Resilience Chapter 1
Evil’s coldness sapped warmth from Denise Tyler’s heart. The file’s contents mocked her while the dagger of exposure wrenched her soul. The couple paragraphs on the second page revealed scum below the level of Jeremy Guerdon’s pretense. How could she have believed his lies?
If she stayed there, a wreath would take the place of the lei she wore in the picture on the nightstand.
Denise tugged off the engagement ring and threw it at the mirror. Her likeness rejected it with equal tenacity. The platinum dinged off the glass and bounced a couple times on the dresser’s mahogany surface. A sparkle flashed off the three-carat diamond as if the princess-cut stone knew what she was going through and winked approval.
The satin robe she had slipped into getting out of the shower dangled around her. The paper rattled as she pulled out the note for another look. Gripping it with both hands failed to steady it. She braced her forearms. The shakes continued. Why did Jeremy write this? How could the man she intended to spend the rest of her life with want to do this to her? Each word sliced away any semblance of merit she once had for him. The line in the third paragraph weakened her beyond anything the Sarcoidosis had done to her: “Leave the family memories of her, nothing else.”
She slapped closed the cover, rubbed her throat and let her hand slide to her chest. The rhythm of her heart beat increased. Paralysis seized the muscles in her legs. Flushed, she plopped on the foot of the bed, teetering on the brink of hyperventilation. She checked other pages in the file. Halfway through the dozen or so pages, Denise let the file fall from her grasp. Jeremy Guerdon was living a double life. This secret boosted her will to leave even though leaving sealed her fate.
The opportunity diminished if Jeremy returned home before she could get out of there. His enclosure of control stifled her too long. Denise refused to utter a vow of “love, honor, and obey” at the altar after this. The discovery of Jeremy’s life as a hired assassin snapped any chance of that.
Denise swept her cell phone off the nightstand. Pressed number five. Two rings. Three. Four. Her dad’s “Hello” interrupted the fifth ring and kept her from teetering off the brink of sanity.
“I’ve got to get out of here. Where are you?” Denise parted the wine and gold drapes on the floor-to ceiling window next to the bed and checked the street.
“I’m leaving, Dad. I’m coming home.”
“No time for that now. Can you meet me in Baltimore?”
“I suppose. Where? Your apartment?”
“Yes…No! Make it the airport. I don’t want to leave my car at the apartment.”
“How soon will you be there?”
“Maybe around midnight. Meet me at Baggage Claim. I’ve got to hurry.”
“Are you all right?”
“I will be.”
Denise ended the call and rushed into the walk-in closet. Release felt as good as the faded jeans she decided on and slipped into. The baggy ones he despised made her feel more at ease. She pulled on a Dodger’s jersey, leaving it unbuttoned until she finished snatching clothes off of hangers and out of drawers and gathered necessities for her exodus.
Everything Denise needed to carry with her fit in two leather bags. She jammed her feet into a pair of white sneakers. Hooked her arm under the straps on the bags and rushed out of the room.
Halfway down the stairs light flitted across the front of the house, flashed through the first floor windows from right to left. A small car sat in the driveway alongside her Acura. Denise retreated up the stairs, squeezing the handrail with every measured step. If only she could see more of the car than the front. Denise lingered two-thirds of the way up the stairs afraid to move, thankful she had turned off every light that would give away her location.
The car’s headlights stayed on and aimed at the house. Denise checked her breathing and listened. The sound of a door closing and clack-clack rhythm on the cobblestone walkway sent her clambering to the second floor.
Denise crouched where the rail attached to the wall. From there, she had a clear view of the front door. Denise peered through the spindles, hugged the bags in an attempt to control the tremors. Anxiety forced her to whirl away from the corner. She slumped against the wall. Her legs felt boneless as she slid to the floor.
Oh, God. Was the front door locked? She couldn’t remember.
Another look provided an answer. It wasn’t what Denise hoped for. The door opened. The barrel of a pistol jutted through the space between the door and jamb.
Adrenalin rushed from her core to her extremities. Denise rolled to the right and pushed herself up with resolve and strength not available to her moments ago. She hurried through the bedroom and out the open French doors onto the deck. Skittered down the stairs. Raced around the house to her car parked in the driveway.
Denise jerked open the car door, heaved the bags inside and dove into the driver seat. She fumbled the keys. “God help me.” The visitor was nowhere in sight. Good. She’d feel better once she got away from the house, out of the city, and beyond everything and everyone having anything to do with Jeremy Guerdon.
The familiarity of her old car comforted her as she gunned past the dark sports car and into the street. The Acura’s tires squealed transitioning from cobblestone to asphalt. The engine whined, strained to meet her demand.
No traffic clogged her egress.
Motion at the front door caught her eye. A female leaped off the stoop toward the car parked in the driveway. The woman yelled something. Denise couldn’t make out what. At that moment she didn’t care.
She recognized the face. He sent her? Is she a new girlfriend? Denise had noticed the way Jeremy eyed the brunette who was present at the last two or three socials they attended.
So this is how you’re playing it.
Angela Donavan paused long enough at the driver’s door to catch a glimpse of the Acura as it dropped over the hill out of sight. She hopped in, wedged the pistol under her thigh and started the car. The Infinity G37 seemed to crank and back into the street in one instant, swaying side to side, short barks coming off its tires when they grabbed and held onto the roadway surface.
On the other side of the hill Angela jammed the brakes. The G37 slid to a stop. Angela jerked her head left, right, trying to figure out which route Denise may have taken. Deciding left, Angela caught a flicker of a taillight at the far end of the street to the right. The G37 whipped through the turn and surged forward.
The street ended at the next intersection, giving Angela more options: left, right, or turning around and heading back. Streetlamps illuminated empty streets in all directions. The Acura was nowhere in sight.
Instinct prodded Angela to whip through the neighborhood in search of Denise, try to cover as much ground as possible in the shortest amount of time. The possibility of some irate resident seeing her and calling the police to report a wild driver prompted her to call off the chase. Besides, she had the contacts needed to locate the Acura no matter where Denise fled to in it.
Angela opened the console and pulled out a satellite phone. Punched in a series of numbers, gave the computer voice on the other end a code and listened through three rings.
An answer on the other end put her in touch with the person she wanted to talk to—a contact she knew only as Simon One. “Denise ran. No sign of anyone else at the residence…I agree...Yes, I tucked the widget under the rear bumper. I’ll find her no matter where she goes.”