Wednesday, March 28, 2012
SPECIAL: The Bride Pursued!
For my loyal readers, The Bride Pursued is available at Smashwords! For 25% off, use Coupon Code: NG85Y
Shaye Montgomery stood with her hands on her hips in the middle of the Seattle apartment she’d shared for several years with her best friend, Rayne Green. A multi-platinum recording artist, Rayne had mysteriously disappeared two months ago after her sold-out concert in Chicago and Shaye was trying to find a clue as to why. Anything that might lead her to her friend.
Shaye glanced to where Trevor Miller, Rayne’s head of security, stood in her open concept kitchen. Six feet something and built like a brick wall, Trevor embodied the epitome of what many women considered the perfect man. His dark hair and olive skin emphasized intense brown eyes and when he smiled, the dimple in his cheek deepened. “Do you want some wine?”
Trevor had stopped by to check on her, and found her surrounded by notepads and newspapers. In pure Trevor fashion, he’d forced his way in and offered to make dinner.
So far, he’d managed to open a bottle of wine.
“Sure, Trevor. Thanks.” Shaye ran her hands through her hair with a sigh.
Trevor leaned across the kitchen island. “Any word from that Jared guy?”
“He just gave me the address in Chicago of where he’d last seen her. Now, he won’t respond to anything.” A little quieter, “the jackass.”
“Did you just swear, Miss Montgomery?” Trevor asked in mock offense.
Shaye sent him a pointed smirk. “They use the word ‘ass’ in the Bible, so, no, I did not swear.”
Hearing the deep timbre of Trevor’s laugh as she slipped around the corner of the living room, she moved to the front of Rayne’s desk and opened one drawer, then another. She slammed the last drawer shut and kicked the desk chair in frustration. “Ouch! Dang it!”
Trevor rushed from the kitchen and nearly tripped over her sitting on the floor, injured foot in her hand. “What did you do?”
Shaye glanced up at him with a frown. “I kicked the chair.”
“Without shoes on?”
“Well, that was dumb,” he said, but tempered it with a sympathetic chuckle. “What are you looking for, exactly? The police have already gone through this place with a fine-toothed comb.”
“I know. I guess I hoped I could open a drawer and something would pop out at me.” She reached out her hand. “Help me up, so I can get some ice.”
Hearing the sound of “I’m Too Sexy” break the silence as his cell phone rang, Shaye raised an eyebrow. Trevor grinned and grasped her hand, lifting her from the floor. He flipped the phone open, raised it to his ear—and scowled. “Oh, hi, Kimber.”
Shaye gave a quiet giggle and then whispered, “Don’t you have caller ID?”
Kimber LaRue, Shaye’s assistant—and she used the word loosely—was the record company president’s niece, and an all around pain in the butt.
“Yeah, Kimber, I don’t think that’s going to work.” Trevor rolled his eyes. “No, I’m at Shaye’s.”
Hobbling to the kitchen for an icepack, Shaye found the glass of wine Trevor had poured. She poured another one, walked back into the living room, and handed one to him before sitting on the sofa.
“No, we haven’t heard from Rayne,” he continued.
Holding the icepack on her foot as she sipped her wine, Shaye watched Trevor pace the floor.
“Kimber, tell your uncle there’s nothing to tell,” Trevor snapped.
Shaye noticed his nostrils flare. Nothing ever went well when Trevor got angry, and it would appear he was rapidly achieving irritation.
This might take a while.
She picked up her laptop and pulled up her current Google News page in an effort to ignore his conversation. Rayne’s disappearance had slipped to the number six story. Sipping her wine again, she was so lost in thought, she didn’t notice when Trevor ended his call.
Shaye looked up in confusion. “Huh?”
“Are you okay?” Trevor frowned.
“Yes, sorry. I was just reading.” She smiled. “How’s Kimber?”
“You mean, the dingbat?”
“Be nice, Trevor. I know she’s a little negative, but she’s had a rough life.”
“Yeah, her silver spoon life really sucked.” Trevor let out a derisive snort. “Shaye, you’re too nice to her, especially considering she tries to sabotage you all the time.”
Shaye gave a little shrug. “Maybe.”
Trevor sighed. “Never mind. How’s your foot?”
“Why the frown?”
Shaye forced a smile. “What frown?”
Trevor chuckled. “Nice effort. Seriously, though, are you okay?”
“I just want to find Rayne.” She set her laptop aside and rose to her feet. “But there’s nothing we can do tonight, so where’s that meal you promised?”
Trevor gave an unconvincing look of contrition. “You’re drinking it.”
Shaye’s stomach rumbled rather loudly. “Chinese?”
Grabbing their coats, they left to find an open restaurant.
* * *
Shaye woke the next morning with a plan in mind and a way to execute it before anyone realized what she was doing.
At least, that was her hope.
