Dance With Me
Author:Hayden Braeburn

chapter SEVEN

Mason cringed when he heard the door open. While he had been successful in freeing his ankles, the tape on his wrists was not as forgiving, no matter how he sawed at it against the posts. He prayed he had made enough progress to break away.

Priscilla carried another syringe, a roll of duct tape, a pair of scissors, and her compact handgun with her, laying them all on the bedside table. She still wore the nightie, and he wondered first if he would manage to break free of the tape, and second whether he should go for the gun or the scissors when he was free. The syringe bothered him. If she were to dope him up again, he wouldn't be able to move let alone stage an escape.

She selected the scissors from the table. “You don't need these clothes, my dear Mason,” she told him as she began snipping through his t-shirt. She grinned. “You're not going to need clothes for a while.”

It wasn't until she was almost completely bent over, the scissors halfway up his abdomen that he kicked out, managing to hit her in the thigh and knock her off balance. Scissors still hanging from his shirt, he rolled to his stomach and drew his legs up under himself, providing the leverage he needed to break the tape. Finally free, he rolled off the other side of the bed, positioning himself between the mattress and the wall.

Priscilla let out an otherworldly scream. “How dare you, Mason! You're going to ruin everything! Everything!” She palmed the small gun in one hand, sliding the roll of tape over the other. She would catch him, tie him down and inject him. There was no other way. “Why do you have to fight me? I just want to give you our children.”

“I don't love you Priscilla. I never did.”

“What?” she bellowed. “You did. I know you did. We were supposed to get married and have babies, but you were too young, too rebellious. I let you sow your wild oats, but now you want to marry someone else? I can't let you. You've messed up my plans. No one is allowed to alter my plans!”

She was a lunatic. He had been drugged and abducted and he had no doubt she planned to rape him, yet she was screaming at him about messing up her plans. “What the fuck, Priscilla? We were together for our junior and senior year of high school. We didn't love each other.”

“Don't you curse at me!”

That's what she yelled about? “Let me go!”

She shot at him, missing by about six inches. “You will love me, or you will die, Mason.” She squeezed off another shot, this one a bit wider. “Why do you have to make this so hard?”

His ears were ringing from the gun fire, his heart was beating out of his chest, and she was so fucked up she thought it was his fault. He felt her heels clack on the floor and crawled beneath the bed. He was armed with a pair of scissors and wearing only underwear and half a shirt, but he was determined to get home.

“Come out, Mason,” Priscilla called. “I promise I won't hurt you if you just give me what I want.”

She said it like she hadn't just shot at him twice, like she hadn't carted him off to rape him. He felt like a cornered cat, hunkered as he was beneath a bed. “Why me, Priscilla? Why after all this time?”

He could only see her feet as she stomped emphatically, her spiked heels bending with the impact. “You can't marry anyone else!” She let out a shrill scream. “Why are you asking stupid questions?”

He hoped to God some sort of help was on the way as he made himself as small a target as possible, pulling the bed with him further into the corner. She would have to shoot him if she wanted to get to him.

Mason simply didn't understand. She had to make love with him today or she might not conceive their children. She had worked the math, she had taken the medications. She was fertile now. She stared at the bed as he moved it, barricading himself from her. She could wait a little while longer. She didn't want to shoot him if it wasn't absolutely necessary.

~*~

“They're on the way out there, now,” Alec finished explaining the situation as they understood it to Detective Reid Caufield of the Aylesford PD.

“O'Halloran and Brunswick are sweeping the hotel. What's the story on your men?”

“Sean's a Marine—served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He's been working with TMB since he got out.”

Caufield looked impressed. “You said there were two guys out there.”

Alec nodded. “He's out there with Dylan Black. What I pulled on him is vague—”

“I'm familiar with Dylan Black.”

“Good. Enlighten me.”

“Army Ranger, sniper, skip tracer.”

He'd found that much on his own. “Anything more?”

“Not much, no. We see him at the station every so often. Heard he had a chest full of medals and something like fifty confirmed kills.” He shrugged. “Fifteen years in the service, and he retired.” He made a face. “Early, I guess.”

