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Valerie Martin

Terror was a palpable thing. It's icy fingers wrapped around her heart, her throat, making breathing almost impossible. The urge to retch was strong, almost as strong as the fear. Branches tore at her legs, her arms, as she pushed her way through the forest. She barely felt the sting of the scratches as she ran for her life. Isabella knew that was exactly what she was doing. To stop would mean her death. If he caught her, he would kill her.

Much like animals, the instinct to run, fight, and survive burns in every human. Those emotions fueled her onward. She could hear her own breath, pushing its way out of her lungs. Run, run. The words screamed in her mind. Behind her she heard the crash of a bush, followed by swearing. He was getting closer. In her mind she saw the knife again, the metal gleaming in the moonlight as he'd held it above her head. By pure luck she'd managed to find the branch, and she credited God that she'd been able to take out his knee.

But that had only bought her a little amount of time. Even as she'd ran, he was following behind her. The darkness swallowed the forest, masking fallen trees and stumps that would get in the way. Again she offered up a prayer, this time in thanks that she had roamed these hills since her childhood days.

Even as she thanked her God, the noise behind her grew closer, louder. No! Fear spread, cutting off her air. If only she could get a little farther! Just ahead was the swamp, and she could lose him there easily. Fate played against her as a body slammed full force into her from behind.

The same instincts that had spurred her to run now brought out the urge to fight. When life is threatened, all sense of civility is gone. In each of us we have the primal urge to live. Isabella fought with hands and feet and teeth, her body bucking underneath his.

A wild howl filled the forest air when her teeth sank into his shoulder blade. A fist to the side of her head had her dropping down again, losing her grip. For a moment she was stunned, and a moment was all he needed. Again his fist snapped out, this time connecting with her face. She tasted blood as her world spun. "You thought you could get away from me, did you? Thought you could win against me?"

One of his hands tangled in her thick black hair, pulling her across the ground. Every movement she made brought the pain into her head so that she almost retched. But she struggled either way, wanting only to break free again. Her fingers itched for his knife. If she had that, she could cut her hair and run.

Before the thought had finished forming, she was thrown forward. Mud splashed against her arms, up and over her clothes. The swamp. He'd brought her to the swamp. If she could break away, she'd be free! Chest heaving, she stared up into the face of the man she had once counted the other half of her heart.

The knife still glinted in his hand, but she forced her mind away from it. Now was not the time to let the fear crawl back. She shoved it away, working to think. Stalling for time, she begged, knowing he would enjoy it. If she could just stall him until her head stopped spinning, then she could tear into the swamp and lose him.

"Please, Samuel, I'm sorry." Her voice came out a soft whine. "I love you. Please don't hurt me. You just scared me. I never meant to run. I was just scared." Almost instantly she saw some of his temper shift. It went from the murderous, to the satisfied anger that she was used to seeing on him. "You're so much bigger than me, and I saw that knife, and I got scared."

Playing up his vanity, she scooted backward as she spoke. For a moment her plan was working. But as she made to dive, his hand was there on her throat, slamming her back down. The murderous glint was back in his eyes. "How dare you defy me? In the name of God, it's my right to punish you!"

Without giving her time to react, he held tightly to her neck and thrust her head underneath the water. Panic curled in her stomach and worked its way into her throat as she tried to hold in her breath. Stars exploded in front of her eyes. No! It couldn't end like this. Madly she groped back with her hands as the pain built in her lungs.

Struggling, she felt for anything that would help her. When her hand closed on cool metal, she could have wept for joy. Not giving herself time to think, she brought it up and backward, burying it deep in the man behind her.

A howl of pain filled the air. Through the water she heard it, even as the grip around her neck was released and she was shoving herself up to her knees. Water dripped down her face and onto her torn shirt. She gasped, trying to haul air into her battered lungs. But there was no time. No time to waste.

Samuel's left hand closed around her ankle, the other one holding tightly to the knife. Blood flowed freely from his side, staining his clothes. "You bitch!" he cried out, pulling her toward him. Isabella pushed against him, trying to kick her foot free. She knew if he got her close enough, the knife would find its target, straight through her heart.

With as much energy as she could muster, she yanked her body forward, kicking back at the same time. The heel of her shoe connected with his face. The sound of bone crunching echoed through the swamps, followed by a loud curse. The hand around her ankle loosened, and she didn't waste time. Ignoring the pain in her body and lungs, she dove into the waters.

Years of swimming and playing in the swamp gave her the ability to cut cleanly through the water, and surface halfway across. Using her arms, she swam to the other side. When her feet could touch, she jumped up and ran. Behind her the sounds of splashing water sounded. He would be right behind her, she knew. But the stab wound would slow him down.

Every muscle in her body ached. Her ribs screamed, protesting against the exercise she was putting them through. Vaguely she thought that he must have broke a rib or two. But there was no time to think of that now. The copper taste of blood and fear filled her mouth. As she dodged behind a tree, she spit, trying to clear her throat.

Up ahead, buried in the forest, was an old tree house that she had played in as a child. How much further was it? She raked her mind, trying to remember the exact location. If she could get there, far enough ahead of him, she could climb inside and hide away. He had no idea where it was. No clue that it was hidden up there.

