Jonathan was still playing, and she could see a couple of families on the beach past the sand dunes and foliage flying kites, but nothing looked out of the ordinary.
She grabbed his arm as her heart rate tripled. “What’s going on? You’re starting to freak me out.”
“Stay here.” He stalked to the back door like a panther. He only had to call Jonathan once before he ran inside.
His deep commanding voice had her at attention. No wonder Jonathan listened.
“Why did I have to stop playing?” Jonathan ran up to her and grabbed her leg.
Hunter yanked the blinds shut, then quickly returned to them. He pulled up his pants leg and handed her a small gun. She gasped, but quickly recovered. Of course he’d be carrying a weapon. It only made sense.
“Lock yourselves up in Jonathan’s room and don’t answer the door for anyone but me.”
She wanted to drill him but knew it wasn’t the time to ask. “Okay.”
“Mom. What’s going on?” Jonathan’s voice held an edge of fear.
“I don’t know, but do as he says.” After tucking the gun in the back of her pants, she took his hand and they hurried for the stairs.
Once inside Jonathan’s room she locked the door and pushed one of the dressers in front of it. Then she willed herself to act normal. She found a puzzle in the closet and laid it out on the desk. Jonathan was an astute kid and when he was nervous he clammed up. She knew that was the only reason he hadn’t asked any more questions. The erratic thump of her heart still hadn’t changed. It felt as if time slowed while they waited.
A knock at the door made her jump. “Alexis? It’s okay to come out.”
She checked her watch. Only twenty minutes had passed. That had to be good. “Give me a second.” When she shoved the furniture out of the way and opened the door, she knew something was still wrong by the expression on his face.
His neck muscles corded tightly as he tried to fake a smile. “You stay in here, okay, buddy?”
Jonathan looked up from his puzzle and frowned. “Mommy?” He always reverted back to calling her mommy when he was scared.
“I’ll be right out here. I promise.”
He bit his bottom lip but nodded. “Okay.” The fear in his eyes was palpable but there was nothing she could do about it at the moment.
Hunter stopped her at the top of the stairs. “There’s a man downstairs I used to work with.”
“With the CIA?”
He shook his head and something indefinable flashed in his eyes. “No, with the DEA.”
He was lying to her. She knew it. Her gut clenched at the thought of more lies and half truths. “What are you holding back?”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I wanted to wait to explain all this. I didn’t exactly work for the CIA.”
“What? You said—”
He held up a hand. “I told you I worked with them. It was just in an unofficial capacity.”
“Unofficial? What does that even mean?” Her annoyance ratcheted up each second that passed.
“All your questions will be answered in a few minutes. Be patient.”
Patient. She muttered a few choice words under her breath as they descended the stairs. She’d been a freaking saint for the sake of her son, but now she wanted answers.
Hunter maneuvered around Alexis as they descended the stairs. He couldn’t believe Alan Saltz had found him. When he’d seen Alan loitering past the sand dunes looking very out of place—twenty yards from Jonathan—he’d lost a decade of his life. Hunter hadn’t seen the man in over six years and if Alan didn’t give him the answers he wanted, he was packing up and they were going deep underground. New identities, new location, new everything. If he had to drag Alexis kicking and screaming he’d do it.
So far Alan had been forthright, but Hunter wasn’t taking anything at face value.
When they entered the kitchen area, Alan stood and Alexis immediately took a step closer to Hunter. Alan looked unassuming enough in jeans, a worn sweatshirt and a week’s worth of facial hair growth. He knew that wasn’t what bothered Alexis. She wasn’t a snob. No, Alan smelled like death. It wasn’t tangible, but Hunter guessed he’d been on a long case before coming here.
Alan had that hollow, tired look about him that only came from doing undercover jobs for too long. Most men couldn’t do undercover work for extended periods of time without changing. Many turned to alcohol, drugs, sex. Anything to take off the edge. Working around the scum of the earth and watching them live lives of luxury could seriously mess with a man’s head. For some, it proved to be too much.
“Hi, Ms. Baptiste, I’m Alan Saltz. I used to work with your…with Hunter.” The tone of his voice was low and unthreatening.
And it was a damn good thing too. If he made one wrong move, Hunter wouldn’t hesitate to take him down.
She shook his extended hand, then they all sat at the rectangular table. Alexis sat much closer to him than necessary, scooting her chair only inches away. Hunter certainly wasn’t going to complain.
“How did you find us?” Alexis spoke first.
He cleared his throat. “My boss with the DEA had Hunter trailed from Panama. I didn’t know you were here until a couple hours ago, and even then I wasn’t sure if it was true. Needed to see it with my own eyes.”
