Eli and Tits formed their plan of action. The Falcon secondary had positioned itself in a wide radius around the cabin. If Esteban or his men got close, they’d know about it.

  “We need someplace to stash Katie after he’s made his move,” Ian said grimly. “I don’t want her around when the shooting starts. I don’t want her anywhere that she’s in danger. Nothing is worth risking her.”

  Eli nodded. “I understand, but we may not have a choice in the matter. You and Braden can cover her. Tits and I will take care of Esteban. We want him alive. The rest of his men are expendable.”

  “Just understand I won’t sacrifice her for him,” Braden cut in. “We don’t know that he has a cure, and I’m not throwing her to the wolves in order to find out.”

  Ian nodded his agreement.

  Eli studied Braden for a moment and then included Ian in his scrutiny. “You guys seem…calmer. More stable. I don’t know. Something’s different. Are you still taking the sedative?”

  Ian frowned and looked at Braden. Realization was slow in coming. Braden wasn’t sure he understood the implications.

  “We haven’t taken it in days,” Ian said in a low voice.

  “You haven’t shifted?” Eli asked sharply.

  Braden shook his head. “No. I haven’t even felt one coming on. I haven’t felt threatened.”

  Ian continued to stare at Braden, a brooding look on his face. There was hope but also a sense of confusion.

  Braden looked down at his hands and up his arms as if he expected his skin to come alive, the crawling incessant itch that signaled a shift. And yet he felt nothing. He felt…normal.

  “I don’t understand,” he said numbly. “Just days ago we were both so unstable that we had to take turns knocking each other out. Ian killed a man.”

  Tits shrugged. “Don’t knock good fortune. Just keep the drugs handy, unless of course you’re staring at Esteban, and then feel free to let the kitty rip.”

  “Alive,” Eli reminded Tits. “We need him alive. Too much is riding on what he knows.”

  “You know how to ruin happy thoughts,” Tits grumbled. “I was getting all warm and fuzzy over the image of Esteban being kitty food.”

  “I was rather fond of the idea myself,” Braden said.

  Eli offered a half smile. “You can kill him after we’ve extracted the information we need.”

  “I think I just came in my pants,” Tits said.

  “You sure you just didn’t piss yourself in fear?” Braden smirked.

  “Fuck you.” Tits shoved Braden’s shoulder. “Or better yet, let me fuck your girlfriend.”

  Ian’s lip curled into a snarl. His eyes glittered with a feral light as he advanced on Tits.

  “Well, shit,” Tits muttered. “How long did you say it had been since he shifted?”

  Eli grabbed hold of Ian’s arm. “Calm down, man. He was joking.” He glanced at Braden for help, and Braden stepped forward, his hand going over Ian’s shoulder.

  “Why don’t you go back inside,” Braden said quietly. “Check on Katie. Make sure she’s okay.”

  The blaze died in Ian’s eyes and then he swore as he ran a hand through his hair. “Christ,” he muttered. “It’s her. She has us all sorts of fucked up.”

  Tits chuckled. “That’s what a woman does, my man. Puts more knots in your dick than a climbing rope.”

  “Keep us posted, Eli,” Ian said as he started toward the cabin. “I don’t want to be caught with our pants around our ankles.”

  “We’ll let you know if something goes down,” Eli said. “You and Braden stay safe.”

  Braden watched as his brother mounted the steps to the cabin, and then he turned back to Tits and Eli. “He’s right. There’s something about Katie that either soothes us or sets us off. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there it is. Ian is particularly affected. If he thinks Katie’s in danger, he’s completely unpredictable. I’m saying all this because I’m not sure that when this all goes down that either of us will be any help. Which means Katie will be vulnerable. She’s going to need your help if Ian and I are out of commission.”

  Eli put his hand on Braden’s shoulder. “We’ll keep her safe, Braden.”

  Tits nodded his acknowledgement. Then he held up his fist to Braden’s. “We’re going to get on out of here and wait for Esteban to do his thing. Check you later.”

  Braden bumped his fist. Eli and Tits climbed onto the snowmobiles and roared off over the snow, leaving Braden there standing there in the cold. He turned and slowly climbed the steps to the cabin.

  In theory, the idea of using Katie to draw out Esteban was sound. In reality, it sucked. When she was a faceless entity, he had no compunction about using the sister of the man who’d betrayed them to flush out a rat. But she wasn’t a faceless, unimportant factor anymore. He didn’t want her at risk. He didn’t want her here at all. He wanted her someplace safe. He wanted her to have the security she’d never experienced.

