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Black boots pounded on the country dirt road, kicking dust on its heels. The Kansas summer heat penetrated his skin but he couldn’t slow down. In the not-so-far distance behind him were vehicles struggling to trudge through the obstacles of rocks, pot holes, and washboard ground. The wheat fields danced all around him and the sound of an approaching train provided the rhythm. He continued his pace, not looking back, focused on the clanging of the warning bell and the alternating red lights. Dodging a barricade of overturned hay bales made him smile, knowing this would put a halt to the pursuers. Despite his aching legs and the downpour of sweat that ran down his face and soaked his skin, he couldn’t help but grin. He knows that the beautiful brunette that was in hot pursuit and yelling his name was cursing him.
Miss Parker and company bolted out of the town cars and ran after him. Her orders were that NO ONE shoots at him but her.
“JAROD! Stop or I’ll shoot!” She yelled at the top of her lungs, breathless. ‘Damn these heels,’ she cursed.
“That’s a pretty long shot, Parker.” Lyle mocked.
Miss Parker returned the mockery. “You question my ability?”
“So shoot him already,” Lyle challenged.
Miss Parker stopped, aimed her gun, and fired. They saw him buckle at the knees and victory reigned on their minds. Her heart throbbed in her chest, ‘Get up,’ she pleaded silently. They slowly made their way toward him, faint from the burning rays.
Jarod struggled but he got up, limping toward the railroad intersection.
“What the hell is he doing?” Lyle asked in disbelief.
“He-he won’t make it.” Broots voiced nervously.
Miss Parker froze, holding her breath. The train approached quickly, it’s horn echoing across the land like a raging bull, snorting, screeching, smoke billowing from the wheels. Jarod continued to limp, ignoring the pain on his leg. He just has to make it.
Miss Parker’s eyes began to glaze over and she began to sway as she watched the scene unfold before her. They were too far away to get to him, nothing to do but watch, helpless…….’Please stop, please stop, please stop….,’ the voice in her head chanted. The train blared for the last time and then blackness enveloped her.
The cool air soothed her. The humming of the car engine sang like a lullaby. The gentle stroking of her hair was hypnotizing. Then a picture behind her eyes made her jolt into consciousness. “Jarod!” she uttered in distress. The calm accented voice of Sydney eased the ache in her heart.
“Miss Parker, he made it. He got away,” he smiled, wanting to comfort her. He saw the relief in her eyes, but also pain and guilt. Sydney stroked her hair once more and helped her sit up.
“What happened, Syd?”
“You passed out. It’s a good thing Mr. Broots was quick on his feet,” Sydney explained, nodding at the gloating man in the front seat.“ Are you alright, Miss Parker?” Broots asked.
“He’ll never forgive me for shooting him.”
“You did what you had to do.”
Miss Parker looked around to get re-acquainted with the surroundings. “Where’s Lyle?” she asked in disgust.
“He left. When he saw Jarod drive off after the train has passed, he just left. He was not happy about the failure.”
“What a caring brother. You’d think he’d stick around to see if I’m fine,” she said sarcastically.
She looked out the window and stared at the train tracks that seemed to come alive by the mirage of the scathing heat. In the distance she could still see the dust that was evidence of his escape, or maybe it was just her eyes blurred by the tears that threatened to fall.
“He’ll forgive you, Parker.” Sydney reassured her again, knowing that this guilt will turn into anger for the man who made her go through the fear and embarrassment. Then it would be he who will need forgiveness.
Jarod drove to a friend’s ranch and pulled into the barn until the dust settled. He knows that Lyle and his goons won’t give up the chase. But he’s safe for now. He sank into his seat and breathe deeply, letting the sweat and grime run down his forehead. He ripped his pants to inspect his leg and was relieved it was just a flesh wound. “I can’t believe she shot me,” he said contemplating the situation. “It’s a damn good thing she’s a good shot and didn’t aim for the heart,” he said light-heartedly. He came to the conclusion to wait things out and keep his distance from her for a little while. He knows she’s probably upset at him for putting her through that scare, and also feels guilty for the hole in his leg. He mended his wound and laid his head on the back of the seat. “What I wouldn’t give for a nice cold shower,” he said tiredly. He sat up quickly and started up his jeep. “Alright, that’s a long enough wait.” The gleam in his eye and the grin on his lips lingered in anticipation of getting to his destination.
Just as he was about to put his Jeep in gear, he heard vehicles approaching. Jarod quickly shut off the engine and cautiously peered through a crack to see who was coming. He knew that his farmer friend was out of town for a few days and he doesn’t get too many visitors. Jarod cursed at the sight of a black car headed toward the farm. “Lyle, “ he gritted out. He needed to hide, but where? He tried to conceal the Jeep as best he could with tarp and hay.
