Kate Foster’s breath escaped her lips in short, shallow bursts.
The sack, which had been placed over her head when she had first been attacked, clung to her mouth and nose with each inhaled gasp.
Condensation prickled against her face, the lack of air suffocating. Her heart beat rapidly, hammering against her ribcage, while a trickle of sweat worked its way between her breasts.
The hardwood chair pierced the denim fabric of her jeans, and she wriggled backwards, trying to ease the pressure on her pelvic bone.
‘Stay still,’ said a voice to her right.
Her head twitched, and she held her breath, sensing the man as he drew closer. She caught a faint trace of his scent through the musty fabric of the sackcloth – sweat, a hint of hours-old cologne.
Her heart skipped a beat, and her stomach clenched. The smell grew stronger, and she turned her head from side to side, trying to gauge the man’s exact location. A faint echo of his shower gel lingered in the air between them, a mixture of musk and jasmine.
‘No-one’s coming to get you,’ he murmured in her ear.
Kate jumped in her seat, not realizing his proximity had been so close. Her heart raced harder, and she exhaled, trying to keep calm, the rushing sound in her ears now deafening.
A low chuckle vibrated next to her skin. She twisted, trying to gain some distance between them.
She’d lost all sense of time. This morning, she’d been talking to three colleagues outside, taking advantage of the rare sunshine that had bathed the courtyard.
The attack had been swift, well-coordinated, with no warning.
Her jewelry and watch had been removed from her, and then she’d been shoved into a small room with her colleagues, and told to stay silent.
Maybe an hour had passed, during which time her colleagues had been taken one by one from the room, leaving the remaining captives to their own thoughts.
Then, the hostage takers had returned for her, dragging her from the sitting position she’d been forced to adopt, the sack over her head damp with condensation from her breath.
She’d felt a hard surface under her feet, and then a door had slammed shut behind her. She’d been forced into a chair, before her wrists were pushed through plastic cuffs and secured.
Now, her breathing increased as she tried to remember what she’d been told, what to do to keep her captor calm. She worked her wrists, trying to loosen the cuffs and keep the circulation flowing through her fingers.
‘They’ll pay you,’ she whispered, then coughed and cleared her throat before repeating herself. ‘They’ll pay you. To let me go. To keep me safe.’
An exasperated sigh escaped the man’s lips.
Kate held her breath, and then jumped as the sackcloth was ripped off her head. She blinked in the rays of light shining through the grubby farmhouse window.
The voice drew her attention back to the man who was now standing in front of her, hands on hips, glaring.
‘Don’t ever try to bargain with them,’ he said, then turned and strode across the room to a table. He threw the sackcloth onto it and slumped into another chair, facing her, his foot tapping an unknown beat on the floor. ‘You do that, they’re going to feed on your desperation.’
Kate shifted in her seat and watched his heel bounce up and down, and then caught him staring at her. She blushed and lowered her gaze.
The hostage course was so damn hard – only three days to remember everything the instructors were trying to teach her, on top of a bad case of jetlag after her flight from the US two days ago. The difficulty rating went through the ceiling when the taller of the two, now berating her, looked so bloody good in the tight black t-shirt he was wearing with his jeans.
She raised her head and watched the man who was running his hand through his unkempt brown hair, frustration etched across his face.
He appeared to ignore her discomfort. ‘Small steps. Build up a rapport – don’t discuss politics, religion or your own situation. Keep it simple. Ask for small favors.’ His voice rose. ‘And under no circumstances talk about paying a ransom. Ever.’
He rose from the chair and stalked towards her. ‘That’s the hostage negotiator’s job, and you could ruin everything he’s trying to do to save you. Remember the basics we discussed in the classroom yesterday?’
Kate swallowed. She found her concentration wavering as she stared into his green eyes, sure she could see gold flecks around the edge of his irises, and then cursed inwardly as her bottom lip quivered. Although it was a simulated kidnapping, it had been frighteningly real.
Her eyes stung, and she blinked, inhaled deeply and tried to ignore the heat in her face. ‘Can you at least untie me?’
