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Rocky Mountain Maverick
By Gayle Wilson
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt had happened several times in the past couple of weeks - an eerie, eyes-on-the-back-ofher-neck feeling. Often enough that whenever she was out in the city alone she had to resist the urge to keep glancing over her shoulder.
Nicola Carson couldn't quite put her finger on when or why that nervousness had begun. All she knew was that at one time she hadn't minded working late, even if the Senate Office Building was nearly deserted by the time she finished. Now she had to steel herself to face stepping out onto the nighttime streets of Washington, D.C.
And that's ridiculous, she told herself, as she hurried down the steps, holding the collar of her coat closed against her throat with one gloved hand. There was a hint of snow in the December air, making her homesick for the crisp, cold air of the Colorado Rockies where she'd grown up.
Which is also ridiculous. She was living her dream, working as an intern in the office of one of the most powerful men in the capital, and all she could think about lately was a life she once couldn't wait to leave behind.
Despite her pep talk, as she walked, heels clicking against the sidewalk with a quick, staccato rhythm, her uneasiness grew. Don't look back. Don't look back. She chanted the words in her mind, determined not to give in to this unreasonable paranoia.
She wouldn't have been out this late if Senator Gettys hadn't handed her a package as he was leaving and asked her to deliver it personally before she went home. She couldn't imagine why the disk she'd just left at the senator's campaign headquarters couldn't have been couriered over tomorrow, but it wasn't her place to ask those kinds of questions. It was her place to be as useful as possible.
Normally, she wouldn't have had any problem with anything she was assigned to do. She had no illusions about her role in the grand scheme of things. For someone who had grown up on a farm, helping with every unglamorous chore required to keep it running, she had never felt that any task was beneath her dignity.
She was grateful to be here. Grateful to have been chosen for an internship out of all the other applicants. Grateful for the opportunity to live in the nation's capital and participate in government at work.
Even as she repeated the litany, trying to bury her uneasiness in the enumeration of all the things she had to be thankful for, behind her - like an echo - came the sound of another set of footsteps. Her heart rate accelerated suddenly, and adrenaline pumped into her bloodstream in a gut-clenching rush.
The Metro entrance was half a block away. Surely, despite the cold, deserted streets around her, there would be someone there. At least there would be more light. Nothing ever seemed as frightening if you didn't have to face it in the darkness.
She increased her pace. By the time she reached the escalator that descended to the Metro, she was almost running. And none of the strategies she had used before against this insane panic seemed to be working.
She wanted to get on the train. Out of the darkness and among others who were leaving their offices late and heading home.
Hand on the rail, she clattered down the moving metal stairs, her own descent making so much noise that she couldn't possibly hear anything else. At the foot of the escalator, she turned and looked quickly toward the top.
There was nothing there. No one was following her. Maybe there had never been anyone behind her. No footsteps but her own, loud in the emptiness of the dark streets.
She took a breath in relief. Then, clutching her coat around her, she headed toward the platform.
She pressed her fare card against the red circle without really looking at it. Almost there. Almost to the train. People. Safety.
As she walked toward the track, the sound of her heels on the red, hexagonal tiles echoed and reechoed against the walls. This time she ignored the sound. After all, she knew there was no one behind her. And absolutely no cause for the sense of panic she had felt.
She breathed deeply, trying to calm the near hysteria that threatened. She could hear the train in the distance. Thankfully, despite the lateness of the hour and this less trafficked location, there were a few people waiting on the platform.
She was less than fifty feet from the track, the sound of the oncoming train was growing louder by the second. Her attention focused on the waiting passengers, all of whom were watching its approach, she caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye.
Before she could turn to identify its source, a hand fastened onto the long strands of hair that spilled over the back of her coat. The pressure was strong enough not only to jerk her head backward and stop her forward motion, but to physically pull her in its direction.
Because it took too long to realize what was happening, a gloved hand fastened over her mouth before she could release the scream crowding her throat. Not that it would have made any difference. The train came ever closer, filling the waffle-weave concrete tunnel with noise.
Eyes watering from the pain, she clawed at the fingers over her lips. The hand that had grabbed her hair released to snake around her body, the forearm settling under her breasts.
Driven by panic, she increased her efforts to break out of her attacker's hold, futilely twisting and turning. She aimed a few kicks backward, but they never seemed to connect solidly with whoever was behind her.
There was no doubt in her mind it was a man. Not only was he stronger than she was, but given the angle at which he was holding her, he must top her own five foot ten inch height by a good two or three inches.
She knew by now that this wasn't a robbery. The strap of her purse had slipped off her shoulder in those first desperate moments. The purse had fallen to the floor, items rolling from it to clatter out onto the tile. He had ignored it completely, meaning ...
She stopped prying at his fingers and began battering at his face with her fists. She couldn't see it, of course, and the blows, delivered above and behind her head, seemed to have as little effect as clawing at his hand had done.
Where the hell was security? The Metro was supposed to be safe, every area equipped with cameras to prevent attacks like this. Her eyes searched for the one that should cover this location. It was there, but for some reason, its lens was pointed away from the platform entry. By accident or design?
The train arrived, filling the station with noise, and the fingers that had been fastened over her mouth began to move. So that he could put both hands around her throat? Or to allow him to take out a weapon?
A knife? Oh, my God, not a knife.
In the endless seconds she fought, her imagination conjured up every urban horror story she had ever heard, playing them in her head like a tape running on fast forward. In desperation, she bent her knees, lifting her feet off the ground and letting her full weight pull against his hold.
For a split second, as he tried to counteract that move, she would be out of his control. She knew that was all she would have. A split second to decide her own fate.
Everything seemed to happen at once, yet each movement, each breath, each heartbeat was etched with complete clarity on her brain. As she'd anticipated, his body began to shift in an attempt to maintain his balance. He tried to set her on her feet, but in order to do that, he had to bend forward, negating the advantage his height had given him.
Before he could straighten away, Nicola put her feet back on the ground and used the muscles in her thighs and buttocks, strengthened by years of horseback riding, to propel her body upward. The top of her head collided with the man's chin, striking so hard that she heard his teeth snap together.
And hard enough that the air thinned and darkened around her. She fought to stay conscious as she staggered forward like a drunk.
Excerpted from Rocky Mountain Maverick by Gayle Wilson Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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