A Secret to Die For

By: Lisa Harris

1




A sharp clatter jerked Grace Callahan out of the novel she was reading. She dropped the paperback onto the empty side of the queen-sized bed, then sat up, trying to determine if the noise had come from inside the house, or outside. More than likely it was her neighbor’s dog again, knocking something over. Or maybe she’d simply imagined it.

She glanced at the book’s ominous cover. Next time she should stick to reading something less . . . intense when trying to go to sleep.

Not that it would matter.

Nighttime had become the hardest, especially this time of year. Seconds stretched into minutes that eventually stretched into hours. But morning never came soon enough. And then when it did come, most of the time she was still exhausted. She’d tried every natural sleeping remedy she could find, yet most of the time the middle of the night found her wide awake and unable to sleep.

Like tonight.

She heard the noise again. This time she knew she hadn’t imagined it. She reached for the subcompact Glock she kept stashed in her nightstand drawer. It was one of the fallouts of living alone. She was now the one ultimately responsible for taking care of the broken garage door opener, filing taxes, and keeping the gutters cleared.

And making sure there wasn’t an intruder in the house.

Her mind started through a mental checklist as she made her way across the hardwood floor. Living alone made security automatic. Before she’d gone to bed, she’d made sure the front and back doors were locked, set the alarm, and turned on the night-light in the living room . . .

Everything Kevin used to do.

Shoving aside the thought, she opened her bedroom door and stepped out onto the upstairs landing, then paused to listen. The old clock that had been her grandmother’s ticked off seconds from the living room. The air conditioner pumped cool air out of the duct above her. Water dripped from the faucet in the guest bathroom.

Nothing sounded out of the ordinary.

She took a deep breath in an attempt to suppress the wave of anxiety. She of all people should know how to deal with stress, and yet she’d still let reminders of today’s date and the grief it always brought completely engulf her.

She started down the stairs for a final reassurance that she was alone in the house, then froze as the white beam of a flashlight coming from the kitchen caught her attention.

Oh God, show me a way out of this. Please.

Her finger felt for the trigger of her Glock, but even with the weapons training her father had insisted on, the last thing she wanted was a confrontation with the intruder. She needed to get out of the house.

She slipped back into her room and silently locked the door behind her. She figured she had very little time before whoever was inside the house made their way upstairs. Which meant she had two choices. Lock herself in her closet until the police showed up, or escape.

Thanks to her father’s insistence, she’d already played the scenario in her mind, making the decision easy. Grabbing her Bluetooth from the nightstand, she dialed 911, then pocketed her car keys and phone and headed for the window with the under-bed ladder her father had bought her. She’d assumed she’d use it in the case of a fire. Never running from an intruder.

Seconds later, the operator answered.

“911, what is your emergency?”

Grace slid open the window and felt a rush of air enter the room, warm even for November. “My name’s Grace Callahan and someone’s just broken into my house.”

She gave the operator her address as she hooked the ladder onto the windowsill.

“Where is the intruder?”

“On the first floor the last time I saw him. I’m getting out my bedroom window on the second floor.”

“Grace, I want you to stay on the phone with me. I have officers responding to the call now who should be at your location within three or four minutes.”

Four minutes.

She didn’t have four minutes. Which meant she was going to have to handle this on her own. She drew in a deep breath and tried to settle her nerves. All she had to do was get down the ladder and out of her yard, all while avoiding whoever had broken into her house.

You can do this, Grace.

The doorknob to her room rattled behind her. Adrenaline surged.

“He’s at my bedroom door now,” she whispered, trying not to panic. “I’ve got to get down the ladder now.”