I checked my watch, wishing I could leave Lord’s Cricket Ground right now, but I knew I had at least another hour here. Ivan had just finished announcing the archery and the media crew was done with their telecast, but the stands were still being cleared and I knew that would take some time. I was giving my cousin the personal treatment, the same as I did for members of the royal family, and so far, so good. The men’s individual elimination had proved no great surprise, and I could think of nothing I wanted more than to get home to my girl, and back into her good graces. I had some humble pie being served to me this evening and I was good with that.
Ivan was making his way over to me when my mobile went off. I hoped it was Brynne. She’d never replied to my text from earlier. I smiled when I saw her name . . . but I read what she had typed in her message.
And then my whole world collapsed.
I can’t do this anymore with u. Ethan, u killed us last nite. My Old life is what I want back now . . . I don’t love u anymore . . . and not having ur baby either. I’m goin home where I want to be left alone . . . don’t come after me an don’t Phone me! Get some help, ethan, I think u need It desperately. —Brynne
I don’t remember how I got out of there. I know Ivan was with me so he must have helped. My dad showed up later too. I wanted to get home because the GPS told me that Brynne was at home. The last signal from her mobile registered from my flat. Our flat.
She wasn’t at the flat, though.
When I discovered her engagement ring and her mobile lying at the bottom of Simba’s tank, I wanted to curl up and die. It was a message loud and clear. A brutally painful and cruel one, but one I understood implicitly.
Our first meeting had been in the aquarium shop, even though neither one of us knew it at the time. Brynne had seen Simba before she’d ever met me. We had started with Simba. And we would end with Simba as well. How fitting.
The situation made absolutely no sense, though. My emotional side wanted to give up, but my pragmatic side still fought for reason in what was a colossal clusterfuck. Last night had been bad, sure, but worthy of a breakup? Hardly. Brynne was not cruel. If anything, she was softer-hearted than most people. And she was very honest. If she wanted out, she would have told me in person, never in something so impersonal as a text message. The text was not her style at all. She also told me she’d never give me another “Waterloo.” True, she hadn’t actually written the word in her text, but she promised she would never take off and leave like that ever again.
Len didn’t even know Brynne was gone from the flat. He told me he let the bloke from Fountaine’s into my office to service the tank at four o’clock as scheduled. At about five-thirty, Brynne texted him and asked him to run down to Hot Java and get her the special masala chai she liked to have now that she was pregnant. Len left for the coffee shop, but while he was queued up she rang him and told him not to bother with the tea, since I was on my way home and had already picked something up for her. Len told us that when he returned to the flat, the bloke from Fountaine’s appeared to have finished the job and let himself out. He could hear the water running in the bathroom and assumed Brynne was in having a shower.
I got ahold of Annabelle, and she relayed an account of a perfectly normal Brynne excited to look at some wedding-favor samples that had arrived. I found her wedding veil folded carefully in a bag. That didn’t make sense to me. Why would she be excited to look at wedding favors if she was leaving me? Why did she have her veil out? I’d even found her periwinkle dress laid out on the bed as if she was choosing what to wear for dinner. Why would she lay out clothing for a date if she was planning to leave? The part about how she wasn’t going to have my baby was all wrong too. Brynne wanted it. She wouldn’t get rid of our child. She already loved our baby as a mother does. I knew this in my heart, no matter what her text said.
The other thing that got me really suspicious was that the security cam at the door glitched out during the time Len was down at the coffee shop. During the same window of time in which Brynne had to have exited the flat, and when the aquarium service had supposedly let themselves out. Those kind of coincidences just didn’t occur in real life. They only happened on television.
I rang up Fountaine’s and asked who they had sent out to do the service call on Simba’s tank.
Their reply turned the blood in my veins to ice, stopped it dead on its way to my heart.
“Mr. Blackstone rang us this morning to reschedule his service, sir.”
That is when I knew that the person who’d sent the photos of Brynne and me in front of Fountaine’s had been in the f**king shop. He had followed us around London and stood there in the shop and listened to me make the servicing appointment. I had given them the time, and the place, so he could take my girl from her own home, in broad daylight, right under my f**king nose.
Goddamn me to motherfucking hell . . .
A bell rang. The deep, sonorous clang of a bell tower, somewhere in London, was making its scheduled performance. I counted seven rings before I opened my eyes, finding myself waking in a strange room and praying it was from a nightmare.
My head was fuzzy from not one but two blackouts. The first time had not been a complete job—just enough for my captor to get my attention and tell me what I had to do.
He’d made me do terrible, cruel things to people I care about—to people I love. But I’d done those things hoping and praying it might save their lives. My captor was no stranger to me. I had known him for many years, and in every sense of the word. He was no stranger to murder either. He had murdered people to get to where he was now. I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t murder me as well. I had nothing to more to lose.
“My pretty awakens,” he whispered from beside me, his hands moving over my body purposefully, his breath at my neck.
“No . . . please don’t do this, Karl. Please . . .” I begged him, trying to push him back with my hands.
“But why not? We’ve f**ked lots of times in the past. You loved it back then. I know I did,” he crooned, “and I was just a kid before. I know what I’m doing now.” He slid his hand up my top and over a breast and squeezed. He slathered his mouth over my neck and tried to kiss me, but I curled my lips and turned my head.
He gripped my chin roughly and pinched, turning me back to him. “Don’t think you can play hard to get with me, Brynne,” he said in a cruel voice, before he slammed his mouth over mine, his tongue pressing in and trying to invade me.