Inside the old brick house, the noise and bustle of activity echoed through the walls as they prepared for the final party of Stephanie’s wedding. Melanie went into the kitchen and began helping her mother prepare the trays of food. Plates, glasses and silverware were lined outside on one long table underneath a rented tent, while the caterers displayed their chicken and salmon. The dessert table was set up with several delicious looking items. Everything from eclairs to rice crispy treats were lined up and waiting to be eaten.
Homemade rolls, potato salad and gelatin molds were set out on a third table, as were several side dishes donated by extended family members. A smaller table was set up in the center of the tent. On it was the four-layer wedding cake the local bakery had made, decorated with pink and violet roses and a ceramic bride and groom, set in the center of a dove’s back, as the wedding top. Nearly eighteen folded tables had been set up for the guests, all with napkins announcing Stephanie and Cory’s wedding date, etched in silver calligraphy.
It was a perfect day, and everything outside appeared above perfection. The sun was warm and the shade from the large old maple trees, added a touch of casual elegance. The only thing that seemed out of place, was Melanie’s soft blush. Nobody had noticed her lack of panties, but the actual celebration had yet to start.
The party proceeded, much as predicted. The bride and groom mingled among their guests, traveling from table to table on a wooden platform set out to prevent the bride’s dress from getting dirty. They talked with everyone politely but managed to stay within arm’s reach of each other. The local band Curtis hired played a variety of melodies, ranging from classical, to popular. There were even a number of show tunes and oldies thrown in, just for good measure. Jordan and Craig mingled around the guests, but always seemed to disappear long enough to check out the barn, the old shed, or the house. Melanie circulated as required, thanking guests for coming and taking only as much time as needed. She had been successful at avoiding the subject of her own failed wedding, while looking to Jordan with a secret smile.
Photos were taken, the meal eaten, and the music danced to. Everything was like a picture postcard. It wasn’t until the guests gathered around the happy couple, watching as the wedding cake was cut, that Melanie’s attention was distracted. She saw the shadow of a man, lurking under the tree in the front yard.
At first, she couldn’t tell who it was, but then he moved just right, and she saw the pearly white smile of Donald Prescott. He motioned for her to come over to him, and she nearly shouted for Jordan. He hadn’t told her anything about what was going on, but she knew from what little she overheard, it had something to do with her ex-husband.
“What are you doing here?” she asked as she approached the man, hoping to stay far enough away to avoid him making a scene. “People were looking for you after the ceremony.”
“Weddings are difficult for me, since ours. I just can’t find any reason to celebrate,” he told her, causing her to frown with a disagreeable expression on her face.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with our wedding, except that it had the wrong bride and groom,” she told him sternly. “What are you doing here? You promised you’d leave me alone if I had coffee with you.”
“Please, Mellie, take a ride with me. I need your help, but I can’t explain it here.”
“I have an obligation to my sister, and my family. I can’t just leave, and I don’t think I want to. I said everything I had to say at the restaurant.”
“I’m sorry about all of this, Melanie,” Donald told her, reaching out and snatching her by the arm.
Melanie narrowed her eyes on him as she tried to pull out of his grip, only to have it tighten.
“You have to understand, I didn’t want it to end up like this.”
“What are you talking about, Donald?”
“I suppose James never told you about me, did he?” he asked, pulling her around the back of the tent.
“How do you know Jordan?”
“He’s the reason I have to leave like this. If he hadn’t interfered, my plan would have worked out perfectly.”
“Let me go,” she snapped, seeing his BMW sitting behind the barn.
“Shut up,” he warned her, pulling a gun out of his jacket. “I need your help, and you damn well better cooperate, or you won’t be around to join your lover at his motel.”
“How do you know Jordan was staying at a motel?” she asked, hoping to keep him talking until Jordan or one of his so-called caterers saw what was happening.
“I was the one at the motel last night. Somehow, he recognized me from the night I broke into his apartment. I didn’t realize until last night at the party, that he was the agent I was trying to get rid of.”
