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Authors: Amanda Carpenter

The Great Escape

BOOK: The Great Escape
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THE GREAT ESCAPE

Amanda Carpenter

He was always just one step behind her

Wherever Dee went, Mike Carridine followed. Not a bodyguard, not

a lover, but a private investigator hired to track her down.

She'd been running for nine months, attempting to elude him. Sooner

or later she'd have to stop.

And on that day she would be forced to surrender to Mike

Carridine--and allow him to return her to the vicious relatives and

unwanted fortune she'd so desperately tried to escape....

CHAPTER ONE

DEE careered around the corner of the wall that effectively shielded

the restaurant's customer's view of the back, and she skidded for a

moment on wet, newly washed floor. Then, as her rubber-soled shoes

gripped the tile, she catapulted past the employees' break area and

burst into the women's dressing room, silver- blonde hair flying

around her head in a golden tangled aureole. After a first, surprised

stare, Kim, the head waitress, who had been sitting and smoking at

the break table, rose hastily and hurried to the door that Dee had

disappeared into, knocking on it worriedly.

"Hey, babe, are you okay?' she called out. She was a large, rather

heavy girl, with long brown hair that was presently twisted into a knot

at the nape of her neck. The knot was beginning to slide to one side,

giving her an untidy appearance.

'No!' Dee shouted, the sound muffled through the closed door.

Kim tried the door and found it locked. She knocked again, harder.

'C'mon now, Dee! Open up and let me in. Is Kathy watching the floor

while you're back here?'

'Yes!' she shouted again, and there was an instant of silence before the

door opened swiftly. Dee peered out at Kim with huge, dilated blue

eyes. 'Get in here!' she hissed, and Kim found herself unexpectedly

dragged into the room as Dee reached out one small hand and yanked

her in by the shoulder strap. The door slammed shut behind them

both. After hauling the other girl in so precipitously, Dee backed

away and surveyed her warily. She had her locker wide open, and her

street clothes were spilled out of it. A canvas knapsack lay on the

floor. She whirled, pulled on a pair of faded blue jeans over her slim

legs and zipped them up. Then she reached behind her and

unbuttoned her uniformed skirt, throwing it carelessly into a corner

and tugging on a plain cotton blouse. Off came the white work shoes

and she started to pull on diminutive tennis shoes. By that time Kim

had begun to come out of her shock.

'God, Dee!' she gasped incredulously, ogling the smaller, slight girl.

'What the hell are you doing? Do you want to get fired?'

'I'm going home sick!' Dee snapped, tugging frantically at her

shoelace that had become knotted. All her movements were

suggesting a feeling of urgency and haste, and this finally began to

register with the older girl, who began to look even more worried than

before.

'Listen, kiddo, if you're in some kind of trouble, I think you'd better

tell me about it,' Kim said slowly, narrowing her eyes and lowering

her brows.

Dee was perched on a shipping crate that doubled as the only seat in

the tiny changing room and she had her head bent over the knot as her

thin fingers worked furiously to get it loose. The strings came untied,

she slipped the shoe on, and then she looked up, blonde hair falling

into her eyes and making her look like a tousled English sheepdog

puppy. The blue eyes peered out of the hair until she shoved it back

impatiently. 'Kim, you've got to try and cover for me with Brett. Tell

him I suddenly got violently sick and I had to go home,' she pleaded

hurriedly. 'Tell him I died—I don't care what you tell him, but just let

me go home!'

The older girl leaned thoughtfully against the wall, her eyes never

leaving Dee's face. 'Just what happened?' she asked quietly.

'I—I can't tell you all of it,' Dee stammered out nervously, her hands

plucking at her small knapsack. 'I'm in trouble. I haven't done

anything wrong or illegal, but I am in trouble, and this fellow has

been looking for me for a long time. He just walked into the

restaurant, and -he can't find me! I just happened to look outside and I

saw him, so I was able to tell Kathy to tell him that I'd gone home sick

before he came inside . . . Kim, I have to leave, whether it's all right or

not—I have to! Call Sherry—she'd come in to work the rest of my

shift. I'll bet Brett can't get too angry if she's in working when he gets

back.'

'I don't know about that,' Kim replied, chewing her lower lip. 'When

he gets back and finds you gone, he's going to hit the roof. It won't

matter if you were really sick or not, he'll just be mad that you went

without waiting to ask him first.'

Dee started to shove the rest of her things either into her knapsack or

into her locker, jamming the combination lock on afterwards. She

hadn't really expected to be feeling this hunted dread again, and that

old familiar nervous churning in her stomach was back. Her jaw

angled out stubbornly. 'I don't care if he gets mad or not,' she uttered

grimly. 'I've got to go. I don't have much time!'

Kim watched her, puzzled and wry. 'All I have to say is that it's a good

thing you're a favourite of Sammy's,' she said, dryness tingeing her

voice as she mentioned the restaurant's manager. Brett was only the

assistant manager and couldn't fire anyone without Sammy's

approval. 'You just might get away with this madness and still have a

job left.'

'Oh, shoot!' Dee skidded to a stop outside the dressing room at Kim's

words. 'I'd better write Sammy a note of explanation, just in case. Can

I borrow your pen? I locked mine up with my uniform.' She took the

pen that Kim proffered her and scribbled madly on a paper napkin,

biting the end of the pen from time to time and grimacing.

