Hazy, uncertain rays of dawn filter in through the ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall glass window of this Marriott Hotel Suite. At this early hour, the expansive view of Irvine is still dim, but even without light, luxury has the power to make you think you’re on top of the world.
“Invincible,” says Vlad, mostly to himself. “That’s me!”
At the sound of his voice, Betty comes in, wearing little more than her sweetest smile. “Invincible!” she chimes in. “That’s you!”
He growls, “Have you no shame? Put something on, woman! My men are just about to come in, any moment now.”
She picks up a silk robe, wraps herself in it, sways her hips as she circles my wheelchair, and smiles at him as if expecting a compliment, or at least a good word, which he doesn’t bring himself to give.
Instead, Vlad leans closer to the glass and points out the smoke, swirling up from several private properties out there, in the most affluent parts of the city.
“Well, well, well,” he says. “These mighty Americans, they can’t survive even a few hours without electricity. Their world-renowned success relies on something quite fragile.”
“Technology. So now—poof!—it’s gone! All because of me!”
“You’ve done it, Vlad,” says Betty in her most flattering tone, while wheeling me into some dark space.
At first I think it’s a closet, but once my eyes adjust I think I see a bed. On the other side of it hangs a heavy curtain, designed to block daylight.
Turning to leave, she bangs the door behind her so it comes to a close. Almost.
Now his voice comes somewhat muffled. “See? Out there!”
She must be batting her eyelashes. “See what?”
“With no heat in their homes, some of them resort to setting small fires in their own backyards and huddling around the flames.”
“Wow, Vlad! I’m so impressed! This is totally like being in a time machine. You’ve taken this city back to the Middle Ages!”
I turn the wheelchair, get near the bedroom door, and kick it to a close, so as not to hear them anymore. On one hand, I’m delighted to be able to maneuver around the space. On the other, I’m sad. I miss my dog, Browny. I miss cuddling with him, throwing a stick for him to fetch, sinking my nose into his golden hair. Will I ever play with him again?
Betty and Vlad are talking outside the bedroom. I need silence. I need to think. Escape is on my mind.
The bedroom itself is quiet, if not for the sudden, startling sigh.
“Stars,” says a voice.
“Pa?” I ask.
“Stars,” he says, in a slurred manner. “Everywhere.”
Up to this moment, I’ve thought that seeing stars is nothing more than a form of speech, flowery at best—but for my Dad, they seem real. By his faint groans, he is watching them erupt in full sparkle, a result of being punched in his head by those aggressive Russian goons.
Guided through the darkness by his voice, I wheel myself closer to Pa. He lies prostrate on the cover of the hotel bed, his hands still tied tightly with a rope behind him. I reach for his wrist, and just hold it for a while. If not for this touch, I would feel lost.
I think about what has happened to him and to Ma. Wondering if she’s still alive, I am overcome by an overwhelming sense of grief—but then I figure, this is not the right time. Let me focus on what I can do at this moment for Pa.
I fumble about till I manage—with a tremble in my fingers—to loosen his knot.
Pa is barely moving, barely responding to my kiss on his forehead, where he has a large bump. He seems dizzy. Still, he may be aware of me, even if he can’t bring himself to show it. I know. Been there, done that, learned from experience. Underestimating someone just because he seems faint is a mistake.
So now, I have something even bigger than before on my mind: an escape for two.
★ Love Suspense? Go for the ride ★
(Volume I of Ash Suspense Thrillers with a Dash of Romance)
Ash Suspense Thrillers Trilogy Audiobook
Ash finds herself in the ER diagnosed with coma. She has no memory of what has happened to her, but what she can do--despite what everyone around her might think--is listen to the conversations of her visitors. Will she survive the power outage in the hospital and then, being kidnapped out of it?
It's that flirting with reality that makes this story such a compulsive read. Plot twists and suspenseful storytelling make this a book that you will have trouble putting down..
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