Joan Bowman and Duncan are fugitives, but trouble doesn’t seem to have any problem finding them…

Joan, Duncan, and Kearney race across the country, barely avoiding capture by the Constitution Defense Legion Task Force. They settle down in the Phoenix area to begin new lives with new identities, unaware that a group of discontented Mexican-Americans called La Espada, The Sword, led by an ex-con, Tito Orrozco, has a bone to pick with them because Joan killed Tito’s brother while defending a crippled woman during an attack by La Espada. Duncan’s response to the attack is to form a militia, but his attempts to right the wrongs around him clash with Joan’s efforts to keep her life on an even keel as she struggles with PTSD. When traitors within their group lead them all into a trap, everything falls apart and Joan and Duncan are left fighting for their very lives—and each other.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Hottest Place in Hell by Janet McClintock, Joan Bowman is back with Duncan and Kearney. Now fugitives from justice after the arrest of most of the Constitution Defense League, they can’t seem to stay out of trouble. They happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and Joan kills the brother of terrorist while protecting an invalid woman. Now the terrorists are after her and everyone close to her.

As action-packed thrillers go, this one’s a doozy. Like the first book in the series, this one is fast-paced, full of surprises and will hold your interest from beginning to end.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Hottest Places in Hell by Janet McClintock is the second book in the Iron Angel series. We’re reunited with Joan, Duncan, and Kearney, this time on the run from the law and a terrorist organization Joan pissed off when she killed the brother of the leader during a home invasion attack, where Joan was protecting a woman confined to a wheelchair. Now the terrorist leader wants revenge and that means that Joan and her compatriots have to die. But Joan isn’t easy to kill, although sometimes she wonders if it’s worth the fight trying to stay alive.

Like the first book in the series, Worst of All Evils, Hottest Places in Hell is a bonafide page-turner which fast-paced action and plenty of twists and turns in the plot. Make sure you have some time to spend before you start reading because once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down.


Two months, one week, three days was all that remained of Tito Orrozco’s sentence.

The raised voices of the corrections officers announced the imminent clang of a closing metal door at the far end of the cell block, but Tito’s stare didn’t falter from a map of Arizona on the wall opposite his bunk. He pictured himself on the cutting edge of history.

While he languished in prison, a group had sprung up, La Espada, The Sword, a coalition of violent street gangs and underling drug lords. Sensing a weakness in the American government, they decided it was time to reclaim the land of Arizona, New Mexico, part of Texas, and Southern California for Mexico. While the administration in Washington was distracted with dissent among its citizens, the Southwest United States was ripe for the picking.

La Espada had the fighters, the fervor, and the money. It was the perfect storm. They were getting stronger as the imperialistic Americanos were getting weaker. It was time. It was his time.

And his hometown gang, Las Cobras, would be el punte de La Espada, the point of The Sword. Las Cobras would spearhead the fight because his gang members were the best fighters. He had trained them himself. They had the fire in their stomachs. They would lead the way.

He smiled and crossed the short distance between his bunk and the wall to touch the place on the map where his war would begin. With a short nod of his head, Tito smiled and tapped his index finger on the map at a bowl-shaped area twenty-two miles north of the Mexican-American border. It was surrounded by the Tohono Indian Reservation on the West, the Ironwood National Forest on the northeast, and the Saguaro National Forest to the east. This dusty patch of ground would become the corridor for future incursions.

Yes, this is the spot, he thought as he crossed his arms and nodded at the map.

His gang had researched the land and told him it was the Pennington Ranch owned by a gringo named Jake Pennington. Tito circled his finger over the bowl-shaped area then tapped the map again. This was the spot where this historic war would begin, and Pennington and his crippled wife would be the first casualties.

Movement at his cell door brought him out of his self-congratulatory, silent monologue. A dark-skinned man hovered there, his face and neck glistening with nervous sweat. He licked his lips, as if unsure about entering the cell uninvited. Tito glowered at the interloper–this inmate was not an associate. He was merely a go-between, a runner, nothing more.