The car screeched to a stop in front of the barn. “Look around!” Lyle ordered, “he’s here somewhere. I can feel it.”
Jarod looked around for a way of escape. He wished Miss Parker was around to shoot at him. He looked outside behind the barn, then he looked up above him, deciding on his only option. “So much for a nice bath,” he said grimly.
Lyle and company scanned the area with guns drawn, trying to spot the Pretender. Lyle came upon the Jeep in the barn and concluded Jarod has been there. Lyle felt the engine on the machine and it was still warm. He looked around, grinning evilly at the thought of capturing the prey. He looked up above the rafters and began emptying his gun, waiting for a body to fall off. When none came, Lyle cursed at his failure again. The other sweepers arrived at the scene upon hearing the gun shots. Lyle pushed passed them in anger. “Did you find him!?” he growled.
“No, Mr. Lyle.”
“He must have taken another vehicle, sir.” Lyle looked at the sweeper in disgust, degrading him for his stupidity in stating the obvious. They boarded their car again and left the premises, headed toward the small town where Miss Parker, Broots, and Sydney should be waiting.
Jarod emerged from his hiding place, thanking the pigs for not revealing his position. He wiped the mud from his face and head, grimacing at the feel of it on his skin--though he was somewhat thankful the mud had a cooling effect on him. But even as moments passed, he could feel the wet dirt begin to harden in the presence of the burning sun. He tried to slide stuff off of him as best he could before getting in his Jeep again and headed toward the town to claim his well-deserved shower, and hopefully in the company of a certain brunette.
Miss Parker looked out her hotel window to gaze at the street below--a street filled with kids playing in the fountain, people visiting with cold drinks in their hands, and parents trying to rescue melting ice cream from the hands of their little ones. She narrowed her eyes at a peculiar sight. A man was trying to avoid being seen, hiding between the buildings, slightly limping toward her hotel’s direction. She gasped when he looked up her way.
“A little surprise attack would be good for his ego,” she pondered as she headed down to meet him in an alley below. She also saw Lyle in the distance so she knew the man in the shadows will stay there since his only path is clearly visible to the Centre operative.
Jarod heaved a sigh of annoyance when he saw that Lyle has not disappeared. Just as he was about to turn around and walk away, a familiar voice made him stop and a chill went up his spine.
“Going somewhere?” Miss Parker asked triumphantly, pointing a gun at him. Jarod could feel the arrogance that emanated from her, even without looking at her.
“Well, hello Miss Parker.” Jarod responds as coolly as he can, turning around to face her. She made a distorted face at his appearance and backed away when she got a whiff of him.
After composing herself and getting back to the matter at hand, she stepped closer to him, “Are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way?” she asked slowly, a sultry voice to accent her request.
“Definitely the HARD way, ” Jarod responded, his eyes twinkling. Miss Parker widened her eyes, biting her lower lip, grinning with amusement.
After a few moments of silent seductions, their time was interrupted by a sinister chuckle.
“Good job, Parker,” Lyle sneered as he came out to the alley, his gun trained on Jarod. Miss Parker looked at Lyle in momentary annoyance, then she looked at the gun she had that was still pointed at Jarod, relieved she hadn’t dropped her guard.
Lyle advanced slowly toward the couple, glaring in confidence at the sight of the muddy Pretender, ignoring the presence of Miss Parker. She in turn, faced Lyle as if to guard her catch, but in her mind to protect him. She urged Lyle to come closer, daring him to take what belonged to her. Jarod watched the battle of words and body language from the siblings and silently thanked Miss Parker for playing into his scheme. Lyle shoved Jarod against the wall, knocking the air out of him. But with one swift move, Jarod grabbed Lyle’s gun from his hand, spun him around, and had his neck tightly enclosed, constricting Lyle’s breathing, with the gun pointed underneath his chin. Miss Parker stood there in anger, but understood what Jarod had to do.
“Very clever, Jarod,” Lyle choked out. “You know that Parker wouldn’t shoot me to get to you.”
“Don’t bet on it,” she bit out, but conceding he was right.
Jarod walked backwards, dragging Lyle along with him, threatening Miss Parker to stay where she was. Just before he was about to turn a corner to escape, he blew Miss Parker a kiss, winked at her, smashed Lyle into the wall to release him, and disappeared from sight. Lyle fell to the ground winded from the impact. Miss Parker hovered over him, not offering assistance, and waited for him to look up at her.
