STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
Bonus Scene 1
In the published book, there’s a time jump between the end of Chapter Six, which takes place in the morning, and Chapter Seven, which takes place that night, with a mention that the main characters were driving all day. Below are two missing chapters, retitled Chapters 6A and 6B, which were originally part of Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of the long version and which show a bit of what the hero and heroine were up to in those missing hours. These scenes don’t serve any real purpose from a plot perspective. The main reason they were written was because there was a great deal going on with the subplots and secondary characters at the same time. Rather than have the main characters disappear for fifty pages, I included these scenes to keep them center stage. Once the subplots were cut and the supporting cast trimmed, these scenes were no longer needed and some of the first cuts I made.
Ross hadn’t said much in the last few hours. She was glad for that. She could handle his silent disapproval easier than his efforts to wear her down and turn her into some kind of heroine. She wasn’t one. She’d made too many mistakes, done too many things she wasn’t proud of to survive in the past to turn back now. Running was the only option she had left.
She didn’t say anything when they stopped to refuel. But when she noticed he was about to pull off the highway again just a couple hours later, she shot up in her seat. “We’re stopping for gas again?” It wasn’t even noon.
Ross swung the sedan off of the highway and into the truck stop just off the exit ramp. She glanced back in her mirror as he pulled in next to one of the pumps. No one followed them in. That didn’t mean they weren’t there.
“Unless you want to start walking, yeah. This baby’s a classic. She wasn’t exactly made with fuel conservation in mind.”
“I guess speed wasn’t a priority then either.” The old sedan might have saved them, but it wasn’t fast about it. Or maybe it just felt that way.
“She was probably quite the speedster in her day. Somebody hasn’t been doing a very good job taking care of her.”
“How did I know you’d refer to the car as a woman?”
He cut off the engine. It coughed and sputtered for a few seconds before going silent. He shot her a lazy grin. “When she’s this temperamental? What else could she be?”
That wasn’t even worthy of a response. She couldn’t help checking behind them again. Traffic continued to flash by on the highway. “They’re going to catch up with us at the rate we’re going.”
Ross unbuckled his seatbelt. “Probably. I’m going to get a map while we’re here. If we stay off the highway and stick to the side roads we should be able to avoid them.”
“That’ll take longer,” she noted. She’d thought he would want to get back to New York as soon as possible. Chastain’s trial started on Monday.
He pushed his door open. “It’ll also be safer.” He glanced back over his shoulder at her. “I told you I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“But who cares what happens to me when we get there, right?”
“You want to tell me what’s going on, then I’m all ears. Otherwise, this is the plan.”
She didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem surprised. He was learning, she’d give him that much.
He climbed out of the car. “Be good, Allie,” he said, then closed the door behind himself.
She listened to him round the vehicle to her side where the gas tank was located. There was silence for a moment as he considered the pumps, followed by the sound of the gas cap being unscrewed and the pump being lifted with excruciating slowness.
Come on. Come on, she willed him silently. Goosebumps pebbled up and down her arms. She rubbed at them with her free hand and tried to ignore her rising tension. She hated this feeling, the inactivity, the waiting. At least before they’d been moving, even it was to somewhere she didn’t want to go.
But this. She knew it was unlikely they’d managed to catch up this soon.
That didn’t quell the instinct that told her he had her as helpless as a sitting duck.
It was no use looking for anyway to free herself. Ross had already checked the car the first time they’d stopped for gas, and she’d checked again as soon as he’d stepped out of the vehicle, much to his considerable amusement.
She still couldn’t force herself to relax. Rubbing at her chained wrist, she stared out across the pavement. The storms had cleared long ago, leaving a sunny autumn day in its wake. The blacktop gleamed in the sunlight.
The truck stop was less bustling than she would have expected in the middle of a weekday. It looked like there were about sixteen pumps on this side of the convenience mart and restaurant situated in the middle, with another sixteen on the other side, all beneath a high cover of lights. No more than four of the pumps had vehicles next to them. The fueling stations for the semis and larger trucks were located in front of them. Ross had pulled in away from any other vehicles. Not that it mattered. She wouldn’t have been able to catch anyone’s attention without him intervening.
She exhaled slowly, refusing to give into her frustration and hit something. He’d just love that. She wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction.
