Authors: Laurie LeClair
Echo turned back, to get one last look at the cabin. Flames licked up the corner of the building. Her heart stopped.
“What did ya think? I was gonna leave witnesses?” He laughed, and then grabbed Murphy’s arm and thrust him into the back. Off balance, he stumbled and Echo fell on top of him.
As they drove away, Echo scrambled to her knees and peeked out of the dirty window. Fire and smoke rose into the black night.
Murphy joined her, gripping her close.
Her head pounded, the pain intensifying. She could barely focus. But her heart shattered in little pieces. “No, it can’t happen. Not to them.”
The red flames and the buffoon’s laughter blazed in her blurry mind as blackness closed in on her. “They can’t die.”
Each bump jarred Murphy, his head sometimes banging against the metal wall of the van. The heavy dirt smell filled his nostrils and the grittiness beneath him made Murphy figure they used this van for landscaping.
In the back of his mind, he wondered if there were tools or emergency road flares hidden close by. The stripped-down van didn’t look like it held much of anything, besides them and the residual dirt.
He braced himself as Echo’s head lay in his lap. It had taken some maneuvering with their wrists cuffed together to get her just so. He finally figured out to raise his right arm and bring her head under his arm and hold her left hand in his.
Still, she lay limp. Was she passed out or just exhausted? He couldn’t tell for certain. He’d only seen this type of reaction when she was under extreme anxiety. The doctors warned him it was purely a defense mechanism. Her mind was protecting her. The stress of the night and then witnessing the fire engulf the cabin was just too much for her. It had to have been nearly two hours and still she hadn’t moved.
The fire! Gulping hard, he prayed that Storm and the baby escaped. She was tough and strong. Been through hell and back.
Right after Echo lost her memory, Murphy had relocated all of them to this new town in New Mexico and plotted out an escape route from his secret, hidden cabin in the mountains. In the dead of the night, he taught Storm the unmarked trail, where he’d buried a gun, another place for MREs and drinks and things for the baby, another with a map, and the last treasure of a thousand bucks and a set of keys to an ATV to get away. No stranger would ever find the zigzag path to all the buried treasures, but, if Storm remembered, she’d have everything she needed for at least five days out in the hot, dry land.
If she escaped from the burning cabin. If she recalled the one-time lesson of the track. If…
He tried to gauge where the kidnapper headed. From the back of the van, all he could tell was there were no lights; only darkness surrounded them. From the feel of the roads, they were driving away from any civilized town, the dirt roads kicking up lots of dust.
Looking down, he made out Echo’s shape, but couldn’t see her very well. He checked her breathing again, sighing at the evidence she was still with him. Gently, he brushed her hair away from her face and let the silky strands slide through his fingers. He could do that for hours. He had as she lay in a coma for long, agonizing weeks. At one time, he had the right to touch her hair and touch her skin. Not anymore. If only she remembered…
His heart tugged. She’d sacrificed herself, purposely misleading Slick into thinking she knew the whereabouts of one half of the stolen money. Why put herself in that much risk? Was it just to trade places with her sister? Up until Echo made that announcement to the kidnapper, she’d only been exchanging him for her family. But then she’d thrown herself into the mix when he doubted she’d been a target at all, just a means to getting to him.
Why? A surge of hope sliced through him. Did she remember, anything, a sliver of who they’d been? Of did she feel anything for him, even just a tiny bit?
He trailed the pad of his thumb over her soft cheek, relishing the freedom to touch her again. Guilty pleasure swept over him.
Would she ever remember him? Fully, completely recall their love affair? There were times lately he’d lost all hope in her seeing who he really was, her husband. If she didn’t remember him, at least she had this unbreakable bond with the boy she thought was her nephew, but who was really her son. Their son. Timmy.
Echo remained still, allowing him to touch her cheek. That one comforting gesture sent sensory memories careening through her body. The feel, the warmth, the tenderness, the caring... Someone had done that before. If she had to guess, she’d say it was Murphy.
But when? Why? Had these nagging tugs of emotion for him for months, years even, been real at one time?
