The drive to the compound that rested at the top of a lonely mountain range had lasted longer than the rape that followed.

She had lain on the floor, her mind foggy and her eyes blurring from the waning effects of the chloroform, her heart thudding against her chest. Her hands prickled from being bound tightly together and she couldn't feel where her feet rested. The voices, masculine, had been as out of focus as her what she saw but as clarity began to return, she could make out fragments and then words, before her mind could construct them into sentences. But still nothing made sense to tell her why her world had suddenly turned upside down. She had been leaving her building for a meeting with a contact and now…she had wakened inside a vehicle with nothing to grab onto so she knew what lie ahead.

The voices filled the cramped vehicle again, invading her space.

"How much do you think we'll get….alive…"

A baritone with a trace of an accent attached. European perhaps, with English being an acquired language? She tried to focus on what they were saying but her mind still forged through the fog which surrounded it before retreating again.

"He's not selling this one…personal reasons…don't ask questions…"

She felt a few bumps beneath her and she knew that the smoothness of the highway that had dominated most of the drive that he remembered had been left behind them. They must be traveling on some type of dirt road with rocks laced through it, she scrambled for thought. The jolts that hit her body reminded her of that but she kept her mind focused away from what hurt. Where were they heading and why had they left the sounds of urban life behind?

Where in the hell were they taking her and what waited there?

The bits and pieces of conversation she processed provided little information for her slowly awakening mind to put in some order that made sense. Usually her mind worked quickly, her legally training kicking in when she needed it even in areas outside her discipline. Images flashed in her mind…of her talking to Lois in the office at the penthouse suite…back in L.A. Walking across the dimly lit parking garage and whistling some song to her car…and then…a force pushing against her, a rough voice, the strong, sweet smell with the bitter flavor still on her tongue…and then nothing. The last vision that had slipped into her mind as darkness had swallowed her up had been that of the man she loved. Her final regret had been not telling him before he had left her and his life behind.

Life had changed for her in a split second. But it hadn't left her for good and her first thought upon waking up had been relief that someone hadn't stolen it from her. That she had been given a second chance.

But as her new reality replaced the old, she learned soon enough that lives could be claimed and stolen in ways besides death. Earlier in her memory, she searched for the time that she had worked with the people she had known for years and it had seemed like a perfectly ordinary day all the way until it merged from late afternoon to early evening.

"Look Lois, we'll finish the accounts later," Eliza. remembered herself saying, "Don't worry about it, just go on home and I'll clear it with Cliff tomorrow morning."

Lois had nodded, relief filling her face.

"I'll do that," she said, "Dan and I want to try out that new restaurant."

The two of them had been preparing to move to Texas after Cliff had promoted Lois to an executive position there. They wanted to build a life for themselves there, back in Dan's hometown where he had worked as a police officer until he left the agency to branch out on his own in the security field. Eliza had eaten dinner with them many times and had found him to be very devoted to her friend, which made her happy that Lois had found a man to build a future with filled with joy and promise. Finding her dream that Eliza hoped she would someday in her own life. The man she would fall in love with, share a home and build a family inside it filled with children born of their love for one another. Now if the man her heart had chosen could just look at her and see it too.

But she hadn't seen in him several weeks, even as he filled her dreams as she slept because thinking about him during the day proved to be too painful. He had his own truths to find, to confront in some faraway place before he could return home. Where she would be waiting.

Just before leaving the building for a meeting on that last day, she had walked past his empty office. The door remained open as it had been the day he had left to take off on that sabbatical with no return date.

She had sat in his chair behind his desk, filled with paperwork still waiting for his return and thought about him. About the last time she had seen him when he had been preparing to leave after he had been struggling to come to terms with his broken engagement to Amber and the truth laced in her words that he had been forced to accept.

Now he had to learn how to live with it.

She had watched him go on his final night in L.A., her own words unspoken, her own truth unsaid and as she saw the door close behind him, she wondered if he would return and it was a while before she could leave the emptiness of his beach house. To accept the fact that he was gone.

As she lay still in the car as it continued moving, the road becoming even more filled with bumps that battered her as she tried to reach with her tied hands for something to steady herself. As the numbness she had felt since awakening began to fade, apprehension took its place. Every part of her felt its chill, deep inside, becoming more entrenched as she tried to rein it in and her mind focused on what to do next. Fight or flee, she hoped she would know at the right time.

If she had the chance to do anything at all.

The rush of water was the first sound that she heard when she awakened inside the darkened room, with only a sliver of light entering from a crack beneath a door somewhere. The fear had receded for a while and she felt tingling return to her hands and feet which she tried to move. Obviously they had untied her when they brought her which meant that they put her someplace secured so that tying her up had no longer been necessary.

