Susan fumbled for the key. Her left hand still gripped the dog leash. Her other hand automatically tried the doorknob, fully expecting it to be locked.
It clicked opened.
She frowned and hesitated a second. That was strange. He always kept it locked.
A soft popping sound came from inside the room.
A low guttural growl became a snarl. The giant wolfhound yanked on the leash, dragging Susan reluctantly through the doorway.
She let out an involuntary gasp. At the far end of the room Mr. Andrews, still sat in his favorite chair. He was slumped forward, dark blood matted the back of his head. The man behind the chair turned, his gun pointed at her.
Their gaze locked briefly. Susan shivered as she stared into his cold, pale blue eyes.
Wolf barked furiously. He strained at the leash, attempting to lunge forward. He jerked her closer to the man. He fired at her but missed when Wolf jerked her off balance.
In that split second, the animal’s shaggy head rubbing against her waist, Susan Brown, single mother and professional dog walker, knew the true meaning of terror. Her chest contracted. She heard a scream.
It couldn’t have come from her. She couldn’t even breathe. She felt frozen, unable to move. She offered up a wordless prayer that her legs would move. She turned and felt a flash of relief when they responded. Yanking at the leash with both hands to get the dog started, Susan raced out the door and down the apartment hallway. Another shot missed her.
Oh God, I’ve got to get to Hank. I can’t let anything happen to my son. He’s too young to be without his mother.
Her pulse pounded in her ears, terror clutched her throat, her thoughts on her son she ran. The enormity of what she had just witnessed sank in. He would be after her, probably speeding silently down the hall behind her. Even if she got away, he’d have to find her. He ‘d have to kill her.
The dog’s leash was still wrapped tightly around her hand. Wolf whined as he tried to return to his master. Her mind fixed on her son, sweet, loveable Hank she dragged the dog along with her. . She had to get to Hank. If the killer shot her, what would happen to her son? No father, and then no mother. Even if she escaped the killer would hunt her down. He’d find out about Hank. He might try to get to her through her son. Oh God, and then he’d kill them both.
Prodded by fear for her son, Susan rounded the second-floor landing, feet barely touching the floor.
Damn, the dog is slowing me down.
She should let go of the leash, but it was wrapped too tightly around her hand. She would have to stop to release it. So, she kept running, dragging the reluctant, barking wolfhound behind her.
She didn’t see the man until she landed on top of him at the foot of the stairs. The three of them collapsed in a pile. Man, woman, and dog, all leashed together. Susan's gaze met his glare. She found herself staring into deep, Mediterranean-blue eyes. Her stomach contracted in a spasm of cold recognition. Then the terror blasted back, full force.
This had to be the worst day of her life.
“What the hell’s goin’ on?” He snapped.
Susan struggled against him. The dog leash, tangled around their legs, held their bodies firmly together.
The frantic dog continued to bark and struggle for freedom. The result pulled them even tighter together. The barking , the heat, the sweat, and the closeness surrounded and compressed her so she couldn’t breathe.
With supreme effort, spurred on by terror, Susan managed to get her feet solidly on the floor and slide out of the tangled mess. She hit the floor running, raced out the door, down the few steps and into the descending darkness of the humid, crowded, New York Street.
“You! Stop! Wait! Stop! Damn it!”
July rain spattered her face, dripped off the end of her nose and chin. Behind her, she could hear him swearing and the dog barking. Free of the dog she sprinted through the crowd, down the street and around the corner. Her feet pounded against the pavement as she pushed past blurs of people, lights, and buildings. She vaguely heard the angry voices as she shoved her way through the crowd, slamming bodies that were in her way and for the first time she could remember, she was glad of her height and her long legs. They rapidly covered the distance between her and Hank. Once they were safe, she’d take time to figure out a plan.
She felt badly about leaving the dog. Poor Wolf...he was such a sweet animal. Now he’d lost both his master and the only other person he knew, his dog walker. Hopefully, someone would be found to look after him, but that wasn’t her concern. Not now. Her mind was unable to focus and kept flitting from one idea to the next. She had to maintain her concentration and come up with a damn plan, for the sake of her son.
She didn’t slow down until she neared the apartment building. She jogged up the steps and into the building. She stopped and waited. She peaked outside. No sign of the killer. Hopefully, she’d have a little time to work out a plan.
The youngest of four, her family usually helped her solve her problems, even helped her make decisions. Until she was thirteen and was left home alone with her mother, they had done everything for her. She had finally realized she was responsible for her own life and needed to take control of her own decisions. It was slow work. When she was under stress she reverted to her engrained patterns of behavior, wanting someone else to take the responsibility.
She sighed because she not only had to fight this battle alone, but somehow, she had to make sure Hank was safe. If she contacted her family the killer might even track them down and use them to get to her.
Who knew what a cold-blooded killer might do to keep from getting caught?