After showering and packing a few things in her backpack, she looked at the clock. Her working lunch with Trevor, scheduled for just after twelve, meant she only had an hour to get on the road before he’d try to stop her. She rechecked her bag, made sure she hadn’t missed anything, and then made her way out to the waiting taxi. She wrinkled her nose as she stepped outside her building and was greeted by sheets of rain and a sudden gust of wind. Luckily, she’d grabbed her jacket, scarf, and gloves before she left the apartment.
The driver dropped her on the sidewalk of SeaTac’s departing flights and she made her way inside the terminal and found the airline kiosk, where she entered her information. Tapping her foot as she waited for the boarding pass to spit out, she grabbed the piece of paper almost before it stopped printing, and took off for security. She took her place at the end of the line.
Her flight was scheduled to leave in thirty minutes and if this line didn’t move faster, she’d never make it. She pulled out her driver’s license and wrapped her boarding pass around it in an effort to be prepared. Her cell phone rang as she readjusted her backpack. She didn’t recognize the number and waffled between ignoring and answering the call. In the end, she chose to answer. “Hello?”
“Where are you?”
Shaye rolled her eyes, regretting her choice. “Hi, Trev. Where are you calling from?”
“A buddy loaned me his phone. Mine’s dead. Now, where are you?”
“What do you mean, where am I? I’m at home.”
“Uh, no you’re not, ’cause I’m here and you’re not.”
“Oh,” she said. “You’re early.”
“What are you doing, Shaye?”
“Miss? Right over there,” a security guard interrupted her and guided her to a shorter line.
“Are you at the airport?” Trevor sounded mad.
Shaye shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Are you going to Chicago?”
She grabbed a plastic bin and set it on the metal table. “Maybe.”
“What the hell are you thinking, Shaye?” he snapped.
“I need to find my friend, Trevor,” she said as she removed her shoes.
“The police have already searched for her. What do you possibly think you can find that they haven’t?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like I have to do something.”
“You won’t get anywhere. They’ve boarded up the abandoned building and have security everywhere.”
Shaye frowned. “I doubt there’s “security everywhere,” Trevor. It seems to me everyone’s given up on finding her, even the police. I just want to see if I can do something more.”
“Why? It’s not like she’s worth the hassle.”
“Trevor! Don’t say that. I know she can be difficult at times—”
“Yes. At times,” Shaye stressed.
“You go above and beyond, Shaye.”
Dumping her shoes into the bin, she shrugged off her jacket and settled it on top. “She’s my other sister. For all intents and purposes, anyway.”
“I would have come with you.”
“I know you would have and I appreciate that, but this is something I need to do on my own. Can you at least understand that?”
Shuffling behind a large man who apparently hadn’t heard of deodorant, Shaye sighed. “Look. You have the Shaunessy concert tomorrow night, and I’m not sure I’ll be back by then.”
“I could have found someone to cover for me.”
“That would have started rumors and innuendos up the wazoo and you know it.”
An incomprehensible string of words filtered down the phone line.
“Keep the lines moving, please,” the security guard bellowed in her direction.
“Hey, I need to go, okay?” She slid her bag and bin into the x-ray machine. “I’ll see you in a few days.” She hung up the phone and set it in the plastic basket one of the security guards held out to her. “Thanks.”
Hearing it jingle again just as she walked through the archway, she grabbed it and the rest of her items off the roller table. A missed call from her mother she could ignore for a while. She sat down on one of the benches to tie her shoes and then made a mad dash for her gate. She arrived at the plane with seven minutes to spare, but the flight attendant still gave her a dirty look as she ushered her down the gangway.
Finding her seat, Shaye sat down, turned her cell phone off, and popped a piece of gum in her mouth. She had a fully-charged iPod, so once the all clear was given by the pilot, she stuck it on random, leaned back, and tried to relax. She almost laughed when the first song to play was her favorite Rayne song.
* * *
Shaye’s plane landed at O’Hare International ten minutes early. She exited the gangway and hit the ground running. She located the signs for ground transportation and made her way to a taxi stand.
Handing the driver the address where Jared said he took Rayne, Shaye’s heart raced as he pulled the cab out onto the freeway. She was close. So close, she could taste it. She wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans and looked to the heavens and prayed that she would find something…anything.
“This is it.” The driver pulled up to a boarded-up building. “Hey, isn’t this where that singer disappeared from?”
“They have it boarded up for a reason, you know. I don’t think you should go in there.”
“It’s fine. Really.”
“Are you some kind of über fan or something?” he asked.
Shaye bit her lip. This guy was making things more difficult than they should be. “Um, yeah, kinda, I guess.”
He stared at her for several tense seconds and then nodded. “Knock yourself out, lady. That’ll be thirty dollars and seventy-five cents.”
