Clouds gathered, pushed and pummelled by an angry wind, and rain began to whisper down from the bruised skies. Katherine Pearson stood at the bedroom window, staring out at the darkening landscape. Hearing footsteps, she turned, the silk skirt of her dress rustling softly as her fiancé, Robert Spencer, entered the room.
He paused on the threshold and took time to study her, eyes gleaming appreciatively. She was wearing a crimson evening gown which showed off her svelte figure and brought out the auburn highlights in her hair.
“You look amazing,” he said and walked forward with his arms outstretched.
Kate sank into his embrace and sighed wearily. “There are so many of these parties running up to Christmas, I hardly have time to catch my breath before the next one is upon us. Do you mind if we don’t stay so late tonight?”
Robert stepped back from her and smiled down into her face. “Of course not, babe. I don’t think I’ll find it too hard to leave early when I have the prospect of a warm bed with you to come back to.” He grinned seductively and, as usual, she was amazed at how quickly his charm disarmed her as prickles of heat swarmed over her skin like little fireflies.
He began to drop light teasing kisses on to her lips. “You’ll ruin my lipstick!” she protested, laughing.
“Do you really care?” he replied, amusement bubbling in his voice. He pulled her closer to him and covered her lips with his, probing her mouth with his tongue.
Just as she opened up to him, he cut off the kiss abruptly. “Damn!” he exclaimed, breaking away from her.
“What? What is it?” she asked, alarmed.
“Sorry,” he said reaching for her wrap. “Put this on. I’ve just remembered that there’s an important case I need to review before my meeting on Monday morning. We’re going to have to stop off at the office on the way to the party.” Robert occupied the senior manager’s position in the accounts section of her father’s Bespoke Cars company. As treasurer of her father’s charity, Kate visited the office regularly and that was where she had first bumped in to him, quite literally.
“Can’t you access it from your laptop?” Kate queried.
He sighed. “Yes, but I left it at work, didn’t I? I know you hate it when I’m glued to the computer all weekend. I meant to bring the paper file home with me. I’m sorry.”
As he wrapped the luxurious garment around her shoulders, he ran a hand up her arm and his mouth momentarily lingered on the soft, tempting line of her neck. His breath sent shivers up her spine. Kate turned to him and their lips inevitably met again. This time she was the one who broke the contact. Pushing him away she said, “If we need to make a detour you should definitely stop this! You’ll make us terribly late!”
“You’re right,” he said, “but you’re so terribly tempting.” She laughed and, turning from him, she examined her face in the mirror and hastily reapplied her lipstick.
Robert hurried down the stairs. Kate followed more cautiously, berating her feet for their long and stubborn refusal to accustom themselves to high heels. Jeremy, their driver, met them at the bottom but Robert dismissed him, insisting that he felt like driving and wanted to keep a clear head for the next day.
The night was swiftly spreading its dark wings over the city and the wind whirled around them every so often, delivering frenzied sprays of rain that battered the car like bullets. Robert slid the BMW smoothly into the courtyard of the Martin de Pores building and halted outside the main entrance.
He turned to Kate. “I won’t be a minute,” he said, dropping a quick peck on to her cheek and squeezing her hand.
Kate watched him hurry into the office and then lowered her head to begin scrutiny of her short nails, wondering whether she should change the stance of a lifetime and visit a manicurist.
She raised her head in surprise when the driver’s door opened and Robert reappeared, slightly breathless, after departing only seconds before.
“Katherine,” he said, an urgent rasp to his voice, “The alarm is disabled and the doors are disengaged.”
Her eyes widened and she was about to speak when he grabbed hold of her shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he soothed. “It’s probably just a system failure or power outage. I’m going back in to check things out.”
Kate clutched hold of him. “Are you sure that’s wise, Rob? What if it’s an intruder?”
“I don’t want to contact the police when it could be nothing.”
She still clung to him, her stomach tightening uneasily. “What if...?” she began.
He silenced her by placing a kiss on her trembling lips. “I’m a big boy,” he said, “I can look after myself. I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
He pulled himself from her grasp and was out of the car and racing back to the building before she could voice any further protest. She stared after him, unable to shake off a feeling of foreboding. Despite the warm air blasting out from the car heater, she shivered as thunder growled overhead like a predatory animal awakening from its sleep.
As time ticked by with no sign of Robert returning, Kate began to feel more apprehensive. She glanced at the illuminated digital clock on the car dash. It had only been ten minutes but it felt like forever because she was waiting, alone and anxious. She focused on the entrance to the building, willing Robert to return quickly so she could shake off her misgivings and they could carry on with their night together. It was now ten to eight and they were due at the party for eight o’clock.
