Into the lair, p.3
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       Into the Lair, p.3

         Part #2 of Falcon Mercenary Group series by Maya Banks
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  the bags and then started a weapons check.

  Subject closed. Typical Ian. If he didn’t want to talk about it, he just ignored it until it went away. Braden sighed and walked to the back of the SUV to run down his own weapons.

  They needed to view Katie as a key to a cure, to figuring out how to rid themselves of the beasts lurking inside, waiting to be released at any moment. If they did that, they could put up with any amount of inconvenience.

  And really, if they couldn’t handle one slip of a woman, they needed to fucking quit anyway.

  Chapter Six

  Katie lay on Ricardo’s big bed with a sense of purpose. Even as pain whipped and coiled through her body, her mind focused on what had to be done.

  She shifted and sucked in a painful breath as the movement jarred her abdomen. Ricardo had enjoyed watching as his men hit her. But that wasn’t as bad as what he planned next.

  He wanted her helpless and hurting, completely at his whim and mercy. His men had carried her to Ricardo’s bed and left her. He was going to rape her. There was no pretense, no false arrogance that told him she really wanted him and would welcome his advances. He didn’t want that. He enjoyed inflicting pain and humiliation. Her enjoyment would ruin the experience for him.

  Her gaze fastened on the one window. Her escape route. Few of the other rooms had windows, but here in Ricardo’s domain, there was a large picture window overlooking the rugged terrain of the Uncompahgre Plateau.

  She heard his footsteps, and she tensed in anticipation. She would escape or force him to kill her, but either way, he wouldn’t have her, would not take from her by force what she wasn’t willing to give.

  She’d spent the last two years running, constantly looking over her shoulder, and for what? So she could end up Ricardo’s whore until he tired of torturing her?

  Fuck him and fuck that.

  He appeared at the foot of the bed in a silk robe. How cliché was that? Clearly the man had watched too many mafia movies.

  There was nothing put-on about the look of lust that crowded his eyes or the way he stared at her. The lapels of his robe parted as he pulled at the silk and let it fall to the floor.

  He was aroused, but violence had always been a huge turn-on for him. Katie was convinced that he couldn’t get it up unless he inflicted pain.

  She shrank into the bed, careful to affect the pitiful, injured look she was trying to maintain. Let him see her fear. It would only make him more confident of his power. He underestimated her. He always had.

  The bed dipped under his weight as he climbed onto the mattress. She didn’t move. She waited.

  She adopted an appropriate look of meekness and fear. When he reached out to touch her, she held back the flinch.

  “I told you to undress,” he said in a menacing whisper.

  Yeah, he had, but she couldn’t very well escape naked.

  “But I’m glad you didn’t,” he continued on as his fingers trailed up her arm. “I rather like the idea of tearing your clothes off myself.”

  Just a little further, asshole. Just a little further.

  She held her breath as he leaned forward. His engorged cock brushed against her hip, and she bolted into action.

  She grabbed his erect penis in one hand and twisted violently. She smashed her other hand into his nose.

  His howl of pain was immediate. She rolled until they both fell onto the floor, her on top of him, her hand still wrapped tight around his dick and balls.

  Not giving him any time to recover, she leaped up, grabbed the lamp off the bedside table and smashed it over his head as hard as she could.

  He went limp.

  She didn’t take even a second to savor her victory. She lunged for the bedroom door, flipping the bolt to lock it. His men would have heard him bellow and would be beating down his door in a matter of seconds. She needed those precious seconds.

  After securing the door, she went back to the bed and yanked the comforter off. She moved toward the window, wrapping the blanket around her body as she went.

  The window didn’t open. She’d already tried it. So the only way out was through it. She just hoped she didn’t break anything in the fall from the second story.

  Desperate times and desperate measures and all that jazz. Yeah, stop thinking about it. Just go.

  She backed from the window, clenched the blanket tighter around her and took off running. When she got to the window, she jumped, ramming her body as hard against the glass as she could.

  It shattered on impact. For a moment, it felt as though she was suspended, but the air rushed over her face and a second later, she hit the ground with a resounding thump.

  Pain speared through her body. Her arm. God, the one she landed on. It hurt like a mother. She hoped to hell she hadn’t broken it.

  There was no time to take stock of her injuries or lack thereof. She scrambled to her feet, wincing when she cut her hand on one of the many shards of glass surrounding her.

