Before He Lapses – Blake Pierce

Christine had only seen snow once before in her life. So when it started to come down around her as she made her way home from her boyfriend’s house, she smiled. She figured that if she hadn’t drunk so much tonight, she’d be able to enjoy it better. She was twenty years old but could not help but stick her tongue out to catch a few flakes. She chuckled under her breath at the feel of it…plus the fact that she’d come a long way from her home in San Francisco. She’d transferred to Queen Nash in Maryland with a desire to focus on political science. Winter break was nearing its end and she was currently looking forward to dominating the coming spring’s course load. It was one of the reasons she and her boyfriend, Clark, had been hanging out tonight—for one last hoorah before the semester began. There had been a little party of sorts and Clark, as usual, had too much to drink. She’d decided to walk home, just three blocks away, rather than stay there and have Clark’s friends hit on her while their girlfriends shot her nasty looks. That’s usually how any get-together at Clark’s place ended when it didn’t go the whole way with her going to his bedroom. Besides…she was feeling overlooked. Clark was terrible about that, always choosing work, school, or getting drunk over her. There was someone else she could call when she got back to her apartment. Sure, it was late, but he had made it very clear that he was available for her at all hours.

He’d proven it before, so why not tonight? As she crossed a street between two blocks, she took note of how the snow was already sticking to the sidewalks. The storm had been expected so the roads had been treated and salted, but the white blanket of falling snow adhered to the sidewalks and the small strips of grass in front of and between the apartment buildings she passed. By the time Christine reached her apartment, she almost decided to go back to Clark’s place. It was cold and the snow was sending a little surge of childlike wonder through her. As she reached for her key to unlock the door to the apartment building, she nearly turned around and did just that. The only thing that convinced her otherwise was knowing that she would not sleep well if she went back. Her own bed awaited her here, her warm blankets and at least a solid eight hours of sleep. She walked inside and headed for the elevators. She pushed the three button and waited for the elevator to arrive. She was not drunk, just a bit tipsy, and she started to toy with the idea of having one more glass of wine when she got to her apartment and then making a call…to the man she’d been sort of seeing on the side for the last few months.

This was what was on her mind when the elevator arrived. She stepped on and took it up to her floor, liking the way her buzzed head felt as the elevator shifted upward. She stepped off into her hall and found it empty. This made sense, as it was after one o’clock on a Wednesday night. She approached her door and again pulled her keys out. As they jostled in her stillcold hands, a voice from behind her gave her a jump. “Christine?” She turned at the sound of her name. She smiled when she saw him standing there. She wasn’t going to have to call him after all. It was like he had anticipated her wanting him.

It had been about a week or so, after all. “Hey,” she said. He walked closer to her, his stride purposeful. He was looking at her in the way he usually did, with a fire in his eyes that made it clear what he wanted. The look alone turned her on—that, and the fact of who he was. He was off limits. He was…well, he was sort of dangerous, now wasn’t he? They met at her door, practically crashing into one another. The kiss was a little clumsy because it was so fierce. Her hands started exploring instantly. She grabbed the waist of his pants, pulling him closer.

His hand traced the edges of her body, sliding down between her thighs as they clung to one another in the hallway. “Inside,” she managed to say between the kiss and her already heated breath. “Now.” She unlocked the door as he nibbled at her neck. She moaned, on edge for what was about to happen. She didn’t even know if she’d be able to make it to the bedroom. Maybe not even the couch. The door unlocked and she pushed it open. When he came instantly to her, kicking the door closed, she pushed him away. She leaned back against the small kitchen counter and removed her shirt.

He liked it when she undressed for him. It was a weird control thing, making him feel like she was serving him even before the sex started. When she pulled her top up over her head, already reaching for the clasps of her bra, she looked into his eyes…and froze. He was standing still, that fire in his eyes gone now. Now, there was something else. Something new…something that scared her. He cocked his head, as if examining her for the first time, and then he was on her. He’d been rough with her before, but this was new. This was not sexual in any way. He pressed his full weight against her and wrapped his hands around her neck.