The sound of crashing bushes brought her back to life. What was she doing, stopping here? Quiet as possible, she took off through the trees again. Only a little farther. Just a little more.

Blackness threatened the corners of her vision. No! She would not pass out. Not here, not now. If she did, she was as good as dead. Lord God, save me, she prayed. Help me make it. Please! Her feet stumbled over a tree root. She barely caught herself before she was running again.

In the distance she saw it. The familiar markings on the bottom of her tree hideaway. Relief filled her, pushing back some of the terror. There was sanctuary. With the skill born of years of climbing, she scaled the tree. Her body protested, begging for rest, but she pulled herself up, branch by branch. Lord, don't let him find her here.

Exhausted, she collapsed on the wooden floor of the tree house. The energy that had carried her this far now faded away. She couldn't run any more. If he found her here, all was lost. She couldn't fight him, didn't have the strength. Praying for salvation, she curled herself up tightly and let the blackness make its way over her. Just a short rest. That was all she needed. A little while to gather herself back together again. Then she could run some more.

While crashes and cursing filled the forest, Isabella wondered if she would ever make it out of here alive. Her last coherent thought before the darkness took her over was how much she wanted to be able to see a sunrise once again.

A dull ache was what woke Isabella from her sleep. The throbbing in her stomach that was growing more and more painful by the minute. Without conscious thought, she made to shift her position, easing the tension in her body. Something pulled against her wrists, stopping her from curling her body into the fetal position.

All of a sudden her mind was wide awake. Belatedly she realized that her hands were held tight above her head. Fear had her wanting to keep her eyes closed, but her brain forced her to open them and take stock of her surroundings. For a moment the light was blinding. After squinting, she slowly adjusted to the light, and was able to see things around her. The room was sparse. A closet against the far wall, next to a battered looking wooden door. Underneath her was a bed, with only a single sheet over top of her. To the left of the bed was an empty wall, with a single window directly in the middle. Outside it she saw only trees. A chance of escape there, if she wasn't too high up. Her mind stored that knowledge away for future use.

To the right of the bed sat a dresser that almost looked like the style old Victorian houses used to have. It was long, taking up almost the whole wall, and had a large mirror in the middle of it. A carpet adorned the floor, the kind of carpet that looks pleasing to the bare feet.

Finished with her survey of the room, she turned her attention onto her self. First and foremost she noticed her lack of clothes. Oh sweet God. The panic threatened to creep in, but she shoved it back. Now was not the time for fear. Now was the time to think, and to survive.

After generous tugs on both her wrists, she found them securely bound. There would be now way she could break them free. The only way her hands would be loose was if they were untied. Thank God that her feet were unhampered, though. Needing the movement, she flexed her legs, gingerly testing each one by pressing it against the footboard. When only a slight ache came, she praised the heavens. Nothing was broken there.

Too bad the same couldn't be said for her stomach. The all too familiar pain was throbbing there, letting her know that despite her attempt to protect herself, he had managed to break a rib or two. But she could deal with that. If she got free, it just meant wrapping her stomach tight with anything available, and keeping her pace moderate.

The sound of footsteps interrupted her inventory, and she mentally braced herself for what would come. He would be furious, she knew. But she had to watch for weaknesses. Anything that would allow her to escape. He could not win! When the door swung open, she met Samuel's gaze dead on, her eyes cool and calm. He wouldn't see her fear. "Look who finally decided to join the world of the living." He commented as he sauntered into the room. Pride filled Isabella when she noticed his slight limp. Something of the smirk must have come through, because his face suddenly and totally transformed. Where the smugness had once been, rage now took it's place.

"What the hell did you think you were doing out there?" he bellowed. One of his hands shot forward, the long fingers wrapping around her neck. "You stabbed me, you bitch!" Even through his fury, she could hear the astonishment. Never had he thought she'd fight back against him. That she wouldn't just lie there and willingly take what he threw at her. To him, women were submissive creatures who sat quietly until a man came along to tell her what to do.

"I won't let you touch me anymore, Samuel." Much to her surprise, her voice was calm and cold. It was enough to have him staring at her in shock. "I'm not yours anymore. I don't have to put up with the beatings, or the yelling, or anything. I'm my own woman now." Stars wheeled in front of her eyes when his hand connected with the side of her face. "Can't touch you, huh?" Something in his voice warned her that perhaps she should have kept her mouth shut. "Not mine, you say?" The hand moved away from her throat. In horror she watched him slowly start to strip away his clothes. "I think you need a lesson. You seem to have forgotten your place in the relationship."

Vainly she tried to move, to bring her legs up to her chest and protect her body from the pain she knew was coming. Strong hands grabbed her ankles, yanking them back down until each one was handcuffed to a different corner of the footboard. She was stuck, spread eagle, as he ripped away the blanket.

Even as he spoke, as he climbed over top her, she shut her mind and body off. It was a talent gained from many beatings, and many rapes, over the years they'd been together. She shut her whole body off, mind and soul, and went to her own world. Briefly she felt that tearing pain that centered between her legs. Closing her eyes, she let the blackness come once again and take her back down, away from the pain, and away from him.

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