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She flinched at something, her face paling. “Fine. When and where.” A few seconds later she said, “I’ll be there and I’ll be alone, but if you’ve hurt her, the deal is off and I walk.”

The second she disconnected her hands started to shake. She dropped the phone onto the island countertop as if it was a hissing snake and clenched her hands tightly in her lap. “I’m sure you’ve figured out that was Perdue. He’s got Pamela in the trunk of a car rigged with explosives—or so he says. They’re at the Miami Metro Zoo. He wants me to meet him there in half an hour. Which means I literally have to leave now.”

“You’re not going alone,” he growled, anger igniting inside him.

“You’re not going to argue with me about going?” Her expression said she’d expected him to raise hell about it.

“It wouldn’t do any good and your friend doesn’t have time for us to stand around arguing when the end result will be the same.” Short of physically restraining her, he knew Mara would leave no matter what he said. While every fiber inside him wanted to keep her out of harm’s way, he couldn’t put her on lock down. She’d never forgive him and while he knew they still had a lot of shit to work through, he couldn’t hurt her this way. If her friend died, it would kill her. He could see it in her eyes.

The tension in her shoulders loosened a fraction.

He paused a moment, before continuing. “I’m going with you.” He needed to make sure they were on the same page and she understood that no matter what happened, he was going to be with her. She wasn’t leaving him out of this. Even if he didn’t know her exact weapons training, his brother had told him how she’d flattened the men she’d gone to buy guns from. And he’d seen her shoot at the range before. She definitely knew how to handle herself.

“Uh, yeah, I hope so. He’s only giving me enough time to just make it so I won’t have any backup.”

“He knows you won’t come alone so we have to make it appear as if you are. You’ll drive my truck and I’ll hide out in the compartment behind the seat. You’re not to get out of my truck until I say it’s okay.” He knew he was ordering her around, but he didn’t care. The last part was non-negotiable.

He’d installed a plastic paneling behind the bench seat of his truck to store stuff without being seen and there was just enough room for a grown man to fit into it. It sure as hell wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t something he’d want to be stuck in long term, but for a short drive to the zoo, it was nothing. Especially if it meant he’d be there to protect Mara. Since he had no way of knowing if the house was being watched, he had to go with her. Leaving in a separate vehicle and being apart from her for even a second—he couldn’t do it.

Her expression pinched, Mara nodded. “He’s going to have a plan of some sort. He’ll be expecting me to bring someone or something.”

“He won’t be expecting everything. Grab two weapons each for us from upstairs.” She hesitated for a second at his order, but then raced away.

As she disappeared from sight, he dialed Porter. Harrison had his brothers on standby in case anything happened. This was why he wasn’t involving the police. There was no way a team could get organized and plan a rescue mission in thirty minutes. It just wasn’t possible. But he and his brothers could.

* * * * *

Mara’s sweaty palms slipped against the steering wheel as she pulled out of the driveway in Harrison’s ten year old truck. He should have upgraded years ago but her husband just refused to let go of some things. Probably because he’d had some custom work done on it, including bullet resistant windows and the nifty compartment behind the seat he was in now.

As she drove, she slipped her earpiece in and called the house phone at the shelter.

Heidi answered on the first ring. “Hello?”

“Heidi, it’s Mara. Are you all right?” Perdue hadn’t said anything about how he’d taken Pamela or the women at the house, but for all Mara knew, he’d hurt or killed some of them.

“I’m fine. Is Pamela with you?” Panic laced her voice.

She ignored the question. “What about the other women? Is everyone accounted for?”

Heidi made an exasperated sound. “Yes, we’re all here. Where is Pamela?”

Mara cringed as she tried to find the right words. “Pamela’s going to be fine.” She couldn’t afford to give her or any of the women more details than necessary. She and Harrison hadn’t called the police and no one else needed to be privy to this information anyway. A leak now could be deadly.

“Where is she? She went out early to buy groceries so she wouldn’t have to fight the crowds, but that was hours ago and she’s not answering her cell phone. I wanted to go with her, but she told me that was silly.” Heidi sounded close to tears.

