Authors: Aden Lowe
Hunted Love #3
By Aden Lowe
© 2015 by Aden Lowe
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Aden Lowe or his legal representative.
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This series contains sexual situations and mature language. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, by any of the characters within is entirely accidental.
Finally, I genuinely hope you enjoy reading "Captured" as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The Huntresses Street Team and Lowe Down Fan Groups, thanks so much for choosing to use some of your precious time to read and help promote my books. You Kick Ass. All the readers and supporters who don't get involved in the book world stuff, you're just as important. Thank you.
Ashley Wheels, Baby Sister, thank you for being you and for helping me and being my friend, and so much more. None of it would be possible without you.
Elyse, what can I say? Without you, nothing.
Jakob reached down to pat Ajax's arched neck and sighed. He'd far rather pat Kate's shapely ass, but she rode ahead, just out of reach. All things considered, he'd say he had it pretty damn bad. Whenever she came close enough, his self-control went to hell and his hands took on a mind of their own. Good thing she didn't seem to mind, or he would always be in trouble.
In the week since he agreed to hunt down the mountain lion killing her horses, they had made love countless times. She seemed as hungry for him as he was for her and never turned him away. One big truth had made itself very clear to him. He would never get enough of her. Every single time he had her, he immediately wanted her all over again with a kind of desperation that terrified him.
That morning, after they woke in a tangle of limbs, and made love yet again, Kate had announced she needed to ride out and check on the herd left leaderless when the mountain lion killed her spotted stallion. They made love in the shower and when she started getting ready, Jakob just invited himself along. Thankfully she hadn't seemed to mind.
So now he found himself trailing after her as the horses picked their way along the rocky path. And there was no place on earth he'd rather be. The only question remaining was whether she wanted him there long-term. Well, that was one of them anyway. Could he walk away from duty? Just turn his back and be okay with it? For Kate, yeah he could. No question. He could leave behind the world of terrorists and the risk of being found out and captured by the enemy. With Kate, he wouldn't even question it.
The trail widened a little, enough for Ajax to move up beside Kate's horse and offer a friendly little nip to the neck. The mare tossed her head and shied in objection, not convinced. "You think we'll find them easily?"
Kate's smile lit up the sunny little meadow ahead of them as she quieted her horse. "I hope so. They shouldn't stray too far from their range, even with Chaser gone. Most of them haven't been far from that little strip of land." She shook her head a little. "I'll have to find a new stud to put with them, and hope he's strong enough to run them."
"No chance of another one just coming along and taking over?"
The mare slid a little on loose stones. "Not likely. We catch them up every year and pull the foals. Rarely do we turn anything back out but the mares and stud. Occasionally I'll add in a couple of young mares to replace some older ones. But I never let uncastrated males out unless they're stud material. And that means they've been successful in competition."
"You have a horse in mind to put with this herd?"
Kate laughed outright. "No, I don't. I'll probably have to buy something, since I don't have any prospects at the moment. Or let the herd be absorbed into another. But I'd rather keep them separate and keep the bloodlines diverse."
Jakob remained quiet and absorbed the information. He might need it someday, especially if she let him stay.
Somewhere in the distance, a horse neighed, and Ajax raised his head even higher than his normal and pricked his ears, but stayed quiet. Kate's horse, on the other hand, gave a reply, and quickened her pace.
With a smile, Kate allowed the mare to move into a jog. "That could be them."
Worried he'd be left behind, Ajax transitioned smoothly into his faster running-walk and kept up. "You think it is?"
"We're at the edge of their range, so hopefully."
Jakob gave up trying to talk and concentrated on watching for other horses. They could be right in the middle of the herd before they knew it. And lead mares had been known to attack riders invading their domain.
Finally, he spotted three mares with their foals at the edge of a small grove of trees. He made a low sound and pointed, alerting Kate to the horses.
She drew her mount to an impatient walk. "That's them. That chestnut mare with the spotted foal is a kicker. Watch out for her. She nearly took Alan's head off last year." She selected an oblique route toward the loose horses, keeping them on a non-threatening line of approach.
As they drew nearer, the mares watched, but stayed calm. Finally they were close enough to see the whole herd. The quality of the horses impressed Jakob. Careful breeding showed in every hair of their sleek hides. Even the gangly foals had that air of aristocracy.
Within arm's reach of one of the mares, Kate drew her horse to a halt, and he followed suit. She sat silent, studying each individual horse. The chestnut mare she'd indicated before raised her head abruptly and snorted a little, staring into the trees.
A shrill trumpet sounded, followed by the drum of hooves. All the mares jerked their heads up and quickly closed ranks, ready to move. They could be off in a heartbeat, and Kate and Jakob might not catch up to them again any time soon.
