Cover Of Night (Chapter 20)

Cate's mind went blank. "W-what?" She stuttered, completely disoriented by the suddenness with which she found herself lying on her back on a pile of blanket-covered clothing, staring up at the underside of a curtain draped over two stacks of boxes. She felt a ludicrous moment of pride at how comfy the makeshift bed was, and how dark was the interior of the makeshift tent. Even the steady buzz of" conversation from the other twenty-odd people in the basement with them seemed muted.

"Sleep with me," he repeated softly, stretching out in the limited space and settling his head on the pillow beside hers. His voice was very low, meant for her alone. His gaze met hers, and mesmerized by the crystalline depths, she lost the ability to think, almost to breathe. She felt almost as if she were seeing straight through to his soul, and the sense of connection was more powerful than if they'd been having sex. Almost without realizing it, she reached out, lightly touching his lips, feeling the slightly damp softness of them under her fingertips. He caught her hand, his fingers cool and hard but infinitely gentle, turning it so he could touch his lips to her knuckles in the sweetest, lightest kiss she'd ever received.

The intimacy of lying here with him was staggering; she could feel him all along her body, the way she hadn't felt anyone since Derek's death. The long years alone had dimmed her memory of" how it was to lie so close to a man that their breaths mingled, that she could smell the heat of his skin, feel his heart beating with strong, solid thumps. They were fully clothed – well, she had on flannel pajamas, as well as the thick cardigan she had pulled on before starting the trek to the Richardsons' house, but she was covered – yet she felt as vulnerable as if she were naked. She was acutely aware of their neighbors outside this little enclosure, watching and speculating, wondering what was going on between the handyman and the widow.

Her cheeks heated as she wondered that herself. Things had changed so fast that she wasn't certain how or why, or even what had changed. All she knew was that shy Mr. Harris seemed to have disappeared as if he'd never existed at all, and in his place was Cal, a shotgun-toting, wound-suturing stranger who looked at her as if he wanted her naked.

Duh, her brain whispered. He was a man. Men wanted women naked; that was who they were and what they did. Simple as that.

But the way she felt wasn't simple. She felt confused, upset, worried, and turned on all at once. Nor was Cal a simple man. A lot of people had hidden depths, but his hidden depths evidently rivaled Loch Ness's. She should crawl out of here, and sleep alone. He wouldn't stop her; he would accept her decision. But telling herself she should do it and telling herself In do it were two entirely different things, and while she could do the first, the second was evidently beyond her ability.

"Stop thinking," he murmured, touching one finger to her forehead. "Just for a little while. Sleep."

He was serious. He expected her to sleep beside him with everyone outside watching their feet to see if their toes remained pointing in the same direction. Fatigue dragged at her bones, but she didn't think she could even close her eyes. "I can't sleep here!" she whispered urgently, finally getting her voice to work. "Everyone will be thinking – "

"There's something I should tell you about that later." His voice sounded drowsy, and his eyelids looked heavy. 'Tor now, let's just get some sleep. I'm still cold, and tomorrow will be a bitch. Please. I need you beside me tonight."

He was cold, and tired. The plea went straight to her heart, arrowed through it. "Roll over," she whispered, and with a grunt of effort he did, turning his back to her. She pulled the second blanket over both of them and straightened it, leaning out of their enclosure to tuck it around their protruding feet. Her own feet were freezing, and she instinctively tucked her feet against his sock-clad ones as she curled against his back.

He was already half asleep, but he gave a contented sigh and nestled closer. Cate curled one arm under her head and the other over his waist, and tucked her thighs snugly against the curve of his ass. Belatedly she remembered that the cuts on his shoulders and arm needed tending again, but his breathing had gone slow and deep just in the last thirty seconds and she didn't want to wake him.

Warmth began to steal through her, and with it came drowsiness. Beyond the wall of boxes, voices were going silent as people settled down for what rest they could get. The men had organized a guard system, Sherry had said; tucked underground here, no bullets could reach them. They1 were relatively safe until morning, when they could find out exactly what was going on. There was no reason why she shouldn't sleep.

She snuggled closer to his back and moved her free hand, sliding it from his waist, up his abdomen, to his chest. Feeling his heart beating tinder her touch, she went to sleep.

