The House With Secrets

               By Sissy

           It had been misting the last hour on the drive from Ella’s home just south of Shreveport, La. to Mesquite, just outside of Dallas. It’s almost midnight when Alex stops the U-Haul truck, that’s holding all of her friend’s worldly possessions, on the street in front of the huge old Victorian house situated on an acre lot.  She sighs and after glancing up and down the dark street, turns the engine off. “Hmm, Walker isn’t here yet,” she murmurs, then turns to look at the woman at her side, Ella, a long time college friend of many years.

            Ella has inherited her grandmother’s old house and is intending to turn it into a bed and breakfast, something she has wanted to do for a long time. Her dear friend, Alex Cahill, has agreed to help get her started and has taken a vacation from her work with the DA’s office.

            She pushes the door open and slides out of the drivers seat to stretch her legs, looks up as Ella comes around the front of the truck with her cat, Conan, in her arms. “Well, we made it, and in one piece. Thank God, it’s quit raining.”

            Ella’s gaze is fastened on the house, the size and shape softened by the encroaching of nature and the deterioration hidden by the darkness. “Gal, I don’t think this yard has seen a lawn mower in a year. I hope the inside is in better shape,” she says, leaning against the front of the truck. The street light is out and if it wasn’t for the light of the moon the house would be lost in the darkness.

            “Tomorrow will give us a better look, but considering it’s been empty for several months, you have to expect some decay.” She smiles at the look of dismay on her friends face, “Come on, let’s take a look inside while we wait on Walker to get here.” Looking around, she says, “I thought he’d be here by now.

            Ella reluctantly pushes away from the truck and starts to follow Alex up the walk when a shadow moves away from the porch heading toward the small barn at the back of the house.

            “God, Alex, is that a burglar?”

            The man has his back to them as he walks away.

            “No … I don’t think so,” she whispers.

            “Well, who is he then?”

            “I don’t know, but I vote we get while the getting’s good.”

            “I hear you.”

            Before they could turn to make their get away, a totally unexpected sound shatters the quiet of the night. Loud as a siren, it seems to go off right in their faces; both women jump about three feet in the air. Terrified, Alex realizes as her feet touches the ground again that the noise seems to be coming from Ella. To be precise, from Ella’s phone.

            “Shut it up! Turn if off!” Alex instinctively grabs for the screaming gadget even as Ella stares down at the shrieking thing in her hand, in horror, as if she is holding a writhing snake, flips it open and starts punching buttons to shut it off.  Alex’s grab for the phone dislodges it and it lands at her feet. From the ground it emits another shocking blast. Then another. And another. Frozen to the spot she can only stare at it, as Conan, the cat, jumps from Ella’s arms, and shrieking, takes off into the darkness.

            “Who’s there?” The gruff yell snaps Alex’s head around. The man is no longer moving away. The darkness has obscured his appearance but it is clear he is coming toward them.

            Alex’s stomach drops to her feet.

            “Shit,” Ella says, and the two of them pivot and bolt for the U-Haul.

            “Wait! Stop!”

            Blood pounding in her ears, Alex hears the shout but has no intentions of obeying. She lowers her head and runs faster.  She takes a minisecond glance behind her but sees nothing but night, she stumbles over a root, and thrown off balance, she slams into the ground nose first, and “Hu-oomph!” is forced out between her lips.

            Sucking in a breath of air, she feels arms around her waist and the weight of his body pinning her legs to the ground.

            Alex screams. Realizing that flight is impossible, she resorts to fight. Adrenaline roaring through her veins, she twists onto her back and almost dislodges him, but not quite. He grabs her again before she can wiggle away. Grabbing her by the waistband, he yanks her back against him but her body slides in the wrong direction. Suddenly his head is level with her crotch.  Aware of his hand, warm and rough, as it slides across her stomach, a wave of horror hits her; it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what he has in mind.

            “No! Let me go! Help! Ella! Somebody help me!” Her cries for help are barely audible.  He says something but the words are so harsh and guttural she can’t make sense of them. Her heart is hammering against her chest, and her throat is as dry as cotton and terror is beginning to eat away at her senses. 

She’s facing rape and death, maybe both. And why not, it’s just another episode in the life of Alex Cahill. It wouldn’t be the first time her life was being flushed down the toilet. But she had a hero. Where is her hero now, when she really needs him?

 She can’t give up now, anger begins to surge through her and determination takes over and she begins struggling even harder. The slippery wetness beneath them helps her but hinders him. Wriggling like a worm on a hook she manages to get away from him. He surges after her, grabbing her around the knees and she screams full throttle and yanks one leg free, kicking him in the head as hard as she can.

“Dammit,” he roars, rearing up and shaking his head. Before she can react he lunges forward and drops on top of her, flattening her beneath him, whooshing the breath out of her.

Winded with him lying full length on her, her left hand pinned between their bodies, she brings her right hand up to go for his eyes.

Their wrestling brings them out of the shade of the large oak tree into the open. The moonlight falls on his face, and with her hand raised, ready to strike, she gets her first good look at him.

