It was faint and over almost before it began, but it was definitely a smile. Dying men don’t smile. Or at least she imagined not.
Only one way to find out. “Are we going to die here?” she whispered.
“No.” His jaws clenched. “Nothing will happen to you, I swear. I won’t let it.”
He rolled away from her, gun at the ready. Grace twisted her head to watch him. His parka had a big hole in it and underneath that, a big hole in the shoulder, oozing blood.
“My God,” she whispered. “That’s serious.” Her fingers scrabbled for her purse. It had fallen in the middle of the sidewalk, the long strap facing them, thank God. She caught the tip and started pulling it toward her. “I’ve got a scarf in my purse. I can use it as a pressure bandage to stop—”
The world blew up in her face. One second her purse was inching its way to her and the next there was a big crater in the pavement and tiny pieces of black leather floated in the air.
Grace’s ears rang as all outside sound was cut out. Her face and neck hurt. When she put her hand to her face, it came away wet and red.
All her senses were gone. She was screaming but she couldn’t hear herself. She’d lost all sense of up or down and it was only when the man’s face came into view that she realized she’d been blown on to her back.
His mouth was moving, the strong cords in his neck were standing out, so it was entirely possible he was shouting, but she couldn’t hear a thing. It was like being dead, or halfway into a coma. Large hands were frantically touching her all over. His long fingers sifted through her hair, feeling every inch of her skull.
She winced when he touched the back of her head. It was incredibly painful. Maybe she wasn’t dead, after all.
The man threw his black parka onto the sidewalk and when that was blasted away, he lifted himself up, big black gun in hand. He grasped the gun with both hands, sighting over the top of the roof of the car, and shot three times. She couldn’t hear anything but she could see his hand buck slightly with each shot, then come straight back to the position it had been in before. Three pretty, bright brass casings twirled in the air. One fell on her hand and she jerked to roll it off. It was hot and burned her.
Then suddenly she was lifted to her feet, an iron arm around her waist, and she was half carried to a waiting car on the street. Men were all around her now, in a tight circle, backs to her. Big men, dressed in black, all carrying weapons.
She was literally thrown into the backseat of a large car, her head banging against the far window. Another body piled in, the door slamming closed just as the car took off so fast it pressed her against the seat.
A second later, the car took a corner violently. She bounced off the door and would have fallen to the floor if an arm hadn’t come around her shoulders, anchoring her to a hard male body.
The car raced through the streets, veering wildly around corners. Grace would have been tossed brutally around if she weren’t clamped to the man’s side.
She burrowed into him, the one steady thing in a wildly careening universe. She’d seen five men killed, she’d seen her best friend’s head blown off, someone had shot at her. It was as if she’d entered another dimension, a world of darkness and danger, feral and lethal.
A deep, calm voice sounded in her ear. “It will be all right.”
No, no it wouldn’t be all right. Not ever again.
She closed her eyes and clung to him as they raced through the streets. The big car had excellent suspension and the driver was superb. They were traveling as fast as an ambulance or a police car racing after a suspect, but of course without the siren, so the driver had to zip around other cars like a crazed man. It was a miracle they didn’t crash and burn.
Grace was in a fog of pain and shock, with barely the energy to hope that the car wouldn’t run into a light pole or overturn at a corner. She rocked against the man holding her as his blood soaked through her coat. When she felt the wetness she pulled away, horrified to see the front of her coat wet with his blood. She looked up at him, at that calm, strong face. He looked as if absolutely nothing was wrong. As if he hadn’t been assaulted, shot at, wounded.
But the wound was real, she could see the mangled flesh. “You need to close that wound with something or you’ll bleed out.”
What to use to staunch the wound? The scarf in her purse was long gone. A shrug and her coat was off. The lining was a silk and polyester blend. Maybe that would do as a pressure bandage, though she didn’t know the absorption properties of polyester. Still, it was the only thing she had, so she started ripping the lining. Her hand was covered by his broad, olive-toned one.
“You’re bleeding!” Grace could hear the hysteria in her voice. Of all the horrible things that had happened since she’d walked into Harold’s gallery, this was one she could do something about. Not much, but something. “We have to stop the bleeding.” She batted his hand away, crumpled up the back panel of her jacket, pressed it against his wound and held it tightly.
Surely she was hurting him, but he gave no sign of that, not even a grunt. He just closed his eyes when she pressed against his shoulder.
“Sorry,” she whispered. He looked a little pale now, though it was hard to tell in the darkened cabin of the car. “I know I’m hurting you. But we’ll be at the hospital soon and they’ll stitch you up. It will be okay, you’ll see.”
She threw his words of comfort right back at him. The usual cheery words, words that were often overused and were often untrue. Life sometimes opened wounds that never healed. She hoped this one would. He’d saved her life.
The man leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. One big hand came up to cover hers. It was still shockingly warm, considering they’d been in the freezing rain and that he’d lost a lot of blood. “Not going to the hospital,” he said softly. “Not safe.”
Grace waited a few beats while what he said penetrated her weary brain, then jerked when she realized what he’d said. “That’s insane. Of course we have to take you to the hospital. You’ve been shot.”
His eyes opened suddenly, looking at her intently. Their faces were only inches apart. His eyes were chocolate brown, intelligent, weary. He reached up a hand to touch the scrapes and cuts on her face. His fingertips came away red and he held them up, studying them. “And you’ve been shot at.” Something flashed in his eyes, something hot and dangerous. “I’d kill them again for this. I’m sorry it was quick.”