Excerpt Book Two

Escape to Alaska Trilogy

Excerpt from Book Two

 ALMOST DOESN’T COUNT

Chapter 1

 

What sinful misdeed had she committed to deserve this?

Jeannie St. James gazed across the panoramic view of the bright lights of Chicago’s Old Town through her apartment’s picture window on this beautiful snowy March night. She turned and paced soundlessly across the carpeted living room floor.

When Brent Masters encountered her in the elevator at Donahue, Charles and Bennett Law Firm on their way home—they’d both worked well past seven o’clock—he suggested dinner. The impromptu date, if you could call it a date, culminated with a glass of wine at her place. And then he requested the use of her facilities before heading home.

She checked her watch. Quarter to twelve. Twenty minutes had passed, and her date still remained ensconced in her bathroom.

What’s taking him so long?

A tremor of unease raised goosebumps on her bare arms.

Brent passed the bar exam last year and practiced law at the firm where she worked as an administrative legal assistant to the junior partner, Mr. Bennett. Brent’s stunning good looks and crazy sense of humor placed him at the top of his female co-workers’ most eligible bachelors list.

“If he doesn’t soon vacate my bathroom, he’s slipping several notches down my list,” Jeannie muttered aloud. She waited another five minutes, pacing the whole time, and then threw up her hands and strode down the hallway.

“Thanks for dinner, Brent,” she called through the closed bathroom door. “Welcome change from my usual microwave entree and Sudoku puzzles. The evening’s been fun, but my boss requested a six a.m. start tomorrow. Are you going to be much longer?”

Her date mumbled something—Jeannie couldn’t distinguish the words—from behind the closed door.

“I didn’t catch that.” Jeannie paused in the hallway for another minute, anticipating his exit.

Had her co-worker contracted food poisoning or something, she wondered? She immediately ruled out that possibility; they’d both ordered the Veal Parmigiana at Armando’s. And Brent had mumbled something through the door, so he hadn’t passed out or suffered a heart attack.

She kicked off her shoes, pulled the pins out of her French twist, and then finger combed her long blonde hair. Everyone at work adored Brent. Her fun-loving co-worker seemed like an annoying big brother to her, but preparing for bed while he remained in her apartment felt totally inappropriate. Her bedtime routine would have to wait.

When he still remained entrenched in her bathroom, she knocked loudly on the door “Will you please hurry up? I insist you leave now!” she shouted.

Suddenly, Brent Masters whipped open the bathroom door sending it crashing against the inside wall. When he charged into the hallway, Jeannie just stood there too shocked to move. What the hell was wrong with him?

“How dare you shout orders at me?” Brent’s face contorted with rage, and he slapped her face with such force she fell back against the wall. He savagely grabbed her right arm and twisted it behind her back.

“What is the matter with you?” Jeannie’s eyes watered from his vicious slap. Brent’s sudden aggression stunned her. Jekyll had politely requested the use of her bathroom and Hyde had stormed out.

An instant later, Brent’s expression changed to a horrifying, insane grin. Jeannie attempted to yank her arm free, but he tightened his grip further until she was totally immobilized.

“We’re going to end the evening my way.” Brent tore her blouse open sending tiny pearl buttons flying in every direction and exposing her strapless black bra. Cursing loudly, he dragged her into the bedroom.

Before she could react, he threw her onto the bed, grabbed her skirt in both hands, and ripped the flimsy material off. Her lower body was barely covered in black panties and a short half slip. With superhuman strength, Brent painfully whipped her arms behind her back again and pushed her face down into the bedcovers. He fell on top of her and then fumbled with the zipper on his fly.

Jeannie turned her face sideways, avoiding suffocation, desperately gasping for air. Brent’s familiar aftershave filled her nostrils. The spicy scent that she’d considered so enticing over dinner now sickened her. Her stomach flipped over. She swallowed hard.

Fear raced up her spine like mercury in a thermometer on a hot summer day when she realized her co-worker’s intentions. Date rape. She’d heard about such ugly occurrences, but she’d never imagined it could happen to her.

“Let me go!” she yelled, struggling and successfully twisting out of his hold.

Jeannie emitted an ear-piercing scream.