“Walker!! What are you doing?”

“Trying to keep you from killing me!”

            “Why didn’t you tell me it was you?!”

            “You never gave me a chance, you started running … didn’t you hear me yell at you?”

            She sat up, “Well, yes, I heard someone yell but I couldn’t tell it was you. Where’s your truck?”

            “Over there off the street,” he says, gesturing back toward where the U-Haul sat.

            “Where did Ella go?” she says, looking around.

            “The last time I saw her she was in front of you heading for the U-Haul.”

            Alex stands and starts back toward the street to find Ella. She hadn’t taken two steps when Ella comes charging towards her.

            “Conan! Alex, where did he go? I can’t lose him. I’ve got to find him, he’s not use to being outside.”

            “Are you talking about a big white cat? I saw him heading toward the house when I came down here.”

            Ella immediately takes off up the walk toward the house, and Alex follows after taking a detour to the truck to get a flashlight. 

            As they get near the house, Alex sees a flash of white in the small tree by the porch.

            “There he is, Ella. Can you get him?”

            She takes the flashlight from Alex and moves over by the tree, and reaches up to pull the cat down into her arms

            Alex steps up on the porch, and looks around at the possibilities. “Oh, I like this porch, it will really make the place.”

            “I hope so,” Ella says as she joins Alex, and digs in her bag for the keys. “This will be the focal point, chairs and a glider, maybe two, to sit and talk and enjoy the evening.”

            Finding the key, she shifts Conan to one arm, then jams it into the door and turns it, feeling the lock give she turns the knob and pushes the door open. She stands aside to let Alex go in first, then smiles and follows her into the dark room.

            Walker stands on the porch, letting the women have the first look inside the house.

            “It’s dark in here, Ella, is the electricity turned on?”

            “I don’t know, it should be,” she says, as she turns to flip the switch by the door. Nothing happens. “Well, damn, I guess not.”

            “Oh, I forgot to tell you, the wire’s down a couple of miles up the road, I did see that and I stopped by the sheriff’s office when I came through, he said a Mrs. Morley called and reported someone up here prowling around. Since I was coming up here anyway, I told him I’d check it out, that’s why I was snooping around the house.”

            Both ladies exit the house at Walker’s statement.

            “Did you find anything?”

            “Nope, all clear. Come on Alex, I’ll take you home.”

            “Alex…” Ella cries, “you can’t leave me like this.”

            The blonde turns and looks at Walker with pleading eyes, “Walker, I am not leaving Ella here all alone. I took a vacation to help her, and that’s what I’m going to do.” She turns back to her friend, “Come on Ella, let’s find a motel for tonight.”

            She turns to look at Alex with a weak grin and says, “There isn’t one around here, that’s why … a bed and breakfast would really work here.”

            Alex stares at her for a few minutes then says, “Well, we can’t sleep in the U-Haul so I guess that means, lights or no lights, we sleep in the house.”

            “Alex …” Walker protests.

            She leans over and kisses him on the mouth and tells him, “Go on home, Walker, I’ll call you tomorrow.”

            “Well, while you two are saying goodbye,” Ella says, as she rushes past them through the door, “I need a bathroom. I gotta pee.”

            Alex can hear her stumbling around in the dark and enters the house behind her. “Gees, its dark in here. Alex, get a candle out of the china cabinet in the dining room. Should be matches there, too.”

            “Okay.”

            Alex hears a click and then, “Ouch! Crap! How am I supposed to pee in the dark? I can’t even find the toilet,” And then a murmured sigh.

            Alex giggles and moves into the bowels of the house, avoiding the dark outlines of furniture, as she makes her way through the room toward the back. 

            Maybe it is the darkness but she feels like she is being watched. She stops and looks around but it’s too dark to see anything. Feeling something brush against her ankles, she lets her breath out in relief, as she realizes who is in the room with her: Conan, of course.

            “Conan, you scared me to death,” she mutters as she continues to move with baby steps to what she hopes is the china cabinet, the dark blob in front of her.

            She stretches out her hand, to feel her way, not wanting to bump into anything. But instead of touching the smoothness of wood she feels something soft. Cloth, warm and giving, that moves slightly beneath her fingers.

            Even as it dawns on her what she is touching, a hand, warm and strong, clamps around her wrist.

            Alex screams.          

            The scream is still tearing out of her throat as she yanks her hand free and spins around, ready to run. A violent shove between her shoulder blades sends her forcefully into the table in the center of the room, a corner jabbing painfully into her hip. She gasps and bends double with the pain, clutching at her hip as the intruder takes off toward the back of the house.

            She screams again and pushes away from the table taking off in the opposite direction.  Heart racing and cold terror racing up and down her spine, she makes for the front door, screaming all the way. She can vaguely hear Ella, still in the bathroom, yelling her name. She doesn’t answer but keeps on a fast track for the light gray area that shows where the door is and runs smack dab into another hard body that grabs her arms as she bounces off of him. The scream that follows would have deafened anyone within a ten-mile radius. With fear taking control she fights like a wildcat to get free.

