We're racing toward the finish line!
Grant took the off ramp at twenty miles over the posted speed limit. God, don’t let me be too late. Kyle’s voice over the phone had been pitched a little lower than usual. The calm tone scared Grant more than the words.
“She’s all mine. But I’m sure there’s someone else out there for you.”
He had flown to Paige’s first but Cami wasn’t there. Her message said she was going home so he headed there, searching oncoming traffic for the familiar silhouette of her dark blue Tahoe.
He let out a breath of thanks as he rounded a corner and saw the SUV in her driveway.
Seconds later, he bounded up the steps and knocked on the door as he called out.
“Cami? It’s me.” He rattled the doorknob and it turned easily. Uh oh. She would never leave her front door unlocked. Foreboding plunked back into his gut.
He pushed the door open and called again, but softer. “Cami. Are you here?”
“In the kitchen.” The quiet voice sent a chill through him. Kyle.
He wriggled out of his sling and stuffed it behind his back, into the waistband of his jeans, as he tiptoed through the living room. It might make this easier if Kyle thought Grant’s arm was back to full strength.
Cami’s terrified eyes met Grant’s as he stepped into the kitchen. She sat at the table, Kyle behind her, his left arm circling her neck. He held a knife in his right hand. Pressed against her jugular. A plate of cupcakes and a teapot on the table in front of her completed the absurd picture.
“Welcome to our home, Mr. Andrews.” Kyle’s voice was as calm as when he’d called Grant earlier. “We’re pleased to have you visit.”
Grant couldn’t think. What do you say to a teenager holding a knife to his teacher’s neck? The teacher they both loved.
“Your home?” The words caught in his throat so he cleared it and tried again. “I don’t understand. This is your home?”
“I know you’ve grown very fond of Camille, and I appreciate all you’ve done for her. I’ll be taking care of her from now on. You can go.”
Grant fought down a wholly inappropriate laugh. Did this kid really think he would walk out and leave him holding a knife at Cami’s neck?
“Kyle, you know I can’t do that.”
The teenager grinned at him. “I figured you’d say that, but I wanted to be a gracious host.”
“Miss Henderson- I mean Cami – and I are in love. L. O. V. E. It’s been hard for her, having to pretend she cared about you while her heart ached for me. We had to be careful because I was her student and a minor. But guess what, Mr. Andrews?” He gestured to the cupcakes. “Today is my birthday. I’m now a legal adult and we don’t have to hide anymore. Cami doesn’t have to pretend to like you.”
Grant wanted to shake his head, like Petey would shake water out of his ears. His mind flashed to Mongoose telling him to get Cami out of town. Why hadn’t he listened?
“We’d like you to be our guest for a while,” Kyle continued. “Your room is in the basement.” He cocked his head right, and Grant saw the basement door ajar. He remembered Cami’s pride as she showed him the studio she’d created down there. He also remembered a door to the outside. Part of its charm, she’d said. You could enter the studio without going through the house.
“You want me to go into the basement?” Grant asked.
“And leave you here with a knife on her?”
“Yes, sir.” Kyle’s eyes never left Grant’s. They never even blinked, a fact Grant noted with one part of his brain, while another part tried to look past Kyle to the back porch. That door was closed.
Oh God, what should I do? Grant’s soul breathed the prayer as his mind continued to search for possibilities. Was there a phone downstairs? No. Windows? Yes. He remembered Cami’s comment she needed natural light for her work and it was unusual for a basement to have as much as hers did.
Grant’s eyes locked with Cami’s. He spoke to Kyle with deliberation.
“Why do you need a knife if she’s in love with you?”
“You’ve been confusing her.” Kyle’s voice rose and Grant could hear frustration in it.
“Okay son, take it easy. I’ll go downstairs.” Grant took a half-shuffle backwards. Enough, he hoped, to convince Kyle he would obey. “But not while you’re pressing a knife to her neck. Come on, I can’t leave you here like that.”
Kyle’s mouth twisted and his gaze changed to an assessing look into Grant’s eyes.
“Walk over to the stairs, stand at the top. I’ll step away, and you go on down.”
Grant glanced around for something he could bring with him, anything that might be a weapon. He swung his arms a little as he walked toward the door leading to the basement, trying to look casual and at ease. But this wasn’t going to have a happy ending. Not with an infatuated, delusional, knife-wielding teenager.
“Thanks for your hospitality.” He decided to play along for a minute, to see exactly what the kid had in mind. “How long am I staying? I appreciate your generosity but I have a therapy appointment later. And the team will be expecting me at tomorrow’s game.”
“How long you stay is up to Cami.”
“Why is that?”
“She insists on continuing the charade that she’s scared of me. As soon as she admits we’re in love, we’ll come out of hiding, and you’ll be free to move on.”
Grant focused on Cami, whose eyes widened at Kyle’s words. He tried to pour his heart into his own eyes as their gazes locked. Did she know he loved her? Don’t give up hope.
Inspiration flickered as he approached the open basement door. “Okay, I’m about to go downstairs. You can set down the knife.”
