Run, Hide - By Carol Ericson

Chapter One

They’d found her son.

Jenna put her hand over the boy’s mouth and held a finger to her lips. His dark eyes, wide above the rim of her hand, danced with excitement. He knew the game.

Only this time it was for real.

The heavy footsteps above them shook the floor. Jenna curled her body around Gavin’s, like a mama bear hibernating with her cub. Protective. Fierce.

The muffled voices volleyed back and forth, punctuated by crashing furniture and banging closet doors. How many? Two? Three? She’d kill every last one of them to save Gavin from their clutches.

The throwaway cell phone in the pocket of her sweater buzzed and she clutched it in her fist, pushing a button with her thumb to turn it off. She could call 9-1-1, but she knew it was pointless. The people ransacking her house wouldn’t let a small, local police department stop them. Worse, they might have already turned the police against her.

Better to hide.

Better to melt away.

Gavin squirmed in her arms, so she loosened her viselike grip. He whimpered and she shushed him. Did he realize this exercise had gone beyond pretending?

He looked up at her with a pouty face and a trembling lower lip. She cuddled him close and whispered in his ear. “Just a little bit longer.”

Her eyes adjusted to the dark, and she gazed around the space beneath the slats of the wood flooring. The bundle of cash she stowed down here dug into her hip. She’d kept it for a rainy day, and it was pouring now.

With her arms wrapped around Gavin, her elbows almost touched the sides of the enclosure. They couldn’t stay here long. When they first moved in here, she’d identified this spot as a place where she and Gavin could hide out from intruders...not take up temporary residence.

Another thump and a crash had Gavin clinging to her neck even more tightly. Despite the chill of the dank air, sweat dampened her armpits. She ran her tongue around her parched mouth.

Her muscles ached with the tension of keeping still and the weight of her son’s body crushing against her. She stroked his hair with a shaky hand and murmured reassurances that she didn’t feel.

A booted footstep stomped over her head, and she instinctively ducked. Please don’t look down. Please don’t see the gap in the wood.

She shivered as a low voice rumbled above them. She caught maybe every third word and couldn’t make sense of the one-sided dialogue. So there were at least two of them.

Would they stay? Would they wait for her return?

Her car had been in the shop for the past week. She’d railed against the inconvenience, but now that broken fuel pump and the fact that her mechanic hadn’t been able to get his hands on the right parts might’ve saved her life. Her car missing from the driveway may have given the men ransacking her house the impression that she wasn’t home yet. Good.

Or would they sit and wait for her to drive up to the house? Not good.

Gavin snuffled and tapped her on the shoulder. Drawing back from him, she wedged a knuckle beneath his chin and tilted his head. She put two fingertips to his lips just in case he’d forgotten that they didn’t speak when hiding in their secret place.

His mouth formed a stubborn line and he scrunched up his freckled nose. She knew that father, like son. She couldn’t keep Gavin in here forever—or even the next half hour.

She jerked her head to the side at the sound of a higher-pitched voice, a woman’s voice, across the room by the front door. Could that be Marti?

Fear trickled down her back like a drip from an ice cube. Oh, God, Marti, run. Get out of here.

The low voices answered the high voice. If she could only hear the conversation.

The door slammed, and Gavin dug his grubby fingers into her shoulders, making a move to push against the wood slats that served as a door to their hideaway.

She clutched him tighter and shook her head and whispered, “Not yet.”

Her limbs frozen, she cocked her head and listened. Was that a truck? The same truck that had sent her and Gavin scrambling for the floorboards fifteen minutes earlier?

She bit her lip so hard that she drew a salty drop of blood. Ten more minutes. They could wait ten more minutes if it meant the difference between life and death.

The hinges of the front door squeaked as someone pushed through again. Soft footsteps stole