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Hideous creatures crouched in the darkness.
Faith Cody, her mind seeking consciousness, struggled against the clinging tentacles of that drugged darkness.
Her body twisted in the throes of nightmare, and she moaned, the deep-chested sound dragging her into the light. But when she opened her eyes, a monster waited there as well.
Light and shadow undulated around her in a drugged blur, but she could distinguish enough corners and shapes to know she lay in a strange bedroom. Rainy afternoon gray light billowed through thin, white curtains, and she could smell the sea and the freshly laundered sheets of her bed. The ceiling above her was spattered with large shadows of raindrops she couldn't see on the windows.
A man, a blur of flesh tones and angles, leaned over her. His hand became solid shape as it reached her face. Her nameless dread became terror, and she cringed away, expecting rape. "No!"
She struck out with the edge of her hand, but the self-defense blow which should have smashed his windpipe was as clumsy and slow as the rest of her drugged body. He caught her wrist in steel fingers.
His hard-voiced command spurred her from her hopelessness, and she raked at his eyes with her free hand. His hand loosening her wrist, he dodged. Yanking free, she came to her knees in bed. She wore only a large tee shirt.
Shocked by her vulnerability, she paused before attacking again or fleeing. In that moment, he threw himself at her, pinning her to the bed, his hands manacling her wrists to the sheets.
Her knee seeking his genitals, she twisted, but her kneeglanced off his inner thigh. Screaming like an angry jungle cat, she writhed beneath him as she tried to hit him again with her knee.
"Damn it, woman." He pinned her attacking leg with his own, his weight imprisoning her. "I don't want to hurt you."
This time pleading for mercy, she moaned "no" again, and closed her eyes awaiting violation.
"I'm not going to rape you. Be still. Don't attack me again."
Too afraid of retaliation to fight, she remained still.
His body eased off hers, but he didn't free her wrists. "You're one hell of a street fighter, lady."
Trembling, Faith unclenched her eyes and studied the man above her. Her struggle had burned away the last of the drugged haze, and she realized that part of her vision problem had been the lack of her glasses. He hovered so close she could see him clearly now.
His obsidian eyes captured hers.
His breath caressing her cheek, he stared back. His face had the fine-boned features of an aristocrat, an intellectual, and a champion of lost, noble causes. As black as his eyes, his straight, thick hair was laced with white although he couldn't be forty.
"You have purple eyes!" He grinned reassuringly at her, and his grip relaxed on her wrists. When his charming smile curled crookedly at his left cheek she finally realized who he was. She knew a seven-year-old, almost perfect copy of him. "Poppie."
Ice glimmered in his eyes, and he tightened his grip. "Only my son calls me that." He shook her. "Where's Tommy? What have you done with my children? Where the hell are my children?"
Remembering what she'd tried to forget, her body heaving with reaction, she groaned and turned away from him.
He spread a towel on the bed and cradled her head and shoulders as she vomited what little had been in her stomach then retched for several interminable minutes. Barely aware of his hand stroking her damp hair and his voice murmuring comforting banalities, she sagged back onto the bed.
He took the towel away then returned in a few moments and began to daub her sweating face and body dry with a clean cloth. This intimacy, which minutes before would have been intolerable, she accepted without flinching, too lost in physical and emotional misery to care.
The sheets were pulled back over her body, and he moved away.
She rolled onto her stomach, closed her eyes, and let herself float into half-sleep. After a brief time, the sound of footsteps forced her lids open. A short, gray-haired man stood behind her companion's chair near her bed and rested a hand on his shoulder. Nicholas Price shared a bleak smile with him and squeezed his hand.
"How's our drowned kitten?" the older man asked.
"Awake. She puked her guts out from that poison they put in her. She's got hypodermic tracks and bruises on her."
"Poor girl. I brought you some dry clothes. They're in the bath."
"Thanks." Nicholas disappeared out of the chair.
The older man tapped her shoulder. "Miss?"