Kyle looked at him. Apparently satisfied by Grant’s surrender, he dropped his arm and the knife to his side. “Go.”
Grant took the first step, then stumbled, grabbing the handrail with his good arm as he clattered down the top three steps, making as much noise as he could before lying still.
“Grant! Are you- ” Cami’s voice strangled off in mid-question.
“I think I sprained my ankle.” He heard no movement, nothing except for Petey’s snuffling whine from above. “Can I crawl up the stairs?” he called.
Then Kyle’s voice: “Come back slow.”
Holding his bad arm close to his chest, putting his weight on his good arm and his knees, he crawled up the steps back to the kitchen. He sat on the floor in the open doorway, catching his breath in between pretended grimaces of pain.
“I need a doctor.”
“Not a chance.”
Kyle’s knuckles whitened as his grip tightened on the knife and he swung it up to point at Grant.
“If I don’t get it x-rayed and taped, it could be the end of my career.”
“Life’s a bummer, huh?”
“Please, Kyle. I know you’re not that callous.” Another idea flashed into his head. “Or at least ice. I need an icepack.” Anything to stay where he could see Cami.
“We have ice in the freezer,” Kyle answered. “There’s a plastic bag in the drawer next to the refrigerator. Fill it with ice and go downstairs.”
The fact Kyle knew his way around Cami’s kitchen filled Grant with nausea. Cami must have felt the same. She closed her eyes, as if to block out the vision of Kyle rummaging through her drawers.
Grant dragged himself off the floor and limped toward the refrigerator. He had to pass in front of the table where Cami sat so he put a hand on it to steady himself as he went by. Could she tell he wasn’t really hurt? Did she know he longed to touch her shoulder for reassurance? To feel her hair on the back of his hand?
Grant felt Kyle’s eyes on him as he fumbled through the drawer, searching for a plastic bag. Since the jock set-up hadn’t intimidated Kyle, maybe an injured kitten act would be the better approach. Grant might have a chance to surprise Kyle with a physical assault.
“Hurry up.” Kyle’s voice was impatient.
Grant scooped ice cubes into the plastic bag, running the seam between his fingers to seal it.
“I need a dish towel.”
“Next to the sink. Now get downstairs.”
Kyle’s jerky movements and tight voice meant it was time to go. Grant limped back to the doorway and shuffled slowly down the stairs, holding the improvised ice pack and making plenty of noise. At the bottom, he looked around.
Scattered glass shards answered how Kyle had gotten in. None were large enough for a weapon though. There must be something down here. Hope sparked when he saw Cami’s easel and paint supplies.
Cami involuntarily shrank from Kyle’s touch as he began to knead her shoulders after Grant disappeared down the basement stairs.
“You’re so tense. I thought you’d be happier to see me. And to get rid of him.”
“Grant’s been…” She couldn’t continue.
“I could tell you didn’t want to have anything to do with him. I’d watch the two of you together and you could hardly stand to have him touch you. That made me happy.”
Cami’s mind flashed to the few times Grant held her hand or put his arm around her. She’d been sensitive to his touch, reminded of Patrick’s rough grabs. But she hadn’t known Kyle was watching. Or what his skewed interpretation would be.
“Kyle-” About to explain things to him, she stopped. He would neither hear nor believe her protests. Grant had a plan, she could tell from the look he’d given her. She searched her memory for any potential weapons down there.
A knock from under the kitchen interrupted her thoughts.
“What now?” Kyle’s irritation was obvious in his voice.
“I need a doctor.”
Cami could just make out the words through the floorboards of the kitchen. It sounded as if Grant was at the end of a long tunnel. Or in the corner of the basement with her supplies. Yes, of course. Paints, thinner, solvents. Any of those could temporarily blind someone. Turpentine could burn a cornea. If Kyle went down to check on Grant… possibilities emerged.
Kyle picked up the knife he had set on the counter behind him when he’d started to massage her shoulders and moved to the basement door. “What’s wrong?” he called.
“I must have hit a nail when I fell on the steps. I’m bleeding.” Grant’s voice sounded weak.
Go down, go down, go down. Cami inched forward in her chair, gripping the arms and praying.
Kyle glanced back at her, uncertainty plain in his expression. She forced herself to smile.
“We can’t leave him down there, bleeding all over my canvasses.” Aligning herself with Kyle by saying “we” seemed to reassure him. A sudden grin split his face and he turned to go down the stairs.
As soon as he was out of sight, she whirled around to grab a knife from the butcher-block rack on the counter behind her. Empty. An urge to scream followed by tears swept over her. Think, Camille. She could tell by the fading sound of his footsteps, he was almost to the bottom. She took hold of the knife block itself. A solid chunk of maple with slots for storing knives, it had been a house-warming gift from Meredith. She held it up, considering its possibilities as a blunt instrument. It weighed at least seven pounds. It would have to do.
Sounds of a scuffle and a scream of agony spurred her toward the open basement door. More noises and grunts followed, then someone hurried up the steps. Cami stood behind the door, the knife block high overhead.