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Safe Harbor: Chapter 2

JONAS blinked as he came up out of a sea of pain. ‘Son of a bitch, you’re scary,’ he informed Jackson. ‘Where the hell did you get that look? Practicing in the mirror every day?’

Jackson grinned at him, but his eyes held worry. ‘Following you to hell and back.

You’re such a pansy, Harrington. Fainting like a girl. I had to carry your sorry ass all the way to the car.’

‘I knew you’d complain.’ Jonas inhaled and instantly frowned. ‘Not another hospital.

You really must be pissed at me.’

‘You needed a few pints of blood.’

Jonas refrained from replying when the doctor stepped into view, shoving a tray closer. This wasn’t going to be fun.

Jackson ignored the doctor. ‘You have to figure out what the hell you’re doing soon, Jonas, or you’re going to get us both killed.’

‘No one asked you to come along,’ Jonas snapped, knowing he was being completely thankless. He hated the truth when he heard it, especially when he knew exactly what Jackson was talking about. Not what— whom.

Jackson shook his head, eyes steady. ‘You can’t save the world and you’re going to have to come to terms with it. And you damn well need to fix things with Hannah.’

‘Mind your own damn business,’ Jonas snapped, knowing he didn’t have the right, but unable to stop himself. He detested hospitals. He’d had his fill already and the wound wasn’t that bad. He’d just bled like a pig and gotten a little low. He wanted to yank the needle out of his arm and go.

Jackson stared at him, his black eyes glittering with a coming storm. No one else was stupid enough to call down hell on themselves, no one but Jonas. When had he lost his mind? Jackson didn’t deserve his crap.

‘You made this my business, and don’t try to pretend Hannah isn’t the reason we’re in this mess. If you’d deal with the woman, no one could talk you into anything like this crap mission. You’d stay in the safe zone, Jonas, and we both know it.’

Jonas opened his mouth to deny the charge, but snapped it closed when Jackson looked at him steadily. The doctor doused his wound with some kind of fire-starting liquid that robbed him of thought and made him break out into a sweat all over again.

He clenched his teeth and tried not to pass out.

‘It’s complicated,’ he said, when he could breathe again. The doctor gave him several shots and Jonas slipped a little farther back from reality. The edges around him blurred and darkened. ‘Hannah Drake is not like other women. She’s different…


She was— everything. Magical. She was his—or she should be his. Why the hell wasn’t she his?

‘You’re looking a little green,’ Jackson said. ‘Don’t pass out on me again.’

Jackson didn’t miss much. He noticed every movement, every sound, watching the windows and doors and traffic on the street, and still saw that Jonas was swaying as the doctor began to suture the wounds closed.

‘Hey! My side isn’t numb,’ Jonas snapped, clenching his teeth and fists. If the doctor shoved the suture needle into his skin one more time, he was liable to pull out a gun and shoot the man.

‘Hurry up, Doc, it doesn’t have to be pretty,’ Jackson said, moving to the doorway and peering out.

Jonas noticed his hand was inside his jacket, where his gun was ready. The doctor gave Jonas another shot of anesthetic and Jonas pressed his lips together hard to keep from swearing. Jackson glanced back at him, looking less than sympathetic.

Jonas closed his eyes and thought about Hannah. Why hadn’t he taken control of the situation before it ever got this far? He loved her. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t loved her. It had just happened. He loved the way she smiled, the turn of her head, the flash of fire in her eyes, the little pout to her lower lip. It sucked how much he loved her. He was a man who always, always, wanted control, yet Hannah threw him off balance. There was no controlling Hannah. She was like the wind, unpredictable and fluid, slipping through his fingers every time before he could catch and hold her.

She made him angry when few others could get under his skin. She could soothe him with a touch. He was happy just looking at her—watching her—yet half the time he wanted to yank her over his knees and spank her beautifully shaped bottom. Hannah was complicated and he needed simple. She was brilliant and he was all brawn. She was ethereal, untouchable, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen—magical even, and so out of his reach.

