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Better him than Lana.

Caleb had him pinned to the wal, but the man was strong and managed to free his weapon enough to bring it up toward Caleb\'s head for a fatal shot.

Lana screamed. Grant shouted at her to get back. From his voice, Caleb could tel he was stil too far away to help unless Caleb could separate their bodies enough for him to get a clear shot.

Caleb hammered a fist into the man\'s side, rocking him, making him grunt in pain. The blow cost Caleb his precarious balance and opened him up for a solid punch to his face. As he toppled, he caught a hold of the man\'s weapon hand and puled him to the ground.

The man tried to rol out of it, but Caleb outweighed him and used brute force to hold him down. He locked a strong hand around Caleb\'s throat and squeezed. Caleb ignored everything but the gun. He couldn\'t risk a stray shot hitting Lana. The man gripped Caleb\'s throat harder. He couldn\'t pul in any air.

The pistol went off again, firing past Caleb\'s head into the air.

Lana screamed. She was stil too close.

Caleb felt his body giving out due to lack of oxygen. Bright spots were bursting over his field of vision. He wasn\'t going to last much longer. He had to get that weapon away before he passed out, or he was a dead man.

Caleb squeezed the hand around the weapon. Hard. Used every bit of his strength to crush the man\'s hand against the unyielding metal contours of the pistol.

The man screamed, his voice rising an octave in pain. Caleb felt bones snap.

A vicious kick landed along Caleb\'s back. The edges of Caleb\'s vision were fading to gray. He could hear Grant shouting at Lana to stay down. Hear his boots pounding nearer.

He figured he had another few seconds of consciousness at most and wiled Grant to hurry.

Weakness started to flow into him at an alarmingly fast pace. He turned the gun toward the man who had wanted to hurt Lana. Used his fury to keep him awake another second. Two.

Another bone cracked. A strangled noise rose up from the man beneath him. Caleb angled the weapon until the silencer was pressed against his enemy\'s flesh. He didn\'t know what part it was, because he was totaly blind now, but he guessed it was going to hurt, al the same.

The man gave a panicked grunt. Caleb found the trigger beneath the man\'s own finger. The gun gave a silenced bark and jerked in their hands.

Hot blood sprayed up over Caleb\'s face, and the man beneath him went limp.

Caleb hadn\'t realized he\'d blacked out until it was over and he was waking up again. It was the sound of Lana\'s frightened voice that got his attention. ’’Is he hurt?’’

’’He\'s okay,’’ he heard Grant say. ’’Both rounds hit his vest.’’

Caleb opened his eyes, a little shocked he could see again, breathe again. The first thing he saw was Lana\'s tearstained face. She was hovering over him, holding his hand.

’’God, you\'re beautiful,’’ he told her.

She laughed and new tears leaked out of her eyes. ’’You\'re awake.’’

’’Just needed a quick nap.’’ Talking hurt. Breathing wasn\'t much fun, either.

Caleb pushed himself up. That hurt, too, but he didn\'t think anything was broken. His shirt had been shoved up, and he could see two bruises forming over his ribs. The vest had stopped the bulets, thank God.

’’Asleep on the job again,’’ said Grant. ’’What a slacker.’’

’’I\'m a slacker? You\'re the one who took your sweet time lending a hand.’’

’’I figured you weren\'t interested in learning about friendly fire up close and personal. Besides, I didn\'t want to make you look bad in front of the lady.’’

Lana took his face between her palms. ’’How do you feel?’’

’’I\'l survive.’’ An ambulance puled into the lot, sirens blaring.

’’You\'d better,’’ said Grant. ’’Monroe said they\'ve located the other men Lana saw in Armenia. A chopper wil be here to pick us up in ten minutes. If you whine, he won\'t let you in on the fun of hunting them down.’’

Like hel. Caleb was going to finish this. End Lana\'s nightmare. And then he was coming back for her. Whatever it took.

Caleb had been gone six days, and Lana\'s life felt bleak without him. Barren.

She\'d chosen to go into protective custody in order to keep everyone else safe at least until the men she\'d seen had been found and brought to justice. Once the trials were over, she would go back to her regular life.

At least they\'d alowed her brief contact with her family via phone, so she was able to keep tabs on them. Let them know she was okay.

She tried to be happy about al the good things in her life. Kara had been kiled and could never hurt anyone again. The money from the carnival had been more than enough to put the youth center back in the black, and with al the press from the bomb scare, al kinds of donations were coming in. Stacie was up and about. She and her sister were taking a trip to Europe in the fal. Lana\'s parents were already working on plans to rebuild their house. Her mom was thriled to be able to pick carpet and wal colors al over again, especialy since their insurance was paying for everything. Her dad had already started designing his new gardens and a greenhouse he could use al year round.

