Chad woke to searing pain in his chest as he gulped air, trying to fill his lungs. He squeezed his eyes shut and battled to clear the fog from his head and slow his heart rate. His body stilled as he listened to the sounds around him: the sound of traffic on the street below his window and the hum of his air conditioner kicking off as it reached the designated temperature. Chad shook his head and forced his eyes open. He was in his bedroom in New Haven, Connecticut, in his bed with the navy blue sheets and mahogany headboard. Above him was the familiar crack on the ceiling that he always meant to fix but never remembered unless he was in bed staring up at it. His flat-screen television, mounted on the wall, ran static. His laptop lay on the bed next to him where he’d abandoned it for sleep the night before.
Despite the familiar surroundings, it took Chad a minute to realize there was no medic kneeling beside him, pushing a too-long needle into his lung. There was no metallic scent of blood or charred flesh choking him and making him nauseated. No ringing in his ears. The other three men in his detail did not lay still and silent next to him, their eyes lifeless and unseeing, their bodies forever broken and destroyed.
The dream didn’t come often anymore, but it always took him a few minutes to recover when it did. As Chad took deep, calming breaths he realized the phone was ringing. He slapped at the nightstand with one hand until he found the phone then slid his thumb across the screen to answer the call.
“Yeah?” His voice was thick with sleep.
Chad Thompson bolted upright in his bed, the remnants of the dream no longer clutching at him. His gut twisted when Jennie’s voice came through the phone with the ring of false confidence. Something wasn’t right.
“You okay, Jennie?”
Jennie Evans didn’t normally call him outside of working hours at Sutton Capital. They had a weird relationship. Chad was Jennie’s supervisor. She was flippant, irreverent, and completely brash in all her dealings with him. And, he loved it.
Outside of work, things were equally unorthodox between them. They spent a lot of time together because Jennie was best friends with Kelly, the woman who married Chad’s cousin last year. Jack and Chad were more like brothers than cousins. So Chad saw Jennie anytime he hung out with Jack and Kelly, which was just about every weekend.
But, Chad and Jennie weren’t the type of friends that called each other or sought one another out outside of the group. It was more that they ended up at the same functions because of their mutual friends.
So when she called on his cell phone first thing in the morning, on a weekend, he noticed. It was also the use of his name that got his attention. Quickly. Jennie didn’t use a nickname like ‘Boss Man,’ ‘Big Man,’ or ‘the Hulk’ like she usually did. No, this morning she called him Chad, rather than any number of other nicknames designed to taunt him about his large stature.
“Um. I’m a little...stuck,” Jennie said on the other end of the phone. He could hear her hesitancy through the line.
“Define ‘stuck,’ Jennie.” As he talked, he threw back the covers and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
“I, um. I’m out at Edgerton Park and I don’t have any shoes to jog home. Can you come get me? Jack and Kelly are touring the Labor and Delivery Unit at the hospital this morning so I can’t call them and I can’t get hold of Jill,” Jennie said.
Jill was married to Chad’s friend Andrew who also worked at Sutton Capital with Jack and Chad.
“So that leaves me. How did you get out to Edgerton Park without shoes or a car?” Chad asked as he shoved his feet into sneakers.
As he spoke, the implications of what he’d just said sank into his brain. Jennie was alone in a park without shoes or a way to get home. Fear for Jennie rippled up his spine, but he tamped it down and focused. Chad moved a lot faster, as his mind began to play through scenarios. Was she with a guy and he ditched her? Was she out drunk last night and never made it home? Maybe she found herself in the park, with no shoes and no idea how she got there? Just the thought of Jennie out with a guy started a slow burn in his gut. Chad couldn’t date Jennie himself, but that didn’t mean he’d handle it well at all if he saw her with another man. And, what if that man treated her wrong or hurt her in any way?
I’ll kill whatever asshole did this to her.
“Can I tell you when you get here? I’ve been here for a while now. I’m getting a little hungry. And my feet hurt. I had to run in bare feet. I could really use a ride.”
Run? She’d been running…
Chad’s fists turned into hard knots of anger as he thought about someone leaving Jennie where she could have been hurt or... Another thought sent cold spiraling through him.
God, what if they didn’t just ditch her at the park? What if...? His heart pounded in his chest and he broke out in a sweat.
“Jennie, did someone hurt you?” Now Chad used the eerily calm tone of voice from his days in the military. It came out when he was pissed as hell and ready to tear someone to pieces, but also when he needed to keep himself calm and collected enough to deal with the situation.
“I’m okay, Chad. No one hurt me,” Jennie answered, sending a wave of relief over Chad that left him weak, much weaker than he’d acknowledge. Chad grabbed his wallet and keys.
“On my way.”
“Thanks, Chad. I’m over by the greenhouses. I’ll wait by that entrance,” Jennie said.
The park was well known for the large row of greenhouses that housed an impressive array of native plants. The local gardening club hosted a native plant sale twice a year. There was an entrance cut into the stone wall that surrounded the park, near those greenhouses. Chad knew it well. It was the entrance he used whenever he jogged through the park.
“Got it,” Chad said as he ended the call and grabbed a T-shirt. He pulled the shirt on as he rode the elevator to the garage and jogged to his truck.
What the hell, Jennie?
Chad didn’t know what story she’d have when he got there, but it was sure to be good. This sounded like a bit much, even for Jennie.
Lori published her first novel in April of 2013 and has written three more books since then. Each of Lori’s books have made their way to the Amazon bestseller list and she quickly climbed the Amazon bestselling author list, as well. In November, 2013, Lori and a group of romantic suspense authors landed on the USA Today and NY Times bestseller lists with an anthology only eight months after the release of Lori’s first book. Lori loves to connect with her readers. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter or subscribe to her blog. Oh, and if you’ve read Lori’s books and loved them, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com. Writers live and die by their reviews and Lori promises to do a happy dance around her office every time you write one!