Heart Chapter One
Stopping in mid-stride, every muscle in her body tensed, she knew that voice. What she didn’t recognize was the tone.
“I don’t care if you have to slice pieces off a little at a time. He will tell you who did that to me—to us. My father hasn’t been in the ground six months. No one will disrespect his memory like that—no one!” The voice hissed.
Rayne’s heart was now resting in her throat, each violent pump threatening to choke her. She crept back out of the room being careful to not make a sound, debating for half a second whether she should close the door or just leave it.
She left it. Every instinct was telling her to get out of there, fast.
Clutching her purse against her chest like a lifeline, she forced her body to move back toward the elevator. If her legs weren’t shaking, she would have run to it.
By the time Rayne reached the elevator door, her hands were shaking and it took all of her concentration to make her hand push the button. Banging it repeatedly wishing the doors would open allowing her escape.
She was barely able to breathe by the time the door opened, her heart was racing so fast every vein throbbed, she had to move. She looked back in the direction of the office one last time, then stumbled through the elevator doors, throwing most of her weight on the button to close them.
Blinking, Rayne glanced around. She was in the underground parking space in her apartment building and didn’t even remember the drive. Her chest hurt, hands were vibrating and reality felt far away. Three times, she tried to extract the keys from the ignition, finally after fumbling she managed. Come on, Rayne, get it together. Think!
Her mind didn’t want to accept the words that had come from Aiden’s mouth, her fiancé. In all the years she’d known him, never had he used that tone. Scared her enough to send chills through her spine. She believed he meant every word. I am not an idiot, I’ve always known he was a hard man, but the words turned my blood to ice and a part of me knows I’ll never feel the same for him again.
Taking a shaky breath, she groped around for her purse, feeling like she was moving through mud. Somehow, she managed to move and get out of the car. Her legs still felt like rubber, but she couldn’t stay in the parking garage all day. Turning, she forced herself to move to the door.
What am I going to do? I can’t marry a man like that. I’m not even sure if I can look at him now.
Stopping, she looked at the elevator door. Just the thought of stepping inside left her feeling suffocated and trapped. Hugging the purse again, she turned toward the stairwell. Keep moving—she had to.
Trapped, I am, aren’t I? Trapped in a relationship. Just that one word showed her the next move. She had to get out of this relationship. Aiden was not her dream man, if such a thing existed, but he had been comfortable. Admitting that, she now accepted that the relationship was too comfortable to be real.
When she reached her third-floor apartment, she wasn’t out of breath. But, as numb as she felt, she wasn’t sure if she was breathing. Maybe this was just a dream and she’d wake up any second now. Giving herself a small reprieve, she let that thought marinate for a few seconds before reality came crashing back.
It took her two tries to get the key into the lock. What had his associate said just before my world darkened? “We haven’t found a body or any sign of him, Aiden.” Him, who? A body? A body!
As Rayne stepped inside her apartment the dreamlike veil lifted away, revealing reality. A reality I’m not sure how I can live with. She quickly locked the door, all three locks. Not it would protect her, Aiden had keys. Leaning back against the door she tried to calm down and think.
Aiden was some sort of mob, mafia…whatever? Standing there she waited to feel her doubts were unsubstantiated, but it didn’t happen. Her fear was the truth. This explained the dangerous looking misfits he had in his employ. They had never quite fit she thought. Aiden wasn’t a boy scout—she knew that. He was a powerful man, as his father had been, but what kind of power was now very clear to her. Closing her eyes, Rayne held a trembling hand over her heart, it was still beating too heavily. I can’t look at him again. Ever. This only meant one thing...
She looked around the pretty apartment for a moment, taking two steps towards the kitchen before stopping. She had to leave, now. Everything was his. He paid for everything in this apartment, she worked in his gallery. Her whole world was controlled by him…
Moving in a slow circle, Rayne studied everything in sight.
Every. Single. Thing.
Bought by him, in one way or another. Taking a deep breath, she tried to exhale slowly. Failing, her breath huffed out in one loud whoosh. There was no alternative, she had to get out of here.
Kicking off her shoes, she bent down, scooped them up, and headed towards the bedroom.
Faster than she ever changed before, the skirt was stripped off and tossed on the bed. Barely having both legs in her jeans, Rayne began pulling open drawers and cabinets, dumping the contests all over the bed. All she really owned were clothes, her beloved camera, laptop and a few mementos to remind her of her parents. All of it was going in her car. A thought made her freeze as she held the empty drawer over the bed— her car was in his name. Dropping the drawer on the pile, Rayne sat on the bed, defeated. In the mirror, a frightened woman stared back. Seeing herself was enough to jolt her back into action. Giving the frail looking reflection a determined nod, she made a solid decision. To hell with him. She was taking the car. He hated it, called it girlie, and complained it wasn’t comfortable. The car is now mine.
Forty-five minutes later Rayne surveyed the bedroom. There was nothing left that she wanted. Leaning down and picking up the last bag, she went to set it with the rest. “This is pathetic, Rayne Andrews. Your entire life fits in six cases and a couple of purses.”