            “Damn, Alex, it’s me!”

            That’s Walker’s voice. Alex quits struggling, and shudders as she falls into his arms. He hangs onto her, his fingers digging into her soft arms. Its so dark she can’t see him, so dark she can’t see anything but the gray area that leads to the open door.

            “Are you all right? What the hell happened?”

            “Walker. Oh, God, Walker.”

            She is shaking so hard it’s hard to get the words out of her mouth. Cursing softly under his breath, he pulls her into him, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. Alex sags against him, grateful for his solid strength. Walker. Thank God for Walker, her hero.

            “What?”

            Alex takes a deep breath, “It must have been the prowler. He was here … in the house … in the dining room. He grabbed me.” She shudders again as she remembers his touch. “He ran toward the back of the house.”

            “Stay here.” Walker’s voice is gruff and pulling out of her grasp he steps away before she can stop him, and she really wants to. Being left alone in the dark now scares the pants off of her.

            “Walker…

            “Don’t move.” She reaches for him but he’s already gone. A flashlight comes on that she doesn’t know he has with him following the beam at a half run. She follows him until the light disappears then she is lost in the darkness again.

            “Alex! Alex, what’s wrong? What’s happening?” Thumping around like a moose in a broom closet, Ella is still in the bathroom. “Ow! I can’t see anything! I can’t find the doorknob! Alex, can you hear me? Are you out there? Alex?”

            A man yells and almost simultaneously, something crashes toward the back of the house, like a large object hitting the floor and shattering.  Alex jumps straight up, then whips around, staring toward the darkness of the kitchen.

            Walker. Has something happened to Walker?  Her heart feels as if it’s going to pound out of her chest. She strains to hear but the silence is overwhelming.

            “Walker?” she cries, her voice shaky with fear that he has been hurt. When he doesn’t answer she breaks out in a cold sweat. Has something happened to him? In the dark he could be anywhere.  And so could the prowler. If he has gotten rid of Walker he could, right now, be circling back around for her.

            With that thought, she bolts for the door.

            “Ella!” She can’t just go off and leave her. Hearing her pounding close at hand, she finds a doorknob and yanks open the bathroom door. “Come on, come on, there’s somebody in the house!”

            “Somebody in the house? What do you mean, there’s somebody in the house?” Finding a toilet bowl plunger in the bathroom, she waves it in the air, as she looks wildly around.

            “Come on!”

            Not bothering to explain, Alex takes off and with Ella in tow, she aims for the door opening, again. Out the door, onto the porch, down the steps, through the yard, into the truck, lock the door … that’s the plan. But Alex barely makes it to the door when Ella lets out a startled cry behind her. Whirling, she sees Ella crashing down to the floor that seems to shake the whole house.

            “Ella!” Dear god, has she been shot…?

            Pulse racing, she turns back to help her friend, prepared to face the monster in the dark.

            “Stupid cat,” Ella groans and rolls onto her back. Conan shoots through the open door in a blur of white heading past Alex’s legs and across the porch to disappear in the darkness.

            With the cat streaking into the night, Alex makes the connection of Ella falling and the vanishing cat. Ella had tripped over Conan.

            The lights come on suddenly, and Alex sees Ella sprawled on the floor. Hoping, that with the lights coming on, the prowler will take a powder, she creeps back inside. With a quick look around, she kneels down beside Ella, whose eyes are focused on the ceiling and hands are folded flat on her stomach, looking like a laid-out corpse.

            “Ella,” worried by her fixed stare, she tentatively pokes her friend in the shoulder with her finger.

            Ella’s eyes roll to meet hers, and Alex mutters, “That’s why I don’t like cats. Sneaky things, always getting under people’s feet.”

            “Yeah … well,” Ella says, as she sits up.

            Walker appears in the doorway where Alex had last seen him, his expression grim, a gun in one hand and the flashlight in the other. “What’s wrong?”  He moves toward them, his upper body soaking wet, his hair plastered to his head, his face shiny wet, and his shirt is clinging to his torso in a way that makes Alex well aware of his physical attributes.

            As she lets her eyes graze over his body and back up to his face she notices that he is bleeding from a gash at his hairline. Its pouring blood, which mixed with the rain, is running in rivulets down his face and into his beard.

            “Are you hurt?” he asks Ella as he walks up to them.

            “If I’m not, I should be, what with everything that’s happening and then falling over the cat.” She groans and says, “Let me rest here for a minute and I’ll be fine.”

            “What happened to you?” Alex asks as she stands up to look closer at the wound.

            “Same thing,” he says looking into Alex’s eyes, then down at her mouth, as he puts his gun back into the holster and touches the cut on his head. “At least I think that’s what happened. I tripped over something in the dark, might have been the cat.” He turns to look at Ella, “You know that corner cabinet in the kitchen? When I tripped I fell into it and a flower pot on top tumbled off and hit me on the head.”        

            “What are you doing here, anyway, I thought you were leaving?”

