He strained to look at his surroundings. He knew he hadn’t been beaten here—wherever here was. It looked like he might be in an abandoned shed of some sort. They’d definitely moved him, though. He’d been in an actual house before. He remembered Davis getting pissed when his blood stained a kitchen tablecloth.
He heard voices outside so he shut his eyes and let his head drop down to his chest. A door shut and opened.
“What should we do with him?” The first voice was Saltz’s.
“Try a few more questions, then dump him out at sea.” Davis.
“I thought you were going to hand him over to Calero’s men,” Saltz said.
“I just said that to scare that bitch. I’m not dealing with any of those guys ever again. Besides, they’d probably give him a medal for killing Calero,” he muttered.
“Anything else you forgot to tell me?” Saltz’s voice rose a few octaves and Hunter could hear his feet shift against the bare floor.
“Don’t act like we’re partners. You’re in this for one reason and one reason only.” Davis’s feet moved against the floor too.
Hunter could just imagine the two of them facing off. Maybe they’d do the world a favor and kill each other.
Saltz chuckled. “Actually I’m in this for five very big reasons.”
Five million dollars, Hunter guessed. Yep, that was enough to make someone betray his country. Someone like Saltz anyway.
“Wait a minute. Do you hear that?” Saltz spoke again.
“No…yeah… Come on.” The door opened and shut again, but Hunter didn’t move.
His ears buzzed from the torture, but he strained to figure out what they’d been talking about. Then he heard it too. Was that a helicopter? Maybe Alexis had gotten to safety and found help after all. Deciding to risk it, he opened his eyes.
The place was empty. He exhaled a sigh of relief. Using all the energy he could muster, he pushed against the floor with his feet. The metal chair scraped against the floor. It wasn’t loud, but he paused and waited to see if they’d barge back in. When no one came, he propelled back again.
A trail of blood smeared across the floor, following his path, reminding him he didn’t have much time. He was close to passing out again. And that couldn’t happen. Since he couldn’t stand, he used his head to knock a handsaw off the table. It clattered to the floor.
Shifting his weight back and forth, he toppled his chair to the ground. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood when he landed on his left arm, but he held back his cry. He could feel sorry for himself later. As the taste of copper filled his mouth, he blindly felt around behind his back. He latched onto the saw and twisted it so his wrists hovered over it. With labored motions he sawed through the flex-cuffs. He managed to slice his arms as well, but that was a small price to pay. Next, he freed his legs with ease.
The sound of that helicopter wouldn’t keep them away for long. He couldn’t hear it anymore so his hope that it was coming for him withered. Somehow he managed to walk across the floor, but with each step, he knew he wasn’t going to stay awake much longer. When he tried the door, it was locked. From the outside.
That left one other choice. He stumbled to one of the workbenches and hoisted himself up with one arm, not bothering to rein in his cry this time. He was pretty sure he was dying, but he wouldn’t go without a fight. With one hand he attempted to lift the single-plate window. It was stuck. Painted shut.
“Of course,” he muttered.
There was no other way. He spied a dirty rag and covered his face. Without hesitating, he stood up on the table and dove through the window, automatically curling into a roll position as he slammed against the hard earth. Glass shards cut through his arms, neck and every other exposed part of his body.
A shout sounded nearby. The house he’d been tortured in earlier was about two hundred yards away. And Saltz and Davis were headed his way.
A burst of adrenaline exploded through him as he jumped to his feet. They’d been using pistols before so if he could stay far enough ahead, they wouldn’t be within firing range. At least they hadn’t taken his shoes. He sprinted toward the thickest wooded area.
After spending years in the jungle, he knew how to disappear. Unfortunately this time he was probably leaving a blood trail wider than the Mississippi River. Branches and bushes whipped his face and arms, but he barreled on. Not worried with being quiet, he needed to put distance between them before he actually found a place to hide. Or pass out.
As he stumbled on a fallen tree branch, an arm shot out and grabbed him. Howling in pain, he slid to the ground next to Connor and hunkered down behind the mammoth oak tree. “What are you doing here?” Even to his own ears, his words came out slurred.
“Alexis called us. And she’s alive, before you ask. They both are.”
His answer was enough. He had a thousand questions, but that was the only one that mattered.
“Did I hear a chopper earlier?” he whispered.
