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Authors: Becky Barker

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense

Stowaway (4 page)

BOOK: Stowaway
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She hoped nobody ever learned she’d carelessly left a weapon within this man’s reach. She’d broken the sacred lawmen’s rule of never underestimating the enemy. The fact that he held the gun left no doubt about him being the enemy.

“If I don’t radio that I arrived safely, my dad will be here before daybreak.”

His eyes narrowed. “You radio him directly?”

“I have a message relayed from the ranger station,” she explained, keeping her tone low and reasonable even though her nerves felt wired. A slight tremor shook her hand, but she quickly willed away the fear.

“You told them I’m here?”

“Yes, we’ll be surrounded by law enforcement officials any minute now,” she replied, shifting her gaze to his midsection.

After several long heartbeats, he responded with a challenge. “You’re not a very good liar.”

“Because I don’t make a habit of lying,” she snapped right back, annoyed that he’d read her so easily. “Unlike some people who break their word without a qualm.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you promised not to do anything stupid if I helped with your wound. I thought cops honored their word.”

Instead of remorse, the corner of Lamanto’s mouth lifted ever so slightly in a wry grin.

“I didn’t break my word. I didn’t try to run, and I haven’t done anything stupid. From my point of view, it would be damned stupid to let you call the authorities right now.”

Keri’s jaw tightened and she glared at him.

“Make the call,” he said, tone sharpening, “but don’t try using any codes. Just tell them you arrived and all’s well.”

Her brows creased in a frown. Leave it to cop to know about a code. If she told anyone she had trouble with the water pump, help would be on its way within minutes.

One look at his pale, drawn features convinced her his show of strength wouldn’t last long. Then she’d be in the position of power again, and she’d make sure he didn’t get a second chance to intimidate her.

She made the call to the rangers just as he’d instructed.

“Get up,” Lamanto commanded when she finished.

Keri eased herself from the small stool by the radio. When he waved the gun to direct her farther from the equipment, she obliged him by carefully moving into the kitchen.

The gun never wavered as it followed her movements. He kept it aimed at her while reaching for a connector wire of the radio, pulling it loose and slipping it into his pocket.

She grimaced but promised herself to collect it later when he’d passed out again.

“What now?” she asked. Beyond tired, short tempered and running low on energy, she felt ready to collapse.

“Now you give me the keys to your car.”

At this point, it didn’t matter who held the keys. She shouldn’t have trusted him when he gave her his word.

“They won’t do you any good. Someone stole all my gas.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, she clamped it shut, wishing she’d let him find out for himself. Maybe she’d have gained the upper hand in the situation again. Or at least locked him out of the cabin.

“So you already tried to leave,” he said. His eyes narrowed. “Did you see anyone outside?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t see anything or anyone.”

“Then what makes you so sure someone stole the gas?”

“The car won’t start, and the fuel light is flashing.”

Lamanto heaved a visible sigh. Keri wondered how much longer his strength would hold.

“What now?” she asked. Neither of them had the energy for a trek down the mountain, and she had no desire to face the darkness again. She’d feel braver when she wasn’t so beat.

“We get cleaned up and get some sleep. You look wiped. I’ll give you ten minutes. Just don’t try locking doors.”

Keri didn’t mention the absence of locks on the inside doors. She didn’t feel like making explanations or engaging in arguments. The last burst of adrenaline had zapped her strength. All she wanted to do was lay her weary head down on a pillow. He could go to hell for all she cared.

He followed her to the living room where she grabbed a pile of her clothes and carried them to the bedroom. She chose a dark blue sweat suit and clean underwear before heading to the bathroom. After a quick wash and change of clothes, she returned to make the bed. He leaned against the wall until she’d finished, and then moved directly in front of her.

“Do you sleep on your back or stomach? Right side or left?” he asked.

The unexpected questions had her blinking and staring at him, her mind blank. “Don’t even think I’m sharing.”

To emphasize her point, she reached out and tapped him on the chest. Too late she realized he’d shifted the gun to his left hand. In his right, he had a pair of old-fashioned handcuffs. A cuff locked on her left wrist with an economy of motion.