When it reached eight pm and Robert had still not emerged from the building, Kate decided she couldn’t stand this tense inactivity any longer. Grabbing her phone from her handbag, she hastily pressed the speed dial. She heard the phone ring out and waited for Robert to pick up but it eventually reverted to voicemail. She made several more attempts but failed to reach him.
Now her worst imaginings broke loose through her mind like a fluttering throng of black-winged birds. Had Robert disturbed an intruder? He could be hurt or in some kind of trouble. She must not waste any more time. She struggled to still her trembling fingers as she dialled the police.
Kate felt a lot calmer when she had finished her call to the police. She had been near hysterics when they answered but they had calmed her down. Talking through the events had helped to anchor her fears and give her a sense of control over the situation. They had listened to her carefully despite the fact she had not got much to tell them. She could not even say if a crime had been committed, only that the building was unlocked, her fiancé hadn’t returned and he wasn’t answering his phone. Commended for not panicking and entering the building herself, she’d been instructed to wait until an officer got to her and checked things out.
Suddenly she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked across at the offices and cried out with relief, offering a silent prayer to God for ending this nerve-racking episode. Robert was there and had returned at last. She flung open the door of the car and ran to meet him in sheer relief and delight, heedless of the rain that was still spitting down from the sullen sky. Until that moment, she had truly been convinced something horrible had happened
As she neared him, she blurted “Rob! Thank God! Like a fool I’ve phoned the police but....” She abruptly broke off her sentence as lightning flashed and the realisation flared, equally bright in her mind, that the man in front of her was not Robert. She tried vainly to halt her forward momentum.
The man had not even been looking at her but behind him into the building. He had somehow missed her approach but, at the sound of her voice, he turned towards her and shot out a hand that was as swift and as startling as a snake. Instead of falling into the welcoming arms of her lover, she found herself grabbed harshly and spun around with her arm held behind her in a vice like grip.
She had little time to adjust herself to the shock of this unexpected situation and instinctively cried out in fear and surprise. Her captor immediately put his other hand over her mouth and snarled, “Who the ’ell are you and what are you doing here?” an Irish lilt doing nothing to soften the censure in his tone.
It struck her as ironic that this was the very question she would have asked him if she could but, with his hand held so firmly on her mouth, she could not speak. But there was no need to reply. He answered for her with the words, “Of course...! You must be his bitta fluff.”
She struggled then, fearing not for herself but for Robert. He tightened his hold and said, “What was it you said just now? You’ve gone an’ called the cops? Shit!”
As if on cue a police car then turned into the car park, its headlights illuminating them briefly before it came to a halt. She felt him tense and, in contrast, she sagged with relief. Now this would all be over she thought.
As the police officer was busy getting out of the car, her aggressor pulled her upright with a jerk and his voice hissed urgently in her ear, “As far as they are concerned, I am your boyfriend and there is absolutely nothing wrong here. There’s a bomb in that building. If you do anything to alert them, I’ll blow it all to ’ell, along with your fella. You’d better act your part well if you value his life.”
With these words the man destroyed any delusionary hope Kate had momentarily felt and his next move took her completely off guard. He held his grip on her arm but subtly and quickly changed their positions, so she was facing him, took her other arm in his grasp and pulled her towards him, his mouth meeting hers before she had any chance to resist.
The kiss was blessedly hard and quick and as he released her mouth he called across to the approaching officer, “My girlfriend here told me she’d called you. She rang you unnecessarily I’m afraid. There’s been no break-in.” He squeezed her arm, a reminder to her, she had no doubt, of her role and his warning. Then he finally took his hands off her.
Kate’s head was reeling. She felt assaulted on both a mental and physical level and it took all her strength to resist the overwhelming and instinctive urge to retaliate. Instead she plastered what she hoped was a convincing smile on her face as the policeman approached.
“Evening Miss,” he said in greeting. He introduced himself as Police Constable Anthony Connor, produced a notebook and asked, “Were you the lady that made the report?”
She nodded and the officer’s gaze lingered on her a little while, no doubt taking in her dishevelled hair and flushed face. It was then that she fully appreciated how crafty the man had been as Officer Connor would surely put this down to the kiss he had witnessed.
“The weather’s quite nasty and you look frozen Miss. I’ll try not to keep you both very long. Can I just verify a few things?” He didn’t wait for a reply and simply continued, “You are Miss Pearson?” Kate confirmed this was correct with another nod. He looked down at his notes. “I notice here that a Harry Pearson is the landlord. Is that a relation of yours?”
“Yes, that’s my father,” Kate replied.
She felt the assessing eyes of her assailant upon her. She glanced towards him but switched her gaze swiftly back to the policeman, shivering not only from the cold but also from the undisguised hostility she had seen in his eyes.
