A CLEAN SLATE
A TERRY THORNE STORY
CHECHNYA, MAY 2001
In the pitch dark, her panic grew with her consciousness. Her opened eyes only met darkness and through the throbbing pain in her head she tried to pick up any sound that would help her get her bearings. Afraid to move, she just waited in the dark for something to betray a presence beside herself until the tension became too much and she screamed. The scream never reached her lips but came out as a hoarse rasping. Lying motionless on her back, she tried to control her runaway breathing. Tentatively, she lifted her head. Pain shot through it like lightning, knocking her out cold again.
AMSTERDAM, January 2001, 5 months earlier.
What a fucking mess! Kath leaned on the desk, her head in her hands. She pressed her thumbs against her temples, slowly circling them in an effort to release the pressure that was building in her head. A newspaper clipping had escaped from the file she had thrown on her desk, its headline shouted at her: Stars Quit Charity in Corruption Scandal.
In her brain, the first outlines of a plan to control the damage took shape. Within days, maybe hours, the phones would start ringing. She would have to move fast, take the wind out of their sails, have a statement ready and published before questions were asked. She could not allow celebrities to start doubting whether they wanted their names linked with the charity in future, had to convince companies that their corporate image wouldn't suffer. She opened her laptop and started writing.
The outline of the problem was clear. Back in 1996, one of War Child's UK founders accepted a thirty thousand dollar bribe from contractors for letting them build the Pavarotti music center in the divided city of Mostar in southern Bosnia Herzegovina. He offered to share the proceeds with the Mostar center director and co-founder, who refused in disgust and notified trustees. Some inquiries had been made at the time and some trustees had turned their back on the charity, but the story was never made public.
Now, almost five years afterwards, the information had found its way to the press. Headlines in the Guardian and on prime time at Channel 4 News resulted in the departure of five major celebrities and the resignations of eleven trustees. Luciano Pavarotti had been the first to leave, and his exit meant sudden death for the "Pavarotti and Friends" project. Not only had War Child UK lost its most successful project, but also nearly ten million pounds of Pavarotti's money. The maestro had personally directed all the money to other charities. Even though Kath worked for the Dutch War Child office and not the UK branch, she knew a scandal of this proportion could damage the charity's image worldwide. It could make her job as a fund-raiser a hell of a lot more difficult, if not impossible.
LONDON, FEBRUARY 2001
Terry ordered another scotch. He had already had a few, but had a long way to go before the numbness he yearned for would set in. He leaned on the counter and took in the woman across the bar making eyes at him. She'd been trying to catch his attention for the last hour. When it looked as if she had finally gathered enough Dutch courage to come over, he got his coat, placed some banknotes on the counter, and left. He wasn't interested, not tonight.
Outside he pulled his coat-collar up high to protect himself against the bitter winter wind. “Bloody country!” He longed for the sun on his skin. Now what, home? The thought of his empty apartment didn't appeal to him. He entered the first friendly-looking bar that crossed his path. It was warm and cozy inside; he looked for a free seat in a quiet corner. He didn't feel like socializing tonight. Terry ordered another scotch, sat quietly drinking and smoking, trying hard to block out the thoughts of his last assignment. It had been a bloody disaster, literally. Colombian police had stumbled across a farmhouse, where his client and four others had been held hostage. Six police officers, twelve terrorists, and two hostages were killed, including his client. He had been negotiating his release for almost three months. Terry closed his eyes. He was so fucking tired. Maybe he was getting too old for this bullshit.
CHECHNYA, MAY 2001
The second time she opened her eyes, there was a little light. Some cold white rays came through a small, blinded window above her head. She moved her fingers over the surface on which she was lying and felt rough texture, like a horse’s blanket. It felt as if she was lying on a bed of some sort. As her eyes adjusted to the shimmer, she carefully turned her head to one side, squinting to make out the room. It was small and square, with the bed in one corner and two doors in the wall opposite. She told herself she needed to get up and try the doors.
She carefully shifted her legs to the side of the bed, dropped them to the floor. Holding her head stiffly, she pushed herself into a sitting position. The effort left her soaked in sweat and breathing as if she had just run a marathon. She lifted her hands to her face, gently touched the bruises. No broken skin, but there was dried blood on her forehead and in her hair. Her fingers gingerly searched her skull until she found the cut. There was no fresh blood and she considered that was a good thing.