Keri stared at the metal shackles in stunned fascination. Her dad stored them in the first-aid kit too, but she’d never imagined them being used on her. After a split second of hesitation, she began to struggle, but Lamanto had anticipated the reaction. He swiftly pulled her left arm behind her back, jerking her body full force against the strength of his own. Her breath hitched at his closeness.

He should be as weak as a kitten, yet the steel of his muscles swiftly squashed any desire for a physical skirmish. She just wasn’t sure enough she’d win. She abruptly stopped struggling, tilted her head and glared at him.

“You have a great way of showing your appreciation for my help,” she snapped. “I should have held you at gunpoint until my dad could come get you.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “You should have.”

Keri clenched her teeth in frustration. Another damned man who thought he knew what was best for her.

She glared harder, and he returned her gaze with a steady, unblinking stare. Their hearts pounded frantically in their chests, beating against each other with tension heightened by the strength and heat of his body.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he swore softly, never losing eye contact. “But I’m not going to let you turn me in, either.”

“I don’t suppose my word is good enough to get this handcuff off?” she tried.

“No.” His tone brooked no argument, but his mouth curved in a rakish smile. A glimmer of amusement lit his fevered eyes. Even in their not-too-amiable situation, he oozed charm. He enjoyed provoking her.

Keri’s heart tripped again. Damn but the man was handsome. A woman would have to be dead not to appreciate his aesthetic beauty. Up close, she noticed the ebony hair of his eyebrows had the slightest tendency to curl. Deep laughter lines slit the corners of his eyes and softer grooves at his mouth. His mouth was wide, with sensuously full, firm lips. His skin dark and smooth, pulling tight across high cheekbones.

She stared into his eyes, watching his gaze drop to her lips. His eyelids dropped too, dark lashes sweeping downward. Her pulse fluttered with unexpected and unwelcome excitement. She felt the metal of her father’s gun gently pressing against her back, but she felt no fear. In a blink of his fascinating eyes, their battle of wills had become a battle of the sexes.

The air between them electrified, sizzling her nerves. The throbbing of her own pulse nearly deafened her. Keri struggled to shrug off the heavy lethargy invading her body.

Please, no
, she mentally begged the gods of desirability. Please don’t let this be the fiercest physical attraction she’d experienced in her whole life. Please make her quaking nerves and erratic pulse a result of exhaustion or frustration. She would not accept an attraction for this man.

“You feel good,” he murmured as though surprised by the revelation. “And you smell good too.”

The arm holding her tightened fractionally. He didn’t hurt her, yet he threatened Keri’s composure. Her breathing faltered and her breasts swelled against the solid wall of his chest.

She frantically searched her tired brain for a rational explanation. The fruitless search caused an unreasonable spurt of panic in its wake. Defensive and feeling desperate, she pressed her free hand against his chest and shoved.

His low groan reminded her of his wound. Even as she stepped out of his embrace, her gaze searched his face and shoulder to see if she’d done any damage.

“Sorry,” she whispered, genuinely stricken to have caused him more pain.

Lamanto gave her a weak smile but kept a firm hold on the cuffs that made her his prisoner.

“No problem. Women always lose their heads when they’re in my arms.”

The comment didn’t sound like a boast as much as a statement of fact. He might have said it jokingly, but her expression hardened.

“Now what?” she grumbled. “I’m going on thirty hours with no sleep, and I’d guess you haven’t had much, either. We should both be in bed.”

The unwarranted but undeniably seductive gleam in his eyes added to her annoyance. Her frown deepened, and she tugged on the handcuffs to display impatience.

“These are totally unnecessary.”

He ignored her grousing. “I need a shower and food.”

“You can’t get those stitches wet.”

“I’ll take a bath.”

“You’re nuts.”

“I’m filthy.”

“All right, take a bath,” grumbled Keri, “but let me get some sleep.”

He looked beyond her toward the bed. “I wish the bed had a metal frame so I could fasten you to the headboard or something.”

“I don’t need to be shackled to the bed. My car’s out of gas, the radio’s disabled and I’m too damn tired to go anywhere on foot.”

