Into the lair, p.7
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       Into the Lair, p.7

         Part #2 of Falcon Mercenary Group series by Maya Banks
 
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  To Tyana’s side, Damiano stood and watched with a grin on his face. He was on his fourth drink and had even rolled one of Mad Dog’s joints. He wasn’t as brooding or distant tonight, and that gave Tyana more hope than she’d had in a long time.

  He caught her gaze and smiled warmly. He turned and set his drink down then ambled over to stand beside her. One arm looped around her shoulders as they watched Mad Dog and Jonah trade punches.

  “How long you think it’ll be before they get tired of pounding on each other and invite Eli to join in so they have fresh meat?” D asked with dark amusement.

  Tyana turned to stare at Eli who was across the room sprawled in a chair holding a beer while he looked on with a bored expression.

  “I don’t think he likes our entertainment,” she said.

  D shrugged. “He’d probably be having a lot better time if Ian and Braden had checked in. It’s been several days since we heard from them.”

  Tyana frowned. It was hard for her to put herself in Eli’s position because the people most important to her were right here. But D was right. Eli was a fish out of water in this environment. He was the new guy playing by new rules not set by him, and his team was on a mission without him.

  “How are you feeling tonight?” she asked D. She didn’t really want to get into an analysis of all that Eli was giving up. For her. Because then she’d wonder why the hell he bothered with a woman who’d gone to Jonah in an effort to get him out of her hair for a few days.

  “I’m good,” D said. “Stop worrying so much, Ty.” He glanced at her with reproach in his eyes. “You and I have no control over what happens to me. What will be will be.”

  She ground her teeth in frustration. She wanted to scream at him and then shake him senseless. No, she wanted to kick his ass and tell him to stop spouting philosophical nonsense. Fate was what you made it, not the other way around.

  She took another long drag of the joint to steady her rage and exhaled in a long, steady plume. Across the room, Eli’s eyebrow went up as he watched her. She wasn’t entirely sure he approved of her new brand of poison, but he’d never said anything. He knew better than to think she’d give it up just because he didn’t like it.

  D straightened and leaned against the bar, his elbows propped behind him. “Do you remember the tiger?”

  It was a general question, one that would confuse many people in its simplicity, but she knew immediately what he was talking about. When they were much younger, alone on the streets of Prague, they’d freed a tiger from a street vendor. The result had been chaos, but to two children dreaming of their own brand of freedom, it had been symbolic.

  “I remember,” she said softly.

  “I dream of him often,” D said.

  She cocked her head sideways to stare at her brother. “Why?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t know. I feel a kinship with him, I suppose. And maybe I’m waiting for someone to come and free me.”

  She turned, awkward as her cast bumped into D’s leg. He was quick to help her, but she pushed him away.

  “Don’t wait, D,” she said. “Don’t wait for someone to come along and save you. You have to save yourself. Do you understand me?”

  “Relax, little sister, I’m not throwing in the towel. I meant it more in a metaphorical sense than anything. I forget how black and white you are,” he said in a teasing tone.

  “I am when it comes to you.”

  “Yeah, I know. I’m going to be fine, Ty. Believe that, okay?”

  She reached down and caught his hand, squeezing it tight. “I won’t allow you to be anything else, D.”

  Mad Dog and Jonah had evidently had enough. Jonah shoved at Mad Dog before heading over to the bar. He poured a generous amount of liquor into a glass while Mad Dog forewent the cup and reached for the bottle.

  They performed a mock toast and downed the liquid.

  “Your boyfriend looks bored,” Mad Dog said in Ty’s direction. “Shouldn’t you be keeping him company?”

  Tyana glanced over at Eli, irked by Mad Dog’s statement. “Give me a push,” she muttered.

  D smiled but helped her forward while Mad Dog shoved her crutches at her. She’d just gotten them under her arms when the door opened and one of the Falcon secondary stuck his head in. He looked first at Eli and then Jonah.

  Eli sat up, his bored look gone. Jonah also started forward, ignoring the annoyed scowl that flickered across Eli’s face.

  “Must be Ian and Braden checking in,” D murmured.

  Tyana itched to go after them, but hell, by the time she made it the conversation would be over. Still, it rankled that she was relegated to the sidelines while the action went on around her.

