Ahead, the tree line came to a sudden halt. Beyond that was a short run of grass to a fence, then what had to be a main road, given the traffic that passed by regularly.
I had no money, no identity, and no clue as to where I was. And no way of getting out of this area quickly. Which meant my best option for the moment was hitching. I could worry about finding a way to Maine once I knew where the hell my starting point was.
Of course, getting someone to pick me up when I was barefoot, wild of hair, and looking a little worse for the wear was easier said than done.
After half an hour of less than stellar results, I was getting more than a little frustrated, so when the red Ford crested the distant rise and zoomed down toward me, I marched into the middle of the road and held out a hand.
I swear to the Gods of sea and sand, the driver gunned the engine rather than slowing, and the car rocketed toward me. The roar of the motor seemed to fill the air, and my stomach began to churn. I licked my lips, but stood my ground. Damn it, I needed help, and the bastard in that car was at least going to stop and listen. Or rather, listen to a rather creative lie, because who actually knew the truth?
As I stood there staring at the car, silently demanding it stop, another sound edged through to my consciousness. The baying of dogs.
The cop had called for tracker dogs at the dam. While I hadn’t seen any police cars go by, that didn’t mean anything. There could be a hundred different roads into that property that I didn’t know about. And while those dogs might not actually be hunting me, I really couldn’t take that chance. Which meant it was more important than ever that this car stop.
As the vehicle grew closer, the blur that was the driver gradually clarified into a broad-shouldered man with sun-kissed brown hair. I could see his strong hands on the wheel, see the almost insolent grin twisting his lips.
And realized I was facing a man playing chicken.
I might not want to get caught by the cops, but I sure as hell didn’t want to die, and that’s what faced me if I stood my ground any longer. I threw myself sideways, hitting the side of the road hard, skinning my palms and the tops of my feet as I slid to a long stop in the dirt and stones. Heard the screech of brakes and twisted around to see the car slew to a stop only feet away.
The idiot could have killed me. If I had stood there a moment longer, he probably would have. He’d only missed me by inches as it was.
I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths to try to calm myself down. A hard task when I was shaking like a leaf. My hands and feet were stinging, and my heart was beating like crazy.
Behind me, a car door opened, then footsteps approached. “What the fuck are you playing at, lady?”
Even with the anger so evident in his rich, deep tones, the stranger’s voice was as sexy as all get out.
Not the sort of thoughts any sane person would be having about the man who’d just tried to run them over.
“Me?” I said, voice little more than a squeak thanks to a mix of annoyance and pain. “You’re the idiot who apparently forgot where the brake pedal was.”
I tried pushing upright, but that forced more stones into my already scraped hands, and I yelped.
He muttered something under his breath, then stepped closer. “Here, let me help you.”
Before I could even open my mouth to say don’t bother, a rather large pair of feet appeared on either side of me, then hands grabbed me under the armpits and he unceremoniously hauled me upright.
Only his touch had my senses exploding, and suddenly, dizzyingly, I was hyperaware of everything about him—the warm lean strength of his body, his spicy scent, his aura of confidence and sheer masculinity. It all swirled around me, filling every breath, caressing every pore, setting my skin afire, and making my blood burn.
I didn’t even know this man. Hadn’t even turned around to look at him. And yet my body was reacting to him in a way it had never reacted to Egan.
Maybe I’d hit my head on the road, as well, and just didn’t realize it.
He dumped me on my feet, then quickly stepped back, making me wonder if he’d had a reaction similar to mine.
“You okay?” he asked, voice gruff and still as sexy as hell.
“No thanks to you,” I muttered, picking out the larger stones from my hands before turning around. A gaze as blue as the summer sky met mine, and something deep inside quivered.
Partly because no matter how pretty those eyes were, there was only cold calculation beyond the surface depths. These were the eyes of a man who knew what he wanted and exactly how to get it. But more than that, there was a wildness in them that was both familiar and yet alien. A wildness that spoke of sun and sky and air, and had absolutely nothing to do with humanity.
Egan had that look, I thought. Now, if I could just remember what Egan actually was, that would be handy.
But recognizing a similar wildness didn’t actually mean I could trust this man. After all, many of our hunters had shared that same untamed look.
