Burn (Chapter Twenty-eight)

JENNER CAME OUT OF THE BATHROOM IN HER PAJAMAS, her face freshly scrubbed, her nipples pebbled against her thin tank. It was all Cael could do not to groan. He had to be the biggest fool on earth, to think he was in control of anything where she was concerned. He'd known she was going to be trouble the first time she opened her mouth. He just hadn't known how much trouble – or what kind.

She picked up the conversation they'd been having before she'd changed as if there had been no break. "So," she mused. "CIA? NSA? FBI?" A hint of a smile teased the corners of her lips. "Coast Guard? Since we're partners now, there's no reason for you to hold out on me."

He had to set her straight, sooner rather than later. "We're not partners."

She was unshaken, completely unaffected by his edict. "I say we are. So, details, please. What have you gotten me into?"

He considered turning his back, but that could be dangerous, and ignoring Jenner Redwine was getting more and more difficult. In the end, he didn't even try. Maybe she'd earned the truth. "Let's just say that not everyone who does work for the government actually works for the government."

"That's as clear as mud."

"No dental, no pension plan …"

"Contract work," she said, without even a hint of alarm in her voice.

It was dangerous for her to know too much, but she was already in a dangerous position. She already knew too damn much. He nodded once, and returned his attention to the audio and video he'd been reviewing before she'd interrupted him. Larkin had opened his laptop tonight, but it was hard to tell if he'd signed onto the Internet or not. If he had, Faith would have the details shortly. Might be nothing, but then again, maybe there would be a clue about what he was up to with Mills.

He didn't handcuff Jenner to the chair. Why bother? She'd had several chances to blow his cover and she hadn't done it. If she'd headed out the door when he'd told her she was free, would he have stopped her? Maybe, maybe not. Didn't matter; she was still here.

A date?

She crawled into bed, pulled the covers to her chin, said good night, and closed her eyes.

Like it or not, she was into the shit damn near as deeply as he was.

JENNER WOKE A COUPLE OF TIMES, realized Cael still wasn't in the bed with her, and opened one eye to see that he still sat in the chair by the bed, watching and listening to the man next door. What could be so important that he'd rather be over there than in bed with her?

She sighed. While she knew very few details, she knew what he was doing was truly important. She'd heard enough, seen enough to know that much.

The bed dipped, waking her, when Cael finally came to bed. She sighed, rolled toward him, and found him propped on his elbow watching her. "What is it?" she asked, then blinked when she saw he was naked. Completely.

"My turn," he said, and pulled her under him.

She shot awake, her heartbeat going from normal to shuttle blastoff in something like a tenth of a second. His heavy weight crushed her into the mattress. "What? Wait!"

"Wait, my ass," he said in a goaded tone as he grabbed the hem of her tank top and dragged it off over her head. The sudden exposure sent her senses reeling, and she would have done something totally silly like covering her breasts if he hadn't shackled her wrists with his hands and pinned them to the pillow on each side of her head as he looked down at her. In the lamplight she could see the way his features clenched, and her nipples pinched tight in response – not from the cold, not a simple reaction to being touched, but a response to him, all heat and power and dark sex.

He slid farther down in the bed, still holding her wrists, and clamped his mouth over one thrusting nipple. Pleasure so sharp it was almost pain shot through her breast. She made a keening sound as his tongue stabbed at her nipple, circled it, before he sucked hard and deep. She bucked under the lash of sensation, straining against his grip, his weight, those wilds sounds still coming from her mouth.

He made a rough sound against her breast, and released one hand so he could reach down and give a mighty tug at her pajama bottoms, shaking her out of them as if he were shaking a pillow out of a pillowcase. He had to completely turn her loose to accomplish the job and she tumbled to the other side of the bed. He dragged her back into position and covered her, putting his hands behind her knees and lifting them around him.

If the past few tumultuous minutes counted as foreplay, that was all she got. He reached down between them, said, "Fuck!" in a strained voice, and reached for the bedside table. Blinking in confusion, Jenner turned her head and stared in amazement at the number of foil packs scattered across the tabletop.

"Holy hell," she blurted.

He tore open the foil, rolled the condom on with a few fast, rough motions, and pushed into her – that fast, that hard, that intent.

She sucked in a deep breath, half-closing her eyes as she absorbed the sensation. She was just barely wet enough to take him, and he was so thick and long … another of those helpless, keening sounds burst from her throat. Her fingers dug into his shoulders as she tried to anchor herself, but he was taking exactly what she had offered. As he'd said, it was his turn, so she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and gave herself over to him.

