Authors: Minka Kent
I thought about making her dinner and mixing some of her migraine medication into her wine, but there’s no guarantee she’ll drink enough of it to render her out cold, and if she’s beginning to figure me out, there’s no way she’ll trust any meal I put in front of her.
If memory serves me, after a few days, she’ll be so sick she won’t be able to form a coherent sentence. And if all goes to plan, I’ll come home from work, find her unresponsive, and get her to the hospital like the good husband I am. And while they work to save her life as she fights this mystery illness, I’ll be halfway to Costa Rica with Sam, with not a care in the world.
“Love this. Great choice,” I tell “Niall” at dinner. He’s taken me to an upscale Greek place that recently opened. Under any other circumstances, it would make for a fine date night spot.
“Glad you like it.” He offers me a warm smile, sawing into the lamb on his plate.
“More wine?” I top him off before he has a chance to answer. I need him to be relaxed. I need things to be casual and fun. Celebratory. If he knows something’s up, he’s going to bolt—and he’ll take my money with him.
I managed to get a hold of Bernard earlier at Financial Star, and I told him those check requests were fraudulent. He told me one of them had already been deposited, the second one had been deposited that day but hadn’t yet cleared, and that he was able to put a stop payment on the last two.
According to my bank, the first check he deposited was just over three million, and he withdrew quarter-million-dollar chunks daily over the past week before wiring them to himself. I’ve now frozen all my accounts and opened a new, secret one at a small credit union on the other side of town.
It’s strange, staring into the calm blue eyes of a man who so casually acts like everything is normal when he’s sitting on well over three million dollars of my money like he’s going to get away with it.
I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to do once he realizes the cash cow account’s now frozen and the other two checks aren’t coming, but I’m hoping by then I’ll have already reported him to the police.
Until then, I need to do everything I can to keep him from going on the run.
As much as I wanted to confront him earlier and as much as I’d love to confront him here and now, knowing what I know about him . . . it wouldn’t be safe. There’s no moral compass with this one. Anyone who would go to these lengths to steal someone else’s money is pure evil. Ruthless. Crafty. Capable of unthinkable acts.
Who knows what he would do if I called him out now? At this point, I can’t put anything past him.
We finish dinner between sips of wine and small talk, and I manage to quell my urges to clamber across the table and grab him by the collar every other second. It’s not until we return to the house that the reality of having to keep up this charade hits me hard and fast and renders me physically paralyzed when I reach the hall to my room.
“You coming to bed, dear?” he asks, unbuttoning his shirt as he stands by the foot of the stairs. He nods upward, toward his room.
“Y-yes,” I say. “Just give me a moment.”
If I have to keep up appearances, I’m going to have to sleep with him tonight. Not sex, per se. But with him. Beside him. In his bed.
The very thought of spending the night in the arms of that sick bastard makes my palms dampen and my throat burn with bile, but what choice do I have?
I wash up and change into something conservative, a long-sleeved pajama top and matching pants, navy with white piping, and then I take my time making my way to his room, hoping he might be out by the time I get there.
It’s pitch-dark when I arrive; pieces of starry moonlight escape through his lace curtains and paint the white T-shirt that covers his upper body in an eerie glow.
He’s wide awake.
He lifts the blankets with a smile. I climb in beside him, getting situated. A moment later, his body presses against mine, and his arm pulls me close. His body heat burns against me, and the scent of his cologne invades my lungs.
It feels like a trap in every sense of the word.
After a while, his breathing softens and steadies, and it doesn’t take long for him to pass out. As I lie awake beside him, I glance down at his left arm—the one holding me tight—and my gaze settles on his bare left ring finger.
Last time we spoke on the phone, he told me he’d put his wedding ring back on. There isn’t so much as an indentation to suggest it was ever there.
He’s getting sloppy, overconfident.
I’m not sure how I’m going to get any sleep tonight, trapped in the arms of the devil incarnate, but I have to try. I’m going to need all my strength, mental and otherwise, if I’m going to fight this and win.
