A Cunningham Family Short Story
Copyright ©2014 Ember Casey
All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover Image © The Killion Group, Inc., used under license.
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Cunningham Family Reading Order:
His Wicked Games (#1)
Truth or Dare (#2)
Sweet Victory (#2.5)
Her Wicked Heart (#3)
Take You Away (#3.5)
Lost and Found (#4)
Completely (Short Story)
Their Wicked Wedding (#5)
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When I get home from work, the apartment is dark.
“Lily?” I call as I flick on the light. “You here?”
There’s no response. I drop my keys on the hook beside the door and drape my coat over the nearest chair. My briefcase goes on the table. Even though I spent three extra hours at my office today, I still have a massive amount of work to do tonight. But I don’t even want to think about it until I have some food in my stomach and I’ve given Lily a proper hello.
I step into the kitchen.
“Lily?” I call again as I open the wine cabinet. I don’t hear the shower running. Maybe she’s outside on the balcony.
I grab a bottle of merlot from the rack and two glasses from the shelf and head out to look for her.
She’s not on the balcony.
She’s not in the bathroom either. Or the guest room. Or anywhere in the apartment.
Where is she?
I go back to the living and set the wine on the table. I pull my phone out of my pocket, and my thumb punches Lily’s number.
She doesn’t answer.
“Lily,” I say when her voice mailbox picks up. “It’s me. Just checking in.”
The apartment feels so empty without her here. Lily’s more than capable of taking care of herself—and certainly she has the right to stay out however late she wants—but I can’t ignore the worry that niggles at me as I sit down at the table.
I call her again as I pour myself a glass of wine. There’s still no response. I drop my cell on the table with a sigh.
Pull yourself together.
It’s only eight o’clock. Lily’s been leaving the Frazer Center early on Wednesdays—to make up for the late Friday and Saturday nights she’s been having this month—but maybe she’s out running errands. Or maybe she’s out with friends, and I’ve just forgotten.
I slide my thumb down the stem of my glass. My company has been dealing with two new, extremely lucrative accounts this month, and I’ve been putting in a lot of overtime. Too much overtime. There’s no reason Lily should spend her evenings at home waiting for me.
But I can’t shake that feeling that something is wrong.
I sip at my merlot and swish it around on my tongue. The taste sticks to the roof of my mouth.
She never told me she was going out tonight. My memory isn’t perfect, but I’d remember something like that. And if she’s only out at the store, then why isn’t she answering her phone?
I try her cell phone one more time. And then the number for the Frazer Center. Neither gets a response.
The next sip of wine feels even thicker. It’s a struggle to choke down.
You’re worrying over nothing
, I tell myself. But three difficult sips later, I’m not so sure. She’s had issues with a psychotic ex-lover. She’s had reporters follow her—one even pushed her down the stairs and broke her arm. I have every reason to be concerned for her.
I slide my fingers through my hair. Lily means everything to me. If something happened to her…
I stand. This is ridiculous. It’s not that late. There’s no particular reason to believe she’s in any sort of danger.
But it doesn’t matter if there’s a reason. If there’s even the tiniest possibility that she could be hurt, or in trouble…
My hard darts for my cell phone, and I hit the wine. The glass flies across the table, and blood-red merlot spills everywhere. It doesn’t matter. I’m at the door in three strides, the phone pressed against my ear again.
Still no answer.
Normally at this point, I’d try her father’s number. But David Frazer is on a much-deserved vacation this week. He’ll have no idea where she is.
When I get to my car, my mind races through all the places she could be: Red’s Grocery down the street, her friend Morgan’s house, that little bistro near the Center…
Or in the hands of that violent Garrett. Or being chased down by a crowd of reporters who’ve managed to dig up some new ridiculous story about our family. Or in a ditch somewhere.
My tires squeal as I race out of the parking lot. I don’t know where I’m heading, but my hands seem to guide the wheel on their own. Past the grocery store. Past the park. Past the shopping mall. There’s no sign of her car anywhere.
But it’s not until I reach the Frazer Center—and once again see no sign of that beat up old sedan she refuses to get rid of—that the fear truly hits me. I pull into the parking lot and blow out a long breath, trying to calm my racing mind. Logically, I know there are a hundred perfectly safe places she could be, and I have no particular reason to believe she might be in harm’s way.
But logic and reason rarely govern my thoughts or actions when it comes to Lily. We’ve been through too much, and the thought of someone hurting her again makes something boil up inside of me. My hands are stiff from gripping the steering wheel, but I pry my fingers off the leather and reach for my phone.
There’s still no response to my call.
I press my fingers against my forehead. I need to think calmly and clearly. Lily can be rash—but she’s never arbitrarily so. She wouldn’t just take off without telling me. More likely she forgot to mention her plans to me… but that doesn’t seem like her either.
