“Ah…” The major leaned closer. “So that’s the way this rolls with the two of you, is it?”
He ignored the not-so-subtle hint for more information. “How’s her dog? How’s Chewie?”
Seeing the furry mutt’s stoic attempt to hobble back to Sunny in spite of the obvious and extreme pain had been moving as hell. That kind of devotion was rare.
“The vet took an X-ray. No broken bones—”
Wade’s fist unfurled against the wall. “Some good news at least in one helluva day.”
“Amen to that.” The major scrubbed a hand over a couple of razor cuts along his jaw from a hasty shave. “But there’s definitely a sprain, perhaps even a tear in a tendon. He said the dog will need crate rest for at least a couple weeks.”
“How was Chewie? Did he seem stressed over Sunny not being with him?”
“He seemed to remember the vet from before, which helped keep him chilled.”
Relief sucked the air right out of him. For the dog—and for Sunny, who would have been devastated if anything happened to Chewie. Her bond with the animal couldn’t be missed. Only once he’d told her about the discovery of the additional dead bodies had he been able to pry her from her pet’s side.
Fast on the heels of that image, a damn selfish thought slithered through his brain. Now she would have to stick around for at least two weeks. No way could Chewie make it through a mountain pass in his condition.
Heavy footsteps sounded in the hall, jerking them both alert and upright until Hugh Franco rounded the corner in uniform, although it looked like he’d slept in the thing. “Damn, Brick, can’t you stay out of trouble for even twenty-four hours? I couldn’t believe it when McCabe called me.”
Wade thumped his fist to his heart. “Your compassion overwhelms me, my friend.”
“Hey, I don’t roll out of bed this early for just anyone.” He pulled his sunglasses from his head and hooked them on the neck of his wrinkled ABU jacket. “How did it go with the OSI? Any leads?”
“Two agents grilled me, picking apart every word looking for leads that so far I’m not seeing.” He didn’t like having his time with Sunny splashed all over some official report, but her safety was most important.
“And their theory?”
“They say it’s too early to have any definitive answers, yada yada, the sort of evasive responses you expect. But they suspect a serial killer scenario. They’re investigating how Smith made it all the way here, and why the hell he was standing around right outside my place. We’re too far from her home and his for it to be coincidental.”
Wade looked from Sunny back at his two closest friends on the planet. Men he would trust to have his back in a bar fight. Men he would trust with his life.
Men he would trust with Sunny’s life.
“I just want to get her away from here,” Wade said. “You know? Use some of all those leave days I’ve built up and give her a chance to decompress until they sort things out. God forbid there should more to this than Lasky and the rest are considering.” The farther he got her away from here, the better.
And he knew how to do that too. He had the survival training, the specialized skills, to fall off-the-grid in ways her community couldn’t even begin to fathom.
Franco’s smile flattened in a flash. “Whatever you need for her, we’re here.”
An uncomfortable silence settled at the intensity in his voice, an understandable intensity. Franco had lost his wife and daughter years ago in a freak plane crash. He’d fallen apart and almost got psych-evaled off the team. Somehow he’d pulled it together enough to function, to work, but there was an edge to everything he did now.
And when it came to protecting women and kids, he was damn near superhuman.
McCabe cleared his throat. “So, Brick, did you jar anything lose when you tangoed with that car this morning? Do you need me to check out those stitches?”
“All two of them? I’m okay, just a little road rash from when I hit the ground.” He worked his arm, the ABU rubbing across abraded skin. “Shoulder’s sore, but manageable.”
McCabe studied him through narrowed eyes as if deciding on whether to insist on checking him over. “You’ve had some kind of target on your back since you met this woman. What’s she mixed up in?”
His defensive hackles rose. “There are a lot of reasons people go off-the-grid.”
Franco’s grin returned, half-wattage but powering back to life. “Yeah, just ask Henry David Thoreau.”
The major snorted. “Who knew you were a literary scholar?”
“I even read books without pictures.”
“Somehow I didn’t peg you as having Walden on your nightstand.”
Franco’s smile held for a few seconds before he looked back through the glass again, where Sunny turned her full mug of coffee around and around on the table. “I’m not angling to start a book club here. I’m just saying that I agree with our buddy the major. Your girlfriend seems to be mixed up in some bad mojo.”
He’d wondered the same, but hearing it from someone else? Wade couldn’t stop the defensive comeback. “I’m waiting to hear what the OSI’s peek into her past has to say before passing judgment, thanks…” Oh, and uh… “She’s not my girlfriend.”
How junior high–like did that sound? And shit. His neck was hot, as if he was blushing or something. Must be more road rash. Yeah, he was going with that.
McCabe didn’t look like he was fooled for a minute. “Whatever.” His forehead furrowed and he thumbed the crinkles between his eyebrows as if battling a headache. “No matter how it looks, I have my doubts about the serial killer theory.”
Damn. Just what he needed. More affirmation of his own concerns. Because Wade had learned one hard-and-fast truism over the years. He could always count on the instincts of his team.
