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Fear had a way of heightening the senses.
A chill crawled down Kaylee Campbell's spine as she neared the driveway of her rented home. Not from the cool autumn morning. No, this ominous shiver came from a foreboding sense of danger acquired after years of being watched and followed every waking moment.
Kaylee glanced around the quiet cul-de-sac in the central New Brunswick village chosen for its peace and security. It was too quiet.
Someone was watching her. "Don't worry," she muttered, drawing in a deep, slow breath the way the counselor had taught her. "Go home. You're safe. You're free."
Her Saturday-morning walk had failed to soothe her nerves and neither did these words. Her chest tightened.
A car inched along the adjacent street. Over her shoulder she caught a glimpse of an out-of-province license plate.
The chilling wash returned. Her senses heightened; awareness ripped into high gear.
The car turned down her street. She listened a moment, then threw another glance over her shoulder.
Blond hair. A sinister sense of familiarity. Her heartbeat accelerated and she stopped with the pretense of tying her shoelace to cast a desperate glance around. Maybe one of her elderly neighbors was out this early.
No one. The cold autumn wind rattled the dead beech leaves that clung stubbornly to the tree on her front lawn.
Lord, help me. Keep me safe.
Doubt trickled into her as she tried the prayer. It wouldn't help. None of her prayers were heeded. Why should they be, after what she'd done?
She straightened, desperate to control the wild panic now racing through her like a torrent of spring rains.
Build a hedge of protection aroundme, Lord. Nothing. She felt no safer now than a moment ago. And the car behind her was inching closer.
She pulled her control in sharply. Her fear was ridiculous. The nightmare of these past two years was over. There was not going to be the final confrontation Noah Nash had threatened.
She shut her eyes, screwing up the courage to take flight and race those last few yards to her house.
But her feet froze to the sidewalk beneath her. Her legs, stiff and beginning to ache, refused to obey.
She dared another peek over her shoulder. The car slowed behind her. It stopped. Its door opened. She gasped the choking kind of breath that seemed to lodge in her throat.
Noah Nash had come after her, just as he'd threatened.
In front of her and deadly close, stood the man she most feared and dreaded.
He'd come back to kill her.
Her world dissolved into darkness as her stiff legs melted to jelly.
Eli Nash let out a frustrated noise as he rushed toward Kaylee. This was his own fault. He'd been warned not to approach her. Even his own mother had firmly condemned his plan.
"You look too much like Noah. You two could have been twins," she'd said. "And you act too much like him, too. You'll end up scaring her half to death."
Shoving aside the warning, he caught Kaylee before she crumpled to the sidewalk. She slumped against him and he shifted to support her head as it him as he dropped to his knees. Her jaw slackened and he heard a soft breath escape.
He wanted to kick himself for his own impetuous stupidity in not calling first, but there would be time to berate himself for that later. Right now, the best thing would be for him to simply carry her to her house and set her on her front lawn until she revived.
He knew he should have waited, but it was too late now, he thought as he lifted her off the ground. He should have used the police as an intermediary. Or a local pastor. Riverline had a church.
But he couldn't wait. Waiting could lead to more deaths, possibly even his own sister's.
Noah wouldn't think twice about killing a blood relative if it meant furthering his own plans.
A breeze drifted by, cool and sharp with the tang of autumn. In his arms, Kaylee Campbell shivered and awoke.
He peered down at her grimly, resisting the urge to sweep away the waves of black hair that fell across her cheek as her dark eyes fluttered open. Her skin looked so pale. Naturally pale, he hoped, not pale because the blood had drained from her delicate features at the sight of him.
She was lighter than she looked, not surprisingly. Noah had a habit of keeping tight control on his cult members, both the willing, such as his sister, and the unwilling, such as Kaylee, through malnourishment. It looked as if Kaylee hadn't yet regained her strength and weight.
"It's okay. You fainted."
