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Hour of Darkness

Novel By: AMS1971
Erotica



At age ten, Clarice Stuart is rescued from a potentially traumatizing experience by a mysterious stranger who seems to appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as suddenly. Twenty years later, on a cold November night on an icy mountain highway as Clarice is on her way to her parents' home for the holidays, a black clad rider on a black motorcycle deliberately strands her on the highway.

While Clarice waits for help to arrive, miles away her parents and brother are brutally murdered in their home. At the funeral, a man approaches her and offers his condolences, claiming to be a friend of her brother's. Clarice has a sense of recognition but can't place where she might know him from. But the mere touch of his hand engulfs her with emotions and desires she can't explain.

Staying at her deceased brother's home under the watchful eyes of three officers, Clarice soon learns that even police protection can't save her from the evil that took her family. When her family's attacker appears and kills the three deputies who were meant to guard her, Clarice is certain she will die as violently as her parents and brother. But standing face to face with the killer, she is shocked to be staring into the face of her recently dead and buried brother.

Before he can take her life as well, the black rider appears and saves her from the fate of her family. It is then that she realizes that the black rider is the man from the cemetery – and her guardian from the past. Suddenly she finds herself caught up in a passionate, terrifying game of survival with her mysterious and desirable guardian, fleeing a killer who won't stay dead. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Submitted:Nov 4, 2012    Reads: 681    Comments: 3    Likes: 3   


8...Love Me Tonight...

When Jonathon returned to the room, he was carrying a small bag. He set it on the counter in the kitchenette and began emptying it. He took out two microwaveable burritos, two small bags of Doritos and two cans of soda. When he'd paid for the room, he'd noticed a variety of vending machines in the office. The kitchenette was equipped with a microwave and something hot to eat sounded good, even with his mind and emotions in a turmoil. A body could only go so long before it demanded sustenance.

He put both burritos in the microwave then leaned against the counter and watched Clarice. She was still laying on her side under the blankets, her eyes closed, but he could feel her hovering close to consciousness. He wondered if she would ever have another good night's sleep again.

Darkness pressed at the windows and Jonathon went to close the blinds. It made him uneasy to think there might be unseen eyes out there watching him. It wasn't easy for anyone or anything to sneak up on him, but it could happen. And he wasn't about to make himself or Clarice an easy target.

The microwave dinged and shut off. There were paper plates in the cupboards, stocked by the motel owner, a courtesy to their patrons. Not everyone thought to carry paper plates with them. He took down two plates and placed a burrito on each plate, then accompanied each with a bag of Doritos. He took one plate and one can of soda and went to the bed. He placed the items on the night stand then set down next to Clarice and shook her gently, waking her from her light sleep.

"What is it?" She asked with a drowsiness to her voice and a hint of alarm.

"It's okay." Jonathon said. "Nothing's wrong. I'm sorry to wake you, but I thought you might want something to eat. You need to keep your strength up."

Clarice blinked the sleep from her eyes and scooted up a little in the bed. She looked at the plate of food. "Where did you get that?"

"Vending machines." He said. "In the office. Eat up." He stood and returned to the counter where his plate still sat. He was famished, but when he tried to actually eat, it felt like a chore. He glanced at Clarice. She opened her chips and ate one slowly, without enthusiasm.

"Don't like it?" He asked.

"No, it's fine." She said quietly. "My stomach, it's just...I don't know, maybe it's just all the stress."

Jonathon pushed his plate back and went to the bed again. He took her plate and set it on the night stand.

She looked up, a bit startled. "It's okay." She said. "I'll get it all down."

He sat down next to her and she looked away. He drew in a deep breath and released it slow. "Forget about the food for now." He said quietly. "I want to apologize for what I said, before." He looked at her face until she met his eyes. "I think I hurt your feelings."

"No." She whispered and looked away. "You were just telling it like it is. I should be the one apologizing, for putting you on the spot like that." She chewed her lower lip and blinked back the sudden sheen that glimmered in her eyes. "I thought something was there...when it wasn't. You don't need to apologize for my mistake."

Jonathon stared at her. The pain and anguish and grief raged through her like a hurricane. He watched the one lone tear slide down her cheek as she stared down at the blankets. He reached out and wiped the tear away with his thumb, then allowed his hand to linger on her face.

She looked up slowly, with uncertainty.

