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Something was wrong.
He must have fallen asleep in a strange position.
He opened his eyes slowly, concentrating for a moment. Rocks, from the size of a pea to a man's fist. Ragged and round, all colors, russet and ivory and gray. A confetti of rocks
And the nearby thunder of falling water.
But there was something else.
Nausea washed through him as he raised his head, but he kept pushing until he'd dragged himself into a sitting position, wincing as the torn flesh on his hands grated against the rocks. His vision wasn't so good. He gingerly patted his face, felt the puffy skin around his left eye and the tear across his chin. His fingertips came away stained with bright red blood.
He was dressed in a suit, but he was sitting on a rocky beach. The swollen waters of a river washed over his loafer-clad feet, but he was so numb he couldn't feel it. He pulled his legs clear of the water with the same sluggish sense of unreality with which he took in his surroundings.
Mountains and trees and a rocky riverbank. Rushing water and boulders. The sun was low in the sky. Where was he? How did he get here? He looked upriver and saw the waterfall and then looked down at his torn gray suit and the cuts and bruises on the skin that showed.
Had he fallen down that waterfall?
Who was he? Quick now, what was his name?
Wait. He must have a wallet with identification of some kind.
He patted his soggy suit pockets but found nothing except a few coins. A tight strap across his chest produced a holster under his jacket, and it still cradled a semiautomatic pistol.
What was he doing with a handgun out here of all places? Working on instinct, he pulled back the slide and ejected the clip. He was loaded and ready for
Ready for what?
He snapped the gun back together and peered down the shoreline. A small bird perched on the tip of a rock. He moved ten feet to the right and targeted a knot on a piece of driftwood. Five seconds later, he pulled the trigger. The wood disintegrated as the startled bird flew toward the trees.
The gun worked.
But the shot echoed along the riverbank, and it came to him with a jolt that he'd just announced his exact location as though issuing a challenge. The hair on the back of his neck stood up; the nearby trees sprouted eyes.
Head spinning, he stumbled to his feet and once again glanced at the sun. It was not only lower in the sky, but drifting behind darkening clouds. He'd been going from one chore to the next at a steady pace, but it must have been in slow motion. There couldn't be more than an hour or two of daylight left, and once the sun went down the temperature would drop. There was already a bluish cast beneath his fingernails, and if he didn't make a point of forbidding it, his teeth clattered together.
But which way did he go?
His gut said he'd come from on top of the bluff. No way he could get back up there before dark. There was no point in following the river and there was no hope of crossing it. He turned toward the forest and started walking. There wasn't a part of him that didn't hurt.
As he limped under the evergreen cover he tripped, falling heavily onto the needled floor. His intention was to get up, keep going. Instead he closed his eyes and sank gratefully into oblivion.
Paige Graham left the Pollocks' cabin soon after dinner, driving off into the rain without looking back.
They were nice people and she'd welcomed their company, even if they were at least a generation her senior. Over the course of the evening she'd learned a lot about them. He was a retired Chicago cop on a pension and she was a retired first-grade teacher. They'd raised four kids and had seven grandchildren. They lived in this area of remote Wyoming mountains year-round, modern-day pioneers who enjoyed a challenge.
In short, they had accomplished what Paige had always dreamed of: a true marriage, a lifetime commitment.
Kind of hard to witness right now. She'd left as soon as it was polite.
She slowed down as the car hit a mud puddle. A moment later, a bolt of lightning flashed in the sky. She counted. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand She got to five before thunder shook the car.
It was early in the year to be staying in the mountains, especially for a city girl like her, but she hadn't intended on being here alone. She had six more nights of tranquility ahead of her, but she wasn't sure she could take six more minutes of it. Some honeymoon.
As she was the only one renting a place during the middle of the week, she wasn't surprised to find the other cabins dark. But her place was unlit, as well, and that did jolt her, as she'd specifically left the porch light burning.
More thunder heralded the dash between the car and the porch. She patted the outside wall, searching for the switch and finding it. It flicked up and down without result, which had to mean the electricity had gone out. The owner had warned this could happen. There was a flashlight inside somewhere. She just wasn't sure where.
Perfect. Now she couldn't even amuse herself watching the one fuzzy channel the antiquated television picked up. She couldn't call anyone because her cell didn't work due to all the trees, nor could she connect to the internet.
And just whom would she communicate with even if she could? Her mother? No, thanks. Her sister? Ditto. Her friends? Man, she'd bet they were having a heyday, half outraged on her behalf, half rabid for details. Who didn't like a nice juicy scandalbesides the people involved in it, of course.
Thoroughly out of sorts now, she unlocked the door and went inside. At least there was a semblance of warmth due to the small fire still burning in the wood-stove, and that also gave a tiny bit of light.
A graphic designer by trade, she could probably work on the laptop for a couple of hours. She'd brought along the work for the Red Hook album cover. Surely the battery was up to that, but was she? Maybe it would be best to just go to bed and get the night over with. Tomorrow was a brand-new day, and if it started like this one was ending, she'd drive home early. But if the weather cleared and she was able to stop feeling sorry for herself, she'd take a walk by the river.
She got ready for bed in the dark. The flashlight could wait until morning. As she'd left for this cabin directly from the chapel, the only nightclothes she'd packed had been flimsy little silky wisps appropriate for sashaying in front of a new husband. Needless to say, she hadn't unpacked them. She'd spent the past two nights in sweats and a long-sleeve T-shirt, and they were where she'd left them that morning, hanging over a towel bar in the bathroom, which she found by touch.
