A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3) (11 page)

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
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Chapter 20

S
hrugging
out from under his arm, Cassie lifted her chin to see what he was looking at.

It was hard to see anything in the darkness and flashing carnival lights. Just crowds of people. But one face stood out among the chaos of Bahama shirts and neon tank tops as it stared up at them. The face belonged to a man who looked to be in his late thirties, dressed in a black suit. His eyes were confident and he gave them a cocky wave.

Barely moving, the man raised an eyebrow with a tilt of his head as if to indicate her.

The basket jerked again as it lowered. Cassie saw the man look to his far left and spin his hand in their direction.

“I said get down!” Luke yanked her by the arm, causing her to tumble onto the floor of the basket. “Geez! Do you ever listen?”

They crouched together with Luke’s arm firm across her back. With wavering slowness, the Ferris wheel circled the cart back to the ground. Luke hissed a steady stream of curse words through clenched teeth.

At the bottom, the cart bounced to a stop. A pimply-faced ride attendant strode over with a bored look on his face.

“Come on. Come on,” Luke urged. The attendant ignored them, snapping his gum. He leisurely popped the lock. Luke wrenched the bar up before the attendant had a chance to remove it, and yanked Cassie from the cart.

Her shoe caught on the lip of the basket as she climbed out, nearly making her to fall. With a grunt, Luke caught her around the waist then grabbed her hand again.

“Keep your head down!” he ordered. Ducking low, he steered her through the crowd, dodging lines of people waiting for rides. His sweaty hand gripped hers tightly as they darted around strollers and kids on leashes. Someone’s balloon came free, the string entangling them, and he swatted it away. He spun around to walk backwards. His gaze searched the crowd.

Slowing his steps, Luke whirled Cassie to face him, his hand hard on her arm. “I want you to head straight for the car.”

“Without you?” Her mouth dropped open.

“I mean it, Cassie. Walk to the car. Don’t stop. Don’t talk to anyone. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Where are you going? You can’t leave me!”

“I’m keeping an eye out making sure that we aren’t being followed. Move.” He gave her a hard nudge to get her moving. She looked back over her shoulder but he’d already disappeared.

CrapOhcrapOhcrap!
The family-friendly environment suddenly felt cold and dangerous. Her eyes skipped across passing faces as she wiggled through the crowd, looking for anyone who seemed out of the ordinary. The number of people around her seemed to increase, causing in her steps to be stilted and awkward.

The dirt aisle abruptly ended at a fun house of mirrors. Her face reflected back—first long and skinny, then short and warped—as if advertising her presence. Her heart jumped into her throat, and she ducked her head. The crowd waiting to go in the house was huge and circled around her.

“Excuse me. Sorry,” she murmured, again and again as she wove in between the people. Faces blurred together and turned into obstacles in her way.

Where is the car anyway?
She felt all turned around. A man in sunglasses stared at her and her heart leapt in her throat.
Is he with them? Luke? Where are you?

The noise level increased as her senses became hyper-aware. Colorful lights, laughing faces, pushing bodies. She slowly spun around, her legs shaking from adrenaline.
Where’s the entrance? Luke you’ve left me and now I’m lost!

She chose a direction and shoved through the crowd. Was the sunglass man following her? Hot, sweaty bodies bumped into her as she struggled to get through. Nothing looked familiar in the darkness.
Please let this be the right way!

Cassie jumped as a firm hand latched on to her shoulder. Raising her hands, she prepared to strike as she whipped around.

“It’s just me,” Luke nodded, his mouth grim. “Come on. Keep going.” Hanging on to her, he guided her through the crowd.

They arrived at the food square. The smell of fried onions and roasted beef rotating on a spit welcomed them.

“Luke?”

“Wait until we get to the car,” he murmured, walking faster. He darted hurried looks behind him, and she felt his body jerk.

“What?”

“Nothing. Keep going.”

The crowds thinned, and they finally arrived at the admission stand. Quickly, they shoved through the metal gate, and crossed through the field that served as the parking lot. Luke’s steps lengthened until Cassie had to jog to keep up.

“Now?” she asked.

“In the car.” He pushed the key fob and turned off the car alarm. Rounding the passenger side, he opened the door and hustled her in.

Cassie snapped on her seatbelt just as Luke started the car. Looking behind him, he gunned the Camaro out of the stall. With a last glance at the carnival, he raced out of the lot, leaving dust hanging in the air.

“So, that was weird and crazy. Who was that guy? An old enemy?” Cassie asked.

Luke adjusted the rearview mirror. He frowned as he looked into it before flipping on the turn signal and taking the next right.

His silence unnerved her. “Don’t you dare ignore me,” she prodded.

He gave a light snort. “Like that would ever stop you from pestering me.” He shifted the car. “That was Nicholai.”