            “You didn’t really think I would leave you here, did you? I was coming up on the porch when you screamed.”

            “Oh! I take it the prowler got away?”

            “Yes, he was going out the back door when I tripped. When I got my senses about me, I chased him through the back yard, but lost him when he went over the fence into the corn field.”

            “Ella, are you sure you’re not hurt?” he asks, reaching down to help her up.

            “No, just my pride,” she says, brushing her self off.

            “Walker, you need stitches, you better have it checked out.”

            “Really, it’s that bad?” He pulls his shirt out of his pants, whips it up over his head, and wipes his face before wadding it up and pressing it against the cut. “Nah, it’s not that bad, head wounds always bleed a lot. It’ll stop in a few minutes.” He turns and heads for the door, leaving Alex staring at his broad muscled back.

            Shirtless, he’s tanned and muscular and so sexy that she is getting wet just looking at him.

            Shaking off the pangs of lust, Alex takes Ella hand, “Come on, friend, let’s go find a place to sleep.” 

            Ella pulls free and goes out onto the front porch. “I have to find Conan, first, he’s not an outdoor cat. Help me find him.”

            Alex follows her out the door and into the yard. “Ella, he’s probably up a tree, can’t we wait till morning to look for him?” she says, starting into the house.

            “ALEX CAHILL, you have to help me.  He’s helpless outside.” Just then a white streak flashes by her and she yells, “There he goes. He just went under the porch.”

            Walker comes up behind the two ladies down on their knees looking under the porch. “What are you girls looking for?”

            Alex sits back on her knees, “Conan, he went tearing under the porch and we need to get him out.”

            He can hear Ella calling ‘Here kitty, kitty, kitty.’ But the cat is not appearing. “You’ll probably have to go under to get him.”

            Ella and Alex both turn to look at him with pleading eyes.

            Walker stares at both of them and finally it dawns on him that they are waiting for him to volunteer.

            With a look of resignation, he gets down on his belly and begins to crawl under the porch, “Come on Conan get your furry butt out here.”

            Conan sees the hulk of a creature coming after him and with fur on end, tail as straight as a stick, his body rises into the air, and he tears toward Ella and safety, using Walker’s body for a springboard straight up into Ella’s arms.      

            Ella wraps her arms around Conan and goes back into the house.

            Alex looks at Walker as he stands up. “Are you hurt?”

            Brushing the dirt off, “No, not really. I take you two are staying here tonight?”

            “Yes, I guess so.”

            “Well, I need to go back into town and tell the sheriff about the prowler out here, then I’ll be back.” He leans over and kisses her lightly, then takes off for his truck.

            She follows him as far as the U-Haul, gets her and Ella’s overnight bags, then pulling her eyes away from Walker she enters the house and follows Ella up the wide staircase to check out a bedroom for the night.

***

            “Damn, where did those people come from?” He mutters to himself as he dashes into the cornfield after almost being caught inside the old house by two women. Just before he had entered the cornfield, though, he had heard the name Alex Cahill. He stops, not believing what he has heard. Alex Cahill is here?  He couldn’t believe his luck. Hearing renewed thrashing in the cornfield, he takes off in the direction where he had left his car.  

***

            Ella takes her bag from Alex and goes to the room that had been hers when she was a little girl visiting her grandmother and lets Alex take her pick of the other bedrooms. 

             Entering the bedroom at the end of the hall, Alex flips on the light switch, sees the huge king size bed and decides she doesn’t need to look any farther.   After spending eight hours driving a U-Haul from Louisiana to Texas then having the sh… stuffing scared out of her, she is exhausted. She pulls the bedspread back then the sheet. Leaning over, she tests the softness by pushing down on the mattress, she moans and begins shedding her clothes, eager to put her body down into the softness that is beckoning to her. Stripped down to her bra and panties, she grabs her overnight bag and goes into the adjoining bathroom where she takes a quick shower, washing the grim from her tired body and hair.  She leaves the bathroom wrapped in a towel, and with her hair still wet, drops it on the floor next to the bed and slips between the sheets, asleep by the time her head hits the pillow.

            Several hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, Alex’s mind is desperately trying to surface, a noise in the room that wasn’t there when she went to sleep is nagging at her subconscious. She moans and rolls over, struggling to open her eyes, to see what is pulling her from her dreams.

            The room is totally dark except for the moonlight shining in through the balcony door. As her eyes slowly open she sees nothing until a shadow moves and she is instantly wide-awake and a scream rips out of her mouth cutting through the dead silence.

            The shadow rushes toward her, but Alex rolls out of bed, naked as a jaybird, so when he grabs at her there is nothing he can get a hold of and she makes a dash for the door. As she grabs the knob, the door explodes inward, shoving her back against the wall.

            Walker comes in the room scared out of his wits, and seeing the shadow going out the sliding glass doors, he gives chase, but by the time he is outside, the intruder has dropped off the balcony and is nowhere to be seen.

