Authors: Alysia S. Knight
Alysia S. Knight
By Alysia S. Knight
Published by Heart Dreams Press
Copyright © 2016 Heart Dreams Press
ISBN 13: 978-1-942000-17-4
ISBN: 10: 1942000170
Cover design: by Kelli Ann Morgan @
All rights reserved. No part of this book may reproduced in any format or in any medium without written permission.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, place and events are product of the author’s imagination. Any similarities to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments or events are purely coincidental.
The views expressed within this work are the sole responsibility of the author and do not represent Heart Dreams Press or any of its affiliates.
Zan froze mid-stride and listened.
Wind whipped the trees. The storm was about to let loose again, as if the California coast hadn’t had enough rain, but that wasn’t what bothered him. Twenty years in the military, most of it in special ops, had honed his senses. He turned his head, scanning the woods.
He knew by the sound it wasn’t an animal running his direction. Actually, it was an animal, the two-legged kind. The question was − who would be on his property, nine miles from the nearest town, in the middle of a storm, with the only bridge covered by a rain swollen river and a ton of debris?
His muscles tensed. He didn’t like any of the scenarios which sped through his mind. He traced the trajectory of the intruder and shifted his path to intercept. A small rock cropping made the perfect place to lay in wait. The sounds of faintly labored breathing mingled with the light thudding of footfalls didn’t mesh with any conceived notion.
Zan took a chance and stepped out of his hiding place just in time to see the human missile stumble down the rise. He caught the blur of tan leather and strands of mahogany hair, and barely got his arms open in time to catch the woman as she plowed into him.
His arms locked around her trying to absorb the force which knocked him back a couple of steps. The shock of her impact was wiped away with the feel of feminine curves imprinting themselves along his body, followed by a warm, feminine smell that made his heart jump.
The woman’s head barely made it to his shoulder which made her about five foot seven or eight. It was the only thing he had time to process before the first strike came, smacking him in the chest.
Her arms were trapped against his body not leaving any leverage to do damage, but he felt like he was trying to hold a wildcat. She pushed and clawed at him. Zan had to tilt his chin back to avoid her thrashing head. Her hair whipped his face, bringing with it a floral scent which distracted him to the point he almost missed the telltale motion of her knee coming up. He shifted to the side enough to take the jab in his thigh instead of its intended target. It was enough to jar his attention to the fact he needed to try to calm her down.
“Stop fighting!” Great, he sounded like he was giving orders. “Easy, it’s okay.” Zan tried to soften the tone and thought about letting her go. He disregarded the notion figuring, in her state of mind, she’d take off and was apt to hurt herself in her reckless flight. “It’s all right. You’re safe.”
He clamped her tighter, forcing her into his chest, curving his body protectively around her. At least, he thought it protective. “No one’s going to hurt you.” As soon as the words were out, the thought hit him hard. Someone had tried to hurt her. Only fear could instill this kind of frenzied flight. “You’re safe,” he repeated, bending his head over hers so his voice rumbled in her ear. “I won’t let anything happen to you,” he promised.
Her fighting eased. He wasn’t sure if his words finally sank in, or she quit fighting due to exhaustion. The power in her struggling faded. With one last smack against the wall of his chest right over his heart, her head dropped down to rest against his shoulder.
“That’s it. I have you. No one’s going to hurt you.”
With a shuddered released breath, her body went lax against him.
“I have you.” He held her tight.
She labored to draw in air.
Zan eased a hand up into the silky mass of her hair. He didn’t know much about comforting women. His failed marriages were a testament to that, but he wanted − needed, to comfort this woman who was a stranger to him.
He was a born protector. It was one of the reasons he’d entered the military at age eighteen. Not some need to play soldier or to be a hero, but a need to protect, to make a difference, and he had, all over the world. Many places he couldn’t even acknowledge. Now, something told him, it was important for him to be here for the woman in his arms.
“You’re safe,” he said again.
