When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel (5 page)

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
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His gaze searched the terrain to the west. A rocky hillside led to a ridge she’d have to cross to reach the river. He’d bet she was hiding up there now, watching him, waiting for him to go by before she jumped and ran.

Too bad she wasn’t going to get what she wanted this time. He left the trail she was laying to the north, turned due west and followed the sound of the rushing water.

No longer tracking her, going on instinct instead, he moved fast, and the beam of his flashlight illuminated the ground directly in front of him. He saw her, or rather the movement of her shadow against a lighter shade of dark, the minute she peeled away from the boulder that hid her and began a zigzag course up the ridge. Choosing a path straight up the hill, he lengthened his stride to close the distance between them.

A few steps later, a breeze carried a strong stench to his nostrils. Fermented grass and rotting fish. An odor every Montanan who’d ever set foot in the forest could identify, and only one animal could live with.

Bear.

His gut tightened as he searched the slope above him for the source of the smell. Nothing visible between Darcy and him, but she must have heard something or recognized the smell. About twenty feet from the top of the ridge she stopped, turning in a tight circle as she glanced in every direction. Her hands clenched at her sides. She’d lost her jacket somewhere, and her yellow cotton shirt pulled taut over her breasts. The moonlight bathed her in a blue haze, but still her red hair stood out in all its touchable softness. A sudden desire to slide his fingers through her hair caught him by surprise, and he shoved the thought aside impatiently.

If she saw him, she gave no indication, even though he was as much in the open as she was. Maybe there was something she was more afraid of than him after all. As though to prove him wrong, she glanced in his direction and backed away, then whirled to resume her climb to the top of the ridge.

The bear’s fierce growl seemed to come from everywhere at once and reverberated across the small hillside, stopping Walker in his tracks. His gaze flew to the woman in time to see the huge animal step from the shadows less than forty feet from her. The creature shook its head from side to side and roared its irritation. Darcy fell back a step and a small cry escaped before she clamped her hand over her mouth.

Apparently, even now she didn’t want him to know where she was. Except now she had no choice. She had to accept his help. She couldn’t outrun a bear. Dropping down and playing dead was an option, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. She swung around and scrambled across the uneven ground, then tripped on something and sprawled in a heap.

The animal roared again, stood up on its hind legs, and advanced on her as she tried to get her feet under her.

“Hey! Hey! Over here, bear.” Instinctively, Walker yelled. Life for her was going to get a hell of a lot worse in short order if he didn’t do something. The light from his flashlight seemed to catch the bear’s attention, so he used it to draw the animal toward him. “Over here, you big walking carpet. Come and get me.” Walker slipped into a jog and covered the distance as fast as the treacherous terrain allowed, his only thought to reach Darcy before it was too late.

The bear seemed angered by the beam of light that played in dizzying lines on the ground in front of it and veered toward Walker, dropped down, and lumbered straight for him.

“There you go. Follow the light, you overgrown flea bag.” Relief washed over him as Darcy jumped to her feet and, for a second, their eyes met.

“Go. Get the hell out of here, Darcy.” He raised his voice and tried to sound totally calm—harder to do than he’d anticipated.

She stared at him for a moment before she turned and scrambled up the slope.

He was thankful, and a little amazed, she still had some fight left.

Twenty feet away, the animal rose to its full height and growled. Walker backed away and pulled his gun from beneath his jacket. It was a black bear, relatively small in comparison to some of its cousins, but capable of doing considerable damage. Walker’s .45 semiautomatic would probably only make it mad.

He drew down on the bear, then raised the barrel and fired three shots into the air. The deafening noise echoed through the forest, but still the bear advanced, roaring his outrage. Walker backed up against a tree, then ducked behind it. Probably a mama bear with cubs somewhere close. He didn’t want to shoot her if there was another way.

Eight feet and a couple of spindly trees separated them. Walker fired two more shots into the ground in front of her. She kept coming. Two more warning shots were all he could spare. He had to save the rest of his ammo for putting her down. There’d be no time to reload. He aimed carefully, almost beneath her, and fired two quick rounds. The dirt kicked up by the bullets splattered her hind legs, finally getting her attention, and she stopped. With one more growl in his direction, she dropped to all fours and ambled back the way she’d come.

