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If She Fled

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If She Fled



Blake Pierce

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes fifteen books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising thirteen books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising six books; of the KERI LOCKE mystery series, comprising five books; of the MAKING OF RILEY PAIGE mystery series, comprising four books (and counting); of the KATE WISE mystery series, comprising six books (and counting); of the CHLOE FINE psychological suspense mystery, comprising five books (and counting); and of the JESSE HUNT psychological suspense thriller series, comprising five books (and counting).

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.

Copyright © 2019 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright andreiuc88, used under license from Shutterstock.com.









NEXT DOOR (Book #1)


CUL DE SAC (Book #3)





IF SHE KNEW (Book #1)

IF SHE SAW (Book #2)

IF SHE RAN (Book #3)

IF SHE HID (Book #4)

IF SHE FLED (Book #5)



WATCHING (Book #1)

WAITING (Book #2)

LURING (Book #3)

TAKING (Book #4)

STALKING (Book #5)


ONCE GONE (Book #1)

ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)


ONCE LURED (Book #4)


ONCE PINED (Book #6)


ONCE COLD (Book #8)


ONCE LOST (Book #10)

ONCE BURIED (Book #11)

ONCE BOUND (Book #12)




ONCE MISSED (Book #16)

















CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)












Most days, Karen Hopkins enjoyed working from home. She stayed busy, which was good because her little web optimization business was only supposed to be a side gig but had somehow become a full-time thing—a full-time thing that was going to help her and Gerald, her husband, retire in two or three years. But there were some days when the clients were so damned stupid that she almost yearned for the years when she’d answered to someone else. The ability to pass troublesome clients off to someone higher up the chain would have benefited her greatly far too often.

She was staring at an email, wondering how she could respond to her client’s asinine question with a response that would not make her sound rude. She had one of her classical playlists currently playing on Spotify—but not the kind with multiple strings that drowned out the piano. No, she preferred just the piano. Currently, she was trying to enjoy Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1.

The key word was trying. She was distracted by the email and the occasional question from the man in the den. The den was separated from her office by a single wall, meaning that whenever the man had a question, he basically had to scream it at her. He was friendly enough but good grief, she was starting to wish she had never called him.

“This is a gorgeous rug you have in here,” he said, his voice bellowing through the wall, through Erik Satie, and through her collected thoughts concerning this damned email. “Is it Oriental?”

“I believe so,” Karen said, calling over her shoulder. Her back faced the entryway to the hallway and the den beyond, forcing her to have to speak rather loudly.

She tried to keep her voice polite…chipper, even. But it was hard. She was too distracted. This email was an important one. It was a repeat client that looked to be bringing in even more work several months from now, but the people running his business were apparently idiots.

She started typing her response, choosing each word carefully. It was hard to sound professional and reasonable when you were angry and questioning the intelligence of the person you were writing to. She knew this very well, as she felt like she had to endure it several times a month.

She made it four seconds in before the man in the parlor called out again. Karen cringed, wishing she had never called him. The timing was all bad. What the hell had she been thinking? This whole thing could have waited until the weekend, really.

“I see the pictures of your kids on the mantel. How many are there? Three?”


“How old are they now?”

She had to bite her lip to not curse at the man. It was important to keep up appearances, though. Besides, she never knew when she might have to call on him again.

“Oh, they’re all grown now—twenty, twenty-three, and twenty-seven.”

“A beautiful bunch of kids for sure,” he replied. He then went quiet. She heard him moving around in the den, including the occasional bit of low-drone humming. It took Karen a moment to realize that he was humming along to the music from her office, which had transitioned into another piece by Satie. She rolled her eyes, really wishing he would stay quiet. Sure, she had called him over to perform a service but he was already irritating her. Didn’t most workmen just come over, work in silence, and then leave happily paid? What was this guy’s problem?

“Thank you,” she managed to say, really not liking the idea of him looking at pictures of her kids.

She lowered her head and got back to the email. Of course, it was no use. Apparently, her visitor was bent on having a conversation through the wall.

“They live around here?” he asked.

“No,” she said. She was rather short and blunt this time, going so far as to turn her head all the way to the right so he could perhaps hear the irritation in her voice. She did not intend to give him the locations of each of her children. God only knew what kind of questions he could make out of that.

“I see,” he said.

If she had not been so preoccupied with the email in front of her, she might have recognized an eerie chill in the silence that followed this question. It was a pregnant silence, the type that promises something else to follow.

“You expecting any other visitors today?”

She wasn’t sure why, but something about this question sparked fear in her. It was an odd question for a stranger to ask, particularly one she had hired for a service. And had she heard something different in his tone with that question?

Concerned now, she turned away from her laptop. There seemed to be something going on with him. And now she was no longer just irritated by his questions, she was growing scared as well.

