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Authors: Rebecca York

Chained

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CHAINED

A Novella

By Rebecca York

RuthGlick writing as Rebecca York

 

Publishedby Light Street Press

Copyright© 2011 by Ruth Glick

Coverdesign by Earthly Charms

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may bereproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by anymeans—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—exceptfor brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior writtenpermission of the publisher.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, andincidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are usedfictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businessestablishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

More Decorah Security Series Books

by Rebecca York

AMBUSHED(a short story)

DARKMOON(a novel)

DARKPOWERS(a novel)

HOTAND DANGEROUS(a short story)

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

PRAISE FOR REBECCA YORK

ABOUT REBECCA YORK

BOOKS BY REBECCA YORK

 

CHAPTER ONE

Isabella Flores pulled open the kitchen door and stopped inher tracks. The house felt wrong. Come to that, it smelled wrong. The familiarscents of the empanadas she’d cooked the night before and the cleaning solutionshe used on the floor still hung in the air. But they were overlaid by thesmell of sweat and stealth.

Moments ago she’d been prepared to fall into bed and sleepfor the next eight hours, after an exhausting shift on the surgical floor atPhoenix General Hospital.

Instead, she backed out the door and started running, nottoward the car she’d just left in the driveway but into the alley.

A blast of noise followed her, and she felt a bullet whizpast her head.

“Cristo. Don’t let her get away,” a harsh voice shouted.

Twohombres. Waiting in the dark for her.

She’d hoped she was safe living in this quiet, middle-classneighborhood, but she’d always been prepared for the worst. She kept two bagspacked, one in the trunk of her car and the other in an SUV, hidden down theblock.

She leaped the waist-high chain link fence of a neighbor’syard on the other side of the alley, rolled into a flower bed, and lay with herheart pounding, praying that the men hadn’t seen her vanish into the shadows.

As two sets of heavy footsteps pounded toward her, thensprinted past, she let out the breath she’d been holding.

 But she couldn’t stay here. When they didn’t find her,they’d double back. Which meant she had only minutes to make her escape.

Staying low, she ran toward the front of the property whereshe’d taken refuge, then crossed five front yards, keeping as close to thebuildings as possible.

When she ducked into the passage between two houses, franticbarking stopped her. She turned to face a large German shepherd that baredenormous teeth in warning.

Ignoring the show of aggression, she spoke in a low,soothing voice. “Herman. It’s just me. Isabella. You know me. Come on, boy.Give me a break.”

To her relief, the dog licked the hand she held out.

“Good boy. That’s a good boy,” she praised him as she openedthe gate and eased inside, where she crossed the yard and headed for the alleyagain.

If the dog’s barking brought the men who were hunting her,maybe his fangs would slow them down.

With a sigh of relief, she slipped inside the garage she’drented on a cash only, no questions asked basis.

In the darkness, she raised the main door, wincing when themechanism squeaked.

“Almost there,” she whispered to herself as she slippedbehind the wheel of the SUV.

As she pulled into the alley, she thought she was in theclear, but one of the gunmen leaped into her path, his dark featuresilluminated by a street lamp. She didn’t recognize him, but she knew who hemust be. One of the hired thugs who worked for General Lopez, El Jefe, who heldthe Central American country of San Marcos in his iron grip.

Eight years ago, her father had dared to write exposés aboutthe general and circulate them secretly. When Lopez had found out who wasbehind them, Papa had been forced to flee the country with Isabella.

They hadn’t even been safe in the U.S. After an assassinationattempt, her father had hired a highly recommended company, Decorah Security,to protect them and help them establish new identities. Her last name wasn’teven the same as her father’s. She’d used Flores since college. And she hadn’teven seen Papa in two years.

But the general’s men had tracked her down.

She’d heard Lopez was in trouble back in San Marcos. Was hemaking a last-ditch attempt to silence any enemies?

Ducking low, she pressed on the accelerator, headingstraight toward the gunman.

At the last second, he leaped out of the way. But after hercar barreled past, she saw him in the rearview mirror, raising his gun.

Before he could fire, Herman charged through the gate thatshe hadn’t locked—taking the thug to the ground, his savage snarling and theman’s screams ringing in her ears.

“Dios, don’t let him shoot the dog,” she prayed asshe barreled down the alley.

She drove for two miles, weaving a random course through theneighborhood. When she judged she was far enough from home, she pulled in backof a gas station and sat behind the wheel, struggling to control the shakingthat had overtaken her.

She had escaped. Now what? She couldn’t go back to herlittle rental house. Or to the police. The general had a reputation for payingoff the authorities. For all she knew he had done that now.

After making sure no one was watching her, she climbed outof the car and retrieved the overnight bag locked in the trunk. In it was asmall automatic pistol, which she placed on the passenger seat beside her.

Then she pulled out her cell phone and risked a call to herfather.

The phone rang once, twice, four times.

“Jorge Arroyo aqui.”

Her heart leaped when she heard him speak—until she realizedit was his voice mail, asking her to leave a message. Which she didn’t do.

