Disclaimer: I don't own Lie to Me. I don't have a beta so all mistakes are mine. English is not my first language.
Author's Notes: It's been more than two months since the last update—so sorry about that. :( Majority of this chapter was already written a few weeks after my last update, but then work butted its head in and demanded all of my attention (still does). Unfortunately, I'm not one those people who can concentrate on two mental tasks at the same time. Anyway, it's been so long you may have to start reading at the beginning again just to familiarize yourself with the story. :P Still a lot of fluff in this chapter. This chapter was tough to write, especially the ending. Can't promise to update soon, but I will try my best. Thank you to everyone still following the story. Hope you enjoy this one. :)
Cal gingerly wiped at his bloody nose and winced. God, his face was a mess. He hoped Gillian wasn't in the office because she'd be livid if she saw him like this.
He pushed the door open and ignored the startled looks his people threw his way. He gave them all a lopsided grin and escaped to his office—where Gillian was placing a stack of files on his desk. He stopped in his tracks just as she turned around. He saw her eyes widen in shock.
"What in the world happened to you?"
Cal shrugged his shoulders restlessly. "It's not as bad as it looks," he told her reassuringly. When Gillian moved to approach him, he evaded her and went left towards his study.
But Gillian was hard on his heels. Cal came to a standstill when there was nowhere for him to go. She nearly bumped into him when he suddenly turned to face her.
Gillian looked him over, zeroing in on his bruised cheek, bloody nose, cut lip, and the slightly bloodied front of his white shirt. This certainly wasn't the first time she'd seen him roughed up, but she couldn't help but worry every time. With a deep sigh, she went to his private bathroom. She held a wet wash cloth when she came back out.
He held up his hands to ward her off. "It's nothing!"
She pressed a finger on his bruised cheek. Hard.
"Nothing, huh?" Narrowing her eyes, she started dabbing at the dried blood along his philtrum. "Now tell me what happened."
Cal heaved a sigh. "Tom Norton and I sort of got into a scuffle."
Gillian leaned back in surprise. "Tom Norton? Head of Optima Security Group? Our new client?"
Cal pulled a face. "Yeah, well, not anymore." Gillian opened her mouth but Cal rushed on before she could speak. "We had a difference of opinion. I withdrew the contract. No more case. End of story."
Gillian set the wash cloth aside and began to slip off his jacket. "Difference of opinion? That has never compelled you to slug anyone before or withdraw a contract."
"There's always a first time for everything, love." He held his breath when he felt her hands on his chest. Her fingers began to undo the buttons of his blood-stained shirt. "And it was very satisfying," he said, waggling his eyebrows at her.
She shook her head in disapproval. "You know that I highly object to you endangering yourself in any way, but I also know that you wouldn't hit anyone unless it was warranted."
"You're damn right it was warranted."
"Aren't you going to tell me what happened?"
With hooded eyes, Cal watched her untuck his shirt from his pants and completely take it off. Her movements were automatic, almost impersonal. But in his mind's eye, he saw her doing this to him—taking care of him and undressing him—under different, more intimate circumstances. Her hands would be warm and lingering on his chest, caressing his skin until his body quivered. Lost in his fantasy, he didn't notice her walk over to his small closet where he kept his go bag and change of clothes and pulled out a clean shirt. He was unresponsive when Gillian stood behind him and held out his shirt.
"Earth to Cal."
Focusing back on the present, Cal shook his head slightly to clear his head. "What? Oh, right. No, I'm not going to tell you. It's personal," he said as he shrugged into his clothes. He definitely wasn't going to tell Gillian that Norton had asked him upfront if he was banging her because if he wasn't, Tom would make sure he would be by the time the case was over. Tom had made it very clear that he was interested in Gillian only to get her to bed. Cal remembered the first time he and Gillian met Norton two weeks ago. Norton had looked at her like she was the main meal. Gillian always had that effect on men, although she was oblivious to it.
Gillian, suspicious now, faced him squarely. "Did you have any past dealings with Norton that I should know about?"
"Norton and I don't have a past. Just trust me on this one, Gillian, okay? He's a bastard. We don't need him as a client."
Gillian stared at him, unwilling to let the issue go. "All right. I respect your decision, Cal. However, just know that with Norton's money we could've funded that new research Loker was proposing."
"There'll be other clients."
She sighed. "Fine."
Cal took her hands and placed them on his chest near the top button of his shirt.
