Home > Mackenzie's Magic (Mackenzie Family #4)(4)

Mackenzie's Magic (Mackenzie Family #4)(4)
Author: Linda Howard

Chapter 2

He said it much more as a statement than as a question, but Maris nodded anyway, remembering at the last second to limit herself to only a tiny movement of her head. The calmness of his voice again piqued her interest with its familiarity. Why wasn't he alarmed, indignant, or any number of other responses that could reasonably be expected? Maybe he'd already guessed, and she had only confirmed his suspicion.

He was a drifter, a man who routinely walked away from responsibility, but even though he'd guessed what she was doing, he had involved himself anyway. Their situation was highly precarious, because unless she could prove the charge she'd made, they would be arrested for stealing Sole Pleasure, the most valuable horse in the country. All she remembered now was the danger to the stallion, not who was behind it, so proving it could be a bit chancy. Chancy... Chance. Chance and Zane. The thought of her brothers was like sunrise, bringing light to the darkness in her mind. No matter what was going on or who was behind it, all she had to do was call Zane, and he would get to the bottom of it. Maybe that had been her original plan, lost in the fog that obscured the past twelve hours. Get Sole Pleasure out of harm's way, contact Zane, and lay low until the danger was over. She stared at the ceiling, trying to remember any other detail that would help clear up the situation. Nothing. "Did I call anyone last night?" she asked. "Did I say anything about calling one of my brothers?"

"No. There was no time or opportunity to call anyone until we got here, and you were out like a light as soon as you hit the bed."

That information didn't clear up the question of whether she had undressed herself or he had done it. She scowled a little, annoyed at how the physical intimacy of the situation kept distracting her from the business at hand.

He was still watching her closely; she felt as if his attention hadn't wavered from her for so much as a split second. She could sense him analyzing every nuance of her expressions, and the knowledge was unsettling. She was accustomed to people paying attention to her; she was, after all, the boss. But this was different, on an entirely different level, as if he missed nothing going on around him. "Were you going to call your family for help?" he asked when she didn't say anything else.

She pursed her lips. "That would have been the most logical thing to do. I should probably call them now." Zane had left the SEALs, he was much easier to contact; Barrie and the kids kept him closer to home. And he would know how to get in touch with Chance, though the odds of Chance even being in the country weren't good. It didn't matter; if she needed them, if she made the call, she knew her entire family would descend on Kentucky like the Vikings swooping down on a medieval coastal village and heaven help those who were behind all this.

Maris tried to ease herself away from him so that she could sit up and reach the phone. To her amazement, he tightened his grip, holding her in place. "I'm okay," she said in reassurance. "As long as I remember to move slowly and not jar my head, I can manage. I need to call my brother as soon as possible so he can" "I can't let you do that," he said calmly.

She blinked, her dark eyes growing cool. "I beg you pardon?" Her tone was polite, but she let him hear the steel underlying it.

His lips twitched, and a ruefully amused look entered his eyes. "I said I can't let you do that." The amusement spread to his mouth, turning the twitch into a smile. "What are you going to do, fire me?"

Maris ignored the taunt, because if she couldn't prove Sole Pleasure was in danger, neither of them would have to worry about a job for some time. She lay still, considering this sudden change in the situation, possibilities running through her mind. He was too damn sure of himself, and she wondered why. He didn't want her to call for help. The only reason she could come up with was that he must be involved somehow, in the plot to kill Sole Pleasure. Maybe he was the one who'd been hired to do it. Suddenly looking up into those blue eyes, Maris felt the danger in him again. It wasn't just a sensual danger, but the inherent danger of a man who had known violence. Yes, this man could kill.

Sole Pleasure might already be dead. She thought of that big, sleek, powerful body lying stiff, never to move again, and a nearly crippling grief brought the sheen of tears to her eyes. She couldn't control that response, but she allowed herself no other. Maybe she was wrong about MacNeil, but for Sole Pleasure's sake, she couldn't take the chance.

"Don't cry," he murmured, his voice dropping into a lower note. He lifted his hand to gently stroke her hair away from her temple. "I'll take care of things."

This was going to hurt. Maris knew it, and accepted the pain. Her father had taught her to go into a fight expecting to get hurt; people who didn't expect the pain were stunned by it, incapacitated and, ultimately, defeated. Wolf Mackenzie had taught his children to win fights.

MacNeil was too close; she was also lying flat on her back, which took away a lot of her leverage. She had to do it anyway. The first blow had to count. She snapped her left arm up at him, striking for his nose with the heel of her palm.

He moved like lightning, his right forearm coming up to block the blow. Her palm slammed into his arm with enough force to jar her to the teeth. Instantly she recoiled and struck again, this time aiming lower, for his solar plexus. Again that muscular forearm blocked her way, and this time he twisted, catching both of her arms and pinning them to the pillow on each side of herhead. With another smooth motion he levered himself atop her, his full weight crushing her into the bed.

The entire thing took three seconds, maybe less. There had been no explosion of movement; anyone watching might not even have realized a brief battle had taken place, so tight had been the movements of attack and response, then counterattack. Her head hadn't even been unduly jarred. But Maris knew. Not only had she been trained by her father, she had also watched Zane and Chance spar too often to have any doubts. She had just gone up against a highly trained professional and lost.

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