Authors: Cami Checketts
Tags: #romance, #running, #kidnapping, #suspense
A young detective pointed his pistol at us. Nana had understood! But what was the idiot going to do? Start shooting the men around me and somehow miss me? Hopefully his partner was smarter and stealthier.
Damon grabbed my hand, pulling me through the backyard. I jerked my hand free and fell to my knees. Damon yanked so hard on my arm I was amazed my shoulder didn’t pop out of socket. He dragged me on my knees as I twisted and tried to free myself.
Somebody cried out as they plowed through the cornstalks we hadn’t cleaned out of the garden. It was so dark I couldn’t see a thing. Damon literally ran into the back fence, cussing and yanking me off the ground. One of the men climbed up and over the short wooden fence. Damon shoved me into the air. The man grabbed my hands and pulled me over, ripping more skin off my already raw elbows. I howled into the rag, smacking the man and straining to break his hold on me.
Damon scaled the fence, threw me over his shoulder and ran north. A distant streetlight gave a bit of light. We weaved through a neighbor’s yard, my head bouncing off Damon’s back with each step. The other two men ran the opposite direction, within seconds car doors slammed and they revved the engine. Headlights pointed south as the tires squealed into motion.
Nana and some officers were yelling. Shots fired. For half a second I thought help was coming, but then I realized they were chasing the car that had just left. How to get their attention focused my way? I pounded at Damon’s back with my hands, kicked with my feet at his abdomen, and squirmed to be free. I fell off of his shoulder, screaming into the rag as I almost hit the ground. Cursing, Damon caught me around the waist. The other man rushed to his aid, securing my lower body while Damon pinned my arms to my chest. They shuffled halfway down the block, stopping next to a black Tahoe.
Damon jumped in the driver’s side and let the other guy shove me into the backseat. I tried to scramble to the other door. The man hauled me back and wrapped his arms around me. His breath reeked like Santa had never put a toothbrush in his stocking. The streetlight illuminated his swarthy skin and greasy black hair. He didn’t say anything, but judging from the wide grin on his face, he really liked his current assignment.
Sirens blared through the darkness. I thought I was going to pass out with joy until I realized they were heading the wrong direction, probably following the car Nana had been chasing. Damon drove slowly out of the neighborhood, not flipping on his lights until we were almost to Main Street. Within minutes it was apparent nobody was following us. No matter how I fought, Foul Breath kept his arms tight around me. His halitosis made me lightheaded.
Damon happily explained Ramirez’s plan to kill me, Jesse, and my dad. I couldn’t even act brave and mouth off to him. My jaw ached from being pried slightly opened and my mouth felt sticky against the dry rag. I fought it, but two big tears leaked down my face. Damon caught my eye in the rear-view window. His smile grew. It was perhaps the first time since I met him six months ago that he was actually telling me the truth: I was going to die.
Nana watched the monitors next to Sham’s bed, tired of hospital duty, but with everything that had happened tonight someone needed to watch over Sham. Nana had promised to stay here while Cassie’s brother, Jared, worked with the police to find Cassie and hopefully Nathan as well.
Nana felt guilty for wanting to leave Sham when the gentle giant had come here to protect her girl. Oh, Cassie. Nana groaned. Her empty stomach churned. The worry over her granddaughter made it impossible to eat her usual late-night snack. She almost smiled as she looked at her thick body and thought of what Cassie would say about her Nana skipping any kind of meal. Even the thought of smiling left quickly. The only other time in her life she’d been too sick to eat was when she thought her son, Nathan, and his wife had been murdered. Nathan had survived, but the heartache over her daughter-in-law’s death still lingered and now she had no clue where her son or granddaughter were.
Sham shifted on the bed, his huge brown hands clutched the tan blanket as his eyes shot open. Nana leapt to her feet. “Sham?”
He focused on her, those black eyes frightening with intensity. “Where’s Cassidy?”
Nana swallowed and whispered, “Damon took her.”
“No!” Sham strained to sit up, but fell back onto the mattress. “I’ve got to . . . find her.”
“Oh, Sham, we don’t even know where she is.” Nana wrung her hands. “If there was somebody’s butt I could kick, believe me, I’d be doing it.”
“The police know nothing?”
Nana shook her head. “They have three men in custody now, but nobody’s talking yet.”