Her head swimming, braced on the wall for support, she cautiously got to her feet. With her eyes closed, she waited until the waves of nausea settled down. It took her one careful step after the other to reach the first door. It was locked. Cold fear clutched at her heart. She moved on to the second. It was open. Her initial relief changed into despair when it turned out to be a filthy little bathroom with a hole-in-the-ground type toilet, a sink, and a dented bucket. She shuffled inside and turned on the tap. It gurgled out air and a stream of dirty-looking water. She let it run until the water seemed fresher, then cupped her hand and drank some. It tasted like earth, but thank God, there was water! She returned to the bed, carefully lay down again, and then broke into frightened sobs. Tears streamed down her cheeks until exhaustion made her fall asleep.
She stirred at the sound of the bolt scraping on her door. A man came in, not young, hard faced and armed. He didn't look at her, just placed a bowl with unidentifiable contents on the floor, and walked out again. Forgetting the pain in her head, she jumped to her feet and stumbled over to the door. "Please! Wait!" She banged her hands on the door. "Please, talk to me!" There was only the scraping of the bolt closing, then silence again.
She picked up the bowl. Whatever was in there, it looked disgusting, smelled disgusting, too. She wasn't that hungry. She put it down and stumbled back to the bed. She had to think! Obviously, she'd been captured. It could by be any number of the so-called Chechnyan liberation groups, probably for ransom or political demands, or both. Where were the others? It was too quiet, didn't sound as if there were other people held here. Had she already been missed? She had no notion of time; they had taken her watch, her cameras, and her bags. All she had were the clothes on her back. She rolled to her back and covered her eyes with her forearm, thanking God that they hadn't taken her clothes.
AMSTERDAM, MARCH 2001
Kath didn't respond. She was on her way out.
"Katharina! You listen to me young lady! Don't you dare walk out on us!"
Her mother's voice reached an uncomfortable shrieking level. Kath did not intend to listen to her. She had heard enough. Slamming the front door shut behind her, she got in her car and tore away, accelerating hard, knowing how much her mother hated it when the neatly raked gravel sprayed out from under spinning tires.
'Well,' Kath thought dryly, 'that was another very successful family dinner.'
As many times before, her mother just had to bring up Kath's ex-husband, had to bitch about her work. Kath promised herself she wouldn't turn up for next month's dinner, knowing that all it would take was her father's sad smile to make her change her mind. Her father had always understood her perfectly. He understood why she had divorced her playboy husband and why she was working pro bono for War Child. It was not as if she needed the money.
Kath had been in an excellent mood before the visit to her parents. Her hard work had paid off. The press releases, news letters and articles for the website had all been distributed on time. She had contacted all major donors and supporters personally. A few had walked out, but new contacts resulted in a substantial raise of the charity's funds and some firm promises from local artists to participate in the Christmas benefit concerts. She had planned and organized this year's trip to some projects and that had been what started the argument with her mother. Her parents didn't like the idea of her going to Chechnya. Kath had tried to explain again why it was so important for her to go. It wasn't only because of the reports she would write or the photographs she would take, but also to show support for the volunteers who had been there for months, working under very difficult conditions.
Even with her mother's reproach ringing in her ears, Kath failed to see what the fuss was about. She had visited various projects before, in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria -- all potentially dangerous places. They were going in as a team, protected by bodyguards and traveling under the War Child flag. She would be just fine, as always.
LONDON, APRIL 2001
After three years of almost non-stop negotiations, Terry was finally taking it slow. He had more or less demanded to be taken out of the game for a while. The company, realizing this was not a request, gave him a temporary assignment as consultant. For the time being, he visited potential and existing customers, explaining all the ins and outs of kidnap threats and insurance. He gave lectures and trained the employees of corporations and organizations who operated in high-risk countries. Not very exciting, but just what he needed right now.
Dino was on his case constantly, wanting Terry to quit Luthan Risk and go into business with him. It was something he always talked about. Dino was the only man alive Terry would consider partnering with, the only one he trusted with his life. However, this wasn't a good time for him. When he'd tried to explain his burnout to his best mate, Dino had just laughed it away. "You worry too much, amigo. Life's too short. Let's have a good time while we're here."
Then again, Dino didn't have an ex-wife who harped on him all the time, or a son who would rather have nothing to do with him. Moreover, he was sure that Dino wasn't having nightmares, like the ones he'd been having lately. On one of their latest missions, he had shot an Iraqi terrorist between the eyes, and then discovered that he hadn't been much older than his own son. In his dreams the faces of the Iraqi and his son intertwined, and he'd wake choking back screams, half-convinced he'd killed his own flesh and blood.
