Cover of Night
“How’s it going in paradise?”
Karly Bonham smiled at the sound of her sister’s voice over the phone. She hadn’t talked to Rachel in almost a week.
“And before you answer, I should mention that I just came off a double shift at the hospital,” Rachel added.
“Then I won’t tell you that I’m working on my laptop while sipping a mango daiquiri and gazing out over turquoise water.”
“God, it sounds heavenly.”
“It is,” Karly said, taking in the view. Set amid tall coconut palms on a secluded island, the Sapphire was one of the most beautiful resorts in all of Thailand. “I’m going out on a boat later, and I’ll send you a picture from the water.”
“I should have been a reporter.” Rachel sighed wistfully. “So how is the story coming?”
“I’m almost finished with the draft.”
“Is he as hot as they say?”
He was Anthony Mancuso, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Thailand. Besides being drool-inducingly handsome, he was one of the wealthiest men in Southern California, and he was a widower. Karly’s magazine had sent her overseas to write a cover story about him.
Rachel laughed. “Now I really hate you. What’s he like, besides hot?”
“Much nicer than I expected,” Karly said, as a young woman entered the restaurant. “But listen, can I call you back later to talk about it?”
“Oh my God, is he there?”
“No, but his daughter just walked in. We’re having lunch together.”
“Seriously? Look at you working that connection.”
The ambassador’s daughter was trailed by a man Karly didn’t recognize, along with one of her muscle-bound security guards, who was trying—and failing—to blend in with the tourists in a blue Hawaiian shirt.
“We’ve gotten to be friends,” Karly said. “I interviewed her for the piece, and then we started hanging out.”
“What is she like?”
“Sweet. Funny. And she’s kind of at loose ends, too. Reminds me of me when I was nineteen.”
“Well, call me back, because I’m dying to hear everything. Including all the juicy details you don’t put in your story.”
“What do you mean? I put everything in my stories.”
“You do not, which is why people talk to you. I’ll let you go. Have fun, okay?”
Karly hung up just as Natalie approached the table, laughing with her new male friend. She smiled down at Karly and peeled off her sunglasses.
“I hope you don’t mind. I ordered us drinks and conch fritters,” Karly said.
“Perfect! I love their daiquiris here. Karly, have you met Tom? He just arrived last night.”
They traded introductions, and Karly shook hands with the man, who wore silver Ray-Bans and looked athletically handsome in a snug-fitting T-shirt and board shorts.
“Nice to meet you,” Karly said.
“Likewise.” He nodded at the press pass on the table beside her laptop. “So you’re a reporter?”
“I saw you with that photographer this morning, and I figured you were a model.” He picked up the pass. “You do print or TV?”
Karly caught Natalie’s smirk. “Print. I’m with Pacifica magazine.”
“Nice. Hey, I was just telling Natalie about the reef on the west side of the island. You like to dive? We’ve got a trip leaving at two, and there’s room on the boat.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got plans,” Karly said.
Natalie smiled at Tom as she pulled out a chair. “Maybe tomorrow?”
“Sure, sounds good. I’ll find you.”
He walked off, and Natalie took a seat. She gave her security guard a look, and he stepped away to give them some space.
“Who was that guy?” Karly asked.
Natalie rolled her eyes. “Some travel writer who was chatting me up in the gift shop.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Too old for me.” She picked up her drink. “You should definitely go for him, though.”
Karly smiled. She supposed twenty-eight sounded ancient to a nineteen-year-old.
“Thanks, but I’m off men right now. And since when do you have a thing about age? You flirt with your bodyguards, and they’ve got to be pushing forty.”
Natalie waved her off. “Oh, that’s nothing. I just do it to drive my dad crazy.”
Karly had figured as much. Natalie had a rebellious streak. Besides flirting with her security detail, she’d been turning heads all week by walking around the resort in a teeny black bikini that was more string than fabric.
Karly had a bikini on, too, but her hot-pink halter covered a bit more skin, and she’d thrown a gauzy black cover-up on before coming to lunch.
“So why are you off men? Is that even possible?” Natalie plucked an orange slice from her drink and nibbled on it.
“Great. I’ve got time.”
