Spring Break, March 2015
It was supposed to be a relaxing week partying with friends, but life was rarely relaxing for Emma Carrington. She leaned against a small steel-topped table and waited for her best friend, probably her only friend, to return from the bar with their drinks. She was in Austin to take in the spring break crowd, relax a little, maybe hook up, and avoid the socialite crap her mother always tried to get her to attend at home in the Hamptons.
“Your friends are getting on my nerves,” Hollis grumbled, currently one of the asshole bodyguards assigned to her by her absentee criminal father.
She didn’t respond. It didn’t matter to her in the least if the girls irritated him or Grimes. It was their job to protect her, not her job to make sure they were comfortable. She was long past trying to be friendly with her bodyguards.
“Here.” He set a small bottle of water on the table. “I thought you might want to hydrate between drinks. You were hitting those margaritas pretty hard at the last place.”
She looked up at his face and saw nothing. No compassion. No concern. Just a blank stare in his dark brown eyes. Emma took the water bottle, opened it, and took a small sip.
Hollis flashed her a pretty-boy smile and sauntered off.
Where the hell had that come from? She looked down at the bottle of water. When she’d opened it, the cap had come off without any snapping. The seal had already been broken.
She turned away, blocking Hollis’s view of the bottle and stuck the tip of her finger in the water. She wore specialty nail polish that changed if exposed to certain drugs—drugs usually found in drinks. Her pink nail polish darkened to black where the water had touched it and her stomach churned.
Had he known? It couldn’t be a mistake. Guys like him and Grimes didn’t make mistakes. She swallowed nervously, wondering how much the sip she’d taken would affect her.
She grabbed her purse and the water bottle and headed for her friend standing at the bar, doing her best to behave as if nothing was wrong.
“Keely,” she leaned close to her friend’s ear. The noise of the music in the place would’ve drowned out her voice otherwise. “I’m going to the restroom and then to the hotel. I don’t feel well, but I need you to act like I’m not leaving. I need a head start to get away from Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.”
They’d played ditch-the-bodyguards often enough for Keely not to be surprised. “Do you want me to meet you somewhere else in a few? You know those other girls will be fine without us,” Keely said into Emma’s ear.
“No, I need to lie down for a bit.”
“Sure. I’ll see you at the hotel in the morning,” Keely answered with a wink.
Emma forced a smile for her friend’s benefit and then headed for the bathroom. First she had to puke. Then she had to find a way out of this blacklight-happy-glow-in-the-dark club without Hollis or Grimes any the wiser.
She waved off Hollis’ approach as she crossed the busy dance floor to the bathroom. He nodded and settled into his seat but turned his chair so he was facing the hallway where the bathrooms were.
She ducked into the first open stall, shoved two fingers down her throat, and puked up everything she’d had to drink and eat so far that evening. The taste of bile and stomach acid burned in her throat and mouth, but hopefully she’d gotten whatever had been in that water out of her system fast enough for it not to knock her on her ass. She poured the rest of the water bottle’s contents into the toilet and flushed.
When she exited the chrome stall, another chick dressed in tight dark-wash blue jeans, a black lace cami, and a wide-brimmed brown cowboy hat studied her with concern in her eyes.
“Chica, you okay? Need me to call you a cab?” The woman was in her late-twenties, probably a few years older than Emma, but still young enough to find the dirty sixth bars fun.
Emma wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and washed up at the sink. “I’m good, but actually I’m trying to ditch this guy who’s harassing me. I’ll give you five hundred dollars for the clothes you’re wearing right now.”
“Five hundred bucks, for this?” The woman pointed to her ragged jeans. “Your shoes probably cost more than that.”
“They did. You could easily sell them online for five times what I’m going to give you.” Emma smiled. “I really need to get out of here and my clothes glow like a neon sign because of the black lights.”
The other chick nodded. “I’m game. Nothing like trying to skip out on an asshole. You got cash?”
