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One of the heavy wooden double doors slid shut as Raeleen Randall stepped out of the restaurant in a daze. Incredulous. Humiliated. Appalled. Mad as hell. All did a good job of summing up how she felt right now. Strangely missing from that mix was hurt. Grappling with why had her in a tailspin. Why wasn't her heart breaking into pieces? Numbly, she started toward her rental car, vaguely aware of the scattering of clouds gathering amidst a mid-September Caribbean day.
Dietrich Artz was married. Deet. The man she'd been traveling to Anguilla to see every month for the past year had seemed perfect for her. Never crowding her. Never bossing her around. He didn't remind her of her father. He was a nice guy. Accommodating or so she'd thought. Oh, he'd been accommodating, all rightto meet his own selfish needs. The man she'd thought might work out enough to actually marry was already married.
Why wasn't her chest constricting with the emotional wreckage of pain that surely ought to accompany such a betrayal? Was it her busy schedule? As the host of a popular Dining Network show, she was very busy. The long-distance relationship suited her hectic life. Or had it? Deet had been undemanding, a quality that had drawn her to him and kept her coming back. Had her preoccupation with Pop's Place dulled the intensity of her emotional investment? After finding out he was married, she wasn't going to miss him. Was that because he'd lied to her, or was it just that she didn't feel enough for him to care?
Seeing that she'd passed her car and was almost to the end of the empty parking lot now, Raeleen stopped and turned around, a slight breeze ruffling her shoulder-length blond hair. The restaurant was closed, but Deet was going to make her breakfast before her flight home. Instead, she'd met his wife.
Where had she gone wrong? When had she lost sight of her needs? When had her needs taken a backseat to her fun, fast-paced career with Pop's Place? And above all, why did she think she had to settle for undemanding? Her show was demanding. Why shouldn't her needs from a man be equally demanding?
She could argue that maintaining a long-distance relationship with someone who lived on an island was demanding enough, but it was his distance that she'd liked. And that's what bothered her. Was she afraid of commitment? Her? Dining Network star. Cheeseburger addict. Daughter of the almighty Colonel Roth. It baffled her to consider the possibility.
Walking between her car and the minivan parked one space over, she dug into her purse for the keys.
If there were any lesson to be learned here, it was that things had to change. She had to change. No more men until she knew what she wanted. Really knew. Because clearly she didn't.
Where were those blasted keys!
Digging harder, she finally pulled them from her purse, just as the side door of the minivan slid open. Who would be at Artz Eatery on a day that it was closed? Too distracted to ponder that for long, she fumbled for the key fob and pressed the button to unlock the door. Just as she did that, a man appeared next to her. The person who'd just gotten out of the minivan. He was average in height, with light brown hair and brown eyes that seemed full of crazed energy.
Alarm made her pay more attention. Was he a fan?
Just when she was going to ask him what he wanted, he lifted his hand and stabbed her arm with a needle. A needle?
Raeleen screamed and dropped her purse as she twisted away. He let go of the needle and reached for her. She threw the keys at his face and yanked the half-empty needle out of her arm. Staring down at it, her vision blurred and she began to feel woozy.
Oh, my God! What had he injected into her, and why?
Horrified, she threw the needle over the top of the rental car. Catching her off guard, the man grabbed her other arm and roughly pivoted her, bringing her back against him. He wrapped his arms around her then, trapping her as he forced her toward the open door of the minivan. Screaming her fear, weaker this timelike in a bad dreamshe fought him, dug her feet in resistance and tried to wiggle free of his arms, but whatever drug he'd given her made her too sluggish. Everything her father had taught her was useless now. Releasing her arms, he pushed her hard. She tripped over the edge of the open doorframe, falling into the mini-van. As she tried to regain her balance, he lifted her by the waist and propelled her all the way inside. She fell onto the backseat. Kicking her legs, she was only able to graze him a couple of times before he slid the door shut.
She propped herself up, her head spinning madly. Fighting all-out panic, she saw the man come around to the driver's side and get in. What the hell was going on? Who was he, and why was he kidnapping her? Was he a rapist? An unstable fan? More frightened than ever, she fought to sit up. Her arms felt like Jell-O. What had he given her? Was she dying?
The minivan began to move. Raeleen thought she'd lose consciousness but didn't. The man probably had intended for that to happen. Luckily, she'd stopped him from administering the entire dose. She didn't know how much time had passed before the minivan stopped, but she didn't think it was long. Anguilla wasn't a big island. Maybe it had been long enough. The drug's intensity didn't seem quite as strong.
The door slid open.
Raeleen let the man pull her to a sitting position and then wrap his arm around her waist to help her outside. "Who are you?" she asked.