"You didn't make any mistakes." He murmured. "There was no misunderstanding on your part. I'm the one at fault, the only one. I dragged you into this so suddenly you didn't have time to adjust. And then..." He faltered. What was he doing? What if the feelings she felt for him really was just a form of transference? He could be doing more harm than good if that were the case. But as he looked into her eyes, opened his mind and felt what she felt...he knew he had been wrong before. She wasn't just drawing close to him because she needed someone, anyone, to connect to. She loved him. But what puzzled him was the depth of that love. It was too deep to have just developed over this short amount of time. And yet it was there, deep and strong as if she had been loving him all her life.

"What?" She whispered.

He blinked and realized she was staring at him. He'd trailed off in the middle of a sentence and gotten lost in his thoughts. "And then...when you reach out to me, when you respond to what you see and feel in me...I push you away." He licked his lips. "That was cruel and unfair of me."

Only when Clarice covered his hand with hers did he realize his hand was still on her face. "Why did you...pull away?"

He closed his eyes briefly then slowly opened them again. "Because what I feel for you terrifies me, Clarice." He admitted for the first time, to her and himself. "I would die for you. But it isn't dying that scares me...it's living. Living in the same world with you, knowing..."

Her hand squeezed his gently. "Knowing what?"

"Knowing you could never love me if you really knew me." He whispered tightly. Tears burned his eyes at the revelation he was only now admitting to himself.

"You saved me and my family once." She said softly. "And you saved my life again." She leaned closer. "And that's all I need to know tonight." She kissed the corner of his mouth lightly. "The rest can wait till tomorrow, or next week...or never."

Jonathon's chest tightened. "Clarice..." He started.

She kissed his lips softly, turning his face to hers.

With every ounce of will he possessed, he drew back away from her sweet mouth. "You don't understand." He whispered. "There are things I have to tell you before I can allow this to happen. Things you have to know about me."

"These things." Clarice asked quietly. "If you tell me now...will it stop this from happening?"

"Yeah." He whispered tightly. "I think it would."

"Then don't tell me tonight."

He closed his eyes. "Clarice..."

"Please." She stroked his face with her fingertips. "Give me tonight. And then tomorrow...you can tell me whatever you think I need to know. But just not tonight."

He looked at her for a long moment then felt his last resolve give way. He leaned in and kissed her, soft and tentative at first, almost afraid she would disappear and prove to be nothing more than his imagination. But she remained, real and in the flesh.

The kiss deepened and he felt himself letting go, falling into her. He wasn't certain just when they left off kissing and touching, and became one with each other. All he was aware of was the wonderful sensations coursing through him as his body moved against hers, rocking them gently like a small craft on an open sea.

Her breath was warm as her gasps exploded softly on his shoulder, neck and face. Her skin was hot to the touch and damp beneath his fingertips. She felt so good wrapped around him so completely. She made him feel as safe and secure as he knew he did for her. The ecstasy coursing through her ignited his mind as well as his body and it was almost more than he could take.

Like drops of honey, her name fell from his lips, splashing across her damp skin and heightening her need for his fulfillment. She held onto him as their passion carried them away to a place both knew so little about. A place so sweet and serene he thought it must be as close to heaven on earth as two beings could get. And in that moment, Jonathon felt all the horror that had shredded Clarice's life fade away and cease to exist as he held her tight in his arms and their bodies melded together.

As their passion flared and lifted them higher and higher, he brought her to climax again and again until his own body could no longer hold back. His arms tightened around her as his intense love and desire for her released in a powerful flood of heat, filling her up. She clung to him like a drowning woman, her own body giving way to sweet release once more. They gasped with the sheer force of their relinquished passion then kissed deeply, exploring each other's mouths as their bodies slowly relaxed.

Jonathon broke their kiss only to kiss her again then nuzzle her throat, kissing the tender, sweat damp skin. After his embrace relaxed, he continued to caress her body with his hands, unwilling or perhaps unable to let go of her just yet. He knew they would make love again, perhaps many times over, before morning. Tonight might be the only night he ever had with her, he didn't intend to waste it.

His mouth sought out her mouth again and he kissed her warmly. "I love you, Clarice Stuart." He groaned softly into her mouth. "I loved you at first sight." He broke their kiss again and buried his face in her shoulder, tightening his arms around her. "I had to save you."

Her arms held him close as tears burned his eyes. "I had to." His body shuddered. "I saw what they did to you, what it did to your life...I had to save you."

_________________________________

Laying deep in Jonathon's arms, Clarice pressed her face against his chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart. His eyes were closed, but he wasn't asleep. She could feel it in the way he responded to her every little move. She pressed her naked body to his and smoothed her hand over his firm stomach and up his chest.

