They surround me.
Regan leans in. “Are you scared?”
“She should be.” Autumn is grinning.
I rip my gaze off her face and look around.
They have a rope and a long log turned on its end. The rope is draped over a tree limb overhead. My brain goes blank as I realize the end is fashioned into a noose. Numbness washes over me.
The boys have my arms. I struggle, but they are much stronger than me. The only thing fighting does is hurt my shoulders. But I can barely feel my arms pulling in their sockets. Adrenaline sends my pulse skittering. Light-headed, I pant for air.
“Smile for the video.” Autumn steps in front of me. She holds a cell phone in front of her, steadying it with two hands, recording the event for posterity.
“I told you we’d be happy to help you commit suicide. The world will be a better place without ugly you in it.” Regan tosses the noose over my head.
Someone ties my hands behind my back. I’m lifted by my arms onto the upturned log. The leather soles of my boots find little purchase on its unsteady top. The rope is tightened until there’s no slack.
“Stand up, stupid.” Regan slaps my ass.
I straighten my legs and stand. Then I kick at her, my sudden motion breaking the boys’ holds. But I miss. My balance goes haywire. The log teeters. My vision goes red around the edges. My throat narrows until it feels like I’m breathing through a milk straw.
My boot connects with a head.
I can’t stop kicking my feet. It’s like they aren’t connected to my body. Panic whirls in my head. My lungs burn. The rope isn’t tight enough to cut off my air, but I can hardly breathe. My bladder gives out. Warm wetness floods my legs, soaking my jeans with hot liquid.
“She pissed herself.” Autumn laughs. “Oh my God. This is even better than we expected.” I can see her in my peripheral vision. I watch, almost detached from my jerking and spasming body, as she circles around to film the incident from all angles.
My body goes into full flight mode. I have no control over it. I am twisting and kicking and pulling away from the boys’ attempts to get ahold of my legs. The log wobbles more.
“Hold still, stupid,” Regan yells, grabbing my legs. “Or you really will die.”
My knee catches her under the chin. I hear her teeth clap together. She falls back with a loud grunt.
“Cut her down,” one of the boys yells.
“You said it was only a joke,” the other boy chimes in. “You said we wouldn’t really hurt her.”
“We won’t. OK. OK. Get her down.” Autumn giggles, but her voice rises with apprehension. “I have enough footage.”
Regan moves toward me, a knife in her hand.
But my feet slip. The log tips over, something cracks, and I fall into darkness.
Grant’s stomach turned as he watched Lindsay Hamilton’s feet sway. The video shifted to the dirt.
“Oh, my God. She’s dead!” someone shrieked.
“What should we do, Regan?” a voice asked. “We need to get out of here. We need an alibi.”
“Shut up. No one will suspect anything other than a real suicide.” She paused, as if considering her options. “We’ll call Victor. He’ll come get us and cover for us.” This voice was calm. Other than a slight tremor, the only emotion seeping through her tone was irritation.
“He won’t cover for us.”
“Unless he wants to go to prison, he certainly will.”
The phone screen went black.
“The coach is at the rink with Ellie and Julia.” Grant’s gaze swept across Nan and Hannah and Carson. “I have to go get them.”
From under her oxygen mask, Nan waved, her eyes wide and frightened. Hannah shifted the baby to one side and wrapped an arm around Carson.
“I suppose I’d have to arrest you to get you to stay here.” McNamara sighed.
“Yeah. That’s about right.” Grant turned toward the street, where he’d left Corey Swann’s sedan running. The car was blocked in by emergency vehicles.
“Then you might as well come with me.” McNamara jogged toward his car. Grant followed him into the unmarked police cruiser. Swirling lights reflected off something in the tree on Ellie’s front lawn. Grant ran over. A small surveillance camera was mounted on a low branch.
“What is it?” McNamara yelled.
Grant sprinted back to the police car and jumped into the passenger seat. “A wireless video camera. I think I just figured out how Corey kept watch on Ellie’s house.”
The cop pulled away from the scene.
Grant dialed Mac again and told him about Victor. McNamara used his radio to call the dispatcher and call for backup from the county sheriff’s office.
