December 31, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-six

Katrina woke with the feeling of being watched. Slowly, she opened her eyes. A pair of blue eyes above a sprinkle of freckles stared solemnly back at her. With a sudden jerk and a muttered oath, she sat straight up, wondering how long she had been asleep. The sun percolated through branches and leaves of the tree, and into the pane-less window of the wooden tree house. Through its open window, she could hear the shrieking laughter of children, the barking of a small dog, and the muted hum of adult voices. The smell of meat sizzling on a barbecue reminded her she hadn’t eaten since dinner last night.

So much for getting a head start on Gavin.

Her eyes took in the whole face that belonged to the freckles and blue eyes. The boy, sitting cross-legged on the floor beside her, looked to be about ten or eleven. She held her breath as they just stared at each other for a few moments, his look somber…old, almost, for a ten-year-old.

"Who are you?" he asked her, the serious look never wavering.

"I'm…ah…Katrina." Her throat was so dry, she could hardly make any sound. "Who are you?" She tried a small smile. He didn't return it.

"I’m Donny. What are you doing in our tree house? Are you one of my Mom's friends and you're hiding from the dumb party, too?" There was a bit of disgust in his voice, but his eyes never left Katrina's face, and were still big and round.

For a split second, Katrina was tempted to take the easy excuse he had just given her, but then she changed her mind. She’d always been honest, especially with children. She looked at Donny. Could she trust him? She knew most children were basically honest, and could often tell when they were being lied to. Besides, she really had very little choice in the matter. She needed to trust him. Katrina prayed he would not disclose her.

"Can you keep a secret?" she asked.

His eyes never even blinked twice before he took his index finger and made an X on his chest then raised his right hand. “Cross my heart and hope to die,” he proclaimed, his face completely serious.

She took a huge breath into her lungs, held it momentarily, and expelled it. "I’m hiding. Some people were holding me prisoner, but I got away. When it gets dark, I can go away to where I'll be safe. Can you help me?" She watched as Donny's eyes got bigger.

"Did the bad people beat you up? You got a black eye like my big brother had after he was in a fight.” His brows drew together with his concern, his eyes never leaving her face.

“Other bad people did that.” She’d forgotten how bruised she looked.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not so much today.” She swallowed hard. “Will you help me, Donny?”

“Do you want me to call the police? That would sure make the party less boring." For the first time, there was a hint of a smile playing tag with the corners of his mouth.

"Does anyone else know I'm up here?" She studied his face carefully, trying to figure out how much he could help her and how far she could trust him. She watched him shake his head.

"Good. The best way to help is to not let anyone know I’m here. Will you do that for me?" She watched his face cloud.

"Can I just tell Denny? He won't tell anyone else, I promise."

“Who’s Denny?”

“He’s my twin, and he’s smarter than I am. He'll know lots of ways to help. And he's good at keeping secrets!"

"Well-l-l-l," Katrina hesitated. She knew if the boys acted the least bit conspiratorial, an adult may want to know what was going on. She was afraid of being questioned, or that they would want to get the police involved.

Would Carew and Beals find out? How could they if they worked for Charleston? But, if they were real police and on the take or whatever it was called, she could end up being in an extremely difficult situation, and in more danger than before. She bit her lip as she thought.

"Please? Donny pleaded with her.

"It isn't right for me to ask you to keep secrets from your brother or your parents, Donny. but I'm so scared; I don't want anyone else to know I'm here. Can you understand that?" She watched his face fall as she said it.

Just then, there was a slight noise behind Donny. He turned his head and shoulder, and Katrina's eyes followed his motion. A head appeared in the hole in the wall. It had to be Denny; the boys’ faces were too much alike for him to be anyone else.

"Hey! I found you!" he said, a grin splitting his face. Quickly he scrambled the rest of the way into the tree house. Donny looked at Katrina and smiled, relief plain on his face.

Denny looked with interest at Katrina, sitting on the pillows beneath the windows.

"Who are you?" he asked, staring at her, his blue eyes big with their curiosity.

"This is Katrinker," Donny stated baldly, "and she's just escaped from some bad guys who wanna hurt her. She’s gonna stay up here 'till it gets dark, and then sneak away and get to where she'll be safe, and I'm gonna help her. Now that you're here and I don't hafta keep the secret from you, d’you wanna help her, too?"

Denny turned his blue eyes to Katrina and surveyed her, his interest showing plainly on his face. Katrina returned his gaze, not saying anything, hoping they would keep her secret. Denny startled her with his next words.

"Did the bad guys give you the scratches and that black eye?" he asked, his freckled face full of concern.

“Diff’rent bad guys did that,” Donny blurted out. “I already asked and she toled me.”

Denny looked back at her. “How many bad guys are there after you?”

“I…I’m not sure exactly,," Katrina said realizing that of the two, this one was the leader.

"Where are the bad guys now?" Denny’s questions seemed surprisingly mature for his age, Katrina realized.

"Close by, I think. I hope they won’t think to look for me in your back yard," Katrina answered seriously. She didn’t dare think about what would happen if Jason realized he’d seen her at the pool. Gavin would probably pitch a fit, too. How thoroughly would he search the neighborhood? A shudder slid down her spine, lifting the hairs on the back of her neck.

The boys were silent for awhile, watching her. Suddenly, a male voice came up through the door opening, interrupting her thoughts.

"Denny! Donny! If you want your lunch, you'd better come down right away!"

All three of them jumped at the sound. The boys looked at her, their eyes slightly widening. Denny called out, "Okay, Uncle Randy! We'll be right down!" He turned to look at Donny. "We'd better go down and get our lunch. If we don't, he’ll come and get us, then he’ll see Katrinker."

"Yeah, he will," Donny agreed and headed for the opening.

"Boys," Katrina whispered urgently. "Please don't let anyone know I'm here. Please?"

The twins looked at each other, an unspoken communication flashing between them, and then looked back at her and nodded.

Denny grinned and said, almost in a whisper, "Don't worry, Katrinker, we'll help you!" and followed Donny out of sight and down the ladder.

Katrina turned back to the window, a small smile on her face at the corruption of her name both boys used.

She sighed, knowing there was nothing she could do now, other than pray. She was effectively trapped…at least until the party ended. She couldn't even get out of the tree house, much less the yard, without being seen by members of the family below.

Katrina took a deep breath and let the air escape slowly. She moved back over to the pillows, pushing them into a pile. She sat on some, tucked others behind her and leaned back against the wall. Massaging her temples lightly to ease the pain of her throbbing head, she winced as her fingertips came into contact with the lump from her fall at the zoo. She bent her knees up to her chest and hugged her legs to her, careful of the scrapes there, as well.

Tears came to her eyes as she reviewed all that had happened to her this past week…had it only been a week? It seemed more nearly a lifetime ago that Gavin had first called, interrupting her peaceful life.

Gavin. She wondered again where he’d been all day yesterday. Would she ever see him again? She didn't know. Katrina wondered if she'd even see another full day. It depended on how cleverly she got out of this mess, and if the twins would keep her secret.

A hand clutching a hot dog and bun sloppily wrapped in a bright paper napkin suddenly appeared in the door-hole. The smiling face of one of the twins followed it.

“Sorry I couldn’t get you a plate, too,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Katrina took the food from him. “Thank you, I haven’t eaten since dinner last night.”

His lips made a sudden O as a thought occurred to him. “I bet you haven’t used a bathroom since then, too.”

“As a matter of fact, I haven’t,” Katrina said. “And I don’t dare climb down now with all the people in the yard.” With his words, she felt the need strongly. She marveled at the power of suggestion, supposing fear had stifled the call of nature up to that moment of acknowledgement.

“That’s okay,” the twin said. “We have a chambered pot up here you can use.” He pointed to the corner where an antique looking pot sat awaiting its traditional duties, a half-empty roll of tissue beside it. “We use it when we have sleep-overs out here. Me and Donny can clean it out later when you’re gone.”

“Thank you.” Katrina was touched by his thoughtfulness, and his willingness to clean up after her.

Denny’s face disappeared, and Katrina looked around for a clean enough place to put her hot dog before taking care of her other personal needs. Finding none, she ate it quickly, instead, the slightly air-dry bread tasting delicious, even though there was no liquid to wash it down.

Not wanting to be seen by one of the boys if they should pop in again, Katrina wrapped one of the blankets securely around her before using the chamber pot. Within a few minutes, she was feeling much more comfortable, and sprawled across the pile of sleeping bags and pillows once more.

Turning her thoughts to the future, she began to figure out her best course of action.

Number one: find a place to hide out tonight. It wouldn’t be safe to go home, much as she might like to…both Charleston and Gavin knew where she lived.

Number two: get to the bank tomorrow morning and withdraw all her savings.

Number three: buy a bus ticket to a far-away place—like Florida—and start a new life all over again.

Wait a minute…her brain interrupted her mid-thought. Her bank book was at her house. It was in the living room, between two books on the table that she used as a desk. Well, then, that changed the priorities. Number one had to be going to her house and picking up her savings passbook. She never could remember her account number, and she was certain they wouldn’t let her close out the account without the book. Katrina knew she would need every penny she had in order to get away.

Number one also became the most dangerous. What if the house was being watched? What if the bank was being watched? But who would know which bank—or which branch—she had her money in? Watching all the banks would be just about impossible. Okay, no need to worry about that part, but there were still plenty of other items to worry about. What if Charleston caught her? What would he do to her?

What if…what if…what if! Katrina realized she could 'what if' herself right into a full panic. "Okay," she whispered to herself and took a deep, steadying breath, "then let's say none of the 'what if's' are going to happen. The first thing I need to concentrate on is getting out of here and getting home. If I only worry about each step as I need to do it, I won't drive myself crazy!"

A dripping wet bottle of ice cold water came hurtling through the doorway hole, startling her. A gift, no doubt, of one of the twins. Instinctively she ducked as it arced and landed with a slight thud on the pile of sleeping bags. Straightening, she snatched it up and guzzled the first half, washing down the dry hot dog bun she’d just eaten. Then she replaced the lid, saving the second half of the bottle for later. If there was a later.

Judging by the accuracy of the toss, they probably threw water or soda cans up to each other frequently. She was grateful they were good shots. If they’d missed, and the parents had heard or seen their efforts of trying to toss the bottle into the tree house, they may have come to investigate and she’d have been discovered.

