On the day that Ellen Delaney’s carefully constructed world shattered, she crossed December first off the desktop calendar, signed off her laptop and placed it in its black leather satchel. With the satchel set to one side, she removed the Gucci handbag from the deep drawer on the right side and pulled a small hand mirror and a tube of mauve lipstick out of the makeup tote.
Lipstick carefully applied, she dropped the tube back in the tote. The reflection staring back from the mirror showed dove gray eyes looking back from a heart-shaped face. For a woman staring at forty, she had aged well. A few light laugh lines at the corners of her eyes and a few silver strands threaded among the fall of midnight wavy hair. Her five-foot-five slender body moved with grace and style, whether clad in business suits, workout clothes or designer jeans.
A chill rain tapped lightly at the office window as she put the mirror away. A glance at the diamond-studded wrist watch had her slipping into the suit jacket hanging on the high back of the deep-red leather office chair. A quick look around assured her that everything was tidy.
The obsession with tidiness grew from the untidy things that had happened to her; the same things that had made her choose a career in Women’s Law. Such things happened to women all the time. The law could be used to tidy up a woman’s life; to make it easier; safer.
Purse and laptop satchel shouldered, her heels clicked a staccato beat across the high gloss floor. Keys jangled in one hand though a keycard worked the lock on the office suite. She strode across the carpeted reception area, stepped out of the beveled glass door. An alarm keypad hung unobtrusively on the wall to the left of the door. Code punched in, the green light flashed.
Redundant locks–the office suite, the elevator stop on the sixth floor, the exterior door to the building and the security guard at the gated garage entrance–enhanced a feeling of safety. During this past year, a sense of safety had become critical.
The law had a few drawbacks; some shortcomings. It could only function within a set parameter of evidence and argument. If only she could obtain incontrovertible proof….
The rustle of her suit and the tap of heels on the hall tiles echoed in the silence of the sixth floor at six p.m. This close to the Christmas holidays the occupants of the other offices in the ten-story Bell Town building had left earlier than normal.
The elevator hummed to a halt and its doors swished quietly open. She stepped inside the glass and chrome box and fed the keycard into the slot then hit P1 for the parking area.
Keys in hand, finger on the button of a canister of pepper spray, Ellen left the confines of the elevator and started across the well-lit parking garage. A couple of feet from her Cadillac ESL she thumbed the key fob. Headlights blinked signaling that the doors had unlocked. She swung open the driver’s door, set the laptop satchel and purse on the passenger seat, slid in quickly, clicked the seat belt and drove to the exit.
Since she owned the building, she’d set up the security routine. The high-risk occupants of the offices–wildly successful attorneys who landed on hardcore hate lists, a hard-hitting journalist whose name had made the drug cartels hit list and others whose careers increased their jeopardy–appreciated the extra layer of safety.
Simon Getting, retired Marine sergeant, walked around her car, shining a light in the back seat and peering in the front. Finally, he stepped to the driver’s side rear quarter panel and waited for the trunk lid to be opened. He inspected the trunk, slammed the lid and walked back to the security booth. “Have a nice evening, Ms. Delaney.”
She eased out of the gate and onto the street. Tonight a drive to Olympia and a late dinner at the Governor’s Mansion with Governor Andrea Marleton. A smile crossed her lips. Governor Marleton–she’d been so proud when Andrea took the Governor’s Mansion.
Andrea’s insistence on meeting tonight had impinged on other plans, but it had been for the best. What had she been thinking? It was dangerous enough that he knew about her friendship with the governor; that had been inevitable. At least, a circle of protection surrounded Andrea.
No one else’s life could be put in jeopardy. Dinner with Andrea to discuss the Notable Women in Law Award that she’d won made a good excuse to break the date with Celeste. Tomorrow the next step–dropping her gym membership.
At a time when she should be reveling in her achievements, planning future successes, she knew there would never be any future successes. Not unless she found a way to stop him.
