Ryan sprinted from his truck while it was still sliding to a stop. He left the door open and the engine running. Billowing dust swept past him as he charged the hill where Dani’s car had crashed. He’d watched with frozen blood as her headlights spun streaks around the trees as she’d careened off the edge. At least she hadn’t hit the rockslide head-on. But the sound of her crash was still enough to tear his heart out.
Pumping hard on his legs, pulling himself forward with any branch or rock he could reach, he climbed higher toward Dani. Her car still ran. A fuel leak could go up any second.
“Dani!” His voice would reach her before him. “Dani, can you move? Can you get out of the car?”
“Turn off the engine!” The car continued to whine.
Trees scratched his face and arms as he scrambled higher. He tried to call to her again, but his voice caught in his throat as he prepared for the worst. Twenty more feet. The forest was still settling around where the car had slammed to a stop. Ryan finally hooked his hand on the rear fender of the sedan. He climbed along the car’s length until he got to the driver’s side window.
“Dani!” He pounded on the glass. She was unconscious. No signs of blood. The front and side airbags had deployed. He pulled his folding rescue knife from his pocket and used the glass breaker on the butt to shatter the window next to her. Careful to not jostle her body, he reached past her and turned the engine off.
“Ryan,” she whispered.
“Don’t move, baby.” Hearing her voice released some of the tension knotted between his shoulders, but he knew better than to assume she was perfectly fine. “You were in a bad wreck.”
“I know.” Her voice grew stronger. She reached to her hip and tried to undo her seat belt. “How did you—”
“Stop.” He put his hand on her shoulder, the first time they’d touched in a year. These were definitely not the circumstances he wanted for a reunion. “You might be hurt.” He snapped open the short hooked safety blade on his knife and quickly sliced through the seat belt. But he kept his other hand on her shoulder, knowing the iron-willed Dani would try to get out of the car as soon as she could.
“We have to get out of here.” True to form, she put her hand over his and leaned into the door to open it.
“Dani.” He held firm. “Dani.” The same surge of live energy that had always arced between their touch was still there. “Dani, let me do my job.” And he stared, dead serious into her face. Into the face of the woman who’d welcomed him to the town where she’d grown up with a kind smile when they’d first met at the grocery store. She stared back at him and stilled. If they’d been anywhere other than at the scene of a car wreck on the side of a hill, he’d gladly spend hours staring into her dark eyes. “Do you feel any pain?”
“No.” Her eyes remained locked on his.
“Can you move your fingers and toes?” She nodded. “Hands and feet?” He sensed her impatience and felt the same himself. He wanted to drag her out of the car and into his arms until he knew she was unhurt and safe. “No numbness?”
“Just had my bell rung.” She gave his hand a squeeze, then released it to search the passenger seat for her briefcase. “Seriously, Ryan. We have to get out of here.”
He yanked the torqued door open and helped her out. It didn’t take her long to get her footing, but she still kept a hand on his arm. “Who’s in the SUV?” he asked. “They could be hurt.”
“Let the police handle them.” She glanced up the hill. Enough moonlight made it into the forest for him to see the mixture of fear and anger on her face.
“Why were they chasing you? What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you after we call the police.” She turned and started to pick her way down toward his truck. Her jeans and light jacket weren’t fit for trailblazing, but they’d protect her better than his T-shirt was doing for him. He took out his cell phone and felt the night grow even more dangerous around them.
“No signal,” he told her. “Maybe in the flats.”
“Get me as far away from here as possible.” She leaned into his shoulder and they supported each other to wind down the hill. Both glanced up to her car and beyond, but there were no signs of activity. She slung her briefcase over her shoulder by a thin strap and asked, “I’m not complaining —at all—but how did you know to find me?”
“I was checking in on Augustina’s house on Long Vine.”
“Ah…” She barely spoke. The significance of the empty house sat in the silence between them.
He continued, “Saw headlights on the high road, but I didn’t know they were yours. I just knew that whoever was up there was going way too fast and would discover last year’s slide in a bad way.”
“Thank you.” She held his arm tight. Was it for balance on the rough terrain, or was she also feeling that the spark between them hadn’t died? “I can’t thank you enough. I would’ve died if you hadn’t chased me down.”
His chest tightened with the thought. “Is that what those guys wanted?”
“They wanted this.” She patted her briefcase. “Evidence of smuggling against a power player in Silicon Valley. One person is already dead because of it.”
“This definitely doesn’t sound like corporate law.”
“First of all…” Her voice hardened. “Corporate law can get nasty.”
“Nasty phone calls, nasty emails from what you told me.” Back when they’d still talked on a daily basis, even on the days when they didn’t see each other.
“Especially nasty when the guys on the other side of the table discovered they were dealing with a black woman who was still in her twenties… Okay,” she acquiesced reluctantly. “Maybe not this nasty. This was a client out of the blue. Hell, he wasn’t even a client. We talked once, he sent me this packet, then he wound up in the morgue. I was on my way to delivering the evidence to Sarah Gold when those bastards tried to run me off the road.”
“Then we’re still getting this evidence to Sarah.” He helped Dani over a rotten log and brought them closer to his still-running truck below. Leaving the scene of an accident went against his professional instincts, but he absolutely believed Dani and knew that the men in the SUV, if still standing, were more dangerous than the two of them could handle on their own.
“You’ve got to know I didn’t mean to drag you into all this.” She shook her head and checked over her shoulder.
“Is there someone else you would’ve rather dragged in?”
They paused in a small flat on the hill, the next part of the path unclear. The truck was only ten yards beneath them. Her hand slid down his arm and she laced her fingers with his.
“No,” she answered. “No one could’ve done what you did.”
It was like the year apart had never happened. He was ready to fall right into her again, and wanted her back in his life. And from the way she was gazing into his eyes, it looked like she was also considering the possibility. But that could’ve just been the adrenaline amping them both.
“Let’s get you safe.” He plotted their course toward the truck and resumed their descent.
They made it one step when a gunshot split the night. One of his truck’s tires blew. Ryan and Dani sprawled to the ground. Two more shots rang out from the hill behind them and bullets punched into his truck’s hood. Steam hissed as fluids sprayed before the engine shuddered to a stop.
More blasts streaked down from above. Bullets chopped through the forest, closer and closer to Ryan and Dani.
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