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The bump that came from the trunk of her car surprised Tiffany so much it nearly sent her careering off the road and into one of the houses along the right side. What was going on? The fourteen-year-old boy she and her husband had called "Rover" was supposed to be dead. She couldn't dump his body if he wasn't!
What should she do? She gripped the steering wheel so hard her knuckles showed beneath her skin. She needed to stop and see what was going on. How had someone who'd been killed come back to life? And was Rover merely in a panic because he'd regained consciousness in a dark, confined space? Or was he trying to knock out a taillight in hopes of gaining the attention of the car following behind?
She couldn't believe he was still breathing, let alone coherent enough to execute such a plan. He was too young to be that smart, too scared to defy them. Butif he was aliveRover had to know this was the end. He'd never see his parents again if he didn't do something. Wouldn't that make him willing to take any risk?
Tiffany wasn't sure. It always astonished her how cowed and controllable the teenagers her husband brought home really were. Colin had a way with them, knew just the type of individual to pick.
Another thunk caused her palms to grow slick with sweat. Damn it! This wasn't supposed to happen. It'd certainly never happened before.
Could anyone else hear the racket Rover was making?
She glanced in her rearview mirror. The black SUV that'd been following her for the past few miles was still there. The driver, a middle-aged woman wearing sunglasses, had lowered her window to take advantage of the warm spring weather. The wind blew her dark hair back, revealing an oval face with full lips, the kind of face Colin would probably find attractive, despite the obvious age difference. But the woman didn't look any more interested in Tiffany than she had before.
Or maybe she was. She seemed closer now .
More movement, sounds of distress, drew Tiffany's nerves taut. I've got to pull over.
But if the driver of the SUV had seen or heard anything unusual, she might stop, too. And how would Tiffany explain having a boy in her trunk? Especially one in Rover's condition?
Think! It was better to keep driving. She'd turn at the next light and hope the SUV went straight. There were several ways to get to Highway 50. Once out of the city, beyond Placerville, she could pull down a dirt road in the mountains where she'd be hidden by pine trees.
But then what? It was one thing to dump a body, another to be the reason that person was no longer living.
The noise coming from her trunk became louder, more insistent. If the lady behind her didn't hear it, a pedestrian at the next crosswalk could.
Tiffany drew in a deep breath. She had to get this right or Colin would be upset. And if she screwed up, they'd both go to prison.
Heart hammering, she reached into her purse and fumbled around until she located her cell and managed to push the speed-dial button that would ring her husband's cell.
"Colin, he's alive!" she blurted into the pause that followed, but then his recorded voice cut in and she realized she'd gotten his voice mail.
"I'm afraid I'm not able to take your call right now "
Frustrated, she punched the End button. Colin thought it was funny to bait people into believing they had him on the phone. She usually laughed when he caught her on it. But she wasn't laughing today. She needed him. Now.
"H-e-l-p! Mo-om? Da-ad? Someone help me!"
That was Rover screaming!
Taking the next right, Tiffany gave her car too much gas. When the tires squealed, two men leaving Lamps Plus looked up, and she regretted her lead foot. She didn't want to draw attention to herself.
At least the black SUV continued down Madison. That was a small relief.
Her hand shook as she dialed Colin's work number. "Come on, hurry. I need to talk to my husband," she muttered through the subsequent ringing.
Finally, Misty, the receptionist with the frizzy red hair, picked up. "Scovil, Potter & Clay Law Offices."
"M-Misty? This is Tiffany Bell. Is my husband there?"
"Let me see." There was a long pause. Then she came back on the line. "He's in a meeting."
"Will you get him for me?"
"He's with the boss."
As a new hire only a year out of law school, Colin had to be careful to keep the other lawyers happy, especially Walter Scovil, the most senior of the senior partners. But nothing was more important than this.
"I'm sorry, it's an emergency."
"Oh! Is everything okay?"
Hoping to stanch the tears burning behind her eyes, Tiffany blinked repeatedly. "His, um, his mother fell and and she's hurt."