Gillian took the hint and began to button him up.
"I have three words for you."
"You're changing the subject."
"You'll like our new topic of conversation, I promise."
"Okay, I'll bite. What?"
A smug smile split his face. "You'll definitely bite, love. Molten chocolate cake."
Gillian looked up after she'd dealt with the last button. Her eyes became hazy and her mouth instantly watered at the thought of the pudding-like center oozing from moist chocolate cake.
Cal chuckled at her predictable reaction. "Chef Lorenzo's, 7 PM this Friday. What do you say?" It was shameless of him, but he'd been luring her with dessert so they'd go out more often with fewer chances of her refusing.
Her face fell. "We can't."
"Why the hell not?"
"It's the annual fundraising gala sponsored by the mayor, remember?"
"Oh, bugger. Do we really have to go?"
"We've talked about this, Cal. Yes, we're attending because it's going to be a good opportunity for us to make the rounds. The gala will be filled with potential clients."
"Oh, right. Damn, I hate socializing with the who's who."
"I don't like it either, but as the main representatives of the Lightman Group…"
"I know, I know. Just don't expect me to go around and be all…friendly."
Gillian laughed at the thought of Cal as a social butterfly. "Of course not. I do, however, expect you to behave."
He gave her a devilish grin. "Behave. Not in my vocabulary, love."
As always, Cal didn't enjoy formal events. And as always, he was seated at a corner where he could watch everyone but where he could not be seen. So far, the only thing that redeemed the night for him was witnessing Gillian's childish delight at seeing the chocolate fondue fountain at the dessert table. He had watched her indulgently as she helped herself with the various cut-up fruits and flowing Belgian chocolate.
Sipping his champagne, he scanned the crowd, noting the people he wanted to avoid. Then, like a magnet, his gaze fastened on the one person he did not want to avoid ever.
She looked beautiful in burgundy. The dress was simple but elegantly cut. Her hair was in her usual style, which means that she didn't style it at all. There was no need. Across the dance floor to the other side of the ballroom, she was holding court with a group of elderly gentlemen who seemed to be hanging on to her every word. Although she hated it, public relations was more her thing than his. He couldn't tolerate most people from the upper echelon, which was really bad for business.
He caught her eye and raised his champagne glass to her. The look she gave him was one of desperation. He smirked as he got up from his chair. His damsel in distress needed to be rescued. Confidently, like a knight in shining armor, he strode to where she was cornered. The look of relief on her face was priceless.
"Gentlemen," Cal intoned, intent on showing Gillian he was being on his best behavior. "I apologize, but I have to whisk this lady away for a dance." Amidst the gentlemen's surprised exclamations and Gillian's apologetic murmurings, Cal smoothly maneuvered her away from the group and onto the dance floor.
Gillian clung to him like a lifeline. "Oh, God, thank you, Cal. I couldn't seem to extricate myself from the conservation. Those men were so persistent."
"Hitting on you, were they?" he teased as he moved them to the center. He pulled her unresisting body close to his. One of his hands held her around her waist, and the other held her hand in the classic dancing position.
"Yes." Gillian shuddered at the idea.
"You can't really fault them, love." His smile was genuine. "You're breathtaking tonight."
Gillian dropped her eyes to his chest.
"Oi, none of that. I still don't understand why you have trouble accepting compliments."
She kept her eyes down. "Just those from you," she muttered.
"Just not used to it, I guess."
"Well, get used to it now. I'll be throwing more your way."
She gave him a shy smile that emphasized her lone dimple. She moved her free hand from its perch on his shoulder to his chest, tweaking his bow tie and smoothing his black dinner jacket. "Well, I'm not the only one who deserves a compliment. You really look dashing tonight. And judging by all the ladies checking you out, they quite agree as well."
Since they arrived an hour and a half ago, she'd seen several women throw admiring looks in Cal's direction despite the faint bruises on his face. Cal in a tuxedo was a sight to behold. He'd never looked more remote, striking, and therefore more irresistible. There were certainly men more handsome, younger, and taller than him at the party tonight, but none could exude that air of indifference that Cal alone could pull off. Indeed, his seeming disinterest in everyone and everything around him made him more appealing.
"Oh yeah?" Cal made a show of preening and looking around him, making Gillian laugh. He looked back at her with heavy-lidded eyes and a lopsided grin. "I don't care what they think about me. Yours is the only opinion that matters in my book, love. So thank you."