He thrust hard and deep, no finesse, just a raw drive to climax. The power and heft of him pushed her over the edge almost before she realized she was there. She came hard, clenching around him, and with a muffled curse he came, too, his almost savage rhythm changing to something slower and deeper as he rode the crest.

The silence in the bedroom after was broken only by the gasps of their breathing, as if they'd both run a marathon. Cael pulled out of her and collapsed beside her, his body gleaming with sweat. Jenner felt as if her entire body were throbbing from the force of her heartbeats. That hadn't been like anything she'd experienced before. It hadn't been amazing, or great, or any of the other adjectives she'd heard used to describe sex. It had been powerful and primal, stripped down to the simplest form – no polish, no technique, though she was certain he had them. He had fucked her. He had mated her.

Until now, until this final step, she would still have been able to step back, but not now. This had gone too far. A man didn't make love to a woman like that and walk away unscathed.

Panting, she lifted her head and met his gaze, brilliant blue under narrowed lids, his expression both hard and extremely satisfied with himself. Then she looked at the bedside table, estimating the number of condoms. Looking back at him she said, "You're in big trouble now, cowboy."

"You think so?" he asked, reaching out for a fresh condom. "Brace yourself; you're in for a rough night. We'll count coup in the morning."

*  *  *

LARKIN COULDN'T SLEEP. He got out of bed and paced the suite, feeling as if ants were crawling on him. Something was wrong. Something was out of kilter, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Finally he realized what it was, and went to the suite's main door to jerk it open and stick his head into the hallway. The guard on duty, Johnson, straightened with a jerk. "Is anything wrong, Mr. Larkin?"

Larkin glared at him. "You can go," he said sharply. Johnson looked surprised. "But Mr. Larkin, I thought …" "Don't think," Frank said. "You might hurt yourself." He hadn't been thinking clearly himself, apparently. While the suite was more secure if there was a man at the door, and he worried less about the eyes he sometimes felt on him, it would also be harder to find the privacy he needed when the time came for him to set the timers on the bombs. These yahoos thought all the bombs would be detonated by manual triggers, but that wasn't the case. The bombs they'd planted belowdeck, in places he couldn't access without arousing suspicion, were operated by the trigger in his possession. The incendiary bombs on the public decks were on a timer, which he would set himself, early in the morning of his last day on this earth.

The morons also thought the triggers they had in their possession were operational, but they were merely toys. He had the single working trigger, and he'd use it at the proper time, well before they were expecting it. If there was a guard on his door at all times, how would he get away to set those timers? He hadn't been thinking clearly when he'd ordered Mills to set up the constant watch. It was the tumor, the damned cancer that had stolen his ability to reason.

Johnson left and Larkin closed the door, reveling in the seclusion that had become his life. He trusted no one. He needed no one. And that was a good thing, because he had no one.

*  *  *

THE NEXT MORNING, Cael watched, narrow-eyed, as Jenner got dressed. The night between hadn't eased the stress of being around her. He was beginning to feel a real sense of terror that this particular stress would never ease. They'd done normal things this morning: showering, eating breakfast, and still all he could think about was getting back inside her. After the night they'd spent, logically he should be hours, maybe even days, from being ready for sex again. She was trying to kill him. Slowly, painfully. He'd rather be shot; it would hurt less.

"What the hell are you wearing?"

Jenner glanced down. "It's just a sundress."

That was like saying they were "just breasts." The thin fabric of her blue sundress draped over her like a second skin; the skirt was knee length, showing off fine legs. Even her feet, in another pair of those ridiculous sandals, were sexy as hell.

Yep, she was trying to kill him.

They were going ashore again today, to Kauai this time. Tiffany was joining them, since she was single and Tiff and Jenner were new best buds. The rest of the bunch would keep an eye on Larkin, all four involved with the surveillance if their subject stayed onboard, which seemed to be his preference since the Hilo meeting, Faith and Ryan tailing him if he decided to go ashore.

After today, there would be only one more day of splitting up his team to watch Larkin. Tomorrow night they'd be back at sea. Cael was more comfortable with that scenario. Once they were at sea, Larkin wasn't going anywhere.

