Archive for August, 2010

02
Aug
10

Runaway Heart – Chapter 1

Runaway Heart

by

Leslie McKelvey

Chapter One

Heart in her throat, Lindsay Davenport peered through the dirty windows of the abandoned building.  The street was clear, for the moment.  She’d been careful, but she still expected Roger, her husband’s bodyguard, to pull up in the black Navigator and drag her home.  Behind her, Peebo put the finishing touches on her new documents.  A new work history and personal history were already done and printed out so she could memorize the particulars.  His fingers moved rapidly over the keyboard, and the sound reminded her of machine gun fire.  She grimaced and moved back to his side.

“How much longer?” she asked in a low voice as she listened for the drone of the Lincoln’s engine.

Peebo smiled, his dark eyes focused on his computer.  “You’ve waited six years for this, Lindsay.  A few more minutes ain’t gonna kill you.”

Lindsay shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself, as if cold.  “Yeah, but Roger and his associates might.”

He looked up in alarm, perspiration beaded on his brow.  “You weren’t followed, were you?”

She shook her head and went back to the window.  “No, but I keep expecting them to show up anyway.”  She gave Peebo a weary smile and took a deep breath.  “I guess I just can’t believe it will all be over soon.”

His full lips widened in a smile, making him almost pleasant to look at.  “No fear, chica.  Once I’m finished you can disappear and no one, including your husband, will ever find you if you don’t want them to.”

Tears filled Lindsay’s eyes and she sank down on a chair.  Peebo chuckled and went back to work, the printer and scanner humming, his eyes dancing as he continued.  She ran a hand over her face and took a shaky breath.

Seven years ago she’d thought herself the luckiest woman alive as she strolled down the aisle with Lucas Davenport, heir to one of the nation’s largest private pharmaceutical companies.  To go from a waitress in a rural Texas café to the bride of the man touted as “a rising star shooting straight for the State Senate,” was more than she’d ever hoped for.  And she’d even loved him.  How quickly her dream had turned into a nightmare.

Her husband was the pride of Dallas society, and a favorite among the ladies.  At first his handsome looks had charmed her and she’d felt proud to be on his arm.  His hair was a rich, dark brown that begged to be touched, his eyes a vivid hazel that could warm her, or chill her, depending on his mood.  While not physically imposing he was tall and athletically built, but his presence was bigger than he was.  He exuded confidence from every meticulously cleaned pore and his smile could charm a snake.  What she’d found beneath that pleasing, designer clad exterior, however, had killed the love she’d felt for him.  A brute in Armani was still a brute.

“Lindsay?  Lindsay!”

She jumped and came back to the present.  The worn bricks of the building came slowly back into focus, sunlight turned dingy brown as it filtered through the dirt-smeared windows.  She looked at Peebo and got to her feet.  “Yeah, what?”

Peebo grinned and handed her a manila envelope.  “You’re ready, baby.  Everything you’ll ever need is in there.  You’ve got a social security card, driver’s license, birth certificate and passport.  There are letters of recommendation from previous employers, so you should have no trouble getting a job.  And I even threw in a valid credit card with a $5,000 limit.  The Witness Protection Program should be so thorough.”

Her hands shook as she took the envelope and her eyes stung.  Slowly, reverently, she opened the package and pulled out her new birth certificate.  “Lacey Jamison,” she said softly.  She glanced at Peebo.  “Pretty name.  Thank you.”  She thought Peebo blushed, but with his swarthy skin it was hard to tell.

“Well, it had to fit the owner,” he told her.  “And it’s not too far from Lindsay, so it should be easy to adopt.”

Lindsay took a shaky breath and put the paper away.  “Make sure you destroy everything that has to do with this,” she told him, her voice low.  “Anything that would show I was here, or that you did this for me, get rid of it.”  She stood in front of him, her expression grim.  “I mean it, Peebo.  Everything.  Make sure there is nothing to link you to me, nothing.”

Peebo stood and smiled at her.  “Chiquita, I’ve done this long enough to know how to take care of myself.  It’s been a while, but I still remember the important stuff.  Trust me, if your husband’s goons come here looking for something, all they’ll find is an empty building.”  He started to put his equipment away.  “One job, one location, no paper trail.”