She heard the gas pump click off and then the sound of the nozzle being withdrawn from the tank. Another eternity passed while he screwed the gas cap back in and made his way around the car.
He stopped beside her window and leaned down to eye level. She didn’t move to open the window.
“I mean it, Allie,” he said, lifting his voice to be heard through the glass. “Be good.”
She scowled at him. It seemed to be the reaction he was looking for. A spark of amusement lit in his eyes. He nodded tightly and moved away.
She watched him stroll toward the convenience mart until a larger, heavyset man moved into line behind him, cutting him off from view. So cocky. He really did think he had her under his thumb.
The worst part was that he did.
Damn. There had to be a way out.
Someone tapped on the window at her side, twice in quick succession. She jumped and jerked toward the sound.
A man stood there peering in at her. He motioned for her to roll down the window.
She sized him up in a glance. She revised her opinion of the man she’d seen in the motel parking lot. This was the guy she wouldn’t want to meet anywhere, in an alley or in broad daylight.
He was big and burly, the cutoff sleeves of his flannel shirt revealing arms thick with fat instead of muscle. He had a stomach to match. He may have been handsome once, but now he had all the attractiveness of a high school jock who’d gone to seed. There was that same kind of hunger and cockiness in his expression. He had his cap pulled down low on his brow, probably to block out the sun’s glare, but it also kept her from seeing his eyes clearly. What she could see was hardly reassuring. He was the kind of guy who didn’t take no for an answer. She knew the type.
But she didn’t know him. He wasn’t one of the men from the parking lot that morning. His body shape was all wrong. More important, he wasn’t Taylor.
No, just your garden variety perv.
More than that. A chance.
She rolled down the window.
He leered in at her.
“Hey, there. Just thought I’d come over and say hi. Didn’t look like you were getting along too well with that fella you’re with.”
He said it with a slow, flirtatious smile, but there was an edge in his voice that would have told any sane woman in normal circumstances to roll the window up right then and there. Not that any sane woman would have rolled it down for him in the first place.
But these weren’t normal circumstances. She shifted her gaze toward the store, expecting to see Ross come bursting out at any moment. The door remained closed. The sunlight reflected off the windows. It was impossible for her to see what was happening inside. That didn’t mean he couldn’t see out.
She had to take the risk.
“You could say that,” she murmured, her voice low and breathy. “What’s your name?”
“Eddie,” he said. She got the impression she was supposed to be impressed.
“Hi, Eddie,” she simpered, adding a sniffle for good measure. She pulled on her hand, rattling the cuffs, purposely drawing his attention there.
She watched his gaze slide toward her wrist. A normal person would have been shocked. He wasn’t. His eyes narrowed a fraction, more with assessment than concern.
“What’s going on here?”
She shot another glance toward the store. Ross was nowhere in sight.
She leaned closer. “It’s my boyfriend. He’s trying to make me go back to Cincinnati and I really don’t want to go.”
The words came out in a flood. She didn’t have to fake the hitch in her voice on the last one. As soon as she started talking, the fear came naturally. She couldn’t go back to New York.
He didn’t say anything, just stared at her with those cool eyes. A chill skittered down her back.
She let her chin wobble as she pulled it in to her chest and peered up at him and blinked her eyes. Playing the part didn’t hurt her pride one bit. Let him think she was helpless. Let him think she was stupid. Let him think he could step in and keep her as captive as the man who’d left her in this car. Let him think what ever the hell he wanted to. She could deal with that as soon as he got her out of the damned cuffs.
“Can you help me? Please?”
His lips peeled back over big teeth in what he probably thought was meant to be a reassuring grin. Instead he only looked eager. She managed to suppress a shiver.
He didn’t offer to go for help or call the police. She’d pegged him right.
“Let me see what I have in my truck.”
She cast another anxious glance at the convenience mart. “Hurry.”
He moved behind the car. She didn’t look to see where he went. He must be parked somewhere behind them. It wouldn’t matter if Ross came back. She kept her eyes on the store.
Prickles of unease began to dance along the back of her neck. Something wasn’t right. Ross should have noticed something going on by now. Why hadn’t he?
Then Eddie was back. He had a pair of bolt cutters in his hands. “This oughtta do it,” he said.