His fingertips began to lightly stroke her hair and trace paths down her spine.

She wanted to ask him what he meant when he said he saw what they did to her and what it did to her life. What was he talking about? But at that precise moment in time if felt too good to be laying where she was, feeling him so close to her, the memory of their intense love making still fresh in her mind and body. She didn't want to ask any questions for which the answers might ruin the moment.

"Are you okay?" Jonathon spoke quietly in the dark, his arm tightening around her just a bit.

Clarice kissed his chest softly and rubbed the center of her palm over his flat nipple in a slow, circular motion. "I'm perfect." She whispered.

"Yes." He murmured. "You are."

She smiled and pressed tighter against him. "Do you think we're going to make it out of this alive?" Her throat was suddenly tight with tears, squeezing her words. The instant she'd lost Aaron and her parents, her life had lost all meaning and purpose. She hadn't cared if she lived or died. But with a single touch of his hand, his heart, Jonathon had restored her will to live, her need to survive.

His lips pressed against her hair and he breathed deep. "I do."

She closed her eyes and kissed his chest again. "I believe you." She had to. She had to believe it was by divine intervention she and Jonathon were together. That there was a future planned out for them by God himself. Otherwise, it meant that life trickled along by random events that possessed no meaning. And if life was meaningless...what would be the point of surviving all this?

Jonathon turned onto his side facing her and pulled her deep into his arms, kissing her with a depth of love and passion that she'd never experienced before. He held her against him, his lips sweet against hers, as if he could read her thoughts and knew she needed the extra assurance that they would somehow make it through this in one piece.

His tongue explored her mouth and she moaned as his hands began to caress her body. He drew her leg up over his waist and pressed his hips in closer. She gasped softly as he entered her once more. Their kiss deepened as Jonathon's arms wrapped around her and rolled slowly onto his back, drawing her on top of him. She flattened her hands on his chest and pushed herself up a bit as she began to move against him. Her eyes closed as the ecstasy of holding him deep inside her overwhelmed her.

His hands slid up her sides then covered her breasts. Her eyes opened slowly. He was staring up at her as intently as if he were gazing at a real live angel. She could see so much in his deep blue eyes, so many emotions she didn't yet understand. He wasn't lying when he'd said he loved her. It glowed in his eyes. Those beautiful eyes that had filled her dreams for the past twenty years. She had fallen in love with him that night when he'd held her in his arms in the dark hallway of her childhood home, protected her, saved her and her family. How was it that she didn't understand until just now that she had loved him from that moment on? She'd only been ten years old, and yet the woman she would become had looked into those eyes that night and loved him...at first sight.

Still holding her eyes, Jonathon sat forward and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her heated body against his as they moved together in perfect harmony. He kissed her face, her jaw, her throat, then loosened his arms and leaned her back just enough to kiss her breasts, his warm mouth covering her sensitive nipples, first one and then the other.

"I love you, Jonathon." She gasped softly, the words falling from her lips before she even knew they were there. But they were true words and she couldn't help but speak them aloud as his intense love and passion filled her up inside, bring her closer and closer to sweet release.

She held his head to her as his hot mouth devoured her full breasts and his hunger and need for her grew more evident as his rhythm intensified, coaxing small cries of pleasure from deep inside her. He released her breasts, gasped deeply then pulled her up tight against him again before rolling them down on the bed once more with his body covering hers.

The urgency of his love making quickly drew her to the edge of ecstasy and pushed her over. She cried out sharply and clung to him as his rhythm quickened, lifting her to climax over and over. When he finally released, it was powerful and wrenched a strong cry from deep within him. His breathing was ragged for a long moment after his release as he laid against her damp, hot body. Her hands stroked his sweat damp back and she dropped kisses on his shoulder and neck.

When he finally lifted himself away from her and laid back down on the bed beside her, his breathing had calmed somewhat but was still unsteady. In moments, though, he was settled into the steady rhythm of sleep. Clarice once more laid her head on his chest and closed her eyes, although she wondered if she would even sleep at all tonight.

But even before the thought had passed all the way through her mind, sleep was already wrapping its tendrils around her and drawing her deeper and deeper into its embrace.

9...Thief In The Night...

Someone's in the room.

Jonathon's eyes snapped open. He laid perfectly still. Beside him, Clarice slept soundly. No nightmares, just peaceful sleep. Her warm body was cuddled up close to his and felt increasingly good. But he couldn't think about that now because they weren't alone in the room.