Brittney broke off her engagement with Oran as soon as the embarrassing photos of him started popping up in the daily paper and on the news. Rumor was he\'d abandoned his political aspirations.

The papers depicted Lana as some kind of hero, which bothered her a lot. No matter how many times she told them that she was a coward and that she should have come forward sooner, people seemed to wave that part off as unimportant. Especialy her family.

Caleb was the real hero. He\'d disarmed the bomb, saved her from being shot, and was hunting down terrorists while she sat in her wel-guarded room, praying he was safe. Hoping he\'d come back. Not that she\'d given him much reason to. She\'d been painfuly clear that they had no future together. Why would he bother to come back?

If only she\'d said something anything to let him know how much she cared about him, how much she wanted him to come back to her. But she hadn\'t. He\'d stepped onto that helicopter, and al she could think to say was, ’’Good-bye.’’

She wished she\'d at least kissed him.

The late-night TV show she\'d been trying to watch was over, and she couldn\'t remember seeing any of it. Even though her nightmares were mostly gone, she stil didn\'t like going to sleep alone. She missed Caleb so much.

Loved him so much. It was easy to see that now that she was no longer consumed by fear. She finaly had room in her life to love, and she prayed it wasn\'t too late. As soon as it was safe, she was going to hunt him down and tel him how she felt. She only hoped he\'d have a better reaction than she had to the words.

A knock on the door made her jump. It was after midnight, and she wasn\'t expecting anyone. A kick of fear froze her in place. She knew she was safe, but al those months of terror had not yet let go of her completely.

Lana took a deep breath, forcing herself to relax. She was safe here. Only Monroe and his men knew where she was.

She opened the door, and Caleb stood there. He looked tired and dusty, like he\'d been dragged behind a truck for a couple of miles, but he was here. Alive.

Lana\'s heart squeezed, and she ran into his arms. He stumbled back under her impact, but he held on to her like he\'d never let go. Lana held him back just as hard.

’’You\'re safe,’’ she said against his shoulder.

Caleb kicked the door shut. There was an odd mix of fury and resignation in his tone. ’’And so are you now. It\'s over. For good this time. You can go home.’’

Lana understood what he meant. What he hadn\'t said. There wouldn\'t be any trial. Kara was dead, and now those men were, too. She didn\'t let herself dwel on why that was or how it had happened. She simply accepted that each and every one of them had deserved whatever fate they\'d met. That was justice enough for her.

’’You look worn-out,’’ she told him.

’’I am. Dirty, too. But I needed to see you. I didn\'t want to wait to tel you, you don\'t have to be afraid anymore.’’

That was her Caleb. Always the hero, thinking of others first.

Lana offered him a smile that came straight from her heart. She had no idea how to tel him how she felt. Al she could think to do was show him. ’’I\'m glad you didn\'t wait.

The shower is big enough for two.’’

A hot glow lit his eyes and highlighted his cheeks. ’’You\'re kiling me, woman.’’

’’No, I\'m loving you.’’

Caleb\'s body took on an unnatural stilness. ’’You mean that?’’


’’Then say it.’’ His tone was hard, unyielding.

Lana went up on her tiptoes and looked right into his dark eyes. She let him see every bit of hope and love and desire she felt for him, holding nothing back. She\'d never hold back from him again. ’’I. Love. You.’’

Caleb\'s big body shuddered at her words, and his arms crushed her against him. ’’I\'m not going to push you. I know you stil have a lot of things to deal with. But I\'m not going away, either.’’


’’Not a chance. I\'m taking that job David offered me so I have more time to spend with you.’’

Lana pressed a light kiss to his mouth, grateful that he was choosing a safer line of work. She wasn\'t sure how much more worry her poor heart could take. ’’How much time?’’

’’As much as you can stand. I want you in my life, Lana. Permanently. I\'l wait until you\'re ready for that kind of permanence, but you should know I\'l be waiting nearby.’’

’’How close?’’

’’As close as you\'l let me get.’’

That sounded wonderful. She could think of nothing she wanted more than to be with him without the taint of violence hovering over them. ’’I have the feeling you won\'t have to wait long.’’

’’No?’’ he asked, sounding hopeful.

’’No,’’ she replied. ’’Now let\'s get you out of those clothes and into the shower.’’

A hungry sound rumbled from Caleb\'s chest. ’’I\'m too tired for the kind of loving I want to give you.’’

Lana gave him a sultry smile ful of promise. ’’That\'s okay. It\'s my turn to take care of you for a change. I guarantee you\'l like it.’’

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