She wasn’t even going to think about what kind of man just happened to carry bolt cutters with him. He’s a locksmith. Go with that.
“You’re sure they’ll work?” she sniffled.
“Like cutting through butter.”
She bobbed her head up and down. “Hurry.”
Neither of them bothered to open the door. He shoved the tool right in through the open window and aimed for the cuffs. She pulled her wrist as far away from the dashboard as possible and tensed in anticipation, waiting for the sound of the cutters snapping through metal.
Instead she got the sound of skin slapping against fabric.
She and Eddie both jerked their heads up.
Ross. She should have known.
He had his hand on Eddie’s shoulder, a dangerous expression on his face. Eddie immediately lost any pretense of friendliness, his mouth curling into a snarl.
“Get your hand off of me.”
“Step away from the car.”
Eddie rolled his shoulder to shake Ross loose. Ross didn’t budge.
Eddie’s face went redder. “The lady doesn’t want to go with you.”
“The lady doesn’t have a choice.”
Eddie straightened and turned away from the car. He threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest. He was as tall as Ross, but twice as broad. “Oh, yeah? Maybe I said she does.”
“And maybe I don’t have time for this.”
There was no other warning. Ross’s fist plowed straight into Eddie’s face. She heard the bone in his nose crack. Blood spurted from beneath Ross’s knuckles and Eddie screamed.
Ross didn’t give him a chance to regroup. He grabbed two fistfuls of Eddie’s shirt and started to hurl him away from the car.
His eyes off of Eddie’s face, he didn’t see what she did, the bloodlust in Eddie’s eyes, one of his hands hefting the bolt cutters in a wide arc over his head. They came slicing down in the air, on a direct path toward Ross’s head.
“Ross, look out!” The words came out before she could analyze why she said them. Or why they sounded so panicked.
He obeyed. He released Eddie’s shirt and dodged to the side. The tool glanced off his shoulder with a thud that set her teeth on edge. He didn’t react to it, spinning around and landing a kick to Eddie’s stomach that sent him flailing back against the pumps.
Without bothering to check the damage, Ross bounded around the sedan to the driver’s side, deftly avoiding the man on the ground. “Roll up your goddamn window!”
The order managed to break through her shock. She realized she was sitting frozen, unmoving. Blinking rapidly, she reached for the handle to roll up the window.
She almost screamed when Eddie’s face filled the space. His mouth and chin were covered with blood from his nose.. His eyes had gone wild. He thrust his hands into the car and grabbed for her.
“Stupid slut. You’re coming with me..”
“I don’t think so.”
She took her index and middle finger and aimed straight for his eyes. They squished beneath her fingertips as she plunged them right into the pupils.
He fell back with a howl, his hands flying to his eyes. She slapped the palm of her hand against his forehead and pushed. He fell back onto the ground again just as Ross slid into the car and reached for the loose wires.
The engine coughed to life. He didn’t give it time to overcome its sputtering before jerking the gear into drive and slamming onto the accelerator.
Her heart about to pound out of her chest, she grabbed the seat as the car lunged forward and shot out of the truck stop. She caught sight of Eddie in the mirror, his back against the pump, clutching his eyes and nose. She could still hear him yelling over the roar of the engine.
“Stay out of trouble,” Ross muttered through his teeth beside her. “I asked her to do one thing and she couldn’t even do that.”
She tried to laugh, but was still so breathless it came out as a wheeze.
“Obviously not. If I could, we never would have met.”
He snapped his head in her direction and shot her a look that had her sinking back against the door. For a second she thought he was going to snarl at her.
Instead he jerked his gaze back toward the windshield, muttering under his breath.
She swallowed a pang of guilt she shouldn’t even be feeling. All right, so he was mad. It was understandable.
The ridiculous amount of relief she felt at his return was not.
“Do you even know where we are?”
“Do you see any maps on me?”
It was the first thing Ross had said to her since they’d left the truck stop. He’d been hunched over the wheel, his expression so thunderous she wouldn’t have been surprised to see sparks coming out of his ears, for a good half hour now. He was right, he’d returned without maps, thanks to her, and they’d been driving aimlessly without turning back onto the highway.
The expression hadn’t altered, but it was progress.
“Does that mean you’re not mad at me anymore?”
The look he shot her told her everything she needed to know about that.
At least they were moving, and if she was lucky, presently on their way due South. “That was overkill back there, don’t you think? You could have killed that guy.”
“I probably should have.”
“Feeling possessive, Ross?”
He looked at her then, with such fury she almost flinched. She’d never seen him this angry before.
“Are you out of your mind? What kind of idiot even talks to a guy like that, let alone thinks about going anywhere with him? Do you really think a guy like that goes to help a beautiful woman out of the goodness of his heart? Tell me you’re not that dumb.”
She didn’t even process the insult. She couldn’t. Her brain had shut down somewhere in the middle of his rant.
Beautiful. He’d called her beautiful.
From the look of him, he didn’t even realize he’d said it. It hadn’t been a purposeful comment. Even if it had been there was no reason why it should strike her dumb.
She had no illusions about her appearance. She’d lost fifteen pounds in the past year, her clothes hung on her, she’d taken to cutting her own hair, and she didn’t have time to bother with make-up. The way she looked had been the least of her concerns of late.
Yet he thought she was beautiful.
She struggled to cover the awkwardness she was feeling. “You’re just mad he had the chance because you let your guard down.”
“Do you know why he even had a chance to talk to you? It’s because he had a friend follow me into the store to act as a distraction.” She blanched at the recollection of the man who’d entered the store behind Ross. Just as big as Eddie. Just as scary. He didn’t miss her reaction. “That’s right, the two of them were together. Do you have any idea what they could have–hell, probably would have–done to you as soon as they got you a few miles down the road?”
She lifted a shoulder, trying not to show how he’d managed to shake her. “They could have tried. I wasn’t going anywhere with him. I just needed him to cut the cuffs.”
“Tried? Hell, he would have done more than that. He had two hundred pounds on you, easy.”
“Typical man,” she snorted. “Size isn’t everything, you know.”
“You would have thought different when he got you into his truck.”
“What’s the matter, Ross? Afraid of losing your magic witness?”
“I’m trying to look after somebody who clearly doesn’t have the brains God gave an ant. A blind and deaf woman would have known better than to go anywhere with that guy. What’s your excuse?”
“It was a better chance than anything you’re offering.”
“Being raped, tortured, murdered and having your body parts left across a half dozen states? That sounds better to you?”
“The possibility of death versus the certainty of it? Yeah. That does sound better. At least with him I would have had a chance.”
Some of the anger went out of him. His hands loosened their death grip on the steering wheel. “It’d be a lot easier to take you serious if you’d tell me what’s going on.”
She focused on the flat, endless stretch of road in front of them, avoiding his eyes. Some secrets had to be kept. “Careful, Ross. Somebody might actually think you care.”
She heard him exhale sharply. “Whatever. You have plenty of time to think about it now that I’m going to be taking the long route. It was one thing to have Taylor on our tail without adding your boyfriend to it.”
“He’s probably still back at the truck stop cradling his broken nose.”
“And his gouged eyes,” he noted wryly.
“Them too.” She tipped her head and looked at him. “Why’d you punch him anyway? You could have just flashed your bounty hunter badge or whatever and told him I’m a criminal you’re taking in. He’d never know it wasn’t true. But you didn’t. Why is that?”
“Because he pissed me off.”
“Uh huh. You want to know what I think?”
“I think you couldn’t because you don’t have your bounty hunter badge on you or whatever. You left your coat back at the motel. You don’t have your ID anymore, do you?”
He hesitated a fraction too long.
“Well,” she said with no small sense of satisfaction. “Isn’t this interesting?” No badge. No warrant. They were lucky he’d tucked his wallet in the duffel bag before coming back into the motel room. More importantly, if he couldn’t prove he was a bounty hunter, he couldn’t even pretend that she was a criminal he was taking in.
“Don’t even think about it. I’ve had enough out of you today. One more stunt like that and I’ll tie you up and dump you in the trunk for the rest of the trip.”
“If that’s your tactic for convincing me to trust you, you might want to rethink it,” she said, ignoring the warning. She couldn’t afford to listen. Not with him taking them closer and closer to New York with every mile and God only knew who on their tail.
Eddie aside, she was getting closer every time.
It wouldn’t be long now.
Copyright © 2008 by Kerry Connor. All rights reserved.
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.