Coincidence, Fate, and Murder

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Chapter 1: Stormy Weather

An alarm clock buzzed in a peaceful bedroom. Two sleeping figures groaned aloud at the intrusion. A thin arm reached over and slapped the clock, silencing it once and for all. One of the figures jumped right out of bed, but the other refused to move. She was going to stay in bed as long as she could. Unlike her spouse, she was not a morning person, and she fervently hated those cheery folks with their endless ear-to-ear smiles. She didn't want to be spoken to until noon. And every morning when she awoke, she always thought the same thing: why in the hell did I take a morning job?

Whenever she asked herself that question, the answer came easy to her. Rylie Storm-Lanigan loved her job. She was a substance abuse counselor for paroled felons. She worked in a sprawling complex that also housed a minimum-security prison for those convicted of petty crimes. Her husband, Ty, had turned her on to the job.

Three years previously, Rylie had finished her social work degree, but had had difficulty finding a job in the mid-sized city where she and Ty lived. A maximum-security prison was located just an hour or so down the road, but it was terribly overcrowded. City and county officials decided to construct a prison specially designed for non-violent offenders. The opening of the facility was almost a Godsend for the Lanigans. Ty had landed a position as an assistant supervisor of guards. Before that, he had been a parole officer, but had literally burned out in the job. He had then heard that the parole office was moving into the same building as the prison, and that they were looking for a substance abuse counselor. Ty figured his wife was perfect for the job, and he had been right. Rylie immediately applied, was hired, and had been perfectly happy.

Rylie's friends and relatives couldn't understand why she had chosen such a job. Not a lot of people she knew would want to spend so much time with ex-convicts. The status of her clients didn't bother her much. She was young and idealistic; she gave everyone a fair shot. However, she was no pushover. Her tongue was sharp at times, but she was always fair. Those characteristics had earned her the respect of her clients, even the tough ones.

The shower went off, and Ty reentered the bedroom. Before grabbing his uniform, he glanced at the bed with a grin. Rylie was still wrapped up in the covers and hadn't moved one inch. He knew if he didn't say or do something, she'd go back to sleep.

He crept up to the bed, making sure his wife couldn't see him. He grasped the covers and yanked them off her body. She groaned and threw her arms over her face. He laughed and literally hurled his body onto the bed, pouncing on his unsuspecting spouse. Rylie dissolved in giggles and attempted to shove Ty off her, but it was no use. This game was much loved, and Rylie had yet to successfully push him away. Sometimes, the game often escalated before she could surrender. On those days, both of them were late for work.

"You have got to get off me," she said breathlessly.

"I will, I will," he said. "You've got to get up. You know you do, don't you? Why fight it?"

"Tyson Lanigan, you're a monster. Get off me," she said, not unkindly.

He gave her lips a loud smacking kiss before moving away. "Okay, I'm off. Get up!"

"Okay, okay," she said grudgingly.

By the time Rylie was out of the shower, Ty was fully dressed, polished, and ready to go. "Babe, you need to drive your car today. I might have to pull some overtime tonight."

"Just as long as you don't forget our upcoming weekend getaway," she said sternly, securing her towel about her body.

He grinned and approached her. His arms encircled her waist and hers went around his neck. "Of course I won't forget. That's why I'm doing so much overtime, so nobody will have an excuse to keep me there when the time comes. I've been looking forward to this for ages."

She smiled up at him warmly. "Same here."

He kissed her, allowing his hands to slide down to her buttocks. "Oh, the lack of time," he uttered when he broke the kiss.

"Tell me about it."

Ty reluctantly released her. He grabbed his jacket and moved toward the door. Just before he left the room, he turned toward Rylie and blew her a kiss. She giggled in spite of herself. Her husband was a true romantic, a very rare find indeed. Like a lovesick newlywed, she walked to the bedroom window and watched as he climbed into his state-issued vehicle. From the car, she saw him wave, and she returned it. Once Ty was out of sight, Rylie went about the chore of getting herself together.

As usual, Rylie arrived at work fifteen minutes late. The office was already at full swing, even at the early hour of 8:15 a.m. She bypassed the cheery secretary, unlocked her office door, and let herself inside. She logged onto her computer and ignored her e-mail. Instead, she chose to browse through her electronic organizer to see what kind of day she would have. Surprisingly enough, her schedule was clear. She couldn't believe it. Clear days were an extreme rarity.

Rylie had barely gotten comfortable when the secretary leaned in the open doorway of her office. Elizabeth was a hopelessly cheerful morning person. For reasons unknown to Rylie, Elizabeth chose to get up every morning at precisely 5:00 a.m. to ready herself and her husband for their day. At fifty, Elizabeth was a recent newlywed and fawned over her spouse more than Rylie would ever dare. Every word out of her mouth typically had to do with her "Charlie." It was annoying, but Elizabeth was actually a delightfully likeable person.

"Hello there," Elizabeth said with a husky voice induced by smoking.

Rylie looked up and put on her first false smile of the day. "Hey. How was your weekend?" She knew better than to ask such a question, but she said the words before she was aware they were coming out of her mouth.

"Fine. Charlie and I went antique shopping this weekend. Frankly, he hates it, but he likes to tag along and spend time with me. Did I tell you we were going skiing this January?"

"No, you didn't. How nice," she said, although she wasn't really interested.

"What did you and Ty do this weekend?"

At the mention of Ty's name, Rylie livened up. "Not much of anything. We lazed around the house mostly."

"Aren't you going away soon? I thought I heard you say so."

Yes, I am a hypocrite. She smiled as she thought about the weekend. "Oh yeah. Our anniversary is coming up in a month or so, and we've planned a weekend away. I wouldn't miss it for anything."

"Great," she spat out, her voice squeaking a bit. "Oh, before I forget, I set up an appointment for you at ten. He's a new intake, just paroled on Friday."

Rylie drew in an inward groan. There goes my chance to catch up on some paperwork. "I'll pencil it in. What's the name?"

"Kort Jeffries," she answered. "Well, gotta go. Duty calls." Without ceremony, Elizabeth flounced off to her own office.

She jotted the name on a piece of paper and stared at it for a full five minutes. Kort Jeffries. Where have I heard that name before? Before long, it came to her. A few years ago, Kort Jeffries had been busted for having a methamphetamine lab in his house. Jeffries had already been in prison once. At that time, Ty was his parole officer. Even though Jeffries should have gone to prison for a long term, his attorney had managed to finagle a brief sentence with an extended period of parole. Not only was his sentence light, Jeffries had had somewhat of a celebrity status in the community. He was relatively young and good-looking. He had legions of groupies in court who stood by him, proclaiming his innocence. Rylie remembered how the media circus surrounding Jeffries had rattled Ty.

The guy is a goddamned felon, Ty had complained. You know how many times this guy has been busted? DOZENS! Yet there he is, like some movie star, flaunting and mugging for the cameras like this is some kind of game.

And to think, he's now my client. If she were allowed to tell Ty, she was sure he wouldn't be very happy about it. Since Ty worked in the same building as she, it wouldn't be long before he either saw or heard about Kort Jeffries. She simply dreaded that day when it dawned.

A half hour late, Kort Jeffries sauntered into Rylie's office, and she was not amused. He sat down in one of the two chairs in front of her desk. She briefly regarded his long black hair and his fashionably ripped blue jeans. He was immensely pleased with himself and had no idea why what he had done was wrong. Jeffries presented a challenge to Rylie, but she didn't shy away from them.

"Since this is your first day, I'll excuse the tardiness. From now on, lateness will not be tolerated," she began hotly.

He gazed at her, almost stripping her naked with his eyes. A grin broke out on his full lips. "Yes, ma'am," he said.

He's trying to come onto me; I can't believe the gall. She had had clients whom conned her, lied to her, or were flat out rude. However, she had never had one who tried to hit on her. She was not as unnerved as she was angry. "Mr. Jeffries, this isn't a joking matter. You were sent to me for counseling, and that's what we're going to do."

His grin remained. "I'm not a user, Stormy," he said, reading her identification tag. "Is that your last name? Or it is your middle name? How did you get a name like that anyway? Hippy parents?"

She chose to ignore his advances. "It doesn't matter if you're a user or not. Your officer has referred you for substance abuse counseling. That's all you need to know."

He decided he couldn't hit on her, so his demeanor changed to a lack of interest. "Okay, whatever."

At noon, Ty poked his head into Rylie's office. "Can you grab lunch?"

She looked up and smiled. "Yes, I can. I'm so glad you're here. I was just thinking of asking you. Come in and sit down while I finish up some things."

He entered her office and made himself comfortable in one of her visitors' chairs. "I saw Kort Jeffries come in today."

She looked away from her computer for a moment and focused her eyes on her husband. "Really?"

He grinned a little, his hazel-green eyes sparkling. "I know you can't say one way or another. But as your husband, I just want to make sure that you're being careful. I remember him, babe. He was a bad guy."

She silently studied his sincere eyes, his dimpled cheeks, and soft-spoken demeanor. He seemed so gentle, but he was oh-so-protective. "It's okay, Tyson. I can handle these clients. Besides, there are dozens of guards floating around here to keep me safe. You don't have to worry."

He sighed and ran his hand through his wavy dark blond locks. "You've said that a dozen times, but it doesn't help. It especially doesn't ease my mind when there are thugs like Kort Jeffries hanging around."

"Are we going to lunch or not," she asked.

Ty laughed a little. "Okay, I can take a hint. Come on, girl, let's get out of here."

That evening, Rylie was kicked back on the sofa. She had started out reading, but ended up falling asleep. She didn't hear Ty come in, nor would she have known he was home at all if he hadn't sat down on the end of the couch. He moved her legs into his lap. She stretched a little and smiled.

"How long you been home," she asked.

"Just got here. Glad to be here, too. Long ass day."

She giggled like a child. "Have Gun. Will Travel. What is this? Caveman day at the Lanigan household?"

"No babe, that's just how tired I am."

She sat up and began massaging his scalp. "Poor baby," she said, twirling his hair around her fingers.

He had turned slightly toward her and closed his eyes. "Yeah, poor baby. You damned right. You can keep that right up. I won't argue."

She smiled. "Yeah, I figured that."

Rylie moved her legs out of Ty's lap and curled them beneath her. Before long, he laid his head on her lap.

"You're just a big baby, aren't you," Rylie asked with a smile.

He laughed, revealing the deep dimples she had found so endearing when she first met him. "Of course."

Her hand slid down to his chest. "It's my turn to cook tonight, but I haven't made anything yet. What would you like?"

"You, for starters," he said, leaning up to kiss her.

She broke the kiss. "I think that can be arranged."

"I was hoping you'd say that."

"Ty," she said, blinking her eyes innocently. "I thought you were tired."

"I'm not that tired."

While Rylie Lanigan made love with her husband, Kort Jeffries made hate with his brother. The two men sat around a dirty, cluttered kitchen table. For the time being, Kort had to live with his older brother, Cruz. It would only take a few weeks for Kort's parole officer to lose interest in him. After that, he and Cruz could build back the family business.

Meth and marijuana were big money items in his little area of the state. There was little competition around the region, and Kort could make and sell as much as he wanted. He had already purchased a few acres of land just outside city limits, and his new house was just about finished. He silently praised his attorney for suggesting he sock back his dough and put it in Cruz's name.

Kort hated living with Cruz. His older brother was a heavy drinker. At times, Cruz didn't take care of himself or his surroundings. Kort would have rather died than to allow a drug to control his life. But it was okay for him to help others become addicts. It was good business.

"You think the parole guy will lose interest, right? What about that drug chick they're sending you to," Cruz asked while breaking the seal on a fresh bottle of whiskey.

Kort shrugged. "Fuck her. I'll make my token appearances for a little bit. Actually, man, I'd like to fuck her. She's hot, got me hard just sitting across from her. Nice tits, pretty face, long dark hair. Bit of a bitch, though."

"Hot number, huh?"

Kort groaned inwardly. "No duh, man. Weren't you listening? It doesn't matter, she'll forget all about me, just like the parole officer. Too bad I won't get to fuck her first. The thing is, her old man used to be my parole officer. Ain't that the shit?"

"You talkin' 'bout Tyson Lanigan," Cruz asked as he sat back down.

"Yep. He was a mean motherfucker, too. He was all over my ass, and I even think he helped bust me the last time. Wonder how he'd like it if I were to bust his old lady's ass?"

"Give it up, Kort. You're just addin' on more than you need."

He shook his head defiantly. "No, I don't think so. If I could get her alone, I'd get some payback."

True to his word, Kort appeared for all his appointments with Rylie. He even attended the night groups. He never caught Storm alone, and didn't risk trying to do anything on prison grounds. Also true to his word, if he ever did catch her alone, he'd make sure Ty Lanigan would get some of his just deserts.

Kort didn't care much for Rylie. She was unlike most women he knew. She didn't appreciate his advances, no matter how hard he tried. She was the kind of woman who would have to be taken by force. Of course, Kort didn't mind doing that, either. If he wanted something, he would take it if it weren't offered free.

Rylie dealt with Kort in the same way that she dealt with all her difficult clients. She didn't let him get to her, regardless of how uncomfortable he made her. Even though she didn't want to admit it, Kort made her very uncomfortable, especially during the night groups. He always sat in front of her. He would stare intently at her during the entire session, and at times, lick his lips suggestively. She would usually stare him down and continue. Kort wasn't easily deflected; he persisted.

She could not tell her husband about any of the incidents without breaching confidentiality. She did, however, tell Kort's parole officer, and he promised to speak to his client. Rylie doubted the officer would follow through. They had huge caseloads and couldn't distinguish one client from another. Many times, Ty would offer to stay with her during her night sessions, but she would never allow it. Again, she didn't want to breach confidentiality. Ty was no longer a parole officer; he didn't belong in the fold.

"Rylie, your ten 'o clock is here," Elizabeth's gravely voice chirped.

She glanced at her computer's clock. She hadn't even realized what time it was. "Okay, Elizabeth, send him in."

As usual, Kort sauntered into her office and took his accustomed seat. "How ya doing?"

She crossed her arms in front of her. "I'm fine. Have you found a job yet?"

He smiled and crossed his legs. "I'm starting my own home based business. Trust me, it's legit. By the way, I've been wondering something. Is your old man Tyson Lanigan?"

"I don't think that's any of your business," she said shortly.

"Sure it is. He was a parole officer once before he helped send me to prison. Ever get bored with him? He seems kind of dry, something of which I'm not."

She held her poker face perfectly in tune. "Do you think what you say or do has any effect on me whatsoever? Have you always done this? Maybe we need to work on your self-esteem."