Very slowly, he reached up beneath his pillow and withdrew the 9 mm handgun. A shadow moved across the far side of the room. He heard a low rustling like someone digging through the sports bag. Jonathon relaxed a bit. A petty thief. He slowly returned the handgun to its place beneath his pillow. He didn't need a weapon to deal with this level of a threat.

The thief stepped into the bathroom and Jonathon could hear him rifling through the cabinet above the sink. No doubt looking for drugs.

Jonathon quickly pulled on his jeans and quick stepped to the bathroom door. He leaned against the wall to the side of the door and waited. When the thief came out of the bathroom, Jonathon grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arm around the thief's neck in a rear naked choke. The thief gasped, startled, and flailed against Jonathon's hold but couldn't break loose.

The knife seemed to come out of nowhere and Jonathon saw it too late. The thief slashed his arm then swung down to stab him in the side. Jonathon released him and dodged backwards. Blood drained down his arm and hand and dripped onto the carpet, but he ignored the wound and kept his eyes on the intruder.

The thief was clearly young and inexperienced. He faced Jonathon and held up the knife.

"Bad idea, kid." Jonathon warned in a low, dangerous voice. "I'm telling you now, just walk away. I don't want to hurt you."

The thief moved the knife back and forth, but his fear was evident in the unsteadiness of his hand. Still, he was a kid and kids wanted to sound tough. "I got the knife, mister."

Jonathon's hand shot forward and plucked the knife from the kid, tossing it into a dark corner of the room, then before the kid could blink, Jonathon once again had him in a rear naked choke. "Don't be stupid, kid." Jonathon hissed in the kid's ear. "I could kill you right now."

"Jonathon?" Clarice was suddenly awake and sitting forward in the bed, the blanket pulled up over her chest. When her mind cleared of sleep and she registered the situation, alarm filled her voice. "Jonathon! What's happening?"

"It's okay." He said. "Our guest here was just leaving." He leaned close to the kid's ear. "Weren't you?"

The kid's eyes bulged in his head as Jonathon's tight grip on his throat steadily cut off his oxygen. He nodded vigorously as his hands tried to pull Jonathon's arm away. Jonathon released him suddenly and shoved him towards the door. The kid stumbled forward, grabbed the door handle and fled the room.

Clarice grabbed her t-shirt and pulled it on quickly then hurried to Jonathon. She touched his arm them jerked her hand back when she felt the blood. "Oh god." She rushed to the bed and turned on the lamp. The sight of Jonathon's arms drenched in blood filled her with panic. "Oh my god, you're bleeding!"

"I'll be fine." he said. "Hand me the bandage wrap. It's just a flesh wound."

Clarice quickly retrieved the bandage wrap. "Let me do it." She said, but he shook his head and took the wrap.

"I told you, it's just a flesh wound." He moved towards the bathroom. "I can take care of it." she started to follow when he entered the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He went to the sink and turned on the cold water then stuck his arm beneath the stream. He scrubbed away the blood and looked at his forearm where the kid had cut him deep. His skin was smooth, flawless. The deep gash was gone. Healed.

Jonathon stared at his reflection for a long moment. You have to tell her who you are. He closed his eyes and recalled too vividly how good it felt to hold Clarice, make love to her, feel her love for him. He opened his eyes as cold reality settled in. "You have to tell her what you are." He whispered.

He looked away from his image and grabbed a towel. He dried his arm and wrapped the bandage around where the cut had been. Until he figured out how to tell her the truth, she had to believe he was as human as she was.

Before...

CLARICE

The officer sat down on the sofa beside Clarice. He had a notepad in his hand. She leaned against her mom, whose arm was wrapped around her shoulders protectively. "Is this really necessary?" Dana asked. "We already told the police what happened."

"We just have some follow up questions about what your daughter witnessed." He said.

The officer was young. Younger than the other cops who had come there before. Clarice looked at him from her secure position next to her mother. He smiled down at her. His eyes were friendly. Concerned.

"My daughter was traumatized." Dana said. "You can't possibly think she actually saw what she thought she saw."

"As I said, it's just routine follow up." He looked at Clarice again. "Honey, can you tell me what happened? Did you see the man who shot the two bad men?"

"I really don't think-" Dana started.

"He had black hair." Clarice spoke low, cutting off her mother's words. "And blue eyes. Dark blue like...the water in the lake where we go camping. But..."

