FeverNew

Fever Dreams
All excerpts © Laura Resnick

 

Now that the moment of truth was at hand, they stared uncertainly at each other, not sure how to begin this discussion. The last time they'd seen each other, they'd been involved in the most intimate act possible between a man and a woman. Now that the shock was wearing off, the change in circumstances suddenly seemed incongruous.

He knew the feel and taste and heat of her body. She knew what he enjoyed in bed and where all of his scars were. She had seen him asleep and had slept beside him. Yet, until today, they hadn't even known each other's names.

"Nice place, Maddie," he said at last, needing to break the silence.

"Don't call me Maddie," she said.

"Why not?"

She blinked. "Because no one calls me Maddie."

"Got a better reason?"

"Because I don't like it."

"Tough."

"I'm employing you," she reminded him.

"Your father's employing me," he corrected.

"I'd rather you call me Miss Barrington."

He leaned forward and spoke very distinctly. "I don't give a damn what you'd rather. About anything."

She swallowed. "I take it from your comments in the elevator that you... had no idea who I was. I mean, who Madeleine Barrington was."

"I'm beginning to think no one has any idea who Madeleine Barrington is. Your father, your fiancé, and your employees sure don't seem to know."

Ransom saw Madeleine's cool features crumble slightly. Her lower lip trembled, and he suddenly felt like a heel. Christ, he didn't want to make her cry. Or did he? Did he want some proof that she, too, felt a lead weight sitting on her chest right now? This whole thing had just gotten even more confusing.

"Look," he said at last, his voice softening, "I just showed up for a routine assignment, okay? I had no idea until I saw that photograph in your father's office." He smiled weakly, imagining how she must have felt when she'd seen him there. "Hell of a coincidence, huh?"

She took a steadying breath. "Not really, I suppose. There must be a very limited number of people who have business in Montedora these days."

"Apart from the CIA, the DEA, drug smugglers, the Red Cross, the Catholic Church, and UN Military Observers, hardly anyone has business there anymore," Ransom said dryly. "Which could explain your father's concern for your safety. I take it you were alone there last time?"

"I can take care of myself." Her chin rose a notch, just the way it had outside the door of his room that night.

"Oh, really?" Perversely, he said, "Do you know how crazy it was to go alone to a hotel room with a total stranger in Montedora City?"

"I'm beginning to realize," she said stonily.

"Anything could have happened to you! And who would have been there to help you?"

"I regret my actions more than I can say."

"You mean you regret going to bed with me?" he shot back. "Or you regret sneaking out like a thief while I was asleep?"

"I didn't steal anything," she snapped.

* * * * *

He forced one eye open. He saw a flat wooden surface. Ah, so that's what the hard thing under his cheek was. Wood.

Where the hell was his pillow? In fact, where the hell was his bed?

He blinked his other eye open and picked up his head. He immediately felt sick.

Oh, shit. He didn't want to be sick. He swallowed and held still, waiting for the feeling to subside.

By the time it did, he'd realized he wasn't in his room. He was sitting on a hard wooden chair in the bar, his head and arms resting on the table.

How the hell had he managed to fall asleep in this position?

His tongue felt furry, and his mouth tasted foul. His head hurt. The nausea was fading, but not disappearing. Surely he hadn't gotten stinking drunk last night? Not only was that unlike him, but surely he wouldn't have done anything so stupid while guarding Madeleine?

He thought back. The effort made his head hurt.

No, he'd had only one drink last night—that modest shot of whiskey. He remembered that the whiskey had been strong and slightly bitter, but still...

Oh, shit, he thought again, as things started coming together. He stood up slowly, and the way the room whirled confirmed his suspicions.

He'd been drugged.

"Buenas días, señor."

Ransom looked over his shoulder and found the source of the sound which had awoken him. A girl, about twelve years old, was sweeping the barroom floor. She smiled hesitantly at him. He tried to smile back, but she apparently didn't find the effort reassuring.

"Donde está el señor?" He asked for Gutiérrez in a gravelly voice, his mind working slowly. Who had drugged the whiskey? And why?

The girl replied that Gutiérrez was outside. Did the señor require something?

He didn't even hear her.

Why? Why else, you idiot? He was halfway up the stairs before he'd completed the thought. A wealthy woman, sleeping alone up there... Oh, God, please, please, please let her be safe.

He flung himself against her door. It was locked.

"Maddie!" He kicked in the door and barreled into the room.

She screamed and leapt out of bed.

