For the second time in two years, Ryan Granger woke in a strange place with no recollection of how he got there.
“Not again,” he groaned.
Blinking, he tried to focus his blurred vision on his surroundings. The light was low and flickering, and he spotted a candle placed on a rocky protrusion. Rock? Dirt? What the hell? He angled his head to look around him and pain made him grit his teeth until it passed. Gingerly, he felt for signs of head trauma. The last thing he needed was a concussion. His brain was still Swiss cheese from the bullet that’d skimmed his skull. Skim—it was such a wimpy word. It did nothing to describe the bullet’s impact on his head, or the way it’d made his brain slam against the inside of his skull. And definitely wasn’t a word that would cause him to spend seven months in a coma healing from the damage.
To his relief, there were no signs of injury to his head but the side of his neck ached. There was no mistaking the round wound that his fingertips found. It was an injection site, which meant he’d been drugged.
“Just what I need,” he muttered. “Like my brain isn’t foggy enough.”
Fighting against the weight of his own limbs, Ryan sat up and looked around properly. There was sandy dirt below him and hewn limestone walls around him. Hewn. Not natural. So, not a cave. A mine? Maybe? The walls were rough, but there’d been clear intent in the design of the chamber. A raised stone platform against one wall must have been intended for a bed. And there were nooks carved out for belongings. A miner’s accommodation? If it was, it hadn’t been used for years, which meant old mine. Old abandoned mine.
The air was musty. The dust coating his lungs with every breath, and leaving him with a dry cotton feeling in his mouth. Instinct made him look for water, although he didn’t expect to find any. To his consternation, he spotted a large bottle in a nook high in the wall. It seemed to be full and recently placed there.
“What the hell have I fallen into?”
The cavern seemed to shift around him as he struggled to his feet. The ground undulated beneath him. If he didn’t believe his eyes, he’d think he was on a boat instead of in a cavern.
Slowly, he made his way to the water. The bottle was still sealed and cool to the touch. It’d been left for him. Instinct told him to check for needle marks or tampering before he cracked it open, but there was nothing obvious and he was desperate for a drink.
Years of army experience meant he only sipped at the water, instead of draining the bottle as he wanted. Even foggy, he knew he had to ration. There was no way to tell where he was or how long he’d be there. That bottle could be the last water he saw for a while.
Leaning against the wall, he pulled out his phone and switched it on.
It did tell him that it’d been ten hours since he’d walked out of the department of neurology at a hospital in central London, and that his battery was still pretty much full. He switched it off to conserve it and closed his eyes while he tried to remember what’d happened. The last thing he recalled was opening the door to a Hackney Cab and telling the driver to take him to Benson Security’s office in Victoria. He’d wanted to get some last-minute practice in before taking his firearms proficiency test again. Someone had bumped into him—making Ryan apologize for some reason—and then the world had faded. Next thing he knew he’d woken up in a cavern.
So, not only had he been drugged, he’d been abducted.
His team were never going to let him hear the end of this.
If he managed to get back to them.
The kidnapping made no sense. It wasn’t like he had a rich family that’d fork out a ransom for him. And he hadn’t been involved in any of Benson Security’s recent cases either. In the six months since he’d woken from a coma, he’d worked on building up his muscle mass and trying to put together the parts of his past that he did remember. There were still gaps. Some that’d never fill. Including the three months before he’d been shot. According to his doc, that was gone forever. So, it was possible he’d pissed someone off enough to kidnap him, and equally possible he couldn’t remember who.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have enemies. He’d been in the military and then he’d worked all over the world with a specialist security team. They’d taken on the South American cartels, Russian mafia, and London gangs. Which meant the suspect list was pretty damn long.
He ran a hand down his face and sighed. There was no point in trying to figure out the why and who of the situation. His priority was getting out of there. He’d work out the rest later.
Taking a couple of steps, he tested his equilibrium. Better. At least the room wasn’t moving anymore. Time to explore.
As he reached for the candle nearest to him, a faint noise made him freeze. It sounded like a moan. Cocking his head, as though that would help him hear better, he waited.
There it was again.
He spun. Regretting the action instantly, as the room kept spinning when he’d stopped. Closing his eyes tight against the moving walls, he fought the nausea that assailed him as he strained to listen.
Louder this time.
And it was coming from the corner of the room.
Ryan’s eyes snapped open while everything within him became laser focused. Instantly the nausea disappeared, or maybe he just wasn’t aware of it anymore, as he willed his gaze to penetrate the darkness beyond the platform bed.
Movement. Small but definite.
His breath hitched as he grabbed the nearest candle and inched his way across the small room.
With each stiff step, the dim glow of the candle shifted, illuminating the hidden corner in agonizingly small increments. His breath hitched when he realized what he was seeing.
“Crap!” He slapped the candle down onto the platform and bent over the crumpled form. She was breathing steadily and her pulse was strong. “Okay, okay. That’s good…”
He let out a shaky breath as he reached for his phone. To check her for injuries, he needed more light than the candles could provide. The sharp white beam of light was startling bright after the faint glow from the candles and it easily illuminated the woman at his feet.
No obvious injury.