"I have plenty of self-esteem. Do you? Have you ever been with a man like me before?"

This was the first time Kort had progressed so far. He was becoming more daring by the day. "This isn't appropriate."

His typical smarmy grin appeared. He was very pleased to note that he had finally gotten through her resolve. She wasn't so tough after all. "That husband of yours really fucked me over, you know? Did you ever wonder how much I'd like to do the same to him?"

"This session is over," she said, standing. "If you don't leave immediately, I'll call security."

He stood, but kept his distance. "I'm going, but soon, I'll be coming. See you tomorrow night." He left her office without a second glance toward her.

That night at home, Rylie was unusually quiet. Ty had cooked dinner for them, but she barely touched the food.

"Okay," Ty said, amused. "What did I burn?"

She snapped out of her daze and smiled faintly. "Nothing, hon. It's fine. I've just got some things on my mind."

"Is Jeffries doing something he shouldn't? I know all about the confidentiality stuff, babe, but if he's saying or doing anything, you have to tell me."

"It's nothing," she lied.

"It doesn't seem like nothing," he said. "Rylie, tell me. I can talk to his parole officer. I know those guys better than you."

"I can handle it myself, Ty. I don't need you to fix every little thing that is going wrong. It's okay."

"I don't care what you say, Rylie, I know something is wrong."

She shoved her plate away and left the table. He waited a while before following behind her. She was in the shower, apparently under near scalding water because the bathroom was quickly filling up with steam. He undressed and joined her. She tried to turn toward him, but he turned her around so her back was facing him. He began to massage her shoulders.

"I'm sorry," he said over the pounding water. "I know you're a capable young woman. I have no doubt that you can handle him. It's the southern redneck man in me, babe. I just feel the need to protect you, even if you don't need it."

"I understand, but you can't ask questions and expect answers. I can't give them."

His hands continued to massage her shoulders and neck. "I know, and I'll try to work on that. Again, babe, I'm sorry. I love you."

"Me too, Ty," she said softly.

"Just promise me one thing, okay babe?"

She sighed. "Okay."

"If it gets to be too much, dump him. Can you do that?"

She nodded. "I think I can," she said.

Group was a peaceful event the next evening. Ten of the twelve enrolled attended, including Kort. Although Rylie had had a bizarre confrontation with Kort the day before, he acted as if she didn't exist. She didn't mind. With Jeffries' cooperation, group went a bit more smoothly than usual. Afterwards, Rylie went to her office to complete her activity sheets for the evening. She thought she was the only person still around.

Rylie heard a door toward the back open, then close. She didn't attribute much significance to the noise. The guards from the prison in the back were in and out, doing head counts, and making sure none of the inmates were skulking in unauthorized areas. She settled in to her paperwork at hand and shut out the noise.

"Hey there," an amused voice called out.

Recognizing the voice at once, Rylie looked up from her paperwork. Kort was leaning against the doorframe. Outside her office in the receptionist's cubicle, there was a panic button to call the guards. Her phone was closer, but she didn't want to make any sudden moves.

"Alone at last," Kort said with a smile.

"What are you doing here," she asked, trying to maintain a calm exterior.

"You act so cool, so collected. You're scared as shit, aren't you?"

He was right. She was scared, plenty so. Kort Jeffries was a dangerous individual, likely more dangerous than any person she had ever counseled. She was more or less trapped unless she screamed. She doubted any guard in the back would even hear her. What was worse, Kort knew it. Her desk phone was her only way out.

Kort laughed. "I can get to you before you could dial that phone number. Think about it. What's your next course of action?"

Calmly, she stated, "Do you really want to hurt me, Kort? Do you really think hurting me is going to satisfy your twisted sense of justice? Everything we've done has been to help you."

"Spare me the psychology shit, Stormy," he said with a grin. "I don't want to hurt you, I want to fuck you."

With lightning speed, Rylie dove for the phone. Just as quickly, Kort darted for Rylie's desk. His hand closed over her wrist.

"Let it go, bitch, or I'll break your wrist," he said through clenched teeth.

Slowly, she released the receiver. He jerked her up to a standing position, making sure he was a safe distance from her knees. A lot of women had learned the 'swift-kick-in-the-nuts' move. He hadn't decided where to take her.

"There are security cameras all over outside," she told him. "You won't make it out of the parking lot."

He considered her words for a moment. She was right. "But they don't have cameras in the bathroom, do they?"

"You don't have to do this."

He slapped her hard, backhanded. The blow rocked her on her heels. "You fucking talk too much," he spat.

He jerked her arm around behind her back. The slap had stunned her enough where she didn't even notice the pain that had flared in her arm.

"Move," he demanded before shoving her out the door.

Kort had directed Rylie toward the double doors that would lead to the visitors' bathrooms. Just before he pushed her through, Rylie heard the beautiful sound of a guard coming to the front from the back. She opened her mouth and screamed as loud as she could. Thwarted, Kort shoved her violently forward. She landed hard, but the pain was much better than what Kort had planned for her.

Rylie was treated for minor bruises and a sprained arm at a local emergency room. By the time Ty made it to the hospital, Rylie was ready to go home. In a mad dash, her husband flew into the room. When she saw Ty, she willingly went into his embrace, even though her arm hurt.

Ty's lips kissed every inch of her exposed flesh. After a few moments, he asked, "Babe, what happened?"

"I was caught off guard by a client," she explained simply.

The color drained out of Ty's face. "Jeffries?"

She nodded. "I think he was going to rape me, but a guard came in right before it could happen."

"Oh God," he groaned, "Oh dear God. Did you call the police?"

"Yeah. They're looking for him now."

Ty took her into his embrace once more. "I'm sorry, babe, I'm so sorry."

When Rylie was released from the hospital, she went home with Ty. She took a quick shower before crawling into bed next to her husband. She cuddled closely to him, and he wrapped his arms around her. She was surprised at how calm she felt, but she supposed it was due to the shock.

"Babe, I want to say something to you. Before I do, I know this will piss you off, but I'm not trying to hurt you."

"Okay," she said carefully, "what is it?"

He sighed. "Maybe you should change jobs or perhaps quit altogether." He sighed again, as if relieved that the words were finally out.

She wasn't surprised. She assumed that sooner or later, the idea would pop freely into his head. She drew away from his arms to lean over him. "Ty, I've had this job two years. This incident has been the only one of its kind. I love my job, and I can handle it."

"Babe," he began.

She gently placed her fingers over his lips. "Hon, your southern redneck male is showing again. You don't have to protect me. I can handle the job and the clients. Kort Jeffries came after me only because I'm married to you. Soon, he'll be gone, and the problem will end."

"If it gets bad like that again, you have to tell me."

"I will, Ty, I promise. I'm lots stronger than you think," she said with a smile.

He smiled and ran his fingers through her hair. "Lord don't I know it!"

Rylie took a few days off from work so she could heal. Ty had wanted to stay home with her, but she insisted she was fine. She put the episode behind her and caught up with her reading. The police didn't find Kort Jeffries.

When Rylie returned to work, she changed her routine. She wouldn't hold any night groups unless a parole officer stayed with her. However, she didn't have to worry about Kort showing up. Since the night he had attacked her, he hadn't appeared once at the counseling sessions. He also missed two visits with his officer. Jeffries' officer assumed that he had simply moved out of state. Rylie didn't care; she simply hoped she would never have to see him again.

On the day before her tenth wedding anniversary, Rylie came into her office and saw two-dozen white and red roses. They had been arranged in a huge vase and sat right in the middle of her desk. She looked at the card, even though she was sure they had come from Ty. She smiled to herself as she thought about their upcoming beach getaway. She absolutely couldn't wait.

"Oh, what beautiful roses," Elizabeth's gravelly voice chortled.

"Yes, they are," Rylie agreed. "Tyson is a wonderful, wonderful man." She wanted to thank Ty up close and personally, but it would have to wait until after work.

Later that day, Rylie was in the middle of completing a client evaluation when Elizabeth's voice cut in to her concentration, "Rylie, line two."

"Thanks, Elizabeth."

She had almost chosen to ignore the call, or tell Elizabeth to take a message, but she thought better of it. It might be Ty, and she wanted to speak to him as soon as she could. She finished typing a sentence, picked up the receiver, and hit the flashing button.

"Hello, this is Rylie Storm-Lanigan. How may I help you?"

"Oh, so official sounding," an amused voice said.

Rylie sighed, aggravated at first, but she then became concerned. "Sis, what are you doing calling me at work?"

"Well, Rylie, glad to hear from you, too," she said with a laugh.

"I'm sorry, Malia. I just thought something was wrong."

"Nope," she said, and then paused. "Well, maybe there is."

Rylie groaned inwardly. Malia was Rylie's older sister, and her life was a never-ending drama. She had dragged Rylie into the middle of all three of her divorces, through her short-lived relationships with man after man, and into the pool of her personal problems. Rylie loved her sister, but she was very tiring. Malia also had a ten-year-old daughter, Nicole. When Rylie and Ty were married, Malia had served as Rylie's matron of honor. At the time, Malia had been hugely pregnant. Rylie hadn't wanted her to participate in the wedding as pregnant as she was, but Malia insisted.

"What's up, Malia?"

"Well, I hate to impose on you since this is your anniversary weekend and all, but, um… well, I have to ask a favor of you."

"Oh Lord, Malia, what kind of favor?"

"Baby sis, don't sound so negative," she said with a slight laugh. "Nikki and her little friends have a nature hike scheduled tomorrow. I had originally volunteered to lead the girls, but I have to work and can't get out of it. I need you to take my place."

"Ty and me are going out of town tomorrow. I can't do it." It was the first time she had denied her sister anything.

"Come on sis, I really need this favor. No one else can do it. Can't you simply leave town later? It's only a two-hour nature walk. Please, sis, I wouldn't ask if I weren't so desperate. I can't break Nikki's heart."

Rylie was very annoyed. Malia had always had a selfish streak in her, and this time really iced the cake. "Malia, we've had this trip planned for weeks. I'd be breaking Ty's heart."

"Sis, do you want me to beg? It's a two-hour morning hike. You'll be on the road no later than ten o' clock. You won't miss a thing. Please do this for me. I'll never ask for another favor again."

"Don't make promises you can't keep, sister."

"Does that mean you'll do it," Malia asked, although she could judge Rylie's moods better than anyone.

"Just this once. I hope Ty doesn't murder me."

Rylie arrived home that evening later than usual. When she entered the house, the living room light was off. The room was lit by dozens of candles. She smiled to herself. Apparently, Ty had decided that she deserved one more surprise. She hated breaking the news about Nikki's nature hike.

Ty heard her entrance into the house. He had apparently gotten home early from work. He was already out of his uniform and had donned blue jeans and an old tee shirt. Her smile grew wider when she saw that he was carrying a single long-stemmed red rose. My husband, the true romantic, she thought for about the hundredth time.

He placed the rose between his teeth and approached her. Giggling, she accepted his hug. She pulled away from him and plucked the rose out of his teeth.

"I loved the roses, they were a beautiful surprise," she told him.

He kissed her softly. "You deserved it, babe." He took her hand in his. "Come on, the fun is just beginning."

She allowed him to lead her out of the living room and into the bathroom. Candles lighted it, like the front room. He had drawn a bath in the huge sunken tub they hardly used. It was absolutely beautiful.

They kissed again and Ty began unbuttoning Rylie's blouse. She moved to slide her hands underneath his shirt, but he backed away. "No, babe. This is all for you."

She didn't say anything else as he continued to undress her. She had tried to help him to do that, but he wouldn't allow her. After he had slowly stripped her naked, he kissed her a third time, and directed her toward the tub. The water was very warm, but felt heavenly. She sank down into the warmth and wondered why they didn't bother much with the tub. After her body had accustomed itself to the heat, she turned her attention toward Ty. He had begun undressing himself, joining her within minutes.

He slipped into the tub behind her and grabbed a bottle of bath gel. The cold gel against her warm skin made her quiver for a few moments. His expert hands massaged the gel into her skin. She leaned her head back a bit and closed her eyes.

"Your hands, oh your hands," she sighed.

He chuckled warmly. "Your body, oh your body."

His hands slipped past her shoulders and down to her breasts, where they lingered. His lips then found the side of her throat. She closed her eyes and leaned against him. After she allowed his hands a few more moments to work their magic, she shifted position to straddle him. He lifted her body up a bit so he could taste her coffee-colored nipples. She drew away from him so she could kiss him.

During their kiss, Rylie allowed one of her hands to slide from his chest down to his sex. She grasped him firmly, but gently. He groaned against her lips and slipped his tongue into her mouth to deepen their kiss. Her stroking hand continued to move slowly, painfully.

He broke the kiss and asked softly, "You ready, babe?"

"Oh yeah," she said, "Are you?"

"Mmm hmm. Can't you tell?"

She laughed a little. "Oh yes," she said.

After, they dried themselves off and donned robes. They then adjourned to the dining room where Ty had prepared Rylie's favorite dish. She was hungry, but she only picked at her food. She didn't know how to tell him about Nikki's nature hike.

"You okay, babe," Ty asked.

Rylie snapped out of her daze. "I'm fine, but we have to talk."

"Uh oh. Don't tell me you want a divorce just after what we did? Was I that bad?"

Usually his fake panicked banter dissolved her in giggles, but not this time. She smiled faintly. "No, Tyson, you were fantastic. What time did you want to head out tomorrow morning?"

"I thought we decided on six," he answered, glancing at her curiously.

"I was thinking more along the lines of ten."

He propped his chin onto his hand and gazed at her for a moment. "Ten? Why ten? What's going on?"

She sighed. "I might as well tell you. Malia called me at work this morning."

Before she continued, he nodded knowingly and rolled his eyes. "Oh Lord. What did she talk you into doing this time?"

Her husband knew her sister as well as she. "Our niece and her friends have a nature walk scheduled in the morning, and Malia said she volunteered to lead the hike, but can't go because she has to work. She asked me to take her place."

"And you let her sucker you into it," Ty finished for her.

"Sort of," she said, "Okay, exactly. The hike is supposed to be over before ten. What we can do is have everything ready, and then you can pick me up at Malia's when I drop off Nikki."

"So I get a couple extra hours of sleep out of this deal?"

"Looks that way. Are you angry?"

He shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of wine. "Not necessarily. This sounds typical of your sister, though. If I were a paranoid man, I'd say that she did this deliberately."

"Why would you say that?"

