Chapter Twenty-Nine

"Rose!" Jack rushed forward, his heart in his throat. It was a long fall to ground below. The chances of anyone surviving such a fall were almost none.

A man's shout and a woman's scream came from below. Jack rushed to edge, uncaring of his own safety, and looked down. There was no sign of either of them.

Grabbing a flashlight, he shone it down over the cliff and the distant ground. At the bottom of the cliff, near the water, Cal lay unmoving.

Jack shone the light around, looking frantically for Rose. At first, he didn't see her, until a pleading voice caught his ears.

" me. Please."

Shining the flashlight directly below him, Jack saw Rose clinging to a tiny ledge on the cliff, her fingers clenched into the infinitesimally small bit of rock. Her feet were pressed against the cliff, digging into the dirt. As she saw him looking down at her, she shouted more loudly.

"Jack, please! Help me!"

"I'm coming, Rose. I'll be right there."

Backing away, he looked around desperately, searching for something he could use to pull her up. Just when he was ready to go and look for something, Tommy pulled a length of rope out of his bag.

"You never know when something like this might come in handy," he told Jack, tossing it to him.

Gratefully, Jack caught the rope. Tying one end around himself, he leaned down to shout to Rose.

"Rose, I've got a rope here. I'm going to toss the end to you. Grab it pull yourself up."

"All right."

Jack tossed the rope over the ledge, but Rose was too terrified of losing her grip and falling to grab hold of it.

"Rose! Grab the rope!" Jack shouted, shining the flashlight so that she could see where it was.

Rose shook her head, her fingers clinging more tightly to the tiny ledge of rock, which was even now beginning to give way under her weight.

"Jack, I can't grab it. I'll fall."

"Rose!" Turning around, Jack pulled the rope back and tossed it to his friends. "Hold this. Hold it tight. I'm going after her."

As soon as the three men had a good grip on the rope, Jack lowered himself over the cliff, clinging to the rope and whatever handholds he could find. When he got to Rose, he reached out to her.

"Rose! Grab my hand."

Rose looked at him, her eyes wide and frightened. She slipped a little lower as the rock began to work its way loose from the cliff.

"Now, Rose. Please." Jack held out his hand, the other hand clinging to the cliff wall.

Rose shook with fear, but managed to do as he asked. When his hand touched hers, she gripped it, clinging with all her strength, just as the rock gave way.

With a shriek, she dropped downward, but Jack's hand tightened on hers, stopping her from falling.

"Help me! Please help me!"

"Rose, I've got you. I won't let go. Now pull yourself up!"

Holding tightly to Jack's hand, Rose pulled herself up the cliff, Jack pulling upward with all his strength. At last, she reached him, throwing her arms around his shoulders and holding on.

"Pull us up!" Jack shouted, holding Rose close as their friends pulled the rope up, hauling the pair up the cliff.

When they reached the top of the cliff, Rose dropped to her knees, shaking. A moment later, Jack pulled her up, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her over and over.

"Rose! Oh God, Rose, I was so worried. I didn't know where you were, or what might have happened to you. If that bastard hurt you..."

"He never laid a hand on me, Jack, except to slap me once. He threatened me with a gun, but he never fired it. Every time he came close, Elisa would cry—oh God, where is Elisa? I left her up the road a ways in the bushes..."

"I have her, Rose." Another voice came from the darkness, and a moment later, Monica appeared, the baby cradled in her arms.

With a sob of relief, Rose pulled away from Jack and rushed forward to claim her daughter, kissing the frightened baby and checking her for injuries.

"I followed along," Monica explained, "and as I was going along the road toward the voices, I heard whimpering in the bushes. I stopped to see what it was, and found her."

"Thank you. Thank you so much." Rose rocked the baby, quieting her cries. "I left her there to try to escape. I could never run far or fast enough with her, and thought that if...if something happened to me, someone would come along and find her. I was just afraid an animal or something would find her first, but I didn't have a choice. Elisa, sweetie, I'm so sorry."

Jack came forward, pulling the two of them into his arms. Elisa hushed, staring at her father with wide eyes.

"It's all right, Rose. It's all right. You did what you had to, and Elisa's all right. Monica, I thought we told you to stay behind."

"What, and not help find my best friend? I couldn't do that."

"I'm glad you came," Rose told her, hugging her best friend. "Thank you for getting Elisa. I was so afraid for her..."

"It's all right now," Jack told her. "You're safe, and so is Elisa. We don't have to worry about Cal anymore."

"Cal...what happened to him? We fell, and then I remember hearing him shout, and then—nothing."

"He's gone, Rose. He fell all the way to the bottom of the cliff."

"Is he..."

"Dead? Yes, I'd imagine so. If not, he will be soon. That's a long fall. He wasn't moving when I saw him."

Fabrizio stepped away from the others, shining his flashlight over the edge of the cliff.

"He's dead, all right. His neck is broken."

Rose's eyes went wide, thinking of how easily it could have been her. She clung to Jack and Elisa more tightly.

"Jack...I was so afraid you wouldn't come. After that fight this morning..."

"I'm sorry, Rose, about the argument. You're right, we should have done our share. In fact, I brought food home from a restaurant so you wouldn't have to cook tonight. We can heat it up when we get home."

"Thank you, Jack. I was unfair, too. I shouldn't have blown up like that. I know you listen to me, but I was so angry..."

"It's all right, Rose. I'm not angry, not anymore."

"Neither am I." She leaned against him, her head on his shoulder. "I knew you'd be worried, at least about Elisa."

"I was afraid for both of you, Rose. When I saw that you were gone, and the door was standing open—my first thought was that you had left. But everything was still there, except Elisa. Not even her things were gone. I knew you wouldn't have taken off without providing for the baby. I looked all over town, but it was only when two boys said that they'd seen you in the old house that I knew where to look for you."

"I saw them, too. Cal scared them off—but I hoped they'd tell someone."

"They heard that I was looking for you, and came and told me."

"We'll have to thank them." Rose swayed against him, the emotions of the long day finally catching up with her.

"Let's go home, Rose." Jack took the baby from her and began to walk down the road, the others trailing after them.

Rose leaned against him, relief filling every part of her. She had feared that he wouldn't come, that Cal would take her away or kill her, or harm Elisa. Cal had told her over and over that what she felt was Jack was just infatuation, that she would be better off with him—because he could provide her with everything. Everything except love.

In the morning, they would send someone to collect Cal's body. The old house would be thoroughly searched, and at last they would begin to put the incident behind them. But not completely.

Cal was wrong, Rose thought, as they made their way back to town. If nothing else, being kidnapped had taught how lucky she was, how valuable the love she and Jack shared was. It wasn't infatuation, and never had been. Cal could have provided her with every material comfort she could ever want—but she never have given him the depth of love that she gave to Jack, nor could he have loved her that way in return. If she had ever felt infatuation, it had been for Cal, early on when she didn't really know him.

Today had taught her what love really was. It wasn't infatuation, not a brief, fleeting emotion. It was much deeper than that. It was a mutual giving and taking, a willingness to do whatever it took to be sure the other was safe—even risking one's own life, as Jack had when he had rescued her. Love—real love—was more than a feeling, and she knew now just how special that was.

The End.