“You weren’t kidding about those mimosas.” Andi yawned behind her hand as we walked through Lincoln Park. I’d originally thought to take her to the zoo since she had that odd fascination with animals, but after seeing how tired she was, I decided to save it for another day.
“Well…” I held in my chuckle. “…when you have five of them…”
“I had three.” She held up four fingers.
“Good to know you’re just fine.” I laughed. “Should I carry you?”
“Probably.” She gave me a dopey grin. “But I think I can at least make it to the car.”
“It’s about a mile away.”
“Oh.” Her face fell.
“How about a piggyback ride?” I offered lamely, hating that a simple walk to the car was making her sad because she was so exhausted.
She stopped walking and crossed her arms. “Riding a cowboy was on the list.”
“I’m not following.”
“Talk to me in a southern accent, and I’ll imagine a cowboy hat on that gorgeous head of hair and boom… I’m riding a cowboy.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Andi, I have so many different scenarios that would fit perfectly with that statement. None of them, however, include me carrying you through the park while singing ‘Achy Breaky Heart.'”
“Oh good. You know it then?”
“I need to learn the art of silence.”
“Probably true.” She nodded.
“And teach it to you,” I added.
“Aw, come on cowboy…”
I rolled my eyes and turned around so she could jump onto my back. “Should I find a park bench, or can you actually jump this high?”
“Never ask a ninja if she can jump — it’s degrading.”
“My mistake. I thought you were a short Russian masquerading as a baker. Go ahead, ninja. Jump.”
She did, probably using the rest of the energy she had left. Her arms wrapped around my neck tightly. “Mush.”
“I thought I was a horse.”
“I changed my mind. Girls can do that on occasion.”
Damn, the girl made me smile. The afternoon sun was starting to set as we walked along the path. Andi was encouraging me to use a southern accent in her most Russian accent.
And I was trying to pay attention to our surroundings, just in case we’d somehow been followed.
I thought we were in the clear until we reached the edge of the park. I could see the street, and immediately regretted that simple fact the minute two black sedans pulled up to the curb.
Five men got out.
Two from the first car.
Three from the second.
Andi tensed behind me.
“Andi.” I kept my smile in place like there wasn’t anything wrong. “Got any energy left?”
“Enough.” She shuddered behind me.
“My gun,” I whispered. “It’s in the back of my pants. Reach between your legs and slide it up so nobody sees.”
“You know in any other situation…” she muttered as I felt the gun slide up my back.
“Good,” I encouraged. “The minute I put you down I want you to aim for the guy to the left. Don’t shoot for the head. Hit his kneecap so he goes down. If he reaches for his gun—”
“This isn’t my first rodeo, cowboy.”
“You’re right. I forget.”
“I’m good. Don’t worry about me.”
The tension left my body. “I won’t. Just don’t get shot. I hate having to sew up bullet wounds.”
“Please.” I could feel the energy riding off her body. “You owe me a massage if my body count’s higher.”
“So now it’s a competition?”
“Russians rarely lose.”
“Well, you should get used to it. Because this Italian’s going to hand you your ass.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
The men were trying to look nonchalant, outside their cars, smoking cigars like they weren’t waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack.
“One,” I whispered.
Andi slid farther down my back. “Two.”
“Three.” The word fell from my lips just as I ducked to the right. Andi went to my left and popped off two rounds directly into the guy’s kneecaps — not just one, but both of them. A crunching sound broke out across the park as he fell on bones, cracking them further. He wailed in pain and surprisingly didn’t reach for his gun.
Three of the men started charging me. Gun less, I could only rely on the fact that my fists were just as deadly as any gun could be, and I punched the first man in the throat then turned and elbowed the next. They stumbled back. Another gunshot went off. Andi was seriously picking them off like she was shooting fish in a bucket.
The three men turned their heads to glare at her. Then, rather than attacking, came at me again.
Surprised, I was knocked in the face by the first guy but sidestepped the next hit then landed a hard blow to his stomach followed by a knee to the groin. With a growl, I head-butted the next guy then punched him in the jaw; the sound of teeth breaking was my only indication that he’d be down for the count.
The final man circled me.
“Let me get him,” Andi pleaded behind me.
“He’s mine,” I barked.
The man shrugged and held up his hands. “You should let girl do your work.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Andi,” the man called, “why not come with us, huh? You’ve done job. Time to come home.”
“Job?” I repeated.
Andi came up beside me and aimed the gun for his forehead. “I’ve never worked for you.”
“Oh?” The man chuckled and glanced at me. “He knows as well as I know… you are never out.”
“Please let me pull the trigger.”
The man ran at us.
I ducked then heaved my body into his, sending him backward against the park bench. Punch after punch I landed to his face, his blood mixing with the slices breaking out on my knuckles.
The sound of sirens interrupted my blatant mutilation of his body.
“Serg…” Andi kicked me. “…gotta disappear.”
I backed up, chest heaving. “Right.”
With one last kick to his body, I grabbed her hand and ran like hell toward our car, our very easy-to-spot car.
I only have one word to describe Elude: Beautiful. Beautiful, graceful, awe-inspiring. Okay, three words.
Rachel Van Dyken tackles a delicate subject in a way I’ve yet to encounter in any book. Because let’s face it, facing one’s death is ugly and gut wrenching. But Andi was so beautiful, so optimistic, so completely Andi, that watching her go through her struggles inspired me. She is my hero and so much more than my favorite character in any book.
And Sergio. When forced to marry and protect a dying girl, he approaches it in true Sergio form and offers to kill her. Seriously. When she declines his kind offer, he marries her and vows to protect her with his life.
What ensues is a heartwarming story of humor, strength, loyalty, love, and triumph. But mostly life. Elude is about life, about living, about not just merely existing or breathing.
So when you read this book (and I say when because there should be no if), breathe it in, experience it, live it. Elude is a story that demands all three.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!
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