Peyton had heard enough, and she couldn’t stand being near the degenerate another minute. She reached for the recorder, but Drew was quicker. He grabbed it. Squinting at the tiny buttons, he figured out which one he needed to push to erase the conversation. That done, he tossed the recorder at her.

“Don’t look so disheartened,” he said, laughing. “I let you record me.”

Peyton dejectedly picked up the recorder and stood to leave.

“You’re young still, but you’ll learn,” he said, as though consoling her. “If you want to make it in this business, you’ll come around. And, Peyton, the next time I come to your motel room, you’d better let me in.”

She reached for the doorknob.

“Have you found an apartment yet?” he asked, stopping her.

“I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities.” It was a lie, but she thought she told it convincingly.

“Hurry up and make up your mind.”

She nodded and, without another word, pulled the door closed behind her. She wanted to smile but didn’t dare. She was becoming so paranoid she worried that someone could be watching her. She wouldn’t put it past Eileen to hide surveillance cameras around the office. Peyton had met the woman only once, but once was enough to see that she was every bit as vile as her husband. From what Peyton had learned, Eileen would go to any length to keep her husband happy and her father clueless. A fortune was riding on it.

Five minutes passed, and another five. Then Peyton reached into the little pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt and stopped the recording app on her smartphone.

Lars was down in the art department for the day, so Peyton sat alone in their cubicle trying to look busy. A half hour later, Drew walked past her announcing he was on his way to the cafeteria. As soon as the elevator doors closed, Peyton hurried to the file room. She pulled the phone from her pocket and sent the recording to her e-mail, as well as a copy to her sister Lucy. The message read: “Keep this safe for me.” Once that task was completed, she headed to the coat closet for her things.

Mimi looked up from her book when Peyton passed her desk. “What’s in the tote bag?”

“A change of clothes,” Peyton answered.

Mimi’s shoulders slumped. She knew what this meant. She followed Peyton down the hall to the ladies’ room, and once she was sure they were the only ones there, she said, “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too. I’ll call you later and tell you everything, and I’m sending you a little present. You’ll get a good laugh. Don’t let anyone but Lars hear it.”

While Peyton slipped into a pair of jeans and tennis shoes, Mimi acted as her valet, carefully folding her skirt and tucking it into the bag with her heels.

She gave Peyton a hug. “You keep in touch, you hear? I want to know how you’re doing. Promise me.”

“I promise.”

Peyton hated good-byes. She had become close to Mimi. In the short time she’d been in Dalton, the dear woman had become a very good friend.

“Tell Lars I’ll call him,” Peyton said as she rushed out the door.

She didn’t bother to go to HR to resign and get a paycheck because she knew they would insist that she sign a release, and she wasn’t about to do that. She took the stairs to the garage, and while her car was warming up, she sent the recording to Mimi.

Her anxiety didn’t lessen until she was on the highway. It was beginning to snow again, and the visibility was diminishing. The weatherman was calling for blizzard conditions. She almost laughed. Why not? she thought. She had come to Dalton in a blizzard, and she was leaving in a blizzard. It seemed fitting. The impending storm was not going to stop her. No matter what, she was getting away from Dalton. A few miles out of town the tension eased from her shoulders, and her stomach stopped hurting. The farther she drove, the happier she became.


Mimi was thrilled with Peyton’s gift. She held the phone tightly against her ear so that no one else could hear, and she burst into laughter several times while she listened to the recording. Lars heard the sounds coming from Mimi’s desk and came around the corner to see what she found so amusing. She had to play the recording for him, of course. Drew had gone to lunch, so Mimi took Lars into Drew’s office and shut the door for privacy, and since she wanted to hear it again, she played it on speaker. Mimi sat in a chair facing Drew’s desk and Lars leaned against the wall. Neither saw or heard Bridget open the door. She stood listening, and as soon as she realized what she was hearing, she whirled around and ran lickety-split to the cafeteria to tell. She would do anything to get Drew to pay attention to her, even if it meant losing Mimi’s friendship.

Drew didn’t take the news well. He stormed out of the cafeteria and back to his office to find out for himself if what Bridget had told him was true. He’d erased the recording, damn it. Did he hit the wrong button? No, he’d been careful. Or did Peyton have another device? He would find out when he confronted her.

