C2 Chapter Two
Caro hurt. Flashes bombarded her and she jerked up at the memory of being shot. Pain smacked her and she cried out.
“Want me to call the doc?” The voice—deep and, dare she think it despite the pain, arousing—had her looking to see who’d spoken.
Him? He’s still here with me? Her cop. Declan McBride.
He sat there, long legs stretched out before him, wearing the hell out of his uniform. Cops didn’t normally do anything for her but this one… Something different entirely.
“What are you doing here?”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Protecting you.”
“Isn’t that how I got shot?” Okay, so perhaps that was a low blow but she wasn’t about to roll over for him. Then again, that could prove to be fun.
Her mind had figured it out. Jasmine had wanted this cop to latch onto her more than originally stated. She gazed at the table and saw Jasmine’s ID. She had no intention of swinging back by soon and us doing lunch. I’m a fool. I let her dupe me.
Guilt nagged her, though. Jasmine had been alone for so long. She had to help her. Jasmine had said she had a place to hide. This may be stupid of me to continue but I promised I would help her and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
“You want the doc?” His tone was angry.
“Great. Let’s go.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Go?” She looked down at her body. “Where am I going in a hospital gown?”
“Doc said you could leave when you woke. You’re awake. We can go.”
Not one for bedside manner, I see. She gazed beyond the window. Night had fallen. “Again. Go where?” She turned her attention to him as she waited for his answer.
“Somewhere you’ll be safe.”
Safe. A word she liked. She’d never been shot before and it wasn’t an experience she cared to repeat.
“I don’t have a choice, do I?”
Anger darkened his blue-green eyes. “I would have no problem walking out that door and never laying eyes on you again. I have my orders.”
He and Jasmine must hate one another. She left the bed and stomped over to him. He stared up at her from where he sat, his expression daring her. To do what, she wasn’t sure but she read the challenge in his gaze.
“Then do it.” She dared him.
Declan unfurled from the seat to stand over her. Lord, he’s big. Before, she’d been a bit too freaked to truly admire the man before her. Now, she took it all in. Took all of him in. Six-five, broad shoulders, narrow waist. Powerful. Short black hair highlighted the chiseled, nearly harsh features. His nose had a bump indicating a previous break. Firm lips, which she—for a second only—wondered what they would be like upon hers.
“I have my orders.” He raked his gaze over her. “It’s just going to be you and me. No more games. No more stealing cars, no more lies. And that includes this, ‘I’m not Jasmine’ thing you spouted.”
Stolen cars? What the hell kind of person was her twin?
“I need to make a call.”
“To who? Your dealer?” Derision drenched his questions.
She just reacted, her hand rushed toward his face. Declan snagged her wrist and jerked her close to him. Heat swirled in his eyes and she lost herself momentarily in their depths.
“I do not do drugs.” Fury rocked through her.
A scoff. “You won’t be where we’re going, that’s for sure. Put some clothes on or did you want to go that way?”
She couldn’t believe how little he thought of her— Jasmine. Me for now. Part of her thought it would be wise to tell him exactly who she was. At least try to get him to understand. The recollection of Jasmine’s face had her swallowing it. She could do this.
Caro backed away and found a bag holding her clothing. She ducked in the bathroom and put her attire on. Staring at her reflection, she chewed on her lip. Think like Jasmine.
Not an easy feat. Especially given what he—Declan ‘hottie’ McBride—kept informing her when he lashed accusations at her—Jasmine’s character.
“I can do this. It shouldn’t take long.”
Hopefully it wouldn’t be longer than her two weeks. She needed to call and cancel her cards. “Damn it. What am I doing?”
She splashed water on her face then dabbed it dry with a towel.
Bam. Bam. Bam. His heavy pounding startled her. “Hurry up.”
Feeling brave behind the door, she stuck her tongue out at him. “I’m coming,” she cried back. All I have to do is channel the twin I really don’t know to fool a cop who’s hot as fuck and apparently has a hard-on for me—Jasmine—and not in a good way. Also he seems to be a damn good cop so I’ll have to really sell this switch. She tried for a smile only to grimace. Should be a piece of cake.
