She finally told them about the last time she’d seen Alec and how he’d said good-bye to her. When she finished, her friends were speechless for a good ten seconds or more. Then both of them exploded.
“He said what?” Sophie all but shouted the question.
“‘If you’re ever in Boston,’” Regan repeated.
Cordie was furious. “And that’s it? He didn’t say anything else?”
“Like what? Thanks for a good time?” She was crying now and strangers were noticing. One woman actually moved closer, no doubt so she could listen in on the conversation. She was staring too. Regan turned her back on the nosy woman. She was embarrassed she couldn’t control her emotions. “My allergies are acting up today.”
Neither Cordie nor Sophie believed that nonsense—she was crying because her heart was broken.
Cordie handed her another tissue. “It’s going to be okay.”
The lie only made things worse. “I did the most horrible thing.”
Cordie and Sophie stepped closer. “What’d you do?” Cordie whispered.
“I fell in love with him.”
“We sort of thought you had,” Cordie said sympathetically.
“Did you tell him?” Sophie asked.
“It’s just as well.”
The woman standing behind Regan was nodding in obvious agreement. Sophie decided to ignore her. “Since he’s leaving …”
“Come on, it’s our turn,” Cordie said.
The line had been moving at a quick pace, and they had finally reached the sign-in table. A couple of minutes later they were helping one another pin their numbers on the back of their T-shirts.
Dark clouds were hanging over them as they made their way to the starting area. The streets surrounding the route were blocked off, and policemen were directing traffic.
The park was green and lush, the shrubs and bushes all overgrown, much like a wilderness, but paths had been cut out of the woods for biking and jogging. Several men and women were sitting on top of a stone wall alongside the trail while they waited for the race to start.
Cordie was still fuming. “I can’t believe he said that. Are you sure, Regan? ‘If you’re ever in Boston’? That’s how he said goodbye? Those were his exact words?” Too late, she realized she’d in-advertently opened the floodgates again.
“Yes,” Regan said through her tears.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell him to stick it—”
“Cordie, for heaven’s sake,” Sophie said.
“I really don’t want to talk about Alec anymore.” Regan sniffed.
“Okay,” Sophie said.
“Not another word about him,” Cordie promised.
“He isn’t my type anyway. He’s all wrong for me.”
“All wrong,” Sophie agreed.
“Why is he all wrong?” Cordie asked.
“He’s a slob. That’s why. The man’s never quite put together.”
“He sure looked put together in that tuxedo at the country club,” Sophie commented.
“Not helping,” Cordie whispered.
“Yes, he can pull it together when he wants to, but he prefers being a slob. He’s always forgetting to shave, and he never combs his hair.”
Tears were streaming down her face as she complained about him. She impatiently wiped them away and said, “How sad am I that I can only come up with superficial, unimportant criticisms that are really kind of sexy and endearing anyway? The truth is, I like that he doesn’t have everything tucked in all the time.”
Cordie handed her yet another tissue. Regan thanked her and then said, “Alec has all the qualities that matter, like honor and integrity. He’s strong and brave …” She paused to dab at her eyes and then added, “He’s just about perfect.”
“No, he’s not,” Cordie said. “If he were so perfect, why would he walk away from the best thing that will ever happen to him?”
“I don’t want to talk about him. I mean it. Not another word.”
“Okay,” Sophie said. “We’ll talk about something else.”
“If he can move forward, I certainly can,” Regan said. “In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Move forward.”
“That’s great,” Cordie said.
“Could we please change the subject?”
“We better,” Cordie said. “I’m out of tissues.”
“And I’m finished crying over him.”
“That’s good to hear,” Sophie said.
“I think we should celebrate your promotion,” Regan told Sophie.
“Let’s do dinner next week,” Cordie suggested. “But before Thursday. I’m starting a new diet then.”
“It’s the day I chose, and I’ve circled it on my calendar. I’m psyching myself up. I start Thursday, no matter what.”
“Maybe we could do it Wednesday night,” Regan said.
“The flag’s going up,” Sophie said. “That’s the five-minute signal. I’m going to push my way up front. Are you going to run?” she asked Regan.