Her head shifted against him and came up when he lifted his. Her eyes were the color of amber, and he felt himself becoming trapped in them. Even when the dark lashes drifted over them and her head lowered back to his shoulder he didn’t feel free of their enticement.
A drop of rain on his face jerked him back to reality. He looked up at the dark, boiling clouds moving up the mountain. Wind lashed the trees. The temperature dropped about ten degrees in a matter of seconds. Chills shook the woman’s drenched body.
Zan used the hand in her hair to ease her away enough to open up his jacket, so when she settled back against him, she was wrapped inside. His shirt was immediately soaked. He ignored it, shifting his arms to lift her up, cradling her to him. She made no protest, just burrowed deeper. He wondered if the movement came from her unconsciously seeking his warmth and protection or if she knowingly put her trust in him.
He set off for his house in a long, ground-eating pace. The woman wasn’t heavy. She had a lean, muscled body, but not so thin he failed to notice the curviness of it either. Still, he figured the woman worked out.
He went over the image of her face in his mind. She had a nice face. Her cheek bones were pronounced, soft, high, distinct curves that called for the caress of a man’s thumb.
He missed a beat in his stride almost stumbling. What was he thinking? The woman was terrified, possibly hurt, certainly in need of help, and he was having fantasies of touching her face. But it was such a pretty face and those big eyes, not yellow or brown or even gold, but amber, deep and mysterious. He liked amber.
Zan gave himself a mental shake. It wasn’t like him to become obsessed with a woman. And, she hadn’t even said a word yet. He didn’t know anything about her. He glanced at the hand resting on his shoulder. She wore no ring. Still, he needed to curb his thoughts until he found out what had happened to her.
With that firm in his mind, he concentrated on getting her home, out of the weather, and warmed up. She’d fallen into a stupor. Shock, training told him, and now she wasn’t running to keep her blood pumping, he could feel the chills shake her body.
“My name’s Zan Masters. It’s going to be okay. I’ll help you. I left a good blaze in the fireplace. We’ll get you into a shower to warm you up then find you some nice dry clothes.”
Following his training, he talked on using his voice to calm and keep her alert. Zan knew most of what he said didn’t register in her mind. “I’ll have you warmed up in a minute. You’re lucky I was out checking on the bridge. You would’ve missed the house, and there’s nothing else out here for miles. But, you’re safe now.”
He added the last because they were the words she seemed to cling to earlier. They worked again. He felt the feather-light movement of her hand sliding up around his neck, and the tilting of her body more into him.
He tightened his hold and lengthened his stride. He broke through the trees, crossed the yard, slowing to mount the rain slickened deck. He curved around the side to enter through the laundry room.
“Here we are,” he spoke as he shifted her enough to get the door open. Inside, he paused, wondering if she could stand. Deciding not to risk it, he eased her onto the washing machine and still had to steady her.
“You all right?” He got no response. “We need to get you warmed up,” he continued. “First, let’s get these wet shoes off.” He slipped them off her feet. “I better get mine off, too, so I don’t track mud everywhere.” He kept an eye on her as he took off his hiking boots. “Okay, I think a shower will be the best way to warm you up.”
She didn’t say anything as he lifted her back into his arms and took her down the hall to the master bath. This time, he deposited her on the bathroom counter.
“Will you be all right here a minute? I’ll get some clothes for you to change into? You’ll have to make do with my things. They’ll be huge on you, but I don’t have any women’s clothes around the house.” He hesitated leaving her there. She looked forlorn, helpless, like a half-drowned kitten. It was all he could do to pull himself away.
On his way to gather some clothes for her, he grabbed his phone to call the sheriff’s department. To his shock, there was no dial tone. A quick check showed the battery level at full. Zan dropped the phone on the dresser. With the bridge under water and the phone out, there was no way to get his mysterious guest to town.
Before heading back to the bathroom, he grabbed sweatpants and a long-sleeved T-shirt then added a new pair of thick sports socks from a package he’d purchased a couple weeks earlier. The woman sat where he’d left her. Shock was still evident on her face.
Reaching into the shower, he turned the water on before shifting to her. He caught his breath at the sight of her. It took all his effort to think logically.
