Life is twisted. Cruel. After being ripped from the safe haven of Rafe's arms, my new kidnapper is waging a sick game. Unable to make my body do his bidding, he's resorting to psychological warfare. He'll bend my mind until I break, and when I do, that just might be my saving grace.
I'll forge through hell to get back to Rafe, body and spirit broken and bleeding, but I'm unprepared for what I find. He's done what I can't: he's erased eight years of pain and betrayal. I don't know how to bring him back to me, because bringing him back means ripping him to shreds all over again.
To my fellow lovers of the dark side.
Another drop of sweat crawled down my nose like a spider. In the stifling air of the trunk, I struggled to draw each breath. Perspiration pooled at my temples, irritating, flushing my cheeks with too much heat. I wiped the dampness on my sleeve. The vehicle swayed with the road, and I curled into a ball with a groan. At some point, the hum of the highway turned to gravel, then to a bumpy ride that rocked me back and forth. I shot an arm out to steady myself, and my belly protested the smothering heat and swerving motion. Chunks of what I’d eaten for dinner erupted from my mouth, souring the air. I scooted away so my cheek wouldn’t smear in it.
Bump, bump, sway. Oh God…taking in shallow breaths didn’t help. The air was too thick, and the overwhelming odor of vomit made me heave again, but my stomach had nothing left to purge. A few minutes later the car jerked to a stop and the engine shut off. The heavy thump-thump-thump of feet on gravel pounded through ears trained to recognize and dread that purposeful gait. When Zach lifted the lid, the black night engulfed him, yet I sensed the fury seeping from his being.
He grabbed my hair, angled my head back, and thrust a bottle against my lips. “Drink.”
My mouth resembled the consistency of sandpaper, so I didn’t hesitate. I clutched it, both hands covering his, and sucked down every last bit. Spent of energy, I dropped my head to the bed of the trunk, right into the expelled contents of my stomach.
“You’ve reached a new low, Lex. You’re lying in your own puke.” As I inched away from the vomit, he retreated a step. “Fuck. I’ve reached a new low. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! What the fuck am I supposed to do now? Everyone thinks you’re dead. I thought you were dead!” Hands yanking at his mussed up brown strands, he began to pace. His clothing clung to his body, as if still damp from the river.
Rafe’s face infiltrated my mind, and I blinked to hold back the hot sting of tears. Devastation pressed on my breastbone, coiling around me and tightening until I couldn’t move or speak. I tried shaking his image from my brain, but it stuck like tar.
I didn’t want to think or feel.
Doing either would crush me, and I couldn’t afford to break down. Not yet. I knew I would eventually, when I could no longer hold off the anguish strangling my wind pipe. When I had no choice but to confront the truth poking my insides with the burn of a hot fireplace poker.
Rafe was gone.
Zach muttered something indecipherable, pulling me from the dark place in my mind, and his agitated pacing continued. A bullfrog’s call joined in, croaking through the night with the finesse of a chain-smoker. Frogs meant water was nearby, right? I followed Zach’s movement, my heart racing even faster at the perceived threat. How close were we? I visualized jumping out and running…and falling in, just like I had the night I tried to flee the island. My limbs stiffened, and I scooted further into the depths of the trunk.
“It’s gonna be okay. Everything’s fine,” he said, more to himself than to me. He started to lower the lid.
“Wait!” I cried, a moment away from sobbing. “Where are you taking me?”
“Enjoy the ride.” A trace of malice tainted his sonorous tone.
The lid slammed down with a clunk, and the darkness suffocated me. The helplessness. Letting out a hiccupping mewl, I counted the seconds before Zach started up the engine. And I kept counting, as it was the only thing keeping me from totally unraveling as the car continued its winding path. After a while, I drifted in and out of consciousness. Or maybe it was a fog. I couldn’t say if I slept or not. Part of me latched onto the hope that this night was a bad dream. But hope was dangerous. Hope made you do stupid things, all in the name of trying for a better outcome that would never come to fruition. Accepting reality was harsher but best in the long run.
I’d been kidnapped. Twice. I’d survived the first time because my captor had harbored a sadistic streak and a conscience. My chances of getting through this were nada. Zach would never let me go. Not with the world believing I was dead. Not after he’d found me with…
Don’t think of him.
I squeezed my eyes shut, willed my mind blank. I must have fallen asleep because I awoke to Zach lugging me from the trunk. I fell to the ground and winced, rocks and dirt gouging my knees. He hefted me up by the back of my shirt, flung my aching body over his shoulder, and stalked toward a small cabin. I squinted against the morning gray, and the cool air on my face came as a relief after the confines of the trunk. Rolling slopes of timber enclosed us—a mixture of Douglas fir and pine. In the distance, the snowy peak of Mt. Hood offered a point of reference. But I found the utter quiet, interrupted only by the song of birds, especially unsettling. Besides the wildlife, not a hint of existence stirred beyond those trees.
“Home sweet home,” he said as he climbed the porch.
I cranked my neck as he ran a hand along the doorframe. He withdrew a key, steadied me with one hand, and used the other to shove it into the knob before kicking the door open. He stomped through the main room, dim in the dawning light barely peeking through the curtains.
“Put me down!” I kicked my feet and dug my nails into his strong back as he entered a bedroom.
“Stop it, Lex.” He yanked my sweats down, baring my bottom, and smacked my ass hard. “Don’t try to run,” he said, letting me slide to the floor in the adjacent bathroom. “You won’t get far. No one’s around for miles.”
As I jerked my pants up, my gaze lowered to his muddy sneakers, but he gripped my chin and forced my attention on his face. “You understand me? No one will hear your screams up here. Nobody knows we’re here, and the owner’s in Europe for the summer, so it’s just you and me.”