“He doesn’t respond to my calls. When I find him I will kick his butt.”
Sham tried to sit up again. “I will help you.” He slid back onto the pillows, his dark skin drenched in sweat, but his eyes determined.
“How did you know to come?” Nana asked.
Sham sighed, looking at the monitors next to his bed. “We heard Damon posted bail and disappeared. Nathan sent me here to protect Cassidy.” He coughed several times as if to clear his throat.
Nana had neglected her nursing duties. She grabbed a cup of crushed ice and spoon-fed him a few bits.
“Thank you.” Sham sucked on the ice and shook his head. “Nathan promised he wouldn’t leave without me, but he must have had no choice.”
“We flew into Salt Lake together. Supposedly most of the traffickers, including Ramirez and Panetti, are meeting at a ranch in southeastern Idaho. Panetti wanted Jesse there. Nathan was following Jesse to the ranch. He stayed on the freeway while I came through the canyon to your valley. He probably had to keep moving so he wouldn’t lose Jesse. I was supposed to meet up with them after I got you and Cassidy to a secure location.”
“Jesse is finally turning against his dad?”
Sham shook his head, his breathing labored. “Jesse’s never been on Panetti’s side, but he doesn’t know Nathan’s tracking him. One of Ramirez’s men was picking Jesse up west of Pocatello.” He took a long breath before continuing, “Jesse thinks he can take out Ramirez alone and he doesn’t want Nathan anywhere near Ramirez or Panetti. Panetti is still protecting Jesse. Nathan they would kill on the spot.”
“So you think Nathan has gone to Ramirez’s ranch without you?” Nana shook her head. “Doesn’t work for me. He wouldn’t leave without knowing if Cassidy was all right.”
Sham grimaced. “You’re right, unless he was in danger of losing his range on the tracking device. That could mean Jesse’s death. He probably assumed I could protect Cassidy.” He was almost gasping for air as he talked now. “And I’m stuck in this bed.”
Nana straightened so quickly she popped a couple of buttons on her blouse. “Where is the ranch? If we find it, we’ll find Cassidy.”
Sham studied the blanket. “I don’t know. The last I heard from Nathan, Jesse was west of Pocatello, a little town called Burley.”
Nana felt a glimmer of hope after the initial shot of despair. “I can at least get that information to the police and Jared, maybe it will help in the search.” She pulled the cell phone from her purse and started dialing.
Sham nodded. “I wish there was more I could do.”
“Pray.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, I’m not as good at that as I should be. You could help.”
Sham gave her a grim smile. “I’m more of an action man.”
Jared said hello. Nana relayed the little information she’d received from Sham, wishing the action man had been able to protect her Cassie. Sham fell back asleep a few minutes later.
Nana spent an impatient half hour watching him sleep and wanting to chase after Cassie. The door creaked open. Nana spun around. Cassie’s best friend, Tasha, floated into the room. Her gaze lingered on Sham. “That is one tall drink of Coke.”
Nana tried to smile but failed. “He is a good-looking man.”
“I’ll say.” Tasha hovered over Sham’s bed, staring without blinking. “Jared said I should come watch over Sham so you could get some sleep.” Her long fingers rubbed back and forth on the bedrail. “I thought it would be a miserable job, but now I can see he was doing me a favor.”
Nana slowly stood, looking over the skinny blonde. “What did Jared think you could do if somebody came to hurt Sham?”
Tasha smiled. “They’ve got two policemen stationed outside. I’m just staying in case he wakes up and thinks of more helpful information. “
Nana’s eyes flickered between Tasha and Sham. Heaven knew she loved Tasha, but she imagined Sham would look past the exterior beauty to the selfishness inside quicker than Tasha would like. “Let him sleep.”
Tasha’s tongue flitted over her painted-on lips. “I’ll
Nana nodded to the policemen as she left the room. She walked to her car. Nobody was waiting for her. They must be back at the house. Her brain was whirring. Jared was going to be ticked at her, but she had to do something—her Cassie was in trouble. Home to sleep? As if. She was driving to Burley, Idaho.
I was so uncomfortable with Foul Breath grinning and eyeing me up and down that the drive seemed to stretch on and on. Damon had finally ordered Carlos—Foul Breath apparently had a name—to get his hands off me. I was able to breathe a little easier without him touching me, although there was no way to escape his stench.
