MacKenzie's Magic (Chapter 5)

Maris slipped the revolver into her coat pocket and grabbed the vest. "I'll put it on in the truck," she said as she opened the door and slid out. "We have to hurry."

The snowflakes were still drifting down, ghostly in the predawn quiet. Their footsteps crunched on the gravel as she and MacNeil crossed the parking lot to the truck. The defroster had cleared the bottom half of the windshield, and that was enough for him to drive.

He didn't turn on the headlights until they were on the highway and he could tell there was nothing in sight in either direction except for the tan Oldsmobile, which had pulled out behind them. Then he hit the switch, and the green dash lights illuminated his face just as they had earlier.

Maris shrugged out of her coat and into the Kevlar vest. It was heavy and far too big, so big it covered her hips, but she didn't waste her time arguing about wearing the cumbersome garment, because she knew MacNeil would never give in on this. "I remember driving with you last night," she said. He glanced at her. "Your memory's back?" "Not all of it. I still don't remember who hit me on the head, or taking Pleasure. By the way, don't you think you should tell me?" He grunted. "I don't know who hit you. There's a choice between at least three people, maybe more." "Ronald and Joan are two. Who's the one you followed to Solomon Green?" "The new vet. Randy Yu."

Maris was silent. That name surprised her; she would have thought of a lot of other people before she would have come up with the vet's name. She'd been impressed with his skill, and he'd never shown anything but the utmost care for his four-legged patients. He was a quarter Chinese, in his middle thirties, and with the strength a veterinarian needed. If he was the one she'd tangled with, she was surprised she'd managed to get away from him with no more than a bump on the head. Of course, whoever she'd fought with wouldn't have expected her to know how to fight, much less fight hard and dirty. "It makes sense," she said, thinking about it. "A quick injection, Pleasure dies of cardiac arrest, and it looks like natural causes. Not nearly as messy as a bullet."

"But you ruined that plan for them," MacNeil said, harshness underlying the calm of his tone. "Now they'll be planning to use bullets, for both you and the horse." Chapter Seven

Sole Pleasure wasn't happy. He didn't like being alone, he didn't like being cramped in a small trailer for so long, and he was both hungry and thirsty. MacNeil had backed the horse trailer deep into a section of woods, so deep she didn't know how he'd managed it, and Pleasure didn't like the unfamiliar surroundings, either. He was a horse accustomed to open pastures, roomy stalls, noise and people. As soon as they got out of the truck they heard his angry neighing and the thud of one of his rear hooves repeatedly kicking against the back of the trailer.

"He'll hurt himself!" Maris hurried to the trailer, moving faster than she should have for the sake of her head, but if Pleasure managed to break his leg, he would have to be put down. "Easy, baby, easy," she crooned as she unlatched the back gate, the special note she used for her horses entering her tone. The kicking stopped immediately, and she could almost see the alert black ears swiveling to catch her voice.

"Hold it." MacNeil's hand came down on top of hers as she started to open the gate. "I'll get him out. He's fractious, and I don't want him bumping you around. You stand over there and keep talking to him."

She gave him a considering look as she moved to the side. Really, the man was acting as if this were the first time she'd ever been hurt. Anyone who worked with horses could expect to be kicked, bitten, bruised and bucked off¡Xthough she hadn't been thrown since she'd been a kid. Still, she'd collected her share of injuries: Both arms had been broken, as well as her collarbone. She'd had a concussion before, too. What was the best way to handle an overprotective man, especially after you were married?

Exactly the way her mother handled her father, she thought, grinning. By standing her ground, talking rings around him, and distracting him with sex, and by choosing her battles and sometimes actually letting him have his way. This was one of the times to not kick up a fuss. She would ignore him later, when the stakes were greater.

MacNeil skillfully backed the big stallion out of the trailer; Pleasure came eagerly, happy to have company again, relieved to be unconfined. He showed his happiness by dancing around and playing, shoving MacNeil with his head and generally acting like any four-year-old. All things considered, Maris was just as happy not to be on the receiving end of those head butts, or to have to control all that power as he danced around. He would have been quieter for her¡Xthe horses found her especially soothing¡Xbut any jolt right now wasn't fun.

MacNeil led Pleasure away from the trailer, the stallion's hooves almost soundless on the thick pad of pine needles and decomposing leaves that carpeted the forest floor. He tied the reins to a sapling and patted the animal's glossy neck. "Okay, you can come over now," he called to Maris. "Keep him happy while I reposition the trailer."

