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Rebel heart, p.11
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       Rebel Heart, p.11

           Lizzy Ford
 
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  Lana awoke in the large tent, wrist aching and her face hurting where she’d been struck. She recalled her night with a jolt and sat, expecting men to leap from the shadows to rape her.

  She was alone. She looked at her wrist. It had been bandaged again. While the covers smelled like Brady, he was nowhere around. She crept from the bed and looked around. Clothing sat on the nightstand near the bed. She was hungry, tired, and dirty. Memories of almost being raped, of Brady killing someone in front of her …

  Her chest seized, and she dropped to her knees. She still felt that man’s rough hands on her body and the sense of helplessness. Brady had killed him for it. She wanted to think he’d done it to help her, but what kind of a monster could execute another in cold blood?

  With a deep breath, she forced herself up. She took a shower, as hot as it would go, and stayed until the hot water ran out. It soothed her head and the aches of her body. Her black uniform was clean and waiting for her. She pulled it on quickly, and studied the marks on her face. One cheekbone was yellow, her lower lip swollen.

  Her micro and the vault were missing. Greenie—and those he was working with—would be crazy not to pursue her, once they found out what she did. She’d planned on Elise helping her escape to the west, where she could secure the Horsemen at the Peace Command Center. Her plan had failed before she got off the mountain.

  She looked around, overwhelmed by the idea of trying to find a way west on her own. She hadn’t brought her ID for fear of being tracked and realized she also didn’t have a source of credit to buy anything. She definitely didn’t know how to survive in the forest.

  Desperation crept over her. She was trained to assess, protect, repair, and sustain government systems through any kind of crisis. Yet she didn’t know the first thing about life outside the command center!

  The tent opened, revealing the world outside of it. It was past dark, and the camp was filled with men and tents as far as she could see. Her despair increased; she couldn’t escape from a camp this size! Brady, Dan, and another man breezed past her. She quelled her sense of panic, instead moving as far from them as possible to the kitchen and hoping they didn’t notice her.

  They all wore dark gray tactical suits and were fully armed. Her hands shook of their own accord as her gaze swept over them and their advanced weapons.

  There was no intel report on how the PMF had acquired the technology needed to create the genetically altered soldiers that stood before her. From Dan’s whiplike body to Brady’s feline-like musculature to the stranger’s towering frame, there was no mistaking them for normal soldiers. They were all over six feet, all engineered for power, agility, and endurance.

  Their quiet talking ceased, and they looked at her. She sucked in a breath. Brady pulled her micro from his cargo pocket and approached her with a controlled, slow gate, much like that of a stalking lion. She backed away until the corner of the kitchen counters trapped her. She felt his body heat and stared at his wide chest.

  “Nearest emerops facility,” he whispered in his broken voice. He held out her micro.

  Fear fluttered through her, and she shook her head. He planted his hands on either side of her and lowered his face to her level, forcing her to meet his gaze. His dark eyes were as hard as his chiseled face and intense.

  “When I give an order, no one disobeys me. Do you understand?” he demanded. “Nearest emerops facility. Now.”

  She jumped at his tone and took the micro in shaking hands. It flickered on for her, and she correlated their coordinates with two touches. She showed it to him.

  “Open it at sixteen hundred today and close it at seventeen twenty.”

  She set the parameters and waited for the approval screen. When it flashed, she showed him again. He took the micro and turned away from her. She released the breath she’d been holding and watched him, afraid he’d come back for something else.

  He gave the coordinates to Dan and replaced the micro in his pocket. His request gave her an idea. She could survive on the ample amounts of supplies the emerops facilities contained if she moved from facility to facility towards the west. She only needed to regain the micro and vault.

  The two men left. She prayed for Brady to follow. Instead, he turned and approached her again. She stared at his chest, not looking up until he stopped a couple feet from her.

  “You know who we are?”

  She shook her head, playing dumb.

  “Appalachia Branch of the PMF.”

  Her mouth felt dry. She didn’t want to face the futility of her situation, not yet!

  “You’re a smart girl. I think you understand how vulnerable you are here. Do as you’re told, and I’ll protect you.” His voice sounded stronger today, and his southern drawl struck her as oddly familiar.

  With his commanding air, he was accustomed to being in charge. She took some solace in knowing he had the power to protect her. What he wanted from her was a question she feared to ask. His gaze went to her wrist, and he closed the distance between them, taking it. His gentleness was unexpected as he examined the wrapped injury. She sensed his concern, the same she’d felt at the Peak when he walked her out of the medical bay. His kindness then made her stomach flutter. Now, she didn’t know what to think.

  “You know anything about bandages?” he asked.

  She shook her head.

  “Is that why you hadn’t changed it?”

  “Yes.”

  “You’re lucky it’s not infected. It was a mess.”

  “Do you kill many people?” She couldn’t reconcile the cold-blooded killer who executed a man in front of her with the man concerned over her wrist.

  He glanced up at her and released her wrist. “Yeah, I do.”

  His factual response chilled her. There was no remorse in his face or tone. Her breath quickened again. He stepped away from her, retreating to the bedroom area.

  “There’s food in the cabinets,” he said.

