Baby,this ain't the Beltway. NCS Special Agent Lorelei 'All-work-no-play' Randall might have enjoyed the lush green woodlands of western Maine if she didn't have a critical timeline and a tight schedule, and if she could keep her eyes open. Gravel-to-pavement-to-dirt-to-gravel-to-paved dusty-shouldered seasonal roads were not features with which she was familiar. D.C. driving encompassed the well-known competitive events of gridlocks and bumper cars—that, she understood. Out here in the boondocks, Bambi and family browsed in open meadows. Shaggy brown, hugely antlered, living, breathing billboards for Moosehead Pale Ale grazed in ponds, soggy vegetation hanging from their jaws. Flocks of genuine wild turkeys, images previously seen on bourbon ads, forced her to stop as they crossed the road with a sense of entitlement. All critters comfortable on their own turf.
She'd crossed through upstate NewYork, through Vermont, then New Hampshire; the Appalachian Mountains had been undeniably fabulous, awe inspiring, soul renewing. Maybe return for a for-real vacation, one of these days. I’ve probably accrued nine hundred personal days that I've never taken. Maybe Russell—never mind, I wouldn't waste the wonders of primal Mother Nature on that asshole. She refused further contemplation of the recently dumped; the fresh air and soothing scenery imparted a calmness, a serenity, to Lorelei's soul. At times, the overlapping tree branches formed tunnels over the narrow road, giving the countryside a surreal quality. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Little Red Riding Hood skipped across the road with her basket brimming with goodies for dear ol' Grandma.
For now, even belting out a rousingrendition of "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights" in collaboration—but not in tune—with Meatloaf, wasn't keeping her awake. The orange, mirrored discoball rising in the East blinded her through breaks in the heavy canopy and even her Ray-Bans weren't helping. Okay, the next wide spot in the road and I'm pulling over for a nap until the sun isn't frying my eyeballs. Shutting down the music, she fussed with her seatbelt again. Since she'd signed the Chevy Tahoe out of the motor pool, the edge of the belt had been rubbing against her collarbone. Time, when I get back to D.C., to have the mechanics look at this stupid thing.
As she passed between a set of steel guardrails—intended to protect travelers from the deeply gouged ravine below—the sharp report of a rifle then a second shot annihilated the serenity and echoed through the cool, thick morning air.
"What the—?" The Tahoe pulled hard left, then lurched right—the bucking vehicle refused to submit to her handling. Trees flashed by as the SUV fought her, sliding, plowing through heavy dead leaf ground cover. She sucked in her breath to scream as boulders and trees converged—then, hasta la vista,baby.
Adam Stone pressed the throttle lever with a calloused thumb. The all-terrain-vehicle rocketed along the rough, two-track trail, through the trees and up the rocky slope. Reaching a clearing, he parked and shut down the engine.
Pulling alongside, Lucian Duquesne pulled off his goggles and continued the morning's debate. "It's not like we need to wire the whole camp. Let's say, a thousand feet out from the buildings. Cut me some slack here, hoss. With our clientele, we should increase the efficiency of our perimeter alarms in case civilians. Y'know, hikers, misdirected vacationers, poachers, don't need to be crossing the line of demarcation into our range of fire."
The loud crack reverberated under the heavy canopy of tall trees, followed by a second, forestalling Adam's response. Gunshots. Then a third sound, dull and metallic, like the slamming of a heavy metal door.
Lucian cocked an eyebrow at Adam. His expression radiated cocky vindication. He reached for the rifle stowed in the weapon carrier on the rear deck of his four-wheeler, and left it resting on his lap. "Shithead poachers."
Adam reached for his own rifle. He jacked cartridges into the chamber, aimed toward a slope away from the direction of the sounds, and fired two quick rounds. "People here, private property!" His strong voice echoed after the rifle shots. Cranking over the ATV, he headed toward the original shots, Lucian bringing up the rear.
The men reached the road and were immediately enveloped in the cloud of dust obscuring an eastbound vehicle. Adam gave chase. As the gritty powder settled, Lucian spotted two long black patches of tread marks. The acrid odor of vulcanized rubber lingered in the air.