“Why?” she prodded.
“To be honest, ma’am, because my boss told me to. We thought he—you,” he glanced at Hunter, “we all thought you’d died.”
For the past four years Hunter had been making a name for himself in weapons trade. The two years before that had been spent trying to infiltrate Calero’s group, and he hadn’t been able to use any of his old contacts either. When that hadn’t worked, he’d gone into weapons. Assault rifles, pistols, RPGs, he’d bought and sold it all. He’d been forced to assume a new identity and start at the bottom of the food chain. Only recently had he been included in Calero’s inner circle and that was because the man had wanted to partner up with him. After that, it had only been a matter of time until he’d taken Calero out. He’d simply waited for the right opportunity. Two weeks after he’d gained full access to Calero’s house, he’d made his move.
“How’d you find out he was alive?” Alexis spoke again.
“These were taken a year ago by my boss, but I just saw them today for the first time.” Alan pulled out a slim manila packet from under his sweatshirt and slid it across the table. Alexis snatched it from his hands when he tried to intercept. She gasped when a few eight-by-tens fell out.
He picked up the glossy closest to him and winced. Not his finest picture. The photos were grainy, but there was a clear shot of Hunter along with five other men on a yacht out in the Pacific. He’d been wearing cargo pants and a loose linen shirt—talking business with Calero. It had been one of their first meetings. With Hunter’s full beard and sunglasses, he looked a little different but it was him. No doubt.
As he stared at the photo, it was hard to believe he was looking at himself. His stomach roiled as memories battered against his skull. No matter what happened, he couldn’t go back to that kind of life. Couldn’t kill men—no matter how vile they were or how much they deserved it—and he couldn’t peddle weapons for a living. He might not have a place in Alexis’s life, but he couldn’t live like an animal anymore.
“Why’d you turn, man?” Alan’s voice wasn’t accusing, but curious. That alone surprised him.
Hunter rubbed a hand over his face, hating that Alexis was going to hear the rest of the truth this way. In front of a stranger. “I didn’t. I’ve been working for that piece of shit Tom Davis for the past six years,” he growled.
Pure disbelief washed over Alan’s face. “Why?”
Distrust ran deep to Hunter’s core. He wasn’t sure if Alan was dirty. The only thing he knew was that his old boss and Alan’s current one, Carl Connor, was. If it hadn’t been for Connor, he’d be married to Alexis and they’d be raising their son together. Now she could barely stand to look at him. Hell, he could barely stand to look at himself. “Because Carl Connor sold me out.”
Alan snorted and then had the nerve to laugh. “Deputy Director Connor? You’re out of your mind.”
He risked a quick glance at Alexis who was quiet but listening attentively. “I used to buy his act too, but that’s all it is. An act.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Alan asked.
Glancing back and forth between Alexis and Alan, he stood and slid his gun over to Alexis. He’d given her his backup but this one was more powerful. “Will you be all right for a minute?” he directed his question to her.
She nodded and clutched the weapon in her hand. He knew she still had the gun he’d given her earlier tucked into the back of her pants, but she didn’t seem to mind that he was giving her an extra one. He also didn’t miss the way her eyes narrowed on Alan as she leaned back in her seat. Daring him to make a move. He smiled at her spunk as he rushed out of the room. Once in his bedroom he pulled out a copy of all the blackmail documents Davis had given him years ago in an effort to force Hunter to work for him. Maybe if Alan saw what Connor had been doing, he’d check into him.
Back in the kitchen, it didn’t look as if either of them had moved. Alexis sat immobile and Alan looked annoyed. When Hunter sat, he slid the group of papers across the table and plucked the weapon from her hand. Alexis’s hand shot out to take the papers, but Alan was faster.
“What is that?” she murmured while Alan pored over the papers.
Leaning back in his chair a fraction, he shook his head. “Just wait.”
She shifted in her chair and before he had a chance to react, she kicked his shin. Not hard enough to injure him, but he was surprised. And slightly amused. He used to love getting her fired up. They hadn’t fought often, but when they had, the makeup sex had been worth it. As he looked at her, a pinkish tinge spread across her cheekbones and he knew she was thinking the same thing. Yeah, she might be engaged to someone else, but she still wanted him. He knew he shouldn’t care, but the most primitive part of him loved it. Selfish or not, it was the way he felt. Just one kiss would be heaven. Or torture. Experiencing what he couldn’t have would probably be worse. No kissing, no touching. He repeated it in his head like a mantra.