Using the line of light allowed by the open door, I scanned the basement room. Empty. I closed the door as quietly as I could with the surrounding furniture, wincing at the scraping of the wood on wood and the click of the latch. All was quiet inside. Pulling the pistol from my waist, I slunk through the room toward the stairs.
I was terrified to round the corner. My fear paralyzed me for endless seconds before I snapped out of it. Dominic was somewhere in this inky gloom where just minutes earlier a gun had sounded. He could be injured. Or worse.
I took a chance and stole a peek around the wall, but all I could see was blackness. I didn’t know what to do. Should I use the flashlight and check the other room, or should I just get up the stairs? I was torn.
If Dominic was all right, why wasn’t he waiting for me here? Then again, if he was the victim, why wasn’t the bad guy waiting for me here? The unmitigated stillness was baffling.
After an eternity, I made my move. Peeking around the corner, I squeezed past the wall and tiptoed up the stairs, my .44 leading the way.
I was met with more silence. I checked under the beds first before grabbing the rifle from where I stashed it under the mattress. Another peek through the curtain revealed the two snipers still at their posts. Scanning the trees in the distance, I noticed what looked like Bill Jennings’s car parked way off down the entrance road.
If the guy in the basement was Jennings, then all three of the men we had seen were accounted for. If not. . . Well, I didn’t want to think about how many men could be out there.
I checked the side window. Perhaps I was a bit careless with moving the curtain. Just as I saw the flash of another sniper’s scope, the window shattered and fire lit up my left arm. The report came a second later.
I couldn’t help the cry that escaped my throat as I twisted back on the bed. Pistol still in my right hand, I clutched my arm just below the wound. The bullet had torn through the flesh and muscle below my shoulder. It wasn’t a through-and-through shot, but it wasn’t a grazing either.
I laid there on my back, lower lip clenched between my teeth in an effort to take away from the pain searing my arm. It did no good. I tried to remain still and quiet, but it was difficult not to rock with the pain. I risked rolling on my right side, and curled into a ball.
Blood was soaking my clothing and the comforter at a rapid pace. I needed a tourniquet, but I didn’t think I could make one myself. Blackness began to swim into my vision as I looked around for an adequate strip of cloth.
Pounding behind me. Where did it come from? I struggled to hold onto consciousness.
“Ella? Oh my God. Ella!” The voice was distant, foggy. Heaviness sank the world at my back. I sank with it until a pinching pressure squeezed my shoulder.
“Ahh!” The cry tore from my lungs, the pain bringing me fully awake again, though my vision was foggy at the edges. I looked up to see Dominic’s face hovering above me, his eyes darting from mine to the wound in my arm.
“Stay with me, baby,” he said.
Baby? He never called me that. Maybe it was the stress of the situation. But that simple word turned my thoughts to my baby.
“Allison.” It was a creaky plea meant to implore Dominic to take care of her if anything happened to me. But I wasn’t going to give in easily.
“I need to wrap the wound, Ella,” he said, ignoring my one word appeal. He bunched up the comforter and held it to my mouth. “Here. Bite down on this.”
Obliging, I opened my mouth and let him stuff the blanket in. I bit. Using a strip torn from a sheet, he bandaged my shredded flesh while I howled into my gag. When it was done and the tourniquet was doing its job, the pain began to ebb.
Dominic wiped the sheen of sweat from my face. As he stared down at me, his eyes pooled. He wiped the tears away and helped me sit. “We need to get out of here,” he said, his voice husky.
I shook my head. “These men aren’t gonna let us leave alive, Dominic. I need to get to Allison, and that means we have to fight.”
“Can we go the way you sent her?”
I looked at the shattered window and shook my head. “If that guy had been there before, he would’ve seen us. He would’ve had a clear shot as soon as we stepped out the door.”
“The guy in the basement is dead. It wasn’t Jennings.”
I sighed, both for Dominic having to kill a man and for the knowledge his information provided. “I saw Jennings’s car out on the road. The other two men are still at their posts. That means there’s at least one more than we knew. Probably more.” I looked at him. “Who is Jennings?”
Dominic rubbed his scruffy face with his hands. Hands that were covered in my blood. When he pulled them away, he looked to be painted for war. How appropriate.
“Jennings is the agent I’ve been working with all along. I guess he’s on Ritter’s payroll, too.” He sounded defeated. He had a right to be. The man he’d been working with to take down Luke Ritter, ultimate drug lord, had been batting for the other team. Dominic had been duped. Nothing more than a pawn in the chess game between Ritter and the FBI. Hell, the DEA and ATF were probably hot for the scumbag, too.
I squeezed his knee gently. “It’s not your fault, Dominic.”
He looked at me. “If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It’s my fault your family’s been torn apart.”
I didn’t argue with him because he was right. His presence brought this turmoil back into my quiet life and shattered it from the inside. I didn’t want him to beat himself up over it, but this was not the time to point that out.
I changed the subject back to the current situation. “We need to pick off the men we can see from inside. They have no idea who’s alive and who’s dead in here.”
“But we don’t have the firepower to snipe them if they’re far away,” he interjected. “The .22 is the most accurate gun we have for distance, and it won’t go as far as that guy out by the road.”
“Well, maybe if we can get the guy right out front, and the bastard that shot me, we can slip out the back. Maybe shooting his buddies will draw him closer.” There was a chance. But first we had to get the other two.
I didn’t want to go near the blown-out window. I thought about how to get a shot at the guy on the side. My gaze lifted to the ceiling. “Is there an attic?”
The roof peaked side to side, so a vent would give access to the side of cabin. The same side as the window I was shot through. It was worth a try.
In the corner of the kitchen we found a hatch in the ceiling. It took some effort, but we were able to pull it down. Dominic stood on the counter and poked his through the opening, using the flashlight to cut through the dark.
“It’s empty,” he said looking down at me. “And it looks like there’s a vent on each side.”
“Good.” I handed him the rifle. “Slide this up, then you can give me a boost.”
He took the gun. “There’s no way you’re going up there, Ella.” His tone left no room for negotiation. But I wasn’t negotiating. In order to do this right, we both had to go up. Besides, I wanted to take out the son of a bitch that shot me. Payback. . . It’s a bitch.