She wakes from the maelstrom of sleep, from a black hole at the center of darkness. All she hears is the beat of her own blood. All she feels is the urge to flee. For a few seconds she lies absolutely still, letting her senses stabilize, her logic circuits reboot.
Perhaps it is simply the echo of another nightmare.
They come so frequently she is afraid to close her eyes. Often she spends the unlit hours sitting upright in a chair, staring at nothing and hoping, for once, there will be nothing staring back.
But there is always something staring back.
Something she remembers.
Something that remembers her.
She concentrates on her breathing, on drawing her diaphragm slowly down and out to fill her lungs to capacity with each breath, oxygenating her system for primeval response.
It takes another minute before the sound that stretched down through the layers of disturbed sleep comes again. It is close to nothing. No more than a quiet slither.
It is enough.
She slides out from under the covers in one fluid move. Her hand reaches for the Glock hidden beneath a towel on the nightstand, retrieving it without noise or fumble. She knows it will be loaded13 .40 caliber hollow-point rounds in the magazine, plus another in the breech. She checks it every night, part of the ritual. But she checks it again now, sliding her forefinger over the loaded-chamber indicator as she ghosts toward the bedroom doorway.
As she steps through she recognizes her mistake. The hairs riffle at the back of her neck a moment before the blade touches her skin and the Glock is plucked from nerveless fingers.
They’re pros. She knows this even before her legs are kicked efficiently from under her, as her hands are zip-tied, as the hood goes over her head. They have to be good to have got this far, past the perimeter sensors and the yard dog and the alarm, not to mention the acres of barren isolation.
They’ve come in numbers. Probably two on point and another two to manhandle her down the stairs, across polished hallway, front porch and gravel. It is only then she hears the roar of an approaching engine. Her shiver has little to do with the still night air.