Vic hesitated. This wasn’t working. Talking about her daughter was not calming Vic in any way. “Fourteen,” she finally whispered.
“Tough age,” Del said, trying to carry the conversation along. “Is she as pretty as you were at fourteen?” he teased.
Vic’s eyes latched on to his. She took a deep breath, and something in her changed, slowly and subtly. “Noelle is much more beautiful than I ever was. She’s smart, too, and has a real talent for drawing.” Her lips parted and softened. “She hates that, that she inherited a talent from me.”
“She’d rather be like her father?”
Vic shook her head. “No. I sometimes think Noelle wishes she’d sprung from a pod, fully grown and beholden to no one.”
“Sounds like fourteen to me,” Del said, his voice low. His smile faded. “Was she home this morning?”
Vic shook her head. “No, thank God. She’s in Gulf Shores with a friend’s family. They went on vacation and Michelle refused to go without her best friend.” Finally, she smiled again. “You should see her,” she whispered. “She’s so…so much like…” She stopped, her throat worked gently, and she shook her head. “Del…”
In the distance, he heard a muted noise. With a whispering breath, he shushed Vic. “Hear that?”
“A car.” He strained as he listened hard. “A car door.”
She began to tremble. “Do you think they came back?”
Del shook his head. “Nope. I think it’s the cavalry. Can you scream, baby?”
Vic shook her head, and Del shouted. “Up here!” Vic jumped, as if her entire body had been shocked. She didn’t scream. “Hurry!” Del shouted again when he heard footsteps pounding on the stairs.
“If it is the cavalry,” Vic whispered, “are they too late? How much time do we have?”
Del smiled. “Enough, I think.”
“You think?” Vic asked.
The door to the room burst open, and Vic almost fainted. Her vision blurred and her head swam. This couldn’t possibly be the cavalry. The man who stood in the doorway was small, very thin. His hair was as long as Del’s, and the fine strands were a dirty dark blond instead of Del’s thick black. His eyes were…buggy, his face was pale. He held a gun in one hand and a knife in the other and he was poised to do battle.
“It’s about time,” Del snapped. “Get us out of here.”
The little man holstered his gun. “Sorry I’m late,” he said as he came toward them with the knife grasped in his hand. “I got lost. Took the wrong exit.” He glared accusingly at Del. “Man, your one looked like a seven. Anyway, I turned around and headed back this way….”
“Shock,” Del snapped, “I hate to interrupt, but there’s a bomb taped to the underside of the chair. How about take a peek and see how much time we have left.”
The man Del called Shock complied, dropping down and sticking his head beneath the chair. The single word that came out of his mouth did nothing to soothe Vic’s nerves.
“I hate bombs,” he said as he returned to an upright position and began to decisively and expertly cut away the duct tape that bound Vic and Del together and to the chair. “Hate ’em.”
“Tilt detonator?” Del asked.
“Yup,” Shock said as he continued to cut.
“How’s our time?”
“Shorter than I’d like.”
As Shock moved behind Vic, he whistled through his teeth. “You’re bleeding,” he said without slowing his chore.
“It’s not too bad,” Vic said, her voice not rising as much as she’d intended.
Shock just made a noise, something between a groan and a hum.
When she was free, Vic thought about standing. And couldn’t. Her legs shook. Her hands trembled. She glanced down at the gashes on her fingers as Shock cut the last of Del’s bonds away. Blood dripped down her palm, across her wrist.
When Del was free, he put his arms around her, assisted her to her feet and led her from the room. Quickly. Shock was right behind, doing his best to hurry them along. Del, one arm securely around Vic’s waist, pulled her so quickly her feet barely touched the ground as they flew down the stairs.
She wasn’t exactly thinking rationally. Halfway down the stairs, she came up short. “My cell phone is still up there.”
“Screw the cell phone,” Del grumbled as he dragged Vic off her feet and down the rest of the stairs.
They ran through the double front doors, into the bright summer sunshine. Vic apparently wasn’t running fast enough to suit Del; he dragged her along. A moment after they left the building, Shock appeared at her other side.
“Let’s go,” he said as he added his arm around her waist.
The two men pulled her along, her feet off the ground, her heart caught in her throat. They had reached the parking lot and were running hard toward the two cars at the far end when the explosion rocked the building behind them. The noise was deafening, the blast of heat unnatural even on this summer day. Shattering glass was loud, a strangely pretty, dangerous sound. Shards landed in the parking lot, just behind them. As she heard the glass land on the asphalt, Vic was glad Del and Shock had grabbed her up and hurried her along. They didn’t look back, not until they reached the cars.
Vic’s heart sank as she studied those cars, a black Jaguar and an electric-blue Dodge Viper. Those two vehicles together surely cost more than her house. Del Wilder, a drug dealer. She couldn’t believe it. “At least they didn’t take your Jag,” Shock said.
Del responded without emotion. “Even Tripp and Holly are too smart for that. They want to disappear and a Jag is definitely not a ride that makes you invisible.”
Vic listened, but her mind was elsewhere. She had almost told Del about Noelle, she had almost confessed to him that they had a child together. That could never happen. Never. If someone would try to get to Del through her, what would they do if they knew he had a daughter?
They watched the building burn.
“Did they get your Glock?” Shock asked.
“Yep,” Del answered.
Shock mumbled an obscenity, then turned to Vic and smiled, presenting a grin that was all teeth and gums. “Name’s Albert Shockley, ma’am,” he said. “But you can call me Shock. A name should suit a person, you know? I don’t know what my mother was thinking when she named me Albert.” He waited a moment. “And you are?”
“Vic,” she said, the name barely passing through her lips.
Shock’s smile faded a little, and he turned a suspicious glance to Del, who continued to watch the spreading fire.
“Vic,” Shock repeated. “Now, that’s just not right. Vic is a name for a fat, smelly guy, not a pretty lady. Gotta be short for something.”
“Victoria,” she whispered.
Del tore his attention away from the burning warehouse and took her hand in his, studying the cuts on her fingers. Again, he cursed.