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He wanted to kill her. "Elise."
The whispered name floated along the fog, mingled with it, surrounded her.
Her eyes ached with the effort of trying to peer through the milky white wisps that blanketed the San Francisco Bay shoreline, but if she couldn't see him, he couldn't see her.
And she planned to keep it that way.
A foghorn bellowed in the night, and she took advantage of the sound to make another move toward the waves lapping against the rocky shore. If she had to, she'd wriggle right into the frigid waters of the bay.
She flattened herself against the sand, and the grains stuck to her lip gloss. It now seemed ages ago when she'd leaned over the brightly lit vanity at the club applying it.
"Elise, come out, come out wherever you are."
His voice caused a new layer of goose bumps to form over the ones she already had from the cold, damp air. Her fingers curled around the scrubby plant to her right as if she could yank it out of the sand and use it as a weapon.
If he caught her, she wouldn't allow him to drag her back to his car. She'd fight and die here if she had to.
The water splashed and her tormenter cursed. He must've stepped into the bay. And he didn't like it.
She drove her chin into the sand to prop up her head and peered into the wall of fog. The lights on the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge winked at her. The occasional humming of a car crossing the bridge joined with the lapping of the water as the only sounds she could hear over the drumbeat of her heart.
And his voice when he chose to speak, a harsh whisper, all traces of the refined English accent he'd affected outside the club gone.
What a fool she'd been to trust him.
Another footfall, too close for comfort. She held her breath. If he tripped over her, she'd have to run, find another place to hide in plain sight. Or at least it would be plain sight if the fog lifted.
The damp cover made her feel as if they were the only two people in this hazy world where you couldn't see your hand two inches in front of your face.
Who would break first? The fog? Her? Or the maniac trying to kill her? Because she knew he wanted to kill her. She could hear the promise in his voice.
She wanted to scream at him to stop using her name in those familiar tones-as if they were old friends. Instead of predator and prey.
She didn't scream. She pressed her lips together, and the sand worked its way into her mouth. She ground it between her teeth, anger shoving the fear aside for a moment.
If this guy thought she'd give up, he'd picked the wrong target. The Durans of Montana were nobody's victims.
A breeze skittered across the bay, and debris tickled her face. White strands of fog swirled past her, and for the first time since she'd hurled herself from the trunk of her captor's car, she could see the shapes of scrubby plants emerge from the mist.
She swallowed a sob. When she'd least expected or wanted it, the cursed San Francisco fog was rolling out to sea.
A low chuckle seemed to come at her from all directions. He knew it, too. Time to make a move.
Elise pinned her arms to her sides and propelled herself into a roll. Once she had the momentum, the rest was easy as she hit a slight decline to the water.
Arm. Back. Arm. Chest. Around and around she rolled. She squeezed her eyes shut and scooped in a breath of air. Her preparations didn't make the impact any easier.
When she hit the icy bay, she gasped, pulling in a breath and a mouthful of salty water with it. She choked it out and ducked her head beneath the small waves.
The bay accepted her in a chilly embrace, and she clawed her way along the rocky floor. Fearing the swift current, she didn't want to swim away from the shoreline, but the water might just be enough to hide her from the lunatic trying to kill her.
She popped up her head and dragged in another breath. The wind whipped around her, blowing her wet hair against her cheeks.
The fog dissipated even more, and she could make out the form of a man loping back and forth, swinging something at the ground.
She took a deep breath and went under again. The current tugged at her dress, inviting her into the bay. She resisted, scrabbling against the rocks. The current snatched her shoes anyway.
She scraped her knees on the bay floor and lifted her face to the surface, taking a sip of air. The figure on land seemed farther away. Would he be able to see her head in the water? Would he come after her?
She submerged her head again and managed a breast-stroke and a scissor kick to propel herself farther from the man combing the shore.
She'd have to get out of the water soon or she'd die from hypothermia. As if to drive this truth home, her teeth began to chatter and she lost the tips of her fingers to numbness.
