Keep Me Safe, Page 2Maya Banks
“A few days at least,” Quinn replied. “She has multiple broken ribs and numerous contusions.” He winced as he said the next. “They need to make sure there’s no permanent internal damage and they want to rehydrate her and make sure she’s ready to be discharged before doing so.”
The three men went utterly silent when a soft moan escaped Tori’s lips. Her forehead furrowed and an expression of pain marred her face. She twisted restlessly and tears slid down her cheeks.
Caleb was there in an instant. “Tori, honey, it’s me, Caleb. You’re safe now. Beau and Quinn are here too.”
Slowly, her eyelids fluttered open and then anguish and despair swamped her eyes, turning them to liquid aqua-colored pools. But worse was the shame crowding her eyes. It gutted Caleb that she would be ashamed of what she had no control of.
“Caleb,” she croaked.
He cupped his hand over her forehead and pushed back her hair in a soothing motion. “Yes, honey, it’s me.”
She licked her lips and swallowed, the medication slowing her and making her sluggish.
“How did you find me?” she whispered. “I thought no one would ever find me. That I’d die there. He told me I would die. He was going to kill me. God, if you hadn’t gotten there when you did. He was going to kill me and I prayed that he would.”
Her words ended in a sob and Quinn buried his face in his hands as Caleb hugged Tori gently to him. Beau stood at the end of the bed, his expression murderous, eyes filled with rage.
“I went to someone like you,” Caleb said gently, leaving off the part of Ramie being reluctant—with good reason—to help him. He’d never tell Tori that he’d forced Ramie’s compliance.
Tori’s brow furrowed and she stared up at him with a puzzled expression. “Someone like me?”
“Well, not exactly,” Caleb said, injecting a smile just for her. “After all, there’s only one you. But I went to Ramie St. Claire. She’s been helpful in finding missing persons before. I gave her your scarf and she was able to locate you.”
Tori looked stunned. Her mouth drooped open in astonishment and confusion wrinkled her brow. Then tears filled her eyes.
“If only she could have helped sooner,” Tori whispered.
Caleb swallowed and avoided the gazes of his brothers. No matter that he’d just told them what Ramie endured and why she refused, they were condemning her for not being available earlier.
“I owe her so much,” Tori choked out. “I’ll never be able to repay her. Can I at least thank her? When this is all over with and I go home?”
Caleb swallowed the knot in his throat and he wiped at a tear from her cheek with the pad of his thumb. “We can only try.”
“I’m scared,” Tori said, her voice cracking.
Her fingers dug into the thin sheet covering her, but Caleb could see how badly her hands were shaking.
Caleb gently pried the sheet from her fingers and then curled his hand around hers. “What are you afraid of, honey?”
Her grip tightened on his hand, her torn nails digging into his skin. “That he’ll come back for me.”
Her words fell ominously over the small room and his brothers glanced Caleb’s way, fury—and fear—evident in their gazes. Her kidnapper hadn’t been arrested. He was even now out there, free, possibly hunting his next victim. Or would he come after Tori since she was the one who got away?
“Listen to me,” Caleb said in a low voice. “I know you’re scared. God only knows you have the right to be. But me, Beau and Quinn are going to protect you. You’ll be under constant guard until this asshole is found and arrested and he pays for what he did to you. I swear it on my life.”
“You can’t all put your lives and jobs on hold for me,” Tori said.
“The hell we can’t,” Beau clipped out. “You are our number-one priority, Tori. Nothing else is as important.”
“We won’t let that bastard near you,” Quinn said firmly. “And we’re going to use every available resource to find him and put him away for life.”
Tori didn’t look convinced but she nodded and then closed her eyes, the medication pulling her into its embrace.
Caleb kissed her forehead. “Get some rest, honey. We’ll be here when you wake up. You need to focus on getting better so we can take you home.”
CALEB stood in the doorway of the cabin where he’d last seen Ramie, a grim expression marring his face. The cabin was completely empty. Abandoned and looking as though no one had ever been there. She’d left no stamp or fingerprint on the place. Nothing that signaled her presence. He dragged a hand through his hair and closed his eyes as frustration took hold.
He’d fulfilled his vow to Ramie—and himself—to return for her. But she was gone.
He couldn’t blame her. Didn’t fault her for running hard and fast. If he’d found her, who was to say others wouldn’t? And while before he’d considered her selfish, now he understood fully why she was no longer willing to put herself through the agony of finding missing people.
