Rachel. Her name was Rachel. She had proof now. The strange
man whoâd appeared so suddenly in her hut had called her
Rachel, and then her guardian angel, the one sheâd feared
was a figment of her imagination, had arrived to save her.
Only she didnât feel saved. She was scared mindless, and
everywhere she looked, there was only jungle. She was
hopelessly lost and alone.
Alone. Not in captivity.
The idea gave her fierce pleasure as the realization settled
over her. She was free.
She fell to her knees, nearly crying out when her stomach
revolted and lurched. Her palms planted in the damp soil,
she braced herself as she dry-heaved.
In the distance she heard movement, and she immediately
stilled, holding her breath. Were they coming to take her
back? It was tempting just to stay there and let them find
her. At least then sheâd get her medicine and the horrible
pain would go away.
Angry tears burned her eyelids. She wouldnât go back there.
Sheâd die first. Ethan had been shot trying to rescue her.
The thought made her stomach heave all over again.
She had to get away. The idea of going deeper into the
jungle, into the unknown where any number of creatures
stalked for prey, scared her to death. But staying
frightened her more.
She pushed herself to her feet. She took one step. And then
another. The ground felt warm and alive under her bare feet.
She picked up speed until finally she ran.
Pain. Fear. She couldnât tell which was winning. They both
overwhelmed her. Rachel stopped to rest, leaning against a
tree for support. She weaved and bobbed as nausea welled in
Every nerve ending felt like it was firing in random
succession. An endless staccato of agony barreled through
her veins. Her skin itched, and it took every ounce of her
will not to claw raggedly at her flesh.
Sucking air through her nose, her nostrils flaring with the
effort, she looked around at the dense jungle cover.
Helpless panic ripped over her until tears gathered in her
eyes. She had no idea where she was going or how sheâd survive.
A vicious chill wracked her body even as she registered the
oppressive humidity. She was cold on the inside though. A
sound behind her startled her into motion. She spun around,
unsure of which direction to go. Which way had she come from?
Fatigue made her eyes droop, but she blinked and forced
herself forward. Slime and god knows what else sucked at her
toes. She jerked her foot up when something slithered across
Ready to scream in panic, frustration and fear, she dove
into a dense area of plant growth. A twinge in her shoulder,
and then pain erupted like fire through the protesting
muscles. Had she pulled her shoulder out? She lay there
panting as agony ripped through her body.
She had to get further out of sight.
The leaves were moist and brushed across her cheek, leaving
a cool trail. Holding her injured arm tightly to her chest,
she slapped the ground with her other hand and crawled
forward until the ground cover engulfed her.
Her knees bumped over several gnarled tree roots, and she
hastily scooted against the trunk, huddling for warmth and
to try and still her thundering pulse.
Quiet, she had to be quiet. Her breathing sounded like a
roar in her ears even amid the cacophony of the jungle
Carefully she pulled her legs up, sandwiching her injured
arm between her knees and her chest. She kept herself as
still as possible.
Her muscles quivered and jumped. Her skin rippled, and she
fought the urge to scratch and rub, to wipe at the millions
of things crawling over her body. She kept her eyes open,
knowing she couldnât see anything crawling there, but her
body refused to believe what her mind knew.
She caught movement out of the corner of her eye, and she
froze. Her eyes slowly moved to her left, scanning the area.
And then she saw him.
Her breath caught in her throat. He was the one whoâd been
with Ethan. Sam. He was big and mean and carried a rifle.
His gaze swept the area, his expression fierce and
Oh God, oh God. What should she do? He scared the life out
of her. She didnât know him. Didnât trust him. He knew her
name, though. Would he take her back to the hut now that
Ethan was dead? Would he help her or want to be rid of her?
Then to her right she caught another flash. At first she
thought sheâd imagined it, but when she looked again, she
saw men moving into the area. They were barely discernible,
their camouflage clothing melting into the dense cover.
