“Ugh.” Sam groaned against a stinging headache, and pressed her palms against her eyes. Drowsy, she turned over on her belly and buried her face in the pillow. The stinging smell of damp mold hit her nostrils.
Nausea turned her stomach. She jerked her head back and opened her eyes to look around. Shadowy darkness, broken by thin streaks of light. A dusty floor. Humid air. Where was she?
Brushing her hand through her hair, she lifted herself on her elbows. A rotten, yellowed mattress served as a bed, and an even filthier blanket covered her body. As her vision cleared, more details jumped out at her. Pieces of hay, wooden booths at the sides. A barn.
Oh God. She’d been at a forest bar, looking for a resistance contact. And then some bastard had drugged her, and carried her off. Her stomach clenched.
Drugged. What if he had…
She threw the blanket off. Some of the tension lifted from her chest. She was still wearing the same clothes she’d worn yesterday. No bruises or marks. At least he hadn’t raped her. Yet.
If he intended on such a thing, maybe it would have been better if it happened while she was unconscious. Wincing, Sam rolled off the mattress. Pain pierced her head. Foul tasting dryness filled her mouth. Water. She needed water. She looked around. There was no water here.
Okay, change in plan then. She needed to find a way out of here. If this was a barn, then it was on a farm, and farms usually had some water supply. She crawled over to the doors and pulled herself up on shaky legs. The world still spun, but maybe if she gave it a couple of minutes, she’d recover without water.
She tried opening the barn door. Locked. Of course. O’Neill—if that was his actual name—certainly wouldn’t leave her in an open barn.
She glanced at one of the windows covered in so much dirt the outside was barely recognizable. Her hands touched the metal bars set into the wood in front of the window frame. She tried shaking them lose with both hands. Nothing. Damn.
She hit her fist against the wall and rested her forehead against the metal. Then her gaze lifted to the hayloft. Most barns had an access door up there to shovel the hay out. Those doors were usually unlocked. Perfect.
She climbed up the ladder and crawled onto the second floor. Pieces of straw and hay stuck on her clothes and poked uncomfortably into her skin. A number of hay cubes blocked the way to the back wall, but it shouldn’t be hard to climb over them. She had to get behind them to reach the access door.
“Don’t waste your time. It’s sealed shut.”
Sam’s heart sank. Wincing, she turned to peek down from the hayloft. Jack O’Neill stood in the middle of the barn, his dark eyes twinkling, his hands buried in the pockets of his dark green khakis.
He was a good-looking guy. How hadn’t she noticed that the night before? Why on Earth did it matter? He’d drugged and abducted her. The previous night was no more than a blur. Bastard. He had seemed like an honorable person last night, but apparently she’d been wrong in that assessment. Better to be prepared for anything.
She sneaked a glance at the barn door. Open. O’Neill was still blocking it, though, so she needed to distract him first. “What do you want from me?”
He smirked and folded his arms, his gaze locking with hers. “Why don’t you come down here and we’ll talk.”
Sam’s eyes narrowed. Her gaze dropped to his hips. A knife at the right side of his belt, a gun at his left. Oh boy, the man didn’t even bother to hide his weapons. Yeah, she was definitely dealing with a criminal. Best case scenario he was a smuggler, worst case scenario, a murderer or slave trader.
“I don’t think so.” The barn spun again, and she sat back against the hay as nausea turned her stomach anew. “What did you put in my drink last night?”
“A highly concentrated dose of benzo-benzodia-something. I can never remember what it’s called.”
“Date-rape substance?” Sam’s eyes snapped open. Benzodiazepines. She’d read about the substance in an article. She’d also been warned that it was the drug of choice for slave traders due to its swift sedative effect. Alright, at least she knew what kind of criminal he was.
“It comes with psycho-active side effects. Very useful in interrogations.”
Interrogations. Right. “Well, if your plan was to rape me, you missed your chance.” She leaned forward and glared down at him. “And if you think I’ll earn you a lot of money on the slave market, you’ll be disappointed. I’ll resist. I’d rather die than surrender myself willingly to any—“
He sighed. “I am neither a rapist, nor a slave trader.”
