Joe Hines slunk into Denver like a thief in the night . He had made it this far without being discovered.
Now he had to lay low for a few days, wait it out, and plan his next move.
Joe knew he should be sleeping and preparing for the days ahead of him. Instead, he felt inspired and rejuvenated
and sleep was impossible. The thrill of the chase was on. He could smell it in the air. He could feel it in his bones.
He was just one step away from Callie Martin.
He couldn’t believe how easy it had been to find her. He glanced down at the photo in his hand. She
was lovely. Gold hair, bright eyes, a dashing smile.
Joe Hines had made one big mistake when he let her through the police barricade that fateful day. And he
didn’t make mistakes very often. When he did, he eliminated them. Permanently.
He was finding, that this one mistake was becoming difficult to do away with. It was like a thorn in his
side. It wouldn’t go away. He’d plucked it from his flesh again and again and it kept coming back.
But Joe was an expert at challenges and Callie Martin was just a minor set back. The real target was Rus
Lane himself. Rus was the kind of man Joe despised. He was too smart and to invaluable to the police department. He was everything
that he would never be. Wise, dedicated and honorable.
Those were traits that Joe could never live up to no matter how hard he tried.
But it was more than that. Rus was too close to the truth. It was a pity Joe hadn’t killed the man
in the first place. Then he wouldn’t have to be here now to finish the job. He was cleaning up his own sloppy mess.
That was another thing Joe didn’t like very well. He liked things tidy. Rus should have been killed
with one blow to the chest. But the bullet had struck him to far to the left and missed his heart all together. Instead the
bullet had lodged in his rotator cup destroying ligaments and surrounding tissue. He’d recovered nicely from the wound.
A little too nicely. And Joe considered that to be another disappointment and another inconvenience. This time he’d
have to finish the job once and for all.
The call came at midnight. Rus Lane was laying in bed and heard the ring before anyone else. He was throwing
on his jeans halfway down the stairs, nearly stumbling as he went.
His heart was in his throat. He knew there was one reason and one reason only that the phone would be ringing
at this hour of the night. The safehouse had been penetrated. They were no longer safe.
Rus’s hands were clammy as he snatched up the receiver. As he had anticipated, it was the captain.
The entire staff of officers filled the room behind him, waiting for Rus to relay any messages. Callie stood at the foot of
the stairs, listening with apprehension.
The conversation was stilted at best. Callie watched the display of emotions as they passed over Rus’s
features. The mood in the room was strained and awkward. It was as if everyone was preparing for a funeral.
Rus clamped the receiver down in its cradle and turned to the men in the room. His face was devoid of any
expression. He was in total control even while faces stared back at him as if the end were near.
"Give us the details, boss," one of the officers said.
For a moment Rus had forgotten that Callie was in the room with them and he began to relay information as
he would in any ordinary staff meeting. However, this was no ordinary meeting. This involved the woman that he loved. It was
"It’s Joe Hines," Rus explained as if the one word meant everything.
"What about him?" Stan Owens asked.
Everyone was awake now, alert and full of questions.
"They raided his house this afternoon. They found a one way plane ticket to Denver. They believe he may be
Callie gasped. Rus turned to her quickly noticing the sudden alarm that appeared in her eyes. He rushed to
her side, grabbing both her arms with gentle fingers. "It’s okay, Callie," Rus assured her. "We’re going to get
you out of here. Don’t you worry about a thing."
"Where will we go?" she cried out. "Won’t he just find us again?"
Rus was to personally involved in this case. He’d known it from the start. He couldn’t look at
Callie and lie. He was exasperated with himself more than anything else. Tonight was going to be one of the worst nights of
"Callie, why don’t you go up to your room and start packing your things," Rus recommended. "I’ll
tell everyone here what they need to do. Then I’ll come up there and we can talk."
Callie stood there as if contemplating what to do. Her eyes were shadowed with fear and indecision. It was
as if she wanted to trust him, but wasn’t sure she should. After a minute she turned around and headed up the stairs
without saying a word, without even looking back.
