It was nearly one in the morning when Nyrene found herself standing in a small cabin, one that seemed lost in the middle of nowhere.
The past few hours were just a blur.
They’d stopped at a busy motel off the interstate some hours back and her body had almost cried in relief.
But they hadn’t been there to get a room and she’d figured that out when he had her wait for him at the edge of the parking lot, in a shadowy area on the other side of the building from where they’d left the truck with its busted window. He’d parked with the broken windshield facing away from the rest of the vehicles and he’d knocked the rest of the glass out earlier as they drove.
She’d stood there, feeling lost and clutching her purse as he prowled around, clearly searching for something. She hadn’t been able to figure out what until they were pulling out of the paid parking lot. He’d used cash—twenty dollars he’d pulled out of his pocket and then they were gone.
He tossed the ticket stub down in the console. It read Park & Fly.
“Hopefully the car’s owner will be gone for a few days. Give us a bit of a breather,” he’d said.
She thought about that now and wondered just how she was supposed to breathe past the band fear had wrapped around her chest, around the knot that seemed to be permanently lodged in her throat.
“We’ll be safe here for a couple of days,” Dev told her. Then his eyes narrowed. “Unless you know something I don’t.”
She looked at him as he stood in the doorway separating the two rooms of the cabin. “What?”
“How did they find us?”
Damn it. Tears choked her as she lifted her face to the ceiling. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t get it. Explain to me— Just explain how you could have gotten— Son of a bitch.” He shoved off the wall and came toward her. “Give me your bag.”
She stared at him for a second before lowering her gaze to the vivid pink purse she carried. “My…my bag?”
He didn’t bother to ask again, just reached for it and she lost the tug of war, a sob bubbling out of her as he upended it and started to go through it.
He threw her laptop on the floor.
“Would you be careful with that?” she half-shouted. “That’s my—”
He gave her a dark look.
She sucked in a breath as he looked away, going through everything that had come tumbling out of her purse. He pushed aside a couple of tampons, a brush, the loose change and the lipstick she never remembered to put on. Then he stopped and went back, picking up the lipstick and taking the cap off, twisting it up.
“It’s not your color,” she said, the words popping out of her before she could stop them.
He ignored her, continuing his scrutiny of the tube of lipstick. When he got to her phone, she snidely said, “It’s not on. My ex-boss hates cell phones. I keep it off and never got around to turning it on, seeing as how I was being knocked unconscious and then dragged halfway across the state.”
A muscle in his jaw twitched as he swiped the screen, but it remained dark. Without saying anything, he popped off the back and took out the battery and the SIM card.
He dropped the phone and smashed it under his boot.
“When was the last time you called anybody?”
She glared at him.
“When was the last time you called anybody?” he asked again, his voice level, the words patient. But his eyes were freaking intense and she had to keep her feet all but glued in place as he took a step toward her.
“At the hospital.”
“Who did you call?”
“A cab.” Wrapping her arms around herself, she fought the urge to shiver. Reaction, she thought. It was reaction. She wasn’t cold, but she was exhausted and hungry and half-sick with the fear.
“Where were you going?”
“Seriously?” Her jaw fell open as she stared at him. “Did you see me yesterday? I went home.”
“I called over some guys I know and we had a three-way on my kitchen table,” she said.
His heavy chest moved under the faded cotton of the T-shirt he wore—black with a faded AC/DC logo on it. He’d kept a light gray warm-up jacket on over it earlier, but he’d taken it off, left it hanging on the back of the chair. Now she could see the gun the jacket had concealed, tucked in a shoulder holster of some sort under his left arm.
Her gaze locked on it, unable to move, even when he moved closer.
“Don’t make me keep asking these questions, Nyrene,” he said. “I’m tired. You are, too. The sooner I figure this out, the sooner we can find something to eat and get some rest.”
In response to the word eat, her stomach rumbled. She’d managed a piece of toast for breakfast, but after she’d seen the news about his house, she hadn’t been able to eat anything.
She tore her gaze away from the gun and looked at him. He had an amused smile on his lips. “You’re hungry, too. Just help me out here. What did you do yesterday…other than your three-way?”
Blood rushed to her cheeks and she moved away, cutting a wide berth around him. Stopping at the window, she stared out into the darkness. She had no idea where they were. The hours of driving, the several stops and starts, the times they’d switched cars—all of it blurred together, turning the day into nothing but a surreal haze.
In all honesty, nothing had felt entirely real since she’d started getting these headaches.
The damn wreck.
Wood creaked and she jerked her head up. She gasped as it sent a jolt of pain through her and she whimpered, bringing her hands up to cradle her head. When she touched the left side of her face, she flinched.
The pain there seemed to merge, blending with every other part of her body that hurt.