            Remembering Alex’s scream, he hurries back inside. When he steps into the room he sees a bare leg sticking out from behind the door. Rushing over he pushes the door shut and sees her trying to get to her feet. “Alex…?” 

            He kneels down and reaches out to take her hand and that’s when it hits him that she is totally naked. His eyes widen and another part of his body hardens.

            Using both hands she shoves at him, sending him back on his rump. “Why did you hit me with the door? You almost knocked me out!” She gets to her feet and grabs the towel up off the floor and wraps it around her.

            The door down the hall opens and Ella sticks her head out, “What’s going on out here?” She sees Alex wrapped in a towel and Walker standing behind her. “Hey, if you two want to play around, how about keeping it quiet.” She stares at them for a minute, “Not everyone is as lucky,” she murmurs, and closes her door.

            Alex opens her mouth to reply, but feeling a blush climbing up her neck, she closes it without saying a word. Walker grabs her arm and turns her around to face him. “I’m sorry, Alex, I didn’t know you were on the other side of the door. When I heard you scream, I just...”

            She looks him square in the eye, “Ha.” Then turns back into her room. “What were you doing out there, anyway?”

             “What did you think I was doing, peeking through the keyhole? I told you I was coming back,” he replies, following her. “How come you didn’t have any clothes on…?”

            She turns to face him, “Well, if you must know, I was in bed sleeping, and I…” she turns her face away, but he can still hear the sarcasm. “I didn’t have time to dress, okay?”

            “Alex, I’m sorry, okay?  What’s your problem, anyway?”

            “My problem…?” she sits down on the edge of the bed, “I’m sorry Walker, I’m just scared, okay? He woke me out of a sound sleep and I was trying to get away from him.”

            He sits down beside her, “Are you all right, now?”

            “Yes, but I’d feel a lot better if you had caught him.”

            “We’ll catch him, I’m going to go out and see if I can pick up his tracks. You’d better try and get some sleep. He won’t be back tonight, he knows we’ll be watching for him.”

            “You … you’re leaving?”

            “Yes, you’ll be fine, I’ll get the sheriff to put some guards on the place. Okay?”

            “Okay … okay. I’ll be fine.”

            Walker watches her go back into the room and wishes he could follow her, but he needs to find out who has been scaring the girls. He finally turns and goes down the hall then down the stairs.

            Alex waits till she hears the front door slam then she quickly dresses, grabs a blanket off the bed and curls up into the large overstuffed chair in the room.

***

            The sheriff assigns several deputies to search around the big house and to try and follow the prowler that fled into the cornfield and the one that had jumped from the balcony after attacking Alex.

            Unable to sleep Alex stands at the balcony door and watches the deputies patrolling the edges of the property. Seeing the sky starting to lighten in the east, she gives up the idea of trying to sleep and decides to go downstairs to make some coffee.  But first she wants to check on Ella. Silently she opens the door and pads softly into the room, stopping to gaze down at the sleeping form of her friend. Seeing that Ella is breathing deeply, she turns to quietly leave when she kicks something on the floor, bringing Ella shooting up in bed, shrieking, “What … what … oh, God, who’s there? Alex…!” Kicking the blankets off she struggles to stand but Alex, knowing how freaked Ella gets when she’s scared, Alex grabs her by the shoulders and begins trying to calm her down.

            “Ella, its me, Alex!” In her struggles Ella lashes out and smacks Alex up the side of her head.

“Ow! Ella … it’s me, Alex … quit hitting me.”

            “Alex? Alex? Oh, I’m sorry … but what are you doing in my bedroom, trying to give me a heart attack!!”

            “Well, we had a prowler again and I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

            Ella, collapses back on the bed and buries her head in her hands. “God, maybe I should just give up on this place and go back to Louisiana.”

            “I don’t think you should do that yet, Ella, there are sheriff deputies out combing the grounds and the cornfields looking for this guy.”

            Ella looks up at Alex, tears flowing down her face. “I don’t know, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

            Alex sits down beside her and slides an arm around her shoulder, knowing this is Ella’s dream and afraid she will give it up because of the prowler.

            “Ella,” she murmurs, “they’ll find this guy and then we can get started fixing this place like you planned.”

            “But, Alex…”

            “No, lets just wait, give Walker a chance to find this guy, okay?”

            Ella gives her a half-hearted smile and nods.

            Alex stands and pulls Ella up with her, “Come on, lets go down and get some coffee.  I’ll fix some breakfast.”

***

            The next few days are spent unloading the truck and making a list of repairs that are needed. With no sign of the prowler since the last episode, they are hoping that they have seen the last of him. Walker has managed to get a few days off to help out moving the heavy stuff and doing light repair work.

            On a trip to town with Ella to buy paint, Alex feels a cold chill creep up her spine and looks around to find out what has caused it. She is stunned to sees a man that she thought was dead. She swipes her hand across her eyes for a better look but the man has disappeared.

            After thoroughly searching the store and not finding him, she chalks it up to her imagination. She finishes her shopping, finds Ella and they return to the old Victorian house.