  Katie had posed the question. What happened after Esteban was no longer a threat? It was something he’d asked often enough himself. Only now he had the answer. He wasn’t letting her go. Her future was inexorably tied to his and Ian’s.

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Tension she couldn’t ascribe to her own feelings had permeated the cabin. Katie glanced warily in the direction of Ian and Braden. Both men sat at the small table next to the window, eating in silence.

  She’d done an admirable job of pretending complete ignorance. She’d been flirty, casual and relaxed while Ian and Braden had both been quiet, withdrawn and moody. And more protective than ever. She couldn’t piss without one of them hovering. If she hadn’t heard directly from the horse’s mouth what their plans were, she’d still be floundering in ignorance, accepting whatever they doled out and begging for more.

  She shook her head in disgust. Time was running out, and now she was going to be forced to make her move.

  Without a glance in their direction, she slipped into the bedroom. She pressed her hands to her pants to stop the trembling and to dry the
sweat from her palms.

  She touched the two syringes full of the sedative and placed them on the dresser. Then she made sure her bag was packed, her cards, money and passport on top of her clothing. An earlier check outside had yielded two snowmobiles, both with keys in the ignition.

  She could see lights of a distant village further down the mountain from the cabin deck. She’d head there and then get what transportation she could. By the time Ian and Braden regained consciousness, she’d be three countries away.

  New life, fresh start. A chance at redemption.

  Without Gabe. Without Ian and Braden. Pain sucked the air from her lungs. She closed her eyes and held back the dismay clogging her throat. Without Ian and Braden. Nothing had ever hurt so much.

  ***

  Ian closed the satellite receiver and glanced up at Braden. “Esteban is moving in. Personally.”

  Braden’s gaze sharpened and a light of anticipation flared in his eyes. “Arrogant son of a bitch.”

  “He’s moving with a small band of men. If the Falcon secondary can get a bead on him, they’ll eliminate his team and take Esteban alive. Eli and Tits are on their way here. If Esteban makes it all the way to Katie, we want to be sure she doesn’t get caught in the crossfire.”

  “We need to tell her what’s up,” Braden said.

  Ian nodded as he pushed away from the table. His own brand of anticipation singed along his skin. “How are you feeling?” he asked Braden as he paused outside the bedroom door. “We need to be at our best, and our best is not drugged.”

  “I’m good,” Braden said. “Other than the fact that I’m looking forward to kicking some serious ass, I feel pretty calm.”

  Ian blew out his breath in relief. So far so good. Now to stash Katie somewhere she would gain the least amount of exposure.

  The two brothers walked into the bedroom to see Katie sitting on the bed, her hands tucked underneath her legs. She looked up with wary eyes, and Ian couldn’t blame her. He and Braden hadn’t exactly been warm toward her for the last two days.

  He approached her with Braden and cupped a hand to her cheek. “Katie, we need to talk.”

  She launched herself forward, her hands flying out in a blur. Ian felt a stab of pain in his arm even as he stared dumbly at her.

  “What the hell?” Braden roared just as realization of what she had done hit Ian full force.

  Ian staggered back and yanked at the needle still stuck in his arm. She’d pushed the stopper to its limit and injected him with a full dose of the sedative.

  She shot up but Braden grabbed her arm and tossed her back onto the bed. She scooted backward on the mattress, her eyes wild.

  “Katie, what the fuck?” Ian demanded, and then he shook his head. He didn’t have time to ask questions. He had to make her understand what was about to take place. That danger was coming, and now he and Braden would be out of commission.

  Braden staggered and braced himself against the bed. “What have you done?” he whispered. “Why?”

  “I’m not expendable,” Katie said quietly. “My life may not be important to you, but I’m not giving it up that easily. I’ve run too hard for too long to give up now. I won’t be used as bait for Esteban. I’ll no longer be used by any man.”

  Ian’s muscles twitched and seized as the predator locked within the man fought for freedom, fought against the sedative coursing through his veins. Beside him, Braden lunged for Katie. He landed on top of her but she lay there calmly, waiting for him to succumb.

  Ian held his hands to his ears to dim the roaring. He shook his head, trying to shake off the sluggish lethargy stealing over his body.

  “Katie,” he whispered. “You don’t understand. Esteban…coming.”

 
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