Emma opened her purse and flashed the stack of bills she had tucked in her wallet.
Another women entered the bathroom and they fell silent, waiting for her to touch-up her lipstick and pee. When she left, Emma opened the door on the last stall on the line, the handicapped one. The cowgirl stepped inside with her and they stripped down to their underwear.
Emma pulled on the soft jeans, thankful she had enough ass to hold them up. Her double was a little curvier than she was. The boots slid on, a little big, but a nice break from the super high heels she normally wore.
The other woman handed her the cowboy hat and slipped into Emma’s white dress. It clung a little tighter to the other woman’s bigger boobs and ass, but it looked good. Her dark auburn hair was about the same length and style too. Hollis wouldn’t catch the switch right off the bat with all the crazy strobe lights.
“Switch purses with me too,” Emma said, pulling out the contents in her Louis Vuitton and grabbing the fringed leather strap of the other woman’s purse.
“That’s like a three thousand dollar bag? Are you sure?” The woman’s voice squeaked in disbelief.
Emma shoved the designer bag into the woman’s hands and nodded. “It goes with the shoes.” She dumped the contents of the other woman’s bag into the Vuitton and then put her wallet, stun gun, and other necessities in the fringed leather bag. She handed the chick five hundred-dollar bills and slipped the long strap of her new purse over her shoulder.
“Stay here at least another five minutes. Then you can go out. Once he sees it’s not me, he’ll leave.”
“No problem, hon. I’ve dealt with my fair share of assholes. If he gives me any trouble I’ll give him a knee to the nuts.”
Emma smothered a smile. She would pay another five hundred to see this woman knee Hollis in the groin.
“I can’t thank you enough.” Emma paused at the door and looked at the woman she’d dragged into her mess. She only hoped Hollis and Grimes wouldn’t give her too much of a hard time. But she looked tough enough to hold her own. She’d be fine. She had to be.
Right now, Emma had to get as far away from those two as possible. If Hollis was trying to drug her, there’s no way Grimes wasn’t in on it, too.
She opened the bathroom door and pulled the brim of the hat down a little farther to hide more of her face. She stepped into the middle of another group of women, all wearing cowboy hats too and slowly made her way toward the door, doing her very best not to draw attention to herself.
One glance over her shoulder at Hollis assured her he was still watching the bathroom door, waiting for her to come out. When she turned again she bumped into a guy’s shoulder.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“No problem, miss.” The familiar bass voice made her blood run cold.
She nodded, willing herself not to look up. Then pushed through the revolving door and out onto the street. She should’ve known Grimes would be watching the entrance. Both guards knew she liked to lose them when she went clubbing.
Stumbling out onto the street, she dragged in a deep breath of the humid Texas air and moved quickly to her right, disappearing into a crowd of men and women bustling down the sidewalk. She had maybe ten minutes before Hollis and Grimes wised up.
Her phone chirped from inside the bag at her hip. She pulled it out and felt her heart stop when the alert on the screen said it was from her dad. Swiping the screen, she opened it and started the video message. Her dad’s face came on the screen. He was covered in dirt and his nose looked broken. Gunfire popped in the background. She breathed deep and tried not to panic.
“Emma, if you get this message, you need to get to Lucy. I know you can slip your guards. Do it NOW and get out fast. Security has been compromised. If something happens, Lucy will keep you safe. Emma, this is not a drill.”
A loud explosion blew from behind, forcing his face to collide with the screen before it went dark. Then the video cut off.
Damn it. Her heart dropped in her stomach. Her gut telling her if her father wasn’t dead already, he would be soon.
Emma frantically dialed her mom’s number, almost dropping the phone twice as her shaking fingers tapped the screen, but it went straight to voicemail.
She stripped her phone of the colorful pink case. Pulled the battery off and tossed them both into a nearby trashcan. She dropped the rest of the phone to the sidewalk and stomped on it until it broke into multiple pieces.
