Romantic Mystery Novel
by Barbara W. Klaser
van skids off a snowy mountain road. . . .
Tess returns home to bury her dead. There an old flame rekindles, promising the warmth of a winter romance, while Tess begins to suspect her family was murdered.
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Tess was certain she recognized the voice behind the mask as Trent Cambridge, but it had been so long since she'd heard him speak, except for two words at Stoneway the other night, she couldn't be sure. He was the right height, though. He moved toward her. Tess stood motionless, unable to think, unable to breathe.
The phone on the counter rang. Tess and the man in the ski mask both stared at it. When Tess reached for it, he moved faster, and grasped her arm tightly before she could reach the phone.
"If I don't answer--"
"They'll think you've already left. You were about to leave, weren't you?"
She tried to shake off his grip, and it tightened. "What do you want?" Her voice was ragged with fear.
The phone kept ringing, until the answering machine clicked on. The volume was turned down, so Tess couldn't hear whether the caller left a message. Afterward the silence in the kitchen was profound, with the sound of their breath prominent. The man continued to hold Tess's arm in an iron grip. Tess didn't know what to say that would persuade him to leave her alone, so she said nothing. She tried to think of a way out. She thought of the knives in the kitchen drawer at the end of the counter. Could she get to one? If she did, could she use it against him, could she fight him off, and then grab the phone on her way out? It was the cordless phone Paige had brought for her from L.A.
The man in the ski mask had other ideas. He grasped both her hands firmly with his leather gloves, and he led her quickly out through the dining room, away from the phone and the knives, while Tess struggled in vain to get out of his grasp. He paused to pull a length of rope out of his jacket pocket, and she struggled harder while he held her with only one gloved hand. She'd nearly slipped one wrist out of his grasp, when he hit her with his open hand, slapping her face. She kept fighting. When she managed to free one hand he cursed, then he knocked the wind out of her with a single, controlled punch to her solar plexus. Tess doubled over, gasping for breath, while he tied her wrists with the rope, so tightly the knots pinched her skin and cut off her circulation.
He used the remaining length of the rope to lead her into the living room and over to the stairs, while she tried to kick him. He paused and laughed when he looked up at the stairs. "Oh, this is perfect."
Tess kicked him hard, then.
He cursed and moved away. "You're going to force me to stop you from doing that."
He continued to fight off her kicks as he led her to the stair railing. She saw what he intended to do now, to tie her to the stair banister. Tess struggled with her bonds and her captor, while her heart sank at the realization that she'd nearly lost her chance of escape. If he managed to secure her to the sturdy hardwood railing, all the kicking she could manage wouldn't free her. The front door was so close now, she decided to try for escape by that route.
When he moved up the stairs, trying to guide her in the same direction along the lower floor so he could get the end of the rope around the railing, with her legs out of reach to kick him, she tried to yank him off balance, back down the stairs. Failing that, she managed to creep around the newel post and up the stairs behind him, then attempted to kick his feet out from under him on the stairs. She succeed in pulling one foot from under him, and he cursed again, then sat on the step to keep from falling, and stared at her. She could see only his eyes, behind the ski mask, but she was certain he was Trent.
"You little bitch!"
A sound outside drew their attention. Another snowmobile approached the front of the house. He glanced that way, then got up and struck Tess in the face with his fist, knocking her aside. "I don't have time for this!"
He yanked her back to the bottom of the stairs. He was breathing hard now, they both were, and Tess could sense his anger. It lay like a low snarl beneath each breath he exhaled. It frightened her, as she continued to fight him. As he pulled her to the bottom of the stairs, she kicked at him again, but this time he used her own trick against her, grasping her leg and pulling it hard out from under her, at the same instant as he let go of the rope. She went down backwards, too hard, and landed with a smack of her skull against the bottom step.
"No," she moaned. It was as though Tess kept falling, into a sickening blackness.
Tess's next awareness was at first only of the pain in her head, and she groaned, which made it hurt more. Any attempt at movement hurt. She lay on her back, her arms extended above her head, ending in numbness, which she realized gradually was her hands, their sensation cut off by the rope that bound them. The pain in her head was enough to nearly shut out sound. It muffled everything. Every sound, every sensation was subject to the pain. She remained still, until someone touched her. She couldn't see. Her captor was tying a blindfold roughly over her eyes.
"You should've left town while you had the chance."
She let him think she was still unconscious. The snowmobile continued to circle outside, its sound assaulting her senses in sickening waves.
Her captor moved away from her and opened the front door. The wind blew into the house, freezing the air around Tess, rousing her a little. The snowmobile tore around out front, and her captor shouted, cursing. At her? No, he'd gone outside. He continued yelling, while the door remained open, letting in freezing gusts of wind.
The yelling hurt her head so much Tess couldn't take in what he said. Something about "around back" and "what we came here for." She shivered in the cold from the door, and prayed silently for help. She had a feeling the new arrival had stopped her captor from finishing what he'd started, and now he was distracted by the newcomer. Tess said a silent thank you, while the sound of the snowmobile moved to the back of the house.
A moment later her captor's voice came from the kitchen. Tess heard someone going through drawers in there, and then smashing things.
The man's voice said, "Do what we came here to do!" in a hissing rush. "There may not be much time." The sound of the snowmobile's engine had ceased. When had it stopped? Tess's head swam, and confusion swept through her like a wave of nausea. She felt ill, and wondered if she'd lost consciousness again for a moment. The cold wind still gusted through the front door, and she wondered if she would freeze lying here. She no longer heard her captor or the newcomer.
A moment later, Tess heard soft footsteps go past her, up the stairs.
The next sound Tess heard was the phone ringing. It stopped abruptly with the sound of something being smashed, in the kitchen. She could only imagine what was going on in there, as the banging and crashing noises continued.
