Target for Love Ch. 17byJazzMatthews©
Intense throbbing all over his skull awakened Grant from his forced slumber. He shook his head to gain his senses, still seeing stars as he opened his unsettled eyes. Along with the harsh pain, the rush of agonizing memories tackled him.
Thornton. Alexa. His baby was gone.
Grant rose from the floor, staggering slightly as he regained himself. His hand wandered to the back of his head where the blow was administered. Through the fullness of his hair, Grant detected an inflamed knot that made him hiss as his fingers faintly grazed over it, but even the slightest contact stung like hell.
His brow scrunched as he stared at his watch. He had been out for about an hour. It would still take them a while to get to Washington due to the rain that now fell, if it was to Washington they were taking her. Now that they had something to barter with, they would soon want the ransom to be known.
Above anything else, Grant had to get his darlin' back.
Swearing sadistically, Grant haphazardly packed his guns and the clothes he needed for travel, and loaded up his truck. The engine roared furiously as he charged like a madman out of the driveway and down the road.
Grant continued to drive like a possessed man back to Greenville, careless of the falling drops of rain and the hazards of the road. As much as he had anticipated his former employers to make a move, he didn't know they would make it so soon. It was before he could get Alexa to safety and draw his pursuers away from her, but now they had the one thing that Grant would sacrifice his life for.
Grant drove to the home of Emmanuel Harden, which was a gated mansion just outside the north of Greenville. The house stood proudly on the verdant knoll of land. Four huge, white pillars fortified the front way of the home while the gray-speckled brick made it look mammoth and appealing. If Grant wasn't in such a hurry, he would admire the home more, but instead pulled his truck to a stop down the street before climbing down from the huge cockpit.
Beyond the gated land was a wood which Grant easily blended into and had very little difficulty in getting through the fence that obviously wasn't made well enough to do its job. Even in the mid-afternoon sun, Grant was able to slip undetected upon the Harden yard and creep to the back entrance. He found it absolutely insane how easy he was able to slip stealthily through the backyard without even one person spotting him. It was a wonder why his former employers didn't just hire someone to take Harden out at home. It would be an effortless hit since Harden was left out in the open.
Within a minute, Grant was able to slip into an open window on the second floor by scaling the bricks that jetted out to give the house texture. He was damned happy that his Marine training prepared him for such a situation but laughable at how it took minimal effort. However, his humor soon faded at the thought that Alexa could have been living in this house when all of this was going on and easily abducted.
As he stood to his full height and got a clear understanding of his surroundings, a familiar scent assailed him.
He was in her old bedroom. Even though it had been ages since she had lived at home, that precious vanilla scent that clung to her alone drifted in the room with the mingled touch of staleness.
Everything was pristine and straightened as she had left it. Even the blinding white coverlet lacked a single wrinkle. It was all so clean and refreshed. So puerile. Grant recalled bitterly when he referred to her as a child. He found out the hard way that Alexa was no longer the epitome of a chaste little girl but a fire, sex-craving vixen who made Grant crave like hell for her.
The empty hollow inside him enveloped into something that could swallow him whole. He wasn't sure if he would ever get her back at all. What if his dream was real and he was destined to lose her?
Grant walked over to view at the pictures of her on her dresser, his shoulders heavy with grief. Each one displayed a different side of Alexa. Her playfulness, her elegance, everything that he admired of her. Then he came across one with her father, taken a couple of years ago at Preview Day at her college. He studied the dark, resilient features of the senator, this man who harbored a secret that could let him win the presidency hands down. This man who wasn't concerned enough about Alexa and still, she was the only thing he had left. Judging from the smile and warmth he exuded just by the picture, he seemed like the kind of man who could be reasoned with. Somehow, Grant would have to make Harden see how much Alexa was hurting.
"Who are you?"
Grant whipped around to witness a silhouette poised in the doorway before it strolled cautiously into the room. The light from the window struck the stranger and Grant found himself staring at Alexa's father.
"Who are you?" he asked again in a deep, grating voice. Dark chocolate eyes focused with intensity as awareness flowed within them. They dimmed shortly after recognition. "I know you," he said before he stopped in front of Grant, "but from where?"