A hand touched her arm and she twisted away. “Don’t,” she said, squeezing the words out.
Tucking her back against the wall, she waited for the wave of misery to fade before making herself look at him.
That implacable expression was on his face.
“I laid down. I felt awful. I tried to sleep and couldn’t. So I got on my computer.” She glanced over at it, thought of the website she’d visited, the email—
Her hands clenched into fists.
He moved toward it and she managed to keep her face blank as he picked it up, putting it on the table. “Is there any kind of LoJack software on this?”
“What?” She stared at him.
He rubbed his temple and for that one moment, he looked as tired and frustrated as she felt. Although she saw no sign of the terror on his rugged features. “LoJack software, something to track it?”
“No.” She rubbed her arms, the chill returning as his gaze came back to her.
He studied her for a minute and then shook his head. “Can’t take the chance. I have to—”
“No!” She lunged at him, wrapping her hands around it, her fear forgotten, her terror. Everything, but the need to get that computer away from him. “Give it to me. There’s nothing—”
He ripped it away, her desperate grip no deterrent to the savage strength in him. “Enough!”
He hurled it onto the couch and caught her arms. “That’s enough! Don’t you get it? I’ve got people trying to kill me and now they are probably after you. You need to tell me what is going on, how they are tracking us and how they managed to be at the fucking truck stop when I didn’t even know I was going to be there.”
He glared at her, blue eyes viciously bright in the dim light. His hands gripped her arms with terrifying strength. Her toes barely touched the ground.
His face was just inches from her own.
It was completely insane that her response was laughter. Hysterical, awful little giggles that made her own ears hurt to hear it, but she couldn’t stop.
Slowly, his grip on her arms loosened.
Her feet touched the floor and he let go. She sagged to the floor, off balance, and the only thing that kept her from falling was the return of his hands to her arms.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered.
He half-carried her over to the couch and deposited her there, eying her narrowly as she continued to laugh.
“You…” she whispered after long, horrid moments. Her throat felt raw and her cheeks were wet.
At some point, the laughter had turned to sobs and she didn’t even remember when it happened.
“You stupid ass.” Utterly drained, she let her head drop onto the back of the couch, and stared desolately at her laptop. Half of her life—just about all her hopes for a future—were tied up in that computer.
And if he decided to destroy it, she couldn’t stop him.
“You stupid ass,” she said again. “I don’t know how they found us. I don’t know who they are.”
Wrapping her arms around her middle, she sank deeper into the cushions of the couch. “But I already told you what was going on. You just didn’t want to listen. Not yesterday…and not now. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“What’s on the computer?” Dev’s gut twisted into vicious, ugly knots. He needed to walk away from her—walk away, make something to eat, drink some water, something. Just get away.
But guilt and self-disgust had eroded his appetite and he couldn’t move away from his spot near the couch.
She stared at her laptop with dull eyes.
The only sign she’d even heard him was the flicker of her lashes.
“What’s on the laptop?”
Finally, she rolled her head and stared at him. He almost wished she hadn’t because, yet again, he could see the vicious, ugly bruising there. “My life,” she said tonelessly.
He opened his mouth, but then she closed her eyes and settled deeper into the couch.
Setting his jaw, he grabbed the computer, prepared for another attack.
Although her eyes opened, all she did was stare at him, defeat written all over her face.
He’d never thought he could be this disgusted with himself, but in the past two days, he’d surprised himself, and not in a good way.
Just destroy it. Once it’s busted, nobody can track you.
He took it with him into the kitchen and put it down. It was an older model, clearly worn. He crouched in front of the sink, pulling out the toolbox under there. There was a hammer on top, just a plain claw hammer, but it would do the job.
As he stood, the little switch on the front caught his eye and he paused.
The Wi-Fi connection.
It was in the off position.
With a curse, he tossed the hammer onto the counter and stood, hands braced in front of him as he fought to clear his head, do what he needed to do.
He knew all about that.
The Wi-Fi isn’t on.
What did she mean anyway? My life…
He didn’t know, couldn’t understand what had driven her to move past the fear he kept seeing on her face every time she looked at him. That fear—fuck, what was he doing?
She was terrified of him and after last night—hell, after five minutes ago, she had more than enough reason, even if he hadn’t dragged her up and down the mountains of Tennessee.
Shoving off the counter, he turned and stared at her.
She hadn’t moved, not even an inch.
When he walked back across the floor and sat on the coffee table, she didn’t blink.
He started, once more, going through her purse.
She hadn’t called anybody. It wasn’t possible. The phone hadn’t even been on. Unless tracking had gotten a lot more complex, nobody could have located them using the phone.