Karly watched her, debating how much to say. “My boyfriend moved to the East Coast and talked me into trying a long-distance relationship with him.”
“How did that work?”
“It didn’t. He cheated on me.”
The waiter returned with a steaming plate of conch fritters. Natalie smiled and thanked him in Thai, demonstrating some of the Mancuso charm her father was known for.
“I’m guessing this guy’s an ex now, right?” Natalie asked.
“Then you’re free to move on! What’s stopping you?” Natalie popped a fritter into her mouth.
“Trust me, you get cheated on enough times, you need a break from the whole scene.”
Natalie eyed her skeptically. “I think what you need is a scorching-hot fling.”
“You sound like my sister.”
“Enough about me. Let’s finish our conversation from yesterday. You were telling me about school? UCSD, right?”
Natalie rolled her eyes. “It’s just a hypothetical at this point.”
“I got into the five-year business program. It was my mom’s alma mater, and my dad really wants me to go, but I don’t know. I’m torn.” She sighed and twisted her long dark hair into a knot at the top of her head. “I’m thinking I should take a year off. You know, travel some, figure out if it’s really what I want to do before I waste a lot of time and money.”
“Thank you. Can you tell him that, please? He keeps telling me I’m being immature. I swear to God, he treats me like a kid.”
“Well, you are his kid.”
A woman walked up to their table and smiled. Malai wore a pink sarong and a floppy hat, and you would never know from looking at her that she was one of the country’s most successful businesswomen.
“We still on for snorkeling?” she asked Karly.
“Wouldn’t miss it. I haven’t been out there yet.”
“You haven’t?” Natalie’s mouth dropped open. “This is your last day!”
“See?” Malai looked at Natalie. “I told her she works too hard. Aren’t blond girls supposed to have more fun?”
“That’s why I’m taking the afternoon off as soon as I finish this draft,” Karly said. “You want to come with us, Natalie?”
“No, thanks. I was out there this morning. But you guys enjoy.”
“Boat leaves at three,” Malai reminded Karly. “See you at the pier.”
Natalie shook her head as Malai walked off. “No men, no snorkeling. What the heck have you been doing this whole time?”
“I’ve been stuck in my room working.”
“Well, time for some R and R.” Natalie lifted her drink and clinked glasses with her. “Better late than never.”
Karly envied the newlyweds.
She watched from the dive boat as they strolled hand in hand along the white sand beach, their heads tipped together—probably sharing an inside joke.
Sure, looks could be deceiving, but Karly couldn’t help but think they seemed like the perfect couple, spending a perfectly blissful holiday at one of the most exclusive resorts in Asia. Named for the glittering water surrounding it, the Sapphire was every bit as dazzling and luxurious as the name implied, and Karly was grateful to be here. She only wished it were for pleasure instead of business.
“Karly? Did I lose you?” Her editor’s voice on the phone jerked her back to reality.
“I’m here,” Karly told her.
“Can you confirm you’ll make the deadline?”
“Absolutely. I just finished the draft.”
Just was a bit of an overstatement. Karly had finished the draft hours ago and shut down her computer in time to enjoy her last afternoon. Before leaving on this assignment, she had promised her sister that she’d (1) flirt with an attractive man at the hotel bar, and (2) take the time to go snorkeling. At least she’d managed to keep one of her promises.
Karly tossed her snorkel into her beach bag and squeezed the seawater from her long ponytail.
“Any chance you’ve seen Drew’s photos?” Jana asked, and Karly pictured her editor gazing out the window of her condominium overlooking San Diego Bay. It was nighttime in California, and Jana had stayed up late to make this phone call.
“Not yet,” Karly reported. “But he told me he got some great shots. Mancuso reeling in a fish, kayaking. Drew was especially excited about some shots of him and his daughter.”
“Good. The whole point is to humanize him. Readers want to see the man behind the mystery.”
Karly had heard all this at the staff meeting. Mancuso was one of the most eligible bachelors in Southern California, and Pacifica readers—many of whom were female—were hungry for information about him.
Karly was beyond excited to be tapped to write this cover article. It was her first overseas political assignment. It was her first overseas assignment period, and she was determined to prove herself to all the higher-ups at the magazine. Just because she covered the celebrity beat, that didn’t mean she couldn’t write an article with some meat on the bone.
