Read the first chapter of Calculated Justice.
The freshly cut grass silenced the man’s footsteps. From behind the large blossoming shrub, he observed the woman inside the house, playing with her child. Crouched and ready to pounce, he glanced up at the sky as the darkening clouds sucked the light from the area. Damn! It’s going to piss down soon. His pulse quickened when he realised that the woman had noticed the impending change in the weather, too. Fearing she was about to close the bi-fold doors to the kitchen, he scanned the area behind the prickly bush, searching for a clear path he could take to the house without alerting the woman to his presence.
The blonde woman gathered the child’s toys from the patio and rushed back into the kitchen just as the heavens opened. Bypassing his original plan, he bolted for the door while her back was turned and she was preoccupied with her child. He grabbed her from behind and placed his hand over her mouth, muffling her screams. He leaned forward and twisted her head so she was looking at him. “Be quiet, and I promise not to hurt the kid. Scream, and I’ll snap its fragile neck, then I’ll do the same to you. You hear me?”
Tears quickly filled her wide eyes, and she nodded.
He released his hand and moved to stand alongside the child sitting in the highchair next to the table.
Her shaking hands entwined and clutched at her chest. “Please, please don’t hurt us. If it’s money you’re after, I don’t keep any in the house.”
“It’s not. It’s you I’m after. You and the kid,” he replied, revelling in the fear he’d struck in the woman.
“I… I don’t understand.”
“You will. Now, you, me, and the sprog, are going to take a nice ride in your car. I’ll carry the kid just in case you get any idea of causing a scene outside.”
She gasped. “I won’t. I promise. Please don’t hurt him. He’s all I have.”
The man looked around and laughed. “Really? You live in a mansion the size of ten football pitches, and you have the gall to say that?”
“Material things don’t matter to me. All I care about is our safety, Jackson’s safety.”
He snorted. “What type of frigging name is that for a kid? He’ll detest being teased at school for you lumbering him with that.”
The woman fell silent. She looked confused but said nothing.
Good, at least she knows her place. I’m going to have fun with her.
She turned and looked over her shoulder towards the manicured garden.
“Don’t even think about running, lady.”
Shocked, she jerked her head around to face him. “I wasn’t, I swear. I was going to close the door before we left.”
He laughed wildly. “Want to secure the place, do you? What? To prevent anything untoward happening? I think it’s too late for that, love.”
“No… I mean, yes,” her voice faltered.
“Right, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to go upstairs and pack a bag—see how considerate I am?”
She nodded, her gaze flicking between him and her child.
“It’s for my benefit. Don’t relish living with the smell of your kid’s dirty nappies filling the hideout for the next few days.”
“You have ten minutes, no more, to get a bag packed for the kid. You might want to chuck a change of clothes in for yourself, too. Nothing fancy, you won’t need it where you’re going.” He laughed again.
The woman shuddered, closing her eyes in despair as he mocked her.
You ain’t seen nothing yet, love. Just you wait and see what I’ve got lined up for you. “Is he still on the breast?”
He tutted. “You’re not stupid. Is he still getting milk from your tits, bitch, or is he on formula milk by now?”
“No, from me. I’m feeding him.”
He contemplated her answer and thought about where he intended keeping her once they arrived at their destination. “Well, that’s going to have to change.”
She gasped and fresh tears welled up in her eyes. “Please, don’t. Jackson needs his mother’s milk.”
“Jackson gets what I tell him to have. You got that?”
“Yes. I don’t want to argue—”
“Then don’t. Any more crap like that, and I’ll end the kid’s life here and now. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. The thing is, I don’t have any formula in the house. We’ll have to stop off and buy some.”
Quick as a flash, he took a step forward, encroaching into her personal space, and snarled, “Let’s get one thing straight from the outset, lady. I give the fucking orders, all right?”
Her breath caught on a sob. “Yes… I’m sorry. Forgive me.” She wiped away the tears trickling in a steady flow from her eyes. He could tell she was trying but failing to remain strong.
He stepped away again. “You’re forgiven, for now. Get a move on. You’ve got eight minutes and counting to get yourself sorted.”
Hesitating, she waited for him to nod his approval before she ran from the room with him close behind her. The woman entered the second door on the right at the top of the stairs. She dithered, appeared to be in a flap, and almost barged into him as he stood in the doorway. “Slow down. What do you want?”
“An overnight bag from the main bedroom.”
He stood aside, and she squeezed past him, her breasts brushing against his broad chest as she moved into the hallway. Her cheeks flushed. He stifled a laugh as his groin reacted to the incident. Oh, yes, you’re definitely going to have fun with her, boy! He followed her into the walk-in dressing room just in case it turned out to be some kind of panic room; he never could tell with rich folks, not that he’d ever done such a thing before.
