Authors: Charlene Weir
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FOR BRUCE AND PATTY, MY IN-LAW CHILDREN, A GREAT BONUS, WHO MAKE THE FAMILY RICHER
Many thanks to Bette Golden Lamb for information on the care and treatment of things medical, and to Leila Laurence Dobsha, who always comes through with the answers when I call and yell “Help.”
Gratitude to friends and colleagues Avis Worthington, Barbara Brunetti, Elise Morgan, and Patricia Elmore for encouragement, criticism, and invaluable advice.
Lasting appreciation for my editor, Ruth Cavin, who knows a shaky scene when she sees one and says, Firm up this mess.
Thanks to my daughter, Leslie, for reading the manuscript several times and creating consistency from chaos.
Thanks, gratitude, appreciation, and heaps more thanks to my agent, Meg Ruley, who is absolutely the best. That goes also for Annelise Robey.
Thanks also to Art Gatti, who spotted errors and hard-to-accept time sequences, and threw in a few hellish questions.
Lily snapped the camera shutter for one last shot and looked out over the river as she rewound the film. She'd gotten some good ones, worth the time it took to wait until the light was just right. Time! Oh my God! She looked at her watch and realized she'd been out here for over ninety minutes. Brett would kill her!
She sprinted back to the clubhouse and raced to the bar. He sat alone at a table by the window and he didn't look happy. She rushed over and planted a loud, smacking kiss on his cheek.
“Where the hell have you been!”
A row of small round tables ran along the bank of windows that looked out on the river. A red globe with a candle inside sat on each table. The waitress, in midcalf-length black skirt and white blouse, was moving from table to table lighting the candles. The bar was deserted, except for one man at the end, and the bartender, who was polishing wine glasses.
Lily threw herself in the chair across from him. “I told you I was going to go down there andâ”
“You said twenty minutes. It's been an hour and a half.”
“I'm sorry.” And she was. She'd never intended to be gone that long.
“Why do you always do this?”
“Take those fucking pictures all the time?”
“That's why we came,” she said with emphasized patience. “So I could take pictures of Sam and Alley's wedding.” She looked around at the nearly empty room. “Where is everybody?”
“They left an hour ago. I've been sitting here with my thumb up my ass while you're out prancing around with that stupid camera stuck to your face.”
“Come on, Brett, it wasn't so long. We can go now. I just wantedâ”
“It's always about what you want, isn't it? What about what I want? Maybe I wanted to go to the party.”
“So, let's go. It's not too late. The party'll be going on half the nightâ”
“I missed the kickoff.”
“Oh my God, the kickoff! He missed the kickoff!” She put her hand on her chest like a Victorian lady about to swoon.
“You're a riot.” He shot up so abruptly the chair tipped. He caught it just before it fell, shoved it under the table, and strode off.
With little flicks of anger licking around in her stomach, she stomped after him. “Brett Witherson, stop being such an ass.”
“You're always going off with that fucking camera.”
“Brett, it's what I do. I take pictures. And I exchange them for money. It's how I pay my rent and buy my food.”
“Oh, really? And what does your daddy pay for?”
She tried a conciliatory smile. “So I exaggerate a little sometimes. One day, I'm going to sell them and pay for the rent and stuff.”
“Yeah, well, until you learn how to take a decent picture, just throw the camera in the back seat when you're with me.”
Decent picture! She'd show him decent! Aiming the camera at him, she said “Smile,” and clicked the shutter.
“Funny!” He unlocked the car door and slid in under the wheel. “Apologize or I'm leaving.”
“Apologize!? You're the one behaving like a jerk! You think you can treat me like some worthless piece of shit? That is some kind of selfishâI only wanted toâ”
He started the motor, backed out of the parking space, and stomped the accelerator.
Lily threw her backpack on the ground, put her fists on her hips, and watched the car drive away, laying down rubber as it squealed out of the lot. “Cretin!” she yelled.
So, she'd been gone a few more than twenty minutes and he missed the kickoff. What the hell was so important about a kickoff? She'd show him a kickoff!
Oh hell, had they just broken up? She'd only wanted to take a few more pictures while the fading light was slanting onto the water. The moon, a pale disc that looked paper thin, was biding it's time in a sky so blue it made her catch her breath. With sun shining like the flaming chariot of Helios, the moon was nothing, but when the sun slipped behind the hills, it would be magic.
Well, shit, just how was she supposed to get home?
