Authors: K. Alex Walker
He stared at her for a moment, then turned back to the water. “My wife used to say that,” he told her, his voice flat. “All the time.”
Larke opened her mouth to speak
, but stopped when she realized that it was the first time his face had revealed any semblance of emotion. The pain only flashed for a second before it was replaced with his usual, unreadable expression, but she still reached for his hand lying on the ground. The saying had triggered a painful memory for him, and it was one that she could tell he wasn’t ready to reveal.
“You have to get some rest,
” he redirected.
thankful that he hadn’t pulled his hand away, she decided not to push the issue, afraid that he might not ever open up to her when the time was right. It was even stranger that she cared whether or not he did.
pulled the shirt over her head and handed it to him. Desmond rose and placed it behind some rocks far enough from the sprays of the waterfall to keep it dry, then reclaimed his spot next to her. Larke pointed to his lap.
“Do you mind?”
He shook his head and she draped her arms across his lap, laid her head down, and fell asleep in mere seconds.
Although tired, Desmond knew that he could make it t
hrough the night without sleep. He’d done it numerous times before, and during missions that had personally meant much less to him.
Tilting his head
upwards, he attempted to count the stars dispersed throughout the black sky. Failing, he tried to find interest in the surrounding foliage, but his gaze still uncontrollably fell to Larke sleeping in front of him: the arch of her neck, the tiny wisps of fine hair at her nape, the curved edge of her nose, and her long, slender arms. He reached down and wiped some of the moisture away from her face, then let his fingers linger there a while. As he traced the outline of her cheekbone and jaw, her eyes fluttered open.
“Are you okay?” She asked, placing a soft hand against his forearm.
,” he gently reassured. “Go back to sleep. We have a long day ahead of us.”
She stared at him for few seconds before
delicately stroking his arm and settling back to sleep. Desmond again set his gaze to the sky and held it there, wiping out all of his previous thoughts and resetting his focus on Larke’s safety. Returning her home was his primary goal. Getting distracted wasn’t a viable option.
The cove was much more beautiful in the daylight. The fall was now sparkling magnificently as sunlight burst through the crystalline droplets of water, and the waiting lagoon below welcomed the torrid stream into its rippling, emerald core.
Larke was awakened by the sunrise peeking through the tree tops
, and she turned her head towards a loud splash just in time to see Desmond emerge from the water’s surface.
“Good morning,” she called out with a wave.
He ducked underneath the water and swam closer before popping up again. “How did you sleep?”
etter than I thought I would.”
He pointed at the fall.
“Did you want to get in and rinse off before we head out?”
Larke peered through the water. It would have been better to be standing under the stream of a
warm hotel shower where she had shampoo, conditioner, soap, and a towel. Desmond obviously had a lot on his plate already so she didn’t want to complain, but she wasn’t completely convinced that they weren’t going to eventually perish somewhere within the crevices of the mountain.
“I guess it’s better
than nothing,” she conceded.
He pulled himself up out of the wat
er and took a seat next to her, the water streaming down a body that reflected rigorous, intense military training.
“I’ll go do a quick search of the cave while you wash up
,” he said. “When you’re ready for me to come back, just call my name.”
Then he was up and headed in the direction of the cave opening.
She waited until he’d completely disappeared before peeling the swimsuit away from her skin. Rolling the fabric into a ball, she placed it on the ground, dove into the water, and swam towards the fall. Desmond walked to the middle of the cave and waited until he heard Larke’s splash before continuing on.
As much as he’d tried to
shove the images of her sleeping across his lap out of his mind, every few seconds, he would remember the curve of her long lashes, the outline of her beautiful mouth, and remember the softness of her hand against his forearm. Then, it was her scent. After that, it was the way her mouth had felt moving against his in the hotel suite.
Groaning, he clenched his jaw and forced the images away. There was no room for distractions. Until she was safely back home, his entire focus had to be on getting her off the island, and off the radar.
A set of quick footsteps moving through the dry grass at the entrance of the cave stopped him in his tracks. As he listened, the footsteps slowed to a rhythmic pace. From the rapid movement, he could tell that whatever it was had more than two legs. He received his answer when it barked.
“What are you bar
king about?” a voice admonished, and he recognized the low gruff tone as one of the men from the suite. The surly one. The one Larke had said was named Gano.
plastered his body against the wall of the cave and listened for any additional voices, but heard none. With how quickly they’d managed to locate Larke, Gano and the dog had probably began tracking her ever since the night before. He wouldn’t even be surprised if they’d been tracking her scent all night.
on his heels, he quickly jogged back to the cove. When he reached the opening, he spotted Larke’s nude outline behind the waterfall and hesitated for a brief second as he struggled to find a way to protect her that didn’t involve an invasion of her privacy. However, as the yips behind him echoed excitedly throughout the cave, there wasn’t any time left to think.
dove headfirst into the water.
er back was facing the commotion, so he swam as close as he could get without touching her, the movement and sound of the fall masking his approach. In a quick burst, he emerged from the water, fastened a hand over her mouth, and pulled her into a deep pocket behind the waterfall. Larke’s eyes widened as she protested against his palm and tried to squirm free, but he pulled her into his chest. After she realized that the fight was futile, her hands covered her exposed body.
“Someone’s coming,” he
whispered close to her ear. Immediately, she stilled.
