Authors: Krystal Shannan
The dark-haired assailant grunted through the kick, captured both legs again, and pulled her the rest of the way out of the limo. She twisted and writhed against his grasp, refusing to make any part of the kidnapping easy.
“Sharanov will do exactly as we say when he knows his last child’s life is in jeopardy.”
A black SUV was parked a few feet away, probably the one Yuri had mentioned earlier. A huge redheaded goon stood next to it. She turned. The old white pickup truck used to plow into them was parked a few car lengths down the road, its fender and hood crushed.
I hope the asshole driving dies
The redheaded brute approached, took her arm from the smaller, dark-haired man, and tugged her to the black SUV. She whimpered, pain surging through her shoulders as he wrenched her arms behind her and bound her wrists tight. She cringed at the click of the plastic zip tie. He opened the rear passenger door, shoved her inside, and shouted in Russian to the other man to “take care of the driver.”
Ksenia struggled to her knees and lunged against the side door. “No! No! No! You don’t have to kill him.” The familiar sound of a gunshot cut through her cries. She pressed her forehead against the tinted glass, trying to see the limo, but the angle was wrong.
She met the redheaded brute’s gaze and his ugly smile brought bile up into her throat. Tears welled in her eyes. Another life lost because of a hateful grudge, started by two men who were fucking dead already!
Her captor opened the side door again, shoved her roughly to the floor, and climbed into one of the rear seats. The dark-haired man slid into the driver’s seat.
“You didn’t have to kill him.”.
Her kidnapper said nothing. She was as good as dead, too. If these men were enemies of the family, she didn’t stand a chance unless she got away from them. Soon.
Why have they come after me in America
Why risk involving the American police
Don’t they know my father will kill every single one of them and their families anyway
? She’d seen his version of revenge—twice. Her mother had been caught in the crossfire when she was ten, and six years ago, her brother had been murdered, too. Her father had burned a village to the ground after losing his wife and then, when he’d lost his only son, he’d hunted down the men responsible and returned them to their families in pieces. These feuds never ended. People kept getting killed—on both sides. That’s why she’d gone to college in New York.
Bile rose into her throat again, and she gagged. If only she could get out of the vehicle, maybe she could make a run for it. Maybe another car would see her. Once they got to where they were going, her chances of getting out of the situation alive were zero.
“I’m sick.” She turned her head up toward the redhead. Her face must have been truly green. He shouted to the driver and the SUV pulled over and stopped. He opened the door, climbed out, and grabbed her ankles. Ksenia yelped as he jerked her up from the floorboards and tossed her into the snow.
He stood a few feet away, not paying her any heed. His carelessness was exactly the opening she’d been looking for. With the grace bestowed upon her from a decade of martial arts training, she stood and delivered a swift kick to the redhead’s right kneecap. The joint popped with a disgusting crunch, and Ksenia struggled to maintain her balance without the aid of her arms. When he dropped to all fours with a cry of pain, she launched herself into a full sprint toward the tree line.
Nasty curses, calling her all sorts of names, echoed behind her. Russian was a language of full of descriptive curses for every situation. A gunshot echoed and a trunk to her right exploded.
! The assholes were shooting at her.
Ksenia climbed over a fallen tree and screamed as the snowy footing gave way beneath her and she tumbled off the ledge the drift had concealed. She twisted and instinctively tried to catch hold of something, but her wrists were still fastened tight behind her. The feeling of falling continued for what seemed a long time.
She hit the ground with a thud, stomach first. Every bit of air was pushed from her lungs and everything hurt. Ksenia rolled to her side and looked up into the eyes of the dark-haired Russian kidnapper.
How did he catch up so quickly
“Help! Help!” Her voice was hoarse. The man just grinned and raised his gun. It discharged and she closed her eyes.
Where’s the pain
? She’d always thought getting killed would be painful.
Am I dead already
She opened one eye and then the other. The kidnapper slumped and fell from the ledge into a limp heap a few yards away.