  She discarded the blanket and took off through the courtyard toward the stone barrier surrounding Ricardo’s estate. She held her bleeding hand against her shirt so she wouldn’t drip on the ground.

  It wasn’t going to be easy to get over that wall but then what the hell had been easy for her so far?

  She lowered her arm and took a running start. When she got to the wall, she leaped, doing a quick run up the stones. Her momentum carried her up, and she grasped the ledge with her fingers. Barely.

  She hung there for several long seconds, catching her breath and praying she didn’t fall. Her hands ached, and she couldn’t even feel her fingers as she clawed for better leverage.

  Her feet swinging, she boosted her body until she managed to scrape her elbows over the top, and then she used her arms to haul herself the rest of the way up.

  As she rolled over the side, part of the stone by her head exploded, sending sharp pieces of rock into her face and neck. It took her a second to realize she was being shot at.

  She dropped over the other side and took off running. She ignored the pain, her injuries, the fact that she had no shoes and that her clothing offered little protection from the bushes and shrubbery she flung herself through.

  Only one thing mattered. Escape.

  Sucking in mouthfuls of air, she ran, dodging tree branches and jumping over rocks. She didn’t know where she was running. That didn’t matter. As long as she was away from Ricardo, she could figure out the rest later.

  She topped a slight rise and paused only to work the stitch out of her side before she started down again. She skidded to a halt when a large man stepped directly into her path.

  A frightened moan escaped her lips. God, not him again. She glanced frantically around for the other one and sure enough, he was circling behind her.

  Against Ricardo she had a fighting chance. Though bigger than her, he had a slim build. These two? Hulking masses of muscle-bound humanity. She’d bounce off them like a quarter.

  She tightened her shoulders. No matter what, they weren’t taking her down without a fight, and she damn sure wouldn’t let them get close enough to drug her again.

  Ian’s gaze traveled over Katie’s tense body as Braden circled behind her. He didn’t miss anything. Not the bruise on her cheek, the bruises around her neck and the fingerprint-shaped bruises marring her upper arms.

  Her blue eyes were wild with fear—and determination.

  He put a placating hand out. “Now, Katie—”

  He couldn’t even get the words past his lips before she was off like a shot. Braden cursed as he gave chase. Ian took off after her as well. The last thing they needed was a damn long pursuit when de la Cruz’s men were going to be after them.

  This was not how this was supposed to go down. They were supposed to go in, shooting anything that moved, and haul her out on the route they’d planned. She wasn’t supposed to have already escaped with Ricardo’s men all still accounted for. Difficult wench.

  Braden managed to bolt ahea
d of her, effectively cutting her off. The moment she paused to change direction gave Ian the chance he needed.

  He took her down with a tackle. Her cry of pain hit him right in the chest. Damn it, he hadn’t wanted to hurt her.

  She struggled beneath him as he tried to pry most of his weight off her.

  “Get off me!” she cried.

  He grabbed her wrists, careful not to squeeze too tightly as he tucked both hands into one of his and held them over her head.

  “Stop fighting me,” he said through gritted teeth. “I’m trying not to hurt you here.”

  “I won’t go back to that bastard,” she hissed. “You’ll have to kill me.”

  Braden made a noise that sounded like a snarl. Ian yanked his head up to see Braden scowling beside him. Ian glanced back down at Katie in surprise. She thought they worked for de la Cruz. And why wouldn’t she? They both showed up at the same time and both had made a grab for her.

  He eased his hold on her and backed away, determined not to terrify her any more than he already had.

  “Katie, listen to me. Gabe sent us.”

  Her eyes widened in shock, and all the fight went out of her in one big whoosh. She stared dumbly at him for a long second as he rose to his feet. She scooted along the ground on her behind then picked herself up as if she was prepared to flee again.

  Braden stepped forward, but Ian held out a hand to stop him.

  “Is he alive?” she demanded.

  There was so much fear in her gaze that he couldn’t stand the thought of telling her Gabe was dead. Right now his priority had to be keeping her alive.

  Braden glanced over his shoulder as the staccato of machine gun fire sounded in the distance. Then to Ian’s surprise, he strode over to Katie, hoisted her over his shoulder and took off into the brush.

  Ian jogged after them just about the time Katie started to fight. But it was her pained grunt when Braden hopped over a fallen log that made him pause.

