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The Texan’s eyes snapped open although there was no perceptible change in the inky blackness. Had he imagined it? Wishful thinking on his part? Then he realised that the girl was gently shaking him as if to rouse him from sleep. “You said someone would come,” she whispered. She sounded impressed. “Vin? Can you hear me? Talk to me, damnit!” Chris? “Here!” It was barely a croak. “Down here!” There was a moment of silence followed by a methodical shifting of the masonry above his head and he squinted as a shaft of light pierced the gloom, the bright glare of torch light shrinking his pupils to painful pinpoints. He raised a hand to cover his eyes. “Close your eyes, honey,” he warned, “Don’t open them till I tell you it’s okay.” “Is this a surprise?” she asked hesitantly. Tanner gave a short laugh, unable to suppress the broad grin that creased his face. “The best darn surprise you could wish for, darlin’.” The gap above his head widened and the glow behind his eyelids turned to bright red as light flooded into the small space. The voices were louder now, and between the unfamiliar accents of his rescuers he heard Ezra’s Southern accents as sweet and as clear as a bell. “Is he alright?” Peering through slits in his eyelids, the Texan looked up into a sea of faces. “Shoot, Ezra,” he croaked hoarsely, “Course I’m alright.” “Then, good gentlemen, might I suggest that we effect this man’s immediate emancipation?” Laughing he grasped the kitten in his hand and lifted the mewling feline to the full extent of his arm and into fresh air. “Couldn’t have put it better myself, Ezra. Now take this here critter and look after it, why don’t ya.” Willing hands took not only the kitten from his grasp but he felt movement on his right that signalled the imminent removal of the little girl and for a moment he felt a sense of absolute loss as she released him and he in turn surrendered his hold on her slight body, and then she was gone and he was suddenly alone. “Come on, pard. Reckon you’ve been lying down on the job long enough.” Chris face appeared above him and with a lopsided grin, the blond airman leaned down into the hole and clasped forearms with the still trapped bombardier. Vin sighed, tightly holding on to the other man’s muscular arm. No. Not alone.

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