“I’m almost finished,” she told Jana now. “I’ll have something to you by eight A.M. your time.”
“Not a minute later. And will you remind Drew? He’s not answering his phone. I’m guessing he’s working?”
Playing, more likely. He’d been all over the ambassador’s assistant, Raina, since the moment they’d set foot on the island—which was hardly surprising, given that the woman looked like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Drew was a shameless flirt, but he never failed to produce stunning pictures.
“I’ll remind him,” Karly said.
“Thanks. And hey, be sure to enjoy your last day!”
Karly ended the call and tossed her phone into her beach bag as Malai climbed the ladder onto the boat.
“Did you see that reef shark?” Malai asked her.
“No.” Thank God.
“Right beside that giant brain coral.” Malai sat on the bench beside Karly and pulled off her mask. “It was huge. At least as big as me.”
Karly shuddered. Her fear of sharks was even worse than her fear of heights.
Malai pulled off her fins and stowed them under the bench. Then she spoke to the captain in Thai. The boat’s engine sputtered to life, and they started moving toward shore as Malai checked her dive watch. “Drink time. I’m ready for a rum punch. Want to join me?”
Malai was a private person, but over several cocktail hours, Karly had managed to learn that she was an executive at one of Thailand’s biggest telecom companies. She was vacationing alone, and Karly had taken a liking to her on the first day.
They motored toward shore, and Karly tipped her face to the sun. She loved the balmy island breeze and the briny smell of the ocean. She’d spent most of the trip holed up indoors, interviewing the ambassador and members of his entourage. Now it felt good to play hooky for a few hours.
As they neared the beach, she watched the honeymooners again. Brad and Brianna. Even their names sounded perfect together. They were Australian. Karly had met them on the ferry ride out here. They were friendly and easygoing, and their happiness had been infectious—reminding Karly that not everyone on the planet had her back luck with relationships.
Brad dropped to his knees in the sand. Karly watched curiously. Was he doing an engagement reenactment? He fell facedown onto the ground, and Brianna collapsed beside him.
“What the—” Malai stood up.
A man ran onto the beach, and Karly recognized Drew’s bright green swim trunks. He raced to the end of the fishing pier, waving his arms at the dive boat.
Karly’s stomach plummeted. “What—”
Something exploded beside her. The captain pitched to the floor. Malai’s shrill screams reverberated through the air, and Karly stared in disbelief at the expanding red puddle under the captain’s body.
He’s been shot.
Karly scrambled over to the captain, clumsy in her fins as she crouched beside him and tried to turn him over, but he wouldn’t budge. She blinked down at her blood-covered hands and realized he was dead. Dead.
Malai’s screams intensified.
Karly glanced at the beach, where a man wearing head-to-toe black stood pointing a machine gun at the boat. Fire blazed from the muzzle. The side of the boat burst into splinters near Karly’s head. The screams ceased as Malai fell back into the water with a splash.
Oh my God oh my God.
Karly flattened herself on the floor of the boat. She pressed her cheek against the hard surface, staring at water and blood and bits of flesh. Her vision blurred. Her heart thundered. She realized the high-pitched shrieks she was hearing now were coming from her own mouth.
She reached for her beach bag and grabbed her phone. 911. Call 911. But this was Thailand. She got to her knees and jabbed at the phone with shaking fingers. She pressed a number and prayed for a connection, then waited through the surreal sound of her editor’s voice-mail greeting followed by an endless beep.
“We’re under attack! We’re—”
An explosion beside her head. Karly ducked down. Chunks of plastic and fiberglass flew everywhere as the helm of the boat was hosed down by gunfire.
She peeked over the side and saw more black-clad men swarming the beach. Where was Drew? Where were the ambassador’s guards? Where was anyone?
“Help us!” she screamed into the phone. “We’re under attack! Three, four . . . six men with machine guns!”
She watched with stunned horror as two of them started wading out toward the boat. Karly reached for the steering wheel as another barrage of gunfire sent splinters flying.
She lunged for the side. Bullets hissed past her ears as she leaped into the water.