He waited for a heartbeat, and then turned, shaking his head. ‘You sort her out,’ he said over his shoulder and pushed his way through a door which led to the yard outside.
Kate’s mouth dropped open in indignation, before her attention was drawn to another, older man approaching her.
He reached into the back pocket of his jeans, pulled out a knife and bent down. He flicked the blade open. As he raised the blade, he glanced up, his grey eyes twinkling with humor.
‘Ignore Finn,’ he said. ‘He’s having a bad day.’
A faint smile stole across Kate’s face, and she sniffed. ‘Really, Steve? What’s he like on a good day?’
He smirked. ‘You’ve got another day and a half to go, so I’ll have a word, get him to play nice. Keep still.’
She nodded and watched as he gathered her wrists within one of his hands and sawed through the plastic cuffs that held her.
Kate slumped into the canvas chair and bit into an apple while she watched the small group of people move around the room, laughing and joking. The morning’s training session had left her feeling overwhelmed and out of her depth.
When she’d applied for the job three months ago, it had been an act of defiance. In her mind, it was a way to move on from a messy split from a long-term relationship with a man who’d admitted to having a lengthy affair, only days after telling her he didn’t share her need to start a family.
The rejection still hurt. Secretly, she hoped that by throwing herself into the deep end with such a demanding role, the pain would fade.
She took another bite of the apple and thought about the new passport safely tucked away in her bedside drawer at the hotel. The online advertisement for the role promised international travel in return for hard work and unparalleled dedication to the Business Development division of the owner’s company.
She observed him now.
Ian Hart walked around the room, laughing and joking with the other new staff members who had joined him at the remote farmhouse for the survival course. An electronics engineer, he had invented a new computer circuit in his twenties which, thirty years later, was an integral part of seventy per cent of the world’s surface-to-air missile systems. And he was still hungry for the remaining thirty per cent.
Using the money from the defense side of his business, he’d expanded it to encompass hospitals, universities and IT companies – the division by which Kate would now be employed.
The only exception to his notorious business drive which had been made this weekend had been for his American wife, Cynthia, to join the small group in the evenings for dinner. Kate secretly thought that as the only other female in the group, this was more for her benefit than Ian’s.
Finn Scott, the man who had been interrogating her earlier, had taken up residence at the far end of the room, and despite the recent antagonism between them, Kate couldn’t help watching him out of the corner of her eye as he spoke with her new employer.
She wondered what his background was – Marines? Special Forces? Federal agent? American in any case, the same as she – and a long way from home here in the wilds of the Northumbrian moors. There was something of the military about him, and the lower half of a tattoo poked out from the sleeve of his t-shirt, but he wore his hair longer than an army buzz cut – and no wedding ring she noted, smiling.
She broke away from her thoughts as he approached with Ian, a lazy grin on his face as he passed.
‘Don’t get too comfortable, princess,’ he drawled. ‘We’ll be doing it all again within the hour.’
With that, he followed Ian out the room and closed the door behind them.
She sighed, stood, and threw the apple core into the nearest bin before joining her colleagues and tried to look enthusiastic about being held hostage by the infuriating man.
‘You can’t take her with you.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. She’s already got the job. Her visas came through last week.’
Ian Hart threw the report he’d been reading onto the desk surface and turned to face Finn, his hands on his hips. ‘Don’t tell me how to run my business.’
Finn ran a hand through his hair, and began pacing across the carpet. ‘She’s too inexperienced. She’s never even been overseas until now. She fell apart in the training for Christ’s sake!’ He turned to Steve. ‘Help me out here, will you? Tell him!’
‘I use your company to train my staff so they are ready,’ said Hart. ‘After that, and once we’re traveling, she’ll share the same security as me. She’ll have an apartment in the same secure compound as the rest of my staff. Every time she leaves her apartment or the office, she’ll have a driver with her.’ Turning, he stepped round the desk and sat down heavily in the leather chair behind it. Leaning back, he placed his feet on the desk and watched Finn pace back and forth. ‘Why are you so concerned anyway?’