  “Braden, wait, you’re hurting her,” Ian called out.

  Braden stopped and swung around to stare at his brother in surprise. Ian grimaced. Whether she was hurt or not wasn’t the issue. If Braden wasn’t killing her then Ian should have just let him go. The sooner they got the hell out of here the better.

  But Braden eased her off his shoulder and set her on her feet, though he gripped her arm so she couldn’t take off. Her pale, shaken face and her short gasps of breath made it obvious that she was indeed in a lot of pain.

  Braden cursed and touched her cheek with one hand. “I’m sorry, Katie. But we’ve got to get the hell out of here. Now. We can’t fuck around waiting for you to decide if you can trust us. It’s either your buddy de la Cruz or us. I need you to decide so we can escape without an ass full of lead.”

  There was a brief flash of uncertainty in her wide eyes as she studied Braden first and then Ian. She glanced back toward the house, and her expression hardened.

  “If you betray me, I’ll kill you,” she said in a voice that sent chills down Ian’s spine.

  Funny thing was, he absolutely believed her.

  “You can certainly try,” Ian said as he moved toward her again.

  He took her arm and turned her in the direction of the SUV. Braden took her other arm and they hustled her up the incline. By the time they reached the SUV, Katie was stumbling to keep up. As he glanced down at her bare feet, he cursed to see one was bleeding. He hadn’t even considered her feet. He’d told Braden to put her down because she was in pain, and he had no idea the extent of her injuries, but in his boneheadedness he hadn’t considered the fact she’d been running through the woods with no shoes.

  He reached for her, sweeping her into his arms as he walked the remaining distance to the truck. Her face went pale, and sweat beaded her forehead.

  He stalked over to the SUV and sat her on top of the hood. Before she could utter a sound, he yanked at her T-shirt, baring her ribcage and breasts to his view.

  “Hey!” she shouted as she took a swing at him. She shoved furiously at the shirt, but he held tight.

  “What the hell did he do to you?” Ian growled.

  Her full, pink-tipped breasts bounced slightly as she struggled to cover herself, but Ian’s gaze was drawn to the dark bruises that marred her belly. He put his hands over her ribs, checking for breakage.

  Beside him, Braden muttered a dark obscenity as he stared at her chest.

  Her hands trembled as she gripped the T-shirt, trying to pull it away from Ian.

  “Can we just get out of here?” she asked in a shaky voice.

  Ian gently arranged her T-shirt back over her stomach then plucked her off the hood of the truck. He carried her around to the passenger side and deposited her into the backseat.

  “Stay down,” he ordered.

  To his surprise, she complied, lying on the seat as Braden slid into the front seat.

  Ian hurried around to the driver’s side and got in. He shoved his gun at Braden. Seconds later, he peeled out down the rugged path they’d taken to the ridge overlooking de la Cruz’s house.

  As soon as he pulled onto the divide road, they were nearly run over by two black SUVs. He careened sharply to the left to avoid being hit and then stomped on the accelerator, fishtailing in the loose dirt.

  “Holy fuck,” Braden spit out as he almost landed in Ian’s lap. Then he hit the deck when a barrage of bullets pelted the passenger door.

  “What the hell did you do to piss him off so bad, sweetheart?” Braden called back to Katie.

  “I’m breathing,” she muttered.

  “Not for long if I can’t shake these assholes,” Ian said grimly. “Anytime you want to take some heat off us would be nice, little brother.”

  Braden cracked a grin. “Well, you do always say I’m too quick to start shooting shit. Figured I’d show some restraint.”

  “Restraint, my ass. Now ain’t the time for it. Shoot the fuckers.”

  Braden laughed, and Ian shook his head. How on earth he could always crack jokes in high-pressure situations was beyond Ian, but he was used to it by now. It used to drive Gabe up the wall, while Eli just chuckled and went on.

  Braden cracked the window, angled his rifle and squeezed off several rounds. Ian checked his rearview mirror to see one of the SUVs hit the ditch. The bad news, however, was that two more had joined the chase.

  “Son of a bitch,” Ian swore.

  “I’d say the airport is out,” Braden said as he steadied himself for another shot. “We’re going away from Delta, and it’s not like they’re going to let us on a plane to calmly fly out of there.”

  “Aren’t you the observant one,” Ian said snidely.

  “Can we dispense with the adolescent bickering and get the fuck down the road?” Katie bit out.

