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Authors: Susan May Warren

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BOOK: Escape to Morning
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For?
She froze. “You don't mean that they'll …” She glanced at him.

He nodded, and his bleak expression dried her mouth. But the wretched pain in his eyes was even worse. “Dani, I'm so, so sorry. I should have dodged you from the beginning. There's no excuse for my getting you into this.”

She took a calming breath. “What are you talking about? I kept following you, if you remember.”

He looked sick. “Yeah, but I knew you had Missy, and in my brain, I thought, well, maybe I could follow you. Then when I realized we were in danger, it was too late, and all I could think about was keeping you safe—”

“So that was the secure-hideout bit before the storm?”

“Yeah. I knew they were on our tail, and—” he shook his head—“I shouldn't have let you follow me yesterday. I should have sent you home—”

She gave a huff of laughter. “I don't suppose you remember my ‘you're not the boss of me'? I was there, and I wasn't going anywhere.”

“You might have if I had told you the truth.”

His solemn tone, the look in his eyes—he was
serious
. He blamed himself. She wanted to reach out and touch his face, to tell him that it wasn't his fault. …

Wake up, Dani—
Dannette
—he lied to you
. Lied.

She backed away, feeling pain, sharp and bristly. Lied. More than once. And she'd even given him a measure of trust—saying that she could accept his job as a journalist. She wanted to wail. He must have been laughing, chortling—oh,
ha ha ha—
at her stupidity.
To think she'd actually called him honest. Trustworthy
.

Not only that, but he was a soldier. A danger guy. The Rambo act wasn't a short-term gig. It was permanent.

She eyed him, feeling her heart twist. “Who
are
you?” Her voice shook. She hated it for betraying her—again. Where were Jim Micah and Conner when she needed them?

“I'm just a guy trying to do the right thing,” he said softly. “Please believe that.”

“I don't know what to believe,” she snapped. “Are you even from South Dakota? Or was the cowboy swagger just a put-on to get me to … to …” Her voiced seized as she remembered how she'd
kissed
him. “I'll take my chances,” she'd said. Ha! What had she been thinking? Her grandmother would have taken her out to the barn with a switch if she knew how easily
Dannette
had given away her heart. She felt repugnant.

“I never meant to hurt you,” Will said, and she hardened her heart to the agony in his voice. “I purposely didn't … well, you kissed
me
.”

She closed her eyes. Thanks for digging that knife in farther, Will.

Silence. Except for the pinging of stone against the truck's bed, the grind of the wheels against the dirt. “I can't believe I ever trusted you. I'll never make that mistake again.”

“Dani, you have to believe that with the exception of my profession everything I told you was the truth.”

She couldn't bear to look at him. “Lew was the truth? Or just a way to sucker my feelings?”

He drew in a shaky breath, and despite her fury, it sounded like he'd been punched in the chest.
Oh, please, Lord, don't let me love this man. Don't let me buy his story
. He
lied
!

“Lew was the truth. But here's the bigger truth.” His gaze burned into her until she turned away. His eyes were dark, and she felt them on her—no,
inside
her, touching her soul. “I know I'm not the guy you thought I was. But in every important way, I want to be. I want to be your friend and … more. I want to be the guy who makes you feel safe, who you turn to when your dog is hurt or when you just need a hug. I want to be the guy who makes you homemade ice cream and buys you every dog movie on the planet.” He swallowed. “I want to be God's man for you—today and every day. Please believe that about me.”

She recognized the wounds she'd inflicted on his expression. But could he see the way his words had touched her, found the cracks in her anger?
“I want to be God's man.”
What was she supposed to do with his betrayal?
Help me, Lord
. She could hardly believe she'd thought she knew the real Will. Just who was this man really? “Will, I—”

All at once the pickup squealed, spun.

Dannette slammed against the side of the truck. “Will!”

Gravel pinged against metal. The engine shrilled as they went airborne. Dannette screamed, slammed her head up against the topper.

They rolled over and over. Dannette was thrown from the topper and spun through the air.

They crashed hard—metal screaming, wood cracking, tires spinning.

Pain exploded through Dannette's body.

Darkness sucked her under.

Will knew he'd dislocated his shoulder the second he blinked to consciousness. Pain radiated down his arm, crunched the breath from him. The good news was that the dog collar, which he'd been slowly fraying since they got in the truck, had ripped free.

What happened? He wrestled himself to a sitting position, cringed against the fractured pane of light.

Dani. She lay crumpled on the ground near the truck. Her forehead was bleeding. As he pulled himself toward her, he saw that her leg was broken, the tibia protruding from her shin. For a second, he felt light-headed, and he had to gulp in calm. He found a pulse in her neck and went weak with relief.

Scared to move her, he climbed over her.

Blondie lay in the road in a bloody heap. Will stumbled around to the front of the pickup. It lay on its back in a gully, its nose angled down into a creek, the cab half submerged.

Please, Lord, no!
“Amina!” He scrambled down the edge, peered inside the cab.

Empty.

“Amina!” He crossed to the other side of the pickup, where he found Dark and Armed. His throat had been dissected by a shard of glass.

“Amina!”

“I'm here.” She stood in the road, holding her arm, blood running down her forehead.

Will raced toward her. “Are you okay? What happened?”

She stepped away from him, fear on her pretty face. Okay, so he didn't blame her. He wasn't exactly dressed like one of the good guys.

“Don't go anywhere. I have to move Dani in case there's a fire.” The smell of gasoline fumed the air.

To his profound relief, Amina waited while he gripped Dani by her coat and dragged her away from the seeping truck. She moaned slightly. He knelt beside her. “Dani, I'm sorry.”