“No, I’m walking. One mile up and one mile back, and then I’m done.”
“What about you, Cordie?”
“I’m doing a one-mile combo. Walk and crawl.”
“I’ve decided I’m going to run, not walk,” Sophie said. “And I’m going the distance too. All six miles.”
Regan smiled and Cordie began to laugh. Their reaction didn’t sit well with Sophie.
“You don’t think I can do it, do you?”
“No, I don’t think you can,” Cordie said.
“I know you can’t,” Regan said. “Sophie, you’re not a runner.”
“I am now. Let’s meet at the finish line. See you there.”
They watched her squeeze her way through the throng oblivious of the glares as she pushed ahead.
“I’ll bet you ten dollars she doesn’t make it farther than a mile.”
“Half a mile and she’s finished,” Regan said.
“Hey, look. That new frozen custard shop is open. See? Across the street. Maybe after, we could stop in.” And then she, too, blended into the crowd.
Regan had looked across the street when Cordie pointed out the custard shop, but her attention turned to a couple walking out the door. Both of them had ice-cream cones. They were holding hands as they strolled along. The woman was around nineteen or twenty, and the man she was with was at least fifty.
“Another sleazebag,” Regan muttered.
Her reaction was instantaneous. She felt disgust. Then she shook her head. Aiden was right. She really did need to get over this ridiculous obsession. Until she walked in their shoes, she couldn’t possibly know what their situation was or what was in their hearts.
Yes, it was definitely time for a change of attitude. She would start working on that right away. And yet, despite the best intentions, she couldn’t make herself stop watching the couple as they made their way across the street.
And that’s why she noticed him. He was a big, muscular man, and he was coming up fast behind the couple. He knocked the older man off his feet as he ran past. The young woman shouted something, but the runner never looked back. He was dressed for the race in a black running suit, but with the heat and the humidity, she thought it was odd that he was wearing a jacket. She also noticed he was carrying a pair of binoculars. The man quickly disappeared into the crowd.
She jumped when the starting gun fired, then turned and joined the people moving onto the trail. She stayed at the back of the crowd and tried to avoid elbows as she walked along.
The rude man with the binoculars was nowhere in sight. She didn’t give him another thought. She wouldn’t let herself think about Alec either, but that was easier said than done.
ALEC HAD KEPT HER KEYS. NOW, WHY HAD HE DONE THAT? IT wasn’t like him to be so forgetful and not realize he had them in his pocket. Maybe he’d kept them so he would have an excuse to go back to the hotel. That’s what the shrinks would tell him. His subconscious wanted to see her again.
And so did the rest of him.
Alec stayed up half the night thinking about his future. About three in the morning he finally figured it all out. His future was with Regan … if she would have him. “Moving forward” took on a whole new meaning to him now. He didn’t want to go anywhere without her.
He made a couple of decisions about the job too, and he felt pretty good about them, but he fell asleep thinking about Regan and wondering how he would ever be able to convince her to love him.
The next morning, after he showered, he decided he ought to get cleaned up before he went to the hotel. He shaved and then put on a clean pair of jeans that only had a couple of holes below his knees. He opened one of the packed boxes and found a clean, though wrinkled, short-sleeve T-shirt and even took the time to tuck it in.
He happened to glance in the mirror while he was putting his gun in his holster and realized he should have gotten a haircut. His hair was sticking up all over the place. He shrugged. It was too late to do anything about it now anyway.
It was raining when he drove to the hotel. He was walking into the lobby when Gil caught up with him.
“What are you doing here?”
“Didn’t you hear me honking at you when you were crossing Michigan? I got caught at the light,” Gil panted.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“Alec, I might have something for you.” He glanced around and then said, “Maybe we ought to find someplace private.”
“I was just going up to Regan’s office. We can talk there.”
He used Regan’s key to get up to the third floor. Gil started explaining as soon as the elevator doors closed. “I finally heard back from that patrolman down in Florida, and he had some interesting news.”
