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Marie Beauclair focused on the narrow field of vision beneath the blindfold. Not a big room, low ceiling, high, narrow window. The air was cave cold, not the result of air-conditioning. It chilled her all over.
The first thing she'd realized when she'd come to was that she was nearly naked. Her wrists and ankles were tied with cord, and she lay on a cot that smelled musty. Her next stage of awareness was absolute fury. She was mad as hell at the jerk who had done this and almost as mad at herself for letting him. How had it happened?
She couldn't remember a thing after coming home from work on Monday, changing out of her work clothes, pulling on a tank top and going to the fridge for a glass of orange juice. Nothing else, not even falling as she passed out. Drugged, of course, with something really fast acting. Then she dimly recalled someone lifting her head, urging her to drink more. How long had she been here, and how many times had she drank the stuff?
Her head wasn't clear even now, but she was conscious and thinking. Deep breathing helped shake off the lethargy. She flexed her muscles and stretched her neck as best she could to work out the kinks. Her stomach rumbled, and her mouth felt as dry as dust.
Marie listened to the rising voice in the next room, a one-sided conversation in accented Dutch, obviously a phone call. She recorded the content, storing each word as she tried to work her wrists out of the cord that bound her.
Essentially he was discussing where he should dump her if the ransom wasn't paid. And it wouldn't be; Marie knew that much. This had to be the Embassy Kidnapper, and his demand was exorbitant.
She couldn't liehere and wait for a rescue that might not happen.
When the voice stopped, so did she, knowing it was imperative that she remain motionless except for slow, even breathing and feign unconsciousness. If he knew she was awake, he'dhave to deal with her. She was pretty sure who had grabbed her and what the end result would be.
The door creaked open and she sensed him approach. He poked her sharply in the ribs. She didn't react. He checked her bonds, grunted with satisfaction, then paused as he turned to leave, as if he were thinking about what to do next.
Through the crack in the blindfold, Marie caught a good view of his profiledark complexion, black hair and full lips. She glimpsed a raised scar on the back of his wrist when he raked a hand through his hair. He looked Middle Eastern, but the accent she had heard didn't bear that out.
He paced for a moment, then cursed under his breath and left the room. She heard the door click shut and a dead bolt turn, then his footsteps. Another door slammed shut. She listened for further sounds from the next room and heard nothing.
Here was her chance, and it might be the only one she got. Furiously, she worked the cords, curling her thumbs into her palms until one hand slipped free, and then she tore at the cords that bound her ankles.
He had locked the door. No point in bothering with that. She headed straight for the window. It wasn't barred, only painted black. And painted shut, Marie discovered when she stood on a chair to open it. Quickly, she jumped down, picked up the chair and used it to break the panes.
Great. She couldn't go through that jagged opening with so much skin exposed. After a quick glance around the room, she grabbed the only fabric she could find, the moth-eaten blanket that had covered the cot.
She padded her hand with the threadbare wool and broke out all the glass she could, then draped the ragged thing over the bottom of the window frame. It took her nearly five minutes, by her reckoning, to squeeze her body through the opening and jump down into the dark alley. Shards cut her feet when she landed, but there was no help for that.
She snatched up the old blanket and wrapped it around her. Then she ran like hell, still weaving from the aftereffects of the drug in her system.
She had no clue where she was, but anywhere was better than back there.
Her feet were bleeding and leaving a trail, but she ran on, ignoring the pain of the cuts. Desperation fueled her, but she didn't let herself panic. She needed a clear head, time to think, to find out where she was and to plan.
It was either dusk or predawn; she couldn't tell. Nearly dark, whatever the time. Warehouses. Old ones. Probably no dwellings nearby. Cobblestones. Old town. Had to have a center. She needed people. Crowds.
The end of the long alley lay just ahead. She sucked in a deep breath and slowed her pace. Suddenly a hand clapped over her mouth and a strong arm clamped her waist, yanking her backward into a hard body.
