Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
Their gazes met, tangled. It was a long moment before she managed to rip hers away. She reached for the MRE for something to do.
“Careful,” he said. “It’ll be hot.”
It was indeed. She tore the packet open as directed and let some steam escape before she dipped the plastic spoon into it. It didn’t smell too bad, so she touched her tongue to the sauce.
It wasn’t gourmet, but it was pretty good when you were hungry. She spooned the bite into her mouth and swallowed. When she looked up, Chase was still watching her. His brows lowered, making his handsome face into a thundercloud.
He dropped his gaze and ripped into his own MRE. “Nothing. Eat the food.”
eating it. You’re the one who looked irritated about it.”
“I’m not irritated.”
“Sure you aren’t. You’re just Mr. Happy Sunshine all the time. I love that about you.”
He shot her a look, the spoon halfway to his mouth. Sophie laughed at the confusion on his face, though it was nervous laughter. There was something going on here, and she didn’t know what.
“Anybody ever tell you that you talk too much?”
“It’s been mentioned a time or two.”
“And you didn’t learn a damn thing, I bet.”
“What’s there to learn? That I need to be quiet just because people like you don’t like it? No thanks.”
He frowned even harder. His voice, when he spoke, was tight with anger. “How about that you need to be quiet so your Russian pals don’t follow the sound of your voice straight to this stand?”
er eyes went wide, and Chase felt like a dick. Well, fuck, she did need to be quiet, but not because they were in danger right now. He’d checked the perimeter thoroughly, and he’d set up a couple of alarms that would trigger an alert to the monitoring system in the tree stand. Thank God for paranoid guys like Don who outfitted their land with state-of-the-art equipment just in case anarchy or the zombie apocalypse set in.
If Androv’s men got within a two-mile radius, Chase would know about it. Which meant she could talk all she wanted, even if it did drive him insane.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
. “It’s fine,” he said, guilt pricking him. “Just keep it down a bit.”
She nodded and went back to eating. But her eyes remained downcast and the fiery attitude she’d had a moment ago banked. It shouldn’t bother him, but it did.
It wasn’t that he’d wanted her to be quiet so much as he’d been stunned at his reaction when she’d stuck her tongue out to lick the spoon. The sight of her pink tongue, the way it stretched toward the sauce, the dainty swipe she’d taken—and then the way she’d attacked the food once she determined it was good—that combination had been lethal to him, assaulting him on a primal level that made his dick start to tingle in reaction.
He wasn’t supposed to get a hard-on over Sophie. He just wasn’t.
Chase finished his MRE and cleared the trash. When Sophie finished with hers, he collected her trash as well. He suddenly wanted to say something, wanted to take them back to those moments when she’d been asking him what he liked to read. He wanted to go back and not be a jerk this time, but that was impossible.
“I like thrillers,” he said, and she looked confused. “Novels. James Patterson, Stephen Hunter, Lee Child, Clancy—stuff like that.”
“Oh. That’s cool.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.”
She cleared her throat and their eyes met for a long moment before she dropped her gaze. “You play guitar too.”
His gut twisted with familiar anger. “Yeah. I fiddle with it here and there.” He snorted softly. “Guess it’s in the DNA, though a lot of good that does me.”
“But you enjoy playing or you wouldn’t do it.”
His eyes burned, probably from lack of sleep. “I hate it and I love it.”
Hell, he didn’t know why he’d admitted that to her. Even worse was the look of sympathy she gave him. Give him enough time alone with Sophie and he’d be curled in a ball, telling her about all his childhood hurts while she stroked his hair and crooned lullabies. That image was enough to make him want to puke.
His phone pinged and he reached for it, happy for the distraction.
’LL BE THERE
a quick response and then started to gather up supplies and stuff them in his bag. Just in case it took longer than anticipated or if he had to change the plan.
He could feel Sophie’s gaze on him, but he didn’t make eye contact. He’d hurt her feelings and then he’d tried to make it up to her by not being a dick. Instead, he’d revealed too much of his soul—and she pitied him for it.
“We’re heading out in another hour. Better get prepared.”
“I don’t have anything to prepare,” she said softly. “Unless you want me to carry something.”
“Nope, no need. We’ll be out of the forest tonight and into a safe house.”
He could see her sit up taller out of the corner of his eye. “We will? Where are we going?”
He finally let himself look at her again. And he felt a little thump in his chest as he did so. She’d twisted her red-blond hair into a knot on her head, but the knot was coming loose and hair escaped to fall around her face.
He’d tried not to pay too much attention to her clothing before, but he let his gaze skim the dark jeans and boots she wore, the white tank top displaying luscious breasts beneath a black jacket. And all the gorgeous hair that was slipping free of its knot.
She had full, generous lips, and the hint of cheekbones beneath plump skin. Her violet eyes were fringed in dark lashes. Her eyeliner had smudged, but it gave her a just-got-out-of-bed look rather than a gothic appearance. Some women looked like zombies the next morning when their mascara had run, but not Sophie. A whole day of sleeping in her makeup and she looked sexy, not scary.
“I’ve got a friend,” he said. “He’s going to help us.”
Her breath hitched. “Are you sure you can trust him?”
He wasn’t offended by that question. “He’s a teammate. Or used to be. He started his own security firm recently. They protect high-profile clients—movie stars, rock stars, billionaires. I trust him with my life because he’s saved my ass more than once with his skills.”
She nodded. “Then I guess I’ll trust him too.”
HE WOODS WERE
dark and wet. Apparently it had rained today while she’d been asleep in the tree house. She hadn’t heard a thing. Now she squelched along behind Chase, her suede Christian Louboutin boots no doubt ruined beyond all repair. Her feet were wet, and she shivered inside her light jacket, wishing she’d been wearing something a little heavier when she left New York.