One last fortifying breath and she opened the door, stepping out to face her fate.
“What’s your rush?” she snapped.
“You need to pack a bag.”
Panic flared. She had no idea where Jasmine—she—lived. “So take me there.” She left the room ahead of him. “Excuse me,” she said when someone bumped her.
They kept going without a word. She glanced back to see Declan watching her, a furrow in his brow.
“What?” Christ, had she fucked up already?
“When did you get manners?”
Jesus, Jasmine. What kind of person are you? “Blame the drugs,” she said continuing on and entering the elevator.
He trailed her in, and the space shrank with his presence. She wasn’t sure what was wrong with her. All she could envision was her and Declan lying in a bed—or anywhere—naked, limbs entwined.
Gulping, she put her hands in her pockets and discovered a folded sheet of paper. The person who bumped into me.
He checked her out and led the way into Atlanta’s night. A black Crown Vic sat there off to the side and a portly man climbed out. Declan and the other man talked with bent heads. She faced away from them and withdrew the note.
I’m safe. There are some things I have to attend that couldn’t be done if I was in police custody, like I mentioned before. Please trust me on this, I know you don’t have a reason to, but I’m begging you to just trust me. So sorry you were shot at, I had no idea that would happen and glad you are okay. He’ll keep you safe so long as you stay with him. Whatever you do, stay with him, Carolyn. C U at court, I promise I’ll be there. Thanks, sis.
Caro shoved it back in her pocket and mulled over telling him once more.
“Come on!” he barked behind her.
Flaring her nose as she turned, she then walked over and got in the back of the car. Declan followed her in. Being with him in the elevator had been bad enough, but in the back seat of a car… Oh the drugs… It had to be the drugs.
Caro sat pressed against the door and gasped in outrage when he snapped a handcuff on one wrist. She jerked only to see the other end attached to him.
“Are you serious?” She jangled her arm and his subsequently.
He put her wrist down. “Until I get you to where we’re going, consider us inseparable.”
She clamped her lips on the words she longed to spew at him. Caro stared through the window and stewed in silence. They parked before a run-down apartment complex.
Let’s go. Come on. Can you say anything else? She trailed him out, careful not to touch him more than absolutely necessary.
He stared at her and she just lifted her chin. She had no idea where to go so she had to appear uncooperative. Not a stretch to be sure. He scoffed and led the way to the third floor. When they paused before a door he stared at her. “Well?” he asked.
“Well what?” she sassed.
“Open the door.”
“I don’t seem to have my keys. Maybe I could pick it with my pinky nail.”
They glared at one another for a bit. “Where’s your super live?”
She studied her nails, keeping mum. He glared then withdrew his phone. She ignored the lingering pain in her head and appeared as bored as she could make herself.
“It’s McBride. Call Hoyer’s super and have him come open the door. She doesn’t have any key on her. We’re there now.” He shoved his phone back in his pocket.
Caro hesitantly leaned against the wall. A tall, reed thin Middle Eastern man strode up a short time later, glaring at her the entire walk, then unlocked the door.
“She being arrested again?” the man asked, disapproval stamped all over his tone.
“Nope,” Declan said. “She was shot today.”
The super’s snort told her it wasn’t a surprise to him, and Caro realized Jasmine wasn’t well liked here either. They entered, Declan first, keeping her behind him, his weapon drawn, but all she focused on was how nice he smelled. Dark. Woodsy. Masculine. Yummy.
He stopped so abruptly she ran into his back. Yes, yummy and hard. The man had no give on him at all. They’d checked the entire place. He faced her. After digging in his pocket, he lifted their joined wrists and unlocked his end of the cuff, but didn’t release it.
“Look at me.”
She did. Her heart pounded harder as his blue-green eyes focused on her. It would be so easy to rise up on her tiptoes and press their lips together.
