Justine was giggling as she stood impatiently waiting for her husband to unlock the front door. She hadn’t been this giddy since high school. Yes, she was giddy. And… she was a little drunk. She rarely had more than a single glass of wine these days but tonight she wanted a little fun. She needed a relaxing evening on the town with the man she loved more than anything. Life always seemed to get in the way these days. They were both so exhausted and stressed that, by the end of the day, they barely had the energy for a quick peck and a mumbled goodnight before they dropped off to sleep. She giggled again; they were so… married! She never thought she’d say this, but she missed the carefree, and sometimes silly, days they complained about when they were young, struggling newlyweds. The days of relaxing in the park, camping under the stars, and plopping on the floor in front of the television with bad Chinese takeout. If only they could go back in time.
The instant the door flew open, Justine took a step forward, tripped on the threshold and would have landed — hard — on the majestic marble floor if her husband hadn’t caught her. She snorted out a laugh and wrapped her arms around his neck before pressing her lips to his. The kiss was long and deep and loving.
“Let’s go upstairs, baby,” Kevin whispered in Justine’s ear.
“You might have to carry me,” Justine grinned. “I’m not sure I can make it.”
“That’s because you’re drunk,” Kevin accused, leaning in to give her ear a gentle nip.
“Maybe,” Justine began, then frowned when Kevin’s phone chimed.
Kevin glanced at the screen then dropped it back into his pocket. “It’s the end of a perfect date.” He pulled her closer and kissed her neck. “I wonder if I’ll get lucky.”
“You got lucky before dinner,” Justine teased.
“That was hours ago, and I did show my date a good time,” Kevin winked at her, then sighed when his phone rang again.
“Maybe you should get that,” Justine frowned.
Kevin pulled the phone from his pocket. “It’s Richard. He can wait, I have something more important to do,” his eyes sparkled, and one corner of his mouth tipped up in amusement. “Or, more to the point — someone.”
Justine laughed, more content than she’d been in weeks. Her heart did a little flip when her husband leaned forward and gently pressed his mouth to hers. It quickened even more when he shifted, deepened the kiss, and trapped her body against the wall. She was amazed, but grateful. After all this time, Kevin still made her heart flutter. A gentle touch or a simple kiss could send an electrical surge of desire through her entire body, reminding her just how much she loved this man. The ringing stopped then immediately started up again.
Kevin let out a frustrated growl. “Let me get rid of him or he’s going to annoy us all night.”
“I’ll head up,” Justine decided. “Don’t take too long,” she paused to glance over her shoulder, giving her husband a flirtatious smile. “I’ll be waiting on our big warm, inviting bed in something more… comfortable.”
Kevin laughed and pulled out his phone. He paused to watch, completely enamored with his wife’s long legs and sexy body as she made her way to the top of the steps. “Hey, baby,” he called.
Justine turned, gave him a flirtatious grin, and silently waited.
“I love you,” Kevin locked eyes with hers. “I love you more with each passing day; and, I’m pretty sure, I’m the luckiest man alive.”
“I love you, too,” Justine’s breath caught in her throat. “And I’m the lucky one.”
His phone began to ring, again. Kevin glanced at the display then shook his head. “He’s definitely persistent. I won’t be long. Maybe you could change into that little black number you bought last month.”
“Maybe I could,” Justine said playfully before she turned and headed for the bedroom, laughing.
“This better be important,” Justine heard Kevin growl. She moved to the large walk-in closet and began searching for a different sexy, black nighty. One Kevin would love, but he hadn’t seen yet. Once she changed, she slipped into the bathroom to freshen up a little. She knew she was taking too long, but she wanted the night to be special — one they would remember for a very long time. She was just finishing up, when she heard a loud noise that sounded like the front door slamming.
