“Here.” Daniel pressed a pistol into her hand before planting a kiss on her forehead. Reading her right. He was magic. “Good to go?”
“Absolutely.” She grabbed onto him, the human rock that he was. Used his greater weight to pull herself onto her knees and off Finn, whom she had no business being plastered over. “What’s the plan?”
“We run.” Daniel informed her with al due sincerity.
“Huh. One day soon can the plan involve a touch more complexity? Not that I’m complaining or anything.”
“Complain, you? Never. You’re a constant delight.”
Right before she could tel him how ful of it he was Daniel grinned and slid his hand behind her head. He drew her forward and sealed his lips to hers.
Firm lips and a wet warm mouth setting her head to spinning. The best medicine in the world.
He really was magic. And he still wanted her, his hunger right there, open and honest. A part of her had forgotten in all the confusion and fear of yesterday, but he was giving it back to her in spades, right when she needed it most.
God, I needed that.
“Anytime, anyplace,” Daniel murmured before letting her go, smirk firm on his face.
“I said that out loud?” she asked.
“Yes,” Finn confirmed. “You did.”
The man pulled on his pack, careful y setting the mended strap on his shoulder alongside the dressing covering his wound. The ripped neck of his t-shirt hung caked with dried blood.
He was a sublime mess. Sandy hair all untidy and stubble lining his elegant jaw took her breath away. Women attempting to cozy up to him would be no new thing, but she hadn’t woken up smeared over a stranger for years.
Or at least a couple of days.
Looking at him, it was easy to forget what he was capable of. The killing he had done had saved their lives. The debt she owed him was massive.
“I can take it for you.” She pointed at his backpack, tried for a smile of competence, though it probably fell short. “You should be careful with your shoulder.”
“Thanks, no. Pack’s pretty heavy. You keep yourself upright and moving. We’ll do great.” Finn made no eye contact, checked over his gun, tone curt, professional.
That told her. She pushed back her shoulders and drew a deep breath. Embarrassment oozed out of her pores.
“Finn, I’m really sorry I was all over you.”
“Relax, Al. I knew I was signing on as third wheel.”
Good. Great. So long as he wasn’t feeling used and abused because of her treating him like a couch. How had that come about anyway? The events of last night were fuzzy and distant in her battered head.
He glanced up, found her watching. His blank facial expression never changed. There was no chance of reading his thoughts. “How’s your headache?”
“It’s fine,” she replied coolly.
One brow rose. Perfectly.
She gave him a double thumbs-up, full of exuberance. Also jam-packed full of bul shit. “Upright and moving, no problem.”
“Real y? Because you look like Tokyo after going a few rounds with Godzilla.” The lovely jawline tensed, cop eyes staring her down.
“No offense intended.”
“None taken.” Her face throbbed and tingled and was numb all at once. Managing a smile was an exercise in slow and awkward.
“Interesting reference though with Godzilla and … I don’t think we can be friends, after al .”
A brow rose again in query. It was a neat trick. “You always run from a challenge?”
“Real y? You failed to notice that?”
A beatific grin split his face and her belly tumbled, the traitor. He was heavenly. Angels wished they could be so cool. “Why don’t we both make use of some of those pain killers?”
Finn eased the pack back off his bad shoulder, rifled around until he found aspirin and a bottle of water. He picked up two tablets with careful fingers. “Open.” She did. He popped them on her tongue, then unscrewed the bottle of water and held it out to her.
She did. “Thanks.”
He gave a terse nod. “You’re welcome. Don’t worry about last night.”
“Then thank you, again.”
“Why are we always stopping and chatting when we should be moving our asses?” Daniel hissed from the front of the house.
“Let’s go.” Finn urged her forward with a hand. “Do your new friend a favor and try not to get shot crossing that bridge out there, okay?”
Her rabbit heart stuttered. “Yeah. Sure.”
The quiet when they approached the old wooden railway bridge didn’t soothe Finn.
Fog and smoke made their world gray. With dawn, the smell of lingering fires cut the air. Fire evoked al sorts of shit he didn’t need to be dwelling on. Memories of the bombings down south cluttered up his head. There’d been so much death and destruction, innocent civilians leveled where they stood. Charred flesh had a particular, pungent smell he’d never forget. He concentrated on his elbows to stop the shaking in his hands, an old trick a detective had taught him. Finn had to clear his thoughts and focus on the job to hand.