The question plaguing him was whether he should let it go and walk away, leave her to the peace she wanted. Or did he pursue her again, find her and atone for what he’d done?
He wasn’t the kind of man to ever give up. His entire life was a study in relentless pursuit of his goals.
Born to an extremely wealthy, old oil money family whose fortune had only grown for generations, Caleb had taken over the reins of the family at a very young age.
His parents had openly flaunted their wealth. Been involved with society, lived larger than life, and he was convinced that at least his father was involved in shady activity. Their deaths had been suspicious, clouded by the question of whether they were accidental or actual murder. It was a question that to this day wasn’t answered.
But from the moment Caleb had taken over the family and inheritance, he’d systematically begun removing them from the grid. Lowering their profile and maintaining avid secrecy. He’d always maintained an extremely high level of security, but it was obvious that it hadn’t been enough. Now his focus would be on security and tightening it so that what had happened to Tori would never happen again. Or to Ramie if he could help it.
Caleb’s gaze swept over the interior of the cabin, looking for any clue, any sign to point him in the right direction. He already knew the answer to the question he’d posed to himself. He would go after Ramie and from there she would be in the driver’s seat. Whatever she wanted, whatever she needed, would be at her disposal. If Caleb had his way, she’d never lift a finger for the rest of her life. Nothing was too much or too big in light of the fact that she’d saved Tori at great personal sacrifice.
Hell, she’d probably kick him in the balls if she ever saw him again. He certainly deserved it even if he couldn’t say that he still wouldn’t have forced her compliance if he’d known what it did to her. And that ate at him. Knowing he’d do it all over again if it resulted in the same outcome. Tori alive. Safe.
He checked his cell phone for a signal and grimaced when “no service” glared back at him. He walked back out to his SUV and slowly navigated his way back down the mountain. As soon as he had a reliable signal he punched in Beau’s number and waited for his brother to answer.
“You find her?” Beau said in greeting.
“No,” Caleb said quietly. “How is Tori? Was she okay with me leaving so soon?”
“She’s fine. Quinn and I are with her every minute of the day. She’s not sleeping worth a damn and she refused to take medication until Quinn finally leaned on her and forced the issue. She can’t continue on like this. She’s running on empty and she’s going to suffer an emotional breakdown if she doesn’t rest better and heal.”
Caleb closed his eyes. He should be there, damn it. But Tori had Beau and Quinn. Who did Ramie have? All of his research into her background when he’d turned the world over in his search for her told him she had no family. No close friends or even acquaintances. She had . . . nothing.
/> “I want to move on what we talked about,” Caleb said. “I’m coming home and you and I are going to build this security firm from the ground up. Tori will never be a victim again if I have anything to say about it. And if we can help others in the process, so be it.”
“I’ll get to work on my end,” Beau said. “I want to hire only the best.”
“So are you giving up on Ramie?” Beau asked.
Caleb hesitated before finally going with the truth. “No. She wanted to be left alone, in peace, and maybe that’s what I should do. But I can’t let it go. You didn’t see her, Beau. I did. And she has no one. I have to find her and make sure she’s okay. I won’t rest until I do.”
“I understand. We all owe her a huge debt so anything I can do to help find her I’ll do.”
“We start with the new company,” Caleb said. “Then we’ll work our way from there.”
ONE YEAR LATER
NEVER let your guard down.
It had always been her mantra, but it was more pertinent than ever now. Fear was her constant companion. He’d found her. Somehow he’d found her and he was determined that she would be his next victim.
He was obsessed with Ramie. The one person who’d come close to bringing him down. But close hadn’t been close enough. The killer had narrowly escaped capture, but Ramie had brought the authorities right to the location where he’d held his current victim.
He’d tortured the young woman for days. Endless days of pain and sorrow. He’d toyed with her, promising her death and then delaying it.
Before Ramie had dropped off the map, he’d called her. He was why she’d run. Because he knew who and what she was and that she was responsible for him losing his prey. In turn she had now become the hunted.
And he was close.
How could he continuously track her every movement?
He was toying with her. Fucking with her for the sake of fucking with her. It had gotten so bad that Ramie didn’t dare sleep at night for fear he’d be there, waiting. She was on the move constantly, never staying in the same place for more than one night.
But she could sense he was closer than ever.
When would he tire of his cat-and-mouse game and make his move? And what would she do when he did?