Who took him out
Ksenia swung her gaze to the right. A very large man with a giant, white, wolf-looking animal held a gun aimed at the place where the kidnapper had been standing. She’d been trained as a child not to trust anyone, but he’d just saved her life, and she was freezing. He could be a yeti for all she cared.
She scrambled to her feet and took two steps before blackness swallowed her and consciousness faded away.
The snow crunched under Matt’s feet as he hurried toward the woman who’d collapsed. He’d worry about the dead body later. Summit County Sheriff’s Department was severely understaffed; he was one of only three deputies. With the huge storm blowing in, they’d be lucky to ever find the guy again. He’d file his report and the body would be listed as “lost to wild animals.” A man who would shoot a defenseless woman deserved no more.
Pulling a folding knife from his pocket, he leaned down and cut the zip tie holding her wrists together. Her arms fell softly to her sides. He folded the knife and put it away.
Juno, his white German shepherd, was nudging her shoulder, but the woman was out cold.
“Juno, down. I got her, buddy.”
The dog sat instantly.
A quick observation revealed she was wearing jeans, a sweater, and suede boots—definitely not an outfit for a planned hike. He rolled her gently over, and his breath hitched in his throat. A dark bruise marred her left cheek. It was swollen, purple, and in the shape of a handprint. A cut ran from her eyebrow up across her forehead.
Rage boiled inside, and he felt the desire to go beat the crap out of whoever had damaged her so badly.
I probably just shot him. Asshole. A bullet was too quick
Her creamy white skin was soft, and long, black eyelashes lay against her cheeks.
Get a grip, man
. He shook his head and sat back on his heels. They had to get to the cabin soon. The storm was coming fast, and she wouldn’t survive dressed the way she was.
Not quite the way I pictured my holiday vacation going
A groan from the woman at his knees snapped him to attention. Her eyes fluttered open, revealing soft brown irises.
Beautiful chocolate eyes
“Sweetheart, can you tell me your name?”
“Ostav’te menja v pokoe!”
Matt retreated a little, hearing fear in her voice. She jerked away when he moved and rubbed her wrists where the plastic tie had scraped.
“W-who are y-you?” Her teeth chattered through every word.
“I’m Matt O’Reilly. I’m a deputy for the Summit County Sheriff.”
God, she’s turning blue from the cold
“Y-you’re n-not Russian.”
“Nope. We’ve got to get you warmed up, sweetheart.” He unzipped his coat and threw it around her shoulders.
“You shot him? Is he dead?”
“Yes. He won’t be bothering you again.”
“Others will come. Please help me.”
Her eyes fluttered closed, and she fell sideways onto the snow.
“Shit.” He was going to have to hurry. She wasn’t dead yet, but hypothermia would steal her away if he didn’t act fast. Her wet clothes were starting to freeze solid.
How many people are after her
? “Juno, guard.”
The shepherd’s hackles rose. He paced back and forth, his nose high in the air. Juno had been trained as a sentry in Afghanistan and had saved his life on more than one occasion. If more men were close, Juno would make sure he knew where they were before they saw him.
Matt ran his hand across the SIG P228 tucked in a holster on his left side, unclipping the safety in case he needed it quickly.
He faced the woman and frowned.
Reaching reached inside the coat he’d wrapped around her, he pulled up the frozen sweater to look at her torso—a few minor bruises and scrapes. He felt her arms and legs to check for hidden injuries, but couldn’t find anything major.
. Matt scooped her up and laid her over his shoulder. With her body at a higher center of gravity, he could move faster.
Juno circled while Matt hoofed it through the forest. He had moved up to this Rocky Mountain retreat three years ago to accept an offer from an old Marine buddy to join the sheriff’s office. The cabin was going to be a gift to his wife, along with his resignation from the Marines. Sixteen years of service was admirable. A week later, a drunk driver killed his wife in a car accident.
He’d followed through with his commitment to the sheriff’s office anyway. A promise was a promise, and everything at home reminded him of his loss. The mountain had been good for his soul. He’d made peace with being alone, other than Juno’s companionship.