The hoof-beats came closer, along with the sharp snaps of underbrush being barged through and broken. Another trumpeting neigh sounded, and the approaching horse finally broke through the trees. A magnificent brown and white stallion came to a plunging halt, then half-reared.
The dozen mares took off in a thunder of hooves, throwing the clods of dirt their hooves dug from the earth with the sudden force of their departure.
Apparently pleased with the result, the stallion came to a full rear, clearly showing off. Then with a flash of his raised tail, he started after the mares in a powerful gallop, closing the distance with no effort.
After a brief struggle to prevent her horse from following, Kate gave a low wolf-whistle. "Hello, gorgeous. Where did you come from?" Her voice betrayed her wonder at the stallion's presence. "I'm certain he's Chaser's son. But how the hell did he escape the round ups and mature without being seen?"
Jakob shook his head. "No idea."
She glanced at him as if only just becoming aware of his presence again. "There was a mare that disappeared several years ago, a big raw-boned chestnut. I wrote her off as dead, but I'm betting she's his momma. She was always a loner, and she very well could have left the herd to raise her baby alone. If he's hers, he's her first."
"How would you find out?"
She shrugged a little. "I have her genetic test on file still, from when she was registered with the American Quarter Horse Association. If I can get a sample from him, I could confirm it that way. As it stands he can't be registered. I have to know his lineage." She turned her horse back the way they'd come.
Jakob moved Ajax up abreast of her mare. "Exactly how are you supposed to get a sample? I seriously don't see him standing still for a blood draw."
"I don't think that would happen either." She thought for a minute. "We'll have to run them in. Might even have to tranquilize him to get the sample. But without it, I might as well shoot him. He's useless as a stud unless I can register him. None of his babies could be registered, and that makes them grade horses, the same as mutts. In this world, they're unfortunately a dime a dozen." A nudge of her heels sent her mare into a trot. "We'll need at least three other hands to move them. If we hurry, we can be back out here by night fall and ready to pick them up shortly after dawn."
Her exuberance was contagious and Jakob couldn't contain his grin. She was fucking gorgeous when she was excited like that. Made him want to pull her out of her saddle and into his so he could make love to her right there.
"I wish I had cell service out here. We could go ahead and start after the herd and have the boys meet up with us." She chattered on, making plans and bringing up possibilities. "There's only one other surviving Chaser son out there, and he had a mild birth defect so we had to castrate him. If we can just prove his lineage, that wild baby is worth just about his weight in gold."
Jakob was content to just listen and watch. If he never saw another woman in his life, he wouldn't miss a thing. As far as he was concerned, the be-all and end-all of females was Kate Holt. Damn, he had it bad.
They rounded a cut-bank where, at some point, a flash flood had carried away a sizeable chunk of earth and forced the trail through a fairly narrow passage. A deafening roar coincided with a massive explosion at the side of his head. He felt himself falling as the world went dark and no matter how he struggled, he failed to stay in the saddle. His last thought was of Kate as her scream of terror ripped through the darkness.
The shot rang out and some instinct compelled Kate to check behind her just in time to see Jakob's body go slack and begin a slow slide to the ground. Her scream refused to be held back as she bailed off Sunny and scrambled to reach him. Another shot pounded the sudden silence and burning agony flashed across the upper part of her left arm.
Undeterred, she continued to where Jakob now lay sprawled in an awkward heap under huge steel-shod hooves. The big black horse blew and whistled a threat, his head flung high and eyes wild and rolling, but he stood and allowed her to approach while more bullets sliced through the narrow cut. Hoof beats pounded and she didn't need to look to know Sunny had bolted.
Jakob weighed far more than she did, but she forced herself to ignore the bloody mess that was the left side of his head and dragged him out from under the horse's hooves. She didn't stop until he was at least somewhat safe in the shadow close to the cut-bank. A shooter would need a straight on line of sight to hit them there. Thinking to defend them if the opportunity arose, she dragged the handgun from his belt and tucked it into her own waistband, then turned to assess his condition.
His chest rose and fell steadily, stopping the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. As long as he lived, nothing else mattered. She leaned closer to inspect where blood rolled from a gash high on the side of his head. The bleeding obscured the wound, leaving her to guess at the severity. The panic returned full force. For all she knew, he could have an open brain injury or his skull could be shattered. Those thoughts deterred her from attempting to clear away some of the blood to get a good look.
She had to do something, though. The injury still bled heavily and from the amount of it on him, her, and the ground, he might have significant blood loss.
The shooting had long since stopped, and Jakob's horse had turned to watch, ears pricked, as if he understood the seriousness of the situation. Surely there would be something useful in his saddlebags. Taking a deep breath and hoping the gunman had actually left rather than lying in wait for someone to move, she made a few crouched steps to Ajax's side, expecting a bullet to plow into her at any second.