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Her bare feet pounded on the soft, damp earth, the night and forest closing around her like a misty blanket. Her legs were like rubber, muscles soft, and when she chanced a look behind herself, she fell. She wanted to stay there and give up. She was so weak and tired, but she wasn't about to go down like a wimp and scrambled to her feet, running. She didn't have a choice.
If she stopped, she would die.
Branches and broken saplings ripped at her skin, blood already trailing down her legs. Helene held her stomach and pain swallowed more of her strength. She heaved for air, straining the unused muscles that had carried a baby for nine months.
A baby she'd never held. A baby he'd stolen from her as it drew its first breath. A daughter. That much she remembered in spite of the drugs.
She had no idea where she was, how close to the city, or how far. She only knew that he was going to kill her. She heard him, his heavy feet thumping against the ground with determination. And he called to her, in that voice she'd loved - the one he'd used to betray her.
What had they done with her baby?
They said it was dead. Her little girl was dead.
But he'd lied to her so much, she didn't believe in anything anymore. He'd pampered her, let her love him and feel loved. Lies. All of it. She was nothing more than a baby machine.
She saw car lights flare in the distance and raced toward them. She'd hail someone, she'd risk anything to stay alive and find her child. She reached the road, the car long gone and the road empty and wet. Still clutching her stomach, she felt a tearing inside her as she stepped onto the road, gasping for air and waving her arms to an oncoming car. The bright headlights flashed on her. The car kept coming right for her, and when she thought it would slam into her, it jerked to a stop. The shock sent her backward and she hit the ground. Everything hurt. Every muscle, bone, her heart. A man climbed out of the passenger side, silhouetted in the headlights.
She recognized him before he said, "You didn't think it would be that easy, did ya?"
She scrambled back and tried to stand, yet the minute she did stand and turned to run, something hit her between the shoulders. She dropped face-first, her chin smacking on the asphalt. She felt her jaw shift and blood pour into her mouth.
Strong hands gripped her legs, dragging her back, dragging her across the road and into the woods. The soft grassy ground was a relief after the harsh gravel. Grabbing for roots, her hand closed around a rock. When he flipped her over, her vision swam. He bent to her, smiling tenderly and, with all the strength left in her, she cracked the rock against his head. He howled and staggered, and when she rolled to her side to get to her feet, the other man, the driver, clipped her in the back of the skull, and she went down again.
Then her lover came back with a vengeance. He backhanded her, smashing her broken jaw, sending starbursts of pain through her brain and still she fought. She wanted to live. She wanted her baby. She wanted this man to die. He straddled her, his weight pinning her to the ground. The pressure took her breath, pushed on her torn belly till she thought she'd explode.
She couldn't scream, already choking on her blood, so she kicked and clawed his face, his clothes, ripping his face, his suit pocket.
The other man stood by, jiggling car keys, waiting for her to die.
Her world shrank, her vision turning to a soft glow around the edges of her lover's face.
He smiled, handsome in the night. "Now, honey, is that any way to treat daddy?"
Then he withdrew a knife and inside, Helene silently screamed for her baby, for her sister, Eden, for the life she wanted to live and the mistakes that had brought her here - in the moonlight with a madman.
He pressed the blade point to her jugular and kissed her bloodstained mouth. Then almost gently, he pushed the steel into her skin.
Excerpted from Undercover Marriage by Amy Fetzer Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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