Tonya wiped her palms on the itchy fabric of her Kiss Me jeans. She wasn’t a hostage yet, but she was damn sure hungry as one.
Her mind whirled with too many scenarios. What to do now? She stared around the busy truck stop, thankful she’d thought to wear jeans and boots. Blending in was essential until she could make it to Mexico.
“Here you go, honey.” The cashier tucked a few extra packets of ketchup in her food bag and rolled it up.
Her mouth watered when the smell of french fries wafted up, and she opened the bag to snag one. Okay, it was way too hot, but patience had never been her strong point.
She blew on it and popped it in her mouth. Hot.
Now she was doing a fish-out-of-water impression en route to the soda machine.
Her antics drew a chuckle from a little boy looking otherwise bored at a family table. The kid’s parents were arguing over the accuracy of their GPS, and the other two siblings were locked in a battle of tug-of-war over a handheld game unit.
It reminded her of her childhood. Sort of. A moment of normal before she’d reached majority, which was the same as maturity for humans. With more claws. And teeth.
She put her cup under the ice dispenser and selected something with caffeine.
The kid watched her every move and laughed a little when she made a big show of testing the next fry before eating it with a goofy face and a wink at him. His quiet giggle made her smile. Her fry disappeared around the same time the soda finished filling.
Mommy Dearest told the boy to stop staring. So much for fun and games.
The hair on Tonya’s neck stood on end, and she took a cautious look around. A feeling of unease slid through her, and she was grateful the evidence she’d taken from Seth Westmoreland was safely tucked away with a friend. She’d been a spy long enough to trust her instincts. They were screaming at her now.
Seth couldn’t possibly know where she was. Unless of course he had Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible
on payroll; then she might be in trouble. She put the lid on the cup and turned toward the entrance, trying to rein in her paranoia.
The door seemed tiny compared to the broad-shouldered hunk of deliciousness now standing in it. His long black hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. There was a roguish scar on his chin, adding to his appeal. Sharp, rugged lines defined his face. Yeah, he was rockin’ the whole forbidden Native American God persona.
Her gaze traveled down his torso as she admired every hard plane and flex of muscle beneath the black T-shirt. His hip-hugging jeans were droolworthy and snug in all the right places.
She continued her examination as he started forward. There was a certain confidence in his stride, and damn, his thighs belonged in the bag with her french fries. She almost grinned at the black combat boots he sported. He would fuel her nighttime fantasies for a long time to come.
“Oh, honey, what I wouldn’t give for a man like that to look at me that way.” An older woman bumped Tonya’s hip.
She smiled but kept her gaze trained on the guy.
“You should meet him halfway. All the women here would love you and call you a bitch in the same breath.” The lady’s laugh was quiet, but Tonya cringed inwardly. The last thing she needed was to draw attention to herself. Kind of defeated the purpose of blending in. She considered her options and frowned. There was no doubt he was heading straight for her.
A couple of kids dashed in front of him, and he moved lightly around them without slowing his pace.
Her skin crawled with the urge to run, and suddenly every scent in the room slammed into her at once. Beneath everyday smells, one stood out above the others: a shifter. He had to be one of Westmoreland’s cleanup crew sent to dispose of her.
Fight or flight kicked in, and she didn’t dare take her gaze off him. The set to his jaw told her he’d recognized her as well.
Time to pull a Houdini.
She gripped the food sack and turned on her heel. She reached the counter in a few short steps. The woman from before looked at her with open curiosity.
“I have a restraining order against my ex, but he’s here. Please help me. My cell is in the car charging up, and I need to call his parole officer. Do you have a back door out of here?” Tonya was becoming so good at lying she almost impressed herself.
The woman arched an eyebrow. “Leave it to me, honey.” She hailed a young kid from the drive-through window. “Take this lady out the back. Don’t ask questions. Just make it happen and quickly.”
The kid nodded and moved like lightning.
Tonya had to duck around a busy kitchen to keep up with him. “Do this often?” she piped in from right on his heels. A huge commotion from the cashier area sent her scrambling faster. She dumped the soda in a trash can near the exit.
“More than you know,” the kid shot back and opened the rear door. A semi fresh breeze hit her, and she thanked her gut instinct for parking the car close to the road. She rushed outside to find a bright, shiny truck blocking her in. A curse dropped from her lips. She raced to the car, her boots eating up the ground, and ignored the yelling coming from the truck-stop entrance.
