I knew I had to do something, but what? I needed a distraction. The problem was my location. The only way to distract Jennings would be to draw him toward me, but that meant drawing him closer to Allison, too. I’d have to find another way.
If I’d had the rifle, I could’ve picked him off from where I sat, but Dominic had the rifle when he came through the front. That meant Jennings now had it. All I had was a fully loaded pistol, and while I was a pretty good shot, I would take that chance. Not yet, anyway. I had to get closer.
I waited until Jennings stopped pacing and sat on the sofa that separated the living area from the kitchen. He was facing Dominic, which meant he was facing away form me. I scurried to hide behind the sofa, being careful not to bump it.
I felt Jennings’s weight shift, but he didn’t get up. “What’s taking her so long?” he asked Dominic.
“I told you. She won’t come for me. She’ll only wait so long, then she’ll take the car and leave.” To my ears, Dominic sounded full of false hope. He knew I wouldn’t leave without him. Or at least without knowing what was going on.
Jennings didn’t buy it either. Whether because of his spying on me and my family for who knew how long, or because he heard the false bravado in Dominic’s voice as well. “I don’t buy it, Sterling. She’s too much of a self sacrificer.”
“She won’t sacrifice herself for me because that would mean leaving her daughter an orphan,” Dominic said, his voice icy. “You’ve got me. I’m the one who got Ritter locked up. I’m the one he wants. Just take me, and let’s go. Leave Ella in peace. She’s been through enough.”
“I don’t give a damn what’s she’s been through. She’s part of this as much as you are. Especially now. The two of you killed three of Ritter’s best men. Two of which worked with me. He wants blood. Yours and hers.” I felt him lean back again, like he was lounging.
I needed to move. Crawling, trying not to make a sound, I edged closer to where Jennings sat. His weight shifted again. It felt like he stood. Crap. I would have a better advantage if he was sitting. I could shoot him through the sofa if I had to.
I took a chance and peeked around the corner. I could see Jennings standing over Dominic again. To Dominic’s credit, he looked cool as iced lemonade in summer.
Slipping behind the sofa again, I made a decision. I crouched and slowly brought my head up so I could see over the sofa back. I scanned the scene quickly. Too late I noticed the reflective sheet metal covering the wall in the corner.
Jennings met my reflected gaze before whipping around. He lunged, his hand seizing my hair. He fisted it and yanked me to my feet and over the back of the sofa. I cried out from the pain as my body flopped on the couch. He jerked me to my feet, and threw me on top of a startled Dominic.
“I told you she’d come for you, Sterling,” he laughed. He gestured at my injured arm. “I see one of the boys got a small piece, at least. Ritter will be happy to hear that. Now we just have to wait for the kid to come looking for her mommy.”
Dominic cradled me in his strong arms, his hand massaging my sore scalp. “She’s not even in the cabin, asshole. We left her hiding in the woods.”
Jennings shrugged. “No matter. Wherever she is, she’s as done as you two. She can’t survive out here without you, and she has no way of getting home. I’ll find her eventually, or she’ll die of starvation or exposure. Whichever. . .”
“You son of a bitch!” I launched myself out of Dominic’s arms and straight at Jennings’s face. My fist hit him in the throat, knocking him off his feet.
My gun had been knocked from my hand when he pulled me over the couch, and I reached for it. But he was swift to recover. He kicked me in the hip, and I rolled away from the weapon.
Dominic launched himself at Jennings, but the agent lifted his pistol and fired. The bullet hit Dominic in the thigh, and he buckled.
Jennings took the opportunity of my distraction to recover my weapon. He pointed both guns at me and flicked them in the direction of the couch. I crawled to where Dominic lay on the floor.
There was so much blood. I had no doubt the bullet had gone through. He was already pale from the loss. Tearing his shirt down the front, I pulled it off and tied it around his thigh above the wound.
A cold and humorless sound oozed from Jennings’s throat. It might have been a laugh, but there was no humor in it. It was pure evil.
“It doesn’t matter what you do. You’ll both be dead soon anyway,” he grumbled.
I finished tying the shirt, pulling tight on the knot so it would hold. This bastard wasn’t going to take me down without a fight, and I would do everything in my power to protect Allison and Dominic.
Dominic grimaced at me as he gripped my good arm. His eyes pleaded with me. And, without a word between us, I knew he was begging me to get Allison and leave him there.
Fat chance. I wouldn’t leave him behind, but beyond that, I didn’t see a way out of the situation. Not yet. I was sure, given enough time, I could figure something out, but that passage eluded me right then.
I turned back to face Jennings. Being in the corner gave me a good view of the entire living space. Jennings sat on the sofa again, his back to the center of the room. I tried to look around for a weapon without drawing attention to what I was doing.