            She is painting the lobby with Walker’s help when the face of the man she thought was dead pops into her mind.

            “Walker, do you remember Ted Duggan? That guy that was killed in a fire about a year ago?”

            “Hmm, yeah, the one who threatened to get even with you. But if I remember right we never did get a positive id. Why?”

            “Well, at the store where I got the paint, I … I thought I saw him.”

            Walker stops what he is doing and stares at her. “Are you sure?”

            “Well, almost. His hair was black instead of blond … and he was about thirty pounds heavier but it sure looked like him.”

            He moves over to her and puts his hands on her shoulders turning her to face him. “Alex that could be any number of men.”

            “I know … but still…”

            “Come on, we’ve only got a little more and this room will be done. We even have time to start on the dining room. But first…” He gathers her hair in a fist at the back of her neck, and with his eyes holding hers, he lowers his lips to hers.

            She lifts her arms up around his neck, shifting her body, till she is touching him, chest to chest and thigh to thigh, parting her lips eagerly for his kiss. He can feel her breasts pressing against his chest as his mouth blazes its way down her throat. She moans and tilts her head back, wanting more. His lips return to hers, drinking deeper, longer and when he skims his fingertips over her breasts her nipples pebble to diamond hardness.  

            He lifts his head and their gazes meet.

            “Walker …” she begins, as she feels his hand slip inside the waistband of her jeans, desire flares hotter.

            “Not … here.” But he tightens his hold on her, keeping her snug against him as he places his lips against hers again.

            Hearing Ella break out in song in the next room reminds them that they’re not alone.  

            They step apart and Alex says, “Maybe we should put this on hold.” She brushes her finger over his lips, “I need … to go get some more paint for the dining room. Then maybe we can take up where we left off.”

            “I’m counting on it.” He smiles at her as she grabs her purse and goes out the door.

***     

            She’s walking down the dimly lit aisle looking for the paint color for the dining room.

“Alex Cahill.”

She turns at the sound of her name. There’s a man behind her standing with his face in the shadows. He’s neatly dressed in khakis and a navy sport shirt. Unable to see him clearly, she smiles instinctively. She is still smiling when he grabs her arm and clamps a chloroform-soaked rag over her face.

***

            Meanwhile, back at the house, while Walker waits for Alex to return, he calls Trivette and tells him to see what he can find out on a ‘Ted Duggan’.

            “Duggan. Is he the one that died in that fire about two years ago?”

            “Yeah, he’s the one. See what you can find on him, will you?”

            Walker hears a soft chuckle and then, “I can tell you where he is, in boot hill.”

            “Nothing was ever proven, Trivette. Just bare with me, check him out, will you?”

            “Yeah, I’ll check him out, but … I think it’s a lost cause.”

            “Let me know what you find out, okay?” Walker hangs up the phone, finishes up the painting in the lobby and then steps outside to see if Alex has returned yet. Not seeing her, he finds Ella and they search the house but she is nowhere to be found.

            He gets in his truck and drives to town, to the Hardware store, to look for her. He finds her car and the clerk remembers seeing her come in but did not see her leave. Walker moves to the back of the store where the paint is located and not finding her there he begins to walk the aisles looking for any sign that she had been there.  He sees the back exit sign and moves toward it when he kicks something on the floor.  He leans over and picks it up, recognizing Alex’s purse.  Then rushes out the back exit looking for her, but she is long gone.

***

            “Hello, Alex.” He is leaning over her, whispering softly. Alex blinks, staring at him. He’s blurry and she feels woozy, dizzy, and sick at her stomach. Where is she?

            She tries to ask what had happened but she can’t, she finds something over her mouth. She moves her head from side to side trying to push it away, but stops when the cheap, scratchy carpet she is curled up on, irritates her check. As the realization hits her that she is bound tightly, her eyes widen and slowly his face comes into focus.

            Alex’s heart begins to pound wildly. Her blood runs cold and her stomach knots up. She wants to scream but all she manages is a strangled squeak.

            Duggan!!  She had seen him and he saw her. He took her to keep her quiet. Which meant he didn’t intend to let her go.

            “Oh! You’re finally awake.” His voice is low and pleasant a slight edge of evil coming through.

            She struggles to move but her arms are pulled behind her and tied at the wrists with what feels like duct tape. Her ankles are secured the same way.

            He leans over her and she realizes that that he was leaning in the door of a truck, a pickup truck, where she is wedged in the front passenger side foot well, and he is trying to get her out. She struggles but it doesn’t help, he wraps his arms around her waist and hoists her up and out, letting her slump to the ground while he closes the door.

            It’s dark, and it’s raining, no moon, and she’s lying in the wet grass. Where is she? She sees a large house looming up in the darkness, but still feeling the effects of the chloroform, she can’t bring it into focus. Her thoughts are fuzzy, and her arms and legs feel heavy.

            It was then that terror, icy terror floods her veins and her stomach cramps. Her chest heaves as she fights to breathe.

            She’s going to die. He has brought her to this place to kill her.

