(Partial of this chapter—1,075 words)
Annalisse tightened her grip on Alec’s hand when they found the slider door closed at the barn entrance. She was sure the door was open when she drove the BMW across the street. Maybe Kate had closed it to keep the wind and rain out. Talking herself out of being worried, she shuddered as the door squeaked its way along the rails. The noise always grated on her nerves.
“Kate?” Alec called out into the dead air.
Annalisse hurried past him. “Auntie!” she yelled. “Alec, check the office and tack rooms. I’ll peek inside the arena.” The barn was eerily quiet. Too quiet. She pushed dread aside, along with the dull headache behind her eye sockets.
“No.” He snatched her hand back and pulled her next to him. The look that passed over his face was one of deep concern. “We stay together. Walk with me.”
She hated to admit her stubborn streak was similar to Kate’s. Alec could attest to that. She’d left their Turkish hotel on her own to save his mother from the Russian mafia after she was told to stay put. Almost twenty years living with and around her aunt had made Annalisse more independent and less afraid in dangerous situations. It was hard to know if that was a good trait to have.
Not a single horse snickered or whinnied, and the barn’s air hung heavily in clean bedding. Annalisse’s blouse stuck to her arms underneath the jacket from fear or mugginess, or both. Alec must have moved the mares into the lower barns or pastures. She glanced into Kristol Magic’s and Harriet’s vacant stalls.
“Harriet’s running with the mares? Are any of the thoroughbreds here?”
Alec shook his head. “If Kate planned to spend time with the horses, she won’t find ’em here.”
“Damn. I should’ve taken her to the house.” The flutter of regret couldn’t rewrite what Annalisse had done. “Is it hot in here?”
She shucked her jacket and whispered under her breath, “Aunt Kate, why didn’t you come back to the house?” She ran to the end of the aisle where brick and concrete stopped and arena started, searching for her.
“Slow down, art lady.” He stopped her from going deeper into the covered arena that was groomed and perfect, without a single shoe or hoof print marring the soil.
“She must have walked down to the broodmare barns. Where else would she be? In that soaking rain, she wouldn’t stand at the fences.” Annalisse wrapped an arm around Alec’s waist. “It’s logical she’d go to the horses.”
“Hard to believe she’d walk there in that muck. Let’s go back and get the ATV.”
“Isn’t your breeder manager working today?” Annalisse planted her feet on the bricks. “Can’t you call him to check down there?”
“I told him to take the weekend off.”
“You go. I’ll stay here in case Aunt Kate shows up.”
“We go together. We’ve checked this building already. She’s not here.”
Annalisse stomped her boot, feeling like a spoiled little kid. “I’m not moving from here. I dropped her here. I’m staying here.” She folded her arms and glared at him.
Alec softened. “Fine. Here.” He reached around and extracted his pistol, handing it to her. “Don’t give me that look. Take it. You don’t have your phone on you, and neither do I. One of us needs a cell phone with our contacts. Promise me you’ll stay in the office.” He showed her again how to use the Glock. “If Kate returns—keep her here.”
The hair stood up on the nape of her neck. Alec was being dramatic. After all, they were alone in the barn. Why would they need a gun out here?
“I’m not taking your gun, Alec. When you come back, bring my purse, then we’ll both have a weapon.”
He had cleared the end of the barn before she’d finished her sentence.
“Stay in my office,” he hollered over his shoulder in the strengthening wind.
“Great. Just great.”
Annalisse slid the Glock into the jacket she carried and wandered the length of the barn, taking more time inside each stall. Heaven forbid, Kate had collapsed in one of them. She found nothing but fresh shavings and a halter left behind by someone too hasty or lazy to put it back with the rest. She checked the office in case Alec returned and found she hadn’t listened to his instructions again.
The heat inside his sanctuary was stifling. Laying the jacket over the chair back, she fluffed her blouse, sending air between skin and sticky polyester. She plopped down in the chair, skidding backward on the plastic desk mat. Her stomach roiled with acid, which hardly helped her headache.
The refrigerator was fully stocked with water, and she helped herself to a bottle, spending a few extra moments in front of the open fridge door. The cold air recharged her. Annalisse helped herself to ibuprofen from Alec’s desk drawer and sat down again, spinning a three-sixty in her chair. She admired the tall crystal trophies with golden horses frozen in time. Multicolored rosettes scattered about attested to Brookehaven’s successes on the racetrack. Glass cases with Alec’s achievements in the world of horseracing lined two walls. He’d surrounded himself with the things that were important to him, but not a single tchotchke or photograph of his dad, his stock car days, or the sports cars that kept Alec on corporate planes so much.
Memories of Alec’s statesmanlike father, a charismatic man she’d met briefly in Greece, were still too painful for everyone who’d lived through the attack on the Gen Amore. Time couldn’t wipe away those hateful men and the devastation they’d caused to the Zavos family on the Aegean Sea.
Annalisse’s first time in the ocean on the most beautiful yacht—Gen, forced to witness her husband’s murder, and Alec mercifully knocked out where he’d missed the gruesome display. Annalisse had seen it all, and she wished she hadn’t. There were disturbing details of Pearce’s battle with the mafia that she still kept from Alec to this day. She hoped by keeping them tucked away, the images would eventually fade from her nightmares.
At least being with Aunt Kate on the farm had spared Annalisse the firsthand knowledge of her own family’s final moments. Kate had saved Annalisse from her parents’ and sister’s fate, albeit by accident.