I jump as the bedroom door suddenly slams and a female voice says idly, “Did you bother to research the meaning of that tree before you painted it on the wall?” My heart stutters as I turn around to see a disheveled woman looking at the mural on the wall. It takes me a moment to recognize her, as the one other time we met her appearance was much neater. “The trees are a reminder that life is beautiful, but it is also tragically short, much like the blooms on the branches.”
“Cassie,” I murmur while taking a step backward. “How did you get in?”
She holds up a metal object proudly. “Aidan’s key and a security guard with a very small bladder.” She laughs as if there is something particularly funny about her explanation.
I start toward the door trying to sound casual. “I’m just going to say hello to Aidan then.”
Before I’ve gone more than a couple of steps, she moves to block my path. “He’s not here.” Without thinking, I cup my stomach protectively. Her gaze follows the movement and she looks almost spellbound as she extends a hand toward it. “Why do you have my baby?”
Fear overtakes me and I find it hard to breathe. I’m close to a panic attack, but I fight for control. I have to keep her distracted while I figure out how to escape. “I’m just helping you take care of the baby. Why don’t we call Aidan and let him know you’re here? I bet he’s really worried about you.” I can only hope she hasn’t hurt him.
“Monique sent Spence away. He’d never let me come see Luc if he knew.”
“Okay, then we can call Monique. She’s your sister, right?” Crap, is that what this has come to? I’m reduced to looking to Monique to save me?
Cassie is showing signs of agitation again as she snaps, “I told you. Monique knows where I am. She’s getting Luc for me and then we’ll be together when you’re gone.” There is pure venom in her voice as she adds, “She told me all about what you did. He loved me until you fucked him that night. You watched us until you found a way to take him and my baby from me.”
She’s not making any sense. I hold out my hands in a placating gesture. “I’ve never met you before today, Cassie. If Luc is yours, then I’ll just leave and you can have him.” I’m almost to the door when something slams into the back of my head, causing me to stumble and fall heavily to my knees. I raise a shaky hand to the back of my head and it comes away smeared with blood. “What—”
“Stop trying to leave!” Cassie paces the room holding the mini-hammer I’d left on the changing table. Her hand repeatedly grips and loosens on the handle as if getting ready for her next attack. “Why aren’t you listening to me?” She’s waving it erratically now and I shrink back, using the nearby rocking chair as a shield. “I want my baby. Now!”
“What?” The hammer she is wielding has streaks of my blood on it. Why was I so stupid to have turned my back on her even for a moment? Had I actually imagined she would let me open the door and leave? If it had been a full-sized hammer, she might have killed me. Oh God, is that her plan?
She runs to the chest of drawers and begins throwing tiny clothing from it as if searching for something. Finally, she holds up a blue onesie and tosses it at me. “That’s Luc’s favorite color. He’ll want the baby to be in it. Put it on him. Quickly!” I’m baffled when she takes the rest of the clothing from the drawers and piles it into the crib. “We don’t need any of these things you bought for our baby. We’ll get our own stuff.”
Oh, Christ. No. I have to get away from her. I feel something dripping onto my neck and close my eyes for a moment against the dizziness assaulting me. If I pass out—I’m dead. There is no room for weakness. “The baby is sleeping,” I say softly. “We have to be quiet and wait for him to wake up.”
That causes her to pause as if considering what I’ve said. “Why have you made him live here? This isn’t his house. I hate it. I want it all gone.” She’s beginning to ramble even more. She alternates between obscure conversation and loud rants. She tosses questions at me, but before I can answer, she moves on to something else. I wrap my hands around the spindles of the chair in front of me and prepare to launch it at her, hoping to buy enough time to get out the door and if nothing else—hide. As if some sixth sense has alerted her, she steps away from the crib and studies me. “What’re you up to now?”
Blanching, I relax my hands on the chair and try to look innocent. “Nothing…trying to get comfortable.” She approaches me, still holding the hammer and I know it’s now or never. I grasp the chair and—it barely fucking moves. Lucian had placed it where I’d wanted and I had no idea it was so solid and heavy. Blood rushes to my head as I rise too quickly, attempting to evade her—and then I’m falling. The last thing I see before blackness takes over is her standing over me with the hammer raised above her head. “I’m sorry, Luc,” I whisper.
The sound of someone pounding on something wakes me. After a couple of attempts, I manage to open my eyes. My body is stiff and I have a horrible headache. The cool, hard surface beneath my face momentarily gives me pause. This doesn’t feel like my bed or even the sofa where I’ve taken to napping in the afternoon. There is something strange happening. The air is thick and hot. The more I try to breathe, the harder it seems. With great effort, I manage to raise my head, but the room is filled with fog—how bizarre. I’m still asleep I realize. This is just a dream…