CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
Hunter swam to consciousness through a fog, blearily becoming aware of herself. As her mind cleared, she began to take a mental inventory of her situation, careful not to open her eyes. She knew that it was best not to alert her captor that she was awake. Her head still felt like it was full of cotton wool and the inside of her mouth was like the Sahara. Must have been one hell of a dart. She moved down her body, lightly bunching each muscle, soon discovering that she was immobilised, tied down. A sudden chill washed over her skin, raising gooseflesh in it's wake. I'm naked...Great.
She focused all her attention on the room around her. She inhaled deeply, surprised when no dust tickled her nose. The room actually smelt fresh, clean with the feint odour of perfume. Not your average underworld hideout. She could make out flickering light through her closed eyelids and warmth on her face. Wherever she was it was still daytime. All the while she was listening. The soft breeze rustled fabric, warm furniture creaked as it expanded. There was no sign of civilisation, no cars or planes. It was unnerving, even in the mansion the sounds of the rat race intruded. Sure that the room was empty except for her, she slowly opened her eyes.
The light was soft, diffused by gauzy drapes on the windows, but the light still stung enough to bring tears to her eyes. She cast her eyes around the room, noticing the polished wood floor and plush rugs. Gothic style antique furniture filled the large room, making it into a scene from a romance novel. In the back of her mind something was pushing forward, but stayed just out of reach. She craned her neck to see the door, it was heavy and didn't fit with the decor of the room. It was the door to a cell. Suddenly an object on the floor caught her eye. It was a black pump laying on its side, alone on the cream rug.
Francesca! It hit her with the force of a blow, they had both been taken to this place. Hunter's heart began to race wildly - if Francesca wasn't here, in this room, where was she? What was the maniac doing to her lover? She had no doubt that this was the work of the stalker who had come back with avengeance. Fear mixed with guilt. Fear of what was happening to her beloved and guilt that she hadn't been her first thought. How could she forget about her?
She began to struggle with her restraints. She was spread eagled on the mattress her hands and feet bound at the four corners. The cuffs were bound so tightly that she had no room to flex her muscle, making her struggle ineffectual. With the drug still running rampant through her system, it wasn't long before she was breathing hard and aching from the strain. Finally she relaxed, realising that it was futile. She would have to bide her time, wait until their kidnapper made a move.
She relaxed, allowing her head to drop down to the pillow. In her minds eye she pictured Francesca, alone and afraid. She tried to focus, but the dark woman's face broke through her resolve time and again. Her blood boiled as she thought about what could be happening to her lover. As she was about to redouble her efforts to break free, the sound of a key turning in a heavy duty lock made her freeze. She watched entranced as the bolts shifted and the handle turned.
The door swung open onto a dark hallway, no daylight seemed to penetrate the recesses of the building. The figure in the doorway was bathed in shadow and Hunter couldn't make out any details. Then, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud a woman stepped into the light. She was tall, slim and dressed in soft linen pants and a sleeveless silk shirt. She walked through the doorway and made her way straight to the prone warrior.
Something about the woman struck the gladiator as familiar. She focused on the approaching figures face. It was angular and surrounded by a halo of short blond hair. Her lips were full, but her eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. Mirrored sunglasses. It was the police officer who had been at the house so much, who had been at the funeral reception. Who had driven them to the station. A sudden thrill ran through her, if the police had found them they were saved.
Her hopes were squashed as the woman reached the side of the bed. Rather than reaching over and unfastening the restraints, she sat on the edge of the mattress and reached out a hand. She extended a finger and ran it down the centre of the Hunters naked chest, earning a shudder from the body below her. Dread surged through Hunter, her hopes crushed by that one, gentle caress. This was the one. She had been among them all this time, and none of the warriors had seen it. Before she could begin to berate herself, the slender woman began to speak.
"I've missed you so much." Long fingered hands continued to trace patterns around her torso.
Hunter latched onto that voice, it was so familiar. She had never really heard this woman speak before. When they had been in the car together, she had been in to much pain to pay her any attention. This was a voice from her past, a voice she knew as well as her own. The voice was the same, but the face was wrong. The chin too sharp, the cheeks too high, the lips not quite full enough. These were changes that age could not have made. Then the hand moved off of her body, taking hold of the sunglasses and pulling the off.
"Jordan." It came out as a choked whisper. She was trapped in soft blue eyes that she had drowned in time after time. The face was different, but those eyes and that voice remained the same.
"I knew you recognised me. All those times I saw you at the mansion, I knew you were just waiting. I knew that you trusted that I would set you free. Even with all the brainwashing that bitch has done to you, you love me." She lent down and place a soft kiss on Hunter's lips, not seeming to notice that she didn't respond.
"You look different." This was way to much information, but the gladiator knew that she had to get some answers, Francesca's life may depend on it.
