In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 36

Chad stood near the city bus stop, watching Katherine go into the dressmaker’s salon. When he read about her engagement to John Wheaton, he saw red. Furious that she should so callously cast him aside for the like of him made his blood boil. Not that he had any actual interest in her. He just didn’t want to see her happy. His misery throughout his life was all her fault. She should share in his misfortune. That was only fair.

He couldn’t understand how the bastard was still alive. He had cut him bad enough to kill him. He looked heavenward. “Do you hate me that much?” he screamed. A woman standing nearby gave him a sharp look and moved away. He smiled in satisfaction.

For the past week, he had watched her go from store-to-store, always with the accompaniment of either her father or some older woman. He thought she must be her stepmother or something like that. Perhaps the old man had a mistress who doted on the “darling Katherine.” He also noticed a man following them. He tried to be casual in his khaki slacks and button up Opie Taylor shirts, but Chad knew how to spot a bodyguard. He smiled at this thought. “Go ahead. Waste some more of that precious money.” The woman, who had shifted over earlier, cast him a sideways glance, gathered her precious children to her, and inched farther over on the seat. He glared at her. He ought to take one of those brats and run as fast as he could. She certainly had enough of them. She’d probably welcome one less mouth to feed. He’d bring it back, of course. Who’d want to keep a bratty kid like that? It would show her she couldn’t protect them. Maybe he’d sell it. He’d read somewhere there was a huge demand for stolen brats on the black market.

A few minutes later, Katherine exited the shop, laughing and carrying a long garment bag, which he assumed to be her wedding dress. They stopped at the corner, waited for the light, and crossed the street. They disappeared into the flower shop and came out, still carrying only the garment bag.

They walked back to the car and handed the package to a man standing there, the same man Chad had seen lurking around the apartment building since the night they forced him out of his apartment—another bodyguard? They weren’t fooling him. He laughed aloud, throwing back his head and letting it loose. This time, the woman stood and ushered her children away. He shouted after her, “This is the last bus stop for a least a mile.” She looked back over her shoulder and hurried faster. He laughed again. He loved the effect he had on people.

He had watched for some opportunity to sneak into the apartment, maybe get a chance to get Tony alone. Tony had liked him. Chad felt sure he would let him in, but then he had thought better of it. There was no telling how much brainwashing they might have done. He could not take the chance. He grinned. It didn’t matter. They could fool themselves all they wanted. He knew how to get in. He was just waiting for the right moment.

They also had forced him to leave his job. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he woke up in the trailer that first morning and a cop car was there, showing his picture around—or at least he assumed it was his picture. Then he had snuck into the break room and overheard someone talking about how the cops were looking for crazy Chad. He had been angry at first, talking crap about him and all that, but then he had cooled down. He didn’t want to lose his focus.

He did not vacate the trailer. After all, he did need a place to stay, even if he had to leave during the day and could only return after the pit closed down for the day. Therefore, what better thing did he have to do with his time, except follow the bitch and wait for the right time?

He had not seen his father since that morning, either. He still fumed over his betrayal, especially after all he had done for that man. He ought to call the cops and turn him in. Then again, the man was a sissy and, if he did turn him in, he might rat him out and spoil his plan. He would deal with the old man after he took care of Katherine.

He was running low on money, too. A man could only live so long on the measly amount he had saved from the sand and gravel job. Even though the apartment rent had been free, they had still had to eat and pay utilities. He should have made his father pay more since he had been pulling in more from the maintenance job. Chad still smiled over the cleverness of the whole scheme—living rent-free and collecting a paycheck for doing virtually nothing. He should have given himself a job, as well. Oh well, too late for that.

The women handed off their package and started walking again. They went into a bakery, were in there long enough to bake a cake, and came out carrying two small boxes. Then they walked back to the car and climbed inside. Obviously, their shopping trip had ended.

According to the paper, the wedding was getting close, which meant Chad was running out of time.

Across town, Spencer swept a floor with fluid movements. He had settled into the routine easily enough: rise, eat, sweep the floor, bathe, and hit the road ‘looking for a job.’ He had no real intention of searching for employment. He was biding his time. What he was waiting for he did not know—Chad to make his next move perhaps.

“Hey, Simon,” the director called. “Time to hit the road.”

Spencer nodded his understanding and leisurely strolled to the broom closet to put away the broom. He wasn’t in a hurry. He had nothing but time on his hands.