But it was late April and the temperatures had been mild. When she’d gone to Grigori’s yesterday, she hadn’t anticipated hiking or camping only a few hours later. Sophie shivered again. Maybe she should have just stayed home and avoided all his calls instead of going to see him. Maybe that would have worked better.
She shook her head to dislodge that line of thinking. It wasn’t true. Grigori would have come to her apartment, and he would have made a scene until she let him in. Which she would have.
No, far better that she’d gone to him. At least there had been other people around, though a lot of good that did her now.
She thought she heard a noise behind her, and she whipped her head around, trying to see if there was anything back there. Sophie peered into the darkness surrounding them. There was nothing but woods, woods, and more woods. Chase showed no concern, his pace not slowing at all. Sophie hurried to catch up before he left her behind.
Something cracked again in the distance, and Sophie turned once more to look. There was still nothing, so she faced front again—and collided with something solid. It knocked her back a step, and she windmilled her arms as she lost her balance and started to go down.
Chase grabbed her and jerked her upright. She collided with him once more, only this time she didn’t bounce off him. This time he held her steady. Dammit, she’d crashed into him last night too. And here she was doing it again. Such a klutz… though it was hard to feel bad about it when he was so solid and warm. Her fingers curled in the rain jacket he wore, her knuckles brushing hard muscle.
“You’re shivering.” His voice was angry, but that was certainly no surprise. He stayed angry with her.
“I’m cold and my feet are wet.”
She sounded petulant, which she knew he would hate. Hell, she hated it. But it was too late to call the words back and try again.
He didn’t let her go. Instead, he chafed her arms with his big hands. Warmth buzzed in her veins, but it wasn’t from the mere act of rubbing her arms. No, its origin was somewhat deeper. Somewhat illicit, truth be known.
Sophie told herself she should step away, rub her own arms. But oh, that so wasn’t happening. Her blood thickened to molasses and her insides tingled suspiciously.
“You’ll have a hot shower at the end of this. I just need you to hang in there a couple of more hours.”
She sucked in a breath. “I will.”
“Good girl,” he said, squeezing her shoulders before letting her go again.
“Are we being followed?” she asked, worried once more now that he wasn’t touching her.
Her chest squeezed—and then a noise that sounded like a dog baying cut through the night. Chase’s head snapped up, and Sophie’s heart hammered. Tears pricked her eyes. Why in God’s name had she ever said yes to Grigori? And why had she taken that flash drive from his apartment? Why?
“They’re going to find us, aren’t they?”
Chase’s attention jerked to her. His jaw tightened. “No.”
Despair arrowed into her. She didn’t believe him. She was going to die in a cold, dark swamp, and no one would ever find her body. Grigori was too powerful, too determined. He’d eliminated a business rival and no one blinked. A hotel maid accused him of assault—and got painted as a lying tramp. If he wanted to get rid of one more person, who was going to stop him in the end?
“Don’t lie to make me feel better, Chase. I want the truth.”
e grasped her shoulders roughly and lowered his head until he could look her in the eye. Sophie’s stomach flipped at the ferocity of his gaze. The utter determination.
“They aren’t going to find us. It rained all day, and we’ve been walking through water for a mile. That’s not an accident. A good tracking dog can still find the scent, but it takes a little more time. And time is our friend right now.”
“You led me through water on purpose?”
Her poor boots—and oh how she really didn’t give a crap about them right this second!
“That’s right.” He gave her a brief grin. “This isn’t my first time around the block.”
“I think I love you right now,” she breathed. “More than chocolate, I might add.”
He straightened—and then he laughed softly, shaking his head. “You’re a mess, Sophie. But I might end up liking you in spite of myself.”
For some reason, his words infused her with warmth. She returned his smile. “I think you will. I’m determined you will.”
Briefly, she felt twelve years old again, an awkward girl who wanted the tall, good-looking boy to smile at her at least once before he left for another year.
He lifted his head to peer into the distance. And then he took her hand and tugged her forward. “Gotta move fast now. No time to waste.”
Sophie’s boots slipped and slid in the muck, but she managed to find her balance and tripped along with Chase through the night. She was very conscious of his hand on hers, though she told herself it was nothing. He was hauling her along beside him, making sure she didn’t stop or slow. There was nothing more to it than that—but the pressure of his hand, the feel of his skin, still made an impact on her senses.
She ignored her aching knee, the stitch in her side, and the muscle spasms in her left arch. Chase wasn’t going to slow down for any of that—and she didn’t want him to. She couldn’t hear the dog anymore, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t back there. It might not be a tracking dog at all—maybe it was a hunter’s dog or a stray—but she didn’t want to stop and find out.
They pounded through the night, feet slapping into puddles, Chase’s hand still firm on hers. She wasn’t cold anymore. She was hot, sweating, and she wanted nothing more than to stop and rest for a while.
She was ready to collapse, certain she couldn’t make it another inch, but he kept pulling her forward, relentlessly driving her toward something. And then he stopped, and she was so accustomed to running that she kept going and jerked up short, tripping when he snatched her backward and into his arms.
She went immediately still, her back pressed to his front. She was breathing so hard, her blood pounding in her veins and her ears, that she couldn’t hear a damn thing except her own breath razoring in and out of her lungs.
Chase had an arm around her, across her breasts, his hand gripping her waist, holding her tightly to him. Her body was exhausted, and yet a new feeling began to drip into her system. His chest swelled against her back as he dragged in air, though he wasn’t panting anywhere near as hard as she was. His entire body was hard as stone. He was a pillar against which she could rest, and she let her body melt just a little.