He’d picked Lacey up from work, but once she’d locked the house, he’d gone home. His mother hadn’t kept anything down all day. He now believed it was the flu instead of the effects of chemo.
Lacey walked into the living room and picked up the remote from the coffee table. Chilling in front of the TV had a lot of appeal.
She’d had a busy day. Since Advanced had been closed for a week, everyone was buried in work. She’d gotten a record number of claims processed but hadn’t had the opportunity to check out anything for Darla.
It would be easier if she was still in her basement office. With the current setup, there were no partitions, just a few feet separating the desks. She couldn’t snoop in view of the other billing folks, especially since she didn’t know if any of them were involved.
But she’d made a promise and would find a way to fulfill it. Her gut told her the woman was telling the truth.
The problem was, after two cheaters and one psychotic ex, she no longer trusted her gut.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text. Under Jason’s name were the words, Everything okay?
Fine. She shook her head. Worry about your mom, not me.
I’m multitasking, doing both.
Her lips lifted in a smile. He’d always been so sweet. Even as an adolescent, though he’d projected toughness toward everyone else, he’d shown her his tender side.
She’d needed it. Dropped into a place where nothing was familiar, drowning in grief and trying to navigate adolescence without her mother, she’d been floundering. He’d thrown her a lifeline. No, he’d been her lifeline.
Another buzz dragged her mind back to the present. What about you?
Her thumb slid over the screen. Watching Forensic Files.
Cheerful entertainment for an evening alone.
She grinned. Helps pass the time.
They’re admitting Mom. Be there when she’s settled.
She texted him back a smiley face.
When her program ended, she killed the power to the TV and picked up a book from the end table. She’d only been reading for about ten minutes when the roar of an approaching vehicle broke her concentration. She typically didn’t hear cars and pickups unless they were pretty souped up.
This wasn’t that type of sound. It was the higher-pitched roar of a motorcycle engine.
Uneasiness swept through her as an image entered her mind—a motorcycle parked across the river, the driver’s attention focused on the wellness center parking lot.
But Ivan didn’t own a motorcycle. Jason had checked. Whoever the rider was, he had nothing to do with her.
The roar grew closer, then faded as the bike moved farther down the street. See? She had nothing to worry about. She rolled the tension from her shoulders and lowered her gaze to the book.
Five minutes later, Cassie jumped down and trotted to one of the windows. Nessie disappeared under the couch. But that was typical. Whenever there was anything out of the ordinary, Cassie checked it out while Nessie waited in a safe spot.
Lacey set the book aside and stood, holding her phone. Jason would be there soon. Depending on how long it had taken to get his mother settled into a room, he could already be leaving the hospital.
Cassie jumped down and trotted to the next window, the same as she’d done Sunday night. Lacey squeezed her phone more tightly. Maybe she should call the police.
And tell them what? That her cat jumped up on the windowsill so she was scared? It could be a squirrel or raccoon. Cassie acted the same regardless.
The alarm was set. If anyone tried to come in, the monitored system would dial the police. She wouldn’t have to.
Lacey approached the cat and rested a hand on her back. Cassie started and hissed, her tail expanding.
Something had her perturbed.
The cat moved to the rear windowsill, completing Sunday night’s route. As Lacey followed, her heart pounded out an erratic rhythm.
The patio light’s glow filtered between the blind slats. That had to be a good sign. Sunday night, Ivan had unscrewed the bulb.
She crouched and separated the blinds an almost imperceptible amount. Not three feet away, a gold belt buckle was eye level with her, its outer oval framing four of the popular Avengers characters.
Lacey jumped back with a shriek and punched 911 into her phone. As she brought it to her ear, the back door burst inward.
The alarm began its ear-piercing screech, and Ivan slapped her hard in the face. Her phone slid across the vinyl floor.
When she looked up, she found herself staring down the barrel of a pistol.
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