Bowled him over.
Jake Steele said, "Problem?"
I stared into a pair of ocean-blue eyes, felt a well-muscled torso rippling beneath me, and fought back the tingle coursing down through my belly.
"No trouble," I said. My voice croaked.
"Really?" he said.
I rolled off him and got to my feet. "Really."
Jake rose with jungle cat grace. Tall, topping me by at least three centimeters. Dressed in jeans, and a gray t-shirt beneath a black leather blazer.
We were in a service corridor behind the kitchens. Jack gestured back up the corridor. "Gunfire wasn't you?"
"Can we go?" said Mouse. "Or did you forget BC's finest?'
"I knew it," Jake said.
"Oh shut up," I said. "They could be after you."
"We just got here," he said.
Mouse grabbed my jacket sleeve. "You two can make goo-goo eyes at each other later--"
"I was not--"
"--but we have to go. Now."
"Got a car out back," Jake said. "Loading dock. Come on." He turned and strode away in the opposite direction.
Mouse took off after him.
I sprinted after them.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I said to Jake when I caught up and matched steps.
"Did Revell send you to tail us?'
"And who the hell is 'we'--"
Jake skidded to a stop, whirled, slapped a hand over my mouth, and shoved me against the corridor wall. Air rushed from my lungs.
Bonnie flew into my hand and shoved her muzzle into his forehead. Jake ignored the gun and his eyes bore into my skull.
His hand smelled of soap and gun oil.
I fought down the shallow breath in my chest and the frenzied butterflies in my gut.
"My biz here is just that," he said. "My biz. Gunshots bring cops. We're in Uptown so they get here just a bit quicker. If you want to argue with me, we can do that another time. Right now, I'm offering professional courtesy and getting your asses out of here. Now, you still want Bonnie"--he tapped the pistol aimed at his head--"to blow my brains out? Or are you going to accept my help?"
I mumbled something.
He took his hand off my mouth. "Say again?'
"Lead the way."
The corners of his mouth twitched up. "That's what I like to hear."
The butterflies in my gut went wild.
* * *
After circling Corporate Plaza to make sure we weren't followed, Jake drove to the parking garage off Baker Avenue where Mouse and I had parked Specs's loaner. He pulled to the curb and idled the car.
Mouse and I got out.
"I owe you one," I said to him.
He crooked an eyebrow at me. "One? You owe me more than that."
Heat flared in my belly. I swallowed. "See you around."
"Better believe it."
He winked, put the car in gear, and pulled into traffic.
I watched as the car disappeared around the next corner and realized I'd been holding my breath.
Mouse was saying something next to me.
I blinked and looked at her. "What?"
"Just tell him and get it over with."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't bullshit me. You know you want to jump his bones."
I felt my face redden. "Shut up." I turned and started toward the parking structure's side entrance.
"You're blushing," said Mouse.
* * *
On our way back to the Red Dog, I called Specs but got his mailbox. I left a message: "Meet us at Red Dog. Minor glitch." Then hung up.
"He's not gonna like that," Mouse said.
"Not my doing this time."
Ten minutes later, we pulled into the back of the bar, went in through the back door, into the bar, and ran into more trouble.
Kincaid reclined in a chair in the middle of the bar, legs stretched out in front of him, an eagle-headed cane across his lap. Black. Mid-thirties. Close-cropped hair. Swimmer's build. Dressed in a fitted, slate gray, double-breasted suit that seemed to shimmer under the lights.
Four muscleboys stood by the bar's front door, two on either side. In usual black suits.
Revell stood behind the bar, arms folded across his barrel chest. He arched an eyebrow at me.
I blew out a long exhale.
"Ladies," Kincaid said with too broad a smile, white teeth in sharp contrast to his dark skin. He held his hands out in a gesture of friendship.
"Kincaid," I said.
He picked up his cane and pointed the tip at us. "That's a new look for you."
"I know why you're here," I said.
"Good. I can forget the small talk." He set the cane back on his lap. "My money."
"You'll get it."
He tsk-tsked. "I don't think you heard me," he said.
The four muscle moved.
I held up both hands, palms out. "Wait."
The muscle stopped.
"Better be good, Kat," he said.
"We've got a run coming up," I said.
Next to me, Mouse made a small strangled noise . I put a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay," I said to her. "We can tell him."
She looked at me with narrowed eyes.
I returned the look, then turned back to Kincaid.
"Good run coming," I said. "Nice take. You'll get your money plus ten percent."
Another strangled noise from Mouse.
I squeezed her shoulder.
She went quiet.
Kincaid stroked his chin and nodded. "Five hundred fifty thousand."
"And," I went on, "we can give you two hundred fifty now. The rest when we finish our run."
"Good faith money?" He chuckled. "I like that."
"Thought you might," I said. "All we need is a little time to do the run and get you the rest. Say, twenty-four hours."
Kincaid picked up his cane, sat up in the chair, and tapped the cane tip on the floor. "Done."
"I'll just go get the money--"
Kincaid jabbed the cane at Mouse. "She can get it." Then he leveled it at me. "You'll stay here."
I looked at Mouse. She nodded and went out the back.
Kincaid sat back in the chair, cane on his lap, and laced his fingers across his midsection.
A few minutes later, Mouse came back with a creditchip and handed it to Kincaid.
Kincaid took the 'chip, pulled a reader from inside his suit jacket, and slotted it. He studied the display.
"Two fifty?" I said.
He slipped both the 'chip and the reader back inside his jacket and rose. "As we agreed," he said, "the remaining 300,000 credits due to me in eight hours."
"What!" said Mouse.
"I said twenty-four--" I began.
"Eight hours," said Kincaid.
One of his muscle opened the door and held it for him.
Kincaid stopped in the doorway. "I recommend not disappointing me, ladies," he said. "Otherwise...let's just say that paranoia can be very stressful."
The door closed behind him.
"Son of a bitch!" said Mouse.
I yanked off my blazer and flung it atop a nearby table.
Something went thunk.
Mouse and I looked at each other.
Then at my blazer.
"What the hell--?" said Mouse.
(to be continued...)