He’d ditched his—after somebody had tried to ventilate his skull—but it still didn’t explain how somebody had known he’d be there, at that truck stop, on that road.
And nothing explained how she’d known. Nobody could have contacted her unless it was done via skywriting and he would have probably noticed that.
But I already told you what was going on. You just didn’t want to listen.
“Bullshit,” he muttered, searching the purse itself now. Nothing in the lining that he could feel. Nothing, nothing, nothing…
I already told you.
He shoved upward and started to pace.
It was bullshit. Complete bullshit.
Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
The quote leaped into his mind. He hadn’t read Doyle in years, but he could see those words now, clear as day.
Whatever remains, no matter how improbable…
“Tell me about the truck stop.”
There was no answer, but he made himself let it go. He’d pushed her too hard and she’d been through too much. He needed to think anyway.
Nyrene opened her eyes and stared at the plate he’d just put on the coffee table, which was a plain, simple affair—nothing but a slab of wood and four legs. Pretty much everything in the cabin was plain and simple, including the bowl of pasta he’d put in front of her.
Her stomach revolted at the sight of it.
She just turned her face back into the couch.
“You need to eat.”
“I can’t eat that,” she said softly. If he’d just shut up, she might sleep. Sleep would be welcome.
“Drink, then. You haven’t had anything all afternoon.”
She thought about telling him to fuck off, but didn’t see the point. She eased her body around and reached for the glass he’d put by the plate, pausing when she saw the little white bottle. Ibuprofen.
“You should take some. It will help the swelling, maybe let you sleep a little better.”
There was also an ice pack. She ignored that and reached for the bottle, half-afraid to take anything from him. But the bottle was new, still sealed. She shook out four tablets and took them, washing them down with water that tasted metallic and flat. It was wet, though, and it cooled her abused throat. She had to fight the urge to puke it back up once it hit her stomach and the nervous knots it had twisted itself into, but she breathed through her nose and stared hard at the far wall until she was sure it would stay down.
She took another few sips, drinking roughly half of it before she eased back onto the couch.
“Tell me about the truck stop, Nyrene. What…how did you know they were there?”
There was an odd, grim note in his voice.
“Why? So you can yell at me again? I’m afraid I don’t have much of anything else you can search, either.” She opened her eyes to glare at him just as he shifted his attention toward her.
His gaze dipped and she tensed.
Ruddy, red color danced across his cheekbones before it faded. He opened his mouth, then closed it before shaking his head.
Hoping that was the end of it, she tucked herself into the corner, making her body as small as she could. The exhaustion dropped down onto her.
As she was drifting into sleep, she thought she felt somebody stroke her cheek, then something cool pressed against her face.
He ate mechanically, not tasting the canned pasta. It didn’t do anything but fill the hole in his belly. Brooding, Dev focused on everything he’d found in her purse, looking for any one thing he could have missed, but there wasn’t anything.
I don’t have much of anything else you can search.
She’d had her fingers twisted in the neckline of her scrubs top, her knuckles bloodless from clutching so tightly. Scared, but that spark of temper showed.
As her breathing deepened, then slowed, he closed his eyes. He was exhausted himself and needed even just a few hours of sleep, but too many questions flooded his mind.
A shift of movement had him looking at her.
She’d fallen asleep.
He rose and carried his plate into the kitchen, along with hers. He’d eat it, too, although damn if he was hungry now. He didn’t plan on leaving behind any sign that he’d been here, not even in the trash, so he’d eat the lousy food.
He moved back to the couch and crouched down, studying the bruising. It had deepened to a vicious purple now, her eye swollen, while the color spilled halfway down her cheek. He’d been terrified when he saw that son of a bitch drive his fist into her face, even more so when Morehead had picked her up.
His hands clenched involuntarily and he made himself relax. “Nyrene?”
She didn’t stir.
Softly, he traced the bruise on her face. She flinched when he pressed down gently on the bones around her eye, but even that didn’t wake her.
He didn’t think anything had been broken, but she had to be hurting.
Frowning, he peeled the edge of her vee-neck top away. There was another bruise, starting at her shoulder. From being thrown against the seat belt when that drunk had rear-ended her. He’d been in a wreck or two himself. She probably felt like her entire body had been battered and what was he doing but adding to her discomfort?
He didn’t know what to do about it, though.
She was tied into this and if he didn’t keep her with him, she’d be grabbed. The thought flooded him with rage.
He twisted until he could pick up the icepack. It was already warming up, but it was better than nothing. The medical kit under the sink had a couple more and he’d take them along when they left. Carefully, he placed it against her cheek.
His fingers itched and he gave in to the urge to brush the soft, unmarked skin of her lower jaw. Then, because he had to say it, he murmured, “I’m sorry, Nyrene.”