Read Her Only Protector Online

Authors: Lisa Mondello

Her Only Protector (5 page)

Pushing the pillows aside and placing a towel on the bed, she lay the sleeping baby down and began to undress her, hoping she could change the diaper without waking her. As she searched her bag for a clean diaper, tears welled up in her eyes and began to fall.

She was still in Colombia. She'd failed, and Lucia was dead. How was she going to explain this to her father? That is, if she even had the chance to talk to him. Somehow she had to get word to him.

Right about now, Dylan was risking his life to get to Cash. Somehow. She didn't know the details. They'd all agreed Sonny was better off not knowing so they could each focus on their specific mission. But the truth was that they didn't want her to know any details in case she got caught.

Well, she'd been caught, in a manner of speaking. By the grace of God, Cash would make it safely home, but what about her and Ellie?

Dear Lord, help me get my niece back to safety. I know I've been asking for a lot these days but…

She wiped a tear off her cheek with the back of her hand. She knew without a doubt that if it was God's will, she'd make it home. Dylan had always said that some burdens were heavier to bear than others. The Lord wouldn't give her anything more than she could handle. He also told her that whenever she felt she couldn't go on, she should do what she could and offer the rest up to God.

Well, there was a whole lot she couldn't handle these days but it didn't seem right not to do her part when so many others were putting their lives on the line, too. She took a moment and said a prayer to the Lord to give her strength, to help her be strong enough to see this through. And she offered up to Him what she couldn't control.

She turned at a knock on the door. Cooper walked in. “Nice digs, huh?” she said with a smile. It was the first time Cooper had smiled since they'd met.

“Do you have that list that Gil asked you to write up?”

Sonny closed the last tab on the diaper and carefully placed Ellie in the middle of the bed. “Just give me a second.”

She washed her hands and then grabbed the pad of paper that was sitting between the beds. Ellie was awake now and looking around at the strange surroundings, stretching and turning to see who was in the room with her. Within seconds she rolled over onto her stomach.

Sonny sat on the bed beside her, a pang of fear hitting her square in the chest. She'd left the baby alone in the middle of the bed when she could have easily rolled off. She didn't know all that much about babies, being the youngest in her family, but clearly Ellie was old enough to turn over on her own now. She'd have to remember that.

She quickly scratched down the essentials and decided that would probably be enough for now. If need be, she could send someone out again. Maybe by then she'd have a plan to get out of this mess.

Folding the slip of paper, she handed it to Cooper. “I don't know your first name.”

The other woman finally met her eyes. “Brooke.”

Sonny nodded. “That's a pretty name.”


“Why don't they ever call you that?”

As she got a good look at Cooper, she felt bad that she'd thought of her as masculine. There was nothing masculine about her except for her short hair. She had pretty eyes and a small, upturned nose.

“I like to keep gender out of things. It's easier that way.” She headed for the door and then turned. “I'll be right back. You look a little tired. You might want to get some rest. You're in for a long day.”

The door closed and for a moment, Sonny felt like a prisoner. There were no bars on the windows or chains on her hands and feet. But the feeling that she was all alone, confined to a cell, consumed her.

As tired as she was, she wasn't about to stay cooped up. She scooped Ellie in her arms, cooing until the baby's face lit with a smile. That smile alone was worth all the fear and frustration and exhaustion she'd been feeling.

As she walked into the common area, she saw Gil slumped on a cushy floral sofa, his feet propped up on the coffee table. He straightened up as she approached.

“I thought you'd be taking a nap,” he said.

“Can't sleep. The baby slept most of the way and now she's awake. I don't have a crib to put her in and I don't want her to roll off the bed and get hurt.”

He nodded. “I'll call the main desk to see if they have a portable crib. This hotel caters to tourists so we might be in luck. Are you hungry? The villa has a small kitchen and Marco stocked up on food earlier.”

She was about to say no when Marco came barreling in from the kitchen holding a piece of paper. “Aztec Corporation deals with shipping art and artifacts. Big deal. Everyone ships something or other down here.” He stopped short when he saw Sonny standing there.

