Chapter 3

Byron’s chest rose up and down. As long as he was breathing, I knew everything would be okay. I couldn’t carry him back to our cabin, but I made sure he was warm enough. I hoped that he would regain consciousness soon or that someone else would be on the same damn hiking trail.

Why did he have to insist on going on the stupid hike? We could have been safe or at least warm, having Jack around meant that nowhere was safe, but instead, we were stuck on a stupid mountain. And I was freezing. I’d put my warm jersey over his chest to help keep his body temperature up, and I tried to keep hypothermia at bay by jumping up and down and jogging on the spot. If he didn’t wake up soon, I’d have to hike back on my own to find help. I hated the idea of leaving him there. Jack could return at any moment.

Time was slipping by, and I was utterly helpless. I hadn’t felt this weak since Jack first came into my life. I’d promised myself that I would never be the damsel in distress ever again and yet here I was waiting for help to arrive. I was mad at both Byron and Jack for putting me in this situation. But then it wasn’t really Byron’s fault. He didn’t know that Jack even existed. I had hoped to could keep it that way. But now my worlds were colliding.

Byron groaned, thank heavens, he was coming around.

“What the hell just happened?” he grumbled.

“I don’t know. One moment you were fine and the next you passed out.”

Trying to sit up, he looked around in confusion.

“My throat’s killing me,” he said as he tried to stand up and my jersey fell to the ground.

“You must be freezing,” Byron said, as he tried to pick it up, but ended up falling back onto his bum.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, retrieving my jersey and pulling it over my head. It was a welcome reprieve from the cold. “Can you stand?”

“Yes. I’m fine.” Refusing any help, he used one hand to push himself off the ground, while the other held his throat.

“I think we need to get down this mountain. Can you walk?”

He took a couple of tentative steps and looked a little green from the effort.

“Please let me help you?” I asked as I shuffled up close to him, picked up his right arm and draped it around my shoulders and then hooked my arm around his waist. “Now lean on me,” I instructed. “We’ll take it nice and slow. I plan on taking full advantage of the fact that we’re now on the same level,” I said with a grin.

“Thanks, Babe,” his voice was soft and hoarse. “I just don’t understand it. I’ve never passed out before.”

“It was bizarre, but I’m sure you’ll feel better once we get back to the warmth of the cabin.”

“You’re so good to me,” he said as planted a kiss on my forehead.

Fighting off tears of relief mingled with guilt, I led Byron along the trail leading to our cabin. It would take us a while longer than it would usually have taken, but at least we were on our way back, and we were both still breathing.

I kept expecting Jack to come out from behind one of the pine trees to finish what he started. Every branch that cracked made me jump out of my skin. I knew he’d be back to take care of Byron.

I just didn’t know when or how to protect him.

*

Evelyn’s fingers stopped massaging Carol’s neck and slowly travelled down over her shoulder to the collar of her T-shirt. Carol tried to remind herself that the hand didn’t belong to her mother, it was Jack’s hand. It was Jack who was touching her, not her mother. But no matter how often she told herself that, all she saw was her mother’s hand, her mother’s face. All she heard was her mother’s voice.

“You’ve always wanted me to love you,” her mother’s voice said.

“Not like this,” Carol said. “Please not like this.”

Her mother’s hand cupped Carol’s breast and fondled it with a light, seductive touch. It was the way Denise would have touched her, but it held none of the warmth of Denise’s touch. This was cold and cruel.

“Ah yes, Denise,” her mother’s voice said. “We’ll play with her another time.”

The hand stopped fondling her breast and travelled down towards her crotch. Carol jerked the steering wheel to the left. The car bounced as it went over the edge of the tar and onto the dirt. The front left tire burst. Carol fought for control and pulled the wheel to the right. Bringing the car to a sudden stop, she screamed.

“You bloody bastard,” she shouted.

“Oh, name calling,” her mother’s face smirked. “You know what that does to me.” The hands grew more insistent, and the zip of her jeans was pulled down. Carol’s mind buzzed. Squeezing her eye’s shut, she carried on gripping the steering wheel and tried to block out what Jack was doing in the guise of her mother.

Tap. Tap.

It sounded far away

Tap. Tap.

The sound came again. This time it was closer.

“Hey girlie,” a gruff male voice shouted through the closed car window. “You okay?”

Her eyes popped open. Looking over at the passenger side, Jack was gone. Carol burst into tears.

“Hey Girlie, it’s okay. It’s just a burst tire. My boy and I’ll fix it. Okay?” The gruff voice belonged to an old man with a floppy hat pulled low over his brow. He looked like a farmer who’d spent most of his days working the fields.

Turning her head slowly, she nodded and opened the window.

“Thank you so much. You just saved my life.”

*

Michael loathed the Sandton traffic. It didn’t matter what time of day, the roads were always jam-packed with hawkers trying to push their wares through your car window or someone throwing dirty water on your windscreen at the traffic lights and then offering to clean it for a few Rand. Then there were the potential high-jackers lurking, waiting for you to drop your guard. And then there were the other drivers with their overpriced luxury cars. He couldn’t wait to get out of the city.

His walk and talk was plugged into his cell, and the earpiece was hooked into his ear. He refused to use Bluetooth. A friend of his had ended up with a virus on his phone thanks to using that bit of cellphone technology.

Mark’s phone rang a few times.

“Hello Honey,” Mark’s voice was breathless.

“Hey.” His own voice sounded small and guilty.

“What’s wrong?” Mark was immediately alert and attentive.

“There’s an emergency with a patient, and I won’t be home for dinner.” The words tumbled out.

“It’s our anniversary. What am I supposed to tell our guests?”

“That I’m terribly sorry, but I had an emergency. They’ll understand.”

“Well, I’m not sure I do. Is this a suicide or something?”

“It’s Sarah. She’s in trouble.”

“Ohmigod. Is she okay?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m on my way up to her now.”

“You mean you’re driving all the way there. Are you out of your mind?”

“I have to.”

“You really need to stop blaming yourself for what happened, she doesn’t blame you.”

“I know, but I think she’s in danger from another patient and …” He couldn’t finish the thought.

“If something happens to her, you’ll never forgive yourself.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I’ll let everybody know that we’ll be moving the party to tomorrow night.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. The food will keep. Just drive carefully.”

“I will. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

Mozart trickled through his sound system, helping him relax. It was a long drive, and there wasn’t much he could do until he got there. Crystal Springs was a picturesque resort nestled in the Mountains close to Pilgrims Rest, an old mining town. He’d been jealous when Sarah told him Byron had surprised her with a romantic getaway. He and Mark had always wanted to go, but now that Sarah was in danger it didn’t matter how beautiful the scenery, the situation could get hairy if he wasn’t careful. Carol was dangerous, and he suspected that she’d had something to do with her Uncle’s apparent suicide. Murder was not something Carol would shy away from. He forced all thoughts of what he was getting himself into out of his mind. He would deal with it when he got there. He kept his focus on the road ahead.

*

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