Max crossed to the other side of the hall and sat down heavily in one of the chairs. Liz had left without saying a word to him. She had sneaked out when she knew he was coming back.
What was going on?
He thought they were getting alone so well, and he was sure she genuinely cared for him. She’d agreed to stay with him while she got better, so why had she suddenly changed her mind and run away? He didn’t understand.
His mind was a jumble of conflicting emotions and thoughts. He was so confused and so worried and he felt like he’d been kicked in the gut. There was only one thing he knew for sure.
Liz was gone.
“Yeah,” the nurse continued, “that girl shouldn’t be out of the hospital so soon. Do you think you could talk her into staying?”
Max leapt to his feet. “What do you mean, she’s still here?”
“Well,” the nurse said, “they went down in the elevator as you were coming up, so maybe you could still catch them.”
Max glanced at the slow elevators and then at the stairs. They were only on the sixth floor, and if he ran, maybe he could catch her.
He started toward the stairs at a jog, when his name was called.
“Max, wait,” his bodyguard called out.
Max had forgotten Steve was with him, he’d been so anxious to see Liz. But he didn’t stop, calling over his shoulder. “Take the elevator, and I’ll take the stairs, and we’ll see if we can catch her.”
“But Max,” Steve called back, concerned, “we shouldn’t separate. Brody is still downstairs, and Tess…”
Max cut him off. “I’ll be fine. Call down to Brody and tell him to come up the stairs,” he yelled louder as he reached the door to the stairwell. “And call Ed in the car to see if he can spot them.”
With a burst of speed Max pushed through the door, sprinting down the stairs. He made it down two flights before he heard someone coming up. Expecting to see Brody, he swung around onto the next landing, but instead came face-to-face with a small brunette in hospital scrubs, carrying a large canvas bag.
“Excuse me,” he said, trying to bob around her.
But the woman stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
“Max,” she said seductively.
For a split second Max thought she was a fan, but the ice-blue eyes looking at him made him recoil.
“Tess?” he said, surprised.
Instantly he started backing up, his gaze raking over her, wondering if she had a weapon.
She followed him, giggling. “I didn’t expect to see you.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he demanded.
“Oh Max, you knew I would come,” she purred. “I have to get rid of that bitch for you.”
Max felt a rush of anger. He wanted to punch her. “You almost killed her, you psycho,” he growled.
Tess’ face took on a hard look. “Don’t call me that,” she hissed. “You know everything I’ve done is so we can be together.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, Tess,” he shouted, “I don’t want to be with you.”
Faster than he thought possible she was practically on top of him, wielding a knife. He stumbled back up the stairs, fighting to keep his footing.
“You bastard!” she screamed, jabbing at him with the knife. “How dare you talk to me like that!”
She lunged at him, arcing the knife up toward him.
“Fuck!” he shouted, jumping back just in time, but the tip slashed through his shirt.
Another voice came up the stairs. “Max, are you okay?”
“Help, Brody!” Max called out. “She’s got a knife!”
Tess hissed at him like an angry cat, but turned and ran down to the nearest door, disappearing through it.
In shock, Max stayed where he was until Brody appeared. “She went in there,” he said, pointing. “She’s got on a dark wig and green scrubs.”
“Are you okay?” Brody asked, scanning him quickly.
Max nodded. “Yeah.”
“Go straight downstairs,” Brody ordered, as he ran after Tess. “Steve will meet you.”
Suddenly Max remembered why he’d been going downstairs in the first place. Liz! He sprinted down the rest of the way and burst out onto the main floor, practically slamming into Steve.
The bodyguard noticed Max’s slashed shirt immediately. “Shit, Max, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Max said impatiently. “Did you find Liz?”
“No,” Steve said. “I’m sorry, but they’re already gone.”
Max shook his head, starting toward the doors. “No, they can’t be. They were just here. I’m sure we can still catch them.”
Steve gripped Max’s arm tightly. “Max, she’s gone.”
Turning back, Max’s face fell. “Why?” he asked Steve. “Why didn’t she say anything?”
“I don’t know,” Steve soothed, “but I’m sure she’ll contact you.”
Max nodded, but he wasn’t sure Liz would contact him at all. She’d left without a word, sneaking away to escape him. He didn’t know why, but he was damned sure going to find out.
“Where does she live?” he demanded of Steve. “I’ve got to go see her.”
