Hannah got out of the car. She closed her eyes and turned her face to the sky. The wind shifted, carrying the smell of wood smoke and falling leaves to her nose. The cold rain refreshed her skin. She’d dressed for her meeting, but the business suit and makeup felt uncomfortable, wrong, as if she were wearing a costume. Her Prada suede pumps hurt her toes. She couldn’t wait to change into jeans and wash her face.
She headed for the front porch. Her body was tired, the beauty of last night with Brody wiped clear by her meeting with the prosecutor. Politics had claimed another victory over justice. This shouldn’t happen. People like Lee and Kate shouldn’t be murdered. Places like Scarlet Falls shouldn’t be tainted by depravity.
The dog barked on the other side of the door. Distracted, she opened her purse to retrieve her key. A movement in the shadow of the house caught her attention. A man stepped into the light and pointed a gun at Hannah’s chest.
Cruel, lean face. Goatee. Mean eyes. It was him. The man who had assaulted her in Vegas.
Hannah’s body went rigid. Sweat poured from her clammy skin. This man had hurt her before, and this time he was armed. Last time neither of them had been carrying, but today he had the advantage. Just as she’d been unable to carry her gun into New York City, her permit did not allow her to bring a weapon into a federal building. She’d locked her Glock in the safe to meet with the prosecutor. She said a silent prayer of thanks that Grant and the family weren’t home.
If he’d been alone, if he hadn’t had an accomplice to ram her car, the scenario in the Las Vegas parking lot might not have gone his way. She scanned him from his boots to the backward cap on his head. The saggy jeans and oversize hoodie said city boy.
He gestured toward her with the gun. “Turn around and raise your hands.”
Hannah pivoted, the heel of her shoe scraping on the walk. She wasn’t dressed for the woods any more than him.
“Move it, bitch.” He poked her back with the muzzle.
“Where do you want me to go?”
“My car is behind the garage. We’re going to take a ride.”
Hannah followed the driveway around the house. On her right, the lawn rolled into the creek and woods beyond. The detached garage sat off the left side, at the edge of the trees that surrounded the property. Her brother used the building for tool storage rather than parking. They walked behind the small building. A Buick sedan sat between the garage and the forest. What could she do?
He pulled a car key from his pocket and pressed the button on the fob with his thumb. The trunk popped open. Stepping to Hannah’s side, he pointed the gun at her temple. “Get in the trunk.”
So he could incapacitate her, take her to a secluded location, and proceed with the torture-rape-kill scenario she bet was in his mind? She wasn’t going to cooperate with that plan.
“From now on, you belong to me.” He grinned, confidence and malice filling his dark beady eyes. He motioned toward the trunk with the gun.
Hannah considered her options. He stood three feet from her, too far away to disarm him. She took a step and turned toward the trunk. She glanced over her shoulder. Excitement lit his eyes, and fear gathered behind Hannah’s sternum. Getting into that trunk meant certain death. Her gaze flickered to the woods, her best chance for escape.
She shifted her weight as if preparing to climb into the vehicle, then she kicked out behind her. Her foot caught his hand, knocking the gun out of his grip. It landed a few feet away and slid in the grass. He lunged toward the weapon. Leaving her Pradas behind, Hannah sprinted for the woods. After several days of intermittent rain, the ground was slippery under her bare feet. She zigzagged through the trees. Behind her, she heard huffing and crashing as gangsta boy lumbered into the forest like a tank on a Formula One course.
Hannah swung right and doubled back toward the garage, her gray-on-gray ensemble blending into the autumn-bare woods. Slowing, she took care to avoid patches of dried leaves. She paused to take stock and track the sounds of twigs snapping to the man moving a hundred feet away. Ducking behind a group of evergreens, she picked up a short, sturdy branch and waited, hoping the dense greenery was enough to conceal her body. His footsteps came closer and closer. A bead of sweat rolled down Hannah’s spine. Her lungs bellowed, and her head spun from the sudden exertion of her sprint. She wasn’t in prime condition. Too much work and not enough exercise in her life.