“Nicholai.” Goosebumps trickled up her arm. She ran her palm against them to rub them away.

“Yeah.” He didn’t elaborate. Anger flashed in his eyes as he squinted. His mouth set into two thin lines, he shifted again.

“How’d he find us? What was he doing there?”

“He was sending me a message.”

Cassie shivered at his words.

“What message?”

“That he’s seen you.”

Chapter 21


A
re you in danger
?”

“Me?” He shook his head. “You should be worried about yourself.”

“Okay.” Cassie swallowed. “Am I in danger?”

“No. I’ll kill him if he comes anywhere near you.”

The rest of the ride home he was silent. He walked her up to her hotel room, and gave her just a quick kiss on the cheek. His gaze darted down the hall. “Stay in the room. You’ll be safe here.”

He shut the door behind her, and yelled, “Lock it now.” Cassie slid the lock over, and the doorknob jiggled as he tested it.

She turned and leaned against the door. Sliding down it slowly, she slumped forward and drew her knees close to her chest. Luke leaving her at the fair had triggered a horrible memory.

As a little girl, she’d been lost in a city with her sister when a gang had surrounded them. “Run,” Miranda had hissed and forced Cassie onto a bus before remaining behind as a distraction.

Cassie had pressed her hands against the window, her mouth open in a silent scream as she watched her sister turn to face the gang members. Helpless tears choked her as the bus had pulled away.

Never again will I let someone else sacrifice themselves for me while I just sit there.
After a while, she crossed the room and pulled her pajamas from the suitcase. Once in bed, she lay staring in the dark.

Around midnight she received a text. Her smile fell away as she read it.
I’ve got some things I have to take care of. Stay there until I call.

The next day passed with unusual slowness. She didn’t hear from Luke again. In an attempt to keep herself distracted, she completed three more blog posts ahead of schedule.

She texted him a couple of times throughout the day with no response.

Near dinnertime, she was becoming frantic. The lunch that she’d ordered from room service still sat on the table barely touched.

Give him some space, Cass. He has a lot on his mind.
Sighing,
she decided to call her sister.

Miranda answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

“Hi, sis.” Closing her eyes, Cassie counted to three. One… two…

“Where the heck have you been? Why haven’t you been answering my calls?”

Cassie winced. There it was. And not even to three this time. “Hey, I’m sorry. I—”

“Sorry? Hello? Save your sorries, missy. I was about to file a missing persons report on you.”

“But I texted you last night, I’ve been with—”

“Oh I know. Luke. Who the heck is Luke?”

“I’ve told you a million times. He’s Leif’s—”

Miranda’s sarcastic groan filled her ear. “I know who he is. I just don’t know
who
he is. You’ve been out there for over three weeks now. Don’t you think you could at least come back for a day and check in?”

“Yeah. Luke actually mentioned it to me first that he wanted to meet you guys. Maybe next weekend?”

“Well.” Miranda’s tone sounded slightly mollified. “That would be nice. I could cook you guys a big dinner, and Jason could show him his gun collection while outlining the rules for dating you.”

Cassie rolled her eyes. “Seriously? I’m twenty-two. You’ve got to knock that off.”

“Fine,” Miranda grumbled. “I’ll tell Jason to limit it to one gun.”

A smile lifted the corner of Cassie’s lip. Despite the fact that Miranda sounded like a protective mother bear, Cassie knew her sister would be cool when it came to the actual introduction. And what was not to like? Luke was doing so good, now that he was sober. Miranda would think he was a catch.

Speaking of catch… Why wasn’t he calling?

The weird fear-tickle started again in her stomach. Cassie frowned, tuning out what her sister was saying.
Quit being paranoid. Sixteen hours isn’t so long. So he hasn’t texted today. Big deal.
She shook her head and tried to refocus. What was Miranda talking about? Something about painting the house again?

“Oh, that’s nice.” Cassie dropped in a few words before falling back to her thoughts.
Maybe he’s jogging. His agility test is coming up soon.

“Uh huh,” Cassie said again. “That’s crazy!” Miranda continued to babble away. She never noticed when Cassie tuned out.

“And then last Friday, everyone on our street had their mailboxes taken out!” Miranda exclaimed.

“Wow! Amazing!” Cassie interrupted. “So, anyway, sis. I wanted to check in, but I’ve gotta run now. I promise I won’t go as long without calling you again.”

“Oh.” There was a pause as Miranda tried to change gears and catch up. “You’re always so abrupt when you want to hang up.”

“You know how I hate goodbyes.”

Miranda snorted. “Call me tomorrow.”

Cassie tugged on her necklace and slid it across her lip. “Okay, I’ll do my best. But honestly, texting is better for me.”

“But I like to hear your voice! That’s how I can tell that everything really is going okay with you.”

