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Stopping her vehicle on the flooded county road, Britt Davis knew she'd made a big mistake. Sheets of rain slashed at the windshield like an enraged warrior. Lightning lit up the sky and thunder rumbled with a dire foreboding. The wipers swished back and forth in frenetic motion, trying to ward off the blowsto no avail. The torrential downpour was winning the battle.
She peered over the steering wheel, searching for the road through the fury of the storm. All she could see was water and more water. The worn blacktop was fast becoming a lake. Fear clutched her throat and she flexed her clammy hands, gripping the wheel. Brushy Creek, known for flooding out of its banks, wasn't far away, and she had to be careful.
The shortcut to Taylor, Texas, from Austin seemed like a good idea thirty minutes ago. She had to get to her son. That was the only reason she was out in this storm. It had been four days since she'd held him, hugged him. Glancing at the papers lying on the passenger seat of her Camry, she knew she had to reach her baby as soon as possible. Her ex-husband had filed for temporary custody of their nine-month-old son, Dillon, on the grounds that he was the better parent, since her job as an international flight attendant took her away from their child for long periods of time. Bastard!
Phil had been looking for a way to get back at her for divorcing him, and he'd found it. The only way to hurt her was through Dillon. She'd been served with the papers as she'd reached her apartment after a flight from Paris. Her mother, who lived in Taylor, kept Dillon while she worked.
Britt clenched her hands into fists. "Damn." Phil would not take her child.
Darkness fell like a heavy cloak as the October storm raged around her. Now her visibility was zilch as the warrior continued his assault. Rain pounded the car with a deafening sound. The headlights showed a watery path in front of her. She'd wait it out. That was all she could do.
Grabbing her purse, she reached for her cell to call her mother. She wanted to hear Dillon's silly giggles. She missed him so much. No signal. Her spirits sank lower. She needed to hear a friendly voice. Her head shot up as she felt the car move. It couldn't! She was imagining things. She peered through the swipe of wipers and saw the water on the road was rising. The wind whipped it fiercely against the car. Was she closer to Brushy Creek than she'd thought? Could ?
The thought froze in her mind as the car inched sideways, the wind and the water playing with it like a piece of flotsam. This wasn't her imagination. OhmyGod! No! No! This couldn't be happening. Another gust of wind and the car was swept into the rising waters. She screamed. But nothing stopped the nightmare. Her vehicle kept moving swiftly. She had to get out. She had to get out of the car! If she didn't, it would be her grave.
Frantically, she undid her seat belt and reached for the window button. It went down with a swoosh. Rain pelted her and water sprayed in. She screamed again, but sanity ruled. She had to keep her wits. As the car filled she fought against the splashing surge and pulled herself through the window, fighting to hold her breath, fighting for her life. The strong current took her slight frame and she struggled to keep her head up, to breathe. She had to stay alivefor Dillon.
The roar of the water filled her ears as its power swept her along. Her head went under and she swallowed putrid water, battling with everything in her to reach precious air. The current tossed her around like driftwood in the cold, dark night.
"Dillon," she called as her strength waned.
Suddenly her body hit an object and her frantic cry stopped. She was pinned against something. Gulping in air, she realized it was a log or part of a fallen tree. She wrapped both arms around the wet wood and tried to inch toward the bank, but the current kept pulling her back into the watery depths. Rain assaulted her eyes, blinding her. Plus it was so dark! How long could she keep up this battle? Terror gnawed at her heart and she shook, choking back a sob. The wind splashed murky slush against her face. As she grew weaker, hope of surviving seemed nil.
Giving in to nature wasn't in her plan, though. She did what she always did in a crisis. She prayed. Then she yelled at the top of her lungs, "Help! Someone please help me! Please!"
Her words mingled with the rain and the wind.
She weakened more and her arms slipped. No! She wouldn't give in. Wrapping herself tighter around the log, even though the bark cut into her skin, she kept yelling.