“I have a few friends coming over for coffee later,” she lied. “Not sure when, though. Most of the time, they usually just swing by whenever they feel like it.”

To this, she got no response and that was scarier than anything else. Slowly, Karen rolled her chair back and stood up. She walked to the doorway that connected her office to the den. She peeked inside to see what he was doing.

He was not there. The tools of his trade were still there, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Call the police…

The thought raced through her mind and she knew it was good advice. But she also knew she was prone to overexaggerating. Maybe he had gone back out to his truck or something.

No way, she thought. Did you hear the door open and close? Besides, he’s been chatty from the get-go. He would have told you he was heading back outside…


She froze, a few steps into the den. “Hey,” she said, her voice wavering a bit. “Where’d you go?”

No response.

Something is wrong, that voice in her head screamed. Call the police now!

With terror blooming in her gut, Karen slowly backed out of the den. She started to turn back toward her office, where her cell phone sat on her desk.

As she turned, she collided with something hard. She could smell sweat for just a moment but barely had time to register it.

That’s when something went around her neck, pulling tight.

Karen Hopkins struggled, fighting against whatever was around her neck. But the harder she fought, the tighter the thing on her neck became. It was rough, cutting and digging in deeper as she struggled. She felt a thin stream of blood trailing down over her chest at the same time she realized she found it difficult to breathe.

She fought regardless, doing what she could to pull the attacker into the office so she could grab her cell phone. She felt more blood running down her neck, nothing major, still just a trickle. The thing around her neck grew even tighter. She slowly sagged as she came within several feet of her desk. As she did, all her eyes could see was the laptop screen in front of her. That white screen, with an incomplete email that she would never send.

She watched the cursor blinking insistently, waiting for her next word.

But it would never come.


One of the many things that surprised Kate Wise in this, her fifty-fifth year of life (with the fifty-sixth just a few weeks away), was how getting ready for a date never failed to make her feel like an insecure teenager again. Was her makeup right? Was it too much? Should she start coloring her hair darker to combat the grays that seemed to be slowly winning the battle for her hair? Should she wear a sensible bra that was all about comfort or one that would be easy for Alan to remove when the date came to its end?

It was a nice sort of anxiousness, one that reminded her she had been through this before. When she had been married, she’d felt the same way in getting ready for a date all the way up through the first year. But now with Alan, the first man she had dated since Michael died, she had been forced to learn how to date all over again.

It was getting easier quite fast with Alan. They were both in their mid-fifties, so there was a sense of urgency to each date—an unspoken knowledge that if this relationship was going to come to something other than dating, they needed to fully invest in it. So far, through a few obstacles here and there, they had done exactly that. And to this point, it had been pretty incredible.

Tonight’s date was to be dinner, a movie, and then back to her place, where they’d spend the night together. That was another thing their age allowed them to do in dating: to skip the will-we-won’t-we when it came to the bedroom. The answer for the last few months had been an unequivocal yes—a yes that carried over after nearly every date (something else that surprised Kate about dating at the age of fifty-five).

As she applied her lipstick—just a bit, like she knew Alan liked—a knock at her front door startled her. She checked her watch and saw that it was only 6:35, a full twenty-five minutes earlier than she had been expecting Alan.

She smiled, assuming he had come by early. Maybe he wanted to swap the order of the date and go ahead and do the bedroom part first. It would be a pain to get undressed moments after she’d gotten dressed, but it would be worth it. With a smile on her face, she left her bedroom, walked through the house, and answered the door.

When she saw that it was Melissa on the other side, she went through several emotions quite quickly: surprise, disappointment, and then worry. Melissa was carrying the car seat in her right hand as little Michelle stared out. When Michelle’s eyes found her grandmother, she beamed and started reaching out, making clutching motions with her little hands.

“Melissa, hi,” Kate said. “Come in, come in.”

Melissa did as asked, frowning as she looked her mother over. “Crap. Are you going out? A date with Alan?”

“Yeah. He’s coming over in about twenty minutes. Why? What’s up?”

It was then, as they settled down on the couch, that Kate noticed something seemed to be troubling Melissa. “I was hoping you could watch Michelle tonight.”

“Melissa…I’d love to any other time. You know that. But as you can see, I already have plans. Is…is everything okay?”

Melissa shrugged. “I guess. I don’t know. Terry has been weird lately. Honestly, he’s been weird ever since Michelle’s health scare. He’s just not there sometimes, you know? It’s been worse the last few days, and I don’t quite know why.”

“So you two need some time together? A date of your own?”

Melissa shook her head, frowning. “No. We just need to have a talk. A very long, serious talk. And there might be yelling. And as distant as he’s been lately, he and I both agree that we’re never going to yell at each other while there’s a child in the house.”

“Is he…is he mistreating you?”

“No, nothing like that.”