She was going to be furious with him for getting shot again. Especially as the last time had been only a few weeks earlier and he would have died without her. She’d nearly died herself trying to save him, sitting by his side for days on end, pouring her strength into him and leaving none for herself. He’d been too weak to push her away.

He’d needed her there on so many levels, but it had been hell to watch her grow pale and fragile while he grew stronger.

Then afterward, how had he thanked her? Not the way she deserved, that was for sure.

He’d been so edgy and restless, so moody. When the boss of his former special black ops team had come asking for help, he’d jumped at the chance rather than telling Hannah the truth about how badly she shook him up. He’d rather look death in the face like some defiant child. All because he loved her so much it was a torment and he knew he could never have her and keep his life the way it was. It wasn’t that Hannah would object to the dangerous things he did—if she’d even have him—but he wasn’t about to risk putting her in danger. Over the years, he’d made enough enemies that, sooner or later, one was bound to come after him—hell, it had already happened more than once.

He drew in a breath and tried not to wince. ‘Okay. You could be right. There’s a chance she had something to do with it.’

Jackson’s eyebrow shot up. ‘A chance,’ he echoed.

Jonas scowled. ‘Keep it up. You’ll be pulling every crap shift for the next ten months.’ It was an empty threat, but it was all he had left. He felt so damn tired and empty he just wanted to crawl in a hole and hide for a while, but he knew what was coming and there was no stopping it.

Jackson waited until the doctor had left the room before pulling up a chair and straddling it, facing both the door and the window. ‘I’m serious, Jonas. You’re going to get yourself killed. You stepped right under that light in full view to take that shot.

You had to have known you were exposed.’

‘Karl Tarasov, that son-of-a-bitch enforcer, put a fucking bullet in our driver’s head, Jackson,’ Jonas snapped.

‘It was an amateur move and you know it.’ Jackson was silent a moment. ‘Or suicidal.’ Again he fell silent, allowing the word to hang between them.

Jonas sighed and shook his head. ‘I’m tired out, Jackson, not suicidal. I was just so pissed. He didn’t have to kill the driver. Terry hadn’t seen anything. Tarasov did it as a statement. So fuck them. I was just so angry.’

‘You have no business doing this kind of work, Jonas, I’ve told you that before. You just can’t detach. We survived all these years because we stayed cool. You aren’t responsible for Terry’s death. He chose to drive the car. You weren’t responsible for losing any of our men at any time.’ He sighed. Talking wasn’t his forte and he’d been doing too much of it to keep Jonas on his feet. But this—this was important. Jonas was going to get himself killed. ‘You can’t be emotional and survive, not in this business.’

There were few men Jackson respected—Jonas was one of them. The man never stopped caring. It didn’t matter if the bullets were flying and the jungle closed in, he’d come back for you. But life in the fast lane took a toll on men who cared and it was eating Jonas one small piece at a time.

Jonas shoved his fingers through his hair. Jackson was right. There was no way around it. ‘I know.’ But he’d never learned to turn it off. Hell yeah, he felt responsible.

He couldn’t sleep half the time, thinking about the boys, those young Rangers under his command, he’d brought home in caskets. There’d been too many of them, and of late, they’d haunted him both night and day.

‘You’re messed up, man. She’s messed you up. You’re going to have to resolve this thing that’s between you or you’re not going to make it. If you’re waiting to get her out of your system, don’t bother. I’ve known you for nearly fifteen years now and it hasn’t happened yet. You were in love with her then and you’re in even worse shape now.

You don’t have a shot in hell of making those feelings go away. Bottom line, bro, over the years you’ve gone crazier and crazier on me. You can’t do that shit and work undercover.’

Jonas swore under his breath. Jackson wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. If he tried to deny he was that far gone, to claim that he could still hold it together, it would be a lie. He thought about Hannah every minute of every day. He dreamt about her at night when he could actually sleep. He often woke up dripping sweat, hard as a rock, his body on fire with need, the taste of her in his mouth, the scent of her in his lungs. It was getting worse, so much so that he was afraid to go to sleep at night. And when he saw her, he had to find something to push her away or he’d do something crazy like drag her into his arms and then it would just plain be the hell over. Because he didn’t know how to be anything but what he was.