Sam snorted. “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t take your word for that. You drugged and kidnapped me, neither of which can be considered a statement of friendliness.”
“If I wanted to rape you, I’d have done so already, don’t ya think?”
Sam studied him. How could he act so nonchalantly? And was that smugness in his voice?
“Besides, I’ve never needed date-rape drugs to get a woman I wanted.” An amused twinkle touched his eyes.
What in the…? She raised her eyebrows. Did he really have the audacity to joke in a moment like this?
“Overconfident much?” She brushed her hand through her hair to pull some of the hay out. “Certainly you didn’t go through all this trouble just to flirt with me. What do you want?” Another wave of nausea hit her, and she moaned.
“Come down here.” His voice hardened.
Okay, so now that his charms didn’t offered the desired effect, he was showing his true face. She’d expected something like that. “No.”
“Fine. What’s your name?”
“You drugged me to get my name?”
She started coughing, her throat scratchy. Water. Her body demanded fluids. “You can’t honestly expect me to believe that. I know I’m probably ‘just a woman’ in your eyes, but you gotta give me a bit more credit than that.”
“I said for starters.”
Sam risked another look down at him. He’d sat down on one of the hay bales. This was gonna take a while. Damn. “I need water. I really don’t feel good.” Why on Earth did she say that? Did she honestly believe that he cared for her well-being?
“Here.” O’Neill held out a small bottle of clear water. “You gotta come down, though.”
Now that was a surprise. She eyed the water, then his face, and considered her options. It wouldn’t do her any good to remain up in the hayloft until she passed out from either nausea or thirst. Her best option was to regain a clear mind.
“Fine, I’ll come down, if you promise to keep the knife and gun right where they are.”
He raised his eyebrows in something akin to appreciation. “Noticed those, did ya?” He held her gaze.
“You’re not concealing them very well.” Sam gave a sarcastic smile.
“Point taken. Now get down here.” When she still didn’t move, he sighed. “For crying out loud. I won’t harm you if you don’t try anything stupid. You have my word.”
Yeah, like she could trust him. Still, she really didn’t have a choice. Hesitantly, she climbed down the ladder and then turned to face him. He held the bottle of water out towards her.
Sam narrowed her eyes at him. “You didn’t drug it again, did you?”
“No.” His eyes twinkled. “But if I had, I also wouldn’t tell you, so that question is kinda pointless.”
“Right.” Could she trust him? If the water was drugged, she’d be out again for who knew how long. If it wasn’t… His expression remained blank. She had to take her chances.
She took the bottle and sat down on one of the milking stools, opposite where he was sitting, so she could keep an eye on him. Just in case. She opened the cap and lifted the bottle to her lips. Cold clear water ran down her throat. She’d never thought she’d appreciate something so basic. When the entire bottle was nearly empty, her headache faded away and strength returned to her muscles.
“So.” Jack pulled another stool close to the opposite wall and sat down. “What’s your name?”
She put the cap back on the bottle. Why did he want her name so badly? “Nina.”
He scrutinized her and his eyes darkened. “Nice try. I’ll give you another chance.”
Sam froze but lifted her chin. “It’s my name.” Dangerous game she was playing here. Maybe it’d be wiser not to provoke him.
“No, it isn’t.” O’Neill leaned forward to rest his elbows on his upper thighs. “Little hint. Next time you lie, try not looking so smug while doing it.”
Amusement dripped from his voice. Was he enjoying their banter?
Sam sighed. What harm would there be in telling him the name she’d gone by for the past couple of months? It wasn’t like he’d be able to do much with it. “Sam. My name’s Sam.”
“Sam.” Disbelief in his voice. So apparently he didn’t believe her if she lied, and he didn’t believe her if she was honest.
“Sam.” She repeated it and didn’t move a muscle as his gaze held hers.
“That’s a man’s name.”
“It’s my name.” Okay, this line of questioning was beginning to annoy her. Her eyes sneaked another glance over at the open barn door.
“Don’t even think about it, Sam.” Was she really that transparent? Damn, she’d have to work on that. She lifted her chin, but he seemed entirely unimpressed. “What’s your last name?”
“Carter.” She blurted it out and felt the blood drain from her face. Giving him her real last name had probably been stupid. Then again, Carter wasn’t a rare last name these days.
