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Rebel heart, p.25
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       Rebel Heart, p.25

           Lizzy Ford
 
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  Lana hid between the boulders, gaze glued to the area where the laser missiles dropped. Jack was restless, and she rested her hand on his head to keep him still. She’d watched the laser missiles fall around her micro for almost an hour.

  Someone wanted to make sure she didn’t survive. She shivered in the chill of dawn. A helo thumped in the near distance, and she shrank down farther to keep it from spotting her.

  Brady had closed his channel. It might save them both, since every inch of her being wanted to scream at him to stop. The sats would be on backup power right now, eliminating her chance of communicating without drawing the fire of the missiles.

  So she waited. And waited, growing as anxious as Jack. It took too long for Brady to appear, and her stomach twisted as she imagined him blown to pieces.

  Not again. She couldn’t lose her Guardian again.

  The thump of the helo returned, this time much closer. Lana scrunched down as far as she could in the shadow of the massive rocks around her. When the helo circled the rocks, she began to suspect they’d picked up her transmission. She held her breath.

  The helo moved away. Lana twisted to watch it lower itself to the ground a hundred meters behind her position. Her heart began to beat even faster, and she pulled free the laser gun. Three men leapt out, a blond man in PMF grays flanked by two fed special security members.

  If they were with Brady, why hadn’t he flown with them? Lana stood and moved to the far side of the rocks, facing the area where the missile fire fell. As suddenly as it started, it stopped.

  Brady still didn’t appear. She armed the laser gun and tucked it into the space between her clothing and the small of her back. With the vault in her pocket, she waited.

  A figure appeared from the forest between her and the river. Lana almost uttered a cry of surprise, astonished he’d survived the missiles. Brady pulled off his mask, trotting towards her. His uniform was torn, and blood turned the gray color brown. His head was shaved. Even from the distance, she could see the scars down one side of his face.

  He’d barely survived the helo crash, she assessed, shocked. Yet he moved as if he were completely healed. She couldn’t imagine even one of the genetically altered warriors healing so quickly from an impact great enough to create the deep scars on his face!

  “Charlie!” he bellowed at the PMF member.

  The sound of a laser gun jarred her. Brady dropped. Lana whirled, surprised to see the PMF man in gray lowering the weapon. She darted behind the nearby rocks. Charlie’s next laser shot glanced off the top of the rock, searing a hole through it. Lana stared at the hole, surprised, and dropped even lower.

  “Come on out, girl, and I won’t hurt you,” Charlie commanded.

  “You expect me to believe that after watching the missile attack?” she returned, reaching for the laser gun. Her heart thudded. She’d shot Donovan on accident and only grazed his arm from a meter away. There was no way she could do enough damage to Charlie from four times as far to allow her to escape.

  “I’ll count to three, girl.”

  She leaned back to see Brady’s body, praying for a sign he was still alive. His body wasn’t where he’d fallen. She moved as far as she dared from the rock, searching for him. Somehow, he’d moved back to the wood line. His laser gun lay where he fell. She couldn’t see what he was doing, but she saw with relief he was alive.

  “One.”

  “Distract him, Angel,” Brady said quietly via her net.

  An idea formed. Lana freed the vault from her pants and quickly went through the opening sequence. She dumped the keypads into her cargo pocket.

  “Two.”

  “This is what you want,” she said and held it up. “The keypads to the systems are in here.”

  There was a pause. Then the man asked, “What systems?”

  “The weapons systems. Or didn’t they tell you what they were after?” She rose slowly as she spoke. For the first time in her life, she told a real lie. “These keypads control all the military’s weapons in the country. Whoever has them will be able to take control.”

  “You’re lying,” he replied, gaze on the vault. “They wouldn’t give that to you.”

  “You think they call in a missile strike on any low-level fed?” she returned. She placed the laser gun against it. “I’ll destroy it if you try to take it.”

  Brady was creeping forward. Blood had bloomed, staining the left side of his abdomen and down his hip. She tried hard not to look at him, terrified of giving him away.

  “I’ll give you a better deal. I’ll let you live if you give it to me,” the man in gray responded.

  She made a show of arming the laser gun. He stepped closer. Brady drew close enough to one of the fed security members and drew his knife. He snatched the officer and snapped his neck silently. The sound of the body dropping drew the attention of the other two.

  “Here, take it!” Lana cried and tossed the vault to Charlie.

  He reached out to catch it. Laser fire sounded as his other guard whirled and fired on Brady. Brady smashed his elbow into the man’s face and whipped him around, slashing his neck with the knife. Charlie turned to blast Brady’s exposed back.