Continuing down the street, she kept her eyes open for a sewer drain and tossed the pieces of her broken phone down the hole. Protocol dictated that her phone was the first thing she dumped. Next she needed to get to an ATM and withdraw enough cash to last until she got to Lucy’s safe house. Luckily she was only about two hours from her destination.
She still had another grand in her wallet, but she needed to grab more before she stopped using her cards, in case something came up. Slipping into a large bar and grill, she looked around the lobby for an ATM. Sure enough, they had one near the bar.
She took out three thousand—her daily limit on the card. It would have to be enough.
Stepping up to the polished wood bar, she waited
to catch the bartender’s eye. The tall, tattoo- covered, muscle-bound giant finally nodded his head at her and sauntered over.
“Hey, baby. What can I get for you this evening?”
She forced an easy smile. “I’m actually looking for the nearest car rental place.”
“Hmmm, you better call quick. Most of them close at seven. You’ve only got about fifteen minutes left.”
“I’ve got to get a car. My dad called and my grandma is sick and needs me to come stay with her. I need to get there tonight. Can I borrow your phone for a minute?”
“Sure, sugar.” He pulled a cell from his back pocket and unlocked the screen for her.
She did a quick search for car rentals and dialed the one that said it was only a mile and a half away. The line rang three times before a male voice answered.
“Austin Cars, this is Brent, how can I help you?”
“Hi Brent, I need a car delivered right now to Julio’s Bar and Grill on Sixth Street. I’ll give you two hundred dollars cash if you can get here in less than ten minutes.” Emma turned away from the bar, speaking low into the phone to avoid anyone hearing what she was saying.
“I can do that. Do you have a valid driver’s license I can take a picture of when I get there? Also I can take a credit card number over the phone and bring the paperwork for you to sign. How long do you need the car?”
“Yes, and I need it for a week.” She answered and then recited the long-since memorized credit card number.
“I’ll have a blue Chevy sedan outside the restaurant in five minutes.”
She hung up and turned to the bartender. He was watching her with more interest than she was comfortable with. Pulling a hundred bucks from her wallet, she handed it to him along with his phone.
“Thank you for the phone. And, please,” she met his inquisitive blue eyes. “I was never here and you never saw me.”
He frowned, but took the money and the phone from her hand. “I’m retired army and I can call a cop friend of mine if you need help, sugar. Are you in trouble?”
“I’m fine. I’ve got a car coming and someone waiting for me,” she answered, trying to give him a reassuring smile. Texas men were so protective and friendly, but he had no idea what he was offering to get into the middle of. “Thank you for the offer though.”
“Be safe.” He slipped the phone and money into his back pocket. “Your secret is safe with me.”
She nodded and left the bar, slipping between the crowd of people waiting to be seated just inside the main door and out into the humidity. The air smelled like alcohol and fried food. But at least there was no sign of Hollis or Grimes canvassing the streets yet.
A dark blue sedan pulled to a stop in front of the restaurant’s valet service, but the driver waved off the valet. His polo shirt had Austin Cars on the right breast pocket. He’d lived up to her request.
“Brent?” she asked, walking toward him.
“Yes, ma’am. Ms. Carrington?”
She nodded and moved to stand next to him.
“I need a pic of your license, sign this paper, and the keys are yours.”
“Thank you,” she said, handing him the information along with five-hundred dollars in cash.
“I need the picture of my license to be too blurry to read and you to delete my credit card information. I’m trying to get away from an abusive ex and he will come looking for me.”
“I well….We never share our clients’ names or information, but it’s not really okay for me to accept cash payment—”
She pulled three hundreds out of her purse and tucked them into his hand.
“Not a problem.” He snapped a quick picture and showed her the blurry image. “I’ll make sure the bill is altered and paid in full with cash. Have a safe trip.”
A few minutes later, she was in the car and driving out of town toward Somewhere, Texas.
She prayed she could get to Lucy before they figured out where she was going.