She moved to the top of the stairs and realized they had company. Who could it be at this hour? She didn’t recognize the voices, other than Kevin’s. His was flat, but she knew that tone. He was angry and defiant. She descended three stairs before she remembered what she was wearing. She started to pivot but froze when she saw movement in the large mirror on the foyer wall. She let out a surprised gasp and gripped the railing for support. Then, she immediately covered her mouth. Terror gripped her and she couldn’t move, couldn’t think, didn’t know what to do. So, she just stood there staring through the mirror at the man in an expensive suit — and the gun. The lethal weapon was swinging from the guy’s right hand — a hand that was clad in thin black leather gloves. She continued to stand frozen on the edge of the stair, studying the intruder. He was pacing back and forth and with each turn, he tapped the gun on his muscular thigh. He looked familiar but she couldn’t place him, couldn’t get a clear view of his face.
Justine silently moved down one more step. She could see the group clearly now. Kevin was sitting in one of the lounge chairs, a huge man stood to the left of the chair, one enormous hand gripping her husband’s shoulder to hold him in place. There was another man standing on the far side of the room, near Kevin’s antique desk. Then, of course, there was the man in the suit — the one with the gun — pacing back and forth in front of her husband.
“Just return my property and this will be over. If you don’t give me what I want, I’ll make you watch while I have a little fun with that sweet little wife of yours,” the man warned.
“Good luck with that. My wife’s out of town,” Kevin shot a glance toward the mirror and Justine realized he knew she was there. “You want to involve Justine; you’ll have to come back. She’s on a week-long girls’ trip with her sister. I’m surprised the all-knowing Anson Baldoni didn’t know that already.”
Justine swallowed hard and wanted to run, she would run. But first, she had to get a clear look at the other intruders. Now that Kevin said the name, she recognized the sadistic monster — even with his back turned away from the stairs. Everyone in town feared Baldoni, including Justine. She avoided him as much as possible because he terrified her. But why was he here, and what did he want from her husband? She focused on the man she loved; their eyes locked for just a second before he looked away. It was enough. He was pleading with her to save herself.
“Mark my words,” Anson growled. “If you don’t give me what I want, I will kill you. Then, I’ll come back next week and take care of your wife. When I do, I’ll make sure she knows all the pain, all the suffering, is your fault. She’ll know you could have stopped it, you could have prevented it, but she wasn’t important enough. She’ll die knowing her husband didn’t love her enough to protect her.”
“Justine knows I love her,” Kevin focused on the mirror — on his wife. “She knows she’s the most important person in my life. She is my life. She knows I would do anything, give anything — including my own life — to protect her. And she knows how to protect herself. She knows where to hide. You’ll never find her, Baldoni. Come back next week, or next month, it won’t matter. My wife’s a survivor and she’ll easily outsmart someone like you. I assume you already killed Richard Loveless.”
“I’m asking the questions here,” Anson stalked away, out of Justine’s view.
She jumped in surprise and nearly fell off the step when she heard the loud thud and realized the man just slammed his fist onto Kevin’s sturdy wooden desk. She also understood Kevin’s message, loud and clear. He wanted her to hide, then run. He wanted her to leave him in that room knowing Anson Baldoni would kill him, knowing she’d never see her husband again, knowing he loved her enough to give his life to protect her and help her escape. But how could she live with that? How could she live without him?
“Then ask your questions,” Kevin gave Justine another pleading look. Tears streamed down her face, but her eyes stayed locked on her husband’s. She had always loved his eyes, they were brown with tiny speckles of gold; and, when he smiled, they sparkled. I love you, she mouthed silently.
“This is your last chance,” Anson moved to stand by Kevin’s side. “Tell me where it is, and I’ll spare your wife. We both know I won’t spare you; so, it’s a waste of time to lie about that. You defied me, you got in my way, and you stuck your nose where it doesn’t belong. You must pay for that interference. But your wife…” he let the sentence hang.
“As I said,” Kevin tried to sound bored. “Justine’s untouchable,” his eyes bore into her, begging her to flee. “She’s out of town, out of your reach, and she doesn’t know anything about Richard, the finances, or where I might have hidden the evidence. Go ahead, tell her anything you want the next time you see her — if you see her. She knows how much I love her. She became my world the instant I met her, and she knows it. Some off-handed comment from you would never change that. You will never understand the bond we have because you’re incapable of love, Anson. The bond I share with Justine can’t be broken by your lies.”