“Agent?” she asked with a frown, no longer struggling to put distance between them as he continued to tell her what Jordan wouldn’t.
“Your fuck-buddy works for the F.B.I. They’ve been tailing me for months. I followed him back to his apartment one night and knew which one was his. I broke in and waited for him, but he got the upper hand and knocked me out. I came to and barely escaped before the cops showed up.”
“Why did you follow him?”
“Get in,” he growled softly as he opened the driver’s door and pushed her into the seat.
Donald climbed in behind her and started the engine, then reached into his pocket and pulled out the familiar fur covered handcuff. He slipped it around her wrist and secured the opposite end to the gearshift.
“Donald, what are you doing? Where are you taking me?” she demanded angrily, glancing in the rearview mirror to see guests coming out of the tent.
“We’re going to the airport together,” he told her with an angry gleam in his eyes. “I’m sorry Darling, but it has to be this way. You’re my only way out and I have to get away.”
“What makes you think I’ll go along with any of this?”
“ If you don’t, there will be a lot of people getting hurt,” he growled angrily, pulling her away from the door. “Cheer up. We’re finally going on that honeymoon you kept nagging me about.”
“I never nagged you, I asked you once, before we were married. You said it was a waste of money, and you couldn’t afford the time away from work.”
“That was then. Now, we’re going to take a long flight to a tropical island. Just like every bride wants.”
“I’m not your bride, Donald, or have you forgotten?”
“That will be rectified easily enough,” Donald said with a soft chuckle. “What a shock this will be, when the news reaches your father. His baby girl married to an accused embezzler and murderer.”
“Shut up and sit back. From now on, you’ll do exactly as I tell you.”
“And if I don’t?” she asked, inspecting the man who still held the gun in his hand.
“Then you die where you sit. If you value your life, you’ll do as you’re told, and you won’t try anything stupid.”
Melanie looked out the window of the car. She wanted to scream for help, but the look in Donald’s eyes told her not to even think about it. He was serious and desperate, and she was certain he would do exactly as he promised.
As she stared out at the passing trees, she thought about Jordan. She never understood him when he promised he would never let anything happen to her. He told her he loved her and would protect her. So where was he now that she needed him to literally save her life? Where was he now, when she needed him so desperately?
Donald pulled the car into the parking lot and turned to Melanie. He jabbed the gun into her side with bitter harshness.
“It’s obvious I can’t go through security with this,” he told her, pulling his duffel bag across the seat. “But don’t try anything stupid. I don’t need a gun to take care of you.”
“You’ll never get away with this,” Melanie told him as he unfastened the cuffs.
“I already have,” he smiled to her. “Once we’re on that plane, I’m home free. I don’t want to have to hurt you, Melanie, but I will if I have to. Do as you’re told, and everything will be fine.”
He took her hand and pulled her across the seat to stand beside him. He walked around to the back of the car and opened it, tossing a black bag to her, then took two more and closed the door. He positioned everything across his shoulder, then tossed the gun into the bushes and took her hand, pulling her towards the building.
Donald checked the two of them in at the front desk, then handed over the bags. Melanie watched as the luggage slid into the opening of the conveyor belt and disappeared. Knowing that he no longer had the weapon made her feel more secure and confident in her own ability to control the situation.
“You said you were accused of embezzlement,” she asked, walking beside him towards the assigned gate.
“I stole eight million from my father-in-law,” he said, hurrying her along the corridors.
“Daddy?” she asked, her voice raised in astonishment.
“Not your father, my new wife’s old man,” he looked at her and chuckled lightly. “Did you think you were the only woman in my life? Your father never had anything I wanted, except for his sweet virgin daughter. If you came from money, like she did, I would have never left.”
Melanie stared at the man with ice in her veins. Even if she had harbored any feelings for the man, the fire had just been extinguished.