CHECHNYA, JUNE 2001
The guard came in every day and left her some food. She had given up trying to talk to him. He never listened, didn't understand her, not when she spoke in English, German or even Dutch. Blocking his way hadn't been a success; he had hit her hard with the end of his rifle. She never tried it again. She started to eat. The first time the horrible food made her so nauseous that she threw it all up again. Blocking her mind against the taste and smell allowed her to cope. She had established a daily routine. Each morning she would go into the bathroom, strip, and use the hole in the ground. She had never found a satisfactory way to use these things with her pants on. Her ripped-up shirt served as a washing cloth. She had taken the cords out of her jacket and pants, made a drying line. She tried to exercise a couple of times a day, doing crunches, push-ups, and knee bends; there wasn't much room for anything else. She thought up all kinds of mind games, told herself stories. Day after excruciatingly lonely day she persisted in an effort to stay sane. It had taken her all of one day to wriggle a nail out of the wall. She used it to make little scratches on the wall above her bed, one scratch for each day, enabling her to keep track of the time.
When she got her period it had all been too much. She had begged the man for some bandages, a towel, anything. No reaction. She ripped her thermo-shirt to pieces, using them for sanitary towels, and then soaking them in the bucket in a feeble attempt to keep some standard of personal hygiene.
After twenty-five scratches, her guard had come in with two men. They taped her voice, made her read a message from a slip of paper. They beat her, but thankfully did nothing worse. The recording had lifted her spirits. At least now, there would be word to the outside. Her parents would know that she was still alive, and maybe it would mean the end of her ordeal.
LONDON, JULY 2001
The envelope that Dino had dropped on the table before he left seemed to be calling out to Terry. Dino had been in high spirits, all fired up about a new assignment he had accepted. Terry stopped him cold, knowing too well what this would mean. He didn't want it now; he wanted to be left alone. Dino had been disappointed and angry, had flung the envelope on the table and stomped out. Terry gave up his attempts to get some sleep, crawled wearily out of bed. He went into the living room, poured himself a scotch, and sat down at the table. With a sigh, he pulled the envelope over and shook out its contents.
The first thing he saw was a big color photo of a girl, a strikingly beautiful girl. Her long dark hair fell in disorderly curls around her face. Green eyes laughed merrily into the camera and her sensuous mouth curled in a warm smile. She had a gorgeous smile. He put the picture aside and started reading the file.
Name: Katharina Margareta Heerema. Dutch citizen. Age: 32. Thirty-two? She looked a lot younger in the picture; he would have given her 25 at the most. Working as a volunteer for War Child in the Netherlands, she had been visiting projects in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The convoy she was traveling in was ambushed. Of the sixteen people in the jeeps, three were killed in the explosion. The three bodyguards were shot on the spot. Six local volunteers were left with the vehicles. The kidnappers had only taken the four foreigners; Katharina was one of them.
Apparently, there were some problems with the insurance. It seemed the team had been covered for Ingushetia, but not for Chechnya. The insurance company had seen a way out and took it. The girl's father, a very rich entrepreneur, raised hell. He was willing to pay the ransom himself, but the insurance company bailed out. Desperate, Mr. Heerema had sent out word that he wanted his daughter found, freed, and was willing to pay a pretty sum to achieve those ends. Dino contacted him.
Dino's team had already taken care of all the preliminaries. Using local contacts, they located the girl. It had been a difficult road. Starting from the place of the ambush, his contacts tried everything from bribes to violence to get people to open up to them. Finally, they found an informer who was willing to talk, but only after his whole family was safely brought out of the country. It had cost the girl's father a small fortune. Now that they knew where she was being held, Dino wanted Terry to come with him to get her out.
He picked up her photo again and sat there looking at her happy green eyes for a long time, realizing grimly that after three months, there wouldn't be much left of that beautiful smile.
CHECHNYA, JULY 2001
She was slowly losing hope. Seventy-four scratches on her wall and still nothing had happened. She didn't understand. Her father was a very rich man; surely he would pay the ransom? She started to doubt everything. Maybe the message had never reached them. Maybe they were convinced that she was already dead.
When she got her period the third time, she broke down completely, crying for days and losing the will to go on with her exercises. She just stayed on the bed, only got up to use the bathroom and eat. After 85 scratches scored the wall, she stopped making them. Completely withdrawn into her own world, she didn't care whether she lived or died.
And then one day, a terrible racket outside her door forced her out of limbo. There was gunfire and shouting, a loud explosion followed by terrible silence. Terrified, she crawled into a corner, wrapped her arms around her head. Someone kicked the door in, and she screamed in terror as three heavily armed men entered the room. They were dressed in camouflage and their faces were covered with black woolen masks. Voices spoke to her in English, tried to calm her down. She fought them until strong arms picked her up and carried her outside.
AMSTERDAM, JULY 2001
Kath remembered few details of the trip back home. There were some fragments of a frantic drive over bad roads. A helicopter, its blades whirring, was sending up dust and debris. Her most vivid memory was of the strong arms that picked her up and held her, and of a deep, sonorous voice with an Australian accent, telling her repeatedly that everything would be okay. He wrapped her in a blanket and held her until other hands took her from him. She didn't want to leave him, could have stayed in those arms forever. They made her feel safe for the first time in months.
