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At His Mercy

By:Alison Kent

Chapter One


No matter how many times Lise Kimball told herself the dread in her stomach was nothing, the pressure increased exponentially with every mile she drove. Her life was packed, tossed, and squeezed into her SUV, and there was no way around it.

Her right rear tire was going flat.

For the last half hour, her steering wheel had been pulling and the loud thumping noise whirring louder. Finally, she'd accepted the inevitable and put on her flashers, hoping to avoid a rear-end collision while creeping along the break down lane.

She knew the mechanics of changing a tire, but since this would be her first time and she was going to have to unload a lot of boxes to get to her spare, she had her fingers crossed the tire would hold until she reached the highway exit ahead.

The fact that the night was dark as burned oil and the oasis ahead well-lighted had her encouraging the steel belted radial to hang in there. And while she was at it, she promised any greater power listening that she would never again trust her vehicle’s maintenance—or any part of her life—to someone who twisted that trust to suit his needs.

Wouldn’t her soon-to-be-ex enjoy seeing her battling a car jack and a tire iron?

She wondered how Mark had reacted when the divorce papers had been served at his law office this morning. And then she laughed, the sound tinged with the hysteria she’d been trying to keep at bay.

She didn’t need to wonder. She knew, and pictured him so clearly her stomach clutched harder, nearly making her sick.

The tic in his jaw as he ground it. The strain around his mouth as he pressed his lips tight. The set of his shoulders as he held himself in check. Save for the shows of emotion presented to the juries deciding his clients' fates, Mark Kimball's public persona was ice.

No, he’d strike out later. At the racquetball court. On the freeway between his firm’s downtown Atlanta location and their suburban home. At her. Never with his fists, of course, but with words.

And he was so, so good with words. As good as he was with silences. As good as he was with his body which he shared only when in his best interest to do so.

Yeah. She’d had enough. Or rather, she hadn’t had enough.

It had been weeks, months since the man who’d sworn ten years ago to cherish her until death did them part had visited her bed. Last she'd looked, cherishing went a lot further than seeing to her material needs and whims as he pleased.

A master manipulator, Mark Kimball.

But that was all behind her. In front of her stretched the rest of her life and, hallelujah, the beautiful highway exit ramp. She limped down its length, following the blacktop to the stop sign and the beacon of lights which had beckoned her.

The lights turned out to be big square halogens mounted on tall pines ringing the parking lot of a restaurant and bar. Across the intersection, the exit ramp became an entrance ramp, feeding back into to the highway. Signs indicated a right turn would take her into a town called Danport.

She didn’t need a town. With patience, the bright lamps shining, and her upper body sculpted and strengthened by months spent in the care of Mark’s personal trainer, she’d be fine.

Because really. If she couldn't change a tire by herself, she wasn't going to make it very far on her own.

#

The screen door catching behind him, Donovan True stepped off the bar’s back stairs and onto the parking lot’s asphalt. He turned for the recycle bins, tossed a bag of longnecks into the first, one of aluminum cans into the other.

Glass clanked and rattled, breaking, cracking like a shot. The sound brought the two strays who lived in the woods behind the building running as if Pavlov himself had whistled. Both were mutts, one a beagle mix, the other a coarse-haired terrier. Neither wore tags on their collars.

He hadn’t been able to get close enough to check the collars themselves for engraving. And folks around here weren’t into microchipping anymore than they were into fencing their yards. Danport was a small burg with a mostly rural population. No leash laws. Pets ran free. He got that.

What he didn’t get was people not seeing to the welfare of what—or who—they’d taken on or been charged with. Whether that something was a dog, another human being, or the business that provided their living.

Not that he minded living in Danport for now. Or keeping the place afloat for a friend doing time.

But if Donovan hadn’t been in a position to make the move to Mississippi and the commitment to the restaurant while his buddy learned the truth about drinking and driving at the hands of the state, there would’ve been nothing for said buddy to come back to, The Swamp Pit having gone to the dogs … so to speak.

At the sound of metal clattering and groaning from the building’s front, Donovan pushed up from the roasting pan of scraps he’d set down for the strays, wiping his hands on the towel flung over his shoulder and heading that way.

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