You Betrayed Me – Lisa Jackson

A live! I’m still alive! I blink. Disbelieving. Stare up at the ceiling that seems to dance and spin above me. My body trembles on the floor. Twitching. Flailing. Sputtering. But I wasn’t killed. At least not yet. The twin burn marks on my neck are painful. They remind me that I could well be dead, that if the nose of a pistol had been pressed to my skin, rather than the cold metal tips of a stun gun, I’d be lying in a pool of my own blood, dead to the world. It’s only a matter of time, my mind warns. I try to focus, blinking as I moan and twitch uncontrollably, feeling the hardwood of the tiny house against the back of my head. The vaulted ceiling seems higher than usual as it stretches over a small living area. It reels as my eyes try to focus, but they still jiggle in their sockets, my vision fragmented.

I stare at the built-in couch with its vibrant throw pillows, then spy the ladder leading to the loft, but everything in my vision pitches and weaves, refuses to stay steady. I try to focus on one item: the door leading outside, my only chance of escape, but it’s closed down and appears to shift and sway. God help me. For just a second, I close my eyes, try to stop the shaking, but I fail to gain control of my body again. Click, click, click. Footsteps! The floorboards vibrate. Boot heels striking the hardwood remind me I’m not alone. With ef ort, I twist my trembling neck and roll my head to one side to see my captor slipping something into the small refrigerator. “Why?” I try to say, but nothing but a garbled groan slips past my lips. “Why?” I try again, but the person who’s trapped me doesn’t respond, just slams the refrigerator door shut and, with a disparaging glance at my shaking body, steps over me to the single door of the cabin and throws it open.

A blast of wintry air rushes inside, a few flakes of snow following. No, I try to scream. “Nnnnnneeeeeooo.” Again, the sound is a cry of despair, the single word unclear. But my captor understands. Pauses for the briefest of seconds. Then steps through the door and yanks it shut. Thud! I try to crawl toward it. Click! The lock’s engaged. Don’t leave me, I silently scream, my mouth opening and shutting like a just-landed bass gasping for air.

How can you do this? You, who swore you loved me? How can you leave me? The betrayal is gut-wrenching, sitting sour in my stomach as I make another attempt to stop my muscles from shaking. Pull yourself together! Do it! I try to stand, manage to get my feet under me, but the soles of my shoes slide, and my body flops to the floor again. All I can do is scoot, limbs palsied as I push my way to the door. Over the frantic beating of my heart, I hear boots crunching on icy snow and the inevitable beep of a vehicle’s keyless lock responding to a push of a button on a remote. Don’t do this! I reach up, take a swipe at the door handle, and fail to clutch it. With all the ef ort I can muster, I try again, this time connecting, my muscles finally responding. Groaning, I haul myself to my feet, and I slump against the door frame. An engine revs as I reach for the door handle again, grasp it, and find it locked. Unmoving. As it always is.

Locked tight. Damn it. Tears spring to my eyes as I hurl my body to the ladder and teeter for a second. My muscles quiver, and I grit my teeth, make a false start, and slide a bit. Locking my jaw against my chattering teeth, I grip harder, then slowly, rung by rung, climb until I can just peer over the windowsill of one of the five twelve-inch-square windows strung near the ceiling of the wall with the door. Through the glass I see outside. The snowy landscape is stark in the small clearing, rimmed by tall firs, branches heavy and laden with ice and snow. In the clearing, I see the car, headlights glowing, cones of light illuminating the lane as it drives away. My heart sinks. Don’t let it! The person who did this doesn’t deserve your sadness.

Get mad, damn it. As the trembling in my body eases, I feel a swell of anger slowly rising. My fingers grip the upper rung on the ladder so hard my knuckles show bone white. The sound of the engine fades. As it has before. “I’ll get you,” I vow, my words hoarse but at least intelligible as I glare at the retreating vehicle, its taillights blinking red through the trees, reflecting blood-like on the snow. “You’ll never get away with this.” I’ll make sure of it. CHAPTER 2 Cascade Mountains December 1 “You prick!” Fighting tears, Megan pounded the steering wheel of her Toyota, then hit the gas. The tires spun, snow and gravel spraying as she backed up, threw the car into gear, then, the beams of her headlights splashing on snowy landscape, tore down the long lane leading away from James Fucking Cahill’s farmhouse.

And then, as if he were seated in the passenger seat, she kept ranting. “How could you? How the hell could you?” She shouldn’t have been surprised. Once a cheater, always a cheater. So why had she expected him to be her boyfriend, the man she thought was the love of her life, her soul mate, the goddamned “one,” if you believe that rot? Of course, he’d shown his true colors and had turned out to be a two-timing dick. She blinked hard, tears beginning to slide down her cheeks as she reached the county road, cut in front of a snowplow clearing the roadway, and sped through the night toward town. Angrily, she dashed the offensive tears away, while fence posts and fields of white passed by in a blur. At the stop sign, she slowed, then cranked the wheel and headed west, circumventing the heart of Riggs Crossing and speeding through the near-empty side streets of this little backwater town that purported itself to be an honest-to-God, year-round Christmas village. But then she knew as well as anyone how appearances could be deceiving, didn’t she? Out of the corner of her eye, she spied an elderly woman walking a little black Scottie dog in a sweater. Gray curls poking out from a red beret, the woman, in the glow of a streetlamp, shook her head and wagged a finger before making a “slow down” gesture by patting the air. Megan didn’t care.

