30 May, 2008

*EPILOGUE*

She didn’t remember much after that. The Ranger had found them on the beach and there had been a myriad of police, paramedic and press crawling around the beach in a matter of hours.

The celebrity element of Jon couldn’t be kept under wraps for long. Whether it was a leak by the police or a paramedic with an overzealous tongue, the press was all over the scene like it was the next Hollywood blockbuster. She felt the snap of flash, heard the whirl of shutter speeds and the ungodly light of video, but there wasn’t much she could do to deflect it.

Distantly she knew that the paramedics were trying to stabilize her, get her ready for the trip to the hospital. All she could focus on was Jon. Where was he? Her heart rate stuttered and spiked and the ambulance seemed to close in on her.

“Miss, please you have to calm down.”

She drew in a shuddering breath. “I need-“ she sucked in another thick, cold gulp of air. “Where-“ The machines she was hooked to beeped and shrieked. “I need-“

“Miss, you have to relax. Your body’s in shock and we need to get you stable.”

“I can’t! I need-“ and her breath let out in a whoosh as Jon came around the side of the ambulance. Instantly her body shook with both relief and the unrelenting cold she couldn’t seem to control.

Cam,” he said softly. His face was stark white against the dark of his hair. His angular face took on a severe cast as fatigue and pain highlighted his indescribably blue eyes. A sling kept his arm against his body and a jacket had been draped over his shoulders.

She reached for him, and flinched at the pulse of light as cameras caught them. She pulled back, tucking her fingers in between her thighs to keep them warm. “You’re okay,” she said unevenly.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m heading into the ER with you.” He flashed a smile at the paramedic. “Mind if I catch a ride with you guys?”

“That’s fine,” the young man said. “Alright Miss we’re going to get you into the bus alright?”

She nodded as the gurney she’s been strapped to popped up to slide neatly into the ambulance. Every scrape, bruise and laceration seemed to hum to life as she was locked in.

Jon stepped up with the help of the tech and sat beside her. “How are you feeling?”

Suddenly unable to look at him, she faced the other side of the cab. “Just fine,” she said softly.

Jon leaned forward, hooking a finger along her chin to turn her back to him. Cam,” he said gently.

She closed her eyes. She could feel his eyes on her and couldn’t stop the slow trickle of tears from falling into her hair, gathering at her temple. “I killed a person,” she whispered.

“Hey, look at me.”

She just kept her eyes closed and saw Lucas’ eyes flat and dead. She’d taken a life. Violently. Not just taken it, she’d left no room for error. She’d buried a knife into Lucas’ neck and watched him drown. How could he look at her after that?

Cam!”

Her eyelids flashed open at the command in his tone. There was no censure in his gaze, only the soft light of thankfulness and something else. Something she had no business seeing in those amazing eyes. She lifted her hand to his bristly cheek drawing the warmth of his skin into hers.

He cupped her hand and pressed it harder into his cheek. “None of this is your fault.”

She coughed, slipping her hand away from his face and the warmth she felt there. She held her stomach as she coughed again and again, her body trying to reject the last of the lake water that had saturated her lungs.

He looked up at the paramedic. “Anything you can do for her?”

The medic nodded and hooked up an IV to her.

The world started to go black and she reached for him, finding the solid grip of his hand before she let herself float away.

~

ONE WEEK LATER

Cam opened and closed her hands around the bandages that had just been freshly wrapped around the palms of her hands. She’d done a lot more damage than she’d thought on that beach.

Between the knife and the manic scrubbing she was lucky she didn’t have to have reconstructive surgery to make them look like hands again. She traced a line down her palm. She could feel the itch of the healing skin broken by the blade of Lucas’ knife. He’d managed to give her one more scar to add to the collection.

She pushed that thought away and tucked the last of her belongings in her bag. Not that it was her stuff anyway. It was Jon who’d taken care of her, bought her clothes so that she had something to wear out of the hospital.

She turned and her breath stopped. He stood in the doorway, his arm still pinned to his chest in a tight sling. A button down khaki shirt hung over faded blue jeans in a wrinkled state that told her he still hadn’t gone home. “Hi,” she said softly.

“Hey,” Jon said with the same thoughtful smile she saw every day. “Time to spring you from this joint, huh?”

“Finally.”

“Have you given any thought to where you’ll go?”

She shook her head. She couldn’t seem to make herself go back to her old life. Even with Lucas dead and her name cleared, it seemed wrong. The police had cleared her of any wrong doing. It had been ruled self defense without much fight on her end.

She’d had to explain her history to strangers, drag them into her private hell until she was so numb it just didn’t seem to matter anymore. All that mattered was that she was free. She could start over anywhere.

“With the press, I thought it would be a good idea to keep that new identity you made for yourself. I can get you anywhere you want to go. You can start over.”

She blinked out of her thoughts and looked at him. Had he been reading her mind? “I don’t know, Jon.”

He slid his hand down her arm and gently caught her by the fingertips. “Let me help you.”

She backed up, loosening his hold. “I don’t need your help. I can finally do this on my own.”

“Call it a loan then.”

She stopped and turned back to him. “Why?”

