So this was the end.
Her life over. At eighteen.
Elle’s chin tremored. She told herself to be brave, but her courage failed her.
“God help me,” she whispered though no one could hear. Her words were lost with the rush of the wind and roar of the surf raging twenty feet below. She stood on the precipice, her bare toes curling over the edge of the rock, her heart in her throat, her pale hair whipping over her face. A storm was brewing, white caps frothy on the dark water, rain threatening, the air sharp and bracing.
She didn’t care, barely noticed as she gathered her courage and touched her belly through the thin cotton of her nightgown.
Jump! Now! It’s the only answer. You know it. It’s best for you. It’s best for Lucas. It’s best for the baby . . . Or was it? A new life. As yet unborn? A headache blasted behind her eyes and doubts assailed her even as she told herself this was for the best.
Tears drizzled down her cheeks. She knew that what she contemplated was madness. Yet she had no other options, no place to go, noone to trust. She closed her eyes for a second, took a deep breath of salt-sea air, thought of all the might-have-beens and now were only lost dreams. Here, at this pathetic little camp on the Oregon coast, a place that was to have been an oasis and Eden, but had crumbled into the very pit of Hades.
She’d come here on the verge of summer, filled with eager anticipation, knowing she could work with children, spread the Lord’s word, make that final step before college in the fall. Instead . . . Oh, God. She’d found hatred and pain, known love and rejection, discovered treachery so deep it curdled one’s soul.
And she’d sinned.
Oh, Lucas. She swallowed at the thought of him. Tall, blond, with muscular shoulders, a strong jaw and a wicked sense of humor.
She blinked against the tears and the rain, miserable and alone.
Could she do it?
Just let go and leap into the frigid, swirling waters of the Pacific? Really, was this only answer? She teetered with the buffeting wind. Her eyes flew open and caught her balance. She blinked but couldn’t see the horizon in the darkness, felt the first drops of rain drizzle from the midnight sky.
Do it! Do it now! You have nothing to live for. Nothing!
But that wasn’t true, there was–
Though the roar of the sea was nearly deafening, she thought she heard a scraping sound, like a jagged piece of metal screaming against solid rock. The hairs on the back of her neck lifted, a warning.
She wasn’t the only one here?
No way. No one in his right mind would be out here at midnight in the middle of a storm.
She hazarded a quick look over her shoulder, inland toward the rocky hillside broken only by a few contorted pines. Beyond this stony ridge, the forest of old growth firs loomed dark and foreboding. But she was alone tonight. Right? Of course! Who besides a crazy girl with nothing to live for would be out in the woods on a slippery ledge jutting over the ocean in the middle of a storm?
Not a soul.
You’re imagining things.
Rain started to pelt in earnest, splashing against the rocky escarpment, soaking through the thin fabric of her nightdress, distorting the night. She swallowed back her fear. She was alone and she would do this. She had to.
Another deep breath.
Thoughts of family and friends, scattered pictures sliding through her mind, no memory strong enough to dissuade her, nothing permanent or secure enough to force her to grab on and find a little shred of hope.
She was lost.
Just be calm. It will all be over soon. You’ll be at peace . . . you and the baby. Guilt ripped through her and she shuddered, then placed a comforting hand over her flat abdomen. “It’s all right,” she murmured to her unborn child, her voice inaudible over the keen of the wind. “We’ll be fine.”
Liar! You’re contemplating taking your own life as well as that of your baby. It’s not fine, Elle, it’s murder. She could almost hear her mother’s warning, her high-pitched voice accusing and brittle as the wind. “Do this, Elle, and you’ll spend eternity burning in hell. Is that what you want?”
But mother wasn’t here. No. She was alone. The voice she heard was only her own fear keeping her from taking that fateful, final step.
She started. Turned. Wobbled. Caught her balance.
Oh, Jesus, what was that? Definitely metal, scratching hard against stone. Definitely something that shouldn’t be here.
She swallowed hard.
Straining to listen, she heard nothing more. She squinted into the woods, dark and jagged, a tree line barely visible in the night. A gust of wind pressed hard against the back of her legs.
Surely there was noone, nothing, no—Then she saw it, a glimmer that was out of place, a movement that went beyond the dance of branches in the storm.
Her heart stilled and everything around her–the rain, the sea, the black of night, faded as she concentrated on that one area.
It’s your damned imagination. Nothing more. Don’t freak out. Deep breath and–oh, crap! A dark figure appeared from the shadows, slowly advancing through the curtain of rain.
Her heart leapt to her throat.
Jesus-God, was that a knife? In one curled fist something–a blade?–was visible.“No.”
Fear clawed deep into her soul.
She recognized her tormentor. Gasped.
No. No. No!
Shaking her head involuntarily, her gaze glued on the advancing attacker, she held one hand out as if to fend off a blow. The other covered her abdomen as if she could protected her unborn child. Involuntarily, she shrunk backward, her heel sliding off the wet shelf.
She wobbled, her hands flailing wildly, the bitter-cold wind swirling and pushing. At that second, lighting flashed. In front of her, the figure eased onto the ledge, the knife visible, a wicked, satisfied smile showing just the hint of teeth, eyes hidden in dark sockets.
Another harsh blast from the sea as she rocked crazily, the cold hair whipping the hem of her sodden night gown, slapping at the back of her head, causing wet strands of her hair over her eyes. She teetered, caught herself. Balanced precariously, her feet half-on, half-off the ledge.
Suddenly she didn’t want to die!
Nor did she want to snuff out the life of her baby.
Her toes tightened on the stone and she threw her weight forward. If I go–if we go, she thought, –we’re taking this fucking monster with us. But it was too late. She landed wrong, sliding on the slippery escarpment, and her gaze locked with that of pure evil. Come on she thought, readying herself, come the hell on.
As thunder cracked, booming across the water, her assailant lunged, springing agilely, a dark demon pouncing.
Elle shifted, to avoid the attack, but her feet slipped again. She and slid backward. She started to tumble, tried to right herself, feet scrambling. A gloved hand grabbed hold of her just before she fell, steely fingers clenching around her wrist, preventing the fall.
What? This was her savior?
For a second her heart soared with hope, but then she felt the fingers release. She slid just a fraction, before a hand pushed her backward, propelling her over he edge and this time there was no quick-reflexed attempt to save her.
She fell, tumbling backward through the darkness, the salt sea air surrounding her as she plummeted into the sea. Just as she hit the icy water she saw the figure on the ledge, leaning over, watching vigilantly to make ensure she fell to her–and her baby’s--death.