Authors: Lindsey Brookes
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT 2013 by Lindsey Brookes
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Notable awards: Four-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist, Finalist in Dorchester Books/Romantic Times Magazine’s American Title III competition, Winner of Harlequin’s Great American Romance Novel Contest.
“D...don’t move or else.”
Dalton Barnes froze, one leg hiked up on the chrome running board of his brother’s truck, one hand curled snugly about the open door. Being held up on the main street of Lone Tree, Montana, where crime was virtually nonexistent, was the last thing he expected to happen when he’d driven into town that evening for a couple of drinks.
No, make that being held up by a
on the main street of Lone Tree.
“All right,” he said in the same calming tone he used when working with horses, “I won’t.”
If his assailant were a man he might have attempted to wrestle the gun away. Instead, it was a female jabbing the barrel of her weapon into his back. A nervous female at that if the trembling of her hand was any indication. Not a good combination.
“Good.” Her voice shook as much as her hand.
“If you’re after money, there’s about fifty bucks in my wallet.”
She let out what could only be described as an unladylike snort. “That’s all?”
“Look,” he said, his patience slipping, “I can get more. There’s an ATM machine across the street. We can just take a walk on over there and I’ll get you whatever you need.” He started to turn.
“D...don’t turn around,” she gasped, sounding panicked.
The barrel felt like a tree trunk pressing into his back. “I won’t,” he said, throwing up his hands. “Just take it easy.”
“I don’t want your money,” she replied, sounding more shaken than he felt and that was saying a lot, considering he was the one with a gun barrel rammed into the center of his back. “I want you.”
“Me?” he said, the word a billowing puff of steam in the cold evening air. He couldn’t help himself, he laughed. The woman must look like the weathered side of a rotted fence post if she had to get a man this way.
She made a choking sound and then jabbed the gun into the back of his shirt again. “Not in the way you’re thinking. Now, please put your hands behind your back.”
Metal clinked together behind him, making him stiffen. He’d been in enough bar fights during his rodeo years to know the sound of handcuffs when he heard it.
“Look, lady, why don’t you put that gun down and we’ll forget this whole thing ever happened?” he said, trying to keep the alcohol induced fog rolling into his brain at bay.
“I...I can’t do that.” The trembling in her hand intensified.
He could take her, Dalton was certain of it. But one slip of her finger on that trigger and he could be a goner. Thirty-two was too damn young to die.
Closing his eyes, he slowly lowered his hands and brought them around behind his back. “Mind telling me what this is all about?”
Cold metal closed around one wrist and then the other. “You’ll figure it out. And by the way, you shouldn’t drive when you’ve been drinking.”
“I wasn’t gonna.” He’d already set up a room for the night in town, knowing he had some emotional steam to work off with the help of a long night of drinking. “I just came out here to grab my cell phone.”
Dalton’s gaze swept the now empty street. The cold front had sent everyone scurrying back to the warmth of their homes. Everyone but him and this crazy woman.
“Well, you don’t need it. Step away from the truck, please.”
He made a mental note to stay the hell away from tequila in the future. Robbers and kidnappers did not say please. Therefore, this had to be some kind of alcohol-induced hallucination. Despite the possibility, he did as she asked, moving slowly as not to startle her.
“My car’s just around the corner,” she said, teeth starting to chatter. From nerves? Or the cold?
The snow which had been no more than a few flurries when he’d driven into town that evening was now coming down in thick white flakes that glistened beneath the pale glow of the streetlights. Even now, the main street of Lone Tree was covered in a thin veil of white.
“Where are you taking me?”
She ignored his question as she guided him down the empty street.
“Why don’t you just put down the gun before someone gets hurt and tell me what it is you want?”
“No one’s gonna get hurt.” She forced him across the street. “Here’s my car. You’ll need to lie down in the backseat so no one can see you.”
Dalton eyed the woman’s car. Hell, it wasn’t much bigger than a toilet.
“You’re kidding, right?” His six-foot-two-inch frame would be lucky to fit sitting upright.
“No.” She turned him, keeping herself out of his view as she opened the rear passenger door. “Hurry up. Get in.”
Wisps of steam drifted past him when she spoke. He judged her to be a good foot shorter than he was. Chances were he could take her. Maybe if this had happened a few years before when he was going through his ‘throw caution to the wind’ phase he might have tried. But now that he was a little older, he valued having all his parts intact
without bullet holes in them.
Having little choice but to do as the crazed woman ordered, Dalton bent down and edged his way facedown, no hands, across the seat. Half of him made it in.
“You’re not in all the way.”
Being taken at gunpoint, handcuffed, and forced to pack himself like a sardine into a Matchbox car on one of the coldest nights of the year made being shot and put out of his misery a more welcome alternative.
