Season of Storm by Alexandra Sellers by Alexandra Sellers - Read Online

Book Preview

Season of Storm - Alexandra Sellers

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1

He took her hostage—could he ever let her go?

As the daughter of a ruthless West Coast lumber baron Shulamith St. John had lived with the threat of kidnapping  for most of her life, but that didn't make her situation when it happened any less terrifying.  Especially as she knew what her kidnapper did not—that her father would refuse to pay any ransom for her.

Johnny Winterhawk didn't believe that—but he was no ordinary kidnapper. He didn't want money, he wanted to protect his tribal lands from her father's chainsaws. And then, it seemed…he wanted her.

Shulamith responded to her captor's touch with a yearning fire that made her feel she could trust him with her life.  Their deep passion shook her, body and soul. And that was the most terrifying thing of all…

SEASON OF STORM

Alexandra Sellers

YouDon'tOwnMe Books

London

Grateful acknowledgement is extended to the following:

Mel Hurtig Publishers, for the quotation from THE UNJUST SOCIETY: THE TRAGEDY OF CANADA'S INDIANS by Harold Cardinal. Copyright 1969 by Harold Cardinal. Used by permission.

Oxford University Press, Inc., for the quotations from No Worst There is None and Pied Beauty in THE POEMS OF GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, THIRD EDITION, edited by W.H. Gardner. Copyright 1948 by Oxford University Press.

Used by permission.

McClelland and Stewart Limited, Toronto, for the quotation from As the Mist Leaves No Scar in SELECTED POEMS 1956-1968 by Leonard Cohen. Copyright 1968 by Leonard Cohen. Used by permission.

Dorothy Poste for the lyrics Wake Me Up to Say Goodbye.  Copyright 1983 by Dorothy Poste and Alexandra Sellers. Used by permission.

First published 1983 by Worldwide Library

This revised edition published 2013

ISBN 978-1-78301-159-9

By payment of required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this eBook. Except for use in any review, no part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the copyright owner.

Please note

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, to business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

The reverse engineering, uploading, and/or distributing of this eBook via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

Copyright © 1983, 2013 by Alexandra Sellers. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

Alexandra Sellers has asserted her right under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

YouDon'tOwnMe Books

Revised edition copyright © 2013

Cover by Kim Killion www.thekilliongroupinc.com

for

Glen Sorestad

Donald James King and

Doreen Allen

my Golden Year

SEASON OF STORM

Prologue

The Watcher was still, watching. A perfect, vital stillness held him, as though a statue pulsed with life. His skin was the colour of cut trees—cedar or oak—and his high-bridged nose and angled cheekbones gave his face a cast that men of other races would call noble. His eyes, like his hair, were black, and no emotion troubled their gaze as he watched what he watched.

The Watcher stood on a low promontory of rock above an ocean, and what he watched was in the water, below and beyond him: a woman, struggling against the sea. She was naked, and her long hair was the colour of foxes, or of fire.

Something flickered behind the Watcher's eyes: regret that the woman would die. Never had he seen hair of that colour; and her skin was pale. He would be sorry to kill the woman.

It was evident that the waves would not kill her. The woman struggled valiantly to keep her head above the water, and although she was exhausted, the tide was with her.

The spirits, too, were with her: in all this rocky coast she was being carried towards the flat sandy stretch of shore below the promontory on which the Watcher stood. She would not be broken against rocks.

When the water was thigh deep the woman found her feet and stood up. Her long hair fell dripping down her back and over one full breast; water droplets clung to her chilled skin.

She was exhausted but triumphant, and the Watcher felt a distant admiration for her, as he might for one of the Swimmers evading his trap, or the Bear his arrow. He wondered fleetingly if she were one of the Swimmers, taking human form. In that case perhaps he ought not to kill her.

The woman paused for a moment, lifted her face to the heat of the sun and gasped deeply for air. Now that her goal was so close exhaustion seemed to grip her more surely.