Sonny felt the blood drain from her face. “And how did you find out about Aztec Corporation?”

“Marco's a research genius,” Gil said, looking at her closely. “He did some digging around in your brother's records and it seems he had some connection to the Aztec Corporation. Mind filling us in?”

“I can't, sorry,” she said, trying to stay calm.

Marco shrugged. “I'll keep looking,” he said to Gil. “Unfortunately, the kitchen's the only place we can get an Internet connection. Sometimes. It keeps cutting out on me.”

Her pulse quickened.
They had a computer.
She remembered Cooper and Gil talking about Marco hacking into a file. They must have been trying to hack into the Aztec Corporation Web site she'd found before coming to Colombia. That was how she'd found Ellie. Like Marco, Sonny was good with computers. More than good.

She'd have to be careful. She was sure Gil and his team knew full well what she did for a living.

Sonny feigned disinterest. “Gil said you went on a food run earlier? I'm starving,” she said, creating a good reason to check out their setup in the kitchen.

“There's not much.” He looked almost apologetic as he gestured at Ellie. “I didn't know there'd be a baby here.”

“Do you have any fruit? I could probably cut up something for her.”

“There are some bananas.”

Sonny nodded. “Great. She might like that.”

“Wait, don't you have to be careful what you give babies at this age?” Marco said, worry lines creasing his brow.

Gil laughed. “How would you know?”

Marco lifted his hands in protest. “I don't. But my sister always said that about my nephew. He had food allergies.”

Sonny hadn't thought of that. She felt way out of her depth. But how much harm could bananas do?

“Maybe we could look up what babies eat at this age. Online, I mean,” she said, realizing that was a perfect opportunity.

“Sure. Better to be safe than have the kid break out in red spots or something.”

“They do that?” Gil asked, grimacing.

“Yeah, my nephew swelled up with hives all over his body. Totally disgusting. It freaked me out.”

“Why don't you check the kitchen for something that won't make Ellie swell up with hives all over the place,” Gil said with a chuckle. “I don't want to see Marco freak out.”

She smiled and went to the kitchen with Marco on her heels. The computer was on the counter near the telephone. It was hard not to run over and start using it. Instead, she looked at the food that was spread out on the counter.

“Find anything?” Gil said, standing in the doorway.

“I'm not sure. This vanilla pudding might be too sweet for her.”

“Applesauce,” Marco said, reaching past her. “They didn't have those little snack packs but I did find a small jar. My sister always gave my nephew applesauce.”

She smiled at him in thanks but out of the corner of her eye, she saw the computer, practically calling to her. Marco had set up an office in the kitchen. Her mind was racing. She could contact her father, tell him what had happened.

“Did you call about the crib?” she asked Gil.

His eyes met hers and held for a brief moment. Sonny was tempted to pull away from his gaze but she fought to hold the stare. She didn't want him or anyone else intimidating her. But the look he gave her was not one of intimidation. It was of sympathy and it almost made her crumble.

“They said someone would bring it up later,” he said quietly.

“I'm really tired,” she said, shifting the baby in her arms with exaggerated fatigue. “If you don't mind, can you two go down to the office and see if you can carry it back here? After I feed the baby, I'm going to try to nap. I'll feel more comfortable if Ellie is in a crib.”

“Sure,” he said. “Let's go, Marco.”


Nothing about this job felt right, Gil thought. He rubbed his hand over his head as he and Marco struggled with the crib through the parking lot.

“You didn't come up with anything on a wife?” Gil asked.

“Nothing,” Marco said.

“Terrific.” This was going to complicate things. In the past hour since they'd made it back to the villa, he'd begun to believe that Sonny Montgomery really didn't know where Cash was hiding out. A baby and the possibility of a wife changed things. If they'd known, they'd have tailed the wife, tried to appeal to her concern for her husband's safety.

“What about Aztec?” he said. They'd hit a dead end and needed a break. The Aztec Corporation could be the very thing that broke this case wide-open.

“I can't tell if they're legit. All these shipping companies look fine on the surface. I have to dig into their private files to see what they're all about.” Marco's eyes lit up. He loved a good excuse to hack deep. “What do you say, boss man? Want to go on a hunt?”