Grant knew he had to be truthful about his purpose of being there, but he was afraid of the consequences that would come with the truth being revealed. He shied from his fears and thought of Alexa's life swinging in the balance.
"At the rally when one of your bodyguards singled me outta the crowd to talk to you," he confessed. "You were there with your daughter."
The lines of the older man's dark face cringed agonizingly. "My daughter," he exhaled slowly. "I've had an strange feeling about you since the days following the rally. I've considered the things my daughter pointed out to heart and I've had you investigated. Ryan Gag doesn't exist in that particular building and so I figured that my Alexa was telling the truth. However, now that she's gone missing, I've figured that you've had something to do with her disappearance."
Grant's intense eyes filled with anger so quickly that the fires within them could condemn a man to hell in a second. "Not in the way that you think."
"I'm not blind, son. I noticed the way you looked at her. I know it very well because I was a young man myself and I once felt the same...for her mother," he added bitterly. "Grant it, my daughter has inherited her mother's beauty and passions, except hers are more subdued. At least, I tried to make them so. But my daughter is still an innocent and unaware of her charms that lure men as they've clearly lured you to her."
His eyes sharpened to consider his intruder. "Did you take my daughter?"
With a lie settling in his throat, Grant took a surprising turnabout by admitting the truth. The next thing he knew, Grant was knocked to the ground by a left hook courtesy of an enraged father. Then Harden was on top of Grant, his strong hands wrapped around his throat to choke the life out of him. "You son of a bitch!" Harden exclaimed vehemently. "I ought to kill you for taking her!"
As his lungs craved for air, Grant choked out, "Kill me, you will...never...find her...alive." He struggled to take a breath. "I don't...have her!"
"Lies! And I don't have time for liars." Harden backed off, straightening his clothes before leaving Grant on the floor. "I'm calling the police."
Grant recovered his breath and got to his feet swiftly to give chase, despite that he was feeling lightheaded. Harden was already downstairs and reaching the phone in enormous strides. Over the railing from the second floor, Grant warned, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Harden stopped and turned to look up to him. "And why not?"
"'Cause if you alert the cops, they'll pull away and you'll never see her again."
"The people who sent me that day to kill you," Grant answered candidly.
Harden's tensing told Grant that he had his attention. As he slowly came down the stairs to where Harden remained rooted, the elder's concentrated stare was perceptively inflexible. "The alleged gunman," he said. "One minute he's got a gunned aimed at my head and the next he's conversing warmly with me and flirting my daughter."
Grant crossed his arms across his broad chest. "It's shockin' to know that you're able to believe the truth from a stranger and not from your own daughter. Damn ironic."
For a brief second, Grant caught the reflection of hurt embedded in Harden's glare before it disappeared. "You had her," he answered, totally ignoring the subject Grant dared to bring about. "Where did you take her?"
"To safety," Grant replied vaguely. "The men who want you dead want to use Alexa to exploit you. I helped her escape when one of them showed up at her workplace. I took her to Tennessee and stayed low for almost two weeks."
Harden narrowed the space between them. "And you? My daughter is a very pretty girl. Being locked up with someone of pure temptation can be trying for a man of your..." He looked Grant up and down in distaste. "...situation."
Harden paused briefly to evaluate Grant by just staring into his eyes. If he saw the love and anxiety from Grant, he ignored it. But something else that Grant's eyes revealed was what got his attention.
"Did you touch her?"
Grant was silent as he had been the day he had heard the charges against him during his court-martial. However, his choice not to answer only confirmed Harden's suspicions.
The older man's eyes glittered disapprovingly. "The man who was to take my life slept with my daughter?"
Then it happened again. Grant landed hard on the floor, his left hand clutching his right cheek. Above him was an angry father with eyes raging in fire. "You've got one helluva left hook," he uttered lightly before he spat on the floor to see a little bit of blood.
"I'm calling the police," Harden declared once again. "I cannot stand to look at the scum you are. You will be charged with attempted murder, aiding and abetting, kidnapping and statutory rape."
Grant was on his feet in a second. "Statutory rape? What the hell's wrong with you? If you haven't noticed, your daughter is twenty, not sixteen. She's a young woman capable of her own decisions."
"So far, her choices haven't been good ones. It's my job to make sure my daughter remains pure." His gaze narrowed. "Even after sleeping with bastards like you."
