When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel (7 page)

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
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He tended the fire and added to their small collection of dry wood, then sat with his back to the boulder and his feet stretched toward the flames. Was he telling her the truth? Did the U.S. Marshals Service send him to find her? She didn’t know what to believe anymore.

Putting her trust in a stranger . . . just felt wrong. Didn’t that whole incident with Grant teach her anything? She was sure of one thing, though—she’d be dead now if not for this man. According to him, he stopped Grant from killing her. She had no proof but, foolish or not, she believed him. There was no doubt in her mind she would have drowned if he hadn’t pulled her from the river. So close. A wave of nausea rolled over her, compounded by her throbbing head. She reached up to touch the tender spot at her temple where she’d banged against the rock. It could have been so much worse.

He pushed himself to his feet and added more wood to the fire before skirting the fire pit to where she stood. “Feeling better?” He reached out to brush his fingers across her cheek. “Not shaking. Not ice cold. I think you’ll live.”

Darcy resisted her impulse to pull away from his touch, but he must have read her reaction. His hand dropped away and he stepped back.

“Hungry? There’s some jerky in my pack.”

“Maybe later. Right now I just want to enjoy the fire.”

He pulled a silver flask from his pocket, unscrewed the lid, and handed it to her.

“What is it?”

“Twenty-year-old Scotch. Nothing warms quite as good.”

Darcy shook her head and pushed the container back. “I’m not much of a drinker.”

“A couple swallows won’t hurt you. You can go back on the wagon tomorrow.”

She still hesitated as he held the flask out to her.

“This falls under the category of doing things my way. Drink—unless you’d like me to help you.”

His voice was almost a growl, and she drew herself up straight, tensing for a fight, but when she glanced at him, his eyes sparkled and he surprised her with a smile. Caught off guard, Darcy’s refusal died a silent death. She didn’t know she’d accepted the flask from him until he winked, and realizing she’d been staring, she tore her eyes from his. To cover her embarrassment, she tipped the container to her lips, took two quick swallows, and grimaced after each.

The Scotch burned all the way down, igniting a fire in her stomach that spread its glow through the rest of her body within seconds. He wasn’t kidding. Warmth enveloped her inside and out. For good measure, she took one more drink before handing the flask back. The firelight reflected off the shiny container as he lifted it to his mouth and took a long swig. Again, she had to tear her gaze away. For a few minutes, she stood in silence and stared into the fire, pondering the strange longing generated by his smile.

“How far do we . . . have to go?” She frowned when her tongue fumbled over the words. She caught his raised brow.

“Two or three miles, I’d guess. You led me around in circles so long, I’m not exactly sure, but we should be back to the road in a couple hours.”

“Is Grant . . . dead?” She braced for the answer she didn’t want to hear.

“If that’s the guy who was shooting at you—hell, yeah.”

A shudder passed through her and she swayed unsteadily. He reached for her elbow, and Darcy lifted her head to look at him, again resisting the urge to move away. Instead, she raised her hand to touch the wound where she’d hit him with the tree branch. “I’m sorry. I thought . . .”

“Apology accepted.”

Her hand dropped to her side and she staggered back a step. His grip on her elbow kept her from falling.

“Maybe you’d better sit down.” He led her to the wall and helped her to the ground, then added another branch to the fire before returning to sit near her. “You weren’t kidding . . . you can’t hold your liquor. You should eat something. It’ll make you feel better.”

The backs of her legs tingled, and her movements were slow and awkward. Most disconcerting was the way her mind flitted from one thought to the next with no ability to focus on where she was or why. Was this what it felt like to be drunk? She should probably be alarmed, but she was warm, comfortable, and safe, and if any of that was attributable to the Scotch, she wasn’t the least bit sorry.

He dug in his backpack again and handed her a plastic bag filled with jerky. When her fingers fumbled with the opening, he took it and tore through the plastic before handing it back.

“I’m not usually so helpless.” She frowned as she accepted the bag again.

“I called you a lot of things while I was trying to catch up to you, but helpless wasn’t one of them.”