Her eyes widened. Eli tightened his jaw. He was scaring the daylights out of her, but if he set her down she'd probably collapse again.
"I won't hurt you," he told her softly as he walked.
"Let me carry you to your house. Where are your keys?"
She threw a furtive glance down at her right jacket pocket and her right hand moved ever so slightly. But she didn't offer them.
He considered helping himself to the keys, but any search, however modest, would scare her further. Instead, he leaned forward and set her down on her single, pitted cement step, waiting for her to produce her keys.
Keys in hand, she swiftly slid toward the door and he knew he had to say something fast or risk losing the chance to explain.
Too late. No sooner had he stepped closer when her leg swung up and her foot connected with his midriff in one nasty, fluid kick.
He toppled to the lawn.
Stunned for a moment, he watched as Kaylee scrambled to her feet, tore inside her house and locked her door.
Then he sagged. Oh, this was just great. Well, he was bringing this all on himself, so he better learn a bit of patience. But after years of searching for his sister, he was desperate.
With a grimace of pain, he stood and rubbed his stomach. Through the door's small window Kaylee stared at him, wide-eyed. The expression wrenched his heart.
She was terrified. So scared she didn't realize that she'd dropped her house keys. His mouth a thin line, his brows lifted, he scooped up the keys and dangled them from his fingers.
"Ms. Campbell. Kaylee. I'm not who you think I am."
Her gaze darted around. Obviously, she was searching for some other way to defend herself, should he unlock her door. He had no intentions of doing that.
"I'm not Noah. Kaylee, listen! I'm his brother, Eli. Listen to me, please."
She snapped her head to the front, enough for him to catch the shock.
Patience. Father, please help me. If You want me to be patient, help me now.
Maybe he should be praying for his sister's life, instead. If she heard his prayer, she'd accuse him of being selfish, jealous, looking again to upstage Noah.
He took a step back. "Look at me. You can see I'm not Noah."
Kaylee shook her head. "No, I can't. You kept yourself hidden most of the time. You've cut your hair and shaved that beard. You won't get away with kidnapping me. I won't cooperate, Noah! There's nothing to hold me there anymore, thanks to you! You didn't fool me with Trisha's death. I know you killed her!"
She drew in a shaky breath and battled on, "I won't be blackmailed! You can kill the lot of those fools who follow you. I refuse to care!"
"No! You threatened to kill me before, but you won't get away with it this time!" She turned to move away from the door.
He raced to the door. "Wait! I'm not going to hurt you! Just listen! I only want to talk to you."
Thankfully, she stopped. He fished his wallet out of his pocket. Then, from the battered slice of leather, he drew his driver's license.
He plastered it on the windowpane. "Who's this?" She read it quickly but shook her head. "IDs can be forged."
With a growl, he thrust it back into his pocket. Thinking a moment, he pushed his short hair away from his hairline and tilted his face to the ground, showing her a scar. "Does Noah have this?"
She fell silent. Thank You. He'd finally reached her. A brittle moment later, she answered, "Noah didn't cut his hair, so we didn't see his forehead. He kept hidden, too, and when we did see him, the room was always half dark."
Eli offered his left hand and the scattered islands of wrinkled skin, the remains of an old burn from when he and Noah had been playing with the woodstove at their grandmother's house, thirty years ago. "What about this?"
"I didn't see his hands, either."
Great. Back to square one. Just as he was trying to remember another childhood injury, she added with a soft whisper, "But you're left-handed. Noah's righthanded."
Of course. Relief sluiced through him and he let out a long sigh. "I forgot about that."
She met his stare, her expression soft as a deer's, with watery eyes shimmering. She wet her lips. "Who did you say you were?"
"Eli, his brother." He backed away from the door but she just stood there, staring at him, keeping the door firmly shut. "I need to talk to you."
"You want to talk? Talk. This is the only way we're going to communicate."
He sighed. Better than nothing. "I need you," he repeated. "You're the only one who can help me."