Cassie smiled. “Everything’s fine. I’ll call you tomorrow then. Love you!”

“Love you, too, Chickee.”

Cassie rang off. She held the phone for a while, lost in thought. The uneasy feeling wouldn’t go away, no matter how she argued with it. In fact, it had grown stronger.
This is crazy.
Normally she wasn’t someone who needed extra reassurance. Why was she so bothered by Luke’s lack of response?

Maybe because some deranged mobster had stalked them the night before and now knew what she looked like? Was Luke doing something crazy right now?

Will you quit doubting yourself and trust your gut.
Biting her lip, she texted him again.
I’m sorry for turning into an obsessive girlfriend. I just need to know you are okay. I don’t know why but I’m getting worried.

After rereading it, she deleted the “getting worried,” sentence and hit send. Her gut squirmed a bit.
That’s the first time I’ve called myself his girlfriend. I never thought I’d be in this place again. Life is so weird. So unexpectedly, wonderfully bizarre.

She flopped onto the bed and turned on the TV, eventually burrowing back into some pillows. Family Feud. Her favorite.

Cassie smiled as she remembered the last time she’d watched it. Two married men had faced off against each other. The question was “Which one of the seven dwarves most reminds you of your wife.” Both of the men had paused, looked at each other over the podium, and then vigorously shook their heads “no” with their hands tucked behind their backs.

Cassie reached for her purse and rifled through for her pack of Life Savers. Orange this time.
Just relax and chill out. He’ll text back when he’s good and ready.

The second “X” buzzed on the screen, its jarring noise irritating Cassie almost as much as a mosquito in the middle of the night. She chomped on the candy. At the third “X” Cassie lunged for her phone. The text still hadn’t been read.

None of them had been read today.

“I can’t do it. I can’t be the calm, rational girlfriend,” Cassie muttered, reaching for her Converse. After tying them on, she grabbed her purse. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” She found her keys and headed out the hotel door.

T
en minutes
later she’d parked in the apartment parking garage and was already pounding on Luke’s door.

No answer.

Cold chills crept along her spine. No, not this again.

She pounded harder, matching the rising heartbeat in her chest.

No answer.

“Luke?” Something wasn’t right. She’d seen his car parked in the garage. She reached for the doorknob, flinching as it unexpectedly turned. The door cracked open.

Fingertips pressed against the door, she gently pushed. “Luke?” she called as the door swung all the way open.

Cassie heard a strange sound and held her breath. Listened.

“Luke?”

There it was again. A low moan. Dropping her purse, she bolted for the noise. “Luke, where are you?”

She ran through the studio area and around the corner to the bathroom.

There he was, half propped in the bathroom doorway.

Falling to her knees, she cupped his head. “Luke! What happ—” A scent of vomit and alcohol rose from him, making her gag. Her knee knocked against an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. Cold horror replaced the adrenaline rush.

No.

He didn’t know she was there. His eyes remained closed, his eyelashes dark against clammy skin, his mouth slackly hanging open.

“Hey! Buddy! Wake up!” She patted his cheeks. “Luke!”

His eyes cracked open before they rolled back into his head, baring two slits of whites. His rough whiskers scraped against her fingers as she tipped his chin up. “Luke?” she patted his cheeks in nervousness. “Luke?”

Vomit erupted from his mouth. Cassie gave a small shriek, before turning his head to the side. He inhaled and began choking. His face rapidly turned a dusky shade of red.

“Luke! Luke!” Cassie grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to maneuver him to his side. His sweaty skin slipped under her fingers. “Come on! Help me! Roll over!” She heaved him over like a heavy slab of meat and began pounding on his back.

He choked in loud coughs. Frantically, she ran to the still-open front door and snatched her cell phone with shaking hands. She raced back and tipped his chin. Nothing was helping. Fear drove her password out of her mind and instead she screamed into the phone. “Siri! 911!”

For once, Siri did her job. A 911 operator answered the phone.

“911 What’s your emergency?”

“It’s my boyfriend! He’s passed out! But he’s choking!” Cassie’s voice rose in fevered panic.

“What’s your address?”

Cassie’s blood ran cold. “I don’t know the address! Can’t you trace me or something?” Luke wheezed in her arms. “Come on! Come on,” she whispered to him encouragingly. “Cough, dude!”

“I need your address, ma’am”

“What? Are you serious?” Cassie climbed out from under Luke and hurried around the room. Her gaze landed on a pile of mail and she ran over to it. “18723 Crane Street,” she rattled off. “Uh, apartment eight!”

Luke rolled to his back and began gagging again. Her heart in her throat, she ran over, screaming into the phone, “Please hurry!”

She yanked on his bottom jaw until his mouth fully opened. Manhandling him once again to his side, she smacked him on the back.

“Please. Please. Please be okay!”

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
13.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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