If I Ever
Hell or High Water, Book 4
Some ghosts refuse to stay buried . . .
Prophet and Tom have been through the ringer more times than they can count, both as partners in the field and in life. Yet despite it all, they’ve built something great together. But now they need to protect it again: Prophet’s old nemesis, John Morse, is back and threatening everything he loves.
Prophet is driven enough to take John down alone, and with a chance to do exactly that on the table, he runs with it, risking himself in the process. But trusting Tom to help him is so much more than mission critical.
It’s the final stand, and with Tom and his team behind him, Prophet’s in for the fight of his life. Then a figure from his past goes missing, and the consequence of an old mission rears its head. As complications and destruction mount all around them, getting out alive becomes the most important mission of their lives.
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In the story of Prophet’s life, he’d played his own hero enough times to know that waiting to ride off into the sunset with one of his own was both unrealistic and stupid.
But shit, he’d still hoped for it every single time.
At least that’s what he’d always thought, even if he’d never said the words out loud. Everyone wanted a hero, no matter how goddamned capable they were. If anyone said differently, they were goddamned lying.
But the man he was currently leaning on for support as he navigated the snow-covered sidewalk with bare, numb feet wasn’t a lie. Farthest thing from, and Prophet had bet his own life on that enough times to be sure of it.
“Come on, Proph—got you,” Tom said quietly, his voice a soothing drawl that Prophet had come to depend on.
That would bother the fuck out of him some days more than others, but he’d have to remember the times it didn’t. Like now, as he let Tom guide him the whole way back into their building, lock the door behind them while never mentioning the fact that he still held Prophet’s boots in his hand even as Prophet shuddered from the cold.
Instead, they stood together in the hallway for a moment, processing. Assessing. Having his best friend turn into his biggest enemy had been a betrayal he’d known about, but discovering that man had been in his house, with Tom, with Remy?
Now, it was war.
His wrists ached, the way they always did in extreme cold, but he’d be damned if he’d pay them any special attention. Instead, he directed his burning hatred of the guy who’d once been his best friend like it could inject itself directly into his bones and heal them. That anger? That would pull him through hell every time.
But the cold had fucked with his head, the thaw happening too slowly for his own good.
“What’s in the basement?” Tom’s interruption to his thoughts was quiet but Prophet heard the tension in his words, felt it in the arm of steel wrapped around his rib cage. “Cameras?”
Prophet blew out a harsh breath, his lungs still pained from the cold. “Yes, but there’s no egress in the basement.”
“Think maybe he made one?” Tom refused to say John’s name. Prophet couldn’t blame him. He eased away from Tom’s hold, forced himself to stand steady on his numb-as-fuck feet and only then did he draw his weapon. Tom followed suit and took point on the steps, Prophet following close behind. They found the big room empty, save for the boiler and water heater, along with the generator and electric panels and several storage boxes that Prophet recognized as Cillian’s. It was clean and dry with no place to hide.
“Camera’s seem to be in working order. I’ll have Cillian run the footage,” Tom said. “I’m surprised neither of you thought to make this a panic room.”
“Cillian had plans drawn up, but we’d need elevators. Secret panels in the wall. It got complicated.” But now that Remy was in the picture, those complications suddenly didn’t seem so complicated.
Tom knew full well that ordering Prophet back up the stairs and to their apartment before he died of hypothermia wasn’t the way to go. Instead, Tom waited—with a patience he didn’t know he had until he’d met Prophet—as his partner continued to stare around the room like he was waiting for the answers to appear on the walls in front of him. Finally, Prophet blew out a muttered curse and headed back up the stairs to the main hallway.
In turn, Tom followed, locked the basement door, hit the alarms for the main doors and waited for them to arm. And waited some more until Prophet finally said, “Let’s go up and check Cillian’s place by camera,” and Tom again followed him up the stairs. Even though Prophet’s feet still held an unhealthy tinge of dusk, the interior hallway was warm enough that he’d stopped involuntarily trembling.