And with that plus the charming expression on his face, emotion swelled inside her chest, threatening to burst out of her. Her breath caught at the intensity of it. God, how she loved this man. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and never let go. The seeming impossibility of her thoughts had her crashing down to earth. A sad smile curved her lips as she stared at her hand that was stroking his chest gently.
Cal noted the change in her: the sad smile and her sudden stillness. He wondered if he was finally getting to her. Never in his life had he taken this long to woo a woman. He considered his situation with her to be delicate and handled with care. The friendship that bonded them tightly could make or break the relationship he wanted with her so badly. He knew Gillian well enough to know that she'd been hiding her feelings for him so she would not upset the status quo between them. Maybe it was time to rock the boat a little bit.
He pulled her closer until the side of his face was almost nuzzling hers. "Now that we're done with the mutual admiration stuff, let's focus on dancing, shall we? It's been a while since I've done this."
Glad to have a distraction from her thoughts, Gillian chuckled. "Could've fooled me. You move like you've had practice recently."
From the corner of his eye, Cal saw a young man around Loker's age straighten his dinner jacket as he walked up to them with the clear intention of cutting in. He felt a wave of possessiveness overtake him. Cal pinned the guy with a hard glare. You can't have her. The young man's smile froze when Cal expertly spun Gillian to the other side of the dance floor, where they settled down to a languid rhythm.
Entranced by the music, Cal and Gillian regarded each other with wonder, both noting how their bodies fit and moved perfectly. Gillian couldn't help the giddy laugh that bubbled out of her.
Cal grinned. "Enjoying yourself, are you, love?"
"Very much. This is actually fun."
"Why don't we add dancing to our activity list then?"
"We have an activity list? What's in it?"
"Well, there's only two so far—dessert and dancing."
Bemused, Gillian asked, "Why do we even need an activity list?"
"What—don't you like us doing stuff together?"
Gillian noted the genuine hurt in his voice and expression. "Oh, I do. I just mean…don't you have better things to do with your time…you know, like, with a woman?"
He looked at her as if she were crazy. "I am doing better things with my time with a woman."
She rolled her eyes at him. "You know what I mean. Look, I don't mean to intervene in your personal life—"
"Please do," he butted in enthusiastically.
"—but I have to ask. Did you have a falling out with Clara?"
"Clara? What does she have to do—no!"
"Because I've noticed you haven't been going out much…at all… lately, and you've been spending a lot of time with me. Knowing that I'm always your last resort when you can't find a date—"
"You are not that!" he protested vehemently.
"Calm down," she said. "You know it's true. As your friend and partner, I kind of slipped into that role automatically. But I don't mind being that."
"Really, I don't. I like the free food and the company," she said tongue-in-cheek.
"Seriously, Gillian, I don't like it that you consider yourself my last resort. When I'm with you it's because I want to and not because I'm forced to do so." He looked right into her eyes. "Do you understand? You're not the only remaining or unwanted option." You are the only option.
"All right," she whispered. He was serious, she could clearly see that. Her foolish heart swelled at his sentiment. They had been spending a lot of time lately, but she had been rational enough not to read anything into it. However, it didn't stop her from cherishing each moment she spent with Cal.
Beyond Gillian's shoulder, Cal spotted another man, this time around his age, approaching them. "What does a guy have to do around here to dance with you a little longer?" he muttered under his breath as he turned them away from the advancing man. They danced their way through the other dancing couples until they were on the other side.
"Cal, what are you doing?"
"Just moving to a better spot, love."
They bumped hard into a couple when Cal moved them to the edge of the dance floor.
"Oh, we're so sorry," Gillian apologized.
The woman, who was slightly older than Gillian, turned in her partner's arms to smile at them. "It's all right."
Gillian couldn't help but stare at the woman's large protruding stomach. She was probably seventh months along now. If she could still get pregnant at her age, why couldn't I have before? Could I still? The questions rang loudly in her head despite the background music. She watched with thoughtful eyes as the couple danced away.
"You could adopt again, you know. Or even have one naturally. It's not yet too late," Cal told her quietly. It didn't take an expert in facial expressions to know how Gillian was affected by the pregnant older woman.
Gillian looked at him pensively. "You know, I still don't understand why I Alec and I weren't able to conceive. I mean, we were both healthy."
"So you resorted to adoption."
"Yes, but even that didn't work out."
