Authors: K. T. Bryan
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction
“I guess you’re right.” Dillon took a deep breath and finally asked, “You found her? This woman?”
“I don’t know how it could actually be Sara, but,” he shrugged, “I think you need to see for yourself.”
“Yeah.” Dillon could hold his own in any firefight. He could handle bombs, terrorists, and any terrain or hellacious weather the world could throw at him. But walking toward that ambulance was one of the most unnerving things he’d ever done.
Because, holy shit, what if the woman wasn’t Sara? Or…what if she was?
By the time he reached the ambulance, he had to push his way through a small crowd to get a look at the woman laying on her side, fist curled against her cheek, looking like she always did when she fell asleep on the couch trying to wait up for him when he had to work late.
Wait. Whoa. Hold on.
He was jumping to conclusions here. Great big, giant, conclusions.
But the woman did look like Sara. If she’d had maybe a little light plastic surgery. Which, if this was her, she’d probably have needed since the explosion had surely burned her. Not to mention the damage done by the shrapnel, the bullets tracing though the black night—
He didn’t know if she’d been shot. Hadn’t seen anything other than her body being blown backward.
He’d never gotten all the details. Never been told how badly she’d been hurt. He’d asked and gotten nothing more than sad faces, shaking heads, and averted expressions. All he’d seen that night was her face, the fear in her eyes, then a huge flash of light, her body being thrown, then…nothing. The blowback had flung him off the pier into the water and when he’d finally come around, Sara was gone.
Dead and gone, they’d said. So, no. No way could this be Sara.
This woman’s build was slightly rounder, her hair arrow straight, chin length, not full of familiar spirals that had hung halfway down her back. But her face, even though it was bruised, even though it was slightly different, it wasn’t so different that--
The ring burned in his palm.
this woman? And how had she gotten Sara’s ring?
Whoever she was, she was pale and hurt and he couldn’t tell if she was even breathing. Endless seconds passed before he found his voice, then grabbed a paramedic by the arm. “Is she alive?”
The young man, who looked like he could single-handedly lift a Buick, slanted him a frown conveying impatience for spectators. Or maybe he didn’t much like having the circulation in his arm constricted. Dillon dropped his hand in apology and the medic finally nodded. “She’s alive. You know her?”
Relief, sudden and intense, slammed into his chest. He closed his eyes and let out a long breath. Even though he wasn’t sure, didn’t know how it could even be possible--
He glanced at the paramedic. “I might be...her husband.”
The medic gave him a measured look, probably wondering how a husband could possibly not know his own wife.
“I thought she was…” Dillon shook his head. “It’s been a long time.” The light inside the ambulance was glaringly bright and he looked away. Looked back again. “Have you identified her?”
The medic shrugged. “No ID. Someone found her face down on the beach.” By the time the medic finished his sentence, the woman started shaking. “Shivering is good. She’s warming up.” The paramedic exchanged one kind of blanket for another.
Was it somehow possible--?
No. Stupid of him to even hope. He shoved the ring into his pocket.
Sara’s life hadn’t ended with a sigh. There’d been no comfort, no ease of a final breath. No, her life had ended with a savage blast. She’d been blown to hell on the docks. He’d seen it with his own eyes. He’d given her a memorial and put flowers on her marker. He’d wept guilty and bitter tears.
Sanchez wanted him to come apart and he had.
Then he’d hardened. The walls went up, steel, unyielding, and a mile high. Everyone he’d loved had died. Because of him and one thoughtless lie.
Dillon watched the woman shiver and thought that even now, half drowned and under these insane circumstances, this woman managed to look both tough and yet sweetly vulnerable.
Just like Sara.
A whisper of hope rocked through him.
He straightened his shoulders as he kept an eye on the shivering woman. Color was finally starting to come back into her face and her eyes fluttered open. Familiar brown eyes. Dazed and disoriented, but somehow intimately familiar.
Funny how the heart feels what the eyes see.
He blinked. It was said that the eyes were the windows of the soul, and he knew, without a doubt, that he’d looked into those very same eyes, that very same soul, a million times before.
