She waved at Kell as she drove away. She was having lunch with her mom, then leaving Reece for a few hours so she could do the interview. By the time she picked him up and returned home Kell would probably be there too.
She was looking forward to that way too much. Butterflies took flight in her stomach any time she thought of him or what she hoped would happen between them tonight.
The drive to her mom’s house didn’t take long and even though she invited Vincent to have lunch with them he declined, keeping watch over the backyard as she and her mother ate on the lanai. It was a clear sunny day without a cloud in the sky but it was in the low 50s with no humidity. A rarity in Florida, even in February.
“So…how are things with you and Reece’s father?” her mom asked carefully as she sat back against the padded sling rocker chair.
Unlike the majority of her friends and even her father and sister, her mother had known about Charlotte’s problems with Andrew. While they might not be as close as Charlotte would like, her mother was surprisingly intuitive sometimes.
“Ah, good.” Okay, that didn’t come close to covering what was going on with them.
Her mother was silent for a moment as she regarded Charlotte with dark brown eyes so similar to her own. “Are you sleeping with him?”
More surprised than anything, Charlotte’s mouth almost dropped open. She leaned back against her own chair, her half-eaten Panini forgotten. “Not yet.”
“A man doesn’t ask a woman and her son to move in with him without wanting anything more serious. He might have said this arrangement was temporary, but he has every intention of making it permanent—and I think you want that too.”
“I’m scared.” Even saying the words aloud felt freeing. She wasn’t just scared, she was terrified. What happened if she let Kell into her life then things exploded in their faces? They had a son to think about and if she was being really honest, Charlotte knew she was risking her heart. And Kell had the ability to shred it to ribbons.
“That’s understandable, but clearly this man isn’t like your husband, who liked the young woman you were more than the woman you grew into.”
Charlotte blinked as more shock punched through her. “What?”
Her mother smiled faintly as she picked up her iced tea. “The last Christmas you were here with Andrew, I could see the tension between you two, the way you were growing apart. It was subtle, but…you weren’t the same woman he’d married and my guess is Andrew resented it. Maybe even tried to make you feel guilty about growing into your own person.”
“You’re not far off the mark,” Charlotte murmured, her mother’s words hitting their target with piercing accuracy.
“Well, you’re not the same girl who married him. You’re older, a lot smarter and you need to trust your instincts with Kellen.”
At that Charlotte smiled. She sometimes called him by his full name, but it was rare. “You can call him Kell when you meet him.”
Her mother shifted slightly on her seat, turning her chin up in that familiar fashion that always made Charlotte smile. “I’ll call him by the name his mother gave him. Speaking of which, when can I expect to meet him? We’d like to have all of you over for dinner soon.” Yeah, she wasn’t so much asking Charlotte as ordering.
She couldn’t blame her. The past two weeks would have been impossible for them to meet since Charlotte had been hiding out at Lizzy and Porter’s place. And she hadn’t been ready for them to meet Kell before then. Not before she got a hold on her feelings for him.
“I need to check what his schedule is, but maybe this weekend if he’s free.” With that, Charlotte knew she was going to take the chance that might get her heart broken. She had to make a go of things with Kell or she’d regret it for the rest of her life.
She might not have been able to admit it to him, but she loved him. She’d realized it the night before when he’d had that panicked, vulnerable expression over the lunatic blonde woman. He’d been so worried Charlotte would think he’d betrayed her that she’d known in a bone deep way that Kell would never intentionally hurt her. He’d rather talk or argue than turn to someone else. And her mom was right, Kell wanted the woman she was. Not a young, inexperienced girl barely a woman.
Sighing, she glanced at the slim watch on her wrist and realized she needed to head out soon. Her father was watching Reece so she and her mother could enjoy lunch, but she wanted to kiss her son before she left too. The community center was only twenty minutes away but she wanted to account for traffic in case there was any.
* * * * *
Cecil crept down the hallway of a place he was very familiar with. It had been difficult but he’d managed to follow the SUV tailing the witness. Once he’d realized she had a shadow of her own, all he’d had to do was follow that guy.
The woman had gone to a very wealthy neighborhood this afternoon so he hadn’t followed her past the gated community. Instead he’d just waited, knowing she’d have to leave sometime. He’d tailed people in the past before killing them and the watching and waiting was always a pain, but he’d stolen a luxury sedan and switched the plates so at least he was driving in comfort.