In a moment of mental lucidity, she recalled the seminar at the community center on women’s self-defense training. As she continued to struggle, the female cop’s voice echoed in her head: try to remain calm, keep your wits about you, and if possible, fight.

Brent slapped her face again, hard. “Stop it!”

“Go to hell,” she growled at him.

Brent wasn’t armed; she hadn’t seen any evidence he possessed a knife or gun. Fright turned into anger. She wasn’t being violated, she decided. For the first time in her life, she thanked God for bestowing her with a size fourteen, five foot eight inch body, and a matching plus-size will-to-survive.

Jeannie struggled underneath Brent’s weight, instinctively remembering some of the moves she’d learned in the self-defense course. Somehow she managed to turn onto her back. But her attacker anticipated every move, and she missed the intended target between his legs.

“I’m warning you. Stop fighting me.” Brent’s fist grazed her cheek as she moved to avoid his punch.

Her arms were pinned above her head preventing any attempt at eye gouging. Tears welled in her eyes; she’d never felt so frustrated in her life. Attempting to loosen his grip on her, she squirmed with all her might and screamed bloody murder. Brent abandoned his zipper and wrapped his right hand around her throat.

Oh God! Would Brent strangle her? Was he capable of killing her? Should she stop fighting him off and submit to the horrific violation of her body to save her life?

And then she heard someone pounding on the apartment door. “Jeannie?” called a familiar voice.

“Help!” she screamed.

Brent wrestled with her, trying to cover her mouth with his hand. Jeannie remembered the door was unlocked, and she whipped her head to the side and screamed a second time. “Help me! Help!”

A second later, the English gentleman from the adjoining apartment raced into the bedroom. Mr. Davidson wielded a baseball bat high above his head, pure-white hair sticking straight up in several places. A loosely-tied short black cotton bathrobe revealed two pale knobby knees, and a pair of navy corduroy slippers covered his feet.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Leave her alone, or I’ll rearrange your bloody brains!” the old fellow yelled.

Brent loosened his grip the second the gentleman entered the bedroom, but the attacker quickly recovered, sprang up onto his knees, and pulled Jeannie in front of him on the bed. “Get out of here old man, if you know what’s good for you,” he sneered.

Jeannie elbowed Brent in the stomach and scrambled off the bed. The ends of her torn blouse flapped about her middle, and she desperately attempted to cover herself. “He might be seventy-three, but he’ll carry through with his threat.” Jeannie recalled the spry retired gentleman still utilized the apartment’s basement gym five days out of seven.

Mr. Davidson glowered at Brent, swinging the bat at Brent’s head but missing when his intended target ducked. The old fellow quickly recovered his balance and waved the bat in a threatening manner. “Get out of here before I call the police.”

Brent uttered a colorful curse and then glared at Jeannie. “I thought you craved a little action? That’s what you told Debbie at the office.” He clambered off the bed and stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

The full realization of what might have transpired tonight hit her, and her entire body shook violently. He could have raped her; he could have killed her. For a moment, she thought she’d be sick. She swallowed hard.

What had triggered such uncharacteristic behavior in him? A man she’d liked, a man she’d trusted? She thought she’d known Brent, but obviously, he’d hidden a dark side that she would never have suspected he possessed.

“Are you all right, love?” Mr. Davidson dropped the bat on the carpeted floor and steadied Jeannie while she stumbled out to the living room and flopped onto the black leather sofa. “That was a bloody stupid question. Of course, you’re not all right.”

“Thank you for rescuing me,” whispered Jeannie, tearfully, wrapping her arms across her chest. She felt herself blush profusely, cursed the low-cut Victoria’s Secret bra which barely concealed her breasts from her neighbor’s gaze. The half slip rode up her thighs and revealed a good portion of her lower body. She’d never felt so exposed, so naked while still clothed.

Always the gentleman, Mr. Davidson grabbed the throw off the sofa and handed it to Jeannie. “Here you go, love.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. Had he read her thoughts from her expression? With trembling hands, she tucked the soft fabric around her body, still feeling chilled to the core.

“Fastest my old heart’s been pumping in awhile.” Mr. Davidson patted his chest and flopped down beside her. “But I’ll be right as rain in a minute.”