She wished she could remember. But as much as she forced herself, more so lately, the worse her headaches became. That big towering block of nothingness refused to shift. Now more than ever she had to chip away at it. Her sister and the baby...
Her heart ached. Tears stung her eyes and slowly slid from beneath her lashes.
His murmur and the way he wiped away the tears had her clasping his hand tighter. “Shhh! Don’t cry,” he whispered. “They’re all right. You would have known if Storm didn’t make it—that bond you two have. And, I swear on my life, I’ll get us out of this.”
She blinked her eyes open, getting accustomed to the nearly black interior of the van. Focusing on what Murphy said, she blocked out everything else and went to a place she could never explain to anyone. Somehow she sensed Storm was alive, but was still fighting, still in danger.
Without thinking, she opened his palm and with her finger drew a smiley face. From somewhere that had come so naturally.
She heard him suck in a sharp breath. That had some meaning to him. But what?
He threaded his fingers through hers, holding her hand in a tight clasp. “You and me.”
The softly spoken promise caused her heart to ache in a deep, deep spot. They had something, a connection. But would her mind ever let her remember him, remember what they’d been to each other, if anything?
Echo slowly sat up as to not bring attention to them. She shifted so now she half leaned against his strong shoulder. The bumps in the road caused her to smash into him. Murphy braced himself against the metal structure, and then pulled her closer, settling her head on his chest and cradling her, absorbing the brutal jostling of the rickety old van.
She relaxed enough to move with his body, not against it. They found a certain rhythm to sway with the bumps and avoid some of the bruises. It had a certain sensual element to it, making her wonder how it would feel without clothes on, skin to skin. Twin spots of heat bathed the tops of her cheeks. She bit down on a groan, trying to stop the sudden, desperate need spreading through her.
Were those memories? Dreams? She couldn’t tell. All she knew was she wanted him. Always had since the day she woke up in the hospital and found him there holding her hand and stroking her hair.
Instant. Hot. Need.
For a stranger.
Feelings tumbled then. Desire. Danger.
They still did to this day. Every damn time she saw him.
Hiding it, running from it, hadn’t erased the need.
Now, she realized it would never go away. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
Her mind hurt with the battle, the self-defense mechanism to shield her from this man. At every step, literally, she took in rehabilitation, he was not far from her thoughts. Danger. For her mind or her heart?
An answer didn’t come this time either.
Minutes stretched to hours and farther away from the two people she loved the most in the world. But she refused to wallow in the frightening scenarios her mind plagued her with. Why couldn’t it just reveal her past, instead of taunting her with the possibilities of what was happening to her family?
Instead, she whispered to Murphy, “Do I know you?”
“I need to know.” All this time she’d shied away from speaking with him about it, about her role in his life. Why would she have been driving the getaway car? What did she have to do with his brother and sister-in-law’s deaths?
“I don’t need you to know everything.”
her to know everything. What could be so awful?
Echo shifted away from his chest. He resisted. She shoved.
The van stopped abruptly. She tumbled forward. The handcuff dug into her wrist, yanking her arm back. Hissing, she cursed the pain shooting through her wrist and all the way up her shoulder.
“What the fuck’s going on back there?” the buffoon asked, twisting around in his seat.
“Asshole,” she spat.
Murphy pulled her upright. “Easy on the brake—”
“Shut the fuck up, all right?” He lifted the gun and cocked the barrel. “Nobody said anything about me not taking off a couple of toes, fingers, or knees. You get my drift?”
Blue and red lights spun, flashing into the back of the van’s windows. A car engine drew close.
“Cops?” she whispered.
“Keep quiet,” the buffoon bellowed.
Perspiration dotted her forehead. She tried to swipe it away, and then realized she was cuffed to Murphy.
“Easy,” Murphy warned in a low voice.
Minutes ticked by. Her ears hurt with the blaring silence. Finally, she heard the car door slam shut. The crunch of footsteps on the gravel outside the van seemed like a giant approaching. “License and registration,” the male voice commanded.
She banged a fist on the van floor. The metal sound reverberated.
