Hawkes was leaning against the railing of his front porch, waiting for Butch to finish his doggy business, when he heard gravel flying then a crash. He jumped off the porch and took the snowy road leading to his cabin at a dead run. The snow was a good six to eight inches deep already, but his legs were long and his strides longer, and he drove himself to cover the distance quickly. Whoever had gone off the road could easily have hit one of those pine trees head-on and would need immediate medical attention. Although how an ambulance was going to make its way out here in this weather, he didn't know. He wondered absently as he ran through the darkness, his hair whipping in the wind behind him, who would have risked traveling in this weather tonight.
He saw the tire tracks and could just see in the clouded-over moonlight where the car had gone off the road and into the woods. He ran another fifty yards into the dark cluster of trees, following the tire trail plowed through the snow. The trail ended abruptly where a silver Ford Mustang sat in the middle of his woods, its front end smashed into a large pine tree.
As he got to the car, he could make out the figure of a woman in the murky darkness. She'd already opened the driver's side door and, though she was moving around in the seat, she wasn't exiting the vehicle. He moved closer and saw the seatbelt still fastened securely around her waist. Thank God she was wearing it--it had most likely saved her life.
"Miss, are you all right?" He reached inside the car, unlatched the belt and looked at her face. "Ally! Oh, my God!"
She stared at his hand, not looking at his face. What in the hell was she doing here? Her eyes were wide and unblinking, then they closed and her head fell back against the headrest.
He scooped her up into his arms and held her close to his body. She was still as light as a pile of down pillows in his arms, and the sudden reminiscence of her scent grabbed something deep inside him and clenched hard. He ignored the overwhelming fear clutching his insides that she was injured and shouldn't be moved, and dashed back through the snowy night to his cabin as quickly as his legs could carry them.
She had never been heavy, but she was unconscious now and dead weight. He'd picked her up and carried her to his bed many times years ago, but she'd been awake and holding onto him. This machination was considerably harder. His thumping heart wasn't helping, either, his panicked breaths coming fast. And unlike his rapid trip down the steep hill, he'd have to carry her some sixty yards uphill this time.
He took a deep breath and kept going. He glanced down at her face. She breathed steadily as she lay in his arms, and the wounds on her face didn't look deep. But he was concerned about the wound on her forehead. Like all head wounds he'd ever seen, it bled copiously. As if picking up on his master's panic, Butch whined as he jogged along beside him.
"She's going to be all right, boy." He glanced down at Ally's face again and wondered if he was talking to Butch or himself.
By the time he reached the front steps, he could feel sweat running down his back and under his armpits even in the cold winter air. Hawkes grabbed the doorknob and pushed the door open. Butch skittered through first, then Hawkes entered the cabin and kicked the door shut behind him.
He carried Ally's limp body to his bedroom and laid her on his bed. Lifting each of her limbs carefully, he pressed the palm of his hand along each length to check for broken bones. He'd touched her years ago, but not exactly like this and never with this kind of heart-pounding fear.
He clasped her wrist and checked her pulse, which still beat strong and steady. "Thank God," he said then hurried to the bathroom. He yanked a washcloth from the stack of clean linens, wet it, then grabbed a towel and hurried back to her. She was still unconscious.
He dabbed her face gently, searching for deep cuts. The blood on her forehead had come from a small cut above her left eye. As he cleaned the wounds, he could now clearly see what he'd been unable to ascertain in the darkness; the damage to her face wasn't serious. All in all, she'd been very lucky. Nothing like American-made steel cars to cushion an impact. It still remained to be seen if she would suffer from a concussion.
"Hey, Allison, wake up."
She shivered, so he pulled the bedspread from the far side of the king-sized bed all the way up to her shoulders. She didn't stir, although her eyes moved around beneath her eyelids as if she were in deep R.E.M. sleep.
He placed his hands on her shoulders and nudged her. "Talk to me, Allison. Are you all right? Should I call an ambulance?"
He frowned. An ambulance wouldn't make it out here for hours in this mess. And he was asking an unconscious woman if she wanted medical assistance. He was losing it. Well, if it came to it, he'd get her out of here in the government-issue Humvee he had hidden out back.
Ally groaned and twisted under the covers. "No phone," she moaned. "There's no phone."
Hawkes took her hands in his. She was awake. "Thank God. Allison," he said, clearing his throat. Get a grip on yourself, Brandon, he thought. "Hey, Allison, you're okay. Wake up."
"There's no phone here," she mumbled again, her eyes still closed. "Can't call."