Ramie pulled up to the roadside hotel and parked her small SUV outside number six, the room she’d rented before going out to get something to eat. And to scope her surroundings. Get a feel for what belonged and what didn’t.
She forced her mind to go silent. Flush out the panic so her awareness of her surroundings could be sharper. With a killer tracking her every move, she had to remain calm and depend on her heightened senses to stay one step ahead of her pursuer.
Slowly she slipped her hand over the knob of the door to her hotel room but was careful to make no sound or to insert the key into the lock so she wouldn’t alert anyone to her presence. She yanked her hand back as though she’d been burned. The sudden flood of evil, hatred and the mocking laugh of her tormenter made her unsteady on her feet. Her knees buckled and she turned desperately, prepared to flee when the door flew open and something dark and ominous grabbed her wrist, hauling her back even as she tried to run.
She struck out violently, fighting back, knowing that if he managed to get her into the room she’d be dead—if she were that fortunate. Because she knew her death wouldn’t be easy, nor would it be quick. She’d seen inside his mind. Knew how he thought. All the sick, twisted fantasies he’d lived out through his victims, and hers would be the worst of all. She opened her mouth to scream, but he clamped his free hand over her lips in one bruising motion.
She sank her teeth into bitter-tasting, dirty flesh and was rewarded with instant withdrawal and a yelp of pain.
“You little bitch,” he growled in a demonic, fury-laced voice that sent chills cascading down her spine. “You’ll pay for that.”
She turned, facing evil for the first time outside of her mind, and thrust her knee into his groin. He backhanded her in defense and her face exploded in pain. But he loosened his hold just enough that she could wrench her wrist free of his grasp. She took full advantage of her momentary respite, knowing she might not get another.
She didn’t bother going for her vehicle. There was no way she’d be able to get in and drive away before he recaptured her.
So she ran.
Leaving everything she possessed behind, she sprinted toward the main avenue, her aching body protesting the overexertion.
She could hear him behind her, could almost feel his breath on her neck. Worse was the oppressive weight of his presence in her consciousness, spewing vile promises of retribution. She’d seen her long, painful death in his mind, knew it for the truth it was. That he would be relentless until he’d achieved his ultimate glory. Removing her existence.
It gave her the much-needed boost to run faster.
Warm blood trickled down her chin, quickly drying in the wind as she put more distance between her and her pursuer.
Where would she go? What would she do? She had nothing to her name, her purse and what little cash she had left behind.
A sob escaped her as she pushed herself even further. She was at her limit. Her reserves had dwindled down to nothing—she had nothing. She’d known that she’d have to stop in the next town. Take the horrible risk that he’d finally catch up to her because she had to stay somewhere long enough to get a job to build her cash back up. So she could run again. But by doing so she risked exactly what had just happened.
Chancing a glimpse over her shoulder, she saw that her attacker had given up. No, that wasn’t right. He wouldn’t ever simply give up. All he’d do is fall back, give her a false sense of security and then strike again when she least expected it. He had an uncanny knack for trailing her, which left her to wonder if he had psychic ability of his own. How else would he be able to anticipate her next move? Had he lived as a shadow in her mind since that horrible day she’d connected to him through his last victim? Had she somehow forged a connection with the very face of evil? God only knew that she hadn’t been able to shake him from her dreams, from her every waking moment. Her only reprieve—though short—had been when Caleb Devereaux had shoved his sister’s scarf into her hands so many months ago and for a few brief moments she’d experienced something other than the man who stalked her. She’d traded one hell for another.
That awful day on a Colorado mountain had finally done what no one else had succeeded in doing. It had broken her. Though each time she’d used her abilities to track monsters had helped break her slowly over time, that had been her tipping point. Maybe she’d never heal. Some wounds cut too deep. Too much, too soon after her brush with blood and death from before. She’d felt something truly disconnect inside her when she’d been hurled into Tori Devereaux’s mind, gone through every horror the other young woman had experienced.
Maybe it had simply been the last straw. Whatever the case, after Caleb Devereaux had left her to go find and help his younger sister, Ramie had never been the same. Maybe she never would be.
Would death be so bad? It felt to her as if she’d died each and every time she’d slid into the mind of a helpless victim. Most people only faced death once. She’d faced it repeatedly. Maybe in death, she would finally find peace. Except that she refused to allow the man hunting her victory. He would be unstoppable. Promoted to God in his sick and twisted mind. As long as he was focused on her then at least other women would be safe from his sadistic pleasures. That was reason enough to continue fighting.
