(Not Professionally Edited)
Sam pulled her car to a stop in the church parking lot. The clouds that had brought on the rain the day before were gone. In its place the sun began to rise with an explosion of brilliant colors of reds, orange and yellow. It shone down on the dew the night’s rain had produced to create an illusion of tiny diamonds on the ground. Her feet sloshed in the puddles as she ran, as she hurried toward the church. Racing to the front and up the stairs to the door, she huffed when she found it locked. Darting back down the steps, she hurried around the building to the back door. And found that locked as well.
Cursing under her breath, Sam began to walk around the church. Weren’t they supposed to be open for those who might be in need of a prayer or confession? Scanning the church, Sam called out. “I know you’re here, Alexis, lead me to you.”
She shut her eyes, closing off her surroundings and thought only of Alexis.
And felt her calling to her from the ground.
The ground. Beneath the church.
Of course! Every time she’d been taken to Alexis, it had been dark. Pitch black dark. There was no light because there were no windows to shed light into the area she was held. There would be no windows in the basement section of the church.
Racing around the building in search of a cellar door, Sam grew frustrated when she didn’t find one. The ground rumbled beneath her feet as she approached a rather ratty looking bush at the side of the church. As she moved toward it, the rumbled grew stronger. Sam spread the branches in her search, snapping twigs that got in her way, ripping the flesh on her hands with no regard to the pain.
Behind the skimpy bush was a door.
The cellar door.
“Damn it!” Spotting the padlock on the door, she let out a long hard breath.
Alexis was here, she knew she was here, she could feel her, and if breaking into a church was what she needed to do to find her, then so be it. She’d deal with the repercussions of that later.
Standing up, Sam looked around for something to break the lock open. She had to get inside to save the little girl. Spotting a large rock near the bush, she grabbed it and began to pound on the lock. Metal sang against rock creating tiny sparks as they connected. Each time she swung at the lock she hoped this time it would give.
The ground rumbled.
“I’m trying, Alexis.” It seemed to take forever and her hands and arms sang with pain as she slammed the rock down on the metal padlock. When it finally gave, she tossed the rock aside and let out a jubilant cheer.
Pulling the broken lock away, Sam grabbed the door. She was surprised at its weight, but managed to yank it open. Taking a deep breath, she started down the old worn-out wooden steps, the darkness making her uneasy. Pushing on, calling to her, Sam took the steps that led down to the cellar. “I’m coming, Alexis.”
The blow to her head had an explosion of stars erupting before her eyes. And as she fell down onto the musty dirt floor, she looked up into the eyes of a killer.
Then it all went black.
The time had come to put an end to this scam of Gwen’s and Ethan was not leaving until things were resolved. Because he didn’t want her to have reason to call the police, he didn’t just barge in as he wanted, but rang the bell instead. It utterly surprised him when she answered the door herself.
“Answering the door yourself now?”
“It’s the helps day off. What are you doing here?” she demanded, blocking the doorway.
“Putting this sham to an end.”
“You want to break my other wrist while you’re at it?” She held her arm up, pulling the sleeve of her robe back to show off the cast.
He glanced briefly at it before looking back up at her. “We both know I didn’t cause that.”
“Say’s the abuser,” she mocked.
“Enough!” He moved past her and into his own house. His house! God how he missed it!
“I’m calling the police,” Gwen spat in a feral tone.
“That’s fine.” He tossed the folder on the coffee table and it slid along the glossy smoked glass. “They can arrest you for extortion, blackmail, and embezzlement.”
“What are babbling about?” she asked with an arrogant flip of her hair as she walked past him.
“This is the end, Gwen. This is a far as you go. You really should have taken the original settlement. But you always were greedy. Let’s see where that greed gets you now.”
Settling down on the sofa, draping her arms across the back and crossing her legs perfectly to reveal a slim bare leg, she laughed. “Who do you think the courts will believe? All the evidence points to you, Ethan dear.”
“Why would I want to steal from my own company? What would I gain by it? As long as my company does well, I do well. I’m in charge, what more could I want than that. There are no grounds for embezzlement and the courts will see that.”