Lars had gone back downstairs, and Mimi was all alone. She jumped when the door slammed against the wall and was just turning around when Drew grabbed her arm.

“Is there a recording? Bridget told me Peyton recorded a private conversation. Did she?”

Mimi pulled away. “Yes, she did. Would you like to hear it?”

He grabbed the phone from her desk and scrolled to find the message. He listened for only a few seconds before deleting the entire thing.

“Where is she?” he demanded. He was so angry his eyes bulged.

“On her way back to Texas.”

He roared a blasphemy as he dug into his pocket for his cell phone. The second his wife answered, he started yelling at her, telling her what had happened, and ending with, “Get her back here. I want her back here today!”

He disconnected the call and turned his wrath on Mimi. “Who else has heard it?”

Realizing that Bridget hadn’t told him about Lars, she answered, “No one.”

Drew stormed into his office, slammed the door, and called his wife again. Because he was still shouting, Mimi heard every word.

“Get her back here and make her sign a confidentiality agreement. I don’t care how you do it. I don’t want that recording going anywhere. And get into your father’s computer to make sure she didn’t send the recording to him. We’re toast if he hears it.” Silence, and then he shouted, “No, I don’t want to talk about what’s on it.”

Mimi decided now was a good time to go to lunch. She would eat her peanut butter sandwich in her car and call Peyton to warn her. She knew she was on the highway by now. Mimi disapproved of talking on the phone while driving, but this was an emergency. Peyton needed to be warned.

She trudged through the snow to get to her car because her parking spot was on the roof—another incentive from Drew and her ex to get her to quit. She sat freezing while she waited for the heater to come on. Her teeth were chattering as she dialed Peyton’s cell phone.

On the third ring, Peyton answered, and before she could finish saying hello, Mimi spoke. “They know,” she blurted. “Drew and Eileen know you recorded the conversation. Drew told Eileen to get you back here. I think she’ll send Parsons after you. Be on the lookout.”

“Who is Parsons?”

“Rick Parsons is the guy that does all their dirty work, and trust me, he’s bad news. They want you to come back and sign a release of some kind.”

Peyton tried to remain calm. “They were bound to find out sooner or later,” she replied. “Later would have been better. How did they find out so fast?”

“I’m so sorry, Peyton. I was playing the recording for Lars and I didn’t think anyone was around to hear it, but Bridget evidently did, and she ran to tell Drew. Did you hear me say that Parsons might be coming after you?”

“I heard you. I can’t do anything about it now. I’m in the middle of a snowstorm, and all I can concentrate on is staying on the road.”

“Are you close to Minneapolis? You could hide there for a while.”

“Yes, I’ll do that. Mimi, I thought I had time to figure out a way to get it to Randolph Swift, but now that Drew and Eileen know about it, maybe I’ll just stick it on the Internet. Everyone will see what kind of man Drew is, and I’ll be done with it.”

“Oh dear God, don’t do that,” Mimi warned. “Once you put it out there, you lose all control and any leverage you’d have. You never know what some sick person might do with it. There was a case just last year in a town about fifty miles east of here. A mother was fed up with her son being bullied at school, so she recorded the bully going after her kid and put it on the Internet thinking that would put an end to it. What happened instead was that she was made out to be the villain, going after this poor innocent kid. She was even accused of doctoring the recording. And to make matters worse the bully’s family went after the mom and sued her. As I recall, they ended up settling out of court, but that was after months of trying to prove the truth and thousands of dollars in legal fees. It was a real mess. Trust me. If Drew can turn this around on you, he will. He’ll say you manufactured the recording or he’ll make a joke, and before you know it, it will blow over and you won’t have accomplished a thing.” Peyton’s silence told Mimi she was becoming disheartened by what she was hearing. “I know it’s tempting and you want to expose Drew, but you don’t want this to backfire on you.”

“You’re right,” Peyton admitted.

“Besides,” Mimi continued, “Randolph Swift is a decent man who spent a lifetime building his company, and he doesn’t deserve to have it destroyed because of his pervert son-in-law. If the horrible things that were being said about his wife went out for public ridicule, it would crush him.”