"What, honey?" The officer pressed gently.

She frowned as she thought hard, trying to remember what it was about his eyes that were different. "His eyes weren't just blue. They had...gold in them, and it was like...the gold parts glowed."

"This is crazy." Dana said. "She was terrified. If she saw anything, it was just a reflection of light."

The officer wasn't listening to her mom. He was staring at her. "And what else?" He asked quietly. "Did he say anything to you?"

Clarice nodded. "He said that he wouldn't let anyone hurt me. Then he told me to close my eyes and cover my ears."

"Then what?"

"Then he shot them." She said softly. "And then he said 'You're safe, Clarice.'"

"He knew your name?"

"Uh huh."

"Have you ever seen him before?" The officer asked.

Clarice shook her head.

"How do you suppose he knew your name?"

She shrugged. "I don't know."

The officer scribbled something in the notepad then looked at her again. "What happened then?"

Clarice looked nervously up at her mother then back to the officer. "He disappeared."

"You mean he left the house?"

"No." She shook her head. "He...disappeared. Like magic."

The officer frowned. "Do you mean he vanished into thin air?"

"Yes."

"I told you." Dana said. "She was traumatized. She didn't really see anyone disappear."

The officer looked at her mom. "What do you think happened to those men?" He asked. "Who do you think shot them?"

Her mom shifted uncomfortably. "I-I don't know." She admitted. Her voice shook a little. "Maybe someone was outside, heard Clarice scream and came to help."

"Someone who just happened to be packing a nine millimeter handgun?"

Clarice looked up at her mom. Dana met her eyes briefly then glanced away. "I don't know." She said. "But I do know that human beings don't just appear out of nowhere and then disappear into thin air. It isn't possible."

"I agree." The officer murmured and Clarice's heart sank. He didn't believe her either. "Human beings don't do that." He closed his notepad and stood up. Her mom stood up with him.

Clarice remained sitting. She stared at her hands in her lap. Nobody believed her. Not even Aaron, who always believed everything she said. She wouldn't lie to Aaron, but he still didn't believe her. Her dad didn't either. Why did everyone think she was lying? She never lied. Never. Everyone said she was just seeing things, but she wasn't.

The officer shook her mom's hand and apologized for the inconvenience. Then he bent down and held out his hand to her. She shook it tentatively. "Thank you for talking with me." He spoke quietly. "You've been very helpful."

Aaron hollered at their mom from the other room. Dana took a few steps in that direction and called, "In a minute, honey."

The officer leaned closer to Clarice. "I believe you." He whispered then smiled.

Clarice smiled back.

10...The Morning After...

"Here." Jonathon handed Clarice his black leather jacket. "Take this. It's cold outside."

Clarice took the jacket and slipped it on. The heavy sleeves hung down over her hands and the hem struck her upper thighs. Jonathon had found a long sleeve thermal shirt in the bag and put it on beneath one of the t-shirts.

He grabbed the sawed off shotgun and stuffed it in the bag to conceal it, then dropped his shoulder holster in with it and tucked the 9mm in the back of his jeans, covering it with his double shirts. He looked up at Clarice. She'd pulled the jacket tightly around her and was breathing in his scent. When she caught him watching her, she smiled.

"Smells good." She said softly. "Like you."

A smile tugged the corner of his mouth as he picked up the bag. "We should get going."

There was only a trace of a limp to Clarice's walk as she headed for the door.

"How's the leg?" He asked. He opened the door ahead of her and looked out, scanning the area outside quickly.

"Better." She said. "It don't hurt so much anymore." She shrugged as he turned back to face her. "I'm a bit sore, though."

"That's to be expected." he said. "After the incident at your brother's..." His words faltered as she just looked at him, and it suddenly dawned on him what she meant. "Oh." He cleared his throat. "Sorry about that."

She moved up close to him till her body was touching his. She looked up in his eyes. "Don't you dare apologize for last night." She whispered.

"My mistake." He murmured and leaned down, kissing her lightly on the lips.

She licked her lips when he drew back. "Mmm." She touched his arm where the thief had cut him. She could feel the bandage wrap beneath the thermal sleeve. "How is your arm?"

"It's okay." He said quickly and opened the door wider for her. "We should go."

The gray light of early dawn poured down like a smoky haze as they stepped out of the room and closed the door. Clarice went to the SUV while Jonathon returned the key to the office. She wished they could've stayed another night or two. Last night, while Jonathon had held her, she'd almost forgotten the nightmare she'd suddenly and violently been thrust into. But being back on the road, on the run, it would all come rushing back full force.