Quentin Ross was in a hurry to reach Austin. He had a date with Deidre, and she didn't like it when he was late. He'd spent the day with his sister's family in Horseshoe, Texas. It was his nephew's first birthday and no way would he miss that. Peyton was happy with her husband and their two kids. She'd been domesticated, something he thought he'd never see from his pampered, flamboyant sister. These days she was still a little over the top, but that was Peyton, and always would be. But she didn't need pampering anymore, except from her sheriff husband, her soul mate, the right man for her. Watching all that love and family togetherness made Quentin wonder why he was still single at thirty-five.
Because the right woman always seemed to be wrongwrong for him. Or maybe he chose the wrong women. His law career had been his top priority for years, but now he was feeling a pull for something else. His own family. He always had this feeling when he visited Peyton. Once he was back in the city, it would pass, he knew. There would be another case. Another person needing his help, and his focus would switch back to his career. Then there was Deidre
She'd sliced and diced his heart so much it was a wonder it was still beating. But once again he'd agreed to go out with herto talk. They rarely did much talking, though.
The rain was becoming intense and the strong wind tugged at his car. Damn! He should never have taken the shortcut to Texas 79, but he'd driven it many times before. Tonight, though, Mother Nature was bent on a rampage.
He reached Brushy Creek and saw that it was flooded out of its banks, the water swirling like a whirlpool. No way could he cross it. He'd have to turn around and find another way to Austin.
As he was backing up, his headlights flashed across the swollen creek. Something bobbed in the water. What the hell? Was that a car? The driving rain kept him from seeing clearly, but it looked like the top of a sedan. Was someone in trouble?
He maneuvered his vehicle so his headlights pointed down the creek. Then he saw itsomeone clinging to a log. Someone who needed help. He tried his cell, but the signal was weak. Without another thought, he opened his door and stepped out into the night. He was soaked to the skin in seconds, but didn't have time to think about himself. The person in the water needed help. Having been on the swim team in high school and college, he was a strong swimmer. He kicked off his shoes and dived in.
The cool water hit him like an electric shock, stealing his breath. It took a moment for him to get his bearings. The raging water bubbled around him and he tried floating with the current. But it was fierce, taking him quickly. He struggled to reach the person.
"Help me, please." The voice was faint. It sounded like a woman's.
"Hold on," he shouted, rain filling his mouth. He spit it out.
Finally he reached the log and grabbed on to the end, striving to keep his balance. From the way it wobbled he knew it was about to lose its anchor and drift downstream. "Don't let go," he yelled, inching toward the clinging figure while fighting the current. Coming up behind her, he placed his hands on the log next to hers, keeping her between his arms. At that moment, the log snapped. The flood took it for a ride, and them along with it.
"Don't let go," he said into her left ear, holding her close just in case she did.
"Shh." He tried to calm her. "Just hang on. The log will stop soon."
The rain continued its brutal barrage and the flood-waters churned around them, along with the debris. Just when it seemed they were going to be washed away, the log caught on another fallen tree and stopped. Quinn knew he had to get her out of the creek now. Fighting the force of the wind and the rain, he urged her along the log.
When his feet touched the muddy bottom, he grabbed her around the waist and made for the shore, which was still about forty feet away. The water lapped at them, determined not to let go.
"Try to stand," he suggested.
"Oh, yes, I can touch the bottom," she replied, her voice excited.
"Don't stop. Keep going. We have to make it out of here."
They slogged through the mud and the water, trying to reach safety. At one point a monstrous wave caught her and she went down, flopping wildly. He snagged her and literally dragged her to the bank.
They lay in the mud, exhausted, the rain beating a steady tattoo on their backs. Then Quinn pushed himself up. "Can you stand?"
Without a word she staggered to her feet and followed him to higher ground.
"We have to go farther," he said raggedly. He couldn't see a foot in front of his face and had no idea what was out there. He just knew it was safer than the water.