Suddenly Katrina started to giggle. She could just see herself, trapped in the tree house for years while the twins took it in turns to toss food up to her and empty the chamber pot. The more she thought about it, the more the giggles came, despite her efforts to bury them in a pillow, lest they be heard by the parents below. Tears streaming down her cheeks, Katrina slowly regained control of herself. Somehow, the laughter had helped, as it always did; she felt a lot better about herself and the world around her and, with a final hiccup, she became silent once again.

December 29, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-five

Between the lack of physical comfort, and his worries over seeing Charleston in the hall, Gavin spent a restless night on the tiny couch. Around 4:30 he decided to give sleep up as a lost cause. He gathered his clock and bedding and quietly padded into his half of the suite, his blanket trailing along the floor in his wake. There was no sense in waking the girls before it was necessary.

He quickly dressed, then packed his belongings and took his cases into the girls’ living room, setting them near the door. He returned to his side and checked once more that he’d left nothing behind. Satisfied with his housekeeping, he began straightening the girls side, checking all the drawers and cubbies in the main rooms. He packed Katrina’s games and all the non-perishable food they’d bought.

“You’re not leaving us?” Sally’s dry sarcasm floated quietly across the room. Gavin looked up to see her leaning against the open doorway into her room.

“We’re all leaving,” Gavin said, rather more sharply than he’d intended. “Get your things packed. I saw Charleston last night at the ice machine.”

Sally turned on her heel and disappeared into her room. In less than five minutes, she was back to place her bag next to his own. He grudgingly, mentally, gave her an efficiency award.

Carew was right; he was emotionally involved in his case. He really did need to calm down. If he spent too much time thinking with his heart instead of his head, it was going to get Katrina killed. The trouble was, Katrina had already wormed her way into his heart, and even if there was a way he could cut her out of it, he wasn’t certain he wanted to.

He grimaced at his mental picture of himself standing with a gaping wound in his chest, having cut out his entire heart, literally, in order to free himself of his love for Katrina. No, even that wouldn’t be sufficient; she’d permeated every fiber of his being.

Gavin jumped as his alarm clock started beeping frantically from where he’d shoved it in his suitcase. He went quickly to silence it, while Sally moved toward Katrina’s door.

She was back, moments later, face ashen. “She’s gone!”

“What?” Icy fear gripped Gavin’s heart.

“Katrina’s gone,” Sally repeated, standing aside as Gavin rushed through the bedroom door to confirm the awful news for himself.

The bedroom was a mess. Katrina’s clothing had been strewn across the floor. The blankets and pillows had been flung about her bed as though it had been the site of world war three, and the contents of her purse were scattered across the bed. Someone had been in this room, searching through Katrina’s things. How had this all happened while he kept watch in the next room? They must have drugged her, she hadn’t uttered a sound.

He whirled and made for the phone, stabbing in Carew’s now-memorized number. The detective answered immediately.

“Carew.”

“Lieutenant, it’s Gavin Browning. Katrina’s missing, and her room looks like a tornado hit it.”

“I’ll be there as quick as I can.” Carew cut the connection.

A tense ten minutes later, Gavin let Carew and Beals through the door.

“We didn’t touch anything,” he said, gesturing toward Katrina’s room.

“Good,” Beals said. Both officers had a quick look in the room.

“When did you last see her?” Carew asked.

“Last night, around nine when she went to bed…just about the time you called,” Sally promptly answered.

“Let’s go to the motel office and find out what room Charleston is in,” Carew said. “Is your picture of him handy?”

Gavin patted his pocket. “I have pictures of both of them, right here,” he said, following Carew toward the door. He turned and tossed Sally the keys to his car. “Put our things in my car, please.”

Sally nodded.

“Don’t touch Katrina’s room until we get an investigative team out here,” Beals added. “It certainly looks like an abduction.”

A few minutes with the motel’s manager did nothing to calm Gavin’s fears. He recognized the photos of Charleston and Jason, he was most anxious to help the police; he wanted no trouble in his motel. He told them the names they’d registered under, and conducted them personally to their room.

Gazing through the door the manager opened so kindly for them, Gavin’s heart sank. This room, too, looked like a storm had been confined here. Motel things were scattered all over the place, but there were no personal things in evidence. Everything pointed toward a hasty departure.

December 27, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-four

Gavin opened the suite’s connecting door and watched Sally stalk across to her bedroom. She had a temper, but her boss had assured him she was extremely reliable. She closed her door with a sharp snick, which was probably as close as she could get to slamming it behind her without waking Katrina up.

He walked over to the refrigerator, looking for something to drink. Although there were several cans of soda on the counter, whoever had drunk the last cold soda hadn’t put any more in the fridge. It had probably been himself, he reflected, when he’d served the dinner earlier that evening. He refilled the small fridge with soda for tomorrow.

A glance in the freezer space showed they were also out of ice. Gavin sighed. What did a man have to do to get a cold drink of soda? He grabbed the room key and ice bucket and strode out the door and around the corner toward the ice machine.

Gavin turned into the corridor which housed the ice and vending machines and paused a moment. There were two men near the machines, and he’d rather no one saw him at the motel; it would be safer for Katrina.

The man with his head in the ice machine snarled and withdrew from the machine with an oath. Gavin stepped back around the corner with a silently muttered oath of his own. With all the motels in town, how in the world had he managed to pick the same one Charleston was staying at? He hadn’t gotten a good look at the other man, but it felt wrong for Jason. He was stockier, and hadn’t been tall enough. So they had help. Was that the man from the zoo?

He hurried back to the room, fighting down a rising panic. What if Charleston had seen Katrina at the pool that afternoon? Visions rose unbidden before his eyes of her tied up in a vile motel room someplace, while Charleston and Jason had their evil way with her as they demanded the money she couldn’t give them. Had she been a dupe or a willing accomplice in Andrew’s murder? He had to find out, one way or another, before he could deliver the inheritance to Katrina, or to anyone else.

He knew Jason would very easily kill Katrina for Andrew’s estate, even though it wasn’t her money yet. Her marriage to Charleston was valid; a fact she, herself, apparently didn’t know, he reflected. It mattered little why Charleston had told her it wasn’t legitimate during their argument. If she did get the money, then died without her own will and before she could get a divorce, Charleston would legally inherit the whole of it anyway.

What a mess this was all turning out to be. He’d been far too careless in the beginning, never dreaming the boys would follow him when he came to find Katrina.

He burst through the door of the room, locked it carefully and quickly behind him, and continued into his side of the suite, scooping the phone from its cradle as he threw himself onto the couch and furiously stabbed in the phone number Lt. Carew had given him. The phone rang several times, and Gavin was afraid he was going to be shunted to the lieutenant’s voice mail. Finally, the receiver was picked up.

“Carew.” His voice sounded sleepy.

“Sorry to bother you so late, Lieutenant, but there’s been a disturbing development.”

Carew’s voice sharpened instantly. “What’s happened?”

“I just saw Charleston at the ice machine with another man. Apparently they’re staying at this motel. We’ll need to move Katrina immediately.”

“Calm down,” Carew advised. “Did he see you?”

“He might have, but I don’t think so. I was in shadow, and moved out of the hall pretty quickly once I recognized him.”

“In that case,” Carew said, “the best thing to do is this. We’ll arrange for a perimeter to be set up tomorrow morning at six. You bring Katrina out of the motel and meet me at the corner of Oak and Thirty-third. Once you’re out, we’ll move in and get Charleston, and Jason also, or whoever else is with him. Based on the threats he’s made, and the assaults on Katrina, we’ll have enough to hold him for 48 hours while we look for further evidence.”

Gavin nodded, even though he knew Carew couldn’t see him. “Do…if you think that’s the best action, we’ll have to follow your lead. You’re the professional in the field, but I have to tell you I don’t like it. I want to move her now. I’m afraid for her, and I keep feeling tomorrow morning will be too late.”

“I can understand that,” Carew said soothingly, “you’re emotionally involved in the case. But we can’t get the task force together any earlier than morning, and in the meantime, you and Sally are both there, and I know she, at least, is armed. You should be fine.”

“Very well, I’ll see you in the morning then.” Gavin hung up the phone.

He entered his bedroom and changed into sweats, then looked at the bed and mentally measured the distance he would have to run if there was a problem in the night. Sighing, Gavin stripped the blanket and pillows from his bed and carried them through his own living area and into Katrina’s half of the suite. He made up a bed on the sofa and returned to his room to fetch his travel alarm. Setting it for 5:30, he snuggled down and tried to get the best night’s sleep he could on yet another too-short couch. At least this one wasn’t lumpy, he thought, grumpily.

December 25, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-three

“I can’t believe you took her down to the pool this afternoon.” Gavin low voice sounded extremely angry.

“We weren’t there for more than ten minutes.”

“I thought I told you I didn’t want her to leave the room. Are you so incompetent… ”

“She was going stir-crazy,” Sally interposed. “All she wanted was a little fresh air and the sun on her face.”

“Anyone could have seen her. I hired you to keep her safely out of sight. We need her to effectively disappear from the face of the earth, and you take her to the pool.”

“Nothing happened, and she was safely returned to the room. Relax a little, she’s not the criminal here, she shouldn’t be a prisoner.”

“So help me, if your shenanigans this afternoon have done anything—anything at all—to interfere with my plans, I’ll see to it you’re fired as an incompetent bungler and never work in security again.”

“I told you, Mr. Browning, nothing happened at all. I checked the route before we went. We weren’t out of the room more than fifteen minutes. She’s safely back in the room now. I really don’t see what the harm was, but you can be sure I won’t let her out again, if that’s what you want. After all, that’s what you’re paying me for.”

“You’re right. I am paying you. And you will do the job to my satisfaction or I’ll replace you. It’s important that Katrina not be seen by anyone. I don’t even want the maid to come in and clean the room, because she’ll see Katrina. It’s important that Katrina continue to believe that this is a police safe-house. I can’t deal with all the other details and her, too. Keeping Katrina in this room, no matter what, is your job. So do it, and do it right.”

“Yes, sir.” Sally’s voice was full of venom.

Katrina stood still, cold with terror. If Sally wasn’t a policewoman, who was she? Some kind of a security person? Obviously she was willing to do anything Gavin would pay her to do. Did that include sleeping with Gavin?

Why did Gavin want her, Katrina, to totally disappear? So if she died, nobody would know? Where had he been when the shot was fired? Was he working with Jason and Charleston? He had brought her to the motel where they were staying…or at least, where Jason was staying.