“Sean needs good back-up.” He glanced at Kat before he asked Caufield, “You got a team headed up there?”

“Jason Monroe and Chris Delmonico are on the way. We've put a call into the park.”

Alec nodded. “I'm here if you need me. We don't know if Priscilla hired someone else to deal with Kat or if Black was just a distraction. Either way, she's my priority.”

“Understood.”

The detective promised to keep them in the loop, and assured everything would be over soon. Alec was impressed with the Aylesford police, finding Caufield thorough and personable. Tyler PD had given him the brush-off, even after the mountain of evidence at the motel. Turning to Kat, he gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “They'll bring him home.”

She tossed her hands in a helpless gesture. “I know. I do. I just want to be up there.” She clenched her fists in her lap. “I want to scratch Priscilla's eyes out. I want to help.”

“Mason would want you to stay where it's safe, where you're protected.”

She collapsed against the plump leather chair. “You're right. I know you're right, but I hate feeling useless.”

“You know you're not useless, Kat.”

“Knowing and feeling are different.” She twisted her fingers together. “I just want him safe.” Her lament was interrupted by the jarring ring of the land-line. “Hello?”

“Kat, honey, what's happened to Mason?” Carolyn Everett asked. “Cassidy called to tell us he was missing.”

Cassidy had called her parents? “We've got police and a couple operatives going to get him,” she told her future mother-in-law. “We think Priscilla grabbed him from the office.”

“That girl has been off since she was little. I don't know why a smart girl like Cassidy didn't notice it.”

Everyone knew she was loony, and nobody had done anything about it? “Mason knew she wanted him, but he had no idea she was crazy,” she said quietly. If he had known, he wouldn't be missing right now.

“We're coming to stay with you. You shouldn't be there alone and worried.”

“But I—”

“We're not taking no for an answer. I don't care how many uniformed people are there, family is family.”

She supposed that was true, although she'd always thought blood a bit thin. “I'll be waiting.”

~*~

“Where does it say to turn?” Sean asked Dylan.

“Up the road a piece, then right at the fork.”

They continued deeper into the forest, spewing gravel as they drove much faster than intended, veering right when the road split. Cabins were sprinkled throughout the area, offering little more than shelter. “Right or left?”

“Left,” Dylan answered decisively.

They drove on for less than ten minutes until Dylan barked, “Stop. Here.”

Sean's SUV crunched along the gravel as they came to a stop. “You armed?” Sean asked his surprisingly helpful partner.

“Always,” Dylan answered, pulling up the leg of his jeans, his Beretta in an ankle holster.

“Army?”

“Ranger,” he confirmed with a sharp nod. “Let's go.”

A fucking Ranger? No wonder Black had been able to avoid him that morning. “Marine.”

Dylan cracked a smile at that one. “Had you pegged for a jarhead about two minutes after meetin' your ass. Now, let's go.”

They had just slid from the SUV when they heard a gunshot. They split up, quietly making their way through the woods to flank the cabin when another shot rang out. He tightened his grip on the Beretta and hoped they weren't too late.

~*~

Alec opened the door to reveal not only Carolyn Everett, but Charles, Caleb and Cassidy as well. “No news,” he said by way of greeting. The Everetts weren't expecting pleasantries, they had come to support Kat and each other. He was more than a little surprised the skeptical Cassidy had tagged along, but kept his mouth shut.

Kat's blue eyes were wide as she made her way into the living room. “I didn't know you'd all be here,” she said, her gaze locking on Mason's sister.

Cassidy grimaced. “Mason and Priscilla are both missing, and while I will reserve judgment...” she trailed off when her mother shot her a look. “I know you're worried, Kat. We are, too.”

Momentarily speechless, Kat stood still. Caleb noticed her distress and chuckled. “Nugget here likes to play the tough bi..er..brat, but she's really all soft and squishy on the inside. She's worried about Mase.”

Cassidy's lip curled at her younger brother. “I am not soft and squishy.”