Once in her room she opened her suitcases and began filling them with her measly belongings. She was in a
daze. Her mind was numb with misgivings. The peace she had found here was now gone, shattered. She wondered if it would ever
be found again. She didn’t think so.
Somehow Callie wanted to blame it all on Rus. She needed someone to blame and he seemed the perfect person.
But she loved him to much to do something like that. He had been good to her. He’d always been honest, as honest as
he could be under the bizarre set of circumstances. Now would be no different just because things had changed. She just wasn’t
sure she’d like what he had to say.
It seemed at least an hour before Rus finally came to see her. Callie had finished packing and was sitting
on the edge of the bed when he walked into her room.
He was fully dressed though his appearance seemed rumpled and a bit frazzled. She could see the stress lines
around his eyes and mouth. She wanted to reach out to him at that moment and give him comfort. Instead she sat there waiting
for him to speak. The tension in the room was thick and volatile.
"We’re planning on leaving within the hour," Rus informed her. His tone was short and brusque. Immediately
Callie became defensive. "You’re heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico."
"Are we driving through the night?" Callie asked.
Rus was finding this more difficult by the minute. He was looking at Callie in a way he had never thought
possible. Seeing her inner beauty, her sensitivity, and all the qualities that made her the woman that she was, Rus knew that
he could not leave Callie tonight. Not without asking her the one thing that had been on his mind for a long time now.
"Callie?" Rus knelt down on his knees in front of her. His hand trembled while his eyes focused on Callie’s
face. This was not going to be easy. Rus wanted to delay what he was about to say, but knew, in his heart, that he could not
put off the inevitable. "I’m not going with you to Albuquerque., Callie," he told her. "Once we leave the cabin, I’m
heading to the airport. We won’t be seeing each other again until this is all over. I won’t be here to take care
Callie’s mouth dropped open in complete surprise and anguish. She couldn’t believe what she was
hearing. This wasn’t true. This was a bad dream. This was some kind of horrible joke that Rus was playing on her. It
wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real.
Rus could see the tumble of emotions flickering in her eyes. Anger, hate, disbelief. Callie opened her mouth
to protest, but before she could say anything, Rus interrupted her.
"If I could go with you Callie, I would." He was holding her hand now. The pressure was solid and almost
painful, but Callie endured it. She wanted to cry. She wanted to lash out at Rus and ask him why he was doing this to her.
She felt like she was losing him, like her whole world was suddenly falling apart and there wasn’t anything she could
do about it.
"Where are you going?" she asked quietly.
"My mother had a heart attach last night," Rus said matter-of-factly. "I’m needed in North Carolina."
This disheartened Callie. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to be brave. She wanted to be the woman that
Rus deserved. But how could she pull it off when she was none of those things. How could she pull it off when she needed Rus
"How is she?" Callie inquired., putting on a brave front, pretending that none of this mattered to her.
Rus saw through Callie’s efforts. He was fully aware that she was not as brave or as strong as she
wanted him to believe. At that moment, his heart went out to her.
"She’s holding her own," Rus informed her somberly. "The doctor’s aren’t sure how much
longer she can hang on. Ricky needs me so I have to go."
"I understand," Callie whispered. "I will pray for you. For all of you. I will miss you, Rus."
"I will miss you too, Callie. You can’t imagine how much I will miss you."
She smiled then. It was the tiniest of smiles, but it was there.
"Do you still love me?"
The question came as a total surprise to Callie. She wondered what kind of question that was? Of course she
loved him. Didn’t he know that already? Why did he feel the need to ask her that?
"Rus, I will always love you. Don’t you know that, by now, my love for you is everlasting?"
He nearly wept with joy. He clung to Callie, murmuring his love to her all the while kissing her neck, the
palms of her hands, her cheeks and any available spot he could find.
"Will you marry me, Callie? Will you be my wife? Be a mother to my children, our children?"
Callie knew she should be happy. But the feeling wasn’t there. Rus sensed it immediately and drew away
from her. He could see the glistening of tears as they slid past her lashes.
