The grains of sand sparkled in the afternoon sun. Cindy sat
along the shore, staring out at the ocean, grains of sand sifting
through her fingers. Grateful for the quiet, Cindy needed the
solitude to think about what the doctor had told her. A tear
slipped from the corner of her eye as she debated the two choice
the doctor had given her...take her chances on the pregnancy
or terminating it. She needed to have her mind clear on what
she wanted before talking to Matt.
Lost in her thoughts, she never heard the man come up behind
her until it was too late.
His arm locked around her throat, lifting her to her feet.
When she was standing she felt the barrel of his gun pressed
against her abdomen.
"What do you want?" she asked fearfully, fighting
her instinct to struggle. She couldn't endanger herself or the
precious life inside of her.
"Just a little...revenge," he hissed in her ear,
shoving her toward the boat anchored several yards away.
Cindy stiffened when she recognized the voice. It was Marco,
her father's man who had trained her in assassination. Her heart
leapt up into her throat, knowing she would be dead soon, no
matter what she did. Cindy knew for a fact his heart was cold
as ice and he would have no mercy on her. But she knew she had
At the boat, she locked her legs and braced herself against
the doorway to the galley. "Please, Marco. You don't have
to do this. There's nothing in it for you."
"Certainly there is. There's the money."
"If it's money you want, I have money. I'll give it all
to you," Cindy bargained.
"Then there's the pleasure of making you suffer,"
he continued, ignoring her as he hefted her over his shoulder
and dumped her in the chair in the galley and tied her to it.
He looked at her face and saw the fear in Cindy's eyes. "I
always told your father you were too soft to be an assassin."
He laughed as he left the room, locking the door behind him.
Mentally, Cindy kicked herself for not going straight home
or at least calling Matt and letting him know where she was.
She could feel the ropes bite into her wrists when she tried
to work them free. Cindy already knew there was no point. Marco
always tied knots at the ends of the ropes binding his victims
so they couldn't get free. Cindy knew she was heading to her
Matt filed the last form on his desk before he looked at the
clock. Concern edged into his mind. Cindy should have been home
long ago, even if Doctor Sloan had seen her late.
His hand had just gone to the receiver to call the doctor
when the phone rang. "Hello?" he greeted, hoping it
"Matt, it's Trout."
"Damn, not now Trout. I've got things on my mind."
"I've gotten some important information I think you'll
Matt sighed in frustration. "What is it?"
"My contacts tell me Marco Libertini is not only in the
country, but in California. Hermosa Beach as a matter of fact."
"I'll bite. Who or what is Marco Libertini?"
"Armand Varanti's top assassin and master torturer. He's
been in jail until now, vowing revenge against Cindy."
"Shit. Why is it I always get the information late?"
"Matt, I promise you I called you as soon as I heard.
Has something happened?" Trout asked with concern.
"Cindy hasn't come home from her doctor's appointment
yet. She should have been home hours ago."
"I'll call my contact back, Matt."
Matt closed his eyes when he heard the dial tone. Automatically
he dialed her cell phone only to reach her voice mail. He gave
the phone a toss on the floor and shouted, "Damn it! Damn
it, damn it, damn it, damn it!"
"What's wrong boss?" Benny Ray asked, entering the
office after hearing Matt explode.
Matt related the information Trout had just given him, ending
with "And I can't get hold of Cindy. She'd stop shopping
long enough to answer her phone and she'd answer if she were
still at the doctors.
Benny Ray pulled out his cell phone to call the team in, watching
Marco dropped anchor at the island and went down the stairs.
He cut all the ropes except those around her wrists and pulled
Cindy to her feet.
He pushed her in front of him off the boat and propelled her
toward a cave.
Halfway through the huge dark cave, Marco yanked her to a
stop in front of a yawning pit.
Cindy yelled, "No! Please, Marco!" Her words fell
on deaf ears as she felt him untie her wrists before shoving
her in. Cindy lay on the hard dirt floor, unable to move, pain
wracking her body already.
