By: Cynthia Eden


The thunder of gunfire erupted around her as Sydney Sloan ran through the remains of the enemy’s camp. Voices were calling out, screaming, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t.
Her focus was on the man before her. The man lying so still in the middle of that nightmare scene.
“Slade!” Her own scream joined the others as she fell to her knees beside him. She grabbed for his shoulder and rolled him toward her.
His chest was a bloody mess. His eyes—those dark eyes that she’d stared into so many times—were closed. “Slade?” she whispered hoarsely. No, this couldn’t happen. They were supposed to get out of there together. They were going to start their life together back in the States. They were going to get married.
“I’ll get you out of here.” He would be fine. She’d get him to the helicopter. Fly him out of there. He’d get patched up, and everything would be just as they’d planned.
More gunfire erupted. Her breath choked out when a bullet drove into her shoulder. The pain burned her, terrified her. If she was hurt too badly, how would she get Slade to safety?
She grabbed his arms. Started to drag him.
More gunfire. This time, the bullet hit her in the side. She stumbled but refused to fall. Slade needed her. She wasn’t going to let him down.
“Sydney!” The roar of her name had her jerking up her head. She saw Gunner Ortez then, running toward her and his brother.
Gunner and Slade. They were so different. Slade was always laughing, so easygoing. Gunner was intense, almost...frightening to her.
But she knew Gunner would do anything for his brother. “Help him!” Sydney called as her knees buckled. She hit the ground, still holding tight to Slade.
Why weren’t her knees working? Why did she feel so cold? It was so hot in the jungle.
Then Gunner was there. He was curling his body around hers, shielding her from the hail of gunfire that just wouldn’t stop.
A trap. They’d walked right into this hell because they’d been going after Slade. A rescue mission. They’d had to take the risk of infiltrating the area, against orders.
Gunner’s fingers—long, tan, strong—went to Slade’s throat. She felt the thick tension in the big body behind hers as Gunner checked for his brother’s pulse. Then Gunner swore.
No. No.
His hand pulled back. She grabbed his fingers. Held tight. “You have to help me,” she whispered. “Gunner, please, we have to get him out of here!”
More gunfire. Gunner curled his body even tighter to hers. She heard the thud of the impact and knew he’d just taken a bullet.
For her.
“He’s not here anymore,” Gunner rasped. His eyes—as dark as Slade’s but lined with gold flecks, stared into her own. “He’s not here.”
She shook her head.
The rat-a-tat of gunfire came again. Gunner yanked out a handgun with his left hand. He began to fire back, even as the fingers of his right hand twisted and locked with hers. “We have to get out of here! We’re damn sitting ducks!”
“Not without...Slade...” Her side hurt. A deep, agonizing burn, and she wondered just how bad the hit was. But she’d make it, she’d hold on, until they got Slade out of there. They’d come to rescue him, and they’d never failed on a mission before. “Help me.”
The gold in his eyes seemed to blaze. “How many times have you been hit?”
Two? Three? What did it matter? “Slade...”
Then she heard the roar of engines. Coming toward them. The enemy closing in. There wasn’t any more time. “Just...take him.” Because she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to get out on her own steam. She couldn’t make her legs work, and as she pulled her fingers from Gunner’s, she realized that she was shaking. She’d run out of ammo, and the blood was pumping down her side. “Take him...please.” Her voice broke and her body began to sway. She was already on her knees, but Sydney was pretty sure she’d soon slump forward and crash face-first into the dirt.
Hold it together. Stay strong, just until Slade is safe.
But Gunner’s hands didn’t wrap around Slade’s body. His hands reached for her.
She screamed then, and lunged toward Slade.
But Gunner pulled her back. The bullets were hitting the ground around her, sending chunks of dirt flying into the air. They had no cover, no backup and it sounded as though more enemy reinforcements were coming in.
Shouldn’t have been here. Shouldn’t have happened. How had everything gotten so messed up? Their cover had been blown pretty much from the get-go.
“Gunner, no.” She tried to pull away from him. “Can’t...leave...”
Another bullet hit her. Driving through her upper shoulder and sinking into Gunner.
She choked, barely managing to breathe as the pain swamped her.
“He’s dead,” Gunner gritted out. She was in his arms then. He was holding her tight, bruising her. “You...won’t be.”
Sydney fought him, using all the strength that she had, but she didn’t have enough. Gunner was wounded, too, but nothing stopped him. Not ever.
So he ran right through the gunfire, holding her in arms like steel. He ran and ran, and then they were in the heavier, denser part of the jungle, evading the men who chased them. No jeeps could follow them here.
Gunner wouldn’t let her go, no matter how much she begged him.
He didn’t speak to her again. Didn’t say a word.
And behind them, in that nightmare, Slade remained in the dirt.
His eyes had never opened. From the time she’d fallen by his side, he hadn’t moved. Hadn’t spoken. Hadn’t even been able to open his eyes.
They never would open again.

GUNNER GOT HER out of that jungle. Patched her up. Stopped the blood flow. She wasn’t helping him. Sydney was barely moving at all.
“Shock,” Gunner told her, voice terse.
Yeah, that was it. She had to be in shock. Because she’d just seen her fiancé die in that trap. She and Slade had fought before, and for him to die with that anger between them...I’m so sorry.
“You lost too much blood.” Gunner’s fingers curled around her chin. She didn’t know where they were now. Some kind of hut? A run-down shack? Just some shelter he’d found them. Gunner was good at finding shelters. “You won’t die.”
Hadn’t he said that before? It was hard to remember. Her tongue seemed so thick in her mouth, but after three tries she managed to say, “Slade...”
Gunner’s fingers tightened on her. “He’s gone.”
A tear leaked down her cheek.
Gunner’s jaw clenched. That hard jaw. That dangerous face. “I’ve got you, Syd. I’ll take care of you.”
She was breaking apart on the inside. The mission was over. They’d failed.
He pulled her into his arms. Held her against his chest. Gentleness? He’d never seemed the kind for that. “I’ve got you,” he said again, voice deepening.
And it was there, in his arms, that she finally let herself go.
She cried until there were no tears left to shed.

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