“We’re not going to get her back, are we?” Sophie’s voice was thick with fatigue and hopelessness.
Wyatt leaned against the door frame that opened into Sophie’s bedroom. After they’d filed into her house around midnight – a little over an hour ago – loaded down with takeout food and reeking of the stench of the day. She’d been the last one to shower – she’d insisted they all go first – and now, wrapped in a white bathrobe, she towel-dried her hair.
It was almost painful to watch her; she looked so exhausted and defeated. Even the tempered high of returning a lost child to her parents couldn’t bolster her spirits.
It had been six grueling hours since they’d rescued the little girl who was not Lola. The child’s name was Carmen Hernandez. This, they’d found out when they’d returned to San Salvador and delivered her to the police station. Carmen was now being treated for dehydration and dysentery in a hospital and, Wyatt assumed, in the loving arms of her parents who had given up on her being found alive. She’d been abducted six months ago.
Thankfully, that little girl was safe. Lola, however, was still out there.
“It’s not over yet,” Wyatt said, although he had to dig deep to interject some semblance of assurance in his voice. Before they’d left the thugs who’d been holding Carmen Hernandez captive like a caged animal, they’d questioned them. He’d known even before they’d resorted to threats that they weren’t going to get any information from the bastards. They were low level flunkies. The bottom of the M-13 food chain who took their pay in ganja and fed their egos toting AK-47’s and telling themselves they were bad.
Unfortunately for poor little Carmen, they were bad enough. Wyatt hoped they rotted out there in the jungle where he and the BOI’s had left them tied to each other without food or water – just the way they’d tied that child.
Wyatt had taken his time pinpointing their location for the police. Let them sit out there in the heat of the night and the bugs and the creepy crawlies for a while. Might put the fear of something greater than their gang leader into them.
“We’re running out of time.” Sophie sat down heavily on the edge of her bed, holding a towel in one hand, a hair brush, loosely in the other.
He couldn’t argue with that. They were down to a little less than thirty-six hours by his calculations. And Sophie was down to the last of her reserve of strength.
He pushed away from the door, walked to her side. He hesitated only a moment before he sat down beside her and removed the brush from her limp hand.
“No, sugar. Let me,” he said, when she made a sound of protest. “You’ve been strong long enough. Just let me do this for you.”
She closed her eyes on a sigh and though he knew she wanted to tell him no, she just didn’t have the strength – of body or of will – to do it.
Her hair was heavy and fragrant as he worked the brush through the damp strands all the while quelling those voices that told him that one night with her in this bed didn’t give him the right to be here with her like this.
He no longer cared about his rights. But he did care about this woman.
“I’m sorry,” she said then groaned, letting him know that what he was doing felt good.
“Sorry?” He gathered the heavy weight of her hair in one hand, continued stroking with the brush.
“That I fell apart … in the cantina … after …”
“You didn’t fall apart,” he interrupted. “You reacted like any sane person would react to the violence. I’m sorry you got caught up in it. And I’m sorry I got tough with you after.”
“I needed it. It ticked me off. Made me concentrate on what a bully you were and forget about the blood. Thanks.”
“We aim to please,” he said with a soft smile. “You need to get some sleep.” He swallowed back the words he really wanted to say and the questions he wanted to ask. Words like: I love you. Questions like: Is there a remote chance for us to be together?
Christ, he was tired. Damn tired or he wouldn’t have gotten within a Georgia mile of those thoughts.
“Stay with me.” Her eyes were liquid and hopeful and because he was weak where she was concerned, too much for him to resist.
He closed his eyes, drew a breath. Then he stood, walked across the room and shut the door. The guys were catching a few wherever they could – Gabe had claimed Hope’s bed, Rafe was snoring on one sofa and Doc was sacked out in the other. Green had commandeered the hammock strung out on the Lanai.
When Wyatt turned back to the bed, Sophie had turned down the covers. A not so subtle invitation. She’d slipped out of her robe and wearing only a delicate white sleep gown, slid over to the middle of the mattress and made room for him.
Her eyes were filled with something other than gratitude. Something that made his breath catch, his heart stall and his hand poise midair.
And God, he wasn’t sure he had the strength to say no to the blatant invitation. She wasn’t the only one who was beat. She wasn’t the only one who felt raw and open to possibilities that would not be wise to explore tonight – or what was left of it.
His muscles clenched with the desire to peel off his cammo t-shirt and fatigues, gather her in his arms and indulge in all the warm woman sleekness of her against his naked skin. His heart slammed with the desire to explore all the places she loved to be touched, places she’d begged him to touch. Soft places. Wet, warm places that he’d remember until the day he died.
Hell yeah, he wanted to strip down to skin and take her everywhere he knew she’d love to go. But he kept his clothes on because he wanted it too much and because he knew, gut deep, bone strong, that whatever need she felt for him in this moment came from all the wrong places. It was need that came from tension and stress and fear. Need that started with gratitude but would eventually end with good-bye.
He had a need too, damn it – for something richer and deeper that would sustain them both. It was because of that need, that he set his H&K within reach on the bedside table and lay down fully dressed. Then he steeled himself when she snuggled up tight against his side.
“Sleep,” he whispered when she splayed her fingers across his chest. “Sleep,” he repeated on a gruff command because, Jesus God, she was killing him as her small hand began wandering slowly south.
He had a choice here. He could either go up in flames or go down in glory. Either way, it played out the same way in the end. He lost.
He stilled her hand against his beating heart. Breathed deep.
Turning her down had nothing to do with heroics. Nothing to do with self-sacrifice. It had to do with self-preservation. He was already in too deep with this woman and he knew that the physical relief mindless sex would bring, could in no way offset the crippling sense of loss that would follow.
That was because he wanted more than sex from her. Okay, yeah, what they had was more than sex. They liked each other, respected each other but on her part, that’s where it ended for her. He needed … hell, he needed commitment and all the goddamn bells and whistles and yeah, damn it, the love and tender moments, that went with it.
But even if she might want that too, he’d already figured out that she wouldn’t let herself go there. She’d committed to a warrior once before; she still wore the scars. She’d told Wyatt about some of them today. And even though she hadn’t said it outright, he’d heard, loud and clear, that she wasn’t about to subject herself to that kind of pain again.
Christ, he was tired, he admitted again. So tired he was lying here, letting his head get screwed up over something that could never be a part of his game plan anyway. She was a woman who wanted and deserved babies. Deserved a man like Diego Montoya who could give her respect and social standing and money. He wasn’t Montoya. He was what he’d always been. He killed bad guys and prayed to God he didn’t become one himself
Finally, he felt the tension and the trauma ease from her soft body with her deep breaths. Felt the moment she let go completely and slid, all liquid and achingly easy into sleep.
Dodged that bullet.
So why did he feel like he’d been gut shot?