She staggered once in the breaking waves, the water alternately pushing and pulling at her strong thighs, then moved forward again. For all her exhaustion the motion of her naked hips was smooth, the glistening sway of her silky-wet breasts hypnotic.

When she stepped onto sand and moved above the water's reach she lifted her arms and cried aloud her gratitude to the sea and the land.  Then her triumph was overcome by fatigue, and she dropped to the sand and lay drinking in the heat of the sun with her body. Her long hair was splayed out beneath her, and her body heaved as she gasped for breath.

Something stirred in the Watcher then: a fire that had not troubled him before lighted in him now. It flickered up behind his black eyes as he gazed at the woman on the sand. He would not kill her yet, he thought. Not yet.

The Watcher moved.

One

Something woke her up. Something frightening, because her heart was beating as though she had just had a brush with death. Shulamith sat upright in the silent gloom, her ears straining for the repetition of a sound she did not want to hear.

The drapes and her window were open as they always were at night—she could feel the sea-scented breeze stroke her forehead as she strained to hear, but the noise hadn't come from outside the protective shell of the house. It had come from within.

It came again, after a long moment when she hardly breathed; and with the sharp grace of a cat Smith turned her face towards the noise, as though drinking in its location as much through her wide eyes, even in the dark, as through her ears. The sound was muffled, certainly not as sharp as the one that had awakened her, but still unmistakably threatening: a noise of quiet scuffle, and single, low-voiced command.

Daddy! she called wildly into the night. Her voice came out as a whisper, a cat's frightened hiss, but there was no point in calling again—she mustn't waste time. Shulamith ripped back the light blanket covering her legs and was running as soon as her feet hit the soft thick carpet.

A gleam of light showed beneath the door to her father's room, she saw when she reached the doorway, and the sight quickened her breathing and her pace, because the door should have been open. She sped around the wide balcony that overlooked the large front hall, terror snapping at her heels, clutching her throat. He should have listened to me, he should have hired a nurse, she thought, and then, I should have argued more, I should have insisted.

She had convinced him to sleep with his door open, and that was all.

But the door was closed now, the fine thread of light beneath proof, at this hour in the morning, that whatever had caused her to start up out of a sound sleep, heart pounding, had been no nightmare. Smith bit her lip. Why was the door closed? Who had closed it? She realized she had already begun a prayer in her head. Prayers were so simple after all. Please, God, please don't let him be dying. Please.

She was almost crying the last words aloud as she fought for a clumsy second with the door handle, and then the door flew open under her determined, desperate hand. 

And then she screamed.

It was a pipeline of sound from the deepest reaches of terror within her, an icicle of comprehending-uncomprehending horror that destroyed the close hot silence of her father's room at a stroke. The scream lasted only a moment before abruptly dying, and in its frozen aftermath Smith felt her body begin to shake, felt her muscles quiver, and then a chill sweat beaded from every pore.

Around her father's bed four dark-clad men wearing black balaclavas stared at her in mute surprise. On the bed lay her father, his pyjama top drenched with perspiration, or water, or both; his face sickly grey and beaded with the same icy perspiration that was forming on Smith's own forehead. His breathing was shallow and fast. For one second there was no motion, no sound in the room. Then some movement on the periphery of her vision released Smith from immobility, and she whirled to see that a fifth man, his eyes fixed on her, was replacing the phone receiver in its cradle.

Ever after she would be amazed at the speed with which her mind suddenly functioned in that terrified moment. In a strange, half-consecutive, half-simultaneous burst of understanding she realized that if the man was using the phone, then the lines had not been cut; that there was a phone in her father's bathroom and a deadbolt on the door; that if she tried to run away from these men down the stairs they would certainly catch her, but that if she ran into the room, she might make it to the bathroom before they understood her intent.

These thoughts were superimposed one on the other like the individual colours of a landscape painted on separate squares of glass that together form the image. Her brain was so clear that she didn't have to make even the smallest glance towards the bathroom. Some instinct told her, with a combined sensation of darkness and space, that across the room the bathroom door was wide open.