The last thing he’d imagined finding today on his hike was an injured, frightened, apparently Russian woman. And a beautiful one at that.
About forty-five minutes later, still carrying the unconscious woman, he emerged from the forest edge. His small house lay directly ahead, a few dozen yards away. Juno charged forward and circled the building before sprawling on the front porch.
Matt chuckled. “I guess that’s the ‘all clear’ sign.” He took a short pause to catch his breath. Every muscle in his body was trembling. Sheer determination had gotten him home this quickly. Only a little ways left. The wind had picked up and snow was starting to sting his eyes.
He jogged down the path, holding her firmly against his shoulder, and climbed the porch stairs. “You are getting sloppy,” he growled at the belly-up dog. Juno woofed and lolled his tongue. “Juno, watch.” The dog sat up at the command and pushed his ears forward. Nobody would be able to sneak up on them.
Matt walked around the eighty-pound white shepherd and opened the door. He marched through the living room and swung a right down the hallway into his bedroom. Once he’d placed her on the bed, he stepped out of the room and cranked up the thermostat. He ducked into the bathroom and grabbed his first-aid kit.
When he returned to the bedside, she hadn’t stirred at all. Not good. She could have a serious head injury on top of the possible hypothermia. He popped open his kit and unwrapped an alcohol swab. The cut on her forehead had stopped bleeding, but it still needed to be disinfected and covered. After cleaning the dried blood, he was thankful to see the wound was superficial. He covered it with a Band-Aid and tossed the trash into the wastebasket in the corner.
Now for the rest
. He frowned at her wet, half-frozen clothing.
Matt fumbled with her boots for several minutes before finally freeing them from her feet. Once they were off, he peeled away the semi-frozen socks and threw them to the floor.
Eyeing the black skinny jeans with a frown, he unzipped them and slipped his fingers in the belt loops. He tugged gently, but the pants didn’t budge an inch. They were soaked and stuck to her like glue. There wasn’t another choice. He leaned over to his nightstand, retrieving his K-Bar. Those jeans had to go.
The sharp steel blade made short work of the denim. He lifted her lower body, slid them out from under her, and pitched them into the corner.
Matt took a deep breath. Her underwear was neon pink lace. A ribbon of desire coursed through him. He hadn’t experienced anything so strong since losing his wife. He lifted the hem of her sweater and tugged it over her head, gently freeing one arm at a time. Matt smiled; her bra was neon green lace instead of pink. Her cream-colored breasts were high, the nipples poking at their lace confines.
Sheesh. Get a grip, man
Drawing back the blankets, he tucked her shivering form beneath the covers. Her lips were blue, even her skin powder-white.
Matt removed his boots and socks, stripped out of his damp canvas pants, and yanked off his sweater and T-shirt. Skin-to-skin was the fastest way to bring up a core temperature.
Awkwardness be damned
He slid into the bed beside her and pulled her tight against his body, wrapping the blankets and comforter around them both. He hissed several curse words under his breath when her ice-cold skin burned his warm flesh. Pushing a leg between her thighs, he wrapped his arms around her torso. Her breasts pressed against his chest. Guilt tortured his mind. Why couldn’t he compartmentalize and just help this girl recover? He was a Marine, damn it! He should not be thinking about how soft her skin was, or how she smelled of cherry blossoms and vanilla, or how her body fit perfectly into the contours of his own. One of the biggest hard-ons he’d had in over a year dug into her stomach.
“Come on, sweetheart, warm up.”
An extremely large, semi-naked male body embraced her semi-naked body.
Oh my God
Who the hell
…? She moved her head the slightest bit, and he tightened his hold. Her head rested in the crook of his shoulder. A muscular arm was wrapped protectively around her, resting below her right breast. His other hand, though, had a firm hold on her bottom and was keeping her tight against his family jewels. She was still wearing her bra and panties.
Definitely a good sign, but where are my clothes
And where am I