Leading the way, he guided them into thick woods, into the darkness, into the unknown. Big trees with entwined branches lessened the stinging rain. He fell down beneath one. She huddled beside him as the storm raged on.
"Thank you," Britt said when she could catch her breath. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come along."
"What happened?" he asked, and she liked his voice strong yet soothing, with a husky undertone.
"I was trying to reach Taylor and I couldn't see for the heavy downpour. I guess I was closer to Brushy Creek than I thought. The water just "
"just took my car." She couldn't stop the tremor in her voice.
"Are you okay? "
"I don't know. I feel as if I've been used as a punching bag." She wiped at her face. "Is it ever going to stop?"
"Eventually. Try to rest, and we'll walk to safety when it's daylight."
Rest? Was he kidding? She was wet and muddy from head to toe and her nerves were tied into knots. She might never rest again. Might never close her eyes again. But something about his voice, compelling and confident, lulled her into a calmer state. She wondered if he had that effect on all women when they were scared to death.
Taking a long breath, she let the knots ease. She was safe. She would see Dillon soon. But the rain tap-tapping on her head prevented her from sleeping.
"Did your car stall in the water?" she asked.
"No," he replied. "I was on my way to Austin. When I reached Brushy Creek, I could see it was flooded, so I turned around. As I did, I saw your car bobbing in the water and you clinging to the log."
Britt leaned forward, trying to see his face in the darkness. "So you jumped in?"
"Yes," he answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
Without any thought for his own safety? His own life?
How many men would do that? She didn't think there were any heroes left, but evidently one had just saved her.
"That was very heroic and dangerous."
"Mmm." He moved restlessly against the tree. "I'm not a hero. I saw you needed help and I didn't think about anything else. Later, when I've had time to think about it, I'll probably question my sanity."
"Well, thank you. My name is Britt."
"Short for Brittany?"
"No. Just Britt."
"Mine's Quinn. Now let's try to rest. Hopefully someone will be looking for us by morning. My car is parked on the road and someone will spot it. We just have to wait."
She settled beside him once again. "I hate that my mother will be worried."
"Is that where you were going?"
"Maybe she'll think you're waiting out the storm."
"Maybe." Britt closed her eyes and once again forced herself to relax. She was alive and Dillon was safe with her mother. Tomorrow she would set about putting her life back together.
The wind howled and the rain fell. The forest around them was dark, sodden and frightening. But complete exhaustion obliterated any panic. Without conscious thought, she rested her head on Quinn's shoulder and drifted into sleep.
With a perfect stranger.
Britt woke up to a surreal feeling. She was wet, cold and disoriented. She hated nightmares, but this one felt so real. Her hand rested on something solid, hardand alive, judging by the steady thudding beneath her fingertips. She opened her eyes to an early dawn. A yellow glow bathed the deep woods. The ground was soaked, as was she and the man sitting beside her. Who ? The night came rushing back with vivid clarity. Dillon.
Her mother must be so worried. Luckily, Dillon was too young to know anything was amiss. Britt was alive.
And the stranger who'd saved her was sleeping beside her.
She raised her head and stared at him. His drenched hair was slicked back and she guessed when dry it was a shade of blond. His face was all angles, with a jutting chin covered with a growth of dark blond hairs that gave him a sensual look. Long legs stretched out into the leaves. He had to be at least six feet or more, with a whipcord body made for rescuing damsels in distress.
When God was putting together heroes, he'd made this one perfectbrave and strong, with looks and character. The kind of man a woman would want beside her in sickness and in health, in youth and old age, and all the ups and downs in between.
She must have a concussion, Britt thought, touching her soggy, tangled hair. She'd sworn off men a long time agothe day she'd come home and found her husband of six months doing drugs in their bedroom with a strange woman, naked. That had shattered all Britt's trust in men.
Why was she seeing such good qualities in this one? She didn't even know him. But what did she need to know? He'd risked his life to save hers. That was enough.