By the time the receiver in the fifth man's dark hand clicked in the cradle Smith was in mid-flight across the room. She wasted no energy on imagining pursuit, on listening for a stifled shout or a footfall behind her. She thought of nothing but running, of moving the mass of her body through as much space in as little time as possible; she thought of getting into her father's bathroom and ramming the bolt before the evil animals behind her—animals dangerous with the cunning of men—got their unimaginable hands on her. She thought of the phone with three outside lines, on one of which she would surely be able to dial 0 before they blocked the lines or kicked down the door.

Then she was through the doorway into the cologne-scented darkness, reaching unerringly for the door with one and then two outstretched hands; she was turning, with a coordination so perfect it felt like slow motion, to ram the door shut. She saw with an unsurprised satisfaction that the fifth man—the quickest of all, since he had been the furthest from the bathroom—was still only halfway across the room. The other four were in various postures of surprise, consternation and motion, but too far away to be any threat.

The door stopped moving under her weight. Smith's gasp of horror ripped out of her throat as she felt the door run aground, but she cut the sound off instantly. There was no time to waste on fear. Her eyes dropped down from the threateningly advancing fifth man to find what was blocking the door….

Her father's bath towel, draped on the doorknob, had caught on the carpet and been ground underneath until the door could no longer move. In one sharp motion Smith pulled the door back off the towel and plucked the material from the knob.

But the fifth man was too close: she had lost the precious advantage that surprise had given her. In a last, wild effort she flung the giant blue towel—still damp from her father's shower—at the man's head and turned into the familiar darkness to grope for the phone that rested on the broad stretch of marble by the sink.

By the time they had moved into this house, Shulamith had been far too old to sit on the edge of the tub watching her father shave, and it had been many years before that since he had encouraged it. So she had never seen the phenomenon of her father shaving and discussing business on the phone at the same time. In those long-ago days of laughing, sun-filled Paris mornings there had been no business to discuss in the morning, no phone anywhere in the flat, but there had been sun on the dusty roofs and pouring through the tiny bathroom window, and the aroma of breakfast mixed with that other constant scent of oil paint and turpentine.

But still she could find the phone unerringly in the dark now, for she had polished the marble from time to time and placed the plain black phone back in position. This blind knowledge of the room gave her a momentary advantage again, and she snatched up the receiver and punched 0 seconds before a lean bronzed hand, darker in the gloom, reached out from behind her to push down the hook and extinguish the tiny orange glow that for a second in time had been a light of hope to her.

Shulamith St. John, who had committed very little violence in the course of her life, threw the receiver at the man's masked head with a force that surprised her. Not waiting to see it connect, she dodged around him to run back into her father's bedroom.

Two of the masked men were close enough to make any more running futile. She drew up short. Now she was breathing in tortured, shuddering gasps.

He's got a bad heart! she choked out as the fifth man came up behind her. Her voice broke oddly into the silence. For the first time she was fully aware of herself, of her flimsy cotton-and-lace nightgown, of her total vulnerability. But that way lay insanity, and she pushed the awareness away and concentrated on the grey face of her father, who lay in her line of vision between the two men facing her. No one moved.

He'll have a heart attack! He'll die! she shrieked at them, hating the blank, insensate masks that hid all humanity.  Each mask, in a ludicrous attempt to reassert lost individuality, she thought, was trimmed with a different colour around the eyes and mouth.

He'll die! she repeated. Call the hospital!

The red- and turquoise-trimmed masks in front of her blinked emptily, but White Trim, behind her—the tall, fast-moving, fifth man—said quietly, his voice resonating strangely in the room after her high, tense shrieking,

An ambulance is on its way. Your father may have had a heart attack. If you—

His pills! she choked, wishing her voice were not this terror-stricken cry that gave her away so obviously. She pushed between Red Mask and Turquoise Mask, who seemed unsure of what to do and might have let her pass. But the tall man behind her, obviously more in control of the situation, restrained her with a firm hand closing on her arm above her elbow.