Still, he paused at the top of the stairs to let Tom open the loft’s heavy steel door. Tom walked inside but Prophet paused, shook his head.
Because as he’d unfrozen, so had his anger. “We’re going to end this,” he promised. “I’m finding John and I’m ending this. Do you understand?”
“Let’s take it one step at a time,” Tom urged him.
“He’s been in my house,” Prophet growled. “Near you. Near Remy. So no, I’m not going to take time to think about the next step.”
“Fine. What is the next step?”
“Check the cameras. And stop treating me like a bomb you’re trying to diffuse.”
Tom bristled at the orders, but he did as Prophet asked, on both counts. “Then put your goddamned socks on.”
“Yes, daddy,” Prophet said absently as he headed toward the bedroom. He was in there for a while, long enough for Tom to call him a motherfucker, out loud, several times, and run the searches on the computer connected to the cameras in both Cillian’s and Prophet’s apartments, as well as the one pointed out from the building, and pour two mugs of coffee.
Finally, Prophet wandered out of their bedroom, socks in his hands and the envelope with John’s jacket in it under his arm, and Tom could practically hear the wheels moving inside his head as he headed to the kitchen.
“Cillian’s apartment’s clear now. I went back several hours—no disruptions in the tape,” Tom called over his shoulder.
No answer. He glanced over and saw Prophet leaning against the countertop, writing something. Then he rooted around inside the envelope, pulled the jacket out and instead slid the paper inside. He left the jacket on the floor, yanked on socks and boots.
And then he went back into the bedroom, opened the window, and went outside via the fire escape. By that time, Tom was watching him jump down off the final leg of the metal ladder in order to slide the envelope into its original place behind the dumpster, and scale back up the metal scaffolding.
Tom moved aside to let him climb inside, then watched him carefully close and lock the window. Only then did he go past Tom and into the living room and Tom muttered at the ceiling for more patience before joining him.
“Can you sit down now?” he asked, and Prophet actually did, let Tom wrap a blanket around him, and took the warm coffee from the table. Then he pulled Prophet’s boots off and tugged his legs up so Prophet could settle them into his lap. Tom attempted to rub some circulation into Prophet’s feet through the socks.
Finally, Prophet informed him, “I told John that it’s his turn.”
Tom frowned. “His turn?”
“This whole time, I’ve been trying to catch him. And he’s been evading. Poking at us. That’s what he’s really good at. I forgot that. In the beginning, I was desperate to get him back, to prove he had nothing to do with it. To show everyone I wasn’t an asshole for caring about him the way I did.”
Prophet gave him a lopsided grin that made his heart skip a beat, and answered in a way Tom didn’t expect. “You and me? We chased each other.”
Tom swallowed hard as he processed that. It was obviously a major difference in the two relationships. “Yeah, we did.”
“With John, it was one or the other. Always. Cat and mouse. Trying to prove to the other who cared more. The guy could hold a grudge. And as long as I was doing the chasing, he’d hide. Now I have to turn the tables and force him to catch me.”
“And that will help?”
“John sucks at being the hunter. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a relative suck. Better than ninety percent of people. But not better than me.”
“Where do I fit in here?”
Prophet paused, but it didn’t matter—Tom knew exactly what he was going to say. “I think you need to stay here.”
“Because of Remy.”
“Because of Remy,” Prophet repeated, his eyes haunted.
“Not because you’re worried about me.”
“If I thought John would come after you, I’d never leave you here without me,” Prophet said honestly.
“We’re going to do this,” Tom said fiercely. “Remy needs both of us to come back.”
Prophet blinked. “You think this is my version of a suicide run?”
“Is it?” Tom pressed.
Prophet stared at him, gray eyes like rising smoke. “I have to end this. It started with me. It has to end with me. If that makes it a suicide run, then so be it . . . but since I plan to come back and drive you fucking nuts for the rest of your life, then no.”
Tom smiled. Reached out and touched Prophet’s bottom lip with his thumb, stroked it. “Just needed to hear you say it.”