Lindsay swallowed hard.  “I can’t thank you enough for helping me,” she said.

“You paid me, remember?  Quite well I might add.”

Lindsay stared at the envelope and shook her head.  “No amount of money is worth the danger involved here.”

Peebo scowled.  “Lindsay, you are the reason my family didn’t starve when your husband fired me.  You’re also the reason we didn’t lose our house, or have to pull the boys out of that private school my wife loves so much, and you kept me from having to return to my prior life of crime.”  A hand came up onto her shoulder.  “I know your husband is a monster, and you’ve been unhappy for a long time.”  With a shrug he released her and continued to pack.  “I just wanted to give you back some of what you gave us.”

Lindsay’s brows drew together as she looked at his back.  “What’s that?”

He paused and looked at her over his shoulder, his expression solemn.  “Hope.”

❧  ❧  ❧

As the sun began its descent into the western sky, the bus wound its way toward downtown Dallas.  Lindsay waited until it pulled up at the huge shopping mall.  She looked around carefully then disembarked and followed the throng inside the air-conditioned mecca.  She clutched her bag, her precious paperwork inside.  As casually as she could she made her way to Neiman Marcus, eyes alert.  Pausing at the cosmetics counter, she listened absently as the salesgirl explained the virtues of their newest skin care line.

Her mouth was dry and her palms clammy as she looked around.  Roger would be easy to spot as his blonde head would tower over the crowd.  After purchasing some perfume she meandered through the store, appearing nonchalant but ever watchful.  She bought several new outfits without even trying them on, thankful for her standard size 8 figure.  After only half an hour in the store she had an armload of packages, and she hoped she’d purchased enough to make it look as if she’d spent several hours shopping.

For authenticity’s sake she wandered through the mall to Macy’s, running up even more charges on Lucas’s credit card.  A flash of guilt hit her and she stamped it down.  The money she spent was small recompense for what she’d been through in the last seven years.

She thought briefly of the cash she had stashed away, and wondered if it would be enough to keep her until she could stop running and find a job.  For the past five years she’d taken most of the cash Lucas had given her and hidden it, because she’d known when she gathered the courage to leave she would need it.  As her departure grew imminent, however, she found herself assailed by doubts, and more than a little fear.  To leave Lucas was to take her life in her hands, but Lindsay knew it was time to do just that.  She was tired of being Lucas Davenport’s pretty, quiet little wife and favorite punching bag.

Strolling toward the exit, Lindsay paused near the center escalator where a shelter for women and children had set up a small booth.  Two young ladies, one blonde, one brunette, sat at the folding table calling out to passing shoppers.  They were raffling off a “romantic dinner for two” at a high-end restaurant in downtown Dallas to raise money for new playground equipment.  Judging by their discouraged expressions, it didn’t appear as if they had many takers.  The tickets were $5, quite a deal for what the prize was worth.  Lindsay thought about it for a moment, and a moment was all it took.  She walked over to the table.

“Dinner for two?” the brunette asked hopefully.

A slow smile spread over Lindsay’s face.  “Not anymore,” she assured the girl.  “Not anymore.”  Lindsay pulled out all the cash she had, several hundred dollars, and handed it to the dark-haired woman.  The girl looked up in surprise and her mouth dropped open as she stared at the wad of bills.  Before the young lady could say a word, Lindsay turned on her heel and continued toward the exit, her steps far more lively than when she had entered the shopping center.

She bought a dozen Mrs. Field’s Milk Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites on the way out of the mall and strolled toward her car, a BMW Z8.  She loved the little red sports coupe, and frowned when she remembered when and why Lucas had purchased it.  He’d presented it to her at the hospital, but she’d been unable to drive because of her broken arm.  With a rueful smile she popped a cookie into her mouth and pulled out her keys.

Lindsay opened the trunk, put her packages inside, and jumped when she felt a hand clamp down on her shoulder.  Her bag of cookies fell to the ground as she looked up into Roger’s face.