He has taken his drugs, he said. You can do nothing more for him at the moment. If you will....

She turned on him, almost spitting. She had never in her life felt such a blinding burst of anger, hatred, helplessness and violence as the one that flamed through her now, a supernova exploding simultaneously in her brain and her stomach, sending its fires through every cell of her being.

Get your hands off me! she commanded, her voice a deep primal growl. I want to go to my father!

Two more men, in yellow- and green-trimmed masks, were bending over her father in a kind of helpless anxiety; suddenly the three surrounding Smith took on a little of the same confusion, as though she, too, were deathly ill. White Mask's hand on her arm relaxed, and the two men by the bed straightened.

With an imperious motion that dared them to stop her, Smith crossed to the bed and placed her hand on her father's damp forehead. She drew in a shaking breath: she knew nothing about what to do for a heart attack. Why, oh, why, hadn't he let her hire a nurse?

There was a whispered colloquy going on among the five men. White Mask crossed to her as the other four started uncertainly toward the door.

The ambulance is on its way, White Mask said again. Will you....

Their uncertainty made her triumphantly strong. And stupid. In that momentary rush of unthinking elated anger, she rounded on them.

You mean you're not going to kidnap my father after all? You're afraid no one would pay money for a dead man? she burst out, her voice contemptuous. You stupid bloody fools, don't you do any research at all? Don't you know that my father has made it impossible for the company or me to pay a ransom for him? Her breath was coming in gasps of love and rage and fear. But he still couldn't stop a bunch of cretins trying, could he? She pointed to the bed beside her. That's his second attack in a few weeks. You've probably killed him, damn you! Damn all of you and your damned mindless greed! You....

White Mask lifted his hand to touch her shoulder. Through the mists of her rage the gentle gesture seemed unbearable from such a menacingly powerful man. She was suddenly reminded of how strong her father had seemed to her as a child, and how gentle he had always been in that long-ago past, before—

Smith's throat tightened, and she smacked away the comforting hand with animal violence.

"Don't touch me! she shrieked. You're all cheap cowards, afraid even to show your faces! Why don't you at least have the courage of your convictions? Why don't you stand up and show yourselves as men who get what they want by violence and murder?"

The short burst of a distant siren broke sharply on the air. Four of the men started toward the door again, while the fifth, White Mask, stayed looking down at her.

Then Shulamith St. John was very stupid indeed.

Who are you? she demanded suddenly. I want to know who you are! And without any thought of the consequences, before he could have any idea of her intention, she reached up and dragged the mask from his head.

Two

Only when she saw his face did she understand what she had done.

Oh, my God! Shulamith whispered in dismay, staring at him. Now the silence of the room, threaded through with the nightmarish ululation of the oncoming siren, was electric with danger.

The man was dark, the firm skin of his hawk-like face smoked bronze, his black eyes narrowed as he stared into hers. His hair was black, too, wavy and thick, falling to his ears in two wings from a central parting. He had a high-bridged nose, and his wide mouth was grim as, his gaze fixed on her, he called something to his masked accomplices. Then he reached for her.

Smith jumped back from him too late. His tall, black-clothed frame had already moved, imprisoning her against a muscled chest between arms of steel.

She reacted like a wildcat, spitting, clawing, cursing, but she was slim and light and he had the advantage of height and strength. She fought anyway—twisting and clawing desperately till her long red hair tore free from its braid and tangled around his head and her own, the lace of her nightgown hung loose, and his black sweater gaped at two places—fought with all her strength, and then some.

It was not enough. The hawk-faced man overpowered her at last, pressing her head back into his shoulder with a hand held over her face so that she could neither breathe nor scream. Then he carried her swiftly and noiselessly through the house, and, as the ambulance men burst through the front door with a clattering stretcher in tow, he moved out the back patio door into the damp, chlorine-scented air.