Finn stopped and glared at Ian. ‘Because if anything happened to her, I’d feel responsible. It’s my job to make sure she’s ready.’
Ian cocked an eyebrow. ‘Is that so?’ He stared at Finn for a second, and then smirked. ‘Would you be that concerned if something happened to me?’
‘Oh piss off,’ said Finn wearily. He slumped into one of the armchairs which faced the desk, and ignored the other man’s laughter.
‘Okay, enough,’ Steve Orton, Finn’s boss, said. ‘This isn’t helping anyone. Ian, with all due respect, if Finn believes she needs more training, then you should delay her trip. She can always follow you out in a week’s time.’
Hart shook his head. ‘No way. She knew what she was letting herself in for when she applied for the job. She told us she was looking for a challenge.’ He held up a slim file. ‘Her application was impeccable – she’ll be the best sales development person I’ll have with me. As it is, we’re scheduled to begin meetings with potential customers in London next week, and then we leave for the Continent.’
He turned his attention back to Finn. ‘I know what happened to you, and why that’s possibly clouding your judgement.’ Ian’s expression grew serious as he eased his feet off the desk and leaned forward. ‘From what I’ve heard, it wasn’t your fault.’
Finn shrugged, but remained silent.
Ian straightened up and checked his watch. ‘I’ve got a telephone conference in five minutes. I suggest you give them another half an hour to finish their lunch, and then start the afternoon session.’
Finn growled and stood. ‘I still say she won’t be ready.’
Ian smiled. ‘Then make sure she is.’
Halfway through the afternoon, Kate hurried over to where a tangle of gorse bushes grew to one side of the forest track and threw up the contents of her stomach. She groaned and bent down, resting her hands on her knees. The muscles in her thighs and calves burned, echoing the acid taste in her mouth.
She opened her eyes and an open bottle of water was thrust at her. She glared at the man holding it, then snatched the bottle from him and tipped her head back.
‘Hey, steady – steady!’ said Finn, taking the bottle from her. ‘You drink like that, it’s all going to come straight back up. Slowly, okay?’
She nodded and held out her hand. ‘Give it back.’
She turned and staggered over to a grassy mound next to the track and collapsed onto it, sweat trickling down the back of her neck. She took another sip of the water, then closed her eyes and splashed the remaining liquid over her head.
Slicking the tendrils of her hair which had escaped her ponytail away from her face, she opened her eyes to find Finn watching her intently. ‘Now what?’
‘Don’t ever waste water like that.’
He pointed at the empty container. ‘It’s for drinking, not washing. You won’t know when you’ll get your next ration, so don’t waste it. You can’t afford to.’
Kate stared at him, her mouth open. A split second passed before she realized he wasn’t joking. She stood slowly, and then walked towards him, waving the bottle. ‘I’ve just finished your stupid assault course for the second time in an hour, run two miles for the first time in five years and thrown up, and you want me to save water?’ Her voice rose with each step.
‘It’s for your own good,’ he said, folding his arms across his chest. ‘You need to be prepared. You have to…’
He stepped back in surprise as the empty bottle struck him seconds after Kate yelled. He stared down at his chest then back at her, before striding across the open ground between them.
She swallowed hard, stunned by the anger that thundered across his face.
His breathing ragged, he reached out and seized her by the arm. ‘You've got to start taking this seriously,’ he said through gritted teeth.
She stared up at him, all too aware of the heat coming off his body and the feel of his skin wrapped around hers.
He let go, as if an electric shock had raced through him. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, turning away. ‘That was uncalled for.’
She watched in astonishment as he walked away a few paces, and then stood with his back to her. She took a deep breath before walking towards him.
‘I’m sorry too,’ she began. ‘I’m not used to… to this.’ She laughed, but it came out brittle, forced. ‘The most exercise I get is a spin class once a fortnight – and that’s only if a friend has bribed me into doing it.’ She broke off as she reached him, and he turned.
‘You have no idea what you're walking into,’ he said.
She stood her ground and hugged her arms around her stomach. ‘Tell me.’