Her horn-rimmed glasses dangled before her nose, and she captured them from him and slid them on her face. "Thank you."
"I'll be back in a few minutes."
When he'd gone, she propped herself up with pillows and brought the sheets back over her, ready to face the world now that she could see it, and brushed futilely at the curls which had reappeared from the dampness in her long brown hair.
"God, those are ugly glasses. A person can't see you have eyes, let alone that they're exotic purple." Studying her, Nick leaned against the bathroom door frame. His jeans and polo shirt fit his well-muscled body like a second skin, and he began to move toward her with the controlled power of a dancer.
Before he reached her, the older man announced, "Ginger ale," from the door, maneuvered himself around Nicholas, and plopped himself on the side of her bed where Nicholas had been heading. He gave her the glass.
She nodded thanks and began to sip the cold drink.
"I'm Austin Abbott, and this is Nicholas Price, young lady."
"Who the heck are you, Faith Cody?" Nicholas settled back into the chair beside her.
"An eleventh grade English teacher from Arlington, Virginia. Mrs. Adam Glencourt paid me to be Tommy and Annie's governess while they were visiting their grandfather."
Austin snorted. "They've never needed a governess before when visiting me during the summer. Mrs. Reid and I have been good enough until now."
Only a slight twitch in his cheek gave away Nicholas's anger. "The presence of the children's father made the difference. April thinks I might harm my own children."
Faith made no comment because it was true.
"Did April come with you?" Austin asked.
"No. The doctor wouldn't allow it. That's one reason I was sent."
"Well, thank God for that. I was so afraid..."
"What do you mean the doctor wouldn't allow?" Nick sat up. "What's wrong with April?"
"She's pregnant," Austin replied.
"Pregnant! But the doctors ordered her not to have another baby." Nicholas' face went blank with shock and distress as if someone had slapped him unexpectedly.
"What happened to you and the children?" Austin asked Faith.
"We were on the plane. The children were surprisingly quiet. I began to feel strange. We got off the plane and..."
"And," Austin prompted.
"I don't remember anything more. I woke up terrified, feeling as if something horrible were happening. Mr. Price was leaning over me... I don't remember anything else."
Nicholas came half out of his chair as if to strangle the truth out of her. "I can't believe that. Nothing."
"Memory lapses from the drugs, Nick?"
"Could be. I have big blank holes from..." He smacked the chair's arms with his fists. "Dandy. Just dandy."
Faith asked Austin, "What happened?"
"We arrived at the airport to meet your plane. They were announcing Nick's name. There was a note at the ticket counter, which said April and the kids had taken a later flight and wouldn't be in for another hour and a half. We killed the time, then another announcement and another note. This one was the standard kidnap one -- they had April and the children, not to call the police or they'd kill them, etc., etc. We were to go home and await instructions.
"We found you and all the luggage when we got here. The luggage they left safe and dry on the covered porch, but you the bastards left in the yard in the pouring rain. There was a note attached saying that they'd returned you... They thought you were April. They'd returned you as a gesture of good faith, and that we were to await further instructions."
"It makes no sense," Nicholas insisted. "If they thought they had April... Adam's one of the biggest lawyers in Washington. He can afford as exorbitant a ransom as I can."
"It makes sense." With a sigh, Austin pulled out an envelope from his pocket. "They called while you were tending her. They left this in the mailbox."
"How much money?"
"I wish it were money. Here."
Nicholas opened the letter and read. "My God, I can't do this." In intense emotional distress, he leaned forward and buried his head in his hands.
Her eyes questioning, Faith rested her hand on Austin's.
"He has to steal some documents owned by one of the most intelligent, dangerous criminals of the 20th century. The documents are all that protect this man from death from other dangerous men so he guards them with absolute protection. If Nick doesn't steal them for the kidnappers, Tommy and Annie will be killed."
"How could Nicholas steal? He's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist."
"He's probably one of the few people in the world who can get close enough to steal them. You see; Clement is Nick's best friend."
Copyright © 2003 by Marilyn Byerly