Authors: Kristina Stanley
Ben and Kalin slipped and slid in single file along the edge of the road. The ditch gave more traction than the tarmac, and Ben placed one boot after the other on the uneven surface. He stayed close behind Kalin, ready to catch her if she fell. She’d been quiet through dinner at the bar, and Ben had given her space.
Kalin’s cell rang. “Hey, Fred.”
“The road to town is closed. A car hit a hydro pole. With the icy conditions, the road won’t be open again until sometime tomorrow. We’re on our own for the night.”
“Okay. Call if you need anything.”
Fifteen minutes later, Kalin entered the front hall, tossed her wet jacket on the bench Roy built and slogged up the stairs. Ben followed, wishing he could make her feel better. She ignored Chica, turned off her cell and tossed it on the counter. “My head hurts. I need some sleep.”
Once in their bedroom, she discarded her soggy jeans in the laundry basket, flopped on top of the comforter on their sleigh bed and curled into a ball.
Ben caressed her cheek. “I’ll take Chica for a quick walk. You okay alone?”
“I’m fine. I just need some time.”
Ben donned a dry jacket, opened the door and followed Chica outside. The slippery ground didn’t affect her, so Ben let her run off leash. He gave her ten minutes outside, then returned home, fed her and checked on Kalin. She was still curled into a ball and breathing deeply, so he let her sleep.
Chica jumped onto the bed and snuggled into the back of Kalin’s bare legs.
Ben grabbed dry clothes from the bedroom, gently closed the door and returned to the living room. He picked up his cell on the first ring.
“Who’s this?” Ben asked.
“Aiden. Listen, Jessica just phoned me. She said she needed help. We’ve got to find her. I can’t find anyone else to help me.”
“Where is she?”
“She said she was behind her house. She stopped talking. I think she passed out,” Aiden said.
“Did she fall or something?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you call security?”
“No one answered.”
“Try again. I’ll meet you in front of her place in a few minutes.”
Ben poked his head into the bedroom. Still nestled behind Kalin’s knees, Chica rested her head on Kalin’s leg. She thumped her tail when Ben peeked in. An open bottle of sleeping pills lay on the bedside table, and he could hear Kalin’s deep breathing. In case she woke while he was gone, he left her a note. He picked up the first aid kit and took off.
Ben met up with Aiden in Jessica’s driveway.
“Hurry, let’s go around back,” Aiden said.
Aiden ran behind Jessica’s house, and Ben followed.
Aiden fell. He reached down and poked a finger through a hole in his jeans. “I’ve cut my leg.”
Ben rounded him and kept going. “I’ll look at it later. Let’s go.”
Getting a foothold on the ice was difficult, and both fell several times.
Ben’s flashlight beam strained to penetrate the rain and fog, giving them only a few feet of visibility before the beam was reflected off a white haze.
Aiden pointed to Jessica’s body. “Over there.”
Ben handed Aiden the first aid kit and rushed to her.
“Jessica?” Ben squatted beside her and put his hand on her chest. A slight movement. He put his index and middle finger on her neck and checked for a pulse. “We need to get her out of here.” He placed his flashlight beside her and positioned himself to lift her.
Aiden didn’t move. “Is she dead?”
“No. But her pulse is weak.” Ben shouted to be heard above the noise of the wind and sleet hitting the trees. He reached underneath her. “She’s bleeding.”
Aiden slipped again and knocked Ben’s flashlight into the bush. It slid in circles across the ice, shining the beam in all directions. Crawling on his hands and knees, Aiden went after it. The light glowed from underneath a log. “Holy crap.” He scrambled backward, taking the light with him.
“Give me the flashlight,” Ben said.
“Hold on a sec. Something big is in the trees.” Aiden frantically moved the light back and forth. “There.”
The light landed on a pair of eyes. He ran the beam along the muscled body that stood out against the fog.
“It’s a cougar.” Ben stood.
“What do we do?”
“Hold your ground.” A minute passed. With the amount of blood seeping from Jessica, she didn’t have a lot of time. Ben worked a rock loose with his foot and kicked it at the cougar. The cougar snarled once, and then bolted. “Give me the flashlight.”
