Driven by Fire(9)

By: Anne Stuart



“Not me, lady. I don’t do a job halfway. So what has your innocent little darling done to make enemies—she hardly looks old enough to have annoyed anyone.”

Jenny glanced at Soledad. She couldn’t understand his hostility when every other man who’d come near the young woman had been smitten. Maybe she’d been wrong all this time, and he was batting for the wrong team.

No, she always had a sixth sense about these things. Matthew Ryder liked women all right—he just didn’t seem to like her, a fact that filled her with almost nothing but gratitude.

He didn’t appear to be any too enamored of Soledad either. “She worked with the resistance back in Calliveria,” Jenny continued, “which didn’t make the government and the police force very happy. If she goes back there she’ll be arrested, tortured, and probably murdered.”

He was singularly unimpressed. “You do have a flair for the dramatic, don’t you, Ms. Parker? So let me get this straight: we need one apartment, one job, and one bodyguard, and you expect us to pay for it?”

“Your organization was the one who pulled her off that ship. When you save a life, you’re responsible for that life.”

His expression was jaded, cynical. “Then it’s lucky that saving lives isn’t usually in my job description. I’m usually the one taking them.”

It was a good thing she was unable to come up with a fake laugh at his joke because a moment later she knew he wasn’t kidding. She’d seen him with that gun in his hand, seen the bodies on the ship. She swallowed. “Are you going to help me, or not?”

He watched her closely for a long moment. “I’m going to help you,” he said finally, “simply because I want to know what you’re hiding.”

She felt like she’d been punched in the stomach, but she kept her face impassive. If she weren’t careful she would look guilty as sin, and she couldn’t give this man any more reason to distrust her.

She summoned up her coolest voice. “Why would you think I was hiding something from you? What would I possibly have to hide?”

“I’d say ‘you tell me,’ but I think it would be a waste of time. You’re not about to give up your secrets until someone makes you.”

She felt cold now, frozen. “That someone being you?”

“Maybe. It depends on just what you’re hiding and how much I need to find out. Don’t worry—for now I think it’s something stupid that has nothing to do with the human trafficking and the slime responsible for it. You’re too nice a girl to know people messed up in something like that. Unless it’s your family.”

Jenny wanted to throw up. She jerked her face up to look directly into his dangerous blue eyes. There was no expression in them—he was playing with her, though she wasn’t quite sure why.

Their eyes caught and held for a long, tense moment, and she didn’t dare back down. Finally he leaned back. “However, even your family steers clear of child prostitution and sex trafficking, at least as far as I’ve been able to discover. Even if you’re closer to them than you pretend, they’re unlikely to have been involved. So that rules out one possibility.”

It wasn’t the most reassuring thing he could have said, and she hid the shiver that went down her back at his prosaic words. Before she could say anything he rose, clearly dismissing them. “All right,” he said, bored, “you told me what you want—I’ll do my best to get it as long as you promise to leave me the fuck alone.”

She could feel Soledad’s faint tremor at the sound of the word. The girl knew that word, and knew it meant anger, danger, and trouble. “Watch your language,” Jenny said.

“Or what?” He eyed her coolly. “I don’t think you have much leverage in the situation. You can’t tell my mommy on me.”

She wanted to tell him what an asshole he was. She didn’t trust him, didn’t like him. She knew the negative feelings were mutual, but he was the only one she could go to for help. Her only solace was that there was no way he could find out what she had done that day on the freighter—only she and Billy knew.

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