No matter how frightened she was of Sam, she had more to
fear from these men. She knew all of their faces well, had
seen them on a daily basis for what seemed an eternity. Bile
rose in her throat, and she shook so bad that her teeth
She was taking a gamble. With Ethan gone, this Sam person
might not care what happened to her. But he hadnât tried to
harm her, and she couldnât say the same for her captors.
Desperate fear nearly paralyzed her, but she rose on shaky
feet anyway. She had to warn himâhad Sam seen the threat?
âSam, behind you!â
He dropped like a stone. Gunfire erupted. She saw one of the
men fall. A sense of savage satisfaction gripped her. Then
more gunfire, this time from behind her.
She dove to the ground, throwing her arms over her head, her
mind screaming endlessly. Desperate to protect herself in
some way as the jungle erupted into a war zone, she curled
into a tight ball, trying to make herself as invisible as
And then she realized the stupidity of curling into a ball.
She needed to get away. Sheâd given away her hiding spot
already. It was only a matter of time before they came for her.
Terror lending her strength, she pushed herself up and
started crawling as fast as she could. She flinched when a
bullet hit the tree just over her head, and she threw
herself down once more.
When no other bullets smacked the ground around her, she
started forward again, praying with every inch she gained.
The gunfire stopped, but instead of reassuring her, it
inspired gut-wrenching panic. No longer distracted, theyâd
be after her.
She crawled faster, her breath ripping painfully from her
chest. Sweat rolled down her face, or was it tears?
She ran into the body before she saw it. She was too stunned
to scream or even process that the man was dead. Blood was
everywhere and the rifle heâd carried was still firmly in
She knew this man. She hated him. She spared no sympathy for
his death. With more strength than she thought she
possessed, she ripped the rifle from his grasp and crawled
They wouldnât take her back. Sheâd kill themâall of them.
When sheâd crawled as far from the body as possible, she
stopped to catch her breath. Her sides ached, her shoulder
burned, and her vision was blurred by tears.
A sob caught in her throat and she swallowed rapidly. Afraid
of betraying herself, she lowered her head, burying her face
in her free hand. She just needed a moment to rest.
Several long minutes passed, or maybe it was seconds. It
seemed an eternity. And then she heard her name. The softest
whisper, carried on a breeze.
She flinched but refused to look up. They never called her
Too close this time.
Her head came up, and she grabbed for her rifle. She rolled
over, jamming the gun in the direction of the voice. A
strange man stared back at her, his expression blank. His
ice blue eyes were unreadable as he surveyed her calmly. He
didnât seem bothered by the fact she was pointing a gun at him.
She tried to scoot away, but she was tangled in ground
cover. She thrust the gun forward, trying to at least keep
her finger on the trigger.
From behind the man, another man appeared. Sam. He said
nothing as he put himself between her and the other guy.
âBack off, Steele,â he murmured.
Sam put one placating hand forward, his other loosely
holding his own rifle, though he made no effort to point it
at her. âRachel, listen to me. I wonât hurt you. I swear it.
You need to put down the gun and come with me so I can take
you back to Ethan.â
Tears immediately swirled. A knot formed in her throat, and
no amount of swallowing would make it go away.
He couldnât be trusted. He was lying to her. Ethan was dead.
Sheâd seen the blood. Seen him fall right after heâd yelled
hoarsely for her to go.
Holding back the grimace of pain, she got awkwardly to her
feet. Sam relaxed and held out a hand to her, but instead of
moving forward, she backed away, her gaze never leaving him
or the man still standing just a few feet away.
Her hands shaking, she leveled the gun at an area between
them, hoping they would just go away. Samâs brows came
together for a moment and then he stepped forward.
âNo,â she choked out, as she stabbed the gun in his direction.
His hand moved upward and he stepped back, his expression
âRachel,â he said soothingly. âHoney, Iâm here to help you.
Itâs time for you to go back home. To the people who love
you. Your family.â
Her heart seized. Family? She couldnât remember a family.
