He approached the vehicle, and he could see the hesitation on her face. She wasn’t sure if she should trust him. Smart girl. But he knew he looked innocent enough, like someone she could count on, and within the space of seconds her instincts failed her.
She rolled down the window, not all the way, but enough so he could talk to her.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his practiced voice sounding like soft velvet. If he hadn’t been concentrating he might have laughed at the false sincerity ringing through it.
She bit her lip. “I don’t know. My tire’s flat.”
Very pretty girl, he thought from this close up. But he glanced down, trying to look interested in the tires. The two he could see appeared to be fine.
“Other side,” she said when she saw him looking. She seemed embarrassed then, and the innocent blush on her face made her even more attractive. She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know how to change a tire.”
He glanced around to make sure no one else was coming. The rain was running in small rivers down the back of his neck and soaking his shirt, but he barely noticed.
“Did you call someone?” This was the big question. This was where he found out whether she was the one or not. “Are your parents on their way?”
She didn’t even see the trap she was walking into. Her parents must have warned her about strangers, but they should have prepared her better.
She shook her head, the pink on her cheeks making her look so pure. “I left my cell phone at home,” she admitted.
He thought about that for a moment, making it seem like he wasn’t sure how to proceed, even though her words had already set his plan into action. He tapped the base of the window frame with his fingers as though weighing his options before finally speaking again. “Well, I’m not really equipped to change your tire, but I could give you a lift home.”
Her instincts kicked back in, and he knew from the look that flashed across her lovely face that she wasn’t so sure. Maybe her parents had done a better job than he thought.
He tried to backpedal, to wipe that uncertain look from her face. “My cell phone’s in the car. Is there someone you could call?”
She bit her lip again, chewing nervously. “Yeah. Okay, sure,” she said, flashing him her best you’d-be-doing-me-a-huge-favor smile. It was a smile that girls learned to do from a very young age, and one that she was particularly good at. “If you’re sure you don’t mind.”
He looked around again, to make sure they were still alone, even though he knew that they were.
He knew how to play this game. He got off on this game. He smiled back at her, trying to look protective and fatherly. “Of course not.” And then he said the words that would win her over once and for all. “If my wife knew I’d left you out here without help, she’d have my hide. Besides, you’re only a couple of years older than our daughter, and I would want someone to help her if she were stranded.”
That was all it took. She was his.
He watched as she unbuckled her seat belt, and he felt a wave of excited electricity jolting through him. He couldn’t believe his luck; she was almost making it too easy; she was going to come right to him.
He stood back as she opened her car door. “Thank you so much for doing this,” she said as she opened up an umbrella over her head. She held it out, offering him shelter beneath it as he led her to the right side of the car. “My parents are going to kill me for forgetting my phone; they’re always nagging me about the importance of planning ahead.”
He looked down at her, thinking about how wise her parents sounded, and he was grateful that she hadn’t taken them too seriously. But again he gave her his protective voice. “They’re right, you know. You can never be too careful.” He opened the passenger-side door and leaned inside.
She was surprised when he came back out without a phone but with something else instead. Her eyes widened in fear as first recognition and then panic dawned across her exquisitely expressive face.
But before she could even scream, he was on her, shoving her hard against the car’s interior and whispering into her ear as he held his hand over her mouth. “Make it easy on yourself. I promise I won’t hurt you.” He needed to make her understand that…it was important to him that she know he wasn’t planning to harm her.
He saw the terror in her eyes as she curled up into a protective ball, shivering and silent as the silver duct tape held her mouth closed.
“I swear to you…I won’t hurt you…” He whispered the words over and over again while he popped the trunk and set her inside gently.
His promise made, he smoothed her hair tenderly with his hand before slamming the trunk shut.
He whistled to himself as he pulled his car back onto the road.
It had been a good night.
AFTER THE FIRST FEW ROCKY DAYS OF SCHOOL, at least as far as her feelings for Jay went, Violet started to feel better. Not that the butterflies had vanished or anything, but like so many other things in her life, they faded into the background of her day-to-day activities, becoming more like white noise. And that was something she could deal with.
The girls didn’t stop converging on Jay—it was quite the opposite, in fact—they seemed to be multiplying, following him around en masse. And while Violet didn’t complain outwardly, Jay was starting to, which made Violet feel even more secure in her position at the top…for the time being anyway.