Rylee Swann_book_1.jpg

ECHOES OF TIME

Alien. Assassin. Time Traveler.

Shawn Paros, a flawed and dangerous time-traveling alien, is living his life out on earth as a hired assassin.

Cold, calculated, and emotionless, he makes for the perfect career criminal. But nothing could prepare him for Rayna Newman, the one person who can tear down all of his defenses.

Rayna breathes life into his pointless world, and now, he'll do whatever it takes to hold on to her. Even honoring her most absurd request: to work for the United States government and stop his criminal ways.

There's only one problem.

The government wants him dead.

Chapter One

 

1983

 

Not for the first time since coming to Earth, Shawn Paros wondered what the hell he was doing. He was a damned time traveler from another planet, and he wasted his life on meaningless jobs like petty theft and assassination.

 

He’d been hired to steal an antique ring and make the job look like a random robbery. While casing the house a sudden searing, blinding pain knocked him on his ass.

Under the warm blanket of a moonless July night in a quiet Long Island neighborhood, he should have been safe, the inky darkness a friendly companion covering a multitude of sins.

 

Including his own.

 

But it also had covered whoever shot him as dusk dissolved into night.

 

He hadn’t seen the shooter or the bullet that raced at him from what could have been miles away. The sniper had been accurate, only missing lethal damage by millimeters. Instead, the metal plowed through his stomach alongside vital organs, inflicting the worst possible pain.

 

Blood seeped through his fingers as he pressed his hand tight against the wound. He’d been trained to compartmentalize pain, to ignore it, push past until it no longer existed. This pain was different. A low grunt escaped his lips as a new excruciating wave dazzled his senses, stealing the oxygen from his lungs.

 

He stumbled over a tree root pushing through a crack in the sidewalk. He never stumbled; he was as sure-footed as a cat on the prowl. Tonight, however, was different.

 

He needed medical attention. His training and mental and physical fortitude had gotten him this far, but the misstep he’d just taken was a sign he had little time left. If he tripped again, and fell, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to get up. He couldn’t keep wandering without a direction, without a plan.

 

He pushed unruly long black hair from his eyes, his hand coming back wet with sweat. Wiping his hand dry on his acid-washed jeans, he stopped on unsteady feet to assess the situation, get his bearings, and—much to his dismay—catch his breath.

 

Trees lined the street, the houses packed one atop the other as most were on Long Island. He squinted to read the street sign and found he was two blocks east of the house he’d been casing to rob.  Mentally shaking himself, he focused on putting one foot in front of the other, a task that caused sweat to bead on his forehead.

 

Quiet laughter behind him reached his ears and he tensed, every muscle coiling, preparing to spring into action. He crossed the street so he could look back without being obvious and found a young couple holding hands, heads drawn together in what appeared to be loving conversation.

 

Shawn hurried forward to the next crosswalk and turned down the first side street, moving farther away from the couple.

 

Five quick puffs of dirt and grass flew up into the air from the row of trees between the sidewalk and street. Gunshots.

 

Sonofabitch! A silencer.

 

Shawn recoiled, diving into a crouch. Little black spots danced before his eyes and he willed himself not to pass out. The silent gunshots stopped, and he hurried the opposite way.

 

Here the houses were spread a little farther apart. He treaded carefully down a path between two houses to around the back, crouching under windows to avoid being seen. The house on the right had a fenced-in backyard but the one on the left was wide-open. A light burned in the ground-level window near the back door, a sign the home was occupied, but Shawn couldn’t wait to find a better situation. He needed to get off the street in case whoever shot him was on the way to finish the job. Even in his weakened state, he could handle the occupants.

 

Pulling his Glock 17 from its shoulder holster, he continued in a crouch to the back door. He took a breath and then in one swift movement kicked it in.

As the door slammed against the wall, he rushed in and planted his feet on the linoleum floor. His gun held at the ready in front of him, he surveyed the kitchen. A woman screamed in surprise as she fell from her chair at the kitchen table to land on her ass with a small “oomph.”

 

Shawn leveled the gun on her as he closed the door behind him. The large wooden table partially obstructed his view of the woman, but he still had a clear enough shot if needed.

 

“Who else is here?” His voice was deep, demanding in no nonsense clipped words.

