Climb down the bank and get in the river.”
Was he going to drown them? No, he was going to shoot them, then let their bodies wash downstream the next time the dam opened.
Lacey started down the rocky bank, grasping a limb from a nearby tree. It gave a sharp crack. As Jason followed, another snap split the silence.
An open hand slammed into her back, and she flew forward, hands grasping at nothing. She hit the hard ground with a thud, pain shooting through her left wrist. As she tumbled down the short slope, there was another crack and an almost simultaneous shot. Then grunts and the slap of fists.
When she stood, Ruben and Jason were fighting in the headlight’s beams. Jason’s left arm was his nondominant, but last night’s injury put him at a distinct disadvantage. Ruben swung, and Jason stumbled backward. The weapon lay nearby.
Lacey scrambled up the bank and dived for it the same time Ruben did. Her hand wrapped around the barrel, his around the handle. His lip was busted, and blood trickled from his nose.
It didn’t take much for him to wrench the weapon from her grasp. When he pointed it at her, her heart stuttered to a stop.
The next moment, Jason’s arm swung down, the blow connecting with Ruben’s head. Ruben jerked, then went limp. When Jason opened his hand, a fist-size rock fell to the ground. He moved the weapon out of Ruben’s reach and pulled Lacey to her feet. “Are you all right?”
Her knees buckled, and he held her close, supporting her weight. When she tried to straighten her legs, the bones seemed to have dissolved.
She let herself lean into him, her face pressed against his hard chest, those arms of steel wrapped around her. Never had she felt so protected.
“I’m fine. My wrist…” If it wasn’t broken, it was badly sprained. But she was alive.
He loosened his hold enough to look at her. “You hurt it when you fell, didn’t you? I’m sorry.”
Why was he apologizing? “What happened?”
“From the moment I saw Ruben holding the gun to your head, I started praying for an opportunity to overpower him without getting us killed. When you grabbed that dead limb, it gave me an idea. Ruben wasn’t far behind me. I figured if I could snap it off the rest of the way, I could use it like a bat.”
She nodded slowly, the pieces falling into place. “You pushed me down the bank to get me out of the line of fire.”
Jason picked up Ruben’s weapon and led her back toward the truck, holding her against his side. “I left the keys in the ignition. You’re going to have to drive several miles up 294 until you have cell service, then call 911. Have them send an ambulance, too. Looks like he’s going to need it.”
She glanced at the man lying facedown on the grass. He was still out cold.
At the open driver’s door, she wrapped her arms around Jason’s waist. Her wrist was throbbing. She was going to be driving with one hand.
She smiled up at him in the moonlight. “You know, you’re taking this hero thing to extremes. This is the fourth time you’ve saved my life.”
“Who’s counting?” His arms came up to encircle her, and one side of his mouth twitched. “Any other enemies I should know about?”
“Not for the time being.” She grinned. “In the future, I’ll try to stay away from greedy company owners and obsessive paralegals.”
“How about relatively sane cops-slash-firefighters?”
“That depends on which cop-slash-firefighter you’re referring to.”
He paused, all teasing gone. “How about one who started falling in love with you fifteen years ago, but was too young to recognize it?”
Her stomach rolled over, and her pulse picked up speed. “And how does that man feel now?”
“He loves you more than he ever thought possible.”
“What about Oregon?”
“There’s nothing there for me if you’re here.”
Joy swelled inside, but anxiety tainted it. With everything she’d been through with Ivan, how could she think of getting into a relationship so soon? What if it didn’t work out?
Jason seemed to read her thoughts. “I know you’ve been through a lot. And you’re probably not ready for a serious commitment. But I promise you this. With me, you’ll never go through what you did with Ivan. Even though it would tear my heart out, if you ever said you didn’t want me, I’d walk away.”
Jason walk away? The thought left a void inside her. “I’ve been fighting feelings for you since the moment I saw you standing in my hospital room. After everything that’s happened since, I’m hopeless.”
“Hopelessly in love.”
He lowered his head. When his lips met hers, he poured everything he felt into the kiss. Never had she been kissed so thoroughly yet so sweetly. The last of her barriers crumbled. She had nothing to fear. She could give her heart to him completely.
He was caring and compassionate, brave and selfless.
The epitome of a hero.
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