Against the Heart(31)

By: Kat Martin

If Bandini harmed a single hair on that little girl’s head--

"You know, Meri, maybe I didn’t ask for enough," Joey said. "You got your hands on fifty thousand without a hitch. I’m thinking maybe you could get me fifty more."

"Are you crazy, Joey? I borrowed that from a friend. He isn’t going to give me anything more."

"By friend you mean the guy you’ve been putting out for? Your bedroom skills must have really improved if he was willing to fork up fifty grand for a piece of ass."

Ian clamped down on a surge of fury. It took sheer force of will to keep squeezing the trigger and putting a slug in the center of Bandini’s chest.

Meri took a step in Joey’s direction and Ian’s heart rate kicked up.

"Let her go, Joey," she said. "I mean it."

"You don’t tell me what to do, bitch! You never did." He slung an arm around Lily’s thin shoulders. Ian could tell she how scared the little girl was. "You want the kid, come and get her."

The look in Bandini’s eyes said he wanted more than money. He wanted payback for some imaginary wrong he’d suffered because of Meri. She started walking toward her daughter, and Ian bit back a curse.

"No, Mama!" Realizing Joey’s intention, Lily slammed her foot down on Joey’s boot, which only made him smile, but as she moved, her body jerked, her hand shot up, cracked into Joey’s chin, and he bit his tongue.


Joey's grip faltered, Lily took off running toward her mother, and a gunshot echoed from the top of the hill. Both men spun toward the threat and started shooting. Daniel’s second round hit Kowalski in the leg and he started firing madly toward the unseen man on the mountain.

Joey whirled and aimed his pistol at Meri, and Ian pulled the trigger on his Glock, putting a round in Bandini’s shoulder, slamming him backward, the gun flying out of his hand, disappearing into the darkness.

Hovering over Lily, Meri ran till they reached the safety of her car, climbed inside, and ducked down out of sight.

Kowalski was down, grabbing his bloody leg and moaning. Ian was on him, kicking the gun away, rolling him over, jamming his hands up behind his back and tightening a pair of nylon ties around his thick wrists. He moved to Bandini, who lay flat on his back, gasping for breath, cursing and bleeding, but hurting too badly to cause him any more trouble.

Daniel appeared, rifle in hand. He swung the stock up against his shoulder, aiming the barrel downward, covering the two men on the ground.

"I’m shot!" Bandini whined. "I need a doctor!"

"If I had my way," Daniel growled as he grabbed the canvas bag full of money and slung the strap over his shoulder, "I’d just dump you in the river and let the fish take care of you."

Bandini moaned.

Adrenaline still pumping through him, Ian pressed the send button on his cell phone, heard Gray’s voice on the other end of the line. "Time for the cavalry," he said. "They’re all yours, Detective Hawkins."

At the first sound of sirens echoing in the distance, Ian turned and strode toward Meri. She came out of the car and flew into his arms.

"Ian! Oh, my God!"

He kissed the top of her head, held her close against him. "Lily okay?"

Meri nodded. "She’s fine."

"It’s over, honey. The police’ll take care of Bandini. You don’t have to be afraid anymore."

Meri clung to him and

Fighting to compose herself, Meri hung on a moment more, then took a shaky breath and backed away. "Thank you, Ian. I’ll never be able to repay the kindness you’ve shown us. Thank you for everything."

Ian caught her chin, leaned down and very softly kissed her. "I love you, Meri. You don’t owe me a thing."

Meri spent the night and all the next day at Daniel’s. The police had been there, taking report after report. A doctor had looked at Lily and found her to be okay.

Meri had spent almost no time with Ian. Instead, she moved around the house as if in a daze, wondering if he had really said he loved her.

And if he had, did he love her in the same way she loved him? With all her heart and soul?

She had to ask him and yet she was afraid of the answer, afraid to let herself hope there might be a future for them. A future that included Lily.