Authors: Pam Champagne
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
Sophie ached for the little boy he’d been. “You set yourself up to be rejected. I don’t get it.”
“If I didn’t love them, it didn’t hurt when they sent me back to the state. “We’d better head back to camp.”
The words so matter-of-factly spoken doused the tender emotions sprouting inside Sophie’s heart. “Sure.” She climbed to the deck. Feeling vulnerable and exposed, she scurried to her pile of clothes.
They made the return trip in silence. The thought of Hawk’s stare drilling holes in her back made Sophie insist on walking behind him. She kept her eyes on him the entire distance and wondered if he felt her gaze.
“Home again, home again,” Hawk stated when they arrived at the camper. His voice was flat.
Needing a few minutes alone, she said, “I’ll take care of Rueger. Meet you inside.”
Once she put Rueger in the cab for the night, she bit the bullet and entered the camper, breathing a sigh of relief finding Hawk already in bed. Shedding her clothes for a nightgown, she brushed her teeth then crawled onto the mattress, staying close to the edge. She wanted to cry at the tense friction between them.
Out of nowhere Hawk’s arm snaked around her and dragged her into the curve of his body. No words were spoken. Sophie relaxed, enjoying the heat emanating from him. She drifted off to sleep with his warm breath on her neck.
Was she reliving last night’s passion? Or did she regret letting him have so much of her? As much as she’d given, he’d sensed she’d kept a special part hidden. The hot sex they’d experienced made a person vulnerable. Except him. It was easy for him to keep his emotions at bay, especially since he didn’t have any. Hell, who was he kidding? His emotions came close to overriding the pleasure. He hadn’t been able to get close enough to Sophie and not in the biblical sense. There’d been too many tender caresses, soft kisses; simply holding her after sex were all intimate things he normally avoided with a woman.
Hawk shrugged. Sex wasn’t what he’d had in mind when he’d followed her. He’d wanted… What the hell had he wanted? For Sophie to like him? He’d convinced himself she might be in danger. What a pathetic excuse. He could fight it till the cows came home or pretend it wasn’t happening, but the truth was the more time he spent with this woman, the greater the danger of losing his heart, a heart he’d buried a long time ago. That was worse than thorns sticking into his skin.
Whatever the hell was happening, he had to shelve it until this charade ended. As soon as Bob Reed and Jack Blair paid for their crime, he’d be free to explore his new emotions.
“Damn it,” he hollered when hot coffee sloshed on his jeans, a little too close to his crotch for comfort.
“Sorry. I can’t do anything about the potholes.”
“There’s a dirt road up ahead on the right. Turn there.”
Sophie choked on a cracker. “What? Why?”
“I know the old coot who lives at the end of it. That’s where I’d have headed if you hadn’t showed up.”
“You didn’t answer the question. Why?”
“He can fix me up with some fake I.D.s. Once we cross into Alaska, you can drop me off. I’ll finish the trip alone.”
Other than a tightening of her mouth, Sophie kept quiet. Good. Perhaps she’d learned it would be useless to argue.
“How long will it take?”
“A couple of hours, maybe less. There it is.” He pointed.
She swung the truck into the turn. A hundred feet down the road, he yelled, “Stop!”
Sophie visibly cringed at the harsh command. “Make up your freaking mind. What’s wrong?”
“There’s a set of tire tracks going in, but not leaving.”
“So? The guy has company. Anyway, how do you know the tracks are going in and not leaving?”
“Pure gut instinct. Pinkie seldom goes anywhere. I don’t like it. As for company? Pinkie’s not the friendly type.”
Sophie eased off the gas and let the truck idle in neutral. “Pinkie? What kind of name is that?”
“Perhaps your paranoia is rearing its ugly head.”
“That’s me. Joe Paranoid Hawkins. It’s saved my ass many times.”
The dense coniferous forest on both sides of the road told him turning around would be a problem. The camper’s weight made the truck tipsy.
He slid next to her. “Climb over. Let me drive.”
“I told you—” Sophie squeaked when he grabbed her and dragged her over his body. She hit the passenger door with a thud. “Are you crazy?” she asked, rubbing the back of her head.
“Undoubtedly,” he muttered, throwing the gearshift into first.
