Under by Duress(2)

By: Kayla Stonor


How could she have been so blind?

Tahima forced her mind away from the painful memory of their break up. She turned to eye the ramshackle lodge she’d inherited and was overtaken anew by grief. Gramps had been the only family she’d truly known. Mom was a distant memory, Dad hid his sadness on the road—usually on a bender somewhere—and her brother lived abroad.

Gramps had doted on his only granddaughter, but Tahima knew the heartbreak lurking beneath his cantankerous outer shell. He’d gotten worse in his final years, clinging to the detritus of his life with a manic zeal, but she always knew he loved her. She would miss the old codger.

She returned to the barn to collect her new weapon and the stack of spare cartridges. She had thought Adam excessive at first, until she had wasted five cartridges trying to hit the scarecrow he had strung up from the rafters. She was pleased with her new toy. The electrodes didn’t hurt too badly, although Adam had refused to let her test out the drive stun direct against the skin.

Pity she didn’t have a stun gun on her when she’d walked in on Stephen abusing some floozy he’d picked up at a bar. In her bedroom. Heat flooded her cheeks. Damn it. She had to stop torturing herself like this. It was like picking at a scab. She tucked the reloaded weapon in the hall drawer then tied up her hair into a ponytail. She would distract her mind by starting on the basement.



*****



It was late afternoon when Tahima decided her lungs had been coated in enough dust for one day. Tomorrow, she would wear one of those dust masks she’d bought for sanding. She gazed around the boxes and shelves. If she did a couple of hours each day, the task wouldn’t feel so daunting. She wasn’t looking forward to going through his papers. The filing cabinet held personal notes of cases going back sixty years.

Gramps had held on to everything, even after his retirement. Although she’d cleared out the guns, there were numerous accoutrements he’d collected during his detective days that would definitely suit a museum. His hoarding was symbolic of all he had lost when her grandmother was murdered. Tahima didn’t want to end up the same way. She was going to breathe new life into the place. Start afresh.

Grabbing her leather jacket, she left the lodge and walked down the dirt track Adam had followed before turning north towards the ridge. The sun was low in the sky, but it was still warm so she swung her jacket from her fingers.

Looking across the pine trees to the mountain peaks, Tahima struggled to find the peace the ridge usually inspired in her. Her thoughts dwelled on those early days when Stephen could reduce her to a quivering coil of desire with one flash of those smoldering eyes. Her face burned to remember what she’d let him do to her. He had stolen her will and it had taken the ultimate betrayal to claim it back.

He had said she held all the power. He had lied.

Tears pricked her eyes. Four months hadn’t lessened the shame and humiliation of those last few weeks together and she hated him for it.

Correction: She hated that she had let him.

She angrily wiped her eyes dry. Well, never again.

A sputtering sound interrupted her thoughts. She shielded her eyes from the sun to search the sky. A Cessna was flying dangerously low over the forest. She could see a red flare in the near engine. Heart in mouth, she watched the small aircraft lose altitude, wondering why the pilot didn’t turn towards the grass plateau nearby. The question became moot when the plane dropped into the tree tops. A wing tip caught a branch. The Cessna twisted violently and disappeared from view.

Tahima held her breath. When the anticipated explosion didn’t happen she started to run.

The pilot was staggering out of the trees by the time she reached the plateau. He was holding something white to his head, a cell phone to his ear, and he was wearing a business suit.

Heart pumping, she veered towards him.

He saw her and stopped, then looked at his phone. “Merda.” He stuffed his mobile inside his wallet pocket.

Tahima slowed to a stop, panting lightly. “No signal . . . here. Are you okay? I saw your plane go down.”

“I just need a few moments.”

His voice captivated her. In fact, he had to be the most stunning man she’d ever met: tall, well-built, and black hair perfect for exploring fingers. She quickly quashed the mental image that sprang to mind, because he was studying her just as closely. Suddenly, Tahima was very conscious that she was on her own.