  She took a step forward and grimaced when pain shot up her leg. No amount of alcohol or marijuana managed to take the edge off her discomfort.

  Mad Dog was quick to take notice, and he grasped her elbow, all but forcing her to lean on him.

  “I’ve got her,” D said calmly as he appeared at her other side. “Go get her pain medication.”

  Mad Dog frowned as he looked around at the empty room but nodded and headed for the door.

  “I’ll be back in a second,” he said.

  “Where you want to sit?” D asked after Mad Dog had left.

  “Couch is fine,” she said in a disgruntled tone.

  She glanced sharply up at D when his hand trembled around her elbow.

  “Are you okay?” she demanded.

  He wiped shakily at his brow and refocused his attention on her. “Yeah, just too much weed, I think. Don’t know what you and Mad Dog see in the shit.”

  “Yeah, well I don’t either,” she muttered.

  She thumped with her crutches while D walked by her side. They were almost to the couch when his hand fell away from her arm and he turned abruptly from her.

  “D?” she asked hesitantly as she saw the muscles in his back ripple and spasm.

  “Get away from me.”

  Fear rocketed through her. She dropped her crutches and twisted, her hands reaching for him. As soon as she touched him, he flinched and bolted away.

  He hit the bar, his back still to her, his palms braced on the counter, his entire body heaving with exertion.

  Tyana hobbled forward, wincing when her injured leg took the brunt of her weight. But she had to get to the inhibitor that was out in plain sight on the countertop.

  Her eyes locked on D as she limped heavily. To her horror, his body contorted and lost its shape. It rippled like some movie special effect. Flashes of orange and fur. A low hiss and then a growl.

  Dear God, she wasn’t going to be able to get to him in time. She yelled hoarsely as she lunged the remaining distance for the inhibitor. Pain nearly paralyzed her. Her hand glanced off the bar top, but she caught herself and hauled herself upright, only to find herself staring into the eyes of a Bengal tiger.

  Holy fuck.

  She licked her lips and backed nervously away. Her leg tangled with the barstool, and she went down with a thump. The tiger growled and closed in on her.

  She extended her arm, reaching for her crutch, anything. Something she could defend herself with. This was no longer D. She was eyeball to eyeball with one pissed-off predator.

  Ignoring the searing pain and the awkwardness of her cast, she pulled herself along the floor. Just as her fingertips touched the cool metal of the crutch, the tiger leaped.

  She yanked the crutch in front of her and jammed it into the cat’s jaws when his mouth would have closed over her throat. The tiger’s upper body landed on her chest, knocking the breath from her.

  She shoved the crutch deeper into his jaws, refusing to let go. If she did it would mean her death.

  Where the fuck was Mad Dog? The Falcon secondary?

  She heard a commotion outside and realized they were coming. What seemed an eternity to her had in reality been a few seconds.

  The cat shook his head and growled his displeasure, but Tyana refused to budge. She hel
d onto the crutch for dear life, matching the cat’s movements with her own. Anything to keep those teeth from her flesh.

  “D, come back to me,” she pleaded.

  “What the fuck?”

  Mad Dog’s voice exploded into the room. The cat never looked up, too locked in his battle with Tyana. With a toss of his head, he managed to rip the crutch from Tyana’s grasp. It went sailing across the room, landing with a clatter.

  Tyana shoved her hands into the cat’s face, knowing she was now in deep shit.

  More voices, more shouts, more pounding of feet. Tyana dimly registered it, but she was focused solely on the tiger and staying alive.

  A thin plume of smoke wrapped around the tiger’s neck, twining and twining again. Eli. It whispered through the fur and into the cat’s nostrils.

  “No!” she cried. “Eli, don’t kill him.”

  The cat snarled and shook his head, forgetting Tyana for a moment as he fought with his invisible assailant.

  Then the tiger let out a yelp and his huge body jerked. Tyana looked down to see two syringes protruding from his haunch. Mad Dog and Jonah both tackled the cat, rolling him off her in a tangle of bodies and paws.

  She tried to scramble up, but the damn cast made her as helpless as a beached whale. Cursing, she righted herself and crawled upward with her one good leg.

