Discarded Hereos #3
By Dianne Christner
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2011 Dianne Christner
All rights reserved.
Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Two Years Later
If she had a heart, she might be capable of tears. If she had feelings, she might hurt.
But she had neither. Not anymore. Hard mortar sat in her chest forcefully pumping the blood through her veins. Curled on her side, Danielle Roark closed her mind to her naked body, to the bruises, the blood. Moving had dire consequences—namely waking the snoring slob behind her. When she made the last escape attempt, he'd beaten her unconscious.
She shoved her thoughts toward the plan. Weeks of preparation. Weeks of rape and torture. Were it not for the discovery she'd made, she would lie down and die. But they'd taken enough of her soul to stir the embers of revenge. Now, she'd make sure there was nothing left to identify of these barbaric apes. Back home in the States, her father and stepmother were celebrating Thanksgiving. Today, she'd celebrate with them, by gaining her freedom.
A loud snort and the subsequent long sigh that always signaled when the drunk general entered a deep sleep echoed in the dank room.
Using her tongue, she pushed the plastic from her mouth and moved with the grace of the demolitions expert she was. She slipped from the bed, slowed her breathing, and stretched one foot forward. Her toe touched the chilled cement. Shivers danced through her. Darting a glance to the disgusting form on the thin mattress, she glided across the room to his bag. Though she itched to put her clothes on, she knew if he awoke and found her dressing, it'd start all over again.
Eyes on him, she stealthily allowed her hands to search his bag for the thumb drive he used last night. If she could find that, if she could get the proof ... then she could end this. And in days, he'd be dead.
Her fingers closed around a thin, plastic object. Exultant, she drew it out. Jaw clamped, she watched for any sign of him waking as she encased the stick drive in the cellophane. Shivering in the chilly November night, she unwound the long thread from her back tooth that she'd secured yesterday, tied it around the device, leaving just enough to anchor it to her molar, then forced herself to swallow. She might as well have tried to gulp a grenade, it felt so large.
The savage was still snoring. Temptation pushed her to the chair where his weapon lay on the cushion. All she had to do was lift it, aim, and pull the trigger. It'd be over. Right now. She could kill him. He deserved that. She deserved that. Deserved to see his blood pouring over the cement for what he'd done, what he'd ripped from her time and again.
Imbecile thought he was smart. Yeah, right. So smart he hadn't noticed the odd flavor in his liquor. But if she killed him here, another would rise to continue his work. That, she couldn't allow.
Dani drifted to the end of the bed. Lifted the army jacket he'd shed in his haste to have his perverted pleasure. Though she worked for quiet, the sound of her fingers against the stiff fabric seemed to scream through the cement room. Her hand trembled as she fastened the two middle buttons. When she reached for the pants, his foot dragged over the bed.
Her heart pinged off her ribs. Her life was more important than modesty. She snatched his gun and spun.
"Wha ...?" General Bruzon staggered upward, his thick salt-and-pepper hair askew. He looked around, his movements sluggish and uncoordinated. "Guards!"
She aimed and fired—at the window. Running, she eased the trigger back again. Glass shattered. With the gun hitting the pane first, Dani dove through the portal to freedom. As the glass sliced her flesh, prickly fire chewed her arms and sides. Pain had no voice tonight. She had to make it.
Blaring and grating, a siren screamed through the night.
Seconds later the lawn lit up brighter than Times Square on New Year's Eve. Despite pain and fear, she sprinted around the building. Rocks and burrs pricked the soles of her bare feet. She plunged onward, unheeding.
A door flung open from the side of the building, diverting Dani to a nearby truck where she pressed her back against the hull. Even this late at night in late November, the temperatures in Venezuela hit a balmy midsixties.
Can't stop. Not now.
Panting, she glanced toward the ocean that waited beyond the cliff. Even under the glare of the searchlights, the dark water twinkled. Beckoning her. Calling. Luring. If only the wood was where Hugo had promised to leave it.
Betting your life on a man's word—what an idiot!
A commotion rent the bright night. Dani frowned as she tried to make out the noise. It sounded hollow. Pounding, like a bad bass beat. But amid the unfolding chaos, it was indecipherable. She scooted along the truck, inching closer. From beneath the chassis, she drew out a small wooden pallet. A nervous smile skidded into her lips. Hugo had done it. Like he promised.
She peered around the truck—and froze. Dark shadows rippled toward her like a heat wave. Only it wasn't water. Dogs! A dozen of them.
If she ran, the guards would gun her down.
If she didn't, the dogs would rip her apart.
Bullets or teeth.
Either way she was fated to die.
Dani clamped her jaw tight. Faced the water.
God ... if You're there ...
He wasn't. Hadn't been for the last six months. She was on her own.
With renewed determination to do everything she could to protect herself, Dani propelled herself the thirty meters toward the churning ocean that waited below the lip of the cliff.
