Pleasant aromas wafted from the foil-covered plate in the passenger seat. Jason braked for his right turn onto Highway 294.
He was surprising Lacey with dinner. He’d pulled out his mom’s enchilada recipe and was happy with the result. Lacey used to love Mexican food. Hopefully, she still did.
His own meal was on low in the oven at home. He’d be eating it alone. He didn’t want to slow Lacey down with what she had to do at work, and his mom was still in the hospital.
He steadied the plate while he rounded the corner. What was going to happen now that Ivan was no longer a threat?
He and Lacey would remain friends. It was what they’d been fifteen years ago and what they’d continue to be.
Unfortunately, his heart was no longer listening to reason. Somewhere between carrying her out of the burning building and gunning down her stalker ex, he’d come dangerously close to falling in love with her.
He needed to get a grip. He couldn’t start something he wasn’t willing to finish. Eventually it would be time for him to leave, and he’d break not only Lacey’s heart but his own. Murphy held too many painful memories. And he cared for Lacey far too much to take her away from her home and everyone she loved.
He drew to a stop in the circular drive. The Audi Q7 that belonged to Ruben was parked facing the garage. Lacey’s Sonic was stopped at the edge of the driveway, halfway around the circle. Those were the only two vehicles there. The Camry Jason had seen on other occasions was gone.
He stopped beside Lacey’s car and threw the Escape into Park. He was blocking the circle, but it didn’t matter. Once he gave Lacey her dinner, he’d be leaving.
After stepping from his vehicle, he crossed behind Ruben’s SUV and approached the house. Lights shone through the bank of windows in the two garage doors. Lacey would be inside, hard at work.
He moved up the sidewalk that ran along the side of the garage. Ahead, the door swung open and Lacey stepped into the glow cast by the light fixture.
When she turned toward him, her eyes were wide, her jaw tight. Ruben stepped out right behind her, something clutched in his left hand. Before Jason could fully register what was happening, Ruben dropped the object, grabbed Lacey around the throat with one arm and pointed a pistol at her head.
Jason froze, still holding the plate with one hand. He slowly raised the other. “What do you want?”
He didn’t need to ask the question. He knew the answer. Ruben had filed the fraudulent claims, not Darla. And Lacey had found out.
“Take off your jacket and turn around slowly.”
Jason complied, hoping that Ruben wouldn’t see the holster poking out from beneath his shirt. But the light shining from beside the door wasn’t his friend. Neither was the swollen half-moon hanging in the night sky.
“Remove your weapon slowly and put it on the ground at your feet. You try anything, and I’ll kill her.”
Jason did as he was told, silently scolding himself. Why hadn’t he looked through the front windows before heading up the sidewalk?
“Kick it into the bushes, out of sight. And get rid of the plate. Lacey won’t be needing whatever is on there right now.”
He shook the thought from his mind. They’d find a way out. They had to.
“You’re going to drive.” Ruben tossed him his keys, then picked up the object he’d dropped. It looked like bolt cutters.
When Jason reached the luxury SUV, he climbed into the driver’s seat and pushed the key into the ignition. Ruben opened the left rear door. After shoving Lacey inside, he slid in behind her.
“I’m going to tell you where to go. You do exactly as I say, or Lacey is dead. Do you hear me?”
Lead slid down his throat and settled in his gut. “Yes.” He heard him loud and clear.
As he backed toward the road, his heart twisted. No, he wasn’t dangerously close to falling in love. He was solidly all the way there. He hadn’t wanted to see it before, because he’d been unwilling to face his past. Now he would take on anything to have Lacey at his side.
She wouldn’t be ready. But eventually she’d let down her guard. In the meantime, he wouldn’t push. A woman like Lacey was worth waiting for. Tonight, he’d make sure she knew exactly how he felt.
If they survived.
Desperation clawed at him. Last night the element of surprise had been on his side. He hadn’t had a game plan, but he’d at least been armed.
Now there was no element of surprise. And his weapon was lying in the bushes next to Ruben’s garage.
Things couldn’t be more hopeless.
God, please provide a way out.
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