With a jagged sigh, she dug out her cell phone and pressed a button. Nothing. Damn! Dead battery. She'd forgotten to charge it again. Slinging the backpack over her shoulder, she started toward the clubhouse.
“Need a ride?”
She squinted at the man just coming out the door with the sun at his back. He smiled. “Nice wedding, didn't you think?”
Nothing about him looked dangerous. Dark hair, amused smileâhe'd obviously just witnessed that childish fightâdark suit, white shirt gleaming in the sun, and highly polished shoes. Kind of cute, maybe a few years older than she was.
“Do you have a cell phone? I could call a taxi.”
“Sorry, I don't own one.”
“That's okay, I'll use the phone inside.”
“I can take you wherever you want to go.”
“The bus station?” There had to be buses, and then when she got back to El Cerrito, she could take a taxi.
“Sure. No problem.” He headed for his car and she followed. If it had been a broken-down heap, she might have had qualms, but it was a newâat least newish, she didn't know anything about carsâToyota. When he opened the passenger door, she hesitated only a moment, then slid in and dropped her backpack on the floor between her feet.
You don't take rides from strangers, but another wedding guest, even if he was someone she personally didn't know, wasn't exactly a stranger. Sam and Alley knew him, that was enough for her.
“I'm supposed to join some friends staying at a condo in El Cerrito” Lily said. “It belongs to somebody's parent. Johnson, I think their name is. I don't know much about El Cerrito. I'm from Palo Alto.”
“That's where I'm going. You might as well come with me.”
“Uhâyeah, okay, that'd be great.” It would save her hanging out in the bus station waiting for a bus back.
“My name's Wade.”
“Lily,” she said, wondering if Wade was first name or last.
He pushed a button and light jazz floated from the speakers. She relaxed back in the seat, thinking what she'd tell Brett when she saw him. The jerk! How dare he just drive off and leave her! It was dark by the time they got to El Cerrito, she tried to remember the directions that were given to Brett, but she hadn't paid much attention, counting on him to get it all right and get them there.
After several turns up one dark deserted street and down another it was obvious she didn't know where she was going, and equally obvious Wade was getting pissed because she didn't know.
“Just drop me at the police station,” she said. “Maybe they can help.” She had been to the house once before and thought she'd recognize it if she saw it.
“There are condos on Richmond Street. Let's drive by before we give up.” He drove up through hills and down a steep road into a dark wilderness area with no houses. Nerves started prickling the back of her neck. He was sitting very still and stiff somehow. No longer cute. Now he wasâkind of scary.
“This couldn't be right,” she said. “There aren't any houses down here.” She looked out the window. Nothing was here, tangled brush and trees, pitch black everywhere.
He drove past a sign that read merry-go-round with an arrow pointing right and pulled up into a cul-de-sac, bushes scraped against the nose of the car. Putting an arm over the back of her seat, he turned slightly, smiled. This smile was different. He was different, focused, like a bird dog who had just spotted quail. Fear made her chest tight.
“There aren't any houses here,” she said.
Wade looked around as though surprised, then nodded. “This will do.” He pulled the key from the ignition and shoved it in his pocket. “Lose the clothes.”
“Get them off!”
Lily fumbled at the door handle. Quick as a snake, Wade backhanded her across the face, grabbed her hair and slammed her head against the dash.
“Please, no,” Lily whispered. “Please.”
“Shut up!” He slapped her again, her head snapped against the door, blood seeped from her nose. Snatching the throat of her blouse, he ripped it open.
I'm going to die,
she thought, fingers desperately searching for the door lock.
I'm going to die in this dark place with this creep pawing me.
“Please don't hurt me.” Tears rolled down her face, mixed with snot and blood.
“I told you to shut up!” One hand squeezed her throat and the other grabbed for her breast. “You like this? This what you let that stupid boyfriend do?”
He smashed a fist into her face. Pain exploded through her head. “Take off your underpants.”
“Yes, okay, just don't hurt me.” Focusing only on living through this nightmare, she wiggled around trying to pull down the wisp of nylon under the tight wool skirt.
When she succeeded, he muttered, called her an evil bitch, a stupid whore, and jammed his fingers inside her. She screamed. He punched her face, grabbed her arm, and yanked her closer.
He pummeled her, smashed her face and breasts and stomach. The more she struggled, the harder he hit. Finally, she lay still and he stopped hitting. She was sprawled against the door, her head at an awkward angle on the armrest. He unzipped his pants and flung himself over her.
Please, God. Please, God. Please, God.
She said it over and over in her mind to block out what was happening.