Authors: Dee Henderson
Adam thought he was being warned off until he looked at Dave and saw, instead of the protection of a brother and an FBI agent, the man who knew Sara better than anyone in the world. “Two weeks,” Adam had agreed.
Dave gave him a half smile. “She’s going to say no.”
“Not if you arrange it.”
Adam looked at Sara now, trying to decide if she was offended or not.
“I will say this for you, Adam Black, you are an ambitious man.”
He laughed and gently squeezed her shoulder. “Good. So allow me to be extremely ambitious with a request.”
“Come to my place for coffee and a movie after we leave here. I’ll even let you pick out the video from my collection.”
“I don’t know…”
“Ask Dave. If he’s agreeable, then come.”
She thought about it. “I’ll ask him.”
“Thank you.” If the next several hours went smoothly, he might finally have this friendship on a firmer ground. If they didn’t find that stability soon, he risked losing her for good.
ara struggled with her wardrobe, trying to find a combination that was elegant and informal at the same time. She had enough practice that she knew how to pull it off. But not for a date. It changed the equation completely.
Dave was due back soon. He had dropped Linda off first, Sara second, then left to take Adam home and have a look at the security in his building.
I can’t believe I said yes to a real date….
She finally settled on a comfortable mix of clothes—a ruby red, baby-soft sweater, jeans to keep it informal, a thin fourteen-carat gold necklace and earrings. Around one wrist, she placed her wide-band watch, around the other, a white wristband.
“Sara, are you ready to go?”
Dave was back already? Sara hurriedly sprayed some of her favorite perfume. “I’m ready.”
Dave was in the dining room. “I’ve got new batteries for your cellular phone. How much cash are you carrying?” He tucked his second gun out of sight behind his back.
Sara replaced the batteries in her phone. She placed a call to their own home to confirm it was working, then checked her cash. “Eighty dollars.”
“Put forty in your pocket, the rest in your purse.”
There was a map on the table. “Here’s the building where Adam lives. The security is good inside. His condo is on the third floor. There are two main elevators, a freight elevator, and stairway exits here, here, and here if you need them. If we get separated, there’s a department store at the corner of Lemont and Harris where it should be easy to get lost in the crowd. The police station is here.”
Sara memorized what she was seeing. “The police station phone number?” As Dave told her the numbers, Sara punched them into her phone as the ninth speed dial number. “Got it.”
Dave rubbed her tense shoulders. “Relax, Sara. This is routine; you do it every time for every new place.”
“I can’t help feeling like I’m going to be under a microscope. Where will you be?”
“I’ll make sure you are comfortable in Adam’s place, then disappear. There is a central security room that monitors the lobby, the elevators, all the halls, and the fire exits. Their camera security is quite good. I’ll be there for the rest of the evening. Ben has offered to be an extra presence in the building lobby.”
“It has to be two people?”
“Even at home there are at least two people. Don’t worry about it. It’s part of the job. Besides, Ben offered to swap me the time for Thursday afternoon so he could see the White Sox game.”
“Buy the tickets for him.”
“I already have.” Dave smiled. “I would be outside the apartment door and put Ben in the security room, but having met Adam’s husky, I think you’ll have pretty good security between that dog and Adam.”
“What’s the dog’s name?”
“King Henry. Henry for short. The dog must weigh seventy pounds at least. It nearly knocked me over saying hello.”
The car ride to Adam’s home was made in silence.
How much did she risk telling Adam? Did she keep the evening totally casual and entirely avoid the subject of her past, or did she tell him more of it? She hadn’t told him about Kim or about the H. Q. Victor books. Or about the ranch. So many untold facts were piling up.
She had been a coward not to tell him about Kim. He had to know. About how Kim died. About how the second kidnapper came back after her death. Adam had to understand her past and what that experience had done to her inside.
What if he walked away once he knew? He might. They weren’t pleasant memories to deal with. They still came all too often to the surface.
What should I say?
Dave pulled up to the condominium complex, and her time to decide was over.
Adam opened the door to meet them. His husky pushed around him, eager to greet the company.
“Henry, behave yourself.”