“Sam Carter.” He raked his hand through his hair. “Alright, it’s a start. Where do you come from, Sam?”
“Pacific Coast of North America.” She uncapped the bottle and drank the last sip of water.
“Little town,” she countered.
“Your dialect sounds more like an Aschen-dominated area or a bigger city.”
“My father was a salesman for farm machinery, so we traveled around a lot.” She had to remember that cover story in case it came up again.
“You still have family there?”
She rolled her eyes. “Is this an interrogation?”
“So far we’re just having a conversation.” O’Neill’s eyes blazed. “But if you wish, I can make it an interrogation. Things would become a lot less pleasant, and there’d be violence and hard feelings. So let me ask again. Do you have family?”
She considered defying him for a moment. No doubt he was being serious about interrogating her, though. As controlled as he appeared, something in his eyes told her he’d have no problem hurting, or even killing her.
“No family.” Hopefully he wouldn’t see through that lie. The last thing she needed was some kind of criminal blackmailing her father for money in exchange for her. Something like that would completely subvert her efforts to prove she could take care of herself.
“What were you doing at the bar last night?”
“Getting a drink.” She flashed him a sardonic smile. He smirked. In a very dark, dangerous way that shot like a warm jolt through her.
“Funny. Answer the question.”
“As I told you last night, that’s none of your business.” She folded her arms. Slowly, he got up from the chair. Sam held his gaze, her jaw clenched. “You don’t scare me. If you want to kill me, fine, go ahead.” What the hell was she doing?
O’Neill looked dumbfounded. Then his eyes flared. “There are worse things to do to a woman than killing her.”
A chill ran down her back. He’d likely have no problem raping her, killing her and then burying her in some field where nobody would ever find her again. Oh God. Live today, fight tomorrow. Maybe, for the moment it’d be better to cooperate.
“I wanted to meet somebody from the resistance.”
“Who did you wanna meet?” His hands fisted at his sides.
Sam’s body tightened. She was prepared to run for the door should he make one wrong move. “I don’t know.”
“You wanted to meet someone and you don’t even know who?” He stood unmoving but his height and relentless demeanor intimidated her.
“I just heard from somebody that I could meet someone from the resistance Thursday night at that bar.”
“Who told you?”
“I don’t know who they were.”
“They?” Jack O’Neill seemed visibly unsettled by her revelation.
Sam jumped up when he crossed the distance between them. She pressed herself against the wall behind her as he stepped into her personal space.
“Okay, I lied,” she blurted out. “Nobody told me. I overheard two arms dealers talking about the resistance at the ‘Blue Leprechaun’. They said a resistance contact would be in the ‘Forest Elf’ bar on Thursday, so I figured I’d try finding that person.”
“For crying out loud.” O’Neill rested his palm against the wall next to her head, his gaze fixating on her face. “Why did you lie?”
“I—I don’t know. I thought it would sound less amateurish if I said somebody told me.” Maybe the bar owner had been right, she was in way over her head. She should never have made that trip to the Forest Elf bar.
His gaze bored into hers, and Sam averted her eyes lest he see the emotions there.
O’Neill eased up slightly. “The resistance is just a rumor.”
She scoffed. “Why don’t you let me go, and we can both go our separate ways? I can chase after the rumor and you can do… whatever it is you do.”
His face softened. “Why the resistance? You an arms dealer?”
“No.” Sam shook her head with a sigh. “Nothing like that.”
“Any other criminal activities you’re involved in? Dealing in stolen goods? Smuggling?”
Her jaw dropped. Damn, she had to give a more intimidating impression than she’d thought if he considered her capable of those crimes. “You really think I am a criminal?”
He chuckled. “No, actually I don’t. Though for some reason you play tough and try to evoke the impression you are one.” Sam froze when his breath washed warm down her neck. “Don’t do that, unless you know who you’re dealing with.” His scent permeated her senses, making her dizzy. He smelled different, intriguing. Something happened inside of her that she couldn’t pinpoint and her breathing quickened.
“What could you possibly want from the resistance that you’d risk getting abducted by slave traders?” His breath mingled with hers. “You do realize that’s what most of these guys last night were, don’t ya?”