He shrugged again. "Well, Malia has been through a bunch of divorces. She sees us still happy at ten years, and perhaps she's jealous. So, what's a good way to start an argument between us? Her not-so-subtle way was interfering with a trip we planned, one in which she knew about."

"Tyson, Malia is flighty and a little crazy, but I don't think she wants to see us divorced. She was my matron of honor."

"Babe, I didn't intend to piss you off, but those are just my observations."

"I'm not pissed off, Tyson. I just think that you're misjudging her because of her neediness. If it's a big deal, just say the word, and I won't go."

He smiled a little. "You're pissed. You only call me Tyson when you're pissed or horny. I don't think it's the latter, babe. You don't have to cancel it. I don't mind leaving later. Take Nikki and her buddies on their hike, have fun. But once it's over, what remaining time we have left is ours. Okay?"

She nodded. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Wonderful," he said with a smile. "Are you going to eat now?"

The next morning, Ty rose early to see Rylie off. He hugged her fiercely and kissed her long and hard.

"My, my," Rylie said with a teasing smile. "Maybe I need to go on nature hikes more often."

He laughed a little. "Maybe so."

She screwed up her face in a grimace. "Ugh. You know who we sound like?"

He laughed again. "Elizabeth and Charlie?"

"You know me too well, Tyson."

He kissed her again, but this time briefly. "I love you, babe," he said, and then slapped her bottom.

She yipped. "Same here. See you later," she said rubbing her bottom as she walked away.

Rylie did not know that Kort Jeffries hadn't really disappeared. He was still around. His house had finally been completed, and it was built so far back in the woods no one would ever find it. Just off from the house, he had two separate buildings constructed for the family 'business.' The furthest building from the house was where he, Cruz, and a few other friends manufactured the crystal so popular in town. Making the stuff was dangerous work, and he didn't employ any more than necessary. One slip up and Kort knew he would land in prison again, and he didn't intend to go back.

The closer building was used as a sort of playroom/office. It housed a bedroom, bathroom facilities, and a kitchen. The building was also where he and the guys took their women. They had all kinds of kinky stuff to use; whips, masks, chains, and so on. Then when the crop was good, they used the building to process the marijuana Kort grew and harvested out in the woods.

It was a nice set-up, but Kort still had to be careful. The cops were looking for him because of the Lanigan bitch. He hadn't seen what he'd done as a bad thing. Most uptight whores like her just needed a good old-fashioned fuck to straighten out. Sure, she might have protested at first, but she would have given in and enjoyed it toward the end. They always did. But alas, he hadn't gotten a chance to get to her, and he really had no time to think about her. He was too busy cranking out crystal and grass. Women were easy to find, money was something he had to work for.

Although secure with the knowledge his house and buildings were away from public view, Kort was paranoid. Paranoia was a way of life for him. Because of that, he and the others took turns on guard duty. On that particular day, Kort had the first twelve-hour shift. The rules were simple. Intruders were to be shot on sight, their bodies burned or thrown into a nearby lake. They had been lucky, there were no intruders, but Kort's paranoia wouldn't relent.

Before Rylie had even gotten out of the car, Nikki ran out to her. She got out of the car and scooped Nikki up in her arms and hugged her hard.

"You're getting so big," Rylie said as she set Nikki down on her feet.

"I know," Nikki piped. "Mom said I'm growing too fast."

She smiled. "You are, darling. Where's your mother?"

"She's inside." She grabbed Rylie's hand. "Come on, let's go!"

Malia had donned her uniform. She worked as a hostess in a local restaurant. At the same time, she was training as a manager. "Hey, sis. You look great."

Rylie regarded her shorts and tee shirt with a shrug. "Okay, sis, whatever you say," she said smiling.

"I'm taking your car to work, and you can have my van. You'll need it, because you'll be picking up six other girls. I have Nikki's backpack all ready. It'll be in the back of the van." She handed Rylie a map. "And here's the area that you're driving to. The trail is circled in red."

Rylie ruffled Nikki's hair. "Well, let's go, then. We have a lot to do today."

Twenty minutes later, Rylie was driving seven screaming ten-year-olds into the woods.

Kort had kicked back in a worn lawn chair. He wasn't exactly paying attention one hundred percent. The guarding thing was a boring job, but again, he wasn't ready to let it go. His business was his livelihood. Yet, on some days, he considered axing the whole sentry duty deal. He could then get his shit circulated faster. That was what he needed. Since the trouble with the Lanigan bitch happened, Kort's feet were getting itchy. It was time to move on. He'd leave the house for Cruz, and then he'd disappear. Mexico sounded good, but realistically, he was thinking more along the lines of South America. Oh, the life, he thought as he began to doze lightly.

As Kort dreamed of his South American life, Rylie and the girls had gathered up their gear and hit the trails. Most of the girls paired up and trotted ahead, just staying in earshot. Nikki and her best friend lagged behind with Rylie. With a smile, Rylie thought that Nikki felt obligated to hang around.

After a quarter of a mile, the troop stopped and took a water/snack break. Rylie munched contently on a granola bar as her eyes scoped out the terrain. The woods were beautiful. She hadn't really known they existed. Neither she nor Ty were outdoorsy people, so this nature hike was a treat for her as well. A gentle breeze began to blow, and Rylie thought she detected a strange odor. She couldn't pinpoint whether the odor was ahead or behind them since the breeze kept shifting direction. She let it leave her mind and rounded up the girls. She wanted to get the hike finished on time; she had a husband to meet.

Kort jerked himself awake after a brief fifteen-minute snooze. He hadn't even realized he fell asleep. He was a card-carrying hypocrite. If Cruz or one of the others fell asleep on sentry duty, he would have cracked a skull. He glanced around on each side of himself and could see no one. Clearing his throat and removing his sunglasses, he put his binoculars up to his eyes and scanned the area in every direction. Just as always, nothing. After putting his binoculars away, he settled back in the chair again. He needed to think of something to keep awake. He found his mind wandering to Rylie Lanigan, and the thought of her raised his blood pressure significantly. Yes, she was the only person he hated more than her husband.

Rylie wasn't even aware that Kort was thinking about her. She kept a close watch on the girls. Nikki and her friend finally skipped ahead to join the others. Ever watchful, Rylie kept back. If anything happened to her niece, she would never forgive herself. As the hike progressed, the faint odor Rylie had detected began to grow stronger and stronger. It wasn't strong enough for her to exactly pinpoint what it was, but it was disturbing.

"Hey, Aunt Rylie," Nikki called a few feet ahead of her, "Come look at this!"

Rylie smiled a little and began walking toward the voice of her niece. She expected to see a snake or a raccoon. Nikki loved animals. When she drew closer, she was stunned to see what Nikki had called excitedly about. It was no animal. Nikki and her friends had stumbled upon dozens of marijuana plants. As her stunned eyes beheld the crop, it began to dawn on her what the odor was in the air. Someone was cooking methamphetamine in addition to growing the grass.

Wanting to panic, Rylie calmed herself down. "Girls, let's turn around and go back. Okay?"

The girls began to protest. They were having fun. However, Nikki could see the look on her aunt's face and she knew what it meant. Her mother used the same look from time to time.

"Yeah, guys, let's go," Nikki chimed.

"Sure, we'll stop at McDonald's or something on the way home," Rylie offered.

At the mention of a promised treat, the girls stopped protesting and followed Rylie out of the woods.

In the distance, Kort thought he could see something moving around in the woods. Probably just a fucking animal, he thought, and then almost dismissed it. But again, his paranoia wouldn't allow it to slide. He picked up his binoculars and looked toward the moving figures. There looked to be an adult and some kids almost standing in the middle of his grass crop. The crop was closer to the house than he was, so he picked up his cell phone and punched in a number.

"Yeah," a bored voice answered.

"Cruz, grab a gun and a ski mask. Go out toward the grass. I think we've found some intruders. When you see them, call me back and tell me who it is."

"How am I supposed to know who it is," Cruz whined.

He sighed. "Listen you fucking alcoholic, I don't want any fucking names or shoe sizes. I just want to know if they're male, female, or whatever. Got it?"

"Okay, okay. I'll call ya."

While he waited, he kept track of the group through his binoculars. They seemed to be making steady progress back where they came. They weren't running, so he was sure Cruz would be able to see them.

When the cell phone rang, Kort nearly jumped out of his skin. "Yeah?"

"Kort, I'm about ten feet ahead of them. You ain't gonna believe this shit."

Kort, not the most patient person in the world yelled, "WHAT?"

"There's about seven little girls and a woman. The woman is that Lanigan chick."

He smiled. It was almost like his birthday. "Okay, bro. Keep watching them. I'm coming down as soon as I can get my truck started. Don't let them leave the trail."

A few moments later, Kort met his brother. Both men had tucked their long hair under ski masks. Kort took his binoculars and scoped out the situation. His drunken brother had not been incorrect. Kort picked up his gun, intent to take out the little girls. He wanted to save Rylie for a few hours.

Cruz grabbed Kort's arm. "Man, what are you doing? You don't have to kill those little kids! We're wearing masks; they'll never see us. Why don't we run off the kids then take the woman?"

"Cruz Jeffries, the fucking bleeding heart. Okay, fine. This is what we'll do. You ambush them from the front. I'll get behind the bitch, and we'll be set."

The group was only a couple of miles or so away from the van. Rylie and Nikki pushed the others along as quickly as possible. Suddenly, an armed masked man jumped out in front of the group. The girls screamed and huddled against Rylie.

"Shut the fuck up," a gruff voice screamed.

The girls didn't quite shut up. They cried and cringed against Rylie. The man waved his rifle toward the girls.

"Get back away from her, NOW. I'll start fucking shooting if you don't."

Rylie glanced at the girls and tried to smile. "It's okay. You can do as the man says. Do what you want with me," she told him, "just let the girls go."

"NO, I'm not leaving," Nikki screamed and wrapped her arms around Rylie.

Angered, the man approached the girl and grabbed her tee shirt from the back. He dragged her away, kicking and screaming.

"You don't have to do that," Rylie cried.

The man dropped Nikki near the other girls. They huddled against each other. Rylie screamed as another man grabbed her from behind. At that point, the first man pointed his rifle toward the sky and fired a shot. The girls scattered and ran off into the woods.

"Drop the gun and help me. She's a wild one," the other man screamed.

Cruz dropped his rifle and grabbed Rylie's legs. The two men lifted her body and dragged her off toward Kort's truck. They climbed into the back of the truck and threw Rylie down. It took both men to gag and bind the struggling woman's hands and feet. When she was securely tied up, Kort and Cruz removed the ski masks.

Kort smiled down at the cringing woman. "So we meet again," he said, running his hand up her thigh.

She tried to get away from him, but Cruz held her fast.

Kort looked at this brother. "You ride back here with her, and I'll drive. Make sure she doesn't try to sit up. If she does, smack her."

The ride was a rough one. Cruz had to hold Rylie down during the entire trip. Kort seemed to hit every pothole in the road. Rylie noticed that Cruz wouldn't make eye contact with her. She immediately judged he was kinder than Kort. If he made eye contact with her, he would be forced to see her pleading eyes.

After what seemed like an hour, the truck stopped. The nasty odor of the meth grew stronger. Her captors didn't seem to notice at all. Kort hopped out of the truck and climbed into the back. He and Cruz lifted her body. At that point, she began to struggle again. Without hesitation, Kort dropped her legs, and her bottom landed hard on the ground. Ruthlessly, he kicked her thigh with a pointed toe boot. The pain raged up her thigh.

"Bitch, you'd better knock it the fuck off, or I'll shoot you now. Enjoy your remaining time while you have it."

Cruz glanced over at his brother. "You really gonna kill her?"

He smiled down at her, and then he looked up at his brother. "When I'm finished with her. Bitch ain't gonna send me back to jail."

Kort bent over and lifted her legs again. The two men dragged her inside their specially designed rumpus room. Kort smiled when he glanced at one of his newest toys. A few days previously, he had installed a shackle attached to a super long log chain. He had brought one of his many girlfriends over and experimented with it. His girl had been able to access any room she wanted. She could reach the bed and lie down or climb into the shower or sit down on the toilet. However, she couldn't quite open the exit door. It was perfect. He had no idea why he had had that particular feature installed. But considering his run of luck, he figured he must have had a psychic flash.

Kort sat her down on the bed and set about his work. Only when he had the shackle firmly attached to her ankle did he cut away the rope holding her feet together. He snapped handcuffs over her wrists and slashed away the rope binding.

He stood over her and regarded the contempt for him in her eyes. Before the day was done, she'd be at his feet begging. "Now, if I remove the gag, are you gonna be a good girl?" She didn't move a muscle. She kept her eyes locked with his, and continued to hate him. "If you don't, I won't hesitate putting a bullet through your brain. It would be a shame to do that. I don't fuck dead women."

Carefully, he leaned toward her and removed the gag. Seconds after he drew the gag away from her mouth, she spat in his face. He slowly wiped away the spittle with the tail of his shirt. He drew back and punched her in the face, knocking her back, and subsequently knocking her out.

Nikki and the girls were lost. The map was gone, and they were walking in circles. Some of them were crying. However, Nikki was stern with them. There was no time for tears; her aunt was in trouble. Nikki didn't realize that she came from a long line of strong women. What she did realize was that if they didn't make it out of the woods, something terrible would happen to Rylie.

While Nikki and her friends began braving the woods, Ty Lanigan was getting nervous. When Rylie was over an hour late, he began to worry. Without thinking, he phoned Malia's house, but then remembered she was at work. He locked up the house and jumped into his car. He wasn't sure which restaurant employed Malia, but if necessary, he would drive to them all.

Malia was busily waiting tables when her brother-in-law walked into the restaurant. She wasn't paying attention and didn't notice him until he touched her shoulder.

"Ty, what are you doing here? I thought you and Rylie would be on the road by now."

"Yeah, we're supposed to be. She hasn't come home yet," Ty said.

Malia glanced down at her watch. It was past noon. "Oh God."

She quickly served her customers, and then she led Ty back to the staff break room. She immediately called the police. After the call, Malia clocked out early and rode back to Ty's house.

Rylie regained consciousness after a few hours, but she had a pounding headache. She glanced around the room and saw that she was lying on a bed with a shackle around her ankle. She had hoped that she had dreamt the whole thing. She saw Kort's brother sitting at a roll top desk. His lanky form was bent over and he seemed to be reading something. An opened bottle of whiskey sat beside him.

"I need water," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Cruz looked up, startled. He glanced over at Kort's captive and noticed that she had a dark, ugly bruise where she had been punched. Without a word, he walked into the bathroom and filled a small cup. He brought it back and thrust the cup toward her. Slowly, she brought herself up to a sitting position. He held the cup up to her mouth, and she drank greedily. Most of the fluid dribbled down the front of her tee shirt. But she didn't care; it felt wonderful.

