Afternoon turned to evening as the two lane road took them further away from civilization. The sun was sinking behind the Rockies and a bitter chill began to seep into the Chevy interior. Jonathon turned the heater up and glanced at Clarice. She hadn't said a word since they'd left the rest area, and that was hours ago. She just hugged the jacket around her and stared out the window at the trees and falling darkness.
Her mind was numb and he forced himself to stay out of her head. She had a right to figure this out without him invading her privacy anymore than he'd already done.
He watched the road. The Suburban's headlights cut a path through the growing darkness, guiding them, showing them the way. It had been at least a decade, if not longer, since Jonathon had been up here. But he was certain it would be morning before they came to the turnoff that would take them where they needed to go.
The Chevy rounded a long curve in the road and around the other side lights glowed in the twilight. To Jonathon's surprise, off to the side of the road was a small cafe, an old style general store, and a couple tiny cabins that were rented by the night. He didn't remember this being here before, but again, it had been over a decade since he'd been up this way.
He pulled the Chevy off the two lane road and parked in front of the cafe. Clarice turned slowly and looked at him. "What're we doing/"
The Chevy's engine cut off. Jonathon took the keys from the ignition and stuffed them in his pocket. "Right now." He said. "We're gonna get something to eat."
The air was icy and bit at their faces as they walked from the Chevy to the cafe. Inside the cafe, it was warm and had a cozy, down home feeling to it. The place was nearly deserted but for a couple old guys sitting at the counter drinking coffee. One of the old guys looked up when Jonathon and Clarice entered.
Jonathon nodded. "Hello."
The other old guy looked at them. "Don't get many strangers in these parts." He said. "Where you two youngsters from?"
"Denver." Jonathon lied.
"Ayuh. City kids, huh?"
"'Fraid so." Jonathon smiled and directed Clarice to a corner booth.
"Whatcha doin' all the way up here?" The first old guy asked, turning on his stool to look at Jonathon.
"Oh Willie, stop botherin' the folks." An older woman behind the bar berated the old guy without conviction. She was plump and friendly, smiling at Jonathon as she came around the end of the counter with two menus and a pot of coffee.
Before they even asked, she poured them both a cup of hot coffee. "Coffee's on the house." She said and handed them the menus. "Just give me a holler when you're ready to order. Name's Helen."
Clarice offered the woman a warm smile as she took one of the menus. "Thank you."
"Sure thing, sweety." She winked at Jonathon. "She's a doll."
Clarice's cheeks turned a light shade of pink as she ducked her head. For whatever reason, Jonathon found that endearing, and exceedingly attractive.
"That she is." Jonathon told Helen with a smile.
When the older woman was gone, Jonathon opened his menu and scanned the contents. "I think I'm just in the mood for an old fashion burger and fries." He closed the menu and looked at Clarice. She had her menu opened, but there was a blankness to her eyes that told him she wasn't really looking at it. When her eyes focused and she caught him watching her, she closed the menu and set it aside.
"I'm...really not very hungry." She said quietly. She picked up her cup of coffee, sipped at it then set it aside.
"Well, you need to eat something anyway." Jonathon said. "You hardly ate anything yesterday, and who knows how much you had to eat before that. You can run on empty for only so long before you just shut down."
He waved to Helen who quickly returned to their table. "We'll have two hamburgers with fries and a couple cokes."
Helen scribbled it down. "Won't be but about ten minutes." She said and returned to the kitchen with the order.
Clarice twisted the coffee cup on the table in front of her, eyes avoiding Jonathon. He thought about last night, how she'd held him, even clung to him. She'd opened her self to him completely, physically and emotionally. He didn't have to read her mind because she was showing him and telling him everything he needed and wanted to know.
But that was last night. That was before he'd begun to systematically unravel everything she thought she knew about her family and even life itself. There was a barrier between them now and he feared it could never be removed.
It seemed less than ten minutes before Helen brought them their food and drinks. Jonathon thanked her and she left again. Clarice stared at her plate. Despite the stress and tension grinding his guts, the smell of the food instantly ignited Jonathon's appetite. He picked up the burger and bit into it without taking his eyes off Clarice. In reality, he couldn't force her to eat. But he sensed that even she was being tantalized by the smell of her meal.
She picked up a French fry and ate it slowly. Then another one. Before long, she was eating away at the burger as well. Not as enthusiastically as he was, but still eating it nonetheless.
By the time Helen came to take their plates away, both of them had eaten every last bit of food in front of them. Jonathon smiled at Helen. "Best burger and fries I've ever had."
"Thank you." She smiled. "If you need anything else, just let me know." She took away their empty plates.
Jonathon sipped at his soda. "Feel better?"
"Yeah." Clarice admitted quietly but she still wasn't wanting to look at him.