The truck crawled forward for several hundred yards. He saw an opening and took it. Before Sophie could protest further, he backed the truck over a thicket of saplings. The scraping on the undercarriage sounded like fingers on a chalkboard.
“Stop it. You’ll rip off the exhaust system…or something worse.”
He ignored her as if she wasn’t even there and drove forward over the same young trees he’d mowed down going in. Finally, they were headed back the way they’d come, going at least twenty miles an hour faster than Sophie had driven.
He caught a glimpse of her bouncing around in the cab, her head banging the window. “Buckle your seatbelt.”
Rueger’s mournful howls sounded from inside the camper.
He almost smiled when she exhaled with relief as the main highway loomed ahead. If he hadn’t caused damage to the Ford, it would be a miracle.
His relief faded fast, his gut clenching. A scene from a nightmare unfolded in front of them. A dark sedan pulled off the road, blocking their exit.
“Get down and cover your head.” Her terrified expression scared him shitless. He needed her help.
She unbuckled her seatbelt and slid to the floor. “Who is it?” she croaked.
“Who do you think?”
She dared a peek. “What are you going to do?”
“Where’s your weapon?”
“Jammed into my rib cage, thanks to your driving
At least she showed some spunk. Maybe she’d do okay. “Stay low. I’m going to floor it. There’ll be an impact when we hit the car. If they fire, fire back.”
“I can’t do that without leaning out the window.”
He glanced at her. “Your point? Come on, Sophie. You were trained for this.”
Sophie rolled down the window, got on her knees on the floor. He watched her pull out her gun and groaned. Her entire body trembled worse than an aspen tree.
“Ready?” He floored it and the engine screamed in protest. “Here we go!”
The sedan was no match for the F-250 when it came to impact. The truck hit it, folding the right front tire under the carriage. They bounced onto the pavement and headed north.
Sophie checked in her side-view mirror. “Their radiator’s steaming. I don’t think we’ll be seeing them for awhile.”
“Don’t count on it. Whoever’s down at Pinkie’s place must have transportation.” He flashed a grin. “Their radiator isn’t the only one smoking. We’ve got to stop. How far’s the next garage?”
“Hold on. I’ll check the map.”
Sophie’s hands still shook as she opened the glove compartment.
Stan must have a loose screw. He’d never seen anyone so green and unprepared sent on this type of assignment. Now the question became what was he going to do with her? He had enough on his plate, worrying about his own skin, without watching out for someone else.
He’d pegged Sophie the moment he’d met her. A woman with a big heart and little courage when it came to shootouts and the like. The typical girl-next-door. Someone who’d marry a banker, or perhaps lawyer. A clear image of her meeting her husband at the door each night with a smile and a baby on her hip played in his head. No matter how much he wanted her, she wasn’t for him. For the second time in his life, he’d found a woman who did more for him than satisfy him sexually. A relationship with Sophie didn’t have much hope of ending any better than the first one.
Sarah, the woman he’d been sure was his one and only. She’d been the epitome of everything he’d missed as a child. He felt secure in her love, while her constant optimism convinced him he could have a life with a happy ending. Until he’d popped the question. Everything changed when she’d agreed to be his wife. The complaints began. At first they were small.
“Be on time for supper tonight, honey. You’ve been late three nights straight.”
Why didn’t Sarah understand his job wasn’t a nine to five one?
After six months, there didn’t appear to be anything his fiancée liked about him, including his lovemaking. As difficult as it had been, Hawk had said goodbye to the one woman he’d thought was his soul mate.
Sophie’s whisper jolted him back to the present. “I would’ve done it, you know.”
He didn’t pretend not to know what she meant. “It doesn’t matter. I’m glad you didn’t have to shoot. Have you found a garage? We need to get the radiator fixed and regroup.”
She studied the Canadian Milepost. “There’s a small RV park about eight miles from here. It’s right on the road. Nothing special. Just a parking lot by a small country store. Says here they do automotive repairs.”
The truck chugged along at under twenty miles per hour, leaving a ribbon of steam in its wake. By the time they pulled into the RV park, the smell of the overheated radiator had them both coughing.
“Keep an eye out for our tails. I’ll go talk to the owner.”
