Chapter One

Fatal Deception - 2020 Cover 1.2.jpg

Andrea pulled aside the plum velvet curtain and peeked through the rain-streaked window of the Gothic Tudor mansion. In the moonlight, she could see the Ferrari still parked in the circular drive two stories below. It was her only chance of escape.
She let go of the heavy fabric and stepped away from the window. As she crept toward the door, she glanced at her roommate already asleep in the large, four-poster bed. Andrea pulled slowly on the solid wood door, but there was no stopping the loud creak that came from the ancient English oak. 
“Where are you going?”
Andrea turned to see Violet sitting up in bed. Her heart raced. “Oh. Just to the bathroom. I'll be right back.”
Andrea watched her roommate lie back against her pillow before she stepped into the hall. The hall was dimly lit from the lights that remained on downstairs. All the girls had retired to their rooms. The only ones still awake were their leader and his dinner guest, the CEO of a tech giant that started in Seattle. 
Andrea smoothed the base of her short silk nightgown when she reached the top of the wooden staircase. She looked down at her bare legs as she tiptoed down the stairs. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she could hear laughter in the library.
She glanced at the solid oak doors at the castle's main entrance, knowing she couldn't use them for her escape. The security camera on the outside would give her away immediately. She knew there was also a guard roaming the perimeter, but she'd have to avoid being seen.
She stepped off the stairs onto the herringbone floor. She moved past two medieval knights propped next to the staircase, exported from Wales by the castle's original owner, when she heard the voice of their dinner guest. 
“Thank you so much for having me. I better get back to the city,” said the tech CEO.
The door to the library opened, flooding the mansion's grand entrance with light. Andrea ran toward the rear of the home on the balls of her feet.
“There's just one more thing I'd like to show you before you go.” There was no mistaking the deep voice of their leader before she slipped inside the slightly ajar door to the butler's pantry.
Andrea ran through the narrow space toward the door that opened to the rear of the property. She glanced behind her shoulder before turning the knob. She looked in both directions before stepping onto the damp concrete patio. There was no guard in sight.
The rear of the estate's exterior was softly lit by an occasional Gothic lamppost. She ran to the right, stopping in her tracks when she saw the outline of the guard step out from beside the massive structure. She looked down at her white silk gown, realizing she stuck out like a ghost in the night. She should've changed into dark clothes, but what would she have said if she’d got caught before she left the castle?
The guard stopped as a familiar male voice came over her radio.
“Camilla, could you please let Rachelle out the front gate in a few minutes? She’s just leaving.” 
“Sure thing,” Andrea heard Camilla reply before she disappeared around the side of the house. Andrea turned and sprinted barefoot across the cold patio. She could only hope she'd make it to the Ferrari before being seen.
Heart pumping, she rounded the dark corner. She pushed herself to run faster along the wet grass until she reached the front of the grand home. 
She was out of breath when she reached the circular driveway. The Ferrari was still parked in the drive, in front of the sculpted fountain. Andrea stood alone on the grounds of the large, gated compound for a brief moment before Camilla stepped out from the side of the castle. Camilla hummed to herself as she made her way across the lawn with her rifle slung over her shoulder. Andrea crouched behind the sports car and waited until Camilla’s footsteps sounded on the paved drive. Andrea lifted her head above the roof of the Ferrari and watched Camilla stroll in the opposite direction. 
She reached for the trunk, but her hand stilled an inch from the latch above the emblem of a silver prancing horse. 
Their leader had made a comment when the tech CEO had arrived that there was no need to lock her car inside his gated estate. Hearing this had spurred Andrea's escape plan in her mind. But now she worried if he had only made the comment as a joke. Or as an excuse to brag about his private estate’s security. Andrea would surely be caught−and punished−if her attempt to open the trunk set off the sports car's alarm.
But she had no choice. She couldn't stay here any longer. She pressed her fingers beneath the trunk latch and pulled. The rear window lifted without a noise. She took a last glance toward the castle before she climbed inside the trunk. She lay on her side with her knees pulled to her chest, surprised at the ample room inside the rear of the Ferrari. 
“Thank you so much again for coming.” 
A knot formed in her throat at the sound of voices on the castle's front steps. 
“I do hope you'll consider joining us,” he schmoozed. “I think you'll gain great empowerment from the organization.”
The Ferrari's rear window stuck straight in the air. Andrea grabbed the base of the window and pulled. She tried to be firm enough for it to latch, yet not create any noise. It closed with a soft click. Andrea hoped it was quiet enough not to be detected from the mansion's front steps. 
