Excerpt: Run Wild
Book One: Escape with a Scoundrel
A sexy pair of scoundrels run from the law—shackled together by an unbreakable iron chain…
Stretched out on the forest floor, with his disheveled black hair and glittering green eyes and bloodied shoulder, he looked like he belonged here in this wild place. Fit in with the other untamed things. A wounded predator. Dark and fierce… and capable of all sorts of unpredictable behavior.
His gaze skimmed downward, coming to rest on her legs. He was still breathing harshly. “Come here.”
Sam stiffened. His voice sounded weaker than before, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Shifting her eyes quickly left and right, she sought some weapon she might use to protect herself. A rock. A branch. Anything.
“I said come here,” he repeated impatiently.
When she didn’t comply, he reached out and grabbed her foot.
“What are you doing?” She tried to wriggle out of his grasp. “Unhand me!”
“Gladly,” he said tiredly—yet he hung on to her, pushing himself up on one elbow. Snagging her ruined slipper with his other hand, he flipped it off her foot. “I’d like nothing better than to unhand you, unchain you, and be done with you.”
Instead of attacking her, he attacked the shackle around her leg.
Sam gave up her struggle, even though she knew she could kick her way free. One blow to his wounded shoulder and he would let her loose. But he was already in a foul mood and she didn’t want to make it worse.
Besides, she realized what he was trying to do. He pulled at the shackle, trying to slide it off over her foot.
Which just might work.
“Maybe if we had some kind of…” Glancing around, she took a handful of slimy mud from beneath the leaves and smeared it over her skin.
“Come on,” he muttered under his breath, pushing the cuff, turning it, swearing at it. “Come on.”
Sam tried to help but he clearly didn’t want her help. Holding her bare foot with one hand and the iron cuff with the other, he turned both at different angles, trying to coax the cuff past her ankle bone.
“It’s too tight and it’s bolted on,” she said finally, exasperated at being manhandled. “It’s not going to come off.”
With a short, expressive oath, he released her. Lowering himself back down into the leaves, he tossed the muddy slipper into her lap. “Perfect,” he growled. “Of all the lady thieves on the run in England, I have to get myself shackled to the one with big feet.”
Sam scuttled backward, as far away from him as the chain would allow. Which wasn’t nearly far enough. “I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself.”
Her tone was frosty, but she feared that even her haughtiest drawing-room airs couldn’t conceal the fact that her cheeks felt hot. Scalding. She rubbed at her ankle, wiping away the mud and the unexpected warmth that lingered from the touch of his callused fingers on her bare skin.
Grabbing her slipper, she put it back on. Her foot and her ankle ached with soreness, felt cool from the gooey muck. She couldn’t understand why they also… tingled.
She decided that the unfamiliar sensation must come from the hours of unaccustomed physical exertion.
“It’s not my fault that the shackles are so tight.” She glared at the man stretched out on the ground, adding in a mutinous whisper, “And I do not have big feet.”
“Doesn’t bloody well matter now,” he grumbled. “Short of a convenient bolt of lightning from above or a blacksmith, it looks like there’s no way for me to get free of you.” Opening his eyes, he peered at the lengthening shadows, almost as if he were measuring the sun in some way. “Two hours of daylight left. You ready to press on, Lady Bigfeet?”
She ignored the sarcasm, every muscle in her body aching at the words press on. “No.” She groaned. “No, I’m not. Can’t we stop? Can’t we rest just for a—”
“Not unless you’re eager to wind up back in gaol.” He pushed himself to a seated position. “As soon as word spreads about a pair of dangerous fugitives on the loose, two marshalmen killed, and rewards offered, every lawman and bounty hunter in the north of England will be on our trail. By morning, if not sooner. And if they use dogs…”
He let the sentence trail off, running a weary hand over his face.
Sam felt a surge of fear. Dogs. Dozens of men hunting her down. Skilled, experienced men.
And they would know right where to start looking. The young guard Tucker would show them.
Her throat tightened. The rogue was right. They had to keep going. Put as much distance as possible between themselves and the point where they’d disappeared into the forest.
Yet her fear mingled with anger at his apparent nonchalance. “Didn’t you consider any of that before you decided to take a flying leap out of the cart? Didn’t you think that far ahead? Didn’t you think at all?”
“Aye, I did,” he retorted, “but I wasn’t counting on your charming company, Lady Bigfeet. I planned to be long gone by now. You are slowing me down.” He reached up to unfasten the bandage knotted around his shoulder. “But before we go any further, you’d better take a look at this damned wound.”
She felt like spitting in his face. One minute he was insulting her, and the next he expected her to see to his comfort? “If you think I’m going to lift one finger to help you,” she said in a low, even voice, crossing her arms over her chest, “think again.”
He clenched his jaw, wincing as he unwrapped the blood-soaked cloth. “Listen, angel,” he said tightly, beads of sweat sliding down his face, into his beard, “if you think you’re in trouble now, just try to imagine what would happen to you if I pass out from loss of blood. Or if I die.”
She had barely started to contemplate the pleasant possibilities when he demolished every single one.
“You’d be stuck here with one hundred and eighty pounds of dead weight chained to your ankle.” His eyes pierced hers. “Helpless as a trussed-up Christmas pigeon when the authorities come looking for you. If their dogs don’t get you first, their guns will make mincemeat out of you. When dealing with fugitives who’ve killed two of their fellow lawmen, they tend to let their bullets do their talking for them.”
The violent image stole the air from her lungs. “But I didn’t kill those marshalmen!”
“I doubt you’ll have time to explain that.”
They stared into each other’s eyes for a long moment, the truth swirling between them like one of the hot beams of light from the dying sun.
Then he said it aloud.
“If I die, you die,” he put it plainly, his stark words all the more powerful for their lack of embellishment. “If I live…”
For some reason, it took him an extra moment to finish that sentence.
Mute, shaking, she tried to control the fear and resentment careening through her. He was insufferable. Cold-hearted, uncivilized, utterly self-interested.
But he also had a point. As unavoidable as it was true. If they wanted to survive…
They were going to have to work together.
Swallowing hard, she tried to tell herself that everything would be all right. As long as the chain bound them together, they had to keep each other alive and well. Once they found some way to get the shackles off, they would go their separate ways.
For now, she just had to endure his presence and make the best of this awful situation.
Because her very life depended on it.