‘It’s Eastern Europe. You’re female,’ he said, moving closer. ‘To anyone that takes you, you’re a commodity. Something to be bargained with. Used.’
She held her breath, transfixed as he drew nearer.
‘I know you think you’re a hot-shot saleswoman, but those skills aren’t going to keep you safe.’ His arm moved up, and his fingers wrapped around a strand of her hair which had sprung loose again from her ponytail. He twirled it in his fingers before tucking it behind her ear, and then let his hand fall. ‘Get out now. Walk away.’
‘I can’t. I have to go,’ she said. ‘There’s no-one else. The Business Development guy who was meant to go can’t – his wife is ill.’
‘You don’t have to do anything, dammit.’
‘I don’t expect you to understand. I – I need to do this.’ Kate closed her eyes and took a calming breath to steady her voice before facing Finn again. ‘I need to prove to myself once and for all that I can stand on my own two feet.’ She sighed. ‘There are people expecting me to fail at this, saying I haven’t got the guts, and I won’t let them win.’
She frowned. ‘Anyway – why are you so concerned? What happened? Why are you so angry with me?’
He placed his hands on his hips, appeared to consider her question, and then shook his head slightly. ‘If you don’t learn anything else from this weekend, understand this,’ he said. ‘You travel nowhere without one of Ian’s security men going with you. If you fear for your life at any time – if the pressure of working in some of the countries he takes you to gets too much, you walk away. Is that understood?’
Kate stood, dumbfounded, as Finn turned and jogged away from her towards the farmhouse, then she bent down and picked up the empty water bottle.
‘Come on!’ he yelled over his shoulder. ‘We haven’t got all day!’
She hissed through her teeth. ‘Idiot.’
Kate took a sip of the wine, the rich burgundy liquid warming her throat.
After three days spent at the sparsely decorated farmhouse, the luxurious surroundings of the five-star country hotel had been a welcome surprise. After being shown to her suite and indulging in a hot shower, Kate had joined her colleagues for cocktails. Now, Hart’s new business executives and their training instructors were enjoying a three-course dinner, with no expense spared.
Putting the glass down, she leaned forward on the table, caught Finn’s eye and smiled. ‘Let’s face it, though. The chance of anything happening to us is rare, isn’t it? I mean, you only have to look at the security that Ian has around him. No-one would try to kidnap someone who was that well-protected.’
Finn snorted. ‘That’s a typically naïve comment coming from someone who’s never traveled overseas,’ he said. ‘And exactly what I would expect.’
He turned away as the man sitting next to him leaned over, drawing his attention away from Kate. The man murmured something in his ear and Finn laughed raucously.
Kate blushed, sure the comment had been directed at her, and played with her wine glass.
She glanced down at the dress she’d decided to wear for the final evening. Having survived the past three days, it had seemed appropriate to celebrate. She’d had misgivings the moment she’d entered the dining room and every head had turned to stare.
To her surprise, Finn had been the one to rescue her. He’d pushed past Hart, and seemed to assess every curve of her body as he’d walked towards her. Then he’d winked and kissed her cheek, before handing her a glass of wine.
Now she felt overdressed and out of place. She tucked a strand of her shoulder-length blonde hair behind her ear and sighed.
The woman next to her put a hand on Kate’s arm.
‘Ignore him,’ she said. ‘He’s a Neanderthal at the best of times.’ She took a sip of her wine. ‘What made you apply for a job with us anyway?’
Kate shrugged and turned to Cynthia, her boss’s wife. ‘My ex was a bit of a control freak,’ she said, fingering the stem of her wine glass. ‘I guess I had enough of being bullied.’
Cynthia smiled. ‘So, you figured this would be a good way to prove yourself.’
‘Exactly. I – I need to convince myself that I’m capable on my own.’ She cleared her throat. ‘Sorry – I mean, I know I can do the job. It’ll be strange traveling around so much, though, and staying in different places.’ She fell silent and took another sip of her wine.
The older woman smiled. ‘You’ll be fine – you’ll be so busy you won’t have time to worry about it.’
