Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
He stood and went to peek out a window. The sky was getting lighter, but they were hidden in the tree and the branches and camouflage helped obscure them—or so she hoped.
“Go to sleep while you can, Sophie. It’s going to be a long day, and a long night ahead.”
She stared at his back. It was broad, and the T-shirt he’d put on clung to taut muscles. His biceps bunched and flexed as he lifted an arm and pressed his palm to the wall beside the window as he peered out.
“What about you? When will you sleep?”
He turned and speared her with a look. “Don’t worry about me. Worry about yourself.”
He unzipped his pack and took out a pair of binoculars. Then he went over to the door and unlatched it.
Sophie stiffened. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to check out the surroundings, make sure no one’s out there.”
Her stomach flipped. She didn’t want him to go, didn’t want to be alone out here in the woods. What if he didn’t come back? What if she had to find her own way out again? If she had her phone, she’d use GPS—but she had nothing.
“Do you have to?” She sounded breathless and a little scared, but she couldn’t help it.
His gaze softened for a second before hardening again. “Yes. Go to sleep and don’t worry about it. I need you to be ready to go when it’s time.”
He dropped out of sight and Sophie was alone.
here was no sign of pursuit in the immediate area. Chase did a perimeter sweep, but all was clear. Which was good because he still wasn’t quite sure what the fuck he was going to do with Princess Sophie.
His team was scattered after the last mission. He’d planned to take her to HOT HQ and sort it out there, but that was before someone had set his apartment on fire. Before he knew without a doubt that Androv really did want her dead.
If he took her to HOT now, Mendez would have to turn her over to the FBI. Domestic crime wasn’t part of HOT’s mandate, and they couldn’t get involved in this kind of thing. Yeah, Androv owned Zoprava and supplied antivirus solutions to companies worldwide. He also owned quite a bit of property in New York, and he did a lot of business there.
But none of that involved the military or national security, which meant no HOT. He was on their watch list as someone of interest, primarily because he had a lot of money and he’d dabbled in selling Russian military technology at one time. It hadn’t been as profitable as his other enterprises, so he hadn’t done a lot with it, which meant he wasn’t a HOT target at the moment.
Yet if there was something incriminating on that flash drive, something big… Chase gripped his weapon tighter and dragged in a breath. Yeah, that would be amazing.
If Androv was willing to use lethal force to get it back, which he appeared to be, then it was entirely possible there was something on there he didn’t want falling into the wrong hands. Which made Chase really want to know what was on the flash drive.
There was only one way to find out. He had to go to Paris and get it. No matter what he’d said about Androv’s ability to record Sophie’s conversations when her phone was off, it was possible it hadn’t happened that way. That all Androv had installed was a tracking device.
If so, there was still a chance to get the information before Androv or his people recovered it.
They just had to get the fuck out of this forest and get some help—though not HOT because Mendez wasn’t going to authorize government assets for a mission against a private citizen, which Androv still was. He wasn’t a military target, and he wasn’t going to be unless something significant turned up—which meant Chase needed to seek alternative help for what was essentially a personal mission.
Chase continued his careful circuit of the area, checking for signs of human trespass. When he was satisfied there was nothing out of order, he returned to the stand, bare-climbing the tree and popping in the door. When he spotted Sophie, he paused and watched her for a long minute.
She was curled on the bed with her back to the door. Her long, strawberry blonde hair lay against the pillow, revealing the vulnerable column of her neck. Her skin was creamy, pale, and soft-looking, like silk. She had a small beauty mark on that luscious neck, a blemish that marred the otherwise-pristine swath of skin.
He’d noticed it earlier. It was a small spot, barely discernible in the dim light—and yet he wondered what it would be like to press his lips just there, right over the mark and near the soft pulse beat of her throat.
Chase had to shake himself like a wet dog to dislodge the image—and the corresponding heat that kindled in his groin. Jesus, what the hell was wrong with him? Even if she weren’t his stepsister—or his father’s cherished adopted daughter, more like—he wasn’t attracted to pampered princesses. He liked girls who could shoot. Girls who drank beer and told dirty jokes. Girls who liked to fish and didn’t squeal about having to touch worms.
You don’t know she squeals over worms.
. As if she’d ever been fishing or baited a hook in her life.
She walked through the woods without complaint.
Yeah? What choice did she have?
Chase forced himself to turn away, to stop studying the rise of her shoulder, the dip of her waist, the sweet curve of her hip. The luscious roundness of her ass.
He whipped open his bugout bag and took out the burner phone he kept there. He had to solve this situation and soon. The less time he spent with Miss Sophie Nash, the better. Chase flipped open the phone and sent a text to the only person he could think of who might be able to help him out of this mess without getting HOT involved.
Nothing to do now but wait.
OPHIE BLINKED AWAKE
, confusion settling into her brain for a moment. The cot was stiff, she was cold, and the air smelled woodsy and kind of musty at the same time. Her body ached as she shifted, her muscles protesting with sharp soreness in her legs and back.
When it hit her where she was, she sat up, wincing with pain as she searched the room. It was every bit as dark as it had been when they’d arrived earlier, so she figured she must have slept until almost nightfall. She would have thought that impossible considering the danger she was in, but apparently she was wrong. Her gaze settled on Chase lying on the floor. He was asleep—but then he cracked an eye open and stared at her, proving her wrong.
Her heart pattered, but if Chase was on the floor looking at her with annoyance—and he was—and they were still in the tree, which they were, then they were safe. Still alive, still hopeful.