Barking grew louder. Closer.
Snapping jaws pursued her as the killer canines lunged for her. Panic ricocheted off her ribs. Push. Harder. Had to make it ...
Within a half dozen feet, she flung the three-foot square raft over the edge. As she leapt, red-hot fire tore through her calf—seconds later the needling registered in her mind. A dog had caught her leg! Sailing through the air, she kicked with both feet. The beast finally reacted to the free fall and released her.
She plummeted—feeling free! In the split second her foot stabbed the water, she spotted the wood bobbing northeast of her position. Icy liquid devoured her. Dani let the ocean take her down. Down. It'd be easy to just keep sinking. Never return to anyone or anything. Ultimate freedom.
But she couldn't. Not if she wanted Bruzon six feet under.
She launched upward, using her arms to gain the surface faster. Gasping, she searched the dark water for the wood. As she did, she saw the dog limping onto the shore, head down. He looked back at her and snarled, as if to blame her for the leg injury. Guess we're even. With the salt water, the searing wound he'd given her was enough to make anyone cry.
Anyone but her.
Knowing Bruzon and his men would hop in their boats and choppers to find her and teach her yet another vicious lesson, Dani swam a mean breaststroke toward the raft. The waves struggled against her, but she pushed herself. Had to. Finally, her fingers grazed the sodden wood.
Even once she folded herself onto it, she wouldn't be safe. Bruzon would search hard and long to find her, especially if he figured out what she'd stolen. For her, it was a guarantee the man would never rape another girl. To him, it was the loss of his entire pathetic empire. One he'd seized through brute force over her mother's beloved country.
Gripping the slick wood, she hauled herself onto it, ignoring the chill skittering over her pebbled flesh. The handmade raft buoyed her as the waves tossed and turned on this sleepless night as if ready to belch her back onto the beach. She squinted up at the dark sky, at the thick clouds barricading the stars beyond. Much like Bruzon keeping her from home. A dull moon seemed a homing beacon against her bare legs.
Getting revenge required getting back to the States. Twenty-two kilometers stretched between Dani and hope. Twelve nautical miles that would put her in international waters.
Light stabbed the night.
She whipped around, the army jacket heavy with ocean water as she paddled.
Bruzon's speedboat roared over the waves.
They were headed straight toward her. A metallic flavor glanced off her tongue. Watching the boat, she quickened her strokes, the wood chaffed her arm. No good. The boat gained too quickly. She'd have to go under.
Inhaling deeply, she slid off the raft and swam through the lukewarm-ocean. Believing herself a safe distance away, she drifted toward the surface. With great control and tilting her head back, she eased her ears and nose above the surface.
A VFA soldier leaned over the edge of the boat and lifted the raft. "No es nada. Ella no está aquí," he shouted toward the front and dropped the board. Plunk!
That's right. Keep thinking it's nothing, that I'm not here.
The spotlight swung in a lazy circle over the water. As it fractured her space, Dani stopped treading water and sank.
Even with her eyes closed against the saltiness, she could detect the brightness probing the waters, disappear, then probe again. Flutter kicking as gently as possible, she remained in place. Her head throbbed. She couldn't hold her breath much longer. A burn emanated through her chest and threatened to drown her. She tensed, knowing she'd have to break for air. Maybe it was okay ...
The light seemed magnetically drawn to her. It pierced the dark waters again. It glanced over her, pausing. Dani let herself sink again, but her pulse ramped up until it pounded in sync with the drumming motor.
Is this how she would die? Would she never get to see her sister, niece, and nephews again? While she didn't have the greatest family, she did love her father and sister. Abigail, the wicked stepmother, could take a flying leap. It wasn't every day your ex-boyfriend's sister married your father.
But still, Dani wanted to see them again. Please.
Finally, water churned under the frantic thrashing of the engine. The boat tore off.
She shoved herself upward—and burst out of the water. Sucking in air, she also caught a mouthful of water. Coughing and gagging, she swatted the hair from her eyes. She spit as she searched for the raft, then swam to it. She dragged herself aboard. Water sloshed her face as the waves tossed her over one crest after another. Although exhaustion tugged at her limbs, she paddled. Had to ... get ... to—
Over the next hour, she heard the grumble of more boats and the thunder of a chopper, but she'd exceeded their search radius. As one chopper loomed close, she mentally drew out an RPG and launched it. Then plotted the plastique she could rig to the rotors so the craft and crew wouldn't have a prayer. Her eyes drifted closed, thinking of the thing raining down fire on the ocean, the craft in a million pieces. Sick how the mind of a demolitions expert worked after six months' captivity. To think, she'd once been the sweet, compliant daughter of a senator.
Well, maybe not compliant.
A loud bang cracked the night. Brilliance shattered the darkness.