“I do have a few guns, you know.” Jennings’s voice dripped with malice. He leaned forward, holding me with his glare. Something sparked in his dark eyes, and it terrified me. “You’re a feisty one, aren’t you, Ella?” The spark became a small flame as a wicked grin spread across his face. “I’m waiting for Ritter to show, but maybe I could have some fun while we wait.”
“Don’t you touch her,” Dominic boomed as he tried to lunge at Jennings again. But the gun shot in his leg slowed him. Jennings didn’t raise his gun again. He just pushed Dominic to the floor with a kick to his chest and that evil laugh.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to be her knight in shining armor, Sterling. In fact, maybe I’ll make you watch. And when Ritter gets here, you can watch again because he showed interest in our little fireball here.” He gestured at me with the gun.
I held Dominic down with my hand on his chest. “It’s not worth it, Dominic,” I said, my eyes never leaving Jennings.
“Listen to her, Sterling. She’s a smart one. She knows there’s no point in fighting, ‘cause I have all the power here. Just sit back, and take it like a man. Though I can’t say you’ll be able to do that once Ritter gets his hands on you. He’s wanted you for years since you rolled on him, so there’s no telling what he’s gonna do to you.”
Jennings was one sick miscreant, to put it nicely. He was honestly enjoying himself. How the hell did a man like him get into the FBI?
He stood and took the few steps necessary to reach us on the floor. Grabbing my hair again, he attempted to make an obscene gesture.
I saw my opportunity.
I let him drag me forward. Just before he would’ve shove my face in his crotch, I threw my head forward. He doubled over as my head slammed into his sensitive organs between his legs.
I grabbed for his pistol, wrapping my hand around the barrel, but he was still stronger. With his other hand, he backhanded me across the face. I went sprawling onto the sofa, and he took advantage.
I felt his weight press me into the springy cushions. His left hand pushed my face into the fabric, and I coughed on the dust.
“Stay back, Sterling,” he growled. “You’re no good to her dead.”
The weight on top of me shifted. I heard the very clear sound of jeans being unbuttoned, unzipped.
I was completely helpless the way he had me pinned. Then he rolled me over so he could get to my pants. My good arm was underneath my body, and my other arm. . . Well, it was no use at all.
As he started to fuss with my button, gun held on Dominic, I heard a sound. It was the faint scrape of fabric on fabric, like a person crawling on carpet.
My heart sank. Allison couldn’t see me like this. I strained my ears.
But it was unnecessary. A high-pitched voice, filled with fear, shouted with incredible force, “Get off of my mom!”
Jennings snapped his head up at the same time I twisted my neck back to see my ten year old daughter standing behind the other sofa, her arms stretched out in front of her, the 9mm gripped firmly in her small hands and pointed at Jennings.
My jaw fell open at the sight. I turned back to Jennings in time to see him gape too. Then the evil smirk returned, and he climbed off of me full of confidence.
“Allison. So glad you decided to join us.” He didn’t approach her, but his stance and tone said he didn’t think she would shoot the gun. “Why don’t you put the gun down and come over here?” His voice turned oily as if lubricating it would persuade a terrified girl to come closer to the danger that permeated the air around him.
“No!” she snapped.
My only consolation was that Jennings didn’t raise his gun to her. That and the fact that, while obviously frightened, she seemed to be confident in what she was doing.
“No?” Jennings asked in disbelief. He pointed his pistol at me. “Well I want you to come over here, or I’ll shoot your mom.”
“Don’t you hurt her!” Every word that came out of Allison’s little mouth came with a force that would have unnerved if she was an adult. But the pitch made Jennings laugh again.
“Or what, little girl? You’ll shoot me? You don’t even know how to use that gun.”
There was his weakness. He mistook Allison for an average ten year old girl. Ignorant of the trials she had experienced, Jennings thought she was weak and naive.
He took a step toward her.
The cabin shook with the boom of the report as it reverberated through the small space. Instinct had me curling into a ball where I lay. All I could hear was the ringing in my head. I had no idea who had fired the gun.
As I straightened out, I saw Jennings lying on the floor. His breath was shallow and gurgling. Blood pooled beneath his body. My peripheral vision revealed Dominic scrambling to get up now that Jennings was down.
Allison still stood behind the sofa. The pistol in her hand had a thin whiff of smoke trailing up from the barrel and it shook as her small body began to shudder.
I jumped up and ran to her. She collapsed into my arms as they came around her. Her sobs wracked her body as she cried on my shoulder. Scooping her up, I carried her outside and sat in a chair on the porch with her bundled on my lap.