“What do we have here?” the cop asked, flickering his flashlight to the back of the van. The blinding light had Echo holding up her hand to shield her eyes. “Well, lookee here.” He laughed. It was harsh and loud. “Two for one. Murphy, you bastard, you’re finally the one in handcuffs.”
“Fuck!” Murphy said under his breath.
Echo’s heart sank. “What’s going on?”
The buffoon high-fived the cop. “Told you I’d bring him in for you.”
“He’s in on it,” Murphy informed her.
“The man who wants me dead.”
Murphy’s gut knotted a little bit more now that he faced the man he’d nearly ruined two years ago. Getting out of the back of the van was a short-lived relief. He stood a few inches to the side and in front of Echo, trying to protect her. “Sheriff Hornsby,” he said between gritted teeth. “What’s your take in this? Fifty percent? Thirty-three? Twenty-five?”
“Wouldn’t you love to know?”
For once the man didn’t reveal how many in his partnership. “At least fifty, if he’s got any say.” Murphy nodded to Slick as he strolled back from ditching the van in the overgrown shrubs along the back road.
“Fifty, really? Sweet.” The fool rubbed his hands together. “I’m gonna get me a new ride.”
“Shut up, will ya? You dumbass,” the sheriff snarled, never once looking away from Echo and Murphy. His gun remained trained on them.
“You gonna short him, too?” Murphy asked. It wouldn’t hurt to stir up some bad blood between the two men.
“What’s he talking about?” Slick glanced from the sheriff to Murphy. “Whatta mean short me?”
Murphy nodded to the officer. “He’s been on the take for years now, isn’t that right, Sheriff? Anytime someone gets a piece of the pie, he throws them under the bus. Or kills them. A cell or a grave—not much of a choice, is it?”
“Huh? He’s shitting me, right? I got a lot invested in this. Blood, sweat, and tears.”
“Calm down, Slick. He’s trying to pit us against each other. You know you’re my right-hand man.”
The kidnapper blew out a harsh breath. “Whew! I gotta get my cut. My old lady ain’t too happy I’ve been slacking. Ever since I knocked her up, she’s been bitchin’. She wants a big payday. Move to Mexico—”
“Yeah, yeah. I hear you,” the sheriff said. “Now, get them in the back of the cruiser for me. Everyone take it nice and slow.”
Beside him, Murphy felt Echo tense. He may not show it, but he had his own grave concerns about going anywhere with this cop. “Taking us in?” He doubted they were headed for a jail cell.
“Funny, Murphy, real funny. You and me both know you’re better off to me six feet under, you nosy son-of-a-bitch. Lucky for me, the shit hit the fan when it did and you backed off of me. Nah, I got other plans for you.”
He heard Echo swallow hard.
Facing a rogue cop and staring down the bad end of a gun barrel, Murphy had little choice than to cooperate. For now.
“Git,” the sheriff bit out.
Murphy eased Echo toward the car, instructing her to walk in front while he walked backwards behind her, still cuffed together. He’d keep an eye on the sheriff and make sure nothing happened to Echo.
“Can we make a break for it?” she asked under her breath.
“No can do,” he said between gritted teeth. He had no weapon, no idea of where they were, and, even though she could run like the devil, he didn’t know what kind of terrain they were up against. He couldn’t risk her life for a maybe.
“I can do it.” She tugged on the handcuffs, urging him to flee.
“Trip,” he said, making a snap decision to try at least. “Make a scene.”
“Kick up dust,” she offered.
, he told her silently.
She stumbled, and then cried out. He jerked around and shuffled his feet. Dust flew. Leaning down, he grabbed a handful of dirt and flung it at Slick. He grasped her hand, holding her up. “Run! Now!”
As if in tune, Echo matched his strides.
“Jump,” she cried, clearing the brush on the edge of the dirt road. The landing jarred her, but she kept running.
“They’re getting away. Go get ’em, you dumbass,” Sheriff Hornsby yelled.
A gun fired.
Echo ducked. It missed.
“Left,” Murphy ordered, shifting slightly as they raced over the dry, desert land.
She followed his commands every few feet, dodging the spray of bullets. Her heavy breathing filled her ears. Her heartbeat pounded in her chest.