            He bends over her, wrapping his arms around her middle, trying to pick her up. It would have been no problem but she resists. Heart racing with fear, she struggles frantically, writhing and thrashing until he swears then fumbles for something from his pocket then thrusts a cool wet cloth over her face, again. She gags when she smells it, and slowly her struggling ceases.

            When she regains consciousness again, she is hanging over his shoulder, blood pounding in her head, his arms clamped around her legs. He’s taking her downstairs, carrying her down into what looks like a basement, concrete walls, a bare light bulb in the center of the room, throwing dark shadows around the edges and in the corners. Whose basement? she wonders.

            She wants Walker. Where in the name of God is Walker?? She’s shivering, trembling, her bones turning to jelly and her heart thudding hard in her chest.

            “Well, now, here we are.” He says as he reaches the bottom of the stairs and moves into the room, lowering her to the floor. She tries to struggle but she is so sick, so woozy that all she really wanted to do was curl up into a ball and go to sleep. Besides, there is no possible way she can escape. She is helpless. She is going to die.

            When he moves beneath the bare light bulb, she recognizes her captor. It is definitely Duggan! She hasn’t been mistaken. And he’s smiling.

            “I’ve been thinking about this,” he says, moving to stand in front of a large chest freezer.

            And when she sees it, terror is so sharp she can barely breathe.

            She’s unable to turn away from him as he walks toward her. She knows he’s teasing her but she’s frozen, can’t move, and can’t scream.

            He bends over her and she sees the knife in his hand.

            Her eyes widen and panic almost overwhelms her as she watches as he waves it in front of her face.

            “I could cut your throat,” he says, moving the tip of the blade to just below her ear. She shuts her eyes and cringes as he stokes it softly across the front of her neck. She holds her breath as her heart slams painfully against her breastbone, waiting for the blade to go deeper...

            “But … that’s too messy,” he says, “I’d have to clean up afterwards. Anyway I like the second option better.”

            He reaches down and scoops her up, smiling down into her eyes. He carries her to the freezer and lowers her down inside. The sides of the freezer are thick with frost. She can feel the cold caressing her skin. As he straightens up, she realizes what he means to do.

            “At your size, there’s probably forty-five minutes of air. I’ve turned the temperature down to zero so the final question is … will you freeze to death or suffocate first? It will be interesting to find out, don’t you think?”

            Alex whimpers and his smile widens as he shuts the lid.

            She is alone now, in the icy, nearly airless dark.

***

            Walker rushes out the back door, searching the ground, he finds a set of footprints leading from the door to a vehicle that had been parked behind the store. The tracks are deeper going to the car, but the set walking around the front were shallower. Whatever he was carrying he had deposited it in the car, then got in the driver’s side and drove away.

            He follows the tracks down a seldom-used lane that seems to skirt the town.  He doesn’t dare stop. If the rain gets heavier he could lose it completely. But as he continues to follow the tracks his worst fears come true, the rain is getting heavier.

            The tracks finally disappear, but he continues to follow the lane, rushing blindly down the grassy path. He stops and leans against a tree, trying desperately to draw air into his lungs. When he looks up he sees a pickup truck.

            He moves quietly up to the truck but its empty. Looking at the ground next to the truck he sees footprints going toward the back of a large house. He follows them to the back door but before he can reach it, it swings open and a man comes out, singing softly under his breath.

            Walker grabs him and slams him up against the house.
            “What did you do with her?”

            “Huh? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He swings his arm at Walker, “Get outta my way!”

            But Walker grabs his arm and twists it back behind him. Duggan cries out and falls to the ground, taking Walker down with him, causing him to lose his hold on Duggan. 

            That’s all Duggan’s needs; he jumps up and takes off into the trees, with Walker only seconds behind him.

            Walker chases after Duggan, finally catches him, throwing him to the ground. But when Duggan falls, he hits his head against a tree, knocking himself out.      

            Walker falls to the ground, grabbing him by his shirt front, shaking him, “Duggan, what did you do with her?  Where is she?” Walker shakes him again, but Duggan’s head just rolls from side to side, completely out of it.

            “Oh, God.” Walker lowers him to the ground, staring at him. He finally digs his handcuffs out, puts them on Duggan, then picks him, hoists him up on his shoulder and starts back to the house where he had found him.

            Looking at the house, wondering if Duggan had left Alex inside.  He props his prisoner against the railing at the back stairs, releases the cuffs long enough to slide them through the railing, then puts them back on him.

            He pulls his gun and eases up the back stair, pushes open the door and steps into the house. The house is dark and silent as a tomb.  He checks the rooms on the first floor than takes the stairs up to the second floor. When he shoves open one of the bedroom doors it dawns on him that this is the house that belongs to Ella, Alex’s friend. He checks out all of the rooms then returns to the first floor. Finding nothing he starts out the back door when he notices a door standing open a crack. He hesitates, then pushes the door back against the wall, finds a light switch and flips it on. He takes the steps down, his eyes sweeping the area at the bottom. “Alex?” he calls out, then again, “Alex? Where are you?”