In the hospital, they cut the clothes from her body and shaved the hair from her head. She was hosed down, disinfected, and de-loused. They dressed her wounds, pampered her battered body with ointments. She was given injections and a drip in her arm. They fed her some porridge-like substance that tasted like vanilla; nothing ever tasted better. Kath passively resigned herself to all of it, too exhausted to mind, and unable to fully comprehend that she was free. She slept for days; a deep, dreamless, restorative sleep.
On the third day the police questioned her with some official-looking men present who weren't introduced. Kath didn't have much to say. The inside of her prison and the face of her guard was all she knew. They told her what had happened to her colleagues. She mourned the dead and was anxious for the fate of the others. There was still no news of their fate.
After a while her father had come to take her home. There was no medical reason for her to stay in hospital. She had lost a lot of weight and was very weak, but that was nothing that healthy home cooked meals and a lot of tender love and care couldn't fix. Back in the safety of her parent's house, Kath slowly recovered, gaining some weight by eating small portions of food all through the day. She took up running again. The first time she left the safe fenced-in grounds around her parent's place, she was overcome by a paralyzing panic, but every day she forced herself to go a little further, confronting her fear with each step, until she could run freely again. Physically, she was doing all right.
Mentally was another matter. She still took several baths a day, unable to get the stench of her prison out of her mind. She started seeing a therapist. Her parents had wanted her to see an old friend of the family, but Kath preferred to talk to a stranger. She didn't want pity; she wanted to heal.
There hadn't been a dreamless night since her release. At first, they had only been nightmares that she woke from sweating and screaming. As time passed, the Australian began to appear in her dreams. Each time, just before the point of terror, he was there, holding her and talking to her in that masculine voice. She never told anyone about the dreams, not even her therapist. It was partly because she didn't want to share him and partly because she felt ashamed, for the dreams had become increasingly erotic. The Australian had changed into her lover, his muscular arms, strong hands, and low voice arousing her in ways she'd never known before.
Time passed and gradually she started thinking about going home. Even though both her parents had shown nothing but loving support, Kath desperately longed for the peace and comfort of her own apartment, her own life. Before she left, she tried once more to talk her father about the men who had freed her. He had been positively secretive about the whole thing. All she knew was that they were mercenaries and that her father had hired them to get her out. Kath needed to find out more about them. On the last day she spent in his house, she stepped into her father's home office. He was sitting behind his desk and turned when she walked in.
She took a chair opposite him. Without attempting to address it tactfully, she just blurted her question, "Dad, about my rescuers, please tell me who they are. I want to meet them."
Her father looked at her thoughtfully. "That's not possible. These men don't want to be found. What they do isn't exactly legal, you know."
She made an impatient movement. "I understand that. But you must know who they are. You found them."
"Not exactly, darling. They contacted me. All I did was put word out that I was looking."
The idea of her gentle father putting 'word out' had amazed her. "How did you do that? I had no idea that you had connections like that."
He smiled at her. There was something in his eyes she'd never noticed before, a definite ruthlessness. "You don't know everything about me. Anyway what's the use of having so much money if you can't pull a few strings?"
She wasn't going to give up. "But you must have met them."
"I met one of them. I gave him my word to never disclose his identity. And I won't, not even to you, my darling."
"Was he Australian?"
He father looked at her inquiringly. "Why would you think that?"
She blushed, cut her eyes away. "It's just that I thought one of them was Australian."
"No, the man I met was no Australian." Her father said gently, "Forget about them. They have been handsomely rewarded for their services."
No matter how she pleaded with him, he was unshakeable and told her nothing.
Outwardly, Kath's life seemed to be back to normal. She returned to work. Her boss was reluctant to let her start again, but she convinced him that the idleness was driving her crazy. Everybody was happy to have her back safe and sound. She had gained weight and most of her old strength returned; she seemed to be doing all right.
But for Kath, nothing was back to normal. She felt strangely detached from what used to be her fairly uncomplicated and happy life. She'd lost interest in things she used to like. Looking back at her lifestyle, she found nothing but shallowness. There was enough money in her bank account to last her a lifetime, closets full of designer's clothes, a fast car in her garage, and she couldn't care less. Her ever-partying friends had been sympathetic after her release, but soon became bored with the topic. They felt she should be over it by now, get on with her life. Even her work didn't really interest her anymore. She had trouble concentrating, and lately, her colleagues behaved a little awkwardly around her. She had never been so lonely in her life.