She tried to reach the bag on the top shelf but was too short. He tutted and grudgingly yanked the bag off the shelf, letting it drop to the floor with a thud. She paused for a second, and he tapped his watch, which prompted her to retrieve the bag and start sifting through her underwear drawer. She looked his way. “How many days?”
He hunched his shoulders up until they reached his ears. “One, two, ten. It all depends on how valuable you are to your hubby. Does he love you, Bethany Hardy?”
“Of course he does.”
His shoulders dropped again. “Then maybe just pack for a day or two.” He smiled and winked at her.
She continued to throw undies, T-shirts, and jeans into the bag. “The idea was to pack enough nappies and change of clothing for the kid, not you, but then that sums you women up nicely, doesn’t it? Selfish to the core. We’ll test that selfishness over the coming days. I can assure you of that.”
“I’m not. I care for my child. I always put him first.”
He held up his hand. “Get on with it, woman. Your acts have refuted your words already.”
Bethany tipped the bag’s contents onto the floor and stomped out of the room and down the hallway into the nursery, where she filled the bag with her child’s things. With the bag full to bursting, she held it in both hands in front of her. “I’m done.”
He chuckled inside. “What, nothing for you?”
“No. My baby comes first, every time.”
He swallowed a nasty retort and pushed the woman ahead of him as they made their way down the sweeping curved staircase and back into the kitchen, where the child had started to cry. She threw the bag on the floor and rushed to comfort him.
“We haven’t got time for that. Grab the kid, and let’s go.”
Bethany lifted the crying child from the highchair, smoothed back his hair, and kissed both his cheeks.
He picked up the bag she’d just packed and held out his hand. “The keys to your car?”
“They’re hanging up over there.”
“Right, we’ve wasted too much time already. Stick the kid in the car seat, and then I want you to drive. Be natural when you leave the house. React normally to the neighbours if you see any, and no one will get hurt. You do anything to raise their suspicions, and you have my word that the kid will get hurt, a life-changing injury. You have my word on that, okay?”
“I’ll do as you say, I promise. There’s no need to hurt us.”
“Make sure you remain compliant, too, or else…” he warned as they left the house.
He put the woman’s bag in the rear of the fancy Mercedes sports car and stood next to her as she strapped in the child, who had, thankfully, stopped crying. “Okay, get in. Put a smile on your face as we drive away.”
“Where are we going?”
“Less questions. I’ll give you the directions once we’re out of here.”
As they fastened their seatbelts, the old lady in a grand house opposite appeared on her doorstep and looked up and down the road before her eyes settled on them. He hid his face behind his hand when they drove past her gate. Bethany smiled and waved at the woman. He jabbed her in the thigh with his fist. “Just drive.”
Once they were out of sight of the old woman, he dropped his hand and pointed for her to turn right at the bottom of the road. “Get onto the motorway. Head towards Brighton.”
“I have a satnav if it helps.”
“It doesn’t. And that’s the last time you treat me like a fucking idiot. Got that?”
“I was just saying if you don’t know the area, it will help us find the easiest route.”
“Yeah, and the software is traceable by the police, too.” His words caused a certain amount of panic to rise up within him. You are a bloody idiot. You can’t take her car. It’s probably got a tracker installed. His eyes darted the length of the street, which was relatively quiet for this time of day. Up ahead, a woman was getting out of another car. “Pull up behind that car,” he ordered.
Confused, she glanced his way. “Why?”
He inhaled a deep breath. “Do it!” He slapped the dashboard, making her jump. The child started to cry in the back again. “Jesus Christ, doesn’t it ever shut the fuck up?”
“Yes, but he’s scared. We both are.”
“Pull up, now. Turn off the engine and give me the keys.” Once Bethany had handed him the keys, he left the vehicle and approached the woman. Her smile disappeared as he strode towards her. Her mouth opened, but his fist silenced her scream. She dropped to the ground. He dragged her onto the pavement then beckoned urgently for Bethany to join him. He snatched the keys from the woman’s hand and pressed the key fob to open the Orion’s doors. “Get in. I’ll get the kid and the bag.”
“We’ll need his car seat, too.”
“We don’t have time. I’ll hold him.”
“You can’t do that,” she screeched.
His glare warned her to keep quiet. She climbed into the driver’s seat. He retrieved the bag from the back and removed the child from the car seat. Then he dumped the bag in the Orion’s boot and hopped in the passenger seat. She looked at him aghast.
“Don’t even say it,” he warned.
She closed her eyes as if in prayer then started the car and pulled away from the scene.
He glanced over his shoulder. Sloppy, boy. Very sloppy. Not what I intended at all.