Camille hurried toward the watchtower and quickly climbed the steps. Scanning the forest below before she went to the door and called softly, “Girls, the boards are clear.”
The door swung open and she hurried in, hugged by Gracie and Tiana.
“We have to hurry, they took the trail down to the valley.” Camille led them outside and down as she urgently insisted. “We need to go now,”
“How are we going to beat them back to the ranch?” Tiana asked worriedly. “The horses are gone.”
“I came up on the ATV, and they had dirtbikes that I hid behind the big cedar on the other side of the notch. We can ride back but we have to hurry.”
“Mom, I called Ruby at the station but the signal was bad.” Gracie’s head was on a pivot as the hurried along the river. “And there’s a bear or something eating a dead cow.”
“I saw it, it’s a bear cub. Probably from the one Tank and I killed the day Willow got caught in the blizzard. I told Willow to call Ruby when she got back to the...”
“We saw her from the tower,” Tiana interrupted.
“She was riding Cajun.” Gracie added, holding out her phone, “I got pictures of the cow, it didn’t have a brand.”
Camille pushed the phone away, “We’ll worry about that later. We need to...”
“Hello ladies.” A deep voice froze them.
Camille pulled Gracie and Tiana behind her, “Who’s there?”
“It’s him,” Tiana whispered in a tiny, terrified voice.
“Mom?” Gracie’s was voice an intense whisper, “Platform or notch?”
“Platform and lock.” Camille answered lowly, scanning the woods. A man she had never seen stepped out of the trees. She called out to him, “Where’s your friend. Mr. Valtini? And where’s Tonia?”
Donnie looked surprised, then smirked, “Oh, my cousin Gio is around. And Tonia, let’s just say I have her locked up for safe keeping until I can take home what is mine.”
“Tiana’s not yours,” Camille snapped. Gracie also moved to put herself between the rapist and Tiana.
“Oh now that’s where you’re wrong, Coach Wallace. Tatiana is mine, I bought her from her mother for a very reasonable price.” He grinned wolfishly at their shock. “Yes, I know who you are, my cousin has quite a thing for the famous Blue Butterfly and now I can see why. That’s the reason I didn’t kill you and just take my bride-to-be and her friend, your lovely daughter. I don’t know where the other went but… IF SHE DOESN’T COME OUT, I’LL START HURTING THE ONES SHE LOVES.” His bellow echoed through the trees as he approached, his gun pointed at them.
“She’s not here, she rode her horse for help. You should just give up and leave before the Sheriff comes,” Camille hissed. She felt Gracie lift the gun out of the back of her belt and try to push it into her hand. Camille pushed it back to her daughter. It was their last protection against this madman. “Keep it.” Whispering, Camille turned her head slightly.
“Whatever you are whispering about it won’t help you,” Donnie laughed, “There’s nowhere to go. You can’t escape and if you try to run Gio or I will find you and punish you. And you don’t want that, do they, my beautiful angel?”
Tiana whimpered, trembling so hard, Camille was afraid Gracie wouldn’t be able to get them away. Gracie’s fingers were resting on Camille’s wrist. Camille stepped forward away from the girls, closer to Donnie.
“Tonia loves Tiana, she would never let you hurt her, never let you do what you did to her daughter,” Camille lied convincingly for the first time in her life.
Donnie stepped closer, gesturing with his pistol as he spoke. “Do what I did to her? The way you talk, Coach Wallace. We’re adults, we can use grown up words. I paid so I could F* her sweet little ass so hard for three nights, she ended up pregnant. I’m impressed, even with myself this time.”
“I hate you!” Tiana screamed, tears running down her face while Gracie held her. “I hate you! My mum would never agree to you raping me.”
“Awww tsk tsk, you’ll learn to love me after all we’re having a baby together. And you need to accept that it was your whore mother’s idea.” He seemed to be enjoying hurting Tiana with the truth. “You didn’t know, my angel. Your ‘mum’ is one of the higher paid hookers I’ve had, although she calls it consulting. When she learned about my particular fetish for virgins, she offered you to me. Honestly, I would have paid ten times as much. I have paid ten times as much. Money is no object for a piece of fresh young flesh.” His bragging made them all feel more afraid.
Tiana was shaking her head, crying softly, “No... no... no... it’s not true.”