"Have you ever considered that maybe you just weren't meant to have a child with Alec?"
"That maybe it was fate's way of telling me that Alec and I would eventually go our separate ways so there was no sense in having a child come out of our union? Yes, the thought crossed my mind," Gillian sighed. "But having a child now seems impossible considering my present circumstances."
"You mean because you're not married anymore?"
"Yes. I just want my child to be born into a family with parents who love each other. I guess I'm just old-fashioned that way."
"I have no doubt that you'll make a very good mother."
"Thanks, Cal," she said. "I hope, if I will be blessed to become one, to be as cool a parent as you."
"Heh, thank you very much."
"Although not as paranoid, of course."
"Why didn't you and Zoey have other children?" she asked.
"She didn't want more children. I respected her decision."
"Oh. But you wanted more?"
"Given the chance, would you like to become a father again?"
The clear vision of him getting Gillian round with his child obliterated all other thoughts inside his head. It took him a moment before he could speak. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes when he asked, "Is that a proposition?"
Gillian realized too late the implication of her innocent question. "What? No, no! It was just a question. I wasn't trying to—"
"May I cut in?" Reynolds' deep voice interrupted him.
Cal pressed his lips together to stop himself from swearing. His reply came out downright rude. "What are you doing here?"
Reynolds didn't back down. "Hey, don't think you're the only one who gets to attend these kinds of events." He looked pointedly at Cal, whose arms still held Gillian. "Come on, man. Stop hogging her. It's just a dance."
Unwillingly, Cal dropped his hands. "Fine." He pointed his hand at him. "Don't let anybody else cut in."
Gillian was still too embarrassed to speak. Did it really sound like she was propositioning Cal?
"I won't." Reynolds smoothly placed himself in between Cal and Gillian. He smiled down at Gillian and held out his arms to her.
She returned his smile shakily as she placed her arms on his shoulders. "Hi, Ben."
"Gillian. You look lovely tonight."
"Thank you." Composing herself, she drew a deep breath.
Reynolds turned to Cal. "Now go charm the other ladies."
Cal twisted his mouth and gave him a withering glance before turning away reluctantly.
Reynolds chuckled when Cal was gone. "I didn't think I'd be able to pry him away from you. Is there something going on between the two of you that I should know about?"
After Torres' assumption before, Gillian wasn't surprised anymore by Reynolds' question. She shook her head exasperatedly. "No."
Reynolds eyed her doubtfully. "Huh. Really."
"You know a little bit of our history, Ben. You know Cal and I have always been close."
"Yeah, I know." He narrowed his eyes at her. "I may not know your science, but I do have my instincts. And they're telling me that something's changed. I can sense it."
"Okay. So what do you think has changed?" she asked, challenging him.
"He's more possessive of you. More protective. And it's not because of the she's-my-partner-of-course-I'm-protective-of-her crap. I'm not getting that vibe. He's more into you. You know what I mean?"
Gillian listened to what Reynolds was saying and tried to see things objectively from his point of view. More protective? A definite yes. She'd noticed that ever since her fainting episode. There had been no need for him to stay with her and check up on her constantly but still he had done so. Possessive? If she were to cite Cal's seeming obsession with taking her out as possible and his reluctance to allow anyone to dance with her, then…yes.
Reynolds continued. "I know Cal's reputation with the women, and it seems to me that he's not been…active for some time now."
Gillian scoffed at that. "How can you be so sure? How do you know he's not seeing anyone?"
"Come on, Gillian. Whenever I call him about a case at night or during weekends, he's either out with you or he's in your house. When does he have the free time to date?"
When Reynolds turned them in time with the music, Gillian's line of vision caught Cal at the edge of the dance floor …talking with Clara Musso.
"Well, apparently now," she said. Her voice sounded hollow to her ears.
Reynolds turned his head to where she was looking. He whistled. "Clara. Now that's one woman who's made it very clear that she's got the hots for Cal."
Gillian was riveted to the sight. Cal's profile was to hers, and she could see him smiling faintly at Clara. Her heart constricted.
"But it's also clear to me that Cal doesn't feel the same way about her. Not anymore."
But Gillian was beyond processing what Reynolds had just said for she was looking at Clara, who was reaching up a hand to caress Cal's cheek. She tore her eyes away from them.
"Ben? I have to go to the ladies' room."
