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Sequel to The Big Hunt

Trout's Office
1800 hours

Matt paced, treading carefully on his braced knee.

Trout looked up from his desk and scowled. "Matt, sit down."

"Sorry," Matt mumbled, spreading out in the chair in front of Trout's desk.

"You have to be patient, wait for my contacts to locate her."

"I wish I knew why she bolted like that," Matt stated, staring out the window at the city lights.

"You'll find out when we find her," Trout promised. At least, he hoped so. He couldn't imagine what had happened, but he hated to see Matt in this kind of pain.

The Hotel Room
2300 hours

Cindy threw her packages down on the floor in her hotel room. She pulled out the jeans and the blue top, which was short sleeved with a strap holding lower sleeves to it, and went in the bathroom to change. Giving into her emotions, she crawled into the center of the bed and sobbed.. Grabbing the pillow, she hugged it tightly to her. The knock on the door startled her, and she called out "Who is it?"

"Room service."

She had forgotten stopping on her way up to order a late supper. "Oh, uh, sorry. I've changed my mind."

"You might as well take it. It's on your bill anyway, ma'am."

"It's okay. Take it back, go ahead and bill me," she said through the tears.

Trout's office
1830 hours

"Thanks for the information," Trout said into the phone before hanging up.

Matt leaned forward, his arms propped on the desk.

"Cindy's at this hotel," Trout reported, sliding the paper across the desk to Matt. "And there's another Varanti in town. One Joseph Varanti."

"Who is he?" Matt asked, mildly curious.

"Her brother," Trout informed him, watching him. "He hasn't made contact with her, but I understand he knows she's there."

"Cindy never mentioned a brother."

"I'm not sure she knew about him."

Matt's instincts went on alert. "What does that mean?"

"Apparently, her brother was running things overseas for Armand. He is actually her half brother, but I don't think she knew about him."

"Interesting. Should I be worried about them being in close proximity to her?"

"I would be. Word has it Joseph isn't very pleased about sister bringing down dear old dad."

"And she has no idea of the danger she's in, and she's unarmed over there. Damn, I wish I knew why Cindy left and went there of all places."

"Matt, you can't go over there," Trout informed him.

"What do you mean, I can't go over there?"

"He knows about you. Joseph will reinstate the price on your head."

"Dammit, Trout. I have to find her. I'll take my chances," Matt stressed.

"Fine. I knew you'd feel that way. Here's your new identity to get into the country," Trout countered, sliding a passport and credit card across to Matt. "When you get there, see Giovanni Fiore. He'll supply you with weapons and whatever else you need. He's also watching Cindy until you get there. Be careful Matt. In fact, take some of the team with you. Take a sat phone too."

"I'll do that, thanks," Matt replied, picking up the new ID and leaving the office. In the hall, he looked at the name. Quentin Matthews. Good. Shouldn't be hard to remember then, he decided.

Rome
2400 hours

Cindy lay curled in the center of the bed. She had stopped crying but felt hollow inside. Something important was missing in her heart. Believing it was Matt's trust, Cindy rolled onto her back to stare at the ceiling, wondering how to get it back. If she even could.

The ringing of the phone startled her since Cindy knew no one could possibly know where she was. Gently picking up the receiver, she cleared her throat and said, "Hello?"

"I know where you are," an unfamiliar voice hissed over the line. "And I'm coming to get you."

"You must have the wrong number," Cindy commented, hiding the fear in her voice.

"No, Cindy. I know where you are. And I'm coming to get you," the voice repeated.

The thunder exploded outside, and flashes of lightning lit up the room, adding to her fear. "Who are you?"

"You'll find out. Soon," the voice threatened, disconnecting as the rain came down in sheets.

Images of Almeda raced through her mind, but she was able to shake them off. The man was dead. Kermit? Would he stalk her after their run in? No, she doubted it. The question then was who was after her.

Fear overtook her senses as she ran from the hotel room. She was unarmed with no way to protect herself from the unknown enemy. Cindy ran from the hotel and was halfway down the road when she saw a pay phone.

Matt, Benny Ray and Margo were in the taxi heading toward the hotel when the storm snuck up on them.

Margo looked at the sky, noting, "It's gonna be a nasty one."

"She doesn't like storms," Matt murmured, staring out the window.

"We're gonna find her, boss," Benny Ray assured him, squeezing Matt's shoulder.