 

“Oh god, oh god, oh god.” She began a crab walk toward the archway leading into the next room.

 

Forcing the pain from his voice, he huffed quietly. “Stop or die.”

She froze in place, whimpering.

 

“Stand, now! Answer me. Who else is here?”

 

She struggled to her feet, wavy chestnut brown hair obscuring her face until with shaking hands she pushed it away and settled her wide-eyed gaze on him.

“N-no one,” she stammered. “Please, don’t…”

 

Shawn made a quick assessment of her. Early twenties, lithe, harmless. Barefoot, stringy denim cutoffs, black tank top. Hair styled in a seventies throwback, parted in the middle with lush waves framing her face and falling to her shoulders. Intelligent bright blue eyes. Like the ocean on a sunny day. Beautiful. He blinked in surprise as this last bit of data registered, but shrugged it off. He stood upright on borrowed strength and could not afford distraction. But there was more. He sensed recognition in those eyes.

 

She recognized him? What the hell did that mean?

 

“You are alone here?” he asked.

 

She nodded, her lips quivering as she tried to form the word. “Yes.”

 

Another quick calculation. She wasn’t furtively glancing to where someone might be concealed. The house was silent. He chose to believe her, yet keep her on edge, fearful.

 

“You lie, you die.” Moving forward, he swept an assortment of textbooks, pens, pencils, markers, and notebooks off the kitchen table and to the floor. They made a cacophonous thud as they landed, and she winced.

 

He pulled out a chair and with a mostly concealed sigh, sat down. The red cushion let out a puff of air like it was sighing with him. “What is your name?”

 

She stared at him blankly.

 

“Your name,” he said again, his voice rough with insistence, placing his gun on the table but still pointed in her direction.

 

This brought her back from whatever frightened inner thoughts had rendered her mute. “Rayna.”

 

“Rayna.” He nodded and lifted his dark blue shirt. Pain radiated like fire, bringing a grimace to his face as he fussed with the strap to the small fanny pack he wore with clumsy fingers. Finally releasing the catch, he flung it onto the tabletop and drew in a shaky breath.

 

“Oh, my god.” She pointed to the brown leather pouch. “Is that blood? Are you bleeding?” Her demeanor changed, suddenly seeming calmer now that his wound had been revealed. “Let me—”

 

Having no patience, the blood loss making him sleepy, he waved a hand at her. “Shut up and listen—”

 

“Or I die. Yeah, yeah, I get it.”

 

Shawn smirked. She possessed fire in the face of the danger he represented. He liked that.

 

She took a couple of steps closer. “I’m a nurse, well, almost a nurse.” She motioned to the books strewn on the blue-flowered linoleum floor. “Final exams. But I can help.”

 

He pushed the pouch toward her. “Yes, you’ll help. Open that. It’s my first-aid kit. I’ll tell you what to do.”

 

With fingers as clumsy as his had been, she unzipped the pouch and peered at the contents. Her nose wrinkled. “What…?”

 

“Dump it out. Hurry.”

 

Turning over the bag, she let the contents spill onto the table near enough for him to reach them without effort. Out fell twigs, roots, and bits of bark as well as sprigs of echinacea, sage, and rosemary, along with aloe vera leaves.

 

With a practiced eye, Shawn separated from the mix of fresh and dried herbs what he wanted and pushed the handful of leaves and sprigs toward Rayna. “Make a poultice from this. And here.” He motioned to some bark. “Make tea from that.”

 

Rayna scooped up the bark and took a closer look. “What is this?”

 

“Willow bark.” He met her eyes and wiped sweat from his brow. “For the pain.”

Her mouth formed a perfect little “o” of understanding. “I have aspirin. Wouldn’t that be easier? Faster?”

 

“Do as I say.”

 

“Why?”

 

Through gritted teeth, he said, “Because I cannot take manufactured medicine.”

 

“You’re allergic?” Her voice rose with budding interest.

 

He only offered a half shrug. “Make the tea and poultice. This is what I need from you.”

 

“Alright, alright.” She moved to the sink and filled a red kettle with water before setting it on the stove to boil. Taking a large blue mug from a cupboard, she placed it in front of Shawn. “So, this stuff really works?” She motioned with the willow bark as she dropped it in the mug.

