There wasn’t a woman alive who would be willing to live beneath his heavy blanket of security, never being able to walk around, never being able to do her own shopping, not even allowed to go for a walk, because he sure as hell would never allow his woman to be a target.
And what would be the point of being able to buy all the clothes and jewelry you wanted if you could never be seen in them?
Not to mention the possibility of children.
God, just the idea of having a child made him break out in a sweat. He’d seen too many children die violent deaths. He’d go insane if there were a child of his somewhere out in this cold and violent world, a target for someone bent on vengeance.
So occasional safe—very safe—sex with occasional partners was as close as he ever got to another human. He had very little recollection of the women who’d trooped through his bed. If he closed his eyes, he could remember little details. A mole on the underside of a breast. A shaved pubis. Pretty knees. An artistic tattoo. That kind of thing.
That was it, though. The women the details had been attached to—gone. He couldn’t remember their names or their voices. He could barely remember their faces even right after fucking them.
But he remembered her face. Oh, yes. Every detail.
Everything about her was so perfect. Just…perfect. Large eyes the color of the sea, hair that seemed to have a thousand colors in its glossy depths, pale, perfect skin.
And an air of melancholy over all that.
She bewitched him. She didn’t know of his existence, but hers filled his life in an instant.
Grace Larsen was indeed her name, and she came to the Feinstein Gallery every other Tuesday afternoon, as Drake found out soon enough. When he got home he made it his business to know everything about her. So every other Tuesday afternoon, Drake was there, too. In an alleyway, in the shadows, hidden and alone, watching through a small window that only gave him a narrow view of the gallery and that afforded him only isolated snatches of Grace.
It was folly, it was insanity, but he couldn’t have stayed away had a gun been pointed at his head.
And now one was.
He was going to pay the extreme price for his folly.
At the sound of a round being chambered, he reacted instinctively. He had superb hearing and was able to triangulate the position. About a yard behind him and slightly to his right.
Time went into slow motion, though his body moved faster than thought, instinctively, violently. He still had fractions of a second before the trigger could be pulled, enough time to remove himself from any possible trajectory.
Drake was a ground fighter. He dropped instantly to the cold, oil-stained concrete. Whoever the man was, Drake knew he was concentrated exclusively on the shot, therefore his balance would be top-heavy. All the attention in his body would be concentrated in his eyes and hands. He probably wasn’t even feeling his feet.
Drake had trained himself to be aware of all parts of his body in combat, but he knew that ability was rare. He dropped, shot out his leg; his heel hooked the shooter’s foot and brought the man down with a foot lock.
He’d learned SAMBO from one of the Russian masters. Once he got an opponent on the ground, the man was his.
The man toppled and fell. He was as tall as Drake had instinctively calculated from the source of the sound, but the shooter was heavier than Drake had imagined. He fell badly, right on Drake’s left knee. A blast of pain shot through his knee, red-hot, almost unbearable. For a second, he wondered if it was broken, then dismissed the thought. If it was, there wasn’t anything he could do about it.
But he didn’t think so. He knew the feeling of deep injury and this wasn’t it. It was just pain. Pain could be ignored.
Drake had the man in a half guard, elbow against his neck, but he couldn’t block the man’s lower body with his wounded leg. Through the thick down jacket, Drake could feel that his opponent was large, bulked up with solid muscles. Unusual for a shooter, and his damned bad luck.
But though Drake was less bulky, he was strong and fit. His hands were very strong from a lifetime of judo. Grunting, sweating, he walked his right hand down to where the shooter was holding his gun, trying to wrench it around.
The shooter was strong. But Drake was stronger.
He dug his thumb into the tendons of the shooter’s inside wrist, feeling muscle then bone beneath his fingers. He tightened his grip as the man got off a shot. Luckily, he was holding the gun away from himself and it pinged silently off the brick wall, shards of brick spattering against the plate-glass window, then raining down on them.
Drake dug his thumb in deeper, felt the man grunt in pain. One more second and the man’s grip loosened, dropping the gun to the concrete with a clatter. Drake broke the man’s wrist and picked the gun up. A SIG P229.
A side door opened, an elongated rectangle of light falling onto the filthy alleyway.
Two people stood in the doorway, two other men behind them.
A pale, beautiful woman with the muzzle of a Beretta 84 dug so hard into her temple a rivulet of blood ran down the side of her face. The man holding the gun to her head was a tall, long-haired Latino with bad skin and cold, cruel eyes, wearing a long leather coat. Behind him stood two other Latino-looking men, smaller but no less vicious. Gangbangers.
And all bets were off. Because the woman with blood streaming down her face was Grace Larsen.
“Drop the gun. Now.” The tall Latino’s voice was cold, slightly hoarse.
Drake hesitated. He was armed beyond the SIG. He had a Glock 19 in a shoulder rig and a Tomcat in his waistband, but giving the SIG up went against every instinct he had. If he was to get Grace Larsen out of this situation alive, he needed every advantage he could get.
“Throw it,” the man growled. He tightened his arm around Grace’s beautiful neck. Her nostrils were white and pinched, her lips turning blue. He was cutting off her oxygen.
Drake could blow his arm off. It wouldn’t be the first time. But he couldn’t guarantee that the man wouldn’t move at the last second, that he wouldn’t hit Grace instead.
Drake opened his hand and let the SIG tumble to the ground.
Feinstein Art Gallery
“Your secret admirer is going to love this,” Harold Feinstein said to Grace, holding up a pastel. She’d worked on it for an entire day, not eating, not drinking, stopping only to go to the bathroom, working feverishly to catch every stingy ray of winter sun that drifted down through her skylight.