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= Terror in My Arms =

A Suspense Thriller by John T. Cullen


One

Terror in My Arms, a thriller by John T. CullenThe night the ordeal was all finally over—as the SDPD patrol car speeded to the hospital with flashing lights through a splattering rain—Sylvie Bancroft sat in the back seat, still in shock, and recalled the exact moment when Rob Turlock had come into her life.

It was silent in the police cruiser. Blessed silence. Peace. What she most needed now.

She was done crying. Everything now was happening in a dream.

She’d come back from the brink of death.

Was it really over now, finally?

The San Diego police car smelled stale inside, like a thousand nights, like old cigarettes and stale coffee, old ashes and old traumas. She pulled the blanket tight around her shoulders, over her soaked clothing, and shivered. Passing street lights streaked bars of light and dark through her eyes, over her lap, over her clasped and trembling hands.

She remembered how bright and warm the sunshine had been that recent day!

She’d been a software engineer for ten years, and the past four of those years as an outside consultant had been the best of her life. She was a woman on the go, worked hard, delivered on schedule, got paid well, and treasured both her independence and her good reputation. At three in afternoon, a Wednesday, she walked into her client’s door carrying the CD-ROM with 10,000 lines of QA-ready code and a 150-page user manual that she’d subcontracted to a good friend.

A man said to her: "You have such a glow on your face!" and she ignored him as she swept through the lobby with both arms full.

She ignored him, and did not think about him again until she was on her way out. Men came on to women, and that was how it worked, except for the maneuvering women did to be in the way when they wanted to be. It was nice sometimes to be admired, but often it wasn’t. Right now, with the red-haired man in the lobby, who did have an exceptionally big smile and coolly controlled, sincere yet winking eyes, she did not have time to make a judgment. She clearly had not maneuvered into his way; rather she almost ran him over on her way to the elevator. She was interested only in working 14 hours a day for four months deliver on schedule. She had her own annoyance rate with wolf-whistlers and awkward guys to deal with, as did every woman, and Sylvie knew her strengths and weaknesses all too intensely, as did most women. Her rate of being propositioned was about average; maybe if she flattered herself, a little above. She was slender, with a fresh face and long black hair. When she dressed up for a dinner or a dance—with contact lenses instead of the heavy horn eyeglasses, with the right makeup and a gown and high heels—she’d been called really pretty. Once or twice maybe beautiful. In her free time, she jogged and surfed and bicycled, which kept her complexion ruddy and glowing. Actually, despite the French surname, she also had some extremely recessive alleles for dark skin by way of Cuba and perhaps Africa, but her hair was straight and her eyes were gray-blue; anyway, that helped her look tanned without the U.V. risk from the sun. She was a vegetarian, with a weakness for chocolate.

As she stepped off the elevator, $15,000 check firmly in her purse, she nearly ran into a wall of flowers. Actually, it was a large bouquet, and she stopped in her tracks. Red roses. They lowered, revealing the face of the man with the seductive eyes. "Hi!" His teeth were clean and big. "You have such a glow." He shook the flowers. "I took the liberty of buying these so I could learn why you look so utterly radiant."

She felt the still-wet, paper-wrapped roses against her arm, the flowers damp against her exposed skin in the v of her blouse. She wore, that day, her corporate garb: dark jacket and skirt, white silk blouse, tiny gold necklace; black pumps, conservative nylons, light make-up. "No way," she said, pushing the flowers back.

"I won’t take no for an answer." He stood aside holding the roses, and she saw in his eyes that he would run after her.

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