 

“Native Americans gave your people aspirin. It works.”

 

She turned and rummaged for something deep within one of the cupboards but glanced back at him. “My people?”

 

“My skin is darker than yours and my hair black, long, and straight. You know I am not white like you.”

 

Finding what she was looking for with a little triumphant “aha,” she returned to the table with a pestle and mortar. “Yeah, you’re Native. Big deal.”

 

In that moment, his pain receded and a different sort of red haze clouded his vision. Her insolence was intolerable. Yet, her teasing smile allowed him to relax like a flag sagging on a windless day.

 

“You recognized me, didn’t you?” He wanted her to talk, to explain, to tell him a story. Any story to keep his mind focused on something other than the pain rushing through him in a burning torrent.

 

“Yes, I did.” From behind the dish drain she pulled out a wooden cutting board and placed it on the table. “I’ll need a knife to make the poultice.”

 

Shawn placed a hand on his gun and pointed it at the cutting board. “Go ahead.”

From a drawer, she removed a large chef’s knife and carefully returned to the table. Standing before the cutting board, she piled up the assortment of herbs Shawn had singled out and began mincing them. “What happened to you?”

 

“Shot.”

 

She flinched, the knife momentarily losing its rhythm of rocking back and forward.

“Oh…um…by who?”

 

“I don’t know.” His eyes moved from her face to the knife and back again. “Prove to me you know who I am.”

 

She glanced at him and continued mincing the herbs. “Shawn Paros, thief, criminal, killer, Native American. You slip out of the most tightly woven mantraps, as if you disappear into thin air. No one knows where you live or where you came from, but you’re considered one of the most dangerous men alive. Some think you’re amoral and others think you’re sociopathic. Many think you’re both.”

 

“And what do you think?”

 

Just then the tea kettle blared out a whistle to indicate boiling water, jarring Rayna and preventing her from answering. Setting down the knife, she raised the pot by its heat-proof handle and poured the steaming water into Shawn’s mug.

 

Shawn breathed in deeply the acrid aroma of willow bark tea and motioned with a jerk of his chin for Rayna to continue with the poultice. The tea had to steep before it would be any good to him, and he desperately needed to pack the healing properties of the medicinal herbs onto his gunshot wound. He felt lightheaded and could use a distraction to stay awake and alert. He would use Rayna for that purpose.

 

“So, you know all this about me,” he said, “but you seem unafraid.”

 

She finished the chopping and scooped the herbs to one side with the blade, transferring them to the white ceramic mortar. “Oh, I’m afraid. I know what you’re capable of, but I’m also not stupid. You need me right now, so I figure I’m safe for the time being.”

 

Her hands shook as she picked up the pestle and began grinding the mixture as if to emphasize her hidden fear.

 

Shawn remained silent as Rayna took his mug and poured a little of the hot water into the mortar before continuing with the pestle. He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and rest, if only for a few minutes. That was not an option, so he roused himself with a painful adjustment as he sat up straighter. He couldn’t keep a small grunt from escaping his lips.

 

Rayna darted a glance at him. “I’m sorry. It’s almost ready.”

 

He nodded, barely having the strength to speak.

 

Another fifteen seconds went by, the only sounds the striking of the pestle against the mortar and Shawn’s labored breathing.

 

Finally, Rayna appeared satisfied with the consistency of the paste for the poultice. “Okay, I think this is ready.” Turning to him, she motioned to his upper body. “Umm…where were you shot?”

 

“Stomach.” A shock of hair fell into his eyes, but he didn’t bother raising a hand to push it away. Instead, he shoved away from the chair back and unbuttoned his shirt. It had to come off for the poultice to go on. As he tried to shrug his shoulders out of the shirt, a wave of pain overtook him, and he collapsed backwards.

 

Glancing up at Rayna’s horrified expression, hand clamped across her mouth, he realized his own face had betrayed him. She knew the agony he was in.

 

She came around the table and stood before him, eyebrows raised.

 

He didn’t like her proximity. He reached for the gun and tightened his hand on the grip, pointing the barrel at her.

