Excerpt

LOVE TO THE RESCUE

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Calgary, Canada

 For Amy MacArthur, starting the day with a seven a.m. dentist appointment was just asking for trouble.

She enjoyed a satisfying life: successful published author, local food bank volunteer, and gourmet cook who loved to entertain. Morning person, not so much.

“Thank goodness, that’s over with for another six months.” Amy closed the door on her tungsten-colored Lexus GX. She’d spent an hour in the dental hygienist’s chair with her mouth wide open and her eyes tightly shut having detested dental appointments since childhood. But she loved the sensation of running her tongue along her newly-polished teeth.

Amy searched for the house key on her key ring while walking up the curved sidewalk to her executive two-story home. As she climbed the three rounded cement steps leading to the front door, she noticed the Bleeding Heart planted in the flowerbed under the front window had bloomed overnight. And the row of red and yellow tulips waved hello to her in the mid-April morning breeze. Suddenly, the sun broke through the heavy cloud cover, instantly brightening her mood. Maybe the day wouldn’t be a total bust after all.

Amy turned the key in the deadbolt and opened one of the ornately-carved double doors. Normally, the small white plastic box on the wall would be emitting a steady welcome-home beep, a reminder to disarm the security system. But in the ensuing silence, she realized that in her barely awake state this morning she’d forgotten to set the alarm on her way out. She walked across the spacious tiled entryway and glanced into the living room.

Her heart almost stopped.

The cushions from the chocolate suede sectional sofa had been scattered across the mushroom-colored carpet, and the antique end tables were tipped over without any regard to their value. Pictures hung askew on the walls, the glass doors on the fireplace gaped open, and an upholstered side chair was tipped over onto the carpet. One lamp lay on the floor beside an end table, and another lay broken atop the fireplace hearth.

Oh my God, thought Amy. Someone broke into my home!

Suddenly, her women’s self-defense training kicked in. She silently backed out of the house and yanked her cell phone from the front pocket on her handbag. While she waited for the call to connect, she hurried past her SUV to the end of the driveway.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” asked a female voice.

“Someone broke into my house.” Amy’s knees threatened to buckle and she lowered herself onto the lawn. The snow had melted long ago, but the cool ground chilled her backside and legs through her jeans.

“Give me your address and I’ll send someone immediately,” instructed the dispatcher.

Amy recited the information while her heart pounded and adrenalin surged through her veins. “I’m waiting in front of my house in case someone is still inside.”

“That was a wise decision. I’ll stay on the line with you until the police arrive.”

The woman’s voice sounded comforting, but Amy couldn’t stop herself from shaking like a frightened kitten. A few minutes later, Amy heard the sound of sirens growing louder. A City of Calgary patrol car screeched around the corner and stopped in front of her house. Another unit pulled up a second later. Amy took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down.

A tall, slim female officer leapt out of the first unit, her brunette ponytail bouncing with each brisk step she took toward Amy. A male officer stepped out of the second unit and caught up to his female colleague. Amy had never been so thankful to see police officers in her life.

“Did you call 9-1-1?” asked the female officer, as Amy struggled to her feet.

“Yes. As soon as I walked in and saw the disarray in the living room, I backed right out and called.”

“Are you okay?” asked the extremely tall male cop, concern evident on his face.

“Just a little shook up by all this.” At five foot eight and wearing three inch heels, Amy stood with a half foot difference in height between them.

“Stay here while we check and ensure that the intruder isn’t still lurking on the premises,” ordered the male cop.

“Okay. Thank you.” Amy took another deep breath.

Both officers strode toward the house and drew their weapons. The male cop stepped through the front door while the female disappeared around the side of the house to the right where a gate led to the back yard.

When the officers rushed away, Amy suddenly felt totally alone and extremely vulnerable. And then she realized she still clutched her cell phone in her hand. “Hello?”

“Have the police arrived?” inquired the 9-1-1 operator.

“Yes, thank you. I’ll hang up now.”

Amy shifted to her other foot and then punched in another number.

“Cuts and Curls. May I help you?” inquired a familiar cheery voice.

“Leslie, my house was broken into.”

“Are you okay, Amy?”

“I’m all right. But Les, can you come over? Please?” Amy heard the desperation in her own voice.