Justine wanted to scream, she wanted to run down the stairs and attack the ugly, creepy, sadistic man, but she knew that would only get her killed. At the moment, the only thing she could give Kevin — the man she loved with every fiber of her being — was her life; and the peace of mind he’d get from knowing she’d be okay. She waited until Kevin glanced her way, told him she loved him one last time then turned, and used the handrail to steady her as she silently made her way to the top of the stairs. Once she reached the landing, she darted into the master bedroom, snatched her cellphone off the dresser, and slipped back inside the large walk-in closet. Her hand was shaking uncontrollably when she pressed her palm to the plate and waited for the secret door to slide open. It had only gone a couple feet when she slipped inside and slammed her hand on the interior panel — sending the signal to close and lock the door behind her.
The instant she heard the click, she sank to the floor and called the police. Everyone knew Anson had at least one cop in his pocket, maybe more. But what other option did she have? The dispatcher told her not to hang up, but she didn’t listen. She disconnected the call, shut down her phone, and slipped the battery from the back, tossing them both onto the table. It was the hardest thing she would ever do, but she moved to the sleek black console and settled into the large executive chair. Within seconds, the monitors fired up and she was staring into the face of a madman.
Kevin was resigned but he was also more relaxed now, she could see it in his eyes, in his movements, in his demeanor. He knew she was safe, and he knew Anson Baldoni was going to kill him. She knew it too, but she still jumped and let out a loud, anguished moan when Baldoni pulled the trigger, killing the only man she would ever love. Kevin’s body jerked, blood oozed through his shirt, then his body went limp and the man holding him in place released his grip. Her husband fell to the floor, his lifeless body discarded by a coldblooded killer. She was no longer watching when Baldoni sauntered casually out the front door, his men a few steps behind.
Justine fell apart. She slipped from the chair and landed in a fetal position on the floor. Pain and sorrow engulfed her. She was sobbing so hard; she could barely breathe. Kevin was gone. Nothing else mattered. She’d never see him again. Never hold him. Never talk to him. Her life would never be the same. She let herself grieve; another inhumane moan escaped from deep in the pit of her stomach, but she didn’t care. She knew she was safe and secure in here. Kevin had installed the impenetrable, sound proofed room himself — with the help of Mack Devonshire. Nobody knew it existed. Nobody but her and Mack. She could take as long as she needed to fall apart, then she’d run.
Anson might instruct his men to search, to take a few valuables and make it look like a robbery, but they wouldn’t search the house for her. And, they would never find the evidence Kevin hid from them. Chances were high —whatever Richard gave him — it was concealed inside this secret room somewhere. Kevin was smart, and protective. He spent the last few minutes of his life protecting her and ensuring her safety; because the sadistic killer that just murdered her husband, believed she was off vacationing with some made-up sister she didn’t have. Justine was pretty sure that was another ploy, a lie her husband made up to keep Anson busy — to give her time to run and hide. Baldoni would eventually try to track her down, but he wouldn’t find anything. Justine was an orphan. Her parents died when she was four. She spent another two years in foster care before a middle-aged couple adopted her. It took time, but she finally warmed up to her new family; and eventually, she let herself love them. She cherished the short time they had together. Then, suddenly, they too had died. Three years ago, they were returning home from their dream vacation when a thunderstorm hit unexpectedly. The small plane her father had been piloting went down hard. The couple, her second set of parents, were killed on impact.
The pain and hopelessness she felt after losing another set of parents nearly destroyed her. Kevin helped her get through it. Kevin carried her through that difficult time. His support and his love gave her the strength she needed to make it through the day. Now, he was gone too. She let herself slip further into a dark pit of despair and succumbed to another round of uncontrollable sobbing. She wasn’t sure she could survive this time. She wasn’t sure she wanted to. Losing Kevin might just break her beyond repair. And, right now, she was too distraught and overwhelmed to care.
Eventually, she’d have to run. She could practically hear Kevin’s voice in her head, begging her to hide until it was safe — then, run. So, she’d run. She would hide until she was sure it was safe, then she’d vanish into the night. She wouldn’t stop running until she found somewhere safe to disappear — forever.