They headed for the rink, Grant praying that Mac found Ellie and Julia in time.
The cop turned on his vehicle lights but not the siren. “We don’t know what happened. Victor has no reason to hurt Ellie or Julia.”
But Grant did know what happened. Those girls accidentally killed Lindsay Hamilton, and their coach had covered up their crime.
Ellie tried to slide out from between Josh and the wall, but he blocked her exit with a knee. Julia would be out any minute, and Ellie didn’t want her daughter anywhere near Josh.
She pushed against his chest, but he sneered down at her, clearly enjoying his physical superiority. Ellie glanced down. Her knee and his groin were perfectly aligned. She tensed, drawing her leg back to gain force. She had one shot at a solid blow to incapacitate him. If she missed, she’d just make him angrier.
The door to the rink opened.
“Hold it, Josh.” Victor’s voice boomed down the concrete corridor.
Thank God. Ellie nearly sagged with relief. Victor stalked across the cement. With a furious glare, Josh backed away.
The coach positioned himself between Josh and Ellie. “Go on home, Josh. You can’t talk to the lady like that.”
Josh scowled, but he backed off. “Remember what I said.” He walked down the hall and disappeared through the heavy door into the arena. The metal door shut with a loud clack.
Julia came out of the locker room in jeans and a sweatshirt. She hefted the long strap on her duffel bag higher on her shoulder. Her ice skates dangled from her hand. She handed them to Ellie. “I broke a lace.”
Ellie took the skates and turned to Victor. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” But his gray eyes were flat. Angry with Josh, no doubt.
The door to the rink opened again. Mac burst through. “Ellie!”
A police officer entered the hallway behind him.
Shock bloomed in Victor’s eyes. He reached into his pocket and drew out a gun. He pointed it at Ellie. “Come with me.”
Ellie had no time to think about why Victor was pointing a gun at her—or why the hell he even had a gun here at the rink with him. She needed to get her daughter away from the threat.
“Julia, run!” Ellie shouted. She threw her body into the coach, making sure she was between the gun and her daughter.
But Victor was an athlete. His body was solid muscle. He didn’t budge as Ellie’s weight slammed into him. He wrapped his hand in her ponytail and dragged her backward, using her body as a shield, but relief coursed through Ellie as Julia got away. Sobbing, the teen ran toward Mac.
“Drop it.” The cop pointed his weapon at Victor.
Mac pushed Julia behind him. His eyes sought and held Ellie’s gaze. Anger sharpened his features.
Victor pressed the gun to Ellie’s temple. The muzzle dug into her skin. “I’ll kill her if you follow me.”
He pulled her down the hallway and through the emergency exit door that led to the employee parking area behind the arena. The door closed with a heavy click. “Hurry.” He yanked her hair, throwing her off balance.
She stumbled, trying to keep up. “Why are you doing this?”
“I’m not going to prison for those little brats.” Victor headed for a black SUV parked twenty feet away. “I made one mistake. One. I let that little whore Regan seduce me, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. Stupid bitch wanted to keep the phone and video. She wanted to be able to watch it over and over. But I took it. If she wanted me to cover for her, she had to do it my way.”
“I don’t understand.”
But Victor ignored her and continued his manic, frustrated rant. “It’s all Kate’s fault, really. She heard me arguing with Regan and stole the phone. She said she was going to give it to the police. I reminded her of our past indiscretion. I told her I’d tell her husband she’d been in my bed if she turned the phone in. We fought for weeks. She was wavering, but I knew in the end she’d do the right thing, just like she broke off our affair to save her marriage.”
What phone? Shock numbed Ellie’s scalp. Victor slept with Regan and had an affair with Kate. Wait! That meant . . . “You had Kate and Lee killed. Why?”
Victor was lost in his own head. He shoved her toward his vehicle. “Get in.”
Light flashed as police cars poured into the parking lot. They blocked both exits. Cops angled vehicles and got out, drawing their weapons and pointing them at Victor and Ellie. Victor put his back against his SUV and pulled Ellie to his chest. “Don’t come any closer. I will kill her.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com