His gaze landed on Sunny, on the vulnerable curve of her neck and the bold brace of her shoulders, with long brown hair cascading down her back. Damn straight he had to get her somewhere safe, and soon, although he suspected persuading her would take some major maneuvering. Whatever it took, he was sticking to her side.
Details first, however.
“Hey, guys, I do need a favor.” He hooked an arm around each man’s shoulder, McCabe on one side, Franco on the other. “Which of you can dog-sit a seventy-five-pound husky mutt on crate rest?”
Sunny was ready to jump out of her skin.
If they didn’t let her out of this teeny-tiny room soon, she would lose it. Seriously lose it. Lasky may have said she was free to go, but there was still the technicality of getting through that freaking metal door. She never would have thought herself claustrophobic, but after so long living in the wide outdoors, this interrogation cube on a military base with fences and guards… She shuddered.
The soundproof walls were closing in on her faster and faster by the second. More than her hands were shaking. Her teeth chattered. She was trembling from the inside out.
The thick metal door opened with a hiss. She jolted in her seat, almost toppling the cold metal chair.
God, had they vapor-locked her inside this room?
She righted her chair just as Wade strode through the yawning portal. His big, muscled body filled out his camouflage uniform with invincibility. She never would have guessed just yesterday he’d suffered an injury that would have sent most people diving for bed rest for at least a week. She also barely recognized the uninhibited, wildly passionate lover of last night. The man before her was all military precision and rigid focus.
Wade whipped out a steel chair from the other side of the table and turned it smoothly around, sitting, resting his forearms on the back. Waiting for him to speak, to take her cue from his tone, Sunny stared at him, but he didn’t say a word. Just watched her through his chocolate brown eyes, the same eyes that had devoured every inch of her naked body by firelight on a bear rug. She wanted to return to that pocket of time, to that accessible, sensual man rather than this remote wall of cool professionalism.
But she knew it was impossible. Things had changed irrefutably. She didn’t have the time or luxury of indulging in an affair with Wade.
Sunny nudged her coffee aside, liquid sloshing over the side. “I want to go home.”
Still he didn’t speak. Muscles twitched and bunched under his uniform until the camo pattern along his arms took on a serpentine life of its own while the man himself still sat stone-still.
She dabbed up the spilled java with a napkin before leaning forward, elbows on the table. “You don’t look surprised.”
“I’m not,” he said simply, voice gravelly, the only outward sign of all the physical strain his body had endured over the past few days. “Although I don’t think it sounds like such a good idea.”
“Agent Lasky said I’m not under arrest. Is there some law enforcement mandate for me to stay in town?” Panic seeped into her, claustrophobia spreading. She felt as if she were talking to a brick wall.
“Of course not. But it wouldn’t hurt to keep a low profile for a while, until things clear up and we can be sure you’re safe.”
Low profile? “That’s what I said. I want to go home.”
“You aren’t hearing me. You need to stay clear of anything associated with your village until we find out for sure exactly what happened to your friends.” He covered her hand with his, his skin callused, his touch warm and familiar. “Sunny…”
She chewed her bottom lip, the barely banked fire from last night rekindling inside her. “What?”
He leaned closer, his back to the one-way window. “Let’s go off together,” he said softly, low and gravelly with unmistakable desire. “We can forget about everything else except each other, being together.”
His whispered words tempted her as much as his touch. And that was a lot.
She had to strengthen her resolve. There was danger out there threatening her family, her friends, and she couldn’t turn away. “I have to go home.”
One dark eyebrow cranked upward and his hand slid from hers, cool air chilling her skin and deeper.
“Okay,” he said slowly, although his face turned stony again, not offering much encouragement that he’d actually conceded. “You’ll need to stay in contact for the rest of the investigation. Can you do that from your middle-of-nowhere town?”
They had a satellite phone, not that anyone had picked up when she called the number. That happened sometimes, depending on the weather. She would figure that out when she got home, once she talked to her brother, hopefully her sister too. “I can arrange it when I get back.”
“Nuh-uh.” He shook his head. “They’re going to want your contact information. Hell, I wouldn’t mind a little of that myself.” Irritation flashed through his eyes, the first sign of any real emotion since he’d walked through the door. He thumbed up another dry napkin and slid it across the table. “I’ll even settle for your number and address scrawled right here.”
Were there people out there listening to their conversation? Was he acting as some kind of interrogator, in spite of his understated sexual overture? She chilled from the inside out even in the heated air wafting from vents above.
“I know this is getting out of hand.” She plowed her fingers through her loose hair and wished for a hair tie, a way to control something in her out-of-control world. “Can we talk on the way over to see my dog?”
“Of course.” His face relaxed a little for the first time since walking into the room. “Discussion would be a good thing.”
So he could change her mind? Not gonna happen, but it wouldn’t hurt to let him think he had a chance, especially if it would get her out of this white-walled cell.