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Authors: Teresa Hill

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BOOK: Five Days Grace
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The dog cried the whole way, sticking so close he nearly tripped Aidan three times, the last in the cabin doorway. They came inside as a single muddle of man, dog and a giant bag of dog food, which Aidan gingerly lowered to the floor by the door.

Tink whined and danced around on wet, muddy feet, while Aidan toed off his heavy boots, shrugged out of his wet jacket and hung it on a hook on the back of the door.

Outside, the storm was even louder—cracks of lightning, the rolling boom of thunder, pounding rain sounding like hell on the cabin's tin roof.

And then, just before he was about to flick on the light, out of the corner of his eye, Aidan saw something out of place.

No, he realized, a lot of things out of place.

He froze, stared, taking it all in, slowly panned right until he could see the whole room, a small, rustic, combination living room/kitchen.

Someone had ransacked the place, quickly, sloppily.

Aidan reached above the cabinet to his right, where he'd stashed a loaded Sig Sauer in a small case that had a combination lock. He keyed the numbers in without needing to look, telling himself to breathe, to remember both that he was still a little revved up by the accident and that he wasn't in a war zone anymore. Moving silently, he took the gun out and clicked off the safety, taking aim on the doorway that led to two bedrooms and a small bathroom at the back of the cabin.

The cabin door had a lock, a totally ineffective one, but Aidan used it anyway, every time he left. He'd put the key in the lock when he'd returned a moment ago, had turned the key, but had the lock already been disengaged? He couldn't remember. He'd been juggling dog food and dog, and there'd been lightning, rain and incessant dog noises.

So he wasn't really sure if the door had been unlocked or not, but he still had a little, niggling feeling in the back of his head that someone else was here, and no one was supposed to be.

Only four other people even knew where he was: his shrink, his commanding officer, his brother and the guy who'd loaned him the cabin. None of them would just drop by or let themselves in, except for Zach, but surely the man wouldn't tear his own cabin apart.

Burglar? Aidan had a hard time thinking so. The place didn't look like much from the outside. It was okay on the inside, but certainly nothing fancy. Surely a robber could find more promising places to rob.

More likely, it was someone who was hungry and just looking to get out of the rain, maybe stay a while, probably not cause any trouble. So it was highly unlikely he'd need the Sig, but he'd been shot before, and he wasn't going to take chances on being gunned down in a tiny town in southwestern Ohio.

Of course, it was possible that someone had come looking for him, someone who wanted to hurt him, but he really didn't think so. A threat had been made against him, but he'd been sure his CO had made more of it than was warranted to get Aidan out of the hospital before he really went nuts.

Still, he'd nearly died three and a half months ago, and wasn't yet a hundred percent recovered, so he wasn't interested in a fight of any kind or taking any chances.

He eased around the corner to press his back against the wall that led to the bedrooms and bathroom. As small as the place was, it couldn't take long for even the sloppiest, most amateur thief to toss it, and there was only one exit. When he walked back into this room, Aidan would have a gun pressed against the guy's back before he knew what was happening.

Minutes ticked by, the dog whining and dancing around, making the biggest damned mess on the floor, and sometimes, over the noise of the storm, Aidan thought he might have heard someone else crying, too.

Finally, he heard footsteps.

A shadow appeared, halting a step inside the room and staring at the dog. For once, the damned thing proved useful.

Aidan stepped to the left, pressed the gun to the shadow's back and hooked an elbow across the guy's throat. "Don't move."

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

He barely got the words out before he heard a scream, a distinctly feminine scream. If that weren't enough to convince him that his would-be thief was female, her height and small frame would have. She might be nothing but a teenager.

He planned to wait out the screaming, so she could hear him when he spoke, so he could back this down, slow and easy. He really didn't want to hurt her. But the dog either took exception to the whole thing or got scared and picked that moment to try to huddle against their legs. The girl elbowed Aidan hard, low in his gut, managing to catch a still-healing incision from multiple surgeries.

Fuck
, that hurt.

She lunged away from him, tripping over the dog, and Aidan went right after her, not willing to let her go but also trying to protect her as they fell. The dog howled in outrage, or maybe fear, and scampered out of the way. Aidan and the girl landed hard on the floor. He managed to twist sideways with her, to take most of the blow on his right side, and his rebuilt hip hurt like a son of a bitch. She landed half on top of him and half on the floor, struggling like mad.

Did she not realize that if he wanted to, he could have killed her three times over already?

Rolling her over, he pinned her face down on the floor, straddling her hips as he sat, purposely putting all his weight on her. He pulled one of her arms behind her back, hard enough that if she tried to move too much, it was going to hurt, but if she just relaxed and stayed there, it wouldn't.

Took her a minute to figure that out, screaming the whole time, the dog dancing around the two of them, seemingly unable to figure out if this was some kind of game or if Aidan was trying to hurt her. He whined, barked, cried and then finally licked the girl's face, bringing forth a howl of outrage from her, and then, finally, blessed silence.

"God, thank you," Aidan said. "I don't know how much more of that I could take."

"How much more you could take?"

