- Published: February 1, 2018
Available in the Anthology 20 SHADES OF SHIFTER.
A thousand years ago, Finn Stanton was given a chance to get back the woman he loved enough to break the laws of Heaven. All he has to do is find her, and all she has to do is say I love you.
Never going to happen.
Having drunk of the Elixir of Life, Rachel Miller’s soul is tied to the earth in a perpetual cycle of death and rebirth. A widow, she lives with her six-year-old son in a strict religious community. She has no memory of the lives she has lived, though she is haunted by a love she can’t remember and a loss she can’t overcome.
Finn has no plans to even look for his wife. He betrayed her once, and the best thing he can do for her now is stay away. But fate has a way of hijacking the best of plans and Finn comes face to face with Rachel. Now he has five days before he loses her forever.
Finn kicked open the flimsy door and peered inside. In the dim light, he could just make out the couple huddled together, crouching in the corner of the hut, the man’s arm around the woman. Finn stepped inside, out of the harsh sunlight, letting his eyes adjust. The place stank of sweat and fear and hopelessness. “Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn?”
The man nodded.
“I’m here to take you home.” He spoke into his comm unit. “I have a visual on the Vaughns. Both alive. I’m bringing them out. We’ll head to LZ two—let Killian know.”
He turned to the couple, who were still frozen in place. Not surprising. They’d been kidnapped over six months ago and had probably given up hope of a rescue. It would take time for the reality to sink in.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to waste.
His men had taken out the perimeter guards, but someone had managed to set off an alarm. They would have company any moment now.
He took a step closer. “Are you both okay? Can you walk? We’ve got to get out of here.”
Shifting his rifle over his shoulder, he held up both hands with palms out, slowly, as though the couple might make a dash for freedom—not that there was anywhere to go but with him. Finally, he saw a minuscule relaxation of the man’s shoulders. He gave a small nod and straightened, bringing his wife with him. Finn gave them a quick once-over. They were both in their early thirties, the woman pretty, even beneath the dust and grime and lines of strain. He’d seen the photos before they were taken; they’d both lost too much weight, but otherwise they didn’t appear to have come to any harm. They would do.
“Get ready to go.” Finn turned and peered out the door.
He took off his hat and waved it out of the opening. Shots kicked up the dust in front of the door. He stepped back and spoke into his comm unit. “I need cover.”
“You got it, boss.”
Almost instantly, he heard automatic fire from the top of the ridge. The continuous rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun. A cry, then a thud, and a body rolled down the bank opposite.
He hustled the Vaughns out the door. “Stay low.”
They made it to the edge of the forest without incident, but when he looked over his shoulder, the hillside swarmed with men in khaki. Behind them he could make out other forms slinking through the vegetation. Wolves. As he watched, one leaped for the figure at the rear, taking him down silently and effectively.
At the same time the man at the front shouted. They’d been spotted.
“Run,” Finn said.
They took off in front of him, stumbling on the uneven ground. He didn’t think they could go for long. Hopefully, they wouldn’t have to.
He followed them down the path.
“Take the fork to the left,” he called out.
Then they were heading downhill through the lush, damp—and slippery—undergrowth.
Ahead of him, Mrs. Vaughn lost her footing and fell. She rolled down the last of the hill. When she struggled to her feet, he could see they were in trouble. She was limping, her face a mask of pain.
“Keep going,” he shouted to her husband. “Wait at the rocks.”
The man had paused, but now turned and ran. Finn closed the space between him and the woman, grabbed her around the waist, and tossed her over his shoulder. Then he was running again. Down the narrow, twisting track. He could hear the whir of the helicopter in the distance, but getting closer. A bullet hit the ground to his side with a dull thud, and he whirled around and shot one-handed. Just a little farther. When he reached the cover of an outcrop of rock, he dropped the woman to the ground and spoke into his comm. “You ready?”
“Just give the word, boss.”
He peered back along the track, and saw the men following. He waited until the first one reached the marker. “Now.”
A second later, the path exploded, hurling the men in all directions.
He closed his eyes for a moment, used his senses. The rest were closing in. He blinked. “Can you help your wife?” he asked the man. Mr. Vaughn nodded and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
“Keep heading along this path,” Finn said. “Someone will meet you. You’re nearly home. Just keep going.”
They both nodded, and Finn watched as they disappeared down the track. He’d set up a machine gun earlier; now he settled himself behind it. For a minute, everything went quiet, just the approaching drone of the helicopter. Long ago, he’d taken a vow never to harm an innocent. But these people weren’t innocent.
