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By Linda Winstead Jones
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Linda Winstead Jones
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVic squirmed a little, trying without success to loosen the duct tape that bound her hands behind her back, her ankles to the rear legs of the metal chair, and her bare legs to Del's blue-jeans-encased thighs. She straddled Del, and they were both snugly trussed to the chair and to one another, face-to-face. She glanced down as the man who had dragged her from her home that morning very carefully slid beneath the chair. He cradled something small and deadly looking in his large hands. Vic hadn't thought it possible to be more frightened than she had been since the kidnapping, but the sight of that device made her heart beat a little harder, a little faster.
The second kidnapper, a petite blond woman, handed her partner more duct tape, and he tore off a long strip.
"You said you would let her go when I got here," Del said between clenched teeth.
The blonde looked up at Del and smiled. "I lied."
Del tried, as Vic did, to discreetly loosen the duct tape that bound him securely to the chair in this second-floor room of a deserted warehouse. Had the sight of that device scared him, too? He didn't seem to be particularly frightened. Mainly, he looked annoyed.
"Whatever happened to professional courtesy?" Del asked, sounding as annoyed as he looked. He kept his eyes on the woman, who continued to kneel by the chair.
Vic shuddered. Professional courtesy?
The woman moved aside as her partner slithered from beneath the chair. The fair-haired man rubbed his palms together as he stood. "All done. Let's get out of here."
"You're sure you didn't forget anything?" the woman asked in a low, soothing voice.
"I didn't forget anything." The man sounded slightly offended.
"Good." The blonde's smile returned. "Let's go."
With one last quick wave, they did just that. They left the room, closing the door behind them even though this warehouse somewhere near the interstate had long been abandoned. From what little Vic could see through the uncovered window, they were far from anyone or anything that might be of help. The occasional hum of a large truck passing in the distance was all she could hear. The tops of trees, lush with summer growth, were all she could see through the dirty panes of glass in the single window in this room.
Since they were now alone Vic laid her eyes on Del, and found him staring at her. Eyes dark blue and intense, mouth an unhappy slash, he stared at her as if this was her fault.
"That was a bomb," she said softly, wondering if something so simple as a raised voice might set it off.
"We're sitting on it."
She hadn't seen Del Wilder for sixteen years, until he'd appeared in the doorway of this very room not a half hour ago. Some things about him hadn't changed. He still had long black hair, long legs wrapped in faded denim, a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket and a wicked mouth. But he was taller, wider in the shoulders, and occasionally she caught a glimpse of a single glittering diamond earring peeking out from those dark strands of hair. The man was thirty-three years old ... no, thirty-four ... and he still hadn't managed to completely grow up. Something else to hold against him.
What on earth was he involved in that would lead him, and her, here? Criminal activity, surely. No matter how much she had hated Del Wilder in years past, she'd never thought he might end up some kind of outlaw. Even in her worst moments, she'd thought better of him.
"Well?" she prodded.
He did. He smiled. Had she really once thought that smile irresistibly charming?
"Still painting, I see," he said, nodding his chin.
Vic couldn't do anything about the smudge of paint she knew marred her cheek. Yellow, carried there from a spot of paint on her hands just moments before the doorbell rang. "Yes," she said simply.
Del's eyes traveled from the paint on her cheek to her mouth, to her throat and slowly down the much-too-open V in the worn and paint-stained men's dress shirt Vic wore. At the tip of the V his roving eyes stopped and lingered.
"Do you mind?" Vic asked in her frostiest voice, and the gaze drifted up once again to meet hers.
"How did they get you?" he asked in a low voice. "Please tell me you didn't just open the door and invite them in."
She didn't want to remember, and she certainly didn't want to talk about it. Almost unconsciously, she twitched her nose. She shifted her gaze to the window for a safer view. "I did have the sense to look through the peephole. They were dressed like delivery men," she said.
"Two delivery men?" Del asked sharply. "That didn't strike you as unusual?"
Vic shrugged and pursed her mouth. The last thing she needed was to be chastised by Del Wilder! "The box they were pushing on a dolly was quite large. I thought maybe it was very heavy and was too much for one person." She looked Del in the eye again. "The box was for me. They ... put me in it."
He nodded, as if he'd already figured that out.
"Who are they?" she asked.
Del took a deep breath and shook his head. "Tripp and Holly Mayron. Drug dealers. Small-time, mostly. Can't figure out what set them off."
Competitors, she imagined, since he'd been so incensed at their lack of professional courtesy. Apparently there was no honor among thieves. Or drug dealers.
Vic's anger faded, just a little. No matter how hard she tried to hate Del Wilder, she couldn't quite get rid of that one little tender spot she still carried for him. "You shouldn't have come here," she said softly.
"I didn't have any choice."
Of course he'd had a choice. Not long after their arrival at this warehouse, the female half of the pair of kidnappers - Holly, she now knew - had dialed a number on the cell phone she'd taken from Vic's entryway table. Until Del had shown up at the door, Vic had thought it was her father they were calling. They'd made Vic say her full name, nothing more, and then Tripp had twisted her arm until she'd cried out. Just once. Holly had told the person on the other end of the phone that he had an hour to get here. If he wasn't here in sixty-one minutes, Victoria Lynn Archard Lowell would be painfully and decisively dead. Directions to this place had followed and less than an hour later Del had arrived.
"You had a choice," she whispered.
After sixteen years, why would Del put his life on the line for her? They'd been together for a day or two less than a month, what seemed like a hundred years ago, thrilling and suffering through an intense teenage romance. It hadn't worked out for them; of course it hadn't. They came from different worlds, and the only thing that had drawn them together had been chemistry. That's all. Some freak biological attraction. She'd told herself that a million times in the past sixteen years.
And here he was.
"Lowell, they said your name was," Del said as he again tried to loosen the duct tape at his back. "Married?"
Her heart hitched. This was not a conversation she wanted to have with Del Wilder, whether they were about to die or not. "Yeah." Not a lie, exactly, since she had been married.
Oh, no. She couldn't handle this. Not now, not ever. "A daughter."
Excerpted from Wilder Days by Linda Winstead Jones Copyright © 2003 by Linda Winstead Jones
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.