His blue eyes swirled with emotion. Concern and what might have beens lingered before he glanced down at her bandaged hands and he took one again, gently folding both of his over hers. “It’s not right, and the timing sucks on a level I can’t even explain, but there’s something between us.”

She tried to pull back. Her heart rate accelerated until every muscle and bone in her body quivered to flee.

“I’m not asking anything from you, Cam. I know we’re on two different levels right now, but I want to make sure you’re alright. I need to know you’re going to be safe out there on your own.”

“Of course I am. Lucas is dead.”

“Where do you want to go?” His eyes were earnest now. His lips in a thin line as he looked at her. Really looked at her, as if he could see everything inside of her.

She stopped, letting her hand stay right where it was, right where she wanted to be. She met his eyes. “A small town by the water. Even after all that Lucas did to me, I need the water to be happy.”

“I found a place in Maine. The water is beautiful and wild. The winters aren’t easy, but it’s away from here. Away from all of this. It’s rented for the time being, and if you want to buy it then it’s an option.”

“Jon, no. That’s way too generous.” Her heart leaped into her throat. Why would he help her like this? What did he want?

“I can see those beautiful blue eyes reading way too much into my ulterior motives. We’ve been through something together. I care about what happens to you. I just want to give you the chance to start over at your own pace. And I don’t want you to worry about giving me anything in return. Knowing you can start over somewhere without Lucas’ memory hanging over your head is enough.”

She stared into his eyes, reading the need and the want there, but also the truth. He wanted to help her. He didn’t pity her. She could feel the other undercurrent between them, the quieter, stifled connection that could have been something.

If only.

She nodded. “I’m paying you back.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He held out his arm. “Car’s waiting downstairs.”

She lifted the small duffle and hooked her arm in his. “Already had this planned huh?”

“I’m pretty good at negotiating.”

“And if I’d said no?”

“I’d have thought of something else.”

She laughed. Something told her he had plan b and c in his head already. The man was ready for anything. She signed out and they rode the elevator in silence. A Towne Car sat by the curb when they left the building.

Jon stood next to her as the driver popped the trunk. She stepped forward when she saw her suitcase in the trunk. “How?”

He shrugged, “The police found your car and called me looking for you. I told them I’d take it for you.”

“Enterprising of you,” she said dryly.

“Isn’t it just?”

She tucked the duffle in next to her suitcase and followed him around the car. “So what now?”

He opened the door, waving the driver back into the car. They settled in and he looked at her. “Now you get on a plane and you start over Cameron Blaise.” He picked up a packet off the seat. “You have credit cards and ID here. I used the name you had on the passport and license. You can be whoever you want to be.”

Yours. A tiny whisper in her head startled her. What would it be like to be his? She swallowed back the what-might-have-beens. She wasn’t his. He had a family and responsibilities and she was...She didn’t even know who she was.

They rode in silence, she could sense his need to process all that today meant. His presence next to her felt reassuring and calming in a way she didn’t think she’d ever find again, especially with a man as powerful as Jon was. They pulled around to a small air strip and the car drove right onto the tarmac.

She got out and grabbed her purse before the men in the suits could haul that away with her luggage. Her stomach fluttered as they stood together with his plane humming in the distance. He was an important man after all. She looped the strap over her shoulder. “I will pay you back monetarily. As for the rest…” she trailed off.

“You don’t owe me anything. If anything I owe you.” He tucked a blowing strand of hair behind her ear. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Nothing like a little perspective to get a man back to center.”

She leaned into him, drawing in the scent of leather and soap and the elusive scent that was Jon. She looped her arm around his good shoulder and pressed a kiss to his cheek. And then because she needed to know she moved over.

He jerked a little as their lips made contact. She pulled back, but it was too late. His hand came up to the back of her head and kept her still as he slowly and thoroughly tasted her. The tendrils of attraction hadn’t faded now that the stress of the situation had dissipated. They were strong and longing to build.

Her fingers curled into his jacket as she held on. His smoky flavor was a heady taste of heaven. She forced herself to stop, to pull back. He wasn’t hers. It definitely wasn’t the time.

She lifted her fingertips to his lips, so full and warm. Did he taste her still? Did he want more? She closed her eyes when he gently kissed her fingertips.

“Have a nice life, Cameron Blaise.”

She opened her eyes and saw the sadness there in his face, as well as the resignation. He knew it wasn’t the right time either. She could see it, taste it in the longing of his kiss. She stepped back and hooked her thumb into her pocket. “Thank you.”

She turned and nodded to the stewardess as she climbed the blocky steps into the first class personal plane. She forced herself not to look back. She wasn’t entirely sure she would get on the plane if she did.

She settled herself into her seat and opened her purse. She found her trusty Ipod at the bottom of the mess and slipped the earbuds in and hit shuffle. She looked out the window as Amanda Marshall flooded into her brain as she held up a hand in goodbye.





Jon felt the buzz of his phone as the plane hit the runway and he watched her take off. He dragged his thoughts back to the present. Letting the plane leave with all the what ifs that swirled in his gut. He lifted it to his ear. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry, Sir.”

Jon’s gut clenched for a whole new reason. “Still nothing?”

“They combed the lake. Both the divers from the Lake George Park Rangers and the personal ones you requested came up with the same results. Captain Lucas Banyon hasn’t been found.”