“Max,” Steve started softly, “I don’t know where she lives. Maybe one of her team knows, but we need to…”
Max cut him off. “Then I need to talk to them,” he said, looking around anxiously.
“The police are on their way,” Steve said, holding Max back. “You have to stay and give them a statement.”
“I don’t care about that,” Max said, trying to shake Steve’s hand off his arm. “I want to get to Liz and,,,”
“Max,” Steve interrupted, “you need to help them catch Tess. Liz won’t be safe until that woman is back behind bars.”
Reluctantly Max nodded, and stopped trying to pull away from Steve. “Okay,” he agreed, “but then I want to see Liz.”
Maybe that was it, Max thought. Maybe Liz had gone into hiding to be safe from Tess. But if that was true, why hadn’t she told him?
Tess hurried along the hospital corridor and ducked into the first empty room. Quickly she took off the dark wig and the loose scrubs, stuffing them into a closet.
Underneath she was wearing nice slacks and a blouse and she pulled a long red wig out of her bag. Stuffing her blonde curls up into it, she settled the wig on her head. A pair of glasses, a smaller purse and high-heeled pumps completed her disguise. She tossed the canvas bag and comfortable shoes into the closet with the scrubs, stuffed the knife in a biohazard container and sedately walked out of the room.
With a smile she saw one of Max’s bodyguards emerge from the stairwell, but she wasn’t concerned. She knew he wouldn’t recognize her. The heels made her several inches taller and the wig not only changed her hair color but it was much longer than her real hair.
She went to the elevator, pressing the button, and even gave the bodyguard a small smile as his gaze raked over her.
The police would be there in a matter of moments, she knew, but she had plenty of time to get away. Tess was just annoyed she hadn’t accomplished what she’d come to do.
Liz was still alive, and she’d had an argument with Max.
She’d been so excited to see him, but he was obviously mad at her. She couldn’t really blame him for being upset because she’d failed him repeatedly.
She couldn’t believe she’d yelled at him either. When she got home she’d make him an apology letter to let him know she still loved him, and she was totally committed to their relationship.
Finally the elevator came and she smiled as she stepped on and the doors closed. On the way to the lobby she started composing the letter in her head.
When she reached her destination the doors slid open and she was rewarded with another glimpse of Max. His arm was being gripped by another of his bodyguards, and the two seemed to be arguing.
Tess couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she had to resist the urge to go to him. Instead she concentrated on keeping her eyes off Max and getting out the door.
She could just hear sirens in the distance as she got outside, but she wasn’t worried. She’d be long gone before they arrived.
Three days later Max was going insane. Liz hadn’t returned to her house and no one seemed to know where she’d gone. Or if they did they weren’t talking.
The bodyguard who had helped Liz leave the hospital returned to Max’s house later that day to continue his security job. He’d given Max a brief note from Liz, but when Max questioned him, Owen said he’d simply helped Liz pack, and then put her in a friend’s car. He didn’t know where she was going or who she was with.
Max had repeatedly called her phone, but it went straight to voicemail. He’d even scoured the file he had on her, but there was no information about Liz’s friends or family.
He knew she had a sister as well as her mother and father, but he had no idea where they lived. Why hadn’t he asked her more about herself? But he knew the answer. He’d thought they had time to discover everything about each other, and he’d been too occupied making love to her.
Now he was paying the price.
It was all just so new to him. He’d only known her a couple of weeks, but for the first time he’d been so incredibly happy and fulfilled. For the first time in his life his heart was so full and open, and it was all because he was in love. He wanted to spend every minute with her, and the whole world outside seemed like a distraction.
He never thought he’d lose her or the feelings inside him, but now that she was gone he just felt empty. He couldn’t understand why she’d left. He just needed to talk to her and try to get her to come back to him.
When he couldn’t find Liz by the end of the first day, he’d called his brother-in-law Alex and asked that he have the private investigator locate her. But he still wasn’t any closer to learning where she was.
No one had been able to find Tess either.
Somehow she’d slipped out of the hospital even though they had over a two-dozen people searching for her. Then later that day she sent him another letter full of more psychotic ramblings about being together after she killed Liz.
It made Max even more worried for Liz. How could he be sure she was safe with Tess still after her?
Max paced around his study feeling completely helpless. He wanted to be doing something, anything, checking the places he knew Liz went, or just searching the streets. It was crazy but he wanted to be occupied. The waiting was killing him.