“I’d normally have to notify him if there’s been a security breach.”
Kate was about to affirm that this was quite alright when the stranger stepped in and countered, “I don’t think that is necessary, officer. There’s no sign of an intruder or any disturbance. I’ve been inside and I think it was just a system fault. No need to trouble Mr. Pearson. I’ll mention it to Harry tomorrow, myself.”
The policeman now gave his full attention to her partner, carefully considering the man beside her, who Kate noticed held himself confidently under his scrutiny. “And your name, Sir?” asked the officer.
Kate wondered how he would respond. When he gave out Robert’s name without hesitation, her heart sank. Her thoughts turned once more to Robert. What if he was dead already or in need of medical attention? She trembled, torn between the desire to give the policeman some positive sign that there was a problem and knowing that, if she did, she could be putting all of them in immediate and mortal danger. A bomb explosion would certainly ruin any chances for Robert’s survival and might injure them as well.
The officer continued with, “You have authority to enter the building Sir, I take it?”
“Can I see some credentials?”
Kate held her breath. Would he be able to produce this? Should she do something? What if her assailant couldn’t comply with this request and now panicked and set off the bomb?
As if fate had intervened, this crisis point was interrupted by a loud bleep and an electronically distorted voice. Officer Connor excused himself and turned away, lifting a walkie-talkie to his ear.
After a few moments, he turned back to them and said, “I’m sorry but I have to go. There’s a more urgent matter I’ve been called to deal with. Thank you both for your co-operation. I have your details so I’ll send someone to make further checks on Monday morning. Is the building now secured?” he queried.
Her attacker nodded and said, “Everything’s back online now. False alarm I think. Sorry to ’ave wasted your time.”
The police officer seemed satisfied with this and, after wishing them good night, walked back to his car. Kate watched him get in the car, whip it around and drive speedily away. With him left any last vestige of hope she had harboured.
As soon as the vehicle was out of sight, her captor grabbed her arm. However, Kate had anticipated this and spun around letting all her pent up fear and frustration out as she lunged at him with her free arm. He only just dodged her strike and grabbed her attacking arm seconds before her nails bit into his cheek.
He held both her arms in check and said, “Just calm down, will you? I’m not gonna harm you.”
She didn’t believe him. He’d planted a bomb and she could identify him. Taking in his demeanour and clothing she couldn’t believe she had mistaken him for Robert. She’d seen what she’d wanted and expected to see. It was a blunder she would pay for, she knew that with utter certainty. He was Robert’s height maybe and had dark hair but there any similarity ended. He was dressed completely in black. Flinty grey eyes glared out at her from under an untidy mop of coarse black hair. He looked a good ten years older than her fiancé and had an angular face with high, narrow cheekbones that gave him a slightly savage, wolfish air.
He grasped her arms tightly now and shook her, “Why did you ’ave to show up? You’re coming with me.” Roughly pulling her along with him, he headed towards the back of the building. Kate resisted with all her strength, trying to extricate herself from his grasp and, when this failed, she raged, “Let me go! Let me go!” He paid no heed, dragging her after him.
They stumbled onto a cobbled, unlit side street. A black Mazda MX5 was parked there. He swiftly released the locking mechanism and forced her down into the passenger seat whilst she kicked and screamed. He easily avoided her thrashing limbs and secured the seat-belt across her, slamming the door on her histrionics. She began to grapple wildly with the door handle. It was locked of course.
As he took his seat, the forbidding stranger warned, “I wouldn’t do that.”
But, instead of stopping, Kate increased her efforts. She had to find some way out, some way to get back to Robert! She found herself wrenched back around by a powerful pull on her wrist. She shrieked and struggled to no avail. His hand found her throat. He leaned close, putting further pressure on her arm and pinning her to the seat with his weight. She whimpered in pain and protest, trying vainly to turn her face away from his.
“Shut the hell up!” he spat, emphasising each word, his tone vicious. He jerked away from her.
She trembled uncontrollably and tears now dripped slowly down her face. Her arm burned where his hand had been and she could feel the spittle he had left on her cheek. Sobs rose in her throat and she tried to smother them, afraid of another backlash.
He started the car, revved the engine violently, and then sped out of the back street, swerving on to the main carriageway. Watching him drive, Kate considered her options. She could grab the wheel but he had already demonstrated his superior strength and this would probably just annoy him further or cause an accident. Either way, the outcome was unlikely to be her freedom.
Her mind clamped down on the panic and terror that threatened to engulf her. She had to try and stay calm and just keep alert to any opportunity that might help her to get away. She must escape and get help for Robert. If she concentrated on this positive goal, maybe she wouldn’t feel so powerless and afraid.