She walked through the apartment for the last time, working out how to get all of the cases downstairs to the car without causing suspicion, when the ring of her cell phone pierced the silence. She looked over at her purse, the ringtone was Aiden’s. A few seconds after it stopped, the phone on the table began to ring. Can I do this? Taking a deep breath, “Buy some time,” she whispered aloud just before answering it.
“There you are. You didn’t answer your cell.”
He may be using that soft tone, but she now knew what he was. “Oh, I was taking the garbage to the garbage room.” Her hand shook as she held the phone and prayed that her voice didn’t give anything away.
“Where the hell is that girl I pay to do that?”
Just the way he said it made her tremble. “I-it’s Wednesday, Aiden. She doesn’t come in today.”
“Right. Listen baby, I may be here awhile. Could be most of the night...”
“That’s–fine. I was heading to the spa shortly.” Closing her eyes, she waited to see if he questioned that.
“Do you want me to come by in the morning to pick you up?”
For what? “Pick me up?”
He chuckled. “We have a brunch with Donny and his wife.”
Letting out the silent breath she’d been holding. “Oh, yes please.” Please let me sound normal.
“Okay baby. You go get all beautiful for me and I’ll see you in the morning. Ten o’clock.”
“Love ya, baby.”
“Me too.” She hung up quickly. Suddenly gasping for air, Rayne tried to settle her nerves again. Ten o’clock. Looking over at the clock and doing the math, she had seventeen hours to disappear.
It took almost as long to get all the bags down as it had for her to pack them. Of course, if you’re planning to pack your whole life up and vanishing, it would probably be easier if you didn’t drive a Cabriolet. Fitting everything into the micro-sized car had taken more than one attempt. In the time it took to finish, she was much calmer about her decision to leave. Not that she had a choice, but she could always have a mini breakdown and cry her heart out, later. Right now, she needed a plan to figure out the next step.
The first stop was the gas station. Getting out of the car, she looked around, checking for Aiden or one of his men. Great, paranoia already. After she assured herself that he couldn’t possibly know yet, Rayne walked over to the pump. As she lifted the card up to the slot, she realized that he could track her cards. As if the machine was going to grab it, she jerked her hand back and turned to get her purse. She’d need all the cash she had available. Looking over her shoulder again, she walked to the cash machine. This location was close enough to the apartment to not point in any direction—when she finally decided on which direction. Her hands weren’t the steadiest as she punched in the numbers and requested the limit the machine would allow, the shaking increased when she grabbed the cash and stuffed it in her wallet.
Glancing around, she walked back to the pump, inserting a card to pay for the gas. It only took her a few minutes to decide she would hit a few more cash machines in the area to bypass withdrawal limits. Aiden might not drive by, but now she suspected he had people everywhere that would recognize her.
After the gas was pumped, she thought that a map would be a good thing, unless she planned to drive around Chicago endlessly—because that’s the only place she’d ever driven. Reaching down, Rayne pulled out the nearest one, only to put it right back, it was a map of the one place she knew. Bending down, she studied the title of each map before spotting an oversized atlas with Canada in it. She grabbed that one. Before she could second guess the decision, she set it on the counter and waited for the clerk to ring it in.
With the receipt and atlas clutched in her vibrating hand, she went back to the car, hoping she could get through the next few moments without questioning what she was going to do next.
An hour later, she sat in an empty parking lot, trying to force a bagel down her throat. The atlas she’d purchased was propped against the steering wheel, endless lines of varying colors stared back at her. So many places and no idea where to go. She looked over at the glove box where she’d put her money–in a make-up bag no less. It had taken five different bank machines to empty her accounts of every cent she had. Her cards were now at their limits, accounts were empty and on a whim, Rayne had taken out a cash advance on the card Aiden had given her for emergencies. If this wasn’t considered an emergency, she didn’t know what was.
Focus, Rayne. Looking back at the map, she tried to wash down a bite with the lukewarm coffee. She knew making maps took a lot of work and was complicated in a way she didn’t really care to understand, but they really weren’t telling her anything. She needed her laptop and the internet to make a decision that the squiggly color co-ordinated lines weren’t telling her. Sighing, she glanced around the parking lot. A hotel was at the far end. She reached down to pull the laptop case off the floor. Setting it on the passenger’s seat, she opened it and hit the power button, praying for it to pick up a signal as she flipped through another few pages. There was a signal, not a strong one, but it would do. Bringing up a mapping site, she entered Chicago as the starting point. Now what? A starting point generally meant you needed a destination and that she didn’t have. Flipping a few more pages, Rayne picked the first name that jumped off the page. Destination? Timmins, Ontario, Canada. Her heart was pounding as she hit enter.
