Her Last Goodbye Page 60

This was exactly what he’d been hoping for.

Perfect timing.

He parked at the curb in front of a house catty-corner from the Clark residence. The neighbors had teenagers and cars coming and going at all hours. No one would notice one more vehicle.

Last time he’d come here, the night he’d brought her home with him, he’d ridden his road bike and hidden it behind some bushes. Tonight, she’d be coming with him in his car.

Anger rose in his throat.

She’d left him to return to Tim. This time, he’d make sure Chelsea had no husband to return to. She would never choose another man over him again.

Tim had to go.

The kids too. Chelsea would never let go of her old family and embrace him while they lived. As much as it pained him to hurt two children, he had no choice. He’d be merciful. Their deaths would be quick and painless.

But not Tim’s. He had to pay, and Chelsea had to watch. She had to know that Tim’s suffering was her fault. That everything that was going to happen tonight was her doing.

After tonight she’d never fuck with him again. She’d do what she was told. She’d finally understand that he owned her.

The mark he’d left on her body was a permanent reminder.

He checked his pockets before he got out of the car: knife, duct tape, nylon rope.

He scanned the street in both directions before crossing it and jogging up the driveway. Coming and going would be the riskiest. Once he was in the house, he had confidence he’d be able to overpower Tim quickly. Once Tim was restrained, the rest would be a cakewalk.

Chelsea wasn’t in any condition to fight back. That he knew.

Once he entered the shadows on the side of the house, he breathed easier. There were enough mature trees and shrubs that the neighboring houses couldn’t see him. At the back of the house, he climbed onto the air-conditioning unit to peer through the window into the kitchen.

The house was dark. He could see through into the adjoining family room. No one was there. The TV was off.

They were probably sleeping.

He crept to the sliding glass door. Chelsea and Tim didn’t have an alarm system. He lifted the door at the handle, jiggling it until the latch opened. Most people had no idea that the latch on a standard sliding glass door was useless.

Sliding the door open, he stepped inside and listened for a few seconds. The house was quiet. He’d never been inside, but the house was small and the layout fairly obvious. A night-light in the electrical socket at knee level lit his way. He had a small flashlight in his pocket but preferred not to use it.

His sneakers were silent on the tile as he crossed the kitchen. In the adjoining family room, he entered the hall and walked to the foyer at the front of the house. The living room and dining room flanked the foyer. Both were empty and dark.

Where was Tim?

A floorboard overhead creaked. His nerves sat up straighter. Someone was awake upstairs.

The stairwell was dark as he crept up the steps. He stopped just shy of the landing and scanned the second floor. Two doorways on the left. A bathroom straight ahead. And another door on the right. Only one door was open.

Another floorboard creaked and the sound of a baby crying came from the opened doorway. Who had woken to tend to the baby?

Chelsea or Tim?

He slid the knife from his pocket and turned it over in his grip.

Moving slowly, he stole up the last few steps. On the landing, he wavered. Should he go into the nursery and confront whoever was in there? Or should he find the master bedroom?

A sleeping adult would be easier to overpower. But the person who was already awake was more likely to hear him.

He would deal with the conscious adult first and hope he didn’t wake the sleeper.

Putting his back to the wall, he sidled to the doorway and peered around the frame.

His heart stuttered. There she was.

Chelsea.

Her back was to him, so he took a minute to watch her.

Moonlight poured through the window and turned her blonde hair silver. It fell down the back of her thick robe. She was leaning over the crib and picking up the baby, her voice soft, more murmurs than words.

She was perfect.

From the first time he’d seen her he’d known. She was the one for him. Sure, he’d thought that before, and he’d been wrong that time. But this was different; this time he knew for sure.

Chelsea was wholesome and sweet. Most women ignored him, but she always smiled. She talked to him like he was normal.

His fingers tightened around the knife as he edged closer. They were going to be together again. And this time she’d never leave him. She’d learn her lesson.

He stepped into the room, planning his attack. He didn’t want her to hear him and call her sleeping husband. He needed to incapacitate and silence her. He lifted his left hand, prepared to slap it over her mouth. Once she was tied up, he’d go after Tim.

The children he could deal with at his leisure.

Then it would be just him and Chelsea. She’d be his forever.

Just a few more steps.

The floor squeaked under his sneaker. She turned around. He raised the knife.

Shock stopped him in his tracks.

Chapter Forty-Three

“Put your hands on top of your head.” Lance stepped out of the closet in the nursery, both his gun and the beam of his flashlight pointed at Derek Pagano. Lance hadn’t liked Morgan’s plan one bit, but her instincts had been dead-on.

Standing in front of the crib, wearing a blonde wig and Chelsea’s robe, Morgan pointed her own weapon at the intruder.

Derek stopped, slack-jawed for a few second. “You!”

Morgan pulled the wig off her head and tossed it into the crib. It landed next to the cell phone playing a recorded sound of a baby crying. Lance hadn’t liked her idea to trap Derek by pretending to be Chelsea, but he had to admit the plan had worked brilliantly. Chelsea had been upstairs when Morgan and Lance had arrived at the house. Lance’s knock on the door had scared Chelsea, and she’d been easy to convince that getting her family out of the house and letting Morgan take her place was their best chance to catch her kidnapper.

Derek’s eyes darted to the door, to Lance’s weapon, then to Morgan.

“Drop the knife, Derek,” Lance warned.

Derek turned toward Morgan, the shift in his posture drawing Lance a step forward. He didn’t want to shoot the nutcase—OK, maybe he did, just a little—but he wouldn’t pull the trigger unless it was absolutely necessary.

But Derek turned and ran out the door.

Damn it!

Lance couldn’t shoot a man in the back. He shoved his gun into his holster and sprinted after him. He heard Morgan behind him talking to the police.

At the bottom of the stairs, Derek hooked one hand on the bannister, skidded through a one-eighty in the foyer, and ran for the back of the house. Lance followed him down the hall and through the family room into the kitchen.

Derek slid to a stop at the sliding glass door. He flung it open and bolted through the opening into the back yard. Lance ran straight through. The pause to open the slider had allowed him to catch up. He was only a few feet behind him.

What he wouldn’t give to still be on the force. He’d fry this bastard with a stun gun in a heartbeat. But it was illegal for a private citizen to own a Taser in New York State.

Lance threw everything he had into a tackle. He pushed off one foot and dove for his running target. His arms wrapped around Derek’s legs. They crashed to the ground. Derek grunted as his body bounced on the grass. He kicked to free his legs. A heel struck Lance in the head. Stars blinked in his vision, and he lost his grip on Derek for a second.

A second was all Derek needed.

He scrambled away, kicking at Lance. Another foot connected with Lance’s face. Pain speared through his forehead and blood trickled into his eye. He grabbed for Derek again but missed.

Derek got a leg under his body and stood. His steps were unsteady as he broke into a jog and headed across the yard. Lance lurched to his feet, the old wound in his thigh screaming and reminding him why he’d left the force.

Hoping his leg held out, Lance ignored the pain and sprinted after him.

Derek ran for the corner of the house. Lance kicked his stride into full gear. But his thigh burned with every step, and Derek drew a few feet farther ahead.

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