Authors: Cynthia Justlin
Tags: #science, #Romance, #Suspense, #adventure, #action, #Military, #security, #technology, #special forces, #thriller
He struggled to stand, but his shaky legs wouldn’t support him. Not yet. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” She sunk to her knees beside him and reached out to stroke his face. “You…saved my life.”
Audra lightly pressed her fingertip to one of the cuts on Cam’s cheek. It wasn’t deep—little more than a scratch—but droplets of blood welled to the surface, and all she could think about was how he’d paid so little regard to his own safety in order to ensure hers.
His skin was hot to the touch, his breath ragged. She looked into his eyes, so dark without their usual spark of teasing that they appeared raw, even a bit vulnerable. He stared back at her without uttering a word, and although she barely knew him, somehow she knew it was rare for him to remain silent.
She shifted closer, laying her other hand on his opposite cheek, and still, he didn’t respond. Oh, his eyes darkened and roved over her face, and he swallowed hard, but the glib retort she’d expected never came.
His eyes suddenly blazed. “That bastard was going to kill you with my own fucking knife.”
She flinched at the edge in his voice and her gaze flicked to Joe Walker’s body. She’d been trying hard to avoid glancing at him, but now she couldn’t look away. Her stomach balked and the blood drained from her head. Cam’s knife protruded from the guard’s chest, a wash of crimson staining his clothes.
They’d taken a man’s life. It was Cam that had wielded the blade, but he’d done it to protect her. Didn’t that make her every bit as responsible? She tried to blink back a wave of dizziness, but was unsuccessful until Cam took her hands in his, grounding her.
His thumb ran over her knuckles in a gentle caress. “Hey,” he tipped her chin up, forcing her to look at him, “I killed him. Not you.” He brushed a strand of hair off her cheek, his warm fingers lingering there. “And I’d do it again, in a heartbeat, if it meant saving your life.”
The quiet sincerity of his words—his touch—wormed their way into her starved heart. Gone was the smooth-talking veneer that Cam wore on the surface, the cockiness that made him risky. In its place was a man with his own emotional bumps and bruises. Someone she could relate to—even trust.
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “What are we going to do?”
“We?” His brash confidence flooded back into his face with nothing more than an arched brow, but this time it didn’t send a flutter of panic into her heart. “We are going to get the hell out of here.”
His thumb stroked her cheek one last time before he climbed to his feet and strode over to Joe’s body.
“What are you doing?”
He stripped off his shirt. “Turn around.”
She complied with his harsh command, fixating on the small painting of a cottonwood tree that hung on the wall until Cam came beside her. He’d wrapped something in his shirt; from the shape and size of it she guessed it was his knife. She sucked in a breath to stop the churn of her stomach, but choked on the air when Cam held up a thin plastic card for her inspection.
A picture of Margaret, her assistant, stared back at her from the cardkey. Audra reached for it. “Where did you get this?”
“Walker.” He palmed the guard’s leather wallet.
“Oh, my God.” She lifted her trembling hand to her mouth. “Why would he have her card? Unless—”
A muscle leapt to life in Cam’s jaw. “They were working together.”
Audra followed Cam out of the bedroom and down the carpeted stairs. Little spasms shot through her muscles like aftershocks and her mind whirred with brutal images: Joe breaking into her room and grabbing her throat, Cam crashing through the window, his knife through Joe’s chest, Margaret’s sweet face, the possibility of her betrayal—God, she didn’t know where to focus her thoughts.
Just enough light filtered down the steps from the bedroom to guide their way, but she still stumbled on the last step. Cam caught her, his warm hands curling around her elbows.
“Easy.” His voice still vibrated with pent up fury, but his throat constricted in a visible struggle to temper it. “You okay?”
She couldn’t pretend otherwise. The methodical, controlled way Cam had gone after Joe had scared her. She’d thought she had Cam pegged. He was the techie who loved computers, the analytical security consultant who couldn’t pass up a challenge. What kind of on the job training did he have for the way he’d taken out Joe?
Cam dropped his hand from her elbow, leaving a slash of crimson across her forearm.
“You’re hurt.” She reached for his palm. A bright red gash bisected across the middle.
