Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
He tried her cell to no avail. Distracted, he realized someone was buzzing the apartment doorbell. He yanked the door open to find JR, hair an unkempt mess and clothing wrinkled, fidgeting with the belt on his jeans as he stood in the hallway.
“Hey man,” JR acknowledged with a raised brow. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Likewise.” Running agitated fingers through his hair, he pinned JR with a look. “You’re lucky Sara’s not here. You’ve got a lot of nerve. I’ll give you that. You’re like her least favorite person right now. Really, I can’t imagine that once we find Sam that she’ll want anything to do with you, either. Not after that stunt you pulled.”
“Don’t you think I know that? I just…” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I haven’t been able to eat or sleep. I’m so worried about Sam. I screwed up bad, but I still love her. That’s not something you can turn off and on like a switch.”
Chris couldn’t help but notice the guy’s pallor and bloodshot eyes. He could relate. Feeling like a man on the edge himself, he gave JR a quick nod of understanding. “You look like hell JR.”
“Likewise.” JR shrugged. “Is there any new information? I hoped with all the television coverage someone might have come forward. Where’s Sara? Did she go in to talk to someone this morning?”
“Not so far as I know. She was gone when I woke up, but I wonder…” He trailed off, gnawing on his lip as he started searching through the pile of papers on the desk. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe she got a call from the authorities.” Chris rubbed his jaw. “But then why wouldn’t she wake me? It doesn’t make any sense.” Then a disturbing thought entered his mind. “Shit.” He looked up at JR wide eyed. “I need to check something out.” After a call to the front desk, his worst fears were confirmed.
“What is it?” JR demanded.
“She rented a car and left several hours ago. I’m afraid she may have gone to meet that bastard alone.” Expression bleak, Chris pulled out his cell. “I’m calling the police.”
“We’re lucky,” the lead investigator told Chris when he came on the phone. “We’ve got a trace on Sara’s cell. There was a landslide on the Sea to Sky Highway. She’ll get caught in a big traffic jam on the way. We think she was probably heading to Squamish, though. A call came in from a convenience store out that way early this morning. A man fitting Daniels’ description was spotted buying cigarettes and using the public phone. We’re trying to get the surveillance tape now. I’ve contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, headquartered here in Vancouver and they’ve called their emergency response team out there in Squamish. The RCMP’s are on high alert, combing the area and considering the possibility of an armed confrontation with the potential need for takedown.”
“Ok. Keep me informed.” Chris let out a breath. “I’ll be on my cell.” Ending the call, he turned to JR and filled him in. “I don’t know about you, man, but I’m not about to just sit here and do nothing.”
JR scratched his tawny beard. “Hey. I’ve got an idea. When BS had conflicting appearances on the same night a couple of months ago, Black Cat chartered a helicopter for us. Do you think Beth might get one for us now?”
“Call her,” Chris said. “We won’t give her any other option.” It had been hours since Sara had left. Full-fledged fear eclipsed his earlier feeling of unease. Time was running out.
TRAFFIC WAS MERCIFULLY light as Sara left downtown Vancouver and crossed under the auspicious arches of the Lions Gate Bridge. As she escaped the confines of the city, she began to push the rental recklessly. Just days ago, the twists and turns of this highway had held so much hope for her. On that drive to Whistler with Chris she had foolishly begun to entertain ideas of a future with him. Her eyes filled with tears of regret that she had not held him one last time. That she likely never would again. That she had no future at all.
Hopelessness gripped her heart as she hurtled toward a destiny that she had spent a lifetime seeking to avoid. She had always known down deep, like the fathomless waters of Howe Sound beside her that nothing good waited at the end of her life’s journey. There would be no return trip this time.
Rounding one of the many curves, she saw a sea of red taillights. Traffic ahead was at a standstill. Frustrated, she cursed, ran a hand through her tangled hair, pulled to the side of the road, and frantically programmed the GPS to find an alternative route. It indicated a series of unpaved logging roads that might allow her to get around the traffic jam. While the snowfall had been unseasonably light, the little used route was sure to be treacherous.
Sara pressed her lips into a determined line. She would have to chance it. She couldn’t afford to be delayed. There was no way for her to contact her father and she was deathly afraid of what he might do to Sam if she failed to show up on time.
She merged back into traffic and soon steered carefully onto the detour marked by the GPS, despite signage that the road was unpatrolled and closed for the season. Fortunately, although the going was painstakingly slow, the road seemed to have been recently cleared. Even so, and despite the four wheel drive, she nearly got stuck in muddy ruts on several occasions.
Her heart pounded with dread. Douglas firs and Lodgepole pines stood like silent sentinels on either side of the road, hemming her in, threatening to smother her. Nerves frazzled, she strained to see ahead in the shadowy gloom. Every muscle in her body trembled with pent up tension and anxiety.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she emerged onto the main road. She blew a loose strand of hair out of her eyes and picked up speed again. She followed the GPS until she reached Alice Lake Provincial Park. The gate was closed when she pulled up. Momentarily panicked, she got out and was relieved to find that someone had cut the lock to allow entrance.
From there, all she had to go by were his instructions. She wound her way in and around until she reached her destination, a solitary cabin in a remote, heavily forested section of the park.
Gravel crunching beneath her tires, Sara pulled into the circular driveway in front of it and shut the engine off. She let out a shaky sigh and loosened her fingers from the steering wheel. She was late.
Glancing out the windshield, she surveyed the area. She couldn’t see any sign of activity in or around the isolated building. Her mouth went dry. Alone, vulnerable, and powerless, just as she’d been all those years ago.