“I just had a cancellation, and I can switch a few appointments around with the other girls. I’m on the way, Amy. Hang in there.” Her best friend hung up before she could reply with a thank you.

Amy had met Leslie Gibson, the new-girl-in-school, in kindergarten. Both of them were scrawny, knobby-kneed, and wore eyeglasses. They became instant friends while comparing scrapes and bruises from learning to ride their two-wheeled bicycles. No matter what happened in life, they’d had each other’s back ever since.

While she waited for her friend to arrive, Amy stood on the sidewalk, feeling totally lost. She hadn’t heard any noise coming from her house so perhaps the police hadn’t found anyone. She glanced at her watch, discovered only a few minutes had passed since she called the police.

It felt like ages.

Suddenly, someone clambered over the side of her five-foot wooden fence and landed on hands and knees on the ground.

Amy screamed. Long and loud.

He leapt to his feet, met her eyes. He wore torn jeans, grubby sneakers, and a black hoodie. Amy noticed his greasy dark blonde shoulder-length hair, extremely-pale and pimply complexion, and scruffy facial hair. His piercing black eyes sent a shiver of fear through her.

The teenager charged across the lawn, heading directly for her. Amy’s feet rooted themselves to the ground, her palms sweated, her heart pounded. Oh God, oh God, oh God. She had no idea what the damn kid intended to do to her. Did he have a knife? A gun? She just stood there, too terrified to move a muscle, too stunned to utter a word.

“What you lookin’ at, bitch? Forget you ever saw me.” The scrawny kid shoved her with unexpected strength, knocking her to the ground. “You tell the cops you can identify me, I’ll be back some night when you’re home alone,” he snarled before high-tailing it across the street.

The female officer emerged from the back yard and raced after the guy. A deafening siren broke the neighborhood’s late morning silence, and a second later, a patrol car appeared around the corner and sped past her house. Amy patted her chest willing her heartbeat to slow. Having your pulse race for this long couldn’t be a good thing.

The male cop stepped out of the front door, strode toward her, and helped her to her feet.

Amy stammered, “Some guy…just climbed over my fence…and took off. The other officer chased after him.”

“She radioed me when she spotted the suspect hiding beside your garden shed. Two other units responded to my call for assistance. I believe one of them is a K9 unit. Hopefully, they’ll catch him.” The cop took in Amy’s appearance. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

“I don’t think so. He just knocked me on my butt before he took off down the alley.”

“I’m Constable Kevin Robertson. Are you the homeowner?”

“Yes. Amelia MacArthur. Everyone calls me Amy.”

“Did you phone your husband?” asked Robertson, glancing at the cell phone in her hand.

“I’m a widow. I’m the only person living at this address.” Amy took a deep breath, reminding herself the intruder was gone and she was safe. “But I did call my best friend.”

“That’s fine. The house is clear, but I need you to come inside to report what’s missing.” Constable Robertson stood at her side, waiting for her to comply with his request.

“Sure. I’ll check the house right away.” Amy pulled her shoulders back, demonstrating greater control of her emotions than she felt.

A familiar red Mustang pulled onto the driveway and parked behind Amy’s SUV. Her petite friend leapt out of the vehicle and raced toward Amy as quickly as her purple high heels would carry her. The successful salon owner’s spiked hair matched the color of her shoes.

“Amy, are you okay?” Leslie asked breathlessly. “A police cruiser raced by me a minute ago, and it scared the hell out of me.”

Amy decided her friend had been as rattled by the incident as she had. Leslie had forgotten to shed her black stylist’s smock and her face appeared flushed from her haste. “Yes, I’m fine, Les. Just a little shook up. I had a dentist appointment. I wasn’t even gone two hours…” Her hands fisted at her sides.

“I’m Constable Robertson.” The cop met the new arrival’s eyes.

“I’m sorry.” Amy shook her head. “This is Leslie Gibson.”

“Hello, Ms. Gibson.” The officer smiled but quickly returned to his business-like demeanor. “Could you come inside now, Ms. MacArthur? We really have to determine if anything was taken.”

Just then, a third police car pulled up in front of the house, and the female officer emerged from the front passenger door. The male who climbed her fence sat in the back seat, glaring at her. His hate-filled expression chilled Amy to the core and she turned away.