She sounded even more pissed than before, started struggling again, and he tugged a little harder on her arm until she stilled. Once she did, he could feel that she was trembling badly and felt guilty about that, but not enough to let her up yet.

"Who are you?" she cried. "What do you want?"

"Right now, just to talk."

"Oh, I'm sure. If you hurt me, you'll be sorry—"

"I'm already sorry—"

"My family is insanely protective," she insisted. "They will hunt you down. The whole town will—"

"The whole town? Think a lot of you, do they, Princess?"

"Yes, they do. Ahh!"

She probably would have kept going, but the dog came up and licked her cheek again, effectively silencing her once again.

So, the dog could be useful. No matter how much of a pain in the ass he was, he was better than having the girl screaming. Aidan had planned to stick the barrel of his gun in her back again, which he had hoped would silence her, but this was better and less threatening.

"What is that thing?" she asked, breathing hard, but she wasn't screaming anymore. As she turned her head to stare, her face spoke more of stunned amazement.

Tink danced a bit, coming close and then retreating, barking once, then again, maybe asking her to get up and play. Aidan couldn't be sure.

"Some people claim he's a dog. I'm not convinced," he told her. "Be still for a second so we can talk about this, and I won't hurt you. Give me a hard time, and I'll order that thing to lick you again."

Now, if she didn't figure out that he had no control over the dog, they'd be okay.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Who are you?" she shot right back.

Aidan sighed, exasperated. "I can sit here on top of you as long as you want. You're not going anywhere unless I let you, so I suggest you start talking."

"My name is Grace, although I don't understand why you'd want to know. Is that some quirk of yours? Wanting to know your victims' names?"

"Victim? How did you get to be the victim here? You broke in, remember?"

"I didn't break in. I know where the spare key is. My family owns this cabin," she said.

"Owns it?"

"Yes, owns it."

Could it be that simple? A mix-up in who was supposed to be here when? Aidan shifted his weight so he was still on top of her, but not pushing her into the floor. "I've been here for almost three weeks. Zach told me the place was empty, that I was welcome to use it as long as I want. He said no one wanted to be here when it's this cold."

"Zach? Really?"

"Yes, really."

"Prove it." She was being still at least, and she wasn't screaming. "Call him. I want to hear the conversation, so put your phone on speaker."

She was giving orders? Did she not understand she was pinned to the floor, and he was calling the shots? Plus, she was dead wrong about one thing, which had him doubting her whole story.

"Cell reception here sucks on a good day," he said. "Which I suspect you'd know if you'd been here before. In this storm, it's probably impossible to get a signal anywhere on the lake. And there's no land-line."

"Okay, yeah. I remember that now. It's been a while since I was here."

"And if it does really belong to your family, what's with you tossing the place? You steal from your own family?"

"No! And even if I did, there's nothing here to steal. I was looking for something. Not to steal. Just... There's something I need to find, and I think it might be here. Could you get off me, please?"

Aidan thought about it. His shoulder ached. So did his side and his hip. He wasn't going to be able to move off her quickly or easily, so if she threw another elbow at him—or worse, a knee, a foot—it was going to hurt.

He pressed the gun between her shoulder blades, just to the left of her spine. "Feel that, Princess?"

"What? You sitting on me and trying to break my arm?"

He pressed the barrel more firmly into her skin.

"Oh, my God! Do you have a gun?"

"Hell, yes, I have a gun," he said.

And if she'd spent any serious time in trouble before, wouldn't she have realized that when he'd first grabbed her? But maybe she wasn't the kind of girl who'd been in serious trouble before. Maybe she'd been too startled to pick up on exactly what was going on, like the fact that she had a gun at her back.

"Okay... Just... What do you want from me?"

Her voice trembled, and if he wasn't mistaken, she was crying.

He ran his hands over her as quickly and matter-of-factly as he could, pushing to the back of his mind the knowledge that it had been a long time since he'd touched anyone with curves like these. She was petite and—he sincerely hoped, so he didn't feel like such a letch—at least over the age of twenty-one. She tensed, whimpered, but stayed still and quiet.

"Good, you're not armed."

"Of course, I'm not armed. I'm not a criminal. I just didn't know Zach had loaned someone the cabin. Please, don't hurt me."

"But you didn't ask before you came up here? Why is that?"

"Because I didn't want anyone to know I was here."

Aidan laughed, couldn't help it. "Princess, you're just digging yourself in deeper. Why didn't you want anyone to know you were going to be here?"

"Because... Just... Because I didn't."

"You're going to have to do better than that," he insisted.

"Do you have a family?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Are you close?"

How to answer that? "Close enough."

"Do they worry about you? Do you know what it's like to have all of them worried about you?"

"Yes." Did he ever. He'd kicked them out of his hospital room and the rehab facility more than once.

"Having them watch you all the time, trying to figure out how you're doing, if they should be even more worried than they already are. I mean... I love them, really I do. I'm just not used to being the one they worry about. And it's exhausting, trying to convince them not to worry so much. I just didn't have the energy to do it anymore, and... This was a totally impulsive move. I was heading north on I-75, saw the exit and decided to go. Didn't tell a soul where I was going."

BOOK: Five Days Grace
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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