She took control of the stallion, calming him with her voice and hands. He was still hungry and thirsty, but he was such a curious, gregarious horse that his interest in the proceedings kept him occupied. Dean Pearsall had stopped the Oldsmobile farther back, positioning the car so its headlights lit the area. MacNeil got in the truck and put it in reverse, leaning out the open door to check his position as he backed the track up to the trailer. He was good at it; it took some people forever to get the trailer hitch in the right position, but MacNeil did it on the first try. Pretty good for an FBI agent, Maris thought. He was a fed now, but he'd obviously spent a lot of time around horses in the past.

It was snowing a little more heavily now, the headlight beams catching the drifting flakes as they sifted through the bare branches of the hardwoods. The pines were beginning to acquire a dusting of white. MacNeil maneuvered the trailer around, threading it through the trees, repositioning it so that it directly faced the narrow trail they'd made and anyone coming down it wouldn't, be able to see that Pleasure wasn't inside. There were high, narrow side windows in the trailer, but none in front.

As soon as the trailer was in position and MacNeil had unhooked the truck and pulled away, Pearsall went to work, squirming underneath the trailer and setting up a video camera so that it couldn't easily be seen but would still have a good angle on anyone approaching the trailer.

MacNeil turned to Maris. "While Dean's working, let's get Pleasure tucked away back in the woods." He checked the luminous hands on his watch. "We need to be out of here in five minutes, ten tops."

The trailer contained blankets that had been used to cover the mare who had been brought to Solomon Green the day before. Maris got the darkest one and spread it across Pleasure's broad back. He liked that, swaying his muscular rump as if he were doing the hootchie-cootchie, and blowing in the particular way he did when he was pleased. She laughed, the sound quiet and loving, as she reached up to hug his big neck. He lipped her hair, but gently, as if he'd somehow realized by the way she moved that she wasn't quite up to speed.

"This way." MacNeil's voice held an odd note as he handed a flashlight to Maris, then untied the reins and began leading Pleasure deeper into the trees. He curved his other arm around Maris, holding her close to his side as they walked. Between the oversize Kevlar vest and her thick down jacket, he couldn't feel her, so he slipped his hand under the coat, under the vest, resting it on the swell of her hip. "How are you feeling?" he asked as they picked their way through the dark woods, stepping over fallen limbs and evading bushes that clutched at their clothes.

"Okay." She smiled up at him, letting herself lean closer into the heat and strength of his big body. "I've had a concussion before, and though this one isn't any fun, I don't think it's as bad as the first one. The pain is going away faster, so I don't understand why I can't remember what happened." Her bewilderment was plain, and his fingers tightened on her hip. "A different part of your brain is affected, I guess. And parts of your memory are already coming back, so by tomorrow you'll probably remember everything."

She hoped so; these blank holes in her life were unsettling. It was just a matter of a few hours now, as she regained partial memory of things that had happened both before and after she was hit, but she didn't like not knowing everything that had happened. She remembered driving with MacNeil, but why couldn't she remember arriving at the motel?

Only one way to find out what she wanted to know. "Did I undress myself?" Glancing up, she saw him smile at the abrupt change of subject. His voice deepened, evidence of the way the memory affected him. "It was a joint effort."

Maybe she would have been embarrassed an hour ago, but not now. Instead she felt a sort of aroused contentment fill her at the thought of him pulling off his T-shirt and putting it on her, the soft cotton still warm from his body.

"Did you touch me?" The whispered words were like heated honey, flowing over him, telling him how much she liked the idea.

"No, you were too out of it." But he'd wanted to, he thought. God, how he'd wanted to. He helped her over a fallen tree, supporting her so that she wouldn't stumble, but he was remembering how she'd looked sitting on the side of the bed, wearing nothing but her panties, her eyes closing, her pale hair floating around her delicate, satiny shoulders. Her breasts were high, firm, small but deliciously round, her nipples like dark pink little crowns. His right hand clenched on the reins; his palm was actually aching to touch her now, to fill his hand with that cool, richly resilient flesh and warm it with his loving. "Well, darn," she said sedately, and in the glow of the flashlight he saw the welcome in her night-dark eyes.

He inhaled deeply, reaching for control. They had no time for any delay, much less one that would last an hour. An hour? He gave a mental snort. Who was he kidding? He was so worked up that five minutes was more like it, and that was only if his self-control turned out to be a lot stronger than it felt right now.

"Later," he promised, his voice a rough growl of need. Later, when this was settled and his job done. Later, when he could take the time with her that he wanted to take, behind a locked door and with the telephone off the hook. Later, when she felt better, damn it, and wasn't dealing with a concussion. He figured it would be two days, at least, before her headache was gone, two long, hellish days.

