Hot as Sin Page 45

Not having time to second-guess her decision, she skidded down a hill. For the first hundred feet or so she was able to keep her footing, but as the mountain grew steeper, she was no match for the thick tree trunks and large rocks that kept slamming into her knees and legs.

She slowed down to navigate several large boulders, but just as she made it past the last one, her foot caught on a dead branch and she went flying down the steep hill, tumbling head over heels.

Curling up in a ball, she’d barely covered her head with her hands when she crashed into a rock.

A whimper of pain left her throat as she lay there, still in a ball, fighting back a heavy wave of nausea. Blackness threatened to take her and she knew she was just on the edge of passing out.

No! She couldn’t give up now.

Slowly uncurling her limbs, she waited for a bolt of pain to tell her that something was broken. But when she realized she’d gotten lucky and everything was still in working order, she sat up and listened carefully for the sound of footsteps.

All she heard were birds chirping and water rushing.

Standing up, she carefully picked her way down the hill in her tennis shoes, holding on to tree trunks for support. Concentrating on each painful step, she finally got close enough to the river that she could see the water through the trees, clambering down the boulders until she got to the edge of a steep rock face.

After some quick calculations, she realized her only choice was to jump onto the sandy bank.

All the air knocked out of her chest as she landed. Lying there, trying to get her breath back, staring up at the sky, it was so tempting to just close her eyes and sleep.

Damn it. If only she weren’t so tired. Or hungry. Or thirsty.

Scrunching up her eyes, she ground the balls of her hands into the sockets to wake herself up before rolling her stiff muscles into a sitting position. Getting up again, she waded into the water and followed the edge of the river downstream, hoping she’d see someone fishing or boating at some point.

After walking for what felt like hours beneath the bright sun and having no choice but to drink from the lake—giardia be damned—she finally heard the most beautiful sound in the world; little kids splashing and playing in the water while their mother yelled at them to be careful.

Moving closer, she saw the Colorado State Park signs along the river and a new burst of energy ran through her.

She’d actually made it.

She was safe!

Running out of the water, she jogged up an empty beach, then between RVs in their numbered spots, following the signs to the ranger station. Seeing a pay phone at the edge of a parking lot, she stopped and dialed the operator.

“I need to make a collect call,” she said in a breathless voice, giving Dianna’s cell phone number.

“I’m afraid the party you are trying to reach is unavailable.”

Shit, Dianna’s phone had gone to voice mail. Now what?

“Is there another number you would like to try?” the operator asked.

She could call the police, but her kidnapping was all so random that she was afraid they might not believe her. The only people besides Dianna who knew she was missing were her friends on the Farm. Figuring they had to be wondering where she was, she gave the operator the phone number for the Farm. It rang once, twice, three times, and she prayed that someone would pick up.


April was already talking when she realized Peter couldn’t hear her because the operator was saying, “I have a collect call for you from—”

“April Kelley.”

“Will you take it?” the operator asked.

Peter said he would and then April heard him say to someone, “Go get Dianna. Her sister’s on the phone.”

“My sister’s there?” April asked, amazed that Dianna had not only found the commune, but had managed to get up there in one piece. Then again, why was she surprised? Dianna always succeeded, even when she attempted the impossible.

“She came looking for you last night,” he replied, and then she heard him tell someone, “Yes, I’m talking with her right now.”

“Oh my God, April,” Dianna said, coming on the line. “Are you okay?”

Dianna’s concern brought tears to her eyes. She felt like a little kid all over again, desperate for her big sister to come find her and take her away from her horrible life.

“I think so. I was abducted by some guy in the hospital parking lot and I managed to escape to a state park. The signs say Tigiwon on them.” Sniffling, she admitted, “I was so scared. But I knew you’d try to find me.”

“Thank God you’re okay. I’m coming to get you.”

Dianna sounded incredibly shaken up and April could hardly believe this was her ever-poised sister on the other end of the line.

“Go to the ranger station and wait for me. And April?”

April wiped away her own tears and cleared her throat. “Yes?”

“I love you.”

Her tears started anew. “I love you, too.”

She hung up the phone and was heading back out into the parking lot when she was struck with the bad feeling of being watched. But when she stopped and looked all around her, she didn’t see or hear anything more suspicious than a group of children riding their bikes while their parents lounged on folding chairs and drank beer.

It looked like nothing more than a perfect summer afternoon, but as she quickly followed the arrow to the ranger’s office, the hair on the back of her neck wouldn’t stop standing straight up.

Stop freaking out, she told herself. You did it. You escaped. You’re safe.

Dianna was coming, and this time, April was perfectly happy to let her sister take care of everything. At fourteen, she’d fought her sister with all her might, partly, she now realized, because fighting was all she knew. But right this second, she longed for comfort. For safety. For a warm bed and a glass of warm milk.

For so long, she’d raged against Dianna for treating her like a baby. Funny how a little coddling no longer seemed like such a bad thing.


“SHE’S SAFE,” Dianna told Sam and Peter as she hung up the phone.

She couldn’t remember ever feeling happier as Sam pulled her into his arms. It felt so good to hug him. Not in a state of fear, but, finally, with joy.

“I’m so glad she’s okay,” he said softly in her ear before releasing her.

She slid one hand down to lace her fingers through his, suddenly feeling like new beginnings might be possible for everyone.

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