Authors: Robin Leigh Miller
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Black Smoke Copyright© 2007 Robin Leigh Miller.
Edited by Helen Woodall.
Cover art by Syneca.
Electronic book Publication: March 2007
The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
Robin Leigh Miller
This book is dedicated to my best friend, my husband. Not only did he believe I could live my dream, he helped me do it by picking up the daily routines of motherhood and giving me the time and space I needed. While I typed away at my small desk in the basement, he bathed the kids, read to them and tucked them into bed. I’d also like to thank Ellora’s Cave for giving me a chance. And a small shout out to the others that guided me—you know who you are.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Granola bar: Biggs and Featherbelle, LLC
Mustang: Ford Motor Company
Samantha Wells lay buried in the mud, a small tube protruding from her lips just barely reaching the surface of her makeshift grave. This small piece of plastic was her only way of drawing air into her lungs. Her entire body was covered with earth, dead leaves and twigs. No one would know she was there, even if they walked over her. She sucked the air through her tube in slow, long breaths. It had taken her years to perfect this method without jumping from the ground and hyperventilating, but it was worth it. She could hide for hours, even days if necessary. The small collapsible shovel she carried served her well for digging into the soft earth. With experienced movements, she dug a hole wide and deep enough for her to slip into. Starting at her feet she carefully covered herself with fresh earth until she couldn’t be seen.
Today she only needed to hide for the next two hours until darkness fell. Her quarry lay just five hundred feet away from her, inside a small cabin. It would only take her seven minutes to cross the distance, enter the cabin, incapacitate the captors and leave with the target.
Seven minutes. She’d run the scenario over and over in her mind, carefully planning every step she would take. The layout of the cabin was ingrained in her brain. All she had to do was close her eyes and she could see it.
Young Peter had taken a great risk showing her around the cabin when he was sure the captors were out. Peter was also the one that gave her the proof she needed that her target was in the possession of this foul man. The woman’s wallet had been tossed into a dumpster where the boy was looking for cans to recycle.
Sam lived for this kind of work. It was what kept her sane, knowing she was doing something worthwhile. Unfortunately, she had to deal with the scum of the earth, like these evil excuses for men who held this young woman captive.
Sam was sure she knew what he had planned for the young woman, but dwelling on that wouldn’t help the situation. She needed to keep her mind wrapped around the plan. Once she had the woman free, she would call the police and let them deal with him. It wasn’t her job to act as judge and jury. She was just the black smoke that swirled into a building and freed all those who needed to be free. Black Smoke. That’s what she’d been named by the others in her profession. It was a name she bore proudly.
No one knew who Black Smoke was. She was extremely careful not to let anyone know her real name, or even that she was a female. Her Uncle Walt dealt with those that contracted for her services. He simply filled her in on what needed to be done. So far it had worked out well for both of them. Not only did she do retrievals for the private sector, she also worked for the government—but only on those rare occasions when it needed to be kept quiet.
Sam pressed deeper into her grave when she heard a car drive up to the cabin. Even with her eyes closed, she could picture in her mind what was taking place. The sound of two car doors slamming told her that her hunch was right. There were two of them, two men to torture this poor woman. The contents of the cabin clearly had shown two people.
The muffled cries of a female in distress caused the hairs on her arms to prickle, even under the thick layer of dirt that covered her. Her heartbeat began to quicken. Had she been wrong to wait until nightfall? Would it be too late? Would this poor woman be brutalized before she moved? Sweat seeped into the rich, dark soil that surrounded her.
You must be patient.
Sam’s heartbeat began to slow. That soft whisper she’d relied on her entire life was never wrong. The woman cried out again, this time a painful, heart-wrenching scream. Sam nearly bolted from her self-made grave. Every muscle in her body tensed, ready to do battle.
Not yet, she will not be seriously harmed before nightfall.
