“Then I’ll do it for you.” He studied her amazing brown eyes and once more touched the long, silky strands of hair. Black as night. Or like a raven’s wing... “How about I call you Raven for now? After your hair color. Just until you remember.”
“Raven, huh?” she said, her voice small and vulnerable.
“Raven suits you,” Daniel admitted. “It’s striking and unforgettable. Like you.” He pulled back his hand. “Now I have to get back to work.”
Methodically he picked up one rock after another, telling himself he’d break through soon. But he could feel the churning in his mind and gut. He took a cleansing breath, praying for control.
His hands grew slippery with sweat. He would not give in to the panic.
The shrinks had diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder soon after his rescue from Bellevaux.
Like Daniel hadn’t recognized the symptoms already.
His combat-vet father had suffered from PTSD nightmares and flashbacks as long as Daniel could remember—until his dad had ended it with a bullet to his brain. Daniel had found him, and the sight haunted him still.
At the memory Daniel’s heart raced, pounding against his ribs as if it would burst through any second. He closed his eyes to stall another attack.
A furry nose nuzzled its way beneath his hand. What the hell? Now the dog decided to make friends? Daniel’s fingers curled through Trouble’s coat. If Trouble could work through his issues, Daniel wasn’t about to succumb to his. He had no time to wallow in imaginary fears. Even if they felt completely real.
“We’ll be fine,” he announced, perhaps as much to hear the words aloud as to calm Raven. But he’d noticed it getting harder to breathe with all the dust. He came upon a few large stones, and he lugged them away, one at a time.
Each time he rose to his feet, steadying himself on the leg his captors had broken in three places, it became harder. If his leg gave out, they’d be in a world of hurt. He dragged a wooden beam toward the back and bumped into something. He turned, noticing a big painted box with a large letter C carved into the top. One corner of the lid was bloody, with a few pieces of black hair stuck to the surface. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to recognize the match to Raven’s head wound. Besides, kids’ toy boxes didn’t wind up in deserted mines by accident.
Using the edge of his shirt, Daniel opened the lid. Empty. “Raven? Do you recognize this box?”
Before she could respond, Trouble snapped to attention. He whined and let out a loud bark, pacing back and forth in the confined space. Another rumble sounded from somewhere inside the mountain.
“We’re out of time. I think if I pull out a few more rocks, you can get through.”
She tried to walk, but her legs buckled beneath her.
He grabbed her, and she held her body stiff. “Forget me. Dig.” She pushed on his chest. “Go!”
Another rumble resonated through the earth surrounding them. The mine was collapsing. They had to get out.
Daniel yanked a rock out, then another, speed counting more than finesse now. Within minutes a small hole had appeared.
He shone the light through the opening. The entire cavern beyond was intact. For now.
Raven’s small hand clutched his arm as she crawled up beside him. “I can help.”
With two hands she grabbed a rock and tossed it into the pile he’d started. “Shut up and dig.”
“Stubborn woman,” he grumbled, but he admired her grit.
They worked side by side, and before long, they’d created an opening large enough for her and Trouble to escape. He peered through the hole. “Can you slide through?”
She studied the gap. “I think so. What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. Trouble,” Daniel ordered, “go on.”
The dog looked at Daniel; then the stupid mutt seemed to roll his eyes. He lifted his paws to the hole and climbed through.
Daniel grasped her waist. “Go on. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Your shoulders won’t fit through that opening.”
“I’ll move a few more rocks, then follow you.”
She hesitated. “Promise?”
“Believe me, honey, I want out of here worse than you do.”
Finally she nodded and reached her arms into the hole. Trouble whined from the other side. Her body slithered through. The rocks groaned in protest and shuddered around her.
Dust and gravel landed on her back.
“Don’t stop! Move!” Daniel batted a falling rock away.
Daniel shoved her hips forward, and she tumbled to the ground with a moan, clutching her head. Trouble nudged her cheek, giving her a quick lick.
“Hey! Are you all right?” Daniel asked, as loud as he dared given the avalanche just waiting to happen.
She rose unsteadily and faced him, too wobbly for his liking. He peered at her through the frame of rocks. “Get outside. Stay at least twenty feet from the mine’s entrance.”
The obstinate woman just shook her head and came toward him. “I won’t leave you. I can dig from this side.”
Another warning grumbled around them.
“Look, lady. This place is coming down soon. A few more rocks, and I’m running like hell out of here. I don’t need to be concerned about you, too.”
Daniel tossed a stone aside. “Don’t worry. It takes more than a cave-in to do me in. This little challenge doesn’t even break my top five. Now get the hell outside.”
With one last look, she stumbled around the bend toward the mine opening.
“Go,” Daniel said to Trouble. “Guard her.”
A soft whine escaped the dog, but he followed her.
Daniel widened the hole, his adrenaline ratcheting higher with every second. The stubborn woman didn’t weigh more than a hundred twenty pounds, and she’d nearly brought the unstable wall down on them. At over two hundred, he might get one shot to reach the other side, but these stones were like the last blocks in Jenga. Very precarious...and dangerous.
If he was going to die, he wanted it to be out in the open, under the sky, not like a rat trapped in a hole. At least the fight to stay alive was beating back the past—just barely.
He tried to squeeze through, but his hulking СКАЧАТЬ