Okay, she had not known that. “You aren’t?”
“No.” His gaze dropped to her lips.
Her heart pounded, and she pressed herself harder against the wall. “Don’t even think about it.”
“I’ve seen that expression before.”
He studied her thoughtfully. “Are you an Aschen spy?” His hand slammed against the wall next to her shoulder.
She jumped at the unexpected outburst. “No. I’m not a spy.”
After a long moment of staring at her, his gaze softened. “Then what do you want from the resistance?”
Sam trembled and pressed herself firmly against the wall again, as though somehow by force of will she could disappear into it. If only. “I want to join.”
He studied her face, and Sam turned her head away, her breath coming hard and fast.
“Do you?” He removed his hand and took a step back.
Sam exhaled and looked at him cautiously. A thought occurred to her. He was so close to her, it would take only one distinct move to steal either his gun or his knife. She knew how to handle knives. Mark and David had taught her when she was a teen.
Before she could talk herself out of it, she pushed against O’Neill’s chest, used her left hand to grab the knife at his side, and spun. He tumbled backwards. Sam raced to the open barn door, ignoring his muttered curse behind her.
Once outside, she slammed the heavy barn door shut behind her and looked at the ground for the lock. Damn, he must have taken it inside. She turned around and raced across what appeared to be a small farm. Chickens clucked angrily and scattered in all directions as she crossed their path.
Her heart sank. Nothing but farmland surrounded her. She had absolutely no idea where she was.
She spun around and saw that O’Neill had left the barn. Crap. He was following her. She ran across a dirty path leading to the biggest building. One of the fields would provide her with good cover for now. There had to be another farmhouse or town somewhere close by, where she’d find help.
As she reached the backyard of the farmhouse, she came to a dead stop. A huge fence, apparently designed to keep farm animals from running off into the fields, blocked her way. What now?
She looked around. A dead end. Who the hell build a fence around their backyard without at least a gate leading outside? She ducked behind a small staircase that led into the back of the house and waited.
Footsteps approached around the corner. She forced her breath to calm, her fingers closed around the hilt of the knife. If O’Neill found her, she’d have to be quick. Certainly he wouldn’t hesitate to make short shrift of her. She should have taken his gun. Opting for the knife had left her at a disadvantage. He would not even have to get close to her in order to neutralize her.
She waited. Waited some more.
After a few minutes, she peeked out from behind the staircase. No sign of the man. Where had he gone? Certainly, he’d seen her run behind the house. Given the fence, there was no way she could have escaped. So why hadn’t he searched more thoroughly?
Sam crawled out of her hiding spot and sneaked along the grass to the corner of the house. Still no sign of him. The chickens clucked peacefully again.
She scanned the surroundings before she continued on as quietly as possible. Reaching the corner, she looked over the large yard. Deserted. But on the other side was… Her heart raced.
A hovercraft. Just the vehicle she needed to get away from here. She’d be able to drive into the nearest town, as soon as she found out where exactly she was. At least it would give her an advantage.
Crossing the yard would be tricky. It offered no hiding places. For a few seconds she’d be completely exposed. A sitting duck. If she was fast enough, she should be able to make it, though.
Once she reached the vehicle, the rest should be a piece of cake. Bypassing the security mechanisms that prevented somebody from starting the ignition without a key wasn’t a problem. It shouldn’t take more than ten seconds.
After a last look around, she raced across the yard.
Once she reached the hovercraft, she exhaled and spun to scan the yard. No sign of O’Neill or anybody else. Fantastic.
She turned and took a step towards the vehicle—
Jack O’Neill stepped out from behind the hovercraft. Sam winced and closed her eyes. Damn, couldn’t anything go right today? She pulled out the knife.
“Get out of my way. I swear I’m gonna kill you.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Not like that, you aren’t.” Was the freaking bastard amused? Sam released a little growl. O’Neill chuckled. “Gotta say, I’m a bit disappointed. The hovercraft was such an obvious choice. I kinda expected something a bit more creative after the little knife number you pulled back there.”
“Let me go. I promise I won’t tell on you. No Aschen justice agents. I’ll just go about my business and you’ll never see me again.” She tried to keep her voice from shaking.