  The cat roared in rage as Mad Dog, Jonah and Eli fought to subdue him. More of the Falcon secondary rushed in. Two high-powered rifles were up and trained on the tiger, ready to take a clear shot. She screamed at them to put the guns down.

  Two more syringes stabbed into the cat’s fur. A final one in his neck finally made him go limp. His heavy body lolled to the side, and Jonah and Mad Dog cautiously inched away.

  Eli came back to form beside Tyana as she pulled herself painfully across the floor toward D.

  His arms came around her, and he tugged her to him as he examined every inch of her skin.

  “Are you all right?” His hands framed her face, touching and reassuring himself.

  “D,” she choked out.

  The tiger’s eyes glazed as his head flopped to the floor under the power of the sedative. Already the Falcon secondary swarmed the room, their rifles all pointed at the helpless cat.

  She tried to crawl toward the cat as he lay panting.

  “Keep her away,” Jonah barked.

  Eli hauled her back against his chest.

  “Not now, sugar,” he murmured. “D will be all right. Let them take care of him.”

  “I want this room secured,” Jonah ordered as he stood. He stalked over to where Tyana lay in Eli’s arms and squatted down in front of her. “Are you all right?”

  She nodded shakily.

  “Get her out of here. I’m locking this room down until he shifts back,” Jonah told Eli.

  It was useless for her to argue. For once, she knew there wasn’t anything she could do, no argument she could wage. D had finally slipped beyond control. Tears clogged her throat, squeezing, relentless. Grief welled, sharp, like a blade. Always, always she’d been there to comfort him, to shield him as he’d shielded her. Only now, they would be separated. Jonah would never leave them alone after what happened today.

  Chapter Twelve

  Katie huddled under the steaming hot spray of the shower and let it pelt her skin until it was pink and raw. Even after she’d lathered her hair twice and soaped her body repeatedly, she stood still as the water cascaded over her.

  She didn’t want to move. Ever.

  But she had a strong suspicion if she didn’t get out soon, one of them would come haul her out.

  With a regretful sigh, she turned off the water and stepped out, reaching for a towel. She dried briskly, taking care around the more tender parts. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she grimaced. Then she pulled the towel away and let her gaze trail down her body.

  Her shoulders slid downward, and her eyes crossed with fatigue. She was starting to have some serious fantasies involving a pillow and a bed. Blankets were completely optional.

  An irritated sigh escaped when she realized she’d neglected to bring clothes into the bathroom with her. And there was no way she was putting the nasty stuff she’d taken off back on.

  She wrapped the towel around her and kept her arms pressed against the fabric so it had no chance of slipping down. Then she stuck her head out the door before exiting.

  Braden was lying on the bed, eyes closed, and Ian was perched on the edge of the mattress, his expression brooding. Ian looked up at her, his eyes shuttered.

  “I, uhm, just need to get some clothes,” she said in a low voice.

  Ian stood. “Not yet.”

  He walked toward her, and she blinked in surprise. His hand cupped her elbow, his touch gentle as he urged her toward the bed.

  “You can keep the towel wrapped around you for now,” he said gruffly. “I need to tend to that cut on your foot, and then I’ll take a look at your arm.”

  Braden opened his eyes and rolled to the edge of the bed before putting his feet down with a thud. He rubbed his face in a tired gesture then rose to stand beside her.

  “Get the kit,” Ian told Braden.

  Ian urged her down, and she sat awkwardly, keeping her gaze on her knees, bared just below the edge of the towel.

  “Lay back and let me see your foot,” Ian directed.

  She eyed him for a moment but did as he said. Her head bounced softly on the mattress as she settled down, and she focused on the ceiling.

  Gentle hands covered the top of her foot and tilted it back as he examined the instep. His fingers were firm and warm against her skin.

  Braden leaned over and took her arm, lifting as he examined the bruising and swelling.

  How long had it been since she’d simply enjoyed the touch of another? Close proximity, the feeling of not being so terribly alone?

  It was overwhelming and yet so deeply pleasurable that she couldn’t ask them to stop. She didn’t want them to stop.

  These were concerned touches. Caring and light. There was no desperate mark of possession, no shouted words, no deep-seated insecurity.

  She shivered even as she craved more.