“You think that’s all the evidence I have against you?” She laughed again, tilting her head back. “You always were blind.” She stood up now and looked him squarely in the eyes. “This,” She held up her fractured arm. “This is only the beginning.”
He jumped when she screamed, then stepped back in shock as she flung herself onto the glass coffee table, shattering it.
“Stop it, Ethan. Please. Don’t hurt me,” she cried out, loud enough to make him jump.
“What the hell are you doing?” He halted himself before reaching out to help her to her feet. Though he could see the tiny smidge of blood forming beneath the white cloth, he wasn't about to give her fuel for her fire.
“Setting the scene, stupid.” Getting to her feet, her knees bleeding from shattered glass, she walked to the vase that sat by the window, then sent it crashing to the floor. “Ethan, please, please just leave me alone.”
He threw his hands in the air. “You’ve lost your mind.”
She only smiled before running headlong into the wall.
“Gwen?” He ran to her as she staggered and fell backwards onto the floor. He wasn’t fast enough though, to brace her fall and she dropped down hard, bouncing once before rolling to her side. “Sweet God!” Her head was bruised and bleeding. She had blood spots all over her legs, arms and torso. She was more than just a gold-digger. She was bloody insane.
“Help,” she sputtered, her eyes cloudy. “Someone help me please.”
“You’ve truly lost your mind. I should have you committed.”
“Who do you think the courts will believe now, Ethan?” she slurred, her lips lifting ever so slightly in a sneer. “Will your precious Samantha still be there for you while you rot in jail?”
He grabbed her by the shoulders, then common sense prevailed and he released her and stood. “I’ve had enough of this.”
The last thing he heard as he walked away was her evil laughter.
Ethan didn’t go back to the office. Instead, he went straight to Samantha’s house. He needed to warn her about Gwen, warn her that things were about to turn very ugly. He was damn sure Gwen was going to call the police and make them believe he’d roughed her up. He’d told his lawyer as much when he’d called him after leaving Gwen. After listening to Brandon scream at him for ten minutes about going to see Gwen in the first place, he agreed as soon as he found Sam he would head to the law office and discuss what to do next. It was time he filled his lawyer in on everything.
When he arrived at Samantha’s house, he was more than a little disappointed to find her gone. Where the devil could she be?
She’d looked so terrified. He’d tried calling her several times, but had always got her answering service. He’d continued calling right up until he’d reached his home to talk to Gwen. And now that he was here, at Sam’s house and she wasn't here, he was even more worried.
Then he saw her father walking toward him. He recognized him instantly, having seen him on the television enough times and from his book jacket. He wasn’t sure he was ready for this confrontation, not after having just been in one with his insane wife.
Then again, he might know where Samantha was. “Mr. Dowling.”
“Do I know you?”
“Ethan Montgomery.” He held his hand out in a friendly gesture and the look on C.J.’s face said it all. He was not happy to see him. “You wouldn’t happen to know where Samantha might be?”
“I was just about to go see her.”
“She’s not home. Do you know where else I might find her?” He put his hands in his pockets and when C.J. narrowed his eyes, Ethan knew just what to expect now.
“My daughter is a grown woman, but that doesn’t mean I have to like every choice she makes in her life. You’re one of those choices I’m not sure I like.”
Okay, so he’d expected something a little more in the lines of yelling at him and threatening him to stay away from Samantha. “I can only tell you that I would never do anything deliberately to hurt your daughter. That’s why I’m here now. I need to prepare her.”
C.J.’s eyebrows lifted as he spoke in a low dark tone. “Prepare her for what?”
“My life is about to get very complicated—”
“What with a pesky wife and all?”
Ethan kept his cool despite the sharp sarcastic tone. “I think it would be for the best if we didn’t go further with this discussion. I’m worried about her. She had a nightmare last night and ran from my house in quite a state.”
“She spent the night—” C.J. closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, which Ethan was mighty glad for. “What kind of nightmare?” he asked slowly.