She still enjoyed two things: running and photography. She loved to run long distances, loved leaving the city behind and running along the green meadows until the pain vanished and the endorphins made her high. She could lose herself for hours in her darkroom, experimenting with lighting and contrasts. They were solitary activities; they brought her pleasure. She told herself she didn't need anybody around.
* * *
During her third week back at work, Kath's boss, Hans van Maanen, asked her into his office. He explained that War Child was going into business with another insurance company. The way their former insurer had handled the whole affair had been less than satisfactory. The new company, Luthan Risk, was London based and more experienced with kidnap and ransom matters.
"They are sending over one of their consultants. He will be here for two days and will give lectures and training to all our staff. I would like everybody to attend, but what I want to know from you is, are you up to it?"
Kath applauded the idea of better training for the rest, but didn't want to participate in anything that would bring back memories.
"I don't know. I really don't need to be reminded. I'm not sure how it will affect me. I would hate to have a breakdown in front of the team. They are just getting used to me again." She glanced at Hans. "And you know I will never visit another project again."
Hans looked at her thoughtfully. "Okay. Fair enough. I will leave it up to you. I won't force you."
Kath was happy with that, she promised to think about it, and when the day came, she decided not to go. It was almost half past five in the evening when Kath walked up to Hans' office. She had some notes she wanted to leave with him before she went home. The door to his office wasn't quite closed and she could hear him talk to someone. The voice that answered him, low and sonorous with an Australian accent, made her knees buckle under her. She felt a pain in her gut as if someone had kicked her. Arms crossed protectively over her stomach, she leaned against the wall for support. Out of sight but within hearing, she closed her eyes and concentrated fully on the voice.
It was him. She was sure.
Kath waited until the shaking of her body subsided and resisted the urge to just barge in there. She quietly walked back to her own office. Slumped down behind her desk, she tried to think. That he was here, in her office building, went beyond her comprehension. She had totally resigned herself to the idea of never finding out who he was, never meeting him. She sat there in silence, trying to make sense of it all. She wanted to meet him but was afraid to at same time. He had made such a powerful impression on her as an anonymous force, what would happen if she came face to face with him?
She had to make up her mind; he could leave any moment.
She checked her email for the memo Hans had sent about the training. There it was: Mr. Terrence Thorne, Luthan Risk. She whispered his name. Terrence…Terry? She picked up her desk phone and called the number of Hans' secretary.
"Anna. Would you be so kind as to ask Mr. Thorne if he can spare me a minute after he's done with Hans? Please ask him to come to my office."
Kath had kept her married name. Everybody in the office had been used to it. It had been less hassle to keep it after the divorce. Anna said, "Yes, Mrs. van Lierop," and Kath sat back in her chair.
The waiting made her nervous; her hands were sweaty and warm. She walked over to the little kitchen unit in the corner of her office and held her hands and wrists under the stream of cold water. She was just drying them off when there was a knock on her door and a man entered.
Kath leaned against the sink for support. If she had made him up, he couldn't have been more perfect. She knew that he was powerfully built and the tailored suit he wore couldn't disguise it. He was at least a head taller than her. She stared at him, taking in his rugged features, the strong jaw, cleft chin, and big, straight nose. His mouth was surprisingly soft, with a sensually curved upper lip. He had thick brown hair, cut short. His eyes were striking, ocean green with heavy lids and long dark lashes. There was nothing in his face that disappointed her, not one feature she would have changed. She saw a flash of recognition in his eyes before he composed his face and gave her a non-committal smile.
Terry recognized Kath straight away and immediately controlled the shock of seeing her. The long dark hair was short now, curling around her face. The green eyes were not smiling but fixed on him intently. The generous mouth no longer laughed, but trembled slightly. She looked beautiful, though still way too skinny for his taste, and her face had that unnatural paleness that was typical after a lengthy stay in the dark, but she had come a long way from the frail thing he had picked up in his arms. He wondered what was up with the name change. Was she married?
She walked up to him and held out her hand. He took it. It was small and felt cool.
Kath's hand disappeared in his; his grip was warm and strong. She smiled, remembering how safe she'd felt with his hands on her body. "Mr. Thorne. Thank you for coming over."
"Mrs. Van Lierop...."
She walked round her desk and sat down. "Please have a seat."
He sat, watching her cautiously.
She took a deep breath. "Mr. Thorne, do you know who I am?"
He nodded. "Yes. You were captured in Chechnya last May. I've seen your file."
Even through her nerves, she had to smile at that. Clever, the best lie was always partly true. She took a deep breath, gathered courage. "Was that before or after you pulled me out?"
He didn't move a muscle, didn't blink an eye as his mind ticked. 'How did she know?' He raised one eyebrow. "I'm sorry? I have no idea what you mean."
