Cold in the Shadows

By: Toni Anderson

He pulled down a quiet dirt road surrounded by plantations on both sides and parked up on the side of the road. There were no streetlights here. It was all dense vegetation and thick darkness. Locals barely had electricity. He climbed into the backseat and made room for himself by shifting Lockhart’s legs to the side. She cried out, but he didn’t have time to be gentle. He flicked on the overhead light. “I’m going to remove the knife and bandage the wound.”

“No! That could increase the bleeding.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper that was too pained-filled to be even remotely sexy.

“Lady, we don’t have a choice.” She’d already lost a lot of blood, but there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. “I need to get the knife out so I can get you away from this area before every member of Mano de Dios comes looking for us.”

“The cartel is after you?”

Time to cut the crap. “The clown you took out with your poison glove routine was Hector Sanchez—chief enforcer for Raoul Gómez, head of Mano de Dios.” Like she didn’t know. “And he was after you. Now that I rescued you, he’ll be after me, too.” Basic psychology. Reminding her she owed him for saving her life. “If you want to live you’re gonna have to do what I say.”

Her brows drew together. “I don’t understand.”

Jesus. “Sure you don’t.”

“You’re the tourist from earlier.”

Tourist? Like he didn’t have “Spook” tattooed across his forehead?

“You were with a family. Girlfriend.”

“I don’t have a girlfriend.” He had hookups, contacts, assets, and coworkers, all helping him fight the seemingly endless Global War on Terror, whether they knew it or not.

He reached into the rear compartment, dragged his bag over and dumped it in the front passenger seat. A professional assassin could pull the knife and fillet him like a damn fish if she wanted to. But she must have understood the implications of the man she’d killed being Mano de Dios. She was fucked if she stayed around here. She was pretty much fucked if she went with him too, but she didn’t know that yet. Right now she needed him. He was her only hope. Just call him Obi-Wan Kenobi. He grabbed the emergency first aid kit out of his duffel and another shirt. The orange T-shirt was dark and heavy with blood. He tossed it to the floor.

He grabbed a package of QuikClot out of the medical kit and ripped it open, then pushed her hair back from her face. The fear and vulnerability in her eyes caught at him unexpectedly. A surge of sympathy shot through him. No one wanted to die.

“This is going to hurt.” Even as he said it he eased the blade out of her flesh and then poured powder onto her wound. “The good news is the knife didn’t sever any arteries.” If it had, she’d already be dead.

“I don’t think I want to know the bad news.” Sweat gleamed on her skin.

That the knife might have nicked an organ and you might already be bleeding out internally? Going into sepsis or shock? “Probably not,” he agreed.

He pressed the fabric of the clean T-shirt hard against her side and watched her eyes bug with pain. Then she squeezed them shut and finally went lax—all without uttering a sound.

Out cold. Good.

Fifteen years ago, during his first TDY, he’d spent time north of the Darien Gap in Panama, figuring out the Colombian cartels’ distribution networks. Small, unregistered airfields had played a major role in getting the farmers’ product to the factories where it was refined into crack cocaine. Those airfields were everywhere, but he’d used one around here, many years ago, with a bunch of DEA agents and Navy SEALs who’d been actively hunting narcos.

Monkeys howled in the trees around him, warning him that this wasn’t his territory. He changed into a black, long-sleeved T-shirt and BDU pants, slipping his SIG in a shoulder holster and extra clips in his pocket. There wasn’t a lot of space but he’d changed in worse places. He got back in the driver’s seat and rumbled down unpaved roads half washed away by the monsoon rains. He crossed a river, hoping to hell it wasn’t too deep for the rental. He gunned the engine and water streamed up the side of the windows. They made it across—just. Audrey cried out from the back seat. He gritted his teeth to silence any reassuring platitudes that wanted to spring loose from his lips. Everything was not all right, and the whole situation was her own damn fault.

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