Darcy’s gaze rested on him. His crooked smile matched the laughter in his voice, but then the smile disappeared and his ruggedly handsome face grew serious again.

“I’m curious. Why would you ever get in a car with that guy if you didn’t know him? You knew someone was after you. Don’t women have an instinct about that sort of thing?”

His ridicule hurt even though she deserved it, and her gaze dropped away from his. She could try to defend herself. Explain she’d refused his offer at first. That Grant convinced her he was something he wasn’t, but the reasons didn’t really matter.

She raised her eyes to meet his. “It was a stupid mistake.”

“Could have been your last. On the other hand, I stepped between you and a wild animal, and you still chose a flood-stage river over believing I wanted to help you. Can you see why I’m confused?” His dark eyes held hers.

Darcy stifled a ridiculous urge to giggle. “I’d already made one bad decision. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. I thought I could find a way down off this mountain if I got across the river before you . . . I almost made it too.” She shifted her attention to the fire. “You must think I’m a fool.”

“I think if you weren’t a brave and determined young lady, you’d be dead. Hopefully, you’ve decided to trust me now—even though earlier would have been better. For future reference, though, crossing the river was a bad plan.”

Darcy shuddered. “I didn’t think I had a choice.” She shrugged. “And the jury’s still out on whether or not you can be trusted.”

The man gave a short, sarcastic laugh, then took a swallow from the flask before holding it out to her. She hesitated a moment, accepted it from his hand, and tipped it to her lips, again experiencing the warming sensation as the liquid hit her stomach. This Scotch wasn’t half bad. After one more swallow, she handed it back to him and didn’t miss the amusement in his expression. There was kindness in his face, too, and his smile seemed genuine enough. She forced herself to stop staring at him, but her cheeks didn’t flush with heat, and she didn’t have to swallow the embarrassment that usually made it hard to speak. The Scotch again?

“How did you come to work for a man like Johnny Fontana?” He put the flask back in his pocket.

“I didn’t know who he was when I went to work there. By the time I figured it out, I already thought the world of his sons, and Johnny and Gwen treated me like part of the family. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work. Nick and Eddy needed me, but I think I needed them just as much.” She tucked her legs under her and turned to look at him. “What will happen now?”

“Someone from the U.S. Marshals office will want to talk to you as soon as possible. Do you know who the shooter was?”

She nodded and looked at the ground. “Is Johnny dead?”

“That seems to be the general consensus, but they haven’t found his body.”

“I should have done something to help him. He might be alive if I wasn’t such a coward.” Guilt stole her breath as she whispered the words that haunted her.

“If the rumors are true, it was a professional hit. There wasn’t anything you could have done. You did the right thing getting out of there. I think Johnny would have wanted you to live. Don’t you?”

That’s exactly how Johnny was . . . trying to protect her when he was the one in danger. She blinked back tears, refusing to give in to them. “Thanks for trying to make me feel better. I didn’t think you’d be so nice.” She frowned when she slurred her words. Then she groaned and pressed her hand over her mouth as the meaning of her last comment became clear to her.

Amusement shone from his eyes as he chuckled. “I tried to tell you . . . right before you took a tree limb to my head. And just for the record, I don’t
ogle
.”

A laugh burst from her lips, and she felt strangely giddy. Was it the booze? It was certainly having a strange effect on her. Was the alcohol making her feel safe with him? Was it another mistake that might be her last? Somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to care.

“Are Gwen and the boys all right?”

“They’re in protective custody.”

“Will I be able to see them?”

“That’ll be up to the marshals. They’ll want you to testify, and they’ll probably offer you just about anything you want to make that happen, including the witness protection program.”

“You mean a new identity? I’d have to leave everyone I know . . . and I wouldn’t get to see the boys again.”

“They’ll try to pressure you into testifying, but they can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. Let’s worry about getting out of here and someplace safe first. Then you can decide what you want to do.”

If Johnny was indeed dead, testifying would bring his murderer to justice. She had to do it, but how could she give up her life and the few people she was close to? What was the right thing to do? She didn’t know how to make a decision like that. Would the marshals talk her into something that wasn’t in her best interest just to get what they wanted? Of course they would.

