Would she run into Brody while she was in Scarlet Falls? Detective Brody McNamara had investigated Lee’s murder. Hannah had seen him on previous visits, when he’d been tying up his loose ends of the investigation. But the case was in the prosecutor’s hands now. Hannah had no reason to see Brody on this trip.
So, why was she disappointed?
Brody had stuck by the Barrett family when Lee’s killer had filed assault charges against Grant. To Hannah, Brody’s proven loyalty was more attractive than Royce’s shallow good looks. Not that Brody wasn’t hot, because he was, but the cop had something special: integrity. After spending twelve hours a day mired in the moral flexibility of Herb Fletcher and Las Vegas, integrity was damned appealing.
She opened her photos app and flipped through the images Grant had sent her. Six-year-old Carson in his lime-green soccer uniform, his smile showing the gaps of two missing teeth. When had he lost those? Faith in her high chair, face, hands, and tray smeared with something red. Spaghetti sauce?
Hannah clutched the phone to the center of her chest. Since Lee’s death, being away from the kids ripped her up inside.
She rode the elevator to the ground floor and headed for the lobby, where she passed two bouncers and a short line of patrons waiting to pay their entrance fees.
“Could you hurry up?” one woman complained. “The parade’s about to start.”
Hannah exited onto the concrete apron and took a solid breath of cool night air. Vegas spread out flat and open in front of her. The club was located in an industrial neighborhood. An express tire and lube sat dark across the street. The building next door housed a hotel uniform distributor. Except for the motel on the other side of the parking lot, the surrounding businesses were closed. Lights glared from a billboard advertising Carnival.
Two couples hurried past her and went inside. The parking lot was oddly empty considering the packed space inside. But then, the main show was about to start. She supposed no one who paid a seventy-five-dollar cover charge was going to leave before the big event.
She made her way to the rear of the large lot, where she’d parked the rental car. As she walked, she opened the voice memo app on her phone. “Contact Timothy in London.” She slid the phone into her purse.
By the time she crossed the fourth row, she was shivering and regretting the sleeveless sheath dress and strappy Jimmy Choos she’d selected for the party. She spotted the sedan fifty feet away and quickened her pace. Her jacket and flats awaited.
Shoes scuffled on pavement. Quick footsteps and labored breathing sounded like someone running.
“Fucking bitch,” an angry male voice said.
A body collided with Hannah, knocking her over. They both went sprawling across the pavement. Pain shot up Hannah’s spine as her tailbone hit asphalt. A body landed on her and rolled off. A young girl of about fourteen looked up at her. Slim and small, she was dressed in crotch-skimming spandex hot shorts and a tube top. Tears slid from terror-rounded eyes.
“Come back here!” Footsteps on pavement.
The girl grabbed Hannah’s shoulder. “Please help me. If he catches me, I’m dead.”
“Who?” Alarmed, Hannah scanned the lot.
“He’sgonnakillme.” Panic blurred the girl’s voice. Hannah could barely understand the words.
A man emerged from between a minivan and an SUV. He was a lean six two or three, with black hair and a goatee. His gaze swept the scene and locked on Hannah. He paused, hard eyes considering her.
Hannah untangled her legs and scrambled to her feet.
He focused on the girl. “Let’s go.”
Breathless and whimpering, the girl cringed on the pavement. The man moved toward her. “I said—”
Hannah scooped her purse off the ground and stepped between them. “I don’t think she wants to go with you.”
“I don’t give a fuck what she wants.” His dark eyes narrowed to mean slits. “You’re gonna want to mind your own business.” He leaned sideways to peer around Hannah and held his hand out toward the girl. His fingers curled in a Come here gesture. “Let’s go.”
“No.” The girl’s voice trembled.
His head tilted, as if he couldn’t believe she’d defy him. He shoved Hannah out of the way and grabbed the girl by the arm, dragging her upright.
Options raced through Hannah’s mind. Precious few of them. She wanted to run back to the club, but she couldn’t make her feet turn around. The pair would be long gone before she could return with club security or the police. Wanting more agility, she slid out of her heels.
The girl’s eyes pleaded. Her lips moved. Help me. The man started dragging her away. But she threw her butt backward and sank her weight low, fighting in earnest now.
