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Sharp pain radiated up his elbow where it had accidentally connected with the woman’s head. He cursed low when all her muscles relaxed but was thankful the little wildcat wasn’t fighting him anymore. Now to just get her away from the men so he could explain that he wasn’t the enemy without dodging feet and fists.

“Shoot,” he whispered as he climbed over her pack and rolled her over. “I didn’t mean to—Sunny?” He wiped his fingers across her bronzed, muddied cheek. “No. No, no, no.”

His blood froze in his veins as he stared at the woman he’d secretly daydreamed about showing up since he’d arrived. Only he didn’t want her there like this, in this moment, with killers’ footsteps snapping branches not a hundred yards away. He had to get her somewhere safe.

Carefully, he unclipped her pack and slung it over his back. He pushed the almost black hair plastered to her forehead out of her eyes, then lifted her into his arms. The last time he’d seen Sunny, they’d both been in Kentucky, watching her sister Lena’s stepson, Carter, while Lena and Marshall went on their honeymoon. Sunny had volunteered to nanny, and Lena had assigned Davis as extra protection.

They’d only spent three weeks together in Kentucky, but it had been the first time in years that he’d felt like there might be a future for him beyond the darkness he’d lived in. Sunny had had such hope on her face when he’d dropped a comment about maybe spending the summer up in Alaska.

When she woke and the reality of who he was crashed in, he doubted he’d see anything in her dark, brown eyes but hate and pain. With the way he’d gone silent after she’d left, he’d deserve it.

Threading his way through the willows, he stopped now and then to listen for her pursuers. He pushed down the worry that she wasn’t waking. He’d witnessed men sometimes take hours to rouse after being knocked out. It didn’t happen often and usually ended with the dude being razzed for it. He just prayed Sunny didn’t come up fighting and yelling, thinking she was still in the midst of the struggle.

He gritted his teeth, hating that he’d added to her fear. He’d tried to tell her he was there to help her. There hadn’t been a better way to get her attention without making more noise. He’d had to stay quiet to keep the men from knowing he was there.

Didn’t matter now. The men’s shouting in the distance signaled they’d lost the trail. Davis had bought some time when he’d accidentally whacked Sunny in the head.

He adjusted his hold on her, lifting her tighter against him. She sure gave him a fight. He wouldn’t expect anything less from a Rebel, but how she’d kept her head and not called out impressed the heck out of him. Most people would have screamed.

He came to the base of a hill. The willows thinned out to birch trees. As he skirted the bottom, he scanned the hillside for somewhere to hide. The shouts shifted their direction. He had no more time. Without the cover of the willows, they’d be found, and he didn’t have a weapon to protect them with.

His eyes snagged on a darker shadow about two-thirds of the way up the hill. He backed up, careful to keep his steps on the fallen leaves and moss rather than the mud, and ducked down. It looked like the hill had sloughed off around a cusp of birch, creating an alcove. Hopefully, there wasn’t a bear or wolverine or something already occupying the space. That was the last thing he needed now.

Only one way to find out. He hefted Sunny over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold. He hated to do it and hoped she didn’t wake up, but he couldn’t make it up the hill cradling her. Picking his way carefully to leave as little trace of where they’d gone as possible, he hiked the hill. His chest heaved when he made it to the spot he’d spied. If it wouldn’t work to hide in, he’d tuck them up on the hill and hope for the best.

He gently laid Sunny on the moss outside the alcove and ducked inside, slipping his small Maglite out of his pocket. He traced the rough walls with the light, surprised at the size of the indention. When no animal jumped out and clawed his face, he set the light against the side of the cave and went back to Sunny.

The crack of a twig and the angry chatter of a squirrel snapped Davis’s gaze to the bottom of the hill. The men stomped along the path Davis had just taken. How had the men found his trail so quickly? He’d been so careful with his steps.

Cold sweat traced down his spine. He shivered. These men were better trained than he first thought. They had the look of some of the shadier private contractors he’d run into overseas. Why would an exploratory mine need mercenaries?

He grabbed Sunny by the arm and dragged her into the alcove without taking his eyes off the men. If they spotted Sunny or Davis, he’d have to take off up the hill and pray for divine intervention. He didn’t deserve it, but Sunny surely did.

When he safely tucked her behind him, he set a few branches over the drag marks in the moss and watched the men through the exposed roots of the trees. One man’s head jerked ahead of him, and he pointed. Davis’s gaze swung to where the man indicated, and Davis stifled a groan. On the leaves, where he’d hoisted Sunny up, bunched a bright pink swatch of fabric.

The men rushed on it like wolves on an injured caribou calf. The one who’d spotted it lifted it and sniffed the handkerchief, elbowing his friend with a smile as he handed the fabric to him. Davis couldn’t make out their words as the other man took a hit like a druggie who’d been without for a long time. Davis clenched his fingers around a root. Sunny always smelled like lemons and sunshine, making him want to linger. From the men’s lecherous smiles, they now had other ideas besides just murder in their minds.

Each man scanned the ground, searching for footsteps. One surveyed the hillside, and Davis held his breath. If they came up here, there was nowhere for him and Sunny to go. With her still unconscious, and Davis having to carry her, the men would be on them before he could get them to the top of the hill.

That was if they didn’t just open fire from where they stood.

Why hadn’t Davis grabbed the rifle or any weapon? All he had on him were a tiny flashlight and his pocketknife. The Leatherman had a lot of tools, but none of them would help him against two men with guns.

The man took a step toward the hill and leaned forward. Even from up there, Davis could see the man squinting. Davis let out a breath and released his tension like the Special Forces had taught him.

Hopefully, they hadn’t noticed the difference in footprint size or seen the scuffed-up spot where he and Sunny had fought. If they still thought she was alone, he had the element of surprise going for him. He could overpower one of them and use their weapon against the remaining man. Whatever happened next, he’d fight to his last breath before he let these men get Sunny.

Tags: Sara Blackard Alaskan Rebels Romance