She needed to leave, now. Katrina carefully backed away from the door, and crept back into her room. She didn’t dare use the motel phone to call the police, Gavin would be able to trace the call. For that matter, she didn’t even know that Carew and Beals were real detectives. Gavin had introduced them to her, and he…Katrina shuddered. She didn’t know what to believe anymore.

Katrina went directly to the dresser where she’d neatly stacked her clean clothing. She rummaged through the stacks, finding her jeans and the warmest blouse she’d brought with her. The piles toppled, spilling her clothing onto the floor, but she didn’t waste the time to pick it up.

Katrina changed quickly in the dark, not daring to turn on the light. If she left now, they would think she was still asleep and not look for her until morning, which would give her a few hours to get away.

The nightgown certainly came off a lot easier than it had gone on. She was suddenly grateful the phone had rung before. Gavin must be laughing at how gullible she was. He’d do anything to keep her in the room and happy, even if it meant sleeping with such an insignificant drab as herself.

Dressed, she picked up her purse and dumped it out onto the bed. She grabbed her wallet and shoved it into her back pocket. The long, check-book sized case stuck up beyond her pocket, but she pulled her shirt down over it, effectively concealing her money.

She pawed through the rest of the contents feeling for her keys before she remembered Gavin had locked the house and undoubtedly still had the keys, as he hadn’t returned them to her. It would be okay though, she could use the back-door key she kept hidden in the dryer vent. All she needed from home was her bank book, and she could make a fresh start somewhere else. She had more money and better job skills this time, and was more prepared to start over.

Katrina pressed an ear to her bedroom door and heard nothing, so she carefully opened it, one slow fractional slit at a time. The living room was still dark. The light was still on in Gavin’s room, and she could hear their muted voices deep in discussion of whatever they were planning to do with her body.

‘Get a grip,’ she told herself; ‘you don’t know that they’re planning to do anything with your body, alive or dead.’ Not knowing, she reflected, was at the deep heart of her fears.

Trying to keep her sneakers from scuffling on the carpet, Katrina moved to the door and pulled the chain off as silently as possible. She eased the door open and slipped through it, holding the knob turned until she had it closed behind her, so there wouldn’t be any sound as the latch flicked into place.

Katrina crossed the parking lot, making a beeline for the dumpster, still where she’d seen it, pushed up against the back wall separating the motel from the alley and the residential neighborhood beyond.

It took only a moment or two to reach it, then she squeezed herself into the small space between the dumpster and the wall. By bracing herself against the wall, Katrina was able to use the projections on the side of the dumpster to climb to the top…which made her high enough to clamber over the wall and drop into the alley on the other side.

Katrina landed in the soft dirt with a slight grunt, then straightened up and looked around her. It wasn’t an alley. Her heart dropped to her shoetops as easily as she had dropped from the top of the wall. She was in someone’s backyard.

A man and woman sat at the picnic table on their patio, talking. Luckily, they were intent on their conversation. By a miracle, they hadn’t seen her.

Katrina turned back to the privacy wall. There was no way to scale it, and nothing on this side of it to climb on, nor could she see a gate in the wall. There weren’t enough shadows to sneak around the patio and out of the yard while they were sitting there.

A tall tree near her wasn’t close enough to reach the fence even if she could shinny up it, though it was big enough to hide her from their view. She was trapped in the yard until they went back into the house.

She crept into the deep shadow surrounding the base of the large tree. It would be a good place to hide while she waited. As she touched the trunk, her fingers encountered a smooth metal rung. It was too thin to be a regular ladder, but reminded Katrina of the climbing toys at the park. She peered into the branches. It was difficult to see in the dimness, but gradually the boxy outlines of a tree house became clear.

The man got up from the bench and began ambling through the yard, the woman trailing behind him. Katrina’s heart leaped into her throat; they were sure to find her.

The tree house was her only option. Katrina didn’t hesitate, but scrambled silently up the ladder and through the hole in one wall that took the place of a door. She slid inside, and let the canvas curtain fall into place behind her. The roof was very low, but the structure was otherwise roomy. There was only one window.

Katrina crawled over heaped pillows and sleeping bags to reach the window and peeked out. The couple completed their walk about the yard and moved back onto the patio still deep in their discussion. She couldn’t hear most of what they said, but they seemed to be planning a party. The woman had stated they’d need to have the twins clean up the yard. Katrina filed that comment as an indication she’d need to be careful crossing the yard to avoid tripping over anything. She made herself comfortable among the pillows to wait. Time exhausted the night on weighted feet, dragging her eyelids with it. The couple was still talking on the patio when she slid into sleep.

December 22, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-two

Gavin’s knock at the door brought an end to Katrina’s nap, and she joined him and Sally in the living area. He’d brought dinner in, Italian food bearing the markings of a fast-food chain. At the end of the meal, Gavin ‘did the dishes’ by picking up the foam plates and plastic lids and tossing them into the trash. The plastic flatware followed, then he over-dramatically dusted off his hands above the garbage can, bringing laughter to all.

By the time they’d finished a game of Parcheesi, Katrina was yawning.

“Why don’t we make an early night of it?” Gavin suggested.

Katrina nodded. “Good idea. I don’t think I could keep my eyes open long enough to trounce you at Monopoly tonight.” Gavin’s laughter followed her into her bedroom.

Katrina stripped off her dress, folded it neatly and set it on the chair where she’d stacked her other dirty clothing. Just as she was pulling her granny nightie over her head, there was a tap on her bedroom door.

“Just a minute,” she called, hurriedly trying to locate the armholes of her night gown and stuff her arms into them. She found the edge of an opening and pushed her arm through it, only to realize it was the neck opening.

The bedroom door opened behind her. “Katrina?”

“Go away, I’m not dressed!” Katrina squawked, trying to pull the nightie down over her exposed legs and hips.

“I can see that,” Gavin observed, a hint of laughter in his voice. “Do you need any help?”

“No!” Katrina had managed to pull her arm out of the neck, but still couldn’t locate the arm holes.

Gavin stepped across the small room to her side. “Here, Sweetheart, let me help you.” He lifted the folds of fabric. The frilly, ruffled hem swirled against Katrina’s stomach, stirring up the butterflies which had awakened the moment Gavin had stepped near her.

He untwisted her gown and held one of the sleeves open for her. The other sleeve had been inside-out, no wonder she hadn’t been able to find it. Gavin gently put his hand into the sleeve, his wrist and arm brushing against her breast.

His accidental touch sent ripples of sensation flooding through Katrina. Unable to stop herself, she trembled and leaned toward Gavin, turning her face upward. He looked deeply into her eyes for a long moment, and Katrina could see he was fighting the desire to kiss her. This time she would take what she wanted, she decided, no matter what the consequences turned out to be.

She stepped closer to Gavin on knees that threatened to give way beneath her, and slid her free arm around his neck, drawing his face down to hers. He didn’t object as she kissed him. She really wished she’d learned how to be good at this. She pressed another kiss onto his mouth, tentatively reaching out with her tongue to lick his lips.

Suddenly Gavin moaned deep in his throat. His free arm crushed her against his chest, and the hand that was still inside her nightgown’s sleeve began to explore its immediate environment. Katrina was so full of new sensations she couldn’t hold still, and writhed against his touch. She clung to him, pulling him closer as his tongue plundered the softness of her mouth.

She’d never felt this beautiful…so wanted, so cherished. She wanted Gavin to make love with her, and she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

She extracted her other arm from the folds of her nightie. The gown lifted, exposing her body as she reached out to touch him. She tugged at his shirt, pulling the tail free from where it had been neatly tucked. Gavin pulled his arm from her sleeve, and continued his explorations. He caressed her, holding her so closely against him she could not mistake his desire for her.

He did want her physically; Katrina had no doubt now. Gavin pulled away from her mouth, and began raining small, feathery kisses across her brow and down the side of her neck. Katrina recaptured his mouth, this time as the aggressor, exploring his mouth with hers.

He slid his arm under her, swinging her up into his arms. Katrina tightened her hold on his neck, not willing to let go, or even to interrupt their kiss. She was pleased when he set her down on her bed.

He broke their kiss and started to straighten up, but she pulled his head down again, and he overbalanced, falling onto the bed and landing half on top of her. Katrina nearly purred with delight, and slid her hands up inside his shirt, enjoying the feeling of his crisp, springy chest hair against her hands. She pushed his shirt out of the way, and pressed her body against his, flesh against flesh.

Gavin held her close, looking into her eyes again. “Is this what you really want, Kitten? Are you certain?”

Katrina nodded. “I’ve never been more certain of anything in all my life.”

Gavin lowered his head again, kissing her deeply.

There was a tap at the door, and Sally opened it just a crack. “Sorry to interrupt you, but Lt. Carew is on the phone for you, Gavin.”

Sally. Katrina’d forgotten she was in the other room! She felt the heat of her blush flood her entire body as the realization of what she’d just been doing washed over her. What had Sally seen? Or heard? Katrina hadn’t heard the phone ring…was it really a phone call, or was Sally simply trying to get Gavin out of her room—so she could have him for herself? Jealousy stabbed painfully at Katrina’s heart.

“I’ll be right there.” Gavin rose from the bed and, keeping his back to the door, straightened Katrina’s nightgown, then his shirt.

Anger at the situation flared through Katrina. Why had Carew called at precisely this moment? If he had actually called. Katrina’s eyes filled with as-yet unshed tears. She blinked rapidly, refusing to let them fall while Gavin still stood above her.

“I…actually came in to give you your pills for tonight,” he said. He reached into his pocket and extracted the bottle, shaking two of the white tablets out. He set them on the nightstand next to a glass of water that had seemingly appeared from nowhere. Gavin must have set it there earlier while her face was still covered by her nightie. “Promise me you’ll take them?”

Katrina nodded. She wasn’t sure how she would be able to swallow them around the lump in her throat, but she’d manage. Somehow.

“I’m sorry, Kitten.” Gavin now turned toward the door.

“Sorry for what? Sorry you kissed me?” Katrina’s voice was bitter. Once again he was pushing her away, showing her he didn’t really want her. Just like Charleston.

“No. I’m sorry the phone rang.” Gavin walked out the door, closing it softly behind him.

Katrina’s heart soared. He was sorry they’d been interrupted. He actually wanted her, more than just in the heat of passion. She wrapped herself in her love.

A little shakily, she got up and slid her arm into the errant sleeve of her nightie. The lump in her throat had diminished with his last sentence, and she swallowed her pills, then lay back down on the bed. The medication acted swiftly, and Katrina was soon asleep.