“Is she your wife?” Amina crouched next to him.

He could hardly breathe around the lump in his throat. “I wish,” he said softly. He turned to the girl. She didn't look more than fifteen, but she had courage in her eyes. “Amina?”

“Hafiz?”

He gave a slight painful smile as he nodded. Finally, Simon's mission, almost completed.

“I thought you were dead,” she said, wariness in her eyes. “Bakym said he killed you.” She inched away, jumped to her feet, suddenly wary.

“Okay, wait. Yes, Hafiz was killed. I'm his partner. I've been looking for you.”

She narrowed her eyes.

He made no move to corral her. How he wished Dani was awake. She'd tell her the truth—

Oh yeah, right. What truth? Dani was just as likely to run as Amina. And he didn't blame her. After the lies he'd told, he wanted to run too.

“Listen to me—” Will kept his voice calm—“I know you are the daughter of General Nazar. I know he sent you out with information that will tell us where he's hiding.”

“Is he okay?”

“Yes, I think so. I don't know. But the sooner we get you to safety, the sooner we can help him.”

She studied him as if gauging his trustworthiness. Oh, sure, he had trustworthy written all over him, with his bloody arm, his dislocated shoulder, the bruises and cuts on his face, and the woman he was falling in love with—yes, those were feelings of love, evidenced by the fact that he'd never felt anything so terrifying yet so exhilarating and complete in his life—crumpled at his feet. He couldn't manage a reassuring smile to save his life.

“Okay, listen.” Amina angled her head, as if testing out his response. “My father said I wasn't to tell you one word until you have me safe.” She looked around. “I'm not seeing safe.”

“Yeah, you're right.” He glanced at Dani and felt sick. Now what? He'd been stripped of his weapon and his cell phone when Blondie patted him down. But Dani had a cell with a GPS. …

He reached into her pockets, discovered a couple of doggy treats. No cell. It must have been in her backpack.

“What are we going to do?” Amina crouched beside him again. “She's hurt, and so are you.”

“And you.” He reached over and brushed a piece of glass from her hair. “How's your arm?”

“I think my shoulder's broken. It really hurts, and I can't move my arm.” She held her wrist, slightly in, and if he had to guess, he'd say it could be her clavicle.

He stood up, walked over to Blondie, checked his pulse, then stripped the jacket off the dead body. Cushioning Amina's arm with the body of the coat, he tied the sleeves around her neck, forming a sling. “Anything else hurt?”

She stared at Dani. “How bad is she?”

The answer felt too close to the surface of his battered emotions. Besides receiving a head wound and a broken leg, her trust in him had been shattered. “I don't know. But she could go into shock.” He took off his coat, working it gently down his mangled arm, and put it over Dani. “We need to keep her feet elevated.”

Amina found a stump, dragged it over. “Now what? We have to go for help.”

He brushed Dani's hair back. It was matted with dried blood; he saw that the blood came from a vicious gash on her forehead. She'd need a couple of stitches. But with her eyes closed, so gently … she could still take his breath away. “I can't leave her.”

“What?” Amina stared at him in horror. “My father is out there hiding, risking his life for America. We have to go.”

“I can't! I'm not going to leave her here alone. But I can't carry her into town. And I can't leave you alone.” He sat back hard, next to the dirt road.

“Trust God one day at a time.”
Micah's words whispered in the back of his mind.

Will covered his eyes with his hand.
Lord, I'm in trouble here. Please, please help us
.

“Are you okay?”

He looked at Amina. Then, slowly, he shook his head. “I'm not leaving her.”

“Then my father and thousands of others are going to die very soon.” Amina got up and stalked down the road.

Chapter 20

DANI COULD HEAR voices as she clawed through the layers of darkness to light. She moaned and felt the darkness ease its grip, replacing it with pain. For a moment, she jerked back into the sweet embrace of oblivion.

Then came Will's soft voice and his touch on her hand.

She forced her eyes open. He sat overlooking her, worry on his bloody, bearded face. His eyes were red, and she saw lines where tears had etched down his dirty cheeks. His left arm was in a makeshift sling made from a tattered black shirt.

“What happened?” She started to push herself up on her elbows, but pain shot through her leg and exploded in her brain. She lay back with a gasp. The sky had gathered the twilight, and darkness edged in. Cold laced the air, and she fought a shiver.

“Hold up there, speedy. You're not going anywhere.” But she heard relief in Will's teasing voice. He touched her cheek, his gentleness comforting.

“Where are we?” Clearly, they hadn't made it out of the forest, although she had a hard time remembering anything. The last clear memory she had was being on the beach in Will's arms … yes, she could smile about that memory.

“One question at a time.” Will pulled a jacket up to her chin, tucked it into place. “Amina grabbed the wheel and rolled the truck. You were thrown, and your leg, if not other parts, is broken.”

Amina? Truck? “What are you talking about?”

He gave her a wry look. “What is the last thing you remember?”

She felt a blush, looked away. But his hand on her cheek pressed her gaze back to his. My, but he has warm chocolate eyes, and they looked at her with such tenderness. No wonder she remembered only the kiss they'd shared. “Uh, the beach.”

“Oh.” He sighed. “Well, I'm going to skip a lot of the particulars, but the bottom line is that we were in an accident after finding the girl we were looking for. Now we're somewhere in the woods, about forty miles from civilization, and we need medical help.”

“That good, huh?”

He wore the hint of a smile. “You really don't remember what happened before … ah, before we crashed?”

She narrowed one eye. “No. Why?” She pictured herself in his strong arms.

“Nothing.” He smiled, pushed back her hair. “Someday, when you're feeling better, I'll remind you.”

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