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"Let's dispense with at least one of the pretenses between us, shall we?" Sara despised the note of emotion that had entered her voice. "I think we both know who I am."
Nick paused for a moment, his dark gaze fathomless. The he said, with the air of a man tasting the words, "Sara Parker."
Her name quivered in the air between them, enveloped in the tension, the knowing. His soft voice was imbued with warmth, a heated touch sliding down her spine. It shouldn't have an effect. Wouldn't be allowed to.
"Yes. Sara Parker. Now let's talk about who you are. Or rather, what you are."
"You're leaping to conclusions." Gone was the seductive tone; his word were edged in hardness. "Don't allow emotion to dictate your actions. You can't afford to."
"Emotion, Nick? Do I look like I'm ready to collapse in a shuddering heap? I can assure you, I'll be quite emotionless when I shoot you."
There was a leap of flame in his eyes, a note of certainty in his voice. "You won't do that."
With a movement that trembled only slightly, she thumbed off the safety the way she'd seen him do a dozen times. And his expression altered, either from the deft movement or the look on her face. It was a measure of the man that he didn't show even a flicker of nerves. But then, she'd never had any doubt that Nick wasn't an ordinary man. Assassins rarely were.
He seemed to choose his words carefully. "I told you I was in Special Ops. That was the truth."
"Careful, Nick. That word isn't exactly one you're an expert on. It's what you do now that has me interested at the moment."
"I'm an independent operative."
Ice blistered her skin. "Is that the current term for hit man?"
It wasn't lost on her that he failed to answer her question. "I hire out for various jobs, but not to individuals. To governments, mostly--internationally as well as various government agencies in the U.S."
"Illegal activities," she assumed flatly.
He shrugged. "Definitions don't matter. The services of my team are in high demand."
"And exactly what have your services been enlisted for?"
"To verify your identity and deliver you safely back to Justice for safekeeping."
There was a roaring in her ears, terror in her heart. "I'm not going back. I'm not going to let them play at witness protection again." Her hand began to shake. She saw the way Nick's eyes traced the movement, and she rose, the chair clattering behind her. "If I have to shoot you to guarantee that, I will. I want you to walk, slowly, to that closet." With a jerk of her head she indicated a door in the corner of the room.
He didn't move. "Sara, think--"
"I am thinking, unfortunately for you. I'm thinking that your story doesn't hold up. It wasn't Justice on the other end of that phone call, it was Victor Mannen." A sense of urgency seized her when she considered that either Mannen or the government could have someone on their way down here at this very moment. She didn't know which of the options was more frightening. "Start moving, Nick, or I'll shoot you where you stand."
He remained still. "Use your head. If I was working for Mannen you'd be dead already."
"And if you were working for Justice I'd be in custody right now. Nothing about your story makes sense, and I'm not going to stand here and debate it with you. Now move!"
He did as he was bade, but something in his catlike movements alarmed her. She'd seen this man demonstrate defense tactics. Seen that lethally intent look on his face before he struck. She followed his path with the gun, never taking her eyes off of him.
"There's an explanation for the call to Mannen. If you don't believe me, all you have to do is call Paul Whitmore. You dealt with him before at Justice and he's--"
"You don't get it, do you?" Her smile was humorless. "Mannen or Justice, it doesn't matter. I'll be dead either way. Mannen will find a way to make that happen. He always does."
Nick was halfway across the room by this time, but closer than she liked. "Back up," she ordered, but it was she who took an involuntary step away.
"You wanted me to go to the closet. That's what I'm doing."
Her hand holding the gun began to tremble. She steadied it by propping her free hand beneath it. He loomed closer and her finger tightened on the trigger. "Get back."
"Let me explain, Sara."
"Back off, or..."
He came a step nearer, raised his hand toward her, and his voice dropped persuasively. "Or what?"
The sound of the shot shattered the room....
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