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"Get down!" He shoved her to the ground as another bullet whined past. "Sounds like a damned bear rifle," he muttered. "And the bastard's a good shot. I'm guessing it's somebody you know."

"Yes." Emma forced the words through chattering teeth. "My husband."

His stony expression didn't even flicker. "So why would your husband want you dead?"

"It's a long story."

"Come on. And keep low." Crouching, he yanked her along with him into the safety of the trees. Dry pine needles jabbed her feet. She willed herself not to cry out.

"He's got dogs," she said.

"Stay here." Leaving Emma huddled at the base of a stump, he drew his pistol and moved like a shadow to the edge of the clearing. The sound of the pistol, as he fired across the distance, made her ears ring.

Seconds later he was back, offering an impersonal hand to pull her to her feet. "Why did you shoot?" she asked him. "You couldn't have hit anything in the dark."

"You said he had dogs. Now that he knows I could shoot them, he'll be less likely to send them after us." He gripped her arm above the elbow. "Let's go. The plane isn't far."

She took a step. A sharp pine cone jabbed her foot. Emma yelped. "What now?" He scowled down at her.

"My shoes. I lost them."

"Hang on." He adjusted the coil of rope. Scooping her up, he slung her over his shoulder like a fireman carrying an unconscious victim out of a burning house. Her hair dangled down his back. Her hips rode his shoulder. The hand that balanced her rested on the backs of her thighs, just below her rump.

"Comfortable?" 

"Don't even ask."

"It won't be for long," he said, striding out. "Let me know if you hear anybody behind us."

"What if it's a bear? Will you drop me and run?" 

"Don't tempt me, lady."

"My name is Emma."

"Pleased to meet you, Emma," he muttered. "Now let's get the hell out of here."

* * *

At least the woman wasn't hard to carry. She was a delicate thing, her bones almost weightless, like a bird's. And she lay over his shoulder like a trusting child. John was painfully aware of his hand, resting across the backs of her legs in a way that was almost intimate. The thin, wet fabric of her jeans clung to her thighs. He could feel her shivering as the chilly darkness of night crept around them.

Emma. A prim, old-fashioned kind of name. For some reason it seemed to suit her. What kind of man would chase a woman—especially a fragile little thing like her—through the forest with dogs and a gun? She'd said it was a long story. He wouldn't mind hearing it. But she could tell it to the police in Ketchikan. Her troubles were none of his business.

Besides, a woman didn't have to be big and strong to destroy a man. John knew that all too well.

A rising moon crept over the high peaks above the tree line. In the glow of its light he could see the plane, where he'd left it at the end of the small lake. He lengthened his stride, waded to the plane, and set her down with her bare feet on the float. "Climb aboard," he said, opening the passenger door.

When she hesitated, he clasped her waist and boosted her up to the seat. Her teeth were chattering. "My coat's on the seatback behind you," he said. "Put it on and fasten your belt. It's liable to be a bumpy ride out of here."

After closing the door he went around the plane, buckled himself into the pilot's seat, put on his headphones, and started the engine. He only hoped he could manage to be in the air before the woman's crazy husband showed up with his bear rifle and dogs. Maybe they'd just had a lover's spat. Maybe if he hadn't interfered, they would have patched things up and walked home hand in hand. But what was done was done. He was in this mess for the duration.
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