Bittersweet that her greatest achievement had so enraged him. She’d never dreamed of winning such an prestigious award; a white trash girl from the wilds of Montana. No one would ever know that part, though. Those Libby, Montana roots had been deeply beneath stories of a head-on collision that allegedly–and conveniently–killed her parents right after she graduated high school.
They remained deceased to everyone, including herself, except for one day each year. One day that she drove hours to experience. What would happen if she failed to show this year? She forced the troubling thought away.
The mansion would be decorated for the holidays. She enjoyed that sort of thing, but had no desire to do it. For a moment, she wondered why Andrea had never married. Must not have found that special someone.
She’d given up on finding a special someone; accepted that one-night stands would fill the years. A short, bitter laugh burst out. Two years ago, everything she’d ever dreamed of had been within her grasp. Within months the dream had been shattered. She’d had a taste, though; enough to feel the ache of losing it.
Several times she’d come close to confiding in Andrea. Each time some hand of caution had clamped across her lips. Too bad that same caution hadn’t been there with Celeste. Determinedly, she locked away those melancholic thoughts. I will savor these hours with my best friend. I will not think sad thoughts.
Two point three miles from home while she hummed along with the haunting sound of Enya, a dark van shot out of Kelly Road, one lane of hard-packed dirt that served two houses back in the hill. It smashed into the back quarter panel of her car. Airbags deployed as the car spun. The steering wheel whipped in her hands as she fought it and the airbag. The front tires left the asphalt and bit into the soft side of the ditch, wrenching the wheel free from her white-knuckled grip. For a moment, her heart pounded with hope as the car teetered on the edge of the ditch. Then the wall of dirt gave way and the car slid sideways. It came to rest tilted nearly perpendicular to the roadway above. Groggy from being hit by the air bag and jerked this way and that way, she reached up and touched her forehead. She pulled her hand down in front of her eyes and stared blankly at the slick red on her fingertips. Her mind felt as sluggish as molasses on a bitter winter’s morning.
Blindly patting the passenger seat, she searched for her handbag and cell phone. The driver’s side window burst inward, sprayed her with rounded bits of shatterproof glass. An arm reached in and clamped a stinking rag across her face.
Ellen rolled to one side just in time to heave. Yellow bile spilled in a small puddle on the rough plank floor. Eyes cracked open a slit, the dull daylight caused her head to pound. She squinted her eyes and tried to scan her surroundings. None of it made sense.
She inventoried herself: black ski jacket, faded blue flannel shirt, no bra, black ski pants with a rip in the right knee where blue denim showed through. A faded black sleeping bag lay beneath her. She wiggled her toes. Felt like they were encased in wool socks within the heavy leather boots that had cracks across the toes. A little bit itchy, but she felt grateful to have the socks. Her breath clouded in front of her.
Then she saw the shackle. A dull steel chain anchored to the floor snaked across the sleeping bag and latched onto the dull steel cuff snapped around one leg just above the top of the boot. Where the hell am I?
Heart pounding, she forced herself to scan the space around her, though spears of pain shot through her head. A room. Not a very large room. Some kind of opaque white material over the only window. Light seeped through, but no way to see through it. No furniture. What the hell happened?
The last memory was… a truck of some kind roaring out of Kelly’s Road. Then… bile rose up the back of her throat. She swallowed hard. Black, someone all in black. Couldn’t see anything, except his light colored eyes. Oh, God! What kind of maniac has me?
Chamberlain, it had to be Chamberlain. Nothing else made sense. Why didn’t I see this coming? Should’ve known he’d pull something like this. There had been plenty of warnings. Why didn’t I pay more attention? Why didn’t I do something! For Christ’s sake, why didn’t I simply leave? I had the money to leave, to start over, but no, my stupid pride refused to let him chase me away from my home, my practice. Now look where I am.
Her stomach heaved again and she barely cleared the sleeping bag before the bitter bile spewed out. Flopped back on the sleeping bag, arm over her eyes, tears leaked down the sides of her face, leaving icy tracks.
None of it had mattered. None of her work had made any difference at all. She’d gone full circle. Back to what she had fled.
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