Read Dangerous Pursuit (The Protectors) Online

Authors: Margaret Daley

Tags: #Harlequin author, #Debra Webb, #Carla Cassidy, #Romantic suspense, #Rita Herron

Dangerous Pursuit (The Protectors) (10 page)

BOOK: Dangerous Pursuit (The Protectors)
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Samantha continued to clean his wound, ignoring his glares. “The nurses must love seeing you come into a hospital.”

“I wouldn’t know. Never had the pleasure.”

Samantha smoothed a bandage over his cut, aware of how glad she was that he was sitting next to her, even if he was complaining. His voice sounded wonderful.

As Brock perused the interior of the plane, he saw the cut on her leg that had ripped her pants. “Turnabout is fair play, Sam.”

The mischief in his eyes made her wary of his intent. She tightened the hold on the bottle of antiseptic.

Grinning, he took the bottle from her tight grasp and began to administer his own special kind of first aid. His touch was gentle but efficient. Before she had time to catch her breath, she had a bandage on her own wound.

The more she was around him the more she was discovering how full of contradictions Brock Slader was. He could be so incredibly gentle, and yet full of strength and power at the same time.

“Though I would love to stay here all day and chat, we’ve got to get out of here.” Brock continued his visual inventory of the interior of the plane, gesturing to the water seeping in through the vents. "Soon rather than later."

The plane jolted, the wing sinking farther under the water. Samantha’s gaze widened as she stared out her window. The river was only a few feet from her door. Why hadn’t she paid more attention to that fact.
Because Brock makes me feel safe under even dire circumstances
.

“This plane isn’t going to stay afloat much longer. There’s a rubber raft in the back that we’ll use. The friend I borrowed this from always has certain provisions in case of a wreck.”

“A wreck! You thought we might wreck and you didn’t tell me?”

Brock made his way toward the back of the plane. “No, I didn’t think we would. But it does happen, and this is no place to be caught without certain necessities. It’s a precaution that can make the difference between life and death. Parts of the Amazon are still unexplored.”

“Are we in one of those parts?” She tried to keep her voice steady. This was not what she had had in mind when she had come to Brazil to find her brother.

“No, but as you can see it isn’t a main thoroughfare. I’ll set up the raft while you gather up everything you think we’ll need. We don’t have much time.” Brock was already reaching into the storage area in back of his seat for the raft.

The plane shifted again, and Samantha was afraid to move too suddenly. She gingerly picked up her canvas tote and Brock’s backpack, then stuffed the first aid kit into her bag.

Brock handed her two bundles from the back, saying, “We’ll need these hammocks. Hold on to them and stay in here while I get the raft set up. Then come out on the wing when I tell you with as little movement as possible.”

“What if…” Her voice trailed off into silence.

Brock was already opening his door and climbing out of the cockpit. What if the water coming in turned into a gushing flood? Already the level was up to her ankles.

Samantha glanced out her window at the water, now only a foot from her door, and decided to scoot to the far side where Brock had been. When the raft was fully blown up, Brock, holding it to the side of the plane, motioned for Samantha to get into the raft.

She crept out of the cockpit, keeping her gaze averted from the river. After throwing the bags and hammocks into the bottom, she started to slide down the plane’s side inch by slow inch into the raft. Being so close to the water brought back all her fears of drowning and her father’s death. She was almost ready to take her chances with the plane when it lurched once again, and water gushed into the cockpit she had just left.

“No time for grace.” Brock pushed Samantha the rest of the way and quickly followed.

The raft swayed under their jolting weight and water poured over one side, leaving an inch of water in the raft’s bottom. Samantha, panic stricken, clutched at the sides to steady herself and the raft.

With an oar, Brock shoved them away from the sinking plane. While the raft was caught in the river’s current and moving away from the plane, the aircraft went under, but the tip of one wing remained protruding out of the water.

“I was hoping nothing would be left showing,” Brock muttered as he began to steer the raft in the current.

“Why? This way we can find the plane and maybe salvage it.” She wondered who would have to pay for the damage. She wouldn’t be able to take a vacation for a decade at this rate. How much did a plane cost? 