Strangely, she felt relieved knowing she had decided on a location. Her resolve only faltered for a few seconds when she discovered there was a fourteen-hour drive to get there. Biting her lip, she looked out the windshield, not really focusing on anything. Was she ready for a fourteen-hour drive that would take her far away from Aiden? If she had translated the map correctly, where she was heading was right in the middle of nowhere. That meant there was less chance of her being found. Yes, she was ready. Picking up the notebook that was waiting for the details of the game plan, she started to jot down the directions, deciding after a few lines that she’d only write down the first five hours and then reassess her route from that point. She had no idea what it was going to be like driving this far.
Closing the laptop, she put it back on the floor and just sat there. Was she crazy for doing this? Yes, but she couldn’t stay here and that left few options. She was alone, just like when her parents died. This time all the decisions to be made were going to be her own.
Her eyes felt completely dried out. Was such a thing even possible? She didn’t know, but at the first drug store, she was getting some eye drops. Glancing at the time— again, Rayne squinted back at the road. How long have I been driving now? Four hours? No, closer to five, she needed to stop soon. A few hours ago, she had foolishly thought she would be across the border before planning a stop, but that wasn’t going to happen. Driving at this speed meant she still had at least an hour and a half to go before reaching Mackinaw City and then another hour to the border. Considering the longest she’d ever driven passed an hour back, Rayne knew she wasn’t going to make it. She had a newfound respect for people that drove for a living. The quick bathroom stop a few hours before hadn’t been long enough. If she didn’t stop soon, she was going to make mistakes and end up lost, or worse. Stopping would be for the best.
Blinking quickly, she tried to make her eyes not feel as dry and then focused on the sign she was coming to. A motel was thirty miles from here. Looking at the speedometer, Rayne attempted to do the math and calculate how long that would take, less than a minute later she gave up and decided it wasn’t important. As long as she arrived at the motel before falling asleep. A few hours of rest, something to eat and a shower became the new goal.
After what felt like ten hours she could see the hotel’s sign not too far ahead. Elation and a bit of pride filled her as she realized she’d made it to here without help. She was slowing down when she noticed two police cars sitting at the motel. All the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Aiden couldn’t know she was gone already, could he? Would he involve police? Biting down on her lip, she thought he probably wouldn’t, but she wasn’t going to take any chances. Gripping the steering wheel tighter, her heart was crashing against her ribs at the thought that Aiden might find her. There would be more motels further away, and another chance to take a break.
It took several seconds for the sign she’d just passed to register. I’ve done it! She was almost to Mackinaw, at least that’s what the sign had said. Taking a deep breath and fighting the grogginess that had been closing in for hours, she forced herself to keep going. Maybe a little air would help, not that it had a half hour ago, but it couldn’t hurt. She rolled the window down, hoping it would help. Seven hours of driving, minus two very brief bathroom breaks and a stop for gas, and she’d managed to keep going. If she wasn’t ready to pass out, she would be pretty impressed with what she’d managed.
After a few minutes of taking deep breaths she groaned, the open window wasn’t working. Reaching for the radio, she fumbled with the buttons and flicked through the few stations that were clear, anything to sing to or even pretending to sing might work. She scowled at the radio. Turning it off, she stared at the road once again. “Okay,” she tried to ignore how slurred her voice sounded. “Use your brain, get the blood pumping and drive.” Wiggling a bit, she tried to sit straighter. “Great, my brain is already sleeping,” she yawned while trying to see the sign that was getting closer. “Oh. Interstate one twenty-seven. I’ve been looking at that for what seems like forever,” she mumbled to the eyes in the mirror. “And before that it was I31.” She bobbed her head and tried to recall the roads before that. “One ninety…something, not that it matters really—It’s not like I’m going to be going on the return trip,” Rayne snorted and then laughed, not sure if it was delirium or exhaustion that had her talking to herself. “And what are you going to do when you reach your middle of nowhere in Canada, Ms. Andrews?” She glanced at the speedometer, even though she had no idea what it had said on the Mackinaw sign she’d just driven past. Clearing her throat, she looked at the reflection again. “I have no idea what I’m going to do. I didn’t sit down and plot out a course of action before fleeing,” she giggled quietly this time and then squealed as she drove by another sign. “What–ah, miles...” biting her lip a couple of times, she looked at the time. “Oh! A half hour!” Gripping the steering wheel with the very last of her energy, she focused on the road. “You did it. And the reward?” She attempted to smile, but yawned and erased what would have been the smile. “The reward is sleep.”
Rayne stood, clutching the room key in her hand and looking at the car, deciding. With the way she’d stuffed the cases into the car, there was no easy way to get to the one that had the clothes she wanted, without taking everything out of the car. Did she care if she slept in something fresh? At this point, no, she would come back out later and sort out what to change into. As she started to head for the room, her brain flashed a warning. She wasn’t feeling very trusting now. Turning back, she unlocked the car and reached in to grab her purse, money, camera and laptop. If anyone decided to pick up the tiny car and carry it away, she could get by with just this.
Stumbling into the dark room, she kicked the door closed. Her shoes were off in two steps, it felt glorious. Her leg smacked into the bed. Setting the precious items down on it, she shoved them to the other side and flopped down, face first. Had she asked for a wakeup call? The chances of a yes were high, but there was no way she could summon the energy to find out.