The old nightmare was back. Her room was pitch dark, but she felt a presence filling it with pure evil. It was in the room with her, drawing nearer to the bed. She could hear the ragged breathing. The shadow coalesced and split into a pair of menaces, one on each side of the bed. Katrina scrambled into a sitting position and pressed herself against the headboard, knowing it wouldn’t be enough, knowing she was doomed. One of the shadows pressed closer to the bed.

A long knife glittered in his hand as he passed through the one dim sliver of light which fell through the crack between the curtains. He raised the knife, then laughed, a soulless chuckle that chilled her to the depths of her being. As he came within striking distance, he lifted his other hand and adjusted his ball cap, lifting it off his head, then settling it down again with a peculiar wiggle which no one else could possibly duplicate.

Katrina awoke and sat up in bed with a gasp. Her shaking hand reached out and turned on the light. The empty room was instantly safe, drained of the evil, and she was freed from the terror which had gripped her only moments before.

Jason! She knew the man at the pool had seemed familiar, but hadn’t put the pieces together, even when he’d adjusted his cap against the afternoon sun. Maybe the beard, so different than his usually hairless face, had thrown her off, she thought, but it had been Jason at the pool. She was certain of it.

Of all the motels in the city, how had they ended up at the very one Jason was at? She strained her memory, trying to recall if he’d looked at her directly while they’d been at the pool. She didn’t think so; he’d turned away from them before taking out his magazine. She shuddered. Sally was right, she should have stayed in the room.

Sally. Sally was a police officer; she could arrest him if he came after her. Or, maybe they should just leave; avoid the whole mess. Either way, she needed to tell Sally Jason had been the man at the pool. She’d know what to do. They could check out now, get away before Jason realized…before he recognized…before any trouble….

Katrina flung the blankets aside and scrambled from the bed. She hurried to her bedroom door, opening it quietly. The outer room of the suite was dark.

Katrina negotiated a cautious path around the chair and coffee table, edging inch by careful inch toward Sally’s bedroom door. The crack of light coming from the slightly open door into Gavin’s half of the suite gave her just enough of a glow to see the outlines of the furniture in her path. She hesitated in the middle of the room, looking towards Gavin’s room. Should she just tell Gavin? No, he was only a lawyer. Sally was the one with the authority to arrest Jason. She took a steadying breath and continued on to Sally’s room.

Just as Katrina raised her hand to knock on Sally’s door, she heard her voice coming from Gavin’s room. Instant jealousy inflamed her. How could he lead her on, then leave her and go directly to Sally’s arms?

Sally was a lot more beautiful, Katrina admitted, and being a cop, she probably wasn’t a know-nothing idiot like herself, but she’d hoped…apparently Gavin wasn’t above taking whatever favors had been freely offered, no matter the source.

He’d said as much the first night he met her, hadn’t he, that he didn’t have to take from women because they were willing to give. Somehow, though, she’d felt…he actually cared for her…that he was interested in her, rather than just her body.

Katrina felt betrayed, then stupid for feeling betrayed. After all, what did she expect after the way she had thrown herself at him, a lifelong vow of fidelity?

Foolish girl that she was, that’s exactly what she wanted, nothing more or less, and what she had been willing to offer him. After all…now that he knew she wasn’t actually married, he seemed more willing to…

Gavin’s voice rose sharply, bringing Katrina’s thoughts away from herself and on to the two in the next room. There seemed to be a little trouble in paradise. Even while branding herself sneak, spy, and other words to that effect, Katrina moved close to the door, listening intently.

December 21, 2010

Correction Made

I have such wonderful friends! I've had several offers for beta readers, all from friends who a) knew other methods of getting hold of me and b) were kind enough to point out that my email link wasn't working. I checked the link, and realized I had somehow misplaced the hyphen from my email address...which is why it didn't work.

If you tried to email me about being a beta-reader, and you haven't already contacted me, try again. The link will work now, I promise.

--Anne

December 20, 2010

Call for Beta-readers

I have about ten chapters left to edit on my next book, Deadly Gamble, and I anticipate finishing before the end of the year. Deadly Gamble is a suspense novel in a contemporary setting. There is some amount of violence in it, but I do not regard it as extreme or graphic. Other than a few kisses, I don't believe there are any "adult" situations, and I don't think there are any swear words, although the bad guys might have said some. If they did, I want to know about it.

I have a need for about ten people who are willing to be beta-readers. Let me outline my expectations: I will send you a copy of the manuscript via email, in either Word 2003 or Word 2007 format. I prefer people who can use 2007, but can work with 2003. I will need you to turn on track changes and read through the manuscript. Please change any typographical or grammatical errors you find. Please make any other changes you see that you think need to be made to improve the story. Please add comments to let me know why you think the changes need to be made. Please add comments to let me know if something isn't working for you, even if you don't know how it should be fixed. Please add comments if you particularly like something. Please flag any cuss words you notice. Please return the manuscript on time. Please don't talk to anyone other than myself about the contents of the manuscript until after it has been published. I do not pay beta-readers, but I do include their names in the thanks, unless they wish to remain anonymous. I do not insist on using real or full names in the thanks--tell me how you want me to list you. Readers who do not return their manuscripts do not get thanked.

I would like to send the manuscripts out around January 2nd or 3rd (assuming I've finished editing by then), and would like to have it back by the 25th, or approximately three weeks after I send it to you.

If you are interested in being a beta-reader for Deadly Gamble, please email me at anne@am-jenner.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Anne

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-one

Katrina woke to the wonderful smells of brewing coffee and sizzling bacon, and scrambled out of bed. She dressed hurriedly as her stomach rumbled loudly, demanding to be fed.

When she entered the main living area of the suite, Sally was lounging sideways in one of the stuffed armchairs, her feet dangling over the armrest. Gavin presided in the kitchenette. A whack and snapping sound preceded the hiss and pop of eggs being dropped into the bacon grease.

“Good morning,” Gavin called out as Katrina walked past him into the bathroom.

“Morning,” she agreed. Morning had never been the best part of her day, although if she could somehow convince Gavin to cook breakfast for her all the time, she might have to revise that opinion.

Katrina pulled her shirt and bra off, intending to take a shower, when she recalled Gavin’s interruption yesterday. Quickly grabbing a towel, she wrapped it around herself and opened the door, poking her head and shoulder out.

“Gavin?”

“Yes?” He looked up from the eggs, and she saw his eyes darken as they flicked across her shoulder and the top edge of the towel.

“Is it…has it been long enough…um…that is…would it be all right if I took a shower this morning?” Why did she get all tongue-tied simply talking to the man?

“It’s been long enough, you should be fine, Kitten. Just holler if you need anything.”

She nodded and returned to the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind her.

Katrina was hot all over at the thought of what she might need while in the shower that could lure him to her side…and what the delicious consequences might be. Her lips tingled at the memory of yesterday’s—had it only been yesterday morning?—kisses, and they weren’t the only parts of her that were tingling.

Firmly ignoring the clamoring demands of her body, Katrina finished undressing and quickly showered, then dried off and got dressed. By the time she joined the others, the table had been set and Gavin was serving breakfast.

The three ate in companionable silence, then Katrina rose and collected the dishes, taking them into the kitchenette’s sink to wash.

“Leave them,” Gavin said, “and I’ll wash them later.”

“It’s my turn to wash up,” Katrina replied.

“I thought I’d already told you that I don’t make ladies clean up after me. If I did that, my Granny would have something to say about it.”

“You and your granny,” Katrina laughed. “I’m sure your granny would agree with me that cooking makes you exempt from washing dishes.”

It didn’t take her long to wash up, and soon the dishes were stacked on a towel to drain.

“You didn’t dry them,” Gavin observed as Katrina joined them.

“I draw the line at drying dishes,” Katrina said, smiling, “because if you leave them alone, voila...they dry themselves.”

Sally was laying out Monopoly on the table, counting the multi-colored money into three piles. “Do you want to be banker, Gavin, or shall I?”

Gavin checked his watch and rose from the table. “You’ll have to be banker, if you don’t mind teaching Katrina the game. I have an appointment with Lt. Carew and Detective Beals, and then there are some other things I have to do. I should be back in time for dinner, around six.”

Sally nodded. “No problem, see you later.” She scooped up one of the piles of money and sorted it back into the box.

Gavin stepped into his half of the suite, retrieved his briefcase and then left. Sally crossed the room and bolted the door behind him, then returned to the game.

Katrina watched her finish laying out the money, sort cards with colored stripes across the top, shuffle orange and yellow cards and place them on the board, and open bags of miniature green and red buildings. She tossed a pair of dice into the middle of the board, followed by a handful of small silver objects. It all looked very complicated.

“These are the markers,” Sally pointed at the silver things. “If you pick one, we can get the game started.”

Katrina examined all the pieces, and decided the old-fashioned car looked fun. Sally picked up the thimble and set it on the start space, then cleared away the rest of the silver pieces and launched into explanation and directions.

The game turned out to be a lot easier to play than it had looked when Sally had been setting it up, and the girls had a good time giggling wickedly and moaning as the money for rent changed hands.

Around one in the afternoon, Sally threw the dice and moved her thimble around the corner and onto Baltic Avenue. Katrina smiled.

“I don’t have anything left that isn’t mortgaged,” Sally sighed. “I’m broke, and even with my two hundred for passing Go, I can’t afford your rent. Again.”

“So what happens now?” Katrina asked.

“What happens now,” Sally said, “is that I’m bankrupt, and the game is over. You win. We can count up all the money you have, if you want, but we don’t have to.”

“No, it’s cool enough that I won,” Katrina said, “I don’t need to know how much I won by.” They quickly put the game away and Sally made lunch.

The sandwiches didn’t take them long to eat, and even less time to clean up.

“I know why you wanted to make the sandwiches,” Katrina teased as she rinsed the plates and washed the mayonnaise covered knife.

“Why’s that?”

“Because you wanted me to do the dishes again.”

“You’re absolutely right, I abhor dishes. What game do you want to play next?”

“Um…could we…do you think it would be all right to go to the pool?”

Sally frowned. “Mr. Browning wanted you to stay in the room. The more controlled your environment is, the safer we can keep you.”

Katrina sighed. “I can understand that, but I’m going crazy stuck in here, even with all these wonderful games. How dangerous can the pool be in the middle of the afternoon? I don’t even want to swim, it would be enough to just sit in the sun and see different walls for a little bit.”