“Where can she be?” he asked no one in particular.
“Max,” Alex soothed, “you’re doing everything you can.”
“Yeah,” Michael agreed, “the PI will find her. It’s just a matter of time.”
Max shook his head. “How is it possible that no one can find her parents?”
“They moved,” Alex said, “and didn’t leave forwarding information, that’s all. It happens all the time. The PI can find them, it just takes a little time.”
“I just feel like I should be doing more,” Max said. “I don’t even know if she’s okay.”
Maria spoke up. “Max, there’s that media party tonight for the opening of…”
Max cut her off. “I’m not going to any parties,” he growled. “Liz is missing.”
Her eyes widened at his tone. “Okay, I just thought you should get out of the house and take your mind off…”
“I can’t believe you’re saying that,” he snapped. “Would you go to a party if Michael was missing?”
“She’s not missing,” Isabel said, getting annoyed. Max had been in a foul mood since Liz left, and he was taking it out on them.
“No one knows where she is,” Max growled. “And she just had surgery. She could be hurt or sick.”
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Alex said, trying to calm him. “She’s with her family and they’re taking care of her.”
Max shook his head and resumed pacing. “We don’t know that. We won’t know anything for sure until we find her.”
“Come on, Max,” Michael said, holding out a beer to him, “you’ve got to calm down, or you’ll make yourself sick, and you won’t be any good to her when we do find her.”
The words seemed to take a long time to reach Max but finally he stopped and took the offered beer. “Okay,” he said, taking a quick sip. But his mind was still focused on Liz, and his gaze darted around the room trying to think of anything else he could do.
Isabel crossed to Maria and lowered her voice so Max wouldn’t hear them. “We need to find her soon. He’s making himself crazy.”
“Yeah,” Maria agreed, “and making all of us crazy too.”
“I’ve never seen him like this before,” Isabel said. “He’s dated so many women, and if one left he just moved on to the next one. He really does love Liz, doesn’t he?”
Maria nodded. “Yeah, he’s a total goner. And it seemed like Liz was really into him too. I wonder why she left.”
“I don’t know,” Isabel said. “I’ve been thinking about that, and I can’t believe she didn’t even talk to him about it. Maybe things were moving too fast for her. Or maybe she fell in love with him, but doesn’t think my brother could change his player ways.”
“The note she sent him was really vague too,” Maria said.
“Yeah,” Isabel agreed, “Max showed it me. Liz just said something about needing to get away to recuperate, and to give her things she left here to Owen, and he would take them to her house.”
Maria sighed. “It doesn’t sound like she’s planning on seeing Max again, does it?”
Isabel shook her head. “And heaven help us all if we can’t find her.”
Maria looked at her. “What do you mean? You don’t think the PI can find her?”
“Well,” Isabel said, “Liz is smart and she’s trained to protect people. Her parents have disappeared, no one can find any record of them. Don’t you think she had something to do with that? What if she ‘erased’ any trace of them to keep them safe or something? With her job she could have all kinds of psychos looking for revenge.”
“I never thought of that,” Maria said, “but it makes sense. I just hope you’re wrong.”
“Me too,” Isabel agreed. “Because until Max knows Liz is okay, he won’t ever stop looking.”
Tess had carefully watched Max’s house, waiting for Liz to return, but for three days there had been no sign of her. So, Tess reasoned, either Max was through with her, or Liz was still in the hospital.
She grinned with satisfaction. Max said Liz almost died, maybe she was hurt worse than Tess thought. And if she was still in the hospital, it would make her so much easier to kill.
A couple of days had passed and Tess thought it would safe to return in a new disguise.
She wore a short, dark wig and carried a large vase of flowers, and when she got to the hospital, she stole a candy striper uniform. No one would question her.
This time she took the elevator straight to the floor where Liz was staying. She approached the room cautiously and didn’t see any security, and was just thinking how lucky she was when she realized the room was empty.
With a frown she checked the room number, but she had the right one. Had Liz been moved?
A smiled crossed her face. Or maybe she was dead.
Happiness filled her, but she had to check. Boldly she went to the nurses’ station and approached the woman on duty.
“I have these flowers for Liz in room 643, but no one is in there.”
The nurse nodded. “Let me check.”
Her fingers moved quickly across the keyboard, pulling up the information, and Tess edged around the desk, eager to see.
