This month instead of a regular post, you can get a peek at the latest Leah Nash mystery, Dangerous Pursuits which will be release October 20th, and is available for pre-order here.
Jancee smiles flirtatiously at the man as she flips her long hair over one shoulder and settles back in the seat. She doesn’t bother with the seatbelt, she never does. It just messes up her clothes, and her short dress is already riding up her thighs. Of course, she probably should give him a little more to look at. After all, it’s their last time together.
Jancee is young, and blonde, and pretty. She has a little talent for dancing, and a big talent for attracting men. So far, it’s been enough to get her by. But she has plans. Big plans that she’s ready to make happen.
She smiles at him again as she repositions herself. He doesn’t return the smile. Inwardly she shrugs. Oh, well, maybe in his situation, she wouldn’t either. Fine, then, she’ll just sit back and think about her future, which looks very bright tonight.
No more dancing at Tanner’s. Krystal, the owner, can call it a “Gentleman’s Club,” but it’s really just a dive for hick-town regulars, half-drunk hunters, and grabby old men. They’re mostly so cheap that some shifts she barely makes enough to pay the house fee for her time on stage, let alone the tip-out fees to the DJ, the bartender, the wait staff, the bouncer.
She could get better shifts if she kissed up to Krystal like some of the girls do. But Jancee doesn’t kiss up to anybody, that’s what her mother taught her. She’s got her own thing going, scores her own private party jobs like the one tonight. If Krystal knew, she’d ban her from the club. But who cares now? Her side hustle is about to pay off big.
“It’s cold,” she says, shivering in her red halter-top dress. “Can I turn up the heater?”
He doesn’t answer, but he takes his hand off the wheel long enough to move the temperature higher.
She tries again. “Today’s my mom’s birthday. 10/13. Thirteen’s my lucky number.”
He doesn’t respond.
She smiles to herself and touches the small fairy tattoo on her left shoulder. Her mother is looking out for her tonight all right. She wants to say to him, “Get over yourself. This time, I win, that’s all.”
Jancee’s hard, but she’s not mean. She’s just taking care of herself, like she’d promised her mom she would.
“Jancee, you got to be tough. When I’m gone, you got nobody but you.”
Jancee had cried then, the last time she ever did. Her mother had taken Jancee’s face in her hands.
“You’re my little Aquarius baby. My airy-fairy girl. I don’t want to die, honey, but I got no choice. It’s a tough world, Jancee. You got to fight. You got to take care of yourself. I know you can. Promise me you will.”
Through all the foster homes, the runaway shelters, the survival sex, that’s what Jancee had tried to do. That’s what she’s doing right now. Tonight, she’s done with Tanner’s. Tomorrow, she’ll be in Chicago.
“You gotta come down, Jancee, you got the looks, you got the moves. They got a whole different class of guys here. Rich guys. Big spenders, not like at Tanner’s. I cleared twelve hundred dollars one night.” That’s what her girl Fauna had said.
But Jancee wasn’t ready, not then. She had learned the hard way what happens if you don’t have the money to set yourself up. Nope. She wouldn’t leave Tanner’s without a nice stash of ready cash. But this is the last time she’ll have to go home to the run-down cabin she rents at Tanner’s. When she gets to Chicago, she’ll find a real nice place to live, maybe even with a doorman—in uniform! She’ll have the money. She can class herself up, get a makeover, some new clothes. Then, look out Chicago.
Thinking about it, she laughs out loud—a clear, frothy sound, like a brook splashing lightly over stones.
“What’s so funny?” he asks.
“Nothing,” she says. Happiness is making her feel generous. Maybe she’ll give him something extra as a going away present, a bonus. She leans forward to turn on the radio. As she does, she brushes her hand suggestively on his leg.
“No.” His voice is harsh as he pushes her hand roughly away.
She looks at him in surprise.
A small flutter of apprehension radiates through her body as she sits back against the seat. In Jancee’s line of work, you always have to be careful. You have to pay attention. You can’t trust anybody. She’s not afraid—yet. He’s a little uptight, a little tense, but relieving tension is her specialty.
“Hey, we’re good, right? It’s not personal, OK?” She makes her tone playful and light.
He turns and stares at her with hard eyes and lips set in a straight line. Her flutter of alarm ramps up to full-on fear. She tries to keep it out of her voice.
She picks up her phone, says casually, “You know what? Maybe this isn’t such a good idea right now. We’re both tired. I’m just going to call for a ride. You go home, I’ll go home, and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”
In one swift move he tears the phone from her grip so forcefully her hand flies back and hits the dashboard. Hard. For a second her anger outpaces her fear. Recklessly, she retaliates and strikes him sharply across the face.
He recoils and howls in pain. She reaches for the door handle behind her and tumbles out. Without a plan she takes off running. The moon and the stars show her a way, across a field of cornstalks to the woods on the other side. If she can reach it, she can hide until she’s safe. She has a head start, and fear fuels her run. But soon her advantage is undone by the uneven ground and the stiletto heels she wears. She can sense him closing in on her. She turns to look over her shoulder.
As she does, her foot catches in a hole. She’s thrown to the ground. Pain shoots through her ankle, but it’s no match for the panic racing through her whole body. With frenzied fingers she tears off her shoes, flinging them aside. She scrambles up and hurtles forward, ignoring the rocky ground lacerating her feet. Her breath comes in short, ragged bursts from her burning lungs. Tears born of terror stream down her face. Every cell in her body is focused on reaching the safety of the dark forest ahead.
“Stop!” His voice is only yards behind her. “Jancee, I’m sorry. I just want to talk to you!”
She doesn’t heed his words, her fear pulsating in time to the heavy thud, thud, thud of his fast approaching feet. Closer and closer. But the line of trees is coming closer, too. She’s going to make it. With a final burst of speed, her bare feet skim the ground as she sprints toward the woods. Once inside that shadowy shelter, she’ll be safe. Just a few more yards, a few feet, another step—
Abruptly, her body is lifted from the ground as he grabs her from behind. She twists and struggles, flailing out, but his grip on her waist is strong. He moves his other arm in, catching her neck in the crook of his elbow. Desperate, she writhes and twists like a feral cat caught. Then like a feral cat, she bites. Her teeth clamp down fiercely on the tender part of his hand, between the forefinger and thumb. She can taste blood in her mouth as he roars and flings her away.
She dashes toward the woods once again. But his rage is too great, his need to stop her too strong. He lunges forward, clutching at, then grasping the leather strap of her cross-body bag. He yanks her back toward himself. Again she struggles. The strap of the purse bites into her neck as he pulls it tighter. She claws at it. She can’t breathe. She hears his shuddering gasps as he chokes the life out of her. Please, please, please, she prays to a God she doesn’t believe in.
Her eyelids flutter. A voice from long ago whispers softly in her heart. You’re my airy-fairy girl, Jancee. Her muscles relax. Her fear is gone. She’s a little girl, sitting on her mother’s lap, looking up at the stars. That’s your sign, her mother says, pointing to a constellation high overhead. Jancee’s eyes open to the night sky. It’s there now. Aquarius. Her eyes close, and life leaves her body with one last breath, as soft and light as a cloud passing over the moon.