Gil laughed, rolling his eyes. “I'll leave that one up to you. See how easy it is to break into their sys—”

He stopped short, pulling Marco back as they reached the villa.

“Did you leave your computer on in the kitchen?” Gil asked.

“No, I shut it down. Don't worry, it's password protected.”

Gil thought a second. “She's a hacker by trade, Marco.”

Marco looked at the crib in his hands. “You think she snowed us?”

“We'll find out in a minute. Hang here for a second,” he said, and moved past Marco into the villa, leaving the door ajar.

He moved quietly, looking toward the bedrooms and around the living room. Sonny had said she was going to feed the baby and then take a nap. She was probably still feeding Ellie—he could hear the baby making noise in the kitchen.

As he moved toward the kitchen, he heard a distinctive sound that was
a spoon going into a baby's mouth.

“You type pretty fast with a baby in your arms,” he said, leaning against the doorjamb.

Sonny quickly punched a key and the screen went blank. She straightened up and turned to Gil.

He'd felt sorry for her, with everything she'd been dealing with. But here she was, having tricked them into giving her computer access. She was warning her brother. Gil was sure of it.

“Maybe we'll hold off on the nap so we can have a good chat,” he said, his voice icy. He hated being duped and Sonny had just duped him big-time. Her whole routine had been an act. “You're a criminal just like your brother, aren't you, Ms. Montgomery?”


he'd expected them to come back to the villa quickly. But she hadn't gauged the time it would take her to get into the password-protected computer with one hand while holding Ellie with the other.

“I beg your pardon?” Sonny said, answering Gil's accusing stare.

“We brought the crib. That is, if you still need it.”

“Why wouldn't I need a crib?”

“I don't know. Wasn't the crib just a ploy to get me and Marco out of the villa so you could go online?”

Sonny glared at him. “You're absolutely right,” she said. “That was just one part of my master plan. The first step was to lure you into bringing me back to this villa so I wouldn't have to get on that plane to Miami. How did you know?”

“Don't play with me,” he said.

“I have no intention of doing that.”

you doing?”

She shifted her weight and propped the baby on her hip. Ellie wasn't heavy, but Sonny's arms weren't used to holding a baby this long, especially while multitasking. “For your information, I was seeing if I could get an Internet connection to search for safe foods for the baby. After what Marco said about hives, I got worried.”

He considered what she said. “Someone left their baby in your care and you know nothing about babies?”

She softened—and almost laughed—because she'd actually been thinking the same thing. She was a pitiful caregiver for Ellie. But that would change soon. She'd learn fast.

“This trip was a way for me to get to know my niece. I'm the youngest in my family and I've never really been around babies before.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

She shook her head. “The connection kept going out.”

“Yo, Gil!” Marco called from the front door of the villa. “Mind giving me a hand here?”

“Be right there,” he called out. Then he turned to Sonny.

“How old is she?”

“Five months.”

“Some doctors don't start babies on solid food until they're a little bit older.”

She cocked her head to one side. “Can I trust that information comes from experience?”

He didn't answer. Instead, he looked around the small kitchen and picked up a banana. “I'll have Cooper go out tomorrow for some baby food. In the meantime, you should mash up a banana.”

She felt her brow crease. “Is that really necessary?”

His eyebrows raised. “Mashing could help you take out some of your aggression toward me. We may not have enough bananas to satisfy that, though.”

She rolled her eyes at his attempt at humor. “I have no desire to take my aggressions out on innocent bananas. What I meant to say is, are we really going to be here so long that I'll need more supplies than what Cooper gets today?”

The glint in his eyes showed amusement. “You're already unhappy with the accommodations? I can call management to see if they have better digs.”

“Don't get funny with me,” she said, ignoring the sudden feeling she got from looking into his dark eyes. “I want to go back home. I just want to know how long it'll be before we can return to the United States.”

He hesitated and put the banana he'd been holding back on the counter with the others. “I'm not leaving Colombia without your brother. So if you're planning on leaving when I do, you can expect to stay as long as it takes to find him.”