But there was a telltale circular mark on her neck. She’d been drugged and taken, just like him.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Automatically, he calculated everything he could about her. Average height, pale blonde curls that fell to her jaw, large round glasses, conservative blue blouse, straight navy skirt, sensible heels. And curves. The kind women thought were fat, but men thought were lush. He tore his eyes from her and noticed her discarded handbag sitting beside her hip.
As she moaned again, fighting off the effects of the drug in her system, Ryan reached for her bag. It was navy leather, good quality and obviously expensive although not entirely fashionable. A sensible work bag for a woman in an office, which fit her clothes.
He felt no qualms about rummaging around inside the bag. They were trapped together and he needed to know what resources they had if he was going to get them out of there. The interior of the bag was neat and organized, not the jumble he’d seen fall out of other women’s bags. The wallet held her driver’s license and the photo matched the mystery woman. It was hard not to notice the blonde curls, wide hazel eyes, and full lips on her heart-shaped face that peered out at him from the photo. Sarah Davidson was born to be a fifties pinup girl.
He flicked a glance at the real life Sarah before reading that she was twenty-seven years old and clearly from London, just like him. There was a gym card for a place in South London, and a work ID that told him she was an actuary with Steele-Shepherd Insurance. Actuary? Something to do with birds maybe? At an insurance company? He considered the woman on the floor in front of him. She didn’t look the type care for an aviary.
With a shake of his head, he dismissed her career, it didn’t mean a whole lot in their situation anyway. The rest of her bag didn’t reveal any big secrets. There was a small bottle of water, antibacterial wipes, notebook and pen, phone, two protein bars (yes! food!), a travel toothbrush and toothpaste set, an umbrella and some feminine hygiene products. Not exactly a goldmine. But then, what was he expecting? A satellite phone and a shovel?
Ryan tossed the bag onto the platform. It didn’t seem right to leave Sarah lying on the ground. And even though the platform was made from the same dusty rock, he felt it would be more respectful to move her. He took off his cord jacket and folded it to make a pillow before bending to lift her.
There wasn’t a lot of space in the corner, but he managed to get a hold on her. She was a soft bundle in his arms and she smelled of strawberries, which made his mouth water and his belly rumble. Straightening, he turned toward the platform. Only to be pulled up short. Obviously, her clothing was caught on something.
Contorting himself to get a look at what it might be, Ryan instantly spotted the problem. Adrenaline flooded his system, washing away the last of the drug that’d knocked him out. Everything within him went to that still place he’d always found when he’d been in a high alert situation.
Because attached to Sarah’s wrist was an iron manacle.
Fury was a white-hot flame inside him as he stared at the restraint. The things it told him about their situation weren’t good. Someone was playing games. Sick, dangerous games.
Slowly, so as not to jar her, he managed to untangle the chain attached to the manacle and place her on the stone bed. He felt like he didn’t breathe properly until she was settled and he could step away from her. With every passing second, their situation became more dire. Their kidnapper hadn’t bothered to take their belongings from them. Ryan still had his phone, wallet, and Swiss Army knife. Sarah still had her handbag. That told him nobody expected them to use those things to get out of the cavern. Their captor had deemed their belongings useless.
Then there was the cuff around Sarah’s wrist.
It wasn’t old.
It’d been fitted to the room recently, and there was dried blood on the band. Blood that didn’t belong to Sarah. He’d checked her wrist when he placed her on the bed and there were no abrasions that could have bled.
“This situation is totally fucked up,” he said, listening to his voice echo in the hollow space.
As if in reply, Sarah groaned loudly and her thick, dark eyelashes fluttered.
Ryan was at her side in an instant. “Hey,” he said softly. “You’re okay.”
What else could he say? He needed her to wake without screaming the place down as he wasn’t sure if they were alone. Someone could be listening.
She moaned again, her head turning toward him while she blinked.
Ryan didn’t dare touch her, even to comfort. They were strangers and the last thing he wanted was for her to believe he had brought her there.
“I’m not going to harm you. We’re in this together.” Why did everything he say sound deeply creepy? Was there a good way to tell someone they’d been kidnapped? Or make them believe you weren’t the bad guy? If there was, he couldn’t remember it. And didn’t that just sum up his life.
Sarah blinked several more times as her eyes began to clear and focus. The cutest little frown furrowed her brow, right between her eyebrows, as she stared at his face with clear puzzlement.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you.”
She opened and shut her mouth several times as though she wasn’t sure what to say.
“You’ve been drugged,” he said. “It’s natural to feel foggy. I’ll get you some water.”
As he turned to go, she said, “Ryan?”
He jerked back to face her. “Do I know you?”
It was clear she didn’t like that question at all. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes focused on him with a piercing intensity. “Ryan? Is that really you? Are you real or am I dreaming?”
Why she would dream of him he didn’t know. “You aren’t dreaming, I’m real. Do we know each other?”
“Do we know each other?” her voice rose with every word and her cheeks turned a deep shade of red.
Without warning, she swung her free arm straight at his head. Her fist connected with his nose and he toppled to the floor. Where he lay, staring at the roughly carved roof as his nose bled and his brain whirled.
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