When he didn't reply, she wondered if he hadn't understood her. She thought she'd spoken clearly but couldn't be sure. He leaned her against the minivan to close the door. She moved toward the rear, hip and hands on the vehicle to keep herself upright. The drug still lingered.
He took hold of her arm and steered her forward.
"Why are you doing this?"
He remained focused on the direction in which he guided her.
She took in her topsy-turvy surroundings. There was a house and a lighthouse, the sea whitecapping beyond. There were no other buildings visible from here. She looked toward the angry sea again and recalled the weather forecast.
A hurricane was headed this way. She was supposed to be off the island before it hit.
"Why are you doing this?" she repeated more urgently, her head clearing a little more.
"Nothing will happen to you if your lover does what we ask."
"Deet?" What did Dietrich have to do with this?
She had to get away.
Yanking free of his grasp, she did her best to pivot and run. The ground bounced wildly. She stumbled and fell, landing hard on her knees and forearms.
"Ouch!" Rolling onto her back, she slapped his reaching hands.
He grabbed her and hauled her to her feet. She drove her knee into his stomach.
Grunting, he took hold of both her wrists. She kicked his leg. Kicked again, and that time he dodged her. Finally, he whirled her around and wrenched both hands up behind her back until her arms hurt.
"Hey!" she yelled indignantly, wiggling her shoulders and trying to loosen the strain.
Ignoring her, he forced her toward the lighthouse, shoving her when she resisted.
"What are you doing?" She wished her head wasn't so fuzzy.
Another shove hurt her arms.
"Watch it!" she yelled.
She had to make him listen to her. "Whatever you're planning to do, you're going to regret it. My father will send men for me. If you hurt me at all, they'll track you down and kill you." She slurred a little, but at least she could talk now. The effect of the drug might be wearing off. He hadn't been able to give her the full dose. Maybe that would work in her favor.
When that didn't elicit a response from him, she persisted. "You don't know my father. He's a colonel. And not just any colonel. He runs a secret military operation." She twisted her neck to see him. "No one knows it exists, but it's very powerful. My father is a very powerful man. You're in a lot of trouble if you don't listen to me."
He looked straight ahead and didn't acknowledge her.
"The men he hires are special-forces types. SEAL. Delta. CIA. Some of them are even ex-mercenaries."
Now his gaze lowered to meet hers.
"Yeah. That's right. Mercenaries. I'd think twice about whatever you're planning to do. Let me go now and I'll make sure nothing happens to you."
"Shut up." Shoving her toward the door of the lighthouse, he made her trip and sent pain shooting through her still-bound arms as she righted herself.
Panic welled up in her. He didn't believe her. Who would? Sometimes even she thought her father was a figment of her imagination.
Holding both her wrists with one of his hands, he opened the lighthouse door.
"My cameraman is expecting me at the airport." She tried to tug her wrists from his hand. "What do you think he's going to do when I don't show up?" When she'd hired him she'd given him explicit instructions if anything happened to her. "He's going to call my father. And then my father is going to call someone very dangerous. Someone with the resources to come get me and take care of you."
"I said shut up!"
He forced her through the door and up the first flight of winding stairs. If it weren't for the pain in her arms, she'd fight harder.
"Let me go and we can forget about this. I'll tell my father that I'm okay." While she detested Tactical Executive Services for stealing him from her, she never disputed that what he did stood for a good cause. And TES was very powerful. Best if this man understood he'd be better off if one of its secret men weren't unleashed.
She tripped on the stairs and he held her upright. "If you don't believe me, do an internet search on the name Cullen McQueen." He'd read about Cullen rescuing Sabine, now his wife, and nothing more, but it would be enough. "That's who's going to send men here after my father hears that I'm missing." She was probably revealing too much, but she was really scared. She had to make him understand what he was in for if he continued down whatever path he'd laid for himself.
"If you don't shut up now, I'll kill you."
And then there'd be no point in sending anyone to rescue her, would there? "You're a dead man, either way." Her father would definitely have him killed if he murdered her. There would be nowhere he could hide.
They reached another door, this one open.
"I'm a dead man if I don't do this."
Releasing her wrists, he pushed her hard. She stumbled through the doorway and fell, sprawling onto the wood floor as she heard the door close behind her.
Raeleen scrambled to her feet and went to the door, gripping the handle. Locked from the outside.
"You better listen to me, you stinking pig! My father will hunt you down like the hog you are and kill you! You think I'm making this up? You wait and see!"
All she heard were his fading footsteps as he descended the stairs.
"Let me go!" she screamed.
Only silence followed.