the space between: chapter nine

Start at the beginning with Chapter One

Seth stood with his back against the wall and his arms crossed over his chest.  Kessler had returned to his favorite place, pacing circles atop the surface of the bar. 

They both waited. 

Seth accepted that he could be waiting for backup that may never come.  Consequently, he had been formulating a plan A and a plan B in the twenty minutes that had elapsed since he ended his call with Janie.

Of course, she wasn’t known as Janie now.  She had changed her name to Maddie and dyed her hair once a month.  She no longer worked as a high school guidance counselor.  Seth had reached out to an old contact and helped her get an entry-level job in a PR firm.  Now, three years after her escape from Sean Kessler, she was the assistant to an account executive who bought media time for clients wanting to advertise in the sports and entertainment arenas.  He had no doubt in five years or less, she’d be an account executive with her own assistant, still thriving, still happy, still safe.

Seth made a silent vow that as long as it was what she wanted, that was the life Janie Savoy, AKA Maddie Jones, would have.  Sean Kessler wasn’t going to destroy that life.  Not on Seth’s watch.

He glanced at the time and pretended he didn’t see the dried blood on his hands and the cuffs of his shirt.  He had thirty-four minutes to find a way to get those deadly wristbands off Jules or get his hands on Kessler’s phone and terminate the connection himself.  His main problem was that right now, he couldn’t see a way to accomplish either task, and once Kessler realized the woman he was expecting wasn’t going to show, the situation would deteriorate and fast. 

Think! his mind yelled at him. 

He scanned the bar and the people in it for the hundredth time.  The body language of the two college kids Otto had been sitting with suggested they had had no knowledge of what was going to happen or that their friend had a part to play in it.  Otto had attempted to rejoin them but they had shunned him, sliding to the edge of their booth seats so that there was no space for him to sit.  Neither one of them had looked at him as he’d stood by the table.  However it had happened, Otto had gotten them here under false pretenses. Seth couldn’t be sure if Otto would protect them from becoming collateral damage, or if he would leave them to their fates and protect himself.  He suspected he was going to find out. 

Danielle and Jules sat in the first booth seat nearest the door.  Danielle sightlessly stared out the front window while Jules sat across from her, holding her hands.  Neither of them said a word.  Jules was waiting, too, but Danielle was lost in the numbness of her grief to the point that time and the passing of it likely meant nothing to her. 

Moser had settled into the booth Kit and Belinda had occupied.  The former Secret Service agent’s eyes swept each quadrant of the bar every few minutes, but Seth hadn’t seen any change in Moser’s demeanor that would suggest he had come up with a plan. 

Because he’s waiting on you to tell him what the plan is, said the voice in his mind.

He had a plan, but it sucked.  Plan A was to make another attempt at getting close enough to Kessler to disarm and incapacitate him.  With Kessler’s phone, there was a chance that Seth could get Jules to Wes and Murdoch soon enough for them to crack his phone and terminate the connection between it and the wristbands. 

Plan A required a lot of luck.  It also held the danger of Otto coming to Kessler’s aid and making the situation worse. Plus the risk of Kessler pulling the trigger either intentionally or accidentally and wounding or killing a bystander.  Not to mention the possibility that in close combat, Kessler’s training would be better than his own and leave him standing while Seth was on his ass or worse. 

Plan A might be worse than having no plan at all, but it was all that he had. 

“Seth.”

Long practice kept him from reacting to the voice in his ear.  Though Seth wanted to ask Wes where the fuck he’d been all this time, he held his tongue and waited.

“The first thing you need to know is that Josh, Vaughan and Murdoch have made it to your location.  Josh is positioned at the rear entrance.  Vaughan and Murdoch are in an SUV on the street in front.”

The pad of his forefinger tapped his elbow, the only outlet he allowed himself for the surge of relief flooding his system.  He could discard plan A.  With Josh and Vaughan here, plus Wes’ twin brother Murdoch, his options expanded exponentially. 

“Second, Walker called in two minutes ago.  He met Maddie at the Lincoln Memorial and he’s bringing her to the office.  They should arrive in the next ten minutes.”