Beach insertions were tricky. Especially under a full moon and over a strip of sand guarded by half a dozen heavily armed men. The team’s other option was rock portage along the island’s northern side, followed by a short trek through the jungle. That route had been left open, and with good reason. Why waste the manpower? The tangos no doubt knew that trying to land a boat along a mile-long pileup of razor-sharp rocks was essentially suicide, which meant a beach insertion—as tricky as it was—was the easier option for any rescue team.
Ethan’s team had opted for the rocks.
In the three years since Ethan had joined Alpha Crew, his team had never chosen ease over surprise, and tonight was no exception. Once they made it over the jagged rocks, they’d have a clear tactical advantage. Surprise was key, always, as any SEAL would tell you. In fact, given the choice between going up against the enemy armed and expected or unarmed and unexpected, Ethan would choose the second option any day of the week.
So rock portage it was. But what had sounded good in the briefing room was now turning into a challenge, as the wind suddenly picked up and the surf pummeled his team’s rubber vessel.
Ethan glanced over at Jake and signaled the count. On three, Ethan and his teammates wrenched the boat from the sucking waves and heaved it over the rocks. Careful not to lose footing on the slick terrain, they hauled the boat behind a massive boulder and stashed it for later. They were planning an air extraction, but it never hurt to have options.
Ethan and his team moved swiftly over the craggy shoreline, scaling rocks and driftwood as they made their way toward higher ground. The pinnacle of the island was a densely covered hill, where the enemy had likely stationed at least a couple of guards.
Under cover of darkness—or as dark as they were going to get tonight with a big-ass moon shining down on them—they darted from the rocky shoreline into the jungle.
Ethan adjusted his night-vision goggles and scanned his surroundings. Palm trees mostly, with a tangle of vines and other vegetation close to the ground. The team moved through the brush, searching as they went. NVGs were great for spotting predators—especially the human kind—but depth perception was shitty, so moving around required skill. About twenty feet into the jungle, the team split apart: two men headed for higher elevation, two men headed for sea level.
Tonight was an SR mission, search and recon. Ethan’s four-man element was here to get the dope on the enemy before a larger team mounted a full-scale assault.
He agreed with the plan, mostly. Intel was important, but they needed to be quick. Everyone was dogged by the memory of the last SEAL rescue op in this particular corner of the world. It had been a goatfuck. A bunch of bureaucrats sitting in some conference room had decided to make it a “joint mission,” meaning that Ethan’s spec ops brethren had ended up mucking around with a bunch of local commandos. Tactical decisions were made from afar and by too many people, and the result was wasted time and three dead hostages.
Tonight’s mission was SEALs only, from start to finish. And not just any SEALs. Alpha Crew was a secret, ultra-elite unit trained to get in and get out with ruthless efficiency. But the key was intel. Right now, they had precious little, and most of what they did have came from an eight-second SOS call made by a reporter traveling with the ambassador’s entourage.
We’re under attack . . .
The reporter’s words had been echoing through Ethan’s head since the briefing. He’d recognized the panicked hitch in her voice as she realized what was happening. Three, four . . . six men with machine guns! The call had ended in a barrage of gunfire.
Karly Bonham was one of twenty-two civilians known to be at the resort when the terrorists launched their attack. Their presumed target was American ambassador Anthony Mancuso and possibly his daughter, Natalie, who was vacationing with him. From what the SEALs knew so far, it looked like the other resort guests and staffers were merely extras, potentially collateral damage in a targeted strike against a United States diplomat.
Had the reporter been killed? Captured? If she was still alive, she hadn’t managed to reach out again since that eight-second phone call.
Jake stopped and held up a closed fist. Ethan halted beside him, every sense on alert. The air was dank and still but filled with the sounds of the jungle—the low drone of insects, the faint croak of bullfrogs, the distant rush of water. All sounds you’d expect in this tropical environment . . . plus. Ethan couldn’t pinpoint the plus, but his ears registered it, same as Jake’s had.
There it was again.
Ethan tipped his head left, toward a barely audible rustling in the trees. It came from the direction of the resort, which was only half a klick south of them.
Slowly, silently, Jake peered around a tree trunk. After a few moments, he held up two fingers. Ethan nodded. They waited several minutes until the rustling noise faded to nothing. Then they waited several minutes more.
