Fighting the instinct to claw at his hands, I dug my fingers through a wad of blood-stained tissue right into his wounded trachea. One of his hands automatically flew to his neck while the other loosened its hold on me. That was all I needed. I surged up and slammed my forehead into his nose. Crack. Blood sprayed out of his nostrils. I scrabbled backward to get away, but fingers snapped tight around my ankle.
I blindly probed the ground with my hand. Found a rock. With a feral grin, I reared up and smashed it into his head. Or I would have done if he hadn’t been yanked out of the way by Reed, who tossed him aside.
Reed snarled at him. “You really are a stupid fuck.” He rounded on me. “What the hell did you think running would achieve? Huh? You don’t think I have better shit to do than chase you through a damn cemetery? I try to help you. I share my secrets with you. And what do you do? Run. Ricky was right; you just told me what I wanted to hear.”
“Did you really think I wouldn’t make a run for it, Reed? I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be anyone’s prisoner. I want to go home.”
“Oh, you’ll go home. You’ll go to your new home. Or you’ll die in that church, right on my altar, and then you’ll be with me forever. Either way, you’re staying with me.” He held up my pendant-slash-knife. “Found this on the ground. Clever. You never told me this was self-defense jewelry,” he griped, as if I’d betrayed him as a friend. “Now get up.”
“Can’t. Twisted my ankle.” Not really, but it would be better if he thought I couldn’t run anymore.
At that moment, Ricky stood upright, glaring. Not at me. At Reed, who was oblivious to it. Wicked fast, Ricky dived at him, wrestled the knife out of his hand, and stabbed him in the eye. Well, fuck.
Reed staggered back with a wild cry. Before I could even try to stand, Ricky was on me again, knife poised to strike. I grabbed his wrist and pushed hard, trying to keep him at bay. But the bastard put his weight behind the strike and the knife lowered toward my throat inch by inch. If my other hand hadn’t been absolutely useless, I could have struck him, scratched him, something. Instead, I had to watch the knife get closer and closer and—
“Police! Drop your weapon!”
Both Ricky and I froze. I knew that voice. It had yelled at me enough times over the years while giving me grief.
“Drop it now!” Joshua ordered.
“You, freeze!” commanded another voice. Bartley. I wondered if he was talking to Reed, who was still groaning in pain.
Above me, Ricky shook his head in what looked like denial. “No,” he wheezed. “Can’t be happening. No.”
“Drop. Your. Weapon!” Joshua again ordered.
“If you don’t fucking shoot the son of a bitch, I will!”
I almost closed my eyes in relief at the sound of Blake’s voice. He was here. He’d come.
“Okay,” wheezed Ricky. “I’ll drop it.” Straightening, he ever so slowly raised the knife. His hand inched to the side, as if he’d lower the blade to the ground. But then an ugly smirk curved his mouth, and I knew what he’d do.
I twisted my body out of the way and—
A sharp crack split the air.
I stayed very still until I heard the knife tinkle to the ground near my head. I realized I was right and he’d meant to ram it into the side of my neck. Dismayed, he looked at the wound in his shoulder as I scuttled backward on my elbows. Behind him, Reed was on his knees, fingers linked behind his head, eyes—or one eye—on the ground. Still, I didn’t feel safe; didn’t feel far enough away from them. Not until a familiar set of arms carefully lifted me.
I burrowed into Blake, clutching his shirt with a trembling hand. I drew in a deep breath through my nose, inhaling his scent and letting it sink in that he was here.
He looked down at me, taking in my injuries, and his face set into a mask of torment. “Ah, baby, fuck.”
“Most of it happened in the crash.” Throat thick, I bit my lip, afraid I was going to cry like a girl. “I wasn’t sure you’d get here in time.”
He pressed a gentle kiss to my forehead. “If they hadn’t brought you out here, in the middle of fucking nowhere, we’d have reached you a lot sooner.”
“Take her away from here,” Joshua told him. “We’ve got this.”
“I want my five minutes with those fuckers when this is over,” said Blake.
I looked at Joshua and warned, “Brace yourself before you go in the church. What you’ll see in there ain’t pretty.”
Damn, these painkillers were awesome. Every bit of tension had left my body. Just left. Gone. Poof. My muscles were slack, my limbs were deliciously loose, and I felt totally weightless. Like I was floating.
There was no pain. No discomfort. No anxiety. The drugs had lulled me into a stress-free place. Not even the cast on my arm or the irritating hospital smells of ammonia, iodine, and hand sanitizer could pierce my fabulous daze. My mother? Well …
For at least the tenth time, Clear plumped the pillows on my bed. “Lie down, sweetie, you’ll feel better for it.”
“Don’t wanna.” I wanted to stay exactly where I was—sitting on the edge of the bed with Blake standing between my legs, resting my head on his chest and listening to the steady beat of his heart. He had one arm curled around my waist while his free hand palmed the back of my head. Pliant, I was lazing against him, as relaxed and content as a cat basking in the sun. It didn’t seem to bother Blake at all, thankfully.
Behind the retractable curtain, voices muttered or moaned, rubber-soled shoes squeaked along the floor, and doors whooshed open and closed. In my slice of the semi-private room, things were quieter despite that—to the nurse’s complete annoyance—Clear, Sarah, Sherry, Dodger, and Cade were all gathered here. Damn if the poor woman had been able to shift them.
Unlike me, they were edgy and worried. Clear constantly twisted her wedding band, Sarah was worrying her lip, Dodger kept rubbing the back of his neck, Sherry kept shifting in her seat, and Cade was sitting beside her while drumming his foot on the floor. Only Blake was calm and in control, but I suspected that he’d be just as worked up if he weren’t concerned that his tension would rub off on me.
Thankfully, Rossi wasn’t terribly injured. He’d banged his knees bad on the glovebox during the accident. But he said his feet hurt more than anything else, since he’d had to stagger all the way to the gas station to use the payphone and call Blake, who received my SOS only moments later.
“Blake, she’s been in a car accident and was then kidnapped and later chased through a cemetery,” said Clear, brow wrinkled. “She needs to lay flat and rest.”
His arm ever so slightly flexed around me. “I don’t need the reminder about what she’s been through. She doesn’t want to lie flat.”
“She’s probably worried that if she falls asleep, she’ll wake up to find that you’re gone,” hedged Cade, sending a teasing smile my way. “Clingy.”
I weakly flipped him the finger.
Blake kissed my hair. “No, she knows I won’t leave her side.”
I did know that. I wasn’t slouched against him because I worried he’d leave, I just needed the physical contact. He hadn’t stopped touching me since the moment he carried me out of the cemetery, so maybe he needed it as much as I did.