The man hesitantly reached into Tito’s cell and whispered in a heavy Mexican accent, “Samir sent this message. It is set. When you get out, call this number and ask for Rashid.” The man pressed a small folded piece of paper into Tito’s hand. “Tell him the code words, ‘the lantern is lit,’ and he will know it is you. He wants to be a part of this war you talk about.” The man’s eyes darted left and right when the buzzer sounded, indicating lights out in two minutes. He repeated the code and disappeared into the shuffle of men heading toward their cells.

Two months, one week, three days. That’s all that stood between Tito and his rightful place as Latin America’s newest revolutionary leader.


Two miles east of the spot on the map where Tito had tapped, on the western border of Ironwood National Forest, Joan Bowman knelt and tucked the end of the strap through the slide to secure her sleeping bag that looked like a dusty Tootsie Roll. She looked over at Duncan who sat on the sandy ground poring over a dog-eared map.

After the prison break, he could have disappeared off the task force’s radar, but he didn’t go on the run until she joined him. He had been her mentor, her champion, and, at times, her savior. Only toward the end did their relationship change from professional to intimate. A few months of sporadic, lusty sex ended when the Legion fell apart–because of her. Now they were fugitives–former Constitution Defense Legion fighters running from the CDL Task Force. Duncan rose above the betrayal and saved her from going to prison. Went on the run with her. Chose her for his partner.

The sleeping bag forgotten at her feet, she eyed the man whose freckle-faced, fresh look of the boy next door now had a hard set to his jaw and war-carved creases around his eyes–a battle-hardened soldier. He must have felt her looking at him because he turned his head and pinned his hard-stare on her. She didn’t flinch under the scrutiny. Then, as if a ray of sunlight burst through heavy gray clouds, he smiled and her stomach flipped.

“You want to come and look at the map–just in case we get separated in the dark,” he said.

Joan pulled the strap tight, walked the short distance, and knelt on one knee by his side. As he pointed to landmarks to use as visual guides, she tightened the band that held her long brunette hair in a low ponytail.

Hoping the authorities had followed their trail to Mexico, they had dropped hints they were headed south for Cabo San Lucas. Instead, they headed north across the Sonora Desert for the United States. While the task force searched for them in Mexico, they were heading north to Laguna, Arizona to meet up with Kearney, another Legion fugitive. He would provide them with false identification and handguns.

Duncan folded the map and stood up, signaling it was time to move out. As they fastened their bedrolls to their rucksacks, a pickup truck appeared at the end of two ruts that were barely a road. Its spotlight found them, pushing back the dusk, freezing them in the light beam while dust and mosquitoes danced around them. It was too late to run. All they could do was wait for an opportunity to escape.

A man got out of the truck and, with a slow, western drawl asked them what they were doing on his land. When Duncan told him they were hikers who were lost, the rancher lowered his rifle.

“Sorry for the rude greeting. Illegals cross my land, leaving their trash behind, and cutting my fences. Don’t mind ’em coming and trying to make a life for themselves, but they’re just so doggone destructive.” He studied the gaunt faces of the two people standing in the wash of his headlights and felt the tension they were trying so hard to hide. His eyes narrowed.

Joan braced herself to fight. Every nerve ending screamed he knew who they were.

He held out his hand. “I’m Jake Pennington. I bet you two could use a shower and some good home cooking.”


“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, when faced with a moral dilemma, do nothing.”

~ Mis-cited as Dante by John F. Kennedy in a speech in Berlin 1963



Three months later:

The serenity of the desert conveyed a sense of ease Joan hadn’t felt for over a year. The ranch, far from prying eyes, was the perfect daytime retreat. In town, a momentary lapse in vigilance or a slip of the tongue, and federal agents would descend on her with overwhelming force. They considered her armed and dangerous. Joan snorted. She hadn’t strapped iron in months.

She smiled at Miss Abigail, who cooed to Dolly, her white-and-tan Maltese/Poodle mix in the adjoining family room. Multiple sclerosis had robbed Abigail Pennington of her mobility, but she was the undisputed lady of the house. Although unable to walk without assistance, she ran the house with an iron hand, yet was gentle and generous. They were both trapped by circumstances they could no longer control.