When the cup was empty, he went back over to the desk. He raised the bottle up to his lips and drank as greedily as she did the water.

"Thank you," she said.

He ignored her and continued to read.

"Please let me go."

He didn't move, didn't respond.

"I don't know who you are, but you seem more stable than Kort. Let me go, what he wants to do isn't right. I never tried to hurt him."

Cruz looked at her. "Kort's my brother, and I'd rather do for him than you. You tried to get him arrested. He's only doing what you deserve."

"What's your name?"


She sighed and bent her shackled leg at the knee. The log chain was heavy and wearing her out. "Cruz, you don't act like you believe that. You could have shot those little girls, but you didn't. You let them go. You're a reasonable man, Cruz. Please, let me go."

He took another drink from his bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "That psychology shit doesn't work with me, either. Would you mind shutting the fuck up? I'm trying to read."

She knew she should have stopped, but she couldn't. "Yes, I mind shutting up. Don't let your brother do this to me. You know it's not right. Let me go, and I'll help you."

He stood and began digging around in the desk drawer. He came toward her with a roll of duct tape. He tore off a strip and slapped it over her mouth. "I can't let you go. If I did, Kort would kill me."

Before long, Kort returned with bags of food. He glanced over at Rylie and then at Cruz. "Why does she have tape on her mouth?"

"She was talking too much. I had to do something."

Kort laughed. "Good job. And here I thought you were a softy. You can leave, Cruz. This is my watch now."

"But," Cruz protested.

He clapped his brother on the shoulder. "It's okay, man, you'll get your turn. By the way, shut down the lab. Cops might be snooping around. If they don't smell anything, they won't come up. And get the other guys together. You need to work on clearing up the plants. Hopefully, some of them will be salvageable."

Reluctantly, Cruz left. Kort approached the bed and yanked the tape off Rylie's mouth. She cried out sharply. He then took a pistol out of its holster at his waist.

"Don't try any psychobabble with me, Stormy. I don't buy into that shit, and I'm not as soft as my brother. He'll only do what I say. I'm the one who provides his booze, so I'm the one he's loyal to."

He walked toward the desk and grabbed the chair. He dragged it into the center of the room and sat down. "The last time I saw you, we were right in the middle of something, weren't we?"

"If you're going to do it, do it! I'd rather you kill me than touch me."

He laughed. "I'm going to do both, Stormy, but in due time. I want to talk first, though. You don't mind that, do you? You like to talk, don't you? You also like to ask a lot of questions, too, huh? How about I ask you some questions?"

She didn't respond to his words at all. She simply watched him with suspicious eyes. She had no idea what he had planned for her.

The little girls finally made it toward a clear path. For hours, they had wandered around, walked in more circles, but found a path that was relatively clear and looked as if it had been recently used. They stayed with the path well after dark. The trail ended in front of a black top road. The girls squealed happily. They took to the road and began walking south. They hoped they would find a house or see a car.

Meanwhile, at the Lanigan house, Ty and Malia were mad with worry. No one had heard from Rylie or the girls all day. The police were not exactly helping either. They had searched the general area, but could not do much more. Without the map, Malia couldn't remember the trail herself. Also, parts of the woods were privately owned, and the police would have to get search warrants in order to legally proceed. Ty was livid. He wanted to join the search party, but the police wouldn't allow him. They didn't think he was stable enough. However, if they didn't find his wife by dawn, he would search on his own regardless of what the police did.

Later that evening, the phone rang. Ty ran and swiped it up. "Hello," he said breathlessly.

"Hello," an official sounding voice said, "May I speak to Malia Storm?"

Ty sighed in aggravation. He handed the phone to Malia. "It's for you."

She took the receiver. "What," she cried, and then listened for several minutes. After she hung up, she glanced at Ty. "They've found Nikki and the girls."

Ty's heart dropped. "What about Rylie? Did they say anything about Rylie?"

She looked down. "She wasn't with them, Ty. Nikki said two men dragged her off into the woods."

Ty felt his knees buckling. He sat down heavily. "Oh Lord, Lord," he moaned. "Do they know where she was taken?"

Malia shook her head. "I don't think so, Ty. The girls are trying to describe the area to the police. We need to get down there immediately."

He didn't hesitate. He was out the door before Malia could blink twice.

Kort had sat and stared at Rylie for a very long time. She grew uncomfortable with it and closed her eyes. She didn't like the way he was leering at her, stripping her naked with his eyes.

He smiled and cleared his throat. Rylie kept her eyes closed. "Now it's time to play question and answer, Stormy. Are you ready?"

"Go to hell," she replied without much interest.

"Oh, I intend to. Heaven is too boring for a guy like me. So, let me ask you this question for starters. I'd really like an answer. Do you ever suck your husband's cock?"

His question roused her. She opened her eyes wide and looked at him. "What?"

His smile broadened and he looked down incredulously. He focused his eyes on her face. "You heard me. Do you give your old man blowjobs?"

"I'm not answering that," she said.

He got up and approached the bed. He took his pistol and held it up to her temple. "You will answer the question. What's the deal? I asked nicely. Tell me the truth, Stormy. Do you suck your husband's cock?"

The cold steel of the gun was pressed against her temple tightly. She closed her eyes and said, "Fuck you."

"Now come on, Stormy, be nice. You look like a cocksucker. When he comes, do you swallow or spit?"

"Fuck you," she said again.

He took the gun away from her temple, but kept it aimed at her. "You're such a tease." He took a few steps back from the bed. "Sit on the edge of the bed."

"I can't move," she said. "The chain is too heavy."

He stepped up to the bed, grabbed her thighs on each side, and pulled her toward the edge of the bed. "Sit up," he demanded. When she didn't immediately follow his orders, he jerked her up to a sitting position. "You never said whether or not you suck cock, but I think you do. Right now, you're gonna suck mine. I'm going to hold the gun on you while you do it. If you bite me, you're gonna feel a speeding bullet enter your ear and race through your brain. When I come, you're gonna swallow. If you don't, you're gonna get a bullet. Do you understand?"

"Don't make me do this," she said quietly.

"I told you I didn't want to hear any of your shit. When I unzip my jeans, you'd better be ready, bitch."

She watched in horror as Kort unzipped his jeans. With one hand, he took out his engorged penis.

"Take it," he demanded.


He shoved his pistol against her forehead. "Do you want to die? Take it, bitch."

When she opened her mouth to protest again, he took the opportunity to shove himself between her lips. She instinctively tried to pull back, but he quickly tangled his free hand into her hair to keep her in place.

"Oh yeah, that feels great. You have a good mouth," he said. "Remember what I told you."

She didn't move at all. She didn't have to. His hair-entangled hand moved her head up and down. As promised, he kept the gun aimed right at her head, almost inside her ear. She shut her mind off and blanked out everything around her. Soon, he would finish with her and leave her alone.

It took him a very long time to climax. When he finished, he shoved her back violently. After lying still for a few moments, she dragged herself off the bed and went into the bathroom. There was a door, but since her hands were cuffed together, she couldn't close it all the way. She kneeled in front of the toilet and threw up several times. When the worst of it was over, she went over to the sink and washed her mouth out with soap as best she could in handcuffs. The taste of the soap made her nauseous again, and she was forced to go back to the toilet and vomit one more time.

She stepped out of the bathroom and saw that Kort had taken a seat in the middle of the room again. He was smirking at her. "You give great head," he said. "You swallowed and everything."

"Fuck you and your vile little dick," she spat.

He puckered up his lips and made a kissing noise. "You will." He opened a bag of potato chips. "Hungry?"

"Fuck you," she said, rattling her way back to the bed. She stared at the log chain, trying to see if there were any weaknesses in the metal or in the shackle.

"Suit yourself, but when I get a great blowjob, I get hungry as hell. You need to keep your strength up. I have three or four guys who would like to meet you. They're not as gentle as I am."

"Let me go," she said. "I don't care about your grass or your crystal. I just want to go home."

"Yeah, right. You're married to Tyson Lanigan. You wouldn't simply let me slip through the cracks. I'm sorry, baby, but you're not going anywhere. As soon as I get bored with you, you're going to eat a bullet."

Ty was frustrated. Nikki and the girls had a hard time deciding where they were when Rylie was kidnapped. They only had a basic description of the perpetrators. Both were men, one was lanky and tall, and the other was husky and short. Although Ty didn't want to admit it, he automatically suspected Kort and Cruz Jeffries. He actually didn't want to think it was those guys. If it was the Jeffries brothers, he was almost sure he would never see his wife alive again. Of course, there was a glimmer of hope. Cruz wasn't as cruel as Kort. Perhaps she would be spared.

Then there was Nikki's statement that they had found a crop of tall plants with 'funny' leaves. To Ty, it sounded like marijuana plants. The Jeffries brothers were into growing, harvesting, and selling marijuana. Kort had also just recently begun manufacturing crystal. The descriptions sounded right.

Since Ty's former career helped him become acquainted with quite a few police officers, he made mention of the Jeffries brothers and what he suspected. The police knew of the incident that occurred where Kort had attempted to rape Rylie. It was falling together piece by piece. His wife was out there somewhere; they just didn't know where to start.

Kort had fallen asleep in the chair. When Rylie was certain he was out, she began picking at the shackle on her ankle. It was tough going with the cuffs. She had tried to get those off earlier, but only succeeded in chafing her wrists. After examining the shackle, she realized there was no way to get it off. She had to try something else. Her key to freedom was somehow disabling Kort and then retrieving his key ring. It was on his person, and she didn't think she'd be able to get the keys out of his pocket.

Rylie slowly got up off the bed and began searching the room for some type of weapon. Kort's gun was holstered, but she would never slip it out without waking him. There was nothing in the bathroom. She rattled over to the roll top desk and her eyes identified a letter opener. It was the type designed to look like a knife. It was a perfect weapon, but she didn't know how well she could wield it with her hands in cuffs. Perhaps if she could start talking to Cruz again, he would undo the cuffs. She rattled back to the bed and sat on the edge. Her only chance of escape was through Cruz. He seemed to be the sensible one.

After an hour, Kort roused himself from his nap. Without a word to or glance at Rylie, he went into the bathroom and stood urinating for what seemed like an hour. She then heard him cleaning up with water from the sink. When he left the bathroom, he again chose to ignore her. He sat and silently crunched up potato chips. She knew he was plotting, but she didn't know exactly what he would do next. When he had half the bag of chips demolished, he went back into the bathroom and washed his teeth. He then stood in the open doorway and stared at her.

She glanced at him out the corner of her eye. Dear God, he has an erection, she thought, panicked. Please, oh please, not again. He began to approach her, and she instinctively cringed back. When he was against the bed, she kicked out with her free leg. He easily sidestepped the blow. He drew back and slapped her face. He hit her directly on top of her bruise. The new pain flared up and set off firecrackers in her head.

She screamed, "Son of a bitch!"

He slapped her again. "Don't fucking call me that."

Kort grasped her arms and hooked the cuffs over the bedpost. He ripped at her tee shirt, tearing it to shreds. He unsheathed a knife, and for a moment, she was sure he was going to stab her. Instead, he sawed off her bra and used the knife to cut through the heavy denim material of her shorts. He ripped her panties away from her body with his hands. At this point, she began to kick at him again. With each kick, he matched it with a blow to her face and thighs.

Eventually, she was beaten down enough where she couldn't fight back. Her face was bruised and bleeding, as was her thighs. She once again shut down her mind as his hands and mouth touched her breasts. She could barely feel his fingers entering her, and was unaware when he shoved her legs apart and thrust his tongue inside her. She didn't protest when he slipped her cuffed hands off the bedpost. She moaned a little when he flipped her over on her stomach, but she didn't say a word. She moaned again when he lifted her hips high in the air. She cried out a little when he unzipped his jeans and pushed them down to his knees. She protested a bit louder when she felt his hands separating the cheeks of her buttocks. When he forced his swollen penis into her anus, she screamed and screamed. Her screams didn't disturb Kort at all. In fact, he pounded away at her harder and harder. She passed out right in the middle of the attack, but that didn't bother Kort, either.

When he came, he released the hold he had on Rylie's body. She collapsed to the bed, and he collapsed on top of her. She began to come around little by little. Kort's vile penis was still inside her, shrinking. Her body was a mass of pain; she didn't think she would be able to move. Shuddering out the last of his orgasm, Kort sank his teeth into her shoulder and bit down hard. She didn't have the energy to scream, but she did have the energy to cry, and cry was what she did.

Kort withdrew from her and pulled up his jeans. He noticed she was bleeding. "Clean yourself up," he said coldly. "I'll take off the cuffs long enough for you to do this. But you'd better behave." He removed the handcuffs, and then left her.

For what seemed like a year, Rylie simply lay still. Moving only made pain explode all over her body. Eventually, she sat up. Kort had effectively rid her of every scrap of clothing. She could see the tattered remnants of her clothes scattered about the room. As she stood and limped toward the bathroom, blood dripped down the back of her thighs. Her shoulder ached miserably.

She made it to the bathroom and then fumbled with the knobs in the shower. After a few moments, her efforts were met with a flow of hot water. She limped into the shower and allowed the scalding water to wash away Kort's sweat and semen. She stayed in the shower until the water cooled down significantly. When she stepped out of the shower, the flow of blood had ceased. She noticed that someone had supplied her an oversized tee shirt.

As she bent to retrieve the shirt, the pain began again. She moaned and straightened up as quickly as possible. She threw the shirt over her head and pulled it down. It fell past her knees. The shirt obviously belonged to Cruz. She then limped back toward the bed. As she suspected, Cruz was back with her. When he noticed her, he came toward her with the handcuffs.

"Please don't cuff me again. I can't fight, especially not after what Kort did to me."

"Sorry, I have to do what Kort says."

"No you don't. You can do whatever you want."

He stood and regarded her for a moment, as if he were weighing the pros and cons. "If he comes in here, he'll kill me if you ain't cuffed."

She held out her hands and allowed him to cuff her. She then dragged herself to the bed and lay down. She noticed that someone, probably Cruz, had changed the sheets. "Thanks for the shirt. I needed it," she said.

He shrugged, as if embarrassed. "Well, I didn't want you to run around naked, that's all. It's not right."

He had a sense of morality. How wonderful for her. "No, it isn't," she agreed. "It's also not right to keep me cuffed. I can't get away with this shackle on my ankle."