“Gil! Have a heart. It's hot out here,” Marco yelled impatiently.

She closed her eyes as he turned away. “Then we may be waiting a long time,” she muttered.

Sonny had uttered her words quietly. However, Gil abruptly turned back and stared at her. His dark eyes didn't look as ferocious as they had when he'd walked into the kitchen a few minutes ago. They'd softened some and Sonny found she actually liked looking at them.

“Is there something you want to tell me, Sonny?”

She thought about it a moment. She'd already told Gil she didn't know where her brother was and it was clear he didn't believe her. Could she trust him enough to tell him the truth about Ellie?

At this point, no matter how much of a mess he'd made for her back at the airport, she had to trust that he'd keep her and Ellie safe. She had no choice. Stepping outside the walls of the villa would only open them up to trouble if Eduardo Sanchez and his people were to discover she and Ellie were here.

She shifted the baby in her arms. Ellie had one hand tangled in the hair that had fallen from Sonny's ponytail, and was reaching for Sonny's earring with the other.

Gently easing her hair out of the baby's grip, she said, “I have to feed the baby.”

Disappointment clouded those dark eyes she couldn't seem to stop looking into. Gil left the room without another word and suddenly the small kitchen felt empty.


“You think she's sending us on a wild-goose chase?” Cooper asked, straddling the backward chair with her elbow propped up on top of it and her chin resting on her palm.

Gil sighed and took a swig of cola. “Who knows?” When he'd caught Sonny on the computer earlier, he was sure she'd been trying to contact her brother. And it made him angry.

He should let it go—it wasn't like she was the first person to lie to him. Family members of fugitives were a funny bunch. They wanted to help their loved ones, but they always seemed to do it the wrong way and get themselves in trouble. He'd hate to see that happen with Sonny.

“Don't sweat it. It's not the first time you two have been conned by a pretty girl.”

Cooper laughed at the face Gil made, but it grated on him that maybe there was more than a little truth to her statement. At least this time. He'd always been careful to separate his job from his personal life. But he couldn't deny that he found Sonny Montgomery attractive. Okay, more than that. Something about her kept her on his mind, even when she wasn't in the room.

He turned away from Cooper's snickering and looked into the kitchen where Marco was perched on a stool, working furiously on the computer. “There may not be anything to find, Marco.”

“I'm already halfway there,” Marco said, spinning in his chair to face Gil. “If she e-mailed Montgomery, we'll find out.”

With any luck, by nightfall they'd have an idea of how to find Cash.

Getting up from the sofa, Gil made his way into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee. The first sip told him the coffee had been sitting a while—it was like sludge going down his throat.

He blinked to get some moisture in his dry eyes. The day was crashing down on him. It wouldn't be long before he'd need some serious rest, but he'd have to wait until he had a chance to talk to Sonny again.

She'd holed up in the bedroom since their interaction in the kitchen. He hadn't meant to jump on her. She'd looked terrified when she'd turned around and seen him standing at the kitchen door. Yet she didn't back down. She just lifted her chin and said her piece as if she had every right to use the computer.

He'd almost congratulated her—she had chops, that's for sure. But then he'd reminded himself why he was in Colombia in the first place.

Walking through the living room to the far corner, he pushed open the French doors that led to a small private courtyard. Although the villa was big, he needed some space. Some space away from Sonny Montgomery.

Stepping outside, Gil found the night air was warm and didn't cool him off the way he'd hoped it would. With coffee cup in hand, he sat down on a bench in the center of the courtyard next to some potted plants. The moon was bright. Not quite full, but getting there. A chaise lounge would be nice, he thought. He could sleep under the stars like he used to in the military. He'd always liked nights like that. They brought clarity even if they didn't bring answers.

Back then it was a time to pray. He'd talk to the Lord like He was sitting right there. Funny how he'd never seemed to do that during the day, and now, not at all. The black sky had always seemed like a comforting blanket that protected him when he needed to find solace in his faith. He had a hard time feeling that same sense of comfort now. He was on edge—and part of him knew that was because of their houseguest.

