Beth’s hand trembled. Her knuckles hovered an inch from the recessed oak panel. The office door was closed, which meant Richard didn’t want to be disturbed. She glanced at the box in her hand, delivered by messenger just moments before. It must be important. Would Richard be angry if she interrupted him? Or angrier if she didn’t? Her stomach clenched. He’d be angry no matter what she did.
With a hitched breath, she rapped lightly. The latch hadn’t caught properly and the door swung open. Beth froze, paralyzed by the scene before her.
Confusion shifted into comprehension, and fear turned her insides to ice water.
Could she slip out before he noticed her? She eased backward, but Richard sensed her presence. He turned and stared. Their gazes locked for a few seconds, his feral, hers panicked. The lion and the gazelle.
Then he grabbed the crystal letter opener on his desk and lunged.
She couldn’t leave the house. Her children were upstairs. She needed a weapon. Her eyes locked on the kitchen doorway ten feet away.
His Italian loafers scraped the wood floor of the hall behind her as he fought for traction. The rubber soles of her sneakers fared better. She almost outran him. Almost.
At the threshold, he caught her in a flying tackle. She flung her hands out. Pain shot through her wrists and palms as she braced her fall before her face slammed into the tile.
After all this time wondering if he’d eventually kill her, there was now no more doubt. If she didn’t get away, she was dead.
Panting, on all fours, he pulled on her legs. She donkey kicked backwards, catching him on the side of the face. He grunted. His grip loosened, and she belly crawled forward a few inches before his hand closed around her calf.
She raised her chin and eyed the knife drawer, an impossible ten feet away on the other side of the room. In a frantic visual sweep, her peripheral vision caught the cordless flashlight plugged into the outlet on her left.
She kicked at his fingers. They jerked open. Pulling a knee under her body, she pushed forward and yanked the flashlight from the wall. Richard crawled closer and slashed at her middle. Her skin registered a flash of agony, then went numb.
Without losing momentum, she turned over and swung the flashlight in an arc toward his head. Metal clanged against bone.
His eyes widened in shock before his body went limp.
Shaking, Beth scrambled out from under his torso. Blood seeped through her silk blouse.
Lungs heaving, she rooted through the odds-and-ends drawer and pulled out a roll of duct tape. She rolled him to his side, forced his wrists behind his back, and taped them together. As an extra precaution, she secured his hands to a heavy table leg, then bound his ankles. She slapped a final piece of tape across his mouth. Richard wasn’t going anywhere until the cook arrived in the morning.
Adrenaline and nausea coursed through Beth as she glanced at the clock. She had exactly ten hours to vanish.
Ten months later
Beth stopped the car in the middle of the street and stared at what was supposed to be her family’s new home. Uh-oh.
“Why’s there a hearse parked in front of the house?” In the passenger seat, her son, Ben, chewed on his thumbnail. At twelve, he was wise beyond his years, and that was all her fault.
“That’s a really good question.” Her gaze shot to the rearview mirror. The road behind her was empty. Satisfied that she hadn’t been followed, she nudged the gas pedal with a toe, turned off the estate’s private road, and parked at the base of a circular drive. She stared through the windshield at the strange vehicle two cars ahead. Mild queasiness from a seven-hour drive and a greasy rest-stop cheeseburger churned into full-blown nausea. The fragile hope she’d nurtured all day evaporated in an instant. Just once she’d like something to work out the way she’d planned. Just once.