We drove north through Idaho and finally hit I-15. The freeway stint was much too short. I was so exhausted I fell asleep leaning against the cold window. My reprieve ended abruptly when Damon jerked the Tahoe toward the off-ramp as he exited the freeway. For half a second I wasn’t sure where I was, then all the fear came rushing back in a sickening wave. Damon’s driving and the disgusting gag couldn’t be completely to blame for the nausea climbing my throat.
Within a few miles the road went from halfway paved to barely passable. The sport utility lurched over pot holes and rocks. I was bounced by the dirt roads for what felt like hours, but when we received clearance from two sentries and crept up a long tree-lined drive it was still pitch black outside. The drive must not have been as long as it felt.
Light blazed from numerous windows in the three-story home. Past the house there were flickering lights in dozens of barns and outbuildings. The only trees were along the driveway and clustered around the house. Beyond the barns was flat and dark, probably miles and miles of farmland. It would be hard to be more isolated than this. I always assumed the bad guy’s lair would be hidden in a jungle or forest, but I immediately saw this was smarter. There were no neighbors and no hope of anybody sneaking up on this place. They could see for miles in any direction. Great for them. Nightmare for me.
As soon as Damon jammed the car into gear, Carlos started tugging me out. Damon took me from Carlos. “I’ve got her.”
Carlos sneered at him, but slunk along behind us. I enjoyed Damon’s hands on me about as much as Carlos’s. On a positive note, he smelled better. The night air nibbled at my bare arms. Damon jerked me up the steps onto a huge wrap-around porch and past the guards stationed at the door.
The first thing I noticed when we entered the house was the men. It had to be around three or four in the morning yet none of these men were sleeping. There was an air of expectancy like they were waiting for something to happen. Men lounged in the beautiful front living room and formal dining room. There were men all over the enormous kitchen; eating, talking, and whistling as Damon dragged me through. They were mostly white or Hispanic, none looked to be older than thirty.
Damon pulled me into a large living room off the kitchen, closing the French doors behind us. Several men relaxed in overstuffed chairs. A dark-haired man was playing with his phone in the corner, his broad arms covered with tattoos. He looked tantalizing in a gray T-shirt and jeans. Jesse. Joy and safety encompassed me as I studied his handsome profile, wishing he would look up and rush to my side. My legs could hardly support me.
“What have we here?” The speaker was more tiger than man, right down to the tawny hair and flashing eyes. He looked me over like I was an antelope he wanted to rip apart with his teeth.
Jesse’s head snapped up. “Cassidy!” He jumped to his feet and crossed the distance between us in long strides. The anger in his dark gaze pulsated through the room. I cowered, even though I was pretty sure his fury wasn’t directed at me.
Damon whipped me around to his other side, lifting a hand in a futile attempt to shield us.
Another man yelled, “No, Jesse! Think!”
Jesse ignored the man, pushing Damon out of the way with one arm while pulling me to him with the other. A bull couldn’t have withstood the raw power emanating from him. Damon slammed into a hard chair.
Jesse wrapped his arms around me, his touch a soothing balm to all my aches, pains, and fears. “Oh, Cassidy,” he murmured against my cheek.
I tried to swallow, but couldn’t get my tongue past the rag. Tears fought to be free of my lashes as the overwhelming warmth of Jesse’s protection about undid me. I clung to him.
A loud chuckle filled the room. “Well, that’s all the proof I need,” Tiger Man said.
“Look at her,” the man who had first yelled at Jesse said, “Of course he feels protective of her. Damon is acting just as stupid. What kid isn’t going to fight over a girl that beautiful?”
“Beautiful doesn’t matter much when she’s
daughter.” Tiger Man smiled. “They can fight over her all they want, I’m still going to kill her just for the pleasure of seeing Nathan beg for her life and cry when it’s gone.”
I shrank deeper into Jesse’s arms. The look in Tiger’s eyes said my minutes were numbered and he was going to take great pleasure in extracting each drop of blood. Damon struggled to his feet and glowered at Jesse and me. Damon and Jesse both looked ready and willing to battle. Jesse was stiff against me. He loosened his hold long enough to undo the restraint binding my mouth and sweep my frame with his eyes.