Safe! Safe, she was safe.

"Maddie!" He scooped her up in his arms while she was still flailing in the tangled bed sheets that twined around her legs.

"What? What! What?" she cried breathlessly, squirming in his arms, trying to see what was in her room or beyond her door that had caused him to terrify her like this.

"Jesus, oh, Jesus, oh, thank you, God," he murmured incoherently, hugging her with bruising force.

"What? What? Ransom, what's going on?" she demanded, shoving at him.

He ran his hands over her possessively, still needing to assure himself that she was safe. "I thought... I thought... Oh, hell, I don't know what I thought, but—"

"You don't know? You don't know?"

"Well, no, but—"

"What's going on?"

"I'm not sure."

"Is something wrong?"

"Um. I'm not sure." He was starting to feel very stupid.

"You're not sure?" She looked like she wanted to hit him. "Have you gone mad? You scared me half to death!"

Realizing that he wasn't behaving very sensibly, he mumbled, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? You're sorry?" She seemed at a loss for words. Her pretty nightgown molded to her body as she slumped down on the bed and repeated, "You're sorry." She rubbed her side and said, "I think some of my ribs cracked when your gun rammed into them."

He glanced down, so accustomed to the feel of his holstered Glock that he'd forgotten he was wearing it. Yes, he must have hurt her. Shit. He had to pull himself together. He ran a hand through his tangled hair and tried to think. "Look, it's been a hell of a night, and—"

"I nearly had a heart attack!" She pressed a hand to her chest and threatened, "In fact, I may still have one!"

"Not now," he ordered absently, drawing a withering glare from her. "I've got to figure out why someone drugged me last n..." Then it hit him like a ton of bricks.

* * * * *

Madeleine felt the blossom of hope wither inside her. "What's wrong?

"Don't you recognize them?"

"Recognize..." Suddenly, she did. "Those are the three men who ate at the pensión the night we arrived there," she whispered.

"Uh-huh."

Their young captor gestured to them a moment later, explaining how he had discovered Madeleine in the bushes. The moment the leader of the group—El Martillo—looked at them, Madeleine knew he recognized them. His expression hardened with hatred.

"What were they doing there?" Madeleine wondered.

"Probably coming back from the capital after looking for another way to hit the President," Ransom muttered.

"This is bad," Madeleine said with dread.

"I can't believe the week I'm having," Ransom said wearily.

El Martillo and his two companions came forward and studied Madeleine and Ransom. The Hammer's Spanish was as clear as Madeleine remembered it, enabling her to understand what he said; it occurred to her with some surprise that he must be an educated man. His comments, however, were discouraging. He said that he had met these two oligarchic pigs before, and he congratulated his men on capturing them.

"Now wait a minute," Ransom began in Spanish.

"You think I do not remember?" El Martillo sneered. "You had an arrogant lackey with you then, a silly young braggart who openly boasted of his association with that murdering swine Veracruz and the whore he calls his wife."

He prodded Ransom with his rifle. Ransom didn't react. El Martillo loomed over him and snarled, "He also boasted of your association with Veracruz."

The two men who had captured them looked stunned, then appalled, then positively venomous. Madeleine became very, very scared. The two men started speaking simultaneously, excited and bloodthirsty now. Upon realizing that they had captured a man who was not only a friend of Veracruz, but one who had actually made him harder to kill, the rebels demanded the honor of killing their captive.

"Oh, my God," Madeleine moaned, terrified beyond rational thought.

One of the men who had been at the pensión grinned and said something to his companions that made them all look at Madeleine and laugh. Then he reached out and traced the neckline of her poncho with the barrel of his rifle. Cold terror immobilized her as he leered at her while fondling her with his weapon.

Ransom said something so insulting and vulgar to the man that all laughter ceased immediately. The man forgot about Madeleine and hit Ransom. Ransom barely blinked. He said something else to them all that made El Martillo furious, though Madeleine didn't understand the vernacular. The youngest rebel, flushing with insulted manhood, kicked Ransom. Madeleine screamed and flung herself across his prone body even as struggled to sit up again.

"Please," she begged them, "please don't do this!" Her meager Spanish deserted her, so she begged Ransom, "Don't make them hurt you!"

The Hammer said, "I have no time for this. Kill him now."

"No!" Madeleine screamed, clinging to Ransom. It took two men to pull her off him. They hauled her to her feet and dragged her several yards away.

The boy raised his rifle and pointed it at Ransom. Madeleine went still with horror.

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