“Are you going to be alright closing up on your own?” Jasmine, a former employee of Angeline said to Veronica. “If you need me here you know I don’t mind.”
Three months. Three long agonizing months had passed since Angeline left Los Angeles to escape from Nathan’s abuse. Over the course of that time Nathan had given all of Angeline’s employees that time to hunt for another job before he shut down the bakery.
Veronica tried to avoid Nathan as much as possible, but it was futile. Every day he was there, waiting and watching for that one moment to catch her alone. Tonight was the night. Since Angeline left, Veronica was left next in charge. She’d be the one to close up, lock the door and personally hand over the key to Nathan.
Veronica shook her head. “No, I’m just about done here and Daniel is on his way over here. Go on and head home. I’m sure Jeff is pulling out his hair by now with the new baby and all. Go, I can take care of things from here.”
Jasmine threw her arms around Veronica and hugged her tightly. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” She said, gratefully. “Don’t be a stranger. Call me every now and then.”
Veronica pulled back and smiled. “You got it. Now skedaddle, it’s late.”
Jasmine nodded and turned towards the door. “Bye Veronica,”
“See ya, girl.”
She dropped her bag-heavy with cleaning supplies that were now unnecessary-to the floor. She stood in the middle of the room, taking it all in. Her thoughts drifted back to Angeline and how utterly alone she had become in the past month. Her eyes burned with emotion, and she wiped away a tear that fell.
Just then the door opened, and Nathan’s frame filled the doorway.
“I was beginning to think she would never leave.”
Veronica fixed Nathan with a steely gaze.
“The key is on the counter. You can handle things from here, can’t you?” Veronica reached for her purse that was sitting on one of the nearby tables and headed toward the door. Before her hand could reach the door handle, Nathan grabbed a hold of her arm and pulled her away from the door.
“You’ve avoided me enough for one month don’t you think?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Nathan.” Veronica started to make her way back toward the promenade. Nathan called her name but she kept walking briskly into the thick fog until she saw the end of the path. The black-haired man met her at the end of the path, blocking most of the way with the width of his frame and she knew he was not to be trifled with. She slowed as she came near.
“Detective Snyder needs to speak with you. Wait here.”
She turned back. Nathan emerged out of the fog toward her, bitterness in his eyes. She slipped past his man and only made it a few steps before he grabbed her by her shirt and yanked her back toward the car where Nathan met her. “Let her go, Chavez.”
He released her on command and she backed slowly towards the car, trying to create as much distance between them and her as she could. “You’d better start talking.”
“What’s there to say? You’re looking for Angeline.”
She stared hard into his eyes, keeping her face as steady and emotionless as she could.
“Where did she go, goddammit?” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her.
“Let me go.” She wrestled free from his grasp, breathless from the adrenaline that pumped through her veins. “Don’t touch me. Ever.”
She saw Chavez moving from the corner of her eye. He had a wide stance, like he was ready to act on Nathan’s command.
“The two of you are practically sisters. She wouldn’t leave here without telling you where she was going. So I’ll ask you once more, where is she?”
“Or what?” The words came out sharp, laced with challenge.
His nostrils flared. Without warning he lifted his arm and backhanded her against the car. She fell back with a thud, catching herself before she dropped to the ground. Her shaky hand went to the place where he’d made contact. The sharp pain of it paled in comparison to the shock that he’d done it, and without hesitation.
She pulled herself up slowly, too afraid to look at him. She had to get out of there but before she could even think about her next move, he brought his face inches from hers. She swallowed hard and pressed back against the car trying to still her rapid breathing.
“That’s a warning.”
She shivered at the unforgiving tone. She was too stunned, too scared to speak. She chanced a look at Chavez who stood apathetic and emotionless a few feet behind Nathan. Her chances of getting out of this situation on her terms were quickly dwindling. She fought the tremble that coursed through her. She was trapped.
Cautiously she tilted her head up to Nathan, trying to read him. He stared back with a smug glitter in his eyes. “I don’t know where she is, Nathan. I swear.”
He lifted his hand and she flinched back. She opened her eyes when he brushed his knuckles over the stinging flesh of her cheek, a surprising act of tenderness after what he’d just done.
“Your boys start kindergarten this year, right? It would be such a shame to realize your brake line has been severed on your way to drop them off. And how ’bout the gas to your stovetop. The smallest flame or spark-and whoosh!”
“You wouldn’t.” She challenged, her jaw resolute.
“I certainly would, Veronica. Don’t doubt it.” His voice was low, deliberately slow, his breath spiked with alcohol.
“You’re smart so it won’t take long for you to learn how things work with me. If you care for them, you’ll tell me where she is when she makes that call. Do you understand?”
Fear sliced through her, his words chilling her blood. When he put it like that, nothing had ever been more clear. She swallowed before answering, trying to keep her voice steady.
A car horn broke the moment. Then she heard her husband’s voice, like a light in the darkness. Daniel rushed up to her, his eyes full of concern. “Jesus, are you okay?”
She hadn’t been crying, but her face felt hot and swollen. She looked to the floor, self-conscious and all too aware of the heated skin where Nathan had slugged her. She hoped it didn’t look as bad as it felt—physically, anyway. Nothing could look as terrible as she felt on the inside.
“I’m fine,” She insisted.
He was silent for a moment. He touched her chin, lifting her eyes to his. He brushed the heated flesh gently with the back of his hand, his expression unreadable.
“Who did this to you?”
She stepped back, suddenly panicked by the contact. “Nobody. It’s nothing. I’m fine.” She retreated for her purse lying on the sidewalk. Her hands were trembling so hard she could barely grasp her things as she shoved them into her shoulder bag.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Veronica.” Nathan said and turned to Daniel. “She was attacked.”
Nathan held up his hand to stop him. “She didn’t get a good look at the suspect but rest assured I have my best men out patrolling the area for anyone suspicious. We’ll get him.” He said. “You should take her home. She’s a little shell-shocked.”
Daniel frowned and looked between them. “Of course.”
That quickly, Nathan and Chavez stepped away, disappearing back into the bakery.
“Baby, are you all right?”
“Yeah,” she whispered. “Take me home.”