Long moments after he'd been hit, Teague struggled to a sitting position. He couldn't see; blood was pouring from the wound at the top of his forehead, getting into his eyes and blinding him. Agony pounded in his head with Satan's drumbeat. What the fuck had happened? He didn't know where he was; his searching hands couldn't find anything familiar, just rocks and more rocks. He was outside, he knew that much. But where, and why?

He waited, experience telling him that memory would return as he came to full consciousness. Until then, he pressed his hand over the jagged cut to slow his blood loss, ignoring the pain the pressure caused.

The first thing he remembered was an ungodly bright flash of light, and a boom as a giant fist punched him in the head.

Shot, he thought, then discarded that idea. If he'd been shot in the head, he wouldn't be lying here wondering about it. The shot had missed, then, but not by much. His face felt on fire, as if all the skin had been stripped off. The slug must have hit the boulder right below him, blasting him with pieces of rock.

As soon as the word slug formed in his mind, he thought "shotgun" and the pieces of his memory fell into place. That was the boom he'd heard, following so closely on the heels of his own shot that the two sounds had overlapped.

He wondered if anyone else had heard the shotgun; why hadn't someone called on the radio to check on him? His thoughts were still so sluggish that several moments went by before he realized he'd been unconscious and wouldn't have heard the radio even if someone had tried to contact him.

Radio. Yeah. He reached for it, found it clipped to his belt right where it was supposed to be; he unclipped it, fumbling because his hands were wet with blood, and then sudden caution made him freeze. If he dropped the radio, he might not be able to find it. Carefully, making certain he had a solid grip, he started to key the "talk" button – and stopped.

He could call for help. Hell, he needed help. But�Che wasn't helpless. He could do this on his own. When you ran with a pack of wolves, you didn't show weakness or you could find yourself eaten alive. Billy wouldn't turn on him, and neither would Troy, but 'league wasn't so certain about Blake. He was damn certain about Toxtel and Goss – certain they'd turn on him in a New York minute. If he couldn't make it off this damn mountainside by himself, if he had to be carried out instead of walking under his own steam, they would view him as weak, and he couldn't afford that.

Okay. He had to do this on his own, then. He took a few deep breaths and forced himself to concentrate, to get past the pounding agony in his head, the dizziness and sense of panic. He had to be operational.

The first, most important thing he had to do was stop losing blood. Head wounds always bled like a bitch anyway, so he could lose a significant amount in a short time, probably already had. He had to put pressure on the wound, a lot of pressure, no matter how much it hurt.

He knew he had a concussion, maybe brain damage that would only worsen with time, but his exploring fingers told him the area around the wound was swelling rapidly. That was good, from what he'd heard. If the swelling was on the inside of his brain, that was bad. He could deal with a concussion; he'd done it before.

Teague braced his back against the rock behind him and drew his legs up, planting his feet as solidly as possible. Leaning forward, he braced his right elbow on his knee and put the heel of his palm against the wound, using his entire body to apply more pressure than he could have accomplished using just arm strength. He ignored the pain exploding in his head, holding firm and steady while he concentrated on breathing and getting through the agony.

While he sat there, he started swiping his left forearm across his face, trying to wipe the blood out of his eyes. The thing about blood was, the shit congealed, then it dried, and it was hard as hell to get off. He needed water to clean his face. There was a ton of it at the bottom of this fucking rock pile, but getting down there was something he'd think twice about attempting in broad daylight without a concussion. No, he had to get back to the road.

Other than applying pressure to the wound, he was limited in what he could do for himself, so that would have to be enough. The good news was, the longer he sat there, the more his head cleared. It still hurt like a son of a bitch, but he was thinking better.

The bad news was, the longer he sat there, the colder he felt.

If the blood loss caused him to go into shock, he was screwed. On the other hand, the temperature had to be in the thirties, maybe even below freezing. Of course he was cold, but hypothermia wasn't good, either. He had to get off these rocks, the sooner the better. His head was going to hurt worse when he tried to move, but what the tuck, hurting was better than dying.

He moved his hand, waiting to see if blood poured down his face again. He felt a trickle and immediately wiped it away, then pressed his hand back over the wound. The bleeding hadn't stopped, but it had definitely slowed.