Walker let out his breath. That was close. He didn’t want to think about what might have happened to Darcy if he hadn’t been there. That was twice he’d saved her neck. Would she realize he was on her side now? He shook his head as he reloaded his gun. She was nowhere in sight on the hillside or the ridge above, obviously taking to heart his suggestion to move on. Hell, he should have suggested she wait for him at the top, but he’d been a little busy at the time. Still, she had to know he was helping her. What the hell was she thinking? His inability to figure that out was no doubt why she’d managed to stay ahead of him for nearly four hours.

He shoved the gun back in his holster, repositioned his backpack, and started walking again, due west toward the river, up and over the ridge as she’d done. She was probably hoping the bear would have him for lunch, but just in case he disappointed her, she’d take full advantage of the diversion to get ahead of him. He kept moving and hoped he wouldn’t be too late.

The forest appeared lighter up ahead. The trees thinned and the moonlight broke through the cover. Another hundred feet and he stepped out into the open. In front of him, a steep slope dropped off to flat ground that stretched to the edge of the water thirty feet away. The current churned swiftly and threatened to escape the banks that held it captive.

Darcy was upriver, standing quietly at the water’s edge. Her wide stance and drooping shoulders suggested she was nearing exhaustion. Maybe she’d gone as far as she could. If he could get close enough and keep from scaring her this time, she might listen. Whatever happened, this was ending here. If he had to, he’d hog-tie her, drag her back to his Jeep, and deal with the fallout later.

As he watched, she shifted to the right and Walker got a look at what she’d been staring at. Dread sucker punched him in the gut. Three large rocks jutted from the water, forming perfect stepping-stones leading to a partially submerged, downed tree that connected to the opposite bank.

He knew exactly what she was thinking.

It could be done under ideal conditions, but the conditions were far from ideal. The water swirled violently around the rocks. Moisture and algae covered them, making their surfaces slick and treacherous. The shadows cast by the moonlight, combined with the peripheral movement of the water, would make it extremely difficult to maintain balance. Emotionally and physically spent as she had to be by now, the woman simply couldn’t do it.

Would she try? Hell, yes.

He started toward her, but the slope was steeper than he’d expected. His feet slipped out from under him. He landed on his ass halfway down the embankment and slid the rest of the way, sending loose rocks and dirt to the bottom with him. The sound alerted her and she whirled around. Just as quickly, she swung back, took a running jump, and landed precariously on the first rock.

“Hey! Don’t be a fool. You’ll never make it.”

It didn’t stop her. She jumped to the next rock and teetered dangerously.

“Aw, shit.” Walker dropped his backpack and sprinted toward the water, stopping only to strip off his boots, jacket, and holster. Was she crazy? This was going to end badly. Still slightly upriver from him, it appeared she had finally come to the same conclusion. In a half crouch, she froze. At least four feet separated her from the third rock. It would have been an easy jump on flat ground with a running start. Perched on an uneven boulder with swiftly rushing water on all sides, it was risky to say the least. Walker pulled up at the water’s edge.

“Darcy, listen to me.” She didn’t reply or glance in his direction, but she stiffened and he hurried on. “You’re afraid—I get it. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m trying to help you, damn it, but you’re not making it easy.”

“I don’t need your help.” She raised her voice over the steadily rushing water.

Walker snorted a laugh. Did she really not know how much trouble she was in? “That bear would have ruined your evening if I hadn’t been around, and that guy back there by the car would have killed you.”

She jerked her head toward him but lost her balance and brought her hands up to steady herself. “He couldn’t do it, so now you’re taking over the job?”

“Hell, if I wanted you dead, why would I get between you and that bear? Why wouldn’t I just walk away and let your friend shoot you in the back? Think about it, Darcy. You’re a perfect target standing out there on that rock. No way could I miss.”

“Death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a woman.” Her voice was thick with fatigue and despair.

