Alpha one, p.18
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       Alpha One, p.18

           Cynthia Eden
 
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  The knife pricked her skin. The pain was light, the faintest press, but she closed her eyes, knowing what was to come.

  But then she heard a choked cry, the thud of flesh on flesh, and her eyelids flew open even as the knife was ripped away from her skin.

  Logan had leaped from his chair. The ropes were behind him, some still dangling from his wrists. He had Guerrero on the ground and he was punching him again and again and again.

  Guerrero’s men seemed to shake from their stupor, and they lunged for him.

  “Logan!”

  His head whipped up. His eyes were wild. She’d never seen him look that way before. His control is gone. “Behind you!” But her shout was too late. One of the guards, a big guy with thick, curling hair, plunged his fist into Logan’s back even as the other raced forward with his knife.

  Juliana shoved out her feet, tripping the man with the knife. The weight of his body sent her crashing to the floor. Her chair shattered, and it felt as if her wrist broke, but Juliana twisted like a snake, moving quickly, and thanks to that broken chair, she was able to get out of the ropes.

  She rushed to her feet. The guards were both attacking Logan now. One had a knife, but before he could attack, Logan just ripped that knife out of his hands. Then Logan knocked that guy out with a flash of his fists.

  The other guard froze, glanced down at his buddy. She could feel the man’s fear. But...Logan was bleeding. His body shuddered. The fool must have thought that was a sign of weakness.

  He went in for the kill.

  Logan stepped back, half turned and caught the man in a fierce grip.

  “Wrong move.” The whisper came from right beside Juliana. She jerked, but Guerrero already had her. He grabbed her, his arms wrapping around her from behind.

  “Juliana!”

  She didn’t waste time looking at Logan. She hunched her shoulders and dropped instantly from Guerrero’s grasp, just like Logan had taught her. Then she drove her elbow back into Guerrero’s groin. He groaned and stumbled back.

  Not such easy prey, am I? Not this time, she wasn’t.

  Logan rushed past her and crashed into Guerrero. They both hit the ground, rolling in a ball of fists and fury.

  The second guard...he was still moving, trying to crawl for the discarded knife.

  Thunder echoed outside.

  Juliana grabbed the chair that Logan had been tied to. She lifted it as high as she could and slammed it down onto the guard’s back.

  He stopped moving then.

  Juliana spun back around. Guerrero had a blade in his hand. A blade he was driving right at Logan’s throat.

  Juliana screamed and ran forward.

  Logan grabbed Guerrero’s hand, twisted it back and shoved the blade of the knife into Guerrero’s throat.

  A choked gurgle broke from Guerrero’s lips.

  “Told you,” Logan growled, “you never should have brought me in alive.”

  Guerrero’s body shuddered. He tried to speak, couldn’t.

  And as she watched, as Logan rose to his feet, El Diablo died. He was crying when he died. The tears leaked down his face even as the blood poured from his neck.

  Her breath heaved out of her lungs. Juliana looked down and realized that she was dripping blood. She’d forgotten her wounds. She’d been too worried about Logan. But now...

  Now she hurt.

  He turned toward her. “Julie...”

  Footsteps raced outside the room. Logan swore. He grabbed the knife and yanked it from Guerrero’s throat. Then he pushed Juliana against the wall, sheltering her beside his body as he waited for the next wave of guards to come into the room.

  A man raced in, a gun in his hands.

  Logan kicked the gun away and put his knife at the man’s throat in a lightning-fast move.

  “Don’t!”

  Not Juliana’s cry. Sydney’s. Juliana saw the woman rush through the door. Her eyes were wide and worried and locked on Logan—Logan and Jasper.

  “Here to...save you...” Jasper wheezed.

  Logan lowered his arm. “Little late, buddy. Little late...”

  Sydney and Jasper glanced at the bodies on the floor. “Yes, it looks that way.”

  Logan used the knife to cut away the last of the ropes that dangled from his wrists. She’d barely even noticed them during the fury of the fight. “Are we clear outside?” Logan demanded.