Miss Abigail smiled up at Joan as she spun her motorized wheelchair a quarter turn and whizzed by, heading for the master bedroom at the far end of the Spanish Mission-style ranch house. Padding along behind her down the terra cotta tiled hallway, Joan wondered how Miss Abigail kept it together.

“I think I’ll take a nap,” Abigail said over her shoulder. “But don’t let me sleep too long.”

Joan helped Miss Abigail onto the bed and covered her with a rose-colored afghan. “I’ll wake you in a couple hours, okay?”

“Angel, don’t forget to close the kitchen door and the windows. It’ll get hot when the sun comes around.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Joan said as she arranged the pillows behind Miss Abigail’s head. When she had introduced herself to the Penningtons, she had not yet obtained a fake ID so, when asked her name, she had simply said, “Angel.” It was a nod to her street name, Iron Angel.

Miss Abigail commanded great respect, not only from Joan, but from the surrounding community as well. Not commanded in the sense of direct orders, but by virtue of the stately strength and dignity with which she faced down her disease–complainin’ didn’t change her fate. Complainin’ didn’t get things done.

The phone on the nightstand next to the bed rang.

“Would you get that? Tell whoever it is I’ll call them back. I’m feeling sleepy.” Sometimes strength had its limitations.

Joan casually picked up the receiver.

Before she could say anything, Jake Pennington started talking. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, why?” She turned to face away from Miss Abigail.

He was talking fast and sharp, different from his usual slow, western manner. “We’ve been shot up by some crazy, wild-eyed…I don’t know…some of them looked like Mexicans. Both my boys are down.” He coughed then continued, “I’ve been hit, too.”

“Where are you? I’ll come out to–”

“No. There’s no time. They took our trucks and are headed toward the house. Get Abigail in your car and get outta there!”

Joan put her hand on the back of her neck. A knot wrenched her gut. “Mr. Pennington, I drove my motorcycle today.”

Without missing a beat, he said, “The spare key to the gun cabinet is on a hook under the kitchen sink, toward the back, on the left side. You’ve shot a gun before, right?”

“Yes, in Iraq, but I don’t–”

“Then put on your war paint, darlin’, ’cos trouble is headed your way. There’s eight, maybe ten of them.” The line went dead.

“Was that my Jake?” Miss Abigail was wide awake and leaning on one elbow. Her usually smooth forehead held uncharacteristic furrows.

“Yes. It’s probably nothing.” Joan helped Miss Abigail to a seated position. “But I think I should put you in the bathtub, you know, for your protection.” Slowly and gently she pulled Miss Abigail’s legs over the side of the bed–the purposeful actions in direct contrast to her racing mind. Damn that Iron Angel bad karma.

“In the bath tub? Protection from what? Angel, what is going on?”

“You trust me, right?” Joan helped Miss Abigail to her feet, put her strong muscular arm across the older woman’s back, and half-carried her to the master bath. A lifetime of weight lifting, martial arts, and calisthenics was paying off.

“Yes, of course, but–”

“No ‘buts.’ This is what Mr. Pennington would want you to do.”

Joan helped Miss Abigail into the vintage cast-iron soaking tub. Her methodic movements and soothing tone belied the adrenaline coursing through her arteries. She raced to the bedroom to get a pillow to support Miss Abigail’s neck. With head pounding and hands shaking, she turned toward the bathroom door and stopped.

A movement caught her eye. Dolly looked out from under the bed, her dog senses told her something scary was going on. Joan snatched her collar and received a nip in return then hurried to the bathroom with the pillow and the snarling dog in her arms. Dolly calmed a little in her mistress’ arms, but, not sure where the danger was, she watched Joan’s every move, one lip curled in warning.

Miss Abigail saw Joan’s shaking hands and she gently covered them with her weak ones. Joan looked at her hands, then into the stately woman’s eyes for the first time since the phone call. What she saw there was strength more powerful than anything she could ever muster.

“I know you can handle any situation,” Miss Abigail said. “I told Jake that very thing the first time I met you. Stay calm. Stay alert. Everything’ll be okay.” She squeezed Joan’s hands as best she could and nodded. Joan reflexively nodded back.