The truth in her words made him burn with anger, and he didn’t know what to say that would convince her she could trust him. If he were in her position, who would he trust?

“If you’re telling me the truth, just go away. Leave me alone.”

He shook his head. “I can’t do that. You’re in a tough spot right now. I’m not convinced you’ll stay dry. Even if you do manage to get across, or back to this side, what then? Can you get out of here by yourself . . . in the dark? Do you even know where you are?”

“How do you know my name? I saw you watching me at the airport.”

“The U.S. Marshals Service sent me to find you and stash you someplace safe until they get this Johnny Fontana situation sorted out.”

She looked over her shoulder and met his gaze, hope shining in her eyes for the first time. “Show me your badge.”

Walker spread his hands wide. “I said they sent me—not that I’m a marshal.”

Damn it! She wanted to believe him—he saw it in her face. Instead, she turned back, dismissing him and everything he’d said. For a moment she stood there, silent, not moving. He watched her body language for a clue to what she planned. When she crouched and shoved herself forward, there was nothing he could do.

Her right foot landed squarely on the third rock, but before she could get her other foot beneath her, she slipped.

 

Chapter Three

D
ARCY WHIPPED AROUND
at the sound of loose rocks and gravel cascading down an embankment. The man had caught up with her. The one she’d knocked out with a tree branch, and the one who’d taken on a bear so she could get away. She dragged in a breath—a laborious process.

Tired didn’t begin to describe her. Tired and confused came closer. Tired, confused, and scared to death pretty much hit the nail on the head.

Who was this man and what did he want? Why was she getting mixed signals from him? And where was Grant? At least she had no doubt what Grant wanted from her.

The stranger stood motionless at the foot of the embankment and studied her, his tall, muscular body tensed for action. His confident posture and body language urged her to trust him—to at least find out what he wanted. Caution screamed for her to get beyond his reach, because once he got his hands on her it would be too late.

Caution won out. She whirled back toward the water, ran, and jumped to the closest rock.

“Hey! Don’t be a fool. You’ll never make it.” The man ran toward the water’s edge.

“Maybe not, but drowning has to be better than whatever you’ve got planned for me.” She only whispered the words, more for herself than a complete stranger. A deep breath later, she pushed herself forward and landed on the next rock in line.

Completely surrounded by rushing water and out of sight of the bank behind her, it was harder to maintain her balance. She bent her knees and raised her arms to steady herself. Worse was the fact that now she couldn’t see the stranger. Was he close? Would he follow her out here and push her off? Or would he simply shoot her? Fear threatened her sanity as the realization settled in that her only way out of this was to take the next jump, and the one after that, until she reached the opposite bank.

“Darcy, listen to me.” He was so close that when he spoke again she jumped.

How did this guy know her name? Why was he so intent on getting her to trust him? It didn’t really matter, because that wasn’t going to happen. The only person she would trust to get her out of this mess was her father, and to make that happen she had to get across the river.

She only half-listened as the man made his case. He talked a good story, making it sound as though he’d stopped Grant from killing her. If that were true, why would he continue to chase her?

“How do you know my name? I saw you watching me at the airport.”

“The U.S. Marshals Service sent me to find you and stash you someplace safe until they get this Johnny Fontana situation sorted out.”

Hope rose up in her as she looked over her shoulder and met his gaze. “Show me your badge.”

A frown drew his brows together. “I said they sent me—not that I’m a marshal.”

His eyes pleaded with her to believe him, and she almost gave in. She was so tired, it would be easy to just stop running and let someone else take control. But it was her life at stake, and everyone else she’d trusted had let her down. She wasn’t going down that road again. Even if her gut was telling her to listen to this man, she had to be smarter. She had to get down off this mountain and find her dad.

Darcy stood still for several seconds before she crouched and jumped to the next rock. Landing too close to the edge, she struggled to regain her balance, to no avail. She plummeted into the icy coldness and slammed her head into something hard beneath the water. Blackness tugged at the fringes of her mind, but she fought back to the surface and gulped air.

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
13.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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