  Sydney nodded. “I don’t think Guerrero was expecting us to come so soon.” Sydney edged closer to the body. “Only a handful of men waited outside.”

  Juliana didn’t want to look at the body. Her hand lifted, and she touched the raised skin on the back of her neck. The tracker had come in handy, just like Logan had said it would. “It’s over,” she whispered, almost afraid to believe the words were true.

  Logan’s head whipped toward her. His eyes—the wildness was still there. A beast running free. And there was fury in his blue stare.

  Fury...and fear?

  Juliana dropped her hand. He’d told her that he loved her. Sure, they’d both been about to die, but she wasn’t about to let him take those words back.

  Sydney was talking into her phone, asking for more men. A cleanup crew. Boots on the ground.

  Jasper had bent over the guards. He gave a low whistle. “Someone plays rough.” He looked back up at Logan.

  Logan shook his head and jerked his thumb toward Juliana. “That one was hers.”

  Jasper blinked and stared at her with admiration. “I think I’m in love.”

  “Get in line,” Logan muttered.

  Juliana wrapped her arms around her stomach. Maybe they were used to this kind of scene, but she wasn’t. The smell of blood and death was about to gag her, and her wounds ached and throbbed and—

  Logan was there. “She needs medical attention.”

  A choked laugh slipped from her, and she didn’t know where that had come from. Wait, she did. Shock. “You’re the one who was gutted.”

  “Barely a scratch,” he dismissed as he lifted her arms to study the wounds, but his face was pale, and the faint lines near his eyes and mouth had deepened.

  When he stumbled, it was her turn to grab him. “Jasper!”

  The other Shadow Agent was there instantly. “Damn, man, you should have said...”

  Logan gave a quick shake of his head and cut his eyes toward Juliana.

  The flash of fear instantly vanished from Jasper’s face, but it was too late.

  It’s bad.

  “Let’s get out of here,” Logan muttered. “I want...Juliana safe.”

  “I am safe,” she said quietly. “Whenever I’m with you, I know I’m safe.” A man who’d kill to protect her. How much more safety could a girl ask for?

  His gaze held hers. I always loved you. The words were there, between them. Had he confessed out of desperation? Because he’d thought they were going to die?

  And did the reason why even matter? No.

  I always loved you.

  They made their way outside. Juliana stayed close to Logan and she tried not to notice the trail of blood he left in his wake.

  They were at the edge of the swamp. Insects chirped all around them. Armed federal agents were swarming the scene, and an ambulance was racing toward them along that broken dirt road.

  “Maybe we’ll find evidence inside,” Sydney said as she rubbed the back of her neck and watched an EMT work on Logan. “Maybe we’ll be able to connect his network and shut down some of the—”

  “Here.” Juliana reached into her pocket and pulled out the flash drive. Guerrero hadn’t bothered to search her. His mistake. He’d just tied her up. Started his torture. When all along, the one thing he needed was right in front of him.

  Silence. Even the insects seemed to quiet down.

  She glanced up. Logan had been put on a stretcher, but he was struggling to sit up and get to her. “What the hell?”

  Jasper shook his head. “The evidence. You had it all along?”

  “No. I fou
nd it when I was fighting with Susan.” A shiver slid over her as she remembered Susan’s scream when the woman had been shot. Juliana could still hear the shatter of the breaking glass as Susan had fallen. “My father...he hid the flash drive in one of my paintings, one that he kept in his bedroom.”

  Syd took the drive. A grim smile curved her lips. “You just made my job a whole lot easier.”

  Juliana glanced at the blood on Logan’s body. At the injured men on the ground. “If I’d found it sooner, it would have been easier for everyone.”

  The EMTs were loading Logan into the back of the ambulance. Someone else—another EMT, a woman this time—was reaching for Juliana.

  Pulling them apart.

  She didn’t want to be apart from him any longer. They’d already wasted so many years. Too many.

  She stepped toward the ambulance. “I was going to give it to him.” Logan should know this.