Kate looked down at the car seat, slowly taking Michelle out. “Lissa, you should have called. Given me a heads-up.”

“I did. I tried, about an hour ago. But it rang a few times and went to voicemail.”

“Ah hell. I left it on silent after I went to the dentist today. I’m so sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry. I hate to ask you for this favor so last minute when you clearly already have plans. But…I don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry if it feels like I’m taking advantage of you, but you’re…you’re all I have, Mom. But lately, it feels like you’re moving on. You have Alan and your sort-of job with the bureau now. I feel like you’re forgetting about me…that Michelle and I are more of a nuisance than anything else.”

It broke Kate’s heart to hear those words. She sat Michelle on her lap, holding her little hands and bouncing her lightly.

“I have not forgotten about you,” Kate said. “If anything, I think I’ve been trying to rediscover myself. Through work, through Alan…through you and Michelle. You’ve never been a nuisance.”

I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come over after you didn’t answer your phone. We can do this some other time, maybe a few days from now…does that sound good?”

“No,” Kate said. “Tonight. Take tonight.”

“But your date…”

“Alan will understand. He’s grown pretty fond of Michelle, you know.”

“Mom…are you sure?”

“I’m positive.”

She leaned over and wrapped Melissa up in a hug. Michelle squirmed in her lap, reaching up with a free hand to clutch her grandma’s hair. “I was scared when Michelle was going through all of that hospital mess, too,” she said as they embraced. “Maybe Terry just never processed it. Give him a chance to explain. And if he gives you a hard time, remind him that your mother carries a gun.”

Melissa laughed as they broke the hug. Michelle laughed too, clapping her chubby little hands together.

“Tell Alan I said I’m sorry,” Melissa said.

“I will. And if things get weird tonight, let me know. You’re always welcome to stay here if you need a break from it all.”

Melissa nodded and kissed Michelle on the head. “You be good for Grandma, okay?”

Michelle had no response to this, as she was currently slapping at one of the buttons on Kate’s shirt. Kate watched Melissa leave and could clearly see just how torn she was. It made Kate wonder if things were worse at home than she was letting on.

Once the door was closed, Kate looked down at Michelle and gave her a smile. Michelle happily returned it as she reached up for her grandmother’s nose.

“Is Mommy happy at home?” Kate asked. “Are Mommy and Daddy doing okay?”

Michelle grabbed her nose and squeezed, as if reminding her of her duties. Kate grinned and stuck her tongue out, realizing that maybe watching Michelle could be a date in its own right.


When Kate answered the door for Alan fifteen minutes later, he looked both happy and confused. His eyes were alight and sparkling as they usually were when they took in the sight of Kate. He then saw the ten-month-old baby in her arms, causing his eyes to narrow into confusion. He smiled regardless, as Kate had told Melissa the truth less than half an hour ago; Alan loved Michelle almost as much as Kate did.

“I think she’s a little young to be serving as a third wheel,” Alan said.

“I know. Look, Alan, I’m sorry. But there’s been a change of plans…like in the past half an hour. Melissa and Terry are going through a hard time. Terry is being really distant and weird. They have to work through some stuff…”

Alan shrugged nonchalantly. “Am I still invited in?”

“Of course.”

He kissed them both—first Kate on the lips and then Michelle on the forehead—before stepping inside. Kate’s heart warmed toward him at once. First of all, he looked handsome as always. He’d dressed nicely for their date, but not too nice. He managed to always dress in a way that made it look like he could fit in at a cocktail patio on the beach or a swanky downtown restaurant.

“You think they’ll be okay?” Alan asked.

“I think so. I think Michelle’s health scare rocked Terry more than he knew. It’s just now starting to catch up with him and I think it might be affecting their marriage.”

“That’s rough,” Alan said. He opened his hands to Michelle and she instantly reached for him. As he snuggled her close and she slapped at his cheek, Alan regarded Kate with what wasn’t quite concern, but something close.

“Did she not even call?” he asked.

“She tried and…damn. I still forgot to take it off silent. Went to the dentist for a checkup.”

She took her phone out of her purse and switched the ringer back on. She saw at once where Melissa had indeed tried to call her an hour and twenty minutes ago.

“Well, you know, we can have the date here,” he said. “We can call up some Thai food and watch a movie. And the ending part of it all could be the same.”

Kate nodded and smiled, but her attention was still on her phone. She had missed another call as well. And the number had tried calling twice, having left a message the last time.

It was a call from DC—from Director Duran.


She blinked and looked away from the phone. She hated that she felt like she had been caught doing something bad.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. It’s just…work called, too. About three hours ago.”

“Return the call then,” Alan said. He was pretending to dance with Michelle and although he wore a happy face, Kate could sense some irritation lurking beneath. But she also knew that he’d only press her harder to go ahead and make the call if she refused.