They were vile. Men who traded in human misery.
As the first man appeared out of the forest, Finn tightened his finger on the trigger. A spray of bullets. Cries of pain. Then they were backing away, and he loosened his finger from the trigger. A scream. Looked like they’d backed straight into his wolves.
He listened. Heard a click and a whir, and recognized the sound.
They had a goddamn rocket launcher. That hadn’t been in the intel.
He hurled himself away, crashed to the ground, rolling as the spot where he’d been crouched exploded, throwing earth and rocks and bits of his machine gun into the air. He covered his head with his hands. Something slammed into him, and he swore. When everything went quiet, he raised his head, spoke into his comm. “Why the hell didn’t I know they had a rocket launcher?”
He didn’t sound sorry. “You have them?”
“They’re on board. Just waiting for your lazy ass now.”
He could sense them creeping forward, and he pushed himself to his feet and ran. Blood poured down his forehead from where he’d been hit, and he wiped it with his hand.
“Finn! This way.”
He headed toward the sound. His eyes were blinded by the blood flowing from his scalp. He blinked and made for the open door of the helicopter as bullets whizzed past. His men were laying down a covering fire. He just hoped they would get away before anyone had a chance to use that rocket launcher on the helicopter.
He tossed his rifle into the open doorway, someone grabbed his hand and hauled him on board, and he rolled onto his back on the floor as the chopper lifted into the air. He held himself still as he waited for something to hit them, but they banked and rose. The gunfire faded, and his tense muscles relaxed.
In the distance, he heard a lone wolf howling. They’d seen the helicopter and were pulling out.
Finn pushed himself up so he was sitting. He couldn’t see a thing. Someone handed him a bottle, and he made to pour it into his eyes. “That’s whiskey, asshole. Not eyewash.”
He changed direction at the last moment and took a long pull. Fire ran down his throat, clearing the dust, and he blew out his breath.
“Here, tip your head back.”
He did, and cool water flowed over his face. Someone handed him a towel and he dried himself, blinked, and could see again. He grinned. “Shit, that was close.”
“Just the way you like it.” Bryce grinned back.
He glanced across at the Vaughns. They both had a dazed look on their faces. He’d done this more than a few times, and it always took a while for the fact that they were safe to sink in.
“Who are you?” Mrs. Vaughn asked.
He held out his hand. “Finbarr Stanton. Stormlord K&R. We were employed to get you out of there.”
“Thank you.” They both shook his hand.
“Finn,” Bryce said. “Killian said to tell you a message has come in for you.”
He pushed himself upright and made his way to the front of the helicopter.
Killian was at the controls—he loved to fly. He twisted in his seat and handed Finn a folded piece of paper.
He took it. “What’s this?”
Kill shrugged. “Not sure. But apparently, you’ll want to see it.”
Finn unfolded the paper with a sense of unease. The message was from a job he’d flagged. He was to be informed if there were any changes in any of the major players.
He knew he used those orders as an excuse to have some sort of contact. He’d been doing his best to stay away. There was nothing for him there. Nothing but despair and knowledge of the end looming ever closer. But he needed to know Rachel was happy. Otherwise, what was the point? And, strangely, she did seem happy.
He’d first visited Haven soon after she and her mother had moved there when Rachel was four years old. That was twenty years ago. He’d gone following her mother’s death. After her husband had been killed. When his willpower broke, and he just had to see her or go insane. He usually managed a year or so before that happened. And he realized it had been just over a year since he’d seen her last.
He read the words on the paper. Michael Danvers was dead.
Her father. The man she hadn’t seen in twenty years. His loss was hardly likely to impinge on her quiet life.
All the same, he had to be sure.
At the thought, a rush of adrenaline raced through his system. His heart sped up.
“Good news?” Killian asked.
He shook his head, blanked his expression. It wouldn’t do for his brothers to discover his secret. They would never understand.
“Just a job I need to check up on. Can you drop me off at the airport? I need to fly to the States.”
“You want company?”
“No. I’m good.”
He was going to see the woman he loved more than life itself. The woman he had given up everything for. She wouldn’t see him. He’d make sure of that. He closed his eyes for a moment and pictured her. Long black hair, green eyes, dusky skin, so beautiful she made his heart ache, and had done from the first moment he’d set eyes on her.
Over two thousand years ago.