Rachelle’s heeled boots clacked against the concrete drive as she neared the Ferrari. Andrea lay her head against the felt-like carpet in the base of the trunk and tried to control her breathing.
Had she shut the trunk completely? Had the tech CEO heard her?
She squeezed her eyes shut as the footsteps drew closer. Despite her best efforts, her breathing rate rapidly increased. She'd never done well in closed spaces. She knew climbing into the tight space wasn't going to be easy, but she'd forgotten the intensity of the fear now overtaking her body.
Andrea heard the driver's door open and felt the woman get in. Andrea felt her chest tighten as she heard the tech CEO rifle through her purse. What was she doing? A minute passed, and Andrea wondered if something had given away her presence. Was she texting their leader? 
The driver’s door shut seconds before she started the engine. Andrea exhaled as the sports car moved slowly down the long private drive. She clasped her hands tightly together to keep them from trembling. Her body shifted back and forth as the car stopped and waited for Camilla to open the gate. 
After being there for so long, it seemed unthinkable that she could make a clean escape in the trunk of their dinner guest's Ferrari. Maybe her roommate had already told their leader how Andrea had gone to the bathroom and never returned. Maybe she'd been picked up on a security camera she was unaware of. 
There seemed a million reasons why this would never work. She was sure, any minute, Camilla would open the trunk and drag her back to the mansion. Andrea held her breath until the Ferrari's engine revved and she felt the car turn onto the narrow, two-lane road in front of the compound.
For the next thirty minutes, Andrea kept waiting for the car to pull over, and to be dragged out of the trunk by their leader. 
“You just made the ten-thirty,” she heard the ferry worker say from inside the toll booth.
“Great,” Rachelle said.
They were almost off the island. For the first time since she got in the trunk, Andrea believed she might actually get away.
The car pulled forward. A moment later, Andrea felt the car drive onto the ferry. The car stopped and Rachelle got out, closing the driver’s door softly behind her. Andrea took the opportunity to readjust her position in the trunk while she was alone in the car.
She didn't dare get out on the ferry. Just in case they'd been followed. Plus, she had no money, no clothes aside from her nightgown, and she needed to get to the city.
Rachelle returned to her car and drove the Ferrari off the boat twenty minutes later. Time moved slowly even as the car sped down the freeway to downtown Seattle. Andrea's legs were starting to cramp from the tight space. Her heart had finally stopped racing once they reached the mainland, her claustrophobia overpowered by a relief of escaping the confines of the island.
The Ferrari's engine turned off and Andrea realized they'd parked. Her body tensed as she listened to the tech CEO get out of the sports car. Her heels clicked against the concrete as she walked past the rear of the car, but then grew softer with each step. Andrea waited a few minutes in silence before she pulled the trunk's emergency release lever.
The glass panel lifted with a soft hiss. Andrea climbed out slowly into the parking garage, stretching her cramped muscles as she stood. The garage was filled with cars, but no people. 
She'd heard Rachelle mention her Belltown penthouse apartment over dinner, which would put her less than a mile of where she needed to go. Her bare feet were silent atop the cement as she scurried to the nearest stairwell. 
Andrea wondered if it was a mistake not to get Rachelle's attention after she parked. 
She flew down the stairs. There was only one person she could trust. Hopefully her sister hadn't moved from her downtown apartment in the two years Andrea had been at the castle. She never attempted any contact with the outside world while she was there.
She pushed open the heavy door onto the street when she reached the bottom. She ignored the stare from a passerby as she checked the cross streets. She was near the waterfront on the edge of Belltown, only about ten blocks from her sister's building.
She'd made it two blocks before she noticed the black SUV creeping along behind her. She knew it might be her imagination. Even if their leader knew she'd left with their dinner guest, he would've been at least one ferry behind them. Right?
Andrea watched the SUV speed ahead and parallel park ahead of her. The car quietly idled as she walked closer. The windows were tinted, making it impossible to see inside. But she swore she'd seen that car at the compound before. It looked identical to several black SUVs kept at the castle. 
She turned onto the next street before she reached the car. She ran down the hill toward the lit up PUBLIC MARKET sign above Pike’s Place that glowed a bright salmon in the night sky. She took a left onto the brick cobblestone street, seeing the sign that cars could only turn right. 
The only cars on the street were parked on the side, and Andrea moved quickly along in the middle of the road. A vibration from tires turning onto the brick-paved street caused her to turn. The black SUV sped in the opposite direction before its brake lights flashed. The dark vehicle’s tires screeched and its engine droned before it reversed in Andrea’s direction. 