"If I was really a bastard, you'd be six feet under right now," Grant said, trying not to strangle the man. "You don't even know why I never finished the job."
Harden regarded him flippantly. "I'm surprised a man like you has a conscience."
Grant frowned. "It was your daughter who made me realize I still had one." Harden's features changed and Grant continued, "She made me see the wrong I was doin' to her and you. You're innocent and those bastards who want you dead are clearly in for it to keep whatever secret you know in your mouth."
Taking a moment's measure, Grant released a shaky breath. "I love her."
The room suddenly filled with unsecured laughter. Grant's countenance was dark and guarded. Something serious like that was not to be laughed at.
"What's so damned funny?"
"You've got to be mad if you think being in lust with my daughter is love," Harden countered as the chuckles died away. "How dare you even attempt to touch someone whom you can't? She's out of your league, son. You can never have her. Not if I have something to say or do about it."
"The hell you will," Grant grated out. "She wants me and I sure as hell want her. I always will. Nothin' can keep me from havin' her. Not even you."
"I can make it so that you never lay eyes on her again."
Grant folded his arms across her chest. "It's funny how you're now decidin' to act like the protective father when you never have before," he pointed out. "Need I ask why you've suddenly formed a father's barrier against me?"
"Wouldn't you if your daughter slept with the man who carried your death sentence?"
"Perhaps not," Grant agreed, "but that doesn't answer my question."
"Then what do you mean why I protect her now? I'm her father."
"Now you're her father," Grant stressed. "You weren't actin' the part in her life after your wife left her."
A pained look found its way into Harden's face and this time, it lingered. It almost made Grant wish to take back the words that caused such anguish. "How did you know that?" Harden asked incredulously.
"Alexa revealed to me all of her fears." His eyes became tormented. "How could you desert her after her own mother abandoned her? That was when Alexa needed you the most and you cut her off."
As realization sunk in, Harden blinked hard at the accusations lain at his own feet. Grant's passionate cerulean eyes tapered into slits. "Who's the cold bastard now?"
Harden shook his head as his gaze drifted from Grant to the ground. "I didn't mean to. I...I was heartbroken when Marianne left us. I was so broken that I took my frustration out on Alexa by neglecting her."
"I loved her mother so much that it hurt every time I looked at her or overlooked her flaws. Even at a young age, Alexa displayed her mother's loveliness and I did my damnedest to keep her pure, unlike her mother, who submerged us into scandal after scandal that threatened my election to the Senate."
Grant scowled harshly. "You thought she would turn out like her mother?"
"I'm not even sure if I'm her father!"
Grant was so startled by that outcry that he remained quiet. However, as he stared at this man who looked so forlorn and broken was enough to make him wish to find Alexa's mother and make her pay for the shame she had brought upon her family.
"I married Marianne when we were barely out of college," Harden began. "We had fooled around and she came to me saying she was pregnant. I became a man and stepped up to my responsibility. I became a father and raised Alexa as best as I knew how."
The distressed man rubbed a rough palm over his dark face tiredly. "Then it was years later that Marianne told me that our marriage no longer satisfied her and she was sleeping with several men."
Bleak eyes focused with severity upon Grant. "She even had the audacity to tell me she had slept with many men before we were married and wasn't sure who the father of her baby was. Her parents wished her to marry me for security. After that, I vowed that it still wouldn't affect me and I would continue to raise Alexa as my own. She was my child and I was the first one to hold her in my arms. But I just couldn't look at her the same. Someone else's looks preside in her face. Not mine.
"No one knows the consequences of her birth and I've been too afraid to tell her. I loved her mother so much that I continued to deny everything she told me and that she only did it to prove her unhappiness. But she never once asked for a divorce or separation. Coming home one day, she was gone with a note saying she was never to return and she didn't care what I did with her daughter."
He swore. "Not our daughter, but hers. She wanted to twist the knife in my back once more to live with the fact Alexa wasn't mine."
"Yet you didn't get a paternity test?"
Harden scoffed painfully. "Alexa was the only thing I had left of her mother. I might not have been a good father to her, but God help me, I do love her. It was my loving her mother that caused my downfall in loving Alexa." He rubbed a hand at the back of his neck. "Do you know what love can do to a man?"
