I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what happens next! Will Chantal come out of this alive? Will Mace be her knight in shining armor? We'll see!! Enjoy!!!
Hustle Into Love
* * * * *
It seemed as if hours had passed, and a hundred decks searched before Mace finally found what he’d been seeking. Sliding around a sharp corner, he suddenly heard the sound of muted female voices. Coming to a full stop, he grasped his weapon tighter before slipping through the door and into a large hold. A quick glance sent his heart leaping. Finally, he’d found her.
There, standing next to a second hatch door, was Chantal.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t alone. Chóngdé stood nearby. And to his horror, he saw blood streaming down Chantal’s arm. She’d been shot, no doubt by the other woman.
Chantal said something he couldn’t hear to Chóngdé, but the other woman’s snarl of anger told him it wasn’t a compliment. Then, before he could do or say anything, Chantal dropped to the ground and picked up a gun just as Chóngdé took aim at her. The shot missed, and his shout of anger went unheard with the tumult that followed. Chantal returned fire and Chóngdé took a bullet in the arm, but it didn’t stop her. Seconds later, Chantal’s next shot misfired, and he heard Chóngdé’s shriek of rage as both women hit the floor ripping and tearing at each other. He started to Chantal’s aid, but he was abruptly aware of two others as they raced into the hold behind him.
The men were so intent on the two women wrestling, they didn’t see Mace in the shadows. The first man lifted his gun and took aim at Chantal’s blonde head. Without hesitation, Mace pointed his own weapon and fired. The man went down like a stone, his shot going wild.
But now the other sailor knew Mace was there. With a roar of rage, he flew at Mace, not even bothering to pull his own gun from its holster. A fist slammed into Mace’s jaw, making him dizzy. He rolled, trying desperately to hold on to his weapon. The sailor was big, muscled and seriously intent on doing damage, but Mace had all the incentive he needed. A quick twist of his body and he was face to face with his opponent.
They struggled, first for the gun, and when that dropped and was kicked away, for advantage over the other. Mace grunted as he fought for all he was worth, viciously aware the woman he loved was also fighting for her life across the room. Another jab to his already beleaguered ribs made him gasp, and for a moment the sailor had the advantage.
But Mace wasn’t about to give up. His whole future rested on the next few minutes, and he refused to let some little bitch with a god complex or her henchmen take away the most important thing in his life.
Ignoring the pain in his chest, he absorbed the hard left punch to his face, retaliating with one of his own. He followed it up by sharp right-handed chop to the man’s neck, almost flinching when he heard the Adam’s apple snap.
The sailor’s eyes went wide. He gasped once and fell to his knees, clawing at his throat. Impassively, Mace watched as the man tried to suck in a breath and failed. A moment later, he toppled like a tree barely missing where Mace stood.
He stared down at the dead man for a long moment, realizing that in the last few minutes he’d taken two lives. But he would deal with that painful fact later. Now, he could only be thankful for the training Lì had talked him into. What the military had started, his brother had finished.
And Lì’s foresight had given Mace the chance to finish this opponent.
A sound from across the hold caught his attention. Turning, he saw Chantal on top of Chóngdé, her fists flying. His heart pounding, he scooped up his weapon and raced across the room.
* * * * *
“This is for Lì,” Chantal gritted out as she slammed her fist into Chóngdé’s face, “and this one if for Mace. This one’s for little Deshi and this one—” she gasped in a needed breath and gloried in the feel of Chóngdé’s nose breaking, “—this one is for me.”
Her enemy lay still and silent, but Chantal didn’t care. She was out of control, wanting to make sure Chóngdé suffered for all her wrongs. She kept on hitting her, not caring if the other woman was awake to feel it or not.
When two strong arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her away, she reacted furiously, kicking and biting and scratching at her captor.
“Damn it, Chantal, it’s me!” Mace’s beloved voice finally cut through the red mist of her anger. “Stop. Chóngdé won’t hurt you or anyone else ever again.”
She froze, too dazed to understand until he whipped her around so they were face to face. He lifted her chin gently, his gaze locked on hers.
“It’s all right, baby,” he whispered soothingly, “it’s all over.”
“M-Mace?” She reached up and shakily covered his hand with her own. “You’re here. You came for me?”
“Bloody hell, woman,” he growled, pulling her against him so hard she lost her breath. “I’ve been looking for you since an hour after you stomped out on me.”
“Oh, Mace.” Chantal’s fears all melted away. She wasn’t imagining it. He was here. She was safe. It was over. Finally, truly over. She burrowed into him, uncaring of the small hurts that were beginning to make themselves known. She was home in his arms and that was all that mattered. “I was so scared—wishing you would find me.”
“I’ll always find you, honey,” he promised as he touched her lips with his own. “No matter where, no matter what. I love you.”
Tears burned and slid down her cheek. “I love you too,” she wept. “I’m so sorry I walked out on you that way. I didn’t mean it.”
Mace chuckled. “Yes you did. And you were right. Not to walk out on me,” he amended, “but about me making you a part of things. I was wrong about that.”
There was a groan behind them and Chantal stiffened. Pushing back out of Mace’s arms, she gazed at Chóngdé who was slowly returning to consciousness. “Damn. I thought I’d killed her.”