* *

Thunder cracked and the lightning streaked overhead as Cindy fumbled with the pay phone, trying to dial Matt's cell phone number. Finally managing to dial it, she waited impatiently while it rang, tears staining her cheeks and leaning her forehead against the phone. When there was no answer, Cindy fell apart. "Matt?" Cindy screamed into the phone. "Come get me, please!" Unable to stand any longer, she slid down inside the phone booth. Cindy screamed at a particularly loud clap of thunder and wrapped both arms around her midsection. She wondered why she had left Matt in the first place.

 * *

The taxi was nearly in front of the hotel when Matt decided he should call her from outside and let her know he was coming. If Joseph had attempted to contact her, she'd be rather shaken and afraid to let him in. Matt jumped from the paused car and ran up to the phone booth, then saw her huddled inside. He slid open the door and reached in to grab for her. Her scream startled him. "Hey. It's me."

"M-Matt?" Cindy asked, confused and disoriented, as she launched herself into his arms.

"Come on. Let's go to your hotel," Matt coaxed her, wrapping his arms around her. "You can tell me what's wrong. Everything," he stressed.

"Not safe. Can't go back there."

"I'm here with you. Come on," Matt urged her, leading her to the hotel. As they got just inside the front entrance, the building was rocked by an explosion, the force knocking them both to the floor.

Margo and Benny Ray climbed out of the taxi just as Matt and Cindy went in. Margo screamed their names as Benny Ray held her back. "Hold on sweet pea. It's not safe to go in yet."

The driver exited the driver's side and stared at the building. "Wow. That was a big one."

Margo glared at him as the police and ambulances pulled up in front of the building.

Joseph Varanti climbed from the first ambulance, carefully disguised by the uniform he had borrowed earlier. It would be days before the paramedic's body would be found, he had made sure of that. Slowly he entered the building, hiding his anticipation, and started going through the rubble inside of the entrance. The two paramedics riding with him had been paid off to help him on this, and they dutifully followed.

Cindy came around first, flattened against the floor. She could feel Matt's hands resting on either side of her, his body flat on top of hers. "M-" she began before coughing from the dust. "Matt?" she tried again. Receiving no answer, she panicked. No wonder he didn't trust her, she was always doing stupid stuff. And now...

"Darlin'?" he asked with a cough.

"I'm here. You okay?" Cindy asked through a sniff.

"Other than feeling like I'm under a ton of bricks? Fine."

"It's too dark here," Cindy complained.

"Darlin'?" He could see light from the fire and the emergency lights coming through between the rubble.

"What?"

"Nothing. Just talk to me until someone gets us out," Matt responded, not wanting to worry her. It could be just the angle she was trying to see from.

 * *

Margo stood outside arguing with a police officer. "You don't understand. Our friends are in there!"

"I understand that, ma'am. But you going in there would impede the rescue efforts."

Benny Ray stood next to her. "Begging your pardon, but we've helped before in these situations."

"Credentials?" the officer demanded.

Benny Ray sighed. "Call this number, ask for Xavier Trout. The names are Riddle and Vincent."

Shooting them a disgusted look, the officer went to his car to have the station call for verification.

 * *

Matt grasped Cindy's hand tightly, talking softly to her.

"Matt? What's wrong?" Cindy asked, worry in her voice.

"What do you mean?"

"Why were you mad at me before I left?"

"I wasn't mad at you, darlin'. Why do you think I was mad at you?"

"You wouldn't answer me when I asked you if you knew you didn't have to worry about Kermit?"

"First, darlin'. It wasn't the time or place. Second, I was mad at Griffin. And to explain to you about it would have taken you to a dark place. That wouldn't have been good, considering the odds we were already up against."

"Oh, damn it. I really messed this up, and now look where we are."

"Shh. It's okay," Matt whispered, moving his hand to smooth her hair. "Don't cry darlin'. Now what had you so scared?"

"Somebody called me here. Said they knew where I was and they were coming for me."

"Damn," Matt mumbled.

"Who is it, Matt?"

"I don't know," Matt lied to her.

"Don't give me that Matt. I might not be able to see your eyes, but I can tell when you're lying to me."

"Joseph Varanti," he admitted unwillingly.

"Jo-who?"

"Trout informed me before I came over here that you have a brother. Joseph."

