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Someone wants her dead... But why?
When Amanda Vanderbilt is attacked at a party, she hides in a cowboy’s horse trailer to elude the masked man suddenly stalking her relentlessly.
Bruce Palmer is on a mission to pick up horses for his boss across country in Seattle. A loner, he wants nothing to do with the pretty blonde he finds stowed away.
But like it or not, he’s been lassoed into the mess, and it’s now his duty to protect her.
Who is the masked man and why is he chasing them in a semi?
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Copyright 2015 © Georgina Sellwood
Run! Get away!
The man’s hands bit into Amanda Vanderbilt’s upper arms as she struggled and spat at his face, to no avail. The man wore a ski mask, but the opening around his eyes let her see the shape and color of them and how his thick, black eyebrows met above the bridge of his nose.
“Shut up and come with me,” her attacker growled. Her face stung where he’d hit her.
At the back of the garden, no one at the party would hear her. To scream was useless. Tears of frustration ran down her face as dance music floated on the wind.
“Let me go,” she yelled in desperation. What else could she do? She’d tried all the defensive moves she knew—kicking, biting, spitting, and there was only one thing left. She would have to hurt him.
She lifted her knee high and hard. The man fell like a stone, groaning and holding himself. Her blouse ripped as he grabbed at her on his way down.
“I’ll find you, Amanda. You can’t hide. I know where you and the doctor lived and I know you are living with your mother now,” he yelled.
The light from a street lamp shone through a gap in the hedge. She dove and crawled through the hole on hands and knees. Branches scraped her arms as dew from the grass ruined her clothes. She hobbled out of the hedge and struggled to cross the dark lawn on her broken shoe.
Was he coming? The hedge shook behind her. She gained her balance and hobbled on.
When she made it to the sidewalk, the broken heel of her Italian sandal clattered on the pavement. Her hand trembled when she raised her arm as she hailed an approaching New York cab. Thank heavens, it’d just pulled out of a driveway two doors away.
Footsteps pounded the ground behind her.
When the car stopped, she dove into the sanctuary of the backseat, holding the ripped pieces of her yellow silk blouse together. “Go,” she screamed, slamming the door and locking it.
Her breath came in ragged gasps while her head spun. The scent of citrus cologne lingered in the enclosed space, making her want to gag.
She met the cabbie’s wide-eyed stare in the rearview mirror. “Are you all right, lady?”
All right? Far from it. Who was that man who’d attacked her at the party? Kneeing him had given her the seconds she’d needed to get away. Her heart thudded against her ribs, and terror still gnawed at her nerves.
A week ago, she’d received the party invitation from a friend.
“Who’s that from?” her mother had asked, nodding at the scented, pink paper Amanda held in her right hand.
“Well, surely you’re not going to refuse another one. You have to stop sitting around here moping and start getting out again. Brad was killed two years ago, and it’s time you get over it.”
Pain had stabbed Amanda’s heart after her mother’s insensitive remark. Depression had descended like a shroud, enveloping her. Didn’t her mother realize how much it hurt to lose her husband and move into her parent’s house with her three-year-old toddler, Monica? She had felt like a dog coming back with its tail between its legs. Did anyone her age return home to their mother?
She’d been in a fog of pain for—was it really two years?
She knew she had to make the effort. Get out and be active again. Karin’s party would be a good place to start. She wouldn’t know too many people there, and she wouldn’t have to put up with the gazes full of pity that she hated so much.
“You’re right, Mother. I’ll e-mail her today and accept.”
“Good. We’ll leave Monica with Consuela and I’ll take you to Fifth Avenue to shop after lunch.”
They’d found the perfect outfit, a yellow silk blouse and a matching skirt with a ruffle at the hem.
The party happened to fall on the staff’s day off and Mother was at an Arts Culture meeting, so she’d left Monica with a new babysitter. Monica had clung to her hand when Amanda dropped her off. For the last two years, she’d been by Amanda’s side almost constantly. Amanda had to pretend she didn’t see the tears gathering in her sweet baby’s eyes as she closed the door and walked to the waiting cab.
The driver sent another concerned glance over his shoulder, bringing her back to the present. “Lady, are you okay?”
“Yes.” The quiver in her voice made her sound far from convincing. “Go. Just go.” She swallowed, tamping back the tears that stung her throat and intensified, threatening to overwhelm her. As she bit her lip, fear beat in her chest and wouldn’t be controlled as easily as her urge to cry. She looked back. A shadowy figure broke through the hedge.
The gearshift clunked as they pulled away from the curb into the overcast night. The man, still bent over and holding himself, staggered after them. He chased the car a few steps, then stumbled and fell.
“Where to, miss?”
Where should she go? Certainly not home. The attacker knew where she lived. His last words haunted her. I’ll find you, Amanda. You can’t hide. I know where you and thedoctor lived, and I know you are living with your mother now.
Who wanted to hurt her? Obviously it had to be someone who knew her if he knew her address.
Her stomach rolled—she was going to be sick. She clutched at her chest and tried buttoning her blouse. It didn’t help, it was ruined. Ripped and stained. Anyone who saw her would know there’d been a struggle.
The cabbie’s hard gaze met hers in the rear view mirror. “Miss, I need an address. Where do you want to go?”
What should she do? Where could she go? Anywhere but to the police. When her husband had died, they’d put her at the top of the list of suspects, grilling her for months until her nerves nearly shattered. They still hadn’t found his killer, and if she brought this attack to their attention, they might resume interrogating her. As far as she knew, no one at the party had seen it happen, and the police were unlikely to put out an all-points bulletin for an unknown man wearing a ski mask.
