As soon as Emily was out of earshot, Honor said, “I’ve got some money. Not much, a couple hundred dollars maybe. A few pieces of jewelry. You can take anything I own. Just please don’t hurt my daughter.”
And all the time she was babbling, she was scanning the yard in frantic search of something she could use as a weapon. The water hose wound up on its spool at the edge of the deck? The pot of geraniums on the bottom step? One of the bricks embedded in the ground, lining the flower bed?
She would never get to one of them in time, even if she could wrench herself from his grasp, which she knew from the strength of it would be difficult if not impossible. And in the process of a struggle, he would simply shoot her. Then he’d be left to do with Emily what he would. Thoughts of that brought bile to her throat.
“Where’s your boat?”
She turned her head and looked at him blankly.
Impatiently, he hitched his chin toward the empty dock. “Who’s got the boat out?”
“I don’t have a boat.”
“Don’t bullshit me.”
“I sold the boat when… A couple of years ago.”
He seemed to weigh her honesty, then asked, “Where’s your car?”
“Parked in front.”
“Keys in it?”
She hesitated, but when he increased the pressure of his grip, she shook her head. “Inside. On a wall hook by the kitchen door.”
He started up the steps of the porch, pushing her along in front of him. She felt the pistol bumping against her spine. She turned her head, about to call out to Emily, but he said, “Leave her for now.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Well, first…” he said, opening the door and pushing her inside ahead of him. “I’m going to make sure you aren’t lying to me about anyone else being here. And then… we’ll see.”
She could feel the tension in him as he propelled her from the empty living room then down the short hallway toward the bedrooms. “There’s no one here except Emily and me.”
He gave the door of Emily’s bedroom a push with the barrel of the pistol. The door swung open to a panorama of pink. No one was lying in wait. Still mistrustful, he crossed the room in two wide strides and yanked open the closet door. Satisfied that no one was hiding inside it, he gave Honor a shove back into the hall and toward the second bedroom.
As they approached, he growled close to her ear, “If there’s someone in here, I shoot you first. Got it?” He hesitated as though giving her a chance to change her claim that she was alone, but when she remained silent, he kicked the door open with the toe of his boot, sending it crashing against the adjacent wall.
Her bedroom looked ironically, almost mockingly, serene. Sunlight coming through the shutters painted stripes on the hardwood floor, the white quilted comforter, the pale gray walls. The ceiling fan caused dust motes to dance in the slanted beams of light.
He shoved her toward the closet and ordered her to open the door. He relaxed only marginally when he glanced into the connecting bathroom and discovered it also empty.
He faced her squarely. “Where’s your gun?”
“You have one somewhere.”
“No I don’t.”
His eyes narrowed.
“I swear,” she said.
“Which side of the bed do you sleep on?”
He didn’t repeat the question, just continued to stare at her until she pointed. “The right.”
Backing away from her, he moved to the nightstand on the right side of the bed and checked the drawer. Inside were a flashlight and a paperback novel but no lethal weapon. Then to her shock, he shoved the mattress, linens and all, off the bed far enough for him to search beneath it, finding nothing except the box spring.
He motioned with his chin for her to lead him from the room. They returned to the living room and went from there into the kitchen, where his eyes darted from point to point, taking it all in. His gaze lit on the wall hook with her car keys hanging from it.
When she saw his notice, she said, “Take the car. Just go.”
Ignoring that, he asked, “What’s in there?”
He went to that door and opened it. Washing machine and clothes dryer. Ironing board folded into a recession in the wall. A rack on which she dried her delicates, some of which were hanging there now. An array of lace in pastels. One black bra.
When he came back around, those Nordic eyes moved over her in a way that made her face turn hot even as her torso became cold and clammy with dread.
He took a step toward her; she took a corresponding step back, a normal response to mortal danger, which is what he posed to her. She didn’t delude herself into believing otherwise.
His entire aspect was menacing, starting with his chilling eyes and the pronounced bone structure of his face. He was tall and lean, but the skin on his arms was stretched over muscles that looked as taut as whipcord. The backs of his hands were bumpy with strong veins. His clothes and hair had snagged natural debris—twigs, sprigs of moss, small leaves. He seemed indifferent to all that, just as he did to the mud caked on his boots and the legs of his jeans. He smelled of the swamp, of sweat, of danger.
In the silence, she could hear his breathing. She could hear her own heartbeat. She was his sole focus, and that terrified her.
Overpowering him would be impossible, especially since one jerk of his index finger would fire a bullet straight into her. He stood between her and the drawer where butcher knives were stored. On the counter was the coffee pot, still half filled with this morning’s brew, still hot enough to scald him. But in order to reach either it or the knives, she would have to get past him, and that didn’t seem likely. She doubted she could outrun him, but even if she could make it beyond the door and escape, she wouldn’t leave Emily behind.
Reason or persuasion seemed the only options open to her.
“I’ve answered all your questions truthfully, haven’t I?” she said, her voice low and tremulous. “I’ve offered to give you my money and whatever valuables—”
“I don’t want your money.”
She motioned toward the bleeding scratches on his arms. “You’re hurt. Your head has been bleeding. I’ll… I’ll help you.”
“First aid?” He made a scoffing sound. “I don’t think so.”
“Then what… what do you want?”
“Put your hands behind your back.”
He took a couple of measured steps toward her.
She backed away. “Listen.” She licked her lips. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Put your hands behind your back,” he repeated, softly but with emphasis on each word.
“Please.” The word was spoken on a sob. “My little girl—”
“I’m not going to ask you again.” He took another step closer.
She backed away and came up against the wall behind her.
One last step brought him to within inches of her. “Do it.”
Her instinct was to fight him, to scratch and claw and kick in an effort to prevent, or at least to delay, what seemed to be the inevitable. But because she feared Emily’s fate if she didn’t comply with him, she did as ordered and clasped her hands together at the small of her back, sandwiching them between her and the wall.
He leaned in close. She turned her head aside, but he placed his hand beneath her chin and brought it back around.
Speaking in a whisper, he said, “You see how easy it would be for me to hurt you?”
She looked into his eyes and nodded numbly.