"If your friends are smart and can follow the clues,
they'll find you before you're dead," Marco laughed.
His voice was joined by a woman's laugh. "And all they
have to do for the final clue is hand Matt Shepherd over to me,"
Eleanor, Cindy's mother vowed.
"Matt," Cindy whispered through the pain as she
heard them leave. She was alone in the cold dark, pains shooting
The team had scattered to search and check with contacts while
Matt waited for Trout to call back. Matt snatched the phone up
when it rang.
Marco snarled, "Listen carefully. Follow the clues, give
us what we want and she gets to live."
"Who is this? Who is us?" Matt demanded.
"Don't play stupid with me Major. I know you know who
I am. You may not know who I'm working with Eleanor Varanti."
"What is it you want?"
"Follow the clues, prove you can be trusted, then we'll
tell you. When we have what we want, we will call Mr. Riddle
with her coordinates."
Matt stiffened. "Why Benny Ray?"
"You'll find out. First clue is at the ice cream vendor
along the beach. Go alone, tell no one. If anyone is with you,
we start throwing dirt down on her. By the way, your phone is
tapped, so don't call anyone either." The call was disconnected
leaving Matt staring at the receiver. Before getting up, he scribbled
a note saying FOLLOW ME FROM A DISTANCE and stuffed it in his
He armed himself and headed for the bar exit. He ran into
Deke at the doorway and discreetly passed the note to Deke. Matt
headed on out the door and toward the ice cream truck.
Matt looked around the closed vendor for a few minutes until
he found a photo of Margo's apartment building. He glanced toward
the Silver Star, seeing Deke talking on his cell phone.
At the apartment building Matt found a receipt from Rosina's.
They're retracing our history, Matt decided.
Two hours later, the trail of clues led Matt back to the Silver
Star and he growled with frustration.
He entered the bar and headed for his office, barely noticing
Amber waving toward him. He walked over to the barmaid. "Yes
"A man dropped this off, said he's sending his car to
pick you up at one tomorrow," she explained, handing Matt
a sealed envelope.
The phone in his office was ringing when he reached the room.
"Shepherd," he growled into the phone.
"You did well. Now, if you do so much as breathe anywhere
near your final destination before you're brought here, she's
dead. Got it?"
"Good. Have a nice night," Marco said before hanging
Benny Ray entered the office and said, "Boss, something's
wrong with my truck. Can you come out and help me?"
Matt cast the sniper an odd look but followed him. At the
truck the team was gathered.
Benny Ray sat on the truck bed. "Sorry boss, I thought
maybe your office was bugged, thought it best we talk out here."
"You'd be right too," Matt told him.
"So what the hell was that the past two hours?"
"A red herring I guess. I'm worried about her, she's
out there alone and probably hurt. They sent me this but I'm
not to even breathe near my final destination or she dies."
"Who's he working with?" Margo asked.
Nick looked at the others. "Someone with close ties to
Almeda and all of the clues traced Matt and Cindy's relationship.
I'd say Shekler Island."
"He's going to kill her if I go there now," Matt
told the New Yorker.
"Yeah, but it gives us an idea where to go once you're
picked up tomorrow."
"You guys have to be careful. This man sounds vicious."
Margo nodded. "I read his file, and I've heard of him.
One of the best torturers in the business.
Matt looked away from the team and at the stars in the sky.
"What do you think he's doing to Cindy?"
Cindy tried to raise herself into a sitting position but the
pain was too intense. She managed to move on to her back so she'd
stop getting dirt in her mouth. Thank heavens the bleeding has
finally eased up. She couldn't believe how weak she felt from
the blood loss. Cindy gave into her emotions, crying for her
lost child and knowing in her heart she'd never have another
chance to have one. She could only pray Matt wouldn't look for
her and fall into their trap. Cindy didn't want him to experience
Marco while trying to find her.