  He stared at her with glittering eyes.

  “I wasn’t going to sit there and let him kill you. I was going to trade the drive for your life.”

  “Ma’am, you’re going to need stitches,” the EMT next to her said. “We have to get you checked out.”

  She didn’t want to be checked out. “Logan...”

  He was yanking at the tubes the EMTs had already attached to him. Trying to get out of the ambulance, even as the two uniformed men beside him attempted to force him back down.

  Juliana rushed forward and leaped into the ambulance. “Don’t! You’ll hurt yourself!”

  He caught her hand in his and immediately stilled. His fingers brushed over her knuckles.

  “Let’s get the hell out of here,” one of the EMTs muttered, a young man with close-cropped red hair, “before the guy tries to break loose again.”

  The ambulance lurched forward.

  Logan wasn’t fighting any longer. He let the men tend to his wounds. Juliana let them examine the deep cuts on her arms.

  Logan kept holding her hand.

  She kept staring at him.

  There was so much to say, and she wasn’t sure where to start. They’d been through hell. Death. Life.

  Could they go back to the beginning and just be two people again? Two people who wanted a chance at love?

  He brought her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “Don’t leave me.”

  Her chest ached. “I won’t.”

  The sirens screamed on, and they left the blood and death behind them.

  * * *

  WHEN LOGAN OPENED his eyes, the first thing he saw was Juliana. She was in the chair next to his bed, her head tilted back against the old cushion. Heavy bandages covered the tops of her arms. She was holding his hand.

  He stared at her a moment and watched her sleep. She’d always been so beautiful to him. So beautiful that his chest burned just looking at her.

  When Guerrero had threatened to use his knife on Juliana’s face, when she’d braced herself, drawing in that deep breath and trying to be strong, something had broken inside of Logan.

  He’d killed before. Killing was part of his job, part of surviving.

  But this time, it had been pure animal instinct. Savagery. The primal urge to protect what was his.

  Juliana was his. That was the way he’d thought of her for years.

  But there weren’t any secrets between them now, and he didn’t know... What does she think of me?

  His fingers tightened around hers, and almost instantly, she stirred in her chair. Her lashes lifted and her gaze locked on him. Then she stared at him. A slow smile curved her lips and her eyes—

  She still looks at me like I’m some kind of hero.

  When she, more than any other, knew he wasn’t.

  “Took you long enough,” she said as she leaned toward him. Her voice was a husky caress that seemed to roll right over his body. “I was starting to wonder when I’d get you awake again.”

  “How long...” He paused and cleared his throat so he’d sound less like a growling bear. “How long was I out?”

  Shadows darkened her eyes as her smile dimmed. “They had to operate on you, stitch you back up from the inside out.”

  Yeah, he could feel the pull of the stitches. He ignored the pain.

  “And you’ve been sleeping for a couple of hours since then.”

  “You were...here, with me?”

  She nodded. “You told me not to leave.” One shoulder lifted, stretching the bandage on her arm. “I got stitched up while you were in surgery, and they let me come back once you were stable.”

  She rose from the chair and his fingers tightened around hers automatically, a reflex because he didn’t want to let her go.

  She glanced down. A frown pulled her brows low, and he forced himself to release her.

  “Gunner’s going to be all right, too,” she said, and her words came a little fast, as if she were nervous. “Sydney’s with him. She’s been in his room...well, almost as long as I’ve been in here.”

  He knew why Sydney would stay with Gunner. Those two...there had always been something there. Something neither would talk about.

  While he’d spent his years thinking about Juliana, Gunner had spent his time watching Syd—when he thought she wasn’t looking.

  “So I guess everything is over now,” Juliana continued, easing away from the bed a bit. “The bad guy is dead. The EOD has the evidence and I can get my life back.”

  “Yes.” The word was even more of a growl than before. Logan couldn’t help it. Fear and fury were beating at him. Don’t want to lose her.

  “Thank you.” Her gaze was solemn. “You risked your life for me. I won’t ever forget that.”