Shining the light on Jessica’s lower back, Ben illuminated a dark patch. “Get me a pad from the first aid kit.” He held out one hand to Aiden and pressed the other tightly against her wound.
“I dropped it.”
. “Go look for it.”
“I’m not going anywhere. The cougar’s still around. You go.”
“Think. How long ago did you drop it?”
“When I went to get the flashlight.”
“Put pressure on the wound, and I’ll look for the kit.”
“You’re not leaving me here.”
“Calm down. We’re going to be fine. The cougar took off. We need the first aid kit. Okay?”
Ben watched Aiden search the ground. If he took much longer, they’d have to carry Jessica out of there without treating her wound.
“Found it,” Aiden yelled.
Ben got what he needed from the kit and placed absorbent pads on her wound.
“Help me lift her.”
The path to Jessica’s was uneven and slippery, and they did their best not to jar her as they carried her. They were lucky to stay on their feet.
When they finally reached Jessica’s, they eased her onto the couch.
“She’s not breathing.” Ben blew twice into her mouth and pumped her chest for thirty beats.
He blew again.
Thirty more compressions.
Kalin sucked air in through her nostrils. She couldn’t breathe through her mouth. Something sealed her lips together. What was happening? She desperately needed more air.
Fingers dug into her cheeks, holding her head at a painful angle. She struggled to sit, but strong hands shoved her back onto her pillow. Darkness surrounded her.
“Stop fighting me. I’m not going to hurt you.”
A man’s voice. Despite the instructions, Kalin bucked and twisted. It was as if the man held her underwater and her body panicked, doing what it wanted to do and not what she told it to do.
The man jammed his knee into her chest, forcing air from her lungs. Mucus stuffed her nostrils, and she sucked hard for air. Bile rose in her throat, and her stomach threatened to vomit.
“I’ll let you go if you settle down and promise not to scream.”
Her pulse pounded, throbbing up her neck and into her temples. Sweat dripped between her eyebrows and into her eyes. She yanked her arms from behind her back, but something tightened around her wrists, burning her skin.
“The more you struggle, the tighter the rope will get.”
She relaxed her arms and the pain subsided. Who the hell was this?
“Don’t scream, and I’ll take the tape off. If you scream, I’ll duct tape your mouth shut for good. Understand?”
The man ripped the tape off her mouth. The burning sensation told her the tape had taken some of her skin with it. She gasped for air, letting her lungs fill.
The man flicked on the bedside light. Simon Crane. She should have known. “Where’s Ben?”
“He left a while ago.”
Please let that be true. The alternative was unbearable. She couldn’t feel Chica near her. “My dog, where is she?”
“You should be more worried about yourself, not the dog.”
“I just don’t understand where she is.”
“She’s asleep on the floor. She’ll be okay. You, on the other hand, after everything you’ve done to me, might not be.”
Kalin strained to see Chica in the darkened corner, barely making out her motionless body. Her heart ached, but Chica would have to wait. “Can I put some pants on?”
Simon’s eyes lingered on her bare legs. “No.”
How could just a look make her feel so violated? The creep had a porn fetish, and now all she wore were panties and a sweater. “I haven’t done anything to you.”
He punched the pillow beside Kalin. “You fired me. It’s your fault Natalie left me, my family is embarrassed by me and I have no money. I tried to warn you to leave the resort. If you’d listened, I wouldn’t be here now.”
The person looking in Kalin’s window and the one who painted her door must have been Simon. “I don’t understand why you’re here. Why am I tied up?”
“I didn’t plan this. You shouldn’t have taken the money. I want it back.”
The mattress slanted toward Simon, and she tried not to slide into him. Her bare legs rubbed against his jeans, and she gagged. “Why do you think I have the money?”
“Jessica told me she saw you take Roy’s duffle bag from mountain ops. She guessed what was in it, and she was right.”
Kalin squirmed under Simon’s grasp. Did he help Roy take the money? And this…this couldn’t be happening. “Where’s Jessica? Does she know you’re here?”
“Jessica doesn’t know anything anymore.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing she didn’t deserve. She thought you’d turn the money over to the cops. She wouldn’t help me get it back.”