She smiled at him sadly. "I think you do. You may not have realized it, but you spoke to me quite a lot. I recognized your voice. In fact, your voice is one of the few things I remember of that day."
He didn't react to that. "My company wasn't involved in your release, Mrs. Van Lierop. We have just taken over the account."
"I know. It doesn't matter. I know it was you and I wanted you to know that I know. I want to thank you for saving my life." The words came out in a nervous rush, and she seemed relieved to be rid of them.
His face disclosed none of his thoughts. "I'm sorry. Obviously you have gone through a tremendous ordeal. I understand that. But you are mistaken about me. I had nothing to do with your release." He got up from his chair, clearly wanting to end the conversation.
She panicked, didn't want him to leave. She walked over and placed her hand on his sleeve. "Please, I just want to talk to you."
Terry looked at her pleading eyes, hoped she wasn't going to cry. He didn't know if he could handle that. He had to end this conversation. "We really have nothing to talk about. I am sorry you had to go through what you did, but I can't help you." He walked out of her office and closed the door carefully behind him.
* * *
Back in his hotel room, Terry poured himself another drink. He couldn't believe she had recognized him. Couldn't believe she had been there. Most kidnap victims didn't return to work so quickly. If they returned at all, most avoided the job that had landed them in trouble. She must be a tough little cookie to have returned so soon. 'A beautiful, tough little cookie,' he thought. Seeing her had moved him more than he would like to admit. Under different circumstances he would have loved talking to her. Now, it could only mean complications and he had enough of those in his life.
Kath was having a drink, too. She didn't know how she got home, drove there on automatic pilot. The only thing in her mind was his image. The body she'd been dreaming about had a face now. He was beautiful. She was in love with the fantasy of him and to have him standing in front of her, oozing raw physical power, had been overwhelming. After four glasses of brandy, she decided she couldn't just leave it at this; she had to talk to him. She would go to his hotel and demand to see him.
In front of the hotel, all her courage left her. She didn't even dare to enter. What if he refused to see her? Worse, what if he did see her? What was she going to say? She definitely needed another drink. She crossed the street and entered the first bar she came across.
* * *
Terry couldn't sleep. He tossed restlessly for an hour and then decided to chuck the idea and have a late drink at the hotel's bar. When he got there, only one other slightly drunken guest was there, boring the barkeeper. He didn't feel like joining him, didn't feel like listening to someone else's troubles. He remembered he'd seen a bar across the street. He would go there and who knew? He might even get lucky tonight.
Inside it was crowded and noisy. They played some local artist. He couldn't understand the words, but apparently he was popular, for many people
were singing along loudly. He found a spot to hang out at the end of the counter
and ordered a scotch. He looked around slowly, searched for something nice to
warm his bed. There was an argument behind him. He turned around and there she
was, and apparently very drunk. She could hardly stand and was fending off some
guy who was obviously bothering her. Terry took a few paces in her direction and
grabbed the guy by his neck, pulling him off her. The man turned, angry, ready
to strike, but changed his mind at the deadly stare that met him and stumbled
Kath was too far-gone to follow what had just happened. All she knew was that she needed to sit down. The whole room spun before her eyes. She looked up at Terry but couldn't get her brain around the fact that he was standing there.
Terry supported her with his hands under her elbows. She was leaning into him and he could see that she wasn't going to last much longer.
"Hey, hey, luv. I think it's time you got home. Seems to me you had more than enough." He grabbed her around her waist, made sure she wouldn't topple over. She sighed and rested her head on his chest.
Terry tried talking to her, tried to get her address from her. He had planned to put her in a cab, but she wasn't lucid anymore. He couldn't just leave her there. He muttered, "Okay, come on, luv. You're coming with me," and half-carried her out of the bar and all the way across the street into the hotel. The man behind the desk gave him a weary look, but no one tried to stop him from taking her to his room. He held her against the wall while he got his key card and opened the door, then picked her up and carried her in like a baby.
That seemed to trigger something in her, because she opened her eyes and spoke in a slurred voice, "You're a liar, you know? Nothing is OK."
"Sure I am, love."
He put her on the bed and before he had her boots off, she was out cold. She was lying on her stomach with her mouth open. Terry grinned. Next thing she would be snoring. He covered her with the duvet, walked over to the mini-bar, and poured a drink. He sat in the chair next to the bed and looked at her. So, things weren't okay. His heart went out to her, but it was to be expected. Things mostly weren't so soon after a kidnapping. Wearily, he closed his eyes.