"When they took me away, after the rebellion, they couldn't really hurt me. You can't kill the free that easily. So they gave me a tonne of money and told me that if I ever went near you again they'd have you killed. I couldn't risk your life like that. I had to be close to you, so I used the money to have facial surgery." She looked momentarily lost. "You do like the way I look? Don't you?" Hunter nodded. "I watched all of your fights, from the front row, I was always there. It almost killed me to see you hurt and not be able to care for you. I joined the police force, because I wanted to help people as I couldn't help you. Some of the scum that walk free, well they need to be put down. Trials are to good for them, so I did the job that everybody is to afraid to. I did it all for you, to make you proud when I set you free."
Hunters eyes went wide at this revelation. Jordan, her Jordan, could never take a life. She had always been so loving and gentle. The woman in front of her was crazy. She snapped, she gave up everything to stay with me and they took it all away. She didn't know who to blame. Something still didn't make sense; why had she gone after Francesca?
"Why did you start stalking Francesca Rose?" It couldn't be about her, she had only come to the house after all this started.
"Don't you remember? They did this to you. They let you be sold. You loved them and they didn't care about you. All the bad things that happened to you, they were responsible. You loved their daughter. I couldn't afford to buy you, even with the money they gave me. I would never be able to get you back, so they needed to be punished. To loose the most precious thing they had. I did it all for you." Jordan didn't seem to see the stricken look on her warriors face. "When they bought you, it was like God was smiling down on me. I could set you free and get vengeance. Don't you see, this was all destined."
As she reached out a hand to caress a scared cheek, Hunter snapped her head away sharply, repulsed by what she had heard. The woman she had loved had turned into a murdering, obsessive lunatic.
"How could you? If you hurt Francesca, I will kill you." Her voice had dropped to it's most dangerous register.
The hand that had been so willing to caress her before, rocketed forward in a hard blow. Crimson spread across the abused skin. Hunter could do nothing but spit the blood from the inside of her moth. She had bitten her cheek at the impact. Jordan jumped up from the bed, and stormed towards the windows. She opened the tall French door and walked out onto the balcony. Hunter was left alone, trying to make sense of it all.
The room was cold and dark. The wooden floor was bare. There was no furniture and the only window was boarded shut. Tiny slivers of light penetrated here and there. One such beam touched the trembling body of the woman curled on the floor. Her body spasmed as the drugs worked their way through her system bringing her to wakefulness. She laid on her belly, her hands tied behind her back. Already purple bruises had begun to form on her arms and neck where she had been vicious man handled.
Her blue eyes finally fluttered open. Tears began to cascade down her cheeks as she realised that she wouldn't get out of here alive.
Why doesn't she understand?
I thought she'd been brainwashed.
I'll have to deprogramme her.
What if she isn't under their control?
But if she's not?
She loves me.
Didn't look that way at the lake.
Looked like she'd found someone new.
You don't understand.
We were made for each other, we've always been together.
You know, you make a lot of sense.
She should understand.
Go to her. Tell her.
What about the bitch?
You'll just have to take her out of the equation.
Jordan straightened up from the rail on the balcony, taking in a deep lungful of the fresh air. She allowed the sun to beat down on her face for w few moments while she smoothed out her blouse. Running a hand through her hair, fluffing it gently in the breeze. She turned and walked back into the room.
For the second time she sat on the edge of the bed and gazed at the woman who had filled her dreams for so many years. Hunter wouldn't look at her, keeping her eyes firmly locked on the opposite wall. Jordan could see the imprint of her hand still lingering on the tanned flesh of her cheek. She leaned forward and placed a soothing kiss in its centre.
"Don't touch me." It was a growl.
"You don't mean that, Rhani. I know you still love me." She reached out and forced the prostrate woman to face her. Her grip was firm, almost painful on Hunters jaw.
"How can I love you after what you've done?" She narrowed her eyes. "You killed Douglas." It was a statement not a question.
"Yes. I got close to him before I started all this. We were having an affaire. He would tell me things, pillow talk. It was useful stuff. I never meant to kill him, not until you showed up."
"Me." She couldn't quite grasp how this woman's mind worked.
"I needed to move things along. I killed him so that the bitch would go to prison for murder. Don't you see? She would be under other people's control, locked up and abused. Just like you." Her thumb began to make lazy patterns on the soft skin.
"Jordan, you need to listen to me, alright." An absent nod was her only response. "The Prince's didn't know what my parents did. My parents told them that I died. Francesca was crushed for a really long time. I swear. Thank you for thinking about me, but this is wrong." She paused for just a moment. "Why didn't you go after my mother and father?"
"I looked for them. They died in an auto accident when you were fifteen. God had already punished them. He told me I have to complete the task. All for you. You don't see it yet. I've seen what they've done to you. They are using mind control, drug therapy to make you believe them. Once you purge them out of your body you'll see the truth."