Hawkes stared at her. What was she talking about? "There's a phone. You're okay, though. And if you need a hospital, I can take you."
Ally opened her eyes and looked at him. Her eyes were the same dark hazel green, although he wasn't convinced she was focused on his face. "Where is he? I'm supposed to find him."
"He who?" Hawkes asked, surveying her face. Who was she talking about? He felt a tightness form in his gut and scowled at himself. "Ally, it's me. Are you all right?"
She blinked hard and then smiled slowly. "How do I look? Do I look all right?"
He settled the coverlet back over her. "Lay still, woman. You were in a car wreck."
"Then I probably don't look that great," she said, closing her eyes again.
Her chestnut hair lay wild around the pillow, her face still ruddy from the cold air outside. If he were to admit the truth to himself, he would concede that she looked even more beautiful than she had in college. "You look all right; I'd kind of forgotten what you looked like," he lied.
"Uh huh," she mumbled.
"Do you know where you are? Do you know who I am? What's today's date?"
"Am I on a game show?" she asked then laughed the sweet little giggle he hadn't heard in ten years. The sound seized Hawkes with a flood of memories that brought pain to his chest.
Ally attempted to sit up in the bed, and then her face paled and she sank back into the mattress, her eyes closed. "The last time you saw me, I was probably naked. Hawkes Brandon."
He frowned. The memory flashed into his mind instantly, complete and clear. And he felt the same fury and hurt, also complete and clear.
"No, you weren't naked. The last time you weren't." He pushed the vision of her in another man's arms out of his mind and the wrath that rose inside him to a remote place. What good did it do to relive that? "What are you doing here, Ally?"
"Your mother sent me," Ally said, her eyes still closed, her voice thin and reedy. "I didn't know the weather would turn bad so quickly." She took a deep breath and sighed. "Celestra thought you were dead."
Hawkes stepped back from the bed. What in the hell? Dead? Celestra? Since when did Ally ever call his mother by her first name?
"When did she send you?"
"This morning. I need a phone ... let her know you're fine." She started to rise again and did a little better this time, although her eyes were still closed. Her skin paled again, and she continued to shiver.
"Ally, I'll call her. Don't worry about it. Stay under the blankets and keep warm. I don't need you going into shock." What was his mother up to? He'd spoken to her last night, for crying out loud. She'd picked up and continued the same conversation they'd been having since he'd suddenly decided to leave the Special Forces unit in Washington. She had once again wanted to know when he was going to move on with his life; he had once again told her this was his life, and he was living it. And then once again, very nicely, he'd asked her to please butt out.
"Why didn't you let her know ... that you're okay ... she's worried ... you know how mothers are." Her eyes were still closed, and she appeared to be talking in her sleep.
Hawkes rubbed his tongue over his teeth and nodded. Yes, he did know how his mother was. And he wondered what she was up to now. Why would she send Ally to check up on him? It had been years since he'd mentioned Ally's name aloud, although he'd certainly thought about her. Did his mother know something about his future that she hadn't shared with him? He closed his eyes for a moment and listened carefully to his mother's thoughts, but heard nothing out of the ordinary. He took a deep breath and sent her a message of his own. What do you think you're doing, Mother?
He kept his eyes closed and concentrated in the still room.
I just want you to be happy, was the response.
And then nothing else.
Either she'd moved into that damn white room of hers, or she was blocking her thoughts intentionally to keep him out.
Well, she clearly was up to something if she'd told Ally they had no phones out here. And then it began to dawn on him what that something was.
Nice try, Mom, he sent the thought to her.
Hawkes grunted and shook his head. Celestra had never understood why the two of them hadn't gotten back together, and he had no intention of telling her. But this was a hell of a time for her to start playing matchmaker.
He wondered what she would say if he sent her another message ... I'm going to put Ally back in her wrecked car and leave her sitting out in the snow. He scoffed. His mother would know better; no matter what Ally had done, he wouldn't hurt her. He opened his eyes, looked down at her sleeping body lying on his bed and felt a twinge of regret for what he'd lost all those years ago. Then he shook his head and stood straighter.
She had no business being here. Whatever his mother's little plan had been, Hawkes didn't like the idea of being alone here with Ally. The situation was dangerous. He'd left the force without notice and come out here. His mother said he was hiding, but he preferred to think of it as 'regrouping'. Still, it was just a matter of time before Cushman showed up demanding his return to work. Cushman needed him and his special abilities, and he wasn't going to like Hawkes' answer when he heard it.