Hannah sucked in a deep breath and screamed, “Help!”
“Fucking move,” the man shouted at the girl. He slapped her hard across the face. But she continued to resist.
Hannah dug her phone from her purse, her thumb already dialing 911. Come on. Come on. The dispatcher answered.
“Assault in the parking lot of Carnival. Send police.” She could hear the dispatcher asking questions. The man shifted his grip on the teen from her arm to her long ponytail and stalked toward Hannah, dragging the girl in his wake.
“Hurry,” Hannah said into the phone.
The opportunity to run had passed. Her options whittled down to one. In the split second he spent covering the pavement between them, she analyzed body targets. She had a single chance. A man of his size could easily incapacitate her with one blow. At five-ten, Hannah was tall for a woman, but he had several inches and a fair weight advantage. His fists looked well used.
She lowered the phone. If she could just get him to drop the girl. The teen could run while Hannah distracted him. At minimum, Hannah needed to keep them here, in this public space, where chances were better that eventually someone would hear or see the commotion. A patron was bound to come out of the club any second. If he got away with the girl, who knew what he’d do to her.
She had to stall him however she could until the police arrived.
He neared, his eyes shifting from angry to wary as if he was confused by her decision to hold her ground. Hannah took advantage of his hesitation. She sent up a silent prayer and lunged. Clutching the cell in her fist, she swung her arm in an upward arc as if pitching a softball into his groin. Her blow caught him square. He doubled over, swearing.
Hannah’s shoulder bounced off his torso. She stumbled, catching the movement of his arm in her peripheral vision as it arced toward her face. She turned away, but the back of his fist impacted with the side of her head and spun her around. She slammed against a minivan. Something popped. Sound muted. Hannah staggered to her feet. Her cell phone clattered to the blacktop. Her purse strap slid off, her bag falling to the pavement.
The man was on his knees, but his head was up, and he was staring at Hannah. He wouldn’t be incapacitated for long.
“Come on.” Hannah crawled to the teen and prodded her. They clambered to their feet. She grabbed the girl by the arm and pushed her toward the rental car just a few vehicles away. Hannah snatched her phone and purse from the ground and dug in her bag for the car keys. Her fingers closed over them, and she yanked them out. The club was too far. They’d never make it on foot. She clicked the fob and unlocked the car doors. “Get in!”
Sobbing, the girl jumped into the passenger seat. Hannah slid behind the wheel. The sound of the doors locking filled her with relief. We’re going to make it. Hannah started the engine and put the vehicle into reverse. She looked over the seat and pressed the gas pedal with her foot.
A weight smacked against the vehicle and rocked the car. The girl screamed from the passenger seat. Hannah startled, her pulse shooting through her veins. The man glared through the windshield. His upper body lay across the hood.
“Get out of the fucking car, now!” He slapped both palms into the glass. “Or you’re dead.” He pointed at the girl.
“It’s going to be OK,” Hannah said. Heart careening, she stomped on the gas pedal. The car lurched backward. He slid off the hood. Turning the wheel, she shifted into drive and accelerated, all her thoughts on the bouncers in the lobby of the club. Damn rental was sluggish. One minute. They’d be there in one minute. She glanced in the rearview mirror. He was standing in the center of the aisle, arms crossed over his chest.
As if he was waiting.
Hannah paused, apprehension sliding over her like a damp cloak.
“He’sgonnakillme he’sgonnakillme he’sgonnakillme.” The girl rocked back and forth, zombie-like, in her seat.
“You’re OK.” Hannah focused out the windshield. The main aisle was just ahead. “What’s your name?”
“Jewel.” The girl sobbed again and grabbed the armrest.
“It’s going to be all right, Jewel.”
A mammoth black SUV shot toward them. No! She applied the brakes and spun the wheel, trying to avoid the collision. Too close.
The SUV hit the front of the rental car, pushing it sideways. The driver’s side fender smashed into the concrete block base of the overhead light. Metal crunched. Glass shattered. With no seat belt, Hannah hurtled forward, hitting the steering wheel hard, the impact knocking the air from her lungs. Head spinning, she wheezed.
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