Tara followed Willow's progress toward Artina by watching the stream of small air bubbles drifting up to the surface of the water, hardly disturbing the surf. When she couldn't see them anymore, however much she strained her eyes, she sighed and shifted in her seat. She turned her attention to the yacht, watching while trying not to seem like she was staring constantly at it.
The early spring weather was still cool in the Mediterranean but it was a nice day with cloudless blue skies. Perhaps it was her high anxiety level, but she couldn't feel the warmth of the sun. I need Willow to keep me warm. She thought of Willow in the dangerous cold water trying to be a hero and a fresh stab of worry clutched at her.
A painful pulse flashed through her arm and she realized she had been holding onto the thin cord so tightly that her shoulder was locked. She hadn't dared look at her watch, but finally relented to see that only five minutes had elapsed.
The waiting was torture.
She was numb. All her energy was focused on watching the yacht, trying to penetrate the dark waters to see below, and scanning the water surface for tell-tale bubbles. Black thoughts of doubt, and fear, and uncertainty welled up in her mind, she fought hard against the dark broodiness but the fear lingered.
Willow said it would only take a few minutes, but the task was probably more complicated than they imagined. She knew Willow had enough air in her tanks, so that was the least of her worries.
She was so cold.
The motorboat rocked as a speedboat zoomed passed far too closely. She frowned as the wake of the speedboat disturbed the flatness of the water surface. No chance of watching now. Where is she?
She didn't register when the same speedboat spun sharply and turned back toward her small motorboat. Not until it was alongside did she realize the extent of the threat and by then it was too late. The speedboat bumped the side of the motorboat, jerking the cord out of her hand, snagging one end on a hook at the side. Her other hand tried to start up the engine but a large hairy hand slapped her arm away.
For the second time in as many months she faced an assailant who was bigger and stronger than her. The specter of another assault flashed through her mind, at the raised hand coming at her, at the blood swimming in front of her eyes. She cowered and whimpered at the inevitable onslaught. She didn't care about the pain, the one thought in her mind was to protect Willow, that they ... whoever they were ... could not know where Willow was.
"What the hell are you doing here?" The gruff voice shouted in her ear. He didn't hit her, but strong hands snatched her up and pinned one arm behind her.
She said nothing.
"You bitch. Were you the one who ratted on the boss?" It was Luke. Her stomach dropped and she felt overwhelmed with vertigo.
She still said nothing.
He twisted her arm harder, but she gritted her teeth and absorbed the pain. He wouldn't be getting any pleasure from seeing her hurt.
"He'll deal with you," Luke warned.
He pushed her onto the speedboat and Tara tried every trick she could think of to escape his grip. "No!" she shouted, but to no avail.
The speedboat sped back to the yacht. Tara stole one last glance at the motorboat drifting aimlessly, dread filling her. She's gonna freak out.
They tossed her into a small inside cabin. She didn't know what was worse, the finality of the loud clang as the door locked behind her, or nauseating feeling of the four solid walls closing in. She called out to Willow, willing her lover to be safe and to alert the police when she found her missing. Her aunt and Lily were probably also locked up in a cabin like this and her heart went out to them - having to endure a transatlantic voyage in such cramped conditions would have been extremely uncomfortable.
She sat motionless on the narrow single bunk, her knees drawn up to her chin and her back burrowing into the wall. She was shivering, her hands wouldn't stop trembling, her teeth chattered, her head pounded incessantly and her stomach felt like it was about to empty itself spontaneously. Every cell inside her felt like it was about to break apart. She didn't know where they were heading, what would become of her, and if they were even going to let her live. She didn't have any regrets in life. Except Willow. The thought of never seeing Willow again was unbearable, she could feel the physical pain in her heart. Be brave now. It won't do to be a slobbering mess when she bursts through that door to rescue you.
Footsteps sounded outside and the cabin door was unceremoniously flung open. She tried to keep her breathing even, waiting for the newcomer to act first. The medium-sized man walked right up to her position on the bunk. She flinched and pushed herself backwards. She kept her gaze at eye-level, not looking directly at the person standing menacing inches from her.