'Just in case of what?' the other girl asked her curiously. Although she

would never admit it to anyone, she was very envious of the younger

girl. Dee was something of a mystery to most of the restaurant staff at

Dandy's, and though no one but Sammy knew very much about her,

she was well liked by everyone for her cheerful, pert manner, and

hard work.

Dee hesitated fractionally before answering. She had thoughtlessly

said what had been on her mind, meaning just in case she wasn't able

to come back, but she couldn't tell Kim that. 'Why, just in case he

really gets angry, of course.' Sammy was the only one she had told the

whole truth to, because she had wanted him to know and understand

in case something like this were to happen. He was a gentle, kind man

in his forties, and he had an abundance of patience. Dee had

instinctively trusted him ever since he had hired her. His sympathy

and understanding had meant a great deal to her in the past. When she

finished the note, she taped it shut to avoid curious perusal from

anyone but him, then handed it over to Kim as an added safety

measure. 'Could you see that nobody but Sammy gets this?'

Kim knew what she had meant and grinned. Aside from Sammy, Kim

was the person who knew the most about her, which wasn't much.

Dee found her trustworthy and loyal, and if she was at times a bit too

crude for Dee's taste—well, that was the restaurant business, and it

was overlooked for friendship's sake. 'You mean, see that Sammy

gets it and not Brett, is that it?' she replied with a short laugh. 'My

pleasure, sugar. Now, let me go out to the front and see if that fellow

is still here before you take off.' She turned to go and bumped right

into Kathy, who had come up behind the two of them. 'What're you

doing back here? Now who's watching the floor?'

Kathy, a tall, gangly girl with a wide, wide smile, answered, 'Jerry is

watching the door while he mops. That guy is gone, Dee. He left a

few minutes ago, but I couldn't come back to tell you because I had an

order to take out. He probably will be back in as soon as he finds that

you aren't at home like I told him you'd be. I lied and said you didn't

have a telephone.' She looked from one girl to the other, curiously.

'She's leaving without asking Brett? I don't want to be around when

the explosion comes.'

'It can't be helped,' Kim sighed, still watching Dee. She smiled.

'You'd better skip along, darlin'. I'd say you have about twenty

minutes before he's back here asking us embarrassing questions. If he

talks to Brett, we're all goners.'

Dee wanted to let go of her control and sink into the panic that

threatened her calm, but she couldn't let herself. She'd come too far to

make any stupid mistakes now, and the most important thing was to

keep her wits about her. 'Thanks, you two,' she said, and impulsively

threw her arms around them each, hugging hard. Surprised,

embarrassed, and quite touched, the two girls hugged her back briefly

before pushing her away.

'Hey, cut that out, kiddo! Anyone would think you were going to your

death, the way you're acting now!' Kim laughed, although she

couldn't help the strange look she sent to Kathy. 'Do you—need any

money or anything? I've got something stuck in the bank that I can

help you out with. You aren't in debt, are you?'

The irony of that made Dee snort a mirthless laugh. 'No, I've got

plenty, thanks. I just have to stay away from that man we

saw—Kathy, will you remember what he looks like in case he's in

again to look for me?'

That made the other girl chuckle heartily. 'Dee, sometimes you say

the silliest things! I'd remember that man any time . . . don't tell me

you don't find him handsome? He'd be good for it, wouldn't he?'

Kim emitted a groan. 'And I had to miss him! I'll have to be sure to

keep an eye out in front, in case he does come along!' The two

laughed together, while Dee winced.

'I suppose he's good-looking, if you go for the hard type. I've just

gotten used to thinking of him as being on the other side, I guess. This

isn't making much sense to you, I know, and we're wasting time. His

name is Mike Carridine, in case he happens to introduce himself, and

he's a private investigator. Could you tell him I might have

appendicitis, or something, and he \ might want to check the

hospitals, since he missed me at home? He couldn't know that I saw

him, and so he won't know that you might be lying. It should keep

him busy for a little while, don't you think? I'm going to need all the

headstart I can contrive . . . 'bye, Kim, and thanks!'

A few minutes later, Dee stuck her head cautiously around the corner

of the employees' entrance, looking around with great care. Finding

the back parking lot empty, she ran over to Kim's car and scrabbled at

the lock with the key. Then she threw open the door and slid behind

the ancient vehicle's wheel, turning the ignition quickly. It roared

gustily, the muffler having rusted away some time before, and she

knew she was going to have a headache from the fumes by the time

she got back to her apartment.

It was nice of Kim to let her borrow the car. They had arranged for

Kim to take a cab (on Dee's funds) to Dee's apartment, and she could

pick up her car keys from the landlady who lived on the ground floor.

That way Dee could leave right away, without waiting for a cab

herself.

She had plenty of time to think, as she drove through the downtown

of Akron to the cheaper, rougher part of town. She would have to run

away, again. It was sad in a way, because she had begun to feel settled

in this city. She had spent close to nine months working at Dandy's,

and it would hurt to leave her friends. She had managed to put away

some money after her few living expenses, and she'd begun to hope

BOOK: The Great Escape
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