"I see you managed to maneuver yourself around a little,"
Eleanor taunted from the edge of the pit.
Cindy summoned the little energy she had left and spat, "You
Eleanor ignored her. "Of course, that's always been where
you do your best work. That's how you got on to this team, isn't
it?" Eleanor shined her flashlight beam into the pit. "Pity.
A man like Shepherd wants children and lots of them. And a woman
who can give them to him. Of course, he won't be around to cast
you aside for someone who can since he'll be dead. You'll have
to live with that being your fault as well as the fact you couldn't
protect your child. It's because of you, after all, that they'll
both be dead," Eleanor said as she stooping to pick up a
handful of dirt to throw down on Cindy. "You are less than
this dirt and always will be. And your friends will turn against
you for causing his death. You'll have nothing and no one, your
life will be completely and utterly destroyed," Eleanor
laughed as she left the cave.
"Matt wouldn't cast me aside," she mumbled to herself
in the dark. "And the others won't hold me responsible."
Cindy kept repeating it in an attempt to convince herself, but
half of her found what Eleanor had said made perfect sense. Cindy
wrapped her arm around her midsection and cried again. "Matt."
Silver Star parking lot
Benny Ray waited at his truck for Matt to come down. He looked
at his best friend and knew he hadn't gotten any sleep. "You
Matt shook his head. "I was lost without her there last
"I know," Benny Ray said, his hand on Matt's shoulder.
"We'll find her."
"But will we be in time?"
"Have to be. Here, put this one," Benny Ray said,
handing Matt a watch.
"You've got it. And a communicator...undetectable. But
we'll be heading out to Shekler Island in an hour. Deke and I
will swim over."
Matt nodded. "Listen, if I don't get out, take care of
"We'll get you out too, boss. But you know I will."
"I'm giving them whatever they want. Since they didn't
ask for anything yet, it must be me."
"You know boss, if their idea is to kill you to get even
with Cindy, you giving them what they want is going to destroy
"All that matters is that she's safe," Matt told
"Not in her mind, boss," Benny Ray told him. "You
have no idea how deeply she loves you."
"Sure I do. I love her just as much. You guys better
go get ready to go and find my girl." Matt watched Benny
Ray get in his truck to drive to the safe house where the others
were waiting. Matt squared his shoulders before he entered the
Silver Star to get himself ready.
Matt was sitting at the bar drinking a soda when the man walked
over to him.
"Who wants to know?"
"Mr. Libertini sent me."
"He couldn't come himself?"
The man pushed the side of his jacket back, displaying his
sidearm. "Just come with me, please."
"No problem," Matt uttered, setting his drink to
the side. He stood and followed the man to the limousine. He
knew Margo and Nick were out there, waiting to follow in case
he wasn't going to Shekler Island.
The man opened one of the back doors and Matt climbed in.
"Make yourself at home, Major," the man told him. With
the remote in his hand, the man locked the doors, securing Matt
in the limo before getting behind the wheel. He raised the shield
between the front and back assuring there would be no conversation.
Tense, Matt looked around the limo. "Not even a bar,"
he commented, trying to calm down. The windows were darkened
so he couldn't see where he was headed.
Nick drove the car following from a safe distance. He heard
Margo calling in the license plate but he was getting fidgety.
He didn't like this situation, not at all. And he really didn't
like the prospect of returning to Shkler Island not to mention
he had seen the results of Libertini's work.
"The limo is owned by Varanti Enterprises," Margo
reported. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"Not enough trying to hide their connections. This is
not good, Margo."
"We'll get them out, Nick. Both of them," Margo
Nick looked at her from the corner of his eye. "Yeah,
The limo stopped after an hour and Matt waited until the locks
popped up before climbing from the car. He got out and looked
around, recognizing where he was right away. "Shit,"
he mumbled. "So it is," he confirmed the location to
"Follow me, Major," the driver said, waving Matt
toward a small boat.