“Mr. Davidson, thank you,” she repeated. Thank you was all she seemed able to come up with, and the words seemed so inadequate for what he’d done. Her own heart beat so rapidly, she thought it might jump out of her chest, and her vision remained clouded with tears.

“Nonsense, love.” Mr. Davidson patted her arm. “The wife and I just turned off the tellie and tottered off to bed when we heard you screaming. The missus ordered me over here to check on you. I thought perhaps a mouse ran across your foot or something. Never imagined I’d encounter a rat in your apartment instead.”

Jeannie had never been so frightened in her life. She brushed at her tears and the cotton throw slipped onto the floor. “I never want to see that rat again, but I’ll have to face him tomorrow at work. I don’t know how I’ll manage it,” she confessed. She picked the throw up off the floor, wanting to hide under it and hope she’d wake to discover this had all been a bad dream.

“I’m calling 9-1-1. That miserable rat isn’t getting away scot free,” insisted Mr. Davidson. “The man should be thrown in jail.”

Jeannie attempted to voice her objections—she felt totally embarrassed and extremely ashamed about the whole incident. But Mr. Davidson wouldn’t hear of it. Detective Barker and her female partner, Detective Coulter, arrived at Jeannie’s apartment door within ten minutes.

The CSI team arrived a few minutes later and insisted upon confiscating her clothing. Jeannie changed into navy sweats and a gray t-shirt. Grimacing with embarrassment, she handed over her clothes. The two men and one woman continued to scour the apartment for fingerprints and other evidence to prosecute the alleged perpetrator.

An APB for Brent Masters’ arrest was issued.

A half hour later, Jeannie sat huddled in the far corner of the sofa, legs pulled up, arms resting on her knees, chin on her arms. Someone had wrapped the throw from the sofa around her shoulders, but she couldn’t recall who. Still, she couldn’t stop shaking. Someone handed her a glass of ice water, but the cool beverage barely soothed her scratchy throat after answering dozens of questions for Detective Barker, the officer in charge.

“All finished, Jeannie. I hope my testimony helps.” Mr. Davidson lumbered back into the living room from the kitchen after supplying Detective Coulter with his statement to corroborate Jeannie’s accounting of the events.

“Thank you for your help.” Jeannie patted the sofa, and her neighbor lowered himself down next to her.

Jeannie was so thankful to have Mr. Davidson at her side like a devoted father throughout the entire ordeal. Without a living relative to her name—her deceased parents met as young children in an orphanage—she appreciated his kindness. When she’d asked about his life in England, he would only admit to being retired from Scotland Yard. Jeannie’s vivid imagination envisioned him employed in a dashing career, perhaps as an international spy.

“Mr. Davidson appears quite weary. If his presence is no longer required, Detective Coulter, could you please suggest he return home?” asked Jeannie.

“Don’t you worry about me, love.” Mr. Davidson smiled at Jeannie, fondly.

Detective Coulter met the kindly old fellow’s eyes. “Let’s wait for Detective Barker’s update first, okay?”

Just then Detective Barker returned to the living room and stuffed her cell phone into her pocket. “I’ve just been notified that Brent Masters was arrested, Miss St. James.”

“At home?” whispered Jeannie, reaching for Mr. Davidson’s hand.

“Yes. Two officers arrested Mr. Masters without incident.” Detective Barker returned to the rocking chair opposite the sofa where she’d relentlessly drilled Jeannie for the past thirty minutes. “Shall I resume the questions, Miss St. James? Or do you require a break?”

“No.” Jeannie sighed, waving off the police officer’s concern. “Let’s continue. I need to get this over with.”

“Hel…lo,” called Mrs. Davidson, as she slipped through the open door and entered Jeannie’s apartment. She wore a shabby off-white chenille bathrobe and fuzzy dark blue slippers. Her face was bare of makeup, and small pink plastic hair rollers covered her entire head beneath a thin silky scarf.

“How are you holding up, dear? I’ve brought some tea and biscuits with me.” Mrs. Davidson set the tea tray on the coffee table, poured tea into a yellow rose-patterned china cup and handed it to Jeannie. “Help yourself to a biscuit, love.”

The kind-hearted woman’s eyes scanned the room. “Would anyone else like a cup of tea?”

“No thank you,” responded both police officers in unison.

