Rescue My Heart, Page 2Jill Shalvis
“Whatever it is, she’s not going to give up.”
No shit. When Holly sank her teeth into something, she was like a pit bull—the prettiest pit bull Adam had ever seen. Once upon a time she’d sunk her teeth into him, and he’d loved it.
And then he’d been an idiot and pried her loose. He’d done it for her own good, not that he’d gained any credit for that. So, no, he really couldn’t imagine what she wanted. Hell, she was married. Married, living the life as one half of a couple, sharing a place, sharing a bed.
Which he really didn’t want to think about. “Whatever she needs,” he said, “you handle it.”
Dell laughed softly, his tone suggesting that Adam was still an idiot.
Bessie came through, pushing a broom. Bessie was their cleaning lady, and somewhere between fifty and one hundred years old. They’d inherited her from Sol Anders, who’d been Adam and Dell’s favorite foster parent. Bessie came up to Adam’s elbow and was about as wide as she was tall, but she could clean like no one’s business, and she never took shit from anyone. A bonus in the Connelly Casa. She gave Adam a long look up and down, then shook her head. “You done it again, huh?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Adam said, automatically reacting like the guilty teenager she’d gone after with her broom a time or two.
She cackled. They both knew he was guilty as hell of something on any given day.
Adam started to climb the stairs. Aware that both Bessie and Dell were watching, he forced himself not to groan, but every single step jarred his shoulder, and he gritted his teeth against the pain.
“That’s not good,” Bessie said conversationally to Dell. “You see that?”
“I see it,” Dell said, sounding grim.
“It’s nothing,” Adam said to them both.
“You need food?” Dell asked.
“Jade’s already on it, Mom.”
Bessie snorted. They all knew Dell was about as un-mom-like as they came.
“I’m coming up,” Dell said. “So don’t bother locking me out. I’ve got a key.”
“Don’t look like it,” Bessie said. “You’re bleeding through your sweatshirt.”
Adam entered the loft and shut the door harder than necessary. He strode directly to the small kitchenette at the far end, where he poured Milo a big bowl of water and food. Then he headed to the bathroom, stripping as he went. He cranked on the water, and while waiting for it to heat up, checked out the back of his shoulder in the quickly fogging mirror. He had a two-inch-long gash that wasn’t going to kill him but definitely needed stitches.
Rifling through the medicine cabinet didn’t yield much. He’d long ago tossed all the various meds the doctors had foisted on him after Afghanistan: the anxiety pills, the antidepression pills, the sleeping pills. He’d never wanted any of them, and seeing them in the cabinet day in and day out had only made things worse.
All he had in there now was a bottle of aspirin and a razor. Since he’d never been one for slitting his own throat, he shook two aspirin into his palm and then added two more. This was definitely a four-aspirin type of situation. Swallowing them dry, he stepped into the shower and hissed out a breath as the water hit his abused body.
While scrubbing up, he found an assortment of other cuts and bruises. Deciding he’d suffered much, much worse, he let the hot spray soothe him until the water cooled. He turned it off and heard the impatient knocking on the door.
Adam grabbed a towel and his first-aid kit and left the bathroom. Milo had eaten and was curled up in the middle of Adam’s bed. “Five minutes,” he warned the dog. “And then I’m taking over that whole thing.”
Milo cracked open a single eye but didn’t appear concerned. On duty, the dog was attentive and polite. Off duty, he was lazy as hell.
Another knock. Milo just lay there, not a growl or even a heads-up. “No, don’t get up,” Adam said dryly. “I’ll get it.”
The yellow Lab rolled to his back, his head landing onto Adam’s pillow. All four legs in the air, he immediately began to snore.
The knock came a third time, much harder and firmer now. “What the—” He reached for the door. “Since when do you knock—”
The leggy blonde in front of him wore a pale blue down parka, painted-on jeans tucked into knee-high leather boots, and a tight frown.
Holly Reid, looking city hot and as untouchable as ever. It was her shield, that sophisticated New York air, and she was exceptionally good at using it. Adam knew this. He expected this. Which in no way explained why his heart did a slow roll in his chest at the sight of her. He thought of all the long nights he’d spent somewhere out in the middle of hell, not knowing if he’d make it back alive, and how he’d often imagined a moment just like this to make it through.
Whenever he played that particular mental game with himself, it had always been Holly. He didn’t know the implications of fantasizing about her and wasn’t sure he was up for knowing, anyway. “Let me guess,” he said, propping his good shoulder against the doorjamb, casually crossing his arms. “Your daddy’s out of town and the two golden retriever puppies he’s fostering for me are on your last nerve.”
She flushed at the reminder of the last time she’d shown up at Belle Haven, a wriggling puppy beneath each arm, her blue eyes spitting fire. “Thing One and Thing Two are fine,” she said, and nudged him inside with a hand that, hello, had no wedding ring on it, not that he was noticing, and entered his loft.
