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A Time To Remember
By Lois Richer
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGaunt, eerie shadows quivered through the forest. Overhead the pines swayed in the night wind, the long needles of their swooping boughs brushing like feathers against her skin as she clawed her way through them, searching desperately for a way out.
She didn't know where she was. She didn't know if danger was behind or if it lurked ahead, waiting to trap her, to keep her from Cody. She only knew she had to keep going, had to press on, had to find her son. She knew she hadn't eased his fears when she'd told him she'd be back. There had been no time. She'd had to make him understand that they would get only one chance to escape. He must obey when she told him to run.
And run he had! He'd pressed through the forest, legs churning like windmills as he bounced along beside her without saying a word.
Their captor slept. But who knew for how long? They had to make a run for it now, while they could.
She had to get Cody out, get him back to Gray. Only then would her son be safe. Gray would protect Cody with his life.
Marissa had long since lost track of the days. But she knew the seasons were changing. The shorter days meant the warmth of the sun in the mornings had diminished. The river water felt chilly now, when such a short time ago it had seemed refreshing. If they didn't get away before winter set in, she didn't want to calculate their chances of reaching freedom. He had become too protective, too fixated. Her promises no longer satisfied him.
Now, as she ran through the bush, she prayed Cody was safe. She'd had to leave him, to detour around and disguise their tracks. Their abductor knew the bush, knew how to track. She knew very little, only that she had to make it as difficult for him to find them as she could.
Lord, she was tired.
Marissa leaned against a tree and fought to regain her breath. If only she could ask Gray what to do, if only she could borrow some of his strength. Gray. What must he think of her now? No calls, no letter, nothing. At least, she assumed there'd been no message to him. Maybe he thought she'd run away.
That last argument - no! He hadn't meant it. She knew he hadn't. It had been anger speaking, an out-pouring of frustration.
Had he searched for her? And if he had, why hadn't he found them? Was it so easy for people to hide, even in this civilized world?
An owl hooted. She glimpsed its profile in the clearing just beyond.
Clearing? What had she done? Was she back where she'd begun?
"Oh, Father, I need help. Please show me the way. Get me to safety."
She glanced around, saw a figure slip stealthily across the clearing below. The full moon caught the silent glimmer of steel.
That knife! He was so good with it. She smothered a gasp of fear.
She'd tried to escape once before. The warning still rang in her ears. Try again and the boy would stay - without his mother. That's what scared her most. Cody growing up alone, without her or Gray. She had to get away.
Fear sent waves of panic rippling through her tired muscles. She'd run so far, tried so hard to cover their tracks. Would she stop now?
The figure passed within inches of her, but Marissa shrank into the cover of overhanging boughs and remained hidden, scarcely breathing when he passed in front of her, sniffing the wind as if he knew she was nearby. At last it seemed safe. She eased out of her hiding place and tried to remember the direction she'd come before. But every path looked familiar. There was nothing to do but choose one and keep going.
An hour later she admitted she was lost. Two hours later she'd passed her prison for the second time. Why hadn't she marked the way? What if Cody was discovered? Defeat dragged at her, but she refused to give up.
"Help me now, God. Lead me to safety, to Cody and home to Gray."
She opened her eyes, spied the moonbeams that lit up a small passage through the most dense area of the forest. If she went in there, she might never get out. But what other choice was there?
"'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,"' she recited silently. "He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.'" She kept walking, kept reciting with no idea of time except for the path of the moon, which led her onward.
A sound caused her to pause. She whirled, saw the figure behind her and ran as hard as she could down through the ravine, then scrambled up the other side. She dug her fingers into the earth, uncaring that the rough branches and stones tore at her hands, that the sharp needles of pine and spruce stung her face.
"You took him. You took Brett away from me. You shouldn't have done that. Brett belongs to me. To me!"
Marissa tried to ignore the shrill screech. Was she closer now? She fought to gain a foothold in the mossy bank, forced her weary body to keep going.
"You have to be punished." The voice came from right behind her.
Her feet were sliding and she couldn't stop them. She reached out, grabbed something, heard an ominous crack above her.
He'd found her.
"Help me, God."
Pain exploded inside her head and she knew no more. ***
Five months, two days, eighteen hours. That's how long he'd been mired in this pit of suffering.
Gray McGonigle glanced around the cheerful kitchen his wife had taken such pleasure in decorating and felt his heart shrivel a little more. Would she ever come back, ever pull one of her pineapple upside-down cakes from the oven and tease him about his appetite?
And Cody - where was his son? Gray had promised God long before Cody was even born that he'd be the best father he could be as long as God kept Cody from the homeless life Gray had known as a child. So what had happened? Had he messed up? Was this God's revenge - to take both his wife and child?
Something inside him screamed, "No," but after five long months with few clues to their disappearance, Gray was so confused he didn't know what else to think. He knew Marissa. She wouldn't just take their son and disappear, not without telling him. Would she?
Excerpted from A Time To Remember by Lois Richer Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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