Alex pounded on her door at one in the morning, waking her from a sound sleep. “Thank God, Rory, I got here before him… he’s insane,” Alex blurted, pushing past her and slamming the door shut. “Richard killed her. He killed Julie. He attacked me when I started asking questions.” She heard him but couldn’t understand what he was saying. Alex was before her, disheveled and wild-eyed with blood on his face and his shirt. “Rory, he’s going to kill you next!”
“Yes, Richard!” He grabbed her arm. “Please, you have to get out of here.”
Rory pulled away from him. “No! That can’t be right. He was never violent. Julie’s disappearance almost killed him.”
“I tried to stop him,” Alex said, sitting on the edge of the coffee table. Rory sat on the living room couch trying to digest the news. “He was insane. I’d never seen him like that before. It was terrifying. But he was screaming about you, about how you betrayed him by lying about his raping you and that you were next. Please, come with me, let me hide you at Vanderwick in Lafayette.”
“Lafayette? All the way out there?” She shook her head. It was hours away. “Alex, I can’t.”
“You remember it from when we were growing up, don’t you? I named it to honor my mother’s side of the family. It’s bigger now. I have over two hundred acres. There’s no one around, we haven’t used it since my father died all those years ago. No one’s been there in over a year except the caretakers, actually. Please, Rory. I’ve come to terms with you not loving me, really. Let me do this out of friendship. You can stay with me. No one will suspect a thing. You have to. He was stalking you.”
“What do you mean?”
Alex took a deep breath and pulled a small blue flash drive from his pocket. “I stopped over at his place tonight. When I walked in, he threw some stuff in a crate and put a blanket over it. I asked, but he said it was just art supplies. It seemed odd to me, so I waited until he left the room to look. There were papers, too, but I didn’t go through them. This was at the bottom of the crate.” He put the drive in Rory’s palm. “I remembered seeing one like this in your computer, so I took it.”
She turned the drive over in her hand and saw her initials on it. “It’s mine.” Her voice sounded small to her, bewildered. Richard had stolen her laptop from the office? “I started a new one. I thought I lost this.” She cradled her head in her hands, unable to believe that Richard was the one behind all of this. Cade would return from Philadelphia on Thursday. It would only be for a few days until Richard was found. “I have to go to Williamsport on Friday,” she said. “For work.”
“This will be over by then, I’m sure of it. Please, Rory.”
“I’m calling the police,” she said, picking up her cell phone.
“They didn’t protect you very well when Paul was alive, did they?”
Rory nodded, remembering Officer Welsh, and handed her phone to him. “You call. They’ll believe you.”
Sitting on the couch, she watched him dial her phone, praying that he would be able to get them to listen to reason. “Hello, this is Alex Webster, can you connect me to the chief? Tell him who’s calling. He’ll answer.” He smiled at Rory. “They’re transferring me now.” He began pacing the room, glancing at her now and then. “He’ll answer,” he told her. “He always… ah, Chief Campbell. It’s Alex. How are you? Good. Good to know. Listen, we have a bit of a problem and need your help…”
Rory leaned back against the couch and closed her eyes, relieved to know that the police would actually help her this time. Alex continued pacing, circling the living room over and over while he explained what had happened with Richard. “She’s here alone, and I’m not convinced that she’s safe. I offered her refuge with me, but… uh-huh… told her that we’d go to my family’s vacation home in Lafayette. I understand. No, I won’t take it personally.”
Her eyes still closed, Rory didn’t see him walk into the dining room to finish the conversation. All she could think about what how she had never believed Richard capable of such violence and how wrong she had apparently been.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, taking in his serious expression. “No.”
“I’m sorry. He can’t spare manpower for a guard over some alleged incident and look for Richard. He said to get you some place safe, and he’ll put out an APB.”
She shook her head in a mixture of disbelief and refusal. The last thing she wanted was to give Alex the chance to play the hero.
“Look, please, just come with me. Tonight and tomorrow. I’ll have you home in seventy-two hours. Honest.” He was kneeling before her now, holding her hands, begging. “Chief Campbell knows how to reach me. He’ll call me the minute they have something. Think about it. Richard won’t know you’re with me. It’s the most logical choice.”
Sighing, she nodded. “I’ll get my belongings together and leave a message for Maggie. I’ll tell her that I’m going out of town on an emergency and have her run one of the back-up columns I have ready,” she said softly, reluctantly. “I’ll take my laptop and send my other articles out from your place if I have to. If you lead, I’ll just follow you in my car.”
“You’ll have to ride with me, Rory.”
He paused and looked away. “Your car’s front tires are slashed.”
She said nothing, but her legs shook as she walked to her bedroom. Someone wanted to make sure she couldn’t leave tonight – or at least get very far. She made her calls from her bedroom while she threw some clothes into an overnight bag. Cade first, then Maggie. She left messages for both of them.
“I’m ready,” she said as she walked back into the living room with her overnight bag.
“I checked the back door in the kitchen while you were up packing. It looks like someone was trying to pick the lock. Good thing you had the chain on.”
Rory paled at his words, but said nothing. “Don’t worry about it now,” Alex said as he hugged her gently. “I promise to take care of you.”
“Where’s my cell phone? I want to give Selina a quick call and let her know where I’m going.” It wasn’t in her purse where she thought she’d put it after coming downstairs with her bag. Now that they were on the road, she felt more in control of her emotions. She wanted to call Cade and leave a more specific message.
“I don’t know. I thought I saw you put it on the end table. Here, you can use mine.” Alex handed his to her, but the battery was dead. “We’ll charge it when we get there, no big deal. You said he was going to be gone just a few days, right? By the way, what did you tell your editor?”
“I told Maggie that I was going out of town but it wouldn’t affect anything. I kept it short.” She didn’t mention that she’d called Cade as well.
Three hours later, after a ride punctuated with Alex’s attempts at conversation and Rory’s brief answers, they came to a narrow, unmarked drive. “My parents valued their privacy, if you remember. This looks like nothing, but just wait,” Alex promised as they drove along the gravel path in the pre-dawn light.
“We made it in record time. No traffic this time of night. The electricity’s on, so we can get the phone charged with no problem. There aren’t any landlines. We didn’t see the point in maintaining them.” He parked in the garage behind the house, then ushered her inside, gently nudging her ahead of him. “What a place to hide from the world, huh? Look at this!”
When he flipped on the foyer lights, Rory had to admit that he was right: it was grand. Marble and polished wood, a two-story entryway, cut-glass windows, and a sweeping stairway to the second floor. “I feel like I just stepped into Tara,” she breathed, obviously awestruck. “It’s more beautiful than I remember. They renovated, didn’t they?”
Alex smiled. “I did, actually, just last year. That’s when I named it, too. Something this grand demands a name of its own. Your bedroom will be right at the top of the stairway. Let me help you settle in before we fuss with the outside world again.” Taking her hand, he pulled her along. “Think of this as the ultimate escape from reality.”