“Maybe I just needed to say it,” Prophet countered. They sat in silence for a long while, Prophet staring out the window and Tom rubbing his feet. “No one ever noticed the paint, just like I didn’t,” he said finally.
“Proph, the guy was practically invisible. He used your dreams.”
“John always said he felt invisible.”
“Nah. I was never melodramatic. Besides, people noticed me.”
Tom held his tongue on the melodramatic part but couldn’t help adding, “You were always an asshole too.”
“It’s one of the most endearing qualities.”
Tom stroked a hand through Prophet’s hair. “Most definitely.” Prophet smiled in satisfaction. “Did you ever consider he was real before this?”
“Not until the night we left for Djibouti. Right before you came in.”
“I know you have flashbacks. PTSD episodes. You said you hallucinate during them. I’ve seen some of them. But this? This is different.”
“It’s happened like this before,” Prophet insisted. “I just didn’t realize it, but it’s happened for a while.”
Tom softened, because Prophet was already frustrated as fuck and he wasn’t helping. “How long?”
“When I was first rescued, if you want to call what the CIA did a rescue, I was in the hospital. Recovering. John visited me. I figured it was the pain meds.” Just how much Prophet hated revisiting that time showed clearly in his face, and the flash of pain and anger, the barely contained hatred in his voice at his circumstances made Tom immediately flashback to the video that had given him his first glance of an angry, young Prophet being interrogated by the CIA, and nearly killing the agent stupid enough to believe that Prophet wouldn’t break his own wrists to kill him.
“And what, he assumed you’re going to have flashbacks like this, so he visits you?”
“I’ve been having them for a long time. Before Hal,” Prophet confessed. “Not this bad, but John was always there. My shrink said I manifested them for comfort.”
Tom shook his head at the absolute irony of that. “Maybe you forgot to turn a camera off. What if Cillian saw a flashback incident and he’s playing with you?”
“Even you don’t think Cillian would pull that shit. He wanted to drive me crazy, but he doesn’t need to fuck with my flashbacks to do it.”
Tom knew that, but he wanted to believe anything other than the fact that John had been here. “What does it mean that he’s been this close to you—to me—and we’re still alive?”
“I have no goddamned idea what to think of that, Tommy.”
This was serious—especially because Remy was now here. And there was nothing to stop John from hurting him. Just because he’d left Prophet and Tom alone for now meant nothing. John would figure out a way to threaten Remy so they’d leave John alone. “Do you think . . . he missed you?” Tom asked hesitantly.
Prophet stared at him. “Staying hidden’s tough, you know? You can’t show who you really are. If violence happens, you can’t help anyone. For someone used to walking into the fire, it’s torture to survive like that.”
Tom pretended not to notice Prophet had ignored the original question. “And John’s not like that?”
“Just the opposite. Like he was relieved not to have to carry that burden of who he was all the time,” Prophet explained. “On one level, I caught the appeal. I just couldn’t do it. I just kept moving after I showed my hand. I’m good at escaping.” He stared at the window, but Tom noticed his fingertips—there was still black paint on them from where he’d touched the windows, and he was touching his pointer to his thumb as if feeling the stickiness. “Should’ve fucking known.”
“The paint was my trick, to cover our tracks when we snuck out. You always end up scraping off paint when you break in or out. He knows I would’ve noticed.”
“And these windows aren’t alarmed?”
Prophet shrugged. “Fourth floor. I mean, hell, why would anyone bother? You want me dead, you’ll shoot a bomb through the glass. Besides, he was bypassing cameras already. I’ll bet this system’s not a problem for him, but he’s not behind all of my flashbacks.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t think you’d sleep through a firefight,” Prophet said wryly.
“So John was the trigger. He’d leave and then . . .”
“Yeah, and then the fireworks started. But they’d start without me seeing him more often than not. Even though I know he’s the cause of the shit going down all around me . . . I still look for the bastard . . . every single time.”