Her heart hammering in her chest, she took the keys out of the ignition and made herself get out of the SUV. Leaving its perceived safety made her feel even more exposed. The only sound she heard besides her heart thumping was the wind whistling through the trees.
Sara stared at the cabin, knuckles clenched white around the keys. Where were they? Surely, he knew that she was here. Summoning up all of her courage, she moved toward the cabin, knocking as she held her breath. No one answered. Bile coated the back of her throat. She felt the hair stand up on the back of her neck and spun around, scanning the front yard again. Nothing.
She turned the knob, and entered the cabin. Heart in her throat, she quickly surveyed the small interior. It was quiet and empty. She stood in the center of the main room, wanting to scream with frustration. Was she too late already?
“Sara!” She nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard his voice shout from outside the cabin. Her heart pounded so loudly in her ears that his words sounded muffled.
“Come out, come out, Sara. Come say howdy to your Papa.” He’d been toying with her.
Briefly she closed her eyes, saying a prayer. Then she stepped outside. A cloud passed over the sun. The temperature dropped as the yard was cast in eerie shadows. She shivered involuntarily as she caught sight of them emerging from the tree line.
An intimidating mountain of muscle, her father advanced toward her, dragging Sam along in his wake. She was bound and gagged, her expression vacant. Dried blood coated her hair on one side of her head.
“Sam!” Sara called. “What’s wrong with her?” she demanded.
He made a sound deep in his throat that might have been a chuckle, but Sara knew there was no mirth in him, only malice.
“She’s alright,” he told her. “She’s just a little loopy. Unfortunate that she wasn’t more cooperative.”
“Well, I’m here now, so you can let her go.”
“What’s the rush? We have a lot of catching up to do after seventeen years. Let’s have a little family time before we get down to business.” He grinned wickedly.
“What’s there to talk about?” Sara asked, knowing that she had no choice but to let this play out according to his twisted rules.
“Oh, I can think of a couple of things. Don’t you want to know what your old Papa’s been up to all this time?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “I’ve been rotting in a shithole, that’s what. Staring at the same four walls every day. Biding my time. Planning for the day when I could set things right. And now that day has finally come. The day of judgment. It’s time to atone for your sins, Sara dear.”
She shot him a questioning look.
“Oh, yeah. I know about you and all those men. You’re a little Jezebel, aren’t you?
Just. Like. Her
“You’re a fine one to talk about sins,” she responded, unable to contain her contempt for him. He was on her before she could react. The backhanded blow stung her face like fire, staggering her.
“Shut your lying mouth!” he spewed.
He’d hit her just like that the night it had all come down. She looked past him at Samantha lying on the ground and remembered her mother’s dying plea.
Oh, Sam, I’ve failed you
, she silently confessed. “Papa, you don’t have to do this,” she told him, knowing in her heart that he was unhinged and beyond reason or mercy. “At least let Sam go now. You’ve got me. We had a deal.”
“I don’t owe you anything, bitch. You ain’t even my own flesh and blood.”
Dumbfounded, Sara’s jaw dropped.
“Your momma was a sweet little grey eyed looker just like you. And just like you she was a faithless slut. I never let on that I knew, but any fool could do the math. She was way too far along when I came back from a three month stint out in the Gulf. I don’t even think she knew who your daddy was, but it sure as hell wasn’t me. To think I raised you as if you were my own daughter. And how do you repay me?”
He drew a pistol from his waistband, leveling it at her head. Her heart palpitated. She knew the end was upon her.
“I’ll tell you, you stupid whore. You sold me out. That’s why I’m going to take great pleasure in sending you to meet your Momma right now.”
Suddenly, his head snapped around at the sound of rapidly approaching vehicles. Turning, Sara saw three RCMP cars blazing up the road toward them. They screeched to a halt in a spray of gravel.
A voice shouted over the loudspeaker. “Daniels! Drop the weapon and put your hands behind your head!”
“Ahhh,” Sara exclaimed with pain as Pace grabbed a handful of her hair. He pulled her against him, wrapping his arm around her neck. He brought the gun up to her temple. Helplessly pinned against his chest, his arm squeezed tighter, restricting both blood and breath. She fought down panic as her face began to turn purple. She clawed at his arm in futility as officers poured from the vehicles, weapons drawn.
“Back off or I’ll kill her!” he shouted.
“Now hold on, Daniels,” one of the officers warned. “Stay out here and we’ll talk this out. Just lay down the weapon. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt.”
“You are dead, bitch.” Pace’s voice was harsh in her ear as he pulled her back toward the cabin. “One way or another. They shoot you or I do. No way are you walking out of here alive.” He cocked the gun.
Sara didn’t doubt him for a second. She knew she was as good as dead already. There was nothing to lose. In one last desperate act of defiance, she kicked backward, her boot connecting with his shin. He howled in agony and his grip loosened. Mustering every last bit of her strength, she shoved his arm off and stumbled forward.
She heard the report of the weapon. Oddly, there was no pain, but she felt a warm spray of blood and wondered where she’d been hit. She turned, still unsure what had happened until she saw the ruin of Pace Daniels’ face, his body lying lifeless on the ground before her.
“Sam!” Sara immediately scrambled over to her sister’s side.
Sam’s eyes were huge in her swollen and bruised face. Sara untied the gag and pulled it out of her mouth.
“Sara,” she croaked in a dry voice.
“It’s over, Sam. It’s all over.” Sara carefully smoothed the curls away from her sister’s face and whispered a prayer of gratitude as hot tears spilled from her eyes. Clutching her sister to her chest, Sara began rocking back and forth.