Something about the way Sonny had looked at him when they'd first arrived at the villa didn't sit right with him. He prided himself on the job he did nabbing criminals who deserved to be brought to justice. But Sonny had looked at him as if he might really hurt her and the baby. She
that he could. And that bothered him more than he wanted to admit.

He shook it off. It didn't really matter what Sonny Montgomery thought about him or his job. His boss was going to be out a cool million if they didn't succeed in finding Cash Montgomery. If that meant that Sonny had to miss her plane and stay a few days longer in Colombia, then so be it. Life was full of inconveniences.

He drained the rest of his coffee and grimaced.
When did I get so grumpy?

Besides, he'd already told her she could leave if she wanted to. She chose to stay. There had to be a reason she was sticking with the man who was hunting down her fugitive brother instead of just taking off on her own. She said she had no money left, but she may not have been telling him the truth.

Maybe she's hiding from something.

Yeah, that thought had occurred to him big-time over the past few hours while she and the baby were napping in the other room. The question was, what—or who—was she hiding from? And what did that have to do with Cash Montgomery?


Sonny had slept too long.

She only wished Ellie had, too. She'd checked the clock by the bed and saw that it was 3:00 a.m. Cooper was sound asleep in the next bed, breathing heavily as if she were deep into her REM state. Every so often, when the baby started to cry, Cooper stirred but didn't wake up.

That was good, Sonny decided. If she was going to get another crack at the computer, she was going to have to sneak out without Cooper knowing.

But first she had to rock Ellie to sleep again. It would be a long night for all of them if Ellie didn't sleep.

She wished she'd taken Baby 101 before she'd insisted on coming down here. Serena had filled her in, and her mother had, too. But everything she'd done thus far had been a piece of cake compared to taking care of Ellie.

She recalled how she'd thought both her mother and her sister-in-law were making such a fuss. Sonny was female, after all. Shouldn't taking care of babies come naturally to all women?

Apparently not.

She rocked Ellie back and forth, trying to calm her crying. Do all mothers feel like complete imbeciles in the beginning stages of motherhood?

“Oh, sweet pea, your mamma is going to have my head on a spit if I don't take care of you properly,” she crooned, nuzzling Ellie's pudgy wet cheeks.

Even as she said the words, she knew it wasn't true. Serena would be so happy to have this beautiful baby back in her arms that nothing else would matter, least of all any minor mistakes Sonny made along the way.

The baby continued to fuss in her arms. Afraid that she would wake up Cooper, Sonny grabbed the baby's blanket from the crib and went to the living room.

The light was on and the TV was turned down low. The screen showed an anchor speaking Spanish, talking about an upcoming festival. Sonny followed most of what he said although his dialect was different from the Spanish she knew. It didn't really matter what the news anchor said as long as it wasn't about the baby. She kept her ears open to any news of Eduardo Sanchez, though. She'd understand what that name meant for her in any language.

As she paced the living room in her bare feet, her eyes drifted toward the kitchen. There was no light on, which meant that Marco had finally gone to bed. He kept the computer password protected, but that was easy enough for Sonny to get around. Even so, it would be risky to try now with Ellie still fussing. She didn't want to risk waking up the whole villa and getting caught again. Besides, she'd already sent out the important e-mail to her father. She could wait to see if he responded.

The look on Gil's face when he saw her standing at the computer was one she would never forget. His expression had been hard, his eyes cold and full of contempt. Sonny wasn't used to people looking at her that way and she hated even more that Gil had. But that didn't make any sense. Why would she care what he thought after what he'd done?

She wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. She had a laundry list of flaws just like the next person. Stubbornness was up there at the top of the list.

Obviously she couldn't count taking Ellie as a flaw. Taking Ellie from her captors was completely fair, since Eduardo Sanchez had hired someone to pose as a maid in her sister-in-law's house, steal the baby and bring her to Colombia.

All of Sonny's actions since the kidnapping were firsts in her life. Who would've thought two months ago that she would travel to Colombia and work with Lucia, a former undercover agent, to rescue her niece from a high-ranking Colombian gangster? Those were things her brothers did. Not her.

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