Read an Excerpt
Two years later
"I'm sorry, but we can't offer you the position. I'm sure you understand." The interviewer eyed Laurel over the top of her glasses.
Laurel breathed deeply to control her disappointment. She understood, all right. The hospital couldn't have someone like her on the front desk, meeting the public. The question "Have you ever been arrested?" always wrecked it for her.
"We have a part-time evening position, however," the hospital's personnel director said. "You seem to be qualified to maintain our Web site "
Laurel hesitated. "I might be able to do that."
The woman handed her a sheet of paper. "Why don't you look this over. If you're interested, call me tomorrow before five."
Laurel folded the paper. "Thank you." It was better than a stark dismissal, but not much. Twenty hours or so a week, at minimum wage.
The sun was sinking as she climbed the concrete steps to the upper level of the hospital's outdoor parking lot. She passed a group of visitors approaching the building and averted her eyes.
She'd been in Ohio for two weeks and had been turned down for more than a dozen jobs. She supposed she ought to take this one, although she'd never used her computer skills professionally, and it wasn't the type of job she would have chosen. Her funds were dwindling fast. The trip, the deposit on her modest apartment, groceries She'd had the phone connected right awaycourt's orders. If she didn't find some income soon, she wouldn't have enough money to stay afloat.
She glanced ahead toward her dark green Toyota Camry and caught her breath. A ruggedly built man was opening the driver's-side door.
She wanted to call out, but fear silenced herand she clutched the railing.
They found me! Somehow, they found me, and they're going to send me back to prison.
But that was irrational. She had permission to be here.
She hauled in a huge breath and strode toward the aging sedan. "Hey, that's my car!"
The man straightened and looked in her direction. Their eyes met for an instant, and she shuddered at his feral, hunted expression. That's how I look, she thought. He slammed the door and ran before she had a chance to react further.
When he was out of sight, Laurel dashed to the car and leaned against the driver's door, looking in. The glove compartment gaped open. She trembled as she reached for the door handle.
"You all right, ma'am?"
She jumped and whirled around. A tall man in uniform stood behind her. On his gray shirt pocket hung a badge with his photograph that identified him as Dan Ryan, Security.
"A man was in my car."
The guard looked around the parking lot. "Where is he?"
"He ran that way." She waved toward the woods that edged the back of the lot. "He's gone now."
He nodded. "Did you lock your car, ma'am?"
"Yes, I'm sure I did."
Ryan examined the edges of the window on the driver's door. "He jimmied it. Did he take anything?"
"I'm not sure." Laurel gulped. "I don't think there was anything valuable in there."
Ryan peered into the passenger compartment. "Why don't you take a quick look and see if anything's missing."
Laurel hastily inventoried the car's contents and stood up beside him. "I think everything's here."
His gray eyes, almost the color of his shirt, were serious and thoughtful. "Did you get a good look at him?"
"He was thirty or so. Light hair, I think, but he was wearing a baseball cap. Dark jacket. Jeans." She realized suddenly how tall and good-looking the guard was. "He wasn't your height. He was standing by the car, and he didn't look that tall. Heavier, though."
"Okay, we'll watch in case he comes around here again." He looked into her eyes and smiled. So few people had smiled at her lately. It made the burglar seem less frightening somehow. "If you're sure you're all right " He waited, as if he didn't want to end the conversation, but felt it was his duty.
She nodded. "Thank you for being here." She wanted to tell him she felt safe in his presence, that he had allayed her panic and brought her back to reality. But she found herself tongue-tied as she gazed into his empathetic eyes.
He reached for the door handle. Laurel got in, and he began to shut the door, then hesitated. "I think you dropped something."
She looked out as he stooped to retrieve the folded paper.
"Oh, thanks. That's probably my new job description."
"New job? Here?"
"Yes." She took it from him. "I'm not sure I'll take it. It's only part-time, updating the hospital Web site, but " She felt her color rising. If she revealed too much, it might bring danger back into her life.