Once more she poked her head up from the water. The steel buttress of the bridge was visible in front of her. Maybe she could clamber on top of it to escape the cold fingers of the bay.
She twisted her head around. The man had disappeared from view. A seagull shrieked above, cutting through the rumbling of a car engine.
Elise whipped her head around. An orange service truck trundled along the road fronting the shore, its amber light on the roof revolving.
Elise screamed for the first time since her ordeal began. She clambered from the water, her dress clinging to her legs. She bunched the skirt of the dress around her waist and waded from the bay.
The occupants of the truck couldn't have heard her, but the truck pulled to the side of the road anyway. A door swung open.
Her frozen limbs buckled beneath her, but she willed them to support her. She rose to her feet and screamed again, waving her arms above her head. "Help! I'm in the water!"
The white oval of a face turned toward her.
Elise pumped her legs, hoping they were obeying her command to run. She tried to scream again, but her jaw locked as a shower of chills cascaded through her body.
The man in the orange jumpsuit started jogging toward her, and another orange jumpsuit joined him.
Her bare feet slogged through the sand and she kept tripping over the bushes dotting the shore, but she continued to move forward.
By the time she and the service workers met, her body was shivering convulsively.
"Oh, my God, Brock. I think we've got a jumper."
She shook her head back and forth. Really? Would a jumper be able to swim to shore and run toward help?
Brock joined his buddy, shrugging out of his orange jacket. "I already called 9-1-1. It's gonna be okay, lady."
He wrapped his jacket around her, and she began to sink to the ground. He caught her under the arms. "Stay with us. The ambulance should be here soon."
"How did you do it? How did you survive the jump?"
She licked the salt from her lips and worked her jaw. "I didn't jump from the bridge."
Brock tugged the coat around her tighter. "Then what the hell were you doing out there?"
As sirens wailed in the distance, she blew out a breath and closed her eyes. "Escaping a killer."
Her toes tingled and she took another sip of the hot tea. When the ambulance got her to the emergency room, the nurses had stripped off her soggy dress and wrapped her in warm blankets. They'd tucked her into this bed and piled an electric blanket on top of her as well as wedged some heat packs under her arms and behind her neck.
When she could sit up, they'd brought her a cup of tea. Now Elise inhaled the lemon-scented steam from the cup and tried to relax her limbs.
Someone yanked back the curtain that separated her bed from the other beds in the emergency room. A doctor approached her with a small tablet computer clutched under his arm.
He clicked his tongue. "It's clear you're not a jumper since you don't have any injuries that would indicate you'd just hit the water at seventy-five miles per hour from a height of two hundred and twenty feet."
Elise slurped the hot tea and rolled it on her tongue before swallowing. "I told Brock and the other city worker I didn't jump. Didn't they believe me?"
"The first report was of a jumper, but the EMT said you were attacked."
She wrapped her hands around the cup as her ordeal knocked her over the head all over again. "I went into the water to avoid him."
Elise's jaw dropped. Everyone sure liked making assumptions. "A killer. A stranger. He abducted me from the street. I escaped."
The doctor nodded as if this was his second guess all along. "Based on the EMT's report of his conversation with you, the police are on their way."
"They want to question you immediately. Once you're warmed up, you're free to go." He tapped the tablet screen. "The nurse indicated you have a bump on the back of your head, too."
"He hit me, maybe with the cast he had on his arm."
"Says here you're not showing any signs of concussion and the skin on your scalp didn't break. How's the head feeling?"
"My head is the least of my worries right now."
The doctor snapped the computer shut. "You're lucky. A few more minutes in that water and you'd be dead. It was a crazy thing to do."
"A few more minutes with that maniac and I'd be dead. I figured the water gave me a better chance."
The doctor lifted his shoulders in his white coat and stepped beyond the curtain to practice his feeble bedside manner on another emergency-room patient.
