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"Good night, Kayla. Get some rest, you deserve it." Brent Kitchens, the owner of the most prestigious art gallery in Seattle, escorted Kayla to the side exit of the gallery where she'd parked her car earlier that day. "Thanks for the great turnout."
"The thanks goes to you, Brent." She smiled at Brent, twisting the shiny gold locket at the end of a fine chain that hung around her neck. "I'm headed for my apartment and bed. These things exhaust me." That and being three months pregnant, a secret she hadn't shared with anyone. She wasn't certain how the news would impact her exploding career as an artist, especially since she planned to raise the child on her own.
"Get some rest, sweetheart." Brent patted her back. "Want me to have security walk you out?"
"No, I'll be fine. Thanks again." Kayla kissed the man on the cheek and left the building. The click of the door closing behind her made her jump and hurry toward her car. Having arrived during the day, she hadn't realized how little lighting there was at the back of the gallery. The one light shining out over the cars barely reached hers, casting more shadows than light on her solid black SUV. Keys in hand, she hit the automatic door locks as she neared the rear of her vehicle. When she reached for the door handle, she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.
Before she could react, a hand clamped over her mouth, stifling her scream and cutting off her air.
Kayla kicked and fought, her desire to live and protect her baby giving her sufficient motivation, but she was overpowered by her attacker's strength. She kicked out, her arms and legs flailing, her hands on her keys desperately fumbling for the little red panic button that she'd never before used.
The man slammed her into the side of the car.
Pain shot through her ribs, and she feared for the fetus growing inside her, but she couldn't escape the hold. Then she was flipped around, pinned to the car with the weight of his body, one hand covering her mouth, the other hand holding an arm. She faced a man with no face, his entire head covered in a ski mask, his eyes the only feature visible in the limited lighting. Light brownish eyes, almost gold, like those of a lion, if the lights weren't playing tricks on her fear-filled mind.
The low rumbling sound sent a ball of lead to the pit of Kayla's stomach. The man hadn't made a threat, hadn't said a word, but Kayla knew without a doubt that he'd kill her. With her free hand, she desperately pressed the buttons on the key chain, struggling to find the right one. The door locks clicked on and off, the lights blinking.
Her attacker's eyes narrowed and he grabbed for her hand and the keys she held.
Kayla finally found the panic button and she hit it just as a hand closed over the wad of keys.
The horn blared, over and over, the headlights and tail-lights blinking in unison, filled the parking lot with noise and light.
She couldn't see it, but she heard the creaking hinges of the back door to the gallery opening. If she wanted to live, she had to get help. Now!
Kayla bit down hard on the hand over her mouth.
The man cursed, his hand moving just enough that Kayla could let out a short, loud scream.
"What the hell?" Brent's voice called out. "What's going on out there? Hey, someone call 911!" he shouted. "Kayla? Kayla, is that you?"
In a flash, the man moved his grip to her throat, squeezing so hard, Kayla couldn't breathe.
She pried at his hands, her fingers tearing at his flesh, frantic to take a breath.
As his fingers tightened on her neck, he leaned close until his mask-covered mouth was close to her ear. "You win for now, but it isn't over." He yanked the chain from around her neck, then he let go so suddenly, Kayla slid down the side of the car. Unable to slow her fall, her head hit the pavement with a dull thud.
Dense fog clouded her vision even as precious air filled her starving lungs. Muffled voices, like people shouting into pillows, faded into silence. She could see the silhouette of her attacker sliding away into the shadows of an alley. Then the flashing stopped and night turned to pitch, the fog all-consuming. She couldn't let it claim her.
Kayla's eyes opened and she stared at the light shining on her table beside the bed. As quickly as the dreams came to her, they receded. The only impression she retained was one of terror and golden-brown eyes.
She jerked up out of the bed, her breathing labored as if she'd been smothered. Air, she had to get air. Kayla rushed for the window, pushing aside the drapes. She unlatched the lever and shoved the window open, sucking in air as fast as her lungs could take it.
Finally, her heart rate started to slow, and reason took hold once more. She reminded herself that she was far away from Seattle, safely tucked away in her vacation rental in Cape Churn.
Getting away had been her therapist's idea, but the small, seaside town she'd chosen as her destination had been a whim, the result of a real-estate brochure that had caught her eye. The images of untamed waves, peaceful beaches and quaint, quiet streets had called to her in a way she couldn't explain. It just looked like such a wholesome place to be. A good place to rediscover her inspiration againmissing ever since the attack. "A good place to have a child," she whispered.
She rubbed her hand in gentle circles over her belly. It was too soon to feel the baby yet, but she liked to imagine her kicking back in reply. Her babythe only person she had left in the world. When she'd woken up in the hospital after the attack, the doctor had told her she was lucky she hadn't miscarried. If she wanted to keep the baby, she'd have to take better care of herself, get more rest and not worry so much. And stay away from dark places where bad guys hang out.
The doctor had also asked some pointed questions about her support networkfamily, friends, the baby's fatherand hadn't seemed too pleased with the answers. Kayla didn't blame him. As much as she'd hated to admit, she didn't have a support network. Kayla didn't have siblings or parents to call and check up on her. Her best friend and the surrogate father of her baby had died three months ago in a car accident. The crash had occurred only two days following the artificial insemination of Tony's sperm.
For all the years she'd been on her own since the deaths of her parents, she'd longed for a family. She and Tony hadn't been in love, but they had cared for each other deeply, and they'd looked forward to making a family together, raising their child as partners in a home full of warmth and caringa place where Kayla could finally feel as if she belonged.
"We'll still have that, Baby. I'm sorry you won't have a daddy, but you'll always have me, and we'll be okay."
Thoughts of her baby had gotten her through the loss of her best friend and the end of their plans to build a happy, companionable little family together. Remembering her baby had given her the strength to fight off her attacker in the parking lot long enough to signal for help. And it was with the goal of protecting her baby that she'd grimly pulled herself together in the aftermath of the attack and found a place where they could be safe.
Kayla peered out the window. Fog had crept in to cloak the coastline. If not for the gentle splash of waves against the cliffs and the strong scent of salt in the air, she wouldn't have known that she was at the coast. Her heartbeat settled into a smooth, steady rhythm, as the last vestiges of the nightmare slowly slipped away.
Sleep. That's what she and the baby needed. On this quiet edge of coastline, she wanted the peace of the place to wrap around them.
The therapist had taught her this trick of imagining a happy place before she went to bed. It would help settle her mind and avoid the nightmares that had woken her night after night. Now that she was at Cape Churn, it should be even easier. After all, her happy place was here with the ocean, the wind and waves. The nightmares would fade in timeshe had to believe that. She'd get better, stronger. She'd heal in this quiet, peaceful place.
Leaving the window open just a little, she climbed back in bed and laid her head on the pillow.
As she lay there, her eyelids drooped and closed to the darkness, her mind settling into the edge of oblivion. Just as she drifted into sleep, a sharp scream ripped through the night.