The heat woke her. That and the silence. Until then there
had been noise, movement, hushed voices â€” sounds both
terrifying and comforting. Tori Riley levered up, biting
back a groan as she forced herself to a sitting position.
The room was the same â€” ugly and mean, its water-marked
walls and rotted carpet reeking of age and neglect.
Sunlight filtered through the dirt-crusted window, burying
the room in stifling heat. Tori's throat was dry with it,
and she reached for the cup that sat beside her on the
floor, the shackles on her wrists clanging together.
The cup was empty. Just as it had been last night. How
much longer would they make her wait? She glanced toward
the door, wishing it open, straining to hear above the
pounding of her heart. The world beyond her prison seemed
empty of life, the sounds she'd been hearing for the past
few days absent.
The word slipped into her mind; icy terror pumped through
her veins. Did they know? Had they found the box? Or
worse, had they found Melody?
The thought brought renewed energy. She threw her weight
against the chains that held her, ignoring the harsh stab
of pain in her wrists and the blood that seeped from the
gashes there. Breath gasped from her lungs, her chest
heaving as she struggled in an effort she knew was futile.
Hadn't she tried before? Hadn't she failed? But she
wouldn't fail now. She couldn't fail.
Sweat poured down her face, soaking the sweater she'd worn
to keep warm on the plane ride home. Only she'd never made
it to the airport, and now the heavy knit only intensified
the heat and her panic.
Stop! Think! The words roared into her consciousness. How
many times had her grandfather barked those words at her?
Tori stilled her frantic movements and closed her eyes,
letting herself picture Pops, the old farmhouse, the gray-
blue lake shimmering in the distance. Home. She'd been a
fool to run from it.
A sound drifted into the silence, a soft sigh of air that
whispered of danger. Tori's eyes flew open. Someone was
coming. Rescue? Or death? She counted seconds by the throb
of the pulse in her throat, each beat a moment closer to
whatever would come.
When the door opened and he stepped into the room, she
Black pants, black shirt, black ski mask. Tall, fit and
strong enough to kill without ever using the gun he wore
strapped to his side.
Tori shrank back, then straightened, refusing the fear
that coursed through her. "I told the others I mailed the
He didn't speak, just stalked toward her, his movement
fluid and pantherlike.
She tensed, wanting to run but knowing there was nowhere
to go. The only thing left to do was fight. She grabbed a
length of chain in her hand, feeling the heft and weight
of it, refusing to imagine the damage it could do.
He bent close, blue-green eyes striking against the black
of his mask, his gaze softened by what looked like
Tori blinked, looked again, and the softness was gone,
replaced by a hard determination that had her lifting the
chain and swinging hard with her closed fist.
She should have known better. Dehydrated, weak from
hunger, her body aching from what must have been days of
torture, she was no match for the man's strength. His hand
wrapped around hers, stopping its forward motion and
forcing her fingers open. Dizzy from the effort, Tori
slumped back against the wall, closing her eyes.
"Don't give up now, Red. You're almost home." The voice
was deep and harsh, his tone distinctly American, not the
more lilting intonations of her Thai captors.
Was he the ringleader? The boss? Did it matter? She opened
her eyes, met his gaze. "What do you want?"
"You home and safe. So pay attention and do exactly what I
say." He spoke as he pulled a slim tool from his pocket
and used it to pop the lock on the manacles that bound
She winced as metal pulled away from torn and bleeding
flesh. Winced again as he lifted her wrists and looked at
the raw wounds. "These'll scar, but you'll live."
He dropped her hands and pulled an envelope out from under
his shirt. "Passport, plane tickets, money for a taxi. You
leave this building, flag down the first taxi you see, and
head for Chiang Mai International. Your flight leaves for
Bangkok in half an hour. When you get there, don't leave
the airport. You've got a flight home at eight this
He thrust the envelope toward her and Tori grabbed it,
hands trembling as she pulled out a passport with her
picture and another woman's name, two plane tickets and a
thousand baht. "Why are you helping me?"
"There's no time for questions. Just do what I tell you,
and everything will be fine." He put a hand under her
elbow and helped her to her feet. "Let your hair down so
it covers the bruises on your face, and pull your sleeves
over your wrists."
She did as she was told, the hope of escape overshadowing
the questions that raced through her mind. Still, she
hesitated as he led her to the door. "How do I know I can
"What makes you think you have a choice?" With that he
stepped out of the room.
Tori followed, hurrying along a dark corridor and into a
trash-littered stairwell, down flight after flight of
steps, then out into early-morning sunlight. The roar of
Chiang Mai traffic filled her ears and the tangy scent of
garlic and spices rode the air. A hundred yards away,
Buddhist monks made their morning rounds, gathering the
first portion of their supplicants' morning meals in the
alms bowls they carried.
Tori took a step toward them, wanting desperately to make
contact, and felt the heavy warmth of a hand on her
shoulder. She turned, ready to fight for her freedom. It
Her rescuer dropped his hand, staring down into her face,
his eyes blazing. "Remember what I said."