All she could remember was Ethan, and even those images were
vague. When had she forgotten? All she could remember was
endless pain and fear. The haziness brought on by injections
thrust upon her and the crawling need when they waited too
long to give her another dose.
For a brief moment she hesitated, drawn to the idea of
family. A home. People who loved her. But then she
remembered. Ethan was dead. He was all she had, all she
could remember. Surely she would remember if there were
others. Would she have forgotten her family?
You can barely remember who you are.
The thought drifted through the twisted pathways of her
mind, taunting and reminding her of her tenuous grasp on her
She caught movement in her periphery and yanked her head to
the side to see another man stalk toward Sam and Steele. He
wore a ferocious scowl as his gaze homed in on her. He was
bigger and meaner looking than Sam, and he should have put
the fear of God in her, but there was something familiar,
something oddly comforting about him.
Was she losing her mind?
He stopped at Samâs side, and she still stared as images
flashed erratically in her mind.
âWhat the hell is going on, Sam?â he asked in a low growl.
âWe donât have time to be fucking around. Letâs get her and go.â
âTell her that,â Sam murmured as he stared at the gun she
held. âIâd say she doesnât want to go.â
Like flashes of lightning in a black sky, pictures shot
randomly through her shattered mind. Memories? The man
standing beside Sam, only he was smiling, almost tenderly.
Water. A dock. He lifted her and then tossed her into the
lake. He stood laughing as she came up sputtering, and she
was laughing too. Happy. Sheâd been happy.
Another memory, haunting and sweet. A church. Her gliding
down the center aisle. Ethan waiting . . .
and this man in front of her . . . heâd
escorted her. Her hand clutched tight over his arm. He
whispered low for her not to worry, that she was the most
beautiful bride in the world and that his brother was the
luckiest man on earth.
Garrett. Ethanâs brother?
âGarrett?â she whispered.
His face immediately softened. The scowl disappeared and
something that looked like joy flashed in his eyes for just
âYes, Rachel. Itâs me, Garrett.â
Making an instant decision, she flew to his side, careful to
put him between her and the other two men. He stiffened in
surprise but put an arm around her. She tucked herself into
his side and leveled a guarded look at Sam.
âLet me have the gun, sweet pea,â Garrett murmured as he
gently pried it from her fingers.
She flinched when it glanced off her injured shoulder, and
her breathing sped up. Sam frowned and made a move toward
her, but she hastily backed away, her feet tangling in the
undergrowth. She went down on her backside, landing painfully.
Garrett was down beside her instantly, his hand going to her
arm. Sam stood back, his brows furrowed.
âAre you okay, Rachel? Where are you hurt?â Garrett asked.
âMy shoulder,â she said. âI canât move my arm. Hurts too much.â
âProbably dislocated,â Sam said grimly. âThe angle is
crooked, and sheâs favoring it awfully bad.â
She scooted back as Sam moved forward again. He cursed and
âShe doesnât remember you,â Garrett said.
âYeah, I noticed,â Sam muttered. âIâm not surprised she
remembers you, though. Thank God for that at least.â
âHe lied,â Rachel whispered.
Garrettâs eyes narrowed. âWho lied?â
Samâs head rocked back in surprise. âMe?â
Garrettâs hand came out to smooth her hair from her face.
âWhat did he lie about, sweet pea?â
Tears welled, and she bit her lip to keep the moan of
despair from escaping. âHe said heâd take me back to Ethan,
but Ethanâs dead.â
Both Garrettâs and Samâs eyes widened in shock. Sam blew out
his breath then squatted beside her, ignoring her efforts to
âWhy on earth do you think Ethanâs dead?â
âI saw him fall. He was shot. He told me to go and then he
went down. I saw him.â
Sam smiled. âHeâs not dead, Rachel. It would take a hell of
a lot more than that to kill that ornery bastard. It was
just a graze. He bled like a stuck pig, but heâs fine. I
Her gaze flew to Garrett for confirmation, hope beating
relentlessly against her chest. Garrett gave a short nod.