As soon as she jerked the door open, she tossed the food bag into the passenger seat and dove inside. Her fingers played hot potato with the keys, nearly dropping them twice before she managed to shove them into the ignition. Throwing the car in drive, she took a breath and gunned the accelerator, launching the car over a small bump of gravel. The car bottomed out in the ditch, but she tore through it while sending a prayer of apology to her sister.
Tonya dragged on her seat belt by the time she reached the side road. A slow-moving sedan blocked her chance to hit the freeway, so she sped down the worn asphalt, weaving around other traffic. A glance in the rearview mirror sent her body into crisis mode. Fuck me!
The asshole who’d blocked her in was right behind her. She cut across the lane. An oncoming car laid on the horn, but she shot past him without slowing.
The truck was suddenly beside her, shoving her off the road and back into a ditch. She screamed in frustration and accelerated faster, hurling up in the air and landing hard enough to bite her tongue. She hissed at the pain while blood’s copper taste filled her mouth. Son of a bitch!
It took everything she had to keep the car moving straight ahead.
She hit the side road again and swung the wheel, controlling the counter-spin. Once the tires caught, she stomped on the accelerator. A quick glance in the rearview mirror showed him in hot pursuit. “Damn this asshole can drive.” She focused on the oncoming traffic and the fact that they were moving farther and farther from civilization.
An explosion sounded behind her, and she swerved slightly. It took a moment to recognize the sound. Shotgun? She checked the mirrors. The bastard was shooting at her car. Panic seized her, and she pushed her sister’s sedan to its limit.
It gunned forward, but not enough. The truck slammed into the side of the car, and the world spun out of control. Metal screeched and glass shattered. At one point she realized the car was rolling. Every bump and jarring hit shoved her against the seat belt. White exploded in her vision as she did a face-plant in the air bag. Eventually the car came to a stop while her head continued to spin at a sickening speed.
The world was upside-down, and her ears buzzed. Her hair spilled on the roof, and the stench of smoke and heated metal burned the back of her throat. Everything slowed to a crawl while she watched the man in black tear the door loose where it had crunched into the frame. She tried to scramble away but couldn’t seem to unlatch the seat belt. He bent. She caught a glimpse of a blade in his hand before he sliced through the belt, dragging her none too gently from the car. Asshole.
Her heart stuttered at how quickly he could have ended it. In a split second he had her up with her back against the car. His eyes were strange, darker than she’d expected, but seemed to pierce her to the soul. He shook her, yelling, and it took a moment for her brain to process the words.
“I’ll be damned if you get your ass killed after I had to chase you all over hell and gone.”
She squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to quiet the bee swarm in her skull. Her senses reeled with shock. It took another shake from the dark-eyed jerk to snap her attention back.
“I said are you hurt?”
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. He was a shifter. Why was she still alive?
He sniffed slowly. “You smell like blood.” The words were a low growl, and icy tendrils of fear set up residence with the bees in her frontal lobe.
She said nothing.
With more force than necessary, he latched shifter restrictive manacles onto her wrists. The set had two interconnecting features with a length and depth of the locks, far more complicated than human restraints, that prevented the ability to shift by stretching over a key joint in the wrist. It would shatter the bones of a shifted animal and leave her unable to escape.
“Let me go.” Her voice was raw.
He moved until he was a breath away from her. His eyes stared deep into hers, reaffirming her position with a finality that chilled her to the bone. “No.”
“I’m not going back.”
He jerked the chain holding her wrists together, and dragged her into step beside him. “Yes you will.” His growl was uniquely canine. A wolf, then?
She kicked the back of his knee and shoved him forward when it buckled. Tonya made it two steps before he latched on to her ankle. She lost her balance, falling forward onto her hands. The metal ground against her wristbones in a way that made her instantly regret trying to run.
He yanked her around. The wolf braced himself above her, locking her hips down and her hands between their bodies. “You try that again, and I’ll break your knees, sweetheart.” His smile was menacing, and the steel resolve in his eyes told her he was at least partially serious.
Her heart pounded in desperation. “You might as well kill me now.”
“My job isn’t to kill you.” He bared his teeth in a primal response that sent shivers through her. “No matter how much I may want to.”
She stared at him in genuine confusion. “What the hell did I do to you, asshole?”
He inhaled slowly, and the light in his eyes changed to something not human. “You owe me three days for starters.”
Okay, so he isn’t playing with a full deck.
“What are you talking about?” His scent surrounded her, overwhelming her senses.
“You have no idea what kind of hell you’ve put me through.” His lids lowered until only the gleam of his eyes remained. “Don’t worry. It’s a long way back to San Antonio, darlin’, and we’ve got nothing but time.”
Tonya swallowed. Shit.