Cam may have shown her a side of him she didn’t think he’d possessed, but the cut on his hand reminded her he’d done it for her. He wasn’t mercenary or careless.
He frowned away her concern. “It’s nothing. We have to go.”
“Wait a minute.” She tore the bottom of her camisole and wrapped the cotton fabric around his palm, tying it in a tight knot.
He didn’t wait for her to release his hand; he just turned the corner into the living room, tugging her with him so when he stopped abruptly, she bumped into his side.
Moonlight speared into the wide window, its beam centered on the body of retired Agent Layne. His throat had been cut. Blood saturated the carpet beneath him.
Her stomach revolted and she had to press her mouth against Cam’s shoulder to keep the bile from rising in her throat. “Oh, God. Why? How?” The questions tumbled from her lips one after another, muffled by Cam’s shirt. “How did Joe find me?”
“Who else knew you were here? Besides Peterson and…” Cam gestured to Layne’s body, “…him.”
“You sure about that?” Cam guided her around the dead body and through the kitchen, heading for the French doors that led out to the large covered deck. “What about Peterson? You think he would’ve told someone?”
“Who would he have told? Joe?” The cool night air hit her bare skin as she stepped past Cam and onto the deck, teasing a shiver from her. “He wouldn’t have done that. Not after he agreed to help me.”
“Maybe Peterson felt he needed to do his civic duty and alert the police, then. Almost everyone has a police scanner these days. It’s not much of a stretch to think Joe would’ve overheard the dispatch.”
She’d been guilty of thinking the same thing, but she shook her head. “If that was the case, wouldn’t the cops have showed up by now?”
As if she’d flipped some magic switch, the faint moan of sirens rose on the breeze. It could’ve been anything, an ambulance, a routine speeder, a convenient store robbery, but the sound sliced straight through her heart.
Cam grabbed her arm and fled across the flagstone walkway that ran through the backyard. She imitated his crouch and pumped her legs to keep up with his longer ones. He led her through the alley and around the block, stopping at a rusty blue pickup truck.
She blinked. “What happened to the other truck?”
He popped open the squeaky door and helped her inside, one corner of his mouth curving upwards. “I upgraded.”
Upgraded? Her eyes widened on the cracked dashboard. A bundle of wires jutted out from the hole in the console where the radio should’ve been. His frivolous comment made her smile, but it faded almost as quickly as it came.
If they stopped running, who would catch them first—the cops or whomever it was that wanted them dead?
Cam’s knee screamed at him with every step, but three years of adapting had taught him welcoming the pain made it easier to deal with.
In the words of the immortal Yoda, become the pain you must.
He dropped his duffel on one of the motel’s double beds. He couldn’t take her home. Walker knew where he lived, which meant whoever he was working for did too. “It’s just for tonight. Tomorrow we’ll find a safer place.”
Audra nodded. She’d been silent since leaving the house in Cave Creek. Not that he blamed her. She hadn’t seen his best side. He’d come in the guise of Casper the Friendly Ghost and somehow ended up morphing into the Terminator.
He fingered the strip of cotton across his palm. The makeshift bandage hadn’t been necessary. He’d dealt with far worse gashes, but Audra’s gesture softened a spot in his weary heart. He limped over to her, prepared to show his gentler side, but before he could reach for her she stiffened.
“We need to talk to Margaret.”
Her assistant’s betrayal must’ve cut deep, but from the stubborn tilt of Audra’s chin, she wasn’t about to show it. No, his sexy scientist wouldn’t go down in defeat. She just processed the way her life had been turned upside down and immediately started working out a solution.
“Tomorrow.” Pain zapped across his knee. He reached down to massage it, and caught Audra staring. His fingers slid carelessly across the swollen flesh and then back to rest on his thigh.
Her jaw tightened. “Why we can’t go right now?”
“Because we don’t need to arouse suspicion by showing up at her daughter’s hospital room in the middle of the night. Neither one of us has slept for days and I wanted…”
Her, all to himself for a little while, just one small, quiet moment to learn what made her tick before they were back to dodging police on their frantic quest for answers. It was stupid and selfish, but, hell, he hadn’t allowed himself to be stupid or selfish in a long time.
