He had to get a helicopter in the air now, and by God he was going to be on it.
He barely managed a “thanks.” A few calls later, Butte County Sheriff’s Department was tracking down a pilot for their search-and-rescue helicopter. Even as he made and took more phone calls himself, Colin used lights and siren to achieve maximum speed toward the airfield on the outskirts of the city where the copter was housed. Without even thinking it out, he chose Jane Vahalik to go up with him.
She listened. “I’ll be there in five,” she said, and was gone.
Quail Butte wasn’t ten miles off the highway. Duane might already be there, while Colin was tediously assembling his team.
Hold on, Nell.
* * *
THE ROAD WAS rising, and seemed to be curving. She could tell from the steady force that pushed her one way. A never-ending curve.
Nell pictured the road rising to the top of Angel Butte. But that didn’t make sense. They’d been traveling for a while. She doubted she’d regained consciousness immediately. So...surely not there?
There were plenty of other cinder cones in the area. She had no idea how many had roads leading to the top. Pilot Butte in Bend, and Lava Butte. But she thought there were others. Perhaps some within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument?
She would be completely on her own. Who knew when Colin would discover she was missing. Would her parents think to call him when she failed to arrive for dinner? But he would have no idea who had abducted her or where to look when he did find out.
She allowed herself a pathetic minute of regret. How stupid she’d been with her extreme reaction to him calling her Maddie. He might not love her, but...he’d made love to her as if he did. His kindness, his patience, his tenderness toward her. The way he looked at her and only her. Now he’d never know that she loved him.
Maybe it was better that way.
The ache in her chest seemed to crystallize into something much harder: determination. She might be alone—but she hadn’t heard any voices, which likely meant she would be facing only one man when that trunk opened.
Well, she just wouldn’t give him time to reach for his gun. She would slash out, hard, with the tire iron. Nell imagined it striking his head, crushing the relatively fragile bones of the cranium. It would make a terrible sound, but she didn’t care. He had hit her in the head twice now, with the intention of killing her. She wouldn’t have to kill him, only incapacitate him so that she could grab the car keys and escape.
She wasn’t a terrified fifteen-year-old this time. She was an adult, small compared to him, but in good physical condition. In a different way, she’d defeated him last time. So why not again?
The road seemed to be leveling off and the car was unmistakably slowing. A moment later, it came to a stop. This time, the engine went silent. The car door opened and closed, the sound sharp. Footsteps came around the side, the last soft scuff so close she shivered. The key turned in the lock.
Nell closed her eyes and played dead, her fingers gripped painfully tight on the tire iron hidden beneath her.
THE HELICOPTER MOVED fast, staying low. Colin stared down at the bright glow of Angel Butte. In the midst of his fear, it seemed unbearable to realize he was looking at thousands of strings of Christmas lights, meant to convey cheer and hope. He was grateful when the city fell behind and below he saw only the headlights of vehicles traveling Highway 97.
Leaning forward tensely, he held a rifle cradled in his arms. Jane was likewise armed. He glanced to see her looking tight-jawed and as grim as he felt. Like him, she wore a bulletproof vest, hastily donned. Maybe he’d have been smarter to bring a SWAT member—but he knew and trusted her.
Down somewhere below, Butte County deputies were racing for the turnoff to Quail Butte, too. One unit had been close enough, it might conceivably beat the helicopter there. God, he hoped it would.
Every time he relaxed his guard, he pictured Nell sprawled, lifeless, in the trunk of a car. Blood matting her hair. Why wouldn’t Duane have killed her before he put her in the trunk? Leaving her alive until he could dispose of her body was taking a risk, as he’d well known after his experience twelve years ago.
To block his fear for her, Colin thought about the bones of teenage girls that had been found in the tri-county area, the decomposed body of the girl found buried in cinders on the flank of Angel Butte, a death he had investigated himself. Had Duane murdered those girls? If he’d molested Nell, that made him a pedophile. She was unlikely to have been his only victim. But where had he found the others? Had he picked up street kids in Portland and brought them back here? Given them a place to stay at his house?