Now she was at the community center he’d frequented as a teenager. It was where he’d first started selling drugs. Since it was a Wednesday and not quite three o’clock yet, the place was empty for the most part. Which was perfect for him. The fewer witnesses the better.
Cecil had watched as the tall, intimidating looking guard for the woman had followed her inside. The man had scanned the parking lot, watching for any threats, but Cecil hadn’t parked in the main lot. He’d been across the street in hiding. Once they’d gone inside, he’d slashed the SUVs tires. When he ran, he wasn’t going to risk the chance of anyone pursuing. Because after today, he was gone from Miami for good.
His sneakers were silent against the terrazzo flooring as he rounded the corner into another hallway. He couldn’t be sure, but the only reason for a clearly wealthy woman like Charlotte to be here was because she wanted to donate money or volunteer. Either way, she’d be in the main office.
Lucky for him, there was another room that connected to it through one of the rooms for the five-year-olds and younger. The woman who ran this place liked to be close to the little ones in case there was ever trouble. She’d been running this place for over twenty years so he knew how things worked with her.
Slipping into the empty room with desks and colorful drawings on the walls, he immediately pulled out his stocking mask and tugged it over his face. He’d dyed his hair dark brown for other potential witnesses, but he needed his face covered this time. From the attached office he could hear murmured female voices. He knew he was taking a risk, but it had to be done now. If the woman was separated from her guard—and he was pretty sure the guy was sitting in the anterior office since he’d come in with her—it was his best opportunity.
The door had a glass pane in it, letting light through but it was a thick glass, making it impossible to see inside. Testing the door, he internally smiled when it twisted. He drew his gun and raised it as he stepped inside.
Charlotte sat on one side of a desk and Lana Gonzalez, the woman who ran the place, sat on the other. They stared at him with wide eyes, both clearly speechless. When it appeared the witness might scream, he let out a low growling sound. “Stand up and quietly come with me or I’ll wait until the kids get here and start shooting randomly,” he whispered. He wouldn’t actually do that, but he needed them terrified enough to do what he said. Since he wasn’t sure if the woman’s guard was in the other connected room he wasn’t taking a chance of being overheard by shouting.
Knowing the threat against children would keep them quiet, he kept his gun hand steady as he slowly backed up. The women followed him. Once they were in the hallway he pressed his gun into Charlotte’s spine and shoved her forward. The Gonzalez woman was in front of her, terror in her dark eyes.
Even though she couldn’t see him clearly because of the mask, he kept his gaze trained on the community center director. “We’re going to walk out of here quietly and neither of you are going to make a sound or I’ll pump this bitch full of bullets. Understand?”
She nodded and Cecil risked a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t being followed. It was clear.
“You don’t have to do this,” Charlotte said quietly, her voice teary.
He pushed the gun into her. “Quiet. Move.” Another hard shove and the women were hurrying down the hall in front of him. Once they’d rounded the corner, he told them to stop and opened the ladies’ bathroom door. “In,” he commanded.
The women walked in and he tossed a pair of flex-cuffs to Lana. “Hook yourself to the handicap rail,” he demanded.
It was clear she didn’t want to, but he put the barrel of the gun to Charlotte’s head, spurring her into action.
Once she was secure, he grabbed Charlotte’s arm and dragged her from the room and down another hallway.
“I have a young son,” she pleaded, her voice shaky, as they stepped out into the sunlight of the parking lot. He took off his mask, not caring if she saw him now. Plus now he needed to blend in.
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll make you suffer.” He wouldn’t but he needed her quiet until he could get her somewhere private. He planned to hide her body so the police wouldn’t know she was dead for at least a few days. They’d waste time searching for her, which would throw some of the heat off him while he made his escape.
He hurried her across the paved parking lot onto the side street where he’d parked his stolen car. There were a few new vehicles parked along the curb, but the street was quiet. Perfect. Popping the trunk, he started to shove her inside when a scuffling sound alerted him that he wasn’t alone.
She started screaming, punching at him from behind, her hard fists slamming into his spine and shoulders. But she wasn’t his problem. As he turned, a fist connected with his jaw. For a moment he saw a bright flash of light as pain exploded in his face. He was aware of dropping his gun as another fist slammed into his nose. More excruciating pain.