It was tough, no question. Not knowing when, after tomorrow, he’d see Sam again. Not anytime soon, that much he did know. And Sam didn’t—couldn’t—offer any promises that things would get better. Sam was one hundred percent committed to the job. That’s what Jason had signed on for, and it was still easier, at least for now, knowing that eventually he would see Sam. Easier than the alternative. He’d had to face the alternative two month ago, and it had been hell.
For now, he would take what he could get because when they were together, it just felt…right.
These were Jason’s thoughts as he pushed out through the glass door of the China King restaurant. It was dark at seven thirty. The rain was coming down much harder now, and he ducked his head, tucking the white paper bag of fragrant-smelling food beneath his arm, feeling in his coat pocket for his keys. He jogged toward his rental car. The damp air smelled of wet brick, wet cement, wet trees, and car exhaust. The parking lot was a large one and reasonably busy on this Thursday night, though it was a relatively rural area. Well, compared to Venice.
There had been a line inside the China King, anyway.
Should he stop and pick up a six-pack? Sam would drink whisky sours all night, but Jason had training the next day, followed by a long-ass flight home. Beer might be the better choice.
Originally the plan had been to stay the weekend, but duty called. Duty called Sam, to be precise. He was flying out tomorrow afternoon to Seattle. So the much-anticipated weekend together would have to wait for another time. Another city.
The blue pickup was still parked on the passenger side of Jason’s rental car. A black Porsche had pulled into the slot next to the driver’s side, close enough that it made getting into Jason’s vehicle awkward. The hood of the Porsche’s trunk was popped and wide open. The driver did not appear to be about.
Someone just figuring out he—she?—didn’t have a spare tire? Or a jack?
A black sports car had pulled out after him when he’d left Sam’s, but had continued down the highway when Jason had pulled onto Hope Road.
He unlocked the passenger side of his rental car to deposit the bag of takeout, absently considering that memory. He was not really on guard. Why should he be? The world was full of black sports cars—as well as people who didn’t carry spare tires. He bent down to set the food on the seat.
“Agent West?” The voice was male, a little high, a little strained. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and Jason backed out of the car, straightening.
There wasn’t even time to look around. He caught swift—aggressive?—movement out of the corner of his eye, and instinctively reached for his weapon…which was still lying on the nightstand in Sam’s bedroom. He’d taken it off to grab a quick nap when he’d arrived back from training.
What the fuck—
A dark figure crashed out of the barrier of trees hemming the nose of the rental, shoved the passenger-side door into Jason, and pinned him for a crucial split second.
A burning bite at the base of his neck. He cried out in shock and pain. Jesus, had he been stabbed?
Not happening. This can’t be happening…
But it was happening. Happening so fast and so violently, he barely had time to react. Which is how it always happened. To everyone. The predator always has a plan. He could hear Sam’s voice in the back of his brain.
He jammed his car keys in his assailant’s face, but everything was going wrong. Terrifyingly wrong. His strength drained away with the suddenness of a cut power cord. He felt weak. So weak. His vision blurred, blackened at the edges. There was no muscle in his punch. His knees gave. The stink of rotting onions seemed to permeate the air around him, making it hard to breathe.
Jason fought the weakness, the sudden overwhelming lassitude, somehow shoving the heavy car door back, sliding free. He stumbled away from the rental car, lurching across the asphalt.
It felt like running through water. His feet were sliding out from under him. He couldn’t see through the blur of rain and lights from the restaurant windows. Bokeh. The word is bokeh. Red, blue, white streaks. An out-of-focus dazzle…
YES, WE ARE OPEN glowed the neon letters.
People. Safety in numbers. In people.
He had to get to the restaurant. Any business. Anywhere there were people.
He staggered on. Just a couple of steps but it felt like he was trying to cover miles. Felt like he was not even moving. He could hear footsteps behind him. Not running. Walking briskly, with purpose.
“Agent West,” the voice called again, sounding weirdly muffled. Hand clamped over his broken nose maybe? Hopefully, you bastard.
Did he know that voice?
He staggered, managed another faltering step toward the black outline of the building.
A white glare loomed out of the rain, bore down on him. Headlights. A car. Coming straight at him.
He couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop. Was more afraid of what was behind him. But he was going down anyway. Everything falling apart inside him. Two lights as big as twin suns swam toward him. For an instant he was ablaze, caught in the supernova.
Impact was a distant, dull thing.
He felt himself flying—and then nothing.
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