Cold in the Shadows

By: Toni Anderson

“Don’t,” she warned sharply. “Poison on gloves.” Her words came out in short gasps. “Transferred to skin.” A throbbing wave of hurt pulsed through her. “I-I didn’t mean to hurt him.” Why was she warning the guy? So he could finish the job his buddy had started? But avoiding the inherent danger of the frogs was so ingrained she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. “If you touch him you might die, too.” She spoke in English because her brain wasn’t up to translating into another language, but he seemed to understand. Her thought processes were dulled from blood loss and shock. Her entire left side was hot, sticky, and numb. She stumbled away along the path.

She didn’t get far. At first she thought she’d fainted. Then she realized the dizzy sensation was her being scooped up in strong arms and carried along the path. Her cheek nestled against a hard male chest and she could feel his heart beating against his ribs. Something about his scent teased her senses, but its significance drifted away as she slipped into unconsciousness.

Chapter Three

KILLION DIDN’T KNOW what the hell was going on, but he hadn’t expected to find a known enforcer for El cartel de Mano de Dios in convulsive death-throes after trying to take out Dr. Audrey Lockhart. Any doubts as to her involvement vanished along with Hector Sanchez’s ability to breathe.

Did she work for the cartel? They’d assumed the murder was something to do with the now disbanded Gateway Project as a couple of known murderers had been poisoned in a similar fashion and it fit their MO. But could Mano de Dios have ordered Ted Burger’s assassination in retaliation for their leader being locked up in a US maximum-security prison? And were the cartel now cleaning house so no one else figured it out?

He rolled the idea over in his mind. It could fit. The vice president had been relentless in going after the illegal drug trade after his son had died of a cocaine overdose. It made a pragmatic kind of sense. Use a hired assassin unassociated with their group to get rid of the problem without anyone suspecting they were involved and bringing down the wrath of the American military on their organization—not to mention getting their faces on their own personal deck of cards.

He hefted the professor higher in his arms, careful of the jutting knife. She wasn’t very big. She wasn’t very heavy.

At the entrance of the park he glanced about to make sure there was no one around. It was full dark now. Streetlights were few and far between in this non-residential area. He strode up the hill, past Hector Sanchez’s idling sedan, and placed Lockhart awkwardly in the backseat of his rental. Her eyes were closed.

“Hey, wake up!”

She opened her eyes.

“Keep pressure on the wound,” he told her sternly.

He headed back to the parking lot, leaned inside the enforcer’s sedan, and turned off the ignition, pocketing the keys. He closed the door, making sure he didn’t touch anything with his bare skin. Langley wouldn’t appreciate having one of their operatives linked to a messy murder. Confident no one had seen him, he got back in his car and started the engine. Lockhart was lying in the darkness, panting to control the pain. The handle of the blade protruded just above her hipbone on her left side. At least it wasn’t in the gut or the chest, but knife wounds hurt like a bitch. Hector Sanchez had a sadistic reputation, and probably intended to play with Dr. Lockhart for as long as possible, to make her bleed and scream.

The world was a better place without Sanchez in it.

Killion put the car in drive and headed slowly down the hill and through town, past local bars, and the darkened police station. He dragged his orange T-shirt over his head and tossed it to her. “Use that to try and stem the bleeding.” He drove calmly, doing the speed limit in a part of the country that generally didn’t bother. He adjusted the rearview, saw that her eyes were now closed and she appeared to have passed out.

“Hey, Lockhart! Wake up,” he yelled.

Her eyes flicked open. “H-hospital.”

Their gazes met briefly. “You know I can’t do that.”

She didn’t have many choices—not in this town, not with a cartel knife sticking out of her side. It wouldn’t be long before Mano de Dios started looking for their pet killer, and when he turned up dead they’d scour the entire country for this woman. If they found her, they’d make her pray for a swift end.

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