“And the murders? Did you kill your wife and her father in order to escape justice?”
“No, stupid,” he growled, tightening his grip on her hand in a very painful manner. “I had two partners helping me, but they got greedy. They wanted part of my money, and I had to get rid of them.”
“Better have it all then a third?” she asked sarcastically.
“You know it,” he growled, pulling her along to the gate where their plane was waiting.
“Damn, old man,” he snapped bitterly. “I had it all. A beautiful wife, a rich father-in-law, two sexy, stimulating mistresses. Everything money could buy. Nothing was too good for me. Then the son of a bitch found out I’d been dipping into the company funds.”
“But if you were rich, then why did you want more?”
“I didn’t want more, I wanted it all. I had everything planned, down to the untimely demise of the old bastard. Then the little bitch got pregnant.”
“You call your wife a bitch?”
“Not her, my lover in Manhattan. My wife already had a kid. That’s what made it so great. I was the perfect husband and father. Her old man even put me in the will to inherit his real estate business when he died. I gave Suzette everything she ever wanted so the old man would trust me. Then when Pamela found out she was pregnant, I stopped seeing her. She didn’t like the idea, so she called my house when I was at work. She told my wife all about us. All about our affair. Right after that, my father-in-law started looking into my professional affairs and found out I was making more money than I was earning on million-dollar deals. I barely escaped, before the F.B.I. was called. I’ve stayed one step ahead of them, until James came into the picture.”
“What has Jordan got to do with all of this?”
“He’s an agent with the F.B.I. I nearly killed him, but the bastard was stronger than I took him for. I had it all figured out. I made it look like a burglary, but he didn’t have anything worth stealing, except for his gun. It would have worked too, but the damn neighbor started banging on the wall. It took me off guard and he got the upper hand. Damn bitch. If she hadn’t started banging on the wall, I’d have had him good.”
Melanie’s blood froze in her veins, realizing she was the one who had stopped him from killing Jordan. The night he was attacked in his apartment, she thought he was entertaining another woman and began banging on the wall in hopes of interrupting their passionate love making. Oh God, if Donald knew it was her, he might have more of a reason to want her dead.
“What about me? How do I fit into all of this? You said yourself I don’t have anything you want.”
“You have one thing. A name. James knows about the other name I used to get here, so I had to make an alternation in my plans. You’re going to get me out of the country, and onto an island where they’ll never find me. I made a reservation in the name of Harrison Williams. James will be following that trail, while we’re safely tucked away in Australia.”
“Then what? What happens once you’ve escaped?”
“You mean, do I kill you? I haven’t decided. It depends on if I can find any use for you, or not. I found your boyfriend’s stash of sex toys at the motel. Tell me Darling, did he teach you any new tricks?”
Melanie stopped in the middle of the isle and glared at the man. Anger shined in her eyes as she locked them with his.
“You have no idea what Jordan has taught me,” she told him. “And you’ll never have the chance to find out.”
Donald tugged roughly on her arm, forcing her to stumble towards him. He locked his arms around her waist and forced her to look up at him.
“I warned you not to cause attention. I don’t want to have to remind you again.”
He turned her back in the direction of the gate and forced her to quicken her pace. Melanie knew now, she had to do something to get away before they got on the plane or she’d never see her family or Jordan again. She would never have the chance to tell Jordan about their baby.
Melanie stumbled slightly, nearly falling on the tiled floor. She reached down towards the hem of her dress and tugged it loose from where it had tangled around the heel of her shoe. She looked at the twinkle of her bracelet reflected in the polished floor, then slipped it off, hiding it beneath the hem of her skirt. Donald jerked on her elbow, forcing her to stand up straight. He looked down at the floor and frowned.
“You’d better be more careful,” he said, causing her breath to catch in her throat. “We wouldn’t want you to get hurt, now would we?”