“I want a guard on her twenty-four seven. I don’t care if he never finds her, you make sure someone watches over her.”

Without missing a beat, his head of security asked, “Do you want the subject to know?”

Jon turned back, just as the plane disappeared into the east. “No. Just make sure she’s safe. I want weekly reports to my personal email.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Jon snapped the phone shut and climbed into the Town Car waiting for him. “Home, please.”


27 May, 2008

Chapter 15

Thrashing against him she screamed into the icy water. She gripped at his clothes, flailed against his huge hands. He held her down, and she felt the all consuming suffocation of water filling her lungs.

She grabbed at his belt, at his arm and managed to get her head above water for one precious gulp of air. She fought as he pushed her further into the lake. She scratched at his legs as he dragged her deeper and pulled herself up, choking her way to the surface. She grabbed at his face, scraping her nails down his skin, anything to get him to let up.

She felt the black dots before she saw them. They curled at the edges of her vision as the cold started to feel warm, as the water started to feel comforting, as her air started to slip away in tiny bubbles around her face.

And all she could think about was Jon. He’d done everything for her and she repaid him with this. She felt her arms float out, felt the ease of the blanket of darkness. It was soothing. It wouldn’t be a bad way to die.

Her knuckle bumped along something hard. Curious, her fingers slid along the length of it and felt the curve of a blade. Her mind felt thick with the inky blackness of her watery grave, but her fingers curled around it.

Her heart gave a final whump of adrenaline and she screamed into the water pushing it into him.

He let go.

Her brain shrieked for its freedom as she gripped the hilt of the blade and pulled it from his shredded pocket, feeling the sick scrape of bone as she yanked it out of him. She gasped as she broke through the water and brought the blade up high and watched his dark eyes stare blankly at her as she sunk the blade deep into his neck.

She held it there, her knuckles severe white in their grip. His fingers went slack as he started to float, his black eyes empty as his face turned into the water. She heaved out a lungful of lake and gasped for air. It seized her lungs, but she couldn’t drag her eyes away from the thin line of red that seeped from the hole in him. A hole she’d put into him.

The knife looked so small now. The black hilt was stark against the pale blue skin along his jugular then nothing at all. Just the shear glass of the lake swallowing him. She tripped as her feet hit bottom and she felt the pebbles and sand shift and pull at her. He bumped around her and she watched the red trail as he floated to the center of the lake.

She crawled to the beach, unwilling to look back. She shook as she dropped to her hands and knees. Red streaks dripped from her elbows to her wrists and down to her fingers. She dug her fingertips into the sand, gripped the granules as she scrubbed. All she could see was his blood. His blood on her hands.

She scrubbed until the sand was pink.

She scrubbed until he found her.

Cam.”

She looked up, and the unrelenting horror faded. He was alive. He cradled his arm to his belly as he dropped to the sand. He pressed his hand over both of hers and dragged her in. Cam,” he groaned as she wrapped her raw arms around him, gripping his torn and bloodied shirt with her equally bloodied fingers and just hung on.

24 May, 2008

Chapter 14

She didn’t remember picking up the rock, she didn’t even realize she’d crushed it into Lucas’ skull, but when he pitched forward onto Jon she cried out. Blind with tears and shock she pushed him off of Jon and felt the acid in her empty belly roil with horror.

With shaking fingers she cupped Jon’s angular jaw. The bristles of his beard felt right, and the lingering warmth of his skin calmed her. “Jon?” she whispered brokenly.

A cold hand covered hers and the grip was gentle, but firm. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said groggily.

She smoothed the dirt from his face, and pressed her forehead to his chest. “I thought I’d lost you.”

His fingers gripped hers, his blue eyes pleading through the pain. “You’ve got to get to the Ranger, Cam.”

She shook her head, the sobs strangling her. “I’m not leaving you.”

He tried to lift his head, but only winced. “I’m only going to hold you back. Go! I’ll be okay, I promise.”

“No,” she whispered brokenly. She glanced over her shoulder at Lucas’ still body. Dear God, had she killed him?

Cam, look at me.”

She couldn’t look away from Lucas. She turned away from Jon and crawled toward him. Could it really be over? Had she killed him? Maybe they would be okay.

Cam!” Jon yelled into the wind.

Lucas rolled over, shaking his head as if to clear it. She scrambled back, crab walking her way back to Jon. She caught sight of Jon from the corner of her eye. Saw him broken and bleeding because of her. Adrenaline surged as she pushed herself to her feet, dragging herself off the ground with a boulder that cut out of the path.

She ran. It was the only thing she could think to do. She ran toward the Ranger’s hut and the light that could be her salvation once more. Lead him away, Cam. Lead him away from Jon.

She could feel him behind her. She could hear the crashing of his footsteps and the crunch of snow beneath his feet. Over it all she could hear her heartbeat like a drum in her head. It pushed her forward; it drove her on as the light bounced in her blurred vision. The snow swirled and the wind howled its winter song with relentless fury but still she ran.

“Cameron!” His voice was too clear. Too close. She tripped on the roots of the blasted trees that kept her weaving up the path. She felt the rush of his body and the free fall as they went off the side.