He was way past due.
“What? What did you want?”
Her whispered voice caressed him. Blood thrummed through his veins. He swallowed and reached up to brush the silky strand of her fiery hair behind her ear. He couldn’t tell her. Not if he wanted her to cooperate with him. Theirs was a relationship built on intellect and mutual need, nothing more.
And it needed to stay that way.
He backed off.
Her amber eyes clouded. “Your knee…you should really ice it.”
Before he could respond, she took off in the direction of the sink. She flipped on the bank of fluorescent lights, bathing the area in an artificial glow. And all he could do was limp after her like a puppy with his tongue hanging out, pathetically begging for a doggy treat.
She plucked a washcloth off the towel rack and dumped several ice cubes from the motel issue bucket onto the white square. After folding it into a makeshift ice pack, she presented it to him in the palm of her outstretched hand.
He’d insisted he hadn’t needed to nurse his knee, but she’d been equally insistent on haring off to the motel’s ice machine the moment they’d stepped into the room.
Now, He leveled a stare at her, enjoying the way she squirmed under his scrutiny. But it only lasted a short time. She arched a sharp brow and waggled the pack at him. Toying with her, he brushed his fingers against hers in a lingering stroke then slid the ice pack off her palm.
Very nice. Her expression didn’t even crack.
He leaned against the dull counter, taking weight off his knee. “You’re as cold as ice,” he crooned the words to the classic Foreigner song, watching her closely for a reaction.
When her jaw tensed, he forced a laugh from his chest. He gripped the counter and waited for her to tuck tail and run. She made her move—but not away from him as he’d expected.
Dr. McCain had decided to meet his challenge after all.
Audra prided herself on her level head, but when it came to Cam, logic danced out the window. He’d thrown down a gauntlet and instead of walking away she’d snatched it up. How could she let someone so…so infuriating get under her skin?
Something told her Cam loved messy, complicated relationships. It was the way he had of looking at her, like—like he couldn’t think of anything better to do than tie her into knots.
Her stomach fluttered. What had vulnerability ever done for her? She did not want to get tangled up with Cam. He would force her to reveal parts of herself she had no desire to unlock.
She meant to step back, but the air between them suddenly sizzled, and when she caught the scent of Cam’s skin—a heady combination of sandalwood and warm male—she couldn’t resist leaning into him.
He tensed and the fluorescent light cast a sallow hue on the scratches along his cheekbone, reminding her, once again, of all he’d risked. For her.
“How did you find me?” She tipped her head to meet his eyes. “I mean, why come after me at all? You don’t need me. Not really.”
He cupped her cheek in his palm. “Cell phone records and a little GPS know how are powerful things.”
She stiffened. “You went through my cell phone—”
“Invasion of privacy doesn’t apply to damsels in distress.” His thumb brushed her skin sending pulses of heat through her. “It’s one of those unspoken rules. Along with the one about not mixing business with pleasure.”
“That’s a good one.” She sucked in a ragged breath.
His lips curved into a grin. “Is it?”
“Of course. You can’t remain objective when all you’re thinking about is…”
Her fingers took on a life of their own and fisted into Cam’s t-shirt. Her gaze slid down to his mouth. One kiss. What could it hurt? No strings attached, no baring of souls. Nothing but a meeting of mouths to satisfy her curiosity. A scientific experiment of sorts. Would his hard, chiseled mouth soften against hers? Did he taste of the same danger and self-assurance he wore with such blatant abandon?
She pressed into his touch. The space between them evaporated, their mouths met with the slightest bit of pressure—
Cam stumbled backward, breaking the fleeting connection as his knee collapsed out from under him. He lunged for the counter, a vicious curse followed in the wake of the abrupt movement.
She reached for him. “Let me—”
“I got it.” He pulled himself up and turned his back on her, but the mirror gave away the heightened color in his cheeks.
“Are you okay?”
He brushed past her. “Hey listen, do you mind if I grab a shower first?”
“Because if you do, I can wait.” He went to his bag, unzipped it, and started rummaging around inside.
“Hold on just a minute—”
His shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Yeah, okay, if you’d rather go first, then go ahead.”