* * *
Kath woke up feeling sick. She opened her eyes and spotted Terry sleeping in the chair. She had to find the bathroom quick. Silently, she crawled out of the bed and stumbled into the bathroom, but despite her care, Terry woke immediately. He heard her being violently sick, got up and walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on to make tea.
Kath was barfing her guts out, and the sour taste of recycled brandy made her more nauseous. When she finally had nothing left to throw up, she went over to the sink and rinsed her mouth with water. As she raised her head, she caught her image in the mirror and silently gasped, 'Oh, my God!'
She looked terrible. Bloodshot eyes, her face puffed and red, streaks of mascara under her lashes. She turned the tap on and held her head under the stream, hoping the shock of cold water would clear her mind. His sandalwood soap was in the dish and she used it to wash her face. She smeared some of his toothpaste on her teeth and tongue to get rid of the horrible taste in her mouth. The towel held his scent. For a moment she breathed him in. And then the questions began.
How did she come to be with him in this room? Had she followed him, brazenly knocked on his door? She didn't remember much of the evening. Oh, fuck, what had she done! Whatever it was, it was too late to worry about it now. She took a deep breath and went back into the room.
Terry was sitting at the table smoking. He smiled at her when she came back in. "Morning, luv. Are you okay?"
She shook her head. "No." She sat down opposite him, threw an embarrassed half-smile his way. "What happened? Did I knock on your door? Make a nuisance of myself? I'm sorry if I did."
He grinned. "No, no worries. I ran into to you at the bar, fending off a bloke. He went away, but you weren't exactly stable on your feet."
Hmmm... No, she was sure she hadn't been. She remembered up to the point that she first felt she needed to sit down. He hadn't been around then.
He looked at her inquiringly. "Won't your husband be worried about you?"
Her face showed incomprehension. "Husband? I'm not married. Why would you think so?"
Terry was surprised by the relief he felt over her answer. "You used another name."
It was coming back to her. "Oh, that. I'm divorced. Kept the name for the job. It was easier than having to explain to everyone." She gave him a wry smile. "And it saved having to print new business cards."
He smiled. "I see. I've made some tea. You'd better drink some. Take it from me, it works."
She tasted; it was good, lightly sweetened with a touch of cream. She took another sip, hoping it would stop the shaking.
Terry observed her quietly. Tousled hair, sleep clouded eyes, no makeup, and still he thought she looked adorable. He shook his head, warned himself silently, 'Forget it, mate. Too complicated.'
He said, "Why don't you try to catch a little more sleep? We still have a couple of hours before morning."
The bed looked tempting and she was feeling so wretched that she agreed and crawled back under the duvet.
Terry returned to his easy chair. Across the room, her eyes glittered with tears as she looked at him, and then she whispered, "I'm so sorry…"
He got out of the chair and sat down on the edge of the bed. "It's all right, luv. You've had a rough time. It will get better though. It always does."
She looked up, said plaintively, "Could you just hold me, please? Just for a little while..."
Part of him wanted to badly. She looked so fragile and sad. Professionalism told him to back off, not get involved.
Kath saw the rejection in his eyes and pleaded softly, "Please, just until I fall asleep."
He gave in. Got next to her and gently held her, blocking his mind to the feel of her.
Kath nestled her head against his chest, sighed as she relaxed in his arms. Closed her eyes and concentrated on his scent, his warmth, the feel of his hard body against hers. Memories assaulted her, this man, these arms, and the sound of the helicopter's engine. She was safe again, safe with him, and before long, her breathing became deep and regular.
* * *
She slept, but Terry couldn't. He was too aware of her slender body in his arms. There hadn't been a special woman in his life for a long time. He'd had women, a man like him always found a woman, but there was no one special. This one stirred feelings in him he hadn't felt for a while. From the first time he laid eyes on her picture and after he decided to join Dino in freeing her, it had been more personal than he'd like to admit.
He stirred restlessly, convincing himself it would be a bad idea to get involved. She obviously had a crush on him, had let herself be carried away by hero worship. While he stroked her back comfortingly, she moaned in her sleep and had called his name. It made him uneasy. This was not a healthy basis for a relationship. She was damaged, needed to heal first. He didn't want to be her crutch. He'd had some heartbreaks and he wasn't looking for another one. He had to stop this before it all got too painful.
* * *
Kath woke and realized he was gone. The place next to her where his warm body had been was cold. She had no idea of the time. On her way to the bathroom, she noticed the little note on the table. Her fingers trembled as she read:
If you still want to talk, be back here at eight. Terry
Happiness flooded her at the knowledge that she would see him again. She went into the bathroom to use the toilet, then washed her hands and face with his soap, used his toothpaste again. She ran her hands over his things. Opened his after-shave and spilled some on her shirt. Back in the bedroom she picked up the shirt he'd left hanging over the chair and buried her face in it, took in his scent. Oh, God! What am I doing? She put on her boots and left.