She didn’t even have enough breath to scream as they rolled down the side. Rocks, and brush, tree limbs and dirt all tore her to pieces as she and Lucas took a one way ticket from top to bottom. The time it took to climb to the path was eaten up in mere seconds as they landed hard at the base of the incline.

She thought she knew pain before, but there was nothing in the world to even correlate with the sheer, white hot pain that her entire body felt. She couldn’t even pinpoint the pain, it was everywhere and nowhere. It was light and heat, cold and darkness.

She craned her neck and through the blurred vision she saw him crawling to her. Even now, broken and bruised beyond comprehension he still came for her. He would always come for her. He’d told her that. And there was the truth of it, so complete and so relentless.

She screamed at him, wild howls of pain and hate all coming out as the fates slugged at her yet again. She dragged herself off the ground and put one foot in front of her. She wouldn’t go quietly now. Oh no.

She stood over him, the madness still gripped him, even as she loomed over him and she couldn’t stop herself. She kicked him. The glancing blow of her sneaker hitting him in the head knocked her already unsteady self to the ground. Rocks and sand sifted beneath her. “I’ll die before I go back with you Lucas.”

He crawled over her and she pushed back, feeling the ice give way to the shoreline as he advanced and she shrank back. Her muscles screamed as fear and exhaustion started to beat her down.

The bite of the water’s edge felt like fire it was so cold. He hunched over her and dragged her into the water and she went under.

19 May, 2008

Chapter 13

Cam threw up her arms to block the thick, knotted branch that came her way. She lost her footing and saw stars as her chin hit the ground. She fought against the darkness trying to tease her into a place with no pain, a place that wasn’t cold.

Her eyelids felt heavy and the swirl of snow obstructed her vision. She blinked away the deep black that wanted to take her. She couldn’t go now. Not yet, he still needed her. Someone needed her. Jon needed her.

She saw the huge form and the swing of the branch like a bat heading for Jon. “Lucas no!”

He didn’t stop the arch of his swing and she watched in horror as Jon went down and stayed down. Horrified, she screamed when Lucas pulled back for a second swing. “No! You’ll kill him!” She crawled to him. Ice and dirt tore at her fingers as the rocks and twigs of the earth scraped her raw. But still she crawled, still she moved forward.

He was so still.

Lucas turned on her, his chest heaving with exertion and the wild glint of bloodlust left her colder than any freak winter storm could. She reached Jon, curling her fingers over his wrist as a sob hiccupped from her chest. His arm and shoulder were at an odd angle and he was turned away from her. Was he breathing? She couldn’t see his chest moving, just the awful angles that could only mean pain. Or worse.

Lucas gripped her by her hair and hauled her away from Jon, “Get away from him, you whore! That’s what you get for leaving me, Cameron. You made me do that!”

She whimpered and fell limp against him. It was her fault. She’d done that to him. It may have been Lucas’ hands, but it was her fate that had killed him, or was killing him now. Lucas wouldn’t let him live. The fight drained out of her. There was nothing he could do to her now. He’d won. It just didn’t matter anymore. She wanted to die, that would at least finally bring her peace.

He dragged her over to Jon. “Look at him and learn, Cameron. You will never leave me, do you understand?”

“No,” she whispered. He was supposed to kill her. He’d said she would die now. She’d heard him say it at Jon’s cabin, hadn’t she?

He pushed her down next to Jon, her cheek pressed to the soft black t-shirt he wore. “I’ll always find you.” His voice was low in her ear. Even with the howling wind, it was his vicious voice that sent a chill down her back.

She could feel the warmth leaving Jon as tears mixed with snowflakes leaving just the impression of him. Just Jon sleeping, that’s all it was. “Just kill me, Lucas. Just kill me and get it over with.” The weariness was complete.

His fingers curled into the nape of her neck as he brought her into his chest. The overpowering scent of musk and pine assaulted her. Lucas’ scent, not Jon’s. It would never be Jon’s again.

Then she heard it. The softest, sweetest sound she would ever hear. It was the grumble of her name on the wind. A stillness settled over her as Jon turned his head her way. She blinked against the helpless tears and locked on his eyes. Finding her feet she leaned against Lucas and pushed him back.

“I understand, Lucas.” She gripped his coat and leaned on him, as if she’d surrendered.

He looked down at her, the wildness was gentled at her words. His smooth, polished smile was almost normal as she’d said the words that would always bring him happiness. He touched her face. “I knew you would.”

Getting him away from Jon was paramount. She stumbled as her body betrayed her will. Lucas wrapped his arm around her shoulders and held her up. Her skin crawled at his touch, but if it meant getting away then it just didn’t matter what happened to her.

“Let’s just go, okay?”

Lucas looked back over his shoulder at Jon on the ground. “I need to take care of something first. It’s to protect you,” he said and brushed his fingers down her cheek.

Fighting the need to shrink back, she only nodded. When he pulled away from her and crouched for the branch again she choked on a sob. No! her brain screamed. He hefted the limb and raised it over his head to finish Jon off.

16 May, 2008

Chapter 12

Jon swung the door wider and grabbed her hand, pulling her out the door and down the stairs. They slid down the drive, their feet sliding on the heavy wet snow. He didn’t slow, hoping the momentum down the incline would keep them upright.