‘You’re damned lucky she hasn’t gone and found another man, Jonas.’

‘Don’t go there, Jackson.’

Jackson’s head went up alertly, his body going still, suddenly menacing. He stood up abruptly and signaled Jonas to silence, stalking once again to the door. ‘We’ve got company.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He didn’t bother to ask if Jackson was sure—the man’s instincts had saved them repeatedly over the years. Jonas yanked the needle out of his arm and slid off the bed, looking around frantically for his shirt. It had been cut to ribbons, the material lying on the floor in a bloody heap. He grabbed his jacket, easing his arms into it. ‘What the hell did Duncan get us into? Karl Tarasov is not going to stop until he recovers the evidence. He isn’t about to let his uncle go down for murder.’

Jackson held up four fingers. ‘They’ll be waiting outside as well. The Gadiyan brothers are cracking heads looking for us.’

‘Shit.’ Boris and Petr Tarasov headed the family of vicious mobsters renowned for their ability to launder money in any part of the world. Their criminal activities were legendary and they ruled by bloody force. Karl, Pete’s son, and the Gadiyan brothers, in-laws, were their top enforcers. Having them on their trail wasn’t promising.

Jonas instinctively started back toward the door, but Jackson stepped in front of him.

‘What we have on them is too important to lose. You want a shot at these men, we’ll make a little noise and draw them to us, lead them out of here to keep them away from innocents, but we can’t have a firefight in here.’

Jonas knew better. Of course he wasn’t about to put civilians in the line of fire, but he could feel anger rising, the way it had earlier—and it said volumes that Jackson felt he had to remind him.

What the hell had Gray sent them into? He knew it involved one or both of the very prominent Russian mob families operating out of San Francisco. The Tarasovs didn’t bother to hide what they were, deliberately terrorizing their own people, taking bloody revenge if anyone crossed them. They’d been known to wipe out entire families. Boris and Pete Tarasov ruled their empire with fear.

Sergei Nikitin, their biggest rival, preferred maintaining the appearance of a prominent businessman and jet-setter. He wanted acceptance and traveled with the rich and powerful, hiding his crimes behind his smooth smile, all the while handing out orders to kill anyone opposing him. The stakeout had been on the Tarasov family, and right now, Jonas was very worried because he’d stumbled into something much bigger than a couple of gangsters killing each other. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

He swore softly as he yanked the thin blanket from the gurney, wrapped it around his arm and broke out the window as loudly as possible to draw the attention of the mobsters, wanting them to follow. Clearing out the jagged remains, Jonas quickly hoisted himself through, and stood to one side, covering Jackson as he followed.

They found themselves in a narrow strip of land between the hospital wings. It was a maze, mostly flat with dirt and concrete and once in a while grass, but the various angles of the massive complex could provide cover. They waited until they heard the shouts coming from the room they’d been in, and then, ducking low to avoid the windows, they ran fast, Jonas keeping pressure on his side to avoid leaving a blood trail.

A shout and one wild shot told them they were being pursued. As he wove his way around the buildings, Jonas tried to recall the details they’d filmed. It had all happened so fast. At first the men were talking and laughing. No one particularly special, not anyone from a rival family involved. And suddenly the Gadiyan brothers and Karl Tarasov had joined the small meeting. They’d been back in the shadows where Jonas couldn’t see.

The men had instantly come to attention. And who wouldn’t with that kind of clout around. When Boris and Petr Tarasov had showed up, everything still seemed ordinary—friendly. There had been no warning when Karl had yanked one man out of the group and Petr had shot him.

Jonas wished he could conjure up the details of the man who had come to warn the Russians. He’d walked up fast, his face covered and averted, hat pulled low, large dark glasses in place although it was very dark out. He had known the camera was on them—and that meant someone on the inside. They had a traitor in the defense department—someone paid by the Russian mob.

Had he captured the traitor’s face? Jonas doubted it. He’d tried to, even panning down to pick up the shoes, but then all hell had broken loose. The group of men had all turned toward them, there had been a shout from behind the group, orders barked out in Russian. The men had started firing, pinning them down. Karl Tarasov made his way to their car to blow out their tires and kill their driver.