He stopped to think about her words. They made perfect sense. However, he remembered Kort's warning. Bro, if you listen to her talk, pretty soon, she'll start making sense. No matter what she says to you, don't pay attention.

"Sorry, I can't take them off."

She sighed and decided to give up for the time being. Mindful of her battered body, she curled up and tried to sleep.

For the next two hours, she dozed fitfully. She was dreaming about Ty. He was lying next to her in bed, gently touching her. She loved the scent of his skin just after he shaved. It was heavenly. Soon, though, the smell of alcohol invaded her dream. She awoke and noticed Cruz on the bed beside her. He had hooked her arms over the bedpost, and had parted her thighs. The tee shirt was shoved up past her breasts. She hadn't even been aware she was being assaulted. Cruz was still fully clothed, but his hands were tracing lines along her body, seemingly lingering on her breasts.

"What are you doing," she whispered.

"You're just so pretty," he said, spraying alcohol fumes.

"You don't want to do this," she moaned.

"Sure I do. Kort said I could if I wanted."

Cruz unzipped his pants and shoved them down to his knees. He positioned himself between her thighs and forced his way inside her. When he finished, he put her tee shirt back in place, and left her. She lay and stared at the ceiling. She no longer believed she'd ever walk away from this alive.

She noticed she was bleeding again. At first, the blood didn't seem to affect her one way or another. But after a few moments, another plan sprang into her mind. She slowly brought herself up to a sitting position.

"I need to go to the bathroom."

"What's stopping you," he asked.

"You have to take the cuffs off. It's okay; you can do that. Kort did."

After he considered it for a moment, he approached her and released the cuffs. She limped into the bathroom and glanced at her face in the mirror. One eye was nearly swollen shut. Her face was a mass of bruises, scratches, and cuts. She looked away. She couldn't stand to look at herself anymore. She carefully bent down and gathered up as much of the log chain as possible. She then lifted her leg and supported her weight on the toilet. She wrapped the log chain around her throat and began pulling.

The gagging noise from the bathroom was what roused Cruz. He ran into the bathroom and saw that Rylie was trying to choke herself with the log chain. Moving quickly, he overpowered her and released her.

"Lady, what are you doing? If Kort saw that, he would kill me."

She turned toward Cruz, lifted her good leg, and kicked him squarely between the legs. Cruz howled in pain and doubled over. Rylie moved as quickly as the chain would allow. Her hands picked up the first thing in sight: a beer bottle. She went back into the bathroom and ruthlessly smashed the beer bottle on the back of Cruz's head. He went down to his knees before pitching over on his face. His key ring lay inside his opened palm. She quickly grabbed the ring and tried each key until she found the right one. Free for the first time in twenty-four hours, Rylie ran.

The bright sunlight bore into her light deprived eyes. After a few moments of adjustment, Rylie could see again. Despite her shoeless feet, she took off into the woods. She quickly became disoriented and had to stop. She turned toward the direction from which she came and realized she could no longer see the building that had once been her prison. Safe, finally safe, she thought.

After an hour of walking, she ran across a pickup truck. It was the one in which she had been captured. She froze in her tracks, but then relaxed after a bit when she realized the truck was empty. In the bed of the truck, she found her shoes. She grabbed them and put them on. Her feet were bleeding from the many cuts she had gotten during her crazed run. Somewhere, there would a road. She left the truck and continued walking.

A bullet zipped past her head and crashed off into the woods to her right. She screamed and began running again. She could hear heavy footsteps behind her. She was caught again, but she didn't care. She kept running. She would have to be shot before she surrendered again. Something hit the back of her head and pain exploded all around her. She went down to her knees, thinking she was shot. She was surprised to note that she felt relieved.

Ty grew tired of the search efforts of the police. He decided to take matters into his own hands. He approached his sister-in-law. "Malia, we need to take Nikki out to the woods so she can help us find Rylie."

She looked at Ty as if he had gone crazy. "There is no way in hell you're dragging my daughter back out in the woods. She has gone through enough."

"Nikki has gone through enough? What are you talking about, Malia? What about Rylie? What do you think she's going through?"

"Tyson, I won't hear of it," she said stubbornly.

"I can't believe you, Malia. Rylie has done handstands to help you out. She has neglected her job, her plans, and me to straighten your life out for you. You won't help her, just this once, when she really needs it? We're taking her, Malia, you owe her."

Rylie regained consciousness and realized she wasn't dead. To her horror, she was back in the outbuilding, once again shackled. Her hands were back in the handcuffs, her arms were once again thrown over the bedpost, and her body was unclothed. In the distance, she could see Cruz sitting in the floor rubbing the back of his head.

"She's getting dangerous, man," Cruz said.

"I agree, but I'm going to get in another shot before we do her. Get the truck and park it as close to the nearest window as you can get," Kort said. "This will take a few hours to set up."

"What are you gonna do?"

Kort grinned. "You'll see. Now, leave us alone."

Cruz left the building, his hand still caressing his hurt head.

Kort turned toward the cringing figure on the bed. "I'll bet you thought you were real smart, didn't you? Real smart."

She tried to move away, but couldn't. "Let me go, please let me go," she said, near tears.

"Nope. Can't do it. I'm going to get one more good fuck out of you before I put your lights out. Try not to fight, okay? Enjoy it while you can."

Of course, she did fight. She kicked out again with her leg, but instead of hitting her, he unsheathed his knife and drew a three-inch shallow cut down her thigh. She hissed in pain.

His fingers dug into her bruised flesh of her face, and he laid the glittering knife against her cheek. "The next time I use this thing, it's going to hurt worse," he said, his nose almost touching hers. "Got it?"

Kort then drew away from her and began shedding his clothes. Fruitlessly, Rylie struggled against her bonds. She didn't want him to lay his hands on her again. However, there was little she could do about it. He kept a smirking grin on his face the entire time he was removing his clothing. Once he was undressed, he stepped up to the bed and lifted her arms back over the bedpost.

Remembering what he had done to her before, she began shaking her head. "No," she moaned. "No, not that way. Please."

Smiling, he brought her up to a sitting position. "I only do that once in a while. It wasn't that bad, now was it? Come on; open your mouth. Don't make me beat you up again."

"No," she said firmly, "I won't."

He nodded decisively. "Okay. We can play this game as nicely or as roughly as you wish. I'm going to kill you. You know that, don't you? Do you want to die slowly, painfully? Or would you rather die peacefully, with little pain? It's your choice, Stormy. If you don't open your mouth, the first thing I'm going to do is break your fucking jaw. Then I'll pull your fingernails out, one by one. After that, I'll move to your toenails. You'll be begging for death by then. Do you think I'm lying to you? Bluffing?"

She looked up into his insane eyes. He wasn't bluffing; she knew he'd do exactly what he said, and more. Defiantly, with iron hatred in her eyes, she opened her mouth.

Kort smiled and patted her on the head as if she were a dog. "Good decision. The same rules apply. Don't you dare fucking bite my dick."

She took him into her mouth, and he again tangled his hand into her hair. Thankfully for her, he only kept himself inside her mouth just long enough to achieve an erection. After that, he withdrew from her.

"Put your arms up," he commanded.

She put them up as he demanded, and he threw them back over the bedpost. His penis visibly throbbed, and for once she wished he would give it back to her. She would bite him; she didn't care how painful her death was. He seemed to read this in her eyes, and his smirk returned.

"You wish," he muttered sarcastically, and then climbed onto the bed. He inserted his knees between her thighs and leaned over her. "It's going to be such a shame to kill you," he said with a smile. "You were one of the best fucks I've ever had, even if I did have to fight you for every shot. God, I'm going to miss this."

He slipped his hands beneath her hips and lifted her slightly. He then entered her, ripping and tearing. His face hovered very closely to hers. What she saw there was pure, unadulterated evil. She turned her face away from his and closed her eyes. Unaffected, Kort moved his hand to her breast and squeezed it painfully. He drove his penis in and out of her with a frenzied madness. It hurt her, and he knew it. He simply did not care, and continued to move furiously within her. His hips froze as he came. He groaned aloud, filling her with his evil seed.

I'm going to make you sorry you ever did this to me, she thought. Some how, some way, you're going to pay.

After he fully recovered, he slowly moved away from her and brought himself up to his knees. "I wish I had met you before Tyson did. God, you would have made me a wonderful girl. It's been a pleasure, it really has."

"Fuck you," she moaned, "Fuck you."

He smiled again and licked his lips. "You have, and did a great job. When I first saw you, I thought you'd be a tight fuck, and I was so right."

He left her and went into the bathroom. A few moments later, she heard him turn on the shower. She found herself wishing he'd drown.

Nikki, Malia, and Ty were following a path that Nikki thought might be the right one. Ty followed closely behind the little girl and grew frustrated every minute they walked. He tried to remain patient; after all, his niece was just a child. However, he had an innate fear that they were running out of time.

Malia glanced around her in all directions. "I think we're walking in circles. Can't we leave this for the police?"

Ty glared at his sister-in-law. "Your selfishness is showing," he replied coldly.

He turned his attention toward Nikki. She had stopped walking and stood staring off in the distance. He approached his niece and kneeled down beside her.

"You see something," he asked, hopeful.

"I don't know," she whispered thoughtfully. "I think this is it."

That's what you said an hour ago, he thought. "Are you sure?"

"I don't know. Something just looks funny. Something is different."

Without another word, she pushed forward. Ty stood and followed closely behind.

Kort finished his shower, and emerged from the bathroom fully dressed. He dug his cell phone out of his jeans pocket, dialed a number, and spoke briefly into the instrument. Rylie could not hear him because he was speaking in hushed tones. She knew he was preparing to kill her.

"We're going to be busy for a little bit. Don't you fucking move off that bed."

"Would you please give me something to put on?"

He gave her an incredulous look. "Why should you care if you're naked when they find you? You're going to be dead."

Rylie stayed on the bed as per Kort's demands. She heard a truck pulling up outside, and then the unmistakable sound of glass breaking. What on earth is going on, she wondered. Why were they breaking glass? Moments after the glass shattered, she heard a group of men cutting wood, and then hammering it in.

Kort reappeared shortly after and examined the work from the inside. "Looks great, and it should work with no problems. Send in the hose!"

Hose? Her stomach rolled sickly. She was beginning to understand what Kort and his flunkies were going to do to her. She used her bound wrists to help pull her body into a sitting position. She curled her heavy legs toward her and leaned over as far as she dared. She couldn't see the back window because Kort's body was blocking it.

"No peeking, Stormy," Kort called, as if he had heard her moving around.

She quickly straightened her body. Kort came back toward her when fifteen or so minutes had passed. He bawled for Cruz, and Cruz came in carrying rope and a roll of duct tape. Kort took the tape, tore off a strip, and placed it firmly over her mouth.

"This is so you can't scream for help after we leave," he said.

He took her cuffed hands off the bedpost, lifted her body, and threw her over his shoulder. He carried her to a chair and threw her body down into it.

"Hold onto her so I can tie her up," Kort said.

Cruz did as he was told, but it wasn't an easy job. Rylie immediately began struggling and moaning behind the tape. Kort seemed unaffected, as usual. He took the rope and secured her body to the chair. Only when he was sure she couldn't move did he remove the shackle from her ankle. When Kort was finished with his work, he moved away from her so she could see his handiwork.

As Rylie had feared, Kort and his flunkies had planned something sinister. The men had broken out a window, and nailed up a piece of board to replace it. The board was fashioned with a hole in the middle. A thick hose of some type of heavy rubber was inserted through the hole. There was no airflow inside the building, and Kort instructed Cruz to seal all the air vents, and turn off the air conditioner.

Kort approached Rylie and kneeled beside her. "Carbon monoxide, Stormy. It's going to be slow, I'm sorry about that. However, it's going to be painless. I kept part of my bargain, didn't I?" He kissed her cheek tenderly. "Goodbye."

He stood and motioned for Cruz. The two men left. Shortly after, she heard the truck's engine roar into life. Rylie's struggle began.

"Mommy," Nikki cried. "I found it! I found the map! This is it!"

Both Ty and Malia rushed toward the child. She held a tattered piece of paper in her hand. "This is where the men grabbed her. Here!" She held up the map victoriously.

"Oh, God, oh thank God," Ty breathed. They were finally on the right track. Ty turned toward Malia. "Take her back the way we came. Call the police."

"But Ty, you don't know-"

He cut her off. "I know. Get her back and call the fucking police!"

When Malia took hold of Nikki and began walking her back, Ty took off in a jog. It didn't take long for him to find the area where the marijuana plants had been freshly cut. He was getting closer. A few feet ahead, the cleared path ended, veering off into three different directions. The other paths were virtually unused, but his sharp eyes detected ATV tracks. He followed the ATV tracks deeper into the woods.

His disbelieving eyes soon saw a shoe caught in the underbrush. When he stopped and inspected it, tears filled his eyes. It was Rylie's. The brush grew thicker, and he literally had to pick his way around. He carried Rylie's shoe in his hand, using it as a talisman.

In the distance, Ty saw the roof of a very large house. With his heart pounding in his chest, he began to fight harder to get out of the brush. Eventually, he was able to make it through to a clearing. There were two smaller buildings facing him several feet away. One of the buildings had a truck backed up to it. Finding his footing, he ran toward the building.

The engine died. Headachy and confused, Rylie thought she was hallucinating. She began to hear a pounding noise behind the wood. Again, she wasn't sure what was going on. A voice, like Ty's, called out her name. She didn't respond, thinking it was a trick. Moments later, the pounding on the wood grew louder, as if someone were chopping away at it with an ax.


The voice definitely belonged to Ty. She hadn't been hallucinating at all. She couldn't call back, she could only moan.

Ty finally managed to chop a hole big enough to accommodate his body. He crawled through and saw the naked body of his wife tied to a chair. He couldn't tell by sight if she were alive or dead. He couldn't run to her fast enough.

"You taste good," Kort said, "Oh, fuck me."

"NO," Rylie screamed.

Rylie Lanigan jerked herself awake. She was very disoriented. For a brief moment, she had forgotten she wasn't in the little out building where the Jeffries brothers had brutalized her. She was safe, in a sterile hospital room. Her husband sat near the bed, kicked back in an uncomfortable hospital lounge chair. He had fallen asleep at her side. She wasn't aware of the time, but she knew it was dark.

Rylie touched her face. Gauze and bandages covered it. It had taken several stitches to close her wounds. She considered herself lucky to be alive. Rylie had no idea how Ty had managed to find her, but he had.