He gave her a reproachful glance and gently urged her toward the dresser. “Any clothes I can borrow?”

Her dad and brother kept clothes at the cabin. They were taller men, but she supposed something would fit him. “Jack’s sweats will probably work.”

“How ’bout some clean underwear?”

“If you’ll take this stupid thing off my arm, I’ll check the drawers,” she retorted, tugging at the metal cuff.

He gave her a wry grin for her efforts but ignored her plea. They had a momentary battle of wills. He didn’t flinch. With a deep sigh, she twisted around and opened drawers, collecting socks, briefs, gray sweat pants and an old red flannel shirt. She turned to him again, her expression challenging him.

“Now the bathroom,” he said.

She led the way into the small space. It barely had room for two people, but he shifted so she could sit on the toilet seat. Then he reached for the towel rack and gave it a jerk. When it proved sturdy, he clicked the other handcuff around the bar, effectively chaining her in the room.

Keri’s mood grew grimmer by the minute and her expression displayed her rising temper. He gave her another half smile and placed the gun on a rack in the shower. Then he began the slow process of filling the tub and stripping.

The sexual tension steadily increased as did the steam enveloping them. Keri tried to maintain her composure, but it started disintegrating when he unfastened his belt and slid down his zipper. The sound rasped along already frayed nerves.

“You can close your eyes if you’re shy,” he said. Despite the feverish sheen to his eyes, the dark orbs taunted her.

“I’m a nurse. You don’t have anything I haven’t seen a thousand times,” she retorted even though she felt the sting of hot color rising in her cheeks.

“Humor me. I’m modest.”

Keri seriously doubted it, but she turned her back as much as the limited space allowed. She heard a muffled groan as he struggled out of his jeans. Every movement had to be hurting him. Then she heard jeans and belt hit the floor followed by the sound of him stepping into the tub.

“Draw the curtain.” She couldn’t reach it from her tethered position, but she could see his movements in her peripheral vision.

“I’d rather keep you in sight,” he replied, shutting off the tap. Next he sank into the water and emitted a deep, heavy sigh.

The sound skittered along her nerves, creating unappreciated and unwelcome havoc on them. She couldn’t fully see him, yet she felt his every move. Instead of heeding her stern warning to ignore him, her weary mind recorded every little sound he made as he bathed.

The spicy smell of soap teased her senses as it filled the moisture-laden air. Her imagination conjured images of rich, white lather coating the dark curls on his chest. She could visualize the trickle of water down his hard stomach and into forbidden territory.

Putting an abrupt halt to the uninhibited imaginings, she silently cursed the unexpected curiosity. Her patient deserved respect even if he held the top spot on her personal shit-list right now. She needed to summon professional indifference and halt the increasing sexual awareness.
Think professional decorum
, she told herself, repeating the mantra for the next few minutes.
Professionalism. Professionalism. Professionalism.

When Lamanto went quiet for too long, she risked another glance in is direction. She peeked but immediately regretted the action. His sleek, wet body reclined the full length of the tub. The water didn’t hide an inch of male perfection. The image would stay in her mind for a very long time. More heat suffused her body.

“Don’t fall asleep.” Her voice held a snap to camouflage a sensory overload.

Another deep sigh acknowledged her warning. Then she heard the water being drained and some awkward movements as he tried to pull himself upright. A low curse had her reacting reflexively.

“Be careful,” she said, turning fully toward him.

The sight of him smacked her again and with staggering force. His hard, lean body stole her breath. No way could she ignore the masculine beauty of his glistening nudity.

She mentally catalogued every inch of him from the damp, curling hair on his head, down the broad, muscled chest and flat stomach to his hard thighs and another patch of thick, curly hair.

Her intense, intimate perusal brought a swift reaction from his very male anatomy. She swallowed hard to keep from strangling on the gasp at the back of her throat.

“I’m wounded, not dead,” he grumbled, jerking a towel across his abdomen to cover his growing erection.

The action threw him off balance. She quickly recovered her wits and reached out a hand to steady him.

“Thanks,” he said gruffly, accepting the support as he stepped from the tub.

BOOK: Stowaway
9.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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