Again, the whisper inside her head calmed her. As a child the soothing voice had saved her life and as she grew older it had helped her work through the turmoil of adolescence. When she began her career, she relied on it to keep her safe. It had never let her down before. It wouldn’t let her down this time. By her calculations, she had ninety minutes before all hell would break loose. Concentrating on her breathing and relaxing her muscles, Sam said a quick prayer to her spirit guide to wake her when the time came.
As she sank within herself, she could only hear the sound of her own breathing. All other sounds were pushed away. Sam concentrated on the sound of the air being sucked through, then pushed out of the small tube. As it happened over and over again it became a hypnotic rhythm that soon had her resting comfortably beneath the earth.
A peaceful scene unfolded in her mind’s eye. A cozy, whimsical room with colorful fairies decorating the walls filled her head. A wind chime near an open window tinkled in the light breeze of the evening. It too was adorned with fairies. A large doll’s house stood in the corner, fairy dolls placed in each room. As Sam’s eyes searched the room, she saw a beautiful bed with a frilly pink comforter. Large overstuffed pillows covered the bed. Nestled amongst the pillows was a big stuffed dog.
A sense of warmth and happiness washed through Sam’s body. She recognized this place, that dog, the tinkling sounds of the wind chime. It was all so familiar and comforting.
Sam’s peaceful feeling was shattered by the sound of wood splintering and heavy footsteps coming upstairs. Her heart began to race as she heard shouting from across the hall. Was that her father’s voice she heard pleading?
The beautiful serenity of the room became a violent swirl of color as the shouting became more intense, more violent. She could hear flesh being slapped and a woman’s voice cried out in pain. The room began to spin. Sam’s stomach clenched. That was her mother. Her mother was screaming. Sam tried to move toward the door, but with every step she took, the spinning became worse. Her stomach began to heave with nausea, but she swallowed hard to fight it back. This was no time to be sick. She needed to help her parents. Dear God, what was happening to them? She could still hear shouting, loud thuds, more shouting. She stepped carefully toward the door, then fell with a hard crash. Unwilling to be defeated, she started crawling, but for every inch she gained, the door seemed to move away three inches.
Sam opened her mouth to call out, but she became mute. No matter how hard she tried to call to her parents to tell them she was coming nothing but air came from her throat. Her mother’s screams became fierce. She could hear her father pleading for the intruders to stop, begging them to take him and leave her alone, but the screaming continued. Then suddenly, her door burst open.
Samantha, you must wake. It is time. Wake child.
Sam gasped through her small tube, sucking dirt down into her throat. Her heart was racing, pounding so loudly in her ears that it deafened her. Her arms and legs ached from being clenched and still for so long. She felt heaviness grow in her chest, a feeling she hadn’t felt in eighteen years.
She needs you. It is time.
Sam bolted from her shallow grave as she heard the woman inside the cabin scream—a scream much like the one in her dream. Her upper body stiffened as she pushed against the weight of the earth and sat up. She spit the small tube from her mouth and kicked her legs, dislodging them from the earth. Discipline and focus made her push past the stiffness in her limbs and jump to her feet. Adrenaline poured through her veins as she inched her way toward the cabin. Her vision became a tunnel. She saw nothing except the small cabin that held her target. Red began to blur the edges of her vision. Pure anger and hatred was driving her now.
As she approached the small window that she had left cracked open on her earlier visit with Peter, another scream ripped through the night air. Sam sucked air between her teeth as she peeked in the window. Anger engulfed her as she watched one of the men rip the woman’s blouse open. Sam reached down into her boot and pulled out a small pistol. She placed the barrel in the gap between the window and the wall and fired.
A loud curse let her know she had struck the intended victim. She watched as he dropped to the floor. The second man looked down at him, his sickening smile turning to a look of confusion and fear. Sam took aim again and fired. The drunken man jerked as the dart skimmed by his thigh.
“What the hell!” he slurred as he staggered about the room.
Sam cursed herself for missing. She never missed. This meant she’d have to take him out with her hands. Oh well, she thought, then jumped straight into the air and grabbed the tree limb that hung out above the window. As the man continued to stumble around the room, Sam crashed through the window and landed in a crouched position. Her eyes made a quick survey of the room. The first man was already out cold on the floor. The target was tied with her hands above her to a beam.