Matt followed him quietly, getting in the boat. The ride across
to the island was short and when the boat hit the dock, Matt
climbed out and checked his surroundings. He had been cooperative
so far, so the gun at the base of his back took him by surprise.
"This way," the driver hissed, guiding Matt toward
Matt held his hands up as he obeyed. When they got to the
entrance, the door swung open and Matt saw Eleanor standing there,
"Welcome, Major Shepherd. Do come in."
"Where's Cindy?" Matt demanded.
"Oh, she's around. Not your concern anymore though."
"You'll never see her again. You're not leaving here
Matt started to go after her throat but the gun at his back
stopped him. He had to bide his time and wait for the right chance.
"Fine. You have me. Call Benny Ray and tell him where he
can find Cindy so he can get her out of here."
"Oh please. Do you think I'm stupid? I know Mr. Riddle
has been on the island for over an hour. He's well on his way
to finding her...he doesn't need me. Marco!" she called
out. She wasn't going to waste her time this time playing with
"I'm on my way," he called from one of the rooms
down the hall."
Benny Ray and Deke carefully made their way across the north
end of the island. "See any place you'd hide someone?"
Benny Ray asked.
"Not yet. My money still says not the house though. It
would be too obvious and too close to where they have Matt."
They were moving inland when Deke slapped Benny Ray on the
chest, stopping him. "Fresh tracks."
"Finally...a break," Benny Ray stated.
Deke led the way, carefully moving brush so as not to disturb
the trail they were following. They finally stopped in front
of a cave.
"Oh hell. I hope she's not in there in the dark,"
Benny Ray commented.
"That's where I'd have her if it was me," Deke responded,
entering the cave.
Benny Ray turned on his flashlight and followed. The two men
took turns softly calling Cindy's name.
Half conscious, Cindy heard familiar voices calling for her.
She was unsure about answering, not sure if she wanted to be
found, but her heart said yes. Weakly, she called out Benny Ray's
"Keep talking sugar, I hear you. I just have to find
Cindy tried, but her voice kept giving out from the weakness.
Finally she heard Benny Ray's voice at the edge. She blinked
against the harsh brightness from the flashlight.
Benny Ray looked down and mumbled, "Oh, shit. Hold this
Deke," he said, handing the flashlight to his teammate."
Finding his part of the communicator, he whispered, "Major?
We've found her, but she's not in good condition. I'm going down
with her to wait for you. We're in a cave on the north end of
the island, about a klick from shore."
Grabbing the rope he had, Benny Ray knotted it around his
waist, the other end Deke secured to a large rock along with
holding on to it.
Benny Ray sullenly lowered himself into the pit, afraid they
were too late. He knelt next to Cindy and found a weak pulse
and he closed his eyes with relief.
"It's gonna be all right," he whispered.
"No," she denied, turning her face from him. "It's
never going to be all right again."
"Matt'll be here soon," he assured her, brushing
her hair back. "Can you eat something?" Benny Ray felt
for the crackers he'd stuck in his pocket earlier.
Benny Ray laid his rifle down and sat with her, lifting her
head to rest on his lap. "It's all right, sugar. I promise."
Benny Ray reached for her hand and was gratified when he felt
her grip tighten around it.
Matt's eyes turned dangerous as he digested Benny Ray's information.
He kicked back, getting the driver in the neck. He grabbed the
man's gun and fired point blank at Eleanor, striking her in the
A shocked look appeared on Eleanor's face as what he'd done
registered. "You'll never find her now," was her last
words before she crumpled to the floor.
"Libertini! Get your ass out here now!" Matt ordered,
feeling a rage unlike anything he'd ever felt before.
"What the hell is going on out here?" Libertini
demanded, coming out of the room to find the driver and Eleanor
on the floor, dead. "Ah, Major Shepherd. I'm surprised Antonio
left you armed."