Shaye handed him a fifty. “Would you be able to wait for me, please? If you do, there’ll be a hundred in it for you.”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
Shaye opened the door, slid out of the seat, and made her way toward the building. It took her several minutes, but she found a loose board and pulled it aside, thankful there was a person-sized window behind it. Surprisingly, the window was unlocked, and she pushed it open. She couldn’t get through the opening with her backpack on, so she took it off and eased her body through. Once she was in, she reached back and grabbed it.
With no light in the building, she rummaged in her bag until she felt her penlight. Pulling it out, she twisted the top and let out a sigh of relief when the light came on. She settled her backpack on her shoulders, made sure it was secure, and shined the light in front of her.
She took a deep breath, walked slowly down the hall, found a door, and opened it. Met with the sight of a large mirror stretching the length of one wall, a bar attached to it, and the hardwood floor, she deduced it was the dance studio.
This is where Jared said he last saw Rayne.
Walking into the room, Shaye strolled the perimeter, frustrated that there was nothing necessarily evident. Just cobwebs and a strange smell.
Her cell phone peeled in the echoing silence and she jumped as she pulled it from her pocket. “Hello?” she whispered.
“Have you checked your messages?” Trevor snapped.
She rolled her eyes. “No. I just landed.”
“Why are you whispering?”
Shaye cleared her throat. “No reason. Just a frog in my throat from the flight.”
“Where are you?”
Shaye glanced around the room. “Chicago.”
“Shaye!” Trevor’s irritation was evident in his voice. “Where are you, specifically?”
“You’re breaking up, what was that?”
“Don’t play that game with me, Shaye,” Trevor said angrily. “I know you can hear me. Where are you?”
“I’m looking for Rayne.”
“You didn’t go to that building did you?”
Walking into a cobweb, she scrunched up her nose and tried to pull the silk from her face. “That would have been really dumb, Trevor, don’t you think?”
“Particularly if you get hauled off to jail for trespassing.”
“There’s no one here, Trevor. The area’s totally deserted. Even the crime scene tape is gone.”
“I thought you said you didn’t go in there.”
Something crossed her foot and she couldn’t stop her scream.
She felt sick…deep breaths, Shamus. “I’m okay, I’m okay. It was a rat. A large one, mind you, but still only a rat.”
Trevor let out an expletive. “You did go to that building.”
“I just need to look around a little. I promise I won’t be too long.”
“Where are you staying tonight? I’ll meet you there and then we can look together tomorrow.”
“No, Trevor, don’t. I’ll be fine. I’ll head back to the airport and catch the next flight out, okay?”
“You call me when you’re ready to board and I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“I’ll just catch a cab.”
“Shaye,” he growled. “I’ll pick you up.”
“Fine,” she huffed. “It’ll be late.”
Trevor swore. “I don’t give a damn what time you get here, Shaye. Just get your ass on a plane.”
“Bossy much?” Shaye snapped. “I’ll call you when I get a flight. ’Bye, Trevor.”
Hanging up the phone, she threw it in the pocket of her bag, walked out of the room, and back down the hall. “Now where?” she said aloud.
Shaye opened door after door, finding more empty rooms until she came to the one that opened to a stairwell.
“Where do you go?” She stepped into the landing area and peered down between the railing. The door quickly closed and locked behind her. “Shoot,” she grumbled, but decided to go up the narrow staircase, rather than down. Going to the basement felt entirely too much like something out of a horror movie. She made her way up, gripping the banister as she willed herself to continue up the spooky staircase. There was a door at the top of the stairs, propped open by an old can of paint. She peeked inside, and then moved further into the small room. She pulled out her pen light and swept the space.
Old furniture that had seen better days was scattered haphazardly around the space, along with a few shelves up against the wall housing discarded paint cans and various cleaning supplies. She noticed a wad of fabric in the corner and nudged it with her foot. That’s when she saw light filtering from under the paneled wall. “What the heck?”
She pressed on the panels, looking for a door, figuring there must be a room of some kind behind the wall. She was about to give up when she pressed on the last panel next to the lighted area and it swung silently inward. “Well, well.”
She pushed the door farther open and looked down to find her footing. There was something on the floor. Bending to pick it up, she gasped. It was the diamond snake wrap Rayne had worn around her arm the night she went missing. “The police obviously didn’t find this place.” Shaye straightened, staring at the piece of jewelry as questions flooded her mind. “You came up here at some point, Reggie...but where did you go after that?”
A cool breeze ruffled her hair. Shaye shivered and looked around for the source of the draft. Her mouth dropped open as her gaze lit on a strange scene. What looked like a large oval entrance to something appeared before her.
Moonlight filtered through the opening, its beam forming a path on the scuffed wooden floor. The soft glow acted like a magnet, drawing Shaye closer. Hesitant, yet powerless to resist, she followed the moonlit path to the opening. She blinked. At the far side of an expansive field with tall grass stood a cluster of trees, and the sky above them twinkled with a million stars. She felt like she was looking at a painting.
Shaye shook her head. This couldn’t be. She leaned past the threshold and her world spun and then darkness engulfed her.