“Is he the person who climbed over your fence and knocked you down?” asked Constable Robertson.

For a brief moment, Amy considered lying. The little punk had frightened the daylights out of her with his threats. Since then, she’d composed herself and realized no delinquent teenager would control her mind or her life with his intimidation tactics. “Yes, that’s the guy.” Amy defiantly glared back at the thief while she spoke.

“She just identified him!” called Robertson to his colleague.

The female officer nodded, bent down and spoke to the driver, and then closed the passenger door. The police car pulled away from the curb and headed down the street.

She just identified him! Constable Robertson’s words sent a chill down Amy’s spine. Oh crap. What had she done? The burglar threatened to return some night if she identified him. Would he actually do it? Amy reached for Leslie’s hand, mouthed a silent ‘thank you for coming’.

“Ms. MacArthur, this is Constable Sally Wilson.” Constable Robertson nodded toward the approaching female cop. The rest of the introductions were made and acknowledged while Amy and Leslie followed the police officers into the house.

“Ho…ly…cow…” Leslie stepped into the living room. “What a mess!”

“I know. This is what I discovered when I walked in the door.” Amy clasped her friend’s hand a little tighter.

Everyone wandered through the living room into the adjoining family room. Amy noticed most of her prized book collection had been pulled off the long row of built-in oak bookcases. The contents of the entertainment center cupboards—dozens of magazines, CDs, DVDS and video games—had been emptied into a pile on the hardwood floor. The flat screen TV, Wii gaming system and DVD player stood untouched, but several cushions sat askew on the twin sofas angled toward the TV. Two upholstered chairs had been upended onto the rectangular Oriental rug.

“Thank goodness you weren’t at home when the guy did this. You could have been hurt or worse.” Leslie squeezed Amy’s hand.

Amy felt herself pale as she recalled the hate-filled expression in the suspect’s eyes.

“It’ll be okay,” encouraged Leslie.

“It looks like a tornado touched down. My beautiful home…” Amy fought back tears as she met Constable Wilson’s eyes. “My late husband used an inheritance from his grandparents for the down payment on this house, the year he set up his oilfield consulting firm. Allan loved the house and the yard so much. I’m just thankful he’s not here to see this.” She brushed a tear off her cheek.

Upon Allan’s death, the insurance paid the mortgage and the home had become hers. Coupled with his life insurance and other assets he’d willed to her, she would never want for anything. Except him. But she’d almost resigned herself to the idea of moving on with her life, although such thoughts frightened the daylights out of her.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Ms. MacArthur. Did your husband pass recently?” asked Wilson.

Amy heard the compassion in the other woman’s voice. “Killed by a drunk driver, two years ago this September. Thank you for asking.”

“Do you notice anything missing?” asked Constable Robertson.

“Everything is tossed around or turned over, but I haven’t noticed anything gone.” A strand of blonde hair had escaped from her ponytail, and Amy brushed it off her face and tucked it behind her ear. More tears threatened to fall as she gazed around the room, surveying the disaster.

“Let’s check the dining room and kitchen,” suggested Leslie, patting Amy’s hand.

“Okay.”

The second they entered the formal dining room, Amy gasped. An ornamental gray stone from the backyard’s raised flowerbed lay in the middle of the dark-stained hardwood floor. Scattered piles of broken glass from the gaping hole that had been one of the glass deck doors crunched beneath their shoes. Amy cringed, spotting the damage the razor-edged shards were doing to the floor.

“That explains how the little punk got in here,” she spat through clenched teeth. “How dare he invade my home like this?”

Her eyes riveted to her great grandmother’s mahogany table. Thankfully, it appeared unharmed. “When I paid my Avon lady last night, I left my change—about thirty dollars—sitting on the table there.”

“Okay. The suspect must have snuck into the backyard, peeked in the window, spotted the money, and decided to break in,” deduced Constable Robertson. “He probably figured if the security alarm sounded, he’d have plenty of time to grab the cash and disappear before we arrived. Anything else?”

Amy trailed her hand along the cherished antique table on her way toward the kitchen. The second set of sliding glass deck doors off the kitchen remained intact, but almost every oak cupboard door stood ajar. Drawers hung open or lay on the cork floor. She glanced around the room. “From what I can see, everything has been rummaged through, the same as the living room and family room, as if he was searching for something.”

