Oct. 15 –3:00pm
The post office was mostly empty with only a few customers gathering needed forms, buying stamps, or picking up their mail from their boxes. Seeing Amanda Waterson at the counter, a classmate from college, Alex decided to put her plan in motion. With an apologetic smile at Erik, she made her excuses and stepped into the ladies room. Thankfully, it was empty and only had a single stall. She apologized silently to whomever was going to have to deal with this at closing, dropped an entire roll of paper into the toilet, and flushed. It rewarded her with a messy overflow. Now, to get to the back exit.
Alex left the restroom with a frown on her face and spent the short amount of time in line to complain to Erik about its condition. When they got to the counter, she chatted with Amanda for a time, signed for an oversized padded shipping envelope, and then asked if she could use the employee restroom in the back since the one in front was a disaster. Studiously ignoring Erik’s irate frown, she thanked her friend profusely and made her way to the employee lounge. Once she turned a corner and was out of the masked man’s sight, Alex bypassed the lounge and ran for the employee’s entrance in the back. She estimated she only had about five minutes before he’d start looking for her and didn’t want to waste any time. Slipping out the back door, she looked around cautiously but, seeing no one, walked quickly across the parking lot and into an alley she knew to be a short cut to her apartment.
Tearing open the padded envelope sent by her brother, Alex removed a flash drive and a letter and stuffed them into her purse. When she passed an industrial trash can, she tossed the envelope inside without stopping. It only took her fifteen minutes to get to her apartment and she waited for a group of businessmen to pass before slipping up the stairs. Once inside, she took a deep breath, locked the door behind her, and took one last look at the place she’d called home for the past three years. The police or the building manager must have had someone come in and clean up a bit as she didn’t think it was as ransacked as it had been when she came by before going to Devereaux’s. She pushed from the door and went into her bedroom to pack another set of clothing in a back pack. She also included the most treasured of her family photographs in case something happened while she was away. Alex also took the time to change clothes on the off-chance Erik was looking for her. She might as well make it as difficult as possible. She was on her way to the door when the shrill ring of the telephone nearly caused her to jump completely out of her skin. Caller ID showed only “Private” so she decided to ignore it and let the machine pick up. Her hand was on the door knob when the beep sounded followed by the silky smooth tones of Erik Devereaux.
“Alexandra, you’re only putting yourself into more danger with this foolishness. I will be waiting downstairs. Don’t take too long and make me fetch you.” The abrupt message ended with the click of a phone hanging up. Damn, his voice was sexy even when pissed off. Shaking her head at that random thought, Alex tried to think of another way out of the building. There was no way she was going out the front where she knew he would be waiting.
A sudden thought had her rushing up the stairs to the next floor. Her apartment was close enough to street level that there were no fire escapes; however, the next floor had one down the hall on the opposite end of the stairwell. Thankful that most of the building’s inhabitants were either at college or work at this time of day, Alex made it to the fire escape with no problems. Once she was climbing down the ladder to the alley, she breathed a small sigh of relief. Now she just had to make it to her car unseen and then she could drive to the lake house.
Looking around somewhat nervously, Alex entered the parking garage and started towards her car. She’d been careful and didn’t think she’d been seen but still had the feeling she was being watched. She had almost put the key into the lock when a hand wrapped around her wrist and yanked her away from the car. Fear shot through her which only intensified when she looked up to see Erik’s smoldering golden eyes.
“Just what in hell do you think you’re doing?” He shouted as he towered over her. The hand on her wrist tightened and he gave her a shake. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“Of course not,” Alex retorted while trying to pull her arm from his iron grip. “But I’m not sure I’d be any safer with you than on my own and I much prefer my own company.” She tugged at her arm again and wondered how a man who was so slim could be so strong; she might as well try to pull down one of the supports for the garage.
“Stupid little twit,” Erik sneered and pulled her closer to glare down at her. “You really don’t have any idea what you’ve stumbled into, do you? If you had succeeded in unlocking your car, it would have been the very last thing you’d have ever done. The damn car is rigged to blow.” Her eyes widened in shock and she glanced over at her car.
“You’re lying.” The strong words she’d planned to say died on her tongue and she slowly brought her eyes back to his. “That only happens in the movies, right?”