The doors opened on the third floor, and both of them stepped into the corridor. It was empty and as quiet as a confessional on Friday night.
“So what did he tell you?”
“The accident happened over a year ago, closer to two,” he said. “And it was bad, just like I told you. A five-car pileup. I was worried the patrolman wouldn’t remember much about it, but he told me it was so gruesome he’ll take the memory to his grave.
“There was this ten-mile stretch of two-lane highway outside of Tampa. Walker Madison was driving a sports car, and the engine had a lot of power. Evidently he was passing this truck, and this late-model sedan pulls out behind him and follows him. A guy named Gage, Eric Gage, was driving, and his wife was in the passenger seat. Walker gets around the truck and back into his lane without any trouble at all, but Gage’s sedan didn’t quite make it. There are some conflicting reports. The patrolman said one witness swore the truck driver wouldn’t let the sedan in, that he deliberately sped up. There was another possibility that the sedan clipped the truck trying to get back in. Anyway, there was a terrible crash,” he explained.
Alec noticed Gil was talking faster and faster now, and his face was getting red. A knot was forming in Alec’s gut. He had a really bad feeling about what he was going to hear. “Go on,” he urged.
“The truck lost control, spun, and flipped. The sedan was totaled, but the driver, this Eric Gage, didn’t get so much as a bruise. His wife wasn’t so lucky. The patrolman said they had to pry her out of the passenger seat. He said it looked like the car had folded in on her. Sometimes he says he can still hear the screams. The wife was unconscious and barely hanging on by a thread. It was the husband who was screaming. The patrolman said he went crazy, pulling at his hair and sobbing that he should have let her drive like she wanted, and it should have been him in that seat. He got more and more out of control the longer it took to get his wife out of the car. The paramedics had to sedate him, and because of his size, it took three men to strap him down to the gurney. He was out of his head, all right,” Gil said. “And do you know what the patrolman told me he was trying to do?”
“Get across that highway to Walker. He wanted to kill him. He was ranting about how Walker had been driving too fast, and that was why the truck veered.”
“But that wasn’t true?”
“Not according to the witnesses. The truck driver’s insurance company settled with the families.”
“How bad was Gage’s wife?”
Gil was pulling slips of paper out of his pockets. He unfolded one and nodded. “Her name was Nina, and she was all broken up, but her legs got the worst of it. The bones were crushed.”
“Ah, hell,” he whispered. “I knew it was too easy.”
He thought of Haley Cross and how her legs had been crushed with a hammer, and he knew it wasn’t a coincidence. He sprinted to Regan’s office. He just wanted to see her, to know she was okay. Then he could calm down and call Wincott.
Gil was chasing him. “Wait. Don’t you want to know where Eric Gage is now?”
“He’s here, isn’t he, Gil? He’s in Chicago.”
Gil nodded. Then he thrust the slip of paper at Alec. “Here’s his address.”
Alec grabbed the paper, opened the door, and rushed into her office. It was empty. Panic like he’d never felt before bore down on him. He was reaching for the phone when he heard the fax machine humming.
He knew what it was before he looked. He dropped the phone and ran to the fax machine. He grabbed the paper before it slid into the tray. It was another murder list, but the heading was different. “My Murder List,” he’d written, and underneath there was just one name. “Regan Madison.”
REGAN WALKED AT A FAST CLIP AT THE BEGINNING AND THEN slowed down. The crowd thinned out. She was so lost in thought she didn’t realize everyone had passed her until she reached the second-mile marker. She’d already gone farther than she’d intended. It started to drizzle, and she was hot and sticky. The diehard runners were probably crossing the finish line by now, she thought.
She wasn’t sure where she was. She didn’t want to turn around and walk another two miles back to the starting line, and she didn’t want to keep going to the finish line because that was another three-and-a-half-mile trek. She knew she’d run into a volunteer if she turned around and started back, and so she did just that. She really should have paid attention to all the signs and arrows the staff had placed along the route, but she’d been too busy feeling sorry for herself. And thinking about Alec, of course. Why didn’t he know she was the best thing that would ever happen to him? No other woman would ever love him as passionately as she did.