Finally, Jake crouched at the base of a tree and spoke softly into his radio. “Bravo, this is Charlie. You copy?”
“Copy, Charlie. What’s your twenty?”
“We’re about half a klick south,” Jake said quietly. “A pair of tangos just passed us en route to the resort. What’s the word up there?”
“We’re in position.” The voice belonged to Ryan Owen, who had gone with Lucas Ortiz to the high point of the island to get a view using high-powered night-vision binoculars. “We’ve got two enemy west of us, looks like an overwatch detail.”
“Think they know they’ve got company?” Jake asked.
“Negative. These guys are clueless. They’re smoking cigs and kicking back.”
“Copy that. So we’re looking at a total of sixteen tangos,” Jake said. “I repeat, sixteen tangos.”
“Roger. We can confirm six guards spread out along the beach and two around the pool right in front of the lobby. That seems to be where all the action is.”
Ethan wasn’t surprised. Their team had hitched a ride over here on a frigate, which was serving as their base of operations tonight. Just before sundown, they’d sent a surveillance drone to get a bird’s-eye view of the island. The first things they’d noticed were the lifeless bodies on the beach. Three in total, which left nineteen potential survivors of the initial attack—although Ethan wasn’t optimistic. Any number of people might have been killed indoors or under the tree cover where the drone couldn’t see.
The second thing they’d noticed was that most of the activity was centered around a large thatched-roof building, the resort’s restaurant, suggesting that the surviving hostages were being held there. That structure was heavily guarded, while the thatched-roof cabins were not.
Except for one.
Drone footage showed that the largest guest cabin was surrounded by four armed men, so possibly Mancuso and his daughter were being held there.
“You got eyes on the compound?”
“Negative,” Jake answered. “We’ll get back when we do.”
“Okay, over and out.”
For a moment, Jake and Ethan said nothing. But Ethan knew what his teammate was thinking. They needed to know exactly who, or what, was in that VIP cabin. If Mancuso’s nineteen-year-old daughter was in there, it was very possible she was being tortured as a way to put pressure on the ambassador and convince him that his captors were serious. The terrorists hadn’t made their demands clear yet, but they’d been in touch with the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, so it was only a matter of time.
“I can take the cabin, if you want the restaurant,” Jake said.
“Better if we both take the cabin and then the restaurant so we know what we’re dealing with. But let’s approach from different sides. I’ll take east, you take west.”
They split apart, drifting through the trees as silently as smoke. They were in jungle cammies and greasepaint, but more important, they knew how to move without disturbing anything, not even the air.
Ethan neared the glow of the resort. He shoved his NVGs up to his forehead, preferring to go without them when he was this close to people. He didn’t want to run the risk of being rendered temporarily blind by a sudden flashlight beam.
Ethan remained still as his eyes adjusted. He went over his plan in his head. He visualized the layout of the resort, recalling that the VIP cabin was at the north end of the pool.
He slipped through the foliage, taking care not to leave footprints. His lightweight boots were still soaked from hauling the boat ashore, but he ignored the blisters forming on his feet, just like he ignored the very real possibility that an innocent civilian might get hurt tonight when this whole thing went down. Ethan couldn’t think that way. He’d been trained to think positively, to visualize success instead of failure, because visualizing the desired outcome increased its odds of happening. He visualized each step of the mission going exactly as planned, and so far, it had. But the problem was, the plan was based on sketchy intel, which meant they couldn’t visualize all of it, and they were making some of it up as they went.
Which was pretty much standard operating procedure for this team. Every man in Alpha Crew had a talent for making decisions on the fly.
Ethan’s eyes had adjusted completely now, and he took in every detail as he neared the resort. He wasn’t following a path, but the vegetation had thinned here. The ground felt hard-packed beneath his boots. He was reaching the inhabited part of the island, and visibility increased as he neared the first cluster of cabins.
The first two buildings were almost completely dark. Ethan caught a strip of light through a window, probably coming from a bathroom. The attack had happened in the late afternoon, so the lights had been off in many of the cabins when the hostages were rounded up and herded into the restaurant. Ethan figured even amateur terrorists would have the foresight to clear all the buildings and make sure no one was hiding out.