He stopped and looked back. They had gone far enough that he could no longer see the headlights through the trees. A small hollow dipped just ahead, and he led Sole Pleasure into it. The hollow blocked the wind, and tall trees leaning overhead protected him from the light snow. "You'll be okay here for a couple of hours," he told the horse as he tied the reins to a low, sturdy branch. Pleasure would be able to move around some, and if there were any edible leaves or stray blades of grass, he would be able to graze within a small area.

"Be good," Maris admonished the horse, stroking his forehead. "We won't be gone long. Then we'll take you back to your big, comfortable stall, and you can have your favorite feed, and an apple for dessert." He blew softly, then bobbed his head up and down in agreement. She didn't know how many actual words he understood, but he definitely understood the love in her voice, and he knew she was telling him good stuff.

MacNeil took the flashlight from her hand and settled his arm around her again as they walked back to the truck. Pleasure neighed his disapproval of being left alone, but soon the trees blotted out the sound and there was only the rustle of their feet in the leaves.

"You know what to do," he said. "They won't follow you too closely on the highway, because they won't want to make you suspicious. Let them see where you leave the road, but then drive as fast as you can, to give yourself as much time as possible. They'll be able to follow the tracks. Pull up to the trailer, get out of the truck and get into the trees. Don't waste time, don't look back to see what I'm doing. Get into a protected place and stay there until either Dean or I come for you. If anyone else shows up, use that pistol."

"You need the vest more than I do." Worry gnawed at her. He was sending her out of harm's way, while he would be right in the middle of it, without protection. "They might pull in before you're completely out of sight and get a shot off at you. The only way I'll let you do this is if you're wearing the vest." There that stubborn streak was again, she thought. Streak? Ha! He was permeated with it. She was beginning to think that if she scratched his skin, stubbornness would ooze out instead of blood. Living with him was going to be interesting; as he'd noted, she was used to being the boss, and so was he. She looked forward to the fights¡Xand to the making up.

Pearsall was waiting for them when they got back. "Everything's ready," he said. "There's a six-hour tape in the camera, and the battery pack is fully charged. Now, if we can just get back into position before the bad guys show up, we're set."

MacNeil nodded. "You leave first. We'll let you get out of sight before we follow. Radio if you see anything suspicious."

"Give me an extra minute so I can swing through the motel parking lot to make sure there aren't any new arrivals. Then I'll pull back and take up position." Pearsall got into the car and backed out, his headlights bobbing through the trees.

Darkness settled around them as they listened to the sound of the car fading in the distance. MacNeil opened the passenger door of the truck and put his hands on Maris's waist, lifting her onto the seat. In the darkness, his face was only a pale blur. "Whatever happens, make sure you stay safe," he growled, and bent his head to her.

His lips were cold, and firm. Maris wound her arms around his neck and opened her mouth to him as he deepened the kiss, slanting his head for better contact. His tongue wasn't cold at all, but hot and strong, and her entire body tightened with excitement as she leaned closer to him. It wasn't enough; with the pleasure came frustration. She swiveled on the seat to face him, parting her legs so that he stood between them, pressed hard against her as the kiss changed yet again, into something fierce with need.

It was their first kiss, but there was no tentativeness, no searching. They already knew each other, had already made the inner adjustment to the hot ache of physical desire, and accepted the hunger. They were already lovers, though their bodies hadn't yet been joined. The pact had been made. Invisible strands of attraction had been pulling them together from the first, and the web was almost complete.

He tore his mouth away from hers, breathing hard, his breath fogging in the cold air. "No more," he said, the words strained. "Not now. I'm as hard as a rock already, and if we" He broke off. "We have to go. Now." "Have we given Dean enough time?"

"Hell, I don't know! All I know is that I'm about ten seconds away from pulling your jeans off, and if we don't go now, the whole plan is blown."

She didn't want to let him go. Her arms didn't want to release their hold on him, her thighs didn't want to loosen from around his hips. But she did it, forced herself to open her embrace, because she could feel the truth pushing against her.

In silence he stepped back, and she turned in the seat so that she faced forward. He closed the door, then walked stiffly around the truck to climb in under the steering wheel, a look of acute discomfort on his face.

She wasn't good for his sanity, he thought as he started the truck and put it in gear. She made him forget about the job and think only about sex. Not sex in general, but sex in particular. Sex with her. Again and again, holding that slim body beneath him until he was satisfied.

He tried to imagine being sated with her, and be couldn't. Alarm tingled through him. He tried to think of some of the other women he'd slept with over the years, but their names wouldn't come to mind, then faces eluded him, and there was no concrete memory of how any of them had felt. There was only her mouth, her breasts, her legs. Her voice, her body in his arms, her hair spread across the pillow. He could imagine her in the shower with him, her face across the table from him every morning, her clothes hanging beside his in the closet.