by Doc ()
"Uh oh, buddy, we've got a problem."
Grant glanced up, the undisguised fear behind Max's banal words singing along his nerve endings. They'd been in so many tough situations, beating the odds again and again. Grant knew when Max was confident they'd find a way out. He also knew when Max was covering his own uncertainty. "What's up?"
The SUV skidded into a turn, tires barely holding the road. In the backseat, Grant cradled an unconscious Shannon as he braced his knees against the door.
Max jerked the wheel back to center and accelerated. "They've sent in the cavalry. We've got a couple of tagalongs behind us."
Looping one arm around Shannon's limp form, Grant twisted backward, staring out the wide back window. Two black SUVs, twins to the one Max had appropriated only 5 minutes before, raced along the road, gaining furiously. "Why are they catching up so fast?"
Max shook his head, concentrating on the road. Pouring on the gas as the vehicle straightened out, he winced at the clattering from under the hood. "I think that's why."
Though her eyes remained closed, Shannon moved slightly in Grant's arms, apparently protesting his tight embrace. He shifted on the hard bench seat, pulling her closer to his chest, and looked down at her, concern flooding his features. He slid his hand around her wrist, lips counting soundlessly. "Her heart rate's up, Max, and she's still out of it."
The blond Australian glanced at his teammates in the rearview mirror. "I know, I know." He swerved around a boulder in the road, swearing as the vehicle slewed from side to side. "Did you get Nicolas yet?"
Grant smoothed Shannon's hair back from her face, frowning at the dark circles around her eyes and the hollows of her cheeks. "Nope. I think this canyon's blocking reception."
"Yeah, or maybe our friends have scrambling equipment." Max thought briefly about the forest of antennae poking up from the roofs of the compound where Shannon had been held. "Come on, baby," he urged the SUV, holding his foot to the floor.
They swung into a tight turn, angling up the steep wall of the ancient river bed. Behind them, the black vehicles fell back, merely pacing the operative's stolen car. Grant stared at them, eyebrows drawing together in confusion. "What are they--?"
An enormous helicopter rose out of the canyon, blades clawing at the dry air. A man sat in the open door, cradling a sniper rifle in his lap. As the bird swung broadside, he raised it to his shoulder.
Max screamed again. "GET DOWN!" The muffled sound of the shot coincided with the window shattering next to Max's head. He threw up his left arm, protecting his eyes. The rifle bucked again, and Max grunted in momentary pain and then slumped to the right, the steering wheel spinning uselessly.
In the back seat, Grant locked his arms around Shannon, dropping them both to the floor of the SUV. He felt the front wheels leave the road, heard the spray of gravel kicking up behind them and then...nothing as they flew off into empty air.