Easing through the trees, Ethan spotted the VIP cabin, the resort’s most luxurious suite, with its steep, Thai-style roof taller than the rest. The cabin included two bedrooms, two bathrooms, plus a sitting area, and the whole thing was surrounded by a wide deck.
Which was being patrolled by four guards, one at each corner.
Ethan’s pulse picked up as he crept around the cabin and stood in the shadows to study the enemy. The two guards he could see wore black pants and long-sleeved shirts made of the thin cotton fabric popular throughout the region. Both men were bearded, but neither wore a mask, which concerned him. Whatever their plan was, they weren’t worried about being ID’d after everything went down.
Not good news.
On the other hand, they weren’t wearing suicide vests, as far as Ethan could tell. Each man held an AK-47 at the ready and had a pistol in a holster on his hip. Another bit of good news: the guard nearest Ethan had a telltale bulge in his shirt pocket, suggesting that he was communicating by cell phone and not any kind of radio receiver clipped to his ear. Not a very high-tech operation.
The back of Ethan’s neck prickled. He eased deeper into the trees and scanned the surrounding area.
What had caught his attention? Something. He had that itchy feeling that had saved his ass more times than he could count. Slowly, silently, Ethan slipped his Ka-Bar knife from its sheath so he could confront the threat without making a sound.
Karly crept into the cabin ever so slowly, praying the door wouldn’t squeak. Her heart was racing. Her breath was shallow. Her legs felt like Jell-O, but she forced herself to move cautiously into the room as she scanned the dark space.
She didn’t dare turn on a light. She hadn’t seen any of the attackers near this building, but she didn’t want to attract attention. She was here because she desperately needed to find something useful to help her out of this mess.
As her eyes adjusted, she spied a dark heap atop what was probably an armchair in the corner of the room, assuming this cabin was laid out like her own on the other side of the resort.
Karly tiptoed toward the heap and was relieved to see it was a duffel bag with clothes spilling out of it, and she wasted no time rummaging through it. The fabrics were thin and filmy. She held something up. A black lace thong. She found a lace bra, another thong, and then a T-shirt. The T-shirt had a sailboat on the front, and Karly’s stomach twisted as she recalled seeing the same shirt at breakfast yesterday, worn by Brianna.
Beautiful, happy Brianna, who now lay dead on the beach, alongside her husband.
Don’t think about it.
Karly kept rummaging, praying her trembling hands would encounter the smooth, hard surface of a cell phone or a tablet or maybe a laptop. But she felt only fabric. She found a pair of denim shorts and pulled them on over her bikini, refusing to think about how she was stealing a dead woman’s clothes. She found socks, too, and tugged them on over her ravaged feet. The socks hurt her cuts, but she needed something to minimize the blood trail she surely was leaving behind everywhere she went.
Giving up on the duffel bag, Karly crept to the dresser, which was cluttered with makeup and sunblock. She spied a phone charger plugged into the wall. Hope surged through her as she followed the cord, but to her bitter disappointment, she didn’t find a phone plugged into the other end. She spotted a corkscrew and snatched it up. No blade was attached, but at least it could be used as a weapon. She slipped it into her pocket and turned her attention to the nightstand.
They wouldn’t have brought a laptop. Not on their honeymoon. And their phones were probably with them. But Karly had to check anyway—that was the whole reason she’d risked exposure to come back here instead of cowering in the jungle. She tiptoed to the nightstand and slowly opened the drawer. She found a bottle of something slippery—massage oil? And something flat and smooth.
Adrenaline spurted through her as she tapped a button and brought the screen to life.
Immediately, she dropped into a crouch, fearful. Had anyone seen the light? Grabbing a pillow from the bed, she shielded the glow from the view of anyone passing by and then touched the screen.
Karly’s heart pounded as she stared at the screen. She was four digits away from being able to send a plea for help to the outside world. On impulse, she tapped the first numbers that popped into her mind: 1-2-3-4.
Tears burned her eyes as she held the device in her hands, desperate for inspiration. If she guessed wrong again, the thing would probably lock her out for good, and then where would she be?