She hadn't remembered even speaking to Ty. Once he found her, she began to black out. She couldn't recall him releasing her from the rope. She didn't remember being taken to the hospital, or talking to the police, or being examined and questioned. She remembered being stitched, but only because the anesthetic shots had hurt so much. She remembered screaming for her husband at points, but wasn't aware if he had been brought to her.

"Tyson," she called softly.

Dreaming, he mumbled, "Hmm?"

"Tyson," she called again, only louder.

He opened his eyes and noticed that Rylie was awake. "Babe?"

"Get in bed with me," she whispered. "Hold me. I need you to hold me."

Mindful of her stitches, he climbed into her bed. She snuggled as closely to him as she could.

"Don't leave me," she said in tears.

"I'm not going anywhere, babe. I promise." He drew her as close to his body as possible. Her sobs slowly quieted down until she went back to sleep.

It was nearly dawn, and Kort had just finished fucking out the brains of a young drink hustler he picked up for the night. The instant it was over, he had collapsed to his back on a rock hard hotel bed. It was nice fucking a willing partner for a change, although the chick wasn't quite as pretty as Stormy. It was a shame she had to die. She might have even eventually warmed up to him.

The chick, whom he thought might be named Sasha, lay beside him. She reached for her cigarettes and lit up. He hated fucking smokers, and had the greatest urge to smack her around a little. However, it wasn't necessarily her fault he had had to get rid of his sex slave. Stormy was a blatant liability. Having her alive only meant he would go back to prison. He wasn't afraid of prison, he had actually been quite popular there, but pussy was something he couldn't live without. Pussy, especially good pussy, was very hard to come by while locked up.

The chick [Sasha, he reminded himself] had crushed out her cigarette after about two puffs. She threw the covers to the foot of the bed and turned her attention toward his cock. Her lips her down on him, her pink tongue flicking about. It felt great and his dick began to perk right back up. He was thinking about trying the anal trick on her when his cell phone began to twitter.

He didn't ignore it, but reached over and grabbed it. Sasha kept right on, and he didn't mind. He hit the 'send' button. "Yes," he said/sighed.

"Oh God, Kort. We got some shit, we got some bad shit," Cruz's voice spat.

Sasha's mouth had begun treating his dick like an ice cream cone, and he had a hard time concentrating on the words. "What man? This is a very bad time."

"I just saw the early news, man. The news!"

He had begun slowly pumping his hips in time to match her stroking lips. "Big fucking deal, Cruz. Listen, I gotta hang up, I'm a little busy."

"Kort, don't. That Lanigan bitch, she's not dead."

His hips froze, his dick shriveled. He grabbed a handful of Sasha's hair and pulled her off him. "Cruz, you hang on." He glanced at the startled woman. "Get your shit together and get the fuck out," he told her.

"Hey, I don't fuck and run," she pouted.

He kicked out at her, and she dodged the blow. "I do. Get out, bitch."

She sulked as she moved off the bed. She gathered her things and went into the bathroom. He did not resume his conversation with Cruz until the girl was gone.

"Okay, Cruz, what's this with Lanigan?"

"It was on the news, man. They're looking for us. They didn't name the 'victim' in the story, but I know they were talking about her."

"Fuck," he spat, "how did she not fucking die?"

"We gotta get out of town, Kort."

"I'm not getting out of town until I know this bitch is dead. I'm going to finish her."

Rylie awoke when a nurse came in to take her blood pressure and temperature. At that time, she noticed Ty had gotten out of her bed and had gone back to the lounge chair. She groped for his hand, and he took it into his own.

"The doctor will be in to see you this morning, and you might go home as early as tomorrow," the nurse told her before leaving the room.

When the nurse was gone, Rylie glanced at Ty. "Did the police find them yet?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so."

She sighed. "Terrific. It figures. When they are caught, I'm sure the charges won't stick. Kort seems to be good at avoiding serving serious time."

He released her hand so he could move and sit on her bedside. "It's different this time, babe. The charges are a bit more serious. They left behind tons of evidence and fingerprints. It's going to happen, and they will get caught."

She started crying again, and she hated herself for it. She hated feeling so weak. Hastily, Rylie wiped her tears away, but more replaced them. "I want them caught, Ty. I want them under the prison. I want them dead," she spat.

Her sentiments clearly underscored his feelings as well. He had no answers for her. He felt insignificant at that point, and wasn't sure what he could do for her, other than supporting her. Ty took her hand, and she moved to lay her cheek against his leg.

There were only two hospitals in town. One was an old sprawling Catholic hospital where most people took their sick or ailing. The other was a newer hospital with a semi-bad reputation. Kort figured that Stormy wouldn't be taken anywhere with a bad rep. He didn't know how he would be able to check out the situation. If Stormy were in fact at the hospital, her husband would surely be with her. Instead of checking out the place in person, he picked up the phone. There were a few employees at both hospitals who were frequent customers of his. If he were to offer a 'reward' for information, he was sure to get it.

That evening, a candy striper brought in a huge spray of flowers in an expensive vase. Ty instructed the candy striper to leave the vase on the little nightstand by the bed. It would be the first thing Rylie would see upon waking.

When she awoke from her nap, the first thing she looked at was Ty. He smiled at her and motioned toward the vase sitting beside her.

"Did you have these sent over," she asked.

He shook his head. "No. A candy striper brought them in a while before you woke up."

She sat up and plucked the card from the middle of the spray of flowers. There was only one word written on the card: Stormy. The card fell from her hands and drifted to the floor. She moved away from the flower vase, nearly cringing.

"Babe," Ty asked, worried.

She leaned back on the bed and shut her eyes tightly. "Get them… get them out of here."


"The vase, Ty. Get it out. Get it out now!"

"Rylie? What is it? What?"

She wouldn't open her eyes. "The card, Tyson. It only says Stormy. Kort called me that, Tyson. He sent them. Get them out, please take them away."

Ty swiftly grabbed the vase and headed for the door. He saw the candy striper in the hallway. With vase in hand, he angrily approached her. "Where did these come from," he demanded, not so nicely.

The stunned girl stared at him with a gaped open mouth. "They came from a delivery truck."

"From where," he demanded.

"Sir, it's," she stammered, "It's on the card."

Ty thrust the vase in her hands. "Get rid of them, don't bring in any more deliveries unless I approve them."

He left the gaping candy striper and rejoined his wife. Rylie had opened her eyes, but her hand was thrown over them.

"Babe, where did you put the card?"

"It's on the floor. Did you get rid of them, Ty?"

He saw the card and bent to retrieve it. "Yeah, babe, they're gone." Ty glanced at the card. The flowers had come from a florist by the name of Tarrington's. Ty was familiar with Tarrington's. He had used them many times himself.

"Do you need anything, Rylie?"

"No, I just want those flowers gone."

"They're gone, babe." He straightened up. "I'm going out to make a phone call. I'll just be right out the door."

He stepped out of the room and allowed the door to whisk shut behind him. He cursed himself for forgetting his cellular phone. He trotted down the hall to the waiting room. His eyes spied a payphone, and thankfully enough, no one was using it. He dug some change out of his pocket, picked up the receiver, and plugged some coins into the slot. He then dialed Tarrington's and waited impatiently while the phone on the other end rang.

After six rings, a pleasant voice said, "Good morning, Tarrington's. Annette speaking."

Ty was glad to hear Annette's voice on the line. She was the person who usually took his order when he bought flowers for Rylie. "Hi there, Annette, this is Tyson Lanigan."

"Well, hello there, Mr. Lanigan. What can I do for you?"

Sighing, he calmly said, "Somebody bought flowers there for my wife, and had them delivered to the hospital. I'd like to know who made the order."

"Mrs. Lanigan is in the hospital? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

Ty knew Annette would keep talking unless he interrupted her. "Thanks, Annette, but I really don't have time for this now. It's really important to find out who made the order. This person sent the flowers as a cruel joke."

"I don't know for certain, Mr. Lanigan, but I could check with the other employees," she said, now all business.

"You do that, Annette," he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He felt a migraine coming on.

He was placed on hold while Annette tended business. He closed his eyes against the pain of his impending headache and tried to block out the classical music playing softly in the background. There were dozens of things running through his muddled mind, but he had to stay focused on finding Kort Jeffries. If he lost that purpose, he'd likely go insane.

"Mr. Lanigan," Annette's voice quizzed.

Ty opened his eyes and looked around the room as if he had spaced out or lost time. He had only been on hold a few moments, but it had seemed like an eternity. "Yeah, Annette, I'm still here."

"Sophie took the order, but she said the caller was anonymous."

"Anonymous," he spat as if he had never heard the word before. "I find that hard to believe, Annette."

"Mr. Lanigan," she began.

"I'll tell you what, Annette. Don't take any flower orders for Rylie unless I call them in. You are very familiar with my voice, now, aren't you? If anyone other than me makes an order, I want to know about it. I don't want anything sent down unless I clear it. Do we understand each other, Annette?"

"Yes, Mr. Lanigan. I don't approve of these types of incidents, and I can assure you it won't happen again."

"Great," Ty spat. "Can I speak to Sophie?"


He was placed on hold for a second time. More classical music filled the empty space. He found that his headache had suddenly gotten worse.

After a couple of minutes, a soft voice chirped, "Yes?"

"I assume this is Sophie," Ty asked.

"Yes, sir."

"My friend Annette tells me that the flowers ordered for Rylie were from an anonymous caller."

"Yes, sir."

Her answers were brief, her voice meek and nervous. She was lying, Ty was sure. "Okay," he said. "Do you know Kort well, Sophie? Is he your dealer, or your boyfriend?"

Sophie hesitated, then said, "Uh, no, sir."

"I think you're lying, Sophie. I think you know Kort, and I think you did him a favor, and he did one for you. He hurt my wife, and you helped hurt her more. I don't enjoy watching her hurt; I hope you can understand that. Do the right thing, Sophie. Tell the police where your dealer is. Help him out like this again, and I'll come after you." Without giving her a chance to say a word, he hung up the phone.

Ty returned to Rylie's room. She was awake, but seemed to be resting quietly. She had taken her arm away from her eyes and was staring at her hands.

"If he gets to me again, Ty," Rylie said softly, "He will kill me."

He sat on her bedside and took one of her hands in his. "He's not going to get to you, babe. I know some of the boys at the PD, and we'll get surveillance."

Big tears fell out of her eyes and dropped down her cheeks. "I won't feel safe unless he's locked away."

He took her in his arms and held her against him. There was little he could say to comfort her. He actually didn't know what to say to her. He hated himself, hated his cowardice.

Kort was pleased. He had heard from Sophie at Tarrington's, and she had carried out his flower order. It had been perfect. Even though he couldn't get to the bitch at the hospital, he could still remind her that he was out there, waiting for his opportunity. There would be a time when Tyson wasn't around. When that time came, he could take care of business and go on with his life.

Rylie was released from the hospital after three days. On her return home, Tyson took off from work. For at least a few weeks, there was no way he intended to leave his wife alone. Ty was also pleased to note that the police department had set up surveillance to keep tabs on Rylie and make sure Kort kept his distance. Kort was still free, and was likely intent on causing Rylie more harm.

On her first day home, Rylie settled herself on the living room sofa as Ty put away a few things they had brought from the hospital. When he returned to the living room, Ty noticed that Rylie was holding a bottle of pills in her hand. She was twirling the bottle between her fingers and had her eyes fixed on it. The hospital physician had prescribed her an anti-depressant, and she was less than thrilled with the idea of taking the medication.

"It's ironic, isn't it," she said softly.

Ty said nothing. He simply stood and watched her.

"Just a week ago, I was helping people with their issues, suggesting that they see psychologists, they use anti-depressants. Look at me now. I'm on them."

He swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat. He felt very sad. Even though his wife had come away with her life, it still felt as if part of her had died. Her mental state was as beaten as her body; her beautiful face was still covered with bruises and cuts that would take weeks to fade. Both of them would need extensive counseling, he knew. However, he didn't know if Rylie would ever be the same again.

After a moment, she placed the bottle on an end table behind her. She was calm, but the medication was responsible for that. Ty finally set his feet in motion. He sat beside her, lifting her legs and placing them in his lap, as he'd done billions of times in their married lives. He slipped off her shoes and gently began massaging her feet. She sighed and threw her arm over her eyes. The medication was making her sleepy.

"Tyson," she called, her voice slightly slurred.

"Yeah, babe?"

"Are we going to make it through this?"

Her question startled him, but not as badly as it should have. He had been having the same thought racing through his mind. "Yes," he said, totally unaware of what his answer would be until it came tumbling out of his mouth. "It's not going to be easy, but we can do it."

Rylie, however, was not so sure. "I do hope you're right, Tyson, I sincerely do."

"Rest, babe," he said quietly.

"Don't leave me," she whispered.

He could see tears slipping down her cheeks, past her shielding arm. "I'm not going anywhere. You can sleep, it's okay, and you're safe."

Time went on as it usually does. However, time doesn't necessarily heal all wounds. Physically, Rylie's bruises and cuts healed quickly and left few scars. Mentally, Rylie's wounds were harder to reach. The beating and rape had scarred her deeper than any cut or scratch ever could. She took the medication as directed, but she still had nightmares, and couldn't be left alone at night. Tyson had returned to work, but he didn't dare go in during any of the night shifts. Rylie couldn't take it.

Rylie hadn't returned to work. She didn't know if she would ever return to work. During her first few weeks at home, she refused to go out until her facial bruises and cuts were healed. She didn't want to speak to any of her friends, and she refused calls from her sister. In an odd way, she blamed Malia for what happened, and she wasn't exactly ready to speak to her.

She and Ty visited a counselor together and separately to ensure they could keep their marriage together. Rylie felt damaged and unable to act like a wife should. Ty felt inadequate and insignificant. He felt he should have protected her. He didn't know what to do or say. The counseling sessions were helping them, but progress was slow.

Some ground was gained eventually. A few weeks after Rylie left the hospital, a drunken Cruz Jeffries was arrested for disorderly conduct. At the time of the incident, the arresting officer didn't have a clue as to who Cruz was. He hadn't been carrying any identification and refused to cooperate with police. By the time Cruz was taken to the police department, he had broken down and told an officer who he was. Later, he confessed to his part in the abduction, rape, and attempted murder of Rylie Lanigan. He also named his brother, Kort, and a few other names associated with the incidents.

Ty and Rylie were notified the next morning. Rylie was only partially relieved, as Kort was still at large. Ty was livid. He had asked to be taken to see Cruz. He intended to beat the living shit out of Cruz. He wanted to hurt him as much as he had hurt Rylie. However, Ty was refused access to him. His buddies on the force knew what Ty would do if he had been given a visiting privilege.