"It's not bad working here. Could lead to something better." He leaned on the car door, watching her. His stance was not aggressive, but said he was open for friendship. The uneasiness that was her constant companion simmered inside her. It would only complicate things if she made friends here. Friends were people she would have to confide in, and eventually leave behind. Dan Ryan seemed like a nice person. Friendly, likable, shaving-cream-commercial handsome and big enough to scare off burglars. Just the type she needed to avoid.
"I'll think about it." She reached for the armrest to swing the door shut.
"Take care," he said quickly. "I hope you take the job."
"Thanks." She allowed herself to look up at him one more time. His eyes were serious in the twilight, and his light brown hair looked soft and touchable. She smiled and closed the door with a pang of regret.
* * *
It was dark when Laurel pulled into her apartment complex. She parked and got out of the car, looking around cautiously. Her building was one of ten similar structures. The shrubbery and shadowy crannies between the units provided ample cover for lurkers.
She selected her key and headed up the walk. Just before she opened the door, she closed her eyes for an instant and breathed a prayer. Opening the door was always the hardest moment of her dayfearing the worst, only to be confronted by the quiet solitude of her lackluster apartment. Even after all this time, she half expected another shock to await her. Coming home and stumbling over a dead body in her living room had shattered her sense of security.
Lord, you've got to help me get over this. She pushed the door open and fumbled for the light switch as she entered. Everything seemed exactly as she had left it.
She took a deep breath. She had chosen this life. Of course, her choice had been limited. The judge had specified that she stay within a thousand miles, so she'd picked an area as far as possible from Oakland, Maine, while still meeting the court's requirements. Central Ohio. She'd waived extradition and consented to report on a regular basis to the authorities. She knew nothing about the area, except that it was well populated. But now she faced the challenges and frustrations of job hunting and meeting new people, and the mental fatigue of staying constantly on guard.
As she changed her clothes, her thoughts returned to the man who'd broken into her car. A random crime, or was it connected to the murder? Had he followed her from Maine? The real killer still walked free while she remained accused. Her first trial had ended in a mistrial. Was she in danger while waiting for her new day in court?
She sat down on the edge of her bed to remove her shoes. For some reason the kind security guard unexpectedly popped into her mind. She remembered Dan Ryan's concern and deference. She wanted to see him again. Would it be foolhardy to take a job where he worked? Or would she be opening herself to more heartache?
After the night guard for the parking lot came on duty at ten, Dan Ryan took over an inside round, making his way through the hospital's administrative wing at an even pace. He whistled a strain of Mozart as he methodically checked all the locks. The shift passed without incident and at 11:30 p.m., he met the other inside guard in the lobby.
"How's it going?" Phil Knight called.
"The usual." Dan joined him in front of the closed gift shop. "How about you?"
"Oh, the E.R.'s busy, but nothing we need to worry about."
Dan liked the outdoor half of his shift the most, but he was glad his indoor assignment covered the part of the hospital that was mostly abandoned at night. Phil seemed to enjoy checking in with the nurses on each floor and chatting with the personnel on the graveyard shift. Dan didn't mind going alone into the empty administrative and diagnostic areas. He made it his business to know who ought to be there in the wee hours.
"Troy called in sick again?" Phil asked.
Dan nodded. He usually didn't work Mondays, but occasionally he covered for the regular guard. He'd be tired the next day, but it was worth it. He'd certainly been in the right place tonight.
He left Phil and continued his beat, thinking of the woman in the parking lot. She was pretty, with luxuriant brown hair. That's what he'd seen first when he'd spotted her running across the lot. Brown eyes to go with it. She seemed tired and a little disillusioned. But she was young, and he could tell from her speech that she was educated. He couldn't quite place the accent.
It was hard to categorize her on such short acquaintance, but Dan had felt something when he looked into her face. She was genuine, unpretentious. She appeared to be struggling with her job situation, but he had the feeling she wouldn't give up until she found something that interested her. Of course, his track record with women wasn't the best. He'd learned he couldn't always trust his snap judgments.
He unlocked the door to Public Relations and flipped the light on. This was where she would work if she took the computer job. He wished he had gotten her name.