Dillon staggered back a step, his mind spinning with one incredulous question.
Those were Sara’s eyes, he was sure. But how could the wife he’d loved and lost, the wife whose grave he’d visited day after day...how could she be in front of him now, blinking the same brown eyes he’d looked into on their wedding day?
Maybe his mind had finally cracked, fallen into that irrational abyss of fabricated illusion. False reality. Fragmented sanity.
He looked again. And found himself floundering.
After completing another check of her vitals, the paramedic spoke. “She’s stable enough to be transported. The hospital may keep her overnight for observation, but it looks like she’s going to be fine.”
Dillon nodded numbly and said, “I’ll follow in my car.”
“No!” the woman cried out, and both men turned startled gazes her way.
Sanchez viciously kicked an unconscious Manny Vega,
, in the ribs before turning to his top lieutenant. “Take this piece of garbage to the Pit. I have something I need to do.”
He strode from the nondescript building wondering when he’d become so foolish. First Caldwell, then Vega. Whoresons. He knew what it was. It was the trust, and even kindness, Caldwell had shown him all those years ago. Shown him, his wife, his daughter.
The morning after Caldwell had so brazenly walked from the cantina, he’d shown up in Rafael’s home. His
. For the second time without Raphael’s knowledge.
Rafael had come downstairs, still groggy from sleep, smelling bacon and coffee. And there stood Caldwell laughing with Dreena and feeding her pancakes. Adoña sat at their kitchen table, sipping coffee, reserved, yet almost amused. They’d all looked like…family.
His movement caught Adoña’s eye and she gave him a strained, cautious smile. “Darling, you’re up. Good.”
“Just in time for pancakes, Papa.” Dreena took a petite bite, using her best manners, obviously trying hard to impress their unexpected guest.
“Yes. I see. How…nice.”
Adoña’s eyes were questioning when she said, “You should have told me Dario was coming. I am not properly dressed.”
Dario? The man had never given his name, and Sanchez knew as sure as he knew his own, this man’s name was not Dario. For now, he let it pass.
Dreena giggled. “You don’t have to dress for family, Mama. Right, Uncle D?”
Dear Jesus. Who was this man who dared enter his home, who dared call himself uncle? Who dared draw a smile from his precious daughter?
Adoña raised an eyebrow, knowing this man was no uncle, waiting for Rafe to say something, but he had nothing yet to say. He could not say this man was a stranger, perhaps more dangerous than himself, and send his family into panic. No, first he would watch. He would school his words. Then later, perhaps, when his family was busy, he would take this man to his vast garage and shoot him in the head.
After a long drink of milk, Dreena asked, “How come this is your first visit? All my other uncles come over a
“My work takes me many places. But I promise,
mi pequeña princesa
, to be around much, much more.”
“Yes, Uncle Dario is going to help Papa in his business. He’s going to make sure everyone here is always very safe.” He ruffled his child’s hair. “Is that not so,
“Very safe. With tummies full of pancakes.” Dario set Dreena’s locket on the table beside her plate. “And look what I found.”
Adoña gasped, real fear in her eyes. Dreena did not notice, she had scooped the locket into her tiny hand and jumped from her chair to hug this man around his knees. “You found it! I thought it was gone forever. Papa and I would have been very sad.”
“Indeed,” Rafe said. “And where did you find such a treasure?”
“In the yard where Dreena plays. It must have fallen from her neck.”
Rafe poured himself a cup of coffee and asked, “The clasp? Is it broken?”
“No. Odd, isn’t it?” Dario asked, giving Sanchez an even stare.
Not odd at all. This man had slipped into his home and taken the locket from Dreena’s neck as she’d slept. As the entire family had slept. And no one, not him, nor one of his many men, had seen it happen.
Yes. This man was dangerous.
Even more so because he had so quickly won Dreena’s affection and loyalty. Something rarely given, and certainly never to someone she’d only just met.
Dario settled Dreena back in her chair with a kiss on her forehead, then fastened the locket around her neck. “There. Back where it belongs. Safe and sound.”
