Authors: Susan Hayes
Evernight Publishing ®
Copyright© 2015 Susan Hayes
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
Editor: Jessica Ruth
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For my parents, for believing in me, and for my best friend Karen, for putting up with my special brand of crazy. This story is also dedicated to Neva, who was a little girl with a crayon in her hand the first time we met. You’ve grown up since then, kiddo, but to me you’ll always be the girl drawing ducks at the dinner table.
Wilde Brothers, 4
Copyright © 2015
Dani was about to head to work for her shift when cell phone rang. She didn’t need to check the caller ID to know it was her daughter’s school calling, because she’d long since assigned every important number its own ringtone. There was no mistaking the grinding beat of Alice Cooper’s “School’s out for Summer.”
She dropped her purse on the counter and answered the call. “Hello?”
“I’m looking for Ms. Daniella Moore,” a woman’s voice said.
“I’m Daniella. I’m Casey’s mother. What happened? Is my daughter all right?”
“She’s fine. My name is Jessica Perkins. I’m the vice-principal at your daughter’s elementary school.” There was a brief pause and Dani swore she heard the woman sigh before speaking again. “Ms. Moore, your ex-husband was here a short while ago. He tried to take Casey out of her classroom. He said it was a family emergency.”
Icy tendrils of dread wrapped themselves around Dani’s chest, squeezing until she could barely manage to breathe. “No. No, that’s not possible. Bobby’s in prison. He doesn’t even know where we are!”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Moore, but the man here today identified himself as Robert Blackstone and said he was Casey’s father. Your daughter caused quite a scene, refused to go with him and told her teacher to call the police. There was a confrontation, and then he left.”
“Are the police there? Is someone watching over Casey? Where’s Principal Trapper?” Dani demanded.
“The police are here and I have Casey with me in the school office. The principal is away this week, but I assure you that everything is fine. Custody issues are not that uncommon an occurrence, I’m afraid.”
Dani gripped the edge of the counter and tried to resist the urge to scream into the phone. “This is not a custody issue. My ex-husband is a dangerous, violent man. He hurt my daughter once before and went to jail for it. I will
let him hurt her again. I want the police with my daughter until I get there. I’m leaving the house right now. Expect me in ten minutes. The information you need is in Casey’s file. I suggest you read it.”
She disconnected the call, grabbed her purse and sprinted to the hall closet. She yanked it open and grabbed the two bags sitting inside, one for her and one for Casey. If Bobby was out, then neither she nor Casey was safe. It was time to disappear.
“Mom!” Dani called out as she looked around her home for what might be the last time. She’d grown up here, and after Bobby had gone to prison, she’d come home again, this time to raise her daughter in peace.
“What is it?” her mother asked as she appeared at the top of the stairs, her tone one of resignation and worry.
“He’s out. The bastard’s out of jail and no one notified me. He was at the school, trying to get to Casey.”
There was no missing the tears that filled her mother’s dark eyes as she stared down at Dani. “Go, baby. We planned for this even while we prayed this day would never come. You know what to do, and so do we.”
Dani dropped the bags and ran up the stairs to hug her mom. “I love you. Tell the others I love them, too. I’ll find a way to get in touch once we’re safe. I promise.”
“You better. And if that bastard comes near you or our little love bug, you do whatever it takes to protect yourself. You hear me?”
“I hear you. Don’t worry, Mom. He’ll never hurt us again.” She blinked back her tears, squeezed her mom tight one last time, and finally let her go.
“Damn right, he won’t. You’re not the same woman he married. You know your strength now, baby. Be safe, and know we’ll be thinking of you.” She was quiet for a moment, then added the same warning that Dani had been hearing for years. “Drive safely, it’s supposed to pour with rain later today.”
Dani laughingly answered the same way she always did. “It’s Seattle, Mom. It’s always supposed to rain later.”
She picked up the bags from the hall floor, grabbed her purse, and walked out the door of the only safe place she’d ever known. Now that Bobby was back, it wasn’t safe anymore.
Once she was in the car, Dani made a single call.
“Hi, Val. It’s Dani. He’s out early. He came after Casey before I even knew he was free.”
Valentina cursed long and hard enough that it actually made Dani smile. Val was ex-military and it showed. She and Dani’s brother Thomas had served together, staying friends after they both got out. These days Val worked for Paladin, a security company out of Seattle. Val and her people were going to help Casey disappear.