"What is it Callie? Talk to me," he demanded subtly.
"You know I can’t commit to a thing like marriage at a time like this, Rus. I’m leaving for Albuquerque
tonight. Tomorrow I maybe in Oregon. Who knows where I’ll be a month from now. How can I promise to marry you, when
I don’t know what my future holds."
Rus was outraged. Not in his normal fashion where he’d throw his tantrums and then he’d feel
better. This outrage stemmed from something far deeper and more soul-wrenching then he’d ever felt before. There was
not getting over this feeling any time soon.
"Do you love me, Callie?"
"Of course I do."
"Do you want to marry me?"
Silence. A thick, sweltering silence filled the room.
"Do you want to marry me?" Rus asked again, this time more forceful than the last as if commanding her to
give him the answer he wanted.
But Callie said nothing. She wouldn’t even look at him.
Rus came to his feet. He towered over Callie menacingly. He looked at her a long time with an impenetrable
gaze. Without a word he whirled around and stormed toward the door. He reached out his hand to turn the knob, then paused
before doing so. He turned back one last time to face Callie. His eyes were as bleak as she had ever seen them.
"You know Callie, I had never thought of you as a coward before," Rus admitted bitterly. "But I see, now,
that I’ve been wrong all this time."
The door slammed behind him as he fled the room.
Callie broke down and cried until one of the officers came and informed her it was time to leave.
The drive to the airport was interminably long. Unlike the drive up from Florida, Callie and Rus rode in
two separate cars. They did not speak to each other the entire time they were waiting for him to board the plane. He hadn’t
even said good-bye to her. Callie didn’t really blame him. She kept thinking over the things he had said to her. He
had wanted to marry her. She had never really anticipated him asking her to be his wife. That had come as a shock.
In a way she was thrilled. She loved Rus. He would make a wonderful husband and father. He was a great provider
and protector. God had blessed her when he brought Rus into her life.
But marriage was such a big step. And the two of them hadn’t known each other that long. It didn’t
seem possible that they were ready for marriage. Besides . . . she was scared to death at the prospect of marriage. Like Rus
said, she was a coward.
Never in her life, did Callie ever imagine herself afraid of anything. Even the prospect of Joe Hines hunting
her down and killing her in cold blood didn’t frighten her nearly as much as the thought of marriage.
Callie wondered just was it was about marriage that scared her so much. Was it the actual thought of what
the commitment stood for? Was she afraid that she could not live up to Rus’s expectations? Was she afraid of disappointing
him? What exactly was it?
Callie began to analyze herself and the deep well of emotions that lived inside of her. She thought about
the first years of her marriage to her husband. She’d been a blissful bride. She had spent most of her time trying to
please her husband and, at the time, she had thought that she had been happy and content with the way things had been.
But what she realized now, was that she had never truly been happy with Reid. He had never put forth an effort
to make the marriage work. He had been lazy and indifferent. Even after Johnathan had been born, he was hardly a father to
Reid had been wrapped up in his business. Success was all that had mattered to him. There had been no romance
in their relationship. There had been no substance to the marriage either. It had merely existed.
Callie had done all the work while Reid had sat back and reaped all the benefits. He had been selfish and
she had never taken the time to notice it before.
Rus was so different than that. He had taken the time to show her what true love was all about. He had been
devoted to her in every way. He had given her a glimpse of what their life would be like if they were to ever marry.
Rus had opened Callie’s eyes to love. To honesty and trust. To Faith. He had given her all of that
and she had let it all slip away. She had let him get on that plane and leave her without trying to salvage what they had
Callie could not believe her own stupidity. God had given her a gift to treasure and she had wasted it on
what? Foolish pride? Fear? Doubt?
She hated herself more than she ever thought it possible to hate anything. She had lost Rus, the most important
thing in her life. There was no getting him back and she knew it. She felt lost and destitute. For once she didn’t care
what happened to her life because Rus wasn’t there to share it with her.
She succumbed to her tears, surrendering to the pain and sorrow that raked her soul.