Chapter One

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            My heart stops.

The nightmare plays out in the wet and muddy street, air filling with the sickening noises of bones breaking, flesh striking flesh, horrible, nasty words uttered in gravelly voices. Yes yes yes it’s happening again. Ryan, curled up like a potato bug. Ryan screaming as his spine is broken. The skies opening up and drowning us both, Ryan gasping for air.

            I blink the memory away, and it’s no longer Ryan. It’s someone else entirely. Government soldiers aim their steel-toed boots at the man’s stomach, his head, his back. I have two choices: slink away, or try to get them to stop.

            Because that worked so well the last time.

            Except last time I wasn’t prepared. Last time I held my ideals and hopes and prayers out for anyone to take.

            I need a distraction. Something fiery. Something like the Molotov cocktails Ismael thought to store in a crevice in the wall. Smart man, Ismael. Thinking our corner of Sarajevo might be one of the next neighborhoods to fall. Hopefully the fuse hasn’t gotten wet.

            Where’d he put the lighter?

            Fire licks up the rag, forcing me to throw the bottle before I have a chance to rethink my decision. It lands away from the group in the street. Flames dance over the gasoline puddled on the cement, inching closer to the car I’d aimed for. I’m sure Mrs. Vukic won’t care about losing it. The fuel rationing has become so extreme almost no one can afford it any longer.

            A whoosh, a second of suspended silence, and the gas tank catches fire. I cover my head and brace for the explosion. Metal and rubber shrapnel litter the street, and just as I’d hoped, the soldiers abandon their victim and draw their weapons, fanning out across the street, searching for the culprit.

My alley is merely a crack between buildings. Skinny enough it will go unnoticed, and perfect for hiding in. The soldiers have spread out around the car, heads down against the encroaching smoke. Which means I have very little time, and no plan for getting the injured man out of the middle of the street.

Fuck. I should have walked away. I should have pretended I didn’t see a thing.

I can’t let him die out there. Not like Ryan.

Curled up as he is, I can’t judge his height, if he’s slim or muscled, still conscious or a dead weight. Fire crackles and sends black smoke spewing into the air. It’s disgusting, a thick, nauseating cloud that wants to settle in my chest. Before long it’ll make visibility nil.

I’m running out of time. If I’m going to continue to play hero, I have to move. Now.

I can’t.

I have to.

Darting forward, I keep an eye on the soldiers, or what I can see of them. The smoke’s doing a decent job of creating chaos in addition to a distraction.

His hair is black. At least, it looks black. Broad shoulders. His jaw looks intact, but his nose is definitely broken. One arm is cradled to his chest. Two fingers are out of joint. His coat is torn and bloody and covered in mud.

His jeans are in slightly better shape than his coat, and I can’t tell if there’s any damage to his legs.

His moan of pain is followed by a jerk of his leg, but his eyes remain shut as I feel my way down his thigh, over his knee, along his shin. The moan comes again as I prod his shin. Possible break. Great. Outstanding. He has the use of one leg. Maybe. Leaving him here is starting to sound like a much better idea. Save my own ass.

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