The abstract painting on the bedroom wall was new. It had been painted in fresh blood.
There was blood everywhere in the elegant, white-on-white boudoir. It soaked the dead woman's silver satin evening gown and the carpet beneath her body. There was blood on the white velvet seat of the dainty chair in front of the pretty little dressing table.
Anna Harris's first thought was that she had walked into the middle of a nightmare. The scene simply could not be real. She was asleep and dreaming.
But she had grown up on a farm. She had hunted deer with her grandfather. Caught and cleaned fish. Helped deliver calves. She knew the cycle of life and the smell of death.
Still, she could not leave the room until she made certain. Helen had collapsed on her side, facing the wall. Anna crouched next to the body and reached out to check for a pulse. There wasn't one, of course.
There was a gun, however. A small one. It lay on the carpet not far from Helen's right hand. Acting on instinct—she certainly wasn't thinking clearly now—Anna scooped up the weapon.
It was then that she saw the message. Helen had used her own blood to write it on the silver-flocked wallpaper just above the baseboard. Run.
And in that moment, Anna knew that the perfect new life she had been living for the past year was an illusion. The reality was a dark fairy tale.
She rushed down the hall to her lovely blue and white bedroom, pulled a suitcase out of the closet, and started flinging clothes into it. Like the shoes and the frock she was wearing, almost all of her wardrobe was new, the gift of her generous employer. Can't have my private secretary looking like she shops at a secondhand store, Helen had said on several occasions.
Anna was shaking so badly she could barely get the suitcase closed and locked. With effort she managed to haul it off the bed.
She went back to the closet and took the shoebox off the top shelf. Tossing the lid aside, she started to reach into the box for the money she kept inside. She had been in her late teens a few years earlier when the crash occurred, but like so many others who had lived through the experience, she had no faith in banks. She kept her precious savings close at hand in the shoebox.
She froze at the sight of what was inside the box.
There was money, all right—too much money.
With all of her living expenses paid for by her employer, she had been able to save most of her salary for the past year, but she certainly had not saved anywhere near the amount that was in the box. Helen must have added the extra cash. It was the only explanation, but it made no sense.
In addition to the money there was a small, leather-bound notebook and a letter written on Helen's expensive stationery.
If you are reading this, it means that I have made the biggest mistake a woman can make—I have fallen in love with the wrong man. I'm afraid that I am not the person you believed me to be. I apologize for the deception. Take the notebook, the money, and the car. Run for your life. Get as far away as possible and disappear. Your only hope is to become someone else. You must not trust anyone—not the police, not the FBI. Above all, never trust a lover.
I wish I could give you the glowing reference you deserve. But for your own sake you must never let anyone know that you once worked for me.
As for the notebook, I can only tell you that it is dangerous. I do not pretend to understand the contents. I would advise you to destroy it, but if the worst happens, you may be able to use it as a bargaining chip.
I have always considered us to be two of a kind—women alone in the world who are obliged to live by our wits.
I wish you all the best in your new life. Get as far away as possible from this house and never look back.
Yours with affection,
Helen Spencer had been bold, adventurous, and daring—a woman of the modern age. She had lived life with passion and enthusiasm, and for the past year Anna had been caught up in her glittering, fast-paced
world. If Helen said that it was necessary to run, then it was, indeed, vital that Anna run.