  She watched him for a moment then crossed to the nearest cabinet. It was stocked with meal bars. Ravenous, she chose two and started to close the cabinet door, when she saw a small box tucked between the edge of the cabinet and the boxes. It was too delicate for such a place and such a man. Lana tilted it out far enough to see it was a box of chocolates with the nearby fed hospital’s seal on the top. It was the same hospital she’d sent the Guardian to.

  An uneasy instinct filled her, the same that warned her about General Greene. Her hand dropped. Brady was more likely to kill Guardian and steal his chocolate than be Guardian. She closed the cabinet door, troubled.

  The sight of him naked to his waist made her stop. His back was towards her, the expanse of golden skin stretched over bulging muscles startling her. His shoulders were wide, his back wide and tapering to a slender, lean stomach and hips. His arms were huge, his muscles long and lean. His movements were restrained and fluid, effortless like those of a great cat.

  She’d never seen a man without a shirt on. The thought struck her as odd. How many women her age had never seen a naked back, let alone a naked man? Her thoughts went to the Guardian. She’d fantasized about him once. She imagined he looked much like the man before her, thick and strong.

  The idea that the man who’d become her friend looked like this made her feel warm from the inside out. She clenched her meal bars and crossed to the living area, sitting with her back to him.

  “There are blankets in the trunk,” he told her. “Do I need to warn you what’ll happen if you try to escape?”

  “No,” she said, heart quickening.

  The lights went out, and she blinked, looking up at the sound of whirring. A window in the ceiling opened. Moonlight spilled into part of the tent. She sat back in the low couch and ate her meal bars, mind going to the micro in his pocket. She may even be able to track Elise with them, since she knew her ID number.

  She waited until she heard his breathing deepen and then rose. She stood over him, staring again at his muscular back. He slept on his stoma
ch, his arms folded beneath his head, and a sheet covering him from the waist down. His cargo pants lay on the bed beside him, and she saw the bulge where her micro was stored.

  She crept around the bed and leaned on it gingerly, watching for signs of him waking. With nothing to balance against, she settled her knees on the bed, stopped to make sure he was still asleep, then inched forward until she could reach his pants. She held her breath, slipped her hand into the pocket, and pulled the micro free. It sprang to life at her touch with a ping that made her heart leap.

  She didn’t see the man in the bed move until she felt his hands. She gave a soft cry as she came off her knees. In a blink, she was pinned on top of his warm body, his arms locked around her and his muscular legs wrapped around hers.

  Shadows covered half his face, rendering his chiseled features and low brow sinister. Her breathing was hard, his body heat piercing her clothes. His eyes were as dark as the ocean depths, his grip around her body unmovable.

  For a long moment, they stared at each other in the moonlight. She sucked in a deep breath.

  “You trying to kill me?” he whispered in the Southern drawl that sounded far too familiar for her comfort.

  She shook her head, gazing into his dark eyes. He freed one of his arms and reached for the arm she’d hidden behind her back to keep him from seeing what she had. She squirmed in objection, and his body adjusted around hers in response. She’d never been so close to a man. The feeling of his bare body against hers terrified her; he was strong enough to do what Donovan had not!

  Unless he’s my Guardian. The idea made her more anxious to get away.

  “Stop,” he ordered as she squirmed.

  He wrenched it away, and she sighed.

  “I expected a knife or a gun,” he said, looking at it in disinterest. He tucked the micro under his pillow, returning his intense gaze to her. “Of course, I saw what you tried to do to Donovan. You need to learn to shoot. It’s a good skill to have right about now.”

  “What?” she asked, startled by another repeat of the words her Guardian had spoken to her.

  “What do I do with you?” he mused, ignoring her. “How badly you want that back?”

  Her face flamed with heat, and she strained against him.

  “Not badly enough,” he surmised. “Go.” He released her, and she sprang up, backing away from him.

  Her heart pounded, and her body shook. Having never been propositioned before, she didn’t know whether to be angry or terrified. The chocolates, the familiar insistence that she learn to protect herself, the Southern drawl.

  Lana sank onto the couch, not liking the instinct that told her she was right about him. Her Guardian would never proposition her! He had honor and integrity.

  And concern for her well-being, like he showed at the Peak when she hadn’t known him from any other army-type. She suddenly felt foolish thinking that Guardian, a man trained to kill, wouldn’t kill in cold blood or wouldn’t succumb to any other vices. She still found it baffling how different he was in person than over the net.

  She also felt grateful he was still alive. She’d missed talking to him since he went silent, probably after he was attacked and his neck injured. The timing now made sense. It hadn’t been because he finally got himself killed or because he was through with her. She was embarrassed by her relief that he hadn’t truly left her, only revealed who he was. It wasn’t her fault he stopped talking to her. He was still alive.

  Her Guardian was the only stability she’d known since the world fell apart. Even Mr. Tim had abandoned her after years of mentoring her.

  She definitely didn’t know what to do about the thrill that went through her at the idea of a night with her Guardian. She’d fantasized about meeting him more than once, even if she knew it was impossible.

  And she now knew what price she’d have to pay for her micro. She shuddered, despair creeping through her again. Maybe the man she thought was her Guardian really was dead, replaced by Brady, the man he truly was.

  Her gaze went towards the bed, where his deep breathing was steady. Fascination and fear trickled through her. She’d always wanted to meet her Guardian.

  Just not like this.

 
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