Giving Joan’s hands a slight push, Miss Abigail added, “Now go and do whatever it is you have to do.”

Joan raced down the long hallway to the kitchen. She dropped to her knees, yanked open the cabinet door, and made a frenzied search with her hand under the sink. How can I be in the middle of nowhere and trouble still finds me?

The key wasn’t there. A deep, shaky inhalation slowed her heart rate and settled her mind–a little. With her cheek pressed against the panel above the cabinet, she tried again, reaching past the cleansers and sponges. Her fingers felt the cool metal of the key and grabbed it. With key in hand, she hurried into Mr. Pennington’s office to unlock gun cabinet. She speed dialed Duncan.

“Talk to me,” he said.

Her breath caught in her throat at the sound of his voice. “If I ever needed your help before, baby, I need it now.” She cradled the phone between her shoulder and her ear. The 9 mm semi-automatic caught her eye. She snatched two loaded magazines from the drawer at the base of the cabinet.

“What’s up?”

After slapping one magazine into the butt of the 9 mm with the palm of her hand, she put the other magazine into the back pocket of her jeans. “Mr. Pennington and his sons have been shot, and whoever shot them is headed for the house. I’m alone with Miss Abigail, and–”

“I’m at least fifteen minutes away.”

After pulling the slide of the 9 mm back to chamber one round, she tucked the gun in the waistband at the small of her back. “Then at least come to claim my body.” Shotgun next. This is a beauty. Mr. P knows his guns, she thought while loading double-aught buck cartridges into the chamber.

“Don’t talk like that,” Duncan said. “I’m as good as there. Soon, baby.”

“Soon.” She disconnected the phone and dropped it to the floor.


Duncan grabbed his 9 mm and some extra magazines. Stuffing a box of shells into his medic bag, he raced out the back door and into his truck–thirty seconds, tops. Another two seconds and the truck’s tires were spinning in the gravel driveway, pinging dirt and small stones against the rundown shed in the back yard.

The truck fishtailed when its tires hit the pavement, but he kept it going forward.

Sheer determination kept the truck on the road as he hit speeds up to sixty miles per hour on the canyon curves. Once on the flat, straight road he dialed his best friend. He and Kearney had been friends since the time they met in a jungle in Nicaragua.

Duncan had been a mercenary and medical support for his team. Kearney had been CIA.

“Hey, Kearney, meet me at the Pennington ranch. You know where that is?”

“Yeah, why? What’s up?”

“Joan called. She needs help.”

“Shit, man. What trouble has found her this time?”

“I guess some guys shot up Mr. Pennington and his sons and they’re headed for the house. She’s alone with Miss Abigail.”

“I’m not going. She can get herself out of this jam. You can do what you want, but count me out.”

“She saved your ass that time–” Duncan checked his side view mirror and swerved around a slower moving car.

“Yeah, and she also broke my arm and a couple ribs, too. And my jaw has never been right since she broke that. No. I don’t owe her anything. Let her go, man. She’s nothing but trouble.”

“You tortured her for nothing.”

“We’ve been over that, Duncan.”

“For nothing.”

“It was business.”

“I need you for back up.”

“Don’t pull that shit on me–”

“And what about Mrs. Pennington? She’s in a wheelchair for God’s sake.”

“Damn you, Duncan, I’m coming, but when are you ever going to learn that Joan is bad news? It’s never going to change. You know that, right?”

“Roger that.” Duncan dropped the phone onto the passenger seat, adjusted his ball cap over his curly reddish-brown hair, and stepped on the gas. He had only been to the ranch one time before. It had taken fifteen minutes when he was traveling at seventy miles per hour. If he could maintain ninety-five miles per hour, how long would it take? He tried to do the calculation in his head. If a train leaves Chicago heading east, and another leaves New York…he frowned. High school math word problems had always been hard for him. He decided to keep his concentration on the road. It had to be a good eight minutes, at least–if he didn’t end up in a ditch.


Joan spied a leather-embossed gun case and opened it. Wow! With great reverence, she slid her finger down the highly polished chrome barrel engraved with swirling lines and roses. This must be an anniversary edition. A glance at the bore brought a brief smile to her face–.45 cal. There was one magazine for the .45, so she grabbed it and a box of shells and hoped Mr. Pennington wouldn’t mind her firing a valuable collectable.

