Tears rushed to clog her throat and eyes. Days of stress and grief exploding inside her as she finally, finally could let her emotions roll free. She started shaking and Aiden kept stroking, comforting. What was he holding back?

“How, Aiden? Where? What happened to them?” She shot to her feet. “We have to go to them. Now!”

His hands fell to rest on her shoulders, holding her still. “They’re at a makeshift hospital located in a school the next town over. He and Amelia both are listed on their admissions roster as patients. There aren’t any specifics on their condition, and it’s going to be tough getting past the roadblocks.”

“But they’re alive?” She grabbed his arms and held onto her anchor. Some called him emotionless, but she knew her husband better than that. He was just reserved. Stalwart. Strong. He had to be, to tamp down the horror she knew sometimes threatened to pull him under.

He squeezed her shoulders. “They are alive. And I promise you, nothing will keep me from our son and my sister.”


Hugh had the best rescue and survival training in the world, and still he wasn’t sure yet how the hell he would get Amelia and the child out of the back of this van alive. For now, he focused on minute-to-minute safety until a larger plan could form. He positioned himself closest to the front, with Amelia and Joshua on his other side, his arm locked around her shoulders. If he were alone, he could take out the man and woman. It might cost him a knife wound, or cause him to take a bullet, but the odds were good enough for him.

But having others in the line of fire was a game changer.

Apparently they didn’t want to risk stopping in the city. His guess? They would kill and dump him later. They’d already taken his cell phone, radio, and weapons. They’d tossed the phone and radio out the window into a bog, which ruled out anyone finding them through the GPS tracker on either device. Tandi had kept his pistol and knife well out of his reach, of course.

The thought of what people like these would and could do to Amelia, especially with the country in such a lawless state… He fought back the wave of blinding rage. He needed to stay clearheaded and calm, nothing clouding his instincts, to have even a chance of getting them out of here alive.

The van hit a pothole, jostling his shoulders against the metal side. Crates bounced and settled. If one of those fell from the top, it could do serious damage. He inched along the floor, doing his best to place his body between Amelia and any threat, but shit, everywhere he looked red flags blared. A knife. A gun. Fifty-pound crates tottering in too-high stacks.


And kidnappers with God only knew what agenda.

“How are you here?” Amelia whispered urgently. “I don’t understand how you found us.”

Part of planning an escape hinged on keeping Amelia calm, so he figured it was worth the risk to talk. “I heard you scream as I was leaving.” He pushed back the hellish memory of the moment he’d realized that cry of panic had come from Amelia. “There wasn’t much time to catch you. I was trying to pull a James Bond with my entrance, but that whole hanging-onto-a-moving-vehicle-and-punching-out-the-driver thing doesn’t work quite the same way in real life.”

Tucking the restless toddler closer to her, she managed a wobbly smile. “Looked like you accomplished more than anyone else could, outside the movie world.” She leaned closer to him. “They call each other Oliver and Tandi. They wanted to kidnap Joshua. I caught them trying to take him from the hospital.”

“Okay, that explains a lot. You’re doing good, Amelia. You’re doing good.”

He glanced at their captors up front, and while the woman kept her gun trained on them, she hadn’t tried to tie them up and she hadn’t squeezed off any more wild shots. They seemed more concerned on putting distance between them and the school. Actually the smarter plan, because if they’d stopped to tie him up, he could have disabled that person and gotten the weapon before the other could blink.

Meanwhile, he’d been taking note of the landscape as best he could out the front windshield to guess their location. Not much to go on, though. Just a sense that they were driving east, deeper into the jungle. The van wove off the road as Oliver steered around another fallen tree.

Pulling in his focus, drawing on training, Hugh stared around the crowded van at the supplies—water and juice. Took in Oliver’s uniform. He had some sort of paramilitary look to him, the patches in an indecipherable language. Eastern European, perhaps? Except he didn’t have an accent. From the look of the back of the van, it seemed they’d been able to enter the epicenter of the earthquake site by appearing to deliver supplies. The uniform had most likely been stolen.

Hugh inched closer to her, keeping his voice low. “Fill me in on the rest. Think in terms of details. Anything could be helpful.”

She jostled Joshua until the baby started to settle, his eyelids growing heavier, thank God. “After we uh… well, as I was walking back to Joshua, I saw a woman trying to sneak him out of the hospital. She claimed to be his biological mother.”

His eyes shot to the front of the van, assessing the woman with different eyes. “He was taken from his parents and put up for adoption?”

“That’s what I thought at first,” she said softly, quickly. “Then she said she’d lost him during the earthquake, which of course isn’t possible, since he’d already been adopted by Aiden and Lisabeth by then.”

A chilly certainty jelled in his gut. “She was lying.”

“I even wondered if she might be a grief-stricken mother mistaking Joshua for her real child, but then Oliver stepped out with the knife. I realized they were kidnapping Joshua.” She shuddered. “They made me come along—not that I would have left him.”

The pieces all came together and the final picture couldn’t be any worse. “You have to understand what they must want with him.”