He hadn’t answered. But that didn’t mean he was dead, shetold herself as she clenched the phone and pondered his fate—and her own.

 She hadn’t been sure where she was going when she fled thegunmen. She’d only reacted to the immediate danger. Now that she had the luxuryof making some plans, a strong conviction came over her.

At least for the next few days, she would hole up atElCayado, the Shepherd’s Crook, the ranch outside Sedona her father hadbought, using another assumed name.

It was where Decorah Security had housed them after herfather had shot twohombreswho had come after him. Two men. Liketonight.

She and her father had lived at the ranch for six monthswhile they improved their English language skills and Decorah set up their newidentities. She had taken the Flores name and gone off to college in the East,where she’d earned a nursing degree.

Her father had established himself as Jorge Arroyo inDenver, where he’d started writing a book about his life in San Marcos. He hadnever finished it, maybe because putting everything down on paper was toopainful for him.

She hadn’t been toEl Cayadosince she was ateenager, but the ranch called to her now, with an overwhelming pull, whichmade her think that going there was the right thing to do.

Was that a logical decision? Or purely emotional? She hopedthe former was true.

As she drove up U.S. 17, she risked one more call, where sheleft a message with her supervisor at Phoenix General Hospital.

 “I’ve got a family emergency,” she told the nursingsupervisor’s voice mail. “I can’t come in for the next few days.”

The lie made her chest tighten because she was pretty sureshe was never coming back to Phoenix.

She switched off her phone, wondering if she should throw itout the window. In the end, she decided to keep it for an emergency. Probablythat was safe as long as she didn’t turn it on.

The closer she got to the ranch, the more she thought of thepast. Especially of Matthew Houseman, the Decorah agent who’d been assigned toprotect her.

Maybe their relationship had started off as just a job forhim, but it had developed into a shared warmth that neither one of them hadbeen free to admit.

That hadn’t stopped her from longing for a whole lot morewith him. Even though she knew it was impossible. She was a teenager, and hewas her bodyguard.

But alone in her room at night, she’d had fantasies ofrunning her hands through his dark hair. Of stripping off the cowboy clothes heusually wore and making love.

They hadn’t even kissed, but he’d taken her for rides in thered rock desert around the ranch and made sure she knew how to use a gun. Andmost evenings she’d listened to him strumming his guitar and singing out on theback patio.

She shivered as she remembered one of the songs, “GhostRiders in the Sky,” about phantom cowboys chasing a herd of ghostly cattle theywould never catch.

Her heart squeezed. She’d thought she could contact him whenshe was out of nursing school, but that hadn’t happened, because MatthewHouseman was dead. Killed in the line of duty five years ago.

She thrust the painful thought away. Matthew was gone, andmaybe her father.

Two hours after her hair-raising escape, she reached theoutskirts of Sedona, where she stopped at a shopping center and boughtgroceries as well as two large blocks of ice.

With the provisions in the car, she headed forEl Cayado.Slowing along the two-lane highway, she looked for the access road that led offinto the desert. When she spotted it, she unclenched the hands clutching thewheel and made the turn onto the dirt track.

It was a bumpy fifteen-mile ride, but finally she saw theoutline of the low, adobe-style buildings.

As she pulled up in front of the house, she sighed, partlyin relief and partly in anticipation. Something was waiting for her here,something that she could sense, just out of reach.

Still, it was strange to be back at the ranch. All alone.

What was it like inside the house? Hopefully it was sealedwell enough to have kept the varmints out.

She stuffed the pistol into her purse, then opened the cardoor and stepped out, breathing in the desert air. It was fresh and clean, theway she remembered. And even on a summer night, it carried a slight chill.Which might be why she felt a tingle at the back of her neck. Or had she made amistake coming here?

Quietly, she turned in a circle, scanning the ranch yard andthe desert beyond. Moonlight silvered the stark beauty of the rocky landscape,and a canopy of stars added their twinkling light, but she could see nothingstirring among the buildings or in the desert.

She’d intended to carry a bag of groceries to the house;instead she left her provisions in the car and started up the walk,deliberately forcing herself not to run like a kid afraid of the dark.

She was halfway to the front door when a sound stopped her.It came from the grove of sycamore trees down by the spring. She turned in thatdirection, listening to the wind rustling the leaves. The noise started offbarely audible, then increased as though a storm were gathering. But as far asshe could tell, there was no wind anywhere else.

Suddenly the temperature dropped, increasing the prickle atthe back of her neck, and the wind gathered in intensity, moaning in the trees,tossing the branches around with an unnerving rattling sound, building inpower.

She had taken an involuntary step back when somethinginvisible rushed toward her like a great raptor diving to capture its prey.

Although she saw nothing, she felt the force of the windlike a solid wave that would have knocked her off her feet, except that it heldher fast. It felt like giant hands were on her, one clamping her shoulder. Theother locked around her neck, choking off her breath so that she couldn’t evenscream.

The unseen attacker lifted her off her feet, pushing her backwardsin a rush of chilled air toward the stable behind her.

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