As soon as I’m free, he pulls me to my feet and wraps his arms around me, holding me tightly against him. I can feel the fine trembling in his powerful body, and then he releases me, taking half a step back. Framing my face with his palms, he looks down at me, his blue gaze hard and fiercely possessive. A moment of wordless communication passes between us, and I know. I know what he can’t say right now.
I know he would always come for me.
I know he would kill for me.
I know he would die for me.
Lowering his arms, he takes my hand. “Let’s go,” he says quietly, still looking at me. “We don’t have much time.”
I grip his hand tightly, letting him lead me toward the darkened area near the wall on the opposite side of where the men are sleeping. The maze of shelves and boxes in the middle of the warehouse quickly hides us from their view, and Julian stops there, crouching down again and letting go of my palm. I hear a fumbling sound, like his hand is searching for something along the floor, and then there is a quiet creak as he lifts a board off the floor and places it to the side.
On the floor in front of us is a large square opening.
I kneel down beside it, peering into the darkness below.
“Climb down,” Julian whispers in my ear, putting his hand on my knee and squeezing it lightly. The familiar touch calms me a bit. “There is a ladder.”
I swallow, reaching out with my hand to find said ladder. How does he know this?
“I hacked into their computer and found the blueprints of this building,” he explains quietly, as though reading my mind. “There is a storage area below that has a drainpipe leading outside. Find it and crawl through it.” His hand leaves my knee, and I feel bereft without his touch, the danger of our situation hitting me again.
My fingers touch the metal ladder, and I grab it, maneuvering myself toward it. Julian holds my arm as I find my footing and cautiously begin to descend. It’s pitch-black down there, and under normal circumstances, I would be hesitant to go into an unknown basement, but there’s nothing more frightening to me right now than the men we’re escaping from.
I climb down a few rungs, then look up, seeing Julian still sitting there. The expression on his face is tense and alert, like he’s listening for something.
And then I hear it—a murmur of voices, followed by shouts in Arabic.
My absence had been discovered.
Julian rises to his feet with one smooth motion and looks down at me, his hands gripping the machine gun. “Go,” he orders, his voice low and hard. “Now, Nora. Get to the drainpipe and outside. I’ll hold them back.”
“What? No!” I stare at him in horrified shock. “Come with me—”
He gives me a furious glare. “Go,” he hisses. “Now, or we’re both dead. I can’t worry about you and fight them off.”
I hesitate for a second, feeling torn. I don’t want to leave him behind, but I don’t want to stand in his way either. “I love you,” I say quietly, looking up at him, and see a quick flash of white teeth in response.
“Go, baby,” he says, his tone much softer now. “I’ll be with you soon.”
My heart aching, I do as he says, climbing down the ladder as quickly as I can. The shouts are growing louder, and I know the men are searching the warehouse, starting with the maze in the middle. It’s only a matter of time before they get to the darkened area along this wall. My entire body is shaking with a combination of nerves and adrenaline, and I focus on not falling as I descend further into the darkness.
Rat-tat-tat! The burst of gunfire above startles me, and I climb down even faster, my breathing hard and erratic. As soon as my feet touch the floor, I stretch out my hands in front of me and begin to grope in the darkness, searching for the wall with the drain pipe.
More gunfire. Yells. Screams. My heart is pounding so hard, it sounds like a drum in my ears.
Something squeaks underneath my feet, and tiny paws run over my bare toes. I ignore it, frantically searching for that drainpipe. Rats are nothing to me right now. Somewhere up there, Julian is in mortal danger. I don’t know if he’s by himself or if he brought reinforcements, but the thought of him being hurt or killed is so agonizing that I can’t focus on it now. Not if I want to survive.
My hands touch the wall, but I can’t find an opening. It’s too dark. Panting, I make my way along the wall, sweeping my hands up and down the smooth surface. My stitches ache, but I barely register the pain. I need to find a way out. If they catch me again, I will not survive for long.
Another burst of gunfire, followed by more yells.
I continue searching, my terror and frustration growing with every moment. Julian. Julian is up there. I try not to think about it, but I can’t. There’s nothing I can do to help him; logically, I know that. I’m barefoot and dressed in a hospital gown, without so much as a fork to defend myself with. In the meantime, he’s armed to the teeth and wearing a bulletproof vest.
Of course, logic has nothing to do with the agonizing fear I feel at the thought of losing him.
He will survive, I tell myself as I continue looking for the drainpipe. Julian knows what he’s doing. This is his world, his area of expertise. This is the part of his life he was shielding me from on the island.
My hands touch something hard on the wall near my knees and then sink into the opening.
There is another high-pitched squeak, and something scrambles out of the pipe toward me. I jump back, startled, but then I get on all fours and determinedly crawl inside, steeling myself for more potential rodent encounters.