Kate laughed, some of her misgivings allayed temporarily, and put down her wine glass. ‘So, what will you do while Ian is traveling the world for the next twelve months?’ she asked, directing the focus of the conversation onto safer ground.
Cynthia waved her hand dismissively. ‘Oh, I expect I’ll go back to New York eventually, oversee a couple of events at the gallery. I have to go down to London with Ian next week, so I’ll pop into our gallery there to make sure everything’s okay. I’ve got great staff running the places for me, but I like to be around for the big events just in case.’
Kate smiled politely. Ian and his wife moved in completely different social circles. She was amazed they were still together.
Cynthia appeared to pick up on her thoughts. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ she said. ‘While Ian is gallivanting around the world trying to win the next deal for whatever engineering marvel he’s designed this time, I’ll be making sure our houses will see at least some entertaining while he’s away so people don’t forget who we are.’
Kate heard the unmistakable tone of bitterness in the woman’s voice and prudently chose not to comment further. She was saved by Ian turning to his wife and asking about her plans for the gallery while he was away, and instead tuned into the conversation to her right.
Her attention wavered as Finn’s voice cut across the table. She gazed over to where he sat diagonally opposite from her. His face was animated as he described something, his hands miming in tandem with the story.
He broke off with a smile as those around him dissolved into laughter, and at that moment, he turned and caught her staring. The smile reached his eyes, the sun-kissed skin around them crinkling with humor, before he wrapped his fingers around the stem of his wine glass and silently raised a toast in her direction.
She returned the gesture and was disappointed when the executive next to Finn interrupted him and continued their conversation.
Cynthia noticed her reticence and called out to Finn. ‘Mr Scott – how did the training go this weekend?’
He turned back towards them, looking at Kate as he spoke. ‘As best as can be hoped given the people I’m trying to teach.’
Cynthia laughed. ‘You’re such a miserable man, Finn. Surely you can give them something positive to work with.’
Finn shrugged. ‘If they remember to keep alert and remember what we’ve taught them, they might do okay. If something does happen, they’ll only have themselves to rely on until we find them.’
Kate put down her wine glass. ‘I guess my best chance of escape will be if they move me to a different location. I can try to run away.’
Finn shook his head, and Kate noticed the sadness cross his face before he spoke. His words chilled her to the bone.
‘If they move you, they’re going to kill you.’
Six months later
Her heels echoing on the marble tiles, Kate hurried through the air-conditioned reception area. As she approached the large front doors, a security guard stepped forward, nodded, and opened one half of the oak paneling.
‘The chauffeur’s almost finished checking the car, Miss Foster. You might want to wait up here in the shade.’
Kate shrugged her grey linen jacket off her shoulders and tucked it in the crook of her arm while she rolled her shirt sleeves up. She sighed as her gaze traveled down to the trousers she was wearing. She’d kill for a pair of shorts right now. She stood at the threshold of the building, watching Ian’s driver as he walked around the saloon car, crouching to peer underneath it, then checking the engine block and mounting. She shivered, not wishing to dwell on the possibility of a bomb being fastened to the vehicle.
The chauffeur stood and patted the bodywork, then turned and beckoned to Kate.
She slipped her sunglasses over her eyes as she left the building and hurried down granite-hewn steps. At eight o’clock, the morning sunlight already burned down from a cloudless sky, its heat bearing down on her as she left the cool confines of the organization’s temporary headquarters. She ran her hand through her hair, cursing the humidity which made it impossible to do anything stylish with it, and checked her pocket for an elastic band to tie it back with.
‘Morning, Miss Foster.’
‘Hi, Mick. Everything okay?’
‘Yeah – I checked the interior earlier. All good to go.’
‘Got the air con on?’
‘It’s been on for the last five minutes. It’ll be down to at least sub-tropical temperature in there by now.’
The driver grinned as he opened the back door of the car for her and waited until she’d settled into her seat. He slammed the door shut and then jogged round to the front of the vehicle. As he moved, Kate caught a glimpse of the revolver holstered under his suit jacket.