He pulled on her arm roughly, forcing her to continue walking. He hadn’t seen her lay the bracelet on the floor or he would have had more reason to want her dead. Now, all she could do was pray Jordan saw it, instead of some passing person. It was all up to him, recognizing the stones he had given her a few hours ago.
“We’ve looked everywhere, but there’s no sign of her,” Michaels told Jordan as they met back in front of the old house.
The fear of missing Melanie had mounted to a full-blown terror. She had suddenly disappeared, no word, no note, nothing. It was as if she had never been there in the first place. Jordan’s mind began to race, thinking of every possible answer. She hadn’t gone off by herself, because all the cars were still there, but that didn’t mean she didn’t leave with somebody.
“What time did you say Prescott’s plane was leaving?” he asked the black man standing beside him.
“Three o’clock. Why?”
“Did you find anything else in any of his aliases?”
“Nothing, not even in his real name.”
“It’s two fifteen,” Jordan whispered, then turned back to the Kent men gathered on the front porch. “Call the airport, try and get that flight delayed. Tell them anything, just do it. Come on, I’ve got a hunch we’ll find Melanie with Prescott.”
The two men ran to Michaels’ SUV and jumped into the front seats. Just then the back door flung open and Cory stepped inside.
“He’s my brother,” he said sternly. “If he’s done what he’s accused of, you may need somebody to help reason with him.”
“It could get dangerous,” Michaels argued. “You’d be better off staying here.”
“I’ve got to go,” Cory insisted. “He’s my brother.”
“Who gives a damn,” Jordan yelled at the two. “Just drive.”
Michaels turned the car out of the drive and raced it as fast as safely possible towards the main road. Speed meant very little to them at this point, but they all knew they couldn’t help Melanie if they died trying to get to her.
Fifteen minutes later and they pulled onto the main road that led to Vernal’s small airport. Jordan’s nerves were jumbled in a twisted mass. He knew she would never have left without telling her parents goodbye first.
“This is Agent Craig Michaels with the F.B.I.,” the dark man said over his cellphone. “I want the three fifteen flight scheduled for Chicago detained.”
“I’m sorry sir, we can’t do that without proper authorization,” the male voice said over the speaker.
“You have an accused murderer scheduled to take that flight. If it isn’t locked down immediately, I’ll have the whole damn airport closed.”
Michaels stopped his car near the curb and put it in park, before shutting off the engine and jumping out of the driver’s side. Jordan and Cory were by his side in a split second, as they raced into the building.
“Wait,” a man shouted from the door. “You can’t park your car there.”
“How are we going to stop him?” Michaels asked, ignoring the man who continued to shout to him.
The three men raced into the airport building, pushing past a number of people going about their own business. Jordan ran up to the counter, stepping in front of a family waiting to check their bags.
“Has Harrison Williams checked in yet?” he demanded, ignoring the comments from the people behind him.
The young girl was shaken but began searching for the name he inquired about. She punched a number of keys, checked and double checked, then looked back at Jordan, who waited impatiently for a reply.
“I’m sorry sir, he hasn’t checked in yet and his plane is just now taxing out the runway.”
“Damn it,” he swore nervously. “Are you certain?”
“I’m positive sir. His ticket has remained unclaimed.”
“Now what?” Cory asked, stepping up beside him.
Jordan slammed his fist on the counter top. His anger had long since outweighed his worry. He wanted Prescott so badly he could taste it. He wanted him dead, out of the picture for good and as far away from Melanie as possible.
“Have you seen a blonde man with a very attractive brunette?” Jordan growled.
“I’m sorry, I just came on duty,” the clerk answered him.
“Here,” Michaels said, addressing the clerk as he pushed Jordan aside. “Does this help any?”
He pulled up the images he’d sent to the team in Salt Lake of Melanie, then turned the screen to the woman. The clerk looked at it and frowned. She shook her head then called over another clerk from the next counter. The young man stared at the photo and shook his head as well.
“I can’t really say,” the man answered. “It’s vacation season, and I’ve checked so many people in, it’s hard to remember everyone.”