"I never heard of him," Cindy replied, her mind racing.

"Well, actually, half brother. I don't know who his mother is."

"Why..." Cindy began, not sure where to start.

"He ran things overseas for your father, according to Trout. "Rather unhappy about the loss of the US end."

"Then..." Cindy was cut off by Matt's hand over her mouth. Hearing movement near them, he wanted to discontinue the discussion. Matt could feel the weight of the rubble easing off of him, so obviously they were being dug out.

When they were free, Matt started to raise up, only to feel a needle injected into the back of his neck, and he slumped back down on Cindy. Another needle was injected into Cindy's neck, and they were both placed in body bags on stretchers and taken to the first ambulance.

* *

Margo broke free from Benny Ray and ran to the ambulance. Speaking in Italian, she quickly asked who the people were.

Grateful it wasn't Matt and Cindy, she returned to Benny Ray. "It wasn't them. It was an elderly couple."

The officer finally stood up. "You have been verified. Go in and help, but don't look only for your people."

"Oh, no, we won't," Margo and Benny Ray agreed in unison.

 Unknown location
0300 hours

Matt slowly regained consciousness and tried to sit up, but found he was unable to move. He knew he wasn't hurt that badly and couldn't figure out why he couldn't. Trying again, Matt was stopped by a rifle barrel in his chest. "Hell," he muttered.

"Don't bother even trying, Major Shepherd," the man sneered. "You're steel banded to the floor, bolted down. Not even a lock. Wrist, ankle, neck and waist. You can't budge. You will not escape."

"Who are you?" Matt asked.

"Your worst nightmare. Enjoy your last night with your girlfriend. She'll be here shortly."

The man stalked from the room, leaving Matt struggling against his restraints.

A short time later, he heard the door open again, and Cindy was thrown down on top of him. The door was slammed shut again, leaving them in the blackest of darkness. From what he could tell, her hands were cuffed behind her. "Darlin'?" Receiving no answer, he called out for her again.

"Mmm?" she finally responded.

"You okay?"

"Tell you, uhm, in a minute. Fine, except my arms are sore. Why am I still handcuffed?"

"The same reason I'm steel banded to the floor I suppose," Matt commented.

"What?" Feeling around, Cindy found the bolts and tried to loosen them. "I can't get them to budge, Matt. I don't have a gun. What are we going to do?"

"First off, get in my left front pocket and turn on the tracker so Benny Ray and Margo can find us."

"Okay." Cindy slid off of him and sat down next to him, working her hands into his jeans pocket. "It's on."

"Good girl. Now, we've got to figure out what they intend to do with us."

"I already know that," Cindy admitted with disgust.

"What is it?" Matt asked, acknowledging her dismay.

"They want me to kill you."

"Damn."

"I'm not going to do it, Matt," she stressed to him. "At least not willingly."

"I trust you, darlin'."

"He seems to think he can force me somehow. I don't know how, though."

"Darlin', listen to me. Do not put yourself in danger to protect me."

"But..."

"That's an order."

"I can't...I can't do what he wants me to do."

"You have to if there's any chance of you getting out of this situation. I repeat, that's an order."

"He won't let me go. He'll take me back into that world. I can't go back there, Matt. I'd rather be in jail or..."

"I know you would. But I want to know you're safe."

"I won't be," she replied, shaking her head in denial. Cindy leaned over Matt, resting her cheek against his chest.

Matt flexed his pinned down hand, wanting with every fiber of his being to touch her. "Kiss me."

Obeying his softly voiced demand, Cindy kissed him with everything she had in her heart and soul. Pulling away, she let a tear escape her. "I never thought I'd meet someone like you. Someone warm and loving, wanting to take care of me. And now...I've destroyed it, by being an idiot."

"I've got to ask this. Why do you always try to run instead of accepting help or trying to find out what's wrong?"

"No one's ever cared before. About me or what I was feeling. And I have always run when something was too much for me to handle. Because there was never anyone there for me."

"You do realize of course, if you hadn't come here, he'd have come after you. We could have been home in this same situation."

"Yeah, but then I wouldn't be feeling like it was my fault, would I? Though, it is, just because of my getting involved with you in the first place."

"No. It isn't your fault, darlin'. Kiss me some more. If this is our last night together, I want it to count."

"I wish I could touch you," Cindy whispered in his ear.