Of course, that thought came and went with no further clarification.
“Why the hell didn’t you slow down when you first saw me?”
He waved a hand in the general direction of the stillidling car, his voice incredulous as he said, “I was doing sixty. Why in the hell would you just stand there? That’s insane.”
Yep, it was. But this day had gone to hell anyway, so what did one more act of madness matter? Besides, he did stop, so at least I’d achieved part of my aim.
“I needed a lift, and no one was stopping.”
“Considering the less than appealing way you look, I’m not entirely surprised.”
“That’s no damn reason to try and run me over,” I muttered, tucking thick strands of matted hair behind my ear.
A smile tugged at his lips, and it transformed his face, lending his aristocratic features a brief moment of warmth and compassion.
Then the warmth faded and he considered me, his gaze lingering on the bruise marring my forehead before moving down. It was deliberate, that gaze, designed to tease, to arouse. To scare, even. Like he was testing me. Testing my seriousness. Only it stopped abruptly when his gaze reached my hands. “Nice ring.”
The sexiness had fled his voice, replaced by a flatness that made my toes itch with the need to run. I resisted the urge to tuck my hand behind my back, and said, “It’s a friend’s.”
His gaze went past me, searching the trees. “And where is the friend?”
I hesitated. “Elsewhere.”
The baying of a hound ran across the brief silence, and I glanced over my shoulder. I couldn’t see any movement, but those barks—and obviously my hunters—were getting closer.
His gaze came back to mine. “Then why don’t we go find him?”
Wariness swirled through me. Don’t trust, don’t trust. The mantra ran through my brain, words from a past I had yet to remember. “And why would you want to do that?”
“Because if you’re willing to risk your life standing in front of a speeding car to get help, your friend obviously needs a lot of it.”
I studied him, not entirely sure what to do. True, I needed help, but did I need it badly enough to trust a stranger who suddenly seemed overly eager to help out two people he didn’t even know?
Of course, Egan was beyond anyone’s help—and I might just suffer the same fate if I wasn’t careful. They were out there, and they were hunting me.
And this stranger could be one of them, for all I knew.
Suddenly my idea of stopping a car to get help didn’t seem so bright after all.
“I don’t think—”
He laughed, a sound so soft, and yet so cold. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”
Meaning I should? “Other than the man who just tried to run me down, you mean?”
He snorted softly. “Yeah.”
I frowned and tried to force a memory through the fog. He did remind me a whole lot of Egan—he had the same broad-shouldered, athletic build and shaggy, sun-kissed hair. But this man’s face was more aristocratic and a whole lot handsomer. And there was an odd sort of grace and elegance to his movements. Egan, for all his gentleness, had often resembled a bull in a china shop.
But then, in all the time I’d known him, he hadn’t really seemed to care about anything at all.
Except for me.
And the kids.
Tears touched my eyes again, but with them came anger. And I had no idea why, because the answers to all my questions were still locked behind the walls of forgetfulness.
I glanced down at my somewhat bloodied feet and blinked the tears away. Whatever the reasons behind the anger, it was an undeniable fact that I hadn’t deserved Egan’s caring. I’d liked him, I’d enjoyed being with him, and I’d slept with him—but it had never been anything more than that. Not for me.
And not for him.
Yet he’d still given his life for me.
Nothing could ever repay such selflessness.
Nothing except stopping this. Stopping Marsten.
I looked back at the stranger. “No. Who are you?”
I blinked. Of all the answers I’d been expecting, that certainly wasn’t one of them. And it made me even more wary. “Egan hasn’t got a brother.”
“Egan has three brothers, two sisters, and one half brother. That last one’s me.” His gaze went past me again as the hound barked, closer than before. “That dog seems to have found the scent of whatever it’s chasing. You want to stay, or do you want to go?”
I hesitated, but really, what choice did I have? It was either stay here and confront the police—try to explain why I wore stolen clothes, and had no ID and no memory—or go with this man who could be spinning me more lies than a used-car salesman desperate to close a deal.
“They’re almost on us,” he prompted.
“Let’s go. Please.”
“Good decision. Come on.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me forward, the heat of his fingers seeming to burn through the sleeve of my sweatshirt and brand my skin. He opened the car door, then ran around to the driver’s side.