Sally sat still for several minutes, her brow furrowed in thought. “I suppose it would be all right, if I came with you, and we only stayed half an hour or so.”

She unbolted the door. “Lock this while I’m gone. I’ll go check the pool area and see that it’s safe. When I come back, don’t let me in unless I give you the password.”

“If I’m Snow White,” Katrina said, remembering the passwords Gavin had used when they’d arrived, “then who are you?”

“Call me the stumpy dwarf,” Sally said with a grin.

“Oh, yeah, you’re a real stumpy dwarf.”

Sally laughed out loud, and Katrina smiled as Sally slipped out the door and Katrina dutifully bolted it behind her. It wasn’t very long until there was a knock at the door. Even though she assumed it was Sally, she felt the familiar fear grip her heart. Would she never be free of it?

Leaving the chain on, she opened the door just the smallest sliver so the password wouldn’t have to be shouted. “Who’s there?” she called softly.

Sally’s saucy voice was reassuring. “Just a stumpy dwarf. Are you alone, Snow Baby?”

Katrina laughed and slipped the chain from the door.

“Grab the key and let’s go,” Sally said, “there’s nobody down at the pool.”

Katrina whirled around and snatched the room key from the dresser where the television stood, then pranced out the door. Her first breath of outside air felt like heaven and tasted of freedom. She knew she shouldn’t resent Sally and Gavin for keeping her locked up, and reminded herself it was really all Charleston’s fault. If you can’t lock up the criminal, she reflected, expelling pent-up air with a slight huff, the next best thing would be to lock up the victim.

She followed Sally along the open hall which fronted the room doors, glancing nervously around the parking lot. The motel was a nice one and had a high block wall around the back and sides of the property, at least as far as she could see.

There were large pots here and there along the open “wall” of the hall. Small shrubs and trees planted in them helped screen the rooms from the parking lot, while bright spring flowers nested in junior pots between the larger trees, their delightful bouquet filling the air. Katrina breathed deeply, pleased to fill her lungs with the fresh air.

A large blue trash dumpster had been neatly pushed against the wall at the back of the property, as if the management had wanted to keep the smell of it as far from the rooms as possible. Katrina idly wondered if the trash bin was the reason so many flowers lined the walk.

Sally turned down a narrow corridor between two rooms, and passed two soda machines sporting rival brands, a snack machine full of candy and chips, and a second that had fruit and sandwiches in it. At the end of the row was the ubiquitous ice machine with its metal scoop dangling on a chain so no one could walk off with it. At the end of the corridor was a glass door with a red and white sign on it announcing the pool hours, the prohibition against alcohol and glass containers, the warning not to stay in the hot tub too long, and the proclamation that persons making enough noise to disturb other guests would be ejected from the pool.

Sally opened the door and gestured Katrina into the largest greenhouse she’d ever seen. The roof was steeply pitched metal, to provide cover from snow in the winter and direct sun in the summer. Three of the walls were glass, the fourth was the block wall of the backs of the motel rooms. The pool sat in the center of the enclosure, with a wide deck along each side. Lounges and chairs were scattered along the deck and there was a closed bar, with the hours dutifully posted above it. A large counter near the bar held piles of the motel’s fluffy white towels.

Katrina walked to the far side of the pool, and turned one of the lounge chairs sideways before she sank into it, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight concentrated by the glass wall.

Sally pulled a chair over near Katrina’s lounge and sat down; angling herself so she could watch the door. Katrina marveled at how competently Sally did her job, effortlessly making her security measures seem natural.

A maid came in with a cart and replenished a double stack of thick towels on a shelf. She fussed around a bit, straightening some of the chairs, and picking up the few bits of litter that were scattered across the floor.

The maid left, passing a man in the doorway. He wore greasy-looking blue jeans, faded in spots to nearly white, a dilapidated ball cap, and a shapeless T-shirt that had seen better days.

Katrina watched him through her eyelashes. He moved with a lithe grace which reminded her of a large cat about to pounce. Something seemed familiar about him, and tugged at the corner of her mind, setting off every warning bell in her brain.

He walked past the girls without speaking to them or even sending a glance in their direction, dragged a lounge chair over near the glass wall, and settled into it. Scratching at his beard, he pulled a rolled-up magazine out of his pocket. He pried it open, fighting the curve of the pages. Judging from the cover, it appeared to be full of what Great-Aunt Monalee would call “naughty pictures”. Grandmother Price would probably have stomped over to him, snatched the offending pages from his hand and thrown them into the nearest fireplace.

Almost as though he knew he were being watched, the man shifted his chair, turning it away from the girls. When he settled back into it, the sun was in his eyes. He took off his ball cap, scratched his beard again, then settled the hat back onto his head at a different angle, shading the rays of the sun.

Katrina suddenly shivered.

“Are you all right?” Sally asked, leaning close and speaking softly.

“Yes…no…I’m not sure. Can we go back to the room now?”

Sally’s brows rose in surprise, but she nodded and the girls returned to the room. Katrina locked the door firmly behind them, then leaned against it in sudden relief.

Sally fixed her with a concerned eye. “What was the problem?”

Katrina looked at the floor. “I…really, I don’t know. That man at the pool just gave me the creeps, but I don’t know why.”

“Did he look familiar to you?”

“I…didn’t really look closely at him,” Katrina lied, studying her sandals. “I…it’s probably just being stuck here waiting for someone else to attack, that has me jumping at shadows.”

Sally nodded. “I can understand that. I wouldn’t like being in your place, knowing someone was trying to kill me, but not knowing where the next blow will fall.”

Katrina smiled weakly as she met Sally’s eyes. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a nap and see if I can relax before dinner.”

“Go ahead, I’ll sit here on the couch and read and see that you’re not disturbed.”

“Thanks.” Katrina slipped into her bedroom and closed the door softly behind her.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, or greetings with similar sentiment for the holiday you celebrate. I found a very fun holiday card online, and the maker of the card very sweetly shared the code so I could put it on my website. If you go here, you can see my holiday card, as well as spend a little time exploring my site, if you'd like. I'm in the middle of making major changes to the site which should be uploaded fairly soon, so enjoy it in its current state while you can!

I hope you spend the holiday season enjoying your family, sharing your holiday traditions with your loved ones, and feeling the peace which comes as a natural result of following the light.



--Anne

December 19, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty

The time passed pleasantly enough as Katrina learned more new games. She even beat Gavin from time to time, although she wasn’t certain if he had simply let her win or if she really had been lucky enough to legitimately win the game.

In the late afternoon, Katrina was startled by a knock at the door. Gavin made her hide in the bathroom while he answered it. It was Sally, returning with bags of groceries and a mysterious shrouded box which was immediately tucked away in Gavin’s half of the suite.

Sally made dinner from some of the groceries she’d brought. Katrina noted the plentitude of groceries, and hoped they weren’t going to stay in the motel long enough to eat all of them.

The peace Katrina had gained during the afternoon allowed her to relax enough to realize the dinner was marvelous; Sally was an excellent cook. After dinner, Gavin went into his side of the suite, and returned with the mysterious box. He handed it to her with a flourish. When Katrina had removed it from the plastic bag, it was revealed to be an ice cream freezer. Katrina was amazed.

Sally soon had her assisting in the kitchenette, where they tripped over each other in the limited space while they made Katrina’s first ever home made ice cream—vanilla with peaches.

Once the dessert had frozen, the three of them settled around the table to eat it, and Katrina showed Sally what a ruthless Sorry player she’d become, as she killed both Sally’s and Gavin’s tokens several times and waltzed all of her men into their home before thy could stop her.

The phone rang in Gavin’s room and he went in to answer it. Katrina could hear Gavin’s voice, but he spoke softly enough she couldn’t make out any of the words. When he returned, he announced it had been Detective Beals, checking to make sure everything was all right. Sally looked sharply at Gavin, and he shook his head almost imperceptibly in answer.

Katrina understood that to mean Charleston hadn’t been caught yet, and they were determined to keep this fact from her. She bit her inner lip to keep silent as anger boiled up inside her. She wasn’t a baby; she was a grown woman. Though she needed protection from her, well, husband, it didn’t mean she needed to be protected from the truth of what was happening around her. She bit her lip in frustration, but wanted to continue her own deception of trust.

Around nine in the evening as they finished another game of Sorry, Gavin announced it was time for bed. Katrina felt a bit sulky; there was no need for him to treat her like a child. One look at his face, though, disabused her of the notion that arguing with him would get her anywhere. She put the game pieces back in the box and rose to go to her room.

She was halfway to her bedroom door when Gavin spoke.

“Katrina.”

She looked over her shoulder at him as he stood and fished around in his shirt pocket. He pulled out her bottle of medication, opened it, and shook out two of the white tablets.

“I want you to take these before you go to bed. The doctor said they’ll help you sleep better, and a good night’s sleep will help you heal faster.”

Katrina nodded, then moved back to the table. She took the pills with the last of her glass of water and went to her room. She changed into her nightie and lay down. The pills worked their magic quickly, and Katrina slid into a deep and dreamless sleep.

December 17, 2010

Patience, Please

I took my last final yesterday. My brain hurt all day and I came home and went to bed. I started in early this morning, cleaning up all my school stuff from my office. In the middle of the frenzy, a reader was kind enough to remind me it was Friday and I hadn't posted chapter 30 yet. The problem is, the jump drive with the manuscript on it has disappeared into the pile on my desk.

And then the migraine hit.

I humbly apologize, and ask your patience. I will get the missing chapter up as soon as I can locate the errant jump drive. In the mean time, I'm putting an ice pack on my forehead.

Anne

December 15, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Twenty-nine

Katrina set the box of checkers on the stack of puzzles and games. The only thing that really worried her was staying here long enough to learn all of them well, but until Charleston was caught...she quickly stood, shying away from the frightening thought of him somewhere nearby, looking for her.

Katrina came out of the bathroom scant minutes later. She saw Gavin and Sally with their heads close together and their backs toward her, talking in low voices. The thick carpeting allowed her to get close enough to hear Sally say, "Yes, I'll take care of it. Don't worry, she won't find out."

Katrina’s heart was consumed in green flames of jealousy as she watched Sally smile her warm, seductive smile at Gavin. He returned it, and Katrina felt like she had been hit in the stomach. She must have made some small sound alerting them to her presence, as they turned quickly towards her and guiltily moved apart.

"Well," said Sally with a false brightness to her voice as she stood up and came towards Katrina. "Shall we eat?" They all stepped to the table. Katrina, lagging slightly behind, was no longer in the bright, festive mood. Her appetite was now non-existent. What things were they plotting against her?

