Zakia and the Cowboy
by Lorraine Nelson
With a stalker following her every move Zakia has no choice but to flee the city. With her options limited she runs to the only place she's ever felt safe...the Thunder Creek Ranch and her ex-husband, Lucas.
Will he protect Zakia from the stalker? And if he does will either of them be able to ignore the feelings that have simmered for so long, ready to explode... before danger either draws them together or pulls them apart.
~ Prologue ~
She hadn’t come home!
He’d waited most of the night and she hadn’t shown.
Looking around one last time, enraged because she had slipped away so easily, he picked the brightest red lipstick from the assortment displayed on the dressing table and left a message on her bedroom mirror, knowing she couldn’t miss it on her return. Satisfied that he’d done all he could for now, he scowled as he left the room, trailing the lipstick along the pristine walls of the main corridor as he walked.
He allowed the fancy cylinder to drop from his black-gloved fingers, leaving a blood red spot on the pristine, sand colored carpet, before he turned and sauntered toward the exit.
He was invincible! He came and went as he pleased with security none the wiser. Little Miss Perfect may have given him the slip today, but he’d find her.
She can slow me down but she and all her daddy’s money, can’t stop me from getting the revenge I deserve, and it’s overdue, way past overdue.
You won’t escape me for long. That I can promise.
~ Chapter One ~
Zakia parked her vintage Caddy directly in front of the dry cleaning shop five minutes before its closing. She grabbed her purse, turned around and spoke to the boys in the back seat, “Casey, Cammy, get a move on. You know we need to hurry. Come with me so you can carry your backpacks.”
“Why do we have to leave our friends, Mommy?” asked Casey.
“Is this a vacation?” Cammy piped up.
“Are there any kids where we’re going?” Casey added.
The last question latched onto Zakia’s heart, squeezing it like nothing else could. Had Luke remarried? She swallowed past the lump in her throat before she answered. “I don’t know if we’ll find other kids there, Casey. At least you and Cammy have each other. We’re going on a sort of vacation. I told you both this morning. We’re going someplace special but it’s a surprise and I’d like to get going before dark.” Frustration and impatience had her mentally counting to ten to refrain from speaking too sharply.
They entered the dry cleaning depot and she acknowledged the petite brunette working behind the counter with a wave. “Hi, Sam. We’re here to pick up our stuff.”
“Hi, Zak. Good timing. The staff are gone for the day and I was about to lock up. Just let me finish hanging these clothes. They’re due for pick-up tomorrow. Hi, boys. Ready for your big adventure?”
“Why so enthusiastic?” Sam asked, her mouth stretched in a teasing grin.
“Mommy won’t tell us where we’re going,” Cammy answered.
“And we won’t have anyone to play with,” Casey said. He scuffed lazily along behind his brother.
“Well, maybe I can perk up your interest in traveling a little bit.”
The boys stopped and looked up, anticipation evident in the upward tilt of their freckled faces as they waited for their ‘Auntie’ Sam to speak.
“There’s been a slight change of plans. Come with me.” Sam passed Zakia a set of keys and they made their way down the back stairs to the parking lot. “I couldn’t let you leave in that monstrous car of yours. It can be detected from a mile down the road.”
“I happen to like my car, and I already agreed to switch vehicles with you, so what gives?” Zakia asked. She desperately wanted to leave town as soon as possible.
“Now don’t go getting all huffy. No male in his right mind wants to go adventuring in a purple car, even if it is a Cadillac. Do you guys?”
“See, Zak, my friend,” Sam said as the boys shook their heads. “The boys need a real vehicle to take their vacation in, so I convinced a friend of mine to loan you one with all the bells and whistles. The SUV is much better than using my old jalopy and comes with air conditioning, a super stereo system, five on the floor, and four wheel drive, in case you need to go off-roading. On top of all that, the boys get to watch a movie on the portable DVD player. We’ve even provided a few to help keep them occupied until you get to where you’re going. Here it is! Come see for yourself.”
Casey ran toward the truck, his brother following close on his heels. Their gleeful shouts filled the air, but their exuberance was almost lost on Zakia as she stared at the mammoth hunk of metal before her.
Sam stood in front of a huge, black beast so high off the ground Zakia felt she couldn’t possibly climb up into the cab. She walked around the vehicle in a daze and, although she could barely reach the door handle, noted there were side steps plus a grab bar to hang onto. The SUV also had tinted glass all around except for the front windshield.
“Samantha?” She walked back around to where her friend was roughhousing with the boys. “I’m stunned you went to so much trouble.”
“No trouble. I just wanted to make sure you and the little rugrats here enjoy a safe vacation.” She grinned as she ruffled the twins’ hair on top of their heads. “Now get in before someone happens to notice you back here and we lose the element of surprise.”
Sam opened the door and hoisted the boys into the backseat of the truck. Zakia watched as her friend buckled them in securely and helped choose a movie for their trip. She tossed her purse up into the cab to free her hands, laboriously scrambled up and settled in behind the wheel.