He hadn’t expected that, not after telling the father of the woman he was seeing that they’d spent the night together. “She didn’t say what it was about. Only that someone named Alexis needed her.”
“Oh, damn it.”
“What’s wrong? Who is Alexis?” He raced after C.J. when the man scrambled to his car. “What is going on?”
“I think I know where she might be. Damn it, Sam. I told you to stay away.” He pulled out the cell phone from his front seat and Ethan stood back impatiently waiting. “Answer!”
“I already tried calling her. She didn’t answer.”
“Did you try her cell?”
“No.” He didn’t have her cell phone number. “Is she in trouble?” His heart was pounding something fierce with just the thought of that.
“Why aren’t you answering, Sammy girl?”
“You’re really starting to worry me now. What is going on, Mr. Dowling?”
He tucked his phone in his shirt pocket as he turned to Ethan. “I don’t know. I need to go.”
“If you’re going to wherever you think Samantha might be, then I’m going along.” His lawyer could wait. Everything could wait. Samantha was what was important now.
“I don’t think so.”
He got into his car, slamming the door and Ethan stood on the sidewalk, furious.
Sam woke to the chattering of her own teeth and her head pounding with a thunderous drum roll. Feeling something trickle down her face, she lifted her hand and felt dampness on her fingertips. She remembered the conk to her head and figured it had been hard enough to cut her head open. Explained the throbbing bitch of a headache she had.
The musty smell of dirt clogged her nose, the scent of death making her nauseous. It was pitch black and she couldn’t see a damn thing. Groping for something, anything to lead her out, Sam dug her fingers into the dirt as she tried to pull herself up. The throbbing in her head intensified and she grew dizzy. It was an odd feeling, not being able to see a thing yet knowing everything was spinning around you. She fell to her knees, lowering her head, taking several deep breaths and waited out the dizziness.
Deciding staying down was for best, Sam began to crawl her way along the dirt floor. She needed to find a way out of the cellar. Moving forward, her hand bumped into something solid. The keys in her pocket jingled and she remembered the pen light
she’d attached to it. Sitting back, she reached into her pocket and drew it out. Pressing the tiny button, the light came on.
And Sam screamed.
Propped up against the wall was the little girl she’d seen so many times in her dreams. Decay had rotted most of the flesh away, leaving a shell of what had once been a lovely vital young girl.
Sam recoiled, disgusted by what she saw, repulsed by it. Nausea rolled in her belly, inching up to her chest. She’d finally found Alexis, and she couldn’t even look at her. She was disgusted with herself as much as she was with the scene before her.
The sudden slice of bright light that shot into the darkness made her flinch. Shielding her eyes as she looked toward the cellar door as it opened, she could only make out a figure, but she wasn't sure who it was.
Thank god, someone had finally found her.
“I’m over here. I need help. I’ve been—” The words dried in her throat as she saw who it was.
It was him. It was, D.B..
He’d killed Alexis and seven other children and now he came to kill her.
“Funny how things work out.” He closed the door, and the only light that remained was from the lantern he held in his hand. It cast a shadow of eeriness on every wall and sent chills along Sam’s spine.
“If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have to hide out down here. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had to torch my barn. So how fitting is it now that you would end up here.” He stepped closer and Sam cringed at the intent in his eyes. “I’m going to enjoy making you pay for ruining my life.”
“Stay away from me.” Sam scrambled to the corner, feeling trapped.
He set the lantern down beside Alexis’s bony arm and crouched down in front of Sam. “You’ve got nowhere to run, little lady. That’s the only exit and unless you’re feeling brave, you’re stuck.”
“You won’t get away with this.” She was not going to be another one of his victims.
“I already have.” He laughed, giving the remains of the young girl he’d killed a pat.
He was beyond sick. He was demented. “My family knows I’m here, they’ll come looking for me.” But she knew that was a lie. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going. She’d run from Ethan’s place without saying a word. And her cell phone was in her car so she couldn’t even call anyone for help.
Dear god, she was going to die.