“If you don’t believe me, then go ahead.” Erik dropped her wrist and gestured towards her car. Alex looked between him and the car as she tried to return circulation to her fingers. The left side of his face was just as expressionless as the right and he arched a brow enquiringly. “Well? We’re rather exposed here so make your decision soon.” Alex shook her head and gave a defeated sigh.
“Yeah, ok fine. Whatever. Let’s just go.”
Erik nodded and took her upper arm in a firm grip, though one not so bruising as before. As he walked her to his car, she noticed his eyes darting around and could feel the tension in his body. Did he really expect someone to try something in the middle of the day? No one even knew she had gone to her apartment so how could they be watching her? When they reached the car without incident, she breathed easily once more. His tension was starting to affect her and she was glad to have the even the small space between them allowed by the gear shift.
They rode in tense silence once more. Alex kept her eyes determinedly on the passing scenery while Erik concentrated solely on his driving. She refused to read the letter Sammy sent her while trapped in the car with him; if she fell apart again she didn’t want him to be a witness. She also didn’t know how she was going to access the information on the flash drive when her laptop was still sitting in the trunk of her car. Alex wasn’t sure she wanted to turn the drive over to Devereaux or even al-Zahir. While it may provide answers about Sammy’s death, it was still the last connection she had to her brother. Pulling her purse closer, she decided she’d wait until she read the letter before telling anyone about the flash drive.
“Can you see behind us without turning around, Miss Roberts?” Erik’s voice was quiet and his eyes were on the rear view mirror as much as on the road ahead. Alex looked at the side mirror but the angle was wrong so she pulled out her compact and dusted some powder over her face as she watched a black SUV draw closer. “He’s been following us since we left your parking garage. I only mention it now due to the fact that we’re on a long stretch of empty highway and he’s getting closer. He’ll make his move shortly. Where are the contents of the envelope?”
“I…in my purse. What do you think…”
“Give it to me,” Erik interrupted sharply. “If something happens, you do not need to be carrying it nor do you want to leave it in the car.”
“Now!” That honeyed voice was cold as ice as he held out his hand. Alex searched through her purse and brought out the small drive. She gripped it tightly in her hand as she stared at him, remembering his fury and threat from earlier and trying to decide if she should trust him. “Alexandra.” His voice was soft, persuasive, and caressed her name like a lover. It seemed to come from everywhere and no where; almost too low to hear and yet echoed in her mind like thunder. “Give it to me; I’ll keep it safe. Trust me.” Dazed, she placed the device into his hand and felt his fingers stroke hers as he pulled back. A shudder ran down her spine and she withdrew her hand quickly, placing it in her lap. Her fingers tingled from where they’d brushed against his and she forced herself not to rub them.
Confused and distracted, she didn’t notice that the other vehicle had closed the distance between them until Erik grabbed her and pushed her flat on the seat. Barely a second passed before they heard gunshots and the windows in the car shattered. With a scream, Alex covered her head with her hands as more shots were fired. Erik yanked the steering wheel causing the car to swerve suddenly and crash against the larger vehicle. The other driver desperately tried to maintain control as the SUV was forced onto the shoulder. Once it was back onto the road, it accelerated quickly to regain its lost speed and began to gain on the Taurus.
“Glove box! Give me the weapon and stay down.” He barked quickly, his eyes constantly darting between the road and the black SUV. After a short search, Alex pulled out a matte black M9A1 Baretta 9mm pistol. Quickly she checked the magazine, set it to double-action semiautomatic, slipped off the safety, and passed it over to Erik. She missed his speculative glance as she returned her attention to check for additional magazines. She pulled out a box of rounds and an empty magazine, loading it as quickly as her shaking hands were able.
“Hold the wheel; keep it straight.” Once she had control of the wheel, Erik took aim and fired into the SUV. When Alex rose slightly to check where the car was on the road, he swore and pushed her head back down, covering her with his body as more shots tore into the car. “Stay down, dammit!” he growled before sitting up and shooting into the SUV once more. Erik smiled in grim satisfaction at the spray of blood that hit the windshield. When the larger vehicle started to swerve wildly, he accelerated and took the wheel from Alex. He drove for several miles before he pulled onto the shoulder and allowed her to sit up.
“You need to drive, Alexandra.” She looked over at him in surprise and noticed the spreading stain on his left shoulder.