Something terrible had welled up in Jonas when he saw Karl shoot Terry in the head.

He didn’t even remember stepping out from behind cover, only the rage that had overwhelmed him. Less than half an hour earlier he’d been talking to Terry about his family, the mother he loved and supported, about his wife pregnant with their first child, the fun he had keeping up his driving skills, still able to do the work he loved without risking too much. Fortunately, Jonas had been in a dark shadow and Jackson had yanked him back as the bullets plowed into him.

Hell. Jonas wanted to hit something all over again. How many kids had he seen die?

For nothing. For power or money or somebody else’s ideology. His vision blurred and he touched his face, shocked when his fingers came away wet. He was too damned old for this. What was he doing?

Jackson dropped a hand on his shoulder, and they both halted, crouching low. ‘You can’t save them all,’ he reminded him quietly.

Jonas didn’t respond. Hell, no, he knew that, but he should have been watching out for Terry. He was weary of death and ugliness, of the mess people made of the world.

And he was damned tired of running. ‘You sure on the count?’

‘I saw four, but they aren’t the ones behind us. I’m only hearing two and they aren’t very quiet, definitely not Karl or the Gadiyan brothers. We’ve got two others circling around trying to get in front of us. I think the big guns are pulling out and leaving the expendables behind.’

Jonas checked the loads in his gun. ‘Why would they do that?’

‘They tore up the hospital. Someone had to have called the cops,’ Jackson said as they rounded a corner. He stopped running and signaled Jonas to keep going.

A bullet hit the wall behind them and plaster rained down on them. Both hit the ground rolling for cover. Jackson went to the left and managed to lie flat behind a low wall of bricks, and Jonas crawled his way through a thin hedge to crouch behind a small outcropping on a utility building.

‘Did you see where it came from?’ Jackson asked, his gaze coolly quartering the surrounding area.

‘Nope. But I think he was above us from the angle of the shot.’ And that wasn’t good.

The shooter would have better vision.

‘My thoughts exactly. Cover me.’ Jackson scooted fast along the brick wall, until he came to a small opening. ‘Ready?’

Jonas took his gun in a two-handed grip, finger on the trigger. ‘Go.’ He kept his eyes on the roof of the small utility building.

Jackson was up and over the wall, avoiding the opening, but diving into a hedge that lined the narrow walkway right beneath the building where they were certain the shooter hid.

Jonas kept his gun steady, finger taking up the slack. A flash of movement above their heads and he pulled the trigger, a steady, one-two-three barrage of shots. A body teetered for a moment and then tumbled from the roof, gun landing on the metal and sliding down to the ground.

Jonas kept his weapon trained on the shooter, moving up to check for a pulse even as gunfire erupted to his left. He saw Jackson roll and come up firing. The second man was caught in the throat and went over backward, blown off his feet to lie facedown in the dirt.

‘We may have company,’ Jonas said. ‘There are still two of them out there.’

‘I’ll do a quick recon and make a call,’ Jackson said. ‘Can you identify either of them?’

‘Definitely Boris Tarasov’s soldiers,’ Jonas replied. ‘I’ve seen this one in the mug shots a dozen times. He’s all over the war room next to Duncan’s office.’

With two of the mobsters and the worst of the bunch, the Gadiyans and Karl, still unaccounted for, Jonas wasn’t taking any chances, sinking back into cover while Jackson went up onto the roof tops to try to make the call for backup. Duncan had a lot to answer for. Sending them in blind as if they were a couple of rookies was bull.

More importantly, someone close to Duncan had betrayed them.

‘I called it in,’ Jackson said, returning. ‘Duncan’s sending a team to mop up and get us out of here. There’s no sign of the other two. He said to stay out of sight.’

‘You mean stay away from his team?’

‘That’s what I understood.’

Jonas muttered an obscenity and then crouched a distance from the bodies, sending out a silent call. Hannah? You okay? He knew what it cost her to expend so much energy.

