Excerpt © 2011 by Laura Resnick a.k.a. Laura Leone
Ransom awoke at dawn, stiff and uncomfortable and disoriented. His eyelids felt as if they’d been glued shut. What had woken him?
He finally figured it out. There was a soft, repetitive, abrasive sound. Somewhere nearby. Swish-swish, swish-swish. It took him back to his early childhood, to the mother he’d lost long ago, sweeping the kitchen after supper while he and his brother sat doing their homework at the kitchen table. Swish-swish, swish-swish. A comforting, homey sound, full of vague but good memories.
What was that sound doing in his room at dawn?
He forced one eye open. He saw a flat wooden surface. Ah, so that’s what the hard thing under his cheek was. Wood.
Where the hell was his pillow? In fact, where the hell was his bed?
He blinked his other eye open and picked up his head. He immediately felt sick.
Oh, shit. He didn’t want to be sick. He swallowed and held still, waiting for the feeling to subside.
By the time it did, he’d realized he wasn’t in his room. He was sitting on a hard wooden chair in the bar, his head and arms resting on the table.
How the hell had he managed to fall asleep in this position?
His tongue felt furry, and his mouth tasted foul. His head hurt. The nausea was fading, but not disappearing. Surely he hadn’t gotten drunk last night? Not only was that unlike him, but surely he wouldn’t have done anything so stupid while guarding Madeleine?
He thought back. The effort made his head hurt.
No, he’d only one drink last night—that modest shot of whiskey. He remembered that the whiskey had been strong and slightly bitter, but still…
Oh, shit, he thought again, as things started coming together. He stood up slowly, and the way the room whirled confirmed his suspicions.
He’d been drugged.
“Buenas días, señor.”
Ransom looked over his shoulder and found the source of the sound which had awoken him. A girl, about twelve years old, was sweeping the barroom floor. She smiled hesitantly at him. He tried to smile back, but she apparently didn’t find the effort reassuring.
“Donde está el señor?” He asked for Gutiérrez in a gravelly voice, his mind working slowly. Who had drugged the whiskey? And why?
The girl replied that Gutiérrez was outside. Did the señor require something?
He didn’t even hear her.
Why? Why else, you idiot? He was halfway up the stairs before he’d completed the thought. A wealthy woman, sleeping alone up there… Oh, God, please, please, please let her be safe.
He flung himself against her door. It was locked.
“Maddie!” He kicked in the door and barreled into the room.
She screamed and leapt out of bed.
Safe! Safe, she was safe.
“Maddie!” He scooped her up in his arms while she was still flailing in the tangled bed sheets that twined around her legs.
“What? What! What?” she cried breathlessly, squirming in his
arms, trying to see what was in her room or beyond her door that had caused him to terrify her like this.
“Jesus, oh, Jesus, oh, thank you, God,” he murmured incoherently, hugging her with bruising force.
“What? What? Ransom, what’s going on?” she demanded, shoving at him.
He ran his hands over her possessively, still needing to assure himself that she was safe. “I thought… I thought… Oh, hell, I don’t know what I thought, but—”
“You don’t know? You don’t know?”
“Well, no, but—”
“What’s going on?” she demanded.
“I’m not sure.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Um. I’m not sure.” He was starting to feel very stupid.
“You’re not sure?” She looked like she wanted to hit him again. “Have you gone mad? You scared me half to death!”
Realizing that he wasn’t behaving very sensibly, he mumbled, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? You’re sorry?” She seemed at a loss for words. Her pretty nightgown molded to her body as she slumped down on the bed and repeated, “You’re sorry.” She rubbed her side and said, “I think some of my ribs cracked when your gun rammed into them.”
He glanced down, so accustomed to the feel of his holstered Glock that he’d forgotten he was wearing it. Yes, he must have hurt her. Shit. He had to pull himself together. He ran a hand through his tangled hair and tried to think. “Look, it’s been a hell of a night, and—”
“I nearly had a heart attack!” She pressed a hand to her chest and threatened, “In fact, I may still have one!”
“Not now,” he ordered absently, drawing a withering glare from her. “I’ve got to figure out…” It hit him like a ton of bricks. “Miguel.”
He turned and ran from the room. Madeleine followed him. She caught up with him when he stopped to pound on Miguel’s door, two rooms away.
“What’s going on?”
“Somebody drugged me last night.” He shouted through the door, “Miguel? Are you in there?”
“What?” Her eyes were wide with surprise.
“I thought it was a kidnapping attempt.”
“Oh! That’s why you burst—”
“Stand back.” He shoved her aside and kicked the door in. She followed him inside the room.
It was empty. The bed hadn’t been slept in. There was no sign of Miguel or his battered valise. But there was a note on the bed. Ransom picked it up and read it in silence.
“What does it say? Where is Miguel?” Madeleine asked.
Ransom sagged onto the bed and handed the note to her. “He’s gone. For good. And he’s stolen the car.”