Exiting the building, I am remarkably cool-headed about how to deal with my travel limitations. I hail a cab and direct the driver to take me to a bank. There I withdraw the cash from my New York account, all too aware I’m sending out an alert about my location to whoever was following me from New York. Next, I have the driver take me on my second trip to Walmart, where I suck it up and invest in more of what I need for my travel plans, a selection of casual clothes, two suitcases, a couple of hats, and sunglasses. Once I pay for the items, I go to the bathroom and change into jeans and a basic navy tee, intentionally leaving one suitcase empty while placing my purchases in the second. Finally, I slip on a red hoodie to make sure I stand out at my next stop.
When the cab pulls up to the airport, my nerves are scattered, but I force myself to get out of the car. I have a plan and it’s a good one. Good thing, too, since there is no plan “B” that makes sense to me.
I rush to the counter of a budget airline in an effort to control my cost and I am just in time to snag a seat on a flight leaving in less than an hour. I check in the empty bag, assuming a bag makes my flight look more legitimate than I intend for it to be, and keep the other with me. Once I have my boarding pass, despite my feet resisting, I press forward, reminding myself that there are cameras and security people everywhere. I’m safer here than anywhere else.
Fifteen torturous minutes later, I head to the gate, where I claim a seat near the counter so that I can call for help if needed. I do not move. I just…wait. And wait. And wait, it seems. Finally, boarding time arrives and I know this is when I have to plan things just right. I wait in line and the attendant scans my ticket and waves me down the ramp. I walk toward the entry and disappear onto the boarding ramp, then move to the wall, letting others pass. My hoodie comes off and I stuff it in my bag, then tug out the black ball cap I purchased and shove my hair underneath.
“Do you need help?” an attendant asks.
“My mother is meeting me and I’m worried. Do I have time to look for her?”
“You have about three minutes. Is she a confirmed passenger?”
“What’s her name and I’ll call her on the intercom and check the manifest for her name.”
“Kylie Richardson, and thank you.”
She looks concerned and nods. “Give me a moment or actually continue boarding and I’ll find you. What’s your name?”
“Lara,” I say, speaking half of my real name for the first time in six years, and all but choking on it as I do.
Brooks, I think, and for reasons beyond my obvious need for discretion my birth name no longer feels right. It no longer feels like me, and too easily, another alias flows from my lips. “Richardson. Lara Richardson.”
“Okay, Ms. Richardson. Go find your seat and I’ll find your mom.”
She turns away and I do not let myself dwell on the foolishness of using my real first name in an airport where I am surely being hunted. I creep to the edge of the walkway and peek around the corner to find the attendant walking toward the counter where another woman waits. The waiting area is empty. Like it had been that day I’d met Liam, when I’d thought I was going to be bumped, but instead ended up seated in first class next to him. Now, I wonder if that was a coincidence or by his design.
With the attendants facing away from me, I hear the announcement calling my fictional mother and I seize the opportunity presented to me. Darting from the walkway and to my right, my destination is the nearest exit sign, which I find quickly. Lifting my suitcase, I all but run down the escalator and straight toward the taxi stand.
Outside the building, I head directly to the male attendant and hand him cash. “I’m late to a wedding rehearsal dinner. I need out of here fast.”
He glances at the twenty-dollar bill I’ve handed him and nods. “You got it, sweetheart.” He lifts his hand to motion to a cab and grabs my bag.
“In the back seat, please,” I instruct, wanting my few possessions where I can get to them if I need to make a fast departure. I can’t afford to throw out any more money after the cost of that plane ticket.
I’m just about to climb into the backseat when I hear, “Amy.”
For the flash of a moment, I freeze, the sound of Liam’s deep, intensely male and all too familiar voice radiating through me. No. No. No. He cannot be here. He can’t. But he is and that can only mean one thing. He had me followed. He’s been having me followed and it’s the confirmation that he was never just a stranger who touched me deeply. He is everything I do not want him to be. Everything I had prayed he wasn’t.
I whirl around to face him and the attendant is stepping away, giving me a view of Liam standing there, looking every bit of Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome in faded jeans and an Izod shirt that is as perfectly aqua blue as his eyes. Close. Too close and he sways into motion. “Don’t!” I hiss, holding up a hand. “I’ll scream bloody murder, I promise you.”
He stills, and our eyes lock, his narrowing, holding mine captive. “Run to me, not from me.”
Those familiar words ripple through me, stirring a passionate memory of him saying them to me once before. And they hurt. I hurt. “I don’t even know who you are.”
“You know who I am. Who are you?”
“Hey, lady,” the driver says. “You coming?”
“Yes,” I call out. “Yes. I am.” But I don’t look away from Liam. “I heard you, Liam. I heard you talking to Derek last night.”