He passed the director’s office and waved. “Hey,” the director called. Spencer stopped. “Good luck out there today.”

“Thanks.”

Spencer wandered over to the diner and sidled into a booth. “Hey there, stranger,” Sheila greeted him. “Coffee and toast?”

Spencer smiled. “You got it.”

When she left, taking her butt-swing with her, Spencer sat back to wait for his breakfast. Although he had managed to save quite a bit while living in the apartment, he knew it would run out soon. Toast and coffee were all he felt he could afford for his first meal of the day. If he were lucky, he might pick up something like a day laborer when his money ran out—assuming he was still around when that happened.

Sheila came back with the coffee and toast. “I brought you the paper,” she said.

“Thanks, Sheila.”

Sheila hesitated before walking away. “Hey, Spencer,” she began. He gave her his full attention. “I’ve been thinking about you and me.”

He cocked his head sideways. “Oh? How so?”

“Well, we seem to get along fairly well. We don’t argue or nothing, and I was wondering if you wanted to come to my house on Monday and catch some football with me?”

Spencer smiled. The idea sounded appealing to him. Sheila was pretty enough, not Miss America or anything, certainly not model material, but she was pleasant to look at. “Sounds fun,” he said, not wanting to hurt her feelings. It did sound fun. He just didn’t know if he would be around on Monday.

She beamed at him. “All right then,” she said. “You a beer drinker?”

He shook his head. “Iced tea or coffee, believe it or not,” he said and chuckled.

“You in AA?” she asked.

He shook his head. “No. I just like to stay in control.”

She nodded. “Good plan.”

“Hey, Sheila,” Stan shouted from the back, “Yak on your own time.”

She glanced at Stan with half a frown, then back at Spencer. “Sorry, I got to get back to work.”

“No problem.”

He left the trailer the morning after he had arrived with Chad and had been staying at the Salvation Army ever since. He had lied to them to get in, said he had a drug habit and was trying to kick it. They gave him a bed, a broom, a list of NA meetings—told him he had to attend one every day—and told him he had to leave every morning to look for work.

He hit it off well with the director and spent most of his time shooting the breeze with him. On the mornings he was busy, like today, Ben made him leave.

He wondered, from time-to-time, what Chad was doing. Part of him wanted to find him, but the sensible part said to stay as far away as possible. He had little doubt Chad would find trouble. What, if anything, he could do about it was another story.

Chad had been a hellion most of his life. At least as far back as he could remember. About the age of ten or so was when he first started giving Spencer trouble. It started with the break-in at a neighbor’s house. He had come home from work one day to find Chad fingering an expensive bracelet. When Spencer asked him where he got it, he gave curt “It’s none of your business” answers. The next day he had been out watering the lawn when the neighbor walked over and asked if he had seen any unusual people hanging around the neighborhood. When he said he hadn’t, the neighbor told him about the break-in—and about the expensive tennis bracelet the thief had stolen.

Spencer had walked back into the house and demanded the bracelet. Chad stood up, coming face-to-face with him and spewed some expletives Spencer didn’t even know existed before taking off with the bracelet. Spencer never saw the bracelet again, but Chad came home with an expensive new skateboard.

Chad’s first arrest came at the age of fifteen for underage drinking at a strip club. When Spencer doled out the punishment of kitchen duty for a month, Chad had merely laughed, went up to his room and lit a joint. He hadn’t even bothered closing the door.

By the time Chad had turned eighteen, they had arrested him eight times for petty theft—he always made sure to keep it small—and drug possession three times. Spencer had his record sealed on his eighteenth birthday and made him swear to keep his nose clean, which he had—at least to Spencer’s knowledge. This latest escapade iced the cake. Chad never had hurt anyone before, and that was just too far.

He opened the paper and gawked at the headline.

PROMINENT SAN FRANCISO ATTORNEY, KATHERINE WINTERS, CONTINUES TO WIN HER BATTLE TO SAVE THE YOUTH OF OUR CITY

Spencer nearly choked on his coffee. He set down his cup and began reading the article. He grinned. “Atta girl,” he said aloud.

Sheila came and refilled his coffee cup. She pointed at the article. “You know her?”

He shrugged. “I met her once.”

“She’s getting married tomorrow.” Sheila took the paper from him, opened it to the society pages. “Right there,” she said, setting down the paper in front of him and pointing to the article.

He smiled, nodded, but did not read the article. “Can you bring my check, Sheila?”

She tore off the check from her pad and set it down in front of him.

