Standing in the kitchen, Rory felt her composure breaking. He’d purchased enough food to see them though at least a week if not more.
“Alex, where’s your phone charger? I need to call Maggie again.” And Cade. I need to tell him where I am and tell him to come get me.
“Isn’t it in my overnight bag?”
“I didn’t look in your bag,” she answered, struggling to keep her voice normal as she lied. “I didn’t want to just rifle through your belongings.” She kept her hands clasped behind her back. Her fingernails dug into her palms.
“How thoughtful. Go ahead and look. It’s on my dresser in my room, which is right next to yours.”
“I’ll help you put these away first.”
“No need. I know where everything goes. You just relax. I have everything taken care of,” he said, holding up a brown bag that apparently held take-out. “I picked up something for us tonight so I wouldn’t have to spend time cooking. We’ll have an early dinner, I’m thinking.”
She nodded. “You know, I need an Internet connection, and town isn’t that far, if I remember correctly. Do you mind if I drive out there now before dinner? I want to get a few personal items, too.”
“I think it might be best if you don’t show your face in town quite yet. People are bound to know who you are, now that you’re famous. We don’t know where Richard is yet, and I’m afraid he’ll find out. It’s not as if this area is unknown to him. Give me a list and I’ll get you everything that you need. I’ll even send out your articles.”
“I’m not remotely famous, Alex,” she argued. “And I am not some fragile little baby doll. I can’t just up and disappear and not tell anyone where I am!”
“You’re absolutely right. But what if he finds out that you’re here? We’re isolated and safe as long as he has no idea we’re together. He knows we broke up. He’d never guess that you were here. Please, give me one more day. I made a few more phone calls while I was out. Richard’s face is all over the news. I’m sure that they’ll have him soon. But no matter what, we’ll go home tomorrow. I promise.”
She nodded, careful not to disagree. “I’m going to go get the charger. Then I think I’ll get some writing done.”
“Don’t bother getting started, actually. I’ll pack a picnic basket with what I brought home. Since it’s so beautiful, we’ll dine outside. I have a surprise for you. Things should be ready shortly.”
“Thank you, Alex. You take good care of me.” The words sounded right, and they brought a smile from him.
“I’d do anything for you, Aurora. You know that, don’t you?”
She didn’t have long. Rory ran directly to her room and closed the door behind her. It came as no shock to realize that it did not lock from the inside. Wedging the desk chair under the knob, she paced the room. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that her tires were slashed like Robert’s had been. I made a mistake because I was scared last night. I need to get out of here before it gets dark.
Going into his room, she found an extra set of his car keys on his dresser and pocketed them. Turning to leave, Rory paused as a small mahogany box on his nightstand caught her eye.
She picked up the box and flipped the lid open.
It had a few trinkets in it, the sort that reminded her of what a small boy might treasure, and she sifted through them curiously. A rusted bolt, a watch band with what appeared to be grease stains, a cord from a set of window blinds, and a pair of red and black glass beads.
At the bottom was a 3 x 5 photograph of Alex and Julie; though she had never seen this particular one, Rory recognized it as one from Julie’s last date – and she recognized the bracelet on Julie’s wrist. The one that matched the choker. The one he’d given to her the last time they went out.
“Did you find it?”
Rory slammed the box shut and willed herself to stay calm.
“Rory, did you find it?” His voice seemed to echo around her, though he was at the foot of the steps, calling up to her.
Don’t come up. Dear God, don’t come up. Visions of him finding her holding the box filled her head. “No, I’m afraid not,” she called back, hastily setting the box down and running to the hallway. “I can’t find it anywhere, Alex.” The picture they made flashed through her mind, her leaning over the railing and smiling down at him like a little flirt while he stood below with a picnic basket at his feet and a lecherous grin on his face.
Alex likes women who are ladies, Julie had written. He believes that we really are the gentler sex, delicate and tender. Staring down at Alex, the words came back to Rory, and she gave him her most helpless little girl look while he puffed up like a peacock.
Help me, Julie. Please.
“We’ll look later. What say you freshen up, put on something pretty, and we’ll go commune with nature?”
Just play his game and get out of here alive.
“Sure. Just… give me a few minutes.” She was clutching the railing so tightly that her hands hurt.
“Don’t be too long, though. Our dinner’s waiting.”
“I promise,” she said, forcing another smile. She ran back to her room, wedged her chair under the knob again, and contemplated the distance from her window to the ground while pulling on a sweatshirt and knotting her shoelaces. It would be a distance of about fifteen feet, but there were bushes below. Just as she was about to throw her leg over the sill and make the jump, the knob rattled.
“Rory! Rory? Why is this door blocked?”
“I’m changing!” Rory raced across the room and threw herself against the door, panicked. “Alex, you can’t come in right now!”
“Delightful!” His pleasure was obvious in his voice. “I’m glad you like the clothes I bought you. I’d hoped you would come up someday, and I wanted to surprise you.”
Oh, she was surprised. No doubt there. “Give me a few minutes, Alex. I’ll be right down.”
“Certainly, I’ll wait right here.”
Rory looked at herself in the mirror one last time. She knew that her Seton Hill College Alumnae sweatshirt and a pair of running shoes were hardly what he wanted, but she had no intention of rendering herself any more helpless than necessary – and a dress with slip-on sandals would do exactly that.
Ready as I’ll ever be. It would be easier to escape when his guard was down. All she had to do was continue to play the role of the trusting innocent. She opened the door.
His expression told her he was disappointed in her choice of attire. “There were dresses in your closet. I had hoped you’d wear one of them.”
“I know, Alex, they’re lovely. But it seems I put some weight on since Paul’s death. Nothing fit quite right, I’m afraid,” she said, hoping she sounded sincere.
Alex smiled and offered his arm. “You’re lovely no matter what. Come on, dinner awaits us.”
“What’s on the menu?”
“I thought something simple. Some cheese, some wine, a few delicious little bites of everything. Nothing too messy and nothing that demanded effort. I think you’ll appreciate my choice in the end.”
“I’m sure I will,” she smiled and eyed him flirtatiously. The slight flush to his cheeks told her that she was doing well. “I do love picnics, Alex.”