Upstairs—the room where the light is, she heard a male voice call.

Her heart was labouring from lack of oxygen, and Shulamith stopped her frantic backward kicks at her abductor's legs and tried with her free hand to pull the long, strong fingers away from her nose.

His voice said very softly into her ear, I will let you breathe if you do not fight me. Otherwise I will force you into unconsciousness. Not waiting for her agreement, he eased his hand down away from her nose, still maintaining his sure grip over her mouth.

Shulamith dragged in a breath, her heartbeats slowing. With an effort of will she calmed her thoughts, resolutely pushing away anger, hatred and most of all fear, and concentrated on her situation.

Her abductor was strong and tall. Her toes barely brushed the ground. Her head was being pressed into the hollow of his shoulder with one hand, while his other arm, wrapped tightly across her, held her arms immobile against her own body. It would be pointless to kick, he need move his hand only slightly to deprive her of air again.  His body warmed her against the damp chill of the night air, and mentally she rejected his heat. She wanted nothing from him. 

The man's attention was not entirely on her, she sensed, though his grip did not relax. She felt a perfect stillness about him, as though even his blood had ceased to flow; the rise and fall of his hard chest had become almost imperceptible against her back, while her own breathing was still thin and rapid.

He was listening. He had not closed the door behind them, and now he listened to the noises coming from the house as though his ears let him see what was happening inside. Shulamith listened, too, picking up almost nothing until, after what seemed an age, there was the unmistakable sound of footsteps and a stretcher coming down the stairs and moving out the front door. Then ambulance doors slammed, and the sound of an engine roared away down the curving drive.

There was no sound of the siren, and Shulamith sucked in a shuddering breath. He was dead. Her father was dead, or they would be using the siren.        

No traffic in these streets, said the deep voice in her ear, and Shulamith was surprised by her response to the understanding tone: she wanted to cry. They'll use the siren again when they reach the main streets.

She listened intently for a long moment, not knowing whether to believe or not. Then, from down the mountain, a short burst of the siren's shriek made her sag against his body with relief. Her father was alive.

He moved then, back through the patio door and across carpet and oak, through the front hall and then out into the night. At the top of the stone steps he whistled softly and waited, his hold on her not relaxing even to shift his grip or ease his muscles.

Below them, behind the black shadow of the forest, the glint of ocean-going vessels beckoned to her, as always, with the promise of distant shores. Beyond, the lights of the city centre sparkled in the black surround of the ocean. The scene before her was so familiar that she could scarcely believe all this was really happening. Shulamith closed her eyes tightly: either the familiar beauty of Vancouver at night or her attacker would disappear, she was certain. This was a dream.

But the man's grip on her body remained real, and when she opened her eyes, so did the city.

After a moment her ears picked up the quiet sound of an engine, and through the trees along the circular drive a small van crept, without benefit of lights, and stopped beside them just as her abductor, moving down the broad steps, reached the ground.

Panic filled her with a renewed force, and, tasting it, Shulamith realized that she had lain quiescent in the stranger's hold for critical minutes, as though his silent strength had unconsciously stilled her wild fear. She cursed herself for a fool. If she had had little chance against one man in the past few minutes, she now had no chance at all against the additional four who were in the van. As the driver door opened she erupted, twisting and kicking with all her might, clawing behind her for any vulnerable area within reach.

The man swore, dropping his hand from her mouth to grasp her twisting body, her flailing arm. Immediately she screamed. Immediately his hand clamped her face again.

Get a rope! the dark man ordered the other, still masked, who had climbed out of the driver's seat and was now running around the front of the van to them.

Shulamith let fly the hardest kick she had delivered since her days in the high school gym, and the second man grunted and went down like a hewn tree. She waited in terror for the man holding her to take revenge somehow, but he was not cruel as he caught her arms in against her body.

The man she had kicked was cursing steadily and painfully. Slowly he got up off the ground.  Turquoise Mask, she thought.