She went limp, hands behind her, and when the hold on her relaxed, she struck. Her fingers dug into his most vulnerable part, twisting as hard as she could.
He let go and she took off, seeking the faint light of the street, praying there would be help there.
But he snatched her again, this time by her upper arms, and dragged her back. "Dammit! Don't fight me! I'm here to help!"
It took a few seconds for his words to register. His lack of accent. His Americaness. "Thank God," she muttered, and collapsed.
"Wake up, Beauclair!" She heard the command before her eyes opened and groaned her assent. He had her sitting on his lap against the wall of the alley and was tapping her face with his hand.
She reached up, batted it away and struggled to get up. "Who sent you?"
He stood, lifting her with him as he did. "Later. Right now, we should get out of here before he realizes you're gone."
"Aren't you armed?" she demanded, reaching for the blanket that had slipped away. Modesty was not her primary concern at the moment, but she was cold.
"Yeah, but I need to get you safely situated before I go after him." He put his palm on her waist.
She knocked his hand away. "Like hell. I want a piece of that"
"Whoa, tiger!" She heard his chuckle. "Serve him right if I did turn you loose on him. You nearly killed me."
"Sorry. Sneak up on a girl, expect that."
"Makes me wonder how he grabbed you in the first place."
"Drugged me," she explained defensively as she tucked the blanket snugly around her like a sarong. "He's the Embassy Kidnapper, right?"
"The M.O. sure fits. The car's half a block down. Can you walk?" He held out a hand to assist, but she avoided it.
"I can run if I have to. I just did."
"Good for you. Let me check the street first. Watch the alley behind us."
Dawn had broken now. The street was deserted except for the two of them hurriedly making their way to his vehicle.
As soon as she was inside, Marie leaned her head back on the headrest and released a heavy sigh of relief.
When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her. "You okay?" he asked, real concern in his voice. "He didn't"
Marie interrupted the question and met his worried gaze dead on. "I heard him talking in the next room when I woke up. He's not working this alone."
"I didn't see him leave, but there's a door at the front of the building, too."
He started the car, and soon they were bumping down a narrow street. The ancient structures that abutted it were shuttered and looked abandoned. She fiddled with the seat belt and finally got it fastened. "Where are we and what time is it?"
"A little village, Bad Nutzbach or something. It's barely 5:00 a.m. and it's Sunday, in case you don't know."
"Thanks. Now who the hell are you, and where are we going?"
He made a right turn and sped up. "Grant Tyndal. I'm with COMPASS. You familiar with it?"
She nodded but didn't elaborate. So the Company hadn't seen fit to come after her. She hadn't expected her family to do anything to help her, even if they had been rolling in money, but she had thought the CIA might. Instead this guy shows up from the antiterrorist team that had recently offered her a position. "Am I supposed to feel obligated now to accept the job offer?"
He glanced at her and smiled. "Of course. This is how we always recruit. As to your other question, we're going to the hospital in Landstuhl and get you checked out. You'll be flying stateside before you know it."
"I'm not leaving until I catch him."
Tyndal's laugh annoyed her. "Don't think so. I work alone." His words annoyed her even more.
"Go to work, then. Just don't get in my way."
"Not exactly dressed for action, are you?" He had them flying down the autobahn by this time, doing at least ninety.
Marie pulled the blanket closer around her neck. She reluctantly admitted to herself that she needed his help. He wouldn't take her to her apartment. That was probably a designated crime scene by now.
She didn't have her creds or her weapon or any pockets to put them in. He could get all that for her if she played her cards right. And he surely had more information on the abductions than she could get on her own. She'd have to make it worth his while to partner up on this.
"Tell you what," she said, abandoning her defensive attitude for a conciliatory tone. "I can pull my weight. Let me in on this, and maybe I'll come on board with COMPASS when we're done. I have information you can use. Get me something to wear, a gun and I.D., and let's go after him together. Now."
She wasn't above using coercion. She put a tentative hand on his arm and squeezed. "Please?"