Clearing his throat, Jonathon said, "I think we should rent one of the cabins for the night. There's still a long drive ahead of us and we could both use some rest."
A tension instantly gripped Clarice. He knew what she was afraid of.
"You can have the bed." He watched her as he sipped his glass of soda.
She finally raised her eyes and looked at him. "It's a little late to be so formal, don't you think?" She whispered then looked away again.
"I just didn't want you to think I was..." He cleared his throat. "That I was expecting anything."
The muscles in Clarice's face tightened and flexed as a glossy film of tears coated her eyes. It seemed as if she wanted to say something but decided against it. When she did finally speak, it was to excuse herself.
"I need some air." She whispered and stood up, heading for the door.
Jonathon watched her leave the cafe, wanting to follow her, always wanting her in his sight. But he stayed where he was. She was struggling and she needed some space to come to terms with everything being thrust at her.
He could see her through the window and that helped him relax a little.
Only a faint glow from the cafe's interior lights lit the parking lot. Clarice pulled the heavy leather jacket more tightly around her and leaned against the back end of the Suburban. No cars passed by on the two lane road a few hundred yards away. And beyond the road, on the far side, was only blackness.
She felt exposed standing out there alone but she hadn't lied when she said she needed some air. Last night was still too fresh and vivid in her mind, and now Jonathon wanted them to spend another night together in close quarters? He said he wasn't expecting anything, and she knew he was telling her the truth. But what was the truth for her? Did she really not want a replay of last night?
Every nerve in her body came alive at the thought of feeling him touch her again, feeling him make love to her again. She'd been with him that whole day and even with all that he had told her, all the horror and fear it filled her with...she still couldn't stop thinking about last night in his arms.
But he still had so much left to tell her. He wasn't even close to finished. It was like he had opened Pandora's Box when he began explaining these things to her, and God only knew what horror would come out of that box next. Could she really be with him again without first knowing the rest? Last night, he hadn't begun to explain anything yet. There was nothing to hold her back or give her cause for doubts and uncertainties. But that wasn't the case tonight.
She could feel the shakes starting to come back but she resisted them. Her parents were dead. Aaron was dead. She was alone and she had to figure out how to deal with the worst of life on her own. She didn't have anyone to run to anymore, anyone to make her feel safe or tell her they would be there for her come hell or high water.
Last night Jonathon had said he would die before he let anyone hurt her. But in truth, she didn't know this man. His actions seemed to back up his words...but what if he had an ulterior motive? He knew everything about this insanity, all the way back to before she was even born. How did he know so much about it? Was he part of it? Had he worked for the people who'd done that to her mom? And if so...did he work for them still?
Clarice stared out into the darkness. What if he'd been lying when he said that she and Aaron didn't test positive for the...foreign gene? She searched the darkness as if the answers she was looking for could be found out there somewhere in the night.
She glanced back towards the cafe. Jonathon still sat at the table. Helen was pouring him a fresh cup of coffee. She watched him smile at the older woman. It was a genuine smile that told her he was a man who respected others, and could appreciate the friendliness of a stranger regardless of age, weight, race or gender. He reminded her of Aaron. A genuinely good and decent man.
"Who are you, Jonathon Lancaster?" She whispered.
As if he'd heard her speak, he turned his head slowly and looked out the window.
The man was on top of Clarice. She screamed and cried out in horror but she wasn't strong enough to push him off or make him stop. Jonathon stood in the doorway, watching, unable to enter the room, unable to tear the fucker off her. He beat at the door frame, screaming her name, but there was an invisible barrier he couldn't get through.
"Get off her, you motherfucker!" He screamed and beat his fists frantically against the door frame. Clarice's eyes met his and she cried out for him to help her. Her small hand stretched towards him, her eyes wide. She screamed suddenly as the man violated her young body, her eyes rolled back in her head and she began to convulse with fear and shock. And still the man didn't stop.
Jonathon screamed and cried, beating his fists until they were bloody. "I'm gonna kill you, motherfucker!" He yelled so loud it made his throat raw. He wanted to turn away, he didn't want to see this, but Clarice's eyes focused and she reached for him again. Please don't leave me, she mouthed the words to him, her eyes flooding with tears. Please don't leave me, Jonathon. Jonathon help me!
* * *
Jonathon bolted forward in the easy chair, his body soaked with sweat, his heart pounding like a jack hammer. "Clarice!" He cried out loudly, his voice thick and strained with fear.
"Jonathon." She was standing before him, her hand on his arm, shaking him.
He blinked as the nightmare faded and reality set in. He stared at her through watery eyes, widened with fear and horror. She was all right. He had saved her. She hadn't been raped, her young body broken and permanently crippled. She was okay. She was safe.
Without warning, he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into his arms, hugging her tight, his face pressed against her stomach. His body trembled and shuddered with the memory of what had happened the first time that horrific night had played out. Before Jonathon had changed the course of events.