“Heidi, I can’t tell you everything right now. You’re just going to have to trust me and you need to keep it together. I’m going make sure Pamela comes back safely, but you need to keep the other women calm. There will be two men from my husband’s security company coming over to keep an eye on the place. I’ve given them the code to the gate and they’ll be patrolling outside. I know what the protocol is but we’re breaking it this one time. I need to know that everyone is safe. Can you spread the word and make sure everyone knows these men are there to protect you?” Mara didn’t want any of the newer women getting scared. As they’d left the house, Harrison had asked two of the men guarding their home to head over to the shelter and she was incredibly grateful.

“I can do that.” Heidi’s voice cracked, but at least she was listening.

“Good. Their names are Travis and Vincent and they’re both former military and very trustworthy. Vincent is black with pale blue eyes, over six feet tall and movie star handsome. Travis is also over six feet tall and he’s got a Mohawk, piercings, and tattoos. These men are easily recognizable so if anyone not matching that description shows up, call the police and hide.”

“Okay. Will you call me when you know something about Pamela?”

“I promise.” Mara just hoped that Pamela was safe and unharmed. She was one of the most kind, giving women Mara had ever met and so many people depended on her. Harrison had told her not to worry, that they would get her friend back, but so many things could go wrong. Guilt churned inside her for her friend’s kidnapping. She’d assumed Perdue would target her family or friends. Not someone she worked with. And she still didn’t know how he’d found out where she worked. Even her tax information didn’t have the shelter’s address.

When she’d told Perdue she wouldn’t meet with him, he’d slapped Pamela, making her cry out. Then Pamela had told her not to listen to him and to stay far away. While she’d hated hearing her friend in distress, at least she’d gotten proof of life. She would have demanded it, but Perdue had given it to her anyway.

As she turned down the long paved road that led to one of the zoo parking lots, she fought off a shiver. Soon she’d be facing the monster she’d helped put in jail and she had no doubt he wanted retribution. Her gut instinct told her he didn’t want to just kill her. No, Neville Perdue would want her to suffer first. It was why he’d taken Pamela. He wouldn’t have bothered kidnapping someone in her life if he’d simply wanted her dead. He would have just rigged her car with a bomb, shot her on the street, or done any number of things to kill her. But she’d stolen everything from him, including the woman he’d loved—in his own sick, twisted way—and he wanted her to pay for that. He’d told her that very thing enough times during the trial.

“We’re almost there,” she murmured to Harrison even though she couldn’t see him.

A soft knock from behind her was the only response she got. She couldn’t believe he’d fit in that slim storage container, but he’d not only fit, he’d kept two of his guns strapped to his body. At least it could be opened from the inside, one of the only reasons she’d agreed to let him get into the blasted thing. It had freaked her out when she saw how small it was, but he’d assured her he’d been in it before. Which was interesting, but she hadn’t asked questions since they didn’t have time.

Palm trees and thick foliage lined the long road that eventually opened into a lot with the letter B on signs attached to light poles. Parking lot B, just like Perdue had ordered. The zoo didn’t open for another hour so she wasn’t surprised that the parking lot was mostly empty. There was a white van with no windows, a red Jeep and a blue Celica in the far right corner of the lot. She gave a quick description of what she saw out loud for Harrison’s benefit but kept her lips tight. In case Perdue was watching her with binoculars or something she didn’t want him to see her talking.

As she slowed the truck, her phone rang. It was Pamela’s number again. She pressed the button on her earpiece. “Yes?”

“Park by the middle light pole then get out and open both doors. I want to see that you’re alone.”

“Let me talk to Pamela first.” Mara needed to confirm that she was nearby. Harrison had told her Porter and Grant were on their way to help, and she was depending on their backup to help get Pamela to safety. Even though Perdue had told her to come alone, Harrison’s brothers were both military trained and could be invisible when they wanted to. And there was no way she could actually meet with Perdue alone. It would be suicide.

“Get out first.”

“No. For all I know you’ll put a bullet in my head the second I step out.”

“I could do that right now.” His tone was smug.

Not with bullet resistant glass. Instead of doing what he said, she slowed the truck and started to turn around.

“Fine,” he growled.

A second later, Pamela’s voice filled her ears and soothed some of the raw adrenaline pumping through Mara. “Mara?”