The bedroom was light, air-conditioned and spacious. Solid wooden floorboards had been waxed and polished to glassy reflection over the decades, without a single creak or give, such was their strength. Walls were of smooth plaster, painted in soft hues of lavender.
Sarah stirred on her four-poster bed; its huge proportions and exotically carved mahogany frame magnificent under normal circumstances. The bedding was cream and fresh, suffused with a hint of blackberry and scented with pine. Each over-sized pillow, encased in silk, added a touch of decadence to the overall finish. Sarah sat up in bed, slipped her long legs from beneath the duvet and stood up. She wore a pair of tan-coloured satin pyjamas. The wood felt cold against her bare feet. The room had been her prison for more days than she cared to count.
She remembered setting out for the airport in a taxi, eager to meet her father from the plane yet worried about why he’d pushed up his schedule without forewarning her. Still, she knew him well enough to get on with things and wait for an explanation later. The taxi had been pre-booked and whisked her easily through the streets, giving her no cause for alarm. Now that she thought about it, she could kick herself for not checking the man’s identity at the time but she had no reason to be suspicious.
A few minutes into the journey, the car had started to slow as it eased towards a small junction a few hundred feet from the highway intersection. Engrossed in paperwork, keen to make sure everything was ready for her father’s arrival, she hadn’t paid any attention. Rain was falling and she had paid as little heed to two men standing beneath a large umbrella on the pavement nearby.
The taxi pulled to a complete stop and one of the rear doors burst open. Startled from her work, suddenly frightened, she had attempted to slide across the seat, away from the open door, only to find the other door flung open so fast that she nearly backed herself right out onto the road. The two men slipped into the back, pinning her neatly between them. The doors were closed and the taxi roared away from the kerb. A strong hand clamped over her mouth and her freedom ceased to exist.
She knew she’d been kidnapped, that much was obvious, but her fears of torture, rape and mutilation had so far proven unfounded. In fact, the guards outside her locked door were always polite and courteous in their dealings with her; bringing her delicious food, with even a choice of fine wine every evening, and ensuring a daily change of linen and towels.
Sarah couldn’t fathom it. It made no sense to treat her so well, unless of course her captors expected to fetch a higher ransom from her father when they delivered her unscathed. But that was only guesswork. At any moment it might all change into a world of pain and degradation, so she forced herself to keep up her mental guard. There was no television in her room but a huge bookcase filled to overflowing with a wide range of literature.
She also whiled away the hours practising yoga; something she’d done for a decade or more. It stretched her body, keeping it trim and supple, while the spiritual relaxation of the accompanying meditation often soothed the savage beast of a bad day.
The room boasted only one small window, which looked out over a small cobbled courtyard. Three other windows, set around various walls, had been bricked up prior to her incarceration. It meant she kept the electric lights on all day as the little window was barely a foot wide and twice that tall. Vertical steel bars; newly fitted, reminded her she was most definitely in a prison, however pleasant.
That morning, quite early, Sarah heard the sound of heavy gates being drawn back outside. She couldn’t see them from her windows but watched, with detached interest, as a large black limousine drew silently up into the yard. It stopped and the driver got out; a lean, hard-eyed professional with a noticeable bulge under one armpit.
The figure he released from the luxurious confines of the car’s rear compartment brought her heart leaping into her mouth. Tears erupted from her eyes like water from an underground pipe suddenly pierced by a road worker’s pneumatic drill, and a choking cry bubbled from her throat.
Suddenly panting for breath, pulse racing, she stumbled across to the door, where she hopped from foot to foot in desperation. She was so excited that she almost wet herself and was visibly trembling by the time she heard footfalls on the wooden floor of the passageway outside. Flushed and eager, she stepped back from the door; it opened inwards and she didn’t relish the idea of being knocked flat if it was opened quickly from the other side.
The footsteps halted outside the door and she could hear muttering as the key turned quietly in its well-oiled mechanism. The door clicked open, as the handle turned smoothly, and it swung open.
It was a moment Doyle McEntire had been longing for and dreading at the same time. Days had passed since Sarah’s abduction and it was now time to explain himself and face the music. He had no idea how she would react and was uncharacteristically nervous. Dressed in cream cotton trousers, white silk shirt and expensive, hand-made leather boots, he looked far more relaxed than he felt.
‘Dad! Oh, thank God you’re here!’
‘It’s alright, it’s okay Sarah. I’m here and you don’t have to worry anymore.’
He held her in his arms, with her looming over him with her added height, and fervently wished things could have been different. Everything that had been so carefully planned was unravelling around him and, as fast as he was plugging his fingers into holed dykes, new leaks were springing forth. It was all he could do at that moment to keep things under control and not lose sight of his objectives.
‘What is happening? Tell me you’re here to get me? Have you paid a ransom for me? I am so sorry for not being more careful,’ she sobbed happily.
‘It isn’t your fault darling. And we need to talk.’ He paused to gather his thoughts. ‘There are things you need to know, things that I hoped never to involve you in.’
Sarah stepped away from his warm embrace, suddenly nervous again, wiping tears from her cheeks. ‘What things? What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing you could have done anything about,’ he soothed.’
‘Please, stop it. You’re scaring me. Tell me what’s happening.’
‘I’m so sorry for what’s happened to you, you must understand. You are my only child. I know I don’t show it but you mean the world to me and I could never put you in danger.’
Sarah was confused by his words. Why weren’t they already on their way out of this place? Where were the kidnappers? Maybe they wouldn’t let them leave now that they had her father as well as her. ‘We should go. I’ve been locked in here for days. I just need to get out of here.’
‘I am sorry. Truly, truly sorry.’
‘Stop keep saying that,’ she said, wiping away fresh tears that refused to stop spilling from her eyes. ‘What are you sorry for anyway? You’re here now and that’s all that matters.’
‘I didn’t have a choice,’ he confessed.
Rain chose that moment to start hammering on the glass of the single window, rattling it hard within its steel frame. Sarah’s eyes flicked momentarily towards the sound before returning to her father. She watched his eyes harden, hiding the sadness within. His face, tanned and more lined than she could ever remember, mirrored the melancholy of his thoughts.
‘What did you do?’ she asked, almost not wanting to hear his answer. When he did not answer her straight away, she persisted. ‘What?’ There was a lengthy pause as he collected himself. He had tried to prepare the words many times in his mind, turning them over and over on the journey down, but with little success. Whichever way he phrased it, the truth was going to hurt them both.
‘I had you abducted and kept you locked away here. That’s what I’m sorry for.’
‘You?’ She was incredulous, her jaw dropping open in stunned disbelief.
‘That’s right.’ It was the hardest thing he had ever had to say to her. ‘Me.’