Colin hated his mother, wouldn't have walked across the street to see her even if she was on her deathbed, but most people didn't know that. It wasn't something he typically shared. They both knew what other people would think if they heard him calling his mother the names he used.
"I feel terrible," the receptionist said. "I'll get him for you."
The stoplight ahead turned red, and traffic in front of Tiffany began to slow. She studied the intersection, wondering if she could switch into the right-hand-turn lane, or catch a green arrow on the left. Anything to avoid coming to a complete stop. But too many vehicles blocked the way. She had no choice but to wait for the light.
Biting her lip, she eased her foot onto the brake and let her breath go only when she didn't hear a peep from Rover. Did that mean he'd died?
"Tiffany, why are you calling?"
At the sound of her husband's voice, she lost the battle she'd been fighting with her emotions. As she wiped the tears rolling down her cheeks, she saw the man in the truck next to her staring and averted her eyes. "It's Rover," she whispered into the phone.
"He can't be."
"He is. He's in the trunk banging around and crying for help."
"Then pull over and take care of it!"
"Here? In the middle of Fair Oaks?"
"Shit! No, of course not." He was silent for a few seconds. "What street are you on?"
"I'm heading south on Hazel, trying to reach Highway 50."
"Wait until you get out of town, then pull over and deal with the problem."
She'd figured out that much. It was what came next that made her uneasy. "What do you mean, 'deal with the problem'?"
He kept his response low. "Just what I said. Finish the job."
Kill Rover? Herself? Her stomach flip-flopped at the thought. The boy had been Colin's toy; the cleanup should be Colin's job. "But I don't have a weapon."
"Use a piece of wood or or a rock if you have to. It's not hard."
Tiffany's jaw went slack. How had what'd started as a little fun grown into this? Sometimes, lying awake at night, she couldn't believe how badly their lives were spinning out of control. And yet she didn't know how to stop it. Colin didn't even want to try. He was too addicted to the adrenaline rush, to the sexual excitement, to the power, and he'd sucked her in with him by repeating the same old promise, "Just one more time. I'll quit after this."
Now she wasn't only participating in a peripheral way; she was tying up his loose ends. "You're kidding, right? You know I don't have the nerve for for that."
"You don't have a choice!"
The light turned green. The guy in the truck next to her gave her an appreciative smile as they both accelerated, but she wasn't worried that he'd suspect her of any wrongdoing. Rover hadn't made a sound for several minutes. "But"
"Do it, or I swear to God, Tiffany "
He didn't finish. He didn't have to. She knew what he'd be like if she didn't fix this. He'd punish her now that he no longer had his "pet."
"Okay. I got it. Ihe's not moving anymore."
"So you called me for nothing?" He sighed into the phone. "You're pathetic."
"How can you say that after everything I've done for you?"
"Don't start. You wouldn't be anything without me. You were a fat slob when I met you." He lowered his voice further, but she figured he had to be in his office with the door closed or he wouldn't have spoken as freely as he had. "There wasn't a guy in high school who'd even look at you, with your greasy hair and filthy clothes. And now all my friends drool when you walk by. I've turned you into a pinup. I've taught you how to take care of yourself."
Unfortunately, taking care of herself proved to be an ongoing effort. He demanded she work out two hours a day. He weighed her regularly and monitored every morsel she put in her mouth. He wanted her at a steady hundred and twenty pounds, with breasts the size of watermelons, he said. But she wasn't quite that large. Fortunately, Colin was more concerned with keeping up appearances than fulfilling his porn-star fantasy, which tempered what he'd had the plastic surgeon do to her body. In the end, he'd settled for an augmentation that made her a full D cup, and he had her nose fixed and her cheekbones enhanced. They still owed over nine thousand dollars to Visa for those improvements, but he didn't seem to care about the expense. He loved that they were the most admired couple in the firm and in the neighborhood.
"What other men think doesn't concern me," she said, and it was true. He was the only person who mattered in the world, the only one who'd ever loved her. She didn't want to lose that.
