Authors: Terry Odell
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #romantic suspense, #mystery, #romance adventure
On the couch, Windsor’s legs stretched
out in front of him and his head lolled back. Looked like the
muscle relaxant had kicked in. In sleep, he seemed harmless
Satisfied he wasn’t going anywhere, she
grabbed her flashlight and jogged to his truck. The deluge had
lessened to a fine mist. Once she replaced the truck’s coil wire,
she drove toward the main road. Decker wouldn’t have hiked in.
Maybe his truck would give some indication of who he was. She found
the Park Service truck about twenty yards down the road in a
shallow pull-out. Pulling the sleeve of her parka over her hand,
she yanked the door open and shone the light in the cab.
Cardboard coffee cups, fast food bags,
and gum wrappers cluttered the seat. She popped open the glove box
and found a San Francisco Giants baseball cap crammed on top of
maps. Doug Peterson was a Giants fan. Her pulse jumped. Decker was
no ranger, she was sure of that. But the Park Service personnel
shared the limited number of vehicles. All this meant was that
Peterson probably had used this truck. Didn’t it? No time for those
thoughts now. Once she was the hell out of here she’d call the
authorities. Let them figure it out.
She climbed back into Windsor’s pickup
and leaned over the steering wheel. Was she doing the right thing?
It didn’t matter. She couldn’t leave Windsor behind. He’d saved her
* * * * *
Let’s go, Windsor.
You’ve had an hour’s nap. That’s plenty.”
Blake blinked at Kelli’s voice and sat
up. He took a moment to take inventory. Groggy, a little dizzy, but
with luck, he’d get into the truck on his own steam. Aware of Kelli
watching from the porch, he hoisted himself up, gripping the back
of the couch as he shuffled around it. The pill had dulled the pain
enough for him to get out the door without seeing stars. At the
edge of the porch, he paused, telling himself it was because he
didn’t want to fall down the steps. Not because he wanted to feel
Kelli’s arms around him.
Kelli’s hand was at his elbow. Strong,
but it might as well have been a wooden arm rail for all the
compassion it exuded. He used it for balance more than support and
made it to the truck without passing out.
She climbed into the driver’s seat and
peered at him. “You tell me if you’re going to get sick. I’ll pull
Thanks.” Kelli hadn’t
closed her door yet and the dome light illuminated the cab. He
looked at her more closely. “What happened to your
Nothing.” She turned
and stared straight ahead.
Must be the bonk on
the head, or the after-effects of the drugs. Didn’t they used to be
brown? They look gray now.”
And they could be
green next week. Let’s go.”
He clicked his seat belt shut, leaned
against the window and let the pills take over. When he opened his
eyes, Kelli was standing beside him, the door to the truck open. It
was dark outside and his head felt like it was filled with oatmeal.
He groaned. “Time is it?”
Two a.m. Can you
walk?” she whispered. “I need you to get out of the truck and go to
the door over there. Room nineteen. Put this on.” She handed him a
knit watchman’s cap. “Stay low. I’ll be right in.”
He looked around. They were parked in
the lot of a Fifties-style motel, in front of the open door of an
end unit in a string of little bungalow rooms. He understood. The
open truck door would block him from any prying eyes in the office.
He tucked his hair under the cap, slid out of the seat, wavering a
moment to get his balance, then made his way to the door in a
half-crouch. Stay low, she’d said. No problem. Standing up—that
would have been a problem.
The room smelled of must and mold with
an overlay of pine cleanser. That was about all he noticed before
the bed floated up to meet him.
Kelli kept an eye on Windsor as he
stumbled toward the door, holding her breath that he wouldn’t
collapse before he got inside. She’d driven until she couldn’t keep
her eyes open and then a little longer until she found a motel that
looked seedy enough so nobody would ask questions.
The acne-faced desk clerk had given
Kelli’s grime-covered body a skeptical look, but she’d seemed
willing enough to buy the sob story about repairing a flat tire in
the rain. Apparently anxious to get back to her television program,
the clerk had accepted cash, hadn’t pressed for ID, and had given
Kelli the room she’d asked for—the one at the end of the row.