I’m resigning myself to another drive around the neighborhood when something catches my eye.
There’s a light on in the Center. Maybe a couple of lights—it’s hard to tell past the reflections of the street lamps in the Center’s windows. I turn off my car and stride across the parking lot to the door.
The building is unlocked, which is unusual considering there are no cars in the parking lot. My heart hammers against my ribs as I step into the dark lobby. Lily and David always keep the Center locked at night.
“Is someone here?” I call into the darkness.
There’s no answer, but there’s a soft glow of fluorescent light coming from a room down the hall. I march toward it, my hand curling into a fist at my side. When I’m halfway there, I realize it’s Lily’s office, and my steps quicken.
“Lily?” I say.
The office is empty. There are papers scattered across her desk, and her laptop—which she usually brings home with her—is still here. Still on—though it’s in standby. Her purse is tucked beneath her chair.
I should be relieved, but I’m not. And I won’t be until I see her. Why is her purse here if her car is gone?
“Lily?” I call again as I leave her office. I march down the hall toward the bathroom. There’s no light coming from beneath the door, but I push it open anyway. There’s no one there.
My fist is clenched so tightly that my fingers are starting to ache. I’m going to find her if I have to tear this entire place to the ground.
And then I see it as I come around a corner—another light. Coming from the gallery.
I run toward the door. I don’t know what I expect or what I plan to do, but there isn’t time to stop and consider. Lily might be hurt, or—
I freeze in the doorway.
Lily is lying on the floor, her body splayed awkwardly, her hair fanning out around her head. My world shrinks to nothing but her.
I don’t know how my feet move. I don’t remember deciding to walk, but suddenly I’m next to her, crouching down. My hand is still a fist, and it throbs with the force of the horror I’m facing. My breathing has stopped, and my mind can’t seem to make sense of this, even though another part of me is quite aware that the very thing I feared, the very thing I tried to tell myself couldn’t happen, is right in front of me.
I thought I was being ridiculous. I thought all those hours of overtime were getting to my head. I thought—
She stirs slightly. Moves. Her mouth parts slightly and a small sound escapes her lips.
I sit back, stunned. I know that sound. She makes it almost every night when she’s curled up asleep in my arms.
My eyes roam over her body. Now that she’s shifted, she looks a little more natural. Some of her hair has fallen across her face, and it stirs with the steady rhythm of her breath. Something flutters behind her eyelids.
I don’t believe it. Is it possible…?
She’s sleeping. My God, she’s just sleeping.
Relief rushes through me, but after the scare I just had, I’m almost afraid to trust it. I lean over her again and push the hair gently away from her face.
She’s so beautiful when she sleeps. And she looks so peaceful right now—so blissfully unaware of these last few moments when I thought my world was ending. Even now, my heart can’t seem to find the right rhythm.
I feel like a complete fool. But I’d rather be a fool than face the alternative. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost Lily. She saved me—from the world and from myself—and neither the world nor I would have much meaning if she weren’t here. There’d be nothing left for me.
She might look safe and unharmed, but I have to make absolutely certain. I cup the side of her face and gently turn her head toward me. There are no visible bruises or blood—at least at first glance. My fingers move through her hair, pressing against her scalp as I feel for bumps or injuries.
She stirs again, and I freeze—but it’s too late. Her eyes flutter open. Her gaze lands on me.
There’s confusion on her face as she pushes herself up on her elbow. Her eyes dart around the room, then to me, then back to the room again.
“What’s going on?” she asks, her voice still thick with sleepiness.
Hearing her sweet voice is almost too much to take. I grab her and pull her against me, and my lips collide with hers. She makes a little sound of surprise, but she doesn’t pull away from me. Her warm, willing mouth opens beneath mine.
I kiss her like I’ll never have the chance to kiss her again. Because try as I might, I can’t forget the fear of that horrible moment where I thought I’d lost her. Even now, there’s a rawness, an emptiness inside of me that won’t let me go. My hands roam over her body, as if the solid warmth of her skin will confirm what my eyes are afraid to believe: that she’s here, and she’s safe, and she’s mine.
After a moment, she pulls back and laughs.
“What’s gotten into you?” she asks. “Why are you even here?” She glances down at her watch. “Shit. I didn’t realize what time it was.”
I slide my hand gently up the side of her neck, unwilling to let her go, even for a minute.
“I didn’t know where you were,” I tell her softly, my finger drifting along the line of her jaw. “And you weren’t answering your phone. I was worried.” I lean forward and brush my lips against hers again. My voice is calm, controlled, even though my body is still on edge. I want to tear off all of her clothes and make sure she’s unharmed, to inspect every inch of her bare skin with my fingers.