âIs he okay now?â she asked in a shaky voice. âWhere is he?â
âIâll take you to him,â Sam said. âBut we have to hurry.â
Fear leapt into her throat, and she began to shake. âDonât
let them take me back. Please.â
Garrettâs face darkened, and she shivered at the raw
violence on his face. From behind Sam, the other man stepped
out. For a moment, his cool eyes bore into her and then he
crouched down beside her. He didnât press into her space. He
just squatted there staring intently at her.
âYou donât know me, Rachel,â he said in an even voice. âYou
have no reason to believe me. But thereâs one thing I can
guarantee you. I wonât allow those bastards to take you
back. Iâm going to get you and Ethan back home where you
belong. Do you understand?â
There was rock-hard assurance in his voice. An unwavering
confidence that, despite her fear and anxiety, calmed her.
Slowly she nodded. Steele nodded back and then rose, putting
several feet of distance between them.
âThis might hurt,â Garrett said. He reached down and tucked
one arm underneath her knees. His other arm slid along her
back, and he carefully picked her up, trying not to jostle
her hurt shoulder.
She snuck a cautious look at Sam, studying him from the
safety of Garrettâs hold. He didnât look like Ethan. Garrett
did, and maybe thatâs why she remembered him. While Ethan
and Garrett were big, black-haired men with hard bodies and
hard faces, Sam was leaner but no less muscled. His hair was
light brown, but his jaw was square and had a determined set
that unnerved her. His eyes were a cold blue. A lot like
Steeleâs. Impenetrable ice.
As if sensing her perusal, he glanced up. Like magic, those
hard eyes softened and became warm. He offered her a
âI donât remember you,â she said softly. âIâm sorry.â
He reached out and tucked a strand of hair over her ear.
âThatâs all right, sweetheart. You will. Whatâs important is
that we get you back to Ethan and then home, where we can
all fuss over you and get you well.â
Garrett started out, jostling her slightly as he navigated
the tangled jungle floor. Sam moved swiftly ahead, his gun
up as he scouted the area in quick, methodical sweeps.
Steele brought up the rear.
âWho is âallâ?â she asked Garrett in a low voice.
âShhh, not now,â Garrett said, though his voice was even and
unscolding. âI promise to tell you all about it when weâre
out of hot water.â
She tucked her head underneath his chin and rested her cheek
against his broad chest. And then as she settled, need,
harsh and relentless, hit her. She began to shake. She was
simultaneously hot then cold. Sweat broke out over her skin,
and she shivered in continuous spasms.
Garrettâs arms tightened around her until pain shot down her
arm. She gasped, and he immediately loosened his grip.
âMedicine,â she gasped. âPlease, I have to have it. Iâm
going to die.â
âYouâre not going to die,â Garrett whispered against her
hair. âIâm not going to let you. I know it hurts, honey, but
you have to fight it. Donât let them win. Think about Ethan.
Youâll be back with him soon.â
She closed her eyes as a thousand insects crawled over her
body. Over her skin, burrowing underneath her clothing. It
was all she could do not to scream and throw herself down to
swipe at them, to scrub them from her flesh.
âGoddamn it, Sam, do you have a sedative in your bag?â
He stopped walking and shifted her in his arms. A few
seconds later, she felt a sharp stick in her arm. She yanked
her head up in surprise and stared wordlessly at Garrett.
âItâs okay, baby girl,â he said in a thick voice. âClose
your eyes. Itâll get better, I promise.â
His face blurred in her vision. âEthan,â she whispered. âYou
âWhen you wake up, heâll be here,â Sam said beside her.
âRelax and donât fight it.â
For a moment, she continued to fight, too immersed in the
wave after wave of pain and vicious hunger to simply let go.
The world faded around her and her eyes fluttered, but she
hung on tenaciously.
A warm hand stroked her cheek and then her hair. With a
yearning sigh, she leaned into the touch, drawn to the
comfort it offered. Lethargy flooded her body, and she went