No ExitBy: Lena Diaz
“Wait, stop!” a feminine voice cried out.
Jace was stunned to see Melissa Cardenas standing on the edge of the highway. Her royal blue dress had a deliberate, sexy slit up one side. But the slit on her right shoulder wasn’t a fashion statement. She’d torn it, probably while climbing out of her car and out of the ditch. Thankfully, there wasn’t any blood or visible injuries. She seemed okay. Wavy, dark brown hair flowed out behind her as she hurried toward him, her heels clicking across the pavement.
Worried Cyprian’s guards might hurt her in their zeal to defend their employer, who was now striding toward Melissa, Jace held out his hands to stop her. “Stay back.”
One of the gunmen chose that moment to lunge at him, slamming a fist into the side of his jaw. The sucker punch whirled Jace around and knocked him to the ground.
Swearing like the sailor he used to be, Jace waggled his throbbing jaw. Luckily for the man who’d decked him, it wasn’t broken.
“You get that one for free,” he growled at his opponent. “The next one will cost you.”
“Stop it.” Melissa sounded furious. “Why did you hit him? He was protecting me.”
The guard crouched over Jace and hauled back his fist to deliver another blow. Jace rocked back on his hips and delivered a brutal kick to the other man’s knee. A crunching pop accompanied an agonized scream as the man dropped to the road, clutching his ruined leg.
Jace jumped to his feet and moved protectively in front of Melissa again to confront the second guard, who proceeded to shove a .357 Magnum in his face.
This was not going well.
“Enough.” Unbelievably, the stubborn woman stepped around Jace again and stalked to her father, who’d stopped just short of the fray, watching the events with a dispassionate expression.
“Call off your thugs,” she demanded. “That man was protecting me. A van ran me off the road, and the driver had a gun.” She waved toward Jace. “He risked his life to scare the other guy away. He deserves our thanks, not a fist, or someone pointing a gun at him.”
Cyprian’s eyes widened as if only just then realizing how much danger his daughter had been in. He pulled her against him in a fierce hug.
The injured man groaned in agony, rolling around on the asphalt. Jace couldn’t help being impressed with the clever epithets the man was hurling at him. He thought he knew every curse word imaginable. Now he had a few more to add to his arsenal.
“You heard Melissa.” Cyprian set his daughter away from him, smiling at her reassuringly before letting her go. “Put your weapons away and wait at the limo with the others.”
.357’s mouth tightened with obvious disappointment. But he did as his boss ordered, aiming a warning glare at Jace before helping his partner hop-skip to the car.
The salt and pepper in Cyprian’s hair marked him as past middle age. But his eyes were sharp and clear as they seemed to take in every detail around him—the Jag in the ditch, Jace’s gun lying on the ground, the formerly pristine black coupe now sporting both an entrance and exit hole from the round that Ramsey had fired—although from this angle Cyprian probably couldn’t see those bullet holes.
“You saved my daughter’s life?”
Jace didn’t respond to Cyprian’s question. The man was used to people kowtowing to him and would expect it of someone trying to trick their way into EXIT. So, as if he didn’t care what Cyprian thought—which, on many levels, he didn’t—Jace took the opportunity to study Melissa up close for the first time in over two months of surveillance.
She was even more beautiful in person than through the lens of his long-range camera.
The Spanish influence from her father’s side was evident in her dark brown eyes and nearly black hair. But her pale, silky-looking skin must have come from her mother. Her long legs were paired with curves that begged for a man’s hand, his kiss. And Jace certainly wasn’t immune to her appeal. But it was the deep intelligence staring back at him from her almond-shaped eyes that was sexy as hell and had him wishing, not for the first time, that she wasn’t his enemy’s daughter.
She shivered in the cold breeze that blew across the road, whipping her dress against her thighs.
By the time Cyprian thought to shrug out of his trench coat, Jace was already settling his own jacket around Melissa’s shoulders.
“Thank you.” She looked surprised but grateful as she snuggled into the jacket’s warmth.
“Young man.” Cyprian sounded annoyed. “I asked you a question.”
He reluctantly dragged his gaze from the enchanting daughter to her far-from-enchanting father. “I don’t know if I saved her or not. The van ran us both off the road. When he waved a pistol, I evened the odds. He decided not to stick around.”
“Why did you have a weapon in the first place?”
Jace cocked a brow and motioned toward the limo. The injured man was inside, but his assistants were watching them, and .357 stood in the open doorway, looking like he couldn’t wait for an excuse to charge at Jace. “I imagine I keep a gun in my car for the same reason that your men carry them. For protection. Not that it’s any of your business.”