She’d be right where she was now, stranded on a tiny island overrun by terrorists, with the bodies of her fellow tourists strewn around like garbage.
Don’t think about it, she ordered herself again. If she thought too much, she’d have another anxiety attack like the one she’d had hours ago, after she’d stumbled ashore and darted into the trees. She’d huddled there, shaking and shivering and heaving up ocean water until she felt like she’d turned herself inside out.
Karly froze. She glanced down at the tablet in her hands and tucked it beneath the pillow, praying it wouldn’t make a noise. She ran her fingers over the side until she found the mute button.
Silence. Whoever it was had stopped just outside the window. Had they seen the glow of the tablet? Or maybe she’d left the cabin door ajar. She glanced across the room and saw that she had.
Panic flooded her, and she debated whether to dive under the bed.
The footsteps resumed, the heavy crunch of shoes on gravel. The guard was continuing his patrol, and Karly released the breath she’d been holding.
She stood up and tiptoed to the door to peer out at the curved path. The entire resort was beautifully landscaped—lush flower beds brimming with bougainvillea and brightly colored orchids and birds-of-paradise.
A hysterical bubble of laughter clogged her throat. More like hell. She pictured the bullet-riddled body she’d tripped over on her way here. Her stomach clenched, and her inappropriate laughter turned into bile in the back of her throat.
Don’t think about it. No fear, no tears.
She tucked the iPad into the back of her shorts. It seemed silly to take it with her on the off chance that she might figure out the password. But it was her only link to the outside world, and she couldn’t bear to leave it behind, at least until she found something else. Maybe the next cabin she tried would have a cell phone.
Karly opened the corkscrew. She gripped it in her hand with the metal part jutting between her fingers. It wasn’t much compared with a machine gun, but at least she was no longer weaponless.
She scanned the moonlit path in both directions. No terrorists. No noise. Summoning her courage, she eased from the cabin and crept across the gravel. Then she slipped into the woods, even though the leafy canopy blocked out the moon and made it harder to see. She couldn’t risk someone spotting her on the path.
What next? She still needed a phone. Or some other means of communication. Her own phone, which was now tucked into her swimsuit top, was water-soaked and dead. She had a laptop in her cabin, but that was right beside the restaurant, which was the epicenter of all the activity.
Could she risk going there?
Maybe her plan to place an SOS call was foolish and she should duck into the jungle and take cover. But then she remembered the sobs coming from Mancuso’s cabin. They were doing something horrible to Natalie. And Karly couldn’t slink away and hide. She had to call for help.
She headed toward the next-closest cabin, Malai’s. She pushed away thoughts of Malai’s smiling face and the excited sparkle in her eyes as she’d told Karly about the reef shark. Malai hadn’t had a phone with her on the boat, so maybe she’d left it charging in her cabin. Setting her sights on the thatched roof, Karly picked her way through the forest.
Find a phone. Call for help. Find a phone. Call for help. Repeating the plan calmed her nerves and made her feel like she was doing something useful, even if—
A hand clamped over her face. Karly’s heart lurched as a powerful force lifted her off her feet and hauled her backward. She flailed and kicked. She tried to scream, but the giant hand made it impossible. She tried to bite, to scratch. She remembered the corkscrew in her hand and swung her fist back at her attacker. Pain zinged up her arm as her wrist was clutched in a viselike grip and the corkscrew disappeared. The powerful arm tightened around her waist.
“Don’t say a word.” The male voice was hot against her ear. He spoke with an American accent. “I won’t hurt you. Nod if you understand.”
Her heart hammered, pounding adrenaline through her veins, and she felt the press of an impossibly strong body surrounding her. She couldn’t move her arms, her hips, not even her mouth. In the dimness, she couldn’t see much, mostly a black glove smashed against her face.
She nodded. And then she felt herself being lowered. She felt firm ground under her sock-clad feet, and the hand over her mouth dropped away.
She turned her head and found herself staring up at a face. It was dark and shadowy, and she didn’t understand at first. And then she did. She understood the helmet, the camo paint.
The lethal look in those pale eyes.
He held a finger to his mouth, telling her to stay quiet.
She nodded again.
Then he took her hand and pulled her deep into the woods.