“Okay, I’ll hold on to it.” She looked in the rearview mirror. There wasn’t a car in sight. “What kind of car does this Parsons drive?”

“It’s a new pickup, a really big one. I don’t know the make or model. The color’s white,” she added, “which won’t help much in the snow, will it? You won’t see him coming. You’ve never met Parsons, have you?”


“He’s average-looking, I suppose. Dark brown hair, squinty eyes. He wears really ugly suits and ties.”

“Okay, then. I’ll be on the lookout for a white pickup, and if the driver has bad taste, I’ll know it’s Parsons.”

“Don’t be cavalier about this. He’s dangerous. I want you to be careful, and please, call me when you stop for the night.”

Peyton thought Mimi was overreacting, but she promised she’d be on guard. She wasn’t worried about anyone catching up with her. She had a good forty-five-minute head start, she estimated. How far would someone chase her in a snowstorm before giving up? And what would he do if he caught up with her? Honk until she pulled over? No, she wasn’t worried. Besides, her little Camry got good mileage, and she bet a huge pickup didn’t. The big ones had bigger tanks, but they were gas-guzzlers. She had a full tank and could go for a long time before having to stop.

A semi pulled onto the highway in front of her. She stayed behind him, using his taillights as her beacon. The snow decreased, but the wind picked up, howling and whining. The eerie noise reminded her of a ghost movie and the sound that came before the terror.

Her sister Lucy called a few minutes later. Peyton put her phone on speaker and laid it on her lap so she could keep both hands on the wheel.

Lucy’s greeting said it all. “Oh my God,” she shouted.

“I’m guessing you listened to the recording.”

“Oh, I listened, all right. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He threatened to rape you. At first, I thought it was a joke. Then I realized he was serious. That creep. You’re getting a lawyer and going after him, right?”

Before she could answer, Lucy made the decision for her. Peyton’s older sister was a problem solver. She felt she knew what was best for everyone. Sometimes that worked out, and sometimes it didn’t. “Of course you are. You’re going to smash him. You quit, didn’t you? After you reported him to Human Resources, did you—”

Peyton interrupted. “It’s a long story, and I’ll tell you everything later.”

“The way he sounded, so arrogantly sure of himself—you have to get away from him. Just get in your car and come home.”

“I’m on my way home now. Listen, please don’t tell Mom or Dad. I don’t want to deal with them just yet. May I stay with you until I figure out what to do?”

“Yes, of course.”

Peyton smiled. Lucy was so dependable. Even when she was bossing everyone around, you could count on her.

“I’ve got to start job hunting again, don’t I? This is all so demoralizing.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Remember that.”

“Let’s not talk about this anymore. Anything going on there?”

“Tristan MacBain is getting married. Did you know that already? Your invitation has been here for three weeks now. I kept meaning to tell you about it,” she added.

Hotshot’s brother was getting married. Peyton remembered Tristan. He’d always been such a serious boy. She wondered if he still was.

“The wedding’s here in Brentwood at Saint Michael’s. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?”

“Weddings remind Mom that she has three daughters she hasn’t married off yet.”

Lucy laughed. “She’s a throwback to the fifties, isn’t she?”

The semi was slowing for an exit, and her beacon would soon be gone. Should she follow him and find a spot to wait out the storm? The snow was coming down hard again.

“What’s that noise?” Lucy asked. “That whistling sound.”

“The wind,” Peyton answered. “It’s rocking the car. I’ve got to go,” she said, ending the call and dropping her phone into the console.

She didn’t hear the honking until he was almost on top of her. The driver was flashing his lights. Was it Parsons? Her back window was so fogged up she couldn’t see the color of the vehicle.

Whoever was driving was a maniac. When she didn’t immediately pull over, he gunned his engine and came up beside her, all the while continuing to honk and flash his lights. He nearly veered into her front bumper, but she kept right on driving. Obviously unhappy with her response to his demands, he zoomed ahead, cut over into her lane, and began to tap his brakes. He was trying to force her to stop, and had there been any other cars on the road, there would have been a collision. She should have been frightened, but she was too furious to feel any other emotion. She moved into the other lane and continued on. Copyright 2016 - 2024