“Ah, I don’t know about that.” Caving in, I scooped up the last little crumb of cake.
She frowned. “Why? You’re smart and funny. You’re pretty, and you love books. Why wouldn’t he be interested?”
“Thanks,” I laughed. “But he was engaged up until six months ago.”
“Oh.” Her lips pursed.
“And I’m not judging the fact he was in a previous serious relationship because so was I, but…” I stopped myself, laughing again. “Why am I even thinking about it in that kind of manner? I saw him last night because he’s the detective investigating a homicide I witnessed and he stopped by this morning.” I shook my head, clearing those thoughts away. “I don’t even need to think about this in that way.”
“I don’t know,” she replied after a moment. “But this whole thing sort of reminds me of a romance trope.”
Another laugh burst out of me. “It sure does, except in real life, it never works out that way.”
The truth was, even though that kind of thing only ever happened in books, I secretly dreamed of it happening to me. Sort of like a grown version of a girlie fantasy.
She shrugged as a far-off look appeared in her gaze and her response was soft. “I don’t know about that. I like to believe—I need to believe—that happily ever afters exist in real life too.” In that moment, she suddenly looked far older than nineteen. “For all of us.”
* * * *
After dinner, I stopped at the grocery store in town, picking up a couple of necessary work items.
5-hour Energy drinks.
Without these things, I was pretty much useless when it came to editing. When I worked in New York, I had a drawer in my desk full of three of those five things.
Checking out was a breeze and as I headed back into the waning daylight, I stowed the shopping cart and held on to my bag and case of soda with a death grip. Even though it was Saturday night, I would be working once I got my butt home and into comfy sweats. Working from home meant I kept weird hours.
Or in other words, I simply worked nearly every day.
I most definitely worked more now than when I traveled into an office every day. Then it had been easier to separate home from work. Not so much now.
As I neared my car, my steps slowed. When I’d gone into the store, the parking space beside my car had been empty, and I’d walked past plenty of vacant spaces on my way in and out, but now there was a van parked on my driver’s side.
Not just any van. The creepy, white with no windows, kidnapper-type van.
My stomach dipped as I stopped a few feet from the van. Maybe I was just being paranoid after last night. Or maybe it had to do with Colton’s warning about paying attention to anything weird, but either way, a tiny ball of dread had formed in the pit of my stomach.
The bag was starting to cut into my fingers and the case of cola was getting heavy. What could I do? Drop my groceries and run? Call Colton because there was a creeper van parked next to mine?
God, I watched way too much Investigation Discovery channel.
Then, before I could make up my mind to do anything, the passenger door creaked open and a male stepped out. My heart plummeted. He didn’t look like he belonged stepping out of a work van. No way, no how. I wasn’t trying to be judgie-mc-judgers, but his dark trousers, tucked in dark blue shirt, and polished dress shoes did not fit the rusted, broken-down creeper van.
Dark sunglasses obscured his eyes, but I had the distinct impression he was staring at me. Probably because I was standing there like an idiot, but then again, at this time of day, I couldn’t figure out why he needed sunglasses. Ignoring the shiver slithering down my spine and the numbness in my fingers, I started walking again, fully prepared to turn the bag of groceries into a deadly weapon.
“It’s a nice night, isn’t it?” the man called out.
My aching fingers tightened around the strap of the plastic bag. I didn’t smile. I didn’t reply. The creep factor was off the charts, and as I neared the back of the van, I gave it a wide berth, ready for a posse of insane clowns to jump out and try to kidnap me.
Of course, the doors didn’t open. I was going to walk to the passenger side and try to see if there was anyone else in the van before I went to the driver’s door. Sounded legit.
“Your name is Abby, right?” the man said.
The air froze in my lungs, like I’d walked into subzero temperatures. Tiny hairs all along my body rose as if an army of cockroaches was running loose on my skin. I looked over my shoulder at him.
He stood by the back of his van with a close-lipped smile. A cold one. Predatory. “The Abby Ramsey, born and raised in Plymouth Meeting? Married her high school sweetheart who tragically passed away in a car accident about four years ago? The same Abby Ramsey who works from home as a freelance editor?”
Holy shit balls on Sunday.
“Yeah, that’s you,” he continued. “You saw something last night that we need to chat about.”
Talking was the last thing we needed to do. My heart pounded in my chest as I faced him. Why did the parking lot seem so empty now? It wasn’t. People were milling around, but no one was paying attention to us. My gaze darted to the entry of the grocery store, trying to determine the distance if I had to make a run for it.
I wasn’t much of a runner.
He took a step forward, and I blanched, lifting the heavy bag, prepared to swing if he got any closer. He raised his hands. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Famous last words. “Don’t come any closer to me.”
“I’m not. We can have our little conversation from a distance if that makes you happy.” He smiled again, but it was chilling. “All I need you to understand, and I need you to really get this, is that you’re not going to be able to identify anyone from last night.”
An icy knot balled in my stomach.
“That’s all, and that’s not a big deal, is it? Just keep your mouth shut from here on out and nothing bad will happen. And you don’t want anything bad to happen, do you?”
I was beyond responding, my heart thumping heavily in my chest. That was a threat, a very thinly veiled threat. Part of me couldn’t believe this was happening.
“We want to make sure you keep your mouth shut,” he said in the same friendly, conversational tone. “And I think you’ll understand fairly quickly how serious we are.”
Just then, the passenger window rolled down and all I saw was an arm extend out. A hand popped the side of the van, causing my heart to jump. The man backed up then, clapping his hands together as he said, “Now you have a nice evening.”
I didn’t move as he walked back to the van and climbed in. I didn’t move when the old thing hunkered to life or when it pulled straight through the empty spot in front of it, turning left to head out of the parking lot.
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
In a daze, I shoved my groceries into the trunk of my car with jerky, quick motions, and then I climbed in behind the wheel. I didn’t even think for one second about what to do next. There was no way I was not going to call the police. Forget that. Before I left for dinner, I had shoved Colton’s card in my purse. My mind raced. It made sense to call him because he knew what was going on. Calling 911 meant I’d have to tell them everything all over again.