A soft breeze kept leaves on the trees fluttering, but she didn’t answer. His chest tightened. ‘So do you think she’s all right?’ Jonas asked. ‘I’ve tried connecting with her, but she isn’t responding.’

‘Hannah?’ Jackson was silent for a moment, turning his face up to the sky. ‘Yeah, she’s all right. She’s weak, but you knew she would be.’

Hannah, answer me. Jonas despised the desperation he felt when he couldn’t reach her.

His adrenaline overloaded, heart beating too fast, too hard. Even his mouth went dry.

Hannah had to be all right all the time or he just went to pieces, and for a man in his position, that was a death sentence. He definitely had to resolve this issue.

The wind swept over the building, this time more of a soft breeze. It rustled leaves on the trees and dropped down into the narrow lane where they crouched to ruffle his hair and touch his face as if soothing him. He heard his name, a soft sigh of a sound, a whisper teasing at the back of his mind. Jonas. Come home to me.

He glanced over his shoulder at Jackson. ‘Did you hear that?’

‘Yeah, I heard it.’ Jackson stared over Jonas’s head to the street, watching for their enemy while they waited for the man who had gotten them into so much trouble.

‘How long have you known the Drake family?’ he asked.

‘I think I met them when I was around seven. My mother was very sick and I took over the household pretty early. It could get lonely and, when mom was bad, pretty scary for a kid, so I spent a lot of time in their home. The Drakes just let me come and go as I grew up. I used to climb in through a window when the front door was locked because I didn’t want to bother going around to the back of the house, but they never said a word about it to me.’

‘And now the girls do the same thing,’ Jackson said.

Jackson was forcing conversation to keep him on his feet. Jonas knew Jackson rarely talked, not even to him. He didn’t like physical contact, yet there he was, one hand on Jonas’s sorry shoulder, the way he’d been doing all night, the way he did every time they went into battle together. ‘Yeah, they’re my family and I’m not dragging them down into my world, especially Hannah.’

Jackson flashed a small, humorless smile. ‘I hate to break it to you, bro, but she’s already in your world, they all are.’

Jonas shook his head and reached out again. Hannah, are you alone tonight? He hadn’t felt the presence of any other energy like he normally would have if her sisters had helped provide the storm. Where’s Sarah? Hannah needed someone with her after all the energy she’d used. He felt her touch, a small tentative brush… as if she was too tired to do more. Are you still outside, on the captain’s walk? It was difficult maintaining the connection, the distance too far, and Hannah too weak. She was the stronger psychic and usually kept the bridge open between them.

Jonas felt anxiety creeping in. ‘I think she’s still on the captain’s walk, Jackson. She’s alone and cold and weak. No one’s there to help her. I’ve got to get back to her.’ She’d sacrificed tonight for him—for both men—and he wasn’t about to leave her alone, drained of her energy. She needed to be inside, where it was warm, a cup of her special tea in her hands and Jonas watching over her through the rest of the night.

Hang in there, Hannah. I’ll be there as soon as possible.

There was that gentle breeze again, so soft, brushing over his face like the touch of fingers. I could use a little help tonight.

That was a rare admission from Hannah, and his heart turned over. I’m coming, baby, just give me a little time to wrap this up. Can you make it into the house? He didn’t want her lying in the biting cold, too weak to move. He was a four-hour drive away, not too far as the crow flew, but a long distance on winding roads.

I’ll be waiting.

To Jonas’s astonishment, Duncan arrived and shepherded them to his car while, behind them, his men moved out of the shadows to take control of the situation.

Duncan drove them through the streets of the city back to his office, entering through a back way. It didn’t take long to discover what they had captured on film. Duncan erupted into a barrage of swearing. Petr Tarasov murdered an undercover officer right in front of their eyes. It was the kind of evidence that could bring a death penalty conviction without too much trouble.

‘We thought he was in solid with the Tarasovs.’ Duncan swore again and passed his hands over his face.

‘No wonder Karl and the Gadiyans kept coming after us and then sent their soldiers when it got too hot. I’ll bet they’re already making tracks out of the country,’ Jonas said.

