Protecting Her Secret Son(3)

By: Regan Black



“Hang on,” Daniel said.

“Can’t.” She had to get over there, had to find Aiden. Dreadful scenarios tore through her mind, each worse than the last as she bolted across the lawn for her car. How had anyone connected Aiden to his father? It seemed all her precautions had done no good at all.

“Shannon!” Daniel’s voice followed her, the sound faint as if reaching for her from the far end of a long, dark tunnel.

She ignored him, focused solely on getting to the sitter’s house. Denial warred with logic, all of it blurred by a frantic desperation. Digging into her front pocket, she found her car keys.

She’d barely pressed the unlock button when her wrist was caught. Bigger, calloused, Daniel’s hand took her key and held her in place.

“Let me go.” She reached for the key, missed.

“You’re in no condition to drive,” he said in that unflappable way he had.

“Let me go!” She twisted against his grip, made zero progress.

His eyes were filled with concern. “What happened?”

“My son is—is...” She couldn’t finish the sentence, not until she had proof this wasn’t some sick joke. She had to see for herself that Aiden wasn’t safely where she’d left him early this morning. “The sitter called,” she fibbed.

“I’ll drive.”

“No.” She couldn’t, this was her son, her responsibility. “I’m okay. I just need a second.” She gulped in air, forced it out. “The call startled me, that’s all.” She held out her open palm for the car key. “I’m okay. I need to get over there.” Another breath. “I’ll come right back.” A cold wave of fear crashed over her. Please don’t let that promise turn into a lie.

Through narrowed eyes, his mouth thin and tugged down on one side, her boss studied her with the same drawn-out assessment he gave to imperfect corners and uneven subfloors. Reluctantly, he handed her the car keys.

She pushed her lips in to a smile, knew she’d failed to sell it when he scowled. “I’ll be right back.” Opening the car door, she slid behind the wheel. As she pulled away from the curb, she used the hands-free button on her steering wheel to dial Rachel again.

With every unanswered ring, she cursed Aiden’s father, cursed herself for falling for the glossy facade hiding his ugly nature. She reminded herself that without him, she wouldn’t have Aiden, the love of her life. Of course, without her brutal ex she wouldn’t be terrified for Aiden’s safety right now, either. It was a circular, unwinnable chicken-and-egg argument that had no real bearing on the crisis at hand.

In her rush to get to the sitter’s house and see firsthand what was going on, Shannon pushed the speed limits and ran yellow lights, heedless of the truck following her.

She’d left her husband nearly five years ago, relieved for once that his connections paved the way for what might have been the fastest divorce on record in New York. After much deliberation, she’d chosen Philadelphia to start over, creating a new life for herself just in time to become a mother.

How had anyone tied Aiden to his father? She’d changed her name and left her ex’s name off Aiden’s birth certificate, refusing to saddle her son with that burden.

She parked in front of the sitter’s house and raced up the lawn, shouting for her friend and her son. “Rachel! Aiden!”

Dialing Rachel’s cell phone again, she followed the sounds around to the backyard. Her breath stuttered when she saw the gate swinging back and forth in the breeze, the latch broken. She pushed through, still shouting.

The yard was empty and far too quiet. The swings on the playset swayed listlessly, no boyish laughter spilled from the fort and the trucks in the sandbox were stalled out.

Aiden had raced to the playset when she’d dropped him off this morning while Rachel’s twin boys, a year older than Aiden, had been carving ruts in the sandbox with their dump trucks.

As she turned for the kitchen door, her heart leaped into her throat. The door had been forced open, the doorjamb a splintered mess above and below the lock. Her phone rang in her hand as she debated whether or not to call for help.

“Hello?”

“If you call the police, I’ll send the kid back to you in pieces,” a man said.

She blinked and turned her face to the sun in an effort to erase the terrifying images the rough, mean voice created.

“Mommy!”

Aiden’s voice carried over the line, bringing her a rush of relief along with the pain of knowing a stranger held her son hostage. “Let me talk to him,” she pleaded.

“Sure thing. Just as soon as his father toes the line. I want my property and an apology to go with it.”

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