"Jordan, let me go! I can't love you anymore. I love Francesca. You need help." The moment the words were out of her mouth she knew that she had made a mistake.
"Don't you ever call me crazy again!" Another blow hit the side of her face, this time making her see stars.
Jordan moved over to a large cabinet, reaching inside she withdrew something darkly metallic. Hunter instantly stiffened. In her hand the tall blond held a gun. She turned back to her prisoner, gun raised aiming at her chest.
"You need to be purged. Its the only way to set you free from their power." The shot rang through the room, penetrating into the bowels of the house, drawing a whimper from a cold dark room. Jordan sat beside her beloved. "I love you. It'll be alright." She cooed as she stroked blond hair off her forehead.
Hunter felt the bullet rip through her shoulder, sending lances of fire through her arm and chest. In her weakened state her body began to quickly go into shock, tremors running through her. Blackness began to creep into the edges of her mind. All the while the soothing voice was there, chasing her into unconsciousness.
To Francesca, it seemed like hours had passed since she had heard the sound of a single gunshot. She knew that Hunter was dead. The maniac had killed her. I just found her. She had been crying ever since, heart wrenching sobs had slowly turned into forlorn sniffles. She had managed to get into a sitting position and had shuffled into a corner. She drew her knees up to her chest and buried her face in them. Her hands were still painfully trapped behind her back.
She was lost, so deep in her own sorrow that she failed to hear the footsteps approaching from outside. As Jordan got closer to the barred door she finished fastening the last button on her overalls. She didn't want to get any blood on her good clothes, she had to stay nice for Rhani. She unlocked the large padlock and opened the heavy door. Light from the hallway flooded the darkness.
The door opened frightening Francesca further out of her wits. She scrunched her body into an even tinier ball. The light was blinding after the almost pitch darkness and her eyes could not seem to adjust. Suddenly hands grabbed her shoulders and dragged her into the middle of her room. She struggled, but was too weak to hurt her captor. Soon she was laying on her back with her arms trapped painfully under her.
The tall figure loomed over her. She could not make out any details, only being able to make out a darker figure in the dark room. Then blows were raining down on her already abused body. First a punched her face and arms while heavy boots kicked at her exposed stomach and groin. In desperation, Francesca turned onto her side, desperately trying to shield herself. Before she could raise up her knees and solid kick landed on her stomach. She tasted blood in her mouth.
"She's mine." A growl.
A kick to the head and the world went black.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
It had taken almost two days to find her. It might have taken longer had Salvatore not had the foresight to buy his daughter a tracker. Francesca kept it with her at all times, tucked inside her bra. When the heiress had been reported missing the head of the Prince dynasty had alerted the police to the presence of the tracker. Not being police issue it was a wide-band tracker. It only provided the basic area, not the exact location.
This created a large scale search of the forest area where the transmission originated from. Police teams visited each and every single cabin in the woods, scouring them from top to bottom and questioning the owners. They used maps to find the properties, but would have missed the one they were looking for if not for one thing. The cabin burst into flames on the morning of the second day. Huge plumes of smoke billowed into the air. The fire services were deployed with the cops on their tail. The cabin had not been on any map of the area, and would have been impossible to find otherwise.
When the emergency services arrived the top level of the two story building was collapsing into itself. The firemen couldn't go in to the unstable structure. they worked frantically to put it out, all hands at their pumps. The police fanned out around the site looking for any signs of the kidnapper. Deep in the woods one young sergeant found deep tyre tracks. Forensics were soon on their way as the building continued to fall around them.
Hours later, the fire was out. The top level of the building had been totally destroyed but the ground floor had barely been touched. The police swarmed into the secured building, fanning out along the corridor. With flashlights held high they began to enter the pitch dark rooms. Smoke hung heavy in the air and water dripped down the walls, creating small puddles on the floor.
"In here. Hurry!" One officer stood in an open doorway, his flashlight focused on a dark lump in the rooms centre.
Several other officers responded to his call, moving into the room. They tested the integrity of the room, ensuring that it would not collapse around them. The paramedics were called in from outside, rushing to the side of the fallen woman. Time was of the essence as they loaded her onto the stretcher. Soon she was on her way to hospital, leaving behind a small pool of blood on the floor.
Salvatore sat vigil beside his daughter. The doctors had told him that although she had been badly beaten and suffered a concussion and some bleeding, she was out of danger. They now just had to wait for her to come round. Her left arm was in a cast and she had a catheter, the bruising in her abdomen causing so much internal swelling that her bladder was slightly damaged.
The old man smoothed a lock of hair away from her forehead, wincing as he took in the sight of her swollen face. Butterfly stitched held together a cut on her cheek and her lip. Her skin was hot and clammy to the touch, the angry bruises creating their own energy source. He closed his eyes and settled in for the night, knowing that Darla would relieve him in the morning.