"Huh," he said, and stepped back. He sat at the foot of the bunk, leaving a large enough gap between them that Tara didn't feel physically threatened.
She raised her head and looked into the eyes of her ex-boss. The charming joviality was gone, replaced by the dull glint of pure villainy.
She swallowed hard, but said nothing.
His jaw clenched and he let out a dramatic sigh. "What am I supposed to do with you, Tara?"
"Let me go. And your other prisoners," she said shakily. She was still shaking all over but she repeated her mantra of keeping brave.
"You don't think I'm that stupid," he said evenly.
"You've done enough. Don't add kidnapping to the laundry list of charges the police are gonna throw at you."
He ignored her. "What are you doing here? And where's your little redhead?"
She debated internally how much to tell him. Would she be able to shake some information from him? "Chasing after you."
He snorted. "So you sit out there in a pathetic little boat that my yacht can run over in a second. Let me ask again, where is Willow?"
"I don't know," she said, truthfully.
He made an exasperated sound. "Oh Faith will find her. Unlike you, she's completely loyal and trustworthy."
"So she doesn't mind being used?"
He broke out in laughter. "Who's using who? You really don't know the rules of the game do you, little girl? And I've tried to teach you so much, give you everything. All wasted."
She felt her anger boiling. "I trusted you! And then I found out about the shell companies with my name on their deeds; and how you threatened Willow when she's only doing her job. And then," her voice broke. "Someone attacked me. Were you behind that?"
He said nothing.
She knew she had to push now, to get him on his back foot. "Deny it all you like. I know who did it," she paused to gauge his reaction, but finding none. "Tell me about your business, your real business," she asked suddenly.
"What? You want exposition now?" he sneered at her.
Her face was blank. "Why not?"
He paused for a second, then broke out in laughter again. "True. Tell you what? Ask me any question. I'll answer as much as I can, how about that for generosity?"
"What's going to happen to me?" she asked directly.
He pondered, genuinely trying to think. "Let's leave that one till last," he said with slow menace.
"Okay. Why do I have signatory rights over several legally dubious shell companies?"
He shrugged. "Contingency plan."
"I don't get it."
"It's strategic planning, have something put in place years ahead, in case it's needed. The companies aren't meant to function. Not meant to be activated. As for why you? You're a perfect front. Practically an orphan, no family, no ties. And so malleable."
She was quiet as she absorbed this. "Was it just me? How many innocent young girl's life did you appropriate?"
"I never mistreat any of my girls, you know that."
That brought her to her next question. "Where's Lily?"
"She's a, ah, guest here too."
"Can I see her?"
"Don't push it, Tara," he warned.
She looked back at him defiantly. "Who are you running from?"
He looked like he was about to deny it, but changed his mind. "Let's just say I had a business transaction that went sour. And the other parties jumped to the wrong conclusion and now they won't play nice."
"You mean how you tried to sell forged paintings to buyers who react violently to someone pulling them a fast one?" she smirked. For a moment, she forgot she was a prisoner in his yacht.
"How do you know about that?" he said sharply.
"Everything's out in the open. The FBI told us."
A muscle in his jaw ticked out of control. "These people are more dangerous than the FBI. Don't they know I have no choice?"
"There's always a choice," she said evenly.
"No there isn't! These people killed Balthazar. Sent me a finger and a photo. They're big on honor and revenge, they'll hunt me down ruthlessly," he sounded desperate.
"Mr Wilkins, turn yourself in. The FBI can protect you. Let us go, let Lily go, let Aunt Hal-" she gasped and clamped her hand over her mouth.
His eyes grew wide.
He sprang across the bunk with surprising agility and backhanded her.
"Aunt? Aunt Hallie?! You know that arrogant old bitch? It was you! You and your slut redhead. You set me up!"
Her face was stinging from where he hit her, and she felt herself trying to shrink into her skin.
He snarled and raised his hand again.
And like the last time he hurt her, all those years ago in the Suite, he stopped.
She had never found out why. A part of her, the part of her that still harbored hopes that he had some good in him, wanted to believe that he saw her as a surrogate daughter and didn't want to harm her. At least not physically. She would never know.
He made a choking sound and turned abruptly.
It was just as he slammed the door that all hell broke loose.