‘Talk to you tomorrow, honey. I love you.’
‘Love ya, Mum,’ Cameron said.
The ghost of a smile played on Liv’s lips as she dropped the phone into her handbag and listened to the crack of her high heels echo through the quiet car park. God, she missed him.
She stepped out from the lighting on the pedestrian ramp into the dimness of the third level and hesitated. This afternoon, the lot had been full but it was after seven-thirty now and all but deserted. Dark and ominous was the only way to describe it. Huge slabs of concrete on the floor and ceiling, massive shadowy columns, intermittent pools of dull light from the overhead fluorescents. Metal cages around the fixtures reminded her there were people who got cheap thrills smashing up places like this. She dug the bunch of keys from her jacket pocket, clutched the one for her car like a dagger and started across the tarmac.
Her car was on the far side, past five lanes of nose-to-nose allotments. She took a wide berth around a lone van in the second row, keeping a cautious eye on it as she passed.
You’re fine, Liv. Keep walking.
As the light grew dimmer and traffic noise from the street more distant, she picked up the pace, struggling for speed in her Italian snakeskin pumps. They were a leftover from when she had money to spend on frivolous footwear and, with her straight skirt, were hopeless for moving fast, the heels ringing in sharp, staccato claps that ricocheted back at her. Somewhere on a lower level, a bang went off like a shot from a gun and she jumped, skittering awkwardly off an ankle, adrenaline tingling in her fingers.
Just a car door closing, Liv. Calm down.
Half-a-dozen echoing steps further into the murkiness and her feet slowed as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
Something had moved.
Over there, by the column near her car.
Her eyes searched the shadows. No. Just her imagination running wild. She glanced warily back at the ramp. It seemed ludicrously well lit now, making her feel as though she was marooned in blackness. An engine roared to life underneath her. There were layers of concrete between it and her but it felt like it was going to burst through the floor and swallow her up.
She took off fast, moving in short, flat-footed steps, trying not to lose a shoe or twist an ankle. Aiming the key at her car, she heard the high-pitched beep, saw the tail-lights flash and silently cheered with relief. She felt ridiculous running like a crazy woman but her legs had a will of their own and her brain was already imagining her high-speed exit from the parking lot.
Her arm was out as she rounded the bumper, her fingers reaching for the doorhandle as she saw her reflection in the driver’s window – and a brief movement behind her.
Then a hand slammed over her mouth.
What came next happened too fast for thought. A strong arm thumped across her chest. Fingers gouged her upper arm, pinning it to her side. Knees dug into the backs of her thighs. And she was hauled backwards, feet slipping and scrabbling in her heels.
She wanted to scream but her jaw couldn’t open under the pressure of the hand crushing her lips. Desperate, smothered, gasping sounds came from her throat. Fear shrieked inside her.
Then she heard him.
‘You’re mine, slut.’
It was spoken in her ear. Muffled, as though there was something over his mouth. Not angry. Not panicked. Just full of intent.
Cameron’s lovely, freckly, eight-year-old face flashed in her mind and a switch flipped inside her.
She tightened her fingers, felt the long, slim shank of her ignition key protruding from the base of her clenched hand and drove down hard. Something soft and resistant took the impact. There was a grunt and a flinch. She did it again. Again and again until a knee moved from behind her thigh. Anchoring a foot beneath her, she thrust back with an elbow and as the body behind angled away, she twisted towards it, aiming high with her other fist.
It found the sponginess of his throat and the hand fell from her mouth.
She wasn’t frightened now, wasn’t feeling anything. She just wanted to get out of his hold. She stabbed with the key, swung elbows and fists.
He didn’t let go but his grip loosened.
If she’d stopped to think, she might have shoved away from him and run for her life. But she didn’t think. Or run. Just rammed bunched knuckles into his gut. It was a good, solid punch with the hand holding the keys and it knocked him back a step.
A second chance to run – but now there was an angry, determined, red-hot burning behind her eyes. And, with a muscle memory she thought was long forgotten, she followed through with a left to his ribs. Air whooshed from his lungs. She kicked off the one shoe she was still wearing, lifted her hands in a boxer’s stance and when his head came up, she swung at his face with her right.
Sharp pain shot through her hand as he reeled away. She saw then he was covered in black. Black clothes, black gloves, black balaclava. This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. He’d planned it. He’d dressed for it. He’d waited in the dark for her.
‘Bastard!’ She lunged at him.
He was prepared this time and came back with his own fist. It was more sound than pain when it hit, like a train crash in her head. She was hurled against the car. Then he was hitting her, slapping and grappling, crushing her against the chassis, tearing at her clothes. She couldn’t get a hand up to defend herself, even to cover her face. He was breathing hard inside his balaclava and the tang of his sweat filled her nostrils. She twisted her head, pulled air into her lungs and screamed.
She didn’t see the roof of the car before she hit it. Just felt the crack in her neck as her head slammed sideways, the cold, rigid metal on her face then . . .