“Can’t do that.” He held out his hand. “Give me the knife, then we’ll talk.”
Sam glanced around to see if there was any way to reach the hovercraft, to get on it, start the engine and drive away without him reaching her first. Unlikely. She probably wouldn’t even reach the ignition before he got to her. So much for that plan.
Alright, then she’d at least make it as hard as possible for him to get a hold of her.
O’Neill took a step towards her, his hands raised in surrender. She stepped backwards. She sure as hell wouldn’t be fooled. “Sam. Calm down and give me the knife before you hurt yourself.”
Herself? She clenched her teeth and glared at him. Arrogant bastard. Did he really think that highly of himself, that he didn’t consider the possibility she’d hurt him before she hurt herself?
“What, so that you can kill me? I don’t think so.” Her head started pounding again. She hadn’t eaten anything since who knew how long, and her throat was still dry. Exhaustion began to catch up with her. She wouldn’t be able to keep this cat-and-mouse game up for much longer.
“I give you my word, I won’t harm you.” His gaze locked with hers, and his hand moved to the weapon at his side. “If it was my intention to kill you, I could just take this gun and shoot you.“
Crap. Her hands on the knife trembled. “Drop it! Hands up!”
He lifted his hands immediately, a concerned expression on his face. Why the hell did he do that? She was standing a few meters away from him. If he wanted to draw the gun, there’d be nothing she could do about it with her knife. Confused, she scanned his face.
“Calm down. All of this was a test. I had to see if you could be trusted. It’s over.”
A test? What kind of game was he playing? She took a few steps back, her gaze never leaving his. For all she knew he was just sweet-talking her. If he were a slave-trader, she’d be worth more alive than dead. Killing her certainly wasn’t in his best interest. “Just let me go.”
“You said you wanted to join the resistance.”
The back of her foot hit a small brick lying on the ground and she tumbled. Gasping, she tried to keep her balance, but fell over backwards. The knife slipped from her grasp. She tried to get a hold of it again, but sharp pain shot from her palm through her arm. She flinched.
Blood rushed in her ear. Stupid, stupid move. This was it, she knew it. He’d take advantage of her and probably kill her. And all because she’d been stupid enough not to look where she was going.
She twitched when his palm came to rest on her stomach. “Don’t kill me.”
“Oh for crying out loud. I’m not gonna kill you.” Concern flashed across his face as his gaze fell on her hand. “You’re hurt.”
“What do you care?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he grabbed her arm. Blood dripped from a long, deep gash in her palm. Damn, that looked really bad.
“C’mere.” He steadied her as she sat up. Then he pulled a cloth out of his back pocket to press it against the wound. “You should never try to grab a knife after you’ve lost control of it.” She winced as he patted her palm to clear the blood from the wound. Burning pain shot through her wrist. “You’ll need stitches, and it needs to be disinfected as soon as possible. Can you walk?”
Sam nodded and got up. Okay, now he certainly didn’t sound like a murderer or slave trader anymore. She followed him down the path to the main house.
Once they reached it, he opened the door. A large dark hallway led inside, and Sam hesitated. O’Neill opened the first door on the right. “Come in already. If I wanted to shoot you I’d have done it out there.”
“Maybe you just don’t want witnesses.” She entered a small farmhouse kitchen with an old stove, several shelves, and an old handcrafted table. Well, this was unexpected.
“You think chickens make for good witnesses?” He smirked as he opened one of the cupboards and put a bottle with a clear liquid on the table. “There’s no real medicine here, so this will have to suffice for now. It’s better than an infection.”
She looked at him blankly and sat down on one of the chairs. He went through the cabinets until he found a small glass. Then he poured some of the clear liquid into it and put it in front of her. “Drink up.”
“Trying to drug me again?”
“No. This is gonna hurt, so drink.”
Sam picked up the glass and took a sip. The liquid burned as it ran down her throat and she coughed, and then pushed the glass away from her. “This is disgust—“
Anything she had intended to say cut off when he poured a good amount of the clear liquid from the bottle over the wound on her hand. White flashed in front of her eyes. Her entire arm felt as though he were sticking a knife through it.