“One second,” she said, walking into the kitchen and returning Duran’s call.

The phone rang only twice before it was answered. Even in something as simple as “hello,” Duran sounded pissed.

“Kate, there you are. Where have you been?”

“My phone was on silent. Sorry. Is everything okay?”

“Well, when you didn’t answer the last time, I’ve sort of been scrambling around.”

“Over what?”

“There’s a case out in Illinois—two murders that seem related but there’s no hard link. It’s pretty much stumped the local PD, and the field office out of Chicago pointed out that you were familiar with the area…the Fielding case you cracked in 2002. They said they’re glad to put their own agents on it, but were asking if you’d rather take it. They’re kind of excited about the idea of getting you back out there.”


“I’d like to get you on a plane tonight. Get you and DeMarco out there nice and early in the morning.”

“What are the details?”

“I can send you what I have, but there’s still some stuff coming in. Police reports, forensics, all of that. Can I count on you?”

Kate looked back over at Alan, still dancing with Michelle. She was bopping him on the nose and on the mouth while he sang a Bob Dylan song to her. If she took the case, she’d have to call Melissa back and tell her she couldn’t keep Michelle. Not tonight. And she’d also have to cancel plans with Alan.

“What happens if I can’t?” she asked Duran.

“Then I’m going to pass it over to the field office in Chicago. But I really think you’re the perfect match for this. All I need you to do is find some leads and get it rolling. After that, local agents can roll with it.”


“Let me think about it?”

“Kate, I need to know now. I have to let the local PD and the Chicago field office know what’s going down.”

In her heart, she knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to take it. She wanted to take it very badly. And if that made her selfish, then…then so what? There was a huge difference between putting family first and denying herself the opportunities and the chance to live her own life. She knew if she turned this opportunity down just because she had stepped in to watch Michelle for Melissa at the last minute, she’d feel resentful toward them both. It hurt to admit it, but there it was, the honest and raw truth.

“Okay, yes, count me in. Are there flight details yet?”

“DeMarco is taking care of all of that,” Duran said. “She’ll be contacting you soon.”

Kate ended the call, her eyes again traveling over to Alan and Michelle. The strained look on Alan’s face told her that he had heard the conversation.

“When are you leaving?” he asked.

“I don’t know. DeMarco is in charge of the itinerary. Sometime tonight. Alan…I’m sorry.”

He said nothing, looking away as he sat down on the couch with Michelle. “It is what it is,” he finally said. “And don’t feel too bad…I still have a pretty hot date here.”

“Don’t be silly, Alan. I’ll call Melissa and explain things to her.”

“No. If they need the respite, let them have it. As you might know, I am fully capable of watching after this little one.”

“Alan, I couldn’t possibly ask you to do that!”

“And you never would. Which is why I am volunteering it.”

Kate came over to the couch and sat next to him. She rested her head on his shoulder. “Do you know how incredible you are?”

He shrugged. “Do you?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, sensing some resentment in his tone.

“I mean, this thing with you and your work. It was supposed to be an every now and then thing, right? And honestly, to be fair, it has been. But when it’s on, it’s on. They want you to drop everything and come running when they call.”

“It’s part of the job, though.”

“A job you retired from two years ago. Did you really miss it that much?”

“Alan…that’s not fair.”

“Maybe not. I won’t pretend to know what kind of lure that job holds over you. But I’m on the same sidelines as Melissa and Michelle. There’s only so much more of this I’m going to be able to take.”

“If you feel so strongly, I won’t take this one. I’ll call Duran back and—”

“No. You need to take it. I don’t want you taking it out on me or your daughter if you let it pass you by. So, go. Take it. But coming from someone who is rapidly falling more and more in love with you, I feel I should tell you that you need to have some hard conversations when you come back. With me, your daughter, and maybe even yourself.”

Kate’s first reaction was one of anger and resentment. But maybe he was right. After all, hadn’t she realized her decision was borderline selfish just several moments ago? She’d be fifty-six in three weeks. Maybe it was time she finally drew up some boundaries in terms of her work. And if it meant that her special little set-up with Duran and the bureau came to an end, so be it.

“Alan…I need you to be honest. If me taking this is going to strain us…”

“It won’t. Not this time. But I don’t know how much longer it can go on into the future.”

She opened her mouth to respond but her phone rang, interrupting her. She checked the display and saw that it was Jo DeMarco, the young woman who had been serving as her partner for the last year, riding along on this little experiment between her and the FBI.

“It’s DeMarco,” she said. “I need to get travel details.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to clear it with me.”

What she didn’t say but felt deep in her heart was: Then why do I feel like I have to?

It was a question she did not feel like wrestling with at the moment. And, as she had been doing when presented with questions like this over the last few months, she turned her attention to work. With a sting of guilt, she answered the call.

“Hey, DeMarco. What’s up?”

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