Her fingers combed slowly through his hair. "You were just dreaming." Clarice said softly. "That's all."
Jonathon squeezed his eyes shut and continued to hold onto her, the warmth of her stomach heating his cheek through the thin t-shirt. Suddenly, he jerked back as if she'd shocked him. He released her and sat back in the chair.
"Jonathon, what's wrong?" She asked. "What is it?"
He didn't answer as he stared blankly past her, his eyes deeply troubled.
"Is...is it him?" Clarice whispered unsteadily as she sank to her knees before him. "Is he coming?"
The depth of fear in her voice snapped Jonathon back to attention. "What?" He blinked, then shook his head. "No. No, we're safe. For now."
She looked at him for a long moment then stood up. She took hold of his hand. "You need some real rest and you can't get that by sleeping in the chair." She urged him to stand up. "Sleep in the bed." She hesitated then added quietly, "If you don't want me in the bed with you, I can take the chair. It's no big deal."
He looked at her, the memory of the nightmare still tormenting his mind. "Right now." He murmured. "I couldn't even think about sleeping without you next to me."
"What were you dreaming about?" She whispered.
He shook his head and drew her with him to the bed. "It doesn't matter now." He pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly. "It was just a dream." He breathed in her scent and closed his eyes. "Just a really bad dream...and nothing more."
He shed his jeans and t-shirt and crawled into bed in just his boxers. Clarice slid in next to him, the thin t-shirt she was wearing feeling like no barrier at all. She pressed up close to him and began stroking his chest and stomach with her fingertips. He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath and released it in a shuddery sigh as her touch began to heat him from the inside out.
A low groan surfaced in the back of his throat as she began to lightly kiss his chest, then down his stomach. She slid lower beneath the blankets and began to love on him in a way he'd never experienced before. He gripped the sheets on either side of him as his heart rate sky rocketed. Her tenderness and passion made him fall in love with her all over again. Tears burned in his eyes as he groaned deeply with pure pleasure and ecstasy.
When he couldn't take it any longer, he reached down and drew her up over his body, peeling off her t-shirt. She straddled him and welcomed him inside as she moved against him with a startling level of urgency. Small cries slipped from her lips as his own desperate need quickened their rhythm.
"Jonathon!" She cried out sharply when he'd taken her as far as she could go.
The feel of her body tightening and tensing then letting go brought him the rest of the way. He gasped loudly and pulled her down against him as their bodies shuddered against each other. He slowly rolled them over till he was covering her body with his then began to kiss her deeply, his hands caressing her damp, hot skin.
He broke their kiss with a small gasp and nuzzled her throat, sucking and nipping at the tender skin. She moaned softly and stroked his hair, his back. He moved lower still and suckled at her breasts, taking his time.
When his lips moved down her stomach, he paused, kissing her naval tenderly and with affection. He pressed his lips to her stomach and closed his eyes. There was no heartbeat yet, but soon. How would she feel when she found out? How would she feel when she learned the truth about him?
He shoved the unsettling thoughts away and accepted the blessing of the moment. And at this moment, she loved him. And she was safe. Unharmed. Untouched. He had saved her and never again would he question his decision to alter that fateful night.
Yesterday, as Jonathon had begun to explain the chaos to her, Clarice's life had crossed a line it could never cross back over. A change had taken place that couldn't be changed back. On one hand, it was a terrible, horrifying alteration of life as she knew it. But on another...
She looked at Jonathon as he gazed down the road in front of them. The slight frown to his brow, the distant look in his eyes, told her his mind was miles ahead, mapping out the way for them. Her gaze slid down to his thighs, the strong muscles pressing firmly against the denim.
Her pulse quickened a bit. The memories of the last two nights filled her mind and gave her a strange sense of peace. How could the best and worst moments in a person's life happen simultaneously? How was it even possible?
It was strange how love could find you in the deepest, darkest corner of hell. Nothing could stop it if it took a notion to seek you out.
She rolled the word around on her tongue. It tasted sweet. It had a power that convinced her she could face the devil himself and overcome.
Jonathon's body was warm against hers as she sat next to him once again in the front seat of the Suburban. Yesterday she had pulled away when he'd began to explain things to her, it had been too much at once, more than she could process. Even now she was still trying to process it all, knowing there was still much to come. But after last night, she knew she wouldn't pull away again, regardless of how horrific the rest of the story became. Jonathon was the only person left in this world that cared if she lived or died. He could be from another world himself and she would still love him and need him.
It seemed the miles flew by, one every microsecond. And it felt like only moments after getting back on the road, that Jonathon was steering them off the main paved road and onto a gravel road that led back into an ocean of towering evergreens.
A half mile up the gravel road, a metal gate blocked their way, locked with a heavy chain and solid padlock. The Chevy stopped and Jonathon got out. "When I open the gate." He told Clarice. "Drive the truck through."