Sara laughed and took hold of the massive paws that were resting on her chest. A gentle nudge convinced the dog not to stand nose to nose with her. The husky was a beautiful animal. Sara relished the affection as the animal leaned against her.
The condo smelled of freshly brewed coffee. On the dining room table was a cheesecake that Adam managed to have delivered from somewhere for dessert.
“Thanks for coming.”
She was trying not to blush at his appraisal. “It’s my pleasure.”
“Please, come on in, have a seat.” Adam gestured toward the living room.
It was obvious why companies kept coming back to him year after year for commercial endorsements. He had changed into jeans and a black shirt. It was hard to look away.
His condo was not what she had expected. It was spacious and well decorated. Rather than highlight his career in football, it showcased his attachment to family and friends in pictures and sketches done by very young artists.
“Can I show you around?”
Sara realized to her relief that he was nervous as well. “Please.”
If the newspapers, magazines, and stacked biographies were any indication, Adam spent most of his time relaxing in his den. His packed bookshelves were impressive. She would have liked to linger.
She saw her H. Q. Victor books on the bottom shelf, easy to spot, for the hardback covers were black, each with one single word written in blood red on the spine.
Shawn. Tara. Benjamin. Scott. Jennifer.
Sara glanced at Adam who now rested his hand at the small of her back, guiding her. Would he understand if he knew that the author who wrote such award-winning children’s books and the author who wrote such international bestsellers about murdered children were one and the same? They were two different parts of who she was: one a grownup expression of the innocence and talent of who she was before the kidnapping, the other an expression of the anger and rage of who she was after the kidnapping.
They were both her. She had learned how to let the two sides of her personality coexist, accepting each, denying neither. But could Adam? Could he understand that at thirty-one, each reflected the totality of who she really was?
It had taken two decades for God to help ease her pain and anger and grief into a safe expression. When she wrote she could step back from the tragedy that was her life. She could look at it, taste it, feel it. It was something that could be examined and analyzed. The past no longer made her bleed, even if it still bound her freedom.
The man who still stalked her would probably be surprised to learn his victim now pitied him more than hated him. God had been good to her in that respect. What hatred had festered, God had lanced early. Sara now simply longed for him to be caught, for justice to be done, for her nightmare to be over.
There would be a final H. Q. Victor book someday. Her book. Kim’s book. That book would be a final sign that she was truly free.
It was too complex to even approach the topic. She said nothing as Adam directed her from the den, his hand warm on the back of her sweater.
There were three bedrooms and two baths in the condo; the master bedroom was large and spacious; the guest rooms looked as if they had not been disturbed since his housekeeper had last dusted.
Back in the kitchen, the short tour completed, Adam reached for coffee mugs he had set out. “There is cream in the refrigerator and sugar in the bowl on the counter.” He poured her a cup.
“Thanks.” Sara accepted the drink, glad to have something in her hands.
His refrigerator was covered with snapshots of the lake, his family, men who were obviously teammates, even baby pictures. “That’s an impressive collection,” she commented as she stirred a small amount of cream into her coffee.
“I keep in touch with most of the guys I ever played football with and their families. Anyone who has a kid knows to send me a picture.”
The man had a sentimental streak. Not many men she had met did.
“The living room?”
Dave had silently slipped away, Sara realized. She was grateful for that.
Rather than sit when they entered the living room, Sara wandered around the room, looking at photos.
“That one is my dad.”
Adam was beside her.
There was a wealth of sadness in his voice. Sara looked up in surprise. Adam’s attention was in the past.
He shook off the memories. “He died ten months ago.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“So am I. He was my best friend.”
She absorbed that comment, knowing how that pain must feel. She moved on down the wall of pictures, asking about them.
It was obvious his family was special to him, especially his sister’s three children. He talked about what they were doing for the summer, what they each liked to do for hobbies. Sara wasn’t surprised to find out he often spent Saturday afternoons playing ball with them.
When they were both on their second cup of coffee, Sara finally found a seat. She chose a comfortable chair across from the couch. Adam settled down on the couch.
“It took about an hour for me to figure out you and Dave had arranged today’s riding date well in advance,” Sara commented.