It was reason enough to survive.
She halted, her legs refusing to take her another step. A gas station loomed in front of her and she bent over, heaving for breath. Tears burned her eyes as a sense of fatalism enveloped her. It didn’t matter that she refused to let the bastard win.
There was nowhere for her to go. No place for her to turn. No safe h
Caleb Devereaux’s face flickered in her mind, his parting words to her floating back to haunt her. The genuine regret in his eyes when he realized the consequences of what he’d forced her to endure.
I’m coming back, Ramie. Count on it. I’ll make this up to you if it’s the very last thing I do.
A year ago he’d torn her world apart and kept her on the endless cycle of running. Perhaps now he was her only salvation.
He owed her. She’d saved his sister. It was time to collect.
She hadn’t wanted to go anywhere near him. Didn’t want to remember what she’d suffered because of what he’d forced on her. But she didn’t have any other option available. He was her last and only hope. No one else would understand. Who would believe her? Caleb had witnessed firsthand the price she’d paid for his sister’s life. There was no way he could ever deny her abilities.
She didn’t hate him for what he’d done. Perhaps she should. But in his shoes, could she say she would have done anything differently when the outcome was a saved life? No, she didn’t hate him. She didn’t feel anything at all except overwhelming weariness and the sense that she’d lost an essential piece of herself to the monsters she’d helped put away. They were a permanent part of her, engraved on her very soul. A stain that could never be removed.
No, she couldn’t summon hatred or bitterness toward Caleb Devereaux. Even knowing that if he refused to help her, she was well and truly doomed. But she couldn’t blame him if he did refuse. She represented everything she was certain he and his sister wanted to forget. If he helped her, then he reopened a door that had been closed a year ago.
She closed her eyes and took in several steadying breaths. He had to help her. She wouldn’t entertain any other possibility. She just had to get in touch with him.
First, she needed a safe place to make a phone call. She didn’t even know how to contact him. She’d done enough research on him to know he was extremely wealthy, his family name old and revered in wealthier circles. But that hindered not helped her because it meant she would have a much harder time gaining access to him. She’d be lucky if she even managed to connect with him at all. People like him didn’t just answer the phone. There were layers to go through. And after what happened with his sister, he’d be even more guarded than ever.
Contacting him would likely be like trying to phone the president.
All she could do was try to hope for the best. She had to find somewhere to make a phone call. And before she would be able to place a call, she needed Internet access.
Her head pounded and she rubbed her hand over her blood-smeared face.
Think, Ramie, think! Use your mind for something other than touching evil.
The library. Of course.
Relieved to have a semblance of a plan of action, she walked into the gas station and asked for directions to the local library. When the attendant told her it was two miles away, her heart sank. It was a long walk and she’d be pushing it to get there before it closed. She couldn’t call a cab because she didn’t have a dime on her. And walking out in the open would prove to be a huge risk because he was still out there. Waiting. Watching. Not far away. And she might not get a second chance to escape his grasp. He’d be prepared for her to fight back this time.
Knowing she was only delaying the inevitable, she got the directions again and then started out at a brisk walk, watching her surroundings very carefully for any sign of her attacker.
It was minutes until the library closed when she walked in, the wave of cool air welcome on her face. She shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny of the librarian, but then remembered she had dried blood on her face and she likely sported a huge bruise as well. She probably looked like a domestic violence victim. That would explain the pity in the eyes of the older woman.
Maybe that would play to her advantage and the librarian would let her use the phone to make her call.
Ramie quickly accessed the Internet on one of the public computers and did a search for Caleb Devereaux. He now owned a security firm, formed in the year after his sister’s kidnapping. She had no way of knowing whether he could be reached through it or not but all she could do was try. At the very least maybe she could get a message to him. But how would he contact her back? She had no number, no lodging, no way for him to return a call.
She closed her eyes as despair swept over her. It was all or nothing. One shot. If she couldn’t reach him, she had no idea what she’d do. If she couldn’t reach him, her death was inevitable.
Quickly committing the phone number to memory, she sucked up her courage and hesitantly walked toward the desk where the librarian stood.
“Ma’am,” Ramie said quietly. “Would you be willing to let me make a phone call? I have nothing. My purse and everything in it was stolen.”
“Oh, you poor dear! Is that what happened to your face? Were you mugged?”
Ramie nodded, not feeling one ounce of remorse for the lie.
The librarian pulled out her personal cell phone and extended it over the