Francesca was afraid. Above her she could hear the sound of glass breaking, but she couldn't move. She could smell smoke but she couldn't see the flames. Al around her was darkness, above and below. She was laying on air. Her body was numb. She was sure that tears were running down her cheeks but she couldn't feel them.
"Rhani, help me."
Salvatore woke when he heard the whimpering coming form the bed. Francesca was thrashing in her sleep, small moans and cries escaping her lips. Tears spilled down her cheeks. Sal tried to calm her down, he took hold of her shoulder gently. He felt her body shudder in pain, and then she was still. He couldn't believe it, she had sunk back down into unconsciousness.
"Don't worry Princess, papa's here. Papa's here."
Sal and Darla continued to take it in turns to watch over their youngest child as the days turned into a week. When they were not in the hospital room, they were looking after the children. Nathaniel and Rodrigo also took turns sitting with their sister. They would visit together, trading off of each other. They would bicker and reminisce about their childhood in the vain hope that it would bring their sister back to them.
After her reaction with Salvatore on the second day she had made no move towards waking up. Even the children had not elicited a response from her. Her body was recovering remarkably quickly, the bruises already fading to a sickly yellow. The butterfly stitches had been removed, leaving her looking much more human. The swelling in her abdomen persisted.
She was walking down a narrow corridor. Candles held in sconces on the wall lit her way. She didn't know where she was, but she knew that she had to keep moving, keep following the lights. The hallway stopped abruptly, a door blocking her path.
She reached for the brass handle, ready to pull it open onto the unknown. Before she could touch the handle she drew her hand away. The metal was hot. Suddenly she could feel heat radiating from the wood, just before it burst open. It splintered into a thousand flaming peaces. Francesca shielded her face with her bare arms, but the wood didn't touch her.
This can't be real.
She walked into the room, unable to stop the motion of her feet. In front of her stood a little blond girl, no more than nine years old. Sad green eyes looked up at her from a bruised face. The innocence that should have been there was nowhere to be see, just a hollow well of sadness.
This isn't possible.
Suddenly the child began to grow before her eyes. Limbs grew longer, filling with muscle. Skin became stained with the inc of tattoos. Scars danced their way over flawless skin. Deep green eyes replaced by laser efficient blue. Flames grew up around her, licking at her skin. Consuming her.
This is a dream.
Arms formed in the flames, wrapping around her torso, caressing her like a lover. They whispered like voices, to low for her to hear. She moved forward, determined to get closer to her lover.
Francesca sat bolt upright in the sterile hospital room. Pain shot through her back and neck at the sudden motion. Tears were wet on her cheeks and her breathing came in ragged gasps. Darla was by her side in seconds, wrapping her arms around her sobbing daughter. She thanked God over and over for letting her baby come back to her.
Darla reached over and press the nurses call button. Soon Francesca's doctor and a team of nurses were in the room, clustered around her baby. She didn't want to leave the room, but she knew it was for the best. She made her way into the corridor and headed for the nearest payphone.
"Hello, Prince residence." Sal sounded so tired.
"Honey, she woke up." She couldn't contain her tears. "Come quickly and bring the children, I know she'll want to see them."
"We'll be there in ten. Now go kiss our Princess and tell her we're on our way." They hung up at the same time. Salvatore rushed to get the children into coats and shoes while his wife went back to their daughter.
Now they just had to find Hunter. Then everything would be okay.
The next day the children sat with their mother while their grandparents went for some cafeteria lunch. The children were so pleased that their mom was alright that they didn't want to leave her side. All three of them were snuggled up to her. She stroked Terrance's hair where he sat next to her, using their closeness to keep herself sane.
"Mama, where's Hunter?" Becca's voice was so sad, it alone brought tears to her eyes.
"I don't know, sweetheart. Everything is being done to find her. They will find her. They have to." The last part was whispered. Becca nodded tearfully, hiding her face in her knees. She loved the warrior very much.
Francesca was sick with worry over the blond bodyguard. She knew that she was alive, no bodies had been found in the cabin, save her own. She had to believe that Rhani was alive, she couldn't take loosing her all over again, it had been hard enough the first time. This time she had so much more to loose. This time she could fight to get her back, and she would. She wouldn't stop until Hunter was back by her side, where she belonged.
I will find you.
Come back to me.
She laid there in agony, her shoulder throbbing softly. The countless other welts on her body creating a background hum of pain. The straps on her wrists and ankles chafed. She stared at the ceiling, trying to distance herself from this room. From this bed. A long slender arm stretched over her chest, pinning her more firmly to the bed. The soft breathing of the woman next to her feathered over her breasts. She could feel the soft rise and fall of her naked chest as it brushed against her side as Jordan laid curled around her.
Francesca, I'm sorry.
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