Still pissed, Cheri headed for her car in the nearly empty parking lot behind the Lounge. Damn her uncle Stevie. Sure he owned the bar, but that didn’t give him the right to call as she was getting ready to leave and practically demand she work tomorrow night. It wasn’t her problem the weekday bartender was sick. She had more important things to do with her time than pretend to give a damn about tired businesspeople complaining about their jobs. Of course she’d told Uncle Stevie he’d have to look elsewhere. Of course he’d tried to hand her his tired lecture about how she owed him. Just because Aunt Janet and he’d taken her in after her folks kicked her out when she was fifteen didn’t mean he could order her around now. Mixing drinks fed her creativity and put her smack in the middle of the city’s weekend energy. Bottom line, her job allowed her to be part of the in crowd.
At least her feet were no longer killing her, she acknowledged as she pulled her keys out of her back pocket. The sandals she’d put on after placing her heels in her work locker felt good. She intended to sleep in followed by a trip to a new women’s clothing store. She wouldn’t buy anything. Her goal was to compile a want list followed by a few well-placed hints to her lovers. Wouldn’t it be a laugh if all three wound up at the store at the same time and tried to buy the same items?
Trusting she could work things out, she remotely unlocked her new yet paid-for sports car. The headlights came on. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to get rid of the surrounding dark. Just last week Uncle Stevie had had work done on the lighting back here. What had happened?
Frowning, she looked around. The only other vehicle was a pickup with a shell. If someone was using the lot to sleep in—
Before she could finish the thought, the truck’s driver’s door opened and someone stepped out. The truck’s interior light revealed little.
“Good evening, Cheri,” a masculine voice said. “Oops, it’s after midnight, isn’t it? Good morning then.”
What? “How do you know my name?”
“You’ll learn soon enough,” he said as he headed toward her. “Right now I have certain tasks to perform.”
No one had ever aimed a pistol at her. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t make her mind comprehend what her eyes were trying to tell her. “No!”
Gripping the pistol in both hands, he pointed it at her middle. Still not believing this was happening, she spun away. The puffing sound barely registered. Something sharp stabbed her side. Touching it, she realized a dart had penetrated her silk blouse. Damn it, the blouse was new!
To hell with your clothes. Run. Escape.
She sprinted toward the lounge. Her first three strides felt strong, the next not quite so much. Alarmed by her sudden lack of energy, she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. She didn’t drink on the job so liquor had nothing to do with how she felt. Daily runs kept the pounds off and she was in good shape.
No matter how hard she tried to pick up the pace, her legs weren’t getting the message. And it wasn’t just her legs. She now lacked the strength to lift her arms. Even her head felt heavy.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” the man behind her said as her keys slipped from her fingers. “The instant the drug hits the bloodstream, your muscles start to shut down. Just thought you’d like to know.”
Now she couldn’t walk. More frightening, her legs started to buckle. As the pavement came up to meet her, she tried but failed to break her fall. Sobbing, she sank in a heap. Every inch of her felt the way a limb did when she slept on it. Her mind still worked, kind of, and she could see the man’s legs as he stood over her.
“Hell of a concoction, isn’t it?” He chuckled. “I’d like to take credit for it, but truth is a co-worker at Carnal Incorporated is responsible. You can see and hear and fortunately breathe. Other than that, well, I’ll leave that to you to figure out.”
Staying in the light cast by her car’s headlights, he knelt beside her and rolled her onto her stomach. He turned her head to the side, then straightened her legs and pulled her arms behind her. When he let go of them, they flopped back by her sides.
“You aren’t being helpful.” He slapped her buttocks.
Relief all but swamped her when he got to his feet and disappeared. He’d drive away, leaving her here to recover from whatever he’d shot her with.
No, she forced herself to comprehend. He wouldn’t leave.
Moments later something hard jabbed the side opposite from the direction he’d turned her head. “Hey, you still awake? Hopefully you didn’t miss me. I was just after some of my equipment. For the record, the security camera has been disabled.”
Not being able to see him terrified her. She didn’t dare ponder what he meant by equipment.
“Okay, first things first. You’re way too overdressed.”