He'd decided to stick with the arranged tour for this excursion. At this point, it was a good idea to stay in a crowd, and keep Jenner out of bikinis before he fucked himself to death. What was it about her? It definitely wasn't her curves, because she didn't have that many. She had a smart mouth. She was diabolical. Logically, his intense reaction to her shouldn't be happening.

Unfortunately Little Cael didn't function on, or even recognize, logic.

*  *  *

DEAN ASKED TUCKER and Johnson to meet with him privately, in the water treatment facility where they could be certain not to be disturbed. In a narrow corridor between two separate series of twisting pipes, they could be assured of privacy.

Asker and Zadian were also in on the robbery, but Dean had known Tucker and Johnson for years, and he trusted them to do as they were told. It was no mistake that they'd been given two of the three triggers for safekeeping. He had the other.

He could trust them with this.

"I think Larkin is losing it," he said, his tone heavy.

"No shit," Tucker said.

For the past couple of days, the guard Larkin had once insisting on having at all times had been called off, ordered back on again, and then once more called off. Even if the incident with Tucker and the bread hadn't proved to Dean that his boss was a nutcase, Larkin's increasingly erratic behavior as they sailed among the islands would've done the trick.

"We're going to follow him in shifts, just the three of us. Maybe if we keep our eyes open we can figure out what he's up to."

Johnson, who was thinner and older and usually more serious than Tucker, asked, "Do you think he's planning a double cross?"

"It's crossed my mind."

Tucker ran nervous fingers through his hair. "But we've got the bombs and the guns. He can't do anything without us. All he did was plan the getaway."

A getaway that was looking less and less likely to Dean, less and less clean, though he didn't say so aloud. A part of his brain whispered this isn't going to work, while another part said, more loudly, millions.

He was so tired of taking orders, so tired of taking shit from men with money, while he never had any, to speak of.

"Once we get off the ship and the bombs have done their work, we might have to take out Mr. Larkin." A bop on the head and a swim in the drink would do the trick.

Neither of the men had a problem with that scenario; one less man to share the haul with meant more money for all of them.

"Until then, we keep an eye on Larkin," Dean said. "I suggest you don't let him see you."

JENNER COULD HONESTLY SAY she'd had a lovely day. Tiffany was funny and honest to a fault, and the foursome they'd come to know so well – Linda, Nyna, Penny, and Buttons – embraced life, truly enjoying the exotic beauty of the island and the company of new friends. Linda didn't mention her confession from last night, and neither did Jenner or Tiffany. It had been a private, touching moment, one that had affected Jenner more than she dared to admit.

Cael didn't say much as the day passed, which should've been a relief but was not. For one thing, the look in his eyes as he watched her made her as flustered as a virgin the day after her wedding. When you knew how a man looked naked, when he'd had you naked, it changed things. Once she wouldn't have thought so, but now she knew better. She was so attuned to him now a simple stroke of his finger on her arm could make her almost jump out of her skin.

Tiffany was fast at figuring out what had happened, and she kept grinning at them, which made Jenner even more self-conscious. Damn, she hadn't been this edgy when everyone had thought she was having sex with him but she wasn't. Now that she really was, she felt stripped naked, so to speak. His silence was probably explained away to the others in their group by discomfort over the fact that his old girlfriend and his new girlfriend were so chummy, but Jenner knew the truth: He was thinking about sex with her. Again. Soon.

At the end of the day, though, when they were back on the ship, instead of taking her straight back to bed Cael went to speak with Ryan. To her annoyance, he wouldn't tell her what had happened while they were gone. While they were getting ready for dinner, she tried to get some information. "What's the plan for tonight?"

"It all depends on Larkin," Cael said as he buttoned his cuffs. "Since he might've caught sight of Ryan and Faith several times today, I'll need to keep watch if he's on deck and let them lay low."

"You mean, you and I need to keep watch," she corrected.

He shot her a look. "No, you don't watch. You don't do anything but stand there and look gorgeous."

"If you tell me not to bother my pretty little head …" she began, more than a little annoyed. When was he going to get it through his head that she was a part of this? She wasn't just a passive pawn any longer.

He snorted. "We all have our duties. Yours is to be silent, cooperative, and obedient eye candy."

"Aren't cooperative and obedient pretty much the same thing?"

"It's a point I can't drive home often enough."

She turned her back on him and walked into the closet to choose her outfit. "If I'm only supposed to be decoration, what on earth should I wear?"

It was hard to be sure, but it sounded as if one of the words he muttered was "turtleneck."