Kelli grabbed her gym bag and the case
with her computer from the truck and let herself into the room.
Windsor lay on his side on top of one of the two double beds, his
hair fanned out, one arm dangling off the edge of the bed, with the
knit cap on the floor by his fingertips. Motionless. Her heart
skipped and she stepped to his bedside to make sure he was
Once she saw the rise and fall of his
chest, she stood there, trying to understand why she hadn’t cut him
loose. Not because she was attracted to him. That was impossible.
She had questions and he had to have the answers. Nothing more. She
chalked the fluttering in her chest up to exhaustion.
In the tiny bathroom, she locked the
door and took the longest, hottest shower she dared. Still
exhausted, but clean, she slipped into the other bed and fell
asleep before she had a chance to worry about what had happened, or
what would happen next.
Kelli started awake, disoriented and
with a pounding heart. Faint traces of sunlight drifted through
gaps in the curtains. One glance at Windsor in the other bed
brought back the memories. She looked at her watch. Six. She’d
slept four hours. That would have to do. She should be good for at
least four more hours on the road and maybe get far enough away so
nobody could pick up their trail.
Wake up, Windsor.
Time to hit the road.” She touched his shoulder and when he didn’t
respond, she shook him gently. “You can sleep in the
A grunt answered her.
She headed for the bathroom. “Five
minutes,” she called over her shoulder. It was more like fifteen,
but it took a while to get a halfway decent haircut using the
first-aid kit scissors. She bundled the cuttings into the plastic
motel laundry bag—she’d toss it somewhere in case anyone came
She climbed into her jeans and tugged a
bulky sweater over her head, then called out, “Okay, Windsor. Your
No response. She came out of the
bathroom. He hadn’t moved. She hurried to him and pulled the hair
back from his face. Shit, he was burning up.
Windsor. Wake up.
Just for a minute?” She shook him, less gently than
He moaned and turned onto his back, put
his forearm over his eyes. Grimaced. “What?”
Let me look.” She
pulled his shirt up and peeled away the gauze. The butterfly strips
had held, but the cut was an angry, weeping red.
Windsor’s eyes were glazed. He squinted
at his midsection, then at her. “Not good?”
Could be worse. I
think it needs disinfecting, though.”
He nodded and let his head fall back
onto the pillow.
She had ibuprofen, a few more muscle
relaxants, but nothing in the way of antibiotics. Shit, the cut
hadn’t looked that bad yesterday. Was there something internal? And
how would she know? “Hold still a minute.” She pressed on assorted
places on his abdomen, watching his face for a reaction. “Where
does it hurt?”
specific. Think it’s mostly bruising. Back hurts. Kidney punch,
I’ll bet. Probably piss blood for a few days.”
Can you sit up? Let
He gave her a lopsided grin. “Sure.” He
grabbed her hands and swung his legs over the side of the bed. She
eased his shirt up his back. Huge purple splotches decorated his
Well?” he said.
“Anything to worry about?”
Only some nasty
bruises. But you’ve got a fever. Wait here and I’ll get you some
I don’t think I can
wait. Bruised or not, the kidneys are operational.”
She looked at him, then understood.
“Oh, yes. Of course. I’m done in there. Don’t lock the door, in
Yes, ma’am. You
finished?” He stood up, wobbled for a moment, but then seemed
steady on his feet.
She knew she was blushing. Ridiculous.
Two adults. She’d shared a bathroom with a man for years. Great.
Now she was embarrassed about being embarrassed. “Go.”
While Windsor was in the bathroom, she
eased back the window curtain and peeked around the parking lot.
The same cars as last night. She pulled the bedcovers back from
Windsor’s bed and assembled gauze, tape and more butterfly strips
from her personal first-aid kit. Where the hell was her tube of
Neosporin? She must have forgotten to pick more up the last time
she did a major shopping trip. Plenty of alcohol swabs, though. And
a bottle of iodine.