A premonition of trouble to come made her paste a bright smile to her face to keep them from knowing she’d overheard them. No matter how much she may care for the handsome man in front of her, she really didn't know him well, and Sally was even more of a stranger. Katrina knew she should keep up a pretense of innocence or maybe stupidity until she could figure out what was going on.

Lunch became very strained. Each spoonful of soup, though it was her favorite kind, became harder to swallow; each bite of sandwich felt like sandpaper scraping her throat, choking her. She may as well be eating dirt or ashes.

Sally, her smile soft as it rested frequently on Gavin throughout the meal, tried unsuccessfully to make light conversation. Katrina, distracted, gave soft-voiced murmurs, occasionally rubbing her forehead with her fingers. Gavin gave little more than one word responses in addition to those special smiles as he looked at Sally. Katrina could read nothing in his expression when he looked at her.

As her fingertips lightly rotated small circles on her temples, Katrina realized her headache was back, but again she was unsure of the cause. Everything seemed so unreal. How long before Charleston was caught? How long would she have to stay here? Why couldn't the policewoman have been old? Or at least plain? Even downright ugly would be nice! Why did she have to look like some movie star policewoman? Why couldn't Gavin fall in love with her—Katrina Lee McSwayne? It happened all the time in books and movies. Why not for real?

'Oh, Katrina,' she silently chastised herself, 'that's schoolgirl thinking! Books are not real life. It they were, you'd be happily-ever-aftering right now with Charleston and you wouldn't be in love with Gavin under any circumstances. It’s time to grow up.'

The thought of Charleston made her shudder, bringing her thoughts back into focus. She looked at her plate and the thought of food caused her stomach to churn.

"I'm...sorry, Sally," Katrina said as she pushed her plate away. "I guess I wasn't as hungry as I'd thought. Thank you, though, the soup was good." Not looking at either of them, she stood and headed toward her bedroom. Gavin followed closely behind.

"Katrina," he said before she’d reached the door. "It isn't what you think."

What did he think she was thinking? Did he know she’d overheard them? "You needn't explain anything to me, Gavin," Katrina said, keeping her eyes down.

"Oh, Little One!" He tried to gather her into his arms, but she stepped away from him.

"Please, Katrina, trust me. Just for a little while longer, trust me."

Concern and a touch of pleading deepened Gavin's voice. Katrina looked up at him for a long moment, knowing she had to keep up the fa├žade of trust, yet warring within herself. Her heart said to trust him, while her brain counseled caution. Her heart won out, and she gave him a small, tentative half-smile, consoling herself that she had to keep her suspicions to herself.

"Thank you, Kitten. Now, which game do you want to learn first?" Eagerness colored his voice while warm lights lit his eyes. He made an expansive gesture toward the coffee table where the games were stacked. She looked at the choices and smiled up at him.

"Sorry, I think," she said.

"Great! That one is fun and very easy to learn." Gavin talked as he reached for her arm. She allowed him to keep the touch. Guiding her to the games, he reached for the proper one and handed it to Katrina, smiling down into her eyes as he did so. She dropped her eyes to keep Gavin from seeing the love in them.

"I've cleared the table for you," Sally said, walking past them from the kitchenette.

"Thanks, Sally," Gavin said.

Sally slipped out the door. Without comment, Gavin walked over and locked the door behind her. Coming back, he then seated Katrina at the table and began setting up the game.

Katrina wished she knew where Sally was going, and what effect it was going to have on her life. She was even more uncomfortable and self-conscious than ever.

Once again the thought came to her mind; she really didn't know either of these people. What if they were friends of Charleston's, just trying to throw her off the track with the ploy of protecting her? No one knew where she was...not the people she knew and trusted, anyway...like Jerilynn. These people—Charleston’s people—could do away with her and no one would know. For weeks and weeks no one would find out she was missing or dead. They could be far away by then, with no clues left behind for anyone to follow, even if there was someone who cared enough to follow them.

Katrina's face must have revealed some of the terror of her thoughts. Gavin's hand came down gently on top of hers, sending the now-familiar jolt of electricity through her. Her eyes flicked up to his, surprising a warm, loving, caring look there.

Confusion flooded her again, reason slowly replacing the fear. After all, Gavin had been doing his best to protect her. Hadn't he? Well, hadn't he? She sincerely hoped so.

Gavin began teaching her how to play Sorry. Gradually the tension eased and she relaxed a little. Enough, at least, to enjoy Sorry and to learn several more of the games she'd always heard about during her growing-up years but had never had an opportunity to play. She sincerely hoped she’d played her part well enough to make Gavin think she wasn’t suspicious any more.

Vaguely, she wondered how long the respite would last. If only they'd catch Charleston. She still wondered about the money he’d asked her for. Would she ever find out? Charleston had said something about it should have been left to kin. Did he somehow think Uncle Andrew had left a little something to her? Why on earth would he have done that? Katrina shook her head, dismissing the possibility. Charleston was right, Uncle Andrew would have left any money he had to his kin.

A chill settled over her as she watched Gavin. He knew more than he let on. Much more. Could she trust him? Could she trust her heart? Should she? It had been fooled by Charleston. Could what she was feeling be true this time? How would she know? She’d been so certain of Charleston’s love. What a huge joke. Would it happen again with this love she held for Gavin?

Suddenly, Katrina shivered with apprehension; almost a premonition of trouble ahead. Once again Katrina knew fear...deep, bone-chilling fear.

December 13, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Twenty-eight

Katrina opened the door, and heard Sally’s voice as she spoke to whoever had called.

"...got away? How did that happen?"

Katrina froze, icy fear clutching at her heart, as she strained to hear more.

"I see." Silence followed.

"No, she's asleep. She took her pain medication and went to bed."

Another stretch of silence.

"Do you think there's any way possible he can know where she’s hidden?"

This time, the pause seemed loud and ominous to Katrina.

"I see." Sally's now hesitant voice was very quiet.

Katrina had to concentrate very hard in order to hear her clearly.

"Yes…I will…no, he left to go to his hotel for a change of clothes and a shave, he said, and do some shopping.”

Pause.

“No, he didn't say." More silence.

"Yes…I will. Goodbye."

Katrina heard the phone receiver being put back into its cradle. She didn't move. She couldn't move. It was as though she had grown roots. Panic filled her. Was she going to be safe, even here? Could Sally really protect her if Charleston found her and was determined to kill her? She doubted it. She didn’t believe any female could stand up to Charleston at the height of one of his rages.

A knock sounded on the door. Katrina whimpered. Sally, halfway to the door, paused and looked over her shoulder, meeting Katrina’s gaze. She motioned for Katrina to get out of sight and be quiet.

Katrina didn't move. The knocking sounded a second time, and Sally motioned again to Katrina as she drew her weapon.

At the sight of blue-black gun in Sally's hand, Katrina came to her senses. She backed into her bedroom, plastering herself against the wall, biting her lip to remain quiet. She left the door ajar so she could hear whatever happened.

Katrina heard nothing from the other room, then the chain rattled against the door frame. Sally’s voice was too low for Katrina to make out the words, then the chain rattled again, a little louder this time.

"You can come out, Katrina, it's Gavin!" Sally called to Katrina.

Katrina emerged into the living room as Sally closed the door, relocking and bolting it behind him.

Gavin had a large package under one arm, and was holding a small suitcase in his hand. His other arm was wrapped around a large shopping bag with gaily wrapped packages poking out of the top. His briefcase hung precariously from the two smallest fingers of that hand, which were turning white as he gripped the handle tightly.

Gavin looked at Katrina and grinned a silly, boyish, happy-go-lucky grin which promptly made her heart turn over. The beaming smile nearly stole her breath away. Katrina loved this many-faceted man with all her heart, even though she knew he didn't want her.

She dared not let him know. He would think her stupid if he found out the depth of her feelings, especially when he had discouraged her clumsy advances at every turn. Katrina deliberately neglected to remind herself of the obstacle of her uncertain marriage to Charleston.

She and Sally hurried now to help Gavin with the bundles and cases. They emptied his arms, setting the packages on the coffee table while he tucked his cases through the door into his half of their suite.

He returned, still grinning like a ten-year-old on his birthday whose stack of gifts was at least as high as he was tall. He placed his hands on Katrina’s shoulders, and guided her to a place on the couch, sitting next to her. Sally seated herself in the plumply stuffed chair at the end of the coffee table.

"I know it isn't your birthday or Christmas, Katrina,” Gavin said, “but I wanted to play Santa Claus anyway.” He laughed. It was a sunny, rich sound which enveloped Katrina in a haze of peace and tender warmth.

Gavin picked up a package. He had an excited look on his face as he handed it to her.

"Here, Kitten, open it." His grin split his face with incredible joy.

"But, Gavin..."

"But, nothing; come on, open it. I can imagine what your Christmases have been like for the last ten years. Just pretend it's Christmas. Open up your presents."

His smile was at once tender and bright, warming Katrina as effectively as any hearth fire would have done.

Catching his enthusiasm, she momentarily forgot the fact that Charleston was somewhere in the city, forgot they were hiding out to protect her life, forgot everything except that Gavin was here with her and he had brought her some gifts and she loved him more than she had loved anyone in her entire life.

Katrina untied the ribbons of the pretty box in her hands. Carefully, she removed the ribbons and tape, being careful not to tear the paper, or damage it in any way. She then removed the paper, carefully folding it before looking at the contents. It was a Monopoly game.

"Monopoly!" she cried. "Oh, Gavin, will you teach me to play it?" .

"Teach you?" Sally said. "Teach you? I thought everyone in the known world knew how to play Monopoly!"

Katrina dropped her gaze. Apparently she didn’t qualify as anyone in the known world. She looked back down at the box, but couldn't really see it for the tears lurking behind her eyelids.

"I…I'm sorry, Katrina.” Sally said. “I'm…just so surprised, that's all. It's as hard for me to believe someone doesn’t know how to play Monoply as…” she groped for a comparison, then continued, “…as someone who has never tasted homemade ice cream in their whole lives. Or someone who never saw Gone with the Wind or…never heard of Elvis Presley or the Beatles. I apologize for being rude. Please forgive me." She gave Katrina a rueful smile, then turned and went to the kitchenette without waiting for an answer.

Gavin put a finger under Katrina’s chin and lifted her face.