He sat for another minute, drank some of the coffee Sheila had just poured him, paid the check, leaving an extra-large tip for Sheila—he wasn’t planning on returning—and left the diner, waving to Sheila, pretending to catch the kiss she blew at him.

He walked down the street whistling, feeling lighter than he had in years. He’d made his decision, and now it was time to liberate himself from this guilt.

Katherine waved to Mary as she drove away. Tony and both security guards hoisted her packages on their shoulders. “I’ll have these sent up,” Tony said to Katherine.

She beamed at him. “What would I do without you?”

“Just doing my job, Miss.”

She knew better than that. Tony was a gem. She would miss him when they moved to the house. She pushed the button for the elevator and waited, and waited. Maybe Chad was right. Perhaps it was too slow. Finally, it opened. She stepped inside, poked her head out, called to Tony, “By the way, I’m having lunch with my father. Will you have a car sent around in about an hour?”

“Will do,” he said.

When the elevator deposited her outside her apartment, a cold feeling rushed through her. She flashed back to the video of her mother’s killer entering her apartment.

“You okay,” the security detail sitting outside her door asked.”

She forced a weak smile. “Perfectly fine.”

He took her key and opened the door for her. She smiled her thanks.

Rainbow greeted her with a loud meow. “Your food dish empty already?” She surveyed her weight, decided she’d lost enough of it as not to be on the ten most obese cats list, and filled it. She settled in to devour her treat with a loud purr. Katherine chuckled. “True sign you need overeater’s anonymous.”

Hot and exhausted from her morning’s excursion, she decided to freshen up before meeting her father. She started down the hallway. As she did, she felt panic well up inside her. She peered cautiously from side to side, angry that she would feel this way inside her home. She pictured her mother’s killer lurking behind each door. A younger version, of course since the only full view she’d had of him was a child’s view, and shock had colored that.

A noise sounded from behind her. She whirled around and saw Rainbow padding down the hallway behind her. “Please tell me you knocked something over.”

“Meow,” she said, rubbing her nose on Katherine’s legs.

She could see the open door to the guest room, and saw no signs of an intruder when she peered inside. Her room was just adjacent to it. She stepped quickly inside, dashed to the bathroom, slammed and locked the door—a lot of good that would do. If there were any intruders in the house, locking the bathroom door certainly wouldn’t stop anything. She could call security detail. He was sitting outside the apartment door, just a few feet away. Then she relaxed. She was on the top floor of a fourteen-story complex. A security man was outside her door. How could anyone possibly get up here? She flashed back to the night Chad had surprised her on her doorstep. He had claimed the elevator automatically went to this floor. She hadn’t believed him then, and she certainly didn’t believe him now. Maybe she should check in with the security man outside the door. She reached into her pocket for her cell phone, but it wasn’t there. She remembered putting it into her purse, which was on the dining room table.

She turned to look in the mirror, saw the pale complexion that greeted her and reached for her makeup. She was worrying over nothing.

Peter looked at his watch for the tenth time. It was getting late, and it wasn’t like Katherine to be late without checking in. He pondered what might be keeping her and realized she was a pregnant woman still battling morning sickness. He relaxed, but nonetheless took out his cell phone and called Mary. “Hey, Mary, I’m checking up on your shopping trip. I’m waiting for Katherine, and she’s a little late.”

Mary chuckled. “She was like a kid in the candy store. I’m afraid we purchased a bit more than we’d originally planned. I’m sure she’ll be along soon. Did you try calling her?”

“I called both the house and her cell, but she didn’t answer either one. I’ll call the front desk.”

Tony’s usual, friendly voice greeted Peter. Mary smiled encouragingly, and Peter felt a small comfort.

“Oh hello, Mr. Winters,” Tony said.

“Good afternoon Tony. I’m just checking on Katherine. We’re supposed to meet for lunch. She’s late.”

“Her car’s waiting at the curb for her. I’m sure she’ll be along soon. Would you feel better if I looked in on her.”

“Have one of the security men do it.”

“Okay, Mr. Winters.”

Tony put the phone on hold and used his walkie-talkie to call up to the security man sitting outside Katherine’s door. He couldn’t remember who was on duty there, so he just said, “This is Tony at the front desk. Everything okay up there?”

There was a moment’s hesitation before a voice came back.

“All clear.”