"This is his weapon." Matt threw the gun down on
the ground. "You I'm going to tear apart by hand, piece
"You think?" Libertini baited as he pulled a stiletto
from it's sheath.
"I don't think, I know," Matt promised, balling
his hands into fists as he approached the man.
Libertini laughed. "I saw all of the blood awhile ago...Eleanor
told me Cindy'd lost your brat. You know she'll never be able
to have one now. She landed hard when I shoved her into that
seven foot deep pit." Libertini smiled maliciously, circling
Matt. "I particularly enjoyed her begging me not to push
her in. It was very entertaining."
"You son of a bitch," Matt snarled as he pulled
the Glock he had hidden in his jacket pocket, pumping several
bullets into the hit man. "You'll never hurt anyone again,"
Matt added, kicking the man before heading for the door. "My
only regret is that I can't kill you again."
Matt threw the gun down in the foyer before going out the
door. He pulled the grenade he'd brought and turned back into
the house and threw it into the living room area then calmly
walked away. Matt headed for the north end of the island, afraid
of what he might find.
Matt easily found the cave and walked in. He cast Deke a surprised
look, finding him alone and talking on his cell phone.
"Benny Ray's down in the pit with Cindy," Deke informed
him. "I'm still trying to get an ambulance."
Matt grabbed the rope that Benny Ray had taken off and secured
it around his waist, then lowered himself.
He found Benny Ray propped against the wall of the pit with
Cindy laying on him. "How is she?"
"Shocky. She just lost consciousness. Deke's having trouble
getting an ambulance to come here."
"So he said." Matt looked on the ground at the blood
and he felt tears well up in his eyes. His heart went into his
throat, he wasn't sure she could survive after losing all of
that blood. The thought of losing Cindy sent Matt's world into
"Did she say anything?"
"A little. She's too weak to say much. Uhm, boss...about
this blood..." Benny Ray began hesitantly.
"I know what it is. The bastard shoved her in this pit."
"I'm sorry Matt," Benny Ray said.
"Thanks. Here, I'll take her."
Matt slid under her after Benny Ray shifted away. One hand
held hers, the other gingerly caressing her abdomen. "I'm
so sorry I didn't get here in time, darlin'. Just don't leave
Deke called down from the edge, "Sorry guys. No ambulance
service to the island."
"Shit," Matt mumbled. He stood and untied the rope,
retying it around Cindy like a harness. "Pull her up Deke.
"Got it." Deke gingerly moved the rope up and untied
the harness. He lifted her up while Matt and Benny Ray made their
"Boss? What about Eleanor and Libertini?" Benny
Ray asked when they were both up top.
"They're dead. We don't have to worry about them anymore,"
Matt said harshly.
"Fine. I was just wondering."
Benny Ray and Deke paced in the waiting room. Matt had demanded
to be allowed to go back with Cindy, to be there with her.
Benny Ray was still picturing Matt threatening to shoot the
doctor if he couldn't stay with her. The doctor finally relented,
saying Matt would have to leave when he said.
In the examination room, Matt held Cindy's hand while they
gave her the blood transfusion and Dr. Sloan examined her. He
felt her jump when she regained consciousness.
She blinked against the light and asked "Where am I?"
"You're at the hospital darlin'."
"Matt?" Cindy asked hopefully.
"Right here. Is someone else callin' you darlin'?"
Dr. Sloan moved up next to them. "Well, Cindy, hate to
put you out again after you just regained consciousness, but
there's a procedure that has to be done. And Matt, you have to
Cindy wet her lips and asked, "Can I get pregnant again?"
Dr. Sloan shook his head slowly. "No. There was just
too much damage, I'm sorry. And if it were to happen by some
fluke, there'd be too much danger for you."
"Shhh," Matt whispered. "It'll be all right."
"But Matt..." she began but fell silent.