“No one will think to look down here. That door is the only access and it’s disguised enough that no one will see it. No one knows about this place but me, that’s why it was so perfect to bring her here. The others were fun, quick, but this little one, well, she was special. I’d decided to keep her around for a while, toy with her…so to speak.” He laughed again and made Sam’s stomach roll. “This was the perfect place.”
“I found it, someone else might too.” She had to believe that, to save her sanity, she had to believe that. “Besides, I’ll scream until someone hears me.”
His laughter crackled in the damp air. “No one heard this little wonder when she cried out for help and no one will hear you either.” Sam cringed when he reached into his back pocket, expecting him to pull out the knife. “But just to be safe. This should do nicely.” He pulled out a roll of tape.
Everything she’d always been told, everything she was came barreling full force. She was a fighter. She would not go down without a fight. Striking out, using hands and feet, Sam fought good and hard, fighting not just for her life, but for the vindication of all the children that had come to her for help.
Lashing out, she clawed and kicked at him with all the power she could muster. Knocking him over, Sam got to her feet, the dizziness swirling around her as she struggled to run for the door.
The air rushed out of her lungs when he grabbed her foot and took her down, hard. She cried out, screamed, kicked, but it did no good. He climbed on top, pinning her down, her face pressed into the dirt. He yanked her arms back so hard it stung her shoulders. She heard what sounded like something tearing, then felt the tape as he wrapped it round her wrists.
“Nice try. You certainly have spunk. I happen to like a woman with a bit of fight in her. And if I didn’t prefer the innocence of youth, I might just give you a try.” He flipped her over and Sam fought the bile that rose in her throat. “But you’re too easy.” He slapped a wad of tape over her mouth.
“I need to think for a moment.” Leaving her on the floor, he stood, walking the short length of the room. “Got me good.” He rubbed his cheek, where her nails had scrapped. “I was going to head out of here, find some new digs, start over, but you changed that. You had to show up and cause suspicion with the cops. Now they’re on the lookout for me and I can’t make a run for it.”
He rubbed a hand over his chin, pacing. “What I need is a different car and a disguise.” He turned to her now, the light from the lantern making his face look even more demented as he smiled. “You drove here, right? Of course you did, and isn’t that perfect.”
Sam cringed when he knelt down beside her and reached for her waist. When his hand slipped into her pants pockets, she thought she might be sick.
“Where are your key’s? Did you leave them in your car?”
She refused to tell him. Refused to help him.
Lifting the lantern, he turned around in the room, looking down at the dirt. “Ah, here we go.” He stooped down to pick up the keys she’d dropped in her surprise at seeing Alexis. “Now all I need is a disguise. And I think I know the perfect one.”
He knelt down in front of Sam and she was sure it was the end.
“They won’t be looking for a priest now will they?”
His hand snaked out and for the first time in her life, Sam prayed. He grabbed her head and slammed it against the cement wall.
Her vision blurred as he walked away.
He knew it was a waste of time to keep trying to turn the engine over. The damn thing wasn't going to go and he had no idea why.
He didn’t bother to look up at Ethan as he knelt down by the open window. The guy seemed nice enough, but he was still married and he wouldn’t be a good father if he didn’t feel some animosity toward the guy. “I’ve got it covered.”
“Sound to me like it’s not firing. Could be—”
“Engine problems. Yeah, that’s a no brainer. I’ll call a cab.”
“I’ll drive you.”
“Thanks, but I’ll call a cab.”
“Damn it, forget your hatred for me for now and just accept my offer. I’ve been trying to call her for hours, and she hasn’t been answering and now she’s not home. I’m worried about her. I want to find Samantha as much as you do. I love her, and if she’s in trouble I want to help.”
Well that just hit him like a load of bricks, and it was the last thing C.J. wanted to hear. “I swear, if you hurt her—”
“Threaten me all you like while we drive.”
Snarling under his breath, C.J. knew he had no choice. “I’m only agreeing to let you drive me for my daughter’s sake.”
“I still don’t like you.”
Ethan simply shrugged and walked toward his car.
Shaking his head, C.J. followed.
Why did his daughter have to fall for a married man?