So must be the meds. “What?” Wait, is that my voice all thready and breathy?
His gaze briefly dropped to her mouth. “Pack a bag. Be quick about it and do not try to escape.”
Whatever moment she’d imagined in her mind vanished with his words and tone. She stepped away only to pause and flick her look from the cuff on her wrist to his hand on the other end. Eventually he let go.
She went to the bedroom, doing her best not to think what it would be like—and how easily she would agree—if he used those cuffs on her to keep her in bed. Guess I should have had sex before I came down here. She gazed around her and didn’t bother stopping the need to curl her lip at the décor. Gaudy. Opposite of how her place was. She located a bag and scowled at the options in the closet. She eyed the dresser and shook her head.
No way in hell I’m wearing her underwear and bras.
“What’s the hold-up?”
She glanced at the silver dangling from her limb and faced him. “Where are you taking me?”
“So buy me some clothes there.”
“Buy you some?” He sounded incredulous.
“Yes.” She lifted her chin. “You refuse to tell me where we’re going, well fine. You can buy me stuff there.”
She went to the bathroom and suppressed a shudder. No way could she live like this. Cleaning was necessary. She dropped the note in the full trash can, took a few breaths—not too deep because of the smell—then walked out to stand before him.
Declan hooked her to him and led her out to where he then directed the super to lock it up. That Crown Vic waited and he gestured for her to enter first. This ride was silent as well, and when they stopped to get out it was at a parking garage. Her belly clenched with uncertainty when the car drove off, leaving the two of them alone.
“What now?” she asked, proud her voice didn’t shake.
She wanted to lie down, her day had been trying. As much as she attempted, she couldn’t stop the yawn. He slanted his gaze to watch her but she pretended she didn’t see him.
Shortly, a white car with tinted windows pulled up. This time, Declan got in first and she followed him. Another yawn and that was all she knew.
* * * *
Declan looked at the woman who continued to slumber beside him in the airline seat. She’d barely woken to make it through the security checkpoint before she was sleeping again. He understood it, she was exhausted.
There was something about her. Something different from before—he just couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Instead of him wanting to get far away from her, she stirred something in him, something fiercely protective, and it made him scowl. He and this woman didn’t get along. Case and point. It just wasn’t happening.
So, genius, why are you staring at her and contemplating drawing her in closer to you? Declan shook his head at his brain’s commentary and tucked the blanket up a bit more.
Maybe it was all their run-ins during this case that had finally got her under his skin in a different way from annoyance. No, that wasn’t it. There was attraction there now and she seemed more lost than usual.
As the plane continued on toward their destination, he ran over her file in his head. Parents, deceased. No family. By all accounts she was alone. Yes, she was trouble, he could attest personally to that but maybe, just maybe, now she’d realized how much danger she was truly in.
She stirred and flexed her fingers. The tips brushed against his hand and without much thought he opened his hand and held hers. Her murmur was soft but she settled. Their fingers laced together, Declan made sure their hands were covered by a blanket then he stared up and tried to figure out why he’d decided to do what he was doing.
Once they’d landed and disembarked he led her out into the night, noting her shiver, and bit back his response of how if she’d packed something she could be warmer. They stopped by a Jeep and he unhooked her from the cuff. She looked everywhere but at him.
“This is the safest place for you right now. When the store opens up I’ll take you in for some clothing. No more cuffs for if you jump out of the vehicle, that’s on you. Got it?”
Her nod was barely there. He strode around and picked the key up from above the front wheel well then slipped behind the wheel. Starting the engine, he smiled as the jacked-up vehicle rumbled to life. Even being back here at this time of the night brought a smile to his face. This was his home and he’d been away far too long.
He drove them through the mountains it was too dark to see, and to his cabin, which sat way back from anything. Jasmine didn’t talk and he occasionally checked on her. She sat ramrod straight in her seat—he figured she didn’t want to fall. The air bordered on cold but he loved it. After a hot and sweltering summer in Atlanta, this felt amazing.