There was nothing playful about it; his grip was fierce, and she could feel her windpipe being squeezed right away. It took less than ten seconds for her lungs to start to panic. When they did, she slapped at him furiously even as she felt her knees giving out. She felt her chest growing tighter, as if there was some sort of force inside of her that was pushing the air out. When she fell to the floor, the back of her head struck the kitchen counter. His hands never left her neck, seeming to grow tighter and tighter the weaker she got. She gave one final slap, but it was so weak that she wasn’t even sure if it landed. When she hit the floor, he was on top of her. He continued to choke her, pressing his excited manhood against her. Her hands flailed for something—for anything—but all they found was the shirt she had just removed for him.

She barely had time to wonder why he was doing this before the darkness came rushing forward, relieving her of that terrible pain in her chest. CHAPTER ONE Mackenzie was standing in her bathroom, leaning against the sink and looking at the toilet. She’d looked at the toilet a lot lately, riding out her first trimester in a way that was almost too by-the-book. Her morning sickness had been particularly bad between weeks eight and eleven. But even now, as she was about halfway through week fifteen, it tended to be rough. She didn’t have it nearly as often now but when it did hit, it was nasty. She had already thrown up twice this morning and her stomach was hinting at a third time. But as she sipped some water and did her best to steady her breaths while bracing against the sink, she felt the third wave start to recede. Mackenzie looked down at her stomach and placed her hand lovingly along the area that had just barely started to protrude over the last week or so. “Those are my intestines, little one,” she said.

“Not a foot rest.” She exited the bathroom and stood in the doorway for a moment, making sure she was done. When she felt that she had control of herself, she went to the closet and started getting dressed. She could hear Ellington in the kitchen, the clinks from the cupboard leading her to believe he was pouring coffee. Mackenzie would have loved a cup of coffee but as her luck would have it, it was one of the foods that the baby did not agree with when these episodes hit. As she put on her pants, she noticed they were fitting a little more snug. She figured she had another month or so before she’d need to look into maternity clothes. And it would be around that time, she supposed, that she was going to have to tell Director McGrath that she was pregnant. She hadn’t told him yet out of fear of how he might react. She was not quite ready to do nothing more than ride a desk or pull research duty for some other agent.

Ellington came to the doorway with a frown. He was indeed holding a cup of coffee. “Feeling any better?” he asked. “Get that coffee out of here,” she said. She tried to sound playful but it had come out a little bitterly. “So, my mom keeps calling, wanting to know why we still haven’t settled on a location for the wedding.” “Does she understand that it’s not her wedding?” Mackenzie asked. “No. I don’t think she does understand that.” He stepped out of the room for a moment to set the coffee down and then came over to Mackenzie.

He dropped to his knees and kissed her stomach as she searched for a shirt to wear. “You still don’t want to know the sex?” he asked. “I don’t know. Not right now, but I’ll likely change my mind.” He looked up at her. From his position on the floor, he looked like a small child, looking up to a parent for approval. “When do you plan on telling McGrath?” “I don’t know,” she said. She felt silly standing there half-dressed while he pressed his face against her stomach. Still, it also made her realize that he was here for her. He’d asked her to marry him before the baby and now, faced with an unexpected pregnancy, he was still here with her.

To think that he was the man she would likely spend the rest of her life with made her peaceful and content. “You afraid he’ll sideline you?” Ellington asked. “Yes. But another week or two and I don’t think I’ll be able to hide this baby bump.” Ellington chuckled and kissed her on the stomach again. “That’s one sexy baby bump.” He kept kissing her, each one languishing a bit. She laughed and playfully tore herself away from him. “No time for all of that. We’ve got work.