She hurried across the freezing floor, contemplating digging in her suitcase for another pair of socks but abandoning that idea because of the dark. She pulled back the covers of the unmade bed and flung herself down onto the mattress, curling into a tight ball and praying for warmth.
And knew immediately she wasn't alone.
He'd changed his mind and come after her. She could almost hear him whispering her name.
Did she want him here? No! Who did he think he was?
Funny, she hadn't seen his car.
That wasn't the only thing that was funny. Something smelled kind of earthy.
She reached out a hand slowly and touched a piece of wet fabric. "Brian?" she whispered.
Someone grasped her wrist in a decidedly unfriendly fashion.
Screaming, she wrenched her hand free and bolted out of the bed. But her legs got tangled in the covers and she fell flat on her face. Breathing heavy now, she pulled at the sheet and blankets that constrained her, desperate to escape.
Hands clutched her by the arms and pulled her to her feet. A manit had to be a man; it was too big to be a womanshook her.
"Shut up," he said.
Like hell. She screamed louder and kicked.
"Stop it," he said, and shook her again.
She could not get free. Who was this brute who lurked in her bed, wet and steamy and terrifying? What had she been thinking to come to such a remote spot by herself? She could scream all night and no one would hear her.
She gulped a deep breath and tried to gather her thoughts. She had to do something or she'd end up the headline in a newspaper: Woman Found Raped and Beaten to Death in Mountain Cabin.
She shut her mouth and recoiled at the sound of his deep, labored breathing.
"Thank the Lord," he said, and his grip lessened a fraction. She wrenched away again and took off. This time she ran right smack into the wall.
He was there again, towering over her, peeling her away.
"Calm down," he muttered. "Wouldn't you like that? Who are you? What do you want?"
He was silent. Was he making a list or something? She struggled a little, but his hold on her was firm. "Turn on the light," he finally said. "I can't. The electricity is out. Let me go. I'm warning you, my husband will be here any minute and he's ex-military."
His finger rolled over the top of her left hand. "You're not wearing a ring," he said. "And there isn't anything in this cabin to suggest a man was ever here. Don't start yelling again, please. I'm not going to hurt you."
"Who are you?"
It took him a few seconds to mutter, "I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I don't know if I'm Brian," he said, and his voice was strange, too. Slurry, as if he'd been drinking, but his breath didn't smell of booze. "I don't know who I am."
"Will you let go of me if I promise to hear you out?" she asked calmly, but her heart was jumping in her chest. Nothing he said made any sense.
"If you run into the night you'll freeze to death," he warned her.
"If you stand here in those wet clothes much longer, you'll freeze to death, too," she countered.
He slowly dropped his hands.
She scooted out of reach, but this time he didn't come after her. His shape was large in the small room, but a little stooped. His breathing was uneven. "Are you hurt?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"So you don't know who you are or how you got hurt."
"No. I may have fallen down a waterfall."
"I'd better have a look at you," she said. "Are you a doctor?"
"No, but I'm the only other person here, so I guess you have to settle. First I need to find a flashlight. I'm going out to the kitchen."
"Okay," he said, and she heard the squeak of the bed-springs as he sat down.
She took her first deep breath as she left the bedroom, feeling the walls to keep from tripping. The living room wasn't pitch-black, thanks to the meager firelight, but she ran into an ottoman anyway and swore under her breath. She should leave. Damn, her keys were in her jeans pocket, and the pants were back in the bathroom.
Okay, then she should keep going to the door and run back to the Pollocks' house. It was only a mile or so. Better then winding up a headline.
She kept going to the kitchen. She needed that flashlight and maybe a nice big butcher knife.
It took a few minutes of opening drawers and rummaging through the contents in the dark, but her fingers finally touched a smooth, cylindrical object. She fumbled with it until she found a switch and pushed it.
"Let there be light," the man whispered from a few feet away.
She turned the beam onto him. Judging from the arm he threw up to his face, she'd blinded him.
"Sorry," she muttered, lowering the light. She held a cleaver in her right hand, down by her side. If he took one step toward her
"Well," he said. "Am I?"
"Are you what?"
"Am I Brian?"
Of course he wasn't Brian. His voice was too deep and he was far too big, and anyway, Brian wouldn't act the way this man acted. But she raised the light again to get a good look at her intruder and found a well-built man in his late thirties wearing a torn, wet, bloodstained suit that might once have been pretty sharp looking. His face was scratched and bruised. One eye was puffy and swollen. His bottom lip appeared cut, and there was a split in his chin that probably needed stitches if it wasn't going to leave a scar.
Pushing a mat of thick black hair away from his battered-looking forehead, he gazed at her with dark eyes that revealed nothing. He didn't look like a businessman. In fact, he looked as if he'd be more at home in an alley than in a high-rise, but that could be because he also looked as though he'd gone ten rounds with a prizefighterand lost.
"No. You aren't Brian," she said.
She shook her head. "Not really."
He pulled a chair out from the table and sat down as though it was either that or fall on his face.
Who was he, and what was he doing in her cabin? Now that she'd seen his face, she wasn't as frightened of him, and why was that? There wasn't one cuddly thing about him. She should be running for her life.
Instead, cleaver still in hand, she sat down on a chair opposite him, the two of them trapped in a puddle of yellowish light that portended poorly for the flashlight batteries. "You think you fell down a waterfall?" she asked.
"I don't know for sure," he said, touching his lip and wincing.
"You must know something," she insisted.
He raised his gaze to hers. "I wish I did, lady, but I'm afraid that what you see is what you get."