She had vague recollections of having been led, no pulled as she had stumbled on the uneven ground outside in the dark, chilly night. Her business clothes offering no protection for her though she shivered for reasons that had little to do with the cold. One of the men had been younger than the other, with closely shaved dark hair and he hadn't looked at her. They had walked awhile down endless hallways until they had left her in this room. She thought she had seen a trace of sadness in the younger man's eyes as he left but in the next second, she saw nothing but a reflection of this place on his face. They had left her in a room she believed to have been empty.

But what had been waiting for her had been a man whose voice she remembered before his name.

After he had taken from her what wasn't his, he had left her lying on the floor bruised and battered, her mind struggling to find sense in a world where none remained. She had heard him zipping up his pants and his footsteps on the hard floor with his voice promising her that he would be back. She hadn't moved for a long time, her eyes remaining closed and the sound of the rushing water filling the vacuum left by his departure. Her body paralyzed from what he had just done to it, her mind traveling far away to another river where she sought peace in the midst of madness that had threatened to take her. There she felt the warmth of his arms around her, cradling her against his body, his hands stroking her face and his voice laced with softness trying to heal what had been broken.

And she let him.

She saw the sun shining down as the two of them had sat on a raft paddling down a river which had swirled around their boat, the aqua blue filled with white diamonds and she had marveled on its beauty. He on the sheer freedom of being surrounded by endless wilderness which hugged the river as it snaked down the valley to the sea. They had taken off from their busy lives and had gone camping setting up for the night when they weren't traveling down the river. Her hair had grown wild, from the winds and the splashing water and on his face, a beard had threatened and she thought he had never looked more rugged, more handsome. Of course she had chased those thoughts about her best friend away almost as quickly as they had come. It hadn't been like that between them, not ever, but she had imagined what it would be like if they had broken their own rules and had come together, mating the deep affection of their lifelong friendship with the passion that they both knew lay there even if they never said the words out loud to each other. And when she thought about it, she knew it would be beautiful. It would be right.

In a world that had often pulled them in opposite directions even as it brought them together, those thoughts had never really taken root and grown but the seeds had been planted, waiting to be nourished. She never talked about it to him but sometimes, when they were together, they looked at each other when their guards had fallen down and they knew.

That had almost happened more than once. A stolen moment usually on one of their vacations, their retreats from the complications of their lives and even though they had never…their other relationships had paid the price for their friendship that always seemed on the cusp of something more…like both were standing on the edge of a cliff and one move, would send them over its abyss. Fear and exhilaration both together and one had pulled the other away from the edge in time before realization hit them. Just like when she held onto him on his motorcycle, her body tucked against his, her hands on his chest as they sped down the highway to some locale to escape together. Walks on the beach, her fingers intertwined with his, and on one occasion, she had been in his arms as the moonlight cast its light on the ocean and his lips had captured her own for a brief moment in time. She had pulled him closer to herself, wanting nothing more than to bring him into the part of her soul that she kept hidden from everyone else. He responded, wrapping his arms around her hips, his body pressed against hers.

Always…one of them pulled away from the brink.

On the night that she had escaped this place, she knew she had a choice to make.

She could wait until her captor returned, the man who owned her body and had ripped out her soul each time he entered her room slowly leaving her with less. She didn't have to see him; his cologne that he wore announced his presence telling her that he had come back to take more from her. She could try to escape this time and she would succeed or die in the attempt. He had chained her wrist to the bedpost as punishment for the last time she had escaped. After he had executed the guard who had betrayed him, right in front of her forcing her to watch. At that moment, she had wanted to die too and she had thought about telling him to just kill her too, even if it meant begging him to do it.

But before the words passed her lips, she remembered her stash under her mattress, the one that Lucian didn't know lay there, built piece by piece even while he shared her bed. She had reached under for it and poured it on her bed, looking at what she had hidden there over the endless days she had spent in captivity. What would help her escape, her eyes evaluating each item for its value.

When she saw it, she knew the paperweight she had tucked under her robe during one of the occasions the guards had taken her to Lucian's suite for the night. It had sat on her bed, partly resting on a faded photo that she had kept of her best friend. She had taken that photo out of her bed only after he had left, the only time she felt safe each night to look at it, to trace it with her fingers. It had captured a joyful time in his travels; he had been sitting in front of a hut with men that she now included among her own protective circle, smiling for the camera of a friend. Lucian had showed it to her to try to tighten his hold on her but instead each night it had set her free.

The first blow on her wrist had hurt, nearly causing her legs to weaken. She tested the cuff on her arm and grimaced as she tried to pull her hand through to free it. It caught at her wrist refusing to budge and she knew that she had to act quickly before it swelled, trapping herself there forever. She closed her eyes, focusing on his gentle brown eyes and his easy going smile, as she geared herself up for a second attempt. As she counted, her heart filled with resolve that out there somewhere he existed and she would find him. Running to someone was much easier than running away from prison.