Something about the weight of the guns in her hands calmed her. Her surroundings became surreal as her military training and experience took over. Cover and exposure, funnel of death, and wide open spaces. Sight, hearing, touch became one. Each creak in the floor, the ticking mantle clock, and outside sounds were sharp and riveting. Even the lemon-scented furniture polish was intensified.

She took a deep breath to slow her thundering heart. As she wiped her shaking, clammy hands on the front of her jeans, Miss Abigail’s words came back to her. “Stay calm. Stay alert. Everything’ll be okay.”

Joan inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth two more times.

The faint sound of vehicles approaching from the west–the kitchen side of the house–caught her attention. Good. The appliances are metal and thick. Good for slowing bullets. Crouching low, with a gun in each hand and one in the small of her back, she headed to the kitchen. While she waited for Mr. Pennington’s attackers to get within range, she loaded the magazine for the .45. Adrenaline made her fumble the first couple rounds into place, but with concentrated deep breathing, loading the magazine became easier and more accurate with each round.

As each round slid into place in the magazine, a quiet life under the radar with Duncan slipped a little farther from her grasp. It was all she wanted, and now…Well, so much for that. She slapped the loaded magazine into the handgun and laid it across her lap.

Her breath control slipped and her breathing became heavy, almost gasping. Control your breathing. She tried to remember other pointers Kearney had given her. His marksmanship training had produced a shooter with pinpoint accuracy, but targets were different from people. Head leaning against the cabinet door at her back, she twisted her brunette ponytail around her finger in rhythm to her silent chant, You can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

She rolled her head to the right as the sound of the approaching vehicles got louder. She got to her knees to shove the .45 into her front waistband. Feeling the heft of the .45, she again admired the etchings. Her thoughts drifted to Duncan and she hoped he would make it before it was too late. She wanted to see him one last time. This might be the end of the road, but these jerks, whoever they are, are going to know they’ve been in a fight. If I’m going down, I’m going down hot.

Tires crunched in the gravel driveway.

Crouching, using the counter for cover, she headed for the kitchen door. Iron Angel stood up in the doorway and, without thinking about it, pumped the shotgun and fired. Another quick pump. Another quick shot and the kitchen became a hellhole. She dove for cover behind the dishwasher. Glass sprayed across the floor as rounds from automatic rifles flew past her head at supersonic speed. Phfft–phfft–phfft–over and over, whipping over her head and through the wall into the formal living room. She could hear lamps shattering somewhere out of sight.

There was movement in the kitchen door. Quick pump, another shot–too quick to brace the butt of the gun properly. The recoil slammed the shotgun hard against her shoulder, knocking her flat on her back. She grimaced from the pain, but before the man hit the floor, another was right behind him. Another pump, another shot, this time braced properly. As he fell on top of the first man through the door, she saw the blood splatter on the wall behind him. Don’t think about that. Think about what you’re doing. Stay focused. Keep moving.

The kitchen was too big to defend. She dropped the shotgun, pulled the handguns from her waistband, and raced for the hallway.

In her peripheral vision, she saw movement behind the beveled glass in the front door. Shooting simultaneously with the 9 mm toward the front door and the .45 through the kitchen door, she raced to the relative safety of the hallway and ducked into Mr. Pennington’s office. Two more down. Maybe. Things were happening too fast. That’s six. Two, maybe four, left. Unsure how many shots had been fired, she ejected the magazine out of the 9 mm and put the full one in.

Time passed, no telling how much–could have been one minute, could have been three. Voices came from the hallway. She knew Spanish, but some of the words weren’t familiar. Too much slang…and something else she couldn’t put her finger on. A figure appeared in the doorway. Popping up from behind Mr. Pennington’s massive mahogany desk, she fired two shots. He went down but she didn’t have time to celebrate. Bullets sprayed through the window behind her. The green-shaded desk lamp exploded into a million pieces as she dropped and flattened herself against the floor.