She nodded tightly. “They said they have customers for both of us. We have to get away before this van reaches its destination. Tell me what to do.”

Yeah, he agreed, and he would do his damnedest to make it happen. Although even for a guy who was willing to go all the way to the edge, options seemed slim to none.

And the unwavering confidence in her eyes stabbed him clean through. “You do realize I’m not actually Superman, right?”

He knew his own fallibility too well, felt it all the stronger at times like this, when the stakes were so intensely personal.

Amelia cupped the back of Joshua’s head and stared straight at Hugh, her jaw set stubbornly. “I also know you don’t quit. So stop worrying about not getting my hopes up and let’s start planning.”


From the back of the van, Amelia watched her kidnappers, determining what little she could from the green glow of the dashboard lights. She made her living off noting the tiniest details and gauging expressions from witnesses. But it had never been more important than now to get things right. She kissed the top of Joshua’s head as he slept in her arms, his gentle baby snores so sweet, her heart squeezed.

Eyes front, she reminded herself.

Oliver’s rough handling of the van, his sharp stops and starts, and a dark hint in his voice left her certain he was the kind of remorseless criminal out for profit. She’d seen dozens of henchmen just like him cycle through the justice system. The worst were those who took advantage of children. She pushed back distracting memories of the first time she’d seen that evil in her own father’s eyes. Memories of his arrest. Of his suicide.

Grappling for focus, she shifted her attention to Tandi—currently talking on a two-way radio with someone she called the “Guardian.” Tandi appeared to have more layers to her motivations than Oliver. The voice on the other end was muffled, either a deep woman’s voice or higher-pitched man’s voice. Tandi’s hands drifted with a butterfly gentleness as she juggled some kind of walkie-talkie with an earbud.

The woman had winced when Amelia couldn’t bite back a cry of pain when Oliver’s driving slammed her against a crate. And when she’d fired the gun into the back, the shot had been so wide that Amelia suspected it had been a scare tactic.

Could Tandi be the weak link? Persuadable? Because without question, they couldn’t wait for the van to arrive at its destination to make a move.

The fact that they could communicate and drive about so freely in this time of limited resources and access sent a fresh bolt of fear even deeper inside her. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment, low-level operation. These two had serious, deep-rooted connections.

Pressing an earbud more firmly in place with one hand, Tandi grabbed the dash as the van bucked and shimmied along the narrow road winding through a thick forest lit only by the twin band of headlights. “We have the cargo as promised, plus a bonus soul. A woman. We may have been mistaken in thinking the boy had no family. The woman claims he’s with her, that her family adopted him. There’s also a possibility the hospital mixed up records in all the confusion, sending us the wrong information.”

Quiet echoed as Tandi listened to the answer, gnawing her bottom lip.

Tandi nodded tightly, continuing, “We had to make a split-second decision.” Frustration leaked into her voice. “If I gave her the child back, we ran the risk of her sounding an alarm and giving a description of me.”

Tension tightened her mouth in the look of someone getting a serious chewing out. The more Tandi tensed, the more Amelia knew they had to put Hugh’s plan into action as soon as possible.

Although Hugh’s whispered instruction from earlier scared her to the roots of her highlighted hair. When he gave the signal, she was supposed to hold Joshua tight and roll behind a stack of crates while Hugh took out the pair up front. A pair with a knife, a gun—plus the gun and knife they’d taken off Hugh.

And he claimed he wasn’t Superman?

The van rattled over another pothole, slamming Amelia against Hugh. His body was a sheet of sheer muscle, his emerald eyes flat and focused. He’d gone somewhere in his brain, shifting. This was a different sort of rescuer than she’d been with underground.

Shivering, she tucked Joshua closer and trained her attention on Tandi.

“Oliver and I thought it best to bring her with us. Better for her to disappear in the confusion from the earthquake than for her to tell people what she saw. If we’d left her behind she could bring undue… attention to us and to our operation.”

Snarling, Oliver yanked the cell phone from her. “The decision was mine and it’s a good one. Do you want the woman brought to you alive or dead? It doesn’t matter to me either way, as long as I get my money for the kid.”

Why weren’t they mentioning Hugh? For some reason they were keeping him a secret from their boss. Most likely to cover their asses for screwing up.

And oh God, that could only mean they intended to kill him, to dump his body before they reached their destination. She fought back the urge to scream. She burned to launch herself on them both and claw out her rage over how cavalierly they regarded life.

Hugh’s life.

Oliver caught her eye in the rearview mirror. “It’s your lucky day, lady. You get to live.”

Again, no mention was made of Hugh. Her hand slid from under Joshua’s legs and clutched Hugh’s wrist. The warmth of his skin, his pulse, under her fingertips felt so vital, she had to believe he would make it through alive.

Dread, fear, and a surreal haze thickened the air around her until every breath felt heavier, tougher. She wanted to freeze time, capture this moment and the three of them—Hugh, Joshua, and her—in a safe bubble. Because once he gave the signal there would be no turning back. That vital pulse under her fingertips could be gone forever, with the odds stacked so horribly against them.

There had to be another way, another option, another plan. Her brain raced for some other way—

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