Baring her teeth like a hungry wolf, Sam sprang toward her prey. With one quick strike of her foot the man’s head spun to the side and blood spewed from his mouth. He dropped to the floor. Sam pulled her pistol out again and shot a dart into the back of his neck. She stood staring at him, trying desperately to rein in the pure hatred and anger she felt toward this man.
The soft whimper from the corner of the room pulled her from the dark recesses in her mind.
As she turned her head slowly, she saw the young woman sobbing quietly. The sight of the woman ripped at Sam’s heart. There were red handprints on her face, her arms were bruised and blood trickled down her stomach. Sam slid her pistol back into her boot and walked slowly toward her.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to get you out,” she said softly.
The woman’s eyes met Sam’s. Tears spilled down over her cheeks. Her body shook from her sobbing. Then her face took on a look of new fear. “There’s another one.” She said breathlessly. “There’s another one. He’s not here yet.”
Sam pulled a knife from her utility belt and cut the woman loose from the beam. “It’s okay, calm down. It’s okay.”
“No, you don’t understand,” she said with a shaky voice. “Another man.”
Sam stilled, “What do you mean, another man?”
“There are three. He’s not here yet. We have to go. Now!” the woman said as she headed toward the door.
“Wait, we need to go through the window. If there’s another one coming, we don’t want to go out the front door.” Sam pulled the woman toward the window and shoved her through. As she was about to climb through herself she heard a car stop out front of the house.
“Run into the woods, find a place to hide and I’ll find you,” she whispered to the woman.
Without needing to be told twice the woman took off into the darkness. Sam looked around the room and found a place to hide. She wouldn’t leave here until all those responsible were taken down.
Just as Sam crouched behind the small island bench in the kitchen the door swung open. Heavy footsteps crossed the floor. Sam held her breath as she closed her eyes and pictured what the man was doing at that precise moment.
She could see him looking at the two men lying on the floor, then his eyes moved to the spot where the woman had been tied. She could see the anger in his face. She could feel the turmoil swelling in his guts. His plans had been sabotaged, his night of so-called fun spoiled. Sam stood slowly as she raised her pistol taking deadly aim. Before she could pull the trigger the man spun to face her.
Her finger pulled the trigger. She watched as the dart shot toward him. With amazing speed he moved just enough to let the dart shoot by him. Using the same speed he hurled himself toward Sam. Years of reflexes took over. Sam ducked behind the island bench again then scooted to where he had been standing. He was standing on top of the counter looking over it. Stepping quietly forward and reaching out with her right hand she pulled his foot out from under him causing him to land on his head on the opposite side of the island.
A bitter curse made her smile. He was hurt and this gave her satisfaction. She pulled her canister of mace from her utility belt and leaned over the counter. Once she had him disoriented she could tranquilize him as well.
“Who the hell are you?” the man grumbled.
“Your worst nightmare,” she snarled at him as she unloaded her mace in his face.
He never screamed like most do when the burn becomes too painful, he just lay very still.
Sam pointed her pistol at him to fire its final dart and once again, with amazing reflexes the man jumped up, his shoulder knocking the pistol from her hands. Without a thought Sam countered with a jab to his face. Blood rolled from his lip and down his chin. Before she realized what had happened he had grabbed her wrists wrapping them in a vice-like grip. He kicked her feet out from underneath her, knocking them both to the floor with a bone-jarring thud.
His weight had her pinned to the floor, unable to move. Sam bucked and kicked trying to throw him off balance to get her hands free. But he was a skilled fighter. He knew how to subdue a person. Somehow he had managed to remove the black mask she always wore during a mission.
“Well, well. Look what I have here.” He laughed, blood spraying all over her face. “Just a little girl.”
Sam continued to kick, trying desperately to get her knee between his legs. His hold on her wrists was much too strong. Never before had she encountered a man she couldn’t outmaneuver, or outsmart.
Stay still Samantha. Stay still.