Adam returned. "Someone was in a damn hurry."
Lucian frowned, but not at Adam's curt remark. "Yo, hoss, tracks at eleven o'clock."
Both men dismounted and carried their rifles. Experienced trackers, they didn't disturb the gouged terrain more than necessary. The trail of churned earth led them to the edge of the clearing. Before the ground broke suddenly and dove into the ravine, their way was blocked—the forward motion of a dark blue, four-door SUV had been abruptly halted by a rhino-sized boulder and a giant tree.
As they approached the wreck, Lucian took photos of the scene before either man touched anything. Then he hurried to the driver's door. "Driver still in place, window is pebbled from the inside, looks like blood. Door is jammed. Try the other side."
Adam checked out the front passenger door. "Not gonna happen. Truck's wedged tight. See if the back door opens—if not, we'll go through the liftgate."
The driver's side passenger door creaked and complained loudly, but Lucian managed to force it completely open by bracing a leg against the side of the truck and yanking. The car alarm sounded. From the back seat, he stretched past the driver to switch off the ignition, silencing the alarm. The driver hung forward, suspended by her seat belt. "Female, unconscious, has a pulse. That's all I can tell from here."
Adam manhandled the opposite door enough to maneuver into the truck's back seat with Lucian. He hung over the passenger seat, flipped a lever, then jerked the seat down into full recline mode. "I'll cut the belt, you support her, I'll lay both seats down. We'll slide her backward onto the cargo deck."
Lucian held his finger up."Wait two seconds. Let me see how fast MacBride can get an EMT unit here." He stepped outside the Tahoe and punched numbers into his satellite phone. "No good. Some big deal accident at the lake. All available personnel are at the site."
"Then it's us or nothing. Can't wait. Let's do it."
Lucian stripped to the waist, laid his holstered Colt .45 model 1911 semi-auto on the cargo deck next to his rifle, and spread his waterproof canvas hunting jacket on the cargo deck. In a few minutes, they had the woman lying flat in the cargo area, the coat under her. Lucian folded his T-shirt and tucked it under her head, then covered her with his flannel shirt. "I'll deal with Jane Doe. Bring the Suburban, and let's get her to the lodge."
Adam secured his own weapons and mounted up, taking the faster route back to their camp.
"All righty then, let's see what we can see." Lucian crawled into the cargo area next to the victim. Her pulse was slow but steady. The laceration on her left temple still oozed. It didn't look deep, and the edges were already crusting and bruising. He spread the collar of her silky brown blouse open and catalogued the abrasions on her left jaw and neck. Seat belt must not have been snug. More bruising around her throat. Maybe a necklace? A scarf?
Lifting blood-matted blonde hair from the woman's face, Lucian took more photos in the hope of identifying the victim. "Bet you're pretty when you're not all banged up."
He did a quick recon of the SUV. He used his handkerchief so he wouldn't leave fingerprints, and grabbed the pen and pad he always carried in the quad for what he referred to as his 'scathingly brilliant' moments. Out of habit, he talked to himself while he worked. "Airbag deployed. Driver's side window glass pebbled, blood on the glass that lines up with the scalp injury. Hmm, that's odd. No registration or insurance documents over the visors or in the glove box. No purse or luggage. Empty coffee container and breakfast sandwich wrap on the floor." He took photos of everything he felt might be pertinent, looked around again. "What woman wouldn't have a handbag stuffed with all kinds of shit?" Lucian checked her breathing again, which remained unimpeded. He crawled out of the cargo space, walked a distance from the Tahoe, and snapped more photos of the scene from all angles.
With nothing else to do, Lucian slid back into his shoulder holster and secured it, then his hunter-orange vest. He sat on the open tailgate of the Tahoe to watch the victim—as well as keeping both eyes peeled for a possible shooter. "Here I am, displaying this season's most stylish hunting ensemble, and you're missing it," he told the unconscious woman. "Some first date."
