Deadly Obsession

By: Elle James


 Excitement rippled through her. She could barely wait to get home from school. Instead of taking the road as she’d promised her mother, she cut through the woods. She carefully balanced the treasure her teacher, Mrs. Tillman, had given her. It was a thank-you gift for staying late every day after school the entire year to help straighten the classroom, clean the boards and check papers.

 A gift hadn’t been necessary, and that wasn’t the reason she’d stayed after school. She loved helping her beautiful young teacher. The added bonus was access to all the books on the shelves in the classroom. They were filled with wonderful stories and picture books of places Mrs. Tillman had been—Germany, Russia, Italy, China—exciting, exotic places in all parts of the world. Reading about those places was all the thank-you she could ask for.

 But the gift had been special. A beautiful black porcelain music box from Russia. Painted with colorful women in flowing ball gowns dancing with handsome men in military regalia. The pictures told a story of another time, of richness and beauty. And when she opened the pretty little box, music spilled out. The Nutcracker, her teacher had told her.

 Mama would love it as much as she did. When she was younger, Mama had played the piano and sang in the church choir. Now she barely had time. Since her daddy had moved out, her mother had gone back to teaching, and she didn’t play the piano anymore. But she loved music and made sure her daughter grew up with the same love.

 Her attention was on the pretty black box, and she was in such a hurry to get home, she didn’t see what tripped her until she flew forward. She tucked the little box against her body to keep from breaking it when she hit the uneven ground. She landed hard, the wind knocked from her lungs, her head bouncing off a big rock. For a moment she lay still, trying but not succeeding at dragging air into her lungs. Darkness gathered around the edge of her vision, closing in...swallowing her.

 How long she lay there, she didn’t know. Cold seeped into her skin, making her shake. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t open her eyes. The darkness was inside her, gripping her like a hand, squeezing so tightly it wouldn’t let go.

 Shivering turned to violent tremors. Pushing against the grasp of the black abyss, she cracked open an eyelid. Fog closed in around her. Nothing looked familiar. She didn’t know where she was, or where she’d been going. “I want to go home,” she cried. But she couldn’t remember where home was.

 Sobs rose up her throat and tears ran down her cold, damp cheeks. She lay curled in a ball, trying to warm herself but failing miserably. Maybe, if she went to sleep, she’d wake in her bed...where she belonged.

 Closing her eyes, she lay as still as her trembling body could. Soon a warm blanket was wrapped around her. By the coarseness of the fabric, it had to be wool. It covered her body, her face and her head, making it harder to breathe and blocking out any daylight that managed to filter through the fog. Then she was lifted into strong arms and carried. How far, she didn’t know. But it seemed like forever.

 She would have kicked, screamed and cried for her captor to release her, but she didn’t have the strength, and she didn’t want him to take away the warmth of the blanket. He kept going and going.

 At last he stopped and fumbled with something. A screeching sound could have been a rusty hinge. She couldn’t see through the thick wool of the blanket, wrapped so tightly around her that she couldn’t move.

 They were going down steps; the musty scent of dirt and decay filtered through the blanket. It was the same dank smell she could remember from visiting someone’s earthen root cellar in the country. She grasped at the memory, but before she could identify whose basement she’d visited, the thought drifted away like smoke in the wind.

 Finally, she was deposited onto cool, damp earth. She struggled to free herself from the blanket. By the time she did, her captor was already up the wooden steps leading out of the ground where he’d brought her.

 Her heart hammering, her voice lodged in her throat, she pushed to her feet and stumbled on wobbly legs toward the light. As her foot hit the first step, a heavy metal door dropped down over the opening, shutting out the light, plunging her into darkness so complete, it had to be hell.

                       Chapter 1

 Chance McCall pulled the rented SUV into the parking area in front of the McGregor Bed-and-Breakfast and shut off the engine. The flight from the East Coast to the West Coast had been long, with a four-hour layover in Chicago. Now that he was in Oregon, he could relax and enjoy seeing his friends and take in the peace and calm of the stunning seaside town of Cape Churn.

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