Against the Heart(29)

By: Kat Martin

"If this goes sideways, I need you to step in. There’s a kid involved so her safety is first and foremost."

"Are you sure you want to handle it this way, Ian? We could bring in some of our people, call in SWAT, do whatever it takes."

"Too risky. This guy is completely unpredictable. For now, I just need to know you’ll be ready."

"You know my ass is on the line if you screw this up."

Ian just grunted. "Then I guess it’d be better if I didn’t. I’ll let you know the location as soon as I’ve got it." He signed off before Gray had time to ask him anymore questions.

Now that they were ready, the waiting began. It wasn’t until ten p.m. that Bandini called to give Meri the drop site. She put her cell on speaker as Joey talked.

"You got the money?" he asked.

"I’ve got it. Put Lily on the phone, Joey. I need to be sure she’s okay."

"You can talk to her tonight."

"Joey, please...."

"Shut up and listen. There’s a place called Sikani Park. It’s not that far from the house you’re in. There’s a parking lot on East Upriver Drive, sits right on the water."

Ian knew where the park was. He’d been raised in the area. He nodded to Meri.

"Okay," she said.

"Be there at midnight. One more thing. I see any sign of a cop or those two jokers who live in the house, and you’ll never see your kid again. You got it?"

Meri’s face went pale. "No, police. No one but me, I promise."

Joey ended the call.

Ian swore foully. "I can’t wait to get my hands on that bastard."

"Promise me you won’t do anything until we get Lily."

Ian’s chest went tight. He reached out and touched Meri’s pale cheek. "Lily comes first. You don’t have to worry about that." His jaw hardened. "Then Joey Bandini is going down."

"I want my mama. I wanna go home."

"Didn’t I tell you to shut up? I’m your father, okay? "You’re supposed to do what I say."

"You’re not my father! Ian’s my father! I want to go home!"

"Ian’s some joker your mother is screwing. Now shut up before I put a piece of tape over your mouth."

Lily’s face puckered up as tears threatened to surface.

"Do it, and I swear to God you’ll be sorry."

She turned and pressed her cheek against the wall, managed to keep from crying. Where was Mama? Where was Ian? She knew Ian wasn’t really her daddy, but sometimes she pretended he was.

She didn’t know this man who had grabbed her out in the barn and carried her away. She had seen him talking to her mom a couple of times, but that didn’t mean he was her father. She’d never even seen the big ugly man with no hair.

"Look, you’re mother’s coming to get you tonight? Okay? She’ll be taking you home." He glanced away. "And good riddance," he mumbled.

"What time is it?" asked the big ugly man.

"Eleven o’clock. Time to go."

"You think she’ll bring the money?"

"Like I said, if she doesn’t have it, her boyfriend or the old man’ll give it her. That house is worth a lot of dough. Fifty thousand shouldn’t be that hard to get hold of."

Lily listened, but she didn’t really understand what the men were talking about. All she knew was she wanted her mama to come and get her. And she wanted to go home. She wanted to see the kittens and she wanted to be with Ian and Mr. Brodie.

Lily closed her eyes and said the prayer she and her mama said together every night before they went to bed. "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep." She recited the rest of the prayer and added at the end, "And, God, please help me get home. Amen."

Then she started to cry and hoped the men wouldn’t see.

Meri watched Ian and Daniel prepare. It was clear the men knew what they were doing. They were father and son, but beyond that, Daniel had been in the military and Ian had been a policeman, and a private detective, he’d said. Ian had told her they both knew the park fairly well, remembered the parking lot along the river. And they had used Google Earth to get a closer look at places with good vantage points.