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My Own Private Hero
Somewhere in Northern England
Three days. It had been three long days, and now it was beginning to rain.
Adele rose from the hay-filled tick that served as her bed, and walked across the creaky plank floor to the window. All she could see in every direction were endless, rolling hills of grass and rock beneath an angry gray sky, swirling with the oncoming threat of a storm. Hard raindrops began to pelt against the glass.
It was barren and lonely, this part of the world, wherever it was. She hadn't seen one person. Not even a lone goat or sheep. There were no trees, and the wind never ceased. It pummeled the stone cottage on top of this sadly forsaken hill, rattled the windowpanes, and whistled eerily down the chimney. The door to the stable knocked and banged constantly. All day long. That, combined with the musty, damp smell of this room, was enough to make a person go insane.
Adele made a fist and squeezed it. She had been steered off course into fierce, treacherous waters, and she wanted her calm life back.
If she still had a life to go to. She wasn't even sure Harold -- or any man, for that matter -- would want her after this, because she had no idea what her kidnapper had done to her. All she knew was that he had undressed her at some point, because when she had woken up, she was wearing someone else's shabby, homespun dress. Beneath it, she wore petticoats and a shift with ivory stockings, but no corset and no shoes. She had no idea what had happened to her nightgown, nor did she know why he had undressed her. To be less conspicuous, perhaps, in getting her here? She hoped that was the reason.
Adele breathed deeply, determined to keep a cool head. She could not panic or lose control. It would do no good. She had tried everything to escape this room in the past few days. She had pounded and shook the door, she had shouted for help, used all her strength at the window, but her efforts had been futile. All she could do now was wait for something to happen -- something she could act upon. Or for someone to find her. Surely her mother was searching, and the police were investigating.
Just then, the front door of the cottage opened downstairs and heavy footsteps entered the house. Adele heard them pound across the hard floor. The door slammed shut. Her heart quickened. Perhaps this would be an opportunity.
She walked to the center of the room and stood still, listening. There was more than one person. There were voices.
This wasn't the usual routine. There had only ever been one person here to bring her food and water. What was happening?
Suddenly, commotion erupted downstairs. Frenzied footsteps. A piece of furniture fell over. Or was kicked over. Was someone here to rescue her? Harold? But Harold would never face a kidnapper on his own. Or would he?
Her father? Oh, if only it could be him! But no, hewas home inAmerica. Hewasn't due to come until the wedding day. Perhaps it was a constable. Or a neighbor who had discovered what was happening and had come to her rescue.
The footsteps pounded up the stairs and paused just outside her door. Every particle of her being froze with fear and dread. What was about to happen? Was someone here to hurt her? Ravish her? Murder her?
Her eyes searched for aweapon, but therewas nothing.Nothing but a chair. She picked it up. It was heavy, but shewould swing it if she had to.
The lock on the door clicked from the other side, then the door swung open. Two men walked in. One held a pistol to the other's head, and smoldered with highly controlled fury. Large and solid through the chest and arms, he wore a heavy, black greatcoat that matched his black hair. Adele feared him instantly.
Was he her captor? She'd never seen the man in daylight. He had stayed hidden from her view. Was her captor one of these men? The dangerous-looking one with the pistol?
"Your name!" he barked.
"Adele Wilson." It didn't occur to her to ask why he wanted to know. Or to ask anything at all. All she could do was answer his question, because he expected an answer.
At that instant, the man he held hostage -- a short, stocky fellow with rotting teeth and thinning hair -- whirled around and grabbed at the pistol, lunged forward, and took hold of Adele around thewaist. He pressed the cold, steel barrel to her temple. She dropped the chair, as fear shot through her. She'd never faced a gun before.
"Now the ransom!" His unsteady voice revealed his desperation.
For the first time, Adele looked fixedly at the other man -- the dark, wild one -- and understood that he was her rescuer.
He held his hands up in front of him, in a gesture that commanded both her and her captor to stay calm. His eyes held a strong warning that told them they had no choice but to comply.
She guessed he was in his late twenties. His dark, intense eyes and windblown black hair gave him the look of the devil, or something worse. Masculine to the core, rough around the edges, and fiercely commanding in an inher-ently primitive way, he was as rugged as the rocky hills surrounding this house. He looked as if he'd been traveling for three days straight and hadn't taken the time to shave or bathe or even sleep, because he'd been hell-bent on reaching this house. Reaching Adele.
Who was he? What were his intentions?My Own Private Hero. Copyright © by Julianne MacLean. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.