Grant knew only too well. "Make him go insane with desire or worry," he answered seriously. "That's how it is with your daughter. As sure as there's a hell, I'm gonna get her back. I swear it."
Pain caused Harden's shoulders to slump even more. "My God, what have I done? What have I done to my poor baby? She inherited her mother's free spirit, a quality I always admired in Marianne, but condemned in Alexa."
"I think you should get that paternity test," Grant said. "It's the only way you'll brang closure to your life and hers. I know that she's everythang you wanted to avoid seein' again, but you can't avoid that your daughter ain't like that bitch. She never will be if you'd be the father she deserves."
As eyes of understanding found his, their thoughts were pierced by ringing. Their gazes diverted to the phone that resounded throughout the room. Grant thought it was a death knell. He had a deep premonition of who was at the other end of the line.
"Answer that," he said as he walked over to the phone, "and hit the speaker button. I'm sure it's them."
Harden followed him warily. "Them who?"
"My former employers," Grant uttered. "They'll want to strike a bargain with you."
Hurriedly, Harden rushed over to the phone and pushed the speaker button. "Hello?"
"Is this the Harden residence?"
The voice that sailed from the speaker was light but it managed to keep any warmth from its tone. It was enough to make a man shiver at its cold civility.
"It is," Harden replied slowly. "Is this...do you have my daughter?"
A dark chuckle came from the other side. "I hope you don't greet all your callers this way, Harden. It's not the way to make friends or to keep them. But I do find it funny that I've yet to say what I possess. I can only assume that bastard's there. Are you, Ryan?"
Harden glanced to Grant and gave him a fearful glare. "I'm not sure who you mean."
"Ah, there's no need to lie for him, Harden. If you had any concern over the welfare of your lovely daughter, I wouldn't cover for him."
Grant was hovering over the speaker immediately. "I'm here, Prescott."
Damn him, Grant thought ruthlessly as he could just see that bastard smiling at having caught him. "I'm surprised at you," Prescott said surprisingly. "I must confess, I didn't figure on you coming to Harden like a man. I thought you'd run with your tail between your legs, figuratively. I'm glad you grew some--"
"You try my patience with this pointless conversation. Where is she?" Prescott stalled and it made Grant lose temporary hold on his temper. "Tell me now or I'll break your fuckin' neck later."
Prescott clicked his tongue pityingly. "You forget who's holding the winning cards. Need I remind you?"
Her distressed voice whirled around the two men who loved her. It was heartbreaking to hear her whimpering cries of fear and desolation. Grant wished like hell he was there to bring her comfort. But he would be soon. God help him, he'll find a way.
"Daddy!" she bawled. "Grant!"
Harden stared ruefully at the phone, his eyes filling with tears. "Alexa. My baby."
Alexa's sniveling angered Prescott. "Shut her up," he barked mercilessly.
A sharp, feminine sound of pain came next and Grant's rage erupted again. "Damn you!" he screamed fiercely. "Alexa, baby, I ain't gonna let nothin' happen to you."
"You can't guarantee that, Ryan," Prescott responded, "but don't worry. She'll be safe until we reach an agreement. What do you say?"
Hell, at this moment, Grant would rather make a deal with Satan, but he paused only for a few seconds before he complied. "Keep talkin'."
"We'll trade the girl as soon as we get Harden."
Grant scowled. "To do what?"
"Why, to do exactly what you were hired for," Prescott pointed out. "To kill him."
A muffled "No!" came from Alexa.
Prescott's voice sounded distant as if he was addressing her. "You didn't know, my dear?" he asked. "Ryan was hired to kill your father. Small world...or is it?" Prescott placed his mouth back to hover over the receiver. "If this agreement isn't met, well...I would hate to see something happen to such a beautiful girl."
Grant tried his damnedest to ignore the quiet sobs in the background as he struggled to discuss a deal, but hearing her twisted his heart until there wasn't a drop of blood left.
But now that she knew his purpose, she couldn't possibly want him again. Hell, his survival depended on her need for him, but if she didn't want him anymore, what was the point of trying to come back into her arms? Right now, she should loathe him with full hatred. He would if he was in her position.