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The refrigerator door was open, projecting a pale, blue-white wedge of light into the dark kitchen. A carton of milk was standing on the countertop. Beside it was a loaf of bread, gaping open, two slices lying half in, half out.
But even without those peculiarities, she instinctively knew the moment she came through her back door that something was amiss. She sensed another presence, dangerous and motionless, waiting.
Automatically she reached for the light switch. Before her hand made contact, it was manacled by iron-hard fingers, twisted behind her and painfully shoved up between her shoulder blades. She opened her mouth to scream, but another hand, callused and tasting slightly of salt, clamped over her mouth, so that her scream came out only as a frantic, guttural sound, that of an animal entrapped.
She had always wondered how she would react in such a situation. If assaulted, would she faint? If her life were imperiled by an attacker, would she plead to be spared?
It came as a mild surprise, now, that besides being frightened she was angry. She began to struggle, trying to twist her head away from the unyielding hand over her mouth. She wanted to see her assailant's face. Get a description. Wasn't that what the rape-prevention centers advised? Look at his face.
Easier said than done, she realized. Struggling proved to be futile because of her attacker's strength. He was tall. That much she knew. She could feel his breath, ragged and hot, against the crown of her head. Occasionally her head bumped into his chin. So he must be well over six feet tall, she reasoned, and filed that bit of information away.
Thebody she was being held against was hard, but she wouldn't use "bulky" or "muscle-bound" in her description to the police. Indeed, it seemed to her that he was whipcord lean. From the corner of her eye, his biceps looked as firm and round as a green apple.
Her struggles were only succeeding in wearing her out. Rationalizing that she should conserve her energy and strength, she suddenly ceased her efforts to escape his inescapable hold and became still. Her breasts rose and fell with every insufficient breath she tried to draw through her nostrils. Gradually the arms restraining her relaxed, but only a trifle.
"My name is Lucas Greywolf." A raspy voice, as soft and sandy as the wind that blew across the desert, spoke directly into her ear. It was a gentle sound, but Aislinn wasn't deceived. Like the winds it reminded her of, she thought, it could be whipped into a fury with the slightest provocation.
And considering the source of that whispery voice, such a whimsical shift was probable. Frightfully so.
The name Lucas Greywolf had been repeated over television signals and radio frequencies throughout the day. Last night the Indian activist had escaped from the federal prison camp in Florence, about 50 miles away. Law-enforcement agencies were combing the state in search of the escaped convict.
And he was in her kitchen! "I need food. Rest. I won't hurt you if you cooperate," he growled close to her ear. "If you even try to scream I'll be forced to gag you. Do we have a bargain?"
She nodded once in agreement and the hand came away from her mouth cautiously. As soon as it was removed, she gasped for air. "How did you get here?"
"On foot, mostly," he replied, without elaboration or apparent concern. "You know who I am?"
"Yes. They're looking all over for you."
"I know." Her initial anger had dissipated. She wasn't a coward, but she wasn't a fool either. Heroics had their place, but now wasn't the time to start playing Wonder Woman. This intruder was no petty thief. Lucas Greywolf should be considered dangerous. All the news reports said so.
What was she to do? Overpowering him was unthinkable. He'd have no difficulty subduing her, and in the process she would probably get hurt. No, the only way she could possibly hope to outmaneuver him was by using her wits, while waiting for an opportunity to escape.
"Sit down." He nudged her shoulder roughly. Without argument, she went to the table in the center of the kitchen, laid her purse on it and pulled out a chair. She lowered herself into the seat carefully.
He moved as silently as smoke and as nimbly as a shadow. She hadn't heard him cross the floor, and only knew that he had when his shadow stretched across the tabletop. Timorously lifting her eyes, she saw his silhouette looming in the eerie light of the open refrigerator door. Like a panther, he looked dark and lean and lethal when he crouched down and took a summer sausage from the meat drawer.
Apparently believing that she had capitulated, he negligently closed the refrigerator door. The kitchen went dark. She lunged from her chair, aiming for the back door. He caught up with her before she had taken two steps, bisecting her middle with a steely arm to anchor her against him.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"To...to turn on the light."
"The neighbors will know"
"I told you to sit down. And until I tell you otherwise, that's what you're going to do." He hauled her across the kitchen and pushed her into the chair. It was so dark that she didn't quite make the seat's center and nearly toppled out of it before regaining her balance.
"I'm only trying to help you," she said. "The neighbors will know something is wrong if they saw me come in and I don't turn on any lights."
Her threat was an empty one, and she rather imagined he knew it. She lived in a new condominium complex on the outskirts of Scottsdale. Fewer than half the units had been sold. No doubt he had selected her house for pilfering because of its remote location.
She heard a metallic whispering noise coming out of the darkness. The sinister sound filled her with dread. She knew the terror of a small jungle animal when rustling leaves alert it that an unseen predator is nearby. Lucas Greywolf had spotted the rack of butcher knives on the countertop near the sink and had slipped one from the wooden scabbard.
Expecting any moment to feel its cold metal edge slicing across her throat, she was stunned but at least grateful that she was still alive when the kitchen light came on, momentarily blinding her. She adjusted her eyes to the sudden brightness. He was still holding the long, gleaming silver blade of the knife to the light switch.
From that intimidating sight, her eyes tracked the length of a brown, sinewy arm up to a curved shoulder, over to a determined, square chin, along a straight, narrow nose, and into the most chilling pair of eyes she'd ever seen.
All her life she'd heard the expression "heart-stopping." Countless times she had casually used the adjective herself, describing any number of inconsequential things. But she'd never actually experienced that graphically descriptive sensation. Until now.
Never had a pair of eyes conveyed such unmitigated contempt, such uncompromising hatred and undiluted bitterness.
Unlike the rest of his features, which were clearly American Indian, his eyes belonged to an Anglo. They were gray, so light a gray they were almost transparent, which only made the pupils in their centers look even deeper and blacker. They seemed to have no necessity to blink, because they stared at her without movement. Set in that dark, brooding face, those steadfast, gray eyes were a startling contrast that held her attention far too long.
She lowered her eyes, but when she saw the knife flash, she fearfully jerked them back up to him. He had merely sliced off a disk of summer sausage. As he raised it to his lips, the hard, set line lifted at one corner to form a smirking smile before straight, white teeth bit into the meat. He was enjoying her fear and that made her furious. By an act of will, she rid her face of any telltale expression and surveyed him coolly.
Which might have been a mistake. Before tonight, if she had been asked to conjure up a picture of an escaped convict, it would never have resembled Lucas Greywolf. She vaguely remembered reading about his trial when it was making the news, but that had been several years ago. She recalled the prosecutors making him out to be a chronic troublemaker and rabble-rouser, a dissident who went around spreading malcontent among the Indians. But had the reports ever mentioned him being so handsome? If they had, she hadn't been paying attention.
He was dressed in a blue chambray shirt that was no doubt prison issue. The sleeves had been ripped out, leaving ragged, stringy armholes. One of the sleeves had been fashioned into a headband, tied Apache-style around his head to hold back hair so unrelievedly black that it barely reflected the light shining directly on it. But then the dust clinging to it might have been partly responsible for that dull finish; his jeans and boots were covered with it.
Excerpted from Honor Bound by Sandra Brown. Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.