  Ian felt her tremble beneath his fingers. He saw raw vulnerability behind a flash of sudden tears, and it tore at his gut. Here was a woman unused to any sort of tenderness. She expected the worst, and it seemed she usually got it.

  What the hell kind of life had she led, and why had Gabe left her to fend for herself?

  Trying not to let himself be too affected, he put antiseptic on her cut and quickly bandaged it. Braden was carefully manipulating her arm, but other than a few winces, she didn’t seem too bothered by it.

  He thrust the small bottle at Braden along with fresh bandages. “For her hand.”

  Braden took the stuff from him and settled next to Katie, his hip close to her shoulder. Her fingers shook against Braden’s as he carefully pried them apart.

  Ian eased down on her other side. “I need to look at your ribs, Katie,” he said in a low, soothing voice.

  Color flooded into her cheeks, and her eyes flickered away, her gaze focusing on the wall.

  Braden touched her cheek, running a finger down her delicate jawline. “Don’t be afraid,” he said quietly. “We just want to make sure you’re okay. I swear to you we won’t hurt you.”

  She closed her eyes and slowly nodded.

  Ian arranged the towel so that it hung loosely over her waist. He couldn’t cover her breasts and her pelvis and felt she’d probably be the least embarrassed to have them staring at her breasts.

  Bruises were scattered along her ribcage, some the size of a fist, others smaller, purple fingerprints against pale skin. When he saw the dark smudges close to her nipples, his jaw tightened in rage.

  “Did they rape you?” he demanded bluntly.

  Braden yanked his startled gaze to his brother, and his brows drew together in admonishment.

  Katie’s eyes flew open, and she to
o stared at Ian in shock.

  “N-no,” she stammered.

  “Did he try?” Ian pressed, not sure why it was so important that he know the depths of Ricardo de la Cruz’s depravity.

  A dark flush stained her cheeks, and her eyes glittered with anger.

  “I doubt he’ll be able to use that part of his anatomy for a long while,” she said darkly.

  A grin flirted with the edges of Braden’s mouth. Ian relaxed, unaware of just how tense he’d been until some of the edginess left him.

  “Okay, so what exactly did he do?” Ian asked as he tended to a cut just below her left breast.

  She let out a sigh. “Does it matter? I have no plans to get caught by him again. I wouldn’t have this time if you two hadn’t slowed me down.”

  Braden winced. “We were only trying to help.”

  She turned to look at Braden for a long while. “I’d like to believe that. Really, I would. But I still don’t know why you’re here. You say Gabe sent you. Why? You hint that someone else is after me, but I’ve spent all my time running from Ricardo.”

  Ian absorbed that latest piece of information. He and Braden exchanged glances, and then Braden cleared his throat.

  “Why don’t you get dressed, Katie. Then we can have that conversation we talked about.”

  Ian raised one eyebrow in question.

  “We worked out a trade,” Braden explained. “While you were…sleeping. She gives us information, and we give her the same.”

  Katie wrapped the towel around her body and struggled to sit up. Ian put his hand behind her neck and helped her forward. His fingers lingered at her nape, drawn to the softness of her skin. Tiny little goose bumps prickled and raced across her flesh, and her muscles quivered beneath his palm.

  She wasn’t immune to him any more than he was immune to her.

  Unsure what to do with that realization, he pulled his hand away and let her get up from the bed. For a brief moment, she hesitated and looked back at him, her eyes wide with equal parts confusion and uncertainty.

  Then she clutched the ends of the towel tighter around her and grabbed her bag before heading to the bathroom.

  “I get the distinct impression that we’re not going to like what we hear,” Braden murmured. “What could she possibly have done to make a man treat her like he has?”

  “Sometimes a woman doesn’t have to do anything,” Ian said with a growl. “Maybe he just couldn’t take no for an answer. Whatever the case, we need to get her the hell out of the country.”

  “So we can use her,” Braden said in a low, dissatisfied voice.

  “Do you see another way?” Ian kept his voice as low as Braden’s. “Hell, Braden, I don’t like it either. She’s obviously had a shitty time, and God knows why Gabe left her alone, but do you really want to stay like this for the rest of your life? Half man, half wild animal with no control, no choice?”

  He cupped his hand to the back of his head and rubbed up and down to the base
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