Amy poked her head into the small room off the kitchen that served as an office. “I’m a writer, and I carry my computer with me everywhere along with my ereader.” She held up the oversized leather purse, just realizing now that the wide strap was still hooked over her shoulder. “He searched my filing cabinet, rifled through the papers on my desk, and tossed things every which way. Even the Murphy bed I’ve seldom used has been pulled down.”

Amy noticed the female officer exchange a look with Constable Robertson.

Sally Wilson met Amy’s eyes. “We should check upstairs, too.”

“Ms. Gibson, please stay here and answer a few questions.” Constable Robertson’s tone indicated it was an order and not a suggestion.

Amy glanced over her shoulder at Leslie and shrugged before heading down the hallway toward the curved staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms. “What was that about?” she asked, meeting the female officer’s eyes.

“Sometimes a single woman’s home is targeted by…”

“A pervert,” whispered Amy, finally catching on. Fearful that she might discover lingerie missing from her dresser, she climbed the stairs to the second floor with lead-weighted feet. At least there’d be a female officer looking over her shoulder when she examined her underwear drawers.

Amy walked directly to her bedroom and approached her dresser. She took a deep breath. She grabbed an ornamental metal handle in each hand, eased open the top drawer, and peeked inside. Her bras and panties lay in neat piles, folded just like she’d left them on laundry day.

“Is anything missing?” Officer Wilson stepped closer.

Amy shook her head and checked the other drawers that contained nightgowns, camisoles, slips, pantyhose. “Nothing has been touched,” she confirmed aloud, breathless with relief.

“Good. I didn’t expect so, but you never know. We should check out the entire top floor.”

The officer stood by and observed while Amy checked the master bedroom walk-in closet and peeked inside the rest of her bureau drawers. Thankfully, she’d made the bed this morning and tidied the bathroom after her shower. Habits ingrained by her mother, a meticulous housekeeper for most of her life. Until the tragedy struck. Amy shook off the bad memories; she wouldn’t go there now.

“Nothing appears to be disturbed or missing.” Amy met Officer Wilson’s eyes. “Perhaps the intruder heard me pull into the driveway and fled before making it upstairs,” she speculated.

“Certainly could be the case.” Sally Wilson nodded in agreement. “Check the medicine cabinets. Do you have any prescription drugs he may have helped himself to?”

“There’s nothing he’d want, unless he can get high on multi-vitamins and birth control pills.” Amy remembered she’d shared the fact she was a widow. “Debilitating cramps,” she added.

“Been there.” Sally smiled, understanding. “It’s highly unlikely anything is missing then.”

After they inspected the other three bedrooms and the bathrooms including both medicine cabinets and discovered nothing amiss, Amy and Sally returned to the kitchen where Constable Robertson was talking with Leslie.

“Maybe the kid targeted the wrong house?” suggested Constable Robertson, exchanging glances with Wilson.

“What do you mean?” asked Leslie, wrapping a supportive arm around Amy’s waist.

“There was a known drug house on the next street over, same house number.”

“A drug house in this neighborhood. You’ve got to be joking,” blurted Amy.

“No joke. We shut the drug house down a week ago, but maybe all the riffraff on the street haven’t gotten the word yet. The punk we just arrested certainly hadn’t.” Constable Robertson shrugged. “Or he just broke in when he spotted the cash on the dining room table and turned your place upside down looking for more money or drugs.”

“Does that mean this won’t happen again?” Amy felt herself pale.

The intruder’s menacing words rang in her ears: You tell the cops you can identify me, I’ll be back some night when you’re home alone. Amy’s heartbeat quickened. She was home alone every night. Obviously, the kid hadn’t been observing her house for any length of time, or he would know she lived alone. He just assumed more than one person would inhabit such a large house.

Should she confide in the officers? Tell them about the kid’s threats? Or was the little thief just trying to frighten her with empty words? The police arrested him and hauled him away. Surely, he’d remain incarcerated. Unless the judge released him on bail or into parental custody? Oh God, if he was released, what was stopping him from delivering on his threat?

Not. One. Damn. Thing.

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