  Lana raised the laser gun, closed her eyes and fired. Someone dropped. She opened her eyes slowly, surprised to see she’d hit the man square in the back of the head. He lay on the ground, still.

  Brady was staring at her. He managed a faint smile before wobbling and sliding to his knees. Lana rushed to him, horrified by the amount of blood soaking his uniform. The second man he’d killed had planted a knife in his shoulder.

  “Brady,” she said, dropping beside him. “There’s so much blood!”

  “Call Tim,” Brady grunted. He sank into her. Lana wrapped her arms around his muscular frame, breathing in his familiar scent. She kissed his forehead and cheeks, tears in her eyes. “Put pressure on my side.” His voice was strained.

  Lana obeyed, planting one hand on the laser wound in his side. He hissed in pain, his dark eyes growing distant.

  “Nice shot,” he managed.

  “Thanks,” she replied then touched her net. “Mr. Tim.”

  There was a pause then a surprised, “Lana?”

  “We need help. Brady’s hurt.”

  “Tell him I locked down all missile strikes on domestic territory. Stay where you are.”

  Brady’s eyes closed, and Lana touched his face, terrified of the blood and his paling skin. Her own clothing was soaked with his blood.

  “Brady,” she said, panic in her voice. “Brady, stay with me.”

  “Tired,” he whispered.

  “Next time you shouldn’t run through a missile strike.”

  “I’ll be fine. Or I won’t.”

  “You will be. You aren’t leaving me again!” She traced the scars along one side of his face, taking in his features with concern. He was turning white. His breathing grew shallower.

  “Mr. Tim,” she said again. “Please hurry.”

  “Working on it,” came the terse response.

  “You can’t leave me now, Brady,” she whispered. “We’re in this together, remember? You promised.”

  “I’ll live,” Brady managed. “I’ve died a few times and lived to tell about it.”

  She kissed his forehead and hugged him as well as she could. The hand pushing against his side was covered in warm blood, and Lana’s panic increased as Brady’s body began to relax.

  “Brady! Talk to me! Tell me something,” she ordered.

  “Angel?” He opened his eyes and gazed at her, disoriented. “You’re shorter than I expected.”

  She choked on a half-sob, half-laugh.

  “The chocolate was good,” he murmured, drifting off again.

  “Stay with me!”

  “I will. I promised you. Would rather die but I made a promise.”

  “Promised me what?” she asked. She tried to shake him as he faded again. “Brady, what did you promise me?”

  “To mar
ry you, of course. That’s what people who care about each other do. Isn’t that … what … you … said…”

  She stared at him, surprised he remembered when she’d forgotten. He went limp, and she struggled to hold him up.

  “Lana!” Elise’s cry made her look up. The blond Amazon and Dan raced toward her from the gutted forest.

  “Elise! He just … I tried …” Lana’s throat was too tight to explain.

  Dan dropped beside her, and the two lifted Brady’s body from her lap and stretched him out. Lana stood back, helpless. Dan tore Brady’s uniform open then pulled out a small emergency medical kit and slapped skin grafts over the two wounds. Meanwhile, Elise loaded a mini-med-gun and shot Brady twice.

  “He’s under,” she said.

  “Is he okay?” Lana ventured.

  “On a normal day, yes. But he was battered beyond recognition from the helo crash,” Dan said. He touched the device behind his ear. “Tim, we need a med-evac now, or Brady won’t make it.”

  Jack whined from nearby, and Lana moved to his side, unable to help the two soldiers tending to Brady. Soon, she heard the unmistakable sound of a helo nearing.

  The next hour passed as if in a dream. Brady’s body was placed on the helo, and Lana climbed in with him while Dan and Elise stayed with Jack. Doctors worked quickly to stabilize Brady in a helo ride that seemed far too long for Lana’s comfort. Shaking with fear for Brady, she watched them cut through the skin grafts and transfuse blood then jump his heart. His chest was covered in the same deep scars that lined his face and neck.

  They made her want to cry, for she couldn’t imagine what kind of pain he’d been in after the helo crash. And he’d still come after her. Any resentment that lingered from his betrayal melted away at the sight of what he’d been through to save her. One of the medics cleaned up her hands and face before returning to Brady. They worked on him until she felt the helo descend and finally reach the ground.

  More medics rushed out to the helo. Lana followed them into the medical facility after a quick look around, not recognizing the flat landscape and distant red rocks surrounding the canyon in which they’d landed. The medics finally motioned for her to stop and closed double doors.

  Lana stood in the silence outside the operation room, exhausted and worried. She made her way to the nearest waiting room. She soon grew too restless to sit still and paced. She turned to retrace her route and stopped.

  “Hello, Lana,” Mr. Tim said, standing near the door. “May I join you?”