She nodded and slid over behind the wheel.
As he walked to the gate, Jonathon reached into his pocket and took out a key. He unlocked the padlock, unraveled the chain and pushed the gate open, holding it while Clarice drove the Suburban through. He reattached the chain and padlock then took his place back behind the wheel and headed them up the mountain.
Thick evergreen trees blocked out most of the morning light, creating a dark tunnel through the trees. Jonathon switched on the headlights as the Chevy's tires crunched and occasionally spun an extra turn on the gravel before catching traction again and moving them forward.
Clarice smiled when the thick trees began to break up and rays of sunlight sifted down between the branches, glittering off the frosted bows. Tiny, crystal clear waterfalls poured down rock embankments, cutting deep paths through the snow. The sun shimmered and sparkled across the surface of the snow.
"It's so beautiful." Clarice breathed.
Jonathon smiled and looked at her. "Beautiful indeed."
A little less than an hour after leaving the main road, Jonathon pulled the Chevy to a stop in front of the cabin. Except it actually looked more like a lodge. She sat forward. "This is it?" She looked at Jonathon. "When you said cabin...I thought maybe one room, possibly two, with an outhouse forty feet from the back door."
Jonathon just shrugged and smiled. "Well, my friend likes to be in luxury, even when he's roughing it."
"He has to be rich to afford all this."
"He's not hurting." Jonathon stepped out of the Chevy and stood for a moment, surveying the surrounding landscape. Clarice slid out behind him and followed his eyes as they swept in a slow circle. In every direction, just a few hundred yards from the cabin, towering pines and cedars grew in thick masses, spreading away and further up the mountain.
"Why did you bring us here?" Clarice asked quietly. "I mean here specifically?"
"It's away from people." Jonathon spoke low, thoughtful. "Whatever happens, there'll be no witnesses. No one asking questions. If we win this fight, we can dispose of the body and no one will ever know what happened."
"And if we don't win?" Clarice whispered.
Jonathon released a slow breath. "Then it won't matter." He looked at her, then turned back to the Chevy. "We should go inside." He lifted the sports bag out of the truck. "There's meat in the freezers. I could do for a home cooked meal."
Clarice didn't move as he started for the large porch. "Is...Alec our only threat?" she asked slowly, halting Jonathon in his tracks. "Or is someone else out there too...hunting us?"
Jonathon turned slowly and stared back at her for a long moment in silence. "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." He murmured, then urged gently. "Come inside, Clarice. Lets just do this one step at a time."
The dead man's vacant eyes stared blankly at Davie Williams. At eight years old, Davie had never seen a dead body before, except once when his parents took him to his Uncle Henry's funeral. And even then, his mom had pulled him away before he could really look inside the coffin and see his dead uncle. But this was different. This dead man was in the river and he had three holes in his head.
Davie squatted to his heels on the edge of the bank and studied the body. He was sure the holes were bullet holes. Sometimes, when he was at his friend Jared's house, he would watch CSI. His own mom wouldn't let him watch that stuff because she said it was too violent and gory. But Davie thought it was neat. And he was pretty sure this guy had been shot.
The body bobbed in the dirty, swirling water. It had lodged in a fallen tree whose roots were still attached to the bank. The flood waters had washed away the bank beneath the tree and caused it to fall down. Davie stood up and went to the trunk of the tree still anchored to land and crawled up on it. There were a lot of small limbs jutting out all over the tree trunk and Davie stood up slowly, using the limbs to steady himself as he inched out towards where the body was stuck.
The tree swayed in the water, making it hard for Davie to stay on his feet, but he managed. As he neared the end of the tree, it began to sink a little into the water. He stopped and craned his neck to get a closer view of the body. It was wedged in by its arm.
"Cool." Davie whispered. He took one more step closer to the body when a man suddenly shouted out at him form the bank.
"Davie!" There was fear and alarm in his dad's voice. "What the hell are you doing? Get back here! Now!"
Davie gripped one of the limbs to steady himself as he looked back at his dad. "Dad!" He yelled, then pointed to the dead body. "Look!"
Grant Williams looked to where his son was pointing. The dead man's body lifted and sank as the flood water swirled around it. The three holes in his forehead were clear and evident.
"Davie!" Grant yelled, moving towards the tree trunk. "Get back here! Hurry up, son!"
Davie worked his way back to the bank and hopped down off the tree trunk. "He was shot wasn't he, dad?"
Grant swallowed thickly and grabbed his son's arm, pulling him back up the bank away from the river, glancing back uneasily. "Looks that way." he murmured.
"What do we do?" Davie asked, excited.
Grant urged his son up the embankment, helping him up a steep incline. "I think we better call the police."
"Awesome." Davie grinned and shot one last look back at the dead man floating in the water by the fallen tree.