She let out a frustrated sigh, trying to clear her confusion. She wouldn’t impose on her friends and relatives. What if she put them in danger? She couldn’t go home or stay in town. The attacker might be anyone, and he was coming after her. She clasped her hands to control their trembling. She wanted her toddler, Monica, with her, but that would be selfish and dangerous.
Amanda hadn’t been at the Rockefellers’ party long when a man had bumped into her. He’d bent to pick up her clutch and apologized for knocking it out of her hand. When he’d handed it back, his dark, empty eyes had set alarm bells ringing, but she’d ignored them.
She had thought her friends would be interested in reconnecting with her after her extended absence, but when she walked to the edge of several groups, they’d ignored her and kept talking amongst themselves. They had seemed indifferent to her wanting to reintegrate. It hurt. Maybe she had been out of their circle too long, or they were just too self-centered and spoiled to notice her.
The realization had hit her hard. She’d needed to get away before someone noticed the tears that were gathering and close to spilling. She walked to the end of the garden where she knew there was a three-person swing with a bench seat.
It’d turned out to be a bad decision, because that’s when the masked man had pulled her into the bushes. Thank goodness, she’d thought to use her knee.
She needed to get away to safety so she could make a plan.
“Do you want me to just drive around, or are you gonna give me an address?"
What about Monica, her little three-year-old angel? Much as she would have loved Monica to be with her, it was better to leave her where she was safe. No one would think of her being with her friend, Kate’s, babysitter. Monica had never stayed with Barb before. Not even Amanda’s mom would know to search for her there. Kate let Barb watch her children all the time, so she must be loving and reliable.
“Okay. Take me…umm, to the hotel on the highway,” she murmured, tasting the salt of her tears.
“It’s a bad time of night to be goin’ there and it’s gonna take a while.”
Amanda brushed at her expensive clothes, trying but unable to remove the dirt and grass stains. “Yes, but I have to get out of here. Will you drive me somewhere out of town?”
“Lady, it’s almost midnight. My shift is over soon. I can’t.”
Fresh tears stung the back of her eyes. An impossible situation. “Then, please…drop me at the nearest hotel out on the interstate.”
“Okay, miss, but that’ll cost you. I hope you know what you’re doin’.”
To pay the cabbie, Amanda peeled off a couple of bills from the meager cash in her diamond-studded clutch purse. She’d only taken enough money to get home.
“Stay safe. Don’t do nothin’ stupid.” The cabbie shook his head one last time before driving away.
Stay safe. It wouldn’t be easy. Gravel pelted her legs as he gunned the engine and sent the yellow cab streaking out of the lot and down the highway, leaving her alone in the hotel’s parking lot.
Opening her wallet again, she counted the bills. Not enough for the hotel. What was she going to do?
The sound of rumbling engines caused her to turn. Fear hitched her breath as she faced a multitude of parked tankers and semis. They appeared monstrous in the tinted lights of the truck stop next door. The echo of their engines and the stench of diesel brought to mind the scary, shape-shifting toys from her childhood.
Through the window, she saw two truckers sitting at the counter in the café. She shivered in the cold. Though tempted to order something hot to drink, she decided against it, not wanting to face their reactions to her torn and soiled clothes. Glancing in the direction of town, Amanda wondered if the masked man had recovered enough to hunt for her.
Would he look here? No, of course not, but she needed to find a safe way out of the area.
A truck with a horse trailer stood at the card-lock gas pump at the edge of the lot next to the hotel. She hobbled toward it on her broken sandal. She loved horses. Dreamed of living outside the city and having one of her own to ride someday. She thought if she could just pet one…
When she drew near, she saw there were no horses inside. Disappointment saddenedher.
A hunky cowboy with tanned skin and a handsome face started washing the windshield of the truck. She ducked along the far side of the trailer where he wouldn’t notice her.
Darkness shrouded this side of the animal carrier. She slipped along beside the horse stalls. This one—the type owners took to competitions, staying in them while they showed their horses—had living quarters at the front.
Unable to stop her body shaking and teeth chattering, she looked to the RV part of the trailer as a warm place, out of the chilly night air. She tried the handle and it clicked open. A wave of relief washed over her.
Just then, the cowboy, his black Stetson slung low shadowing his eyes, sauntered to her side of the truck to finish washing the window. Amanda tore the door open wider and dove inside.
It was hard to see in the dim light. Her left hand rested on a three-burner stove. She had grabbed the corner of it to hoist herself inside. The dark space on the counter next to it was probably a sink. Across from her, a sofa sat along the far wall.
Footsteps shuffled in the dirt along the side of the truck. He was coming her way. In a panic, she scrambled up into the double bed on her right, at the front of the trailer.
Her breath came in ragged gasps as boots scuffed the concrete outside. She burrowed into the untidy mess of covers on the bunk, to hide if the cowboy entered. The scent of the man clung to the sheets, and she tried to regulate her breathing.
He stopped a moment then continued. Kicking the tires on his way by, he made a circuit of the truck and trailer. She took a second to catch her breath.
The truck rumbled to life and she grabbed at the sheets for support. Should she jump out or stay?
While she debated, they bumped onto the highway. They moved far too fast for her to escape. Wherever this handsome man was going, she was going, too.
She hoped she hadn’t put herself in more danger by stowing away in this cowboy’s trailer.
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