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Shadows flickered across his face as the dark, swirling clouds blotted out the sun.
Outside, the sea roiled as the shoreline disappeared, the water sucked violently out to sea. Deep on the horizon I knew that waves were gathering in a white frothy wall of death headed our way.
In the distance, a warning siren blared.
It wouldn’t be long.
Inside the ostentatious mansion, we were mere yards away from the beach, a knee-high wall the only barrier. The rest of the gated community had evacuated long ago.
I turned my attention back to the man’s face. He was on his knees ten feet away with his hands up in the air.
“Nobody is coming to save you,” he said.
“That doesn’t matter.”
For a second, he looked fearful, but then he smirked and jutted his chin at the Glock 19 9 mm I pointed at him.
“You cannot do it.” He shrugged, his shoulders reaching up to his ears, his head tilted, a smug look on his face.
I tried to ignore the ache in my arms, strained from being extended as I held the gun firmly between both hands, pointing directly at his head. My palms grew slick with sweat.
I lowered my aim to his chest, a larger target. I hadn’t shot at the range for months. Even though I could clearly imagine it, could almost feel it and see it, I wasn’t positive I could put the bullet right where I wanted it—between his eyes.
The gun wobbled a little more. But not enough so that I’d miss.
I fought the temptation to wipe away a rivulet of sweat dripping down my brow. In the distance, the horizon had vanished, replaced by a white-capped wall of water.
We were running out of time. I concentrated on the man in front of me. Dark stains appeared on his T-shirt underneath both arms. Perspiration dripped down the sides of his face, giving it a sheen.
“You don’t want to shoot that gun,” he said in a firm, commanding voice.
I didn’t respond.
My finger was on the trigger. I could hear my instructor’s voice in my ear. Don’t jerk the trigger, squeeze it slowly and steadily, counting to five.
I’d killed before.
But never calmly.
And it had always been in self-defense.
This time, it would be pure, cold-blooded, premeditated, first-degree murder.
A few days before …
The baby, Stefano, screamed bloody murder from his high chair. Nine-year-old Grace chatted excitedly to her father about some new app to animate photos. Alejandro, also nine, sat at the table eating cereal and winced with each shriek. He didn’t have as much tolerance for the baby’s wails.
Another typical weekday morning at our San Francisco penthouse. While other people might consider this scene a nightmare, my heart was overflowing. It was only a little more than a year ago, that Grace and I sat in this same kitchen alone, grieving.
Having my family safe and sound was all I ever wanted. Now that my mother’s cancer was in remission and she lived nearby, I had everything I needed—even though I was severely sleep-deprived and getting a slight headache from the screams of my red-faced eight-month-old.
I was too busy mopping up my own mess to deal with Stefano’s explosive temper. I’d spilled an entire carton of orange juice. It had flooded the table and then had seeped onto the floor. I kneeled to mop up the sticky mess, but then paused, glancing up at my beloved family.
Although Donovan was graying at the temples, he still had the good looks that landed him a spot on the Sexiest Bay Area Cops calendar several years ago. He still had those thick eyebrows over dark eyes, messy hair, and a low voice that made my heart skip a beat.
I watched him talking to Grace. He juggled a plate of scrambled eggs and pancakes at the same time he leaned over to retrieve the bottle that Stefano had flung to the floor in a fit of rage. The past two days Stefano had staged a full-on protest to ending nursing by chucking bottles of formula every time he was handed one.
A surge of guilt swarmed through me when he looked at me so sorrowfully, but I had to stay strong. A few days ago, after being caught out on assignment for the Bay Herald in Napa—far away from my breast pump—I’d held up the white flag.
Stefano could live on formula just fine. Millions of babies across the globe did it every day.
But try convincing him of that, right? As soon as Donovan handed him the bottle, he howled, scrunched his face up, and let it fly. It swished into the open trash can nearby.
“Kid’s got a good arm,” Donovan said.
We all erupted in laughter. For a second, Stefano paused in his crying to look at us in astonishment and then burst into tears again.
It was great to see Alejandro laugh. He’d lived with us for a year, but he was haunted. Being kidnapped and having your father murdered did that.
After the laughter died down, I watched Donovan pull Stefano out of the high chair and hold him, patting his back trying to console him. It worked. Soon, Stefano’s crying was reduced to sniffles.
Donovan was an amazing father. But there was something there—some distance he kept between himself and the baby.
It was if he looked upon Stefano as a nephew.
Because he wasn’t sure Stefano was his son.
It was one of the dark shadows that haunted our marriage. We never spoke about it. But I could tell by the way Donovan interacted from the baby. It was not how he’d been with Grace.
It kept a small wedge between us that I wasn’t sure would, or could, ever disappear.
I loved my husband, and we’d been through hell and back, but unless he could love Stefano like I did, there would always be something ugly between us. I only hoped it wouldn’t eventually grow larger and tear us apart.
For now, I’d relish my noisy, laughter-and-tear-filled kitchen packed with the people I loved most in the world.
And when Donovan looked at me with a knowing smile, any doubt flew away. Because right then, my heart spilled over with love and gratitude. There was no other place I’d rather be and nobody else I’d rather have as my husband.
Everything I had ever wanted was here in this room.
I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew one thing for certain:
I was blessed.