"Don't let her spoil your Christmas, Little One. I have several more presents here for you to unwrap, and I really hope you don't know how to play any of them. That way, I'm sure of winning at least the first game, anyway."

The smile that lit his countenance and the bright understanding shining in his eyes made her heart constrict in her chest once more. Then she smiled shyly.

"At least I do know who Elvis and the Beatles are," she giggled, her expression clearing under the warmth of Gavin's gaze.

"You've never seen Gone with the Wind or eaten homemade ice cream, though?" he asked, his eyes continuing to search her face.

Katrina shook her head, blinking hard.

Gavin grinned. "Boy, am I going to have fun!"

Katrina saw the happy-go-lucky smile on his face once more.

"What do you mean by that?" she wanted to know.

"You'll see, Kitten. Here," he said, handing her another box. "Open this one now. It's one of my favorites. I hope you don't know how to play it, either.” He laughed with boyish anticipation, his head tilted back in his glee.

Katrina drew her breath in sharply at the love which swamped her.

His smile was wide as he looked at her, and she dropped her eyes once more to the package now sitting on her lap.

Katrina got the paper off to find it was Sorry. She'd never played it.

The next box held Parcheesi, then there was Chinese Checkers, a set of Rook cards, Clue, Scrabble, all new to her, and finally, three jigsaw puzzles. At least she knew how to work those, she had protested to Gavin. He simply smiled expansively, his eyes twinkling merrily.

Katrina looked around her. Gavin had been right. It was like Christmas, but better. Christmas, for her, had been mostly underwear and a few clothes, or, rarely, a dime-store necklace or ring. She hadn’t really liked holidays while she was growing up. She’d especially felt guilty at Christmas, because she’d become a burden thrust upon her grandparents. It hadn’t seemed to matter they were family. Her parents were dead; she was a burden. Grandmother had taught her that.

Now, Katrina and Gavin giggled and laughed over each gift, all oldies-but-goodies but ones she had never played. There was only one box left. Gavin smiled as he handed her the brightly colored, beribboned package.

"This box you're going to love," he said, smiling widely at her, "and I know for a fact that you can play this one." His eyes were full of mischief, now, and delight, his mouth generous in the smile playing there, the dimples very pronounced.

"I don't know about that," she said as she untied the ribbons. "You’ve been sure I’d played several of the others, and I hadn't. What makes you think I've played this one?" She looked at him and saw the unmistakable gleam in his brown eyes. His mustache now twitched with his effort of holding back his laughter.

"I just know. Open it," he urged.

She removed the ribbons and tape, again careful to keep the paper undamaged or being torn from the tape.

“Why do you save the paper and ribbons so carefully?” Gavin asked

“So I can re-use them,” Katrina answered, looking up in surprise. "Why? Doesn't everyone do that?"

"Most people do,” he said. "I was just curious if that were the only reason."

"Grandmother taught me that." Suddenly she giggled. "I used to wonder how many times that same paper had been used. I'd seen the pattern so many times before and the paper had so many creases in it you almost couldn't see the print anymore. I don't think there was a full square inch that didn't have at least one fold across it.

"When it finally wore out for wrapping gifts, she'd carefully iron it flat and use it to line her kitchen drawers with it. I don't think Grandmother ever threw anything away.”

“Waste not, want not,” Gavin said.

Katrina giggled. “That was her favorite expression. I was afraid to throw anything out, even if I knew it could never be used again. I'd just give it to Grandmother. Most things, sooner or later, I'd see again, used for something else."

Katrina looked back at the box in her hands, still covered by the paper. She removed the wrapping and caught her breath. It was a combined set of checkers and chess. Tears came to her eyes as she ran her fingertips lightly across the box.

She looked up at Gavin and whispered very softly, "Thank you,” around the sudden lump in her throat. Gavin was watching her carefully, and she shifted under his gaze.

Sally came over to them just then and, now distracted, they both looked up at her. She gestured toward the dining table as she spoke.

"There's sandwiches and soup for lunch, if you're ready to eat."

The interruption had given Katrina a moment compose herself. She looked up and smiled at Sally.

"Thank you, Sally, I am rather hungry. I could probably eat a whole plate of sandwiches all by myself. I'll go and wash up. I’ll just be a moment."

December 10, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Twenty-seven

Katrina stared at him for a long moment before she sighed, then nodded. Gavin opened his door and got out, looking all around before moving to her side of the car to open the rear door door. He scooped up her laundry basket under one arm, closed the door before opening hers. He reached for her with his free hand, pulling her from the car, his grip firm just above her elbow. He propelled her along, not to the office, but to the side of it, moving down the row of rooms until he stopped at one.

He knocked, and a female voice answered with a firm, “Who is it, please?”

“Rumplestiltskin and Snow White.”

Katrina twisted so quickly to look at him she nearly cricked her neck. “Rumplestiltskin and Show White?” she questioned, her unbelief nearly making her laugh out loud.

The door opened a crack, coming to stop at the end of the chain and the feminine voice said, “Let me see your ID, please.” Two fingers and a thumb hovered just inside the door’s opening and waited for his ID to be passed to her.

Gavin let go of Katrina’s elbow long enough to retrieve a card and his driver’s license and shove them between the fingers and thumb, and they were withdrawn into the room, the door closing with a firm snap. His hand reclaimed her elbow immediately.

Mere moments passed before the sound of chains being moved reached their ears and the door opened once more, but no person was in sight.

“Come in,” said the woman’s voice. Gavin, his hand still clamped on her upper arm, pushed Katrina forward into the motel’s dimmed room, closing the door quietly behind them.

Katrina looked into the room and saw who had been watching them. A heated ribbon of pure jealousy licked through her veins. She caught her breath in her agony.

Blonde, petite and beautiful were the words that came to Katrina's mind as she looked at the bodyguard standing just behind the newly locked door. Uniform or no, sexy was the next word which came unbidden to her mind.

The woman smiled warmly at Katrina as she reached out in greeting, taking Katrina's hand and giving it a firm, friendly shake.

"You must be Katrina. I'm Sally. Boy, am I glad to see you! It took you a lot longer to get here than we figured and I was becoming very concerned." She smiled again, her face showing relief and warmth.

Sally turned to Gavin. Katrina saw her give him a special smile, her eyes twinkling up at him. Katrina watched Gavin return Sally's smile. She felt she'd just been hit with a brick in her mid-section.

"You can take her things into that bedroom,” Sally said, pointing to a door.

“Thank you, Sally,” Gavin said with another smile at her. He walked in the direction Sally had indicated, carrying Katrina’s basket.

Sally turned back to Katrina.

"Please," she said, looking at Katrina’s face closely and indicating chairs and a divan. "Come and sit down. There's some coffee in the kitchenette, or some soft drinks or juice in the refrigerator. I'm afraid I can't offer much else until we get more supplies. Can I get you something?"

Katrina sat on the edge of the divan. Her head was hurting again, but she wasn't sure if the cause was from her injuries, from Charleston's threats, from Gavin's anger, or the jealousy now pounding through her veins.

"A little juice, if it wouldn't be too much trouble." Katrina felt parched, in addition to the pain coursing through her head.

"No trouble at all." Sally smiled and went to the corner where a little wet-bar type of kitchen was set up.

Katrina closed her eyes and massaged her throbbing temples. She got too close to her bump with her fingertips and winced with the pain it caused.

"Hurt a lot, Katrina?" Her eyes flew open. Gavin was standing before her. His face was shuttered, and she couldn't tell what he was thinking.

"Some," she admitted.

Gavin reached into his shirt pocket, withdrawing the packet of pills the doctor had given him for her. "Take one of these, then lie down for a while." His tone of voice brooked no argument from her.

Sally came over with a glass of cold orange juice just then and handed it to Katrina. Gavin stood before her, his commanding presence demanding her obedience. She took the small white tablet and swallowed it down, draining the glass of juice. Sally reached and took the empty glass.

Gavin held out his hand to Katrina and she placed her hand within it. He helped her to her feet and led her to the room she had been allotted.

Stepping through the door behind Gavin, she saw her nightgown laid out on the bed. Wordlessly, she looked up at Gavin. He avoided her gaze, but she continued to watch him.

"I'll see you in a couple of hours. Don't worry about a thing. You're safe now. Just rest." He glanced at her briefly and something flickered in his eyes and was gone. Katrina wondered what it was. Gavin smiled coldly and turned from her, walked through the portal and closed the door softly behind him.

Katrina stood looking at the closed door, feeling bereft. So much had happened in such a short time, she felt numb. Automatically she began to undress. Slipping into her granny-style nightie, she hooked the buttons and smoothed the collar into place. She folded her clothing neatly and set them on top of the dresser next to her basket. She’d unpack later.

Turning toward the bed, she caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. The reflection showed a prim little dab of a girl.

She thought of Sally in the next room with Gavin. She was pretty, sexy, and provocative. No wonder Gavin had smiled so warmly at Sally and so coldly at herself. Misery engulfed her.

Katrina, tears blurring her vision and burning the back of her eyelids, walked over to the bed. Head pounding even more, she lay down upon it, on top of the covers. Despite the agony of her feelings, the medication began to take effect, and Katrina slowly drifted off to sleep.



*     *     *     *     *     


Katrina woke from her thankfully dreamless nap. She had no idea how long she had been sleeping, but she felt rested, the headache completely gone. She stretched languidly and looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was a few minutes before noon, so she had slept only a couple of hours.

Carefully sitting up, Katrina hoped the headache would not start again any time soon. Holding still for a moment, she took a mental inventory of her body. No pain. So far, so good.

Gingerly stepping to the door, Katrina listened. She could hear no noise outside of her room. Softly, she eased the door open. She could hear the quiet sounds of someone moving in the kitchen area. Easing her door closed again, she removed her nightgown and considered her clothing. Katrina eyed the dresser drawers, but, hoping they wouldn’t be in the motel long enough to need to really move in, she merely piled her things neatly on the top of the dresser.

She picked out one of her skirts, added a pretty, pale blue blouse with white trim, and slipped into the clothing quickly, hating to be alone longer than necessary.

That, in itself, was quite a change for her. During these past six years, she’d been happier, really, to be in her own company. It seemed safer, somehow, and she’d become used to it.

Since Gavin had entered her life, however, she hated to be alone. With all the danger now, it was worse. The whole business had been upsetting, to say the least. However, since she had actually heard Charleston's voice, she was extremely frightened.