In those high-heel boots, she clicked her way across the wood floors to the wide wall of windows that overlooked the property, which at the moment was nothing but dark looming shadows only hinting at the remote beauty beyond.
Pretty much like the woman in front of him.
She wasn’t particularly fond of him, and he couldn’t much argue with that. Adam wasn’t particularly fond of himself, either, but whatever her reason for being here, it was pissing her off.
She turned and faced him then, and he realized she wasn’t angry at all.
She was scared.
Holly’s heart was pounding against her ribs, hard and way too fast. Her stomach hurt a little bit, too, but this might have been the fast food she’d grabbed for lunch on the run. Or the fact that because of said fast food, her jeans were a little too tight.
Normally, she prided herself on being in control, but that control deserted her completely now that she stood toe-to-toe with the tall, dark, and attitude-ridden Adam Connelly.
She’d faced him before, of course. Just last month she’d seen him here at Belle Haven, a memory burned in her brain. He’d been outside in the yard surrounded by a pack of dogs all suited up in their S&R vests.
Adam had been training them off leash, putting them through their paces on an obstacle course. The animal center behind him had been packed with dogs and cats and various other four-legged and not-so-four-legged creatures coming and going right past the training session, and yet the S&R dogs’ attention never wavered from the calm, confident Adam.
He’d obviously built a relationship with each of them based on trust and respect, and Holly remembered exactly how he’d looked working them in a pair of battered Levi’s, sweatshirt with the hood up against the cold, and five-o’clock shadow on his jaw. He’d looked good. Too good.
Now he stood in front of her in nothing but a towel and a few water drops. Sweet baby Jesus, he was built. As a teenager, he’d been lanky lean, almost too lean, though even back then the breadth of his shoulders had indicated he had more growing to do.
He’d come into that promise. He’d filled out in all the right places, leaving his body as good as a body could get, born from a life of outdoor, physical labor. Dark eyes, dark life.
Adam had been her first crush. Her first dance. Her first date. Her first kiss. Her first everything. And once upon
a time she’d loved the wild, adventure-seeking troublemaker with all her eighteen-year-old heart. She’d have done anything for him and he’d known it.
He’d chosen to rip out her heart and stomp on it.
But that was in their past. She’d since grown up the hard way, and so had he. By all accounts, the military had beaten back the wild, reckless part of him, molding him, leaving him guarded. Stoic. He wasn’t the same, and neither was Holly. She reminded herself of that, even as her gaze drank in the sight of him.
Focus, she ordered herself. She wasn’t here for a walk down memory lane. She needed help. Needed it badly enough to come to him.
Unlike her, Adam didn’t appear unsettled by her presence, although he was the master of hiding his feelings so it was hard to tell. He stood there quiet, calm, expression impassive, tracking her with that always-aware-of-his-surroundings air he had.
A battle-ready soldier.
And the best tracker she knew. Actually, the only tracker she knew, other than her brother Griffin. But Grif was on the other side of the world, still in Afghanistan.
“I need your help,” she heard herself say, her voice not nearly as strong as she’d have liked.
Adam arched a brow. He didn’t like to waste words. She imagined that was what made him so good at what he did. He was pragmatic, confident, and utterly irritating. “My dad’s missing,” she said. “He went hunting three days ago and didn’t return.”
He relaxed very slightly, making her wonder what he’d expected. “And…?” he asked.
She knew what he was really asking. Her dad vanished all the time on hunting trips. In fact, he used the term hunting as an excuse to be alone—his favorite state—and everyone she’d approached in her worry had assured her that he was fine. He’d always been fine. “I can’t explain it,” she said. “I just have a really bad feeling. And you’re the only one I know who can track. Please,” she added, hating that it was Adam she was having to beg. “Something’s wrong, I know it.”
“Has something happened, did something change that would make this trip different from his others?”
Fair question. “Two days before he left, Deanna broke up with him,” she said. “I don’t know the details, but he was upset.”
“He’s got other women.”
Holly squelched a grimace. Her dad was a known womanizer. But this thing with Deanna had hit him hard. Her dad was a cowboy at heart, a good old boy who’d never shown much in the way of emotion unless it was about his horse or dogs. He loved women, too, and his family, of course, but he’d never been one for needing them around, not like his animals. “Yes, he has other women,” she said, “but apparently Deanna was his favorite. We had dinner together and he wasn’t himself. He left the next morning, taking his usual gear and the two dogs he’s fostering for you. They got into his ATV, so I know he was planning on off-roading to wherever he was going. And then he didn’t come back.” She caught Adam’s slight head shake and hastened to go on before he refused her like everyone else had. “I know, nothing unusual. But he’s rarely gone this long without at least checking in, and we’ve heard nothing. Not a single radio or cell call, nothing.” The words rushed out of her in a worried river, and embarrassed her. She’d managed to be cool and calm while talking to Red, her dad’s ranching manager, to Kel, to her dad’s friends…everyone.