He felt her skid behind him, her sneakers no match for the ice and snow. They both crashed to the bottom, snow took on the consistency of razor blades as his shirt bunched up on his shoulders.

He jammed his knee as his boots jolted them to a stop at the coastline. “C’mon,” he whispered into the night, ignoring the pain. He could do that, he’d done it before for far less of a reason. He looked back, the shimmering blanket of snow filled sky cast her face in a bluish light. Her eyes were black ringed with pain and exhaustion. She didn’t have enough strength back to be heading out into this weather. He took a moment and cupped her face. “We’re going to be fine,” he said definitively. “We’re going to get out of this.”

She nodded, but didn’t say a word. He was worried, she was far too pale and the bloom of blood was spreading across her chest, but her grip on his hand was strong. She was strong, and he was counting on that strength to get them both to the Ranger Station.

They moved along the incline, hiding in the shadows. While the iridescent sky helped them to see, it also put them in the spotlight. Quickly and as quietly as possible they hugged the wall of sand and rock. He slid on a patch of ice, swearing as a jagged rock scraped along his palm as he grabbed for purchase.

She cried out and tumbled to her knees. Jon bent to pull her back to her feet and felt a blast of rock explode over his shoulder. “What the fuck?” he gasped. “Is he shooting at us?” Incredulous didn’t even come close to the words tumbling around in his brain.

Another dusting of debris rained down on them as a second bullet pierced the rocky coastline. The crack of the bullet echoed around the basin of the lake and Cam curled into herself hugging her knees in close. “Just go,” she whispered, tucking her chin into her knees rocking.

“No, we are getting to that Ranger Station. Get up!” He ordered, using a voice that sounded far too much like his father’s.

“He only wants to kill me, Jon. Just go, leave me here and go to the Ranger.”

He pulled her to her feet roughly. “What? You think he’s going to let me live now that I know who he is?” He shook her. “We need to move now.” Her eyes were wide and shocky, not really seeing him at all. “Cam, snap out of it.”

She crumbled in his arms, screaming when another bullet ricocheted and splinters of rock gave credence to Jon’s words, but still she sagged against him. “I can’t.”

“You can and you will if I have to haul you over my shoulder.” He gripped her upper arms. “We’ll make a better target, but-“

“No!” Her watery legs finally stood solid as she gripped his shirt. “God you’re stubborn,” she said with a sniffle.

“One of my best qualities,” he said and pushed her in front of him. They crawled around into the shadows and the silence was unnerving. He felt along the facing, trusting it to bring them to the path that wound up into the security and safety of the Rangers. They pushed forward until they came to a copse of trees. He laid a hand along her back, curling his fingers into her shoulder when he felt the violent shiver drill down her spine. “C’mon let’s rest for a second.”

The wind whirled around them, as snow stung his cheeks. They hadn’t had time to get to their coats so their jersey t-shirts and sweats were the only shield they had against the elements. Crouching down behind the largest of the trees, he settled her in front of him, her back to his front as he surrounded her, trying to give her his warmth. He rubbed her arms to fight some of the cold. “How’re you doing?”

“I have a psycho ex-fiancĂ© that wants to kill me, other than that I’m just freezing.”

He chuckled and tucked his chin into her neck. “Did he cut you badly?” He asked on a low voice, fighting the anger and the outrage that wanted to spill out.

“No, it’s really just a scratch. The cold has actually helped to stop the bleeding.” She said, pressing a palm against her bloodied shirt.

He wrapped his fingers around her hand, and felt the jackhammer beat of her heart. He held her tighter, trying to give her as much heat and comfort as he could for the five minutes they had before they needed to move again.

He’d walked every inch of this beach in the week since he’d been there and knew the terrain well enough to be confident that the walk from his place to the Park Ranger Station was about two miles. Of course he could run the two miles in about fifteen minutes, but these weren’t running conditions. And Cam wasn’t in any shape for him to suggest it.

“I’m sorry Sweetheart, but we have to get moving again.”

She nodded as they stood. Jon peered out into the night; he didn’t know what to look for or where a seasoned cop would put himself. Would he just pick them off from long range? He didn’t think so. He seemed like he needed the hands on approach. The knife he liked to use made him think it needed to be up close and personal.

They laced fingers and he curled her into the wall, making sure he was on the outside. It would take longer to get to the station, but the shadows were the only thing that could really keep them safe. He cursed as the snow kicked up again. He was out of his element in the worst way and he had no idea how he was going to keep both of them alive.

The swirling snow shrouded them in such a dense quiet that he couldn’t even hear Cam’s footsteps. His nerves started to hum in awareness. Where was Lucas? And what kind of game was he going to play?

Pushing clammy sweat out of his eyes he caught sight of the Ranger’s lights. “There’s the path,” he yelled into the swirling wind. “We’re going to make it, Cam.”

She nodded and started climbing. He could see the mechanical, jerky movements of her arms and legs as hypothermia and shock settled on her shoulders like a new skin. He’d worry about the aftermath of this night when they got to the station, right now the mere fact that she was still walking was enough.

He caught her as she missed a stone and tumbled back against him. “I’ve got you, Sweetheart.” She turned into him, huddling into his arms as violent shivers wracked her shoulders. “Just a little bit more,” he said into her hair.

