His girl arched her neck to look up at him, the long line of her throat calling to tongue and teeth. “It’s only a little past midday. We could go for hours yet. I thought towns made you twitchy.”
“I could definitely go for hours. You make me twitchy.”
“Daniel. That’s the strangest compliment I’ve ever received.”
“But you like it, right?” He leant down and brushed her cheek with his lips, slid his free hand around to cop a feel of her. “Tel me this is calling to your inner patriot, babe.”
She smiled and angled her face so their mouths brushed. Lips soon locked with everything hot and wet and good. Kissing Ali was so divine he forgot to breathe. Her kisses made him giddy. The way she opened her mouth to him was exactly what he needed. Her hand moved up his chest hesitantly, turning him rock hard. He oh so welcomed her touch.
Far less welcome was the shrill wolf whistle from the end of the aisle.
Daniel shoved her against the shelving behind him. He kept the shotgun in hand as he faced the strangers. Five of them, all wearing the remnants of military uniform with a dash of “fuck you”thrown in for good measure. Harley t-shirts and shit kickers, mirrored sunglasses and backward bal caps. It was a wonder they could stand, they were so heavily armed.
He had failed her.
“We’ll have the woman,” one large and ugly specimen informed him. Daniel could smell the scotch and marijuana perfuming the bastard from meters away.
“Bad idea, seriously. She’s very mouthy, difficult. I won’t even start in on her trust issues.”
“And yet …” The big bastard licked his chops and ran his fingers up the barrel of his machine gun.
Clearly, the gun overcompensated for something.
The bastard resembled an ape. Hairy shoulders displayed by an undershirt that had to come back as something less tortured in its next life, if fairness counted at all.
Knuckles slid against his skin and her hand gripped the pistol tucked into the back of his belt. The gun slid out and his heart hit the bottom of his chest and broke in two. The pain was shattering.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he whispered hoarsely.
She was mooshed up against his back, caught between him and the shelving. Her frantic breath made a damp spot on his t-shirt. His sweet girl, what the hel had he done dragging her out into this? He had failed her. So angry he was shaking, Daniel bit down on his tongue, focusing on the pain. He wanted to rage at them, but she couldn’t afford for him to lose it. Not now.
“Drop the gun, asshole, and step away from her,” snarled the behemoth.
Ali’s fingers dug into his hip in response, holding him in place. She had obviously connected the dots as he had. They only wanted her. He was expendable.
“Now!” Bastard screamed, his four mates making menacing motions with the weaponry at hand.
Ali pressed a hot kiss against his back. She had a gun. He knew exactly how she planned for this to go down, and while it broke him inside, he had to agree. Leaving her alive at the mercy of these bastards was out of the question.
Pity he had the shotgun instead of his pistol, but he would …
A bright blossom of red erupted dead center in Bastard’s forehead. Daniel’s heart caught. They were in play.
Whoever they were.
Machine-gun fire tore into the roof as Bastard fel , his finger caught on the trigger.
Daniel turned and took Ali to the floor, covering her with his body. Noise and color lit up the supermarket aisle. It had turned into the O.K. Corral. He emptied his shotgun at the bad guys, trying to keep his head low.
The remaining four fell back fast. They sheltered behind the shelves, one ful of soup cans. Liquid was flooding the floor, surrounding the dead in a pool of blood and French onion soup.
At the other end of the showdown was one man. One, lone guy. Blonde, twenty-something and serious as shit. He had a pistol in each hand when he ducked out from behind a diaper display, squeezing off rounds at Bastard’s mates.
“Move!” their new best friend roared.
Daniel shoved a hand beneath Ali’s waist and scooped her up. He dropped the spent shotgun and snagged his pistol from her grip.
The bastards didn’t want to kill her, yet bul ets filled the air. It was pandemonium. Daniel sheltered her with his body, threw a hand back and emptied his clip helter-skelter. Hauling his girl to her feet, they ran toward their lone ranger.
“Back exit. Go.” The blonde guy nodded toward a “Staff Only” hallway, and Daniel dragged Ali toward it, past a row of fridges full of rotting food.
“Gun. Give me a gun.” Her words were rough, but she had found her own feet.
“Can’t. We’ve lost the pack. Go.” He let her pull free of him and followed her into the dank hallway. The guy wasn’t far behind.
Daniel heard cursing and gunshots following them.
A body held the exit door propped open, army boots lying in blood, throat … Oh, shit. Throat gone. Ali hesitated at the gruesome sight. He tugged at her arm. “Don’t stop.”
