Eli sensed movement just as he pulled the
lock free. He dug the edge of his boot into the ground at the base of
the gate, braced his thigh and hip against the galvanized aluminum frame,
and held on.
The impact of her shoulder with his ribs sent her stumbling backward with a loud
grunt. He grit his teeth against the pain from the blow to his mid-section and
opened the gate to step inside the cage. He didn’t bother locking up. She
wasn’t going anywhere if she wanted to stay alive.
Walking toward her, he bounced the heavy lock in his palm once, then curled his
fingers around it making a fist. “Are you done acting like you don’t
have a brain in your head? What the hell did you think you were going to do if
you got by me?”
“Run,” was all she said.
He backed her up into the center of the cage, halfway to the wall of the structure
Ramon’s men had thrown together and called shelter.
“Run,” he echoed, shaking his head. “You have a particular
destination in mind?”
“Yeah,” she spat out. “Across the border and into the country
where we both belong.”
“Assuming a lot, aren’t you?”
“What? Are you denying that you’re American?”
He wasn’t denying anything, but he wasn’t yet ready to reveal who
And so he lied. “Ramon knows who I am, where I come from, where my loyalties
“What a load of crap. The fact that you’re here doing what it is
you’re doing proves you don’t know diddly squat about loyalties.”
Her hair was a silver blonde mess of wind-blown strands beneath her hat of crushed
straw. Her cheeks and the tip of her nose were pink from the sun. The jeans and
boots she wore were filthy from the dust blowing through the compound.
The fact that she’d mashed her lips together to seal in her hatred didn’t
stop him from thinking about her mouth. And her eyes weren’t giving him
any easier of a time. They were a crystal clear green and as sharp and smart
as he’d seen outside of the SG-5 or Spectra ranks in a very long time.
She had the same snap he and his partners relied on to get out of scrapes. The
same snap Spectra used too often to elude the Smithson Group’s grasp.
“The only thing here suspect is you. Trespassing and unlawful surveillance
aren’t going to earn you more badges for your Girl Scout sash,” he
said, spouting nonsense but with a reason.
“I’ll cop to the trespassing, but unlawful surveillance? According
to what law? The one you’re using to keep me in here? Or the one giving
you the right to snatch those girls out of their homes and sell them on the streets?”
She shoved her index finger into the center of his chest and poked hard. “Let
me tell you this, mister. There’s no chance in hell your make-believe laws
will hold up in any court.”
She’d advanced on him while she spoke, her hat pulled low, her chin held
high. Her eyes burned with zeal and brimmed with tears. And in that moment, that
very moment, he felt the slow oozing return of the disgust that had made him
an easy target for annihilation all those months ago.
This time, he was the one who advanced, the one who sent her retreating until
her backside hit the wall of her shelter and threatened to take it down. “I’m
going to tell you something, sister.
“I am your one and only hope of getting out of here without becoming the
prize in a game of roulette. Now, is that what you want? To let the men in this
camp take turns with you until you can’t walk for a week?”
The moisture that had been welling in her lower lids spilled. She shook her head,
her fists balled tight at her sides. She refused to lift a finger and wipe the
trails of tears cleaning the dust and grit from her cheeks.
The show of defiance, of will, of strength was Eli’s last straw. This woman
had been a holy thorn in his side from day one. But he was not about to sacrifice
her to the compound staff of ruthless, amoral, cruel men to facilitate his own
He stepped even closer. Inches separated their bodies, but he still felt her
heat above that which hung in the air. When he reached up with one hand, she
flinched; he shook his head to still her and settled his palm at her nape.
She shivered, and he absorbed what he could of her fear, calming her as Hank
Smithson would a filly, settling his lips at her temple, breathing in her scent,
learning the feel of her hair, her skin, while gathering up his words.
“Okay, then. You listen to me. You do as I say. Exactly as I say. And maybe,
just maybe, we can save your virtue and get these girls back to their families
before the next transport arrives to take them away.”