Shelby picked up the suitcase she’d packed for her niece, Callie, and her nephew, Anders. She’d babysat for them today, something she did at least once a week, but today she came knowing things were going to change.
Hauling the luggage down the grand staircase, as her sister had lovingly dubbed it, she held tight to the banister, knowing every second counted. Her brother-in-law, Kurtis, had left twenty minutes ago and she only had three hours to get as far away from here as possible.
Setting the heavy suitcase on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, she pulled up the handle and quickly walked to the living room where the kids were watching a cartoon movie.
“Okay kiddos, let’s get rolling.”
Callie turned to her, a slight pout on her lips. “But Aunt Shelby, we love this movie.”
Smiling at her beautiful niece, her curly dark hair pushed back with a pink headband, she said, “I know you do and I have a surprise for you. You can watch it in my car.”
Anders jumped up. “Yay!”
Anders and Callie were only two years apart, Callie seven and Anders five, but both of them were mature beyond their years. They’d had to grow up fast in the past month.
“Okay, turn the television off. I have this movie in the car and ready to go for you. And I have snacks.”
Callie grabbed the remote and pointed it at the television, promptly turning it off. She then walked to the table alongside the sofa, opened the drawer and neatly set the remote inside. Their father didn’t allow anything out of place.
Callie grabbed Anders’ hand and they followed her to the door that led to the garage, where they’d get in the vehicle without anyone seeing a suitcase being tucked in the back.
Shelby opened the back door of the SUV, her precious Explorer that she’d scrimped and saved for, and the kids scrambled in.
Shelby leaned in and buckled Anders in, then walked to the other side and double-checked Callie’s seat belt. Opening the hatch, she hefted the suitcase into the back, then tugged the large cooler she’d packed at home toward her. Pulling out two juice bottles and two homemade egg, bacon and cheese breakfast muffins, she took great care to set each one of them up with their snacks.
Shelby hopped into the driver’s seat, turned on the DVD player and pushed the buttons to start their favorite movie playing. Taking a deep breath and sending up a silent prayer that she’d get them out of the state in time, she tapped the garage door opener and put the Explorer in reverse.
A quick glance at the clock told her she now had two hours and fifteen minutes to make tracks.
She figured that with stops they’d be in Indiana in about five hours. She knew the kids would need a break, but she hoped to keep it to a minimum. She’d keep her phone on until her brother-in-law called to check in, then she’d turn it off so he’d not be any the wiser. Hopefully.
She didn’t want to alert the controlling bastard that she’d taken the kids any sooner than necessary.
This plan had to work. She couldn’t lose these kids too. Bad enough that she suspected Kurtis had killed her sister—or at a minimum, had her killed. Stacy would never have up and left her kids. She’d never leave them alone with that bastard. Something was sinister about him and the second she’d overheard him on the phone yesterday telling someone he had to “deal with Stacy’s brats,” she feared they’d soon turn up missing, too. That would be like death to her. These two little loves were all she had of her sister. She’d keep them safe, no matter what she had to do.
When Shelby’s phone rang, she jumped, tapped the button to turn off her Bluetooth, and put it to her ear.
“It’s me. Everything all right?”
“Yes, everything is wonderful. They’re watching a movie right now.”
“Don’t let them sit there all day watching that mindless crap on the television. They’re spoiled as it is, thanks in large part to you.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
His growl on the other end of the phone was an indicator of his mood. She inhaled slowly and exhaled the same.
“Make sure they get outside today.”
“Will do. I thought we’d go for a walk in a bit.”
He practically growled again. “Tire them out so I don’t have to deal with whining and crying when I get home.”
The line went dead and she turned her phone off, careful to watch the road. She tossed it on the seat next to her.
“Daddy’s mad.” Callie said.
“No, honey. He just wants to make sure you get some fresh air.” She lied.
Shelby looked into the mirror at Callie’s sweet face. Poor baby was biting her bottom lip, she was so nervous about her father.
“It’s okay honey, we’ll get some fresh air on our adventure.”
Shelby’s eyes darted to Anders whose blue eyes were large and round as he assessed the mood in the car.
She smiled at him. “Okay kids, I have a surprise. We’re going on a road trip. We’ll be in the car for a while today, so sit back and watch your movie and I’ll go as fast as is safe so we can get there sooner.”
“Where’re we going?”
She was waiting for that question. “I thought maybe we’d go see a big zoo. Would you like that?”
Anders clapped his hands. “I wanna see monkeys!”
Callie smiled. “I want to see the lions.”
Shelby nodded and quickly glanced up at each of them in the mirror.
They drove a few miles and Callie softly asked, “Is Daddy going to be mad?”
Shelby shook her head. “I’ll take care of it. We’ll be gone a few days so he’ll have time to settle.”
Anders giggled. “We’re spending the night?”
“You bet, buddy.”
If Shelby had her way about it, they’d spend the rest of their lives without that asshole and she was doing the best she could to ensure that.
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