“Leave her alone, you sick freak.” Gracie’s eyes showed how much she wanted to kill him.
“You’re next blue eyes.” With a disgusting leer, his eyes looked Gracie up and down and she felt sick. His eyes narrowed and as he licked his lips thinking about all the things he would do to his angel’s feisty friend. His perversion gave the angry mother her opening, and Camille jumped at him.
Camille punched Donnie in the face before wrestled with him for the gun. “GO!” She shouted.
After two days alone, Tonia wandered the rooms until she found her bags stuffed in a closet filled with other women’s clothes. She selected a beautiful Prada dress and a mink coat. Stuffing several of the designer outfits, shoes, and jewelry into a travel bags she found. She vaguely wondered how many women hadn’t been smart enough to escape this place. She shook off the thoughts, being more grateful that they had good taste for the most part, too bad for them but good for her. She dragged several bags of her loot down to Donnie’s garage and put them in the back of a beautiful Audi.
She raided Donnie’s wine cellar before she went back into Donnie’s office and logged into the account Donnie had her put the charity funds from Pagosa Cliffs in. The pittance had been added to other assets Donnie kept safely in the Caribbean. Nearly five million dollars were waiting for her to take, it almost made her time and suffering here worth it She created another account in the same bank and put her own information on it. Deleting the transaction records and closing the account, she knew Donnie would have to go there in person to fix it and by then she would be there and gone again. On a piece of his personal stationary, she wrote a snarky note to Donnie.
“Thanks for the fees, consider this your receipt for goods received and services rendered. Mostly for ‘the goods and your spawn’ because neither you nor your cousin were worth it in bed. Hoping to find a decent lay with a real dick now, Antonia.”
Walking upstairs with the butterfly stilettos dangling from her fingers, Tonia had one last thing to do before she left Donnie and Gio Valtini behind forever. She left the shoes in the middle of the bed. On the mirror above the silk sheets where he abused her, she left a message in Mac Deep Red. ‘LEARN TO F*, GIOVANNI. YOU SUCK AT IT.’
She didn’t look back as she left the estate or think about her daughter’s fate at Donnie’s hands. It was time for her to live the life she always deserved. The car’s navigation system took her toward Las Vegas. She had to see an old friend about some paperwork and then it was time for Antonia Ballard to disappear.
Gracie turned and ran dragging Tiana after her while her mother fought for their freedom. Instead of taking the trail, she ran straight through the woods to the tower as gunshots and shouting echoed from behind them. Tiana was sobbing as they ran, she tried to slow down but Gracie didn’t stop until they were at the steps. Tiana jerked away and retched in the grass before dragging herself up the step after Gracie. Their only chance was to lock themselves in until help came.
Donnie was surprised when the diminutive woman jump toward him and punched him with surprising strength. He ignored his pain as Camille kicked and punched him repeatedly, finally managing to land a solid hit to her stomach, but she refused to release his wrist. He barely managed to keep his grip on his pistol, rounds firing wildly as she slammed his good arm down on her knee then he dropped it.
“Gio! I found them!" He head-butted her hard enough to knock her down but she grabbed his broken arm as she collapsed, pulling him down with her. He shouted something in Italian. They rolled, grappling to reach the gun until he pinned her under his greater weight with a punch to her stomach.
“F*ing bi tch, I’ll kill you, then them,” Donnie threatened.
Camille tried to protect her abdomen while kicking and bucking enough to get her feet down. Using her leg strength, she flipped them, her knee pinning his good arm. Her other arm pressing down on his broken one causing him the shout in pain.
“No, you won’t.” Straddling him, she punched him in the face as hard as she could with each word.
He tried to buck her off but her legs were stronger than any woman he had ever had. They were crushing the air out of him as she beat him.
When she lifted her arm to punch him again someone grabbed her upraised fist and yanked her off Donnie. Before she could get her bearings to hit her new attacker she was struck across the face so hard she saw stars and her knees buckled. The man who hit her held her limp body against his. Her head lolled to one side as she fought to stay conscious. Blood was rushing in her ears as loud as the river.
“Walk away cousin, I will kill you before I let you kill her,” Giovanni snarled in an unearthly deep tone.
“I am gonna kill this bi*tch.” Donnie moved closer, spitting blood and a tooth on the ground. A metallic click was followed almost instantly by another as he pointed his pistol at her head only to find a gun pointed at his own head.