  She turned on her heel, began to head for the door.

  No damn way. “I wouldn’t have much of a life without you.”

  Juliana stilled.

  “I lost you once, and if you walk away...” Like she was doing. Hell, no. “Don’t, okay? Don’t walk away. Give me a chance. Give us a chance.” And he was getting out of that bed. Yanking at the IV line attached to his arm. Swearing at the bandages and stitches that pulled his flesh.

  Juliana turned back around. Her eyes widened when she saw him and she rushed back to his side. “Why do you keep doing this?” She pushed him onto bed. “I was just going to tell Jasper that you were awake. I wasn’t leaving you.”

  So he’d panicked. A guy could do that when the woman he loved had almost died. And he did still love her. He’d tried to deny it, tried to move on.

  Hadn’t happened.

  “I meant it,” he told her, and yeah, he was holding tight to her hand again. He just felt as if she was about to disappear. Slip away.

  “Logan?”

  “When I said I loved you, it was true. I wanted you to know in case...” In case Guerrero had carried through on his threats. Logan shook his head. “I know you hate me—”

  “No, I don’t.”

  He wouldn’t let the hope come, not yet. Not hating someone was a long way from loving the person. “I should have told you the truth about your mother the first day I met you. I was scared,” he admitted as he stared her straight in the eye. “Scared you’d walk away. Scared that I’d see disgust in your gaze.”

  “Is that what you see now?”

  “No.” But he wasn’t sure...

  “I read the reports about my mom’s accident. Her death wasn’t your fault. I know you tried to save her.”

  It hadn’t been enough. It would never be enough.

  “You aren’t your father. You aren’t like him.” Her lips pulled down. “And I’m not like mine.” Her breath whispered out in a sad sigh. “Maybe things could have been different for them, too, but now it’s too late.”

  Too late for their fathers. But... “What about us?”

  Her lashes lowered. “What do you want from me, Logan?”

  Everything. “A chance. Just give me a chance, Juliana, to show you what I can be.”

  “I already know what you are.”

&n
bsp; The pain in his chest burned worse than the stitches. “No, you—”

  “You’re the man that I love.” Her lashes swept up. “I’ve known that since the first time you kissed me.”

  Hope could be a vicious beast. It bit and tore inside of him, ripping past the fear and driving him to pull her ever closer.

  Her legs bumped against the bed. Her lips were just inches from his. “Juliana, don’t say it unless...”

  “Unless I mean it? But I do mean it.” Her left hand lifted and pressed lightly against the line of his jaw. “Logan, I love you.”

  He kissed her. His mouth took hers, rough, hungry, because he couldn’t hold back. He needed her too much. Always had.

  The pain of his wounds didn’t matter. The pain of the past years—being without her—didn’t matter. She was with him now. In his arms.

  He pulled her even closer. She stumbled against the bed and laughed against his mouth. That laugh was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard.

  He wanted to spend the rest of his life making her happy, hearing her laugh and seeing the light in her

  dark eyes.

  He wanted forever with her.

  His tongue slid past her lips and tasted that laughter. So sweet. Just like her.

  “Logan...” she whispered as she pulled her lips from his. “We can’t. You’ll get hurt...”

  “The only thing that can hurt me is being away from you.” That had gutted him before. Hell, this wasn’t the time. Not the place. But... “Marry me.”

  Her eyes widened. She tried to pull away. He wouldn’t let her.

  “Logan, you just asked for a chance, and now you want forever?”

  He smiled, and for the first time in longer than he could remember, it was a real smile. His chest didn’t burn anymore. He didn’t feel as if he’d lost a part of himself.

  She’s right here.

  “I’m a greedy bastard,” he confessed.

  An answering smile, slow and sexy, tilted her lips.

  “Besides, I’ve had your ring since you were twenty years old.” He’d kept it, not able to let it go. “And I’d like to start making up for lost time.”

  “You had a ring...all this time?”

  Because maybe he hadn’t ever given up hope. Maybe he’d thought...one day.

 
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