Twice, she tiptoed to the closed
bathroom door, wondering if she should check on him. She heard
water running. Some sharp intakes of breath. A few groans. Finally,
the bathroom door opened and Windsor walked out wearing a towel
around his hips. His smile was forced and he doubled over, his
hands outstretched toward the bed before he was halfway across the
He clutched the edge of the mattress
and sat. “Sorry. Shaky. Tried to clean up some. I was pretty
For half a moment, she considered
leaving him here. No way could he travel. His brown eyes looked at
her, full of pain and insecurity and she knew she wouldn’t.
Lie down. You’ve been
beat up, cut up, and you’ve got a fever.”
And probably a
concussion. Unless you’ve got a twin who keeps popping in and out,
I’m seeing two of you.” He settled back on the bed.
I’m going to clean
the cut, okay?”
Sure.” He closed his
This might sting a
little.” She swabbed his chest with alcohol wipes and patted a
gauze pad doused with iodine along the wound.
She clamped a hand over his mouth.
“Suck it up, Windsor. We don’t need anyone wondering what’s going
If they’re wondering,
they sure as hell won’t be thinking this is what you’re doing. Holy
crap, woman, that hurts.”
After cleaning the incision, she put a
fresh dressing on it. “All done. I’m going to go find us something
to eat. Get some rest.”
I think I liked it
better when you were avoiding me.” He studied her for a minute.
“Your eyes are still gray. But your hair is gone.”
Good catch, Windsor.
Only took you half an hour to notice.”
I’m not my usual
observant, charming self today.”
* * * * *
Blake heard the door close, the truck
start, and the whoosh of tires across the parking lot. Kelli had
taken full control, and even in his condition he could tell this
wasn’t new to her. Along with her looks, her entire personality had
changed. She seemed to know what she needed to do. But for all her
gruffness, when she’d bandaged him her touch had been gentle. He
resigned himself to letting her take charge until he could stay
awake more than twenty minutes at a stretch. And walk more than ten
steps without needing to lie down.
He glanced around the room. She’d taken
his cell, even the room phone with her. His cash. Left him with
nothing. She said she’d be back. Her gym bag and computer case sat
on the second bed.
Overwhelmed by a sudden fear they were
empty decoys, he slid out of bed and knelt beside them. Clothes,
her laptop, a collection of flash drives, and some paper files.
That she hadn’t abandoned him gave him some small comfort, and he
crawled back into his own bed and sank into the mattress.
He woke, teeth chattering, drenched in
sweat. Kelli wiped his forehead with a damp cloth.
Sheesh Windsor, we’re
way beyond out of towels. I’ve already lifted half a dozen from the
maid’s cart and you’re sweating like a pig.”
Her tone didn’t match her words and he
saw worry etched in her face.
Fever’s breaking,” he
mumbled. “Good sign.”
She helped him sit up enough to swallow
two ibuprofen with some orange juice she poured from a plastic
carton. “I brought you breakfast.”
He worked his way up to a sitting
position, bringing the sheet along. Why hadn’t he put on some
underwear before he got into bed? Kelli picked up the towel he’d
dropped beside the bed, spread it across his thighs and perched a
Styrofoam takeout box on his lap. If she noticed his hands shaking
when he tried to pop the lid, she made no effort to intervene.
She poured him another cup of juice and
put a liter bottle of water on the night table. “Scrambled eggs,
toast and plenty of orange juice. Fluids, Windsor. Lots of fluids.
Flush out the infection.” She tore open a packet of jam and spread
it on a slice of toast for him. “See how you feel after you eat
something.” She headed for the bathroom.
The slice of toast weighed as much as
an elephant, but he brought it to his mouth. Bit off a piece.
Chewed. Swallowed. Took another bite. Tried some eggs. Some of the
shakiness left. No wonder. He hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday
and he’d thrown up all of that. With each bite he grew stronger. He
gulped the juice and scraped up the last bit of food from the
container. Sated, he lowered the box to the floor and leaned back
against the headboard.