He sighed and turned away. If things went the way they usually went for him, she would find a better job somewhere else, and he would never see her again. No sense wondering if she was everything she seemed.
As Laurel settled into her new job, she found that each evening she listened for the security guard to make his rounds while she typed up articles and lists of medical support group meetings. By the third night she recognized the step of the evening guard, Troy Buckle, and didn't turn around as he came through the door to Public Relations.
Reluctantly, Laurel glanced up. Troy was blond and attractive. He looked about sixteen, but she had learned that he was a student at the community college. In spite of her reserve, Troy made small talk every time he came through the office wing and already Laurel knew more about him than she wanted to know.
"Hi." She turned back to the monitor, hoping he would take the hint and keep moving.
"So who's the employee of the month?" He bent close to look over her shoulder.
Laurel stiffened. "Carol Marle in hematology."
"How come the security people are never employees of the month?"
She shook her head and kept typing.
"Guess I'd better hoof it. We're short one guy tonight." Troy straightened but didn't move away.
"Where's Dan Ryan, anyway?" Laurel nearly bit her tongue. She'd wanted to ask the question ever since she'd started the job, but had managed so far to suppress it.
She winced, struggling between her desire to know more about Dan and her aversion to encouraging Troy.
"The guy who did this shift Monday."
"I think he only works weekends, unless somebody's sick. I was off Monday, so he probably filled in for me."
"Oh." She felt foolish for asking. If he only worked weekends, she probably wouldn't see him.
"Will you be here every night?" Troy asked.
She pretended she didn't hear him, but he came around and leaned on her desk.
"Monday through Friday," she said without looking up. "I'm very busy, Troy."
He straightened again and stepped toward the doorway. "Well, I'll see you."
She said nothing, feeling only a twinge of guilt. When she went for coffee a few moments later, he was gone.
The following Monday, Laurel heard the guard approaching as she worked. She groaned inwardly. Troy had become a nuisance and over the weekend she had tried to come up with some way to discourage him.
"Hey! You signed on!"
She whirled around at the deeper, more vibrant voice. Dan Ryan smiled and strode toward her. Laurel was shocked by the excitement that whirled through her when their eyes met.
"Well, hello. I thought you only worked weekends."
"I think the regular guy has an aversion to Mondays," Dan said. "He misses at least two a month."
"That would be Troy."
"Yeah. They call me when he's out, but I've never met him. So, how's it going with the Web site?"
"All right." His steady gaze gave her a totally different feeling than the one Troy inspired. She looked away. "I'm usually gone by now, but I had a lot of pictures to upload tonight."
"So do you like doing this?"
She shrugged. "It's kind of boring."
He glanced at his watch. "I need to punch the clock down the hall. I uh what's your name?"
She hesitated, then self-consciously touched the new security badge clipped to her blouse. "Laurel Wilson."
"Laurel. I'm Dan. If you need someone to walk out to your car with you when you finish "
He looked reserved all of a sudden, and she found his gentle approach very attractive.
"I'd like that. I don't think I'll be much longer."
"I'll come back in about fifteen minutes and see how you're doing."
She watched him walk out into the hall. The uniform suited him, even if he was only a part-time rent-a-cop. His impeccable posture would fool anyone.
She turned back to the computer, mentally scolding herself for daydreaming about a man she didn't know. Dan was being kind to a stranger. But something deeper in his gray eyes set her heart racing. Laurel hadn't felt such pleasurable anticipation in years, and a wave of guilt washed over her. Was it possible for a twenty-eight-year-old woman to have a schoolgirl crush? Even if it were possible, the point was moot. She couldn't start a relationship now, with her life on hold.
Then there was the name thing. With the judge's permission, she had reverted to her maiden name. It had been impossible for her to find employment in Maine using the name Laurel Hatcher. Going back to Wilson gave her a little distance from the criminal case. That and the move to Ohio seemed to have worked, and she was now supporting herself, although in a rather spartan manner. But she still felt guilty and disloyal every time she gave her name.