It was all she could do not to make her own gesture by flipping the woman off. But she didn’t. No reason. Other than her heart was broken, her mind mush. Why, why, why had she been such an idiot as to fall in love with James Cahill? She should have known better. “Crap.” She had known better. In her rearview, she saw the old lady now on her cell phone, probably dialing 9-1-1 and reporting an erratic driver terrorizing the usually serene, almost bucolic streets of this little town tucked into the mountains of Washington State. Too bad. But she eased off the accelerator.

Didn’t want or need a ticket. It wasn’t as if she was blind, for God’s sake. She’d seen how James had been looking at that new girl in the restaurant, the way he’d once looked at her. But what had she expected? Didn’t she know from personal experience how easily James’s head had been turned? And women were always throwing themselves at him, a tall, handsome man with a cowboy attitude and a get-ready-for-theride-of-your-life smile that could turn even the most wary heart. They didn’t even have to know that he was rich, or would be, to fall for him. Hadn’t she? “You’re an idiot,” she said, not for the first time. Oh, she couldn’t wait to get to Seattle and her sister! Once in Rebecca’s condo, she’d pour herself into a bottle of vodka and forget the bastard. “Lying, cheating prick,” she grumbled. He belonged to her! Didn’t he get that? Probably not now. But he would.

She’d see to it. You know what? She should just disappear on him. Make him miss her. Make him regret ever cheating on her to the depths of his soul! Yeah, that’s what she’d do. Sniffing, she brushed the tears from her eyes with a gloved hand, then gripped the wheel so hard her fingers ached as she headed out of town and into the surrounding mountains. Then, as the snowfall increased, she flipped on her wipers. Rebecca was expecting her. Her sister. God. It was almost impossible to accept that James had been interested in Rebecca first.

And, damn it, Rebecca, the ice queen, had fallen for him too! Well, nearly. As much as Rebecca would allow herself to fall for a man like James—a sexy bad boy with a reputation . That was the trouble with James! He was handsome as hell and enough of a cad—yes, a cad!—that women found him attractive without even realizing he was rich. Or . would be, once he inherited the rest of his share of the Cahill fortune. Even without that knowledge, women were continually flinging themselves at him, and he, prick that he was, didn’t exactly discourage them. Fortunately, in Rebecca’s case, she’d put all that behind her. Her sister was long over James. Right? Didn’t matter, Megan told herself, chin jutting as she squinted through the windshield, snowflakes swirling and dancing in the glow of her headlights. Rebecca would know what to do.

She always did. Rock-steady, determined Rebecca Travers would help Megan set things right. Despite any latent feelings Rebecca might harbor toward James. Megan’s conscience twinged a bit. How many times had she relied on her sister? How often had she run crying back to her older sibling, who always helped? Even when . ? She felt a small stab of guilt, which probably should have been sharper. Deeper. She glanced at her reflection in the rearview mirror. The blue eyes in the reflection were red-rimmed, but not because of remorse. If she had the chance to do it all over again, to right that wrong .

she bit her lip and pushed the thought out of her mind as her car struggled against the incline. She wasn’t a bad person. Not really. And James . Oh, dear God, James . A lump filled her throat as the Corolla nosed upward, snow now covering the pavement and piling along the sides of the road where the plow had come through earlier. She fiddled with the defrost knob, as the windshield was beginning to fog, and cranked the temperature to the highest level. Nothing. The fan was broken. Had been for weeks.

“Shit.” She grabbed a used napkin from the coffee shop, which had been wedged into a cup holder. Lump in her throat, she swiped away the film as best she could, then she squinted through the windshield. What little traffic there had been had thinned, and finally, as the car climbed, engine whining, she found herself alone on this stretch of road winding through the night-dark peaks of the Cascades. She pressed harder on the gas. “Come on. Come on.” Visibility was hampered by the ever-increasing snowfall and, of course, the useless defroster. Once more, she wiped a spot clear above her steering wheel to see that now, in the mountains, the snowstorm was nearly a whiteout. “Great.

” She thought of James, and her heart crumbled. A wash of memories slipped through her mind, and tears threatened again. She hit the gas at the next sharp turn. Her wheels shifted. Spun. She eased off. “Get a grip,” she told herself as the car straightened out, the beams of her headlights reflecting in a million swirling flakes, the engine lugging down with the steep incline. Their last fight had been their worst. Never before had anger and nasty words turned physical, but tonight her rage had been mercurial. More tears.

Blinding her, just as rage had blinded her earlier. Shaking her head against the memory, she floored the accelerator, snagged the wet, wadded napkin, and took another swipe at the fogged windshield as the road dipped suddenly. “Crap!” Her heart froze. Another corner loomed, this one hairpin sharp. Automatically, she hit the brakes. The back tires spun as she turned the steering wheel with her free hand. The Corolla hit ice and began a slow, steady swirl. “No . no, no, no!” She was high in the mountains, the tops of eighty-foot fir trees level with the road, their icy branches laden with snow, the canyon below invisible. “Oh, God.

” She took her foot off both the brake and the gas . that was what she was supposed to do. Right? Drive into the spin or some such thing? Her heart pounded in her ears. In slow motion, she saw the edge of the road, the piles of snow hiding the guard rail, if there was one, and beyond, the darkness. Fear crystallized her blood. Don’t panic, Megan! Do NOT panic!

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