Chapter 1 (first scene)
Warm, sticky fluid seeped into her clothing, saturating her upper chest. With a repulsed shudder, Rowan closed her eyes and willed herself to calm down, her breathing to return to normal. The man’s weight crushed her, creating the panicky sensation she could not get enough air into her lungs. But she didn’t have the energy to shove him away. Finally, she could stand it no more. She wormed her hands beneath his shoulders and pushed up. His large body moved slightly, then settled back over her, feeling heavier than before. She expelled a frustrated breath. If she didn’t get this guy off, he would surely suffocate her.
“Zeus,” Rowan croaked. She listened for a response, but couldn’t hear anything over the loud ringing in her ears. Perfect. If she didn’t pass out from lack of oxygen, she would probably stroke out. She gathered as much air into her lungs as she could but was only able to produce a weak, “Zeus.” Although she needed his help, she was thankful she had put him in the back yard. He would be dead by now if she hadn’t. She craned her neck and could see a muddy snout pushing against the screen door in the kitchen. He’d been digging underneath the shed again. That explained why he hadn’t heard all the commotion going on inside. “Come here, boy.”
The Weimaraner nudged the screen door open and bounded into the living room. He stopped short when he saw the man, baring his teeth in a fierce growl.
“Help me, Zeus.”
Zeus moved close and sniffed the side of Rowan’s face. As his nose tracked toward the man, Rowan pushed up with her arms, showing the dog what she wanted. “Pull him off, Zeus.”
Zeus snagged the man’s jacket sleeve and tugged. The body barely budged. He dug his claws into the floor and pulled back.
“Good boy,” she said, when the heavy torso shifted. She twisted her upper body as she jostled against the man and inhaled deeply after Zeus dragged him off her chest. It felt good to be able to breathe normally. She pushed the corpse off her lower abdomen and legs, then sat for a moment, eyes closed, body shaking. Zeus positioned himself between Rowan and the man, and nudged her shoulder with his nose. She hugged the dog, saying into his fur, “You’re a good boy.” Zeus solemnly licked her face.
Rowan scooted away from the body and lunged to her feet. The man lay on his stomach, his face turned to one side. A knife, pooled in blood, protruded from the back of his neck. She and the dog stared down at one open eye, looking blankly at nothing. She forced her gaze away and willed her mind to focus on the problem at hand, not what had just occurred.
Rowan hurried to the front windows and peeled back the edge of the curtain, searching for anyone who might be waiting for the man on the floor. The only thing out of order was a large, gold-colored Cadillac in front of her drive, its golden rims gleaming in the sun. She swore to herself. The damn vehicle blocked her in; she wouldn’t be able to take her car. She glanced back at the dead man and decided the glitzy Caddy probably belonged to him; those pretentious rims matched the bright suit he wore. She closed the curtain and crossed over to the other side, tugged the heavy cloth away from the window, and studied the street. No one appeared to be inside the vehicle or lurking about, something she found disconcerting. The guy on the floor looked the sort to have a driver, and in her experience, these people always traveled in pairs.
After Rowan locked the front door, she rushed to her bedroom closet, where she worked a couple of loose floor planks free. She withdrew her emergency backpack and took a moment to check inside, make sure her fake ID was there along with enough money to get her to another location.
She grabbed the dog’s leash and clipped it on. “Come on, Zeus. We’ve got to get out of here.” At the door, she turned around and looked at the dead man. Tears welled in her eyes but she blinked them away. She had just killed her would-be killer.
She walked back to the man, pulled her foot back, and kicked him in the side. “You (expletive deleted).”