Someone returned, and stood beside her. Tess grew panicky once more. Then she heard them move away. Tess couldn't feel her hands anymore. They were completely numb. Her arms ached, stiff from lack of movement. The front door was still open, the cold wind blew more steadily now. She might as well be in front of a freezer. She shivered, and somehow the shivering hurt her head.
Long minutes passed, and Tess heard the sounds of someone moving through the rooms above her. Spence's room. Other sounds continued downstairs. Someone walked past her, and her panic escalated again, but they moved about nearly silently, never touching her, never saying a word as they opened and closed drawers in the living room. The hall closet opened, and things were thrown out. Then noises came from the study. Drawers opened, things were tossed around. Minutes later someone passed her again, and seconds after that Tess heard more destruction in the kitchen.
Suddenly a shout came, from above, a single word, "Car!" It was the man in the ski mask's voice.
The noises in the kitchen stopped. Footsteps pounded down the stairs. Someone ran past Tess and slammed the front door shut, then tore off her blindfold. Tess blinked at the light and saw the man in the ski mask, with a knife. He was directly above her, his gaze cold. With one finger to his lips, he brandished the knife threateningly. Then he used it to cut the rope that bound her hands to the newel post. He cut the remaining rope from her wrists, and stuffed it into his pocket. All Tess could manage was to continue to lie on the floor, sobbing faintly while he did this. She couldn't feel her hands, and her arms were too stiff to move. He pointed the knife at her again as he spoke. "Now you'll leave, and you'll pay." His words carried a distinct threat that struck her cold, and made her want to shrink from his gaze. He dropped an envelope on the floor beside her and ran out in the direction of the kitchen.
A snowmobile started up, and the sound moved off through the woods behind the house. Tess moved, slowly and with great effort, bending her stiff arms, and rubbing her wrists against her legs to start the blood back into her numb hands. The renewed sensation, as it started, was too much for her. She cried out. Then she sat up unsteadily, shivering, uncertain what to do. That was when the doorbell rang.
Tess shivered, teeth chattering, limbs uncooperative. The doorbell rang again. She stood up unsteadily, and her legs wobbled as she moved.
"Tess?" someone called, outside the front door. She hadn't heard his car, but it was Alan's voice. Tess cried, sobbing suddenly in relief. Now she heard an engine out front, and recognized the sound of Joe's truck coming up the driveway. Shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, she barely managed the few steps from the stairs to open the door. It must not have been locked, though, because Alan opened it as she reached it. He opened it slowly, then stood for a few seconds and stared at her.
"Tess, what's wrong? Are you hurt?" Alan looked as confused and shocked by her appearance as she felt.
She shook, sobbing and barely able to hold herself upright, while Alan stood in the doorway, the cold wind blowing in around him. He finally moved, closed the door and put his arms around her, his jacket so cold it prickled her bare skin on her face and neck and almost made her scream. Alan guided her into the living room, where he urged her onto the sofa. "It's okay. It's okay. What happened to you?"
The front door opened, and Joe came in. "Tess?" Then he saw her, and he rushed over. He took her face gently in his hands and looked into her eyes. "Are you hurt? What's happened?"
She shook with convulsive sobs and couldn't answer. He turned to Alan and said, "What the hell did you do to her?"
"No!" Tess cried, afraid he was about to do Alan a grave injury. "He c-came t-to help," Tess said. "It--it--was someone else. Ski mask." Why couldn't she speak properly? She wasn't making sense. Her teeth chattered.
Joe glanced around the living room, and told Alan to call the sheriff. Alan removed his cell phone clipped to his belt. As he pressed the number on the keypad he moved away, into the dining room, where Tess couldn't hear him. Joe sat beside Tess and held her.
"I need t-to--"
"Shh, sit still. Tell me where it hurts." Joe examined the lump on the back of her head. Then he made her lie down and covered her with the afghan, and he sat beside her, holding her hand. When Alan returned, Joe had him get her an ice pack.
Minutes later the front doorbell rang. Alan let Paige and Harry in, trying to explain how he'd found Tess, while they stared at her, and at Joe holding the ice pack to her head. He seemed to understand how much she hurt. He held her, and helped her hold the ice there, while everyone else seemed to demand answers she couldn't provide.
"I don't know what's happened here," Alan murmured in the foyer. "The house is ransacked, but she hasn't said what happened." They entered the living room. "I called the sheriff. Is she all right, Joe?"
Paige replaced Joe, and put her arms around Tess. Tess still couldn't stop shaking. She sat up carefully. "It was Trent," she finally said. "I'm sure it was Trent Cambridge, but he had a ski mask on."
The sound of sirens outside silenced her. The sirens grew nearer, and Tess said no more. She would wait until the sheriff was listening, because she didn't want to tell the story more than once.
Joe looked around at the others. "Where's Rose?" he asked, suddenly alarmed again. "Tess, wasn't Rose here with you?"
"Rose went to C-cottage Arts," Tess told him.
"She never showed up," Paige said beside her. Tess turned and stared at Paige. She didn't understand.
Deputy Prescott arrived first. Sheriff Kendall followed minutes later. They both knew Joe, and they greeted one another by first names.
Rose arrived seconds after the sheriff did, looking bewildered as she came in the door. Harry went over to her. "Where have you been, Rose?"
"I--" Rose looked at Tess. "I heard sirens. What's going on? Tess? Why are the police here?"
"Okay," Sheriff Kendall said, taking charge. "This is way too many people. Duane, take names and clear them all out while I talk to Ms. Hunter."
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|All characters and events in the novels on this website are fictitious, they are solely products of the author's imagination. Any similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidental.||
Copyright (c) 2004 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved