Six women have come to Thornberry, a small writers' colony on a tiny island off the coast of Seattle. They have come to work on their own writing at this secluded resort, but they have also come to hide, each harboring her own secret.
A GATHERING OF DREAD
A devastating earthquake quickly shatters the haven these women have found. The resort is partly in ruin, communication has been cut off from the mainland, and the women are forced to rely on each other for basic survival. Then a man washes up on shore. Is he the salvation they've been looking for or an even greater threat to their survival?
A GATHERING OF LIES
Sarah Lansing, former Seattle public defender, remains suspicious of the mansomeone from her past. And when another man arrivesthis time a strangerand one of the women dies in an apparent accident, Sarah suspects that they are stuck on the island with a murderer. But which man poses the greatest threat? And, most importantly, which of the remaining women hides a secret so devastating that it could put all their lives in danger?
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ANGEL April 7
The woman sat tied to an upright chair, her arms bound from elbow to shoulder. She no longer squirmed to get free. By now, she knew that wouldn't help.
"Don't you understand?" the man said again as he paced before her. His tone was distraught, worried. "You're never getting out of here, if you don't tell me what I need to know."
"I'll die first, you son of a bitch," she managed through dry, cracked lips.
"It's beginning to look like you just might," he said.
But his voice shook. She knew he was close to breaking, too.
The woman bowed her head and closed her eyes. Her neck ached from holding it stiff with fear, and her eyes burned from the too-bright light she'd been under for more than seven hours. She didn't know how much more she could take before the inevitable happened, before words poured forth despite her will, words she had vowed never to tell him, not in a million years.
"Get it over with," she said dully, choking on a sob. "Please. Just do it now." Her eyes were red and swollen with tears, her tone begging. "If we ever meant anything to each other ..."
The man knelt in front of her and whispered in her ear, all the while stroking her knee softly, then her thigh, where a bruise darkened by the minute.
"I don't want to have to hurt you, Angel. You're a beautiful woman. Just tell me. I promise I'll let you go."
"You'll let me go?" she whispered. "Really?"
"I told you I would," he said softly. "You think I like this? God, I hate it! And it could all be over. You could be home, safe and sound. All you have to do is tell me."
"You'll let me go?" she said again, looking into his eyes, the eyes she once told him were more lovely than those of any man she'd ever known.
"Yes," he whispered, rubbing her thigh more seductively now, letting his hand roam to the soft familiar flesh of the dark V, stroking her there as if she were a pet cat. A tingle ran through him as he realized she hadn't worn panties. That's how much she had trusted coming here this way,
"Yes," he said huskily, "I promise. I'll let you go. Just tell me."
In a flash, the woman jerked back her right foot, then swung it forward with incredible force. Her pointed, high-heel shoe connected with his groin. The man screamed, falling back.
"Go to hell!" she yelled, her face contorting. "Go to goddamn hell!"
In an automatic response to the searing pain, the man leapt to his feet and swung at the woman with his fist. It connected with the side of her head, and the chair she was tied to wobbled. Teetering precariously, it fell back, striking the cast-iron, wood-burning stove. The woman's head hit the sharp-edged corner of the stove with a resounding crack. Blood mushroomed from her scalp and her jaw went slack, her eyes stating. The man bent over her, still holding himself against the red-hot pain that seared through his groin.
"No!" he screamed. "Goddamn it, no!"
Kneeling again he quickly checked her pulse. It fluttered, then died. He put his ear to her mouth, but heard only the last sigh of a dying breath.
"Oh, God," he moaned. "Oh, God, you can't do this."
He fancied the woman's lips curved in a tired smile.
He sat for a long while on the floor beside her. "You were always so damn stubborn," he said softly. "Why couldn't you just have done things my way?"
He would miss her. But only a lime. And now he would have to explain why he'd failed.
The man stood gingerly, still clutching himself. Light-headed, he stumbled to a telephone on the wall. Lifting the receiver, he punched in a number.
"She's gone," he said heavily, when a voice answered.
A small silence.
"No, I mean she's gone. Dead."
A tinny ramble of angry sound came through.
"No, she didn't Look, it wasn't my" He pressed his fist to his forehead. "Yes, I know. Yes. Right away." He dropped the receiver back onto the hook.
"Damn you, Angel!" he cried, looking at the woman's lifeless body. "All you had to do was tell me. I would have let you go."
But he knew that wasn't true. He would have had to kill her in the end.
And now he'd have to get to the other one. He'd have to make her give up the secret this woman had carried to her death.
If not, he'd be six feet under, along with this pile of useless flesh on his floor.
The pain in his groin ebbed, but not his anger. The man was less than gentle as he lifted the woman's body and squeezed it into a steamer trunk he kept in the closet. She was too large for the trunk, and as he pushed and shoved he heard bones break.
The lock was flimsy and didn't catch well. But that was all right. Where the trunk was going this time, it didn't need a lock. He went to the kitchen and got a towel, which he drenched in cold water. This he used to wipe the blood from the braided rug, then from his hands.
Looking around the small cabin, he debated whether to take the trunk out and bury it now, or leave it here till his job was done. Hell, he might end up with a mass grave before this mess was over.
No, he'd better do it now. The place could be broken into while he was gone.
He dragged the trunk out onto the porch and glanced around for signs of anyone nearby. Even without looking, though, he knew fie was alone. That's one thing he liked about this place. It was a hideaway, for now. But in the future it could be a shelter where he could sit and think. He could picture himself a Thoreauwithout, of course, the pond. It was here he might spend weekends and summer vacations, on this very porch, reading.
That is, if everything didn't go all to hell.
He looked down at the trunk, a moment of sympathy for the woman filling him with guilt and remorse. His life wasn't supposed to turn out like this. Neither was hers.
But it wasn't his fault. If she'd told him everything right off, none of this would have happened.
Dragging the trunk down the steps, he noted that the sky was an odd yellow, the air still. Hot, for April. But that was the Northwest for you. One week snow, the next a heat wave. He wondered if there would be a thunderstorm, and knew he'd have to bury the trunk deep, so the upper layer of dirt wouldn't wash away.
He got a shovel from the utility shed and went back to where he'd left the trunk, and began to dig. It was hot, tiring work, and he was still shaking from the unexpected way this had turned out. Still, he'd worked out for years, and was grateful for the hard, efficient muscles that made it possible for him to accomplish this.
When he was several feet down, he scrambled out and used his last ounce of strength to pull the trunk over to the hole, then dumped it in. Looking down into the makeshift grave, he began to sway. Wiping his forehead, he thought, God, I feel dizzy. Must be hunger. Or this crazy weather.
But then his feet began to move, and without volition they stumbled forward. Throwing his arms out, the man tried to keep his balance, like a chicken flapping its wings. But nothing stopped the forward fall, and the man screamed out. His boots slid on the crumbling edge of the grave, and horror overtook him as the ground shook and the trunk rocked back and forth. The flimsy lock snapped open, and the lid flew back revealing the woman's bloody, broken body. The man fell on top of her, his face smacking the ooze from her skull. Dirt rained down upon them both, and like the wrath of God the ground continued to rumble and shake. Dirt choked his throat and stung his eyes. He tried to burrow an airhole, a space to keep him breathing till help arrived. But he knew, too, that help would not arrive. He was too far out, too isolated.
The next instant there appeared before him a tunnel of light. At first he thought he was dying, and he half expected to see his mother and all his dead relatives them, the way they said it happened on all those talk shows. Panic overwhelmed him. He'd read enough about near-death experiences to know they weren't always sweetness and light. One could land in hell. Then, suddenly, the sides of the tunnel burst open with a whoosh. Light rushed in. It took the man a moment to realize it was real light, sky light, a hole in the grave. The ground in its shaking had opened a patha path he could follow, if only he could get an arm out and dig.
"Dig, man!" he half screamed, his fingers scrabbling in the dirt like a crazed, panicky crab. "Dig!" He had to survive. He'd been given a second chance, and he had to grab it.
There was only one person left, now, who knew where that evidence was. Sarah Lansing. He would get to her, make her tell him where it was. Then he would kill her. It would be easier now, after this.
The Seduction of Ellen MIRA
By NAN RYAN
Copyright © 2001 Nan Ryan. All rights reserved.