“I’ll tell the crew you’re coming in. You just get yourself and that adorable kid of yours here, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
“We’ll be there in ninety minutes. And Val? Thanks.”
“Anytime. Anyplace. Your brother saved my ass more than once. The least I can do is keep his sister safe. See you soon.”
The drive to Casey’s school only took a few minutes, and she was relieved to see a police cruiser parked by the front doors. Bobby wouldn’t dare come back with the police around. If they caught him violating the restraining order, he’d be back behind bars and not even his family’s thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers would be able to help him.
Ignoring all the signs stating parents had to park in the visitor parking lot, she pulled in directly behind the police cruiser. They weren’t going to be here long enough for anyone to complain.
The walk to the door seemed to go on forever. It had been years since she’d felt like this. Six years, four months and eighteen days, to be exact. That’s how long Bobby had been locked up for what he’d done.
He shouldn’t be out yet. He wasn’t even supposed to be eligible for parole until next month, and when the day came he was released, she was supposed to get advanced warning. There had been so many reassurances and promises, but the system had failed her, again.
Fortunately for her, Dani had stopped relying on the system a long time ago. She’d made her plans and once she had Casey in her arms, she’d make one final phone call and put everything in motion. By this time tomorrow, Bobby would be chasing a phantom.
Dani made it to the administration section and felt a pang of relief as she spotted a uniformed officer standing watch. When she approached, he straightened and began to speak, but before he could utter a single word Casey ran out of one of the offices and hurled herself straight into Dani’s arms, babbling nonstop.
“Mommy! Mom, he was here! He came here and he was mad and he wouldn’t stop yelling and I did what you said and never went near him and Mr. Peters wouldn’t let him take me away.”
“I’m proud of you, bug. You did exactly what you were supposed to.” Dani buried her face in Casey’s caramel-colored curls as she hugged her tight.
“He looks just like the pictures you showed me, only scarier. He yelled really loud.”
“I bet he did. But you were very brave, and so was Mr. Peters.”
The officer cleared his throat. “Ma’am, we couldn’t locate the suspect. He’d left the grounds by the time we arrived. I take it you have a restraining order?”
Dani lifted her head to look at the officer. “My ex-husband isn’t even supposed to be out of prison yet. His parole hearing isn’t for another month. Either he’s escaped or he’s managed to find a loophole in the system.”
“If you’d like to come down to the station and file a statement, I’m sure—”
Dani cut him off. “No. It won’t do any good, and I have somewhere else I need to be soon. Thank you for your help, Officer. I appreciate you coming out and making sure my daughter was safe. If you could escort me to my car in a few minutes, I’d be grateful.”
“Of course, ma’am.” He nodded to Casey. “I’d be happy to do that for you and brave little miss, there.”
Casey’s head popped up as she heard him refer to her. She turned the full force of her smile on the unsuspecting man. “I want to be a police officer one day, and police are brave all the time, right?”
He blinked in surprise, then grinned, another victim of Casey’s easy charm. It was a knack she’d inherited from her father, along with her blue eyes.
“Why do you want to be a policewoman?” he asked.
“So that one day I can stop bad men like my daddy from hurting other people. He shot me, you know. Daddies aren’t supposed to do that.”
“No, they’re not.” The officer stood a little straighter and there was a new understanding in his expression as he looked at Dani. “I just realized who you are, ma’am, and who your ex-husband is. I think I’ll radio for my partner and we’ll
walk you and your daughter back to your car.”
“That would be appreciated.” Dani set Casey down beside her and tucked her daughter’s hand into her own.
“Let’s go tell the vice-principal we’re leaving, bug.”
Casey’s eyes went wide and she dropped her voice to a low whisper. “Are we leaving, leaving? Is it time?”
“Yes, Casey. It’s time.”
Casey squared her slender shoulders and squeezed Dani’s hand a little tighter. “I’m ready.”
Her baby girl’s bravery nearly broke Dani’s heart. Casey was only seven years old, too young to be this stoic about losing everything and everyone she’d ever known. Damn Bobby for taking this from her, too. He’d stolen so much already.
Why can’t he leave us alone?
She knew the answer to that question already. Bobby had explained it to her the night she’d finally screwed up the courage to leave him. As far as he was concerned, she and Casey were his property. If he couldn’t have them, then no one else could, either.
Those were the last words he’d said before he pulled the trigger and nearly killed their baby girl.