Daniel fell to his knees, fighting to stay present, to escape the horrific memories, until Trouble dropped something in front of Daniel and bit his sleeve. Daniel broke free, panting, and his hand landed on a woman’s shoe. Daniel’s gut clenched. High heels weren’t exactly appropriate for trudging around the Texas desert.
Hell. Was there a woman in here?
Trouble grabbed his shirt again and tugged hard. Daniel snagged a small but powerful flashlight clipped to his belt and shone the beam into the tunnel. The crumbling shaft veered left, debris and broken supports everywhere. Trouble bolted ahead and waited at the bend.
Grasping at his primary PTSD tool, Daniel focused on the grounding techniques he’d learned in therapy and forced himself forward into the shadows. An all-too-familiar panic squeezed his lungs. The walls pressed in until the cave morphed into a stone cell.
Pain level, eight.
Fighting to stay in the present, Daniel clutched the flashlight in a white-knuckled grip. He stared at the illuminated circle, narrowing his gaze. Sounds still reverberated. Trouble’s barks morphed into sadistic laughter. The dirt seemed to hold the scent of torture and blood.
He fought against every survival instinct that raged within, that urged him to run. Struggling for control, Daniel moved forward. He wasn’t in Bellevaux, he was in Texas. Broken, but free.
“Anyone here?” he shouted.
His words echoed in the darkness, but only silence answered him.
A sprinkling of dirt fell on his head, and the timbers creaked. He froze. The flashlight’s beam hit a large heap of rocks, filling half the tunnel.
“Trouble?” Where the hell had the dog gone?
Suddenly he heard an odd moan coming from around the tunnel bend. Was that Trouble...or a human?
“Hello? Is someone there?”
Trouble barked, then reappeared to tug on Daniel’s pant leg, frantic now.
Daniel followed the dog into the blackness, concentrating on the small beam of light that helped him keep the nightmares at bay.
The dog rounded the debris and led Daniel to a six-foot-long pile of rocks and dirt, hidden behind the mound from a cave-in. The dog scrabbled among the rocks, desperately trying to dig through them.
Daniel knelt down just as several stones fell away, revealing a bloodstained patch of multicolored carpet and silvery-gray tape.
Another high-heeled shoe lay a few feet from the mound, and a quiet wail sounded again from beneath the rocks.
Trouble whined and pawed at the carpet.
A steely calm came over Daniel, not complete, but closer than he’d felt in almost a year. Someone was alive and needed him.
His damn freak-out would have to wait until later. He needed to keep it together now.
After propping the flashlight so he could see, he shoved several rocks to the side. The smell of blood hit him, nearly slamming him into a flashback, but he fought for control.
Daniel swept aside the small rocks that covered the carpet, then threw the larger ones to the side.
“Help me...” The voice faded to silence.
He grabbed the Bowie from his leg sheath and slashed through the two taped areas with the knife, then rolled the carpet open. A woman, beaten and bloody, lay half-comatose on the filthy carpet.
Daniel pressed his fingers against her throat and felt the thread of a pulse.
She was chilled and in rough shape, but alive.
Relief loosened some of Daniel’s tenuous hold on his emotions, so he quickly ran his hands over her arms and legs, knowing he needed to get them both out of this death trap fast. His examination didn’t reveal any broken bones or severe lacerations on her body, but blood caked one side of her face and hair. The rest of her long hair spread across the carpet like a raven’s wings.
He’d seen enough of the birds growing up in Texas, and he’d befriended one in Bellevaux while on surveillance. Sitting in the tree above his hideout, for the price of a few breadcrumbs the damn bird had kept Daniel from going insane while he’d been stuck in one location for weeks. After being forced into that godforsaken dungeon, Daniel had imagined the raven’s life. Outside his cell. Outside the prison. Free. Daniel would imagine being free someday like the raven, and used the memory as a lifeline when the world had seemed hopeless.
Maybe this was a sign?
Or maybe he had totally lost his mind, and it was just dawning on him now.
The ground trembled slightly.
Daniel cursed, then scooped her into his arms and stood. “Let’s go, Trouble.”
The woman’s eyes opened, gorgeous, fear-filled eyes, the color of cinnamon. “Who are you? Did I come here with you?”
“I’m not the one who put you here,” he said. A rumble sounded from somewhere overhead. He let out a curse. “We’re in an unstable mine, and we have to get out. Now.”
Her eyes widened. He clutched her close against his chest and took off toward the bend.
The mountain shook again, then a spray of dirt and debris showered over both of them before one of the ceiling supports gave way with a loud crack.
“Cave-in!” Daniel curled her beneath him and covered her with his body, hoping she wasn’t bleeding internally. And hoping to hell the roaring panic slamming through his mind didn’t make him explode. They were being buried alive, and he was losing it fast.
* * *
DIRT AND ROCKS pelted the ground around her, but they didn’t hit or hurt her. The man lying on top of her let out a soft grunt, his broad shoulders protecting her from the onslaught.
The dog she’d seen momentarily, before all hell broke loose in the cave, now sidled up against her and whined, burying his cold nose against her hand. She grabbed its fur, then slowly released her grip enough to pet it, trying to calm the animal’s fears as well as her own.
The man groaned and shifted against her; the contours of his hips and thighs settled over her, pinning her down. She took a panicked breath. Who was he? She couldn’t remember him, and yet he’d protected her.
And why had he said he wasn’t the one who put her here?
She couldn’t be sure of anything with the incessant pounding in her head. Her mind spun with confusion. A bevy of rocks cascaded down the wall, thudding on the ground. At any moment the cave could bury them both.
She knew they had to escape but couldn’t focus on anything except the feel of strong arms holding her and the hard body shielding СКАЧАТЬ