A brown and white English bulldog appeared only a few yards away from the spot where
he’d been standing seconds ago, and emerging from the blackness behind it was Gano, the skinny accomplice nowhere to be found.
The bulldog put its head down and bega
n to sniff around the perimeter of the opening. When it seemed to pick up a scent, its head popped up and Desmond’s eyes traveled ahead of its path to the swimsuit Larke had left lying on the grass. The dog trotted over and circled the piece of clothing. Gano followed, squatted next to the swimsuit, picked it up, and sniffed the center.
“This is all you can find?” He asked the dog, swatting it in the side
with an open palm. It whimpered before backing away a few steps.
looked into the waterfall and unknowingly locked eyes with Desmond. Desmond didn’t tear his gaze away although he was sure that Gano couldn’t see them behind the frothy stream. However, his muscles still tightened for combat in the event that they had been spotted. Although he didn’t have a weapon, it didn’t mean that he didn’t know of several ways to take Gano down without one.
As if responding to his thoughts, Gano drew a gun from his hip and Desmond felt Larke’s body convulse in response. As she struggled to quell a small cry in the back of her throat, he leaned dow
n and touched his cheek to hers, however a stressed moan still managed to escape. The dog’s ears suddenly perked up and Desmond cursed under his breath.
ng with you?” Gano asked, tossing the swimsuit in the river. The dog turned towards the waterfall but didn’t move forward. Gano walked up behind it and gave it another swat in the side. “Good for nothing,” he scolded.
The dog whimpered and
hung its head before dropping onto its belly to the floor. Gano shook his head in disappointment.
“At least you got it half right
,” he said. “She was here, but I’d bet money that when she got here to the river, she tried to get some water and fell in. Probably dead by now, or soon will be.”
He tossed his cigar into the water.
“And I know it was Tony who let her out. There is no way a stupid woman would be able to get out of that shanty. Not by herself.” He looked down at the dog. “That’s why he and his wife are together right now someplace in hell. I don’t have time for mistakes, so I hope you understand that I will kill you too if you become of no use to me.”
He placed the gun back in its holster and started back towards the cave. When he whistled, the dog took one last glance at the waterfa
ll before reluctantly following, and Desmond waited a few minutes after they’d completely disappeared before he released his grip on Larke. However, she remained plastered to his body, no longer self-conscious about her bare skin.
“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” she
murmured, wrapping her arms around her body. “He had a gun, Desmond.”
“I know,” he calmly replied.
“Why are they after me?”
“I’m not sure, b
ut I’m going to check to make sure that Gano really left.”
Her head snapped around. “You can’t go out there.
Desmond, I don’t doubt your Navy SEAL abilities, but right now you’re in a pair of shorts. That guy is packed with a gun, ammunition, a machete, I could go on. If he’s still there, make no mistake, he will kill you.”
Desmond nodded. “I know, but this is what I do. These are the risks that I’m willing to take if that’s what it means to keep you safe.”
He then dove back into the water and swam into the clearing. Larke watched intently as he disappeared into the cave, and when he reemerged unscathed, she released a breath that she didn’t even realize she was holding.
walked around the edge of the pond, grabbed his shirt, and then placed it where she could reach it before turning around to give her some privacy. Larke swam over to where he was standing and slipped the tee over her wet body.
“Are you ready to keep going?” He asked.
She firmly nodded and he made a mental note to search for an isolated food stand or fruit-bearing tree on the way. It had been several hours since they’d last eaten, and adding hunger to ninety-degree temperatures only decreased the likelihood of them making the journey down to the port alive.
He started down their new path, but
before they had the chance to leave the area, a figure emerged from the bushes and Desmond found himself eye to eye with the barrel of a shotgun.
arke tried to cry out but her vocal chords were squeezed shut by fear, and Desmond, composed, moved to stand in front of her.
“You have a gun too?” The el
derly man holding the gun asked, his accent thick and fluid.
“Where would I put it sir?”
Desmond asked, raising his hands in front of him. The man took a few steps back and lowered his gun slightly so that he could get a better look at the couple. They reminded him of wet kittens and both looked like they hadn’t had a meal or a good night’s rest in ages.
“Where did the two of you come from and what are you doing so far up here on this hill?”
Desmond pulled a frozen Larke into his side. “We’re on vacation,” he quickly explained. “We decided to take a hike up the mountain, but some thieves took virtually everything we had. We’ve been wandering ever since, trying to find our way back.”
’s eyes went to Desmond’s wound. “They do that?”
hung his head and shook it solemnly. “Boy, I tell you, I don’t know what happened to this country. In my day, it was such a peaceful place. You could leave your door open and lie across it in a dead sleep and nobody would step across you to come into your house.”
He stuck out his hand. “They call me Ivor.”
He and Desmond exchanged a handshake, then he jerked his gun in the direction that Gano had just left. “The man there with the hair in his face, he was looking for the two of you?”
Desmond nodded. “Yes. He was one of the men who robbed us.”
“That man looked dangerous, boy. How is it that the two of you managed to get away?”
Before Desmond had a chance to
respond, Ivor winked at Larke. “Never mind the answer to that. My wife used to be as pretty as this young lady right here and I used to say that I would do anything to make sure no harm came to her.” He dropped the gun to his side and shrugged. “My wife is still a pretty little thing though, just older, you know? I would still do anything for the woman, even when she makes me miserable.”