Kath didn't go to work that day. She had a horrible hangover and wanted to be as fit as possible for that night. She tried to run, but had to give up after half an hour. Her body just didn't co-operate. After a few more hours of sleep and soaking in her hot tub, she was feeling somewhat better, if extremely nervous. She faced herself in the mirror, asked the hard questions. What did she expect to happen tonight? What was she hoping for? Eyes closed tight to shut out her white and frightened face, she silently admitted she didn't have the guts to be totally honest with herself and dismissed the doubt from her mind. She would just go and see how it went.
* * *
When Terry opened the door, she sensed at once that there was something different. He wasn't smiling, acted standoffish. In his hand was a bottle of beer. He sipped, raised it and asked, "Have one?"
Kath shook her head and shuddered at the thought of alcohol. "No beer for me, thanks...but I'll have water if there is any."
He brought a bottle of Pellegrino, twisted off the cap, and held the chair for her. They sat at the table while he smoked silently, coolly observing her.
"Why were you in the bar across the street yesterday?" he said suddenly. "It didn't strike me as the kind of place a girl like you would hang out normally."
The aggression in his tone took her by surprise. She tried to evade a straight answer. "What do you mean 'a girl like me'?"
He stared at her steadily with no sign of affection. "The rich and spoiled kind. Don't evade the question."
She blinked her eyes, didn't like that remark. Didn't like the way he was looking at her. She raised her chin and stuck her jaw out, returning his gaze. "You're right. I'd never been there before. I had planned to come here, to talk to you."
"But you didn't."
"No. I got cold feet. I went into the bar to find some courage."
Terry had a hard time hiding a smile. He sensed that she was extremely nervous, but she wasn't backing down. He liked that. He didn't have a real plan for tonight, just a vague idea that he wanted her to see a man she couldn't like, stop her having romantic notions about him.
"Why did you want to talk to me so badly?"
"Because you got me out of there, even though you won't admit it."
"What difference does that make? Even if I should admit it, I would just be the guy who was handsomely paid to pick up a package." That hurt, he could see it. He pushed a little further. "Or did you think it was personal?"
She stared at him, wondered why he had to be so beautiful? She could barely look at him without pain. Where was the man that had been here last night? He had been so much closer to the perfect image she'd created of him in her mind, nothing like this indifferent stranger. How could she have been so stupid? She had known he was a mercenary, deadly dangerous. Why had she created such a tender image? Even as she asked the question, she knew the answer. It had been his voice, the same voice that had been warm last night and was now cold and impersonal. She couldn't connect the two.
Kath said softly, "For you? No. But for me it was extremely personal."
He gave her a sly disconcerting grin. "Yeah, thought so. Something in the way you snuggled against me last night, moaning in your sleep and calling my name."
The cruelty in his voice made the blood drain from her face. Oh, God! Had she done that? She got up from her chair. "I made a mistake coming here. I'm sorry I bothered you."
Quickly, silently, he moved to cut off her way to the door. Kath backed away until she felt the wall behind her. He moved closer, a predatory look in his eyes.
"Why the sudden hurry?"
He scared her. She tried to slide past him but his hands were on her wrists like iron. He raised her hands above her head, pinning them to the wall with one hand. With the thumb of his free hand he trailed her face, the contour of her mouth.
"Such a nice little package…. Let's have some fun first." He buried his face in her neck, whispering in her ear. "Isn't that why you really here, luv?"
She tried to kick him, but he caught her leg between his strong thighs and laughed hoarsely. "Whoa... feisty! I like that in a woman" His free hand grabbed her throat; she knew he could snap it with one movement. He ran his hand slowly over her body, slipping it under her shirt, caressing the bare skin of her back. His palm was so hot on her skin that she jerked involuntarily. He lowered his mouth to the soft spot between her neck and shoulder and felt her heart pumping like crazy under his lips. And then he looked her straight in the eyes, mocking her horror.
Despite her fear, Kath felt the heat spread in her loins. The way her body reacted to his aggression horrified her.
Terry saw the shift in her eyes. He knew he had to stop now or he wouldn't be able to. He let her go and stepped aside. "Get out of here before I change my mind," he grunted, and Kath backed away toward to door, keeping her eyes on him until she found the doorknob. She fumbled, got it open, and ran out.
From the window, Terry watched her sprint across the street toward her car. She was so upset she dropped her keys and had trouble getting them in the lock.
"Yeah, run little girl," he mumbled, then lowered his forehead against the cool window and closed his eyes. He would go and pack his bags in a minute. Something told him it was time to go home.
ON TO PART 2
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