When Cade's phone rang he knew instantly something was very wrong. The ring was that of a strange number, and he'd only given his card to one stranger in recent weeks.
Elaine was in trouble.
Cade's heart raced into fight mode as he touched the switch on his receiver. He liked using the wireless earpiece, except when he was expecting a fight. Then it would get in the way.
"Are you all right?"
"Cade! The fireman came back and set fire to my apartment. He was waiting for me at the bottom of the fire escape." She was sobbing for breath, trying to keep her voice down, but Cade could hear her feet pounding the pavement in the background. He realized she was running for her life. He ran for the door, keys already in hand.
"Where are you?"
"I'm just passing Pine Avenue. I got lucky and knocked him out, but I don't know for how long."
"What street are you on?" Cade was already on his motorcycle, pulling out into traffic.
"Pullman. I'm heading north."
"I'm close. I'll meet you coming down. Stay on Pullman if you can and keep the phone connection open. Don't talk. Conserve your energy. I'll be there in two minutes. Look for a motorcycle. You'll probably hear me before you see me."
Precious moments sped away as his wheels turned, bringing him closer. He'd resisted every temptation to call her or go by her apartment, just to see her face again. He'd held strong, but fate seemed to have other ideas.
"I hear a motorcycle." Her feet continued to run, though he could hear her pace slowing as she tired.
"That's me. Hang on, baby. I'm almost there."
He saw her a moment later jogging down the road, her tabby cat pacing along beside her. Chuck was a trooper; there was no doubt about that. Cade pulled up beside her, angling the bike so she could get on. He wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms and assure himself she was okay, but time was against them. At any moment, their enemies might find them, and he had to get her to safety. The scent of smoke clinging to her clothing brought home the danger she'd been in.
"Hop on." He scooted forward to make room for her on the narrow seat.
"What about Chuck?" Elaine slung her knapsack across her shoulders, securing it to her back.
"No problem. He can ride on my lap." Cade patted his leg and the tabby cat jumped up. "Put your arms around my waist and cup your hands around Chuck. It's not the safest thing in the world, but it'll have to do."
Elaine followed his instructions without argument, and he revved the motorcycle into motion seconds later. The cat was effectively in his crotch, which didn't make for the most comfortable ride, but Elaine's fingers weren't too far away either. The thought of how close he was to feeling her cupping him instead of the cat had him breathing hard as he negotiated turns and watched his mirrors for signs of pursuit.
Cade tried not to think about her touch as he maneuvered the bike through the city streets. He was taking a circuitous route to a safe house they kept prepared for any contingency.
When he was certain they weren't being followed, he took them into an alley behind a row of houses. There was a matching row of garages in back, and he pulled in to one, latching the door shut behind them.
This location in particular had a feature he would take full advantage of this night. There was a secret entrance from the garage to the basement of the house. But first things first.
Cade let the traumatized cat off his lap. Chuck bounded down, away from the bike, heading for a dark corner to curl up in. Elaine climbed off next, and Cade wasn't far behind.
He pulled her into his arms for a hard embrace, allowing the emotion he'd felt over the past minutes to spill over. He rocked her in his arms, thanking the goddess over and over in his mind and in his heart for keeping Elaine alive long enough to call for help.
"God, baby, you gave me a scare." Cade looked down into her eyes, cupping her cheeks in his hands.
"I was so frightened, Cade. Thanks for coming to get me."
"I'll always come for you, El. No matter what."