Turning off on his road, he slowed as they approached his cabin. He parked the Jeep and shut off the engine. A noise caught his attention and he looked to his right, realizing it was coming from Jasmine. Jumping out, he dashed around the Jeep to her side. Her skin was like ice.
He lifted her in his arms and walked into the cabin. A lone light was on and a fire burned in the hearth, offering up warmth to the space. Declan set her on her feet and encouraged her to put her hands near the flames.
“You’ll warm up shortly.” He kept his words gruff even though he wanted to gather her close and share his heat with her. What had he been thinking? She’d just been shot and he had put her in an open Jeep to go through the Sierra Nevadas at night. Some cop I am.
He draped a quilt around her as well then walked away to check out his cabin. All his requests had been met and he was grateful for that. He took the keys along with his bag from the Jeep then made his way back in. Jasmine was sleeping on the floor, the quilt firmly wrapped around her.
Leaving her there for a moment, he put his bag in his room then went to the guest room where he drew back the covers on the bed. Once that was finished, he returned to get her. He crouched down, slid his arms beneath her and lifted. She stirred before she gave a little moan that was like she’d reached out and stroked his cock.
It took him very little time to put her in the bed before covering her up with even more blankets. Like that’s going to stop my imagination. Declan left the room with very deliberate steps.
* * * *
His night had been rough but he was up again by the time the sky started to lighten. A mug of coffee in his hand, he stood out on his porch, leaning against one of the rails. He didn’t hear her, more felt her. One minute nothing, the next she was there.
Declan glanced askew at her as she stood beside him. He swore there was a ghost of a smile on her lips as she gazed about her.
“Where are we?”
Her voice, deep and husky with sleep, shot lead through his cock and he cleared his throat before answering. “Sierra Nevadas. You’ll never find your way out so don’t even try.”
“Right. Am I allowed some coffee or do I need to get down on my knees and beg for it?”
Images of just that flashed through his mind and his dick pressed harder against his jeans. “Help yourself.”
She vanished, all the while muttering beneath her breath. He finished his drink and walked inside only to pause. Jasmine wasn’t in the kitchen. His place wasn’t all that big so he could see most of the living room and from what he could see there, she wasn’t in there either.
But when he walked in he saw her, curled up by a window, quilt covering her legs and mug in hand, gaze fixated out on the mountains that surrounded them.
“When you finish,” he said, “we’ll go to the store. I need staples.”
“I’m done.” She unfolded herself from the chair and moved in his direction only to bypass him with a wide berth, as if she couldn’t stand being in close proximity.
He stood there and listened to her rinse out the mug. Another mystery given the state of her apartment. Jasmine waited for him by the door and it didn’t take long for them to be in the Jeep. He handed her one of his old jackets.
She took it without a word and slipped it on. He swore she sniffed it but chalked it up to another delusion. “How’s your head feeling?”
“Slight throb. It’s fine.” She burrowed deeper into his jacket as he drove and the wind poured over them.
He needed to get his truck or put the doors on this one. Why do I care? If I keep the Jeep maybe she won’t try to leave the first chance she gets.
She didn’t speak the entire way to the small town. He parked in front of the store and hopped out. Jasmine followed a bit slower, keeping the jacket tight around her. Heat hit them as they stepped inside and he smiled over the familiar sights and sounds.
“Declan? Declan, is that you?”
A big man, Martin Slater, strode into view, a smile on his face. They hugged and when they separated, Martin glanced at the woman beside him, a puzzled look taking over his features. “And you are?” he asked.
Jasmine reached out her hand and said, “Caro.”
Martin shook it. “Fiancée?”
“Oh God no. We barely get along. He just brought me here for a short visit.”
“Martin, will you excuse us for a second?”
“Sure thing.” The man had a knowing smile on his face as he walked away. “Come in the back when you’re done. I’ve got some coffee for you.”
Alone, he whirled on her. “Caro? What is that about?”
