Chapter Twelve

It was a bluff, of course, though Julie's reaction was exactly what Allegra had been hoping it would be.

"What?" she blurted. Her eyes widened in alarm for the briefest of moments before narrowing into slits as she glowered at Allegra. "I don't believe you."

Oh, but there was doubt. Allegra could tell it. She offered Julie a small shrug in response. "Doesn't really matter whether you believe me or not. It's the truth, and this recording is gonna be delivered straight to the commissioner as soon as the Crow's Nest event is over." She smirked, deciding to sprinkle a little truth in with her lie for good measure. "Because you're absolutely right," she said. "Larry didn't believe me this morning when I told him that you're trying to frame me. He wanted evidence. And now," she patted her pocket again, "I've got exactly what I need."

She started to walk away, but she didn't get very far before JP stepped right into her path and blocked her.

"JP! Bloody hell, mate. Lay off, would you?" Skye surprised Allegra yet again by speaking out against her friends. "Last thing we need here is a fight," she said seriously. "And besides, I reckon she's probably lying about recording us."

"Yes. But how do we know for certain?" JP asked as he stared down his nose at Allegra. "I, for one, am not willing to take such a chance."

"Neither am I," Julie said as she stomped across the deck in order to stand directly next to JP.

"I've got an idea," she announced after eyeing Allegra for several seconds. "I'll grab her phone while you two restrain her-"

"Whoa," Skye quickly interjected. "Hang on just one goddamn minute. Nobody is restraining anybody..."

Allegra moved then, hoping to use the Aussie's rambling as a distraction. Because if she was ever going to ditch these freaks, she would first need to get herself as far away from JP as possible. As soon as she was out of his direct reach, she knew that he would have very little chance of apprehending her. Unfortunately, though, the Frenchman wasn't paying any attention to Skye whatsoever. If anything, his focus seemed to be entirely on Allegra. He moved when she did, and Allegra tried to trick him, first by darting to the left, then to the right. But it was like he was two steps ahead of her no matter what she did. He probably, she grudgingly admitted to herself, would have made an excellent basketball player.

"Real nice friends you've got here, Skye," she said sarcastically, interrupting the Australian girl's speech. "Are you beginning to find they're a tad too psychotic for your liking?"

Skye didn't say anything in reply to that, though before Allegra could press the issue, JP abruptly lunged forward and grabbed her by the shoulders. Immediately Allegra tensed, lashing out at the perceived threat by kicking him as hard as she could in the gut. She hadn't exactly been aiming for his gut—lower, actually—but the assault seemed to be enough to at least do some damage. JP grunted and clutched his abdomen, letting go of her in the process, and Allegra took advantage of that brief second to turn and take off running like a bat out of hell.

She raced across the deck, and when she reached the guardrail, she hurtled over it at a speed that she was certain would have made any track and field runner envious. When she hit the ground, though, she felt her body suddenly falling backward, arms flailing as she let out a string of violent curses, and it was then and only then that realized she had made a very, very grave error.

Ice. She'd landed on a sheet of ice.

She would've seen it, too—or at least, she told herself she would have—had it not been for the light dusting of snow surrounding the perimeter of the Blue Station lodge. But even if she had taken note of the snow, she likely still would not have considered the possibility that the pavement might be icy beneath it, and so in hindsight, Allegra supposed that slipping and falling on her butt upon touching back down on the ground had been inevitable.

Of course, she was on her feet and running again in a matter of moments, though her recovery was short-lived when, suddenly, an ear-splitting crack sounded from somewhere near her left ear. Allegra cried out, though she barely had time to register what was happening before she went down. In an instant the world went from upright to horizontal, and Allegra found herself lying again on that cold, hard pavement. Only, this time her face was level with the ground. Pine trees swayed and blurred across her vision, and though the snow and ice felt grainy against her cheek, the coolness of it was not exactly unpleasant. She groaned and tried to roll onto her back, and it was only when she reached up to touch her head that she realized it was throbbing.

Wait a minute. She wasn't down and out because she'd slipped again. Someone had hit her!

"—out of your bloody fucking minds!"

Allegra didn't know whether she'd been lying there for a few seconds or a few minutes, though the first thing she heard when she finally started to get her bearings was the sound of Skye screaming at Julie and JP. She blinked several times before slowly—very, very slowly—attempting to sit upright.

"I always knew JP was a fucking lunatic, but Jesus Christ, Jules...I'd hoped you still had at least some decency left in you!"

"Lunatic?" JP was clearly scandalized. "I resent that. I am not a lunatic. I am merely...thorough."

"And maybe just a tad bit ruthless," Julie added, and Allegra could've sworn the bitch sounded proud as she said it.

While they argued, Allegra leaned forward onto her knees, praying she would have the strength to get to her feet and outrun them for good this time.

But JP noticed her movement, and stomped down hard on her back with his boot, pinning her firmly in place. "And just where do you think you're going, ma chere?"