She screamed through gritted teeth, and wanted to pull her hand out of his firm hold. When he finally released her, her cheeks were wet from tears. Panting, she glared up at him. “A little warning next time would be nice.”
“Drink up.” He pushed the half-empty glass towards her with a glint in his eyes. “I’m gonna see if I can find some bandages.”
She looked down at the glass and pushed it away. Her hand trembled and whenever she moved it, stinging pain shot through it. Alcohol was a good disinfectant, he was right, but still. This burned like hell.
“If I’d given you a warning it would’ve been worse, believe me.” He went through a few drawers until he’d found what he was looking for. Bandages. Sam raised her eyebrows. Was he actually trying to help her?
Her gaze shot up to his as he sat down opposite her.
“What?” He cut some of the bandages off.
“Are you doing this so that I don’t lose my worth on the market?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. With your attitude, your value wouldn’t make up for the hassle.” Her mouth fell open and he chuckled. “Told you before, I’m not a slave trader.”
She hissed when he pressed a white piece of cloth against her palm and started rolling the bandage around her hand.
“I’m who you were looking for. I just had to make sure you were not an Aschen spy. And that you were suitable for our organization.”
He finished with her hand, and then got up to put the bandages back into the drawer. Sam ran her fingers over her bandaged palm and winced when her touch prompted a hollow pounding in her arm.
“So you’re resistance? Really?—Ouch!”
A stinging pain flared in her upper arm. Her head whipped around, and she stared at the syringe in O’Neill’s hand. He’d injected her with something. She wanted to pull away but he was holding her arm in a steel-like grip.
“Don’t. That’d be a bad idea.”
“What is that? What did you do?” A deep calm took possession of her almost instantly. The room started to spin.
“Sorry, but it’s protocol. I can’t take you to camp with me, unless you’re out cold. I’d have given you a warning, but I had a feeling you’d do something stupid, like trying to fight or run.”
“You drugged me again.” How idiotic had she been to trust this man. “You’re not resistance, are you? This was just a scam to get me to let my guard down. You son of a…”
She got up and stumbled to the door, but O’Neill caught up with her. His arms wrapped around her and she sank against his chest as her legs buckled. “I won’t hurt you, Sam. Trust me.”
Trust him. Dizziness. Nausea. Damn, and she’d just started to feel better. Resignation sank in, and keeping her eyelids open became too much of an effort.
Jack held the young woman’s body securely in his arms until she slumped against him. Then he lowered her to the floor. His gaze lingered on her face, and he brushed some of the wild strands of hair away from her eyes. She looked somewhat filthy with hay stuck to her clothes and in her short hair, but even with all the dirt, she was breathtaking. What a woman. Such a fighter.
Who was she? Where had she come from? A small town near the Pacific ocean, she’d said. Not that he believed her. For some reason she was lying. She was also no Aschen spy, so he’d let that go. Spies were trained professionals. She was clearly untrained, no matter how tough she wanted to appear.
Her resourcefulness, creativity, and courage were impressive. He’d seen adult men cave under less pressure. Despite the drugs, she’d been determined not to give in. Just the kind of personality they needed. She would make a promising addition to the resistance. A few months of boot camp training would make her an excellent fighter.
He studied her facial features. Dust and dirt covered her cheeks, and she wore men’s clothes. How rare to meet a woman who had brains and was self-sufficient. And he couldn’t get that honest smile she’d given him last night to thank him for the beer out of his mind.
This was dangerous territory. She was gonna be a recruit, a subordinate. His subordinate. He made it a policy not to get into personal affairs of any kind with recruits.
Aside from that, he was married to Jacob Carter’s daughter. Even though he’d never met the girl, he was determined to keep the marriage vow—at least until he’d meet her so they could talk about the details regarding their marriage.
He gathered the young woman up in his arms, and carried her outside to the hovercraft. Mrs. Donnell would probably have a heart attack if she saw he had interrogated a woman the same way he’d interrogate a male prospective recruit. No reason to upset the old lady when she’d so generously offered her farmhouse for resistance operations.
He placed Sam on the backseat and pulled a blanket over her to keep her warm as much as to hide her. Then he hurried back into the house to clean up and lock the door.
It was time to go home.