But now, with Adam, she was falling apart. She drew in a deep breath, willing herself to keep it together.
Adam studied her for a long beat. “Donald goes out all the time,” he finally said. “He’s been doing so for years. Is there anything besides the Deanna thing that makes you think he’s in trouble?”
“This morning there was a board meeting, and he missed it. Didn’t even call in to check on how it went.”
Adam nodded. They both knew Donald loved business, all of it. He had great employees and wasn’t required for any day-to-day action, but he kept up on everything. He’d turned sixty-five this year and still insisted on attending all the important meetings. Just as he also insisted on riding the wildest of his horses, herding cattle, wining and dining too many women, four-wheeling into the wilderness to go hunting…
Until last year, Holly had run the business side of things from New York. She’d grown up in New York under the watchful eyes of her mother, who’d passed away five years ago, one of the many women Donald had gone through in his heyday. Holly had remained on the East Coast, an arrangement that had worked well for everyone. She got her beloved freedom, and her dad got the same.
But then he’d pressured her to move to Sunshine, reminding her that he wasn’t getting any younger, and with Grif still overseas, he wanted her—his only other family—nearby.
It had been a blatant manipulation of Holly’s emotions, but she’d come, anyway. Maybe because her personal life had been in the toilet. Maybe because the memory of the one summer she’d spent here as a teen made her nostalgic for the last time she’d felt truly happy.
“And there’s something else,” she told Adam. “Deanna called me looking for him as well. If she’s been calling him like she says, he’d have answered.”
If he could…
Adam’s dark eyes never wavered from hers and she felt a most annoying pull of the same sexual magnetism that had always been between them. His state of undress didn’t help, he was sex on a stick—not that she intended to go there. She didn’t. Not ever again. She’d been burned by him, badly. And even a silly eighteen-year-old could learn not to play with fire—no matter how attracted to it she still was.
“I feel like something’s happened to him,” she said, “and I need to find him before tomorrow night’s storm hits.”
“What did Kel say?” he asked. “Did you fill out a missing-persons report?”
“I tried, but everyone knows he takes these damn trips all year long, in worse conditions than we have right now. So no one’s particularly concerned. This is just for me—I need to go out there and make sure.”
Adam turned his head and made a point of looking out the window.
Pitch-black, of course.
Again he met her gaze, his own ironic.
“I don’t care what time it is,” she said. She’d go by herself, except that it had been a long time since she’d roamed these mountains during the day, much less at night. The Bitterroots were among the most gorgeous in the world, and also among the most remote, isolated, and dangerous. There were miles and miles of land accessible only by foot. Not that she wasn’t capable, but she was rusty. It would take her a lot longer than Adam to get to her dad’s favorite hunting haunts.
But asking for help was hard. She’d been taught to handle her own problems, thanks in large part to her mom, who’d spent her life pretending everything was okay even when it wasn’t. Her brother had also had a hand in teaching her how to be tough. So had her dad himself, Mr. Never Ask for Help.
And then there was the man who’d been the hardest on her of them all. The one in front of her who was now wearing nothing but that low-riding towel and a few water drops sliding down the chiseled body that made her mouth dry up even as other parts of her dampened.
“No one’s going out there tonight,” he said.
It was true that the wind had kicked up since she’d gathered her courage to come here, battering at the windows. It was also true that only the craziest of the crazies would want to be out in this. “But—”
“No one, Holly.” His eyes never left hers as he stood there in that very still way he had. “Where do you think he went?”
She hated knowing that it wasn’t safe to go out now. That she’d have to wait until daylight to take action, but she did take heart in this question because he wouldn’t ask if he wasn’t going to help, right? “He didn’t say.” And of course he hadn’t left a note or a message. “But his favorite places are Diamond Ridge and Mount Eagle.”
“Diamond Ridge and Mount Eagle are twenty-five miles apart.”
“Yes,” she said, turning to stare out the window int
o the black night. “I’m going to start with Diamond Ridge—it’s slightly closer. Mount Eagle has that deserted ranger station he likes to camp in, so that’s my second guess.”
“You remember how to get there?” Adam asked.
She craned her neck so her gaze met his. And held.
On that fateful long-ago summer, her dad had been busy. A lot. She’d been bored until she’d met the sexiest ranch hand she’d ever known—Adam, working part-time on one of the Reid ranches. There’d been instant chemistry between them, made all the hotter since her dad had forbidden her from dating any of his men.
So they’d kept it a secret. She, because she didn’t want her dad to kill him. And Adam, because…hell, who knew. Adam tended to keep his own counsel. In any case, he’d taken her out on the mountain, to the deserted ranger station at Mount Eagle. She’d been seated behind him on his dirt bike, hands clutched at his waist, legs straddling his lean hips, the power of the engine rumbling up from beneath her. It had been a sensual, erotic, heady thrill of a ride, and once they’d gotten there, he’d given her another sort of