"I wish I could touch you. But this is, well, kind of erotic," Matt admitted shyly.

"Oh cute, go shy on me, Matt."

Cindy snuggled against him, trying to get as close as possible.

Rental Car
0400 hours

Disheartened yet at the same relieved by the fact they didn't find Cindy or Matt during the rescue effort, Margo and Benny Ray rented a car.

"Hey, sweet pea. Open your laptop. Maybe Matt's got the tracker on."

"Sounds good," Margo replied, her voice heavy with exhaustion.

Benny Ray drove aimlessly as Margo got the computer running and tuned into the tracker. "Bingo. He's at these coordinates."

"That's halfway across Rome. How'd he get there?"

"I don't know, but we better call Trout."

Benny Ray pulled over while Margo made the call. A knock on the car door made him jump, and he looked out the window to find Deke standing there.

"What are ya doing over here?"

"Hey bro. Trout called, said he was afraid there'd be a little trouble over here in the vicinity of the Allegory hotel. Sure nuff, I got here, the damn place had been blown up and found two of my crew in there helping with a rescue. What's up peeps?"

Benny Ray gave him the condensed version and watched Deke process the information.

"How come we never made this connection before?" Deke wondered.

"Never heard of Joseph Varanti myself. He's either small potatoes, or very, very good."

"I think it's the latter. So what have we got?"

"Matt's got the tracker on, he's at this location. It's an art gallery across town."

"Ah, that little gallery. That makes way more money yearly than it should. Makes sense. We going in?"

Margo disconnected the phone. "We are. Glad to see you Deke."

"Always glad to be here, baby."

Unknown Location
0345 hours

Cindy slid back down over Matt, and smiled to herself in the dark. The chuckle she had been trying to contain escaped her though.

"What's so funny?"

"I've got you completely at my mercy and I can't do the things I've fantasized about."

"Yeah, well..."

"But I can do this," she murmured, running her tongue around the outside of his lips. Cindy looked up at him; saw him flexing his hands again. "And this..." she stated, nibbling on his earlobe.

"Ah...did this dominatrix shirt of yours set something off in you?" Matt baited her, turning his head slightly to reach her neck.

"And then..." she mumbled as she lowered herself on him, her own hands flexing with the desire to touch him. Her mouth covered his, and they shared a deep, passionate kiss.

They whispered into each other's ears, trying to remain quiet as they spent what they thought would be their last night together.

Cindy slid off of him and curled up beside him, her head on his chest.

Unknown Location
0500 hours

Light flooded the room when the door was thrown open. Cindy stirred against Matt who mumbled unintelligibly.

Joseph walked in and grabbed his sister by the arm, dragging her to her feet. "Get off of me," she said lowly.

"No. Come with me, we need to talk."

He dragged her to a bedroom where he threw her across the bed. "Now. Once again. You are going to kill Matthew Shepherd."

"The hell I will," Cindy countered.

Joseph leaned down and slapped her across the face, making her eyes sting. "You will if you want your freedom."

"All I want is his freedom. Let him go."

"We do it the hard way then. And you get to go to prison, if your friends don't execute you first. Doctor?" Joseph called out over his shoulder.

Cindy cringed from the older man when he shoved her up against the headboard. His eyes were pure evil and she couldn't imagine what he was going to do to her. When he began to hypnotize her, she quickly came up with a plan.

When her eyes glazed over, the doctor glanced at Joseph. "And the command?"

"When she wakes up, she is to take this rifle, go back into the basement and execute Matthew Shepherd."

"I can't make her do something that's not in her personality. I can't make someone kill."

"She's already a killer, doctor. Just issue the command."

The man snapped his fingers, and Cindy's eyes focused. Picking up the rifle, she quietly headed for the basement, Joseph falling closely behind her.

Matt woke with a start when he heard the door, knowing what was about to happen. He quickly said a prayer as Cindy stood over him, the rifle aimed at his head.

He whispered "I love you," to her as she released the safety. She winked at him just as he closed his eyes.

Her finger on the trigger, Cindy spun on her heel and dropped Joseph where he stood. The look of shock on his face alone was worth it, she smiled.

Cindy noticed Matt still had his eyes closed. "Matt?"

"Am I dead? Why can I hear you then?"