She nodded and screamed as a tree branch came at them both.

21 April, 2008

Chapter 11

Her entire body froze. Not again! Her mind screamed. Certainly she had screamed it to the world. It sounded so loud in her head. Her arms felt like lead at her sides. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. All she could do was focus on the blade.

Not again!

Swallowing down the lump in her throat she dragged in a deep breath. “I can feel you trembling for me, Cameron. I knew you’d come around to my way of thinking.”

No! Her mind screamed again, but her lips remained stubbornly silent and her body useless. A horrifying cold seemed to eat at her from the inside out. Her blood, her lungs, they felt like they were seizing. She gasped as the panic clawed up from her throat and all she could release was a whimper.

Lucas drew her closer, flicking the edge of the blade along her throat, to the underside of jaw. “I hate giving you these lessons, Cameron. Why do you continue to make me hurt you? We could have been so happy.”

Her knees buckled and the knife bit into her flesh. Through the aching cold, she could feel the slow, seeping trickle of her own blood. Her fingers finally worked, curling around his wide wrist, clawing at him as she felt droplet arrow down the long column of her neck and lower to pool into the little divot at the center of her collar bone.

She didn’t remember whimpering, but she must have and Jon must have heard her. His voice cut through the ice, strong, sure and steely. “What kind of man forces a woman anyway?”

Lucas stilled behind her. “I don’t need to force a woman, I just need to show her the correct way.”

“Right, forcing her, because you’re not man enough to let her have her own mind. Only a real man would know that a woman’s brain is just as sexy as the outside package. And a Stepford Wife isn’t really a wife at all, just a living doll. Perhaps you can’t handle a real woman,” he said thoughtfully.

Cam’s knees nearly dissolved. What was he doing? He was going to get her killed. The blade ticked higher under her chin, slick with her blood and the cold sweat of terror. Lucas dragged her up, forcing her to stand.

Jon started moving slowly. “Is that the deal? A real woman scares you?”

“Stay where you are Mr. Bon Jovi.” Lucas’ voice wavered only slightly. “Clever of you to try the psychology bit,” his voice strengthened. “Perhaps you are just a little more than a stupid rockstar, but it’s too late for Cameron. She’s been tainted. I’m just here to tie up some loose ends.” He nuzzled her neck and she had to swallow back the acid burning its way up her throat. “It’s too bad, she was nearly perfect.”

Her eyes focused as Jon made it to the end of the bed where the bench was tucked up to the footboard. Lucas had looked away for a second and the firelight was on his side. He snatched the chenille throw with the decorative string-like ends and snapped it like a wet towel.

It was just enough to startle Lucas as the end whipped along his cheek. Jon threw his shoulder into a tackle. Cam felt the blade make a shallow cut through her shirt and the quick ooze of blood but she was able to drop to the floor as the two men hit the floor in pile of legs and arms.

The light was limited on this side of the bed, but Lucas was larger than Jon. She heard the curse as he landed a blow and Jon growled into the dark. She crawled to the door, terror blindsiding her. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t see.

Her fingers found the axe handle. She lifted it, swinging like a bat at the larger of the two forms and felt the crack of bone against wood as Lucas cried out. She swung again, glancing off his temple as he went down.

“Jon!”

“Fuck!”

“Jon! Are you okay?” her voice was too high, she could feel the hysteria building. “Oh please, tell me I didn’t hit you.”

“No Sammy Sosa, you didn’t.”

A choked laugh bubbled into the panic and she crawled to him. He gathered her into his arm, dragging them both away from Lucas. “Oh God, you are stupid,” she said on a shaky laugh.

He held his ribs as he tucked her under his arm. “Yeah well, I have three younger brothers that like to beat on me. I’ll be fine.”

“Did he cut you?” she asked as she began patting him down. Her fingers smoothed over the bristly jaw to his neck to his shoulders, until he stilled her wandering hands.

“I’m okay.” They both jumped as Lucas rolled onto his back. “Go!” Jon pushed her past Lucas. “We have to get out of here.” They both scrambled down the stairs, they could hear him moving around. Swearing as he discovered them both gone. “Hurry,” Jon said in a stage whisper.

The snowfall blanketed the surrounding beach and had already piled onto Lucas’ car. It would take too long to uncover it. Jon stomped into his workboots and tossed her sneakers at her. “C’mon. We have to make it to the Ranger station around the bend.”

“Cameron!” Lucas bellowed from the stairs, thundering down them.

She screamed as the iridescent light of a sky of full of snow showed his face. Blood flowed down half his face where she’d cracked him with the axe handle and there was a madness there.

He wasn’t going to let her live through this.



12 April, 2008

Chapter 10

Cam stalked through the shadows of the other side of the room, shaking her hands. She could feel the firm muscles of his chest on the palms of her hands still. Her entire body thrummed with it. She rounded the bed to the soft glow that filled one half of the room.

“Would you light someplace? You’re driving me insane.”

“I can’t just sit.” Her emotions were jumbled with fear, anticipation and…God, was that lust? Was it attraction she was feeling? How? Just the thought of a man touching her was enough to send her walking to Canada in the middle of the blizzard outside. Unless that man was Jon, evidently, she thought in disgust.

