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Smoking gun in hand, Mitch Perovski crouched over the crumpled form of the dead man and swore. One by one, droplets of blood plopped onto the boat's deck in the charged silence. Glancing furtively around him for watching eyes, he crouched even lower and pulled out his cell phone.
"Go ahead," a male voice said at the other end.
"Lancer here," he muttered. "I've got a problem. My Plan B is dead, I'm caught out in the open at a damned marina, and I've got two, possibly three, gunmen on my tail. I need you guys to pull a rabbit out of your hats and get me the hell out of here."
"We've got you on the satellite map in a marina near the south end of Tortola. The boss man says to stay put for a minute if you can. Meanwhile, say your status."
For a moment, Mitch allowed himself to register the daggers of pain shooting from his left shoulder. Bad idea. He gritted his teeth, forced the agony back into a mental drawer, and slammed it shut. No time for that, yet. "I'm shot," he ground out. "My left shoulder. I think the bullet passed through but I haven't had time to stop and take a look. I'm low on ammo and way exposed on this freaking dock."
"Are you bleeding?" the combat controller asked sharply.
"Hell, yes, I'm bleeding. I just took a bullet."
"Apply pressure to the entrance and exit wounds with a clean pad, and hold it until the bleeding stops."
"Gee, thanks, Doctor Kildaire. I had no idea what to do," Mitch retorted dryly. All the guys in the H.O.T. Watch were qualified EMTs.
"Standard procedure to brief operatives on proper first aid when a wound is reported," the controller replied, equally as dry. "That way when you die, your family can't sue us over your sorryass."
Mitch snorted. He hadn't spoken to any member of the Perovski clan in close to ten years and didn't plan on doing so for at least another ten. The seconds ticked by at half speed while he scanned the area for signs of his pursuers. They weren't showing themselves at the moment, but he didn't doubt for an instant that they were out there, waiting. Seconds turned into minutes, and he wondered how much longer his pursuers would sit tight. Eventually, they would run out of patience and come after him. He was dead meat if they caught him out here like this.
A new, deeper voice finally came on the line. "Lancer, this is White Horse." His temporary boss.
Navy Commander Brady Hathaway. "I've got a Plan C for you. About a half mile down the beach, Congressman Dick Hollingsworth has a vacation home. He has a fast boat, and I just got off the horn with him. He's given you permission to use it. The spare ignition key is taped to the back of a painting of a clipper ship in the below-deck cabin. You'll have to break into the cabin, though. I told him we'll repair any damage you do to the door."
A half mile? Damn, that sounded like a long way right now. "What does the boat look like?" Mitch bit out.
"It's a thirty-eight foot cigarette. And" was that a wince he heard in Lancer's voice? His boss continued
"it's pink. Named Baby Doll. But it goes like a bat outta hell, apparently."
"It had better," Mitch growled. "If I die in a pink boat, I'm going to haunt you. And I won't be a nice ghost."
White Horse laughed shortly. "Call us when you're safe. And take care of that shoulder when you get a chance."
"Will do." Mitch tucked the cell phone in his pocket and briefly considered swimming for the pink boat. But his shoulder was throbbing like hell, and the idea of adding the burn of salt in the wound was more than even his pain tolerance would stand. He eased down the dock, staying low. If his luck held, he could sneak into that fringe of palmettos and bushes up the beach, and then make his way to the pink Plan C.
If his luck held.
Just another lousy day in paradise. Kinsey sighed and sat up. She'd spent the entire afternoon napping on the cigarette boat's sleek hull, which rocked gently beneath her as the waves rolled in. A strip of white sand beach stretched away in both directions, fringed by rustling palm trees and kissed by turquoise seas so blue they almost hurt to look at.
As dull as it was down here, it was still better than being laughed at. Laughed at! Her. The darling of Newport society. She'd fled rather than face the cruel scorn of the country club crowd and those who called themselves her friends. In a few months, when the scandal had been eclipsed by some new sensation, maybe she'd think about going home. But until then, she was hunkering down here at her father's beach house. Okay, she'd admit it, she was hiding.
The sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon. Not quite sunset, but the day's quality tanning time was over. She didn't feel like going inside yet, though. Maybe a spin in the Baby Doll would clear her head. She pulled a T-shirt on over her skimpy bikini and, jumping over to the pier, cast off the forward mooring line. She strolled down the dock to cast off the aft line.
A rapid, slapping sound made Kinsey look over her shoulder sharply. Feet striking the dock. Urgent. Staccato. Running full out. Nobody ran around here. It was too hot and humid in this tropical climatetoo damned languidfor anything so strenuous.
A tall man was charging down the long pier straight at her. Dark hair. Broad shoulders. Black clothes from head to foot. Bulky black duffel bag slung over his right shoulder. As mesmerizingand lethalas a panther charging on the attack. He never even slowed as he twisted to look behind him. She glanced in the direction of his gaze. Two more men were coming on the run brandishing guns.
She leaped into the boat's open cockpit, searching frantically for the keys. Where in heck had she put them? There they were. In a cup holder. She dived for them, prayed she'd grabbed the right key, and jabbed it at the ignition. Missed! She tried again.
Four thuds in quick succession made her duck instinctively. What was that noise? Whatever it was, it sounded bad.
The Baby Doll's three Merc 700 horsepower motors turned over with a single smooth rumble. The man with the duffel bag was almost on her. She threw the engines into gear and yanked hard on the steering wheel. The boat pivoted around practically in place, the rear hull digging deep into the water.
As the Baby Doll exploded away from the dock, a dark shape went airborne, crashing onto the boat's deck behind her. Kinsey jerked violently. The guy in black. She started to throttle back.
"Go!" he shouted from where he sprawled. She hesitated, and he shouted, "Hit it, lady! You and I are both dead if they catch us!"
Wha? She slammed the throttles forward while her brain hitched and stumbled, tripping over itself. Dead? Both of them? What had she done to merit getting killed? The boat shot forward like a thorough-bred bursting out of the chute, slamming her back into the pilot's form-fitting leather seat. In the time it took Kinsey to jerk in a startled breath and release it, the Baby Doll had accelerated to nearly seventy miles per hour.
Kinsey risked a glance at the man crawling into the seat beside her. His hair was black-coffee brown, his skin bronzeby sun or genetics, she couldn't tell. He looked Italian in an elegant, lounge-around-a-Tuscan villa way. He righted himself and commenced fishing in his duffel bag. His left sleeve was ripped at the shoulder seam andholy cowblood gleaned wetly over the tear.
"Who are you?" she shouted over the roar of the engines. She sincerely hoped this man was the good guy in that little chase scene back at the dock; otherwise, she could be in a world of hurt, alone and on the open ocean with a potentially violent man. Heck, even if he was the good guy, she could very well be in deep trouble.
He looked over at her. Their gazes locked and time stopped for an instant, the power of that split second staggering. His eyes were amber. As gold as the sunset beginning to form in the west and positively hypnotic. Was he the cop or the robber? No telling by his dangerous good looks. A distant roar behind them sounded like an angry lion.
"Here they come." His voice was raspy from exertion and sent an involuntary shiver down her spine.
She glanced back toward shore. A boat was just pulling away from the next dock over, another long, sleek cigarette.
"Who are they?" she shouted.
He stared grimly over her shoulder at the cigarette roaring toward them. His reply was succinct. "Hired killers."
Terror rushed over her; cold certainty that death was very near. Her legs abruptly felt unbearably restless and she restrained an impulse to jump up and run away.
"Can we outrun them?" he asked.
She took a closer look at the boat pursuing them. A forty-three or forty-four foot SuperVee. "Nope. This boat tops out around eighty-five miles per hour. That one will push a hundred."