After Cruz's arrest, Rylie seemed to participate in her own healing process. She began to go out more. She tried to communicate with her husband and didn't turn him away when he wanted to talk. She still couldn't bring herself to go to work, but she didn't refuse to see her co-workers. Her supervisor was very understanding and had agreed to give her all the time she needed. Although at first, Ty had been doubtful about how long their marriage would hold together, he now felt that the worst part was over. However, he was wrong.

"Lanigan," a voice crackled over the radio.

Ty brought his radio to his lips and clicked the 'call' button. "Yeah?"

"Emergency phone call. Line's held in your office."

Ty's heart pounded in his chest. An emergency phone call meant something had happened to Rylie. He felt sick, but he wasn't so sick that he couldn't break into a sprint toward his office on the opposite end of the complex.

He jogged into his office and closed the door behind him. The hold button on the phone was blinking rapidly. He grabbed the receiver and punched the button. "Ty Lanigan," he spat breathlessly.

"Tyson," a sobbing voice said.

It was Rylie. "Babe? Babe, are you all right?"

She took a breath to calm herself, but ended up breaking down again. "Tyson, you must come home. I need you."

He wiped nervous sweat off his brow. "Sit tight, okay babe? I'm on my way."

Rylie met Ty at the door. He wrapped his arms around his sobbing wife and lifted her up. He carried her into the bedroom and laid her on the bed. He crawled in beside her and leaned over her. Her sobs had quieted again as she calmed herself. Ty kissed away as many of her tears as he could.

"Rylie? What's going on?"

"I went today to get my check-up, and I mentioned how I'd had an upset stomach," she began.

Ty remembered her doctor's appointment that day. He also recalled that Rylie had been having bouts of nausea and vomiting. They both assumed it was side effects from the medication she had been taking. She mentioned the night before that she was going to talk to the doctor.

"Did the doctor tell you what was wrong," he asked.

She nodded and fresh tears welled in her eyes. "I'm pregnant."

Ty was immediately taken aback. Her announcement should have been special news; it should have made both of them happy, not apprehensive. However, the situation itself was abnormal.

In tears, she said, "How could this happen? On top of everything else, Ty, how could this be? The baby could be yours, but there's a huge chance it's not."

Yes, he finally understood his apprehension. She had been raped once by Cruz, and repeatedly raped by Kort. Horridly enough, there were three potential fathers to the child growing inside her. What should have made him happy only devastated him. He wanted to be alone with his pain, but he couldn't do that to Rylie. She needed him, and if he turned away from her, she would think she had done something wrong. He took her in his arms and cried with her.

Later, they lay in bed. Both were flat on their backs, staring at the ceiling. Rylie had finally stopped crying, but she had said little since she made her announcement. There was a question lingering in Ty's mind, and he needed an answer.

"What are we going to do," he asked.

His voice startled her. She glanced at her husband, but he wasn't looking at her. "I can't have it."

Her answer hurt him. He wanted to believe the baby was his. "What if it's ours, Rylie? How would we know?"

She didn't turn away, she kept looking at his face, but he refused to even glance in her direction. "We can't know, not right now. But I can't take that chance. I don't want to have it, Tyson, I can't. You should understand."

He didn't understand, couldn't even pretend he did. There was a chance, however slight, that the baby was his. It was enough for him. It was selfish of him, he knew, but he couldn't help it.

She sat up, bringing her knees up to her chest. "You think this is my fault, don't you?"

He sat up and stared at her incredulously. He didn't know what to say, didn't know how to answer her. Stupidly, he spat, "What did you say?"

She wouldn't make eye contact with him, she couldn't. "You heard me, Tyson. You think all of this is my fault. You wanted me to quit my job, but I didn't. I kept it and had one too many encounters with Kort Jeffries. You didn't want me to take my niece into the woods, but I did. If I had listened to you, none of this would have happened."

Ty finally found his voice. "Babe, I don't blame you for any of this. You are blaming yourself for what happened."

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. He took her into his arms and cradled her close to his body.

The next morning when Ty awoke, he saw Rylie standing at the window. She was staring blankly out onto the lawn. He knew she hadn't slept well the night before. Her side of the bed was relatively untouched.

She knew her husband was awake, but she didn't turn toward him. "I'm calling in and making an appointment as soon as possible," she said without looking at him.

Ty scrubbed the sleep out of his eyes, desperately wishing the day before had all been a dream. But it wasn't. "Okay," he half mumbled.

"I want you with me when it's done. I know you don't agree with it, but I want you there," she told him.

He wanted to ask her to change her mind, but he dared not. It was all so unfair, so twisted. He would like to have Kort's head on a stick. "Okay."

His second half-hearted 'okay' forced her to turn toward him. Tears streaked her face. "Ty, you have to understand that I just can't do it. I don't want to carry a child who could or could not be ours. If I have this baby, and it turned out to be…" Her voice faded for a moment. She didn't even want to speak Kort's name. "I can't do it, Ty, I can't."

They had fought it out already, and what was done should have been done, but Ty couldn't let go. "Rylie, can you wait? There should be tests that could tell us the baby is ours."

She wiped her tears away and defiantly crossed her arms over her breasts. "Do you realize what you're asking? Do you?"

He looked down at his hands. He didn't want to see her glaring at him. "Yes, Rylie, I do. You think you're the only person going through this, but you're not. Did it ever occur to you that I have thoughts similar to yours?"

She ignored his comments. "Ty, what if we waited? What if tests determined that the baby isn't ours? What then? Wouldn't it be too late to do anything but have the baby? If it isn't ours, I can't carry it, I don't want to carry it."

"Rylie," he said, beginning to protest.

"You just don't know, Ty, you just don't," she said, interrupting him. "We can have our own baby later. I can't risk it."

He was being insensitive, and he knew it. "I'll support whatever decision you make, Rylie. I would like for you to think about it some more, that's all."

"I've thought about it enough. I'm making an appointment this morning," she said softly. "I want you there, Ty."

"Okay," he said. He then got out of bed and made his way toward the bathroom.

A few days later, Rylie was resting quietly in bed. She and Ty had had a bad couple of days. She didn't think her husband would ever forgive her for having an abortion. She had tried to work it out with him during one of their joint therapy sessions, but Ty refused to discuss it. He had literally thrown himself into his job. Although it was upsetting for Rylie, he had even taken to working nights again. It seemed to her as if he no longer cared about her. Her only consolation was the police surveillance outside their home. It was the only thing that continued to offer her support.

When Ty came home from work at around one in the morning, Rylie was still awake. She sat in the living room with her body wrapped in a tight ball. Ty noticed his wife immediately. Although he had yet to voice his opinion, he was very disappointed with her. He knew he shouldn't be. He knew he was a primo asshole, but he couldn't help it. It was true that he didn't understand what it was like to be taken by force. However, she couldn't begin to understand what it was like to be a man whose wife had aborted his baby.

"Rylie, what are you doing up," he asked.

"You know how I feel about being alone at night. I couldn't go to sleep," she said.

He sighed a little. "There's a squad car right outside. You're safe."

"You never talk to me anymore, you talk at me," she said.

He shook his head and began unbuttoning his shirt. "Rylie, I have little patience with this. I've worked a ten hour shift and I'm dog tired."

Without another word to her, he walked into the bedroom. She didn't follow behind. She stayed where she was.

Kort had been conducting his own stakeout of sorts. He hadn't been anywhere near the Lanigan bitch's home, he wasn't stupid. He knew the police were looking for him. What he had been doing was staking out Stormy's night watchman. He knew every step of the cop's day, from when he awoke, to when he parked his unmarked cruiser on Stormy's street. He also discovered that the cop stopped at a local fast food joint to fill a gigantic thermos with strong, black coffee. The beauty of that was he actually knew a hash slinger there. Ironically enough, she was one of his best customers. It amused Kort as to how many folks were his best customers. He never thought they would have a purpose other than padding his pocket. Of course, as usual, the waitress would do just about anything for free pops.

Sergeant Styles was a frequent customer at the cheapo burger joint. They made great coffee, and as an officer of the law, he could order anything he wanted for free. Of course, he normally just drank the coffee. Caffeine was the only thing that kept him alert during his nightlong surveillance of the Lanigan residence.

Styles took his thermos of java and winked at the pretty waitress. His colleagues often told him this particular girl was a druggie, but she looked fine to him. She never seemed strung out. But then again, he was also sometimes a poor judge of character when it came to a pretty face. Due to that, more women than he could count had burned him. The police sergeant with the poor ability to judge character did not know that pretty Elaine had drugged his coffee.

The good sergeant parked his cruiser less than half a block down from the Lanigan residence. He didn't want to hit his coffee so soon, but he was particularly sleepy that night. He told himself he would have only one cup. He had to have enough to last the whole night through. Without hesitation, he popped the cup off the top and unscrewed the vacuum-sealed cap. The hearty aroma of strong coffee wafted up from the thermos. He poured himself a cup and brought the steaming liquid to his lips. After he blew into it for a few seconds, he took his first sip. Oh heaven. That Elaine sure knew how to make a good cup of coffee. Tonight, it was particularly strong, but that didn't bother him, the stronger the better.

From his vantage point a few yards down the road, Kort smiled. He figured the cop was already hitting his coffee heavily. He only needed a few cups, and he would be out for hours. Kort knew that Stormy's hubby was working nights again, and tonight would be his only chance at fixing the bitch for good.

For the fifteenth time, Rylie peeked out the window to make sure the police cruiser was parked where it should be. She didn't like staying home alone, and Ty wouldn't stay with her anymore. She moved away from the window and made herself comfortable in her favorite easy chair. She picked up a book from the end table by the chair. However, she didn't immediately open it.

Rylie's heart ached at the thought of her cold husband. She loved Ty and wanted their marriage to work, but he had yet to forgive her. He was plainly ignoring her now, and she was sure they were headed for divorce. She hated even thinking of divorce. However, if things kept going the way they were, she saw no other alternative. She cracked open her book and tried to focus on reading. She had to do something to get her mind off Ty and her fear. After she had read a dozen pages, she gave up. Instead, she leaned back and closed her eyes. Despite her sadness and fear, she fell asleep immediately, and didn't think twice about not engaging the security system.

Kort found an open window in the basement. He couldn't believe how comfy Stormy had gotten since she had last seen him. She's going to regret that, he thought with a wicked grin. He wished he had time to fuck her. Unfortunately, he didn't.

Rylie's eyes popped open the moment the power went out. She sat bolt upright in her chair and blinked owlishly around the room. With her heart hammering in her chest, she jumped up and ran to the window. It was a miracle that she didn't run into something. As she peered out the window, she noticed that no other house on the block was dark. She could make out the unmarked cruiser, and for a moment, she felt safe. However, she had no idea what had happened to the lights. Blindly now, she fumbled for her chair. The phone was close to the chair.

"Shit," she cried harshly as she rammed her shin into the end table.

Her eyes slowly began to adjust to the darkness and she could just make out the shape of the cordless phone. She grabbed it and hit the 'talk' button. She received nothing more than a series of beeps.

"Fuck," she cried again.

With the power out, the cordless phone would not work. Panicking now, her heart began to pound in her chest. She wanted to bolt for the door and rip it open. However, she had to remain calm. Slowly, she began to plod toward the front door. She had to get out, had to get to the cop sitting outside. She silently cursed her husband for not being with her tonight.

"Not so fucking fast, Stormy," a voice said from behind her.

"Oh God," she moaned. It was Kort.

Not caring what she ran into or knocked over, she darted toward the door. He grabbed her from behind and yanked her back. He held her body tightly against his. He dug one of his hands into her arm. He encircled her waist with his free arm and squeezed her as if he were a python and she a rabbit. She could hardly catch her breath.

Kort brought his lips very close to Rylie's ear. "What do you say, Stormy," he said. "Want to play some more?" He ran his tongue along her ear and she cringed in disgust. "You don't have to worry, you bitch. I'm not going to fuck you. I got enough of that already."

At the PD: "Styles isn't responding."

"I think we need to find out what's wrong. Call for backup. Get anybody that's out there."

Kort's hand slid up from her arm to her neck until her throat was secured in the bend of his elbow. The python-like grip around her waist began to ease, only to spring up to her throat. Teasingly, Kort squeezed tightly for a few moments, and then loosened his grip as if he intended to let go, only to squeeze again. He said nothing, he simply squeezed and released, released and squeezed.

He took Rylie's limp response as shock and he used it to his advantage. However, she was anything but shocked. During one of his 'releases,' Rylie mustered her strength, drew back, and as hard as she could, jabbed Kort in the ribs with her elbow. Although surprised, in pain, and pissed, he did not free her. In fact, he began squeezing her tighter.

"You think you're funny, don't you, bitch," he snarled in her ear, his breath coming in sharply. The bitch had really hurt him.

Choking now, she drew back and drove her elbow into him again. With his free hand, he took her arm and twisted it behind her back. New pain began to sing in her arm, but at least the pressure on her throat had ceased. Her field of vision was blurred and her head felt fuzzy, but she knew she had to fight him. She found it hard to think through the fog, but she managed to stomp his foot.

"Goddamn," he screamed in pain.

It wasn't enough for him to totally let go. He freed her throat and she took in several gulps of fresh air. He took a handful of her hair and pulled. Her face was drawn into a mask of pain, but she wouldn't cry out. He had won too many battles already, and she wasn't about to let him win another.

"I'm going to break your fucking arm, you cunt."

She struggled against him, but his grip was too much. She could feel him pushing her forward toward the couch. She had a pretty good idea what he had planned for her, and she had her own surprise waiting for him. He shoved her onto the couch and threw his body on top of hers. He pushed her head into the cushion, effectively blocking her airways once again. However, she managed to arch her body violently upward, smashing her buttocks into his groin.

His glorious howl of pain satisfied her like nothing else could. He immediately moved off her to tend to his injured testicles. She had her chance, her only chance. She sprang up and ran for the kitchen. Kort had yet to recover, but there was no way he would allow her to get away from him again. He forced himself to stand and plodded toward the kitchen, literally roaring at her.

Rylie began throwing any and everything her hands could grab: plates, glasses, forks, spoons, and knives. Kort mostly evaded the shower of utensils and kept making steady progress toward her. Her hands landed on the handle of a mid-sized saucepan. She wanted to wait for him to touch her before she struck out.

"I'm going to tear you to pieces, Stormy. I'm going to mail them to your fucking husband every week. I'm going to send your blood to him in a wine bottle," Kort screamed at her.