It was not going wel .
The bridge would be tough, which sucked, seeing as it was their sole option. Heading back into the burnt remains of suburbia would be a death trap. They had to get across the river somehow.
Some enterprising little shit had trashed the stairs leading up to the fenced-in walkway that ran alongside the train track. To cross the bridge they would have to climb the hill and walk along the railway tracks. It would take longer. Time was at a minimum.
No one spoke.
The railway was perched atop a mound, built up a couple of meters above street level. They turned and made their way up the slope.
Someone’s stomach growled. Finn could empathize. They were running low on supplies; he had had no plans to cater for three.
Loose gravel sprinkled the side of the hill, not the optimal climbing surface. They crawled more than walked, the tumbling stones similar to the roar of an avalanche in the pre-dawn quiet. Dan had one hand wrapped around Al’s arm, the other flat against the hil for balance. The gravel slid down the mound like a landslide.
They were so exposed, wide open and awaiting an attack.
“Easy, feel out your foothold. No rush,” the big guy instructed Ali in a low voice, which was good advice. The problem was, they needed to haul ass, clear the area as fast as possible.
Finn scrambled to the top of the mound, checking every direction and seeing nothing. That did nothing to appease the itch between his shoulder blades.
Time seemed to slow down to a deliberate, painful crawl while he watched them make their way up the incline. He wanted to grab her and run the minute she hit the top. Get her somewhere safe and never let her out again. Lock her up for her own protection.
The world was too dangerous. He couldn’t keep her safe this way.
“Let’s go,” Finn said.
Dan appeared solid enough with a gun back in his hands, and Ali was managing. Just. What parts of her not bruised or dirty were white as a ghost. She panted from the crawl up the incline.
Up ahead, the coal train looked like a giant hand had picked it up and draped it across the bridge. Two cars, one on each side, sat in the muddy water below, as if they were toes, testing the temperature. The fenced-in walkway beside the tracks would have been a dead end after all.
The other two hadn’t seen it yet. There was no excuse, he was plain tired, and telling them versus waiting the minute or two at most that it would take …
“Oh, no …” Ali saw it.
“They’re going to try to trap us up here.” Daniel drew Ali in front of him with a hand to her hip. “No wonder they let us get this far.”
“So where are they?” she asked, sneaking around the big guy’s side, as far as his grip al owed.
“There’s got to be a way around.” Finn flashed them a smile, more teeth and determination than goodwill. He was feeling a little feral, all things given. “It’l slow us down, not stop us. How about we not accommodate them by standing around?”
Daniel ushered Ali on, fingers fixed around her arm. “Solid notion.”
As the sun rose, long shadows crept out from everywhere – the trees lining the riverbank, the houses up and down the street. Color faded into shadows, providing plenty of cover for both sides.
Their feet shuffled along the tracks, which were cluttered with coal spil ed and scattered from the train wreck. The wreck they were heading straight toward. The same one they somehow had to magic their way past. Their only option lay beneath the iron beast.
Maybe they should have tried the river. But with its swift current and so much debris in the water, the bridge had seemed the safer option.
Finn tried to look everywhere at once, but the shadows and smoke prevented him from seeing much at al , which meant stumbling every other step. From the trickle of warm liquid down his back, he knew his shoulder had started bleeding. He could feel the wet bandage against the open wound. It was just another irritation to ignore.
The assholes were out there. He knew it. His head quieted, the whole world shutting up, shutting down as he went to work. His mind took on a clarity he couldn’t explain.
Finn caught the flare of light on the edge of his field of vision as the bottle arced through the air. It struck the chain wire fence separating pedestrians from trains and then fell toward the bridge. Two, three meters away at most.
The Molotov dropped, smashed against the wooden boards of the walkway far too near to them. It lit up the old planks like tinder, the flames burning bright, hot and close. The stench of the petrol filled his head and clogged his throat, making him gag.
“Go! Get to the train!” Finn yelled, turning to watch at least two of the bastards struggle up the side of the hill not far from where they had just come.
Daniel hustled Al along, keeping her between them. They were only halfway across the bridge. A solid head start but no cause for celebrations yet. They still needed to slide beneath the wreck and escape into the maze of housing estates on the other side.