“Yes…” Her fists gripped his shirt, her teeth chattering. “Yes, yes, I’m okay…”

His arms locked harder as the shouts around them grew so loud he couldn’t hear her anymore. But he could feel her, warm, vibrant, and alive. Relief rocked through him so hard he could have sworn another aftershock shook the earth. She was talking and coherent. The rest they could fix later. He tried to put his eyes on Jocelyn to make sure that threat wasn’t coming for Amelia and he saw what looked like the woman’s unmoving form a few yards away.

He started to roll to the side—

The ground trembled harder. Damn it all. It truly was another aftershock. Even though they’d been through at least twenty already, still the smell of panic, of fear, filled the air. People dropped to the ground, covering their heads, while others scrambled away.

And the shuddering continued, a rougher one this time as the world around him rattled. Lights on poles swayed. Generators hopped as if they were as insubstantial as Matchbox cars.

Shit. Realization mushroomed inside him. This wasn’t just a quick tremble. Another earthquake swelled up from below like an underground train exploding upward. Screams mixed with the thunderous cracking.

Pain shot up his leg, but he blocked the sensation, focusing everything inside him on staying curved around Amelia. He could hear her breathing and chanting the Lord’s Prayer over and over.

He couldn’t even let himself think of how badly she might have been injured. He would deal with that once he was sure the rest of the world wasn’t going to crash down on top of them—or crack open beneath them.

The deafening noise around them shifted. The earth quieted.

No more thunder or screams cut the air. Instead the odd stillness was cut with a low keening, crying and shouts, aftermath noises. The earthquake had ended.

So why was his whole body still shaking?


He forced his eyes open and realized the quake hadn’t been as bad this time. The world hadn’t caved in. Only toppled light riggings, collapsed a tent, and flipped a couple of generators. Already, uniformed rescuers were making tracks to restore order, check for injured, with Cuervo and Brick leading the pack. Hugh pushed with his arms to lever himself off Amelia, to help.

But he couldn’t seem to move.

Amelia stared up at him, confusion pinching her eyebrows together as she stroked his face. “Hugh? You’re okay.” Her arms wrapped around him. “Thank God, you’re okay. I can’t believe how you pushed me out of the way of Jocelyn like that, but thank you, and I’m so sorry I didn’t say this earlier. I lo…”

The sound of her voice faded as the world went fuzzy, narrowing. Damn, he was losing consciousness… He tried to hold on, to focus on Amelia’s face and stay right in the moment. But the darkness dragged him under.


Amelia screamed.

She’d made it through everything life had thrown at her this week, but seeing Hugh’s eyes close, fearing he had died? Her composure shattered like the fragmented glass from dozens of broken bulbs glinting all over the ground.

Scrambling backward, she worked her way out from under him so she could get help. Her eyes homed in on the tipped light pole pinning one of his legs. Somehow it had missed her—Hugh had taken the hit for her.

But his trapped leg didn’t explain why he was unconscious. Fear dropped her to her knees beside him.

“Help!” she screamed. “We need help over here!”

She stroked Hugh’s hair, and yes, she knew she was babbling, hoping the sound of her voice would pull him back to her. Her fingers grazed along a lump, where he must have hit his head when he’d landed.

“Ma’am.” A guy in uniform knelt beside her, the patch on his uniform just like one she’d seen on Hugh, “That Others May Live.”

She choked on a well of hysteria. Why the hell hadn’t she gotten on that plane faster so he wouldn’t have needed to save her? Again. “He has a bump on his head. You need to—”

“Yes, ma’am. We’ve got it. My name is Jose. I’m his friend and we’ll take care of him. Now you need to be checked—”

“I’m fine. Him. Hugh.” Sheesh, she was turning into a hysterical idiot. She’d survived under a collapsed building for two days, and now she was losing it?

Because this wasn’t about her. This was about Hugh, losing Hugh, a man she loved so much it was tearing her apart inside to see him lying there lifelessly.

Jose grabbed her shoulders. “Listen to me. That plane is going to leave very soon. And we need to get as many out as we can in case another earthquake hits.” His voice was calm and clipped with authority made to cut through panic. “We want him and you on it. We have about five minutes. Understand?”

“Got it.” She shot to her feet to prove she was unhurt and cleared back.

With an efficiency and smooth training in action that blew her mind, they began to work on Hugh. Backing toward the cargo plane, she kept her eyes glued to Hugh as a half dozen men hefted the lighting gear off him with Herculean grunts. Then Jose went into medic mode, securing his head and transferring him to a stretcher. No wonder Hugh had told her she would be in the way here.

Turning, she raced toward the plane, running up the back ramp and into the crowded cargo hold. The PJ—Jose—barked out a list of medical terms to a man with a stethoscope around his neck, then beat a hasty retreat down the ramp and outside again.

Hands—she didn’t see whose—pushed her into a red webbed seat and buckled her in. Before she could breathe, the plane rumbled forward, faster, nose tipping upward…

And they were airborne.