There was a sense of safety that seemed to exude from him, and at the same time a blast of urgency left her breathless. Her body wanted him. Crazy as it was to even fathom, she’d nearly kissed him. Her body had flamed at the mere touch of his bearded chin on her neck.

For the first time in months, fear had taken a back seat to needs she’d thought she’d buried. Even at her most delusional Lucas had never put a tenth of the heat into her blood that standing in a room with Jon did. Just standing. It was beyond amazing. He made her want again, when her life had been all about running for so long.

She sat on the bed and curled her legs up Indian style. Her bandages pulled a little, but the pain pushed away the mist of lust that had her near hysterical. Concentrate on getting yourself out of this, Cam. Not on a man that was so far out of reach he should have been in the next galaxy.

She didn’t have time for romance or for someone as public as he was. God, wasn’t he married? She folded her hands over her feet and faced the window. “Jon, where’s your family?”

“In New Jersey,” he said with a sigh.

“Isn’t your wife worried about you?”

“She’s probably relieved that I’m gone.”

“Because she doesn’t understand you?” she asked dryly.

He leaned his head on the glass. “Yeah, you could say that. How can she understand me, when I don’t understand me?”

Happy to focus on something other than her own personal hell she leaned back on the pillows. “Midlife crisis?”

He snorted and tossed a sardonic grin over his shoulder. “I wish. If it was a midlife crisis then I could go get a young mistress, a fast car and burn through some money to make myself feel young again. I could live the clichĂ© they accuse me of with my former pretty blonde hair and my perfect little life.”

She could practically taste the bitterness in his words. “But it’s not,” she prompted.

“No, it’s not something as easy as a midlife crisis; it’s more like lack of inspiration. Nothing,” he paused and the darkness seemed to feed his need to talk. “Makes me happy anymore. Not my music, not my work, not my charity work. Nothing seems to settle me these days. So I came up here to see if I could get my shit together.”

“And you get me,” she said quietly.

He turned to her and sat on the corner of the bed. “And I got you,” his eyes flickered in the firelight, intense, bright and hot. “And you woke me up for the first time in nearly eighteen months.”

“It’s probably just a short term thing.”

His hand covered hers and squeezed. “The timing is the only thing that’s off.”

“Isn’t this sweet? My wife decides to first desert me, then cheat on me like the whore I always knew she was.”

A ball of fire exploded in her belly as fear and surprise flared at the sound of his voice. She felt the harsh grip of Lucas’ fingers as he dragged her off the bed. She tumbled to the floor, her body still not totally recovered from her date with the tree.

“Get up, whore,” Lucas said through gritted teeth. He dragged her up as she scratched at his wrists for him to loosen his hold.

Jon vaulted over the bed, his lean athletic body thrumming with rage and fear. “Let her go, Lucas.”

“I see you’ve been telling your new man all about me, wife.” Lucas sneered as he dragged her back.

“I’m not your wife!” she spat out.

“A mere technicality.”

She blinked away the pain as he yanked on her hair. He couldn’t honestly believe that she would marry him now? She couldn’t make out Jon’s features in the dark, just the outline of his body, and the stiff posture of his fear.

“What are you going to do now?” Jon asked in a cool voice.

“Finish where I left off of course,” Lucas said calmly.

“She’s not going anywhere with you.”

“Oh but she is, Mr. Bon Jovi. It’s a shame you patched her up so well,” he dragged her close, she could feel his hot breath on her cheek and bile roiled up her throat. “Such a waste of time,” he said with the barest hint of regret.

Jon took a step forward and she froze as Lucas’ hand rose and the steel blade of his favorite knife glinted in the low firelight.

07 April, 2008

Chapter 9

The next time he woke it was to duck a flying fist. “Whoa!” Thanking the reflexes of being one of three brothers and the smallest one at that, he saved his face from the punch that was coming. “Cam, wake up.”

“Get off me! Get off me!” she screamed.

He sat up and dragged her into a sitting position. “Cam!”

Her dark blue eyes blinked open and the shroud of dreams pulled back slowly. “What? Where?” she looked around the room and then closed in on herself, putting her hands over her face.

Cam?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes and quickly twisted the tail into a knot at the top of her head, snapping the rubber band around the whole mess. Instead of looking ridiculous it just heightened her beauty and the exposed the fragile blue of her eyes.


He just shook his head. She was a constant contradiction in terms. She tried so hard to keep her game face on but when he actually got a look into her eyes he saw nothing but fear. “Tell me something…” he trailed off until her eyes met his. Some of the fear was fading, but she still wasn’t quite back to the feisty girl he saw a few hours ago. “What did you do before you started running?”

“Before Lucas started grooming me into the perfect Captain’s wife?”

“Yes, before Lucas.”

“I was a nobody, Jon. I worked in a dead end job that had no future. Why on earth do you think Lucas looked so appealing?”

“You don’t have a nobody personality, Cam.” He wanted to pull her out of her thoughts about Lucas, remind her of what she was before him. He had a feeling that was the only way to get through to her. She had to find some hope or they were both in serious trouble.