"JP," Skye said in a warning tone, but he ignored her.

"Amusing as it would be to watch you try and crawl away from here, we can't very well have you raising the alarm, now can we?"

Allegra craned her neck upward in order to cast him what she hoped was a daring look, though given how shitty and disoriented she felt right then, she had to figure she probably just looked like a drunken idiot who'd had the snot kicked out of her in a bar fight. "What're you gonna do, then?" she slurred. "Kill me?" She snorted in order to show just how laughable she found the idea, though if she were being honest, deep down, she had to admit she wasn't so sure he wouldn't do it.

"Don't be ridiculous," Skye said quickly before JP could answer. She nudged him aside before shooting him an ugly, almost hateful glare. "The Crow's Nest event is in less than an hour," she told him. "You and Jules catch the next transport and head on down there, yeah? Meantime, I'll do my best to try and clean up this rotting mess you two've made." Then, much to Allegra's shock, Skye extended a hand downward, offering it to her. "Come on, love, what do you say we head inside and call you a medic?"

"No one's calling anyone," Julie cut her off. Snow crunched under her boots as she shifted to peer down at Allegra. "Speaking of which," she said, addressing JP, "did you manage to snag her phone?"

JP answered by producing a sleek, square-shaped object from one of his back pants pockets. He held the item up high in the air, smiling smugly as he said, "Sure did. And it was just as we suspected: nothing is recording."

Allegra shared a look with Skye. The Australian girl's face was filled with worry, but Allegra sensed a flicker of annoyance there, too, almost as if there was a part of her that wanted to scream, "God damn it, Allie! You really bloody well let me down on that one, didn't you?" Oddly enough, Allegra found that, despite the seriousness of her current situation, the imagined scenario was almost enough to make her giggle.

"You know, I really don't understand you, Skye," Julie said suddenly. "You were totally down with this plan in the beginning, but now? It's almost like you're on her side."

"I was down with the plan," Skye insisted. "And I still am! But you've gotta understand that there's a big difference between agreeing to help you sabotage someone and—oh, I don't know...fucking murder them."

"It isn't murder," JP pondered, his voice only just loud enough for them to hear, "if you make it look like an accident."

Allegra snarled, but the pressure from JP's foot immediately returned when she tried to stand. This time he pushed harder, so much so that for a second she was almost certain her spine would crack. "Let me go," she growled. "Let me go, you fucking psychopath-"

"Nobody's going anywhere," Julie snapped before turning to exchange a glance with JP. "We're not going to get another opportunity like this again," she told him. "It's now or never."

She tried to sound determined and self-assured, but Allegra could tell she was afraid, like she knew that the decision she was contemplating making would cross a line even she wasn't certain she was prepared to cross.

I have to get out of here, she thought, frantic. I have to get out of here. I have to get out...

Her options were few. She found that her heart raced even faster when she quietly acknowledged this truth to herself. It was three against one—two against two at best—but Allegra knew that she wasn't at her strongest or her sharpest, given the battered state of her body and her possible—very likely—brain injury. Even so, she knew that she had to at least try to get away. Because even though she could tell that Julie was hesitant to do her any serious harm, she wasn't about to hold out on the hope that, in the end, the girl would do the right thing and back off. No, people were shitty, and almost never did the right thing. Allegra knew this for a fact.

She was about to attempt to stand again and make a dash for the lodge so that she could call Peak One's ski patrol and report everything that had just happened to her.

But it was like JP could read her mind.

As soon as he felt her make even the slightest shift of movement, the bastard reached down and yanked—hard—on both of her braids. But Allegra kept moving anyway, even as she bit back a howl of pain.

"JP," Skye was saying. "Stand the fuck down!"

And that's when, suddenly, the Aussie did something Allegra had not at all been expecting. She rushed forward to help her.

The very first thing she did was aim a high kick at the Frenchman's face. Allegra couldn't see whether the hit had been successful or not, though she figured it must have been, because the next thing she knew, the weight of JP's foot was off her back, and she was free at last.

Allegra sprinted as fast as she could for the lodge. Her lower back ached like it never had in all her life, and her head still felt fuzzy, probably from the blow she'd taken earlier—she was seriously going to be so pissed if she had a concussion—but she forced herself to keep going until she had reached the lodge's entrance, screaming for help all the while, though there appeared to be no one else around. Just my fucking luck, she thought bitterly as she fumbled with the doorknob.

It was at that very moment that she heard heavy footsteps on the deck behind her. A rush of panic surged through her, though she didn't turn around to see who had followed her. She just had to get inside the building-

The door flew open, though before she could take so much as a single step inside the entryway, she felt something cold and hard hit the back of her neck, near the base of her skull. It was a sensation that stunned her, though it wasn't exactly painful, because in the next instant she fell forward. She barely had time to register what had happened before her eyes closed and the whole world went black.