 

Her eyes flicked in that direction, but she didn’t back off. “Listen to me. I’m a couple of exams away from being a full-fledged nurse. I can help you, if you’ll let me. It’s my calling to help the injured, okay? I just need to know that your hand isn’t going to spasm in pain and shoot me while I’m doing it.”

 

He didn’t respond, but relaxed his hand, letting go of the gun completely as she knelt down in front of him and pushed the shirt off his shoulders. He couldn’t help much, so she did most of the work until the shirt was off. She let it drop from her hands onto the floor, swallowing hard and staring until he straightened his shoulders in an attempt to bring her back to the problem at hand.

 

Shawn had a swimmer’s body. Broad shoulders, long and limber muscular arms and legs, and a flat, perfectly chiseled abdomen. He’d slept with many women, and they’d all fawned and drooled over his physique.

 

“The poultice,” he said, annoyed.

 

Her gaze traveled upward until she met his eyes. “Yes, yes, sorry. There’s so much blood…”

 

She rose quickly, grabbing a basin from below the sink before pouring the remaining water from the tea kettle into it. Pulling a wash rag from a hook by the sink, she returned to Shawn, and dropped to her knees in front of him.

 

“The water is still warm. I need to clean you up so I can see where the damage is.” After dipping the rag into the basin, she wrung it out. The water made a peaceful gurgling sound as it dripped, lulling Shawn into relaxing further.

 

Half closing his eyes, he said, “Hurry.”

 

With the gentlest of touches, Rayna wiped away the blood on Shawn’s stomach, careful not to touch the bullet hole itself—a small entry wound that no longer bled. Her fingers danced lightly on his skin, and gooseflesh rippled across his skin.

Adjusting her position, she looked up, her mouth parting, her eyes warm and sympathetic to his pain. “I…um…I’ll put the poultice on now. It might hurt…”

 

He stared down into her eyes, a pleasant aroma of lilac wafting in the air from her shampoo. He could kiss her now, and she wouldn’t resist, would melt into it. For the briefest of moments, he wondered what she would taste like. And just as quickly he chided himself for such foolishness, surprised and confused by his thoughts.

“Do it,” he said in a low rough voice.

 

She reached behind her, not breaking eye contact, her nimble fingers wrapping around the mortar. Scooping out a portion of the greenish mixture, about the size of the bullet hole, she bit her lip and pressed the poultice to the wound.

 

Shawn couldn’t hold back a hissing sound as he sucked in his breath but showed no other outward signs of distress.

 

Rayna winced. “Sorry.”

 

“S’alright.” He raised an arm that felt like a lead weight, placing his hand over hers resting on the wound. She startled and blinked even as he almost recoiled from the sizzle that spread between them. More confused than in pain, he shook his head, looking past her to the mug of tea on the table. Thin tendrils of steam still rose, but not as dramatically as moments ago. He needed to drink that down before it turned cold and worse to the taste than when hot. “Exit wound.”

 

“W-what?” With her free hand, she took his wrist and raised it just enough to slide her other hand away. He quickly pressed his hand down on the poultice, and she rocked back on her heels.

 

He leaned forward to show her the bloody little hole in his back. She sucked in her breath and slathered a bit of poultice on that as well.

 

“Good,” he said through barely contained gasps. “Now, bandages.”

 

“Oh, yes, of course. Bandages to keep the poultice in place.” She rose to her feet, Shawn keeping a close eye on her. “They’re in the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”

 

Her bare feet on the linoleum made a pleasant thwapping sound as she moved out of the kitchen. When she was gone from view, Shawn leaned forward, careful to keep pressure applied to the wound, and picked up the mug. He took several large gulps of the hot bitter liquid, and then let out a long sigh. He knew what he needed—a long soothing swim in saltwater; the alien part of him demanded it— and as soon as she finished bandaging him, he’d get a move on.

 

When Rayna returned and gently applied the bandage, the experience was as surreal as when she’d cleaned away the blood. He didn’t like this off-balance feeling, and rushed her through the process, more perturbed to find himself displeased when she finished and moved back from him. With a grunt, he swallowed the rest of the tea and pounded the mug down onto the table.

 

Standing, he rested a hand on his gun until the wave of dizziness passed, never taking his eyes from Rayna.

