Three minutes. Who did this man work for? Why was I taken? I thought I was safe, a non-issue. I thought Brad’s family would stay away, and any slight risk from outsiders would start after my marriage. I can’t do it. No matter who this man was, what his purpose, I couldn’t kill him. Maybe I wasn’t mentally strong enough. Maybe I wasn’t cruel enough. Three minutes had been long enough. Long enough for him to still live.

I moved before I could second-guess the decision, shoved his weight off my body, his mass hitting the floor with a dull sound. I avoided his face, avoided the slack expression of unconsciousness staring accusingly out at me. I sat up, swinging my legs off the bed, testing the stability of my limbs before standing. My head roared with pain, my throat was dry, and I was still naked from the waist down. I glanced over and saw gray fabric, my pants from last night, bunched in a heap on the floor, purple panties peeking out of the sweats. I yanked the clothing on, rushing to the door and twisting the knob, letting out a moan of relief when it turned. I hesitated, unsure of what lay on the other side, then yanked hard, bursting through the door and into an empty hallway.

Twenty seconds.

I ran, worn linoleum underneath, my eyes picking up and processing items as I moved. I seemed to be underground, the hall artificially lit, the rooms I passed windowless and dark. It was almost empty, my eyes picking up on offices and storage rooms flying past. I saw the sign for a stairwell and flung open the door, headed up the empty stairwell, my bare feet quiet on concrete steps. As I climbed, I thought, trying to plan some sort of strategy if I encountered someone. I had no weapon, no phone, weak arms and legs, exhausted from four minutes of exertion. It was a depressing equation my brain had no solution for.

I reached the first floor landing and said a silent prayer, pressing on the door. I moved through it into a short hallway and was then in an open space, some sort of a showroom, display boards lining faux walls, multiple kitchens and bathrooms back to back, carpet samples and tile choices covering a center open space. I turned, scanning, looking for the one thing I needed: an exit.

Ten seconds. Then I heard it. Salvation and damnation in one moment—a door opening, an electronic chime announcing its movement. Someone’s here.

I ducked, crawling on all fours until I was in a kitchen, an impressive Viking stove in between me and the door. I waited, holding my breath, listening to the sound of footsteps across the floor, casual and unhurried, the rustle of a plastic bag accompanying them. My lungs bursting, I inhaled slowly, trying to mask the sound with my hands. Then I heard the stairwell door open, banging shut on its return trip. It had taken me less than fifteen seconds to run through those halls and up those stairs. His trip would be slower, leisurely in its steps, but short all the same, meaning I needed to move now. I ran, heading for the door, almost weeping when it came into view, my hands slipping as they reached for the bar, yanking hard on the metal. A loud clang sounded through the room, the sound of metal hitting unyielding metal, the door barely budging. Locked.

Chapter 64

“Your fiancée is missing, on her wedding day, and you wanna talk to the police chief?” The woman’s voice drawled through the phone, skepticism lacing every word.

“Yes. This is Brad De Luca, he will want to take my call.”

“I don’t care who you are—if you and the chief are such close buds, then call his cell. This is a line reserved for emergencies, not your girlfriend who decided not to walk down the aisle.”

“I did call his cell, and left a message.”

She snorted. “Then I guess he don’t want to take your call.”

“Goddammit, this is not a case of a runaway bride. This is foul play. Page. The. Chief.”

“Missing. Persons. Require. Twenty-four hours. Unless you got a bloody scene you wanna point us to, you need to call back after twenty-four hours have passed. I’ll leave a note for the chief with your number. If he wants to call you back before then, he can.”

He gritted his teeth, releasing a string of expletives when she ended the call. He turned, seeing his father before him, Stevie by his side. So the man had shown up.

“Is there a problem, Brad?”

“Come with me,” he said tightly, striding past the pair.

They moved, a staggered group of three, his father taking his time and depending heavily on his cane, his back erect and head up as he walked carefully behind Brad. They moved into a rectory office, Brad closing the door behind his father and waiting until he took a seat to speak.

“I don’t care how you do it, I don’t care if we kill half the city and bribe every street thug in a ten-mile radius, but you find her NOW. Put a hundred thousand dollar bounty on her alive head.”

His father chuckled, his hand caressing the head of his cane. “Suddenly you are a fan of our work? You have mocked us for years, yet now need our help?” He tilted his head shrewdly, his eyes meeting Brad’s. “I told you the girl wouldn’t last, that she didn’t care. And now? What if I say no to your demand?

“You won’t.”

The air grew hot as the two men regarded each other, one calm and composed, the other a bundle of electric heat. “Don’t test me, son.”

“Don’t test me. You have no idea of what I would do for her.”

♥♥♥

I pushed and pulled on the doors handle in disbelief, panic flooding like hot liquid through me. Locked. I fumbled, my hands finding an upper deadbolt and I flipped it, trying the door again and almost crying with relief when it moved, pulling open, the announcement chime reminding me that I needed to get the f**k outta Dodge.

Daylight. I was instantly relieved and afraid, the sun exposing me in the worst way possible. My bare feet flew down a broken sidewalk, my eyes looking everywhere, alighting on an industrial street, warehouses and closed businesses lining its streets. Saturday. It was, unless I had slept through days, Saturday. Someplace had to be open. What place could I trust?

I was open, exposed, the lone individual on the street, and I searched for a side street, a place to hide. I was suddenly afraid to stop a stranger, should I encounter one, my paranoia not knowing whom to trust. Escape. I needed to put distance between my prison and myself. Any moment the door could burst open behind me. Any moment I could be back in that room. From somewhere to my left, I heard an engine roar, the chirp of tires as a sharp corner was turned at too fast of a speed. I ran up the steps of a closed tire store and hid behind a large UPS drop box. The car slowed, a white truck driving past without stopping, my ears telling me what my eyes could not—they had not seen me, or they didn’t care about a barefoot girl tucked in an filthy doorway.

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