His metallic gaze swung back to her. It was cold. Utterly devoid of emotion. And that scared her worst of all. There wasn't any question of not doing exactly what he told her.
"Then we'll stand and fight."
The link between reality and the nightmare unfolding around her stretched. Broke. Fight? The synapses between her conscious thoughts and having any idea what to do next shut down. Completely.
"How good a driver are you?" he demanded, yanking her back from the void.
She answered without even thinking. She'd been around water and boats since she was born. "Very good."
"Can you get me close enough to that boat to shoot at it?"
"Get close? Intentionally?" she squeaked.
"Yes. So I can shoot them," he repeated impatiently.
Shoot? As in guns and bullets? Was she about to die? The thought gave a terrible clarity to every breath, every sound. Her hands gripped the contoured steering wheel until they ached.
"Damn," her passenger muttered. "He's got an angle on us."
If she could've forced words past the panic paralyzing her throat, she might have asked who "he" was and why having an angle sounded bad. But then her passenger reached into the duffel at his feet and pulled out a short, thick machine gun. Oh. My. God.
"Turn right!" he ordered tersely.
Kinsey yanked the wheel, and the nimble boat whipped around so hard it made her neck hurt. The Baby Doll slashed across the path of the black cigarette at nearly a right angle.
A flash of light exploded beside her. A burst of rattling, deafening sound. Her passenger had fired his gun at the other boat! As the other vessel passed behind them, he whirled and fired again.
"Bring us around for another pass!" he shouted.
"Keep our nose or tail pointed at him and don't give him our broadside if you can help it."
Abjectly grateful for something to think about besides dying, her panicked brain kicked into overdrive. The sailor in her latched on to the problem his instructions posed. His orders were easier said than done.And frankly, she'd rather have the bastards shooting toward her pointed prow and the compact living quarters inside it than at her stern where the engines and gas tanks were housed.
The black boat slowed abruptly and turned hard to face them. Its engines roared a challenge. Coming in for a head-on pass, like a knight on a black charger. She dared not get into a contest of straight runs against the larger, faster boat. It would eat them alive. She had to keep them both going in circles. Use her more agile boat and tighter turn radius to her advantage. Keep speed out of the mix altogether.
The other boat accelerated. Coming straight at them. Her passenger grabbed the top of the short windshield to steady himself and his weapon. "Don't get comfortable," she called. "I'm going to turn hard right just in front of him and you'll get a better shot to your left. We're going to send up a hell of a wake and it's going to rock him violently, so time your shots accordingly."
He spared her a startled glance. Then he grinned at her, a fleeting expression that passed across his face almost too fast to see. But she caught the flash of white, the sexy lift of the corner of his mouth. His eyes briefly glowed whiskey-warmand then the smile was gone. He was gone. With a bunch and spring of powerful thighs, he'd leaped aft to crouch behind the seats.
The distance between the two boats closed shockingly fast. She made out the face of the other boat's driver, a swarthy man with death in his eyes. A second man stood up in the passenger's seat, brandishing some sort of machine gun over the windshield.
He wasn't looking at her, though. He was searching the deck of her vessel for her passenger. The black boat's engines roared even louder. Obviously the other driver expected to make a straight, high-speed pass and let the gunmen duke it out.
Wrongo, buckwheat. Just a few more seconds almost there! She yanked off the throttles and whipped the steering wheel over to the right, standing the Baby Doll up practically on her starboard side.As the port propeller came back down in the water, Kinsey jammed in the power. The boat leaped forward, up and over its own wake. Her prow slammed down and stabilized, giving her passenger a great look at the black boat.
Clearly stunned by her maneuver, the other driver slammed his throttles back and jerked right to avoid a collision. They'd have never hit the Baby Doll had cut across his path too fast. But the guy's sharp turn combined with her wake hitting him full broadside rocked the big cigarette violently.
The other gunman staggered, grabbing for his wind-shield and hanging on desperately to avoid getting dumped out of the boat altogether.
"Now!" she screamed.