His rifle. Where was his rifle? He couldn't leave it here. For one thing, that damn expensive thermal scope was mounted on it. For another, his fingerprints were all over it. If it had slid down the rocks toward the stream, he wouldn't be able to retrieve it and someone else would have to come back for it, winch right now meant they'd have to leave one firing position unmanned, and he didn't want to do that.

Something about the firing positions bothered him, but he couldn't think what it was. It would come to him. though. Forget about it for now – concentrate on finding the rifle.

Using his left hand, he felt around on the ground, but came up empty. He'd have to use the flashlight. He didn't like doing that, didn't want to give away his position to the fucker who'd shot him… okay, the fucker already knew his position, otherwise how could he have shot him? Big question: How had he known?

Teague stopped searching for the rifle to concentrate on this question, because it seemed vitally important that he think it through. He hadn't used a flashlight to move into position, so did the shooter have night-vision goggles? The devices weren't that hard to come by, but what were the odds that somebody in Trail Stop, of all places, would have them? Creed, maybe; he could see Creed having all kinds of shit. But Creed hadn't shot him; Creed had been hustling some woman to cover –

Ah, fuck. The answer bloomed in his mind. That hadn't been Creed leaving the house with the woman. Creed had already gone out the back and moved into position to provide cover for the other two. When league had pulled the trigger, his muzzle flash had given away his position and Creed had fired. Simple as that. No night-vision device needed.

Creed could still be out there, waiting for someone to show himself.

But he'd be on the other side of the stream, because crossing it in this area was impossible. The slope down to the river was steep, so the water roared down, strong enough to sweep even the strongest man off his feet and slam him into the boulders that dotted the streambed. Stream was really a misnomer in this case, because that brought to mind a slow, peaceful flow of water, which this definitely wasn't. It was like a mini-river – and a bad one. Plus it was as cold as a well-digger's ass, because it was fed by snowmelt from the mountains.

Teague assessed the situation. He was behind solid cover, surrounded by rocks, his head lower than the boulder in front of him. He had to risk turning on the flashlight so he could locate the rifle. He could minimize the risk, though, by covering most of the lens.

Laboriously, using his left hand, he pulled the flashlight from its loop on his belt and carefully positioned his fingers over the lens, parting two of them to allow a very thin sliver of light to pass. He had to release pressure on his wound then, using his right hand to press the button on the cylinder, but he didn't feel any fresh blood flowing, so he didn't bother reapplying pressure.

The amount of light was slight, barely enough to make a difference, but it made him feel better to be able to see something and reassure himself that his eyes were still functioning. The first thing he noticed was the amount of red around him: streaks of it running down the boulder in front of him, on the smaller rock he sat on, spattered on moss and fallen leaves. His clothes were wet and sticky with blood. He'd left a shitload of DNA evidence here, but he could hardly scoop it up and put it back into his body.

This raised the stakes. He couldn't let the smallest suspicion fall on him now, or he was screwed. He'd have to clear out for a while, afterward, and that pissed him off.

That fucking Creed. He'd come out ahead in their first encounter, but damned if he'd do it again.

The frail light finally hit a glint of metal, and Teague played it across the site just long enough to verify he'd located his rifle; then he turned off the light. When he'd been knocked back, the rifle had been sent up and back a few feet, coming to lie wedged in the rocks above him. To teach it, he'd have to leave his protected position, but it wasn't as if he had a choice. He couldn't move very fast, either. He thought about it a minute, then figured, what the hell, and went for it.

Overall, moving ranked right up there with getting hit in the head with a hammer. Felt a lot like it, too. Pain exploded in his head; he was puking before he even got his hand on the rifle, but he forced himself to keep going because waiting a few more minutes wasn't going to make it get any better. As soon as his hand was on the rifle stock, he collapsed against the rocks, gasping.

No shotgun boomed at him. but right then being put out of his misery sounded like a good idea, so he didn't know whether to feel relieved or sorry.

After a few minutes, he straightened. It was time to get off this pile of rocks, regardless of what it cost him. Pushing himself to his feet, he swayed unsteadily; then he took a step. The pain wasn't quite as bad as when he'd lunged for the rifle, but it still wasn't a picnic.

He could do this, though. And before this little dance was over, he'd pay Creed back – big-time.