He glanced at the bags in the trunk, then turned a cold eye on her as he slammed the lid shut.  “Lucas has been wondering where you’ve been.”  His voice sent a chill up her spine.

Lindsay swallowed hard and forced herself to meet his gaze.  “I think you can see where I’ve been,” she replied, keeping her voice neutral.  “If Lucas was looking for me, he could’ve called.  My cell phone is on.”

Roger frowned.  “I didn’t say he was looking for you.  I said he was wondering where you’ve been.”  He leaned forward.  “Your husband is interested in how you spend your time.”

Lindsay’s chin tipped up and she returned his baleful gaze in kind.  “Then perhaps he should ask me.  I’d be more than happy to give him an accounting of my day.”

“Perhaps he’s afraid you won’t be entirely honest.”

The words fell out before she could stop them.  “As if Lucas Davenport would know anything about honesty.”

Roger studied her silently, then his face broke into a cold smile.  “You know, I thought he’d have crushed you by now.”  He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, and chuckled when she jerked away from him.  “But you’ve still got some fight left in you.  I wonder how much longer that will last, and what it’ll take to break it.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “It’ll take more than him . . . or you.”  He laughed as she picked up her bag of cookies, stepped around him, slid behind the wheel, and slammed the door shut.  She fastened her seatbelt, opened the window, and looked at him over her shoulder.  “In case you’re wondering, I’m going to spend the next half hour driving home, but after that I’ll be improvising.”  Without waiting for a reply, she turned the engine over and sped away.

❧  ❧  ❧

Lindsay stroked the horse’s nose as the bay gelding stood quietly in the stall.  It was late and the chirp of crickets and the creaking of the barn were all that broke the stillness.  Lucas was in the house with several executives from the company.  They’d come for drinks and dinner, and she had played the entertaining, dutiful hostess.  When the liquor was gone and the meal was over Lucas dismissed her as usual with a wave of his hand.  Relieved, she’d smiled at their inebriated guests and left without a word.

Despite the tranquil evening, Lindsay was anything but tranquil, her stomach knotted and her nerves taut.  The horse seemed to sense her distress and butted up against her with his nose.  Smiling, she scratched the animal’s ears and patted his neck.

“I’m going to miss you, Midnight,” she whispered.  “But don’t worry, Lucas will take good care of you.  He thinks you’re worth something.”

She knew if she didn’t return to the house soon Lucas would send Roger to look for her, so she left the barn and strolled slowly across the broad lawn.  She gazed toward the imposing structure.  It looked like it had been transplanted straight from Gone With The Wind, tall columns gleaming in the moonlight.  Huge magnolias lined the drive, their branches heavy with blossoms.  She mounted the wide, flat steps, and inhaled their fragrance.

Careful not to disturb Lucas and his colleagues, she entered through the kitchen and made her way up a back staircase to the master suite.  She dressed for bed and turned out the lights, staring at the ceiling as the minutes ticked by.  It was nearly midnight when Lucas’s associates left, and it didn’t surprise her when he didn’t come to bed.  Outside she heard the Porsche roar to life.  No doubt he was going to visit Amelia, his latest mistress.

It didn’t bother her anymore when he was unfaithful, which he was on a regular basis.  In fact, it was a relief.  With all his girlfriends to satisfy his carnal appetites, he rarely bothered her, choosing more warm and willing partners.  Sending a silent prayer heavenward, she hoped Amelia would keep him all night.  That would give her a better head start.

Her watch alarm went off at 3:45 a.m.  She was already awake, but her throat closed up and her breathing hitched at the soft beeping.  Lucas still wasn’t home, and she thought briefly of sending Amelia a thank you note.  She got up quietly and donned black jeans, a black sweater and tennis shoes.  Once dressed, she retrieved the manila envelope from where she’d hidden it, taped to the underside of a drawer in the closet.  Using a pocket flashlight she double checked that all her documents were still there.  She heaved a sigh of relief, put the envelope in the waistband of her jeans, and pulled her sweater over them.

