“I know how he robbed you of your strength, of your fight. He was a coward. I would never do that to you,” Gio murmured only to her.
“Why? What do you want from me?” Her voice trembled with the strange mix of fear and wonder she felt. This stranger knew the most intimately horrifying moments of her life. He avenged her, protected her by killing the rapist who caused her suffering.
“I want you...I want to feel you, to have you show me your strength and tenderness. I want you to heal me.” He shifted her onto her feet, his hand firmly around her waist, holding his pistol behind her back. The fingertips of his other hand traced the top of her butterfly visible at the neck of her shirt. “So beautiful... Come with me, mia farfalla.” His voice was reverent, like a whispered prayer.
“I... I...” She don’t know what to say, Camille struggled to find the words in her fear. She knew exactly what this murderer wanted from her, what he expected for killing Ron. Tears dripped off her cheeks onto her butterfly and the back of his hand.
“Camille, come here,” Kyle called out to her, she couldn’t help the intake of breath at the sound of his voice. Gio tightened his arm around her, looking from her butterfly to the men on the edge of the bridge. She was crushed against him and could barely turn her head toward Kyle and Lloyd.
“Step away from my cousin and his friend,” Donatello Valtini shouted from the trees.
“Let her go and surrender, Valtini.” Lloyd chose his words to let them both know they weren’t leaving a free men, but trying not to make them feel their situation was hopeless. “You both are already wanted for assault, don’t add abduction.”
“You heard the man, release Coach Wallace,” Benton shouted from behind Giovanni, who glanced over his shoulder at the other two men.
“No, she is mine,” Gio snarled, raising his gun to point at Kyle then everything happened at once.
Donatello shot at the sheriff’s deputy then at Benton, as Camille shoved away from Gio, jerking Gio’s arm down. Gio’s pistol fired toward Kyle, who staggered backwards falling over Lloyd who was already on the ground. Benton, Rand, and Donnie exchanged gunfire. Gio’s free hand wrapped her arm as she kicked his opposite wrist forcing him to drop the gun. She kicked it into the river as Gio jerked her back toward him, pulling her over his shoulder. Camille struggled as Gio jumped from the bridge and ran toward the Falls. Kyle shouted at Benton to find the girls, and Rand to help Lloyd, who was clutching his side below his vest.
Kyle hurriedly limped to catch Giovanni before he hurt Camille, his leg felt like it was on fire with each step but he ignored it. The only thing he cared about was getting to Camille before the man responsible for destroying their lives hurt her more.
Gracie and Tiana huddled together in the old Fire Watchtower, they had run straight back when Camille had jumped Donnie Valtini. The text message on Gracie’s phone buzzed.
Willow: Tank is on the way. U OK?
Gracie tried to send back a message but it wouldn’t go through.
“T, I gotta go out on the deck.” Gracie didn’t want to but she needed to get a message to them.
“I’m going with you,” Tiana insisted.
Gracie was too scared to argue. Together they peeked out then belly crawled until they were on the side of the tower that got a cell signal. Toward the highwater crossing they could hear the sounds of the river, and loud voices muffled by distance, then gunfire.
Gracie: Tell Tank to hurry. It sounds like WW3.
Gracie waited impatiently for the text to send, watching the battery light blink, then her phone turned off. She tried not to let her temper make her throw her phone off the tower.
“Come on,” Gracie whispered and crawled back around to the door.
“What do we do?” Tiana stared wide-eyed towards the river before Gracie closed the door.
“The only thing we can do. We hide till mom or Tank comes.” Gracie then pulled Sheridan’s 9MM out. “And if those bas*tards shows up first, we put him down like the rabid skunks they are.”
Shocked, Tiana stared at her for a moment then blurted out, “Ohmigawd! You actually cussed.”
Gracie shrugged, “I’m channeling my sister’s inner bi*tch today.” Then they both giggled nervously, it was the only thing they could do to keep from crying. Neither wanted to think about who could be being hurt or killed down by the river.
A while later, they heard the stairs creak and huddled together. Gracie pointed the gun at the door, ready to open fire.
A familiar voice called through the wood, “I’m looking for two sea monsters and a tadpole?”
“Mr. Benton!” Tiana squeaked in happy relief.
Gracie lowered the gun quickly. As T opened the door Gracie sank to the floor and started crying softly, “I almost shot you, Mr. Benton, like they shot Sheri.”
Benton knelt down in front of her and took Sheridan’s pistol. “It’s okay sweetie, he wouldn’t have wanted you to have to pull this trigger anyway. You girls wait in here. We got the bad guys on the run. Pretty soon, you’ll be home bugging your mom.”
Gracie looked up at him and realized his smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“What happened?” she demanded.
Camille fought to get off the giant man’s shoulder, but his grip around her thighs was like an iron band. Her fist seemed to have no effect on his back. He stopped and abruptly flipped her forward, she staggered and fell on her backside on the rocks. Staring up at him, he was panting. She kicked his feet out from under him and tried to scamper backwards. Giovanni caught her ankle and pulled her leg toward him, crawling over her as she struggled to get out from under him. He caught her hands and holding them over her head with one hand, gripping her face with the other.
