Authors: Melinda Leigh
Tags: #Romance, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction
Also by Melinda Leigh
She Can Run
She Can Tell
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 Melinda Leigh
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
To Tom, for knowing how to begin this story
Winter in Maine was more than a season. It was the enemy.
The December wind whipped down the alley and smacked Mandy in the face. Her eyes watered. Another gust grabbed the glass door. She held on tight, muscling it closed. To her right, the alley opened into a small parking lot behind the building. Her car would be as cold as a walk-in freezer and wouldn’t begin to warm up on the six-block drive home, but at least she’d be out of the wind and off her feet.
Helping her mother the run family’s bed-and-breakfast, then waiting tables at the diner had left her arches crying for a hot bath and a soft bed. But if she ever wanted to get out of this town—and she did—the extra shifts were a must. No way could she squeeze tuition payments out of the Black Bear Inn’s nonexistent profit margin.
With gloved hands, she pulled her knit hat over her ears and trudged forward. Wind slipped into her coat at the throat. Turning her back to a frigid gust, she made sure her knee-length parka was zipped to her chin and her flannel scarf wound securely around her neck. Being a Maine native did not make her impervious to the temperature.
“Mandy, get in.”
She startled and spun around. The diner’s owner, Nathan Hall, had pulled his SUV into the alley. He was leaning over
the passenger seat. The window was down. She took a half step toward him. She stopped midstride, a prickly sensation sliding along her spine. Under her thick coat, the primitive tingle lifted goose bumps that had nothing to do with the abominable temperature of her hometown.
Something was wrong.
Nathan jumped from the truck, rounded the front of the vehicle, and approached her. He wasn’t wearing a hat or gloves. The smell of smoke wafted from him, and his eyes gleamed with a weird fervor. He stepped into the light cast by the fixture over the door. What were those dark stains on his pants and shoes? Blood. As he got closer, its raw, meaty scent thickened the air.
He reached for her arm. Instinct kicked in, and Mandy stepped back. He caught her wrist. “I love you. Just get in the truck.”
“No.” Mandy stared at him. Fear pulsed into her throat. “What’s wrong with you, Nathan?”
Instead of answering, he tightened his grip and tugged on her arm. Mandy resisted. He pulled harder, dragging her toward his SUV. Her purse dropped from her arm and hit the ground with a
“Let me go!” She planted her feet on the pavement and leaned back. “Nathan, what are you doing?”
His silence fueled the panic gathering in her belly. “I said let go of me!”
He let go and raised his hand. The slap knocked her to her butt. She pressed a glove to her burning cheek. Nathan glared down at her, rage and madness transforming his handsome face into an ugly mask, as if someone else had taken over his body. “Shut up and get in the truck.”
Her friend Jed barreled out of the diner. He grabbed Nathan by the jacket. “Don’t you touch her!”
Nathan moved. Silver glinted in the streetlight. Jed doubled over. His mouth went slack. He looked at Mandy and gasped, “Run.”
But she couldn’t leave him. Nathan turned toward her, a knife clutched in one hand. Blood dripped from the tip. Jed’s blood.
The scream burst from her throat. She crawled toward Jed, who was sinking to the ground. Just before she reached him, Nathan leaned down. His fingers clamped around her wrist again. He yanked hard. Mandy resisted, sinking her butt toward the icy pavement.
If she went with him, she would not be coming back.
“Get in the truck now.” He pocketed the knife, lifted his free hand, and cracked her across the face again. Her cheek stung. Tears streamed down her face as he hauled her toward his vehicle. Terror scrambled in her belly. She was too small, too light. Her feet skittered along the icy asphalt as he dragged her closer. She tried to scream again, but panic clamped down on her vocal chords.
A dark figure flew in front of Mandy and tackled Nathan. She fell backward. Her savior and Nathan tumbled into a snowbank. Nathan landed on top. He leaped to his feet and ran to his truck. Turning, Nathan pointed at her. “You’re mine.”
With one eye on the retreating Nathan, Mandy crawled to Jed’s side.
Oh my God.
There was so much blood. It was welling out of Jed’s stomach, through the hands he’d clenched there, and into the dirty snow piled against the building. Jed stared up at Mandy, his brown eyes glazed with fear and pain. His hands fell away from his belly. His eyelids closed, and he went limp.
“No,” she whispered. She pressed her hands to Jed’s wound. The blood kept coming. Her rescuer scrambled to his feet and poised to give chase. Nathan’s car door slammed, and the truck took off down the alley.
“Help him, please.”
The man was on his knees beside her in a second, gently nudging her aside. She moved her hands, and he fumbled to open Jed’s jacket with one hand. The other he held out at an awkward angle. Had he hurt his arm tackling Nathan? Mandy unwound her flannel scarf, folded it up, and handed it to him. He pressed it over the wound and leaned on it with one hand and a forearm.
Shivering, Mandy glanced sideways. The stranger was lean and dark. He looked at her, and she drew back. His eyes were turquoise, clear as the Arctic Sea, and they were filled with nearly as much shock as Jed’s. In the subfreezing temps, sweat beaded on the stranger’s forehead.
“You have 911 service here?” His voice shook, but he worked through his obvious distress.
“Call them. If you don’t have a phone, mine’s in my jacket pocket. Right side.”
Her purse had fallen somewhere. Mandy reached into his pocket and dug out this phone. Wet hands slipped on the cell.
“How far’s the hospital?” he asked.
The stranger frowned. His hands trembled as he worked to stanch the flow of blood. “He doesn’t have forty minutes. Tell them you need a medevac.”
Mandy made the call.
“What’s your name?” He swallowed hard. His eyes were too wide, his breathing rough and raspy.
“Please keep talking to me, Mandy,” the stranger said.
Mandy watched him fight for control. His determination and strength kick-started her brain. “Who are you?”
“Danny. Danny Sullivan.” He shifted his position. “He’s still bleeding a lot.”
She knew basic first aid, but Jed’s injury went beyond any of her scout or wilderness training. Her gaze fell on the snowbank. Numbness and desperation temporarily suppressed her shock. “Snow. We’ll pack him in snow. Lowering his body temperature should help.”
Danny nodded. “It’s worth a shot.”
She tried not to look at the red smears in the snow as she scooped it with her hands to pack around Jed’s torso.
Jed moaned. His legs twitched. Mandy grabbed more snow.
He had to live. He just had to.
Four months later
A steady April rain shower pattered on the windshield. Water dripped off the visor onto Danny’s thigh. He wiped the seam between the convertible top and the windshield frame with a paper napkin. His restored 1970 Dodge Challenger wasn’t the most practical vehicle, but she was Danny’s good luck charm, and considering the purpose of this trip, he needed all the good vibes he could get.
Long shot didn’t begin to describe his chances of accomplishing his goal.
Switching lanes, Danny stepped on the gas. The car responded with a surge of speed, the throaty roar of the powerful V-8 an audible middle finger to the powder-blue Prius humming along in the slow lane.
He’d restored her in high school, and like a valiant charger, she’d carried him safely through his youth. The days of perceived immortality. Illegal drag races on Front Street. Skipping school to cruise to the Jersey Shore. Hot summer days with the top down and the sun beating on his head. A decade later, the black bucket seat was molded to his ass, and a glance in the back filled him with wistful memories of fumbling hands, steamed windows, and teenage girls rebelling against their parents with the neighborhood troublemaker.
Ah, those were the days.
The days before he’d learned exactly what a well-placed IED could do to the bodies of a dozen men. Or what horrible deeds two psychos would attempt in the middle of the Maine wilderness. At twenty-nine, Danny’s head was filled with more than enough violence for a lifetime.