“Try and remember,” Jordan growled. “A woman’s life is in danger.”
“It would have been within the last half hour or so,” Michaels added, trying to give Jordan a chance to calm down and gather his composure.
“She was wearing a formal gown,” Cory added. “It was like a long toga, light purple.”
“Oh yeah, her,” the man said. “She was really cute. She checked in with her husband. They checked in under Mr. and Mrs. Kent. They were on their way to their honeymoon.”
“Honeymoon?” Jordan snapped, anger burning hotter inside him than before.
“Do you remember where they were going?” Michaels asked, looking at his partner with stern eyes.
“I believe it was to Los Angeles, and then Hawaii. They would be boarding at gate C-1,” the man replied, checking his terminal. “It’s scheduled to board in five minutes, so you’d better hurry if you want to catch it.”
“Call the plane, tell them to stall its departure,” Jordan ordered the man.
“I’m sorry sir, I can’t do that without authorization.”
“This is all the authorization you need,” he demanded, tossing the man his badge.
The clerk checked it out quickly then picked up the phone. Jordan retrieved his wallet, then ran towards the hallway the clerk indicated. His mind was a jumbled mess of concerns. Melanie said she had no feelings for Prescott, but the tickets were under her name. She left the farm without being seen and was about to board a plane with her ex-husband.
Michaels and Cory were on his heels, as they ran at top speed towards the gate the man had indicated. They reached the security gate and tried going around it but were stopped by the security guards standing close by. The men flashed their badges and demanded back up, then continued on their course. They turned the corner and pushed past a number of people, before Jordan skidded to a halt. He bent down and picked up the strand of diamonds and sapphires from the floor.
“What is it?” Michaels asked, coming back to his side. Jordan smiled and lifted the bracelet for the other two men to see.
“I gave this to her this afternoon,” he explained. “She’s here and it’s not by choice.”
“How do you know?” Cory asked him, trying desperately to catch his breath.
“Melanie would never have left this just laying here. I know her. Come on, we’ve gotta find her.”
They continued running until they came to the corridor that led to the gate they were looking for. Michaels stopped Jordan with a strong hand on his shoulder.
“We can’t rush him,” Michaels said, then bent over and placed his hands on his knees, gasping for breath.
A second later, three security guards came to their side. Jordan looked around trying to think of some way to get to Prescott and Melanie without being seen. The gate was right around the corner and there was no way of sneaking in on them. There had to be another way.
“What if we sneak on board the plane?” Cory asked, panting for air.
“It won’t work,” Adams, one of the security guards answered. “The plane’s already at the gate. There’s no way of getting on board without being seen from the windows.”
“What about the baggage compartment?” Michaels asked. “We can sneak on the cart and up through the hatch.”
“That might work, but we’ll need to make certain nobody sees you climbing in the plane,” Bryant, the second guard said.
“I want Prescott caught before he gets onboard. We can’t run the risk of anyone else being hurt,” Jordan said.
As they stood contemplating what to do, Jordan saw a man on an airport janitorial cart, coming their way.
“That’s it,” he said. “I can take the cart in and they’ll never see me.”
“What about us?” Cory asked. “We’ll be seen if we go in there with you.”
“Craig, you take Stanley and Bryant and go through the baggage compartment if my plan doesn’t work. Cory, you stay behind with Adams and back me up. Try not to look too conspicuous.”
He flagged down the janitor, then flashed his badge and ordered him to hand over his cart. He removed his tuxedo jacket and tie and put the janitor’s coat across his silk shirt. Complete with hat and sunglasses, he was ready to put his plan into effect. He stepped up on the cart and put it into gear, then steered it cautiously around the corner, as Cory and Adams cleared the corridor of passengers.
