Authors: Michele Kimbrough
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Michele Kimbrough
All rights reserved.
Cover designed by: Michele Kimbrough / Galan Graphix
Editor: Lori Draft ([email protected])
for Cassandra and Camille
“Call David,” Amelia spoke into the voice command of her console app, her Spanish accent slightly evident. Nothing happened. She tried again. The call went directly to voicemail. “Dave, it’s me. I. . .” Her call dropped.
Lightning bolted. Meandering storm clouds darkened the sky. Rain beat against the car. Her headache was now unbearable and she could hardly see through the pain. The throbbing synced with her heartbeat which seemed to pound erratically. Nonetheless, she pushed through the thirty mile drive to her cousin’s house. He needed his briefcase that he’d left in her car the other day.
She parked across the street from David’s townhouse. Both his and Beth’s cars were in the driveway, and there was no room for hers. She got out of the car, carrying the briefcase. His garage was open and so was the inside door. Unusual.
“Dave!” she called out. It was quiet.
She nearly tripped over a planter. What was that doing there? She picked it up and set it in the corner where it belonged. In another few feet, she saw overturned tables and chairs, lamps on the floor, papers and books strewn everywhere.
“What the hell happened here?” she whispered.
“Dave!” she yelled and ran upstairs. Clothes were everywhere. His personal items had been ransacked, dumped, broken, and ripped. “Dave!” she screamed. She leapt down the stairs, nearly knocking over a misplaced vase.
Amelia ran into the living room, still screaming. Then into the dining room, which was also demolished. She stood in the corridor, panicked.
No one’s here, she thought.
Just then, she noticed the basement door was ajar. She ran down the stairs and immediately recognized that his basement had also been ransacked. In the corner, she saw David lying in a pool of his blood, mutilated. A bloodcurdling scream escaped Amelia as she fell to her knees. Who would do such an awful thing?
She heard a clunk then loud rumbling and thumping. She ran, trying to prevent her wet galoshes from squeaking on the tile floor. Crouching into a dark corner, she fell back a little when she tripped on something, still managing to balance herself while trying to quietly move the impediment. She couldn’t quite make out what was in her way as she touched something sticky. She looked at her hand. Blood. She turned and saw David’s ex-wife, Beth, slumped over. Amelia screamed into her hand. The sound of her muffled scream had been concealed by a rather large man falling backward down the stairs, tumbling to a neck-breaking thud.
Clutching the briefcase, Amelia swiftly hid behind Beth’s dead body, veiled by the shadows of the basement. She heard two, maybe three pairs of footsteps approaching. Men. Their gait sounded too heavy to belong to women. Amelia trembled, trying not to make noise. Her breathing was so hard and heavy she feared they’d hear her. She closed her eyes, frightened that they’d glimmer in the darkness and give her away.
She heard the men scrambling around. Their work boots gave her tremors with each thump. Her heart pounded with unsteady beats. Her body quaked uncontrollably as one of the men got closer and closer . . . and closer. He stood right in front of her—still for a moment, then squatting down. He was so close she could smell his putrid breath. She prayed he couldn’t see her, hoping the darkness shielded her. Slowly, she opened her eyes, which met with his. He smiled wryly.
“You picked a really bad day to drop by,” he said.
He reached his hand toward her. She thought she’d lose control of her bladder. Maybe she had—the basement reeked of urine. She tried to lean back but couldn’t go any further. Her heart leaped into her throat. Her stomach somersaulted.
He touched Beth’s hair and cheek. Sucking his teeth, he stood, kicking Beth’s legs and causing her body to shift. He stood there a moment longer until the other men headed upstairs.
She wanted to scream—again, no air. She couldn’t stop shaking.
One of the men yelled from upstairs. He turned and ran up the stairs, two steps at a time. She heard their heavy thumps above her. A door slammed. Two car doors closed, and the heavy engine revved. Its vibrations were strong at first but receded with distance.
Amelia pushed Beth’s body to the side and it fell over, stiff like a mannequin. She ran to the stairs, avoiding the puddles of blood along the way. She tripped on the man’s arm at the foot of the stairs and fell on top of him—the briefcase between their bodies—staring him in the face. She recognized him and gulped hard—she was too breathless for a scream. It was Uncle Murphee—her mother’s brother, and David’s father.
In a panic, she hastily climbed the stairs, frequently losing her footing, banging her knees as she tried to regain her balance. Still clutching the briefcase, she hightailed it to her car and sped away.
That was three years ago.
It’s rare that love punctuates happiness
Hill glanced at her in snatches, trying not to stare and trying not to be too curious about the feel of her. But he was. He could hardly take his eyes off of Caitlin as she stood at the large window of her sunroom. But he had to. He was on a deadline. Besides that, her husband, Adam Church, was always nearby, guarding his most prized possession, currently on display in a window which framed her like a painting in an art museum.
Look, but don’t touch
, he told himself.