“I was an office manager for a small Mom and Pop distributor. It was so boring I thought I was going to go out of my mind, but I had school loans to pay and a car payment…and well, you do what you have to.”

“What did you go to school for?”

She slid from the bed and walked to the window. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters.”

She turned back to him, the stark grey of the sky behind her seemed to treat her with an ethereal glow. “I thought I was going to be the next great artist. What I found out was that I was just an average student with a bit of talent.”

“Or you were afraid to try and be more,” he said hoping to see a spark of something.

A slim, light eyebrow lifted. “Is this your version of a pep talk?”

“Is it working?”

Another real smile twitched her lips. “You’re a sneaky guy, Jon.”

“I have been accused of far worse,” he laughed with her.

The lights fluttered, then went out. The only light now was from the window, casting the room in a dim stone color. Her eyes went from amused to bone deep scared in a flash. “It’s probably just the weather,” Jon said calmly. “I’m going to go look.”

Her fingers twisted together as she stepped toward him. “Don’t go,” she said on a near whisper.

“It’s okay, I’m just going to take a look downstairs.”

“But-“

“I found a broken axe when I was bringing in some firewood, so I’ve got that as a weapon.”

Her eyes widened, “An axe?”

He grinned, “Just the handle. Wouldn’t want to tax the poor Rock Star with anything too heavy,” he winked and left. He heard her frustrated whisper as she called his name, but he ignored her. He padded silently down the stairs and toed on his work boots, reached behind the door and hefted the axe. He didn’t add in that the blade might have been missing, but it had a damn good weight to it.

He went around to the back door and looked out. No lights penetrated the never ending grey of the lake. The houses along the other side were just as dark as his. He scanned the property along the water and the natural incline to his rental. The good part of deep and blinding snow was that footprints were easily seen. The bad thing…they were easily covered up as well. He looked out into the quickly darkening sky and didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t a cop, and he sure as hell wasn’t a hero, but that woman upstairs certainly made him want to be one and that was a miracle.

He’d been slowly sinking into that dark place he hated so much. It was easy to keep it at bay when he was busy, but it was taking more and more projects to remain sane lately. In fact, Richie had even cornered him and told him to get back to basics. It had worked for him, maybe the same would hold true for the neurotic mess he was turning into.

The last straw had been snapping at Tico at a fundraiser. Tico was the least likely to ever piss him off. Hell, he didn’t talk enough to even be able to do it. And the heat flaring followed directly by hurt had been the final push. He needed to get away and find out what the fuck was wrong with him. Where the happiness had gone and how the hell he’d finally gotten to the point where he didn’t give a shit about anything.

One scared woman with more problems than he could ever imagine had finally managed to get his brain moving. She’d even given his heart a kick start that had been sorely lacking for too many years to count.

A low thud had him heading around to the porch, the axe handle high on his shoulder like a bat. He shut the door quietly behind him and crouched low along the roughcut frame and up the stairs. The garbage can lay on its side. The wind must have taken it out through the storm. He righted it and made his way back around the cabin and inside.

The rooms were quiet now that the low hum of appliances and baseboard heat were gone. He collected two bottles of water from the fridge and a box of cookies before climbing the stairs again.

She’d stoked the fire while he was gone. A soft glow left her face in shadow, turning the wisps of hair into fire around her. She was huddled into the center of the bed, her arms around her knees.

She jumped off the bed when he came in and rushed him, holding herself back in the last second. Knowing he needed her as much as she needed him, he let the axe and goodies fall to the floor as he gathered her in.

Her arms looped around his shoulders as she hung onto him. One hand slid up her back and he buried his fingers into her hair. “It’s okay, just the electricity going out around this area. There are no houses out there with power that I can see.”

She simply nodded and stepped closer. He felt the tremor of fear and it sliced him in two. He felt the soft puff of her breath on his neck and the endless length of a woman’s softness hidden in his workout clothes. She felt so right in his arms. His head told him to step back, but his stupid melting heart would have none of it.

His chin nuzzled along her shoulder as he slowly found the collar of her t-shirt and the scent of her blending with his soap and his shampoo left him achy with want. He heard her quick intake of breath as the rasp of his beard met flesh. Felt the increased heartbeat a second before she drew back.

The liquid blue of her eyes shone in the near dark as her lips parted and the flash of pink tongue had him swallowing back a groan. Temptation was a rare thing for him lately, but this woman pushed buttons and tugged at him in a way he thought was lost. Her eyes drifted from his mouth back to his eyes and the pain was sweet and harsh as her hands slid down from his shoulders to the curve of his chest just before she stepped back.

When she turned away he pressed his hand over the place she’d been and down to the dip in his belly. He willed the swollen length of his cock to ease. She needed his help and protection, not his overactive libido. What kind of a sleaze was he anyway? He sighed as mental flagellation was evidently all he needed to lose a hard on.

He crouched and gathered the cookies and water, setting the axe against the nightstand on his side…well, what was becoming his side of the bed. He handed her a bottle and crunched on a few cookies to keep his fucking mouth busy.

Darkness settled in on the room as neither of them could think of anything to say. Awareness seemed to be another person in the room for all the power it had. He stood by the window and watched the blustering wind as Cam prowled the room.

It was going to be a long night.