“Hmmmm,” the nurse said, “it looks like she checked out, three days ago against doctor’s orders.”
“Oh, no,” Tess said in mock concern, but inside she was fuming. Liz was still alive. Her eyes raked over the information on the screen, looking for an address or anything else useful. But suddenly she stopped in shock, dropping the vase on the floor, and it shattered.
The nurse jumped up. “It’s okay, don’t move. There’s glass everywhere. I’ll get janitorial up here to clean it up.”
But Tess barely heard a word she said. Her eyes were still focused on a single word on Liz’s file.
Liz sat at the table with her sister, picking at her lunch. She had hardly stopped crying in the last three days.
She was so in love with Max, and she missed him terribly. At the same time she was happy she was having his baby, but so sad he would never know and never be involved in his child’s life.
When Max had finally left her alone at the hospital she acted quickly. First she called her sister, Serena, and explained everything. Then she talked Owen into helping her escape.
From the hospital Owen had taken her home to quickly pack a few things. Then her sister picked her up and they drove straight to Serena’s house.
She hadn’t told her parents yet she was pregnant, but she would have to soon.
Her sister was completely supportive, but Liz knew she didn’t really understand. Serena could see how sad she was and she kept asking if she wanted to contact Max.
“Maybe you should call him,” Serena said, taking her hand. “You’re so upset.”
Liz shook her head. “He’s never stayed with a woman more than six months. And why should he when there are tons of women throwing themselves at him all the time? It’s the exactly same thing since I knew him in college. He’ll never settle down.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” her sister said. “He’s older now. Maybe he’s changed.”
Liz wiped at her eyes. “He won’t want me or the baby.”
Once Tess had gotten over her shock that Liz was pregnant she quickly noted Liz’s address.
She was proud of herself for not letting her emotions get in her way, and now she could get revenge against Liz.
The fact that the brunette had tricked Max into getting her pregnant was just one more thing Tess hated about her. And she knew that Max would want Liz and her brat out of his life just as much as she did.
Liz was trying desperately to hold on to Max, but Tess would get rid of her for him.
She drove straight to the address listed in Liz’s file and took a little time to look around the neighborhood. It was quiet and there were lots of trees and bushes to hide her, so she parked her car and carefully made her way to the house.
All the windows were dark and there was a still, unoccupied feeling about it. Confident no one was home, Tess slipped into the backyard and smiled when she saw a basement door.
A few twists of her small metal picks and she had the locks open, entering silently.
Again she paused, listening, but there were no sounds inside the house.
Tess knew Liz wasn’t at the hospital or Max’s house, so where was she? Shopping? Out with friends?
Somehow Tess didn’t think so, but while she was waiting for Liz to come home, she’d have a look around. Going upstairs she looked into a couple of rooms before she found Liz’s bedroom. Her brows rose in surprise when she saw the mess in the room.
Clothes and empty hangers had been tossed all over the bed, drawers were left open, and a few toiletries were scattered around.
Tess suspected instantly that Liz had quickly packed up to go somewhere. A quick check around the rest of the house confirmed she was right.
The bathroom was just as messy, and key items were gone, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste. In a hall closet she even discovered a set of matching luggage, and the empty space where the large bag had recently been removed.
But where had Liz gone? Obviously not to Max’s house. Maybe she went to a friend or her family.
Going back into the bedroom Tess pulled out drawers emptying the contents on the floor, searching for letters or address book, but she had no luck. Screaming in frustration she picked up a perfume bottle and hurled it again the wall.
Then she headed to the kitchen. She tossed everything out of the drawers, growling with rage as the minutes passed and she didn’t find what she was looking for.
She wanted to hurt Liz so much for everything she had done to her. For trying to steal Max, for getting her put in jail, but especially for getting pregnant. That child should be hers!
Systematically Tess ran from one room to the next, looking in each one, and finally found the room Liz was using as an office. She paused as some of the rage inside her calmed. No doubt this is where she would get the information.
Everything would go her way. It was destiny.
She bypassed the computer and went straight to the desk drawers, and in the second one she found an address book. Glancing through it quickly, her attention settled on two entries. One for Jeff and Nancy Parker, obviously her parents, and the second for Serena Parker.
A huge smile crossed Tess’ face. That is exactly where she would start.
It was only a matter of time until she found Liz and finished what she started.
Saving Max Main
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