And I’m going to win.
I clock out Friday at five o’clock on the dot, unable to get out of there fast enough.
I spent most of last night pretending to sleep, pretending I didn’t feel Brienne’s stare creeping over every inch of me. This morning I woke up extra early, whispering to her that I’d started going to the gym again and had a 5:00 AM session with a trainer. And then I ran into the twenty-four-hour Walmart in the next town over and bought some antifreeze using the self-checkout and paying in cash. I probably looked like a weirdo in my hat and sunglasses since the sun hadn’t even come up by that point, but the store was empty.
When I got back to the house, it was just after six, and Brienne was still asleep in “our” bed, which worked out perfectly because I was able to slip into the kitchen on the main level and decant antifreeze into her milk and creamer while the coffee percolated in the kitchen. By the time that was done, I poured two mugs, one special for her, and carried them upstairs.
I kissed her good morning, placed her coffee mug on the nightstand, and hit the shower before she had time to notice I wasn’t slicked with sweat nor did I appear like I’d spent the last hour at the gym. On my way out, I told her I was taking her laptop to work with me to figure
out what was going on with her email. She seemed hesitant at first, saying I didn’t have to do that, but I insisted it was no big deal, and I left before she could protest.
On my way to the hospital, I stopped and tossed it in a dumpster behind a dental office.
When I get home later, I’ll tell her I’m having one of the IT guys at work look at it because I suspect a virus.
Making my way to the staff parking lot, I check my phone and find a text from the newest pimple-faced skateboard kid, the one I found outside a bowling alley in the older part of town smoking cigarettes behind the building.
THE WIRE DIDN’T GO THROUGH,
I have half a mind to remind him that I know his name and I can find out where he lives. Little twerps like him think they’re so smart these days. If he thinks he can lie about the wire transfer and make off with tens of thousands and not have to deal with me, he’s got another think coming.
I tuck my phone away, deciding I’ll deal with him later when I’m less contentious and have more time to check into things. There’s way too much going on right now, and I need to remain calm and focused and get home.
I got the mail this morning. No check. I was going to stop by the bank and do another fifty-grand withdrawal, but with all the running around and antifreezing, I was short on time, and with all the patient transports thrown at us earlier, I barely had time to log in and initiate the wire transfer on my lunch break today.
I go through my missed calls as I dart to the staff exit, and I find one from Sam. She’s done working at Opal Green now, and as far as I know, she spent the night at that apartment at the Harcourt. Haven’t really heard a peep out of her all day, which is surprising because usually we text off and on throughout the day. I’ll call her back once I’m on my way home.
Bursting through the exit doors, I haul off, a man on a mission, eyes scanning the lot for my car.
There can be no more missteps.
I have to admit, I have half a mind to call Schneider and rip him a new one for not keeping me in the loop on Brienne’s discharge, but that’s neither here nor there anymore. There’s nothing I can do about it now and no need to draw further attention to any of this.
A couple of minutes pass by the time I realize I’ve circled the parking lot and my car is nowhere to be found. Twenty feet away, Brian climbs into his Honda, a shit-eating grin on his round face.
I scan the row of cars one more time.
Mine is definitely not here.
“Son of a bitch,” I say under my breath.
“Hey, you, uh, need a ride?” Brian offers, half hanging out his driver’s side. “I saw they took your car earlier. I didn’t know if you were having engine troubles or what . . .”
It was repo’d, you ignorant twit.
I wave him off. “I’m good.”
The second he’s gone, I’ll call Brienne. I didn’t think the repo was going to happen this soon, but then again, I’ve been distracted lately with Brienne’s homecoming and focusing on optimizing the money transfer strategies. I watch Brian drive off, and in the seconds before I call Brienne, I realize I no longer have my Dr. Niall Emberlin badge, which was in my glove compartment.
Just like the car.
Just like I’m about to be . . .