The car crawled away from the curb and into the traffic, and Kate settled back into the leather seats which carried an aroma of new polish. The heavy doors muffled the cacophony of noise from the street as the car passed through the town, the market stalls and street vendors a blur of color against the limestone walls of stores and houses that crowded the business district.
Mick caught Kate’s eye in the rear-view mirror and raised an eyebrow. ‘What is it this time?’
‘Must be serious.’
‘It had better be.’
The driver smiled, and then concentrated on maneuvering the car through the busy traffic.
Kate checked her watch. At such short notice, she’d be lucky to make it to the boutique store from which Ian’s current lover insisted he buy her gifts, before returning to the office to attend a video conference call with Hart’s Research and Development department back in the States. She hadn’t been made privy to the reason for the meeting, although she had gleaned enough information to realize that one of Ian’s deals wasn’t working out as well as he might have hoped.
She sighed, thinking back to the task in hand. His latest infatuation began three weeks ago, only days after they’d landed in the country to oversee a deal which Ian had implied would likely double the value of the organization overnight. Some six months and three countries later, Kate was beginning to wonder if the role was still right for her, especially when lately her boss seemed less impressed with her marketing skills and more so with her ability to choose the perfect gift for his lovers.
She wondered who the subject of his desire was this time. She and Mick had briefly discussed it, but as far as she could tell, it seemed none of the other staff knew about the affair. Ian insisted on complete confidentiality from his employees. Their contracts clearly stated the penalties for noncompliance, which ranged from being fired on the spot and even sued, depending on the severity of the breach of privacy. Together with a generous salary package, Ian knew how to keep his staff loyal.
Kate wondered privately what his wife, Cynthia, thought of his affairs, suspecting that the woman knew, but tolerated them so she could continue to live and entertain her friends in the couple’s spacious household while her husband traveled the world, rather than suffer the indignity and reduced income that a divorce would entail.
Mick broke through her reverie. ‘Going to take the usual short-cut here – that okay with you?’
‘Sounds like a good idea. How are we doing for time?’
‘You’ll have fifteen minutes at the store if I’m going to get you back to the office in time for your next meeting. I’ll keep the engine running.’
The chauffeur flicked the indicator and turned up a side street, the buildings on each side crowding the road and sheltering the car from the harsh sunlight. Kate peered through the window as they passed worn wooden doors set into the brickwork. Occasionally, there would be a gap between the buildings – sometimes leading through to a cul-de-sac or courtyard where laundry had been strung up between the buildings to dry. At other times, the spaces were filled with rubble where a building had been knocked down and waiting to be redeveloped. The car surged forward as Mick pressed the accelerator to the floor.
Kate turned her head to the right at the sound of a car’s engine roaring towards them at speed and screamed out to Mick, but it was too late.
The other car lurched out from one of the recessed courtyards and drove straight into the side of their vehicle.
Kate heard a loud metallic crash as she was thrown sideways in her seat. The car was shunted hard with the force of the collision.
She screamed as Mick’s skull smashed against the driver’s window, sending blood spraying over the windscreen and upholstery. He slumped against his seatbelt. It took a split second for Kate to register that the car was out of control. Mick’s foot was pressed hard against the accelerator, and the vehicle lurched along the narrow street.
She unclipped her seatbelt, scrambled between the front seats and grasped hold of the steering wheel. It felt loose under her touch, unresponsive. Her eyes opened wide. The narrow street only ran for another few hundred meters. In front of her, the narrow street ended in a T-junction, the busy main road ahead churning with traffic. Buses, trucks and cars flashed between the gaps in the buildings ahead.
Desperately, she shook the driver’s shoulder. ‘Mick! Wake up!’
She tore her eyes away from the blood running down his cheek and peered at the pedals. Mick’s foot was jammed against the accelerator by his weight, and she couldn’t reach past him to get to the brake. As her gaze tracked hurriedly through the vehicle, she realized what she’d have to do.
Swallowing hard, she wrapped both hands around the handbrake, wedged herself between the front seats, closed her eyes and pulled, bracing herself for the inevitable impact.
Kate blinked rapidly, a loud noise rousing her from unconsciousness.