“You’re fine,” she said dryly, and walked away, leaving him on his knees.
Lyle managed to retrieve the phone from his pocket to contact the sweepers to go after Jarod. Miss Parker heard Lyle make the call and hurried her pace, making sure Lyle noticed she was going to lead the chase.
Jarod quickly made it back to his Jeep, chastising himself for not being able to control his desire for the leggy huntress. He sped away, only to be chased again by the unrelenting pursuers. He drew them out of town toward the Rattlesnake Creek Bridge--it was the only route out of civilization. If there was no oncoming vehicle, he can make it out safely and make his getaway. He neared the bridge and his heart stopped at the sight of a truck filled with yelling teenagers, on their way to a favorite swimming hole, claiming the right of way. Jarod swerved and his vehicle made an uncontrolled trip down to the river bed. Lyle and company scurried out of their cars and leaned out of the bridge frame. The truckload of youth also piled out and they all watched in horror as the Jeep plummeted down into the muddy river, immediately submerging. Miss Parker held her breath, finally letting it out when they saw Jarod’s head bob up from the surface. Lyle took out his gun and pointed it in Jarod’s direction. Miss Parker quickly pulled it down and threatened the sorry life of Mr. Lyle. “Are you insane?” she demanded, scolding his stupidity and heartlessness. “Put the damned gun away or I will throw you into your watery grave.” They saw Jarod struggle to get to the bank before getting engulfed by the protection of the thick brush.
Lyle slammed his fist on the rail and walked away, vowing to make someone pay. Jarod wins this round.
Miss Parker, Sydney, and Broots stood on the bridge for a little while, numb from the experience. Jarod is free, for now.
Tired from the day’s event, Miss Parker lay on her bed in the dark trying unsuccessfully to relax. She, Broots, and Sydney decided to stay at the hotel an extra night to keep their distance from Mr. Lyle. Lyle and the other sweepers headed back to Blue Cove, egos scarred by Jarod again.
Miss Parker felt a slight movement in the room and quickly, but silently, reached for her gun. “Make another move, Jarod, and I will shoot you…..again,” she hissed. She turned on the lamp and found Jarod frozen in mid-stride, his arms held up high above his head, his smugness and confidence vibrating in his features.
“I’m….” he began, only to be cut off by Miss Parker’s deadly glare.
Miss Parker put the gun away and stood up very slowly, keeping eye contact with the intruder. She circled him, communicating that she was in charge.“You put me through a lot today, Jarod,” she gritted out, aware of the tension that was rising in Jarod.
“What?!” He burst out confused.
“You heard me,” she announced, a touch of playfulness in her voice.
“What do you mean I put YOU through a lot? “ This time, Jarod couldn’t hold in the outburst. Miss Parker stood behind him smirking, triumphant to see Jarod lose his cool. “I was the one who got shot, by you, almost got ran over by a train, had to hide in pig slop, dodged bullets, got slammed into the wall, drive down a ravine, and almost drowned!” He turned around to face his accuser only to find her standing there calmly. He realized he just played right into her little game. She wins this round.
“Don’t you ever scare me like that again, Jarod. Because next time, I’m aiming for the heart,” she challenged, but her statement came with sincerity and concern.
“I just needed a shower,” Jarod pouted, bringing a smile to both. Jarod advanced toward Miss Parker, but she stopped him with her palm on his chest. The impact of her touch caused Jarod to shiver.
“Go, take your shower,” she ordered, “you look like hell and you don’t smell that much better.”
“Care to join me?”
“No thanks. Already had mine,” she said boredly, crawling under the covers, pretending to be at ease.
Jarod got out of the shower and all the lights were turned off. The only illumination was from a street light that peered through a curtain crack. He discarded the towel that wrapped around his waist and slid under the covers next the Miss Parker, whose back was to him. Jarod felt around and was pleased at what he found. He kissed the back of her neck and traveled down her spine. Miss Parker didn’t make a move, her body tingling with pleasure.
“You expecting something to happen, Parker?” Jarod asked, his hot breath on her skin igniting her senses.
“What are you talking about?” Miss Parker tried to sound annoyed, but failing to mask her breathlessness.
“You’re in bed naked with a naked man. I was just wondering what your intentions are,” Jarod managed to ask between his exploration of her body with his lips.
Miss Parker turned over to face him, the desire in his eyes mirrored the desire in hers. “My only intention is to hold you prisoner. You have a problem with that?”
They kissed with passion and hunger, their bodies, arms and limbs, entwining to create a perfect fitted form. The uncertainty of tomorrow doesn’t matter tonight. In each other they find refuge and trust.