She drove her feet upward in a last-ditch effort to push him off. But her feet rammed into nothingness. Her heart still hammering in her chest, she let out a cautious sigh of relief. Another nightmare. She sniffed the air, the only way to tell for sure that she was alone in the unrelenting darkness. No hint of male perspiration or of the heavy pine scent most of her captors used to cover their body odor.
She was truly alone.
Another sigh of relief escaped her lips, and this time she let it flow unimpeded through her body.
The hard dirt ground against her back, a harsh reminder of reality and the only solid thing in the complete blackness that enveloped her. Either the dream had awoken her, or it was now morning. She had no idea when the day began or ended, although she was acutely aware of time dragging slowly by. Hell was like that.
At first she’d hoped for a rescue. She had known that it was a long shot, but she’d still survived by convincing herself of the possibility. Now, she was resigned to the inevitability of spending the rest of her seven-year term here. But how much time had already passed? Weeks? Months? She was weighed down by dark thoughts of death and suicide—except now they offered her light. A way out, her only escape. But there was a spark deep inside her that couldn’t be extinguished, not even by them or the things they did to her. The spark was now fueled more by a need for vengeance than by anything else, but it was still there, a burning ember in her chest.
She moved against the earth and groaned as the shooting, intense pain of two cracked ribs flared in her side. Her hands drifted to her face, which was now a swollen mess, the shape of which she hardly recognized anymore. The ribs would heal. The bruises and cuts, the black eyes, the split lips … they’d all heal, leaving only a few scars behind. Her captors were experts at causing pain without causing death. Death would be too easy, and they wanted information from her that she’d never give.
A noise outside her cell caught her attention. It sounded like a shoe being scuffed against the dirt somewhere in the corridor. Then another sound. She pushed herself upright and fought the bile that began to rise … the dread. The guards could come for her at any time—not that time was something she had a grip on any more. There was nowhere to hide, no way to escape. She could pretend she was asleep, she could hide in the corner, or she could wait at the door and attack. She’d tried all of those methods before, but the end result had always been the same.
Another noise outside. This time it sounded like a groan that was quickly silenced, followed by a thud. Something was happening out there. Stretching her hand out, she felt for the nearest wall and quickly maneuvered around the small cell, running her hands along the cold earth until she reached metal. The door. She rubbed her fingertips across the freezing metal until she found the hinges, and then scampered to the other side of the doorway.
She waited. Footsteps were moving swiftly toward her, and then she heard the unmistakable soft pop of a silenced pistol. The footsteps stopped at her door. She took a few breaths, ready for action. Would this be the rescue she’d hoped for? She shook her head, not letting herself hope. She couldn’t. They’d always said there’d be no rescue. Hell, they hadn’t even ‘claimed’ her as their own, and she’d maintained her cover story, despite everything. They couldn’t really claim her now, after their previous complete denial. Anything could be happening outside. Maybe another prisoner had managed to get loose, maybe extremists had come here to rescue one of their own. Or maybe the country was in the midst of a rebellion. Whatever was happening, it might give her the opportunity to run.
Her breathing was fast and shallow; mostly from the surge of adrenaline, although her cracked ribs made sucking in a deep breath virtually impossible. The old lock on her door groaned under the pressure as a key was inserted and turned. Someone was coming for her, but who? Friend or foe? The lock clicked open and the metal door moved slowly inward. Light trickled in from the corridor and her vision blurred. She could make out a man stepping inside, his face hidden by a ski mask. He held a handgun with a small Maglite attached. If the beam of light caught her eyes she would be completely blinded, unable to see … unable to fight.
The man started to sweep the cell, flooding the dirt floor with light. He took another step forward, which brought his silhouette into range. She lashed out with a flat-knuckled strike between his ribs. As her knuckles met their mark, her eyes adjusted enough to the sliver of light coming in the doorway that she could see the patches of skin showing through his ski mask. His skin looked milky white, probably Caucasian. But that didn’t mean he was on her side.
He swung around, his Maglite blinding her, and she kicked out at his knee—but the kick sailed through the air, the lack of impact unbalancing her slightly. She held one hand up, trying to shield her eyes from the light, while the other one went for another strike.
He stopped the punch, dead. “Jane Calloway?” His free hand held her wrist, and as he moved the gun with its mounted light slightly to one side, the pain in her eyes receded.
She quickly processed the information she had. The male’s voice had a well-covered accent, but she’d picked up traces of a British accent in his vowels, and he was using her most recent alias, Jane Calloway. “Yes. What’s the MI6 doing here?”
“I’m not MI6.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room and into the corridor. “What’s your status?”
Mission talk. She knew all about that. He needed to know whether she was injured. “Two cracked ribs.” She gave him the info, but still wanted to know who he was. Who he worked for. “SAS?”
“Wrong again. Now, shut the fuck up, and let’s get out of this shithole.” He tapped his ear. “I have the target. Prepare to meet us at the rendezvous point.”
She pulled herself together and walked quickly, keeping up with the man rather than being dragged along. He led the way, the Maglite attached to his 9mm providing enough light for them to navigate the tunnels. Her thoughts raced. She was the target. It was a rescue … finally they’d come. Or someone had come for her.
Everything felt so surreal. Was it really happening? Was she really going to get out? She raked her fingernails up her forearm, feeling foolish. Still, she had to do it. Had to wake up if it was a dream. She kept walking. She was still on her feet, not back in her cell. It was real.
They’d only taken about twenty steps when they came to the first body. She stopped, her fists clenched and her body rigid with anger. She could make out the large pool of blood underneath him—he was bleeding profusely, and was either dead or not far from it. There couldn’t be that much blood without death lurking nearby. But she still wanted to beat the shit out of him, to pound her fists into his face. He deserved it.
The man pulled her arm. “Come on. You can plan your revenge later.” He was all business, just like she used to be. And he’d also expertly assessed the situation and her emotions. He was right … she had to get out. Who gave a shit about the guards? This guard was dead and any guards who were left standing would be punish