Home > Right Behind Her (Bree Taggert #4)

Right Behind Her (Bree Taggert #4)
Author: Melinda Leigh

 

CHAPTER ONE

June 1990

I squirm against the ropes binding my hands behind my back. Another rope binds my ankles. The trunk is tight and smells like gasoline and rubber. Nausea rises in the back of my throat. I suck in a lungful of stale air through the makeshift hood they’ve tied over my head. Curled on my side, I try for the tenth time to bring my bound feet through my tied hands. If I can get my hands in front of me, I have a small chance of fighting back. The way I’m trussed—like a Thanksgiving turkey—I’m helpless.

It’s no use. There isn’t enough space, and I’m not flexible. My shoulder presses against the wheel well. The arm I’m lying on is numb. Every time I shift my weight, a little blood rushes into my hand. Sensations of fiery pinpricks follow. I flex my fingers over and over to try to increase circulation, but my movements are limited.

I lie still for a few seconds, recovering my wind.

I shouldn’t be surprised. My entire life has been leading up to this moment. Every bad decision, every thoughtless act, has brought me here. I have no illusions about what is going to happen to me. I’ll be dead before the night is over. I think of my family. Will they miss me?

Sorry. For everything.

I’m no angel. I’ve done plenty of bad things in my life. I find it ironic that the one time I stand up for what’s right, that’s the decision that gets me killed. What was I thinking? What did I hope to accomplish? The thought of me becoming a decent man is laughable. The weight of my combined sins is too great to be balanced.

I’m a hopeless case.

The car lurches and bumps, and I assume we’ve left the paved road. It won’t be long now. My remaining time can be counted in minutes. Nervous sweat breaks out under my arms, and I can smell my own fear. Not sure why. It’s not like I’ll be leaving a rich, full life. I’m barely getting through the days. My life is pathetic. What will I be missing?

The car comes to a stop, and the engine cuts off. Despite my attempt to meet my end with calm, bile surges into my throat, and I begin to shake—not little tremors, but humiliating, body-racking quakes.

My life might be for shit, but I don’t want to die.

Stop it.

Honor isn’t possible, not for me, but I can at least die with some sort of dignity. I don’t want to meet death crying and whimpering. It’s the very last thing I’ll do. I should try to show a little class and act like a man.

I hear the trunk pop open. Humid night air rushes over my sweat-coated skin, lifting goose bumps on my arms.

“Get out,” he says.

“Please.” As if I weren’t humiliated enough, I hear myself beg. Have some pride. But a primal survival instinct overrides my need to be dignified. I can’t stop it.

I hear a switchblade snap open. Terror supercharges my heart. I have no control over it as it beats like a frantic hummingbird’s wings. But he doesn’t stab me. He slices through the ropes around my ankles. I shift my legs and feel the hot surge of blood flow as my feet come to life. I’d like to kick him in the fucking face, but I can’t see, and after at least an hour in the trunk, my legs are too weak.

The hood is ripped off my head. I gulp fresh air like I’ve been underwater.

“Fucking get out of the trunk.”

I hear dogs barking, big dogs. One begins to howl, and the others join in, as if they’re a pack ready to join a hunt. The thin sound lifts the hairs on the back of my neck, and dread balls in my gut. They are not friendly pets. These are hungry beasts conditioned to rip me or each other to shreds the second they get an opportunity.

“Move it,” he snaps.

“Why?” I find my voice and hope I don’t sound as scared as I am. “You’re going to kill me anyway.”

“Because if you don’t, I’m going to hurt you first.”

I’ve seen him in action. That is not an idle threat. For emphasis, he pokes me with the tip of the knife. The point bites into my shoulder. I feel blood well out of the wound and run in a warm trickle down my arm.

I work my legs over the edge and lever myself into a sitting position. With my hands still bound behind my back, the task takes work, and I’m breathing hard. I settle there for a few seconds, taking in the night and what will surely be my last moments on this earth.

The shadow of a barn looms over me. I look up at the sky and spot the Big Dipper. My senses heighten. The stars seem brighter, and the scent of pine in the air is sharper. Clouds pass in front of the moon, darkening the summer night.

“Walk.” He barks the command, sounding as vicious as the dogs.

When I hesitate, he pulls the gun from his pocket and jerks it in the direction of the barn. I shift my weight to my feet and stand. My knees wobble, but I keep them under me. My first few steps are shaky, but they steady as I move. I glance at the woods behind the barn and think about running.

Do I have anything to lose?

I dig in a toe and get exactly three strides. A hand fists in my hair and my head is yanked backward. I fall on my ass. Pain rings through my tailbone and up my spine.

He grabs my arm and hauls me to my feet. “That was pointless.”

Yep.

There seems to be no end to my stupidity tonight.

With my arm chicken-winged, I’m half dragged toward the barn. He steps in front of me and pulls at the door handle. Despite the door’s age, weight, and lack of maintenance, it rolls open with little effort. Can’t find quality construction like that these days. The world is going to hell.

Am I?

He herds me inside, closes the door behind us, and turns on the light. The barn is mostly used for storage. I see a tractor in one corner, a pile of junk in another. A few animals occupy a pen on the far side of the space. They don’t like the intrusion into their quiet night. Straw rustles with their nervous movements. A goat bleats. An old pony pokes its nose through the slats and eyeballs me. Ridiculously, I hope the gunshot doesn’t scare them.

He shoves me. I trip over something and stumble. I can’t catch myself with my hands behind my back, and I go down. My knees hit the ground, and my teeth snap together. Kneeling, I smell manure and realize I tripped over a pile of animal shit.

The woman is already there. Is she dead?

He walks in front of me, lifts the gun, and checks for a round in the chamber. Ready. “All I wanted was loyalty. Was that too much to ask?”

“Apparently, yes.” I don’t even understand why I decided to draw my moral line tonight, after having very few ethics my entire life. I wasn’t even going to die on a stupid virtuous hill, but down in the filth where I’ve spent most of my days.

Maybe this is what I deserve. I want to go out bravely, but I just don’t have it in me. I used up my single drop of courage making the decision that led me here.

“You tried to betray me,” he says.

“I tried to do the right thing.” What the fuck? I’m dying anyway. I might as well go for it.

Our eyes meet. His are as cold and dark as always. I don’t bother asking for forgiveness. He doesn’t have an ounce of mercy in his soul.

“Go ahead. Kill me. We both know you’re going to.” I try to summon some courage, but it feels more like defeat.

He pulls a pair of bolt cutters from his pocket. “Oh, I’m going to kill you, but first, you have to pay for your betrayal.”

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