And, if your mother won’t shut up, a wedding to finally plan.” They’d looked at venues and had even started to look into caterers for what they planned to be a small reception. But neither of them could really get into the flow of it. Through it all, they were finding that they had a lot in common: an aversion to all things fancy, a fear of dealing with organization, and an affinity to put work above all else. As she got dressed, she wondered if she was cheating Ellington out of the experience somehow. Was her lack of enthusiasm toward planning the wedding making him think she didn’t care? She hoped not, because that was not the case at all. “Hey, Mac?” She turned back to him as she started buttoning up her shirt. The nausea had mostly passed now, leading her to believe that she’d be able to tackle the day without any further ordeals. “Yeah?” “Let’s not plan it. Neither of us wants to.

And really, neither of us wants a big wedding. The only person upset would be my mother and, quite frankly, I think I’d enjoy seeing that.” A smile crossed her face but she bit it back as quickly as she could. She’d like to see that as well. “I think I know what you’re saying. But I need you to say it, just to be sure.” He came back across the room to her and took her hands in his. “I’m saying I don’t want to plan a wedding and I don’t want to wait to marry you anymore. Let’s just elope.” She knew he was being authentic because of the way his voice started to catch halfway through his comment.

Still…it seemed too good to be true. “Are you for real? You’re not just saying it because…” She stopped here, unable to finish the question, looking to her stomach instead. “I swear to you it isn’t just that,” Ellington said. “While I’m very excited about raising and potentially scarring a kid with you, it’s you I want right now.” “Yeah, we are going to scar the hell out of this kid, aren’t we?” “Not on purpose.” He drew her close and hugged her. He then whispered in her ear and hearing his voice that close to her made her feel comfortable and content all over again. “I mean it. Let’s do it. Let’s elope.

” She was nodding in agreement before they broke the hug. When they were face to face again, both of them had little glistening hints of tears in their eyes. “Okay…” Mackenzie said. “Yeah, okay,” he said, a little giddy. He leaned in, kissed her, and then said: “So what do we do now? Shit, I guess there’s still planning no matter which way we go here.” “We need to call the courthouse to book a time, I would think” Mackenzie said. “And one of us needs to get in touch with McGrath to ask for the time off for the ceremony. Not it!” “Damn you,” he said with a smile. “Fine. I’ll call McGrath.

” He took out his phone, meaning to do it right there and then, but then pocketed it. “Maybe this is a conversation I should have face-to-face with him.” She nodded, her arms trembling a bit as she finished buttoning her shirt. We’re going to do this, she thought. We’re really going to do this… She was excited and nervous and elated, all of those emotions stirring within her all at once. She responded in the only way she could—by walking back over to him and taking him in her arms. And when they kissed, it only took about three seconds for her to decide that maybe there was time for what he had tried to start moments before. *** The ceremony was two days later, on a Wednesday afternoon. It lasted no more than ten minutes and it ended with them exchanging the rings they had helped one another pick out the day before. It was so easy and carefree that Mackenzie wondered why women put themselves through the hell of all of that planning and scheduling.

Because at least one witness was needed, Mackenzie had invited Agent Yardley to attend. They had never really been friends, but she was a good agent and, therefore, a woman whom Mackenzie trusted. It was in asking Yardley to fill the role that she was once again reminded that she really didn’t have any friends. Ellington was the closest thing to it and as far as she was concerned, that was more than enough. As Mackenzie and Ellington came out of the courtroom and into the main hallway of the building, Yardley gave them her best effort at an encouraging parting speech before heading out quickly. Mackenzie watched her go, wondering why she was in such a rush. “I won’t say that was rude or anything like that,” Mackenzie said, “but it looked like she could not wait to get out of here.” “That’s because I spoke with her before the ceremony,” Ellington said. “I told her to haul ass when we were done.” “That was rude.

Why?” “Because I convinced McGrath to give us until next Monday. I took all the time and stress I would have put into planning a wedding into planning a honeymoon.” “What? Are you kidding me right now?” He shook his head. She wrapped him up in a hug, trying to remember a time when she had been this happy. She felt like a little girl who had just gotten everything she wanted for Christmas. “When did you manage to do all of that?” she asked. “Mostly on company time,” he said with a smile. “Now, we have to hurry. We have bags to pack and sex to have. Our plane leaves in four hours for Iceland.