 

Her cheeks colored at his bold attention. She lowered her eyes but peeked up at him through long lashes.

 

After shrugging back into his shirt, he packed the leftover herbs into his pouch. In a moment, he nodded more to himself than at her. “It’s time to go.”

 

“Okay, I, um, promise I won’t tell anyone about this…”

 

He picked up his gun, slung his pouch over his shoulder, and took a step toward her. “I know. You’re coming with me.”

 

“What?” Fear reawakened in her eyes and he strode to her so he wouldn’t have to see it. “No…I…I swear I won’t tell anyone.” He grabbed her forearm as she squeaked, “Why?”

 

“I don’t know who shot me. They might still be out there waiting. You’re my insurance and my shield.” He jerked her forward. “You have a car?”

 

She bit her lip and nodded.

 

“Good,” he said. “We’re taking your car. Let’s go. Move!”

 

He pulled her toward the door. She resisted just long enough to slip on a pair of sandals and grab her handbag before he yanked her out of the relative safety of her home.

 

He refused to consider the possibility that he was taking her because he wanted to keep her near. Liked the look of her. Enjoyed her company and desired more of it. She was useful, that was all.

 

Yet he was inexplicably drawn to her and needed to find out how she knew about him. Maybe it was related to the sniper who wanted him dead.

 

Either she would tell him willingly or he’d drag it out of her.

Chapter Two

Outside, Rayna’s skin radiated warmth in Shawn’s hand as he guided her to the front of the house. On the way, she tested his grip on her forearm, tugged to see if she could break free. Of course, she couldn’t, but her show of strength met with his silent approval.

 

She had a lion’s soul. A warrior’s heart and a female’s compassion.

 

All excellent qualities, and he did not relish having to squash them to keep her in line.

He moved fast, and she stumbled on the quaint stone footpath that led to the front of the house, trying to keep up. His strength was mostly sapped; he had to get to her car right away. Had to get to the destination that would save his ass.

 

Taking in a breath, he frowned. He detected no scent of life-giving water. In his weakened state he couldn’t even hazard a guess as to which direction would bring him nearer to a body of water large enough to swim in.

 

“That’s my car.” Rayna pointed with her free hand to an older model white four-door Sentra parked at the curb in front of the house.

 

Shawn nodded and picked up his pace until they reached the driver’s side door.

“Unlock it,” he ordered, still holding her arm.

 

“It’s not locked. There’s no crime in this area.” He detected a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

 

Offering only a small smirk in reply, he opened the door. Inside was a bench seat without the typical debris of empty coffee cups, food wrappers, and other assorted junk. She kept her car as clean as her home. He stifled a groan as he slid in, yanking her along with him until he was in the passenger seat and she behind the wheel. Only then did he let go of her arm.

 

He motioned to the ignition. “Let’s go.” She blinked at him. “I’m driving?”

 

“You know your crime-free neighborhood better than I do.” He pointed at the ignition again as he rested his back against the passenger door.

 

Turning away, she rifled in her handbag until she found her car keys. She jabbed the key into the ignition and the engine turned over with a purr. “Where are we going?”

 

“The ocean.” He might have been amused by the classic double take she gave him, but his need compelled him to urgency. “Drive.”

 

“Wait, what? The ocean? Are you serious?”

 

“How far is it from here?”

 

“Wait, you are serious?”

 

He stared back at her silently until she turned her gaze out into the inky night, lit only by the occasional streetlamp.

 

“I’m not sure. Forty-five minutes to an hour, I guess.”

 

Too far, much too far. He needed an alternative.

 

“What’s closer? Someplace where I can submerge in water.”

 

 She gave him a quick dumbfounded look. He was giving away too much, but he had no choice.

 

“Someplace where I can swim,” he said.

 

“Umm…you’re talking crazy, you know that, right?”

 

“Yes, play along or I won’t need you,” he lied. He needed her to drive. To get him to water. Then everything would be alright.

 

“Fine.” She wrapped her hands around the steering wheel and thought for a moment.

“There’s a motel a few miles from here. I think it has a pool.”

 

“That will do. Take me there.” He let his head fall back against the passenger side window but kept his eyes open. Stayed alert as she put the car into gear and pulled away from the curb.

