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Stone Cold Cowboy(4)

By:Jennifer Ryan

Her heart ached worse than her face, jaw, and bloody wrists combined. How could he just leave her here? How could he turn his back on her like this and live with himself?

A wave of terror overtook her. Against her will and knowing it wouldn’t change her brother’s mind, she gave in to her growing fear and screamed, “Connor, help me.”

The devil dude laughed. “He owes too much money to go against me and help you. You’ve got some guts trying to fight me, but here’s the thing—unlike your brother, I handle my business and any witnesses. Now, I said I wouldn’t kill you, but I never said I wouldn’t let the cold do that for me.”

The tears she’d kept at bay filled her eyes and spilled down the side of her face into her hair. She lost all her bravado and begged, “Let me go. I won’t say anything. I just wanted to keep him out of trouble. That’s all. Please, let me go. I’ll walk home like you said. I won’t tell anyone about this.”

He cocked his head to the side and smirked, though it wasn’t reassuring. “Nice try. I might have believed you, but then you had to go and take a shot at my nuts. Now I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

He pulled the rope close and tied one end to the wire around her wrists. She tried to pull free and scramble away, but she only ended up hurting worse when he wrestled her into submission, her hands crushed under his punishing grasp. Once the rope was secure, he finally rose up and took his weight off her middle. Finally, she could breathe easier, but her breath stopped when he walked right over her head, yanked the rope, and dragged her over the mud and grass. She rolled to her stomach, pulled back on the ropes, squealing out in pain when the wire dug into her skin, and rushed up to her feet. Better to trot after him like a dog on a leash than get dragged over the ground.

“Please, let me go.”

He didn’t respond, just walked right up to a big tree. She pulled back, not wanting to get tied to the trunk, but he had other ominous ideas. He held the rope close to her by one hand and used the other to toss the other end of the rope up and over a high, thick limb. He pulled the slack tight, then pulled again until her toes barely touched the ground. She wiggled to get free, but it only hurt her wrists more. Fresh blood trailed down her arms. She kicked out her feet, trying to get him to let loose the rope. He anticipated her move, drew his knife again, and slashed at her legs in a wide arc, catching her across her left thigh and right knee. She yelled in pain and stopped struggling, stunned he’d cut her. The sting burned like fire.

“Keep it up. I like it when you bleed.” The menacing note of truth in his words sent a bolt of fear through the denial in her mind that he couldn’t be serious. But he was.

Afraid that all her fighting would only lead to more pain, she hung there, trying to think of anything she could say to change his mind about leaving her strung up in the biting cold. Even now, her skin felt like ice. She wiggled her numb toes, hoping to restore circulation. Thanks to the wire around her wrists, she couldn’t feel her hands.

He came toward her again, this time with his eyes on her breasts that were now at his eye level. He reached out to touch her. She pulled her knees up to her belly, planted her feet on his chest, and shoved him away. “Don’t you dare touch me.” The order didn’t hold as much weight when she ended up swinging back and forth from her hands, grunting in pain as each movement made the wire bite deeper into her skin.

He moved forward again. She kicked at him again and again, her body swinging and twisting from the rope. She ignored the excruciating pain. Too soon she tired and swung back and forth, unable to pick up her legs and strike out at him again. Defeat tasted vile. She swallowed the sour taste, hoping she didn’t disgrace herself more and vomit.

He smiled and laughed, planting a hand on her belly and pushing, sending her swinging yet again. He’d been taunting her, tiring her out so she couldn’t fight him off anymore. She’d played right into his hands. She needed to be smart, think, find a way out of this despite the reality staring her in the face—she was well and truly screwed.

“If I had more time, and those assholes weren’t so fucking stupid and could finish this job on their own . . .” He left the rest unsaid. He didn’t need to finish. The leering gaze he swept over her body said everything. Her mind conjured one gruesome thing after the next; all of them made her stomach pitch, bile rising up her throat.

After so many minutes holding her up, he struggled to hold the rope and tied off the end around the trunk of the tree, leaving her dangling in the wind. The devil dude grabbed the bundle of barbed wire and brought it back. He wound one end around the wire at her wrists to anchor it, then wrapped the rest around both her arms, down over her shoulders. The sharp edges dug into her skin like little bites of pain.