“Gun.” Without flinching, she scooped up the dead guy’s handgun smothered in thick, congealing blood.
Her face blanched and her throat worked, but she kept it together. Of course, she hadn’t yet seen the second body, dispatched same as the first.
The blonde guy sprinted through the hal way after them, moving like six feet worth of athlete. He crammed a fresh clip into one of his pistols without slowing. He was pretty fucking impressive.
The hallway led to a loading bay, roller door pushed up. Heavy, gray clouds covered the area. Nothing moved in the parking lot. A delivery truck sat idle, stripped down, and a large gas tank lay nearby.
Daniel faced the stranger, heaving in breaths. “Getaway plan?”
“I’m going to blow the tank,” the stranger announced without preamble. “Run.”
Along the back of the supermarket, behind a couple of refrigeration trucks and on to forever; forever these days being not so impressive. They ran down a line of specialty shops, through parking spaces and a row of storage sheds. Debris covered the area.
And damn, she hurt. The side of her face felt fit to explode where it had connected with the supermarket floor. Her head spun and pounded until she couldn’t have found the ground. The tang of blood lingered, thick and cloying, but the gun stayed in her hand. She was done with being a dead weight. Done with panic attacks.
The gas tank exploded behind them, splitting the early afternoon in half. The ground buckled beneath her feet and she nearly hit the ground with her wits cracked and scrambled.
Daniel caught her, dragged her on. He pulled her into one of the sheds as the smoke and haze hit the overcast sky. It had looked like rain, now it looked like hell.
The cool brick wal felt good against her back. The shady inside of the shed was a welcome change from the weak sunlight. Fuck her head hurt, every little last part of it. It spun and pounded and throbbed all at once. Her stomach churned and she swallowed hard, trying to keep its contents down. So damn not good.
Ali rubbed the pilfered handgun against her jeans. What a mess. Some bastard’s lifeblood smeared down her side.
Some bastard had wanted to make her a personal fuck toy. Someone who was willing to kill Daniel to do so. Bloody hell.
She had been in the middle of her very first gun battle. Her ears still rang, though it might have been the head wound.
The stranger slipped into the shed like a shadow. Calm, with his gun still in hand, everything about him at the ready. “Hey,” he said with a nice, deep voice, serene despite all the bloodshed and crazy in the supermarket.
Her eyesight blurred, and he was just a shape, crouching down before her. Everything around her was a painful gray haze. She had no recollection of sliding down the wall, but it was probably all for the best.
“H-hey.” Ali frowned, concentrating til things swam into focus.
It took some time.
The stranger frowned too, which was fair enough. She didn’t sound so great to her own ears, probably looked awful. Stupid thing to worry about, but the man watching her, he was pretty. Take a picture pretty. A few years younger than her thirty-two, blonde hair on the longish side, with pale green eyes staring back at her. Still frowning.
Her focus wavered as the pounding in her skull kicked in anew. Curling up into a ball in the corner would be for the best, but she couldn’t. If she fell apart now they were fucked. Those people were still out there, ready to murder and God knows what else.
“Put your head between your knees.” The stranger used that voice again, smooth and authoritative. He controlled the situation.
Exactly what was required. She did as told and hung her head. “That’s it.”
She nodded. Or tried to.
“Hey you,” he said, referring to Daniel. “There’s water in my pack there …” Fingers rubbed at the back of her neck. The stranger’s fingers. Nice of him.
“Thank you,” she mumbled.
There came the sound of footsteps and ruffling, then more footsteps headed straight for her. Daniel. Daniel was close. Good.
Everything was better already.
“I’m okay,” she whispered. Willing it to be true. Hoping she didn’t pass out.
“Course you are. Here, drink some water.” Daniel coaxed her head back and held the water to her lips.
God, he was so good to her.
She tightened her grip on the pistol and gave pulling her shit together another shot. They really didn’t have time for this. Water trickled into her mouth, and the world slid slowly back into focus.
“You’re going to have quite a bump there,” the stranger said, pul ing at her scattered senses.
He no longer frowned, but still looked pretty.
Her head spun, and she put it back between her knees. Preferable to puking on the pretty man or her shiny brand new boyfriend.
“I’ll second the thank you for saving our asses. Who are you by the way?” asked Daniel.
He moved closer to her other side, and she ever so slowly reverted her head to the upright position. Seeing him was a medicine all of its own.