Her stomach rumbled, and she put a hand over it because it was so loud. Chase pushed himself up to a sitting position and shoved a hand through his hair. His jaw cracked as he yawned, and she felt a pang of guilt that he’d had to sleep on the floor while she took the cot.
Still, she was glad he hadn’t made her take the floor. If her body hurt this much after sleeping on a cot, she hated to think what it would feel like if she’d spent the day on a plank floor.
Chase reached for something beside him and then threw it at her with a “Here, catch.”
Sophie caught the plastic package as if it were a fish, fumbling it back and forth until it plopped onto the bed beside her. “What is it?”
“It’s an MRE—Meal, Ready to Eat,” he said. “It’s what we eat in the field. It’ll fill you up, trust me.”
The plastic was thick. She tried to tear it, but nothing happened. Chase pushed to his knees and came over to her. He bent his head, taking it from her. He was so close she could feel the heat emanating from him. He smelled like the outdoors, fresh and clean—and a little sweaty too. She bit her lip as he flipped open a knife. He cut the package open and looked up at her.
Her breath stopped in her chest as their eyes met. His were green, rimmed in brown with golden flecks dotting the iris. She had a sudden insane urge to reach out and touch his cheek, to skim her fingers over the hard plane of his jaw that had a day’s growth of stubble.
He shoved the package he’d opened into her hand and turned away before she could do anything so stupid. Sophie took a deep breath, trying to calm her fluttering heart and make it beat normally again. Then she upended the MRE, and several envelopes spilled out. She picked them up, reading each one, focusing on them as if they were the most important thing on earth. It was the only way to get her mind off Chase and that weird moment just now.
“Just follow the directions and heat it up. It’s not the best thing you’ve ever eaten, but it’ll do the job.”
She blinked at the packets littering the bed and wondered for a second if he’d hit his head on something. “Heat it? With what?”
“The ration heater. It’s in there.”
Sophie poked around until she found a plastic envelope that said Heater on it.
She turned it over, studying it. It was nothing more than a plastic bag with instructions on it. She glanced up at Chase, but he was busily sorting through his own stack of envelopes. She opened the heater bag, placed the spaghetti pack inside, and filled it to the line with water from the bottle she’d left beside the cot. Then she closed the bag and held it until it started to feel warm.
“How does this work?”
It really was getting hot. She set it on the floor, propping it against one of the cot’s legs since the directions said to prop it up.
“It’s a chemical reaction,” Chase said with a shrug. “Magnesium, iron, and table salt. Add water and voila, you get heat.”
For some insane reason, that excited her more than she’d have thought possible. She kept watching the bag as if it would do a magic trick or something. “That’s pretty cool. I didn’t do so well in science—I was more of an arts and humanities kind of person.”
She babbled when she was nervous—and she was definitely nervous.
“Arts and humanities won’t keep you from starving when it’s just you and the environment.”
“No… but at least I can quote Shakespeare and provide some entertainment to the rest of the campers.”
Chase actually stopped what he was doing and looked at her long and hard. Sophie couldn’t help but giggle at the look on his face—horror, and maybe fear she was an idiot at the same time. He didn’t crack a smile when she giggled, but that didn’t stop her. In fact, she giggled harder—and that made him frown even more.
Finally, she shook her head and tore open the candy bar from her MRE with trembling fingers.
“It’s a joke, Chase. I’m not planning on quoting any Shakespeare.”
“Thank God for that,” he grumbled.
She cocked her head as she sniffed the candy bar. Ordinarily she didn’t eat candy, but these were extraordinary circumstances. She took a bite—oh, yum—and chewed. When was the last time she’d eaten chocolate?
Too long ago, that’s for sure.
“You don’t appreciate the Bard?”
She rolled her eyes. “Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon. To be or not to be and all that.”
“Had to read
in high school. Boring as fuck.”
Sophie’s heart actually squeezed. What kind of barbarian didn’t appreciate Shakespeare? Her finest role in high school had been Lady Macbeth.
Out, damned spot…
“You should try
Romeo and Juliet
Chase took a bite of bread. “Nope. Life’s too short to read stuff you don’t like.”
Not reading Shakespeare was a travesty, in her opinion.
His gaze sharpened for a second. Then he gave his head a little shake and snorted. “Stuff with pictures. Dirty pictures, preferably.”
Sophie’s mouth dropped open. And then she closed it in a hurry. He was trying to shock her. Derail her. And she’d started trembling again. Damn him.
“How about when it doesn’t have pictures? What do you read then?”
“The newspaper, where I learn things like the fact Grigori Androv is accused of assaulting a hotel maid in Manhattan. Nothing as important as Shakespeare, obviously.”
The heat of embarrassment rolled through her. “You know, you don’t have to beat me over the head with my stupidity. There’s nothing you can say that I haven’t already said to myself.”
His gaze remained sharp and hot on her face. And then he made an expression of dismissal, as if he’d decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. “I get how you got involved with Androv—but why did you keep going out with him? You had to know he’d been accused of assaulting that woman.”
She stared at the envelopes arrayed around her and swallowed. “He was charming. Attentive. Gentlemanly. And it was entirely possible that woman was looking for a settlement because he’s wealthy. That’s what he told me—and I’ve seen similar things growing up, so it wasn’t impossible to believe.”
“You still believe him?”
Her eyes blurred a little but she swiped the moisture away. She was ashamed of herself for what she’d thought about the poor maid. For what she’d believed. “No, I don’t.”