Daughter Of The Dragon Princess(8)

By: Nina Croft

Her long, slender body was curled into a fetal position, her head tucked in between her shoulders, arms wrapped around herself. She moved, slowly unfolding. Her hands lowered and her head lifted. She blinked a few times.

Mal took a step back—it was probably best if his wasn’t the first face she saw.

“Jesus,” she said. “What the hell just happened?”

Cole moved closer. “Ms. Palmer. I’m Detective Inspector Cole of the Metropolitan Police.”

She cast him a wary glance. “You are?”

“We’ve been looking for you since you called in. You’re safe now.”

She rubbed a hand across her forehead and winced.

“Are you all right?” Cole asked. “There’s an ambulance on its way.”

“I’m fine—I think. Just bruises.” She shifted to sit on the edge of the trunk and peered out past the ring of lights into the darkness beyond. “The men who took me—where are they?”

“They escaped, but they can’t get far. Did you know them?”

She shook her head and winced again. “No. One of them said his name was Stark but I’d never seen him before.”

“Well, don’t worry. We’ll get you to look at some pictures when we get to the Yard.”

“She’s not going to Scotland Yard,” Mal said. “She’s coming with me.”

“The hell she is,” Cole snapped. “I’ve got two dead cops and she’s my only lead. No way is she leaving my sight.”

As Mal stepped into the light, her eyes stretched wide and her mouth fell open. “You,” she said, her gaze fixed on his face. Then she turned to Cole. “I’m not going anywhere with him. He broke into my apartment tonight. I phoned it in. I’m sure you can check.”

Cole swung around to confront him. “Well, do you have an identical twin?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Shit, Mal. Did you know you’re bleeding?”

He glanced down. Crimson stained his arm beneath the sleeve of his Black T-shirt. “I took a bullet back there. It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing. Jack,” Cole called behind him and a man detached himself from the group of police officers. “Keep an eye on Ms. Palmer, will you? You”—he poked a finger into Mal’s chest—“come with me.”

Mal hesitated, but taking the girl in front of so many police wasn’t really an option. Once, he would have killed them with no regrets, but no longer. Vortigen would say he’d gone soft. But Cole was a friend. Besides, by morning, he would have the authority do whatever was necessary. He would wait but stay close.

He led the way up the slope and back to his car. From here, he could still see Lily seated on the edge of the car trunk, her face pale in the flashing lights, her gaze fixed on him.

“Let’s see it then,” Cole said.

He tugged his T-shirt over his head and twisted so he could see the wound. The bullet was lodged in the muscle of his upper arm. The torn flesh had stopped bleeding and already begun the healing process. He needed the bullet out.

“Nice tattoo,” Cole said.

Mal glanced down at the red dragon twined around his left bicep, its head curling over his shoulder, green eyes blazing, flames licking over his heart. “And nice bracelet,” Cole added, nodding at the red-gold torc wrapped around his upper right arm.

“A present from my mother,” Mal replied. “Now, are you going to drool over me all day, or are you going to get that bullet out?”

“Get it out? Fuck that. I want to see how bad it is, and then you’re off to the ER.”

“You do it, or I do it,” Mal said.

He popped open the trunk of his car, rifled through the bag of weapons, and pulled out a long knife—a beautiful weapon, its gold hilt inlaid with rubies.

Cole took it gingerly, his gaze narrowing on the already healing wound. “Christ. Never mind who are you? What are you?”

Not a question he was ready to answer. Cole wouldn’t believe him anyway. “Just get it out.”

The knife dug tentatively into the flesh of his arm. Mal braced himself, beads of sweat forming on his forehead—it was taking too long.

“Stop dicking around,” he growled. “Just get the fucking thing out.”

Cole shrugged, but the knife dug deeper, and a moment later, the bullet slid free from his flesh.

“Thanks,” he said.

The detective’s face was a nice shade of green. He examined the blood-streaked bullet in his hand. “Mind if I keep this?” he asked. “We can get ballistics to run a check on it.”

“Why not?” Mal used his T-shirt to wipe the fresh blood from his arm then tossed it in the trunk of his car. He rummaged around and came up with a new shirt, still in its cellophane wrapper.

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