Three….the two of them were sitting together, on a grassy spot some place their shoulders brushing, surrounded by laughter after he had teased her with frog noises after brushing his mouth against hers.

Two…He had been brushing away tears off of her face after she had her heart broken by Bill, the man who had breezed into L.A. and her life, sweeping her off her feet. Holding tightly onto her for life, after a month of his life had been erased, she had tried to use her body to soothe him when words could not.

One…Telling him that she loved him while gunshots rang out around them as they hid inside an office and then…he had brushed her cheek and said to her, missed you before leaving her. Two words that he spoke in response to her three with still a volume of words remained unspoken between them. That's when she knew that she had loved him and then there was that final night…she had tried to say those same words but the expression on his face had stopped her.

She took a deep breath in preparation for taking the action she needed to live.

As she struck her wrist again with the weight, the pain that stabbed her nearly dropped her. Dizziness and nausea filled her and she fought against its tide which swirled around her. She pulled her hand through the cuff in one single, decisive motion, saying a silent prayer and this time it slid through easily. The bone that had help keep her captive broken into two pieces.

And then she took one last look before she left her cell behind her using the key that the young woman who cared for her had slipped underneath the food on her plate.

The rush of the freezing water on her face had jolted her out of the unconsciousness that had threatened to take her. She had run through the dense forest, her heart beating in her ears, her muscles burning. The sound of male voices behind her which emboldened her to pick up her pace but her resolve kept her moving even when she wanted to collapse in exhaustion and she kept her focus on what lay ahead.

She listened for the river, even more than for the voices of the men chasing her because she knew that where the river ran lay freedom. The first step of her journey back to him, and she would find him at its end. She had already killed to get there, leaving Marco the man who had invaded her life twice finally among the dead in a pool of blood inside Lucian's office where the guards had found him quickly. She had only killed once in self-defense after being cornered on a cliff by a stalker who had already stolen her boyfriend away from her. But after the first death, they said the second came easier and it had, because when she had looked into Marco's pleading face, she had seen her rapist.

Once again on the brink, she looked one last time behind her, her legs weakening and she heard them approach. She looked down at the rushing current beneath her and closing her eyes again, she leapt off its edge. She let the current carry her as she felt herself strike the walls of the gorge which had fed the river as it spent millions of years eating through the granite of the mountain range. Not knowing that today, it became the road that led to her freedom.

Sleep had claimed her for the first time since that night in the parking garage, after she had arrived at sanctuary where on the edge between life and death, she heard an angel sing.

The river had saved her life after all, but not without severely testing it almost as if assigned the role of deciding her fate. She had struggled to swim until fatigue gripped her and then the warmth that filled her had chased away the chill of the snow-fed river. Hypothermia warms the body one last time before it takes it, luring its victim gently into a final sleep and she felt herself slip away as the chill began to recede.

Before he reached out and grabbed hold of her.

She had looked into his eyes which looked at her with such love, it had brought tears into her own and she had sunk into his embrace. He had whispered those words that made sense only to them and caressed her back.

"I'm so sorry," she said, her voice breaking.

He looked at her, with a puzzled smile.

"For what," he asked, "You have nothing to be sorry for…I'm just glad you're here."

And then she had rested her head against his chest, and he had pulled her closer.

"I am too," was all she said but it had been enough.

They had found themselves in the garden that she had created inside her mind to retreat to when bad men threatened. The crickets created melody to the cacophony of birds settling in the nearby trees for the night. She sat next to him, leaning into him while the man of her nightmares stood on the edges of the darkness never far away. And she felt the warmth that had filled her earlier depart, leaving her cold as if a part of her had died.

When she saw him, she remembered her life like her body still belonged to the man who had stolen both.

She hid from him the best she could, even as he tried to control her mind like her body. Where she retreated back into the garden where he waited, patiently for her with a little girl with dark curly hair in his arms that looked like pictures of her when she had been that age.

But who had gazed at her with eyes like his own.

And now later, a thousand of miles and days past the time her nightmare began, that's when she knew what she had to do to bring it to an end. Her heart gave her its answer and she never felt as sure that it spoke the truth. And what she saw there had been him.

She thought about everything she had seen and those who had helped her navigate through the labyrinth that had begun the same night she had left her innocence behind her in a dimly lit parking garage. Ahead of her just a few feet away, existed both the man of her nightmares and the one who had helped her begin to free herself from them. She looked at the man whose eyes had once gazed at her in sadness on another night, who had betrayed her to save the one he loved and the men who had been in the photo with her best friend, the one that had been tucked in her hand as she slept in her cell.

And the old friend who had helped free herself from the father on a different island and would now do the same with his son.

She looked at the faces that stood around her, awaiting her direction. She had been put in charge of saving her own liberation and the men had placed their trust in her abilities while providing their support. Her heart belonged to the man who waited inside with the man she despised and she made her decision.

With a simple nod of her head, she told the others that it was time to put their plan into action.