The little cart pulsated quietly through the room, as Jordan tried to locate Melanie and Prescott. He saw them sitting off to the side by the entrance to the plane. Melanie looked around the room, while Prescott sat next to her. Jordan felt the sting of fear echo up his spine. If his plan didn’t work, she might get hurt, or worse. He’d promised himself to protect her, and now here he was, helpless and unable to get close enough.
Jordan noticed the ashtray standing beside Melanie. It was a shot, but it was the only one he had. He stopped the cart a few feet away and emptied another ashtray into the trashcan on the back of the cart, before heading towards them. He stepped down from the cart and picked up the black stand, then casually tossed the bracelet in the fold of Melanie’s violet gown, causing Melanie to look up at him. She recognized him instantly, even behind the dark glasses. Jordan jerked his head and mouthed the word move, then picked up the ashtray stand. Melanie jumped up and leapt away, as Jordan slammed the black stand into Donald’s face when he tried to follow her.
The room came alive with people shouting and screaming and stepping out of the way. Jordan jumped on Prescott, knocking him to the ground. They rolled around, fists flying into each other, women screaming and Melanie standing out of the way, watching in awe as the two fought like wildcats. She didn’t know what to say to stop it, or even if she wanted to. An arm grabbed her from behind, pulling her out of the way, just as the two crashed into the wall beside where she stood. Melanie looked behind her and saw Cory, his eyes transfixed on the sights before them.
Jordan fell to the ground with a sharp blow from Prescott. He tried to stand, but was kicked back down, with a foot to the stomach that knocked him to the floor again. Melanie shouted for him to stop and Cory called out to his brother, but both were ignored. He turned with hopes of escaping down the passageway to the plane, as Michaels stepped out towards him. He stopped short and turned to the corridor that led to the entrance of the building. Again, he was stopped, this time by Adams who stepped to block his way. He turned back to Jordan who had regained his stance. He faced Donald, gun poised in his tight grip, blood trickling from his lip.
“Do it,” Jordan ordered him, his gun positioned in the direction of the man’s head. “Nothing would make me happier then taking you out of the picture for good.”
Prescott stopped trying to flee, a variety of vulgar words escaping his bloody mouth as he raised his hands and looked at Melanie.
“I would never have really hurt you Darling,” he told her, as Michaels snapped the handcuffs the security guard handed him, around his wrists. “I still love you.”
“You’re not capable of loving, Donald,” she told him sadly. “Not me, not your wife, not even your countless mistresses. The only thing you’ve ever loved was yourself.”
Melanie turned back towards Jordan, who was tucking his gun back inside his holster wrapped around his shoulder.
“Just who the hell are you, anyway?” she demanded, eyeing the man with a narrow stare. Jordan chuckled lightly and slid an arm around her waist.
“It’s a long story,” he told her, hugging her against his chest. “One that started when you were sixteen.”
“I’ll explain it later, right now, there’s an awful lot of paperwork to take care of. Cory will take you back to your parents. I’ll be there as soon as I deal with this business.”
“What’s going to happen to Donald now?” she asked him, looking back at the man as Michaels escorted him away from the boarding gate.
“He’ll be extradited back to New York, where he’ll stand trial for embezzlement and two counts of murder. He has a warrant for his arrest in Wyoming as well.”
“Will he go to prison?”
“Yes. Most likely for life.”
Cory took Melanie by the arm and walked with her out of the building. Jordan had remained behind to tie up loose ends, deal with airport officials and escort Donald back to F.B.I. headquarters for interrogation and arraignment.
The trip back to the Kent farm was accomplished in complete silence. Cory wanted to say something to try and make up for his brother’s behavior, but he couldn’t think of anything that sounded right.
“You’ll be getting back just in time to salvage your wedding night,” Melanie teased him. Cory looked across to her and smiled slightly.
“What can I do to make all of this up to you?” he asked, trying to contain control in his voice.
“Make my sister happy,” she answered bluntly. “Don’t ever treat her the way your brother treated me.”
“I won’t Mellie. I promise. Stephanie will always be happy, you have my word on it.”