She ignored his threats and waited. The instant he grabbed her arm, she swung around. The pan connected with Kort's forehead. At first, he wasn't sure what had hit him. Stunned for a moment, it seemed as if he had no clear idea he was hit. Dumbly, he stood and stared at her. She started to swing at him again, but he fell before she could. She dropped the pan and turned to run.

Kort's hand clasped around her ankle, and for a moment, she experienced the terrifying sensation of falling. She landed hard on the tiled kitchen floor. She heard an audible pop, realizing that she had fallen atop the arm Kort had twisted behind her back. The bone had finally let go. The burning/grating pain began to wash over her, and in horror, she realized that she was close to blacking out.

He came down on top of her again, straddling her. Her face was smashed into the tile and agonizing bolts of pain shot through her body. Again, she didn't scream or cry out. She simply wanted it to be over. She waited for what seemed like hours to feel a knife going into her back or maybe her throat. However, there were no new agonies. I'm losing time, she thought. Gee, haven't I been there? Haven't I done that?

The pressure of Kort's body seemed to let up, as did that of her body on her arm. Someone, she wasn't sure who, had turned her to her side, off her injured arm. She heard screaming, and wasn't sure if the screams were coming from her, Kort, or Ty. She felt a pair of large, but comforting, hands on her body. The owner of the hands had gotten down on the floor with her to keep her from moving. Although she couldn't see his face, she could hear his voice. It was vaguely familiar and very soothing. He wouldn't stop talking because he was afraid she would pass out. At some point, she had asked, am I dead? He had caressed her hair and said, if you are, then I guess I am, too. By that time, Ty had come to her, crying and moaning, apologizing over and over.

Rylie woke up from a long sleep. The day before, she had been sedated. She was a bit groggy and disoriented, but she had no trouble knowing where she was. She noticed that Ty was seated beside her bed.

"Hi babe," he said softly.

For a moment, she didn't want to look at him. He had failed her, and she was very hurt. She closed her eyes. "Hi."

He stood and approached her bedside. He took her good hand into his. "I'm so sorry about the way I've been treating you. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you." He went down on his knees and held her hand against his cheek. "Please, babe, say you'll forgive me. I don't want to lose you."

"You came close," she whispered.

"I know, oh Lord, do I know," he moaned. "Rylie, please, let me make it up to you. I'll do anything it takes."

"Just be there for me, Ty," she said softly. "Don't let me down again."

"Never, babe," he said. "Never again."

She still hadn't opened her eyes; she couldn't quite do it yet. "What about Kort, Ty? What did they do to him?"

"He's gone, babe. He was taken to jail. You won't ever have to worry about him again."

"Goddamn," she whispered, "I wish they would have killed him."

A couple of days later, Ty helped Rylie pack and get ready for her discharge from the hospital. She and Ty had a long road ahead of them. She hoped they could rebuild their relationship. Once the task of packing was complete, she sat down on the bedside, suddenly remembering something.

"Ty, who was the man with me in the kitchen? The one who stayed until the ambulance came?"

"Oh," he said, "He's a chief at the police department. We worked together occasionally when I was a parole officer. I think you met him once at some function at the prison when it first opened."

She ventured: "Frank somebody?"

"No babe, Falk, Falk Kantor."

She nodded. "Oh yeah, right. I'd forgotten. I want to thank him for helping me."

Ty approached Rylie and took her hand. "You don't need to thank him, Rylie. He was doing his job."

"It doesn't matter. If he hadn't been there, I'm sure I would have lost it."

There is nothing swift about justice, Rylie thought. Both she and Ty were sitting in a crowded courtroom. It had taken several months to arrange for the first in a long line of hearings for Kort and Cruz Jeffries. To the dismay of both the Lanigans, Cruz and Kort were to be tried separately. On this particular day, it was Kort's turn in court. Ty hadn't wanted Rylie to attend the hearing or even be in the same room as Kort. However, there was no swaying her. She wanted to be there, wanted to see him indicted. Nothing would stop her, even her determined husband.

Kort was aware that Stormy and Ty were present. In fact, he made it a point to turn around in his chair just so he could stare at her. She returned his stare, not backing down once. He didn't quite expect that. There was murder in her eyes, and in his as well. Kort was determined to finish the job, and he was sure his attorney could get him out on bail. Once freed, he would kill the bitch, and she would die slowly, painfully. The wheels continually turned in his mind. Kort had never been a vicious killer; he killed more to protect his investments than out of malice. However, Stormy was the exception. She refused to die, she was a fighter, and he hated women like that.

He couldn't believe how close he had come, how close he had been to finishing her. But the police, the fucking pigs, had charged in like the goddamn Calvary. He turned around in his seat again and noticed that Stormy continued to stare him down. It ain't over yet, Stormy, don't get too comfy, he had mouthed her way.

His attorney took hold of his arm. "Kort, please don't do that. If you want a bail arrangement made, you have got to cut the shit."

"Please, Rylie, let's leave," Ty said once Kort had turned away from her.

She shook her head. "I'm not going anywhere."

The only time Rylie tore her eyes away from Kort Jeffries was during a short break. Kort's attorney led him out of the room. It was then that she looked around the room at the other spectators. The judge had ordered the press out of the room, and she was spared that indignity. Almost all of the people were strangers to her. She didn't know any of them. However, a man sitting in one of the last rows toward the back caught her attention.

She leaned toward her husband. "Ty, that man is here," she said.

"What man, babe?"

"The one who helped me. I'll be right back."

Ty wanted to protest, but he didn't have time. Rylie was up and gone before he could say a word.

Kantor looked up and saw a woman approaching him. For a moment, he didn't recognize her. It took a moment for him to register who she was. Lanigan's wife, he thought. He could still remember the night he had tried to comfort her while waiting for emergency assistance. She had been in pretty bad shape. On that night, he and a dozen others had received an open call to aid an officer in distress. No one was particularly obligated to answer the call, but he always did. Those types of calls were basically a call to arms, and they couldn't be easily ignored.

When he arrived at the scene, he discovered that the unconscious PO was only a small part of the situation. The SCU had been working on the Lanigan case for a very long time, but Kort Jeffries had successfully evaded arrest. He recalled that as he and several other POs broke into the home, they all saw the same thing: a crazed Kort Jeffries on top of someone [they weren't sure who, they couldn't really see], readying to either beat up or kill the person. Only after Kort was pulled off did Kantor see who it was. Goddamn, have you not done enough to her, he had thought.

He noticed right away that she looked better; her arm had healed, the cast was gone. Her emerald green eyes were serious, her jaw set. Kantor stood to face her and he briefly took her proffered hand.

She was too embarrassed to tell him she couldn't remember his name. "This is long overdue," she began, "but I wanted to express my gratitude to you for being there with me."

His dark brown eyes were warm and striking, eerily soothing and soft. But she was sure they could also be vicious and piercing when it was warranted.

Kantor wasn't accustomed to receiving a 'thank you.' He never knew what to say in those situations. "Mrs. Lanigan, I'm simply glad we got there in time. You are a very brave young woman."

Damn, why can't I remember his name? "I don't know about that, but your being there kept me from losing my mind. You don't know how much it meant to me."

He smiled a little. I wonder if she knows I'm blushing all the way to my fucking toes? "Really, Mrs. Lanigan, your gratitude is much appreciated."

"Babe," Ty said from behind her.

Kantor glanced at Lanigan and nodded. Lanigan offered his hand and Kantor shook it briefly.

"It's about time to start again," Ty said to Rylie. He then looked at Kantor and said, "Nice seeing you again, Chief Kantor."

Kantor, she thought, that's it…Falk Kantor. I'm such an idiot.

Kantor nodded. "You too, Lanigan."

Ty took his wife gently by her arm and led her away from Kantor. Kantor sat back down and watched as the couple took their seats toward the front. He hoped Jeffries would not be allowed bail, the charges were serious enough, but he had a slick attorney, and anything could happen. For Rylie Lanigan's sake, Kantor wanted to see the attorney fail miserably.

Incredibly, despite the huge amount of evidence that stated otherwise, Kort Jeffries pled not guilty to the rape and kidnapping charges. He only pled guilty to felonious assault and battery. Rylie had been tempted to shout, but Ty had admonished her. He held onto her hand tightly. When Kort's attorney asked for bail, prosecution, of course, argued against it. Rylie was certain that he would not be freed.

For an hour or more, both legal parties haggled over whether or not to grant bail to Kort Jeffries. In the end, bail was granted in the amount of one million dollars. It would only take a hundred thousand for Kort to be released. Although an excessive amount of money, it was no more than pocket change to a man like Kort Jeffries.

A sound escaped Rylie's throat. It was an animal-like whimper. "No," she cried out before fleeing the courtroom.

Ty couldn't move for a moment. He wanted it all to go away.

Kantor was not shocked. He had seen this happen dozens of times. However, he was angry. He watched Ty Lanigan for an undetermined length of time. He was tempted to go after the woman, but knew it was not his place. The thought of Rylie Lanigan suffering alone disturbed Kantor greatly. After a very long time, Lanigan went after his wife.

Ty didn't immediately find Rylie. She was not in the hallway, but a reporter standing nearby told him he had seen a woman running for the bathroom. Without hesitation, Ty went to the women's bathroom and cracked open the door. He heard the unmistakable sound of vomiting.

"Rylie," he called. No answer, just gut wrenching gagging.

He stepped into the bathroom and went to the only occupied stall. Ty could just make out Rylie's feet. He tried the door, but she had locked herself inside. How could he be a husband to her if she wouldn't let him in?

"Rylie? Babe? Please."

Rylie laid her cheek against the cold lid of the toilet. She could hear nothing; she felt nothing. There was simply no justice, none at all. Kort would be free in a few more hours, and this time, she was sure he would finish the job. Slowly, carefully, she brought herself to her feet and managed to unlock the door to the stall. Ty was there, but she ignored him. She went directly to the sink and splashed her face with cold water.

"I'm sorry," he said. It was stupid, of course, but he didn't know what else to say.

She drew away from the sink and grabbed a handful of paper towels. She blotted her face dry. "What am I going to do, Ty? He's going to be out, and he's coming for me. What am I going to do?"

"The police-"

"Fuck the police," she spat. "They did such a great job the last time, didn't they?"

"Let's go, Rylie. Let's get out of here."

She allowed Ty to take her arm and lead her out of the bathroom. Just down the hall, Rylie's eyes caught sight of Falk Kantor. His eyes were focused on her; they were almost apologetic. She broke away from Ty and marched toward Kantor. Ty was on her heels, trying to catch her. He knew what she was going to do. Without an ounce of hesitation, Rylie approached the chief of detectives, drew back, and slapped him. Dozens of reporters began taking pictures and muttered excitedly amongst themselves.

"What good are you? What good are any of you," she cried out.

She drew back to slap him again, but Kantor took hold of her wrists. Her behavior didn't shock or surprise him. He understood. The look in his eyes told her so. She was hysterical, and there was no other person to whom she could direct her anger. He was part of the justice system, part of something that had failed her time and time again.

Hearing the commotion, a courthouse worker appeared in the hallway. Kantor looked toward the woman. "Is there somewhere we can take her?"

Both Ty and Kantor took hold of Rylie and followed the worker to an employee break room. She closed the door behind them. They seated Rylie at a small table. She buried her face into her hands and began to cry. Kantor glared coldly at Lanigan. Do something for her, goddamn you, he thought.

"Could you leave us alone," Ty asked Kantor pointedly.

His cold stare did not relent. "Fine," he said. Then to Rylie: "I'll make sure twenty-four hour protection is put in place." It wasn't his problem, wasn't even his division, but he felt responsible for her safety.

She didn't respond, couldn't respond. Nothing would make her feel safe, not ever again. She wasn't sure if Kort would go to prison at all.

Before Kantor left the room, Rylie uncovered her face and looked up. "W-wait," she said.

He stopped and turned toward her. He looked at her, cocked his eyebrow, and waited patiently.

"I'm s-sorry for s-s-slapping you," she said between hiccoughs.

He kneeled down in front of her. "It's okay," he said. "I know this seems like the end. This is a set back, a big one, but it's not over."

She nodded, but she wasn't sure she believed it. She watched as he stood up and walked out of the lounge. Her tears had finally begun to dry up, but she still felt dead inside. She knew that if she had had a gun, she would have shot Kort Jeffries dead without a second thought.


She looked up at Ty. "I can't fight him anymore."

"You won't have to, babe. He won't come after you, not now."

She laughed, but there was no humor in it at all. "Yeah. That's what we thought before, wasn't it? Look what happened."

There was nothing Ty could say to her that would help her. He thought he had felt insignificant before, but now, he felt totally useless to her.

Ah, it was good to be a free man again. Kort had spent far too long behind bars. He loved his attorney and gave him a bonus for winning the bail argument. Now all he had to figure out was how he could finish off Stormy. How could he get around all the cops? They swarmed the entire neighborhood, and there seemed to be no blind spots.

Oh well, fuck it for now, he thought. He had plenty of time to plan out how he would finish Stormy. Perhaps he would eliminate Stormy's hubby while he was at it, two for the price of one. What was better than that? His trial wouldn't occur for a few months, and if his attorney continued his fine art of finagling, there would be several continuances. Of course, he didn't exactly plan to hang around until his trial. South America was calling.

A couple of days after he bailed out, Kort sat and reflected on what had happened in the past few days, and how gloriously his life was mapped out before him. He was with a half dozen of his friends, and some of them were women. Since he had been locked up for a few months, he had spent quite a bit of time fucking any girl he could find. Neither their identities nor their occupations mattered much to him. After he got his fill for the time being, he went to his favorite nightclub and bought drinks for everyone. Hell, he had walked away from some serious charges; he might as well celebrate. He simply wished he could have gotten a picture of Stormy's expression when he was released on bail. It had been priceless.

Around midnight, Kort found a girl he wanted to spend some time with, and together, they drunkenly walked out into the parking lot. He was quite horny and hoped the chick didn't want to wait. He was ready to take her right now, right outside. There were dozens of people milling about that night, and she didn't want to fuck him where they could be seen. He was in a good mood and felt particularly jovial, so he didn't mind accommodating her. They staggered around to the back where it was less crowded and darker.

She unzipped his jeans and went down on her knees. He closed his eyes and sighed as she wrapped her lips around his dick. She was good; she was very good. In fact, she was so good that he didn't hear the crunching footsteps coming up from behind him. He wasn't aware that anyone was there at all until something hard and unyielding was slammed against the back of his head.

"What the fuck," he said.

It was the last words he would ever speak again.

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