Sam closed the rear door, running her hands nervously through her hair as she waited for Zakia to turn the key and put her window down. “Hand over the keys to your Caddy. I’ve arranged for a paint job while you’re gone. Those boys can’t continue to be seen driving around in a car that color and we need to keep it out of sight.”
Zakia rummaged through her purse, grabbed her keys and passed them to her friend. “How can I ever thank you, Sam? You’ve taken it upon yourself to make this really work.”
“Of course it’ll work, and remember, some friends of mine are joining me later to lead him on a wild goose chase. Just keep yourself and those gorgeous boys of yours safe. The things you stored here are already loaded in the back out of sight. I’ve also included a box of goodies, drinks and snacks, in case you guys get hungry.”
“You’ve thought of everything. Thank you for being such a good friend, Sam.”
“Thank you, Zak. You believed in me when no one else did. I figure this kind of makes things even. Don’t call or check in with anybody here. I’ll contact you with regular updates and notify you when the coast is clear. Speaking of which, this vehicle is equipped with a satellite phone. I’m the only one with the number. Give me your cell. I’ll take the battery out and leave it in your mailbox.”
“No. Don’t go to my place. As soon as he’s aware that I’m gone, he’s bound to cause trouble. You know that. Just throw the phone in the garbage somewhere on the other side of town and don’t look back.”
“Will do. The SUV is full of gas and ready to go. Any questions?”
“None, except, what will you tell everybody?”
“The truth of course. I haven’t seen you since Tuesday night when you stopped in to pick up your dry cleaning.”
Zakia reached out and awkwardly hugged her friend. “See you when this is over, Sam. You’re the best!”
“Don’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t want to spoil my reputation. Now, get going.” Sam jumped down off the running board and waved good-bye in response to the boys’ excited waves as they began their journey down the back alley with headlights turned off.
* * * *
Sam returned inside, locked up windows and doors and went upstairs to her apartment. She kept the lights blazing for a long time. Zakia often came to visit, staying long into the evening with Zak’s parents picking up the twins for an overnighter.
A couple hours later, Samantha donned a long blonde wig and the duplicate set of clothes the girls had prepared beforehand. She flipped the lock on the door, went to Zakia’s caddy and popped the trunk open briefly as she fiddled around at the rear of the car, got behind the wheel of the Caddy and drove away. Sure enough, another car, parked a few spaces behind, pulled out to follow.
Few people around their end of town were aware of Sam’s stint with the armed forces, which ended early on a medical discharge. Once a soldier, always a soldier, was the way Sam thought. Defensive driving and strategic maneuvers had been drilled into her along with the fight or flight mentality. She could no longer hold her own in direct combat but she knew this city like the back of her hand, and the purple Caddy would look black in the dark once they were away from the glaring lights of downtown. Sam was actually looking forward to the imminent pursuit of the stalker.
She wondered if the idiot following her was aware of a signal light burned out on his vehicle, making it much easier to keep track of him. Probably not, and by the time he figured it out Zakia would be long gone.
Coming up to the preplanned intersection, she met two other Cadillacs identical to Zakia’s except, of course, for color. At the next intersection, four more waited to join the queue. They headed for the highway ramps, passing each other and playing a kind of leapfrog once on the highway until their follower wouldn’t have the slightest idea which car was which. They’d even removed the license plates earlier in case he had Zakia’s memorized.
As the first Caddy exited the highway, their pursuer gave up, made a blatant show of speeding up to pass them, and continued driving into the night. The Caddy drivers all wore identical blonde wigs and honked and waved as he drove past.
Sam and her comrades met up at the garage where Zakia’s car was to be stored for the duration. The garage, owned by a friend of Sam’s, was also part of an auto salvage set-up and the Cadillacs were all being allowed to ‘hide-out’ at the back of the yard until, or if, they were needed again.
Seven victorious women high-fived and hugged each other at their successful mission, then piled into a nondescript black van and headed downtown to celebrate their victory. Zakia had vetoed their original plan to surround the stalker and force him off the road. She’d made Sam promise that none of the girls would get hurt, which was more than likely if he fought back. So they played their game instead. Sam hadn’t had so much fun since leaving the army and she entered the bar in good spirits, ready to celebrate with her friends.
* * * *
So she wanted to play games now, did she? She hadn’t learned anything if she thought she was in control!
With all the messages and presents he’d given her, she should be afraid. Doesn’t she realize yet who’s boss? She had a lot of nerve, trying to trick him this way. Doesn’t she realize I can get to her anytime?
She was a creature of habit. He didn’t have to follow her every day to know what she did and where she went, but he so enjoyed watching her as she looked over her shoulder, frightened and confused.
He would attack her through the children. That would be more fun. Spoiled little brats! She’d listen to him then. No one to distract her anymore.
But where was she heading tonight? She may have outsmarted him this time but her luck was about to run out.
He’d have a nice surprise waiting for her when she got home.
She’d pay for this. She’d pay dearly.
Copyright Lorraine Nelson 2014
Lorraine Nelson will choose one commenter to receive a free eCopy of any of her Evernight books! Leave a comment or question below. Be sure to include your email address.