“Okay, before we put you in the shower, we really should get your jacket off. The leather doesn’t need any more water.” He stepped to her cautiously, but it seemed unnecessary. She made no move to protest as he started to remove the jacket.
It wasn’t until he moved to toss it aside that she reacted. Reaching for the jacket, she wrapped her arms around it like it was a security blanket. No, he thought. Eyes wide, her breathing increased, body rigid. Panic more than fear filled her.
“It’s all right. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to put this down here.” He eased his hand back, tugging gently. Her hold remained fixed. Her gaze locked on his face.
“It’s okay. I promise.” For a moment, she stayed stiff, then her head made a slight nod, and she let him draw the jacket away.
“That’s it.” He kept his motions slow, as he draped the jacket over the hamper. “Now, let’s get you warmed up.” He lifted her back into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and made no protest as he stepped into the shower with her.
A gasp burst from her. A shiver shook her body, then a sigh slipped free, and her head dropped to his shoulder. Zan understood the feeling. He hadn’t realized how cold he was, but the water felt great to his own body. He lifted her higher to keep the water out of her face.
“Can you stand now?”
He let her slide down his body, gritting his teeth at the delicious feel of the motion. Either there was something very special about the woman, or he’d been out of circulation for way too long, maybe both. He caught the hint of her fragrance.
“Let’s get your hair out of this elastic.” Zan used his elbows to stabilize her against his body as he worked the band free. The mahogany mass fell free around her shoulders. He moved his hands to her arms, rubbing them.
Her body rested weakly against him. Shivers no longer shook her. Her head lay once again against his chest. Her breathing was coming so shallow he wondered if she’d fallen asleep.
Zan hated to move her. “We’d better get out,” he said more for himself, forcing his hand to the knob, turning off the water. She looked drowsy when she gazed up at him. A smile crept across his face. “Can you manage to change on your own? I left some clothes for you on the counter.”
She nodded. “Yes.” The soft word almost stopped his heart.
“Then I’ll leave you and go change. Just leave your wet clothes in the shower, and I’ll come take care of them later. Take all the time you need. I’ll be in the kitchen getting us something to eat.”
He opened the shower door, looking down at his own wet clothes. He shrugged and stepped out. Opening the cupboard, he grabbed a couple of towels, leaving them where she could reach them. Without a backward glance, he hurried out, pausing long enough to grab a pair of jeans before racing to the hall bathroom.
There he stripped down, dropped his own wet clothes in the tub and pulled on his dry pants. He was back outside his bedroom in less than two minutes. Zan paused for a moment before going in. It was the need to get a shirt that forced him across the threshold. Nothing could keep his thoughts from the woman behind the bathroom door.
Who was she? What had happened to her? How’d she get across the river onto his property? The faint sounds of movements from the bathroom, spurred him to action. Ducking into the closet, he pulled a sweater randomly from a hanger and tugged it over his head. With his shoes on, he headed for the kitchen, trying the phone once more on the way. There was still no connection to the outside world.
A crack of thunder had his attention going to the large panel of windows and the darkness setting into the gloom of the cold, rainy day. His nerves crackled, not with the electricity in the air, but with a familiar feeling of when he was on a mission.
Danger was there. He looked toward the hall. He didn’t know what hunted the woman but deep within him, he knew he had to protect her.
Marley stood in the shower trying to figure out exactly how she had ended up there. Wet clothes clung to her body, but she was no longer cold. At least, not physically, inside she wasn’t sure.
They’d tried to kill her. She couldn’t believe it. She was a bio-chemist. Dull, nerdy. The only intrigue she got was from the occasional book she allowed herself to read.
Everything happened so fast. One minute she was content in her own little corner of the world, and now, she didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a feeling she liked.
All her life had been controlled. Child protégé, teen genius, and being an over-achiever didn’t do her a whole lot of good now. She didn’t even dare call any of her family. They would be watched. She just hoped they’d be safe. She didn’t want to bring this down on them.