When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel (6 page)

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
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The rock face was in front of her. She jammed her fingers into a small indentation and held on. The swirling water was stronger, though, and when she could no longer feel her fingers, she lost her grip and the water carried her downstream. Her panicked gaze swept the bank for the stranger. He was gone, apparently satisfied she would no longer be a problem.

The current sucked her under again, and when she fought to the surface, she coughed and gasped. Kicking onto her stomach, she swam against the current, but she was too tired and her left arm was weak from colliding with the log. She made no headway toward the bank. Soon she had swallowed more water from trying to swim than when the current carried her where it wanted to go.

Darcy flipped onto her back again and immediately sank beneath the water. She forced herself to be still—just let go and let the water take her away. It would be better than being shot, or knifed, or raped. She was too exhausted to fight any longer. Her lungs ached for air.

So this is what it feels like to drown.

W
ALKER HIT THE
water the instant her foot slipped. The icy cold tore the breath from his lungs. In a matter of seconds, his body temperature would begin to fall and he’d lose coordination in his arms and legs. There would only be one shot at this. No room for mistakes.

Darcy had to be worse off yet. She’d been walking through these woods for hours in near-freezing temperatures without even a jacket for warmth. With her plunge into the river, hypothermia became a very real danger. What in the hell possessed her to pull a stunt like that? The woman was certifiable, but damned if she didn’t have grit.

She went into the water slightly upriver from his position, so he had a good chance of intercepting her before she swept past him. With powerful strokes, he closed the distance even as the current pulled her farther out. Just as he reached her, she sank out of sight below the churning water. Grabbing a deep breath, he dove down and hauled her back to the surface. She gasped in air, along with a significant amount of water, and started coughing and choking. Her eyes widened when she saw him, and she flailed her arms and pushed against him, trying to twist out from under his arm.

“No . . . no . . . leave me alone.” Darcy broke free and kicked out of his reach.

He caught up to her easily and grabbed her arms. “I’m trying to help you. Would you rather drown?” Was the crazy woman more afraid of him than she was of drowning?

“Let go of me.” Another coughing spasm overcame her, but as soon as it let up she started fighting again.

Walker’s breathing was labored, and his arms felt like lead weights. It took every ounce of determination he had to fight the current. It was clear she wanted no part of his rescue and was prepared to beat him senseless, struggling to get free. She would drown them both if he didn’t take control, and soon.

He slipped behind her, leaned over her left shoulder, and brought his arm up to squeeze both sides of her neck, applying pressure to cut off the blood supply. She struggled against him and clawed at his arms and face. Five seconds later, she went limp in the water and he released his grip. The sleeper hold had served him well in the past, but never before had he been so careful not to cause any other damage.

He towed her still form toward the bank, battling the pull of the water that tried to drag them downstream. She was ice cold when he finally scooped her into his arms and stepped onto dry ground. He laid her down on the first flat spot he came to, checked her pulse, and made sure she was breathing. Her face was as pale as the moonlight rising over the treetops, framed by heavy sheets of dark, wet hair. Her lashes lay thick and still beneath her eyes, and her lips were a purplish shade of blue.

He debated leaving her and going for his coat so he could wrap her in it, but the possibility of her disappearing again while he was gone was unacceptable. He opted for rubbing her arms and legs to generate some heat instead and, within minutes, her eyes popped open and she started coughing. He helped her sit and supported her back as she coughed continuously. Her eyes went wide again the minute her coughing spasm let up and she focused on him hovering over her. She scooted to the side, rolled away from him, and tried to get her feet under her.

“Enough!” Walker grabbed her leg and pulled her back toward him. She kicked at his head, barely missing, and pushed, slapped, and scratched until her elbow caught him in the lip and he tasted blood. God help him, he was going to hurt this woman. He’d had all he could take. Grabbing her arms firmly, he pinned them against her stomach and leaned forward until he was inches away from her face.