Tony narrowed his eyes at the unfamiliar voice, shaking his head to clear his mind, of the cobwebs that were starting to form there. Angel had called in sick, and Tony was on his second shift. He was more than tired. He tried to remember who was on duty up there, but the voice didn’t sound right. “Who is this?”

A moment’s hesitation and then, “Jim.”

Tony couldn’t remember who it was supposed to be. “Hold on one minute, Mr. Winters. I have to check something real quick.” He set down the receiver and crossed to the duty roster. He found the name for the seven to three shift. There it was, Jim Wallace. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Looks as if everything’s fine,” he told Peter.

However, when he hung up the phone, he couldn’t shake the uneasiness. From his seat on the sofa across the lobby, Juan asked. “Everything okay, Tony?”

Tony shook his head. “I’m sure it’s fine, but would you mind running up to check on Ms. Winters. She should have been down fifteen minutes ago.”

“Did you call Jim?”

Tony nodded. “Yes. He says all clear, but I’d feel better.”

Juan, big, broad-shouldered man who made Tony feel safer just by looking at him, stood and shrugged his shoulders. “No problem, man.”

Tony watched him cross the lobby and push the elevator call button. Nothing. Juan looked at Tony, shrugged and pushed it again. Nothing.

Tony’s eyebrows rose as he reached for his walkie-talkie. “Station two, come in,” Juan said. Only static came back. “Station two, come in,” Juan repeated. Still only static. “Jim, come in,” Juan said. He headed for the stairs.

“What should I do?” Tony asked.

He pointed to the elevator. “See if you can get that damned thing open.”

Katherine headed out the door. She waved at the security detail, only paying half attention to him, as she checked her watch in a frenzy. She was late. She shouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about the non-existent intruder. She laughed at herself now. She had been foolish, freaking out at every single noise she heard. Noises she heard every day and never even gave a second thought.

She pressed the button for the elevator, tapped her foot several times, checked her watch, and started the entire routine over again. One thing Chad was right about was the speed of the elevator. The doors finally slid open, and she stepped inside. She got the same creepy feeling she always got lately when the car approached the tenth floor. She had to admit, she was looking forward to moving into the house. This building now had too many unpleasant memories in it.

On the eighth floor, the elevator came to an abrupt halt. Katherine’s body jerked. She reached out and grabbed the side railing, steadying herself. She pushed the call button. When nobody answered, she said, “April.” She pushed the button again. Panic rising, she shouted, “April!”

“What’s the matter?” A voice came back at her—only it wasn’t April. That fact shouldn’t have concerned Katherine too much; April couldn’t always be on duty—except the voice was too familiar, and that set-off Katherine’s senses.

“Who is that?”

“Don’t recognize my voice. I’m hurt. By the way, how’s that lover of yours?”

A cold dread started in the pit of Katherine’s stomach and surged upward as a wave of dizziness overtook her. She tried to speak, but fear choked her.

“Looks as if I have the upper hand this time, Katherine. What’s the matter, not so high and mighty when you’re not in command?”

“Let me out, Chad.”

Chad laughed. “Not on your life.”

“I mean it, Chad.” She said, but Chad didn’t answer. She pushed the call button again. Nothing came back. “Damn it, Chad! Answer me.” Still no response, but the elevator moved to the next floor and stopped again with a hard jerk. Katherine fell to her knees and then toppled over, coming to lie on her side. Instinctively, she placed a hand on her belly to protect her child. “Chad!” she screamed again. Fear rose inside her, and she began to hyperventilate.

***

Peter sipped his third iced tea, glancing every now and again at his watch. Where was she? It wasn’t at all like Katherine to stand him up. She was the most punctual person he knew. In fact, she’s the one who always kept him on the straight and narrow. He could probably count the times on one hand when she had been late.

He looked again at his watch. She was now an hour late. He tried the cell phone again, but it went straight to voicemail. She either turned it off, or there was no reception where she was.

The server wandered over again. “Is there anything I can get for you?”

Peter smirked. “My daughter.” He chuckled, but the server did not find it funny.

“Sir, I hate to bring this up but…” He glanced behind him, toward the door.

Peter followed his direction, noting the line of people waiting for a table. “Ah, I see. I’m sorry.” Peter rose, pulled out two twenties and handed them to the server.

“The iced tea has free refills,” he protested, trying to give them back to Peter.

Peter shook his head and began moving toward the door. “I held up your table for an hour. That’s about what I would have spent on lunch.”

“Thank you, Sir,” the server said, not at all sure what he should do with the money.

