I headed toward the sound of quiet, heading away from the noise of the highway, hoping to find a residential area, a place of libraries, well-kept homes with flower boxes, supermarkets, and joggers equipped with cell phones. I would call Brad’s cell, wary of the police after learning of their corruption. I saw movement, the bumper of a car rolling out of an upcoming side street and immediately veered, my speed increasing as I moved down the side of a building, worried that I wouldn’t reach its end before the car passed. Or, that I would turn the corner and run into a group of thugs, trading one danger for another. I held my breath as I sprinted around the corner, hearing the rumble of engine as the car traveled down the street, my feet disappearing from sight just in time. Then I skidded to a stop as my eyes raced frantically over the scene before me.

Two vehicles. Alarming. I would have preferred an empty lot, no strangers. In this area, every individual was a potential foe, my mind not trusting anyone. I searched frantically for any sign of the car’s owners. I listened to the street behind me, and ducked behind the first car, my eyes flitting over and then focusing on a green hose, coiled on the floor beside a parking bay. Water. The hose glowed, like a spotlight was focused on it, and everything else faded to gray. I crawled behind the second car, a green truck jacked up on off-road tires, neon yellow shocks blocking my view of the building. I exhaled slowly, listening for danger, then ran, loose gravel kicked up by my raw bare feet, a few hitting the truck behind me. Water. My sole focus followed that hose, the nozzle mounted on the side of the building and my hands reached for it greedily, turning the handle rapidly and hearing the perfect, orgasmic sound of water flowing from its end. I grabbed it, pressing it directly against my open mouth, grains of dirt mixing with the initial flow, the hot water pouring down my throat in a powerful stream, too much for me to take, and I lifted my mouth briefly, gulping in air and fighting a cough, swallowing the water and pausing before lowering my mouth to the hose. This time I was more careful, sipping from the stream, the liquid turning cool, tasting better than it ever had, my starved body drinking it like it would never stop, a need that would never be fulfilled.

I finally stopped, my hand stumbling over the wall until it reached the handle and turned, the hose going limp in my hand. My stomach was physically engorged, a round ball of liquid, and I felt sleepy, my mind turning on me, becoming a drugged machine that performed at half-speed. I crawled, on my hands and knees, finding a space between the dumpster and a fence, and laid down, not minding the unyielding feel of parking lot beneath my body. At that moment, with my belly full and the weight of my body no longer carried by my feet, I was beyond content. Encased in a dumpster shield of privacy, I felt safe and secure enough to briefly close my eyes and rest.

Chapter 67

“What do you think is really going on?” Becca played with a string on her dress, sitting on the back porch of Brad De Luca’s house. Olivia leaned against a porch column, staring out on the back yard, which was a picture of romance, white flowers and candles floating through the lit pool, dusk falling gently over the space.

“I’ve told you what I think. I think she changed her mind. It’s the right decision.”

“Fuck off, O. Stop being a bitch and push your opinion of their relationship to the side.” Becca’s tone was strong, and Olivia glanced up in surprise.

“Jesus, what’s gotten your panties in a twist?”

“She’s missing, Olivia. The police found her phone smashed into bits, she’s been gone since last night, and you don’t even seem to care!”

Olivia said nothing, bumping the column with her shoe. “So what are you saying, Becca? You think she’s dead? You think someone else sent you that text?”

“I don’t know what to think. I just know she wouldn’t disappear like this. Her missing the makeup appointment was one thing. But this long? And the smashed phone? She wanted to marry Brad; I know she did. Julia’s not flaky and she wouldn’t scare her parents like this, you know that.”

“But who would have taken her? Luke?”

“Are you kidding me? The worst thing he’d do is hug her to death. Brad asked me about him earlier. I can’t see him doing this. Showing up at the wedding, yes. But he doesn’t even know where she lives. She’d just yell at him, and he’d leave her alone.”

“Yeah,” Olivia said quietly. “But why would anyone else hurt her?”

“I don’t know? She’s young, she’s hot, she’s about to be loaded? Maybe it’s someone with an issue with Brad. Someone he lost a case to.”

“It’s easier for me to think she just got cold feet, Becca. I don’t want to think about anything else.” Olivia pushed away from the column, stepping into the house and closing the door behind her.

♦♦♦

There were several times in a man’s life when his world changed. Often this change happened without incident or recognition—a chance meeting of a woman who ended up becoming his wife, a new job that led to a change in destiny. With Brad, his life-changing moments were very clear.

The morning that his mother left, leaving behind nothing but a short note and the scent of her perfume.

The moment he walked out of his father’s colossal mansion, separating himself from his family—The Family.

The moment that, at the possibility of losing Julia, he realized that he loved her, and found true happiness for the first time in his life.

And now. Now, the moment where she was lost, and his world might forever end. He would not survive without her, that fact was certain in his mind. If she were to leave him, yes, he would survive knowing she was happy. But if she were killed, snatched while fighting and screaming for his help ... well, he would never forgive himself.

He gripped his phone tightly in his hand, willing it to ring, willing her to be safe, willing the brave, strong woman who had his fragile heart tightly in her capable hands to return to him.

♦♦♦

In a Holiday Inn, two miles from Brad, the Campbells resorted to the only thing they knew. Prayer. They prayed, they argued, they prayed some more.

Then, with no clear idea what to do, they got in the car and headed north. Made a few wrong turns, checked their phones incessantly, then finally arrived. Pulled their car into Brad’s driveway and parked. Martha opened the door before they could knock.

“Come on in. I’ve been cooking, don’t know what else to do. Brad also asked me to prepare the guest room. He’s not worth speaking to at the moment, but I’ll do everything I can to make you comfortable.” She held open the door, gesturing for them to come in, and bit back tears when Julia’s mom threw herself into her arms.

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