Jonathon returned to the truck and slid in behind the wheel. He cranked the engine and it turned over smoothly.

"Do you know where we're going?" She asked when they were away from the motel and headed down the road.

"Yes." He said as he stared straight ahead. "But we have to make a stop first before we get on our way."

"Stop where?"

Jonathon glanced at her but seemed unable to hold her eyes for very long. She wondered if that was a bad sign. "There's a guide station about ten miles up ahead." He said. "This is prime hunting grounds that draw hunters from out of state. They need guides to take them up into the mountains."

"And this is relevant to us...how?" Clarice queried.

"The guided trips last about a week." He said. "The hunters leave their rigs at the station. We need to swap the SUV for something more fitting for where we're going." He lent her another quick look. "And the cops will be looking for this rig by now. We have enough to deal with, we don't need the cops on our ass as well."

Clarice nodded slowly. She understood. They had to steal another rig. But Jonathon hadn't technically stolen this rig, had he? The man had given him the keys willingly.

Willingly. The word floated through her head as she glanced at Jonathon. That whole incident at the mini-mart made no sense to her. How had Jonathon convinced the man to exchange rigs with him?

She wanted to believe Jonathon was her knight in shining armor, rushing in to fight off the dragon and whisk her away into happily ever after...but there were too many gaps she didn't know how to fill. And his insistence that there were things she needed to know about him filled her with unease. Yet she had given herself to him last night without a second thought. Was his transference theory right? Had she merely done that out of need for comfort and connection?

Morning sunlight began to break through the fog. The evergreen trees were laced with frost and glimmered like jewels wherever the sun beams hit them. Clarice watched Jonathon as he drove in silence. A level of tension had returned to his face. Last night, the tension had evaporated as he'd held her so close and made love to her with such passion and intensity, as if that would be their one and only night together. The thought that they would never share another night like that again generated an empty, hollow feeling in her heart. It wasn't just transference. She loved this man who she knew so little about. Loved him beyond her own comprehension.

Last night he'd told her he would die for her. And as she looked at him now, she knew she would give her life for him as well.

_________________________________

The SUV sat in the deep shadows of the trees at the far end of the small gravel parking lot in front of the guide station. A group of four hunters shouldered their packs and readied themselves for the trek into the mountains. Each pack was outfitted with a compound bow and the men were dressed in camo.

Jonathon sat quiet and motionless behind the wheel of the SUV and watched the small procession. The guide came out of the station in hiking boots and a flap jacket, wearing his own pack, minus the compound bow. He wasn't hunting with them, just directing them to their prey.

The group headed off down a trail that led into the trees. Jonathon watched them till they were out of sight, then continued to wait another ten minutes before opening his door and stepping out. Through the trees he could hear the roar of a waterfall, engorged and swollen. He looked at the rigs parked in the gravel lot. A 1972 blue and white Chevy suburban was parked at the far end. It appeared to be in cherry condition and sported heavy treaded mud tires.

"Come around and get behind the wheel." He told Clarice.

She frowned. "Why?"

He nodded towards the blue and white Chevy. "I'm gonna take the suburban, but I want you to follow me up the road in this."

"I thought you wanted to get rid of this rig." She said.

He looked at her. "I do. But not here. The longer it takes them to find it, the more of a head start we'll get. When the hunters return in a few days, they'll figure the missing truck is a random theft. There won't be any reason for anyone to link it to us."

She nodded and climbed out of the SUV, went around the front and slid up in behind the wheel. "They haven't been gone long." She pointed out. "Will they hear the rig start?"

"You hear that?" He asked. "That thundering noise is a waterfall. The trail they took is headed right towards it. As soon as they entered the trees, it would've drowned out all other sound."

"Oh." Clarice nodded.

Jonathon closed her door and walked to the end of the gravel lot, glancing around to make sure no one was lingering back. He squatted down next to the driver door of the Suburban and reached underneath the rig, feeling around. He found what he was looking for and popped open the hidden compartment. A set of keys fell into his hand. He smiled and stood up. Right where the owner of the rig told him it would be.

He unlocked the door and climbed inside, starting the truck. The engine sounded good, strong. It would take them where they were going. He closed the door and backed the Chevy around and pulled forward. He nodded to Clarice and she started the SUV. He drove the Chevy to the edge of the two lane road and waited for the SUV to pull up behind him.