“Knock it off! Goddamn it, Darcy, I’m trying to help you!” A growl came from deep in his chest as he stood and backed off a few steps. The stubborn woman didn’t have sense enough to give up, even when the battle was lost. Damned if he wasn’t going to choke her for real if he didn’t put some space between them. He paced back and forth in front of her as she watched his every move, looking like she’d bolt. He was tempted to leave her sitting right there on the ground, soaking wet. Obviously, she didn’t want his help.

Unfortunately, it was out of his control. It was his job, and he couldn’t opt out no matter how difficult she made his life.

“Stay here.” He watched her cautiously until her raspy breathing and trembling legs convinced him she was too tired to run. Even then, he was taking a chance as he retraced his steps to where he’d dropped his coat, boots, and gun, retrieved them, and walked back to her. She eyed him distrustfully and he groaned. What he wouldn’t give for a stiff drink about now.

“Okay—now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you about my day.” Walker resumed his pacing. “I’ve been up since four thirty this morning. I’ve saved your neck three times so far today, and for my trouble I’ve been cracked on the skull, threatened by a bear, and nearly drowned. We’re through doing it your way.” He stopped and pinned her with a warning glance. “I realize you’re confused and you’ve got no idea who I am, but there’s only one thing you need to know. I’m taking you out of here with me, and I don’t care if I have to throw you over my shoulder and carry you out. Are we clear?”

She watched him without saying a word, looking anything but resigned to her fate.

Walker stared back, daring her to defy him.

She never even flinched.

“If you were me, what would you do?” Her strong, clear voice challenged him, while her eyes flashed with fire.

“If I were you, I’d find someone I could trust and stick with him until this is over.”

“And that’s you, I suppose? How do I know I can trust you?”

He made a show of looking around. “You don’t have a lot of options at the moment, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m the one trying to keep you alive.” He reached for her elbow and pulled her to her feet. The cool breeze through his wet clothes chilled him, and he worried about her. Even with her arms wrapped around her just beneath her breasts, she still shook. No sense putting this off. She wasn’t magically going to start trusting him in the next few minutes and they had to get moving.

He held up his jacket in front of her and took a deep breath. “Get out of those wet clothes and put this coat on.”

Her eyes widened in alarm and she stared at him, resting her hands on her hips in a stance that would have made him smile if she hadn’t been so serious. He held her gaze, expecting her to tell him to go to hell. He couldn’t afford to give on this issue so he kept talking. “We’ll head back to higher ground, start a fire, and get our clothes dried out. I have to get you warmed and this is the only way I know to do it. We don’t have time to argue about this.”

“You can’t seriously expect me to . . . you’re wet and cold too. Wear your own damn coat.” She wrapped her arms around her waist again as though she could stop her trembling.

The fear in her expression tugged at his conscience and sent him searching for the words to reassure her he wasn’t going to jump her as soon as she undressed. The suspicious glare she fixed him with succeeded in hardening his resolve, and he lowered the coat, raised an eyebrow, and swept his gaze over her. “You can either get out of those clothes yourself, or I can help you.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“You’ll find there’s not too much I wouldn’t do.”

Darcy glowered at him a few more seconds, clearly wishing she had a tree branch in her hand. Then she sighed and dropped her gaze, blinking several times in quick succession, obviously determined he wouldn’t see her break down. So, the woman wasn’t as tough as she wanted him to believe. Her vulnerability unleashed a wave of protectiveness that washed over him and left him feeling like an ass.

He frowned. “I’m not the enemy.” He held the coat higher so it blocked his view of everything but her head and shoulders. “Hurry, we have to get moving.” Trembling visibly, her lips still maintained a bluish tint. She wasn’t out of danger yet.

She searched his eyes for another moment. Whatever she saw there must have satisfied her, or maybe she’d finally reached the point of giving up. With a tired sigh she turned her back, unbuttoned her shirt, and dropped it on the ground, then fumbled awkwardly with the hooks on her bra. Her left shoulder was noticeably stiff and painful and, in the dim light, he saw the beginnings of a damn good bruise. She couldn’t rotate her arm and stretch far enough behind her back to remove the bra. Walker hesitated to help her, knowing it would only cause another layer of mistrust, but impatience gnawed at him. After her second attempt, the effort wrenched a sharp intake of breath from her.