The passengers cheered, their voices echoing through the cavernous metal tunnel filled with packed rows of webbed seats. Amelia gasped in hitchy breaths of air that smelled of hydraulic fluid and mustiness. She searched the rows of people until her eyes finally found her brother sitting with Lisabeth and Joshua. A moment of guilt pinched her that she hadn’t thought to check on them sooner.

Her brother mouthed the words Are you okay?

She nodded, answering what he wanted to know even though she knew she wouldn’t truly be all right until she knew more about Hugh. His stretcher was only two seats away. So close, but not near enough to touch.

His head was still immobilized, his ankle in a splint. She kept her eyes on him as if she could somehow will him awake. To hell with rules. She slid from her seat and knelt beside him.

A hand fell to rest on her shoulder and she jumped, ready to defend her right to stay by Hugh. Except it wasn’t anyone official. It was her brother.

“Aiden, how did you win over the seat police?”

“I’m a doctor. I’m here to check you over while the military docs take care of your guy there. Trust me.” Aiden worked some kid of magic that maneuvered a quick seat shuffle so she could sit by Hugh’s head. Her brother reached into a first-aid kit and pulled out a stack of antiseptic wipes. He tore one open; the scent of alcohol stung her nose.

“I’m not hysterical.” Anymore. Although she wondered what he intended to do next with those wipes. “I just want to be near Hugh.”

Aiden crouched in front of her, his eyes so serious behind his glasses. “I hear you, but how about we clean you up before you see him.” He swept the medicated cloth over her cheeks. “And I do need to make sure you’re okay.”

She winced at the sting.

“Just a scrape,” he said calmingly. “And some cleanup.”

He tossed aside the wipe—stained red—and ripped open another. Only then did she realize she had blood on her arms. From Jocelyn. Amelia shivered in disgust and residual fear as her brother cleaned her up. The past hour became all too real. She’d been that close to dying. The whole horrific moment replayed in her mind, frame by frame as if in slow motion, until the logical part of her legal mind snagged on a stray detail.

“What about the military nurse? The one that took the baby from Jocelyn?”

“Security detained her back at the airfield, along with the child,” he explained as he tossed away the final wipe. He checked her pupils and took her pulse.

“And Jocelyn Pearson-Stewart, the woman who held me at gunpoint?”

He shook his head. “She’s dead.”

Nausea welled again. “I only wanted to make the woman surrender. It never crossed my mind that she would turn the gun on herself…”

Her big brother took her hands and squeezed.

“Deep breaths, kiddo, deep breaths,” he said, just as he’d done when he taught her to drive and she’d freaked out over stalling at an intersection. “She made the decision to end her life. You did not put the gun in her hand and you were not the one who took someone hostage. Her decisions. Not yours.”

She felt some calm ease through her veins. What had happened today wouldn’t leave her anytime soon, but her brother had given her enough peace to hang on when she desperately needed to stay in control. “When did you get to be so wise?”

He glanced across the plane at Lisabeth and smiled. “I married a woman who brings out the best in me.” He squeezed her hands again. “Thank you for everything you and Hugh did for us. There’s no way we can ever repay you, but know we are here for you and for him. Anything either of you needs. The sacrifices you both made to keep Joshua safe…”

Aiden pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose.

And her brother didn’t even know the half of how difficult the journey had been for Hugh. He was a larger-than-life man for more than just his strength and survival skills. The way he’d bolstered her spirits as much as her steps. He had a core-deep strength of character that was rare to find.

And that fast the roots of her hair started tingling. Her eyes slid back to Hugh and she realized… She didn’t just think she loved him. She knew.

She loved him, so much she wondered if there could be such a thing as too much. She’d almost missed out on it back on the island, her feelings all tangled up in the sex and survival and adrenaline and, yes, also in the heartrending stories of a man who adored his family. Hugh was a man who could stroke magic from a guitar as fluidly as he did from her body. A man who tenderly held a child even when doing so exposed old grief.

He was everything a man should be. Everything she’d wanted when she got married before.

And when he opened his eyes again—she refused to believe he wouldn’t—she was going to make sure he knew she never intended to let him go again.


Hugh punched through the layers of consciousness, knowing there was some reason he couldn’t sleep in today. He tried to roll over, but he must be tangled in the sheets because somehow his legs were trapped.

“Hugh?” Amelia’s voice penetrated the fog. “You need to be still.”

His mind traveled some intriguing paths of exactly what she might have in mind for him, except the more awake he became the more he realized he hurt like hell. His leg. His head. Both throbbed like a son of a bitch.

With the pain, the memories came flooding free, of Jocelyn taking Amelia hostage, of the earthquake after. His eyes snapped open. He opened his eyes and instead of a sky, he saw a metal roof with cables, heard the roar of jet engines.

Amelia leaned over him, smiling, tears streaking tracks through the grime on her face. God help him, she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.


She touched his face with featherlight strokes. “You hit your head, which is why you passed out, and your ankle’s broken. You’re on an airplane heading to the States.”

He grinned back at her. “Which means you are on a plane heading to the States.”

“You are correct,” she said, shaking her head and laughing through more tears.

Reaching up, he knuckled aside the dampness on her cheeks. “And everyone else? What happened?”

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