“If we can find it, so can the bogus padres.”

“You said they wouldn’t be going anywhere for the next day or so. We’ll be safe—”

“Sam, if we’re lucky, we’ll be celebrating our escape in Manaus this time next week.”

“A week! It only took us a few hours to get to the mission.”

“A straight shot over some rough terrain.” He gave her a quick, reassuring smile, then continued to navigate the raft downstream. “I suggest you put on that hat you bought. It’s going to be a long, hot day. Then you might try and do something about the water in the bottom of the raft before it soaks everything.”

After donning the hat, Samantha looked from one bank of the river, with its wall of trees and overhanging branches, to the other side, an exact replica. Seven days of this? She couldn’t believe her misfortune. Green wasn’t even her favorite color.

Rolling up the long sleeves of her blouse because it was so hot, she spent the next thirty minutes bailing water out of the raft with a collapsible travel cup she had in her tote. She placed their bags on top of the hammocks so their things wouldn’t get wet. It wouldn’t be long in this heat before the little water left in the raft evaporated. Tired from the small amount of exertion, Samantha sat back to examine in detail the terrain they were passing through.

For a long time they traveled in silence, the only sounds those of nature, but there were so many of those. Samantha gave up counting how many different kinds of birds were along the river or taking flight overhead. Every once in a while she would hear a shrill or a roar and wonder what creature could possibly have made that sound. She never wanted to come face to face with whatever they were.

After an hour of watching the same monotonous, peaceful scenery, Samantha longed for the frantic pace of her life in New Orleans. Never again would she wish to do nothing but sit and vegetate.

She had purposely avoided looking at Brock as he sat in the front of the raft. He stirred feelings in her she didn’t want to feel. The muscles in his arms and back rippled with each stroke of the oar, the skin on the nape of his neck glistening with sweat. He was in superb physical shape, but he wasn’t her ideal man. At least, she didn’t think he was. To be honest, she still didn’t know that much about him.

She looked away from his broad back, his shirt pulled enticingly across it. It seemed they would be stuck together for the next week. She certainly couldn’t spend the time fantasizing about him. She was a sensible woman who didn’t do unrealistic things, and getting involved with a man like Brock Slader was definitely unrealistic. They had nothing in common short of being members of the human race.

Her attention was pulled away from the man in front of her by a prickling sensation on her hands and arms. There was a reddish hue to her skin that rivaled her hair in color, and she suddenly realized the folly of rolling up her sleeves. Yesterday—was it only yesterday that they were safe in Manaus?—Brock had insisted that she buy sunscreen as well as the straw hat. She delved into her canvas bag for the lotion, but her fingers clasped her brother’s black book first.

Taking it out, she looked through it, puzzled by what Mark had told her over the phone. This book somehow contained something of great value. What? The pages were written in letters and numbers, none of which made sense in English.

She studied one series of coded words. The sequence seemed familiar, but like a dream a person forgot when he awakened in the morning, what seemed familiar was just out of reach of her memory. The dull throbbing in her head from the bump increased even more from the heat and mental exhaustion.

Samantha decided to find a safer place to put the book until she could inspect it more closely. She emptied out her waterproof makeup bag and placed the book in it. After the raft had almost tipped over earlier, she didn’t want to take any chances.

After securing the book in the safest place that she could think of and then tying her bag to the raft, Samantha lavished sunscreen on her arms and face, a white film now covering her skin. “Would you like some sunscreen?” she asked Brock.

“Don’t need it.” He tossed his reply over his shoulder but never turned toward her. Neither did his even paddling rhythm stop.

How could someone be so comfortable with silence? Samantha wondered, exasperated that he hadn’t said more, something to open up the conversation for her.

Left to her own devices again, Samantha began to go over in her mind the events of the last twenty-four hours. A disturbing question surfaced immediately: How did Carlos and Paul know she was going to be at the Para Mission? They had been waiting for her, and the only other person who knew she was going to the mission was Brock.

Doubt about him began to nag at Samantha. She really knew very little about him short of his name and that he was from Houston, with a father and sister still alive. Any or all of what he had told her could be a lie.