He passed the trees. Hannah lunged. She swung the branch at his head. He ducked, avoiding a direct blow. He lifted the gun in his hand. Before it leveled on Hannah, she dropped the branch and twisted. Both hands came down on the gun, swinging the barrel toward the ground. Applying pressure to his wrist, she turned the weapon toward him, twisting it out of his grip and pointing it at his face.
“You won’t shoot me,” he said smugly.
He grabbed for the weapon. Hannah pulled the trigger. Click. Empty.
“It ain’t loaded. After that scene at the car, I figured you’d try something.” He pulled a knife from his pocket and dove at her legs, sweeping both arms toward her knees for a tackle.
Hannah dropped the empty gun and sprawled her legs back. Her hands, arms, and body weight came down on the back of his shoulders. Off balance and surprised by her response, he hit the ground face-first. Still pressing down, Hannah spun on his back. She slid one arm under his chin to encircle his neck and locked him in a choke hold. Squeezing her elbows together, she applied pressure to the sides of his neck and cut off the blood supply to his brain. He flopped on the dirt. Hannah held on. Twenty seconds later, he went limp.
She wiggled out from under him and patted him down. His pockets were full of interesting items. She opened his wallet. His Nevada driver’s license said his name was Mick Arnette. She stuffed his wallet, knife, car key, and cell phone into her pockets. She pulled a few plastic strips from the front pocket of his jeans. “Zip ties. How handy.”
She used them to secure his wrists behind his back and bind his ankles together. Then she ran for the garage, visible through the trees. He’d be awake in a few minutes, and it was time to turn the tables on this scumbag. He was going to tell her what he did with Jewel. Was the girl still alive?
As she’d learned from her meeting with the prosecutor, criminals knew the law well enough to use it to their advantage. Once she called the police, Mick would clam up and demand a lawyer.
She opened her brother’s garage and scanned the walls of construction tools. She spied a coil of yellow nylon rope. Looping it over her shoulder, she spotted a come-along hand winch on a shelf. She read the label. The cable puller had a four-ton lifting capacity. That ought to do it. A short length of chain was coiled next to the hand winch. Perfect. Taking both, she jogged back to Mick.
Wrapping the chain around a nearby tree, she snapped the hook on one end of the come-along to two thick links. The nylon rope went around Mick’s ankles. Hannah looked up and located a sturdy tree limb about twelve feet overhead. A few tosses put the other end of the rope over the branch. She took up the slack in the rope, made a loop, and tied it off. Then she hooked the other end of the hand winch to the loop in the rope. She cranked the handle back and forth, ratcheting Mick’s feet off the ground. She worked the hoist until he was hanging upside down with his head about five feet off the ground. The blood rushing to his head would wake him up.
Her father’s survival drills had been crazy, but at that moment she was thankful for every brutal second.
He shook his head, his eyelids fluttering.
She smacked his cheek. “Wake up, Mick.”
He stirred and blinked at her. His eyes moved in wild arcs, and his body twisted like a worm on a hook. Hatred shone from his eyes, but there was also apprehension. Good.
“You and I need to have a conversation,” she said.
“You’re going to regret this.” He struggled, his body swaying. “Go fuck yourself.”
“I hardly think you’re in a position to make that sort of suggestion, Mick.” Hannah took his knife from her pocket and waved it in front of his nose. “Here’s how it works. The person who isn’t hanging upside down from a tree gets to ask the questions. You need to start talking.”
“I’m not telling you anything. You’re going to let me down, and you’re going to do what I say.” Spite, gleeful and malicious, pinched his face. “If you want to see your friend alive again.”
That must mean . . . She was alive! Hannah didn’t let her relief show on her face. She channeled her contract-negotiating expression—similar to emotional Botox. “Just tell me where she is.”
Mick’s body went still. “She?”
“What girl?” His face reddened as the blood flowed into his head.
He laughed. “You’re hung up on that little whore? She’s long gone. I have no idea where she is.”
“What did you do with her?” Hannah asked. Then discomfort rode up her spine as she realized the full impact of his statement. “Who were you talking about?”
“Check your e-mail.” Glee lit his eyes.
What had he done?
Hannah took her phone from her pocket and opened her e-mail. She had fifty-seven new e-mails. She scanned the list, stopping on a message from