"If I mean so damn much to you, do what you have to do!"
Without any recent noise from the vicinity of the trunk, Tiffany was feeling more confident. She rolled down her window to let some cool air into the car and pulled her sweat-soaked blouse away from her body. "Yes. Of course. I've got it."
The entrance to Highway 50 came up on her right, and she accelerated onto the on-ramp. It would be hard for anyone to hear Rover once she was on the freeway. "It just scared me for a minute, that's all."
"I know, babe. But you're stronger than you realize. You belong to me, don't you? Every thought you think, every move you make, all comes from me, and I've trained you well."
She knew he was too possessive, but she considered herself lucky. It made her feel attractive, desired, secure in his love. He took her to the tattoo parlor every once in a while to have his name tattooed on a different part of her body. So far, both breasts, her ass and the inside of her thighs said, "Colin's." But she didn't mind. He wouldn't bother with the time and expense involved if she wasn't an important part of his life. Only people who tried to contest his will ran into problems.
Shivering, she remembered the incident that had finally brought their relationship with Rover to an end. It was the boy's own fault, she told herself. He knew Colin, knew what he demanded. If Rover had obeyed, as usual, it might've hurt for a while but he would've recovered. There wouldn't have been any reason to kill him.
Instead, she was driving to a remote location to dump his corpse.
"What should we have for dinner tonight?" she asked, hoping a change in topic would make Colin respond favorably.
"I don't know. I have to get back to that meeting."
"Okay." She was still on her own with this terrible assignment. But at least she'd been able to connect with Colin, to get instruction. "Good luck."
"Thanks for watching my back, Tiff. I'm gonna show you how much I love you tonight," he said and hung up.
She smiled as she dropped her phone in her purse. With Rover gone, they'd be alone at last, the way Tiffany liked it best. She knew she was stupid to get jealous of her husband's toysor pets, as he called thembut she didn't like how much he seemed to enjoy some of the stuff he made them do. Especially the boys. They satisfied him more than she could, even with the fake boobs and the tattoos and the dangerous domination games they'd begun to play. Sometimes she got the impression she was just for looks, part of his image, a trophy for his lawyer friends to envy.
But that couldn't be true. Colin shared everything with her, including his pets. Rover had been doing the housework for weeks.
Drying her tears, she turned up the volume on the radio and began to sing along. This wouldn't be difficult. She'd head past the rented cabin where they'd once spent Thanksgiving before Colin's dad had bought his own place. Then she'd pull deep into the woods and roll the body out onto the ground. When that was done, she'd drive to the grocery store and get the ingredients to make her husband a romantic dinner. She'd let Colin chain her up and whip her afterward, really get into it. If she was lucky, he'd forget all about Rover and forgive her for bothering him at the office.
She was almost herself by the time she found what appeared to be a safe location. She hadn't heard Rover since he'd cried out for his parents. He had to be dead. She'd seen what her husband had done to him.
But he wasn't. When she opened the trunk, he jumped out at her. With his left eye swollen shut, his lip busted and ugly cuts and black bruises darkening his bare white skin, the boy resembled some kind of monster gone wild. He knocked her to the ground, but he didn't attack her. He ran faster than she'd ever dreamed possible, sobbing for help as he went.
He was so loud, she dared not follow. After scrambling to get back in the car, she tore off, ignoring the groaning of the BMW's struts when she raced over one bump or another. The car didn't matter. She had to get out of sight before Rover attracted someone's attention.
And then she had to think of a way to break the news to Colin.
Samantha Duncan had never been so bored in her life. She'd thought it would be neat to skip school. But any "fun" had ended the first week. With her mother working all day, Sam found it too quiet and lonely at home. Especially this home. Although it was by far the best house they'd ever lived in, she no longer cared about the "amenities," as her mother called them. She felt like excess baggagean inconvenience Anton Lucassi tolerated for the privilege of sleeping in her mother's bed.