            He stops and listens but hearing nothing he turns to start back up the stairs, but a tingling up his spine makes him pause and he takes a second look around. When he sees the freezer against the wall, he feels as if something is telling him to look inside.

            He rushes over and lifts the lid and there she is, bound hand and foot, curled into a ball, a strip of duct tape covering her mouth. She is white as death and unmoving. Frost has already started to rim her nose and mouth.

            “Alex?”  He hunts for a pulse in her neck, finds it but it is faint.

            He scoops her out of the frozen tomb into the warmth of his arms. He puts her down and pulls the duct tape off her mouth then starts CPR.

            “Alex?” His voice breaks. Hearing footsteps over head, he screams out for help.

            “Walker?”

            Ella! He had forgotten about her. “Call 9-1-1 Ella, HURRY!”

            Then a miracle, Alex stirs, her chest expands and her eyelids flutter and she looks up at him, dazed and disoriented, but alive.

            “Walker,” she breathes softly.  He inhales a shaky breath and drops his chin down onto his chest and gives thanks for an answered prayer. Then he gathers her up into his arms, holding her close to his chest.

            Alex moans softly and snuggles closer to the warmth that is pushing away the awful chill that has permeated her body, as Walker carries her up the basement stairs.

            He walks through the house toward the front door as he hears the sirens of help arriving.

            “Is she all right?” Ella asks as she hovers next to him, with concern for her friend.

            “Yes, Ella, I think so,” he says as he carries Alex down the steps to let the paramedics take over.  He waits till she is covered with heated blankets then climbs in the ambulance and sits down next to her, taking her hand in his.

            Twelve hours later, Alex is making preparations to leave the hospital, waiting for Ella to give her a ride back to the house.

            Walker had told Alex, while she was in the hospital, about what had been found in the basement of Ella’s house.  While checking out the basement after Alex had been rescued they had found the remains of four other women in different phases of decomposition, some had been buried and some had just been stuffed in cabinets and one in an old refrigerator. It had been a gruesome finding, one giving Ella doubts about continuing her plans on turning the historical home into a bed and breakfast, but finally vows she is going to have her bed and breakfast, come hell or high water, that is providing Alex’s promise to help is still offered. Alex assures her that she will be there to get her enterprise started.

            Alex is sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for Ella to pick her up. She looks up when the door opens and sees Walker instead of Ella.

            “What are you doing here?”

            “I told Ella that I’d pick you up,” he says, sitting on the bed and taking her hand in his. Looking at her, he sees the lines around her eyes and the slight trembling of her body.  “Alex, are you sure you’re ready to leave?”

            She turns to look him in the eyes, “Yes, it’s just that I’ve got to do something, I’m not resting here, all I’m doing is thinking about that man putting me in that freezer and closing me in to all that cold and darkness.  I’ve got to do something to get my mind off of that.”

            Looking up, she sees him watching her with a crooked little smile on his lips. “I know something that will definitely take your mind off of that,” he says as he slips an arm around her waist.

            “Walker…” she begins.

            He stands and takes her hand, pulling her up off the bed. “Come on, let’s go.”  He feels her shivering and asks, “Are you still cold?”

            Her voice husky, she murmurs, “Yes, I can’t seem to get warm.”

“God, honey, let’s get out of here, I’m taking you home.”

“I promised Ella…”

“I’ll bring you back after I get you warmed up.”

Thirty minutes later, Walker is carrying Alex up the stairs at his ranch. Kicking open his bedroom door, he carries her into the bathroom, sitting her down on the lid of the commode.  He turns the water filling the tub with very warm water. 

He turns to see her leaning against the sink, and quickly but gently removes her clothes and lowers her into the soothing water.

He leaves her there while he returns to the bedroom to look for something put on her before putting her to bed.

When he returns to the bathroom, he finds the water cooling and Alex shivering. He lifts her from the tub and wraps a large terry towel around her, then picks her up and carries her into the bedroom. She is still shivering as he tucks her under the blankets.

She grabs his hand and pulls him down on the bed. “Don’t go,” she pleads. “I’m so cold. I need you to warm me up … from the inside out.”

Never one to deny her anything, he quickly shucks his clothes and climbs under the covers with her, pulling her back against him, spoon fashion. He inserts two fingers inside her and begins stroking her wetness, his erection poking at her from the back. She grasps him, then turns onto her back, pulls him close, spread her legs apart and guides him in. He lifts himself, and while she massages her sweet spot, he nibbles her swelling, darkening nipples, moving in and out slowly but insistently.

            She arches her back. “Now!”

            His relief comes first, hers moments later.

            Afterward, they lay together, the sheet pulled up around their shoulders. He props himself up and looks into her eyes. “Are you feeling warmer?” he says as he slowly caresses her stomach.

            “Mm … some, but I could use another injection of … your liquid warmth,” she says as she reaches down under the blankets to quickly bring him to the ready.

            “Anytime, honey,” he murmurs into her ear. “I can get you as hot as you want.”

The End