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Barely two hundred feet down the beach, Alan spoke again. “This way.” He dug the gun into her back and directed them toward another wooden dock. It led to a strip of asphalt that looked like it was probably used for public parking. There weren’t any parking meters, though, and only one SUV was there. The lump in her throat expanded. He’s been planning this.

The sound of the locks popping up told her that was their transportation. When he handed her the keys, she nearly stumbled and dropped them, but he wrenched her arm and yanked her against him. Her gut roiled as he spoke close into her ear. His hot breath on her skin made her want to vomit. “You’re driving and the kid’s sitting in the front seat. Try anything stupid and he gets shot.”

She gritted her teeth and clenched her hand around the keys. The jagged edges dug into her skin, but she didn’t care. The pain distracted her.

She strapped Jonathan in, then walked around to the driver’s seat. As she started the engine, Jonathan’s small voice nearly broke her heart.

“Mommy?” he asked in a wobbly voice.

“We’re going to be okay. I promise.” She didn’t look at him when she said it. If she saw tears in her son’s eyes, she’d break down. And that was the last thing they could afford.

Chapter 13

Hunter stared at the local map the sheriff had laid on the kitchen table. Despite his earlier assumptions, the locals were on top of their game. The other man pointed out different locations with various colored stickers. “These points indicate vacant beach homes. These indicate recently rented homes, and these are…”

When his cell phone buzzed in his pocket, Hunter walked away from the table to answer. The area code on the caller ID was from overseas. Maybe his PI had news. “Hunter here.”

“Hey, it’s Rick.”

“I figured. What’s up, man?”

“Listen, when I realized what was going on, I started digging a little deeper into your guys.”

“Yeah?” Hunter’s mind went into overdrive. “You find something on Connor?” he murmured.

“No, he’s clean. The other guy, Alan Saltz, has a stepbrother. It didn’t come up the first time because they have different last names, but over the past six months, some hefty deposits have been put into his accounts.”

“From where?”

“Transferred from anonymous accounts. Some in Central America, but most deposits were from various Caribbean banks. And I managed to track a call from his cell phone to none other than Tom Davis’s personal office at the CIA. It was only one call, but it seemed the sort of thing he should have mentioned.”

Hunter clenched the phone tightly against his head. “Saltz doesn’t smoke.”

“Uh, what?”

Hunter closed his phone and yanked the back door open.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Connor strayed behind him.

“Have you ever seen Saltz smoke before?”

“No, why?”

“Shit.” Without responding, he sprinted across the deck. He fought the terror spreading through him as he neared the end of the walkway. Maybe he was wrong. This had to be a mistake.

Blood rushed in his ears. The beach was empty, but Jonathan’s airplane sat nestled in the sand.

Connor ran up beside him. “What’s going on?” he panted.

“I think Saltz kidnapped Alexis and Jonathan.” The world funneled out around him as he stared at his son’s toy, trying to formulate a plan.

Alexis wouldn’t have left the beach except under duress. The only thing that gave him a small sliver of hope was the fact that he was certain they were still alive. If all Saltz had wanted to do was kill them, their bodies would be lying on the beach. He could have killed them both using his silencer.

“What are you talking—”

Hunter’s phone buzzed again but it was a private number. “Yeah?”

“If you don’t do exactly as I say, that little brat and your woman die.” The unmistakable voice of Tom Davis reverberated through the phone line. And sliced through his heart.

Everything blurred in front of him. He blinked and shook his head, trying to focus. He had to stay calm or Alexis and Jonathan would pay for his mistakes. “I’m listening.” Somehow he kept his voice steady.

“Meet me at Pirate’s Cove Marina. You’ve got twenty minutes. Come alone.”

“How do I know they aren’t dead yet?”

A brief rustling sounded in the background, then Alexis’s voice. “Hunter. Whatever he says, don’t do it! They’re going to kill—”

A smacking sound then a yelp from Alexis followed and all the air left his lungs as if he’d been punched in the stomach. One way or another, Tom Davis was dying today.

“Hear that?” Davis snarled.

“I’ll be there.” His muscles tensed as his body kicked into fight mode.