” The destination sounded strange at first but then she remembered the “bucket list” conversation they’d had when she discovered she was pregnant. What were some things she wanted to get done before they brought a child into the world. One of Mackenzie’s items had been to camp beneath the northern lights. “Yeah, then let’s go,” she said. “Because with the way I’m feeling right now and the things I plan to do to you when we get back home, I don’t know that we’re going to make it to the airport on time.” “Yes ma’am,” he said, hurrying her toward the door. “One question, though.” “What’s that?” He grinned at her and asked: “Can I call you Mrs. Ellington now?” Her heart nearly leaped as he asked. “I suppose you can,” she said as they headed out the door, entering the world for the first time as a married couple.

CHAPTER TWO Murder had not been at all what he had expected. He had thought there would be some degree of what have I done? Maybe a moment of life-defining guilt or a sense that he had somehow altered the entire course of a family’s life. But there had been none of that. The only thing he had felt after the murders—after killing both of his victims—was an overwhelming sense of paranoia. And, if he was being honest, joy. Perhaps he had been stupid to go about it so casually. He had been surprised by just how normal it had felt. He’d been terrified about the idea until he actually put his hands to their necks—until he squeezed down and robbed the life right out of their beautiful bodies. The best part had been watching the light go out in their eyes. It had been unexpectedly erotic—the most vulnerable thing he had ever seen.

The paranoia, though, was worse than he could have ever imagined. He had not been able to sleep for three days after he’d killed the first one. He had prepared for such an obstacle after the second, though. A few glasses of red wine and an Ambien directly after the murder and he had slept quite well, actually. The other thing that was bothering him was how hard it had been to leave the scene of the crime the second time around. The way she had fallen, the way the life had gone out of her eyes in an instant…it had made him want to stay there, to stare into those freshly dead eyes to see what secrets might be in there. He’d never felt such a craving before, though to be fair, he would have never dreamed of killing anyone up until about a year or so ago. So apparently, much like taste buds, a person’s morals were apt to change from time to time. He thought about this as he sat in front of his fireplace. His entire house was quiet, so eerily still that he could hear the sound of his fingers moving against the stem of his wine glass.

He watched the fire burn and pop as he drank from a glass of dark red wine. This is your life now, he told himself. You have killed not one but two people. Sure, they were necessary. You had to do it or your life might very well have been over. While neither of those girls technically deserved to die, it was all out of necessity. He told himself this over and over again. It was one of the reasons the guilt he had been expecting had not yet crippled him. It might also be why there was so much room for that paranoia to creep in and take root. He was waiting for a knock at his door at any moment, with a police officer standing on the other side.

Or maybe a SWAT team, complete with a battering ram. And the hell of it was that he knew he deserved it. He had no illusion about getting away with this. He figured that some day, the truth would be revealed. That’s just the way the world worked now. There was no such thing as privacy, no such thing as living your own life. So when the time came, he thought he’d be able to take whatever justice was dealt to him standing up like a man. The only question that remained was how many more would he have to kill? A small part of him begged him to stop, trying to convince him that his work was done now and that no one else had to die. But he was pretty certain that was not true. And worst of all, the prospect of having to go out and do it again stirred an excitement within him that shimmered and burned just like the fire in front of him.

CHAPTER THREE She was very much aware that it was really only a change of setting that had done it, but sex in the Icelandic wilderness, right under the majestic swirl of the northern lights, was phenomenal. On the first night, when she and Ellington had wrapped up their festivities, Mackenzie slept better than she had in a very long time. She fell asleep happy, physically satisfied, and with the sensation of life growing inside of her. They woke up the following morning and had very bitter coffee over a small fire at their campsite. They were in the northeastern part of the country, camping about eight miles away from Lake Mývatn, and she felt like they were the only people on the face of the planet. “What would you say about fish for breakfast?” Ellington asked her out of the blue. “I think I’m okay with the oatmeal and coffee,” she said. “The lake is only eight miles away. I can pluck a few fish out and have ourselves a real camping meal.” “You fish?” she asked, surprised.

