The Marshal's Runaway Mistress

By: Diane Burke

ONE

Unease crept up Angelina Baroni’s spine. The kind of unease a person feels when she thinks she’s being watched but doesn’t see anyone.

The tinkling of laughter and the sound of distant voices drifting on the Atlantic City ocean breeze couldn’t pull her out of her funk. Not even the incessant chattering and giggles of her best friend and business partner, Maria Lopez, could calm her dark mood as they strolled the beach.

Something was wrong.

She couldn’t put her finger on it but her senses flashed warning signs. She wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t paid attention to those inner warnings over the past three years. It unsettled her to have them crop up again.

Nothing unusual had happened during their marketing meeting tonight. On the contrary, Maria had given an excellent presentation. They’d signed a lucrative advertising contract with one of the larger casinos. This was a huge milestone for their tiny firm. First time they’d gone up against the corporate advertising giants and won.

They’d celebrated with dinner in the swanky dining room they would now promote and were walking off the huge calorie overload at the edge of the surf. Maria had worked hard for this account. Her enthusiasm was contagious and Angelina couldn’t be happier for her, for them.

Still.

A sense of foreboding crawled up her body like a bug she’d been unable to swipe away.

She glanced over her shoulder.

Nothing.

No one.

But someone was there. In the darkness. Watching them. Waiting. She could feel it.

The pale glow from a full moon provided extra illumination. Except for the two of them, the beach was deserted. She glanced at the boardwalk. People walked back and forth in a continuous motion. No one stopped to stare at them over the rails.

Her gaze settled on the area under the pier. Had she seen someone move in the shadows or was her mind playing tricks on her? She stared harder into the darkness. Nothing.

But that feeling of being watched...

Her stomach clenched.

She trusted her gut. This familiar, although unwanted, tightness told her she was missing something.

But what?

A splash of cold water hit her face.

“Hey, Angie! You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.”

It took her a second to respond to the shortened name. Believing her life was in jeopardy, she’d run away from the witness protection program, trusting no one but herself to keep her alive. She’d changed her name, staying close to her birth name so she’d respond to it easily, yet even three years later she still occasionally hesitated. Now Angelina Baroni, aka Angie Robertson, wiped the salt water from her cheek and grinned at Maria. “I’ve been listening. And stop throwing water at me. It’s cold.”

“It’s October, silly. The ocean is supposed to be cold. Don’t change the subject. You’ve been ignoring me.” Maria’s short black hair with its one large aqua streak blew in the wind. Strands danced across her freckled nose and coiled in her large hoop earrings.

“I heard every word.”

“Okay, fine. Tell me what theme I’m going to use for our first ad?”

Busted! She’d tried to listen. Honestly, she had. But that unsettled feeling had distracted her.

“See! I was right. You weren’t listening.” Maria stooped and splashed her again.

Angelina threw her hands up to protect herself and laughed. “Enough!”

“Our first casino! Can you believe it?” Throwing her arms wide and her face to the heavens, Maria spun around. On one of her passes she threw a glance Angie’s way and stopped in midtwirl.

“Okay. What gives? Something’s bothering you.” Maria shot a look in each direction. “What?” Her expression sobered. “Ang? You look scared to death. What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I’m being paranoid.” She stared into the darkness under the pier again. “It’s just...” She didn’t see anyone, no moving shadows this time, only darkness. “Forget it. I’m being silly.” She turned her attention back to her friend and grinned. “I’m so proud of you. You did a great job tonight.”

“Thanks.” Marie grinned in return. “Just think, Ang. We’ve worked so hard. Now all our dreams are about to come true!”

Something whizzed past Angelina’s ear.

Before her mind could identify the sound, another bullet whizzed past. This one landed in a soft thud.

A small patch of moisture formed on the left side of Maria’s dress.

Angelina blinked in shock and stared at the stain.

Blood?

Oh dear, it is blood!

A surprised expression appeared on Maria’s face moments before her body began to crumble.

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