He didn’t understand. “You don’t know what she’s done,” she whispered, staring down at her battered enemy. “She deserves worse than anything I can do to her.”
“And she’ll get it.” Mace’s promise was so assured Chantal turned back and looked at him. He nodded. “I told you it was all over, honey. We do know what she’s been up to. Found all her records, going back three years.” He grimaced. “All the smuggling…the human trafficking.”
“Records? She kept records?”
“They were what led us here.” He folded Chantal close again. “And we’re not the only ones.”
Chantal sighed in relief. “Good. You called the police.”
Mace snorted. “Yes. I’m sure they’re here somewhere. But that’s not who I was referring to.” He smiled coldly then met Chóngdé’s bleary gaze.
“Her father is with us.”
The terror that filled Chóngdé’s eyes was almost worth all the pain Chantal was feeling. Three years. For three years this woman had been hurting people and destroying lives. Without a bit of remorse, Chóngdé had kidnapped, tortured and defiled men, women and children. She deserved to have all that pain turned back around on her.
Pulling back again, she searched Mace’s eyes. “You really think Hui Sun will deal with her. Really make her pay for all she’s done?”
“Honey—” Mace grinned ferally, “—she’ll be lucky if there’s anything left to give to the police.
Satisfaction shot through her when she heard Chóngdé’s frightened whimper, but that pleasure was cut short when Chantal really got a good look at Mace’s face. “My God, what happened to you?”
“You’re just now noticing?” He touched his bruised jaw and then probed carefully at his ribs. “He did.” Mace pointed with his gun to the bodies lying by the hold door. “As well as a few others. It wasn’t easy riding to your rescue, you know.”
“Oh, Mace.” She traced his bleeding lip. She suddenly remembered the second shot she’d heard and shivered. Mace had killed to protect her. “I’m so sorry.”
“We’ll you’re not looking so good yourself, you know.” He frowned. “Damn it, woman, I'd almost forgotten. When were you going to tell me you’ve been shot?” Ripping her sleeve away from the wound on her arm, he quickly fashioned a makeshift bandage. “We need to have a doctor look at this.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said soothingly, snuggling against him again. She hurt, but the sharp pain of the gunshot had dulled to a constant ache. “It’s over. We’re together and everything can go back to normal.”
There was a sound at the door and they both braced themselves, but immediately relaxed when they saw it was only Eric and Lì. Her bodyguard looked around at all the mayhem and putting his meaty hands on his hips, sighed in disgust.
“Damn it, Princess. Couldn’t you have left any for me?”
Chantal couldn’t help the happy tears as she traded Mace’s embrace for Eric’s. “Sorry. I guess I was too busy staying alive.”
“Little sister—” A moment later Lì’s arms were around her, “—you had us all very worried.”
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “For everything. For the trouble, the bombing, for this. Forgive me.”
“It has already been discussed whose fault it is, and it is not yours,” Lì remonstrated. “The fault lies with Chóngdé and no other.”
“That is true.”
They all stiffened at the sound of Hui Sun’s deep voice. Turning, they saw the older man standing with his men, just inside the outer hatch. His gaze was on his fallen daughter. He looked up at Mace.
“Is she dead?”
Mace shook his head. “No.”
“Good.” Sun walked forward and stared down at Chóngdé. “You have my thanks for not killing her.”
“If she’d done any more damage to Chantal, I’d have done the deed, I promise you,” Mace responded, “but fortunately, my lady had things well in hand by the time I arrived to help. Only had to deal with a few—” he glanced at the fallen men by the door, “—distractions.”
“Fa…ther…” Chóngdé lifted a pleading hand. “Help…me.”
Hui ignored her as if she wasn’t there. “Then you both have my thanks. And my sincere apology for the trouble she has caused you. I will deal with her now.”
“My friend,” Lì warned softly, “remember what we discussed.”
Sun’s lips narrowed, but he bowed in response. “I will not break my word to you. But the authorities will get her only when I have finished my…chastisement.”
Chantal shuddered along with Chóngdé. For a moment she almost felt sorry for the woman. Then she looked up into Mace’s battered face and shook her head.
Nope. Not so sorry after all.
They didn’t say anything when Sun bent and picked up his broken and bleeding daughter. Even Chóngdé’s piteous cries didn’t move them. Instead they watched as the older man turned and made his way out of the hold, followed by his silent army. After they had left, there was a long pause broken only when her adopted brother sighed.
“I think it is time for us to leave as well.” Lì smiled at Chantal when Mace wrapped a possessive arm around her. “There is still much to do and many who are very worried about you.”
“I just want to get out of this damn ship,” Eric agreed sourly as he started towards the hatch that led to the upper deck. “Now that I’m done cracking heads, I think I’m claustrophobic.”
They all laughed.
“We have to make a stop first, a few decks below this one.” Mace smiled ruefully at Chantal. “As much as I want to get you somewhere safe, I made a promise.”
Chantal met his gaze, knowing what he meant and loving him for all she was worth. She nodded. “As did I, my love. As did I.”
Okay, I feel so much better. They've found each other and it looks as if everything is going to be all right. But where do they go from here? Stay tuned for Thursday's installment to learn more.