“I used to do it a lot,” he said. He got a faraway look in his eyes, one that she had long since learned meant that whatever he was talking about was a part of his past and likely tied to his first marriage. “This I have to see,” she said. “Do I hear skepticism in your voice?” She didn’t say another word as she got to her feet and headed over to their rented four-by-four. “Fish sounds great,” she said. They piled into the four-by-four and made their way to the lake. Mackenzie enjoyed the open lands and the fjords, the countryside looking at times like something out of a fairytale. It was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle she was growing accustomed to in DC. She looked over to Ellington as he drove them toward Lake Mývatn. He looked ruggedly handsome, his hair still slightly tousled from a night in the tent.

And while they had plans to check into a small motel for the night, mainly just to get showers before returning to camp, she had to admit that there was something alluring about seeing him a little grimy, a little rough around the edges. Seeing him like this somehow made it much easier to fathom the idea of spending the rest of her life with him. They were at the lake twenty minutes later, Ellington sitting on a rickety old dock with a rented fishing pole in his hands. Mackenzie only watched him, the two of them sharing nothing more than small talk. She was enjoying the moment of seeing him doing something that she had not even thought he would enjoy. It only clued her in to the fact that there was so much more about him that she had to learn—a sobering thought while looking at the man she had married only two days ago. When he brought in his first fish, she was very surprised. And by the time he had three on the dock, tossed in a small bucket, she was equally surprised in herself and the fact that she was rather attracted to this side of him. She wondered what other outdoorsy-type activities Ellington was good at that he had been hiding from her. They rode back to the campsite, the Jeep smelling of the three fish that would be their breakfast.

Back at the site, she saw that his fishing expertise stopped at taking them out of the water. He was a little clumsy in scaling and gutting them; although they did end up having some delicious fish over a campfire, it was in ragged, small morsels. They made plans for the day, plans that included horseback riding, a waterfall tour, and a journey to the small motel outside of Reykjavík to shower and get a proper meal before driving back out through the gorgeous countryside to the campground as night fell. And after eating their breakfast of fresh fish, they carried that plan out step by step. It was all very dreamlike and, at the same time, a very vivid way to start their life together. There were moments, holding him or kissing him amidst this incredible scenery, that she knew she would remember all throughout her life, perhaps down to her final breaths. She had never felt more content in her life. They returned to their campsite, where they restoked the campfire. Then, freshly showered and with a good, full meal in their stomachs, they retired to the tent and made a very long night of it. *** With just two days remaining in their honeymoon, they went on a private glacier tour along Iceland’s Golden Circle.

It was the only day of the trip where Mackenzie had been stricken with morning sickness and, as a result, opted out of their chance to go glacier climbing. She watched as Ellington took part, though. She enjoyed watching him tackle the task like an overeager child. It was a side of him she had seen here and there, but never to this extent. It then dawned on her that this was the most time they had ever spent together outside of work. It had been like some sporadic paradise and had opened her eyes to just how much she loved him. As Ellington and the instructor started their descent down the glacier, Mackenzie felt her cell phone vibrating in her coat pocket. They had turned all sound off as they had gotten on their plane to start the honeymoon but, given their careers, had not allowed themselves to kill the phones completely. To occupy herself while Ellington came down from the glacier, she pulled the phone out and checked it. When she saw McGrath’s name on the display, her heart dropped.

She’d been on an emotional high these last few days. Seeing his name made her believe that it was going to come to a pretty quick end. “This is Agent White,” she said. She then thought: Damn…missed my first chance to refer to myself as Agent Ellington. “It’s McGrath. How’s Iceland?” “It’s nice,” she said. And then, not caring that she was being a little too vulnerable with him, corrected herself. “It’s amazing. Really beautiful.” “Well, then, you’re going to hate me for calling, I’m sure.

” He then told her why he was calling, and he was right. When she ended the call, she was quite upset with him. Her hunch had been correct. Just like that, their honeymoon was over.

.

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