"Matt you can stay with her until the sedative takes
effect, then you'll have to go out with Benny Ray and Deke,"
Dr. Sloan told him as he gave Cindy the sedative.
"All right." Seeing a tear slip down Cindy's cheek,
Matt kissed her on the forehead. "Stop thinking about it.
Just concentrate on getting yourself through this."
As she drifted off, Cindy thought about the things her mother
had said, wondering if she was right. And if Matt even cared
they had lost another baby and any chance at one.
"Matt, I'll let you know when she's in a room."
Matt slowly walked out to the waiting room and joined his
two team mates.
"How's she doing boss?"
"She was awake for a little while, she's depressed. And
the doctor told us she can't get pregnant again."
"Man. Sorry," Benny Ray told his friend, squeezing
"That's rough," Deke commented.
"She's going to shut down emotionally on me again, I
can see it coming. And I have no idea what to do or say to help
"Force her to talk," Benny Ray said.
"Have you ever tried to force Cindy to do anything?"
"Yeah, behave herself. It doesn't work," Benny Ray
"Try getting her to open up about feelings sometime."
Matt walked over to the window at the night sky.
Benny Ray gave him a few minutes then followed. "She's
strong boss. She'll get through this."
"This may have broken her. She wanted a baby so badly.
Cindy wanted the loving family she never had."
"Make it better for her, Matt. There's always adoption."
"I know that. And I know she knows that, but what she
"Yeah, the whole experience."
"And who knows what that mother said to her when she
"You can make it better for her Matt."
"Only if I can figure out what she needs," Matt
"Watch her closely and if she won't tell you, take a
guess. I'm betting lots of loving. Nothing material, that wouldn't
work on Cindy."
Matt nodded. "You're right, it wouldn't."
The nurse walked over to Matt. "Mr. Shepherd? Cindy's
in room 202. Why don't you go on up with her?"
"Thanks," Matt replied, walking away from Benny
Ray and Deke without a backwards glance.
a week later
Margo and Benny Ray looked up when the door opened to see
Matt-carrying Cindy in his arms.
"Hey guys," he whispered, Cindy asleep against his
"How's she doing?" Margo asked.
"Well as can be expected, I guess," Matt answered
as he headed for the stairs. "If anyone's looking for me,
I'm not around."
"Got it boss," Benny Ray said, watching Matt take
Cindy upstairs. "Sweet pea?" he said to Margo.
"Yeah?" she said, trying not to cry.
"You know those girlie days you and Morgan go on when
she's in town?"
"When Cindy's a little stronger, take her on one."
"I'll try. I tried to invite her a few days ago and she
turned me down flat."
"Might have been too soon," Benny Ray commented,
staring upstairs, concern in his eyes. "By the way, why
I can't go on one with you sometime? Just what do you do guys
Margo smiled, "You're better off not knowing, trust me."
Matt fished out his keys and unlocked the apartment door then
carried Cindy into the bedroom. He felt her stir against him
"You want the bed or your chair?" he asked softly.
"Chair. And a pillow," Cindy said.
He settled her in the chair by the window, sliding the ottoman
over and lifting her feet to rest on it. Matt grabbed one of
the toss pillows off the bed, along with a chenille throw which
he tucked around her. "Want a book or anything?"
Cindy shook her head, staring out the window.
"I know what you need, be right back," Matt said,
disappearing through the door.
She wrapped her arms around the pillow to hold it against
her and buried her face in it. Cindy looked up five minutes later
to find Matt coming back in with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
"Here you go darlin'. I filled it with marshmallows and
I think I used the whole can of whipped cream on it," he
told her with a small smile.
"Thanks," she said as she took the drink from him
and sipped it. Cindy couldn't stop the small smile that appeared...he
had made it just the way she liked it. "It's wonderful,"
she told him.
Matt sat on the corner of the ottoman and ran his hand up
and down her arm. "You let me know if there's anything you
need. Or want. All right?"
"All right," she said, taking another sip of the
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