Top Gun Guardian

By: Carol Ericson

Raven licked her lips.

The mood had certainly shifted in here, as if the cold air from outside had seeped in through the window. It suited her. Guilt piled upon guilt didn’t engender lustful thoughts.

But the slabs of hard muscle across Buzz’s chest did.

“You want to join me tonight?” He patted the bed beside him.

She needed more seduction than a stark question. She’d already been feeling as if they’d been punished for their attention to each other.

“I don’t think that’s a great idea, Buzz—for a lot of reasons.”

He shrugged. “We may have different reasons, but I agree with you.” He squeezed her hand as she rose from the bed. “Get a good night’s sleep.”

Raven clicked the bedroom door behind her and leaned her forehead against it. A good night’s sleep with peril on both sides of her?

That wasn’t going to happen.







Prologue

He stared into the boy’s face, searching for artifice…or danger. The boy blinked several times and hunched his shoulders.

He loosened his grip on the youth, but kept his muscles coiled and ready in case the kid ran off. He couldn’t allow him to escape.

This scruffy street urchin just might hold the key to his identity.

He leaned close to the boy’s ear and whispered, “Do you know me?”

A big grin split the urchin’s brown face and then melted away as he gazed into the eyes of his captor. “Of course I know you, Mr. Jack. It is me, Yasir.”

“Yasir?” Despite the chill in the morning air, he wiped a bead of sweat from beneath his headdress. “And my name is Jack?”

The boy nodded, his black brows meeting over his nose. “You do not know your name? What happened to you, Mr. Jack? I do not see you for a week.”

Jack jerked his thumb over his left shoulder. “See that mountain range back there? I woke up on a rock this morning with no memory.”

Yasir’s mouth dropped open, his missing teeth giving him the look of a jack-o’-lantern. He jabbed a finger into Jack’s ribs where a splotch of blood stained his grubby shirt. “Did they get you, Mr. Jack?”

A tingle of fear climbed its way up Jack’s back and he clenched his muscles to ward it off. “Who are they, Yasir? What am I? What am I doing here? Where’s here?”

The kid held up his callused hands. “Okey-dokey, Mr. Jack. We go to your place. I bring you food.”

Jack tensed. Could this be a trap? Did he really have a home in this teeming village of goat herders and traders and farmers?

He looked into the boy’s earnest brown eyes. Did he have a choice right now?

“Okey-dokey, Yasir. I’ll follow you.”

Keeping his head bowed, Jack trailed after Yasir, weaving his way through the press of people. Except for a few nods directed at Yasir, nobody halted their progress through the streets of the village. Nobody attacked him.

Glancing both ways, Yasir darted into an alley and Jack slipped in behind him. A few doorways into the pungent, narrow space, Yasir ducked into a small room, pulling Jack in behind him.

Jack blinked, adjusting his eyes to the gloom. An old man dozed in a chair, and Yasir tiptoed past him. He flicked aside a coarse blanket hanging from the ceiling and waved Jack through with one hand.

Licking his dry lips, Jack sidled through the opening and crept into a room even smaller than the adjoining one. His gaze flicked across the cot in the corner, a low table with a guttered candle on top of it and a few makeshift shelves holding books—lots of books.

A flicker of recognition flitted across his brain, and he dropped to his knees on the dirt floor to squint at the titles. Yasir nudged him in the back, and Jack spun around with his hands clenched.

“Jumpy, Mr. Jack.” With two steps, Yasir crossed the small space and kicked a black duffel bag at the foot of the cot. “This is yours. You take everywhere.”

Crawling to the cot, Jack snagged the strap of the duffel bag and dragged it between his legs as he perched on the edge of the crude bed. He yanked at the zipper and the sides of the bag gaped open.

Yasir scraped a match against the earthen wall of the room. Jack’s nostrils twitched at the smell of sulfur. Yasir lit the candle on the table and a soft yellow glow illuminated the small, dank space.

Grabbing the edges of the bag, Jack peeled it open. His brows shot up as his fingers traced the bundles of cash neatly stashed in the bag. Dozens of passports littered the top of the money stacks, and a gun was tucked in the corner of the bag.

His gaze darted toward Yasir’s face, waxy in the candlelight, but displaying no surprise at the contents of the bag. Jack dug his hands into the pile of passports and let them slide through his fingers. “Why is this here? Why didn’t you steal the money when I disappeared?”

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