Anywhere She Runs by Debra Webb

St. Martins
ISBN: 10-0312532970
Paperback

Copyright © 2010 by Debra Webb

Chapter 1

Laurel, Mississippi
Sunday, December 17th, 8:42 pm

Jingle bell…jingle bell…jingle bell rock.
Danny Benson lay in bed and hummed the Christmas song.  He didn’t know all the words, but he liked this one a lot.
His mommy had told him at breakfast this morning that in just eight more days it would be Christmas.  Another good thing about today was that it was the last day of school for two whole weeks.  The paper ornament he had been working on at school was on the Christmas tree.  Pretty soon his mom would put some presents with his name on them under the tree so he could try and guess what was inside.
But the bestest part of all was the stories she told him every night.  Some of the stories were about the elves and the reindeers.  His favorite one was about how good little boys always got what they wished the hardest for at Christmas.
But she hadn’t come to his room to tell him a story tonight.
His dad was in one of his moods.
More of the yelling made Danny put his hands over his ears.  He didn’t like when his mommy and daddy had fights.  Tonight was scarier than ever before.  His daddy was screaming real loud.  Saying the meanest things.  Meaner than the other times when he yelled.
“I told you not to let this happen! ***damn, you!”
Danny pressed his hands harder against his ears, but he could still hear his mommy crying and his daddy yelling.  His daddy didn’t like yelling.  He told Danny so.  It was always his mom’s fault.  She messed up too much.  Just like his grandparents.  That was why Danny hid sometimes when he went to their house.  Then he didn’t have to hear the yelling when they got mad at his daddy.
He wished he had a place to hide now.  But his dad had warned Danny never to hide from him…for any reason.
“Now look what you’ve done! You’ve ruined everything!”
Danny tried to block the bad words his dad kept yelling by singing along with the Christmas music.  “Jingle bell…jingle bell…”
His mommy screamed.  Danny burrowed deeper under the covers but he could still hear her crying…crying and begging for his dad to please stop.  Danny felt bad for her even if she had messed up again.
“There will be no princess in this house!” his dad shouted.
Something crashed.  Sounded like glass.  It was the same sound the kitchen window made when his baseball went through it last summer.  His dad had been real mad about that, too.
The screaming and the crying stopped.
Danny dragged his hands from his ears.  He lay still for a moment and listened to make sure it was really over.
No more screaming.  No more crying.  Just the Christmas music.
Jingle bell time is a swell time…
Maybe if his mommy had fixed everything she would come tell him a story now.
…to rock the night away…
His bedroom door flew open, banged against the wall.
“Danny!”
Danny bit his lips together to keep from crying out as his daddy jerked the covers off him.  He didn’t want his dad to be mad at him too.  He was supposed to be asleep.
“You should be asleep by now, son.”
His daddy sat down on the side of the bed.  Danny tried not to shake or to cry for his mommy.  That would only make his daddy more upset.  Danny told his mouth to smile but his lips just kept shaking like he was cold.
“Don’t be afraid, son.”
His daddy smiled at him, but the smile looked funny with that red stuff smeared on his face.  Why would his daddy have ketchup on his face?
“You don’t have to worry about anything, son,” his daddy promised. “No princess will ever take your place.”
* * *
Huntsville, Alabama
Friday, December 23rd, 10:30 am