“I’ll look at your shoulder later. I’m a decent medic.”

“No.” Her abrupt refusal was followed by a glance over her shoulder that didn’t meet his eyes. “You could stop ogling and help me.”

Damn. He’d love to give an appropriate response to that remark, but he let it die on his tongue. If he ever wanted her to trust him, embarrassing her further wasn’t going to help. Laying the jacket over his arm, he unhooked her bra, ignoring the shudder that rippled through her when his fingers brushed her satiny skin, then opened the coat again while she unbuttoned her pants and stepped out of them. He pushed his coat toward her left side so she could slip into it without hurting herself. She pulled it tightly around her and buttoned it all the way up before turning to face him.

His jacket nearly swallowed her slight figure and hung almost to her knees. The canvas shoes she wore without socks were soaking wet, but there was no help for that. He didn’t even have a dry pair of socks to offer.

Walker tried a smile, but she looked quickly away. He wasn’t going to push his luck. For this moment in time, it seemed she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, although it could just mean he’d bullied her into submission and she didn’t have the strength to continue fighting. In any case, he had her cooperation for now, and he would take what he could get.

He gathered up her clothes, holding them out of her reach when she made a grab for them. He almost laughed but caught himself when she pinned him with an angry gaze.

“Stay close and let me know if you need to stop and rest.” He waited for her to nod before he started back toward the slope and stopped to retrieve his backpack where he’d dropped it in his haste to reach the water. Digging through the contents, he found a waterproof pouch and sealed her wet clothes inside. He placed the bag in his pack and slung it over his shoulder.

Walker led her back the way he’d come, up the slope and away from the rushing river. As they walked, he kept an eye out for a good spot to make camp. It would have to be soon. They were both exhausted and cold, but it was obvious Darcy’s strength was failing. With both arms wrapped tightly around herself, she shook nonstop. Twice she tripped and fell. Each time she picked herself up, he thought surely she’d give out until he caught the grim determination in the set of her mouth. He should have swept her up in his arms and carried her, but he didn’t want to give her another reason to fight him. Clearly, her never-die attitude wouldn’t allow her to give up, and he admired that.

“We’ll camp here.” Walker stopped by a rock outcropping at the foot of an embankment and turned in a small circle, studying the surrounding terrain. They were probably alone out here, but he didn’t like leaving things to chance. Putting their backs to a rock wall would mean one less opportunity for someone to sneak up on them. “Stay here. I’ll gather some wood and start a fire.”

As soon as he stopped, Darcy sank down to the ground but popped back to her feet as he took off his pack and turned to go. “Wait. I’ll go with you.”

Walker started to argue but bit back the words. Uncertainty shone in her eyes. Did she think, after everything he’d been through to catch up with her, he’d walk away and leave her now? Maybe she had finally come to the conclusion he was her new best friend, offering a safe haven and a chance to be warm again. He was good with that, but did she really trust him, or was she just biding her time until he fell asleep and she could bash him over the head again? His gut said no. He was beginning to think she really was as innocent as her picture suggested, and once she offered her cooperation, he couldn’t see her withdrawing it as long as he kept his end of the bargain. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to sleep with one eye open tonight.

Her chin came up and determination flashed in her eyes as she stepped around him and walked toward the trees that surrounded the clearing.

His lips quirked as his gaze followed her. “After you.” He fell in behind her.

T
HE FIRE CRACKLED
as the flames licked the dry wood and shot sparks into the sky. The heat radiated outward from the blaze and, after hours of freezing, Darcy could finally feel her fingers and toes again. The stranger stood on the other side of the campfire, close to the flames, allowing his wet clothes to dry, and her shirt, pants, and undergarments hung over a nearby tree branch while she snuggled in the warmth of his jacket.

Something strange had happened after he bundled her in his coat, as she helped him gather wood, and as she basked in the delicious warmth of the campfire he built. Her fear and distrust had receded, replaced by an irrational feeling of safety, which she grabbed onto with all her hope.

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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