Rope, suggested the man who held her, and the other limped to the back of the van, opened the doors and, the soft stream of his curses mingling oddly with the scraping noises in the night air, rummaged for a few moments, then stepped back with a small bundle of binder twine in his hand.

It looked wispy, like angel hair, but its roughness cut her skin, and Turquoise Mask tied her wrists tightly and cruelly in the darkness, so that the twine bit into her flesh.

Every new assault took her terror one notch higher. Being tied filled her with such panic-stricken horror she felt as though she hung on to reason only by a tiny thread.

The dark man hoisted her into the passenger seat, his hand still clamped on her mouth, the open door blocked with his body; and in the faint light coming from the house she saw that Turquoise Mask held a long strip of coarse, dirty fabric. Her eyes widened in horror, and she moaned a plea and shook her head.

The hawk face, which she saw again for the first time since that moment in her father's room—it seemed an hour ago, though it could have been only minutes—looked consideringly at her for a moment.

Sorry, he said, as though he meant it. Even if you gave me your word not to scream, you are too much of a fighter to keep it.

She moaned again behind his palm, her eyes pleading and promising. A white smile lighted the shadowed planes of his strong, bronzed face; strangely, it was a smile of admiration.

Not even for your solemn oath, he said, his eyes glinting at her. Even if you meant to keep your word, you would not do so. That is the way of fighters. Now, if you breathe deeply and slowly and calm your panic, this will not be so bad.

She was briefly thrown into confusion by his kindness. It was a ploy calculated to put her off her guard, she realized. It was not going to work. Shulamith took the deep calming breath, but stared stonily at the man while he drew the gag across her open mouth and tied it under her hair. He spoke a few quiet words to Turquoise Mask then, closed the door softly, and turned back up the steps and into the house while Turquoise Mask stood guard over her. With the shock of sudden memory, Shulamith thought of the other three men. Were they still in the house or were they waiting somewhere out of sight? Were they silent in the back of the van? She suppressed a shudder. She wished she hadn't remembered them.

The end of the rope that tied her hands had been closed into the door so that she could hardly move, but if she could reach the van's horn with her foot….Shulamith shrank back, afraid to try. In the absence of the big man, how would the others treat her if she made the attempt?  Somehow, in spite of everything, he seemed to be her protector.

But that was crazy! Of course he wasn't her protector. Where had that insane thought come from?  She was losing her grip faster than she would ever have believed.  

He returned quickly, flicking off lights as he came and locking the door. His moonshadow stretched ahead of him as he moved down to the van. He had an animal grace that it gave her a curious pleasure to watch, a leanness of hip that was strangely compelling, and his face had a grave nobility in the moonlight. She heard his low voice in conversation with his still-masked accomplice. Then the door beside her opened again.

You will ride in the back of the van, said the dark man, while Turquoise Mask climbed up into the driver's seat beside her. She smelled his sweat, the acrid smell of fear. She wondered if they smelled her fear.

Wordlessly she slid off her seat, felt the cold pavement under her chilled feet, and stepped through the sliding door. She stumbled into the darkness, banged her toe painfully on a metal strut, then felt carpet under her feet.  The hawk-eyed man followed her. 

I am not going to hurt you, he said, and now she could sense that there was no one else in the van. Please sit down.

He guided her down to the floor behind the driver's seat, her back resting against the side of the van, then dropped lightly down beside her. She discovered she was sitting on her hair. With the gag forcing her mouth open, her body was twisted and uncomfortable. But she would not complain to him, or ask again for relief.

Go, he said, and the driver pulled off his balaclava, started the van's engine and let out the clutch.

Very soon Smith lost track of location, except that she knew they were going down. All she saw of the passing landscape were treetops or street lamps, and after a very few minutes she gave up the attempt to judge the turns.

Her companion was watching her in the flickering light, and Smith caught his gaze and looked away.  Wriggling, she lifted her bound hands to her neck and pulled her hair from