Read Stranded Online

Authors: Dani Pettrey

Tags: #FIC042040, #FIC042060, #FIC027110, #Missing persons—Fiction, #Alaska—Fiction

Stranded

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© 2013 by Dani Pettrey

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6273-8

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
www.zondervan.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by Koechel Peterson & Associates, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota/Gregory Rohm

Author represented by MacGregor Literary, Inc.

To Ty:

My blond-haired, blue-eyed, full-of-life girl.

You are amazing, and I hope you never forget it!

I love you beyond measure.

Prologue

Abby's head swam, her vision narrowing as she stumbled into her cabin. What had they slipped her and when? Nausea rumbled in her stomach, magnified by the surging waves created by the brewing storm. How could she have been so foolish?

They must have figured out who she was and that she was close to exposing them. They were trying to silence her—though if it came down to it, she preferred death to the alternative.

She lifted the receiver and dialed Darcy's cabin.

Please be there
. Darcy had said she'd wait in her room, but the phone kept ringing until it rolled over into voice mail. This wasn't a message for voice mail. Not if they knew who she was. Not if it could lead them to Darcy. She had to find a better way, a safer way to leave a message only Darcy would understand.

She scribbled a quick note. Now . . . where to put it? She grabbed the Gideon Bible from the nightstand, slipped the message inside, set the Bible on her bed, and headed for the door. Only Darcy would know Abby would have no reason to
have a Bible on her bed. Turning, she spotted her purse next to the nightstand, grabbed it, and placed it atop the Bible. Never hurt to have a little added protection. Darcy would still recognize the significance.

As she walked around her bed, the ship heaved and she stumbled. She needed help. Wobbling with each step, she managed to grasp the doorknob, the metal cool inside her clammy palm. Her breath quickened. Cracking the door, she peered into the corridor, thankful to find it empty. Stepping into the hall, she moved toward the elevator.

Shadows arched around the bend halfway down the hall, where another corridor intersected it. She halted. Her breath hitched.

A man spoke, his words angry and heated. A second man responded. Her heart seized in her chest. It was them. They were coming.

She turned heel, nearly losing her footing, and braced a supportive hand against the wall, hugging it as she moved as fast as she could in the opposite direction.

The deck door
. She'd slip outside and track back toward the elevator, entering on the far end of the corridor. Perhaps the fresh air would help clear her muddled brain.

Sliding the exterior door open, she stepped out onto the deck. Brisk Alaskan air slapped her face but didn't bring the clarity she'd hoped for. Heat still surged along her skin. Seriously, what had they slipped her?

Fighting to remain erect, she gripped the railing as the tumultuous Alaskan waters crashed against the ship's hull. If she could just make it to the aft door, she'd come out right by the elevator. A few decks up and she'd be surrounded by people.

She took a tentative step, then another. Only sixty feet to the door she needed.

I can do this.
For them, she'd fight.

“There.” His voice sent ice water through her veins. They'd found her.

Sweat drenching her skin, she broke into a run, but her legs tangled beneath her. She flailed forward, her chin colliding with the rough deck surface. Pain and heat shot through her—her hands and face tingling with the loss of skin.

The footsteps grew heavier, nearer.

She peered through the haze swarming her brain, struggling to focus on the door a mere thirty feet ahead. Pushing up on her bloodied hands, she shot to her feet and stumbled forward. The deck bobbed with the waves, her vision swirling.

Please
. Tears pooled in her eyes. She grasped the door handle as an unforgiving hand clamped down hard on her shoulder, pinching her in a viselike grip. Pain radiated down her right side.

“You really thought you could outsmart us, Abby?” He wrenched her back. Grabbing her hair in his fist, he hauled her across the narrow deck.

She scrambled to grasp onto something . . . anything. She kicked as best as her limp legs would allow, fighting whatever was poisoning her system. She mustered a scream, but the ocean's roar swallowed it.

He pressed her against the railing, her back arched over the thick metal beam, her feet dangling in the air. “What a waste.”

“Please. No.”

“It's too late for that.” With a push, he forced her overboard.

Her feet flailed as the air rushed up to meet her. “Nooo!”

1

Darcy strode down the eerily silent corridor, heading for the elevator. Where was Abby? Perhaps, after returning from the day's excursion, she'd been called in to help with the evening's bash on Deck 9. Whatever the cause of Abby's delay, Darcy wasn't going to spend the rest of the night waiting. She had signed on with the
Bering
to aid Abby in an investigation—an investigation she still knew very little about.

Abby's calls from various Alaskan ports over the past few weeks had been brief—telling Darcy about an adventure journalist opportunity aboard Destiny Cruise Line's
Bering
and encouraging her to apply. The last call—the day before Darcy was scheduled to leave California to join the cruise—had been different. It had lasted less than a minute, and there was a heightened urgency to Abby's tone, true fear—unlike anything she'd heard in her former undercover investigation partner before. She wouldn't give any details, only frantically confirmed that Darcy was indeed arriving. Whatever Abby was on to, it was big.

For the first time in three years, the hunger of the hunt was back for her. And the beauty of it was that her adventure journalist “cover” was real.

Her adventure credentials and her ability to be on board the ship within forty-eight hours had impressed Destiny Cruise Line and snagged her the spot. She'd been on board little over twelve hours, and already she was anxious to plunge into whatever Abby needed her help with.

She pressed the Up button, tapping her foot until the elevator doors slid open. She stepped inside, hit the button for level
9
, and leaned against the rail. Who would have thought she'd ever be back on a case? When she left undercover investigative reporting three years ago, she'd vowed never to return. But this was different. Abby needed her help, she wasn't totally undercover, and most importantly she wasn't working for Kevin—that fact alone made all the difference. Or, at least, she tried to convince herself it did.

The elevator moved slowly, or perhaps the anxiety was getting to her. She'd been so restless since she'd left Alaska last December . . . left the McKenna family . . .
left Gage
. She'd expected to stay in contact, but nothing had come—five months with no phone calls, no e-mails . . . nothing.

She jiggled her leg as the numbers overhead lit with each deck passed—
5. 6. 7
.

The elevator jerked to a sudden halt at
8
, jarring her hard against the back rail. An alarm whirred and the lights dimmed.

You've got to be kidding.

She pressed the
9
 button. Nothing.

“Oh, come on.”

Depressing the emergency call button, she held it in, trying to ward off the encroaching panic.

She was trapped.

He answered his cell on the third ring, irritated at the intrusion. “This better be important.”

“We've got a situation,” Jeremy said.

He stood and stalked away from the bed. “I thought you were handling the situation.” Isn't that what Jeremy had promised—to take care of
his
mistake?

“I was,” Jeremy mumbled. “I am, but . . .”

“But?”

“We've hit a complication.”

There's a shock
. It was always something with Jeremy. Why he'd trusted him to run things this long . . . That was
his
mistake. “What kind of complication?” He retrieved his whiskey glass from the wet bar.

“Someone sounded the man-overboard alarm.”

“Where are you?”

“There's no need for you to come. Just tell me what to do.”

“Obviously following orders isn't your strong suit.” He finished his drink in a single draught, the golden liquid burning its way down his throat and spreading across his chest.

“But, boss . . .”

“Give me your coordinates. Now.” He kept his voice even, tight. No sense losing his temper until the matter at hand was resolved.

Jeremy gave up the coordinates.

“I'll see you soon.” He cut off the call.

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