“Muriel believes a cup of tea will solve everything.” Mr. Davidson winked at his wife. “None for me either, love.”

“I’ll share a cup with you, Jeannie.” Mrs. Davidson poured her tea, added milk and sugar, and then seated herself on Jeannie’s other side.

Momentarily sandwiched between her two neighbors—she’d gotten to know them so well they seemed like family—Jeannie felt safe for a fleeting moment. She attempted a few sips of tea but her hands shook so badly she abandoned the effort and continued answering the police officer’s questions.

While Detective Barker answered a call on her cell phone, Jeannie turned to Mrs. Davidson and explained, “I insisted on providing my written statement tonight while the events remain fresh in my mind. Besides, there’s another twelve-hour work day awaiting me at the office tomorrow.”

“If I was you, I’d think twice about going into the office, love.” Mrs. Davidson wrapped a comforting arm around Jeannie’s shoulders. “I’m sure your employer will understand.”

“I’ll see how I feel in the morning,” she answered, a weak smile accompanying her little white lie. She had no intention of missing work and disappointing her boss. And it would be better than staying in this apartment with the frightening memories of what transpired tonight.

She’d been assigned to work for the junior partner less than a year ago after Cassidy Donahue suddenly jumped ship and relocated to Anchorage. Mr. Bennett seldom asked her to work late, and two days in a row wouldn’t kill her. And with Brent under arrest there would be no chance of her running into him.

“Okay. Let’s wrap this up for tonight.” Detective Barker handed Jeannie the report. “Please read over this statement, amend anything I’ve recorded incorrectly, and then sign it.”

Jeannie perused the statement, corrected one item, and signed the document. And then mercifully, everyone departed.

Yawning loudly, she wandered into her bedroom and slipped out of the sweat pants and t-shirt. She rummaged in the bureau’s bottom drawer, located a floor-length, floral-print, flannel granny gown—at the time, an unappreciated Christmas gift courtesy of her now deceased mother—and then donned the unflattering nightwear, savoring its warmth.

Would she ever feel warm again? Would she ever feel safe? For the third time, she returned to the living room and checked the apartment door to ensure it was locked and the security chain firmly in place.

She returned to her bedroom and stood beside the bed. Recalling how roughly she’d been treated, she shivered. Unable to face the prospect of sleeping in her bed, she pulled a quilt off the chaise longue in the corner, grabbed a pillow, and wandered into the living room. She settled herself on the sofa with her back braced against the sofa’s arm, drew her knees up, and clasped her pillow to her chest. A minute later, she lost the battle she’d bravely waged with her emotions after everyone left. Tears streamed down her cheeks again and fell onto the pillow while she bawled uncontrollably.

Jeannie remembered hearing Brent utter something about her wanting some action. Had Brent eavesdropped on private coffee break conversations? She recalled complaining to Debbie about being single, and 30, with no relationship prospects on the horizon. How had Brent construed her innocent comment to mean ‘craving a little action’? The thought that his obviously warped mind considered date rape a feasible solution triggered a renewed batch of tears.

She could still smell his aftershave on her body. She raced into the bathroom, pulled the nightgown over her head and stood in the steaming shower for several minutes, all the while sobbing uncontrollably. Would the shame she felt wash down the shower drain with her attacker’s scent?

Mr. and Mrs. Davidson had suggested she sleep at their apartment in the guest bedroom tonight. “I shouldn’t…have declined…their offer,” she whispered aloud between sobs. “I won’t… sleep a wink.”

An hour later, she dried her body, her hair, and her tears and then snuggled under the quilt in a clean pair of sweats and a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt. She purposefully neglected to switch off the lamp.

“Maybe you’re over-reacting, Jeannie,” she scolded herself.

When she’d thought about it, she questioned whether a crime had been committed? Was scaring the bejesus out of someone and tearing some clothing a serious crime? The incident report recorded the episode as an ‘attempted’ date rape. Could someone be convicted of an attempted crime? Attempted didn’t sound that serious to her.

“You were almost date raped,” she reminded herself. Her deceased father’s expression about ‘close only counted in horseshoes’ popped into her mind. If that was true, then logically, close calls shouldn’t count either. So why was she being such a crybaby?

Almost doesn’t count.

And then she groaned aloud.