What if he had been waiting for her in the lobby of the Grand Hotel? What if he had intended all along to “help” her search for Mark because he wanted to find her brother as badly as she did? What if his act in Manaus had been carefully orchestrated from the very beginning to gain her confidence? What if he was working for himself and in her saw an opportunity to make a lot of money—more than his ten percent? Her temples pounded painfully with her doubts and questions.

She had to discover who Brock Slader really was and what he was doing in the Amazon, thousands of miles from Houston, Texas. Then maybe she would be able to tell if she could really trust him or if he was working with Carlos and Paul, or just for himself. Even in the grueling heat of the noonday sun, she shivered. Though perspiration beaded her forehead, she was chilled by the knowledge she couldn’t trust anyone, not even Brock.

When Brock started to paddle toward the shore, Samantha wondered if Carlos and Paul would be waiting for them in the thicket of the trees. Every shadow took on a menacing shape in her mind as the raft neared a stretch of sandy beach. “Why are we stopping?”

Brock jumped onto the shore and dragged the raft onto the beach with Samantha still in it, clinging to the sides. “It’s not wise to travel in the hottest part of the day. We’ll rest for a few hours.”

Was Brock waiting for an accomplice to catch up with them? “I’d rather continue and put more distance between us and them.”

“There’s a very good reason why people in the tropics take siestas. The heat, Sam. It saps all your strength. And since I’m steering, I’m resting.” Without waiting for her he took the hammocks out of the raft and began to string them up. When he had completed his task, he faced her. “I suggest you do the same. It’s going to be a hard week.”

She remained in the raft, staring at him, so strong, so capable of crushing her. Could he be such an accomplished actor? Could he be the one after her brother? The doubts and questions swirled in her mind and she couldn’t move.

“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug, and lay down in one of the hammocks in the shade of the tropical rain forest.

The hot sun beat down on Samantha unmercifully. The beads of perspiration became rivulets of sweat that quickly soaked her clothing. Her straw hat did little to relieve the heat, especially now that there wasn’t even a hot breeze created by the raft’s movement. Her eyelids began to drift closed. Drowsiness crept over her like a heavy fog. Her body slumped forward.

A macaw shrieked.

Samantha jerked back upright. She had to stay awake. But she looked longingly at the empty hammock, then at Brock, asleep in his. She could count the hours of sleep that she’d had in the last two nights on one hand. Maybe she could just lie down and at least rest her eyes for a little while. She could be up and back in the raft before Brock.

Tiptoeing past Brock’s hammock, she paused, drawn to the innocent expression on his face while he was sleeping. A lock of black hair had fallen across his forehead, and Samantha was tempted to smooth it back. Alarmed that his serene features could so easily take her in, she stepped away and hurried toward her hammock before she gave the man her brother’s book on a silver platter.

She clutched her bag to her chest and settled into the hammock, determined to be alert and cautious around Brock Slader. But five minutes after she lay down on the canvas bed, which cradled her like a warm cocoon, she was asleep, the hammock’s gentle rocking motion lulling her into a state of languor…

In the early-morning mist, Brock and she cut through the vines and trees, their movements rushed. The shouts of the pursuers were getting nearer, and with each step they took the foliage was thicker and harder to get through. When she and Brock burst out of the dense jungle onto a cliff overlooking a waterfall, she stared at Brock then back behind at the people after them. The shouts grew louder.

Suddenly Carlos and Paul emerged from the jungle, their guns aimed at her, smiles of immense satisfaction on their faces. Carlos motioned with his gun for Brock to move away from her, leaving her to face the three of them. They advanced on her. She took a step back, then another, until her foot was at the edge of the cliff.

“We want the book,” Brock demanded. “You can’t escape us now.”

She clutched her bag to her chest and shook her head. “Never!”

Brock’s hand snaked out and circled her wrist, yanking her to him with a wrenching jolt. She fought the power of his grip, her nails digging into his flesh…

“Ouch! Sam. Wake up!”

Her eyelids flew open, and Brock stood over her, her hand in a death grip on his arm. Her throat was parched, robbing her of speech.

BOOK: Dangerous Pursuit (The Protectors)
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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