Those words ricocheted in Rafe’s mind. Safe and sound had not lasted.
And neither would it last for Caldwell.
Sara recognized Dillon’s voice even before she’d opened her eyes, even before she was fully conscious. She started to look at him, wanted to see him again after so long, but self-discipline said no.
Survival first. Get away, get to Craig, get Ellie.
And never, ever, show fear.
Do the unexpected.
She giggled, hiccupped. Dillon’s Spanish was better than hers, so she went for drunken French, hoping the medic would shrug her off and let her go.
“Je semble avoir perdu mon mari.”
“Vous n'êtes pas américain'?”
Well, crap. Of all the medics in the world she had to get one who not only spoke French, but spoke it better than she did.
No, she lied, she was not an American. And she needed to get back to her hotel.
“Je dois retourner à mon Hotel Del Coronado.”
She let her head sag forward and hiccupped again.
The medic turned to Dillon. “She’s married. Looking for her husband. Sorry, man. She must’ve been pretty hammered to pass out that close to the shoreline. Lucky she didn’t drown.” He gave Dillon a look that said what he thought of stupid tourists. “She wants to go back to the Del.”
“I see,” Dillon said. Then added, “As for her husband--” He turned toward her and said,
“Peut-être si vous recherchez, vous verrez votre mari bien ici.”
Perhaps if you look up, you will see your husband right here.
Sara’s heart ached and her shoulders slumped. Of course Dillon spoke French. She knew that. He spoke several languages.
The paramedic gave them both strange looks. Like maybe he was watching some new reality show and no one had told him the rules.
“Vous devez aller à l'hôpital.”
“No.” She sighed, gave up the drunken French bit. “I don’t need to go to the hospital.” Hospitals weren’t safe. Hospitals meant names and records and long, endless questions. And being trapped in one place. Just the thought of being held overnight filled her belly with ice.
She had to leave. Sanchez would be after her. If he found her again--
Or worse, found Dillon--
Get to Craig. Wait for Matt to bring Ellie.
She was cold, numb, her body heavy, but the thought of getting out of there, now, gave her strength. She pushed herself up. “I have to go.” Holding the blanket securely around her, she scooted out of the back of the ambulance and stood on legs made weak from fear more than exhaustion.
“I really think you should see a doctor, Ma’am.” The medic finally figured the game and spoke to her in English.
She huffed out a worried breath. “And if I don’t?”
“As a precaution, better safe than--”
“Sorry. Right. Got it.”
Never show fear. Go. Move. Leave now.
She gestured at the blanket, her lack of clothes. “If you’ll excuse me, I have some shopping to do.” She waved a hand, no cares in the world. “Midnight madness sales and all that.”
“It’s not even close to midnight and you’re in no condition--”
It took all she had not to give in and snap. “Guess I’ll start early then.”
The medic shook his head at all the weirdness. “Okay, but if you start feeling worse later--”
“Hospital. Right.” She was starting to vibrate with impatience now. “My bag?”
After having her sign a release form, where all she put was a nice big X, he reached inside the ambulance and handed her the blue waterproof bag.
“Thank you.” Avoiding Dillon’s puzzled gaze, she took the bag, clutched it to her chest along with the blanket, and felt the hated fear stealing back over her.
It was all she could do not to run.
Dillon saw desperation and a sudden flicker of panic in Sara’s eyes he’d never seen before and it floored him. Sara didn’t spook. Instead of making her fragile, her childhood, what she’d endured from her father, had made her strong. Sturdy. She barreled through life, tough and fearless, gathering facts, reporting the news. And hell to those who got in her way.
Parentless by the age of eight, she’d been raised in an all girl prep school that believed in Latin, sterling decorum, and reaching one’s ‘full human potential’. The learned social graces made her a clever and congenial reporter. The streets made her wise and accomplished. Marriage made her vibrant, sometimes whimsical. But nothing had ever scared her. Not like this. This look, what he’d just now seen in her eyes looked unnerved. Hunted.