Hawk found an old man tinkering underneath a beat-up van in the one bay garage. “Howdy,” he said, looking up. “What can I do for ya?”
“I’ve got a busted radiator. Think you can take care of it?”
The mechanic, at least that’s what Hawk hoped he was, emerged from under the van and spat a large brown wad onto the cement floor. Chewing tobacco puffed out his left cheek, giving him a chipmunk-like appearance. “More n’ likely.” He fiddled with what looked like a distributor cap. “Soon as I get this heap up and running. Probably get to it by Monday.”
Monday? Christ. Today was only Wednesday. Hawk scanned the lot, an idea forming. “Be right back.” Putting on his best smile, he hurried to the truck.
Sophie shook her head, her tangled curls flying in all directions. “No. Absolutely not.”
One look at the stubborn set of her chin and Hawk knew he had a fight on his hands. “We don’t have a choice. We can’t sit here for five or more days.”
“I’ve had this truck for four years. I’m not going to abandon it in some godforsaken rundown garage in the middle of nowhere. And my stuff. What about that?”
“Go talk to the guy. Flash your smile and your badge. Tell him it’s an emergency. You’ve got to borrow a car and you’ll bring it back within a week. By then your truck will be good as new. You pay him and you’re on your way home.”
Her eyes narrowed. He smelled the wheels turning in her head. “On one condition.”
“I go to Dan and Maria’s with you. Otherwise, I call Stan, tell him what’s happened and we wait for the FBI to come bail us out.”
Blood rushed to his head.
Calm down, before you have a stroke
. He wanted to throttle her, but she held all the cards, had all the money and all the identification. She left him no fucking choice except give in to her blackmail.
Less than an hour later, Hawk sat in the passenger seat gnashing his teeth. He’d wanted to take the Chevy sedan. Instead, he’d watched Sophie supervise while two men loaded her camper onto a year old Ford pickup.
Her self-satisfied smirk added fuel to his anger. “Happy now?”
She flashed him a silly grin. “Very. I’ve become attached to the gypsy lifestyle. You know, a home on the back of the truck. Sort of like a turtle. Pull your head in and you’re home. Not to mention the ability to move on in the blink of an eye.”
“Yeah. Sort of like the way I feel about women.”
He pretended not to see the hurt in her eyes. At least he’d knocked the smug look off her face. Then why did he feel like he’d just kicked a litter of nursing puppies?
He unwrapped one of the sandwiches they’d bought at the store, if it could be called that. They’d settled for peanut butter and jelly, since it seemed to be the safest choice. The deli meats were a bit green around the edges, and he wouldn’t have touched the tuna fish if he’d been a starving man. He handed her a half.
“You one of those women who refuses to eat when they’re pissed?”
Sophie shot him one of her famous “if looks could kill” stares and snatched the sandwich.
“Grape or orange?” he asked, holding up two cans of soda.
“Grape. Does being rude come naturally or did you have to practice to get it perfect?”
He chewed his food, pretending to give the matter thought. “Not sure. A little of both, I guess.”
“You’ve got it down to a science.”
“How’re the new wheels?”
“A lot smoother than my older Ford, although I’m accustomed to standards. Driving an automatic feels strange. How did Blair and Reed know about Pinkie?”
“Must have found my info sheet on him at the apartment.”
“They sure weren’t going anywhere in that car. If we’re lucky, we can gain a day on them.”
“That’s why we’re driving straight through. I’ll take the night shift. I’m willing to chance it. I doubt many cops will be patrolling after sunset.”
Sophie chewed on the inside of her lip. No matter what she said, Hawk was hell bent on doing things his way. “Whatever.”
The next time she chanced a look, he was sleeping. If not for the soft snore, she’d have wondered if he was unconscious. Good. She needed some alone time to straighten out her head.
Recrimination racked her insides. She’d always wondered if she had the guts to be a field agent. Now she knew the truth. Faced with the possibility of gunfire and death, she’d failed. She’d told Hawk she would have fired her weapon. Was that true? She was the total opposite of the man she loved. She was weak, a coward. Someone who couldn’t be counted on to watch a partner’s back. Why hadn’t Stan known it? Why had she fought so hard to be an FBI agent? How had she breezed through the academy with flying colors?