The two rigs drove out onto the road and turned left. Jonathon made sure the SUV remained only a single car length behind him. The road was beginning to wind and he didn't want to lose sight of her. Every few seconds he cast a quick look in the rear view mirror to assure himself she was there.

He'd heard her thoughts on the way to the guide station. He almost wished she didn't really love him the way she did. Almost wished it. But after last night, he couldn't bring himself to wish away what he'd felt in her body and mind as they'd made love. He needed her love more than he'd ever needed anything in his life. But as much as she was convinced she was in love with him...how fast would that change once she learned the details? He should have waited. He knew that now. He knew it last night. And yet...if she came to him again, he wouldn't be able to turn her away. Maybe deep down, he was just a selfish bastard.

He shoved the thought away and spotted a gravel pullout. He guided the Chevy off the road and waited for the SUV to park next to him. He got out the Suburban and walked around to the driver door of the SUV and opened it.

"Get out." He said.

As Clarice slid out from behind the wheel, he opened the back driver side door and took out the sports bag, handing it to Clarice. He then reached in, cranked the engine over and dropped the SUV into gear.

"What're you doing?" Clarice asked uncertainly.

"Getting rid of it."

The outer side of the pull off slanted a little downhill towards the edge which dropped off into a deep ravine a few thousand feet below. Jonathon gripped the door frame and the steering wheel, put his weight into it and began to slowly push the SUV towards the edge. When it reached the slanted ground, it moved a little faster and Jonathon pushed harder. He stepped back away from the truck at the last moment as its own weight and momentum carried it on over the edge and out of sight. Jonathon stepped to the edge and watched the rig fall through open air then smash against the rocks below, tumble and splash into the raging river. As he watched the SUV bob in the swift waters then slowly sink, he concluded that the river was becoming more useful by the moment.

"Come on." Jonathon said, casting one last look at the river below. He took the bag from Clarice as they walked to the Suburban. He took the shotgun out of the bag then put the bag in the back seat and climbed in behind the wheel. Clarice got in the passenger side as Jonathon laid the shotgun on the seat between them and turned the engine over.

"It's gonna be a long drive." He said as he pulled the Chevy back out onto the road. A stiff silence filled the Chevy for a moment before he added, "It'll give us time to talk."

Clarice turned and looked out the passenger window. The Chevy picked up speed, but Jonathon wasn't driving quite as fast as before. The road was becoming winding and the threat behind them wasn't as imminent. It would be tragically ironic after going through so much to save her if he ended up killing her in a freak car accident because he was taking the corners too fast.

Her anxiety was evident even without touching her mind. She knew she had to hear what he had to say, but after last night, after establishing their connection so completely and intimately, she was terrified of what he would tell her.

"We should have talked last night." He said low. "Before we..." He rubbed one hand over his mouth anxiously. "I shouldn't have allowed that to happen without telling you everything first."

"If you're sorry it happened." She whispered without looking at him. "You can just say so. You don't have to make excuses as to why you're regretting it now."

The moment they hit a short straight stretch of the road, Jonathon pulled the Chevy to the shoulder and let it idle. Clarice looked at him. "What're you doing?"

He moved the shotgun from the seat to the floorboard then reached over and pulled Clarice across the seat till she was sitting up next to him. He cupped her face and kissed her, his passion and need for her every bit as evident in this kiss as in each and every kiss he gave her last night. She instantly responded.

"I'm not sorry." He murmured thickly against her lips as their kiss ended. "And I don't regret it now, nor will I ever." He tilted her face up so he could look in her glistening eyes. "But the things I know...they are things you should have let me tell you beforehand. Because it's your regrets that I'm afraid of."

She stared up in his eyes. There was still so much innocence in her. And for a brief moment, he saw in her lovely dark eyes the ten year old little girl he'd held close and protected so long ago. Except for him, it hadn't been so long ago, less than two weeks. Perhaps that was why it was still so easy to see the child she'd been, and feel the desperate need to protect her.

"I'll never regret making love to you." She said softly, pulling him out of his thoughts. "No matter what you tell me. I'll never wish last night never happened."

He pulled her close, held her tight. Please, God, let her be right.

_________________________________

Leland became aware of his fate the moment he looked up and Victor was standing in the doorway of his study. Come to do his own dirty work. Unusual. Leland was expecting Hunter. It was more Victor's style to send in his hired gun to do the job. Less messy. Job was done quick and efficient. And nothing could be linked back to Victor.

