First things first. Glancing around the store to confirm she was alone in it, she withdrew the tray of rings, slid off Jason’s silver band and replaced it with the art-deco piece Cab had picked out yesterday. Immediately sensation rushed over her, warm and bright and technicolored in its intensity. Exhilaration, happiness, comfort and an ineffable sense of homecoming flooded her body. She gazed at the ring, unable to believe it. She’d felt nothing when Jason slid his ring on her finger.
She picked up the phone and dialed, glancing time and again at the beautiful ring encircling her finger. “Emory? It’s Rose. Hey—something’s come up for me tomorrow and I need the day off.”
Fila took the pink cloth flats from her raincoat pockets, slid them on her feet and stuffed her sensible brown shoes in the old pocketbook with her burqa. She checked her watch. One minute, twenty seconds had passed.
Now the tricky part.
Squaring her shoulders, she opened the stall door and made her way to the mirror. She needed to ditch the pocketbook and its contents, but if she left them in the stall someone might see them and chase her down to return them to her. Or worse yet, someone might find them after she was gone and report an unattended bag to the airport security guards. The whole airport could shut down. She had to get her bag into the trashcan and out of sight.
With her small purse slung crosswise over her body, she rested the thick strap of her ungainly old pocketbook on her right shoulder. She lingered over the sink, washing her hands thoroughly and familiarizing herself with her new, startling appearance, until there was a break in the nearly non-stop traffic in the large ladies room. A quick glance around told her no one was looking. She stuffed the bag into a covered trash can placed under one of the automatic hand dryers, and as its lid swung closed, she realized she was almost done with this long, horrible chapter in her life.
All that remained was to walk out of the bathroom past her guards and disappear into the city beyond. Would it work? Or would they recognize her? None of these men had ever seen her without her burqa. The long skirt and clunky shoes she’d worn beneath it were gone. When they realized she’d shed her covering garment to escape, they’d search for a conservatively dressed dark-haired woman, not an oversexed blonde with blue eyes.
But could she really fool them? Or would they grab her as she walked past and drag her back to her imprisonment?
Her hands shook as she patted her wig into place again. She needed a sign, some talisman that this crazy scheme would really succeed; that she wasn’t about to make the worst mistake of her life.
Plan slowly, run fast.
She could wait no longer.
Just as she approached the door to the outer airport corridor, it swung open and six young women walked in. Laughing and chatting, they swarmed around her, four heading for the mirror and sinks, two branching off to enter stalls.
“Hurry up! We’ve got fifteen minutes to get to the AirTrain,” one of the girls by the mirror called out to her friends. Blond, tall and vivacious, she was obviously the ringleader.
Fila perked up. “The AirTrain?” she said aloud before fear could stop her. “That’s where I’m going, too.” She tried to match the girl’s perky voice, her American accent. “I’ve never been to this airport before. Can I follow you?”
The girl looked her over, exchanged a glance with one of her friends and Fila held her breath. Would they help her? Or had she just ruined everything?
A smile broke out over the young woman’s face. “Sure! This is our first time in New York City, too. The more the merrier!”
As the two women in the stalls came out, washed their hands and primped their hair, Fila positioned herself in the center of the pack. “I’m Karen,” she announced, using the fake name Anna had helped her devise. She hoped she sounded confident even though her stomach was tying itself into knots. Could she really do this? Walk outside past Wahid, Abdul and Mehran, the men charged with delivering her to her husband-to-be?
“I’m Carla,” the blonde answered. “Come on, everyone; let’s hurry!” She linked arms with Fila and led the way out the door. They moved so fast, Carla chatting the whole time, all Fila saw of the men who’d brought her here like a lamb to the slaughter was a flash of dark clothing and scowling, impatient faces.
None of them showed the slightest sign of recognition as she walked past within five feet of where they stood.
Cab pulled into the parking lot of the Chance Creek Pet Clinic and climbed out of his cruiser, happy to stretch his legs. Inside, Hannah Ashton sat behind the reception counter, her white-blond hair like a halo around her head, and Bella Chatham, the honey-blond veterinarian, leaned against it. The two women were obviously deep in conversation, but they both looked up when he entered. From the fast-food containers in evidence, they were finishing up a late lunch.
“Hope I’m not interrupting anything,” he said, taking off his hat.
“Nothing that won’t keep,” Bella said. “We’re just discussing bison.”
“Bison?” That wasn’t exactly what he had expected. He glanced around the empty waiting room. “You don’t care for cattle, do you?”
“No, that’s my brother’s specialty. We’re just talking about them in the abstract,” Bella assured him.
“So that’s what you ladies discuss when there aren’t any men around? Kind of a letdown.”
Hannah laughed, her blue eyes flashing. “It isn’t always bison. Sometimes it’s antelope.”
“Whew, it’s getting hot in here.” Cab pretended to wipe his brow.
Both women smiled. “What can we help you with, sheriff?” As usual, Bella’s hair was tucked high into a ponytail. It swung with her movements.
“Just checking in to make sure everything’s all right here. With you and that billionaire husband of yours staying in the Airstream I wondered if you might get any trouble.”
Bella shook her head. “I wondered the same, but so far it’s been quiet. Over the years I’ve had problems with kids trying to break into the shelter side of the operation, but that’s to get at the pets. I’ve never had anybody try to break into the trailer. I guess there was never a reason before. It wasn’t like I had anything to steal.” She shrugged. “It’s sort of strange to still live there now with Evan, but we haven’t found the right property where we can build our new place.”