Once again, the phfft–phfft–phfft–whizzed over her head as the shooter emptied his magazine. When the shooting stopped, she saw the feet of two men inching into the room–mere shadows through the space at the base of the desk.

Twisting onto her side, she placed the .45 on the floor in front of her. Gripping the 9 mm with both hands, she shot seven times through the desk. The eighth time, it locked open–empty. She dropped it and picked up the .45.

She peered over the top of the desk. No one there. Where’d they go? Crouching low, using the desk for cover, she moved to the right and around the corner of the desk. A hand holding an AK-47 poked around the edge of the doorjamb. She buried her nose in the glass covered carpet. The gunman blindly sprayed the room with bullets. When the shooting stopped, she got to her knees, the .45 aimed at the doorway. A head poked around the corner. She fired. The man fell backward out of sight.

Brushing glass fragments from her clothes, she moved toward the door, trying to avoid making crunching sounds on the broken glass. She flattened herself against the wall and peeked around the doorjamb. The hallway was empty. A quick check for the outside shooter. He was in the open struggling with his jammed weapon. She took aim and shot him in the chest. Pulled the trigger again. He flew back three feet and did not get up. Her .45 empty, she dropped it. No time to reload the magazine.

Empty-hand combat was her specialty anyway. Proficient in three martial arts, empty-hand fighting was her first choice when feasible–or necessary. Necessity ruled the moment.

The hallway was eerily quiet, or maybe the ringing in her ears made it seem that way. The haze of burnt gunpowder filled the air and tickled her nose. With small, tentative steps, she sidled along the wall toward the kitchen and family room.

Dolly started snarling and barking furiously. Iron Angel spun around to squint down the hallway behind her, all her senses now fixated toward the rear of the house. Without looking at it, she grabbed an M16 from an intruder sprawled in the hallway–he wasn’t going to need it anymore–and tiptoed toward the angry dog sounds. In a crouch, M16 at the ready, she slinked toward the door to the master bedroom. When she reached the door, she stopped to peek around the doorjamb.

A man was making his way across the master bedroom checking every nook and cranny, not much more than a foot from the bathroom door–and Miss Abigail. Joan raised the M16, pulled the trigger. Nothing. A quick look at the dust cover. Open–empty. She silently chastised herself for not checking the rifle when she picked it up.

She grabbed the end of the rifle barrel. Heat be damned. Nothing was more important than protecting Miss Abigail from this intruder. She stole up behind the man, brought the hand holding the barrel across her chest and, in a hooking motion, brought the rifle around and slammed it against his throat. At the same time, her left hand moved forward, and to the right, and grabbed the stock. With a cross-grip and knee in the back, there was no escape. Dead within seconds of the rifle strike to the throat, he was limp and heavy, but she kept pulling, until she heard a familiar voice.

“To your right!” Before she could step, she heard a gunshot and felt a sting on the outside of her left thigh. She released her grip on the rifle and stepped to her right. Another shot, and she turned to see another intruder drop to the floor. Behind him stood Duncan.

His wide shoulders and strong, thick waist were a wonderful sight. Smiling into his worried eyes, she touched her thigh. When she pulled her fingers away, they were bloody. She twisted to find the entrance wound to plug it with her index finger.

When she looked up, the smile had disappeared from her face. “I killed all these men.”

He smiled. “I can see that.”

“I never killed anybody before–”

“I know. Your specialty is making them wish they were dead.” His smile faded. “Hey, hey, hey.” Each “hey” became progressively softer and drawn out.

With a hopping-step over the pool of blood from the man he had just shot, he approached Joan. He cupped her face in his hands. “You did the right thing. It was them or you. Good thing you had the skills you have, or this could have been worse.”

“I know, but still–”

“You. Had. No. Choice.” He pulled her into him and rested his chin on the side of her head. “It’s gonna be all right. The first time is the worst. I’ll help you work through it.”

Joan nodded and pulled away from him to twist and find the exit wound on the front of her thigh. Without looking up, she said, “Hundreds of rounds flew around me and through some miraculous quirk of fate, they all missed. The only bullet that hit me came from your gun.” Finding the exit wound, she plugged it with her thumb.