She left the bedroom and closed the door silently behind her.  Lindsay paused, listening for anything out of the ordinary.  All she heard was the house settling and the ticking of the grandfather clock in the downstairs foyer, and she jumped when the chimes for the hour echoed off the walls.  Taking a shaky breath, she made her way down the back staircase.

The garage was next to the house, connected by a covered breeze way dripping with wisteria.  The dense vines hid her quite well, but she wasn’t worried about being seen at this hour.  After unlocking the garage door she stepped inside.  It was even darker here than outside and she paused, letting her eyes adjust before she moved.  The last thing she wanted was to knock something over.  Sweat dripped between her breasts and she wiped an arm over her brow as she waited.  When her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit interior of the garage she moved.  Now came the tricky part; getting out of the garage and down the driveway without waking anyone.

The remote for the garage door opener was clipped to the visor, and she held her breath as she pressed the button.  The door slid up silently, and she thanked God that Lucas demanded the best of everything, including garage doors.  Her knees went weak and she sagged against the car as she ran a hand over her face.  It was several moments before she could move again.

She opened the car’s door and put the coupe in neutral, then released the emergency brake.  Thankfully the Z8 was small and light and she started pushing, amazed at how easily it moved.  The tires whispered as they moved over the cement, the sound turning crunchy when they hit gravel.  It didn’t matter now if anyone woke up, and her fear slowly turned into elation as the coupe picked up speed.  Despite her excitement, she pushed until she reached the end of the long driveway.  With one last look at the house, she got in and started the engine.

Lindsay kept a close eye on her rearview mirror as she headed west.  About ten miles down the road, she turned onto the now familiar dirt lane on the edge of the Davenport property and doused her headlights.  There was enough moonlight to illuminate her path and she slowed to a crawl.  Three miles later she stopped in front of a ramshackle building, nothing more than the skeleton of an old house that had probably been here just as long as the dirt on the ground.  She turned the engine off and got out.  After opening the trunk, she made her way carefully across the rotted porch.

In a corner of the main room, Lindsay knelt on the rickety floor and pulled up several of the boards in front of her.  She reached in and pulled out two large canvas bags filled with clothes, flinching when a large spider crawled up her arm.  She grimaced and shook it off, then searched for the strongbox that contained her precious cash store.

She sat back on her heels and blew the dust off the lid.  She sneezed once, then slowly opened it and stared at the stacks of bills.  There was almost $75,000 inside.  Her fingers trembled as she closed the box and locked the latch.  She hefted the canvas bags over her shoulders, then took them and the strongbox out to the car.

Twenty minutes later, she was back on the main road and headed west again.  The sky behind her slowly brightened with the approaching dawn, and she estimated how much time she had before the alarm would sound.  If Lucas stayed true to form, he would go straight to his office in Dallas from Amelia’s condo.  That would leave Roger to discover she was missing, which wouldn’t happen until he decided to come looking for her, or noticed her car was gone.  Conservatively, she had until about 10 a.m. before the proverbial hounds were released.

She hit the interstate and drove east, pulling off on the outskirts of a small town as the clock read nine a.m.  An old, deserted service station was her first stop.  Lindsay pulled behind the building to don a red-haired wig, blue contact lenses and some heavier makeup.  It took her only minutes to put on her disguise, but even she was surprised at the difference when she was finished.  Grinning at her new self in the rearview mirror, she started the engine and pulled out of the station.

After driving up the main drag, she found an empty parking lot in which to leave the Z8.  She emptied her purse, getting rid of all her ID, family pictures and credit cards.  She put everything that would connect her to this life in an envelope and stuffed it under the seat.  Her new ID and documents took the place of the old ones, and when that was done she got out of the car and locked it.  Then she opened the trunk and strongbox, pulled out several bundles of bills and stuffed them in her pocket.

There was a bus station up the street a couple blocks and she forced herself to walk calmly toward it.  She purchased a ticket to the closest large town, and ran to catch the departing bus.  Several hours later she got off in Texarkana, and the woman at the counter was kind enough to direct her to the nearest car lot.