Dani jerked, terrified they'd found her. Only to spot a storm surging and racing toward her. The negative image of the lightning lingered in her eyes. Another bolt flashed through the sky. Within seconds rain unleashed and blanketed the area. The waters grew angry and threatening. Had she angered Poseidon? The thought would've seemed comical were she not facing an endless body of night-darkened liquid. A giant wave rose like the god himself.
It'd toss her into the deep and thrash her like whipped cream. Pulse crashing, Dani wiggled her fingers into the bindings that held the boards together.
The mountainous wall of black rose over her. Waaay over her.
Stricken, she inhaled deeply as the water towered over her, seemingly holding its own breath—then lunged at her. It slammed her into its depths. Swirling, spinning, she clung to the raft, praying it would hold. That it would keep her afloat. Finding the surface after being plunged downward often proved impossible—and deadly.
Miraculously, the raft plopped upward and crested another wave.
Dani sucked in a huge breath before clamping her mouth shut and squeezing her eyes shut as the water plunged her deep again. Then ... up ... up ... It hurled her farther—
Everything went black.
* * *
Hands pawed at her.
"Pull her up," a man's voice skated down her neck.
They'd found her! Disoriented, Dani writhed and screamed. Bruzon would beat her, rip out her soul this time. No, she couldn't go back. She kicked. Raked fingers over flesh.
"Argh! Dad, get her," the nearby voice growled.
"I radioed the Coast Guard, Grant." A woman's worried tone spiraled through Dani, easing her fears.
This wasn't Bruzon. These people were speaking English. American English. Not the butchered form she'd heard for months. She pushed her eyes open as she was lowered onto something hard ... and dry. Blurry images danced over her.
"What's your name?" The dark image in front of her swayed and faded.
* * *
Pentagon, Arlington County, Virginia
A light rap on the glass door jerked Olin Lambert's attention to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs lingering outside. He punched to his feet, spine stiff, and pointed to the leather seats on the opposite side of his massive mahogany desk. "Admiral, come in, sir. Have a seat."
"Actually," Admiral Langston said, "I'd like you to take a ride with me."
Halfway between returning to his seat and standing, Olin paused, looking over his silver-rimmed glasses. A ride? He knew better than to question the admiral. He straightened and lifted his hat from the desk. He strode out the door, pulling it shut behind him.
"I have something I think you'll want to see," Langston said.
"Very good, sir." Olin nodded to his assistant sitting at her desk and relayed a silent signal to hold his calls until he returned. He eyed the salt-and-pepper hair of the decade-younger chief as he followed him down the hall and into the elevator.
Since assuming his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs three months earlier, Langston had kept to himself. There was much to learn and even more to unlearn about his new boss. Would Olin be able to woo him into his court with Nightshade the way he had the man's predecessor?
Once the door shut, Langston pressed the elevator button. "Coast Guard picked up a woman in the Gulf."
Olin shook his head. "Illegals just won't learn." But Langston wouldn't call him out for an illegal—that happened nearly every day. So something bigger was happening here.
The doors slid back with a soft whoosh, and Langston stepped into the large atrium of the building. He donned his white hat as the early morning sun embraced them. Inside the Suburban and on their way, Langston leaned on the console that saddled the space between them. "She wasn't an illegal."
Olin arched his eyebrows. He studied the brown eyes that held his, as if a hidden meaning should exist. He shouldn't have waited so long to figure out the madness to Admiral Langston's methods. Should've taken the admiral to lunch to familiarize himself with the man who now advised the president and the secretary of defense.
Regardless if the woman in the Gulf wasn't an illegal, if it hadn't made CougarNews yet, then things were about to get interesting. "Who is she?"
"For security concerns, her identity is being withheld until we can debrief her fully." He huffed. "Not that it's done any good. She's not talking." Langston peeked up at an orange light as they slid through the intersection without slowing. "We think she's Senator Roark's daughter."
"Roark?" Heat prickled the back of Olin's neck. Jacqueline.
He'd never forget the night the report came in that a Corps of Engineers team had been taken captive in the Venezuelan jungle. Then his heart sank when he saw the name of Jacqueline's daughter on the list of missing. Although he tried to discreetly search back channels to find out what happened and locate her, he'd been stifled at every attempt. And doing that made it risky to send out his black-ops team to find her; besides, the team had been shelved when Connelly, the former Joint Chiefs chairman, tried to salvage his career. And failed. Thus the new chairman sitting next to him.
"We've had her twenty-three hours. Not an iota of information." Langston dragged his gaze from the road. "She said she'll only talk to one person."
Surprise sparked through him. "Me?" Why would Danielle ask for him? The last time he'd seen her, she was thirteen years old and standing beside an oak coffin, begging her mother not to leave her. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Wolfsbane by Dianne Christner. Copyright © 2011 Dianne Christner. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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