Peter presented his ticket stub to the valet and asked them to hurry to bring back his car. He headed toward Katherine’s place, driving as fast as he safely could. What did he care if he got a ticket? His daughter’s well-being was at stake, and nothing was more important than that.

***

A frantic Tony greeted Peter when he pulled up to the curb. “Thank God you’re here, Sir.”

“Did you find her?”

Tony nodded. “We think she’s in the elevator.”

“You think? What is that supposed to mean?” Peter couldn’t help the irritation he felt. He was paying a small fortune for this security firm to keep an eye on his daughter. How in hell could they lose her in her apartment building?

He pushed past Tony and made his way to the lobby, which had begun to fill with angry tenants wanting to get to their apartments. One woman, who carried one of those fancy dog breeds like it was a baby, said, “We all told you about that elevator, but did you listen? Of course not. That thing takes so long to get to my floor that I could shop for ten outfits.”

Peter stared at her. Overweight as she was, she should take the stairs.

Seeing Peter’s eyes travel over her, she clutched her dog close to her, as if she thought Peter might snatch it from her arms. “I have a heart condition. I can’t take the stairs.”

Peter didn’t doubt she would if someone told her there was a sale on at Macy’s. “I’m sorry, Ms…”

“Crandall.” She held out her hand for a greeting, smiling demurely. No matter how irritated she was, she would not have people thinking her rude. “I live in 1018.” She said this with pride, as if living there was some kind of grand success.

“The elevator is getting replaced next week. I had no idea until recently there was a problem.” Okay, this was a slight lie, but Peter had owned enough apartment buildings to know some people just liked to complain. Peter knew of Ms. Crandall’s complaints, but one person complaining was not enough to make him act.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. Now, if you could just…”

Peter did not wait for her to finish. He rushed to the elevator, pushed the button many times in rapid succession, calling, “Katherine.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Dean Manson, head of maintenance standing beside him. “That won’t do any good.”

“How did this happen?”

“I don’t know. There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong as far as I can see. It’s as if someone has manually overridden the control panel and stopped the elevator on the eighth floor.” He hesitated before continuing. Peter could tell from the frown on his face the man was holding something back.

“What is it?”

“Someone has locked the door to the main control room, and the master key seems to be missing.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Only that, short of destroying the door, I can’t get into that room, to regain control of the elevator.”

“Then do it!” Peter ordered. “Isn’t someone supposed to be on duty in there?”

“Yes, but she’s not answering the phone.”

“Break down the door.”

“I have someone coming with a key. They’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

Peter sighed. “Is there any way I can communicate with her?”

“Possibly.” He took a step toward the stairs. “I can try to pry open the doors on the eighth floor. You might be able to shout to her.”

“If you can do that, can’t you just go through the trap door and rescue her, like they do in the movies.”

Dean shook his head. “Too risky. We don’t know who’s controlling the elevator. I could get on top of it, and the wiseass could decide to turn it back on.”

Peter sighed. “All right, let’s just try to talk to Katherine.”

Inside the elevator, Katherine began to hyperventilate. Chad had played the start/stop game with her several times, each time the elevator plummeted a few feet and jerked to an abrupt halt. She had long since given up on trying to stand up and now sat in the corner. Sweat dripped down her back and across her forehead. Her cell phone didn’t work and, pressing the call button would only bring Chad’s voice. What had happened to the person who normally would have answered her call?

Chad had begun to sing silly nursery rhymes, none of which she had ever heard before, and had driven her crazy, but then all communication had stopped about a half hour ago. She wasn’t sure which was worse. Now that she thought about it, the elevator hadn’t moved since then, either.

She slowed her breathing until her heart began to calm. Gingerly, she rose to her feet, using the side rails to steady her. She crossed to the call button and pushed it. No voice came back to her. She pushed it again, this time calling, “Chad?”

She repeated the steps six times, when above her she heard, “Kitten, can you hear me?”

A huge grin broke out on her face. “Daddy!”

Peter could barely hear her but whooped with elation at the sound of her voice. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “Can you get me out of here?”

“Someone manually stopped the elevator and locked the control room door, and they’ve stolen the master key to the room. Someone’s coming with a backup key. He’ll be here any minute.”

“It was Chad,” she shouted.

Peter turned to look at Dean, who shrugged. “How the hell did he get in here?”

Dean stared at him, raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what to say, Mr. Winters, I just fix things.”