She turned and raced toward a stairwell where the street curved to the left. The rev of the SUV’s engine grew louder the closer she got to the stairs. She didn’t dare to turn around until she jumped onto the sidewalk and rounded the top of the stairwell. Her hand closed around the cold metal railing as the SUV braked a few feet from the curb. Andrea’s foot scraped atop the cement when she tripped halfway down, but she caught herself before she fell. 
She didn’t hear any sounds from the SUV when she got to the bottom of the staircase. She didn’t wait to listen if the SUV drove away or if the driver got out of the car. She ran down the enclosed alleyway and zig-zagged down more flights of concrete steps between buildings. It was too secluded for her to stay there. If the driver followed after her, there would be nowhere to hide. She needed somewhere between isolation and out in the open. 
The Viaduct. The overpass adjacent to the Seattle waterfront would be the perfect place to provide shelter from their leader, or whomever he’d sent to retrieve her.
The stairs widened when she reached the bottom. She looked to her left and then to her right when she stepped onto the sidewalk. The Viaduct was gone! Andrea stood in the complete open across the street from the waterfront. She had an unobstructed view of the Ferris wheel, lit up a light fluorescent blue on the pier behind the Seattle Aquarium. She wondered how the giant elevated highway had disappeared in the two years she’d been gone. Was there another earthquake?
She didn’t see the dark SUV lurking anywhere on the waterfront road, which was still busy at midnight. At least not yet. She crossed the street where there were more people to blend in with. She shivered from the cold breeze that came over the water onto her bare legs. It was the first time since she’d gotten out of the Ferrari that she’d noticed the cold.
The sidewalk was filled with large groups of teenage girls, most wearing matching t-shirts with BILLIE EILISH printed across the front. Andrea walked against the flow of the crowd, noticing many of the girls wore glow sticks around their necks. She checked the street again. A few cars and SUVs drove past, but none seemed to slow at the sight of her. 
She moved farther up the street when she noticed a dark SUV parked against the curb. It was the same make and model as the one following her earlier. The engine was turned off, and she couldn’t tell if there was anyone inside. She pushed herself between two girls to create more distance between herself and the SUV as she walked by.
“Excuse you!” one of the girls yelled.
Andrea moved faster, pushing through the crowd. She heard the SUV’s engine start and she turned to see it creep forward, keeping with her pace. A car honked before overtaking the larger vehicle. 
She grabbed hold of a girl’s arm in line for Ivar’s. “Please! Help me! That car is after me!”
The girl stepped back as an older woman shoved Andrea’s arm away and gave her a threatening look. 
“Don’t touch my daughter.” The woman turned her back to Andrea after stepping between her and the teenage girl. 
“Just ignore her honey. She’s probably on drugs.”
Other people in line shot Andrea wary glances. She looked down at her tiny nightgown blowing in the night breeze. It barely covered the top of her skinny thighs. She probably did look like a drug user. Or prostitute. Or both. 
Andrea moved through the Ivar’s line as the patrons made a wide gap for her go through. She broke into a run, bumping into the occasional oncomer. The SUV pulled forward to keep up with her pace. 
Her heart pounded. She needed to get off the street. 
The SUV stopped for a red light and she knew this was her chance. She raced across the street, ignoring the judgmental stare from a man who crossed from the other side. 
She ran a few steps up the hill before turning back, relieved to see the SUV still at the light, waiting for a few slow-moving pedestrians to finish crossing. But she wouldn’t make it all the way to her sister’s apartment before the SUV caught up to her. 
She tucked into an alley on her left. It was dimly lit by only a couple lampposts. She caught her breath as she slowed her pace and saw there was a dumpster up ahead that she could hide behind. 
The alley lit up from behind her. She turned and squinted from the blinding headlights of the SUV barreling toward her. 
She sprinted toward the dumpster, which was still a ways up the alley. She saw an entrance to a parking garage ahead, but it was gated. She darted again for the dumpster.
The lights grew brighter. Andrea turned back a second before the bumper tore into her leg. She fell against the hood, rolling up to the windshield from the car's momentum. Pain ripped through her left leg as the side of her face slammed against the glass in front of the driver.
The SUV slammed on its brakes, sending Andrea off the hood before she could see who was trying to run her down. She rolled onto the rough pavement of the alleyway. The SUV’s engine roared as Andrea tried to push herself up from the ground.
She'd barely moved when the bright beams of the truck sped toward her for the final time. The betrayal she felt, after she’d devoted her life and given everything, was as strong as the force from the vehicle’s impact.

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