How would she face her co-workers in the morning when everyone learned the up-and-coming new attorney Brent Masters was incarcerated, and it was all her doing? Would anyone believe her versions of the evening’s events?

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks!” she shouted into the empty apartment. She hated Brent Masters for what he’d done, what he’d taken from her—her sense of safety and security in her own home. She hoped he rotted in jail forever, or better still, she wished someone would just shoot him dead. Maybe then she’d feel safe again.

****

 

At six o’clock sharp the next morning, Jeannie stepped into the elevator in the tower housing the law offices of Donahue, Charles and Bennett. While she rode to the executive top floor, she glanced into the elevator’s mirrored wall and realized she looked like death warmed over. Dark circles under her eyes from no sleep and a blotchy face from crying an ocean of tears reflected back at her. Thankfully, she shouldn’t encounter anyone except Mr. Bennett at this hour. She could sneak into her office and bury herself in a mountain of work.

She rounded the turn in the hallway and froze in her tracks. All three partners in the law firm, dressed for the day in suits, white shirts and ties, stood outside Mr. Bennett’s office. At first, the gentlemen didn’t notice her, deep in conversation. And then, Mr. Donahue spotted her.

“Miss St. James!” he shouted.

Jeannie grimaced. Oh no, she thought, now you’ve done it. You’re in trouble girl.

Mr. Donahue silently strode down the carpeted hallway and stood before her blocking her way. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“I…Mr. Bennett…wanted me to start work…at six o’clock,” she stammered. Was Mr. Donahue, the firm’s senior partner, intent on firing her? Maybe calling the police would prove a mistake, if having Brent arrested cost her the job she loved.

“You shouldn’t have come to work…”

“Am I fired?” blurted Jeannie. And then she felt herself blush, realizing she’d interrupted her superior in midsentence.

“Why on earth would you be fired?” Mr. Donahue led her by the shoulders into the nearest office, guided her toward an upholstered chair. “I received a call from a close friend with the police department last night, informing me one of the firm’s lawyers was arrested. I rushed down to help the fellow out. But then I learned what he’d done.”

“What Mr. Masters attempted to do to you is unforgivable,” stated Mr. Bennett. “Brent Masters has been dismissed from this firm, effective immediately.”

Jeannie’s shoulders slumped. The firm’s partners fired Brent, and everyone would blame her. Would anyone believe easy-going, fun-loving Brent was capable of acting so out-of-character? Or would her co-workers assume she led him on, sent him mixed signals? She should never have let Mr. Davidson call the police.

“Brent didn’t….I mean nothing actually…” Jeannie unwound the scarf from around her neck and opened the buttons on her black wool coat.

“Miss St. James, we’ve read the police report. The man maliciously assaulted you! He tore your clothing, manhandled you in your own apartment. That bruise on your neck speaks volumes.” Mr. Bennett’s face reddened with anger.

Jeannie’s hand flew to her neck. She’d forgotten all about the bruise, or she would have worn a turtleneck top this morning.

“This firm intends to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. We’d never tolerate such behavior from an employee, especially toward a co-worker. Please go home. We insist you take a week off, with pay of course. Rest up and recover from this ordeal. A professional counselor will be provided at the firm’s expense.” Mr. Donahue stood behind the chair, rubbed her shoulders in the same affectionate manner she’d seen him doing with his daughter Cassidy on numerous occasions.

“I’d just as soon forget the whole incident ever happened. I don’t require a counselor, sir,” Jeannie stated, bravely, but the tremor in her voice belied her conviction.

“We cannot sweep the matter under the rug, Miss St. James.” Mr. Charles, the third partner piped up. “We’re pressing charges on your behalf. Mr. Masters will be duly punished, if we have any say in the matter.”

At her bosses’ insistence, Jeannie buttoned her coat and rode the elevator back down to the ground floor. She wandered out to the parking lot and climbed into Cassidy’s Porsche—her friend loaned her the car after her own ancient vehicle died. For several minutes, she stared out the windshield, seeing nothing. And then she locked the doors, covered her face with her hands, and burst into tears.

Her employers insisted she take the week off. Unfortunately, being sequestered in her apartment was the last place on earth she wanted to be.

But what could she do about it?

###

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