 

Not a single car had passed them as they’d debated their destination but that would change once they got off this residential side street. He had to stay sharp. A few miles meant no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. He had no intention of being captured or dying in that small amount of time.

 

Rayna turned a sharp right onto a busy street. Cars whizzed by them, and she sucked in her breath and slowed the car to almost a crawl, her grip on the wheel turning her knuckles white.

 

“Ray…” The rest of her name got swallowed by a rising tide of pain. But it was enough to get her attention. “Relax. It’ll be alright. Just keep up with traffic. Blend in.”

 

“Yeah, well. You don’t know that. That it’ll be okay. I mean, you said someone is still out there after you and now I’m in the middle of it.” She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as she picked up speed. “What if…?”

 

“No,” he said sharply enough for her to glance at him. “Don’t do the ‘what if’ game. Don’t think at all. Just do what you need to, and you’ll be alright.”

 

She took a deep breath. “You seem pretty confident for someone who’s all shot up and needs a chauffeur.”

 

“Would you prefer I be like you?”

 

“Like me?”

 

“A frightened rabbit.”

 

Her mouth fell open, and she narrowed her eyes at him, to find a smirk on his face. “Oh, you’re goading me.” Her cheeks reddened. “I get it, but I’d be a fool not to be afraid.”

 

 “Don’t let the fear own you and you can still be a lion.”

 

She gaped at him, but he shifted his gaze back to the road.

 

Spying a police car, he grabbed hold of the back of her hair, yanking her head back. She yelped in surprise. “Cops up ahead. Be smart.”

 

“I will, I promise. Let go.” She reached back, trying to push away his hand. “I can’t drive like this.”

 

He released her but laid his arm on the back of the seat, his fingers close enough to brush the nape of her neck. “You haven’t proven yourself trustworthy yet. Your promise means nothing.”

 

“But…” She shook her head and fell silent. He tugged on a lock of her hair. Tugged again until she released the words she was trying to hide. She half whispered, “I don’t want you to get caught.”

 

Surprise blossomed but he kept it hidden from his voice. “Why?”

 

“Oh, god. It doesn’t matter. We’re almost at—”

 

“Tell me.” He needed to know, felt that something was about to be revealed that would change things, change everything. She didn’t speak, and he leaned toward her, his face inches from hers. “Tell me.”

 

She flinched, trying to pull away in the confined space. “Okay, I’ve known who you were for a long time. My…” She hesitated, and then let out a sigh. “My dad has this theory… We would go to the library and he’d show me all the newspaper articles about you. We’d watch the news when you were featured…”

 

He tugged her hair again. Not hard, just a reminder that he could force the situation. “What theory?”

 

She again met his eyes, biting her lip. Fear danced in her cerulean eyes, but there was more she tried to hide. Pleasure? Happiness? No, he must be mistaken. What exactly was going on here? She wanted to tell him, but was playing coy, thinking this was the way he expected her to act.

 

Curious. She had layers, many of them.

 

Her foot let up on the accelerator until the car almost came to a stop. “He says you’re a time traveler.”

 

She laughed a little, as if to lessen the blow of such a ridiculous pronouncement.

 

“What?” Stunned by what should be an impossible theory for a human in the twentieth century, he strove to maintain a neutral expression. For the briefest moment, he was thankful for the pain that helped to mask his shock. Not since he was a kid had he been thrown so off-balance. His heartbeat quickened dangerously, forcing the blood through his veins and out the inconvenient hole in his stomach. “Drive,” he said and fell back against the passenger door with a thud.

 

“It’s true, isn’t it? You’re a time traveler.” Before he could speak, she raised a hand and pointed ahead. “We’re at a red light.”

 

He glanced at the light and settled his gaze back on her. “Who are you?”

 

She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, her cheeks still a deep rosy hue. “Nobody.”

 

“This is why you don’t want me to be caught? Because you think I’m a time traveler?”

 

“Because I know you’re a time traveler. My father convinced me with all his research.” Still smiling, she stepped down on the accelerator as the light turned green. “Also…” She threw a sidelong glance his way. “There’s another reason. Even sillier. I, um…well, with all the research we did, I kinda sorta developed a schoolgirl crush on you.” Her cheeks turned an embarrassed darker shade of red, and she laughed again.