She raised a hand to her head, a sticky warmth giving way to a steady trickle above her eyebrow. She looked at her fingers, at the blood, and then groaned.
She’d fallen into the recess between the front and back seats, her legs twisted awkwardly under her body. The car’s engine was silent except for a ticking sound. It took Kate a few seconds to realize that the noise came from the radiator as it cooled down, its contents dripping out through the engine block. She peered between the seats and gasped at the devastation to the car.
The front of the vehicle had crumpled under the force of the impact – she could see now that it had careened off the narrow street, stopping abruptly when it had slammed into the far wall of a building. A laundry line had fallen onto the windshield, colored fabrics now strewn across the glass, shading the interior of the car and obliterating her view.
She frowned. The driver’s door was wedged open on its hinges, and there was no sign of Mick. Traces of blood covered the seat and windscreen.
She sensed movement behind her before the back door was wrenched open. Broken glass rained onto her shoulders. Rough hands grabbed her, pulling her upright, before they hauled her backwards.
Kate thrashed out with her hands and feet, knowing something was desperately wrong with the situation.
Voices, in the rough patois of the city, became urgent, their meaning apparent as another set of hands joined the first and wrenched her from the vehicle.
Kate cried out as her ankle caught and twisted against the door frame. Someone behind her cursed, and then leaned forward and jerked her foot until it was freed, before she was dragged from the vehicle.
She screamed as they passed the driver’s door of the vehicle. Mick had been dragged from the car, his body lying prone on the surface of the road, a bullet wound to his head. Blood and splinters of bone stained the pavement. Kate realized now what the sound had been that had woken her from unconsciousness.
‘Someone! Help me!’ she screamed. ‘Imdat! Imdat! Help!’
A hand clamped over her mouth, and a voice hissed in her ear. She only understood the implication – to stay quiet. The surface of the man’s hand scratched her skin while the scent of motor oil and salty water penetrated her senses.
She began to struggle, kicking out and wriggling in the man’s arms, twisting her head to check the windows and balconies that overlooked the courtyard. There had to be someone, anyone, at a window, wondering what all the commotion was about.
The courtyard remained silent, save for her muffled cries, the urgent conversation between her two captors and the sound of their feet scuffing the road.
Kate’s head snapped to the left at the sound of another vehicle traveling at speed. As it came closer, she bit down on her captor’s hand. He cried out, loosened his grip on her, and she broke free.
Moving as fast as she could with a twisted ankle, she limped towards the entrance of the courtyard and the sound of the oncoming vehicle. She ignored the shouts of protest from behind her and concentrated on putting as much distance as possible between herself and the two men.
The approaching vehicle changed down a gear, then appeared at the courtyard entrance – a silver people carrier with tinted windows. It slid to a halt, the rear of the vehicle filling the small lane and blocking Kate’s escape.
‘Oh no,’ she groaned, realizing her mistake.
The side door began to slide open, the inside of the vehicle dark against the bright sunlight. Kate squinted, holding her hand over her eyes, then ran towards the back of the vehicle.
She began to squeeze her body through a small gap between the van and the wall of the building, using the vehicle’s fender to climb up. She turned her head at the sound of a shout, and her heart fell as two men climbed out the other side of the people carrier, rounded the back of the vehicle and smiled at her. She turned and checked over her shoulder, but it was too late – the other two men had caught up with her.
Hands encircled her waist, lifting her backwards.
Kate kicked out and screamed.
One of her captors cursed as her elbow connected with his cheek. He spun her around in his arms and slapped her across the face before pushing her through the side door of the van.
Kate blinked, shocked, and then screamed as a hood was lifted in front of her face before it was shoved over her head.
This can’t be happening.
She began to hyperventilate as rough hands gathered her wrists together, and she felt plastic loops push over her fingers, tightening around her skin.
She felt something soft over her mouth and nose and realized too late what was happening. She struggled one final time as the chemicals consumed her senses.
Her brain registered movement before she slipped into unconsciousness and the van accelerated away.
"An action-packed thriller that barrels along at an astonishing pace, and one that will keep you guessing until the very end!”
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