“Put. It. Down. She is mine.” Gio’s infinite dark eyes held something Donnie has never seen, and for a moment he feared his own flesh and blood is about to murder him. Camille hung, draped over Gio’s giant arm. Her arms hanging limp, her feet barely touching the ground, she chose to play opossum.
Donnie lifted the gun and uncocked it. “Why her? You’re like a brother to me. Why would you betray me for a woman you never met until a moment ago?”
Gio looked down at her, his expression changed softened, “You wouldn’t understand, Donatello. I need her.” Her body shifted and he lifted her into his arms as gently as a groom lifts his bride. “We need to go. I heard a vehicle and your shooting will draw attention. We can reunite you with your girl later.”
“I am not leaving without her and my son!” Donnie glared.
“Then you should have not let them escape,” Gio looked back down at Camille, her head against his shoulder. He almost regretted the bruise blooming on her cheek. “I am going, cousin. I am taking this woman and leaving. I will not go back to prison for you.”
Gio walked away from Donnie, who raised his gun to shoot his cousin in the back. After a moment’s deliberation, he began to follow, swearing profusely under his breath. Camille remained still, knowing if she tried to get away from both of them Donnie would shoot her but if she let Gio take her, they would leave and the girls would be safe until Kyle and Tank could find them. She could hear the roar of the river and the falls and as soon as Gio stepped onto the bridge, a voice shouted at them.
“Sheriff’s Department, Put the woman and your weapons down, and raise your hands.”
Ignoring the sheriff’s deputy, Giovanni coldly appraised the man he had not seen in 15 years, he looked older, harder, but was still the same man who had stood toe to toe with him and announced that he and his middle brother would no longer pay their younger brother’s debts. He was the man Antonia had suggested to be the one to hurt Gio’s butterfly and left her alone to raise a child. A man who deserved to be punished just as his late cellmate had been. But with his hope laying calmly in his arms, Gio could only use words as weapons.
“Hello again, Mr Hightower. What did you do to keep your brother from coming back to bet with me? He was still playing and pay for two more years then stopped. I missed his easy money,” Gio taunted, already knowing Kristopher Hightower had drank himself to death and why.
“You’re a liar, Mr. Valtini.”As Camille lay in the criminal’s arms, Kyle watched them carefully. Camille’s hand twitched and he knew she was awake. “You ruined all our lives that night but I heard you killed a girl and went to prison. That’s not much of a retirement.” Kyle had to keep him talking until Rand and Benton could get behind him. “Where’s your cousin so we can get this over with?”
Giovanni laughed, it was a mirthless hard sound. “Donatello is around somewhere, probably chasing after that little girl he got pregnant. He always was a fool, who liked whores. Just like you and your brothers. I know that Kristoph died and it was because he killed himself. He was a weak boy. He let his pathetic girlfriend gamble away everything they had and then instead of protecting her, and paying what they owed me, he let her pay it with the only thing she had left. Her body. He couldn’t handle it, so he let her come to so stoned she couldn’t stand up. She was as weak as him, nothing like this angel. The one you threw away for some painted prostitute.” Gio’s words made Kyle’s soul grow cold.
“You don’t know anything about us,” Kyle snapped.
“I know much. I know you are in love with her but she does not love you. I know that she is beautiful and graceful and strong. I know that she is stronger that Ron was, stronger than you are.”
At the mention of her rapist name, Camille couldn’t stop the intake of breath, and Gio looked down into her. Her hazel eyes swirled with emotion and he was captivated by the mixture of green and amber, the smokey gray ring that reminded him of a ring around the moon on a hazy night.
“Who are you?” Her voice was a whispered caress. “How did you know Ron?”
To Giovanni, it was like they were alone on the bridge over the rushing water.
“He was my roommate, mia farfalla azzura. He told me everything about you, and I knew I had to find you someday. He bragged about what he did and how he was going to find you when he got out. I couldn’t let him claim you again so before he was to be released so I killed him. He was unworthy of you.”
Gio’s words and dark eyes reached into the haunted, terrified places in her soul. The place where she buried her nightmares, the place they still escaped from to haunt her. The helplessness of those hours washed over her like a deluge. Every moment of that evening played in her mind like her own horror movie.