What if they didn't catch him? What if he found her? What if he didn't believe her when she told him there was no money? What if Robert were here with him? What did Charleston mean when he’d said Uncle Andrew had left her some money? How much was ‘some’? Hadn’t Gavin told her Uncle Andrew had been rich? How rich was ‘rich’? And why would Uncle Andrew leave the money to her instead of to his own kin, as Charleston had asked her? It was interesting to her that, now that it was once again convenient for him to be married to her, he was claiming the marriage had been real. She wished she could find out the real truth about the ceremony. The questions began whirling through her mind again.

A telephone rang in the other room, breaking her negative train of thought. They'd catch him, she assured herself. They probably already had him in custody, considering they’d told Detective Beals he would be at her house in ten minutes. Everything was going to be okay. After all, Gavin had promised her, hadn't he? She comforted herself with this thought, then slipped into her pair of sandals and moved toward the bedroom door.

December 08, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Twenty-six

Katrina gasped. "What…what do you want?" Her shaking voice was a mere whisper.

"Why, some of your money, what else? You don't think I came back for your filthy, untrained body, do you? Not when I can have some good lovin' elsewhere from someone who has enough sense to know how to make a man feel good!" His hateful laugh filled her ear, hiding the small choking sound Katrina made.

Charleston went on. "I won't even punish you for running away like you did. All you have to do is hand over the money, Baby. Give it to me. Give it all to me and I'll go away. Then you won't have to see me again. Where is it? In the bank?"

Shuddering from her fear, Katrina stood silently, biting her bottom lip.

"Ah, I can see you're surprised by my call. You shouldn't have been. When Uncle Andrew kicked off, he should have left the bundle to me and Jason, not to you, you filthy slut!" His voice got louder with his anger. "Kin! He should have left it to kin! We figured…."

Charleston stopped and took a loud, gulping breath. His voice once more a hateful, sneering sound, he continued.

"I'll bet that fancy-pants lawyer is sweet-talking you so he'll get the money instead of us," he accused her. "Well, it won't work, Brat! You're still married to me. I won't give you a divorce. You left me, remember? No court in the country will grant you a divorce because you left first!" He laughed his evil, demonic laugh once more. "You're mine, Baby! Mine! And what you think belongs to you is mine, too!" He laughed again, curdling the blood in her veins.

Katrina closed her eyes in an effort to shut out his voice. It didn't work.

"Baby, I'll be there in ten minutes. You'd better either give me the money, or have the bank book signed over to me. Otherwise, I'll just have to stay with you until Monday, when the banks open and you can get the money out and hand it to me. I just know you'll love getting reacquainted with me and Jason, too, until Monday, won't you, Baby Brat?" The wicked laughter floated into Katrina's ear, making her go cold all over. The line went dead, the dial tone coming on to drone in her ear.

The phone fell from her nerveless fingers and bounced on the floor. Stark terror constricted her breathing. She looked up and saw Gavin standing before her, a look of concern on his face. She reached for him, holding onto his arm, silently begging for protection. Her mouth was working soundlessly, trying to form the words. Nothing came, not even a whisper.

"Was it Charleston?"

Katrina nodded.

"What did he say?"

Her mouth worked for several seconds while she tried to get her vocal chords to respond. Finally, a hoarsely whispered, "He's…he's coming here! He'll be here in ten min…minutes," shuddered from her throat. Katrina was shaking so badly she was finding it difficult to stand, even with Gavin's help.

Gavin swore as he steadied her. He began issuing orders.

"Let's move it! Where's your suitcase?" Katrina pointed to the basket. Gavin's eyebrow raised a fraction.

She swallowed. His giving her orders and his funny look at her about her 'suitcase' helped her more than anything else, even though fear still chilled her.

She gave Gavin a small, wry smile. "Sorry, no suitcase yet. I didn't plan on moving again for a long time."

"Don't worry about it. Take your basket and get in my car. Here’s the keys." He thrust a key ring at her.

"We've got to be long gone before he gets here!"

Katrina took his keys, then automatically stooped and picked up the phone, hanging it up. She ran to the closet and retrieved her jacket, folding it quickly and setting it on top of the basket. Her purse was hanging on the closet door handle; she picked it up and began frantically rummaging through it, peering into its depths, fear making her breath come in short gasps.

Gavin came back into the room. “Where are your house keys?” he asked.

Katrina’s questing fingers closed on them and she pulled them from her purse.

“Here,” she said, handing them to Gavin.

She picked up the laundry basket, balancing it between one hand and her hip as she hurried toward the door.

Katrina scurried ahead to unlock the car and stuff her basket on the rear seat while Gavin secured the door of her home. They climbed into his car and he started the engine. Quickly, he backed the car from the driveway and drove down the street.

Gavin pulled out his cell phone and hit two buttons, then waited.

“Beals, Charleston called Katrina’s home about two minutes ago. He said he’d be here in ten minutes.”

There was a pause. “No, we’re out of the house…yes…yes…I’ll talk to you shortly, then…. Goodbye.” Gavin pressed one more button and slid the phone into his pocket.

Katrina reflected for a few moments on the miracle of the technology, and how easy it actually was to connect two people who were moving in opposite directions. In another time, someone with a cell phone would probably have been burned as a witch.

Katrina hastily suppressed the giggle which threatened to escape at that mental picture. Fortunately, one thought of Charleston was sufficient to stifle all of her merriment.

Gavin turned down another street and wound through back alleyways and small side streets to make sure they were not being followed.

Finally satisfied, he turned onto larger, more well-traveled streets. At a stop light, Katrina looked at him as he took a paper from his shirt pocket. He looked at it, his eyes moving back and forth as he read what was written there, then looked up at her.

"Kitten? Are you okay?"

Still staring at him, she said a faint 'yes'.

The light turned to green and Gavin drove on. Katrina looked back at the road in front of them, although she didn’t really see it. Her thoughts were on what Charleston had said, his words tumbling over and over in her mind. She shot an uneasy look at Gavin, then decided to ask some of the questions somersaulting in her brain.

“Charleston said Uncle Andrew was dead. Is that true?”

He shot her a quick look and shrugged one shoulder.

“What else did he tell you?”

She looked at him quizzically. “I want to know if Uncle Andrew is dead. Charleston said he was. Is he?”

“Yes.” Gavin’s tone was flat, his eyes on the road ahead.

She dropped her eyes to her hands, and saw them twisting in her lap. She clasped them tightly to stop their motion. Katrina felt a great, hard lump rise in her chest, nearly choking her. The sting of tears blurred her vision and she blinked hard to keep them from falling.

Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she saw him in her mind’s eye as she and Charleston had left his home. He’d been sitting in his big easy chair, the little lap quilt tucked around his knees. She’d kissed him on the cheek, and murmured her thanks for having them visit. Charleston had never let her return.

“Katrina?” Gavin’s voice intruded and with a start, she looked over at him.

“There’s a packet of tissues in the glove compartment.”

She reached up and touched her cheek, finding it wet with tears. Getting a tissue out of the packet, she took time to dry her face.

“Are you Uncle Andrew’s lawyer?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered after a short pause.

“Are you Charleston’s lawyer, too?”

“No.” The word was clipped, cold; not like the warmth of his last one-worded answer.

“Charleston said Uncle Andrew left some money to me. Is that true?”

“Charleston said that?”

“Yes. He also threatened that he and Jason would...spend the weekend getting…um, reacquainted…with me, and if I didn’t turn Uncle Andrew’s money over to them on Monday when the banks open….” Katrina’s voice trailed off into frightened silence.

Gavin made several more turns and drove on in silence, keeping his gaze straight ahead.

“Did he make specific threats?” He finally asked.

“No, he never makes specific threats,” Katrina said, “but what he does to you if you don’t give him what he wants….” She shivered as the old memories resurfaced.

“Did Uncle Andrew leave me money?” she finally asked once more when the silence had stretched too long.

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Can’t tell me, or won’t tell me?”

“Can’t. Not just now, anyway.”

“Why not?”

“There are some conditions in the will that have to be satisfied before I am at liberty to discuss it.”

“If this will concerns me, don’t you think I have the right to know? Charleston obviously does. He knows, and I get to sit here ignorant while he makes plans to kill me for some money I don’t even have, is that it?”

“Look, Katrina, I know you have a million questions floating inside your pretty head right now, but I can not…I repeat, I can not tell you the answers just yet. Please trust me. I will tell you the answers to everything as soon as I can. Right now, the most important thing is to get you to a safe place and keep you away from Charleston. I don’t think he’s really happy at the moment, so it’s best to keep you out of his way. Okay?”

Katrina mulled over his answer, and bit her bottom lip before deciding to trust him, at least for the moment. He may have questions for her, but now she was gathering a list. She wanted answers, too. Maybe they could be a bargaining chip for her…he could answer one each time she did. At any rate, she’d back off—for now.

“Where is this safe place?”

“It’s a motel not far from where we are now, I think.”

“A motel? A motel is a safe place? What if it happens to be the same motel Charleston is staying at? What do we do then? Waltz down to his room and have a cozy little chat with him? Yeah, right!” She was frightened and angry, and all they could offer her was a dinky little motel room? Katrina would go crazy in a tiny place without being able to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on her face.

Gavin didn’t answer her, which goaded her anger further.

“I can see it now; you and me, walking up to his room and knocking on the door. ‘Hello, Charleston, how are you doing? Do you have a minute? I’d like to ask you if you were at the zoo taking pot shots at me yesterday? Oh, and by the way, who was your delightful little friend on the truck who almost ran me down? How much did you have to pay him for that little trick? Too bad he missed! Is that when you decided to shoot me yourself? And how much did you pay your little actor friends to perform our ‘marriage’? I hope you got your money’s worth from both jobs, Charleston! By the way, now that we’ve gotten back together, can I have a pretend divorce to go along with the pretend marriage—because I really don’t want to be married to you—pretend or not—any more than you want to be married to me!” She stopped talking, her chest heaving with her emotions.

It was a moment or two before she realized the car had stopped.

She blinked and looked at the motel’s office door in front of her, then looked over at Gavin. His face was serious, his arms crossed over his chest.

“If it’s any consolation, Katrina,” he said quietly, “none of this is working out the way I’d planned. It won’t be much longer before I can answer all your questions, but I’m asking you to please trust me. As for the safe-ness of this motel, I can tell you this…there is a female officer who will act as your bodyguard waiting in your room for us, who has checked out the room, the hotel, and the guests before I brought you here. Your safety is my primary concern. If you’re through yelling at me, can we go in now? Sally’s waiting for us.”