A prickle of awareness ran down my spine, and without turning around, I knew we were no longer alone on the road.
“Oh, fuck,” the stranger said, about the same time as another voice said, “Hey, you two, stop right there.”
“Get in,” the stranger said. “Quickly.”
I wasn’t about to argue. I got in as fast as I could, then slammed the door.
“Police. Stop,” the other voice called.
I looked around, saw the big cop accompanied by another man wearing a checkered shirt and holding two dogs in check. Then the stranger gunned the big car’s engine, and we were speeding off.
“Thank you,” I said, after a few moments.
“Forget it,” he said, his voice holding an edge. “But why are they chasing you?”
“I broke into a house to get some clothes.”
“And that outfit was the best you could come up with? Lady, you make a pretty poor thief.”
“It wasn’t as if I had a whole lot of choice,” I muttered. “And what would you know about thieving, anyway?”
“A whole lot more than you, apparently.”
He glanced in the rearview mirror and swore softly. I twisted around. The cop had the radio to his mouth. He was either calling in the troops or calling in the registration. Either way, too much heat would soon be swarming around my hard-won ride.
“Look, I don’t want to get you into trouble—”
“Well, good, because I can manage that quite well by myself.”
“If you’d just drop me off at the nearest town—”
“And you’ll what?” He glanced at me briefly. “You appear to have no clothes, no money, not even shoes, for God’s sake. Besides, you’re not the only thief in the car.”
I raised my eyebrows, not entirely sure whether he was being serious or not. “Really?”
He glanced at the mirror again and his expression grew grimmer. I took another look behind us. The cop was climbing into a squad car—obviously, that’s what he’d been calling. The stranger’s car seemed to leap forward, the engine a howl that filled the interior with ear-splitting noise. Either he really was a madman, or he was speaking the truth about being a thief.
“You’re not the man who’s been breaking into various houses around these parts, are you?”
He snorted softly. “No.” He glanced briefly at the rearview. “Where’s Egan, Destiny?”
Shock rolled through me and, for a moment, all I could do was stare at him. Destiny. It felt right, that name, felt comfortable.
Question was, how did he know it? Had I stepped into an even worse situation than being chased by the cops? God, was he one of the hunters?
I licked my lips, and repeated, “Elsewhere.”
“Where? Damn it, tell me where my brother is!”
“Why should I?” The retort came out before I could really think about it, but I was growing more and more convinced that I’d made the biggest mistake yet by getting into this car. “How do I know you’re really even his brother?”
“I haven’t exactly got time right now to stop and show you my credentials,” he said coldly.
“Well, until you do, you get nothing from me.” I crossed my arms and stared out the windshield. The trees were zipping past way too fast, making my stomach feel queasy. Looking at him seemed a better option. “How did you even know he was back in the country?” And how did he know we’d be here? That was just too weird a coincidence, and another reason to be wary.
“He contacted me last night.”
He had? How, when he’d died last night? “Why did he contact you?”
His gaze met mine. The cold depths were assessing. Distrusting. “We were supposed to meet in Florence. So what happened?”
“Florence? Where the hell is that?”
So I was in Oregon? God, that was a country away from Maine. And if I needed to get there so urgently, why would I have even agreed to come here?
And how did he know about me? Even if he had somehow talked to Egan before he’d died, I doubted Egan would have told him much about me. We were both too aware of the need for secrecy.
“How did he contact you?”
“If you knew anything at all about Egan, then you’d know how he contacted me.” He gave me another one of those cold glances. “Unless, of course, you really are a thief, and the police are after you because you stole Egan’s ring.”
Again the shock rolled through me, but this time it was accompanied by a sick churning in my stomach. “What makes you think this is Egan’s ring?”
He smiled, and this time it was a cold, harsh thing to behold. “Egan had that ring on his hand the last time I saw him.”
“You know, I find it very strange that Egan never mentioned having siblings, let alone a half brother, in the ten years I was with him.”
Even as I said the words, sadness washed through me. Ten years was a long time to be with someone you could never love. But it wasn’t as if we’d had any other choice. We’d been locked up, caged like animals. The two of us, my mom, and the little ones—some of them barely more than toddlers who had never really known the freedom of the skies. . . .