Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
He’s going to kill you.
Right here in the middle of this snow-covered God-forsaken valley, he’s going to kill you! Fight, Wendy, fight!
Wendy Ito struggled, battling with the ropes that cut into her bare flesh, feeling the sting of a fierce arctic wind as it howled through the mountain ridges that surrounded them.
She was alone. Aside from the psychopath who had captured her.
God, why had she trusted him?
How in the world had she thought that he was her rescuer? That his mission was to heal her until, after the blizzard, he could call for help or take her to the nearest hospital?
Had it been his sincere concern as he’d come upon her wrecked car? Had it been those blue, blue eyes? His smile? His soft words of assurance? Or had it been because she’d had no choice, without his aid she would surely die alone in a deep, forgotten ravine?
Whatever the reason she’d believed him, trusted him.
He’d proved himself to be her worst nightmare, an evil wolf in sheep’s clothing and now, oh, God, now she was paying the price.
Shivering, certain she would die, she was naked and lashed to a tree, the thick rope cutting into her bare arms and torso, a gag so tight over her lips that she could barely breathe.
And he was close. So close she could feel the warmth of his breath sifting around the trunk of the sturdy pine, hear him grunt as he put all his strength into securing her, see a flash of white neoprene ski pants and parka from the corner of her eye.
Another tug on the rope.
She gasped, her whole body jerked even tighter against the scaly bark of the tree. Pain shot through her and she set her jaw. She just needed him to get close enough that she could kick hard. Hit his shin. Or his nuts.
She couldn’t let him get away with this. Wouldn’t!
Her heart raced and she tried to come up with a way to save herself, to break free of her bonds and climb up the snow-covered deer trail he’d dragged her down. Oh, she’d fought him. Wriggling and fighting, flinging herself at him, trying someway to free herself, to avoid being brought down here to whatever fate he’d planned. She could still see the fresh tracks in the thick snow. His steady, evenly-placed big boot prints and her smaller, wild, erratic barefoot scrambles as she’d tried to get away, even though he’d prodded her with his damned knife and there were drips of blood in the white snow, proving that he’d cut her, that he’d meant business.
Dear God, help me, she silently prayed to the gun-metal gray heavens threatening more snow.
He laced the restraining ropes ever tighter.
“No!” Wendy tried to scream. “No! No! No!” But the foul gag covered her mouth and kept her cries muffled and weak while the panic surging through her blood caused her heart to thunder. Why? Oh, God, why me?
She blinked back tears but felt the salty drops fall from her eyes to stain and freeze upon her cheeks.
Don’t cry. Whatever you do, do not let him see that you fear him. Don’t give the son of a bitch the satisfaction. But don’t fight either, pretend to give up, fake it and act like you’ve accepted your fate. Maybe his guard will slip and you can somehow get hold of his damn knife.
Her stomach clenched even tighter and she tried to keep his weapon, a hunting knife used for the gutting of game, in her sights. Razor sharp, it could slice through the ropes easily. Just as easily as it could pierce and cut her flesh.
Oh, God . . .
Her knees went weak and it was all she could do not to bawl and beg, to mewl and plead, to offer to do anything he wanted if he would just not hurt her.
Go ahead, let him see that you’re resigned to your fate . . . but keep your eye on the knife with its menacing, deadly blade.
She was shivering harder now. Shaking so violently that slivers from the bark were digging into her skin. Was she trembling because of the bitter, Montana wind, gusts she was certain where blowing down from Canada and the arctic? Or was she quivering from the fear that tore at her insides?
Beneath the gag her teeth chattered and she felt the raw wind buffet her as he worked. She caught glimpses of his legs warmed by thick hunting socks and the white ski pants, his heavy, fur-lined parka protecting him from the very elements to which she was exposed.
This lying son of a bitch had no intention of saving you, of healing your wounds after the horrible car wreck. All along the sick bastard only kept you alive, citing the storm as a reason he couldn’t get help, only to kill you. In the time he wanted. In the manner he wanted. He was savoring the anticipation while you half fell in love with him.
Bile rose up her throat and she nearly wretched at the thought. He’d known it. She’d seen it in his eyes, that he’d read her utter dependency, her silly, stupid and pathetic desire to please him.
If she could, she’d kill him.
Right here. Right now.
She heard him grunt again, as if satisfied as he pulled the taut rope even tighter, forcing her buttocks into the sharp bark, her shoulders to be held fast. She could still kick, but he kept himself far from the damage she might inflict. Even with one leg still sore from the accident she thought she could wound, and wound badly, because of all her training in martial arts.
But he was careful to stay on the far side of the tree and keep away from her heels. And the cold was beginning to take its toll. She had trouble focusing, thinking of anything but the ice in her flesh, the sheer frigidity settling in her bones.
Blackness pulled at her vision.
Each breath she drew was labored and thin, her lungs on fire from lack of oxygen.
Maybe unconsciousness would be the way out. The blackness was soothing, taking the sting out of the wind.
But then she saw him move, so that he was in front of her, staring at her with his cruel, relentless gaze.
How had she ever thought him handsome? How had she ever fantasized about him, how had she ever considering making love to him?
Slowly he removed the knife from his belt. Its cruel metallic surface winked in the shifting gray light.
She was doomed.
She knew it.
Even before he slowly, inexorably raised the blade.