If all goes as planned, this time tomorrow, none of this will matter.
I need to go to the police, but all the hard evidence I have is on my computer—the one Niall took to work with him today. I could log in to my email account remotely to retrieve everything, but my passwords have all been changed.
I pace the parlor, eyes heavy, and think about running out for a coffee. I happened to be going through the fridge this morning and saw that the milk “Niall” had purchased was already open—yet the carton was still full.
Call me paranoid, but I’ve decided not to ingest anything in this house that man could have tampered with.
Checking the time, I realize he’s likely on his way home now. My phone vibrates the instant I place it on the coffee table, startling me into the present moment. When I check the caller ID, his name fills the screen.
“Hi,” I answer on the third ring, after I’ve collected myself. I need to keep this up at least through tonight. Perhaps we can have a “normal” evening together, and after he goes to bed, I can sneak off to the police station, file a report, and they can arrest him in the middle of the night before he has a chance to realize what’s going on, before he has a chance to flee.
“Hey, sweetheart.” His voice is sickeningly sweet on the other end. “So . . . small problem.”
I’m quiet, though my heart thrums in my ears. “What’s that?”
“Got into a bit of a fender bender today at lunch,” he says. “I’m okay. I’m fine. No injuries. But the car didn’t fare so well. Had to be towed. I’ve spent the afternoon getting X-rays and being checked for whiplash and all that. Standard insurance protocol. Anyway, you think you could come by the hospital and pick me up?”
“Of course,” I say, swallowing the hard node in my throat and praying he doesn’t have an ulterior motive. “Give me fifteen minutes?”
I stand over the sink after dinner, my gloved hands soaked in dirty water as I hum a happy tune under my breath. Brienne made a home-cooked dinner tonight, and I insisted she dig out the candles so we could make it a romantic affair.
I’m still pretending to be thrilled over her “progress” and return.
She’s still pretending to be Kate.
It’s a real dog and pony show in here, but fortunately the end is in sight.
I finish the dishes and rest the gloves along the sink, side by side as I always do around her.
My phone buzzes in my pocket, and a second later, I read a text from the kid who assisted me in the last wire transfer. He asked if I needed his services again tonight. Idiot. Can he make it any more obvious that we’re doing something that isn’t exactly on the up-and-up?
I’m about to reply when I remember I no longer have a car.
Not to mention, I need to figure out why the last one didn’t go through. A quick call to the bank should give me my answer, but I’ve been with Brienne since I got off work, so I haven’t exactly had a chance to make that call.
“Hey.” Brienne returns to the kitchen, heading to the mug cabinet. She’s probably going to fix her nightly cup of Sleepytime tea.
“I’m going to run to the store, grab a few things. You need anything?” I ask. I don’t ask to borrow her car because that’s not what husbands and wives do, communal property and all that.
“Could you pick up some skim milk?” she asks.
“Skim milk. Got it.” I grab her keys from the counter.
“What’s with the 1 percent in the fridge?” she asks.
“Oh, that was my sister’s. You can throw it out.”
She doesn’t question me, but her gaze veers to my hand. I realize that taking her car means taking all her flimsy key chain weapons, too, but if it bothers her, she isn’t saying anything. She’s keeping up appearances, same as I am.
“Be back in a bit. Don’t wait up.” I kiss her forehead before heading out the back door, and before I get to the bottom step, I hear the lock click behind me. A second later, I climb in her driver’s seat and adjust the mirrors. As soon as I’m on my way, I’ll call Sam and let her know Eleanor came back early and we’re going to have to rain check our Friday-night plans.
Shifting into reverse, I check the rearview mirror and then glance back at the house.
Brienne is standing in front of the kitchen sink, staring, watching.
We make eye contact.
I smile and wave.
She does the same.
I wait until the taillights disappear past the end of the block before sprinting upstairs to his room. If he’s running to the store, he won’t be gone long, but so far I haven’t managed to find a single bread-crumb-sized clue that could tell me who he really is.