Beneath her warm blankets, Elise shivered at the memory of the man stalking her. Would the police be able to find him based on her description? And how accurate was that description? The man she'd helped outside the club had spoken to her with an English accent. That accent had disappeared when he'd been searching for her on the sand. How much of his appearance was phony, too? The beard? The mustache?
"Knock, knock. Ms. Duran?"
A male voice called from outside the curtain.
The man brushed aside the curtain and pulled it closed behind him. "I'm Detective Brody. How are you feeling, Ms. Duran?"
"Elise. You can call me Elise. I feel warm." And it wasn't because a fine specimen of manhood had just emerged from curtain number three. At least she didn't think it was.
"That's good after what you've been through." He pointed to the plastic chair by the wall. "May I?"
"Sure. Of course." It beat craning her neck to look up at all six feet something of him.
"They're keeping you warm enough?" He tipped his chin at the space heater glowing in the corner.
She nodded, although she wondered if she'd ever feel warm again.
Detective Brody dragged the chair to her bed and slipped out of his suit jacket. He hung it over the back of the chair, smoothing the expensive-looking material.
Hunching forward, he withdrew a notepad and pen from the pocket of his crisp white shirt.
"The EMT reported that you were out in the bay trying to escape from someone. Tell me what happened from the beginning, Elise."
His dark eyes zeroed in on her face, making her feel as if she were the only woman in the world. She shook her head. He was a policeman and she was a victim-she was the only woman in the world for him right now.
She took a deep breath. "I was coming out of a club on Geary Street at two in the morning-the Speakeasy. Do you know it?"
"Private club, right? Stays open past two."
"My friend got invitations from a member."
"Was your friend with you at-" he glanced at his notepad "-one-fifty?"
"I was alone. I left her inside the club."
"Had you been drinking?"
His tone got sharper and the muscles in his handsome face got tighter. She was glad she wouldn't have to disappoint him.
"One drink's my limit, and I'd had that at around eleven o'clock when we first got there."
His spiky dark lashes dropped over his eyes briefly, and Elise knew she'd just passed some test.
"How were you getting home?"
"Taxi. There's no parking in that neighborhood. I had the bartender call me a taxi, and I went outside to wait for it."
"What happened next?"
Goose bumps rippled across her arms, and she pulled the blanket up to her chin. "I saw a man standing beside a car. The trunk of the car was open."
"Did he see you? Speak to you right away?"
"I'm sure he saw me, although we didn't make eye contact. He must've seen me come out of the club, but by the time I looked at him he was bending over the open trunk."
"What kind of car? Make? Model?"
Was he serious? "I'm not sure. It was a small, dark car, old."
"Then what? Did he talk to you?"
Elise licked her lips, and she could still taste the salt from the bay. "He seemed to be struggling with something. Then he poked his head around the open trunk and asked me if I could give him a hand."
"I guess I shouldn't have." She knotted her fingers, studying his face for signs he thought she was an idiot. She didn't see any.
"I walked toward him, and that's when I noticed his arm."
Detective Brody's dark brows shot up. "His arm?"
"It was in a cast."
The pen dropped from the detective's fingers and rolled under the bed. He ducked to retrieve it. When he straightened in his chair, his handsome face was flushed.
He cleared his throat. "The man's arm was in a cast?"
"A full cast almost up to his shoulder, like he had a broken arm. When he asked me for help, I I didn't think anything of it. I wasn't suspicious, and he looked "
"He looked what? What did he look like?"
She shrugged and the blanket slipped from one bare shoulder. "Normal. He looked normal-blond hair, kind of on the long side, jeans. Normal."
"We'll get to the rest of the description in a minute. So, what did you help him with?"
"A box." She folded her arms across her stomach, where knots were forming and tightening. "There was a box on the ground that he was trying to get into his trunk."
"And you helped him with the box?" His hand froze, poised over his notepad, where he'd been scribbling her every word since retrieving the pen.
"I didn't get the chance." She clutched her arms, digging her nails into her skin. "When I bent over the box, he hit me on the back of the head."
Detective Brody jumped from the chair, knocking it to the floor.