“But this always works in the movies,” she grumbled with a frustrated groan.
“I hate to break it to you,” he mumbled into the cold vinyl seat, “but this ain’t the movies.”
“I know that. Let me think.” She was sounding more and more panicked.
He rolled his eyes. If she had the ability to do that, they wouldn’t be standing out in the icy snow while she tried to figure out some way to stuff him sideways onto a seat nearly half his size.
“In the trunk.”
“No way in hell am I getting into any trunk.” He began worming his way back out of the car and then froze as the cylindrical pressure returned to the center of his back.
“I wasn’t implying that,” his crazed kidnapper said. “There’s some rope in the trunk we can use. Don’t move.” The crisp snow that coated the sidewalk crunched under her shoes as she backed away and started around the car.
“Rope?” he exclaimed. What, was she going to tie him to the bumper and drag him to wherever it was she was taking him to? “Hey, I’m handcuffed,” he called out to her. “What do you need rope for?”
“I can’t take any chances,” she replied as the trunk creaked open.
And kidnapping a man in the middle of town wasn’t taking a chance? She was definitely one brick short of a full load. The trunk shut, echoing in the night.
“You really don’t wanna do this,” he said, determined to convince the mentally deranged woman to rethink her actions and let him go.
“I know I don’t,” she replied, much to his surprise.
Thank God. She was coming to her senses. “Then why are you doing this?”
“You left me no choice.”
The car shifted slightly as she crawled in over top of him.
“Lady you’re...mmm...” his words were cut off by the strip of silk she threaded between his lips and tied behind his head as he struggled beneath her.
“I’m really sorry about this,” she said as she placed some kind of mask over his eyes and then everything went black.
Dalton mumbled a string of curses behind the gag.
“I’ll take it off of you as soon as we get to where it is we’re going. Now could you please sit up so I can tie you?”
Easier said than done with her perched on his back. “Mmmm....mmm...” He shifted restlessly.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, clearly realizing the ridiculousness of her request, and then backed out of the car. She waited for him to sit up then proceeded to wrap the rope around him.
How in the hell had he ended up prisoner of some rope toting crazy woman? Him, Dalton Barnes, a man who needed to be in control of his life, something his family had never allowed to happen when he was growing up. Having to give up that sense of control again was damned hard thing to swallow, but the gun at his back left him little choice.
“I was never a Girl Scout so I hope I’m doing this right,” she muttered as she worked the rope.
They had a badge for proper kidnapping techniques in the Girl Scouts? What was it that people said about paybacks being hell?
For the life of him Dalton couldn’t figure out what he’d done to deserve this. Now his brother, Brandon, was a different story. If there had been a category for it in high school, Brandon would have been voted ‘Most likely to be visited by the ghost of Christmas past’.
The door closed beside him. Seconds later, the engine choked and sputtered.
“Come on,” the woman pleaded. “Please start.”
Surprisingly enough, he found himself wishing the same thing. The last thing he wanted was to be discovered drunk and handcuffed in the back of some woman’s car. Oh, and gagged with a damned silk scarf. The fun his brother would have with that one. The black sheep of the Barnes family in trouble again.
Brandon had never let him forget that he’d been the one to bail Dalton out of jail after more than one dust-raising brawl. But he’d been young then and just starting out on the rodeo circuit. He’d had to prove he could hold his own and that usually meant doing so with his fist.
No, he’d rather take his chances with wherever this woman was taking him to, hoping she would accept the foolishness of the situation and release him. Gut instinct told him she didn’t have a genuinely bad bone in her body. She definitely didn’t fit the kidnapper mold. Too damn polite. So why then was she doing this?
* * *
Caitlin Myers pulled up to the main cabin of the Stoney Brook Retreat for Wayward Teens, a place very near and dear to her heart. She closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh of relief. It had taken a little over a half an hour to get there thanks to the treacherous weather conditions. The late spring snow storm was now adding icy rain to the mix.
She sat back, flexing her nearly numb fingers in an attempt to work the feeling back into them. She’d been gripping the steering wheel so tight during the drive there her knuckles had lost all color.
The icy rain/snow mix was coming down so hard the windshield wipers could barely keep up. Reaching down, she shut off the engine. Then she stretched her neck, trying to work some of the built up tension out of it. Bad weather had not been a part of her plan that night.
Caitlin groaned. Had she totally lost it? She’d just taken Brandon Barnes against his will. Oh, God. What could she have been thinking?
A slurred groan in the backseat reminded her exactly what she had been thinking. About saving the retreat. About helping troubled teens who believed the world had all but given up on them. And, in all honesty, most people had.