Then he stepped back inside the building and disappeared.
Tori dashed down the narrow street, heading in the
direction the monks had disappeared. A flower vendor
called out to her as she passed, holding up a bouquet of
stunning purple and white orchids. She considered
stopping, asking for help or directions, but rushed on
instead. She didn't know her enemies, and couldn't be sure
they weren't lurking somewhere close by. Up ahead the
monks had paused to accept plastic bags filled with thick
curry, the daily bintabat ritual providing them with food
and Tori with the chance to overtake them.
Should she ask them for assistance?
No. Better to flag down a taxi and get as far from her
captors as possible. She stood at the curb, raised her
arm, wincing as pain shot through her ribs and side.
Nothing was broken, though the bruises were enough to make
deep breaths painful. Her captors had been careful, more
interested in inflicting pain than in causing damage.
That, at least, was a blessing.
A yellow cab pulled over and Tori clambered inside,
ignoring the stench of sweat and tobacco that drifted from
the torn vinyl seat. "How much to the nearest bus station?"
"One hundred baht." The driver spoke in heavily accented
English, his craggy face solemn, his dark eyes meeting
hers in the rearview mirror.
She nodded and settled back into the seat, trying to quiet
the wild throb of her pulse as the taxi eased through
traffic. In the distance a Buddhist temple speared the
sky. Beautiful, exotic, different. When she'd come to
Thailand three weeks ago that's what she'd been looking
for â€” something more than the quiet, small-town life she
led. Now she'd give anything to be home, riding in Pop's
old Chrysler, traveling familiar roads, hearing the same
stories she'd heard a hundred times before.
She could be. She had a passport, money, plane tickets.
What she didn't have was the assurance that Melody was
safe, and that was something she needed more than she
The taxi turned onto a narrow side street, and Tori
glanced back. No cars followed. No motorcycles moved into
place behind the cab. She wanted to believe she was safe,
that the nightmare she'd been living was over. But that
was a foolish hope. One she couldn't allow herself. She
leaned forward. "How much longer?"
Twenty minutes too long. She needed to be in Mae Hong Son
now. Anxiety clawed at her stomach, burning a fiery trail
up her throat. She swallowed it down and tried to speak
past her fear. "I've got a hundred baht more for you if
you get me there in ten."
The driver nodded, turning down another street and picking
Hurry. Hurry. The words thundered through Tori's mind, a
dizzying accompaniment to her racing pulse. How many days
had passed since she'd given the box to the jeweler Chet
Preteep? Five? Six? He'd told her then that it would take
a week to make a locket like the one Tori wore, the one
Melody had admired so much. A week, and then he'd put the
locket in the rosewood trinket box Tori had provided and
deliver it to Melody.
Tori glanced down at her wrist, looking for the date on
her watch. But her watch had been taken, as had her locket
and other jewelry. Was it already too late? Had the box
been delivered? Tori shuddered at the thought of what that
might mean for Melody. "What day is it?"
"The day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday."
Five days. Maybe she wasn't too late. She settled back
into the seat, caught the driver eyeing her in the
rearview mirror and lowered her head so that her hair fell
forward. How bad were the bruises? She didn't dare try to
get a look, could only imagine what the driver had seen.
Would he talk to friends and family? Mention the bruised
foreigner who had paid him double the fare to take her to
the bus station? And if he did, how long would it be
before the men who'd kidnapped her found her again?
Bone-deep cold, scared in a way she hadn't been in years,
Tori tugged her sweater tight around aching ribs and tried
desperately to come up with a plan. Her mind raced with
images of Melody, beaten and tortured, her eyes filled
with fear and pain. Tori had to get to Mae Hong Son before
the box was delivered, had to make sure that the men who'd
abducted her didn't get their hands on Melody.
She leaned her head back against the seat, trying to clear
her mind, but it was too filled with terror and worry to
focus. One minute she'd been packing, getting ready to
return home. The next, she'd been chained to a wall,
questions screamed into her face. Why?
She didn't have an answer. All she knew was that her
longed-for trip to Thailand had turned into a nightmare,
and because of that, Melody and her parents were in danger.
Please, God, keep them safe. Help me get there in time.
The prayer echoed through Tori's mind, a desperate plea.
One she doubted would be answered. She'd lived life on her
own terms for too long to expect help from God now. Tears
clogged her throat and swam behind her eyes, but she
refused to let them fall. Like praying, crying did no
good. Clear thinking, determination â€” those were the
things that would get her out of the mess she was in.
Up ahead, buses lined the road. A swarm of people hovered
on the sidewalk waiting to board. Soon Tori would be
waiting with them, ready to travel back to Mae Hong Son
and the box that shouldn't have been a threat, but was.
"Bus terminal." The driver pulled up in front of the
Tori handed him payment and pushed open the door. Despite
the warmth of the day, she felt cold, fear shivering along
her spine. She wouldn't let it stop her. With a deep,
calming breath, she stepped out into the crowd.