‘Petr Tarasov is going to fry for this,’ Duncan snapped, fury in his voice.

The three watched in silence, a gasp of shock the only reaction until the man in the coat and hat walked up to Boris, the head of the crime family, and Boris turned his head to stare straight at the camera.

‘Any ideas who tipped him off?’ Duncan asked in a tight voice. ‘We’ll need the guys in the lab to enhance this as much as possible. We need to find out who this son of a bitch is as soon as possible.’

‘He has to be one of yours. He must have tipped off Tarasov you had an agent undercover and then he got wind you sent someone in to film the low-level meeting.

Only there was no meeting because the information your undercover fed you was his own setup. They got him there to kill him,’ Jonas said.

‘We’ll find the son of a bitch. He doesn’t know who you are. No one does. I kept your names out of it on purpose.’

‘Because you suspected you had a leak,’ Jonas guessed, exchanging a long look with Jackson. He felt sick that he’d been standing there filming when another agent had been murdered in front of him. ‘At least you have enough to fry Petr Tarasov.’

‘Good job,’ Duncan added as an afterthought.

‘Yeah, thanks,’ Jonas replied, working to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. ‘I’m out of here.’

‘Sit down, Harrington, you’re not going anywhere until we pick Petr Tarasov up and make absolute certain you’re in the clear. I’ve lost two men and I’m not about to lose any more.’

‘Thanks for the concern, Duncan, but I’m not part of your team anymore and you sure as hell aren’t tying me up tonight,’ Jonas protested. ‘I’ve got somewhere important to go.’

‘Not until this is cleared, Jonas,’ Duncan said. ‘Petr Tarasov murdered an agent and we’ve caught him red-handed. There’s no way to dispute that tape. We’ve got a traitor in the department and I’m not taking chances with your life. And if that isn’t good enough for you, Boris Tarasov believes in retribution. You killed several of his soldiers. He’s going to want your head on a silver platter and I’m going to make damn sure he doesn’t know who you are before I let you go home. Until we pick up Tarasov, you’re going to be kept under wraps.’

‘Not happening,’ Jonas said. ‘I’m not part of the team anymore, Duncan. Obviously you knew you had a traitor or you wouldn’t have gone outside the team for this recon.

You suspected your undercover, the one who was killed, didn’t you? And you wanted me to get evidence on him because you thought maybe he had a partner on your team.’

‘Something like that,’ Duncan said, his voice tight. ‘And I’m not chancing losing another agent. So unless you want this war to follow you right back to where you live, you’re going to stay here under wraps until I make sure you’re in the clear.’

Jonas opened his mouth to protest, and then closed it. Damn it. He didn’t want to stay but there was no way in hell that he’d risk bringing that bloodbath in the alley home to Sea Haven. There was no way he’d risk putting Hannah in danger.

‘I need to make a phone call.’

‘That’s not happening and you know it, Harrington. No calls, no e-mails, no text messages. We do this clean with nothing pointing back to you. We’re taking you out the back way and stashing you until Tarasov is picked up and I’m satisfied he doesn’t know your names.’

‘Who knew we were in the field?’ Jonas asked.

‘No one should have known. I asked you to help out as a personal favor and gave you Terry to drive. No other member of the team knew about the recon and I wanted to keep it that way. That’s why I personally picked you up and got you out of there before the team moved in to deal with the bodies. The Russians play for keeps, Jonas.’

‘Hell, Duncan, I know that. And I’m sorry about your men.’ He didn’t want to think too much about Terry or the fact that an agent had been murdered not fifty feet from him while he held a camera. The thought sickened him and he couldn’t look at Jackson. Sometimes, like now, he was just so fucking soul weary he didn’t know what to do. He needed Hannah or he was going to drown.

‘I’m not adding you to the list of dead men,’ Duncan decreed, ‘so resign yourself, Harrington.’

Jonas slumped back in the chair, pushing his hand through his hair. He was dirty, exhausted, covered in blood and hurting like hell now that the anesthesia was wearing off. He looked over at Jackson, shrugged his shoulders and gave in.

Hannah. I’m not making it back tonight.


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