Again she found her way to a service station where the red wig and contact lenses ended up in the restroom trash can.  She then put in green contacts and stripped off her sweater.  She reached into her purse, pulled out a t-shirt and a second wig, and quickly put them on.  A baseball cap completed the ensemble.  With the long, black wig firmly in place she left the restroom and continued on to the car lot.

It didn’t take her long to choose an older Jeep Cherokee.  Where she was going she’d need something with four-wheel drive, and the salesman was only too happy to let her take a test drive.  After driving around for a bit she went back to the lot.

“So, what do you think?” the salesman asked after she’d parked the Jeep.

Lindsay looked at him.  “I’ll give you $7,500 cash for it.”

The man’s jaw dropped, then he snapped his mouth shut.  “I’ll have to get my manager’s approval.”

If there was one thing she had learned from Lucas, it was how to read people and get what she needed from them.  She pulled the money from her pocket.  “Ok, but the dealer down the street already told me he’d be happy to bargain.”

The salesman’s eyes bulged when he saw the wad of cash.  He licked his lips.  “I – I’ll be right back.”  The man practically ran to the office and returned in less than three minutes.  He was out of breath when he stopped in front of her.  “With tax, license and reg, make it $8,000.  Deal?”

Lindsay studied him for a moment, then nodded.  After following him back to the office she filled out the necessary papers and counted out the cash.

“All right,” he began, his fingers tapping on the keyboard, “now if I could just get a home address Miss . . . Jamison . . . we’ll be all done.”

Lindsay’s pulse jumped and she faltered.  “I . . . um . . . I don’t have one.  I’m in between residences right now.”  The salesman looked at her strangely and she lowered her eyes.  “Messy divorce.  My husband got everything, including the house, and the car.”  She glanced up and nearly sighed in relief when the man gave her a sympathetic look and nodded.

After printing out the documents, the salesman spun the bill of sale on the top of the desk, pushed it toward her, and handed her a pen.  Lindsay gulped, put the pen to paper, and started to sign.  Once the “L” was done she hesitated.  She blinked several times, took a deep breath, and finished Lacey Jamison’s signature.  A strange elation welled up inside her as she handed the pen back to the salesman, and she could barely contain her excitement as the man gave her the keys.

Lindsay had to concentrate to keep from skipping to the Cherokee, but she did turn and give the salesman a jaunty salute as she slid behind the wheel.  He smiled and waved, then turned and went back inside without a second glance.  Lindsay took a breath, smiled at her reflection in the rearview, and started the engine.

When she hit the outskirts of town she made a wide U-turn and headed west, stopping for a platinum blonde wig, dark brown contacts and a bite to eat on the way.  By the time she got back to the lot where she’d left the coupe it was nearly dark.  Apparently the sidewalks here rolled up shortly after sunset, and an almost preternatural quiet hung over the town.  She drove around the block several times, her hands tightening on the wheel with each pass.  Finally, when she was convinced no one was watching the Z8 she parked the Cherokee in an alley behind the parking lot, out of view.  Ever alert, she transferred her bags from the sports car to the Cherokee.  She moved slowly and quietly, watching for anything out of the ordinary, her breathing shallow and palms clammy.  Thankfully, there were no lights in the lot, so she was able to do her work under cover of near darkness.  The strongbox came last, stowed beneath the front passenger seat.  Then she made sure the coupe was locked, leaving all her keys, and her wedding ring, sitting on the front seat in plain view.  With one last lingering look at the sporty Z8, she got into her vehicle and drove away.

Hopefully, Lucas would think she’d gone south from Dallas to visit her parents, as she’d insinuated the previous evening she wanted to do.  For a brief moment, she thought of calling and letting him know where he could find the coupe, but she knew there would soon be an APB out for her and the car anyway, if there wasn’t one already.   Let the police find it and return it to him.  That would give her an even bigger lead.

Once she reached the interstate she paused, then turned into the setting sun.  A strange, intense feeling welled up inside her, and she imagined it was a sensation similar to what the pioneers had felt when they first struck out.  Scared to death, and elated, she couldn’t help but smile.  With each passing mile, Peebo’s gift grew until her heart fairly burst with it.  Hope.