"You're not dead. Stop being silly." Cindy bent to grab Joseph's handgun from his limp hand, and shot the bolts off of the steel straps.

Stiffly, Matt sat up. "Damn, I'm stiff in places I didn't even know existed."

Cindy smiled at him as she offered her hand to help him up. "It certainly didn't do your leg any good." Once he gained his feet, Cindy handed him the handgun and she picked up the rifle. "Let's get out of here."

"Uh, wait a minute. I want to tell you something."

"What's that?"

"Anytime you want to play like we did last night, is okay with me."

Cindy shot him a naughty smile. "By the way, I didn't get a chance to ask you..."

"What's that?"

"You told Kermit you were my fiancé. Where did that come from?"

"I guess I just started thinking of you that way. I suppose I better ask. I'd kneel, but I might not get up again. Will you marry me?"

Cindy looked at him, love shining in her eyes. "Yes."

"And don't run from me anymore."

"Yes sir."

"You got that right. That was a direct order. Now let's get out of here."

"Right," Cindy agreed.

 * *

Benny Ray was positioned on the roof across the street as Margo and Deke prepared to go in. Margo was about to pick the lock on the door when it swung open. Margo and Deke jumped back and found Cindy and Matt coming out.

Readjusting his aim to cover the door, Benny Ray watched through the cross hairs of the rifle until everyone was safely away. He then walked down the fire escape and joined them. "Everyone all right?"

Cindy and Matt shared a private smile, and then laughed as they nodded.

Benny Ray shot Margo a look. "What the...?"

Margo shrugged and grinned at him as she watched Matt wrap his arm around Cindy's shoulders and pull her close. Cindy laid her head on his shoulder as they headed for the car.

Deke was on the satellite phone calling some friends in for clean up at the gallery.

The drive to the new hotel was uneventful, Benny Ray ignoring little comments from the back regarding a dominatrix shirt and other things he didn't even want to know about. He reached over to turn the radio up when Margo placed her hand on his forearm.

"Yeah sweet pea?"

"Would you like me to get one of those shirts like Cindy's got on?"

"Is that what they're calling the dominatrix shirt?"

"For some reason, yeah."

"It's cute. You'd look good in it. Different color though."

"I'll find out where she bought it before we leave."

"Cool," Benny Ray smiled.

At the hotel, they all caught a couple of hours sleep before getting ready to leave.

Margo looked at Benny Ray. " I can't go yet. I have to go shopping," she teased him.

"So do I," Matt announced.

"Well, how about you, Cindy?" Benny Ray asked.

"I have to show Margo where I bought the shirt. I forgot the name of the store."

"All right. I'll pack our stuff. I'll meet you at the airport at 1300 hours. Gate 12."

In unison, the three said, "Got it."

Having lost her new clothes in the hotel explosion, Cindy also shopped and they stopped at a luggage store to get her a suitcase. The salesperson at the luggage store watched Cindy and Margo warily as they packed her new clothes. Margo caught her eye. "The airline lost her luggage," Margo explained in Italian. "She doesn't want to check in with shopping bags."

The woman nodded with understanding, leaving the two women to pack.

Matt was in a jewelry store selecting a ring. One caught his eye that just screamed her name to him. "I'll take it," he told the salesperson, handing him his credit card. Now he just had to pick the time to give it to her, he thought as he checked his watch.

They all met at the airport with time to spare, and waited for the departure announcement.

 Rosina's
A week later

Cindy excused herself from the table to visit the restroom, leaving Matt to wait for the champagne that he'd ordered.

Maria, the waitress, smiled at him knowing what he was up to.

Matt dropped the ring in Cindy's glass, and crossed his fingers she would like the ring and hadn't changed her mind.

Cindy returned to the table, and Matt stood as she sat down. Flashing him a smile, she picked up the glass of champagne. She started to take a drink when she caught sight of the ring in the bottom.

"Will you marry me, darlin'?"

"Yes," Cindy replied with a smile, watching Matt take the glass from her and hook the ring out, placing it on her finger.

Matt stood and went around the table, pulling her from the chair. He wrapped both arms around Cindy and kissed her soundly. The wait staff smiled and applauded.

After dessert, they headed back to the Silver Star and headed down in the basement to see who was around. No one from the team was around, and Matt and Cindy eyed each other. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her in the air. He heard her squeal of joy and slid her down in front of him to kiss her again.

Finish

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