“I’m Caro.” She shrugged her shoulders in his large jacket. “Short for Carolyn in case you were wondering. Now”—she turned around, finger pointing out—“where do I shop for clothing?”
After she walked off, he went to find Martin who was leaning against the counter in the back, arms crossed and watching Jasmine, now Caro, shop.
“Thought you said she was Jasmine.”
“She’s a pain in my ass is what she is.”
“I don’t know, Caro fits her. She’s not like what you said.”
“Don’t be too sure about that, she’s a master at manipulation.”
Martin raised a white eyebrow. “Really? That little thing? Your jacket pretty much swallows her up.”
“Yes, that little thing.” He sat on the counter. “Thanks for setting up my place and having a fire in it.”
“No problem. I was glad to hear you were coming back. You’ve been away for so long.”
Declan nodded. The man spoke the truth.
“You two better get your story straight. You know she’s bound to run into a few others sooner or later.”
Declan knew that. “Yes, I know.”
“Why is she shopping? Didn’t she bring her own clothing?”
“Nope. Refused to pack a bag.”
Martin coughed and turned his head. Declan knew the man was laughing.
“She seems pretty at home in the section she’s in.”
Declan poured himself another cup of coffee and stirred in a bunch of sugar as he watched her look at jeans. Martin was right, she did appear comfortable there.
“You know, I know that look you’re trying to hide, right, son?”
He smoothed out his expression and met Martin’s gaze with a raised eyebrow. “Don’t go there. This is about protection and nothing else.”
“Right, you keep telling yourself that. All those nights, especially once this snow arrives.”
Making love to her as the snow fell around them. He shifted on the counter and Martin laughed.
“Stuff it, old man,” he snipped, half-heartedly.
“Sure, son, sure. You know you may want to mark your calendar for nine months after this ‘visit’ out here.”
“I am not—” He snapped his mouth shut when she approached.
“How long are you—we staying?”
He admired her catch. “Not sure yet. If you need more we can always come get more.”
“Good. I’m ready.”
Martin reached out and took the massive pile from her. “Let me help you with that, hon.”
“Thank you,” she said in a gentle tone.
Declan rolled his eyes and slid off the counter. He noticed there were bras and underwear in her pile as well. Odd she hadn’t wanted to bring anything of her own with her. As Martin bagged it, Declan stared at the woman Martin spoke to. Even her voice was a bit different. Why hadn’t he noticed that before?
Four bags of clothing plus boots and shoes. Not the kind he would have assumed she would get—instead she’d picked hiking boots and tennis shoes. He hefted three of the bags and left one for her. She smiled at Martin and lifted the final bag before trailing behind him from the store. They went back inside for the needed groceries as well. She threw in a toothbrush, floss and toothpaste along with some other personal items.
“He won’t help you,” Declan said as he put the items in the back of the Jeep.
“Oh my God, let it go already,” she said throwing her hands up in frustration. “I get it. I’m stuck here with you. No one around would dare go against the great Declan McBride. Especially to help someone like me. Let it go. I get it. I’m a pain in your ass and you don’t want me around. Like I want to be around you. I’m here, I’ll do this and then when we get back to Atlanta, I hope to God I never have to lay eyes on you again. There’s no need to constantly remind me how utterly alone and isolated you’ve made me.”
She stomped to the front and climbed in. Declan looked up and saw Martin there with a frown on his face. The old man, one he looked on as a father figure, was disappointed in him. Declan couldn’t explain it, it was her—Jasmine, or Caro, however she wanted to call herself—she brought the worst out in him. He waved to Martin and got behind the wheel.
They exchanged no words on the ride back to his cabin. She did help him carry everything in although she left him to put away the groceries as she went to her room with the clothing. He didn’t see her until he went to look for her at lunchtime.
She didn’t even look up. He tried her name two more times with the same result. Okay, I’ll bite and give it a shot. “Caro,” he called.
She looked up instantly. “Yes?”
