I tried to sit up, and Dominic surprised me by helping. I thought for sure that he would insist on me staying here while he went for Allison. But he had no idea where she was, so I had to go.
We reloaded the guns and headed back to the basement. To keep the door quiet, Dominic wrestled the dresser blocking it out just a bit. The small amount on one side was exponential on the other, and the door opened wide enough to slip through without any added noise from scraping furniture.
We moved slowly, Dominic following my lead. I crawled on the ground, putting much effort into avoiding my injured arm. The painkillers were beginning to kick in, and with the adrenaline pumping through my veins, I felt virtually no pain. Unless I leaned on the arm.
The two of us slipped behind the boulder on top of the hill with no problems. Once there, we rested. Dominic took the opportunity to scan the woods looking for more snipers. We had at least one more man to contend with, but I was betting on two or more. I didn’t think that Agent Bill Jennings would be the type to sit in a tree and wait. Besides, he had been in street clothes when he came to the cabin. While it was possible he had changed into camo, I didn’t think it was probable. He didn’t seem the type to do the dirty work, preferring to step in at the last minute, after his men took out the heavy hitters, so to speak.
Dominic came to sit on the leaves beside me. “How’re you doing?” he murmured, looking at my wound.
“I’m okay.” I waited till his gaze met my eyes. “I’m scared, Dominic. There’s at least one more sniper out there. And I’m betting that Jennings is waiting until he thinks it’s all clear before he comes.”
“I know. I was thinking the same thing.” His gaze moved out into the woods again.
“And what about Ritter?” I added. “If Jennings is working for him, then he know where we are. It’s obviously a set up.”
Dominic shook his head slightly. “I don’t think Ritter would get his hands dirty at all. He’s more of the bring-me-a-report type.”
I took a deep breath and blew it out. “Well, I need to get to my daughter. And then we all need to get the hell out of here.” I rolled onto my hands and knees again. “Let’s go.” Dominic fell in behind me.
It felt like it took decades, but we finally reached the bottom of the hill below the cave. We were crouched behind a thick bush. I needed to rest before attempting the climb. Looking up the incline, it was daunting. If it wasn’t for Allison hiding in the cave near the top, I knew I’d never be able to make that climb. But the love and willpower of a mother should never be underestimated. I would go willingly into Hell’s inferno to protect my little girl.
The crunch of leaves underfoot froze me in place. Dominic and I stared at each other. The green of his eyes was lit with fear. The footfalls were slow, calculated.
Dominic decided to take a chance, and lowered the .22 to peer through the dense shrub. Sniper, he mouthed. I brought my fingers to my ears as the rifle’s safety snicked off. Seconds later, the blast rocked the valley we huddled in.
Sitting back on his heels, Dominic released a heavy breath. He rested the rifle on the butt, and leaned it against his shoulder. His face held tension that aged his sculpted features a few years.
I laid my hand on his knee and squeezed. When he turned to me, his eyes were a hurricane of mental pain.
Dominic may have had a past twisted up with drugs and illegal firearms. He may have been involved in brutal fistfights when he was younger. But he had been young and stupid, caught up in the lucrative underground business and the power it could bestow. The few fights he had been in were the results of him being attacked by disgruntled underlings, and he never went over the line, doing only enough to defend himself. He never pursued a grudge.
Deep down, the man had a good heart. He loved people and went out of his way to help out his friends. Hell, all those years ago his instinct had ensured that he went to jail instead of me. When it came down to it, Dominic would put his own life on the line to save a stranger, so the fact that he’d shot and killed two men today was eating away at his soul.
I felt the torment from killing a man, too. But my circumstances were different. I was fighting for the life of my child. Only my own death would stop me from laying to rest those who intended to harm her. Knowing that the man I shot wouldn’t have hesitated to do his job, which obviously entailed killing all three of us, I had no regrets in taking his life.
Dominic leaned down, his lips against my ear. “That wasn’t Jennings,” he whispered.
I hung my head. We had at least one more person to contend with. One more person hiding out there in the woods with no way of knowing in what direction the danger lay.
I looked around slowly, scanning the terrain, the trees. Then, taking a fortifying breath I pushed to my feet and began the arduous trek up the steep incline. Only a few feet up, my arm started throbbing. My breathing became shallow and labored, and was sweating profusely. Using the trees scattered across the face of the hill, I pulled myself along with my right arm. My legs were burning, and my vision was beginning to haze, but I was nearing the top.
Once there, I collapsed on the ground panting, fighting to remain conscious. Dominic dropped on his knees beside me, pushing my hair from where it clung to my face and covered my eyes.
“Jesus, Ella. What the hell are you doing? You’re gonna kill yourself.” The words were harsh, but his tone was distraught.
“Allison.” It was all could get out. The exertion of talking required too much energy. I closed my eyes and tried to fight the blackness again.
Dominic’s hand patted my face. “Ella. Stay with me, Ella. I need you.” He turned my face to his when I opened my eyes. “I don’t know where Allison is. I need you to find her. Stay with me. For Allison.”
The concern and fear etched on his face confused me. Allison should be at school. It was the middle of the day. And what a beautiful day it was. Spring’s warmth was pushing through the last remaining tendrils of cold left by winter. The trees were covered in bright green buds where their new leaves would unfurl in a week or so. Birds were singing their songs as they returned to their summer homes or passed through on their way farther north.
Then I looked at the sky. It should’ve been bright blue, but I saw only a dark face surrounded by blinding white light. The rays spoked out from behind the man’s face like the light of Heaven behind an angel. Was he an angel?
Oh, my God. I thought. I’m dying. Who’s gonna take care of my baby?
I was vaguely aware of the angel calling my name. It seemed so distant. Like he was miles away instead of right there in front of me.
Everything started to fade. The world turned grey and gradually darkened to a black so dark terror instantly wrapped its cold fingers around my heart.
I must be dead. I mused. I’m dead, and the angel left me here. And there’s no one to care for Allison.