But perhaps, Leland surmised, that even Victor was human enough to kill his own brother himself, rather than send in a cold, calculated assassin to do it for him.

"Morning, Vic." Leland didn't get up from his desk. "Wasn't expecting you."

Victor didn't miss the underlying meaning of his brother's words. Leland didn't expect him to miss it. "Where is he going, Leland?" Victor's voice was low, almost pleasant if it wasn't for the dangerous edge.

Leland raised an eyebrow. "Where is who going, Vic?"

"You've been feeding him information." Victor said. "You told him how to put Alec out of commission."

"Those are your toys, Vic." Leland spoke quietly as he poured himself some wine and leaned back in his chair, sipping at the glass. "Your playground. It always was. And I wanted no part of your horror show then, and I don't want any now."

Victor stepped just inside the study. "You were a fool then, Leland." He said. "And you're an even bigger fool now. I know you've been talking to him."

The wine swirled slowly in the glass as Leland stared at his younger brother. The man had never really been right in the head. Even as a kid, he'd had a taste for the bizarre. Leland recalled with great distaste and disgust the experiments young Victor had performed on unsuspecting small animals. The torture he'd put them through. Leland was certain that if Victor hadn't become a doctor of science...he would have become a serial killer.

"Do what you came here to do." Leland said bluntly. "Or get the hell out of my study. I've got work to do."

The handgun appeared in Victor's hand as if it materialized from thin air. It didn't. Victor had had it on him when he came in. Leland knew that the moment Victor had appeared in his doorway.

"You can't save him." The gun hung down at Victor's side. He had yet to raise it in a threatening manner. But the fact that it was in his hand at all was threat enough. "You may not have wanted to be a part of my project, but you still know what he is." Victor's eyes narrowed a little. "Yet you never were able to see him as less than human, were you? "

Leland came up out of his chair so suddenly that Victor took a step back, startled. "You." Leland hissed as he jabbed his finger at the younger man. "You are the one who is less than human. Jonathon has more humanity in him than you will ever have. Good God, man." Leland shook his head as his throat tightened with emotion. "How could you do what you did?"

Victor spoke without feeling. "He was just another experiment, like all the rest."

"Then he's a failed experiment." Leland said tightly. "He's of no use to you. Why can't you just let him go? Find Alec and take him back. But for once in your life...show Jonathon some mercy and leave him be."

Victor looked at the older man thoughtfully. "You always knew, didn't you?"

"Knew what?"

"That Jonathon wasn't a dead cell." Victor motioned with the hand that held the gun. "You taught him how to hide it from me. You taught him how to appear just like any other normal kid. When the truth was..." Victor raised the gun with purpose and aimed it at Leland. "...he was my most successful experiment. And now...I want him back." Victor cocked the gun. "And you're going to tell me where he is."

Leland stared at his brother across the top of the desk. "You can't make me tell you a damn thing." Leland spoke low. "The only power you possess...is in that gun in your hand. And that gun can't make me talk. It can only kill me."

Victor looked at Leland with cold, emotionless eyes. "So be it then."

The gun fired. Once. Twice.

Leland jerked back and fell into his chair, both shots catching him in the chest. He lay slumped in his chair, dead eyes gazing blankly at the ceiling.

...Before...

JONATHON

"He can feel, Uncle Lee." Johnny said. "Father doesn't think he can, but he does."

Uncle Lee crouched before him. "I know, Johnny."

"He feels her." Johnny told him. "He cried out her name, in his mind."

"Do you know who she is?" Uncle Lee asked. "How does he know her?"

Johnny shrugged. "I don't know. But he feels her every day."

Rising slowly to his feet, Uncle Lee sat on the bed next to Johnny and touched his shoulder. "Johnny, you can't tell Victor about the girl. Or about any of this."

"But why?" Johnny asked. "If father knew they could feel, then he would stop hurting them. If he knew."

"He knows, Johnny." Uncle Lee said softly, sadly. "And he doesn't care. He is the one who can't feel."

Johnny looked down at his hands in his lap.

Uncle Lee wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer in a fatherly hug. "I'm sorry, Johnny." He whispered. "But you have to remember what I said before, you can't let Victor know what you can do. If he finds out, he'll hurt you too. Like he does the others. And you can never - never - tell him about the girl."

Johnny raised his head. Tears filled his eyes. "But why, Uncle Lee?"

The older man looked down at him. Deep sadness filled his eyes and strained his face. "Because Victor would kill her."





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