Caleb smirked. “Yes, you are. You're also worried about the old man.”

“Children!” Carolyn cut them off. “We came here to support each other, not pick on one another. Sit down and be nice.” She turned her attention to Kat, who was now perched on one end of the couch. “Instead of focusing on what's happening, let's talk about you and Mason, dear.”

“Okay,” Kat answered cautiously. “What do you want to know?”

Carolyn smiled. “Everything, honey, but let's start with how you met and then you can tell us why we didn't meet you until you had a diamond on your finger.”

Kat looked at the ceiling for a long moment. Carolyn was right. She needed to focus on the good, and thinking about happy times with Mason would help. She pulled in a breath, letting it out with a shudder. She would stay strong. “We first met a little more than three years ago when I came in for the loan on the studio. The loan officer I was supposed to meet with was home sick, and Mason took over.” She smiled, a faraway look in her eye. “I think I fell a little in love with him that day.” A sigh fell from her full lips. “He was wonderful, but he had a girlfriend at the time, Melanie.”

“I remember Melanie,” Caleb jumped in. “Pretty little redhead.”

“That's the one,” Kat confirmed with a laugh. “About a year and a half ago, she and her husband came to the studio to learn to dance before their wedding. I knew Mason wasn't seeing anyone, so I made all my deposits in person for a month or two, hoping to catch his attention.”

Caleb slid a pointed look over Kat's curvy figure. “That couldn't have been too hard.”

“Horndog,” Cassidy admonished with an elbow to her brother's middle.

“You have eyes, sis,” Caleb protested through a grunt.

Kat watched the exchange, amused by the interplay between the siblings. She supposed she should be offended by Caleb's appreciation, but it was Cassidy who drew her attention; she wasn't all hard edges, at least not with everyone. She smiled before continuing the story. “One day I walked in the door when he was walking out while juggling a coffee, his cell phone, keys, and a large accordion folder.”

“Uh-oh,” Carolyn remarked.

Kat laughed. “Uh-oh is right. Let the record show Mason Everett is not good at juggling!”

The room erupted in giggles. “I love him, but I still don't trust him with coffee.” She slumped. “God, I hope he's okay.”

Carolyn and Charles scooted over to flank Kat. “He's strong, that boy,” Charles told her. “He played his championship tennis match with broken ribs, he—”

Carolyn grinned as she cut her husband off mid sentence, “Tell her why his ribs were broken, Charlie.”

This was a story she hadn't heard. “What happened?”

“It seems he forgot he was a tennis player, and ended up in a not-so-touch football game. They were down a player, and Mase stepped right up without even thinking.” He slapped his knee. “Played good, too, till he was thrown to the ground by Tanner Jamieson.” He shook his head. “Our Mason is tough, I tell ya.”

“You've been friends with the Jamiesons for years, haven't you?”

“Sure have. Booker and I play poker once a month, and Juliette and Carolyn used to watch each others kids.” He chuckled. “'We lucked out there, with four kids to their six.”

The Jamieson talk had her thinking about Carter, which made her think about her trial. She turned to Cassidy. “I know it doesn't matter, and we have more important things on the table right now, but please know I love your brother and I don't deal drugs.”

Cassidy sucked on her teeth for a second while she contemplated her brother's fiancee. “I have to remain impartial, Kat. The evidence is the evidence, and Carter is a great attorney.”

“We believe you, dear, even if Cassidy isn't allowed to,” Carolyn assured with a squeeze of Kat's shoulder.

“Thank you. I appreciate the support,” she told Mason's mother with a grateful smile.

Alec interrupted the cozy picture they made, phone in hand. “Sean and Dylan are there, and they've just reported gunshots.”

~*~

Dylan recognized Priscilla's screaming from his position outside. How did so much noise come from from such a small person? The good news about her tirade was she likely hadn't killed Everett—otherwise, she'd have no one to shriek at.

Sean crept toward the window. He had to see what was going on before he could do anything. Briefly he wondered what Black was doing on the other side of the cabin and dismissed it. Black could handle himself and had proven to be very useful. The crunching of gravel pulled his attention. The detectives were headed their way.

