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Author: Iris Johansen



St. Eldon’s Academy

Morocco, Africa




And Sasha had seen the two bloody bodies of the security guards outside in the paddock when she’d released the horses a few minutes ago.

Her heart was beating hard as she ran back into the stable and down the long aisle toward the back stall. She dived into the shadowy dimness and pressed back against the wood, trying to catch her breath.

The screaming. She closed her eyes as terror and bewilderment washed over her. They must be hurting those girls, or they wouldn’t be screaming like that.

What else could she do to help? Sasha thought frantically. She’d tried to call the police but there was no signal. She’d even tried to reach Alisa on her satellite phone, hoping that even if a tower was down the satellite might somehow be working. Nothing. The attack had come out of nowhere and the school seemed to be entirely cut off.

And there was no telling when those men who had killed the security guards would decide to come into the stable.

Sasha crouched lower in the back stall where Thor had been quartered before she’d released him. A weapon. She should find some kind of weapon…

“Sasha?” Paul Boujois, the school’s head trainer, was ducking into the shadows of the stall beside her. His face was pale, and his voice was shaking. “I’d hoped you’d managed to get away yourself when you released the horses. It might be too late now.”

“I had to make sure the horses were heading toward the hills away from the all the gunfire. I’m responsible for them. But I need a weapon, Mr. Boujois. Do you have a weapon?”

He shook his head. “And what are you going to do with a weapon? We’re better off giving up as soon as they start pouring into this stable. They might let us live.”

“They killed the security guards. And those girls are still screaming outside.” She swallowed. “They’re all my friends and classmates. They might be killing them, too.”

He flinched. “I know.”

Then why wasn’t he doing something, she thought in frustration. She’d been working for the past four years as a volunteer at the school’s riding stable, and she respected Boujois’s expertise with the horses. She even liked him most of the time. But it was clear she was not going get any help from him in this situation. He was even more afraid than she was, and his solution was for her to bury her head and hide?

“I need a weapon,” she repeated, looking desperately around the stall. She saw a horseshoe in the far corner, grabbed it, and tore off her neck scarf. She twisted the horseshoe into the scarf, forming a makeshift sling. “Who are they? Do you know why they’re doing this?”

He shook his head. “I saw three trucks with machine guns mounted on them. The men are all wearing military camouflage fatigues. I’d guess it’s a raid on the school by some military guerrilla group who’ve heard there are fat pickings to be had here at St. Eldon’s with all you rich girls as students.”

“Ransom? Then maybe they’re not killing them. Maybe there’s some way we can save them.”

More shots. Someone was yelling outside the stable.

“Sasha. Let it go. Don’t fight them.” Boujois’s hands were shaking as he grabbed her shoulders. “You’ve done all you can. You’ve got to live through this.”

“You said she ran in here?” Cursing. A man’s strident voice as he strode into the stable and started down the aisle. “Find her, you asshole. If she got away, I’ll cut your throat, Baldwin.”

“I swear I caught a glimpse of her. She’s here somewhere.”

Run for the stable door. Take their attention away from this stall and give the trainer a chance. If Boujois was right about the ransom, she might be safe, but there was no way he would be.

She ran.

She heard a shout as she dived past the two men walking toward her down the aisle. A tall, fair-haired man reached wildly out to grab her arm, but she swung her scarf at his head and heard him grunt with pain as the horseshoe struck his temple.

Just a few more feet and she’d reach the stable door—


She stumbled to her knees as the butt of the other man’s gun crashed against her temple. Then his hand was tangled painfully in her hair as he jerked her head up so that he could look into her eyes. Through the dizziness, she was only aware of brown, close-cut hair, dark skin, and savage anger. “You’re the one who released those horses?” he hissed. “Do you know how long it’s going to take my men to round them up and put them in horse trailers?”

“Too long,” she said hoarsely. “The police will be here by then and they’ll be safe. You won’t be able to hurt them.”

“The police won’t be here for more than an hour. I’ll be long gone by then.” He gave her a brutal backhand blow to her cheek. “I’ve taken down the cell tower.”

“I’ve found someone else, Masenak.” The fair-haired man she’d struck with the horseshoe was dragging Boujois out of the stall. “He’s wearing those same fancy English boots you wear sometimes. It’s probably that horse trainer you told me to look for. What do you want me to do with him?” Then he forgot about Boujois as he saw Sasha. “Can I have that bitch in my tent tonight?” His glare was venomous. “She needs to learn a few lessons from me before you give her to someone else.”

“We’ll talk about it later. She may be of use,” Masenak said absently as he looked down at Sasha. “We wouldn’t want to damage such a pretty little girl if she can help us get those horses back.” He let go of her hair, and his hand touched the nameplate on Sasha’s suede jacket. “I believe I’ve heard a few stories about you, Sasha Lawrence.” He turned to Boujois. “Is she really as good at training horses as the rumors have it?”

“She’s very good.”

“Better than good? What I’ve heard is she’s something of a horse whisperer. She can coax a horse to do almost anything for her?”

“I wouldn’t say that good. She’s only a student volunteer.” Sasha could tell he was searching desperately for what to say that would be safest for her. “I’ve always found her…efficient.”

“Let’s see how efficient.” He jerked Sasha to her feet. His face was suddenly only inches from her own, his eyes glittering. “I’ve no intention of hurting those horses. They all have excellent pedigrees. Which means they have enormous value for me. But there are dozens of young girls like you being put on those trucks out there who have very little value for me in comparison. So you will go with my friend Baldwin into the hills and you’ll capture every one of those horses you freed and place them into the horse trailers I brought. You’ll do it quickly and accurately because I will start killing those girls after the next thirty minutes. There were twelve horses. If you miss retrieving even one of those thoroughbreds, one of those sweet friends of yours will die because you weren’t efficient enough. Do you understand?”

He meant it. His lips were pulled back in a feral grimace, and she could see that he was enjoying every nuance of the terror she was feeling. “I might not be able to get all the horses back right away. I deliberately spooked them.”

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