“Is she okay?”
“She had no idea I stole the money. She even believed Natalie took it. Ha.”
No matter what she said, he was too far gone to listen. She needed to figure out how to get out of this mess. She needed to find Ben. “How did you get in here?”
Simon rolled his eyes. “You gave Jessica a key when she looked after your dumb mutt. I borrowed it and made a copy. I guess that makes you pretty dumb, too.” Simon grabbed the front of Kalin’s sweater and pulled her to a sitting position. “I want my money back.”
Without hesitating, she swung her legs, caught him with her knee and knocked him sideways. Hurling herself to her feet, she ran a few steps, but Simon’s fist slammed into her back, throwing her to the ground. With her hands tied, she couldn’t break her fall. Her knees hit first, followed by her chest, then her face. Winded, she lay with her cheek on the carpet. Her nose landed inches from Chica’s, and she could feel her slow and rhythmic breathing. At least her lovely dog still lived.
Simon jammed the heel of his hand into her shoulder blades. “Don’t do that again.”
“What did you do to Chica?”
“I gave her one of your sleeping pills.”
“Please. If you let me go, I won’t say anything to the cops.”
“You still don’t get it. You won’t talk to the cops again.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kalin shifted under his weight, her shoulders burning from the pressure.
“Stop moving. You
give me the money, and I won’t kill Ben just for the fun of it. Or your dog, for that matter.”
Kalin’s body froze as if her blood had stopped flowing.
Ben had restarted Jessica’s heart, treated the wound and placed a blanket over her. He stuck his hand in his pocket, reaching for his cell.
“Shit, I must’ve dropped my phone. Give me yours,” he said to Aiden. He called Kalin, but she didn’t answer. Next he called Constable Miller.
“Jessica Scott’s been stabbed.”
“Someone stabbed her and left her for dead behind her house. She called Aiden Price before she passed out. When we found her, she was unconscious. Her heart stopped, but I got it going again. I think she’s stable now, but we need help.”
“The road’s closed.”
“What about a heli-evac?”
“I’ll see what I can do, but it’s not likely in this weather. Did she tell Aiden who stabbed her?”
“Where are you now?”
Ben moved away from the couch, distancing himself from Jessica and Aiden. He turned his back to the figure prone underneath the blanket. “At Jessica’s.”
“Is Aiden with you?”
“Listen. We don’t know if Roy acted alone in stealing the money. You need to be extremely careful right now. Where’s Kalin?”
The ice storm had cut them off from Holden, isolated them on the mountain, and he’d left her by herself. “She’s at home.”
“Yes.” And I left her there. Crap.
“I think things are volatile at the moment, and I don’t think Kalin should be by herself. Call Fred.”
Ben disconnected. “What’s with the poker?”
Aiden fisted the fireplace poker and let it hang by the side of his leg. “What if whoever stabbed Jessica comes back?”
Ben didn’t know what to say to that. Water from Jessica’s wet clothing seeped through the blanket, leaving dark stains. She didn’t deserve this. He called Fred. “I need your help.”
“I’m busy. I’ll call you back when I can.” Fred sounded out of breath.
“Wait. Don’t hang up. Jessica’s been attacked.”
“Someone stabbed her, and I can’t reach Kalin.” Ben couldn’t believe he’d left her by herself. “She’s at our place. I’m going there now. Can you come to Jessica’s?”
“It’ll take me half an hour. But Ben, you’d better hurry. I saw someone behind your house earlier and thought it was Justin Bradley. I’m with him now. He broke into Kalin’s office and tried to steal his employee file, but he swears he wasn’t behind your house.”
“And I just met up with Aiden, so it wasn’t him. Where’s the rest of security?”
“With the weather, everyone’s busy. There’s a three-car pileup near central check-in.”
Ben hung up and turned to Aiden. “I’m going to find Kalin. You stay with Jessica. Try to keep her warm. Call Oliver and see if he or anyone else from ski patrol can get here.”
Aiden’s eyes widened, and his nostrils flared, but he didn’t say anything. His heavy breathing was the only sound in the room.
“You’ll be fine. Lock the door. And keep calling Kalin until you get an answer.”