“Remember what I said. Come alone or I kill the kid first. Or maybe I’ll just make him a paraplegic.” He rattled off directions to the correct boat slip, then disconnected.

Hunter shoved the phone back in his pocket and tried to ignore what Davis had just said. The man would do everything he’d said and probably worse. He had no choice but to follow the other man’s directives. If he brought in backup, they’d die immediately. In his gut, Hunter knew he was probably going to end up dead today, but if he could get Alexis and Jonathan to safety, he could deal with that. They’d search him for weapons so bringing a gun was out—

“I take it that was Davis?” Connor’s voice cut through his thought process.

“Yep.” He turned and jogged back toward the house. They’d given him just enough time to get there, but not enough time to do any canvassing of the area.

Connor kept up with him. “What did he say?”

“Give me the keys to your car.” It wasn’t a request.

“Here.” Connor fished them out of his pocket and shoved them toward Hunter as they reached the back door. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to save them.” Or die trying. He hated that his hands shook as he took Connor’s keys, so he tried to force the sudden images of Alexis and Jonathan dying from his mind. Right now they needed someone calm and focused, not someone out of control. Save them. The two words resounded loudly in his head. If he did one thing right in his life, this was going to be it. He’d keep them alive no matter what.

Alexis’s hands clenched the steering wheel so tight her hands had turned white and she was sure claw marks would be visible on the leather.

“Turn here,” the man named Davis said. They’d picked him up minutes after Alan had kidnapped her and Jonathan.

So far, Davis was the nastier of the two. Her face throbbed where he’d slapped her and she was sure a bruise had already formed. It took a certain kind of cretin to hit a woman, and in front of a child no less. Poor Jonathan hadn’t made a sound since then. It was as if he’d closed himself off. He might be young, but he had a vague understanding of what was going on.

Jonathan had actually heard someone say they wanted to kill them. Kill him. She’d never been a violent person, but after having a gun pointed at her child, a fierce maternal instinct like she’d never imagined raged through her.

Every fiber in her being wanted to fight this man. Fight both men. But she couldn’t. If Jonathan hadn’t been on the beach with her, she’d have let Alan shoot her. She’d taken numerous self-defense classes and the number-one rule always reiterated by her instructors: don’t get in the car with an attacker. Let them wound you. Getting in the car meant death or worse.

She didn’t think either of the men were interested in sexually assaulting her, but nothing would surprise her. Alan had seemed normal. Her first instinct had been that something was off about him, but Hunter had trusted him and now she wished she’d paid closer attention to that gut feeling.

“Now turn here,” he spoke again.

She’d tried asking questions before, but after being slapped, she wasn’t risking it again. She stole a glance at the passenger seat and her heart nearly cracked in two. Jonathan had his arms wrapped around his body and he couldn’t stop shaking. If he wasn’t in the front seat she might risk ramming the vehicle into something. But she couldn’t. The chances of him surviving an accident in addition to the impact of an airbag blowing up were slim. It could break his neck.

After the conversation Davis had with Hunter, she knew where they were going. Probably going to dump them off in the ocean once they got them out to sea. At least that was her guess.

She silently prayed that Hunter came through for them. Not that she doubted him. Even if he knew it meant certain death for him, he’d come. Just like she would.

As she made the next turn, something inside her broke and she couldn’t censor herself. “So which one of you big men is going to kill an unarmed woman and child?”

She looked in the rearview mirror. Alan clenched his jaw and stared out the window, but the other man’s face turned red as he leaned forward.

“Oh, we won’t be killing you. I haven’t decided if we’ll kill Hunter either.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“First I’m gonna see if any of Calero’s old faction wants to buy Hunter and his whore. None of Calero’s men even know his real identity, but I could change all that with one call.”

Acid rolled around in her stomach but she forced her expression to remain neutral. “Why bother with Hunter at all? You could have left the country.”

“He just had to go to the DEA. That bastard ruined my life,” he muttered.

“You ruined his first,” she shot back as they pulled into the parking lot of the marina.

They all exited at once except Jonathan so she went around and picked him up. He clutched onto her and buried his face against her neck. His wet tears trickled down her back and she gripped him tighter. The fact that anyone had caused this much hurt to the two people she loved more than anything was almost too much to bear.