She put down the puzzle book she was working on and rose from the chair she’d been in by the window. She had thick socks on her feet and wore jeans and a sweatshirt.
“Do you think you could help me put the top on my Jeep this afternoon? And the doors?”
“Sure.” She didn’t slow nor did she look back at him.
He walked behind her to the kitchen, where there was soup and sandwiches waiting for them. Declan dished up the soup and watched her sit at the table. He felt bad—he knew he’d hurt her with his earlier comments but damn it, she should have expected it. It wasn’t as if she had made any of this easy to begin with.
After they ate, she cleaned up then looked at him. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Caro walked into the small bathroom. She just needed a hot shower to warm her up a bit before she went out into the cold. Maybe it would assist her head in feeling less like there was a troop running in formation up there. She turned on the water and stripped off her clothes before stepping into the tub.
The hot water cascaded around her and she groaned in pleasure. Closing her eyes, she let the streams work on the tense aches in her body. She could use a good masseuse but this would work in a pinch.
With a contented sigh, she rubbed the back of her neck and opened her eyes. “Ahhhh!” The scream ripped up from her throat and filled the air.
A large spider sat along the wall. The door burst open as Declan shot through.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded.
She met his gaze and damned if the man didn’t pause for a moment to run his stare over her naked body. It had to be her imagination that there was a gleam of appreciation in his eyes. The eight-legged creature on the wall moved and she screamed again as she jumped into Declan’s arms. He caught her with ease and she had to remind herself to get out of his embrace as well before she… Those feelings weren’t anything she needed to think about right now.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said.
She grabbed a towel, wrapped it around her body and bolted.
Caro sat there, shivering, wrapped by the quilt on the bed when he stepped into the room.
“You can finish your shower.”
She lifted her gaze to find him watching her face. “Are there more of them?”
“Not a fan I take it?”
She didn’t deign him an answer. He may find this amusing but her heart was pounding so hard she wondered if it wouldn’t just burst free from behind her ribs onto the floor.
“It wasn’t poisonous.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
She scrubbed her hand over her face. Her body wouldn’t quit shaking. He beckoned a hand out to her.
“Just thought you’d want to finish your shower.”
Caro stood and again there went a flare of desire in his gaze. She scrunched her fingers on the towel by her breasts, and made her way behind him to the bathroom. He moved the curtain and she stared at the walls. Clear. She remained immobile while he turned the water back on.
“There you go.”
She didn’t move until he went by her and closed the door behind him. Then she dropped the towel and hurried back into the water. This time there was no lingering. She washed quick, body tense as could be, and got out just as swiftly. It took her less time to dry off and shove herself back into her attire. With a shudder, she unpinned her hair and allowed it to fall. Only the ends were damp and she didn’t much care about that.
Declan watched her from the living room when she stepped from the bathroom. Christ, she was still shaking. Clearing her throat, she made her way in his direction. He arched an eyebrow and held her gaze.
His eyes moved up and down over her clothed body. “My pleasure.”
“Are those things common?”
“My guess is it was trying to get out of the cold. No, that’s not to say you need to expect them in your bed at night. I don’t think you’ll see any more.”
Bed. Now she had to worry about them in her bed? Oh, Lordy, she was going to hyperventilate. This sucks. It’s not like it’s going to get any warmer outside. It’s just about to snow for crying out loud.
“Great.” She walked to the bedroom and picked up her shoes, shook them out and put them on her feet. “I’ll never sleep. Not with those big nasty things around.”
In the back of her mind, she wanted to focus on why he had looked at her as he had. Don’t need to be thinking on that either. He’s a man, a naked woman jumped into his arms. I’m sure it was purely reflex for him to look that way.
Didn’t explain the look in the living room but she had enough on her plate without worrying that there may be something more than animosity between her and Declan McBride. At least he came running when she screamed.
Right, because you’re no good to him dead. She snorted and left the bedroom. I’m no good to him at all. I’m not even Jasmine.