Peter took a deep breath, ran his hands through his hair, and shook his head. He laid his hand on Dean’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. I just don’t know why the hell I’m paying all this money for security when they can’t even keep her safe inside her own building.”

“I understand, Mr. Winters,” Dean said. He was used to shouldering the blame for things. He supposed it came with the title of supervisor, even though maintenance had nothing to do with keeping people safe from intruders. Still, he understood. He’d probably react the same way if it were his daughter inside.

A young man came running toward them. “I’ve got the key.” He waved it in the air as if it were some spectacular treasure find.

Peter snatched the key from him without a word and rushed toward the control room, and was just about to insert the key when a security guard laid his hand on Peter’s. Peter looked at his hand, then at the gun in the officer’s hand. He nodded and stepped back, letting the men do their jobs.

He wandered back to the elevator. “How are you doing down there?” he shouted to Katherine.

“I’m fine. Now that I know you’re there, I can breathe easier. I wasn’t all that—”

A loud whirring sound cut off her words as the elevator began to move. A round of applause and cheers thundered through the hallway. Peter wandered over to the control room and peered inside. “Anything?”

The security officer shook his head. “He’s gone.”

Peter looked around the room. There was only the control panel, a desk with a phone and several pictures in various frames, which Peter assumed belonged to the people who answered that phone, a small fan, mini refrigerator, an overstuffed couch with a small table in front of it, stacked with magazines and novels. There was no window and no other door allowing access in or out.

“How’d he get in an out?” Peter asked.

“Over here,” someone yelled. Peter and Dean both crossed to the security guard, who was on his hands and knees. He stood and pointed at an opening in the wall. Peter noticed a grate on the floor, just large enough to cover the opening.

Dean pointed at the hole. “Looks as if this was his entry and exit point.”

Peter stooped down and peered inside. “Big enough for a man. Where does it end up?”

Dean shook his head. “I’m going to find out.” He tapped Peter, indicating he should move.

“Oh no,” Peter said. “I’m coming too.”

“Let me lead,” the security guard said. “He could still be in there.” He pulled out his gun and flashlight and bent down on his hands and knees. Both Peter and Dean backed off, letting him take the lead. They didn’t go far before seeing daylight. Only about two hundred yards in, the security guard kicked off another grate. Then he swung his legs out and dropped two feet, coming to stand at the backside of the high-rise. He nearly bumped into a woman rushing to catch the cable car before it left without her. “Pardon me, Miss.” The woman murmured something as she passed.

Dean was the second to exit, dropping easily to his feet. Peter followed, staggering a little as his legs threatened to give out on him when he hit the ground. He grabbed the building for support. The three men stood looking around, all three shaking their heads. “I’m sorry, Mr. Winters,” Dean said. “I never even thought about him entering this way.”

Peter, winded from the excursion, waved him off. “It’s okay, Dean.”

“If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s mine,” the security guard said.

“Oh now, let’s not stand here all day laying blame. We know now, and we’ll fix it.”

“Right away,” Mr. Winters.

Dean took off at a trot toward the front of the building.

“Daddy,” Katherine yelled. Peter looked up and saw her standing on the street corner, hands on her hips as if she were scolding him. “What are you doing out here?” she demanded.

Peter strolled toward her, pulling her into his arms and kissing the top of her head. “You had me scared,” he mumbled.

“I’m okay,” she said, gripping her father for support. “I’m okay. Really.”

He held her at arm’s length and looked at her. “You’re the strongest woman I know,” he said.

She flashed him a lopsided grin. “It wasn’t that bad,” she said. “Although, I don’t mind admitting I was scared a time or two.”

Peter put his arm around her shoulder, and they began walking. “We missed our reservation,” he said.

“You mean you didn’t eat without me,” she teased.

Peter shook his head. “Just forty dollars of weak iced tea. Where would you like to go?”

“Anywhere there’s food. I’m starving.”

They walked together, neither one wanting to let go of the other. “He isn’t done. You know that,” Katherine said.

Peter squinted into the sun. He kept walking, avoiding Katherine’s face. “I know, Kitten. We’d better keep our eyes open tomorrow.”

After a moment of pondering this, Katherine said, “Will you sleep in the guest room tonight?”

The question, although simple enough, had restored his sense of worthiness. Happy as he was that she and John had found each other, he hadn’t been able to dispel the knowledge that he was being replaced as her protector. He picked up her hand and kissed the back of it. “I would love to sleep in your guest room.”

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