 

What the hell? Not even his extensive time traveler training had offered this scenario. Maybe I’m unconscious. Having a delusional fever dream. That must be it. There is no way she could know. No possible way.

 

“You think you know me?” Anger born of pain and confusion bristled just under the surface as he spat out the words. She either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He guessed the latter.

 

 “You’re more handsome than your pictures,” she said, emboldened and speaking more freely now. “Very handsome. Although, to be honest, most of them were grainy, hard to see. Your Native heritage is strong in your cheekbones, if you don’t mind me saying.”

 

“What pictures?” He’d thought this couldn’t get worse. Pictures? How could this be possible? He always stayed a couple of steps ahead of the police They’d never had an opportunity to photograph him.

 

“The newspaper ones. The really old ones. From the seventeen or eighteen hundreds, I don’t remember exactly now. You must know. The ones where you’re dressed like a cowboy.”

 

He’d lost control of this situation, a condition in which he’d never found himself. Anger threatened to overwhelm him and he took a couple of slow, deep breaths to settle down. He had to regain the upper hand. He searched his memory for what his training would tell him. Go with the flow. Give as little away as possible and see where this leads. He could do that. Had to. She gave him little alternative.

 

“Wasn’t me,” he said. “You must know this.”

 

“Oh, it was you.” She nodded with all the confidence in the world, born of an obvious admiration and deep love for her father. “My dad connected most of the dots. We joked and called you the cowboy from the future because, of course, you couldn’t be from the past. Time travel didn’t exist back then.”

 

“It was not me.”

 

“Then who?” she demanded with a laugh. “Your brother?” He blinked and slid his eyes to the right. She gawked at him. “Oh, my god. You have a brother? He looks so much like you. Are you a twin?”

 

Agitated, he pushed his hand through his hair and spotted a sign outside a building that could be a motel. The kind where the rooms opened onto the parking lot and guests could pull up in front of their door.

 

“There.” He pointed. “It says it has a pool. Pull in and get us a room.”

 

“Ah, so you trust me now?” She parked in front of the motel’s office, grinning at him like this was all a fun game. “I’ll be right back.”

 

Before she got her door open, he grabbed her arm and pulled her close. “Do anything stupid and all those questions dancing in your head will never be answered,” he hissed.

 

“Doesn’t matter. You’re not going to answer them anyway.” She twisted out of his grip and opened her door. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”

 

He huffed out a breath and leaned back against the car door again. He had no strength to argue, to try to instill in her respect for the situation, and the danger she found herself in.

 

“Leave the keys,” he said.

 

She froze with the car door half open, one foot on the blacktop. A hint of worry now clouded her eyes. “Are you going to steal my car?”

 

He said nothing, simply kept his gaze leveled on her, his mouth set in a grim, hard line.

“Please don’t.” She offered him a tentative smile and got out, shutting the door behind her and leaving the keys in the ignition.

 

He watched her walk toward the office, admiring the sway of her tight little ass. At less than five feet five inches in height, with medium-sized breasts and an athletic body, she had curves in all the right places. As she opened the motel door and stepped inside, his gaze was drawn back up to the bounce of her hair, reminding him of how it had felt. Silky soft, with a lingering scent of lilac. Just like her skin, but that was warm and malleable. Pleasurable to the touch. He groaned and shook his head, confused by his thoughts. This was simple lust, nothing more.

 

Sitting forward, hissing through the pain, he turned the key in the ignition and put the radio on. He enjoyed music and could use the distraction.

 

Tuning the dial until he located a station that played new wave dance music, he settled back to wait for Rayna’s return. He had no doubt that she would. Insane as it sounded, she had a crush on him. She wanted to learn more about him.

 

The next few hours would be most interesting, indeed.

 

“Every Breath You Take,” the latest single by The Police came on the radio. Shawn idly tapped his foot to the beat as he kept an eye on the parking lot and the motel’s office door.

 

He wanted her to return, of course. He needed her to rent the room so he could use the pool, and though loath to admit it, might need her help to get out of the damned car. She might be useful beyond that too. If she had information about the sniper, or was even somehow connected to him, he needed to know.

 

There was no other reason.

 

Of course not, so he told himself.

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