* * * * *
Adam backed the Suburban to the rear of the Tahoe. He dropped the tailgate and pulled a folded canvas first aid litter from the back of the truck. "She awake?"
"I tried MacBride again on the landline. Dispatcher put me through. Everyone is still out of the office—no ETA for assistance."
The men laid the blanket-covered litter next to the woman. Hoisting the edges of Lucian's jacket, they carefully slid her onto the litter. Lucian snugged the blanket around her, then secured her with the straps. "There ya go, Burrito Baby." He nodded to Adam. "Okay, hoss, let's do this."
Jane Doe remained totally unaware of the heroic efforts of her personal pair of Paladins.
* * * * *
During all the years of their youth, during their long years as an efficient Marine scout-sniper team, Adam and Lucian had trusted each other without hesitation. Sniper and spotter, their lives depended upon that ability. They rarely argued—but they were arguing now.
They'd reached the lodge and had carried their charge into the great room.
Lucian insisted, "I think she should be in bed, not on a sofa." Hands on hips, he looked exasperated. "I called Catamount dispatch again. There's a whopper of a boating accident on the other side of the lake. Multiple casualties. All available units responded. Cops and paramedics still not available for who knows how long. We should make her comfortable. She'll probably wake up any time now."
"Fine." Adam scooped the woman up from the leather sofa and headed up the stairs to the line of bedrooms set against the outer side of the second floor balcony.
Lucian followed his partner down to the far end of the gallery. "Why your room?"
"Stop yapping like a Chihuahua. Do you want the lady comfy, or are you gonna keep houndin' me to death? My bed is the biggest. More room to maneuver." Adam responded to Lucian's lifted eyebrow. "For first aid and possible medical treatment, horn-dog." He laid the woman on his bed. "Might be evidence on her clothing. Good test for the new fingerprint scanner—send the photos and prints to Garrett. I'll grab something for her to wear, get her out of these bloody clothes."
"Oh golly gee," Lucian razzed, "why didn't I think of all that good NCIS stuff? You are so definitely my hero."
Adam threw a hiking boot, missing his buddy's head. "Kiss my ass." He rummaged in his wardrobe. After a moment, he returned to the bedside holding out a dark blue nightshirt with The Few. The Proud. The Marines. emblazoned in bright yellow script under the Marine Corps logo. The garment appeared new, with crisp creases at the folds.
Lucian settled at the edge of the bed. "Ooh, sexy. Never saw you wear that."
"Never did. Never will. Rachel."
"Ahh." Rachel, the youngest of Lucian's four sisters, the fashionista of the pack. She persisted in her efforts to update what she referred to as Adam's cave man wardrobe.
"Nah, I got it."
Adam grunted, and hit the bathroom to wash up.
Lucian moved the woman as little as possible to prevent further injury, making his task difficult. He hadn't made much headway by the time Adam returned.
"Hoss, help me get her into this nightshirt."
The men were surprisingly awkward at their task, as they tried not to notice—or touch—the sexy body beneath their hands. They removed the woman's bloodstained blouse and matching brown-with-orange-poppies skirt, finally her satiny brown bra. They left her in the matching panties, which did not appear to be bloody or damaged. Lucian carefully folded the garments and placed them in a clean laundry bag. He wrapped her sparkly summer sandals in plastic and added them to the laundry bag.
Adam straightened up. "What's with the blotches on her neck?"
Lucian took a few more photos of the bruises, which had darkened. "No idea. I thought maybe some sort of heavy necklace or a scarf, but I didn't find anything. MacBride's boys will do a better search. Stuff might have fallen on the front floor, under the seats." He stood back from the bed. "She sure is pretty. I wonder if she'll marry me out of gratitude. My mama, the aunts, my sisters would love it."
Adam grunted and shook his head. "No problem, Man of Steel, Lord of Delusion."
Lucian flipped his buddy the bird.
After pulling a lightweight quilt over their houseguest, Lucian dragged a chair next to the bed.
"Luce, she's not going anywhere."
