There was fear.
And then there was terror.
The two might have seemed similar, but they couldn’t have been more different.
Fear was the extra beats of a racing heart, the anxiety simmering below the surface, and the trembling hands hidden from view.
The terror was all-consuming. Debilitating. It wasn’t just a fast heartbeat, but the belief a heart would stop altogether. It wasn’t just anxiety thrumming through the nerves, but the inability to even speak through the emotion.
Terror was vomit in the throat.
Fear and terror were not the same.
Violet Gallucci had never considered the differences between the two until terror was staring her straight in the face and laughing.
First, it came as a phone call. A simple call that silenced the men milling around her house who her husband had left behind to watch her. Then it came as a hand grabbing her wrist hard enough to leave bruises as she was shoved into a car with a gruff, “We gotta go.”
Violet’s questions, asked quietly from the backseat of someone’s SUV, had gone unanswered. She listened as more phone calls were made, and sharp, angry Russian was spewed between men.
She heard his name said.
A few times.
Terror was being shuffled from one car to another without an explanation. It was someone’s coat being thrown over her head as she was pushed into another backseat with a quiet, “Keep her face hidden.”
She didn’t bother to ask questions after that, knowing good and damn well they wouldn’t be answered anyway.
Terror was streets whipping by in a blur and worried eyes watching her in a rearview mirror after she’d yanked the coat off her head. It was streetlights that seemed too bright in the middle of the night with the snow falling down in heavy flakes. It was pulling into the emergency parking lot and seeing cars already waiting.
A fleet of them.
Men leaning against the driver’s doors.
Gazes trained on their car as it slowed to a stop.
Like they knew …
Like they were already waiting.
But she didn’t know.
But above all else, more than all that had come before, terror was seeing Ruslan Markovic sitting on the floor of a trauma triage room, bloodstained and silent.
Violet just … stared.
At the blood on the man’s hands and his clothes. At the bloody shoe prints smeared across the tiled floor that spoke of rushed chaos. At the handprint on the curtain where someone had flung it open.
And the wheel marks …
Violet’s gaze followed those to where a janitor was just starting to clean them, the heady scent of bleach filling the hallway.
Someone said something—a question, she was sure—but she didn’t really hear it. She couldn’t hear anything over the rushing in her ears or the tightening of her lungs with every breath that seemed to be a little more painful than the last.
Ruslan finally looked up, but he stared past her to someone else. Bloody fingers lifted high to his throat, slashing back and forth without even saying a word.
It took a while, more questions and silence, before sound began to bleed through Violet’s overworked senses.
Touch and go.
But worst of all was the I don’t know’s.
She’d heard the question that came before that answer, but she really didn’t want to.
Is Kaz alive?
“I don’t know.”