“I told you to move to the right. I shot low the first time to be safe.”

“I know. I’m just saying–”

“Maybe these guys weren’t very good shots.”

She looked up at him with a half-smile. “I don’t know about that. They managed to hit every lamp in the house.”

Duncan laughed out loud.

The smile faded from her face. “Duncan?” The realization that the ordeal was over made her body grow heavy, and, as the adrenaline dump diminished, a warm sense of relief filled her in waves.

He saw it coming before she was aware of it. He grabbed her arms. “Why don’t you sit down?”

Duncan’s voice seemed far away. In the encroaching darkness, her own voice sounded weak and barely audible. “Can you take over now? Everything’s–I don’t feel so good.” Her knees buckled, and Duncan carefully sat her on the floor, her back braced against the heirloom bureau.

“Take some deep breaths.” He gently bent her knees. “Put your head on your knees. Where’d you learn to plug bullet holes like that?”

The deep breaths got oxygen moving through her system and cleared her head. Not a lot, but enough to fend off the darkening at the edge of her vision. “I read it in a news story somewhere.” Her voice was weak and breathy.

Kearney appeared in the doorway, holstering his weapon. “Is she dead?”

Duncan turned his head toward Kearney’s voice, but didn’t turn all the way around. “As much as you’d like that–no. It’s only a flesh wound. Go get my medic bag out of my truck. Hey, Kearney,” Duncan said.

Kearney stuck his head around the doorjamb.

“Make sure no more of these bastards are still alive.”

Kearney smiled his big toothy grin and disappeared.

Duncan turned back to Joan. “You gonna be okay?”

She nodded.

“I’ll go check on Miss Abigail.”

He found Miss Abigail unharmed in the tub where Joan had left her. He lifted her out of the tub as if she were a cotton ball. Joan watched as he fussed over Miss Abigail, settling her in her wheelchair, assuring her everything was going to be okay, and promising her he’d check on her husband and sons.

Kearney returned with Duncan’s medic bag and knelt next to Joan.

She looked up at him. “I’m really not up for your bullshit right now.”

But he was staring at Duncan as if he had never really seen him before. “You two are like twin panthers. Strong and agile and–deadly.”

To break the awkward moment, she said, “Thank God you taught me how to shoot with my left hand. You should have seen me. A gun in each hand firing away. Just like in the movies.”

“You were lucky, that’s all.” He turned his attention to her. “I can see what he sees in you. You’re Duncan in a hot chick’s body.”

She leaned her head against the bureau behind her and rolled it toward Kearney. “You’re more screwed up than I thought. You think a woman with a bullet hole in her leg is hot?”

“No…I mean…you know what I mean.” Camouflage legs appeared at his side. A panther. He stood up, eye to eye with his best, and only, friend.

“Call 911. Use Joan’s phone,” Duncan said. He looked down at Joan, “Where’s your phone?”

“I…uh–” She rubbed the back of her hand against her forehead, trying to get her scattered thoughts to stop dilly-dallying around her still-foggy head. “In the office. On the floor.”

Kearney disappeared down the hallway.

“We’re going to check on Jake Pennington and his sons. I’ll patch you up to hold you over until the ambulance comes.” Gauze appeared out of the medic bag and, in seconds, Joan’s leg was bandaged.

“Don’t leave me to deal with the cops,” she pleaded. “I can’t do it.”

“Yes, you can. Just tell them the truth. It may not seem like it, but you did a good thing–saving Miss Abigail.” He tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Remember, you’re the victim here.” He leaned in until his lips were next to her ear. “The local cops don’t know who we are. Identifying fugitives is a slow process. This isn’t TV, okay?”

She barely heard him. She was squinting toward the doorway with the corners of her mouth turned down. “Kearney said I was just lucky.”

Duncan hooked his curled index finger under her chin and raised her face. “Hey, baby, don’t let him bother you. He’s a misogynist. Nothing a woman does will ever earn a compliment from him.”

“I know, but I’m good, right?”

“Yes, you are.” Duncan gave her a quick kiss on her forehead. “You’ll be fine.”

And he was gone.

© 2015 by Janet McClintock