~*~

Priscilla stopped mid-sentence in disbelief. She swore she heard a car coming down the gravel road. Tightening her grip on her pistol, she turned her head and heard nothing. Her ears had to still be ringing from shooting. There was just no way anyone could have found them—she had planned so well, so meticulously. She gave her body a shake. No one had found them, she was just paranoid and mad as hell at Mason. She could wait. She'd waited sixteen years, she could wait a little while longer.

Mason didn't know how much time passed as he watched Priscilla's heels pace back and forth in front of the bed. When she finally stood still, it was his only chance. He exploded beneath the bed, hurling it at Priscilla. It caught her in the middle, sending her flying and knocking her on her ass. He wasted no time bolting for the door. He didn't know where he was going, but he sure as shit wasn't staying where he was.

He was getting away! All the waiting, all the plans; everything was falling apart! She didn't think, just pulled the trigger over and over until she was slammed into the ground by a large, hard body. It couldn't be Mason, she had shot Mason, he had to be dead. She fought against her attacker but it was no use. She had failed. Her life was ruined. Her life was over.

Sean pinned the woman to the floor while he wrestled the gun from her grasp. He'd counted four shots she had discharged before he could tackle her, and with her shaky shooting he wasn't sure where any had landed. Finally, he was able to wrench her arm behind her and plant a knee in her back, subduing her until the police could arrive on scene. He wondered if Dylan had caught up with Everett in the woods, and what was taking them so long. It sounded like the detectives had been only minutes away before all hell broke loose.

~*~

Dylan's side burned where the bullets had penetrated. He wished he'd worn kevlar, but he hadn't expected to be shot at when he'd dressed that morning. He let out a low groan. Years in hellholes and war zones and he was shot by a crazy woman in the wilds of Virginia? At least he'd protected Everett. He hoped.

Mason didn't know who had thrown him to the ground, but he was heavy and groaning. He guessed his protector had been hit, and hoped help was on the way—at least one of them needed medical attention. He hoped someone had captured Priscilla, and prayed Kat was safe. If anything had happened to her, he didn't know what he would do. Whatever it was, first he had to find his way from underneath the huge man on his back.

Detectives Chris Delmonico and Jason Monroe ran up the path to find Dylan Black nearly unconscious and bleeding atop a barely clothed Mason Everett, tape dangling from Everett's wrists and ankles. Chris stayed with the two, calling in paramedics from Aylesford, removing Black from Everett's back as gently as he could. It looked like the Ranger had blanketed his larger body over Everett's, taking a round to the lower back and one to the shoulder, very likely saving Everett's life. “Stay with us, Black. You didn't kill a bunch of terrorists overseas to be taken out by a crazy woman.” Happy when his comment elicited a grunt from the other man, Chris crouched to apply pressure to the wounds.

Inside the cabin Jason found a cursing, spitting Priscilla McClaren pinned to the floor by a completely unharmed Sean O'Dell. “Thanks for joining us,” Sean greeted when Jason walked in.

Monroe relieved Sean of Priscilla, cuffing her and reciting her rights. She screamed and flailed, blaming Mason for ruining her plans and killing her children. When that garnered no response from the detective, she switched tactics. “My father will get me out of this. He can buy and sell you.”

Monroe, not amused or threatened in the least, tossed back, “I don't care what your Daddy can do. You are still under arrest, and anything you say will be used against you in a court of law.”

That quieted her for a moment, until Delmonico yelled from outside the door. “Haul the bitch in without me, I'm waiting for Finnegan with the medivac.”

“Who needs a medivac?” Sean asked, fists clenched as he ran out of the cabin. He landed on his knees next to Dylan.

Monroe jerked Priscilla out the door after O'Dell. He didn't know what exactly had happened up here, but he had a downed Army Ranger and a mostly naked man who had very obviously been bound. He tossed her in the car. She could scream and rail at him all she wanted from inside, he wasn't leaving until the helicopter arrived.