  “Aah, I’d almost forgotten about her,” Braden said cheerfully as he took out another SUV.

  “We’re saving your sweet ass, so I don’t want to hear any bitching,” Ian said in a tight voice.

  She snorted. Actually snorted.

  “Would you like me to let you out so you can hitch a ride with your buddies back there?” Ian asked.

  Braden arched an eyebrow as he glanced sideways at Ian. Ian ignored him.

  “Don’t expect me on my knees with gratitude. I don’t know who the hell you are, only that you’ve chased me all over St. Louis, you drugged me, tied me to you in my bed and stole my cash. Now you show up here in Colorado and tell me Gabe sent you. That’s the only reason why I didn’t take your goddamn heads off back there.”

  Ian laughed. He couldn’t help himself. “You talk big for such a little woman.”

  He heard her hiss of anger and smiled even bigger, and all the while, Braden was looking at him like he’d lost his mind.

  “Need I remind you that there are people behind us that would love to reshape our bodies with assault rifles?” Braden pointed out.

  Ian grunted and focused his attention on the road. He needed to lose these assholes and fast
. Preferably before they picked up a police tail. And then there was the problem of their pilot waiting at the airport. They couldn’t very well lead de la Cruz’s men to the airstrip and expect them to let the airplane take off. Which meant that their departure from U.S. soil was going to be delayed.

  This was turning into one long-ass mission. Goddamn Gabe. Why the hell had he kept Katie a secret, and what the hell kind of mess had he dumped Ian and Braden into by asking them to protect her?

  This was supposed to be easy. He’d thought it no less than a dozen times since this shitstorm had started.

  “They’re slowing down, Ian,” Braden said.

  Ian checked his rearview mirror to see that, sure enough, they were putting more distance between them and their pursuers. He frowned. Why were they giving up?

  Katie cautiously rose and glanced back at the fading vehicles. Evidently satisfied that it was safe to sit up, she reclined rigidly against the seat. Ian watched her in the rearview mirror out of the corner of his eye as she gave a weary sigh and closed her eyes.

  She looked exhausted. It was obvious she was in a great deal of pain. Unexpectedly, his gut clenched. What had the little bastard done to her?

  If he’d expected her to be an easy acquisition—and he had—he’d never been more wrong in his life. She wasn’t a shrinking violet. She had courage—and a spine made of steel. Some of his earlier annoyance faded. He admired guts, especially in a woman who looked way too small to ever fend for herself.

  “Are you okay?” he asked softly.

  She opened one eye and stared back at him. “Honestly?”


  “No. But I’ll get there.”

  His lips quirked upward in a smile.

  Braden turned in his seat to stare at Katie. “What the hell did you do to Ricardo de la Cruz, lady?”

  “The name is Katie. Use it.”

  He gave her a lazy grin. “Sure thing, sweetheart.”

  “Asshole,” she muttered.

  Ian chuckled under his breath. Braden the babe magnet was failing in the charm department.

  “Look, can you just pull over and let me out?” she asked. “It’s obvious neither of you understand the seriousness of the situation. Maybe you have time to sit around and make stupid remarks and laugh at your own lame-ass humor, but I really need to put as much distance between me and Ricardo de la Cruz as possible.”

  Ian’s eyes narrowed. “Keep your panties on. Braden’s way of dealing with any tense situation is with lameness. What can I say? He’s a lame guy.”

  “Hey, fuck you,” Braden said. “And good God, don’t tell me you’re getting a sense of humor in the middle of a mission gone to shit.”

  Ian ignored his brother. “We hauled your pretty ass out of Ricardo’s grasp, so the least you can do is show a little gratitude.”

  Her mouth gaped open. It was a pretty mouth too. One he could easily fantasize about. He blinked as the absurdity of his thoughts hit him.

  “You pompous, dumb-as-shit moron. If it weren’t for you, Ricardo would have never caught me. I wouldn’t be in this situation. I’d be halfway across the country with money and means of transportation.”

  She heaved a breath, and he saw her wince, but her face was mottled with anger, and her eyes glittered.

  “And as for hauling my ass anywhere, I had already taken Ricardo down and escaped through a window, thank you very much. I’d gotten over the wall and would have escaped the grounds on my own. Where the hell do you get off thinking you’re some kind of goddamn hero when all you’ve done is cause me endless pain and grief at that asshole’s hands?”

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