“Yep… Is it just the two of them?”
He winced and shifted against the ground. “Yes, and they’re probably not too far behind.”
“Here. As soon as we take them out, we’re gonna medevac you out of here. The chopper’s on standby.” Connor handed him a nine millimeter and stood. “Do you have enough strength to use this if you have to?”
Nodding, he chambered a round, thankful he still had the arm strength, but he didn’t leave his sitting position. Or the protection of the tree.
Connor motioned behind him, and two men dressed in camouflage fatigues emerged from the woods. As they started to advance, Hunter shifted against the tree. For once he was just a spectator.
In the background, he heard shots fired, shouting and someone running through the underbrush. He half-turned over and peered around the tree. Saltz was running straight for him. Probably sacrificed Davis to get away.
Hunter groaned and, using what little body strength he had left, pushed up so he was leaning against the tree instead of sitting. It took more energy than he should have used, but sitting down he didn’t present a threatening force.
Saltz whizzed by his hiding place so Hunter did the only thing he could without shooting him in the back. “Freeze!”
Saltz jerked to a halt, probably out of reflex, then started to move again. He was only a few feet away from Hunter.
“Don’t make me shoot you in the back!” Hunter shouted. He’d never once contemplated shooting someone this way.
Until now. The man didn’t deserve anything more.
Gun in hand, Saltz turned. When their eyes locked, Hunter knew there was only one ending for him. Saltz wasn’t the kind of man willing to go to prison. Saltz raised the gun toward him and Hunter fired two rounds into his chest. Even with his swollen eye, it was an easy target.
As Saltz fell to the ground, Hunter’s gun fell from his hand. Then he collapsed onto his back.
Connor’s face appeared above him. “Stay with me, man. We’re gonna get you out of here.”
Through a haze he felt his body being lifted by two men. They were dragging him out of the woods. And not very gently. In the distance, the whop-whop of the chopper was music to his tired ears. He could see Alexis sitting on the side of the aircraft. When he saw with his own eyes she was alive, he finally let his body take over. For the second time that day, blackness engulfed him.
Alexis splashed water on her face and fought the constant fear that had taken up residence inside her. Hunter had come out of surgery fine, and the doctors said his condition wasn’t permanent. Still didn’t make her feel any better that he hadn’t opened his eyes in two days. In the past forty-eight hours she’d said more prayers than she’d said in the past two years.
“Hello?” At the sound of Hunter’s scratchy voice, Alexis rubbed a paper towel over her face and rushed out of the hospital bathroom.
“I’m here.” The truth was, she hadn’t left. She scooted the chair she’d been living in closer to the bed and grasped his hand.
“Where am I?” He tried to sit up, but she placed a gentle hand on his chest.
“Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head.”
“How long?” he rasped out.
“Since Thursday night.”
“What day is it?”
“It’s Saturday evening. Even though you have a few broken ribs, you pulled through surgery fine.” She could feel tears welling up, but she dashed them away. After everything he’d been through, he certainly didn’t need to see her lose it.
“Do I look that bad?” he chuckled.
Her throat clenched and she shook her head. Lacerations covered most of his upper body, because he’d apparently jumped through a window. She was still a little fuzzy on the details, and the DEA hadn’t been very forthcoming about what had been done to him. Hunter’s poor body was beaten and bruised, all because of her. “I’m sorry I left you.”
His eyebrows knitted together. “You saved Jonathan… Where is he?” A fleeting look of panic washed over his black and purple face.
“He’s here. Gwen flew up—well, actually the DEA flew her up. And another friend of yours is here too. They’re both watching Jonathan.”
“A man named Patrick O’Reilly.”
She put a finger to his lips. His face had turned an ashen gray. The doctor told her he would be fine, but that he’d need a lot of rest and time to heal. “He called one of your phones and I answered.” There would be time enough to explain everything later.
“Why did he call? Is everything okay?” His words were a little slurred, which probably meant his pain medication was kicking in again.
“There was a report on the news about what happened. You’re a national hero. The president even released a press statement about you.”
“What?” He pushed up even though it was obvious the strain cost him.
“Connor still thinks the president knew what Davis was up to, or at least had some knowledge of his activities, but since Davis is dead and you’re a hero, there’s no point in pursuing anything.”