She needed to think, and she could always think better on her feet. She chewed her lower lip as she shoved herself forward and tried to stand. A wave of dizziness pulled her sideways instead. The man slipped his arm around her waist and lowered her carefully back to the ground. She leaned against him, holding her breath until the swirling nausea faded.

She snuggled into the warmth of him, knowing it was the Scotch that made her lay her head on his shoulder . . . aware it was wrong and, quite possibly, dangerous . . . but she simply didn’t care about anything but the safety he offered.

“You don’t have to decide anything right now. Let’s just get through the night before you take on the world.”

His voice calmed her, and suddenly she didn’t feel so alone. She raised her head to search his eyes and the caution in them confused her, but she had to ask and pressed on before she lost her nerve. “I know it’s not your problem, but will you help me think it through when the time comes?”

His expression softened as his gaze held hers. “I’ll do what I can.”

Why his words filled her with so much relief and hope was something she would ask herself later. She was too tired right now, and it was quite possible her brain was muddled by the Scotch. She smiled, then tucked her head beneath his chin and closed her eyes.

A
WARNING BELL
went off in Walker’s head. When he worked, he followed certain self-imposed rules.
Don’t do more than the job calls for. Don’t offer advice. Don’t get involved.
There were more, but those were the three he seemed powerless to keep from violating at the moment. She was in more trouble than she was aware of, but that wasn’t the reason he’d agreed to help her. He couldn’t seem to squelch the overriding need to protect her, even knowing nothing good could possibly come from it, and it would very likely get him in trouble with the marshals—and Joe.

Her body fit just right pressed against his, and she smelled so damn good, even after taking a dip in the river and then sitting beside a campfire. That little half smile she wore on her full lips as she dozed had him wondering what they tasted like. Walker pushed those thoughts away angrily. What the hell was he thinking? He was headed down a rocky path and should know better. He could keep Darcy safe and still do his job objectively. He’d always managed before.

But his job had never been Darcy. There was something about her. The way she kept going on determination alone. The way she worried about others when she was the one in danger. She was a sweet and naïve young woman. He had no business having any thoughts about her, except how to get her out of here alive.

His chest and side where she leaned were warm and it was comfortable having her there, drifting in and out of sleep. When he pushed her away from him and half-rose to tend the fire before it went out, she moaned her protest.

“No, stay . . .” She clung to him, twisting her hands into the fabric of his shirt.

He sat back down and began to gently extricate himself from her grasp. “The fire’s going out. Let me take care of it and I’ll come back and be your pillow.”

“Were you . . . trying to get me . . . drunk? Cuz . . . I think it worked.” She snorted a laugh.

Her words slurred badly and Walker smiled. He’d given her the Scotch to warm and relax her. Clearly, he’d let her drink too much. “Hell, I didn’t even have to try.”

“I don’t know your name.”

“Walker.” He worked one of her hands free and started on the other one, but she grabbed another handful of shirt as she studied him.

“That’s a last name. What’s your first name?”

“It’s just Walker.”

“I can’t call you by your last name without a Mr. attached—Mr. Walker.”

“No problem. That’ll work.” He frowned as his gaze lingered on her lips. “It might even remind me how sweet and innocent you are so I stop thinking about . . .” He swore under his breath and tore his gaze away from her face. Shit! Way to let his mouth run unattended. Why was he letting this girl get to him?

“Thinking about what?” She studied him curiously, then drew in a sharp breath. “You want to kiss me. That’s it—isn’t it?”

She really was drunk, and she’d either not remember this conversation in the morning or be mortified, but for right now, a little fear of God was in order for her protection. He tugged gently on a strand of her hair. “A kiss is only a small part of what I had in mind.”

Her eyes widened. That was the effect he wanted. The extent of his lechery would make it clear how dangerous he was, and self-preservation should kick in and keep her at a safe distance. Should have—but his innuendo didn’t seem to faze her.

BOOK: When I Find You: A Trust No One Novel
6.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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