King Henry was at her side, his head resting on her knee, gazing up at her with adorable eyes as she stroked his head.
Adam smiled. “When you know going straight ahead means meeting a blocker, that leaves doing an end run. Dave knew you would eventually make the suggestion, although you certainly kept me waiting long enough.”
“You could have told me what you had in mind.”
“You would have said no.”
Sara had to concede Adam was right.
“Don’t start thinking about security for the next time we meet,” Adam warned. “Tonight is coffee, a video, and cheesecake for dessert. Tomorrow can take care of itself.”
“Why don’t you decide on a video while I cut the dessert? That is, if Henry will let you move an inch or two. He’s in love.”
“So am I,” Sara replied with a laugh. She got up to review the tapes in his entertainment center.
Adam returned with two plates balanced in one hand, a refill for her coffee in the other. “So what movie have you selected for us to watch?”
She held up a videotape.
“Sara, please select something else.” He set down the dessert plates.
“Nope. My choice. This is what I want to watch first.” It was a tape labeled Adam’s Thirty-Fifth Birthday Party. She was amused at his discomfort.
“My dad was taping the entire thing and adding commentary as he went along.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think. You don’t need this kind of reminder of what you’ve lost.”
Adam’s hand covered hers. “It’s okay. It will probably be good in fact. Put it in.”
She bit her bottom lip.
“I’ll stop it if I decide it’s too much,” Adam told her firmly. Sara reluctantly did as he requested.
They shared the couch.
The video had been filmed in his condo, a surprise birthday party with all his family and about thirty other guests present. The tape began with hurried calls to be quiet; the photographer caught Adam’s startled expression when he opened the door.
Adam narrated parts of the video while they ate their cheesecake, introducing people to her, most of whom had familiar names.
Sara was relieved that after a few tense minutes, Adam seemed to relax and truly enjoy the video.
Adam and children? Sara felt a growing sense of dread as she realized the number of interactions the tape had captured with Adam and his extended family. From the oldest to the youngest, the children all adored him. The affection was mutual. During the tour he had given her of his home, Sara had seen some of the children’s handmade birthday gifts still on display.
Adam had been holding a baby during the last clip of film, carrying the infant around as he would cradle a football, the only one at the party apparently able to stop the infant’s crying.
Sara felt cold.
What have I let develop?
Adam’s hand dug into her forearm, keeping her steady, his other hand removing her coffee mug.
“I got dizzy for a second.” She forced a smile back on her face. “It’s already passing.”
“You’re white as a ghost.”
Because you would want—no need—children in your marriage. And I can’t have children. Can’t even consider adopting.
The coffin lid on their relationship had just been nailed shut, and it made her physically sick.
Lord, I should have known. He’s at that age. He’s a natural family man. And I never even considered it. What have I done?
“Let me call Dave.”
“No!” She took a deep breath. “I’ll be fine. Just give me a minute,” she pleaded, seeking a grip on his hand to stop his movement and also to still her own tremors. She scrambled to buy herself more time. “Tell me more about your father.”
She could see that Adam didn’t want to change the subject, but he did so at her insistence.
“He believed there was nothing impossible if you desired it enough to work for it. He loved helping people live up to their potential. He loved the outdoors and traveled all over the world, was into ecology concerns long before it became fashionable. He loved to have fun.”
Sara slowly loosened her grip on his hand. “It sounds like he was a wonderful man.”
His hand brushed back her hair. “Come on, Sara, trust me. What just happened?”
“A memory, with consequences that reach far into the future.”
She needed to say, “I can’t have children.” She needed to end this relationship before she hurt him. She couldn’t do it.
The entire subject tore at her, shredding her heart, her hope.… She rose and walked toward the windows. She rarely if ever let herself think about children…about all that had been sacrificed in her life.
She knew what it was like to grow up surrounded by security. She couldn’t do that to her own children. She couldn’t put them at risk either. Which left one choice: no children. She had faced that fact years before. It cut deep into who she longed to be, but she had no choice.
It was late—dusk—and the city lights dominated the skyline.
She couldn’t tell him.
Adam joined her, his arm encircling her waist. She was drawn back against his strength and held.