Miranda fought like a wildcat. Her carefully tended nails became talons, which she would have used to claw the robber's face had she been able to reach it. As it was, his fingers had locked around her wrists like handcuffs. She was no match for his superior strength. She kicked his shins, aimed for his crotch with her knee, and was rewarded with a grunt of pain and surprise when it landed close.
"Let my son go!"
The man in the mask gave her a mighty push that sent her reeling backward. She landed hard on her bottom, but sprang up immediately and tackled him while he had one boot in the stirrup. Catching him off balance, she dug her shoulder into his ribs. She reached for Scott. Scott dived toward her and landed against her chest hard enough to knock the breath out of her. But she held onto him and turned, running blindly. The other bandits were all mounted. Their horses had been made nervous by the shouting. They were prancing around, kicking up clouds of dust that obscured Miranda's vision and clogged her nose and throat.
A thousand pinpricks stabbed her scalp when the robber caught her by the hair and brought her to an abrupt standstill. "Damn you," he cursed behind his mask. "This could have been so easy." She risked letting go of Scott to reach for the bandit's mask. He caught her hand in mid-air and issued an order in a language she didn't understand. One of his men immediately materialized out of the clouds of swirling dust. "Take the boy. Let him ride with you."
Scott was wrestled from Miranda's clutching hands. When the bandit's arm closed around her middle like pincers and he dragged her backward, she fought harder than ever. Digging her heels into the earth, she tried to keep sight of Scott, who was wailing in terror.
"I'll kill you if you hurt my son."
The bandit seemed unfazed by her threat as he mounted his horse and yanked her up with him. She was still dangling half on, half off the saddle when he spurred the horse. It danced in a tight circle before streaking off through the dense forest. The other riders followed.
The horses' hooves thundered through the otherwise serene woods. They sped through the thick pine forest so fast that Miranda became more afraid of falling off and being trampled than she was of the kidnapper. She clutched his waist in fear that he might let go of her as they began to climb.
Eventually the trees thinned out, but they continued to ride without breaking their speed. The terrain became more rocky. Horseshoes clattered on the rocks, which formed shelves over which they rode. Behind her she could hear Scott crying. If she, an adult, were afraid, what terror must her child be suffering?
After about half an hour they crested a peak, and the band of riders had to reduce their pace to begin their descent of the other side of Fe mountain. When they reached the first copse of pine along the timberline, the leader slowed his mount to a walk, then came to a full stop. He pressed Miranda's waist with his arm.
"Tell your son to stop crying."
"Go to hell."
"I swear, lady, I'll leave you here for the coyotes to eat," he said in a raspy voice. "You'll never be heard from again."
"I'm not afraid of you."
"You'll never see your son again."
Above the mask, his eyes were icy. Hating them, Miranda reached up and yanked down the bandanna.
She had intended to disarm him, but it was she who took a gasping breath.
The rest of his face was as startling as his eyes. The angles were precise, as though each feature had been lined up with a ruler. His cheekbones were high and as sharp as blades, his jaw perfectly square. His lips were narrow and wide. Above them he had a long, straight nose. He continued to stare at her with open contempt.
"Tell your son to stop crying," he repeated.
The resolve in his voice, in his eyes, chilled her. She would fight him when it was possible to win. Now, her efforts would be futile. She wasn't a coward, but she wasn't a fool either. Swallowing her fear and her pride, she called out shakily, "Scott." When his crying didn't subside, she cleared her throat and tried again, louder this time. "Scott!"
"Mommy?" Scott lowered his grimy hands from his red, weeping eyes and searched her out.
"Don't cry anymore, okay, darling? These...these men aren't going to hurt us."
"I wanna go home now."
"I know. So do I. And we will. Shortly. But right now, don't cry, okay?"
The small fists wiped away the remaining tears. He hiccupped a sob. "Okay. But can I ride with you? I'm scared."
She glanced up at her captor. "May he--"
"No." The blunt reply was made before she even finished voicing the question. Ignoring her baleful stare, he addressed his men, giving them orders so that when they urged their mounts forward again, the horse Scott was on was second in the procession. Before nudging his horse, their captor asked her curtly, "Can you ride astride?"
"Who are you? What do you want with us? Why did you take Scott off that train?"
"Throw your right leg over. It'll be safer and more comfortable."
"You know who Scott is. I heard you call him by name. What do you--Oh!"
He slid his hand between her thighs and lifted the right one over the saddle. The leather was warm against her bare skin, but that sensation was mild compared to the feel of his gloved hand on her inner thigh. Before she could recover from that, he lifted her over the pommel and wedged her between it and his open thighs. He flattened his hand against her lower body and pulled her back even farther, until she was snugly pressed against him.
"Stop manhandling me."
"I'm only making it safer for you to ride."
"I don't want to ride."
"You can get down and walk anytime, madam. It wasn't in my plan to bring you along, so if you don't like the traveling accommodations, you've no one to blame but yourself."
"Did you think I would let you take off with my son without putting up a fight?"
His austere face revealed no emotion. "I didn't think about you at all, Mrs. Price."
Excerpted from Hawk O'Toole's Hostage by Sandra Brown. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.