The Christmas tinsel tickled her breast.
She shivered.
The shiny silver strands slid down her sweat-dampened torso.  Over her bellybutton.  Along her inner thigh.  The tip of a deliciously wicked tongue followed that same path.
A sigh whispered from her lips.  God, that felt good.  But she was so ready to get on with it.  This guy was evidently going for a foreplay record.
Adeline Cooper propped up on her elbows and peered down her nude body at the red and white hat.  She couldn’t believe she was about to say this.  “Look Santa, patience has never been one of my virtues.”
Her lover lifted his attentive face from the task of tugging down her skimpy panties with his teeth.  His brown eyes were glazed with the same anticipation currently throbbing in her veins.
“I’d like my present now.”  She crooked her finger.  “Come on up here and show me what you’ve got besides that nifty hat.”
His well-shaped mouth split into a grin as he crawled his way up her tingling body, all those gorgeous male muscles bunching and rippling with the effort.  “Baby,” he nipped her lips with his teeth, “I got the package you’ve been waiting for all year.”
“Oh yeah?”  Adeline tilted her pelvis into that impressive package.  Heat swelled between her thighs.
“Yeah,” he growled as he nibbled her chin.
Pounding on the front door dragged her attention from his hungry mouth.  Damn.  “I should get that.”
“It’s your day off,” he muttered between kisses.
“Yeah, well,” she reached for the cuffs on the table next to the bed “that’s the thing about being a cop, there’s no such thing as a real day off.”  She fastened one cuff around his wrist with a titillating click.  “Now, don’t move, because I’ll be right back to interrogate you, mister.”  While she plundered his mouth with her own, she attached the other bracelet to the iron headboard.
Adeline scooted off the bed and grabbed his shirt.  She poked her arms into the long sleeves and hugged the warm flannel around her.  At her bedroom door, she paused, surveyed his long, lean frame stretched out on her bed and made a sound of approval deep in her throat.  Merry Christmas to me.
He plucked the Santa hat from his head and settled it over his erect penis.  “Hurry on back, now,” he teased, “and you can unwrap your present.”
She would definitely hurry back.
Another round of pounding echoed from the front door.  “Hold your horses,” she shouted as she padded through the house.  “I’m coming.”  Or she would be if whoever was doing all the banging hadn’t interrupted.
She yanked open the door.  “What?”
“Morning, Cooper.”  The man in the FedEx uniform, Wesley McElroy, nudged his Ray-Bans down his nose and surveyed her from head to toe.  “You look all relaxed this morning.”
“It’s my day off,” she said.  She sent a pointed look at the large padded envelope in his arm.  “That for me?”
“Yes, ma’am.”  He held out his electronic clipboard.  “You need to sign for it.”
She put her signature where he indicated.  McElroy passed the padded envelope to her.  “You have a nice day now.”
“You, too.”  Distracted by the sender’s address, she bumped the door closed with her hip and leaned against it.  Though she didn’t recognize the specific return address, the location surprised her.  Besides her mother, there wasn’t a soul in Mississippi who would contact her.  Not by mail anyway.
Both Christmas and her birthday were coming up…maybe her scumbag uncle had finally decided to forgive her for doing her job nine years ago.
“Yeah, right.  And hell just froze over.”  She stalked into the kitchen and placed the envelope on the counter.
“Santa’s waiting!” her cuffed lover shouted from the bedroom.
She ignored him.  Her well-honed cop instincts were revving up, overriding all else.  Getting anything from anywhere in Mississippi was too bizarre to ignore—even for great sex.  She dug up a pair of latex gloves and scissors.  Pulled on the gloves and then slowly cut the envelope’s flap free.  Carefully parting the severed edges, she bent her head down and peeked inside.
Adeline jerked back.  Her heart bumped her sternum.
“What the hell?”  She tucked two fingers inside and pulled the item from the envelope.  A white sheet of copy or printer paper.
More of that pulse pounding adrenaline seared through her as she read the cut and pasted words.
Pretty, pretty princess. See her smile…see her die.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.”  Adeline dashed back to the living room, almost slipping on the slick hardwood, and searched through the stack of old mail on the table by the door.  In her haste she sent junk mail and monthly statements fluttering to the floor.
Where the hell was that other letter?  Unlike this one, the first letter had been hand-delivered to her mailbox.  No return address, no postage.  And no f***ing prints.
She’d nagged the guys at work thinking one of them had been playing a joke on her related to her birthday and the fact that she was about to be promoted to lieutenant.  She’d brought the letter back home that same day.  It had to be here.
“Addy! What the hell are you doing?”
“Gimme a minute.”  She shoved a handful of hair behind her ear.  The letter wasn’t in the stack.  What about…?  Hand shaking, she yanked open the drawer.
There it was.
She picked up the single sheet of plain white printer paper.  Stared at the words that now carried entirely new significance.
She was born a princess for all to see. Her light was so bright that they could no longer see me.
Adeline returned to the kitchen to compare the two notes.  Paper looked to be the same weight and shade of white.  The way the words were pasted on the page, right side angled slightly upward, was the same.  No continuity in the spacing.
She set the two letters to the side and looked in the envelope to see what else it contained.  A newspaper clipping. Big article.  Front page.  She pulled it out.  Hattiesburg Press.  She read the headline.
City Attorney Cherry Prescott Missing
Adeline skimmed the article.  Prescott served as City Attorney to Hattiesburg.  Four years older than Adeline, Prescott was married with two kids.  A photo accompanying the article was in black and white, but the woman’s smile was nothing less than dazzling—oozing self-confidence.  Blond hair, pretty lady.  According to the article she was a brilliant attorney with a great future in politics.  Prescott had gone missing three days ago.
Adeline braced her hands on the counter, analyzed the details a second time.  The woman’s car had been discovered just outside Moss Point.  Only a few miles from where Adeline had grown up.
There were no suspects as of yet.  No ransom demand.  Just the abandoned vehicle.  Prescott’s family was offering a sizeable reward for any information that helped to find her and the person responsible for her abduction.
Adeline threw up her hands.  “What the f*** is this?”  Why would some perv send her these stupid princess letters and an article about a woman who’d gone missing near her hometown?  A woman Adeline didn’t know…had never even met?  She shook her head.  Didn’t make any kind of sense.
And yet, there had to be a reason.
Instinct prodded her.
There must be some kind of connection here that she just couldn’t see.  This was no joke about her thirty-first birthday.
This was…a piece of some kind of creepy puzzle.
After placing the newspaper clipping next to the letters, Adeline turned her attention back to the envelope and opened it wider to see if there was anything else she had missed.
A post card or photograph was tucked deep into a corner.  She frowned, then shook the envelope until the final item fell free and fluttered to the counter.
An old Polaroid type snapshot.
Adeline picked it up by the edges.  Same woman, Cherry Prescott, pictured in the article.  Only in this color snapshot her eyes were closed and she definitely wasn’t smiling.  No way to tell if she was dead or alive.  No discernible injuries.  Since only her upper torso and face were visible in the photo, there was no way to be certain of anything.  Her make-up job was overdone, clownish, she wore a tiara and nothing else as far as Adeline could see.
She read the words scrawled in tiny print across the bottom of the photo.  As the ramifications of the statement filtered through her confusion, a new kind of tension ignited in Adeline’s veins.
One dead princess, two to go. ❖
________________________________

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Debra Webb is the bestselling author of nearly eighty books, including the Colby series, which is now in its tenth year and will soon reach its fiftieth book!

Website: debrawebb.com

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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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