She tried to slip past him. She knew she had to get out right away, find help for Max or it would be too late. But he seized her arm and forced her up against the vanity.
Feeling behind her, Emma searched for a weapon. But she didn’t wear hairspray, and she didn’t have much hope of finding anything else that might be useful among her cosmetics. When her hand closed around one of Max’s needles, however, her heart began to thump with hope. The needle was too fine and small to cause much damage. But in the right place…
Manuel’s hands circled her neck and he started choking her. She could tell by the look on his face that the effort was costing him. She’d injured his hand, but his anger seemed to compensate. She clawed at him with her free hand as he squeezed tighter and tighter. Soon her lungs began to burn and darkness hovered like a thick, descending fog….
“I…hate…you,” she managed to gasp.
When he gritted his teeth and leaned close to respond, she knew her opportunity had come. Whipping her hand around, she stabbed at him with the needle.
He cried out and staggered back, his hands covering his left eye, and she knew she’d gotten him where she needed to. “You b***h!” he shouted.
She dashed out of the bathroom. She had to find a better weapon. Something she knew would stop Manuel for good. Max could be seriously hurt. He needed her.
Manuel came stumbling after her, half-blind and cursing. Emma considered making a break for the door, but even if she could get out, her son might be gone by the time she could bring help.
She swerved into the kitchen instead, and grabbed the only weapon she could that might provide a more effective defense than the bat—a kitchen knife.
Manuel’s good eye glittered as he realized her intent. “It’s over,” he said. “You won’t live another five minutes.”
She felt the same determination. She’d soon be lying dead on the floor. Or he would.
“Then you’d better make it good,” she said, “because I’m not going down without a fight.”
The challenge seemed to surprise him. He stopped covering his eye and lunged at her. When she stabbed and missed, he caught her hair and sent her sprawling. As she fell, she hit her head on a corner of the cupboard and blacked out. But she couldn’t have been out for more than a second because she woke before he could touch her again.
There was no time to think. She could feel the knife flat against her body, beneath her, could hear him coming for her again. Forcing herself to lie still, she held her breath. He must have seen her lose consciousness. Hopefully, he’d believe she was still out.
Breathing heavily, he leaned over her. He kicked her in the side to see if she’d move, but she absorbed the pain and remained motionless. Then he reached down to turn her over, and she thought of Max lying on the bathroom floor. This would be her last chance to save her son, to save them both! Opening her eyes, she rolled to the right and plunged the blade deep into Manuel’s neck.
THE FRONT WINDOW of the motel room was shattered. Preston swayed on his feet, barely able to hold on to the gun in his hand. Fear numbed the pain in his arm but added to his dizziness. He didn’t even remember driving over here. He just knew he’d arrived. Somehow.
Was he too late?
He could hear sirens wailing in the distance, knew the police were on their way.
“Emma?” he called. The front door was still locked, but he could see there was a light on in the kitchen. “Emma!”
He climbed clumsily through the window, cutting himself on his neck and arms because he couldn’t use his right hand and his left held the gun. But he scarcely felt these new injuries. He knew he’d lost a lot of blood and was on the verge of passing out. He also knew he wouldn’t relinquish his hold on consciousness until he discovered what had happened to the woman and the boy he loved. The thought of finding them gone—or worse—tore him up. He’d already lost his wife and son. Emma and Max had filled that hole, made him complete again.
“Emma, it’s me.”
His words were slurred and difficult to understand, yet he was sure he heard a response. A soft “help us” came from somewhere inside. Where had it come from? Had he imagined it?
“Max?” He trained the gun on the floor as he moved through the suite so he didn’t accidentally shoot the wrong person, but nearly fired it blindly when he tripped over something sticking out from behind the breakfast bar.
It was a body. He knew instantly, before he even looked. Nothing else could feel that way. He just didn’t know whose body, and feared the worst. Had Manuel hurt or killed Emma? Had he taken Max? Had that “help us” been an echo of Preston’s own wishful thinking?
Slowly, he lowered his gaze to see…. It was Manuel. Max’s father lay in a puddle of blood, a knife in his neck.
Suddenly Preston’s senses became more alert. Someone had killed Manuel. Which meant Emma might have survived. Maybe he wasn’t too late.
The sirens were growing louder. He staggered into Max’s room because the light was on in there, too. The bed was rumpled but empty, so he moved as quickly as he could to the master bedroom. He couldn’t see anyone in the semidarkness, but more light crept out from beneath the bathroom door. Using the wall to keep himself upright, he made his way over and tried the handle. Locked. “Emma?”
“Preston?” she cried.
“It’s me. Are you okay?”
He held his breath as she fumbled with the lock. What would he see when she opened the door? Anxiety clawed at him while he waited.
When the door swung open, he set the gun aside and sank to his knees. Emma was on the floor, holding Max. Her mouth was cut and bleeding. She had blood all over her clothes and hands, and Max had a big bruise on his temple. But they were alone, and they were both alive.
“Preston!” Max reached for him.
Emma looked up at him in horror. “You’ve been hurt!”
Preston checked the blood soaking his shirt. “I’ll live. I think the bullet went straight through.”
“We need to get you to a hospital.”
“We’ll all go. The police are almost here.” The sirens had stopped, which indicated that they’d already parked. He pulled Max to his chest, reveling in the feel of his small body secure in his arms. When he included Emma in his embrace, she winced slightly but buried her face in his neck.
“Are you okay?” he asked her gently.
He could feel the wetness of her tears, but she nodded.