More good news.  Walker Riley wasn’t an official member of The Praetorian Group, but if he was in town and one of them called on him, he helped with no questions asked.  Seth knew that with Wes and Walker looking out for her, her safety wouldn’t be an issue, no matter what happened here tonight.

“Third,” Wes started.  “Barrett is on the roof of the building directly across the street from the bar.”

Surprised at that last bit of information, Seth had to consciously keep his body still and his face blank.  Barrett Rush also wasn’t one of Josh’s Praetorians, but like Walker he was someone they all trusted.  The thing about Barrett’s presence that made Seth rethink the gravity of the situation was the fact that he worked for Uncle Sam, though you’d never find the name of his organization in any government database.  He wasn’t here because Josh had asked him to be here.  He was here because someone had sent him. 

Which meant that this mysterious benefactor Kessler kept mentioning represented a greater threat than he’d imagined.

“I’m working on finding and intercepting the signal between Kessler’s phone and the tech on Jules’ wrists.  His phone is the only one that’s active within a half-mile radius and that’s a mistake I can capitalize on,” said Murdoch.  “I’m close, but I’m not there yet so you’re going to have to find a way to keep Kessler distracted.”

“Any information you can get him to give up about whoever put a target on your back would be helpful,” said Wes.

How much time did Murdoch need?  Five minutes? Ten? More than that?  He glanced down at his watch.  A few more minutes and Kessler would start to get antsy over Janie’s delayed arrival.

He pushed away from the wall and took a step toward the bar.  If Murdoch needed time, Seth would get it for him.

“Fucking hell.”

Kessler’s eyes weren’t on him but Otto’s were, and so Seth remained in motion even though Josh’s curse signaled that they had a problem.

“What?” Vaughan asked.

Silence reigned over the comms.  Seth forced himself to continue moving toward the bar.  When he got there and still hadn’t heard anything from Josh, he leaned over and reached for a bottle of Jameson.  By now he had roused Kessler’s attention, and because he didn’t want to give the man any more reasons to be suspicious or jumpy, he retrieved two lowballs from the stack of glasses beneath the bar.  He set them on the bar as though he had nothing more on his mind than a casual drink between enemies.

“Dammit! Seth you’ve got incoming and you’re not going to like this,” Josh said.  “Back entrance. Ninety seconds.”

He should have locked the door, but he had hoped Allie would send backup and hadn’t wanted to close off the last point of entry into the bar.  Seth schooled his gaze, training it on the neck of the bottle of Jameson and the two lowballs.  He went through the motions of pouring two drinks even as his body tensed into a live wire. 

Why hadn’t Josh just told him who it was?

Kessler had closed the distance between them and now stood over Seth.  Looking down at him, he asked, “Is one of those for me?”

Seth picked up one of the glasses and held it up for Kessler to take.  “If you want it.  I have no idea if you’re a drinking man or not,” he lied. 

Kessler bent down to accept the offered glass.  He said something in response, but Seth didn’t hear him.  His gaze had gotten caught on the back entrance of the bar. 

On the woman frowning down at her phone even as she stepped into the main area of the bar. 

On Dinara. 

She looked up from her phone, and the magnetic force that sizzled between them every time they were in the same room connected her gaze with his in an instant. 

“You texted me and I’m here,” she said, coming toward him.  “What is so important that it couldn’t wait?”

“Well, who do we have here?” Kessler spoke. 

Seth watched Dinara actually look at her surroundings.  Her eyes widened when she registered Kessler’s presence. Her phone fell from her hand and clattered onto the concrete floor. 

Kessler said, “You must be the lovely Dinara.  I had no idea you were coming but I’m so glad you’ve joined us.”  He raised the barrel of the gun and pointed it at Dinara’s forehead.  “Do sit down and have a drink with us.  We’re celebrating.”

“Celebrating what?” Dinara’s eyes moved to him, and the relief and confidence he’d felt five minutes ago disintegrated into ash.  A situation on the verge of being resolved had just gotten a hell of a lot more complex.

And a lot more personally involving.  Having one of his oldest friends trapped in Kessler’s deadly snare was bad.  Seeing a gun pointed at the only woman who had marked his soul was catastrophic.

READ CHAPTER TEN ON FRIDAY, 9/15

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