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The Makeover Mission
By Mary Buckham
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Tell the major she's awake."
Jane Richards snapped her head back, paying for the movement with a pounding that felt like a band of fire across her temples.
Who was the major? And where was she?
She blinked, straining to see into the darkness. Nothing. Something shielded her eyes. What? Why?
Panic tightened her throat.
She attempted to rip off whatever covered her eyes. But her hands wouldn't budge. They were strapped to the blunt edges of what felt like armrests.
Blindfolded and trapped.
But why? Where?
"Who are you?" The words were hers, but the voice didn't sound like her own. It sounded weak and scared.
No one answered.
The air around her felt clammy. The darkness seemed uniform throughout. There were no traffic sounds beyond thin windows, no voices through walls. The only noise permeating the silence came from behind her. The sound of someone breathing. Slow, even breaths. The sound from a child's nightmare. The sound from a woman's worst fears.
But it was real. And it was happening to her.
She wanted to scream. The temptation to struggle against the bonds trapping her was stronger. It must be a nightmare. It had to be. People like her did not end up in dark rooms with their hands tied to the arms of chairs.
"Who are you? Why am I here?" Her voice shook; her whole body mimicked it.
No answer. The breathing continued. Evenly paced and controlled.
She had to keep calm, to regain control. Isn't that what they'd told her during library fire drills? The person who panics is the person who's lost. And she was ready to panic in a big way.
Jane squeezed her eyes shut, attempting to hold back the tidal wave of terror pulsating through her system. She wiggled her hands, wondering what held her in place. Tape? She could feel adhesive tugging at her bare skin with each twist of her wrists.
The fear wanted to paralyze her. If she let it, it would. She flexed her hands, the tug of the tape holding strong. Her legs too were bound. Helpless.
Scream? If she shouted would anyone hear her? Could she alert someone before the breather stopped her? Did she have any other choice?
She might have only one chance. She had to make it good. She opened her mouth to scream.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
The voice stopped her cold. It was male. Rough-edged and deep.
Poised on the brink of shouting, she paused. Listening. Straining against the darkness to locate the speaker. His voice had sounded in front of her, not behind. Had the breather moved? Or was there someone new in the room?
But she hadn't heard movement. Had she?
Her jaw relaxed, but not because the fear lessened. If anything it had increased. The voice was that of the hunter and she was the prey.
"Who are you? What do you want with me?" She sounded like a tape recorder stuck on one line and felt the rise of laughter bubbling through her. Hysteria? Possibly, not that she had much experience with the emotion. Hysteria happened to others. Not to her.
"Turn the light on, Elderman." The voice spoke again, ignoring her question as the sound of footsteps moved closer. Leather soles slapped against a hard floor behind and then in front of her. What sounded like at least two others stepped closer, making her want to cringe. To flee. But she couldn't. Not with her hands and legs bound.
Before she prepared herself, a light blazed forth. Not strong as much as startling behind the muffled darkness of the blindfold. She knew she was spotlighted before these strangers.
She pulled back, jerking her head with the movement, setting off the cannons pounding double-time in her head. There was no place to run, no place to hide.
She might have gasped, or flinched, because the deep voice demanded. "How much did you give her?"
"She didn't come easily, sir." Another male voice replied from behind her.
"I asked how much you gave her."
The man's voice radiated cold assurance, unrelenting authority. Jane wanted to hide from that voice. There was no doubt that voice could order men into battle and expect to be obeyed. But what did they want with her?
"Thompson handled the dosage, sir."
"Then he'll be dealt with."
This new voice jogged a fuzzy memory.
Someone had grabbed her arm from behind in the parking garage of her apartment building. The very unexpectedness of it had caused her to turn, to catch the shadow of a masked face. She felt another grab her other arm. Then the pain of a scratch near her elbow. A scratch or a poke. She'd called out. Swung away, striking the nearest man with her purse. He'd muttered an oath, or what sounded like an oath, but already things were blurring.
She'd felt herself falling. She thought she'd screamed again and knew she'd lashed out, her foot connecting with a shin, her hand tearing cloth. The jabbing sensation to her arm came again. Then the darkness.
"You were at my apartment," she whispered the words aloud, feeling anger slide in where moments ago there was only fear. "I want to know what you're doing. Why I'm here."
"Enough." Another man spoke, this one with a guttural accent she couldn't place. Eastern European maybe. That and an imperious tone to his voice; a man used to getting his way. A different kind of power than the first voice. "I cannot see what she looks like with that thing around her face."
"That thing is for your protection, sir." The first voice spoke, and in spite of the salutation there was no deference in his tone. "For your protection and hers."
"We are running out of time. She looks like Elena but I must be sure."
Who was Elena? And who was the first voice protecting? He'd said "her" but surely that didn't mean her. Why would someone drug and kidnap a person then worry about protecting them? Nothing made sense.
Before she could demand answers, someone bent down next to her. She could smell the scent of soap and feel the warmth of a hand brush against her shoulder.
She flinched, pressing as far back as the unyielding chair would allow, straining against the tape, but it was useless. There was nowhere to go.
A hand slid down her hair. A gentle touch, soothing somehow, though that made no sense. The human contact should have frightened her, but it didn't. She felt fingers tugging at the knotted fabric covering her eyes. The material bunched, catching strands of her hair before it loosened.
"You won't be hurt." The dark voice came like a caress in the darkness. "Do exactly what I say and you won't be hurt."
Now she knew it was hysteria bubbling through her. The need to laugh aloud. The wanting to believe the voice when logic told her it'd be a fool's mistake.
"Shhh. The less movement you make the less your head will hurt."
Excerpted from The Makeover Mission by Mary Buckham Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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