"Yeah, I know. But she's concussed, at the very least. Someone should be here, in case. She's adorable. Can we keep her?"
Adam shook his head. "She's not a puppy. Look, I'm hungry. I'll grab something, then take my turn babysitting."
As Adam clomped down the stairs, Lucian heard a small weak whimper. He checked their patient. She'd gone paler, and the pulse in her neck fluttered rapidly. He pressed the back of his hand against her cheek. Her skin felt chilled to the touch, and could feel her trembling.
"Damn it hoss, she's going into shock, get your ass back up here, now!"
Adam took two stairs at a time. "Blankets?"
"I'll get them. She's shivering like crazy. Body heat works best. Lay next to her, close."
Knowing not to waste time arguing when Lucian kicked into serious "do it now" mode, Adam untied his boots and kicked them off. He stripped down to his jeans, crawled onto the bed. His weight rocked the woman slightly. Sliding his arm under her, he cradled her against his chest.
As Adam settled, Lucian added a couple of heavy blankets over the comforter. He stripped down to his boxers and crawled under the layers. He snuggled up to the woman's back, worried at the chill of her skin.
Her whimper upgraded to a moan. Her arm traveled up and across Adam, brushing his crotch—commando under his jeans—before it settled across his torso. To complicate his life further, her leg slid over him. The outline of her sex pressed against his leg—the thin fabric of her nightshirt didn't do anything to alleviate the situation. Adam sucked in his breath, but remained still. That is, most of his body remained still. His cock—having its own agenda—grew firm and interested. He closed his eyes and tried breathing deeply.
Lucian slid his arm over her waist. Her bottom settled snugly against his groin, her movement provoking an instant erection. He lay as still as granite.
"I think it's safe to assume," Lucian whispered, his voice cracking, "that our girl did not suffer any spinal damage."
Adam had his own issues, and did not respond.
The young woman lay safely sandwiched between her two saviors—who were suffering for it.
The men's thoughts echoed each other: It's gonna be a long damn night.
* * * * *
In the odd time between full dark and grey light, sweltering under the blankets, his body kinked and his muscles screaming for relief, Adam finally slid out from under their now toasty-warm guest.
He sat at the edge of the bed, listened to her smooth, even breathing. Good enough. She'll live. He rose, stretched, and cracked body parts to relieve some of the aches. Reaching his bathroom, he stripped out of his jeans and turned on the shower.
* * * * *
Lucian refused to open his eyes when he heard Adam in the shower, preferring to bask in the feeling of the woman sleeping in his arms. His stomach reminded him that he'd missed a couple of meals. Might as well grab a shower and look presentable. He carefully disengaged himself and moved off the bed, invigorated by the slight chill in the air. A quick check of the woman's vitals satisfied him, and he removed all but one of the heavy blankets. There ya go, sweet thing. He padded out of Adam's room and headed for his own, at the other end of the gallery.
When she wakes up, can't let Adam be the only fella who's squeaky clean and smelling good.
© Danica St. Como
A Strength of Arms
The Men of Sanctuary Bk 1
Author: Danica St. Como
Publisher: Noble Romance
Special Agent Lorelei Randall is talented enough for the CIA to steal her away from the FBI, and recruit her into its National Clandestine Service program.
When a covert mission goes wrong—very wrong—Lorelei awakens in the hands of a retired Marine scout-sniper team, with no memory of how she came to be at Sanctuary, a training camp hidden in the wilds of western omigod Maine.
The cause of the car crash that nearly took her life takes second place to Lorelei's growing attraction to her rescuers—dark, brooding Adam Stone, former sniper, and his handsome, blond partner, former scout-spotter, Lucian "Radar" Duquesne.
Lorelei's devotion to duty is hampered by fast-rising erotic desires—but toward which man? Unable to choose, she spirals out of control and into their arms—two men who swapped lovers before, but never shared the same woman. Two men not only determined to fulfill her fantasies, but also determined to deal with the would- be assassin who already tried to take her out.
Now, if she only had all of her memories back . . . .