“Let me go,” Camille begged, still struggling.
“I can’t, I need you. You’re my salvation,” Giovanni explained, his grip painfully tight on her chin as she lay pinned beneath his bulk.
Camille’s courage collapsed and she stilled. “I’m not anyone’s salvation, I couldn’t even save myself.”
“You are the only one who can heal me,” Giovanni repeated tenderly. “The only one who can fix someone as broken as I am.”
“You don’t understand. I... I can’t fix anyone.”
“You’re my blue butterfly. A blue butterfly’s purpose is to bring healing, your purpose is to heal me.” Giovanni insisted patiently, like he was talking to a child.
“How can you know that?” She demanded, still unable to understand, she was sure that he was crazy. What he said next was like a knife in her heart.
“I have known since the first night Ron described you, what he did to break you and how you stood up to him at the trial. You were so strong, and calm. I’ve known since I saw the pictures he kept of you. So perfect. I wanted you before I even knew who you were, my soul needed you. For years, I knew but I didn’t understand until my next cellmate explained it to me. He was an Ayurvedic healer. He taught me how blue butterflies are special, a sign of healing, and I knew... I knew you would be the one that changed me, that changed my life, the one which gave me back my heart. You were the one because you were strong and had healed yourself.”
“But I’m not strong. I can’t help you.”
His eyes had changed, they seemed less harsh, less empty, as he stared into her soul. “You are, and you can.”
Camille trembled in his fierce embrace but Gio thought he could see in her eyes that she was trying to understand him. He bent to kiss her but there was crack like thunder and he coughed blood on her before falling to the side. She struggled to get out from under him when a hand seized her hair and dragged her to her feet then it reached over her shoulder, tearing the front of her shirt. A gun pressed against her chest pointing up at her face as a voice hissed in her ear.
“Tell me something bi*tch, if I see your butterfly, will I want to F* you too? Will I betray my only family for you?” His hand kneaded her breast. “These are so nice. Gio always was a tit man, I might give up my ass-fetish for a pair like this, but then you’ve got a nice ass on you so maybe I won’t have to give chose.”
His one hand squeezed her glut painfully, while cold metal pressing into her cleavage in the other. Camille refused to let the whimper caught in her throat escape. She elbowed Donnie’s broken arm as hard as she could, twisting out of his groping embrace with one hand on his pistol and the other jabbing at his throat.
Donnie ducked her fist with a smirk, and yanked the pistol toward him pulling her off balance. “Not this time.”
She toppled to the ground as he kicked her in the stomach. His gaze roamed over her exposed chest and bra, sickly sneering while admiring her tattoo. “Well, it certainly is nicer, up close and in person, than in a picture. It’s a shame I have to damage it.” He leveled the gun at her chest as she lay on her back, trying to regain her breath.
Suddenly Giovanni tackled Donnie hard enough to make him fall backwards. Rolling onto her feet, Camille ran back toward the river. Cursing and gunfire sounded behind her. The river rushing only a few more feet away, she lunged toward the water, knowing she could make it across before the falls, even in this current. Someone caught her arm pulling her back. They stood, staring at each, freezing snowmelt swirling around their feet.
“Are you okay, Camille?”
“He killed his cousin, he’s coming, we gotta get back across before he comes,” she rushed to explain, pulling him toward the water but he pulled back.
“Cam, I can’t swim like this,” Kyle looked back towards the woods where she ran from, “You have to go. Benton is with the girls. Just go.”
“You’ve been shot!”
Indiscernible voices shouted at them from upriver.
“GO Camille! Get across, I’ll keep him busy.”
“I’m not leaving you!” Camille insisted stubbornly. “Together, we can...”
His lips cut her off, then he tossed her into the river. She immediately righted herself in the water and swam hard to the opposite side. She could hear Kyle yelling and Tank shouting back. As she stumbled over the rocks on the opposite side of the river, she looked back. Horrified, she saw Donnie charge from the trees and collided with Kyle. They both went into the fast moving part of the river. The current sweeping them toward the falls, neither making an attempt to reach shore as they fought.
“Kyle!” she screamed, as she struggled onto the bank and ran down the river path toward the falls. She would only have one chance to save him.
“CAMILLE!” Tank shouted over the noise of the rushing water, he had heard Kyle’s shouts, then hers.
“Camille, don’t.” Running he saw Camille sprinting down the bank toward the falls, then she jumped and disappeared from sight. Swearing profusely, he ran to the edge and looked down. Nothing but churning white water at the base of the falls and on the river below.
Rand gaped, rushed up beside them. “She F*ing jumped.”
“Do you see them?” Tank demanded.
“Camille only would have jumped if Kyle went over.” Tank yelled into his radio, “Ruby, get the Forest Service search and rescue, and a helicopter up here. We have two possibly three people who went over the Ridgeline Falls.”
Tank continued to scan the water below. ‘Come on beautiful, you can do it,’ was his thought and his prayer.