  She stared, unaccustomed to the political powerhouse asking for anything. His blue gaze swept over her, lingering on the blood-soaked clothing she wore. For the first time in her adult life, Lana didn’t care what he thought about her appearance or presence someplace where he might not think she belonged.

  “He’s stable,” Mr. Tim said. “Pretty torn up, but stable.”

  She rubbed her face with a heavy sigh and sat, relieved.

  “And you?” he asked politely.

  “I’m fine.”

  “Looks like you could use a decent meal.”

  “I assume you’re here for these, not for us,” she said, aware of how harsh her words sounded. She fumbled with the cargo pocket and opened it.

  “I’m here for you. And for Brady. I’ll get those later,” Mr. Tim replied.

  Lana looked up at him in surprise.

  “I know you probably still hate me right now. What kind of father treats his daughter as a servant her entire life and lies to her about pretty much everything?”

  “I understand why you did it,” she said, looking away. “You needed access to everything the government had. Who better than your own daughter to plant as a mole?”

  “I wanted to protect you,” he countered. “Greene and any of the others couldn’t know you were my daughter. And yes, everything and everyone in my life has a function and purpose. I live by a certain creed, one that runs in our family.”

  His words reopened the wound she’d tried to heal too quickly. He waited for her to speak.

  “I don’t want to do it anymore,” she said at last. “I don’t want anything to do with your world.”

  “Does that go for me as well?”

  She hesitated then shook her head. “I’ve always admired you, Tim. You are cut out for politics and betrayal. I am not.”

  “This is the family business, as they say.”

  “I want out of it. I want to be with Brady.”

  Tim drew a deep breath and sat in the chair beside hers. She searched his youthful face. Even knowing their relationship, he was hard to read.

  “Very well,” he said at last. “I’m disappointed in your decision, but I respect it. I had thought it might come to this.”

  “You can send me overseas, like the elite do their unwanted children.”

  “Of course not,” he said with a smile. “One of the family’s estates is here in Montana. You’ve accompanied me there on the few days I’ve gotten to relax over the past few years.”

  “I know it,” she said, recalling the rustic mansion nestled among pine trees next to a lake.

  “I was saving it for you. As my companions had children, I gave each an estate. Ran out of estates after the fourteenth and stopped having children. You were the last.” He flashed one of his contagious smiles. “The one here in Montana has always been my favorite. Fitting that my only female child was named its mistress.”

  “You’re giving it to me?” she asked.

  “Not officially until my death. But it’s your new home in the meantime. I’ll call ahead when I plan on visiting,” he said. “And I’ll ensure Brady follows through with his promise to marry you. I can think of no one better to take care of you.”

  “Tim, you’re not going to order Brady to marry me,” she said with a faint smile. “He was delirious anyway.”

  “Nonetheless, it will be arranged.” Tim’s voice held a note of resolution she recognized. He’d made up his mind.

  “Tim—” she objected.

  “It is done. Now, I have half a country to salvage. No contact, unless there’s an emergency. And keep those keys safe. I’ve made arrangements to have anyone watching me assume they’re going with me to Colorado,” he said as he rose. “When things calm down, I’ll tell you more about my shared history with Brady’s family.”

  “Wait, you’re not insisting we marry to unite the two families or something elitist, are you?” she asked.

  “Of course not.” His faint smile said otherwise.

  “Was this your plan all along?”

  “Take care.”

  Anger at her newfound father rose. He left before she could say more. Instead, she sat and stewed. He’d either played everyone around him like the politician he was, or he’d simply seized on an opportunity that she and Brady created.

  Her thoughts turned to the mansion on the lake and to the idea of spending her life there with Brady. Lana sat back in her chair, imagining a simpler life with her Guardian. Once again, she gave her benefactor the benefit of the doubt. Whatever Tim’s intentions, he’d agreed to let her out of his political game.

  She found herself intrigued and hopeful.

  Elise appeared in the doorway with Dan. Lana looked up and smiled, happy to see her friend.

  “C’mon. They’re holding the helo to take you home,” Elise said, holding the door open.

  “I want to stay.”

  “I’ll stay. You need to clean up and eat,” Dan directed.

  Lana hesitated then looked down at herself again. She rose and trailed Elise out of the medical facility and into the awaiting helo.

  The helo flew west, towards the border with Idaho. Lana held her head in her hands as they flew, exhausted. They reached the ranch beside the lake, and her spirits lifted.

  She took in the multistory, quadruple A-frame lodge that would become her new home. She recalled how empty her condo had felt when she went back to it two weeks ago. She was free of service to Tim, of the fourteen-hour da
ys and political games.

  For the first time since she could remember, she had a home. There was only thing missing from the scene before her.

 
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