He glanced at her hand and then at her smile. But he didn't look as if he'd give an inch. "You're going to the hospital, Beauclair. You need an exam, a drug test and a rape kit."
Yes, well, there was that. She had bruises in all the right places, and that made her even madder. That bastard had raped the victim he'd killed. Not the others, though. If the reports could be believed.
She didn't think she'd been raped, but the fact that she'd been drugged, manhandled and made helpless was reason enough to want her kidnapper's head on a plate. Right along with whoever was giving him orders. She quickly dismissed that line of thinking so she wouldn't give herself away to Tyndal.
"After the exam?" she asked.
"I'll officially debrief you and call in the results. Then you go home. To the States. You're from Atlanta?"
She ignored the query. Since he'd been sent after her, he'd know that. "Look, I'm okay and perfectly capable of helping you catch this guy. I've actually seen him, and I know his voice. Will you at least consider it? Maybe request my help officially?" she asked, trying to suppress her anger and sound sweet. "Because if you don't, I might not have anything else to say to you."
"Obstruction of justice. Familiar with that phrase? It can send you to jail," he warned. Then her earlier statement seemed to register. "You can identify him?"
"Then we'll get an artist to work with you, but that's as far as you can go on this."
Marie retreated, but she didn't surrender. She never surrendered. There was always a way. She'd simply take another tack. "How far are we from Landstuhl?"
"About thirty miles."
She could see pretty well now even though it was going to be a gray day and would probably rain soon. "Take me to the nearest krankenhaus instead. My feet are bleeding and I'm dehydrated."
Stealing a vehicle might be necessary to get away from him, and that would be easier in a small hospital not peopled with soldiers.
He immediately moved to the far right lane and took the next exit. For a few minutes she thought she was getting her way, but he pulled off on a side road and stopped the car.
She watched him reach into the backseat and retrieve a gray plastic box. "First-aid kit. Brought it in case we needed it when I found you."
He pushed his seat back all the way and then unhooked his seat belt and hers. "Turn sideways and put your feet in my lap."
"I'm a qualified medic. Worst foot, please."
Marie's muscles were almost too tense to move, but she managed to turn. He helped her lift her legs and took her left foot in both his hands. She barely managed not to jerk it out of his grasp.
His glance raked her thighs before she could cover them with the blanket. Was it prurient, or was he checking for damage? Hard to tell. He didn't look all that salacious, but the old paranoia had kicked in.
"There's no telling what you stepped on in that alley," said, his tone gentle, almost a drawl.
She noticed his accent for the first time. It was faint but still there. Probably hadn't registered before because it was so close to her own. "You're from the South. Where?"
"Alabama. Anniston, originally. Army brat, though, so I lived all over the place." His hands were gentle as he continued examining her feet. "We'd better get these cuts cleaned up a little and wrapped before we go any farther. Uh-huh, that one might need a few stitches. Don't want a nasty infection."
He opened his door and slid out from under her feet. A moment later he returned with two bottles of water, one of which he handed her to drink. Setting the other on the ground, he then ripped the plastic off a roll of paper towels.
"Hand me the kit and get as comfortable as you can. I expect this will hurt a little bit," he warned.
Marie remembered she should sip the water slowly. She shuddered in spite of herself when he uncapped the other bottle of water to pour over her feet.
She sipped again, feeling the coolness slide all the way down to her empty stomach. "Consider it payback since I hurt you." She slid down farther in the seat so that her feet were sticking outside the car on his side. "Go ahead."
His touch was light considering the size of his hands, but she didn't like to be touched, not by him or anyone else.
He was large all over, she noted, not just his hands. She'd have to stay aware. "Ow ow ow!" she yelped.
"There. I doused them with peroxide, too. That ought to do until you get them debrided. Like I said, you might need stitches in the left one." He proceeded to wrap both her feet in gauze. "Go ahead, sit up and finish the water. I'll find you something to put on."