Night Child(3)

By: Ann Major

Suddenly there were shouts. The music stopped abruptly at the crack of gunfire. Her litter careened madly, and she felt her body toppling even as she grappled wildly for something to hang on to.

Her injured foot hit the wooden floor first, and she screamed. But brown arms caught her, breaking her fall, saving her fragile ankle. She was about to thank her rescuer when his brutal hands cut into her flesh.

"You're hurting—"

A hand clamped over her mouth, smearing her lipstick.

"I will kill you, pretty American girl," the man whispered into her ear in an accent so terrible, in a tone so vicious and filled with hatred, it was amazing she could understand him.

She stared up into blazing obsidian eyes, into a face, cold with maniacal hatred.

"Stand you still," he ordered.

She understood every garbled word.

She felt the icy barrel of a gun against her hot perspiring skin. His long nose curved like an Arabic dagger above sensual-cruel lips. His savage features were those of a barbarian. If she lived a hundred years, she would never, never forget his face.

"Please," she begged, her own voice a broken rasp she no longer recognized.

Those merciless black eyes glittered above that dagger nose, and he smiled faintly, if one could call that menacing twist of his cruel lips a smile. He could slice her to pieces and relish doing so. His hand tightened around her throat, and he squeezed so hard she almost lost consciousness. The edges of the golden pendant she always wore dug into her neck, and a trickle of blood slithered in a greasily glimmering rivulet down her pale throat. Then he dragged her across the stage as if she were a sack of sand, shouting in Arabic, holding his gun to her head, using her slim stumbling body as a shield so he could escape. Her tulle skirt snagged on something and tore.

Desperately she twisted her head and stared at him again. Then it happened.

His dark face blazed at the center of fire.

Fresh terror engulfed her.

Cruel features whitened and blurred fleetingly into another equally cruel face from a long-forgotten past before vanishing altogether in the mists of her mind.

Afterward she would remember that image, and it would inspire terror. She would think of it again and again during those long days and endless nights in that filthy stinking cell the Arab would throw her in, but she would not be able to understand.

Her mind flooded with dazzling light, a blinding whiteness brighter than a million stage lights that obliterated everything. She could see nothing, but she was terrified. And she knew that this was an old fear. She had felt this utter helplessness, this utter aloneness, this terrifying sense of loss somewhere, sometime before. It was so terrible she'd never wanted to know that kind of fear again.

In a flash she knew that it was this secret fear at the bottom of her soul that drove her. This was why she worked so hard, why she had no life, why she danced.

She began to tremble.

"No! It can't be happening again! I won't let it!"

Her voice was choked with tears. She didn't even know what her words meant.

"No!" she cried.

She was frantic to escape this man who provoked such terror.

His hands were manacles of iron. She was powerless to move.

The old nameless fear was welling up.

Someone was shouting, shaking her. She heard her own voice, shrill and unrecognizable, louder than all the rest of the pandemonium.

Brutal fingers ground her windpipe into the bone, and she was silenced. She fell back, limp in the Arab's arms, and he bundled her up, running with her, carrying her outside into the smothering furnacelike heat of the desert.

Inside the cozy living room of a huge red-roofed mansion on one of the biggest ranching empires in all of Texas, Jeb Jackson was holding his fiery-haired baby son proudly in his arms. Jared made loud guzzling noises as he sucked voraciously at the rubber nipple.

"Don't feed him so fast," Megan instructed softly.

It was amazing how often it took the two of them to tend Jared properly. They were like a surgical team, hovering anxiously, ministering to the baby's slightest need as if these routine activities were of mammoth importance.

Jeb tried to pull the bottle away, but Jared only sucked all the harder with a frantic determination.

"Honey, he's a Jackson and a real Texan cowboy. He's not about to let a woman boss him."

"He's only six weeks old! Don't tell me he's already a lost cause—like his father!"

Male black eyes locked with defiant green ones, but as he studied his wife, Jeb's expression softened. This woman had filled his nights with passion, his days with excitement and happiness, and now she had given him a son. "He's old enough to go after what he wants." Jeb reached out and fingered a strand of Megan's red hair. It pleased him that it was the exact shade of his son's, just as it pleased him that every time she looked at him her face was transformed with love and gentleness.