Rosemary, a short, matronly, middle-aged woman, approached him, carrying a platter with a tall glass of icy lemonade. He stood upright and pitched the hoe, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his arm. He’d been digging into the hard, dry ground for two hours under suffocating humidity and scorching heat. Sweat was dripping from his white-blonde hair, streaming in rivulets down his swarthy, sweat-slick skin. He smiled at Rosemary as she stood in front of him.
“Miss Rosemary,” he smiled. “You’re looking beautiful as ever.”
“Your charm won’t work on me,” she said dryly, her Valencian accent heavy. “The Mrs. told me to bring this to you.”
“She did, huh?” He looked toward the house and saw Caitlin smiling at him, one hand resting at her neck, the other on her hip. The skirt of her white halter dress was split damn near to her crotch, and she had legs for days. “Well, tell her thank you.”
“Hilton, right?” Rosemary asked, even though she was certain of his name.
He nodded, still admiring Caitlin’s perfectly sun-kissed skin.
“Hilton. Be very careful. The mister is a
He took the glass of lemonade and held it up, tilting it slightly toward the window where Caitlin stood. He saw her smile broaden, brightening her lovely face. She was the most alluring woman he’d ever seen.
“Thank you, Miss Rosemary. I appreciate the warning, but it isn’t necessary. And, please, everybody calls me Hill.”
“Look at me,” she said and waited until his eyes met with hers. “I like you, Hilton. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to you as the last man.”
Hill gulped the refreshing beverage, unconcerned about Rosemary’s admonition. He returned the glass to the elegant tray and watched Rosemary disappear into the well-kept Mediterranean-style mansion. It was nicely secluded behind a forest of trees at the end of a dead-end street. The rambling ten thousand square foot home sat on more acreage than the Churches could figure out what to do with, so they had contracted Hilton Parker’s landscaping company, which consisted of himself and two migrant workers, Gabe and Ty.
Hill pulled off his sweat-soaked T-shirt and tossed it onto the stone wall. His bare chest and broad back were beautifully defined, and his arm and ab muscles were dense from physical labor. He brushed his wet hair away from his face and winked at Caitlin, who stood watching—gazing intently, licking her lips. He stuffed the earbuds in his ears, turned up the music on his iPod, grabbed the hoe, and cut into the dirt.
crooned melodiously in Hill’s ears, he abruptly saw stars—not of the Hollywood type, but of the ‘something just knocked the wind out of me’ type. He dropped to the ground, landing face-first in the dirt. He rolled over, trying to get his bearings, but something impacted him repeatedly, hard and swift. He rolled onto his side to avoid the crushing blows. A sudden, sharp pain cut into his gut, then another. The yard spun. He rolled and pushed himself onto his knees and, just as he attempted to stand, his face met with the stealth kick of a steel-toed Timberland. Pain radiated from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He fell back, banging his head on the shaft of his tamper. Everything went black.
When he came to, his chest felt as if someone had parked a pickup truck on it. His head throbbed in sync with the beat of his heart—the only indication he was still alive. The sun glared in his eyes, and his vision blurred, but he could make out the blurred silhouette of a rather large man whose well-worn work boots pressed down on his chest. It was Adam Church.
Adam was an intimidating man. He was striking, like a young Marlon Brando, with a towering height of six-two. He had a slender build, and it was obvious that Adam worked out, pushing hard at forty to keep his athletic physique in top condition. He looked much younger than his years and strived to maintain the physical agility of a younger man. After all, his wife was ten years younger. Although his hard edges were softening, it remained dangerous to trifle with him.
Hill looked up at the window to see if Caitlin had witnessed his embarrassing beat-down.
“She’s not there,” Adam said. He removed his large booted foot from Hill’s chest and extended his hand to help him up.
Hill hesitated for a moment but took Adam’s hand despite his misgivings. Once Hill was on his feet, Adam reached into the front pocket of his now bloodied shirt and pulled out two cigars, handing one to Hill, who was bent forward in pain, grimacing. He noticed Rosemary standing at the door with her hands over her mouth, eyes wide. He nodded at her, a gesture to let her know he was okay. He wasn’t . . . but he saw the worry in her eyes.
Adam flicked the lighter, putting the flame to Hill’s cigar first, then his own. He pulled the cigar out of his mouth, cradling it in the bend of his forefinger, standing toe-to-toe with Hill, looking down slightly to make eye contact.
“Do we have an understanding?” Adam’s voice was steady and calm.
Hill nodded, wiping the blood that dripped from his nose. He was a little unsteady on his feet, woozy. His head still throbbed. Cigars weren’t his thing, but there was something audacious about it. He probably would’ve enjoyed it more sans blood and pain.
“Good talk, then,” Adam said. He put his cigar in his mouth, holding it between his teeth, shoved his hands in his pants pockets, and walked away.
Hill heaved a sigh of relief.