Gillian dropped her arms and moved back a step. "Yes, I just need to freshen up." She forced a bright smile. "See you in a bit." And with that, she was off, disappearing behind the crowd of dancers.
Reynolds was left on the dance floor glancing between Cal and the direction where Gillian had gone.
"You just can't take your eyes off her, can you?"
Cal gave Reynolds and Gillian one last glance before turning his attention back to Clara. He really had to admire her for her efforts in trying to turn his head even after he'd expressly told her in the past that he wasn't interested in her anymore.
"Come again?" He honestly didn't hear her question or her entire monologue for that matter since she'd approached him a few minutes ago.
Clara pursed her lips and looked at him through lowered lids. "I said you just can't take your eyes off her."
"Oh, you mean Foster? Actually, I was looking at Reynolds …if his hands were still in their proper places…"
"You know, I'd like to believe that at one time I had you enthralled like that."
"At one time, yeah," he conceded. He tensed up when he felt her hand on his cheek. He jerked back immediately. "Look, Clara.—"
With a regretful smile, she withdrew her hand. "I know, I know. You've made yourself clear the last time. I guess I just wasn't prepared to see you looking so good in a tux…"
Giving her an uncomfortable smile, he turned away from her and looked towards the dance floor. But he couldn't find either Gillian or Reynolds.
After washing and drying her hands, Gillian stared unseeingly at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her reaction to seeing Cal with Clara again was more intense this time. A combination of hurt, disappointment, and jealousy settled heavily in her chest. She had no hold on his feelings... on him. She realized that unless Cal felt the same way she did about him, it didn't matter what Torres and Reynolds perceived about their relationship or whether the whole world thought that she and Cal would make a great couple. As things stand between them now, she'd not stand in the way of his love life no matter how much it hurt her.
She looked calm and composed when she walked back to the ballroom. She glanced towards the crowd for Cal.
"Finally. I've been waiting all night to catch you alone…Dr. Foster."
Gillian glanced towards the speaker. If not for the fading bruises and healing cuts on his face, she would not recognize him at all. His face was much worse than Cal's had been.
"Mr. Norton," she said formally.
"Call me Tom, please." Despite how his face looked, he still held himself confidently. In his late 40s, Tom Norton was a ruthless businessman known for his business savvy, shady deals, charisma, and womanizing ways. "You truly are a beautiful woman," he said with a charming smile.
Cautiously, Gillian only tilted her head in acknowledgment. She still didn't know the root of Cal's argument with this man, but between him and Cal there was no question on who she trusted. She'd only met Tom Norton once when he came to the Lightman Group, and it took only that one time for her to know that underneath the magnetic personality was a dubious character.
Norton noticed Gillian examining his face. "Ah yes. I'm sure you know that it was your partner who was responsible for my… rakish look tonight." He grinned.
"Yes, I do."
"Too bad about Cal withdrawing from our agreement. If he wasn't so protective of you, I'm sure both parties would've come away…satisfied."
"Didn't you know that it was because of you that Cal and I came to blows?"
Genuine shock was written all over Gillian's face.
"I guess not," Norton murmured. "Let me explain it to you, my dear. I want you. Like I said, you're a very beautiful woman. I made no bones about that to Cal the last time we met. I told him I had every intention of getting you to my bed. Not very professional of me, I know. But then again, I've never been known for my professionalism." He smirked. "So, surprised?"
Revulsion roiled in her stomach. "Repulsed is more like it," she managed to say.
From out of nowhere, Cal insinuated himself in front of Norton and pulled Gillian behind him. "Oi, Tom. I thought we agreed that you'd stay away from her." His tone was deceptively amiable, but his posture was clearly defensive.
"I was just having a decent conversation with her, Cal." Norton smirked. "Nothing hot and heavy."
Gillian pulled on Cal's arm. "Cal, let's just go."
But Norton would not be deterred. "I wonder why you didn't tell her that the reason why our contract didn't push through was because you didn't want me sniffing around her."
"She didn't have to know."
Norton directed his steely blue eyes at Cal. "I knew that your company's experiencing some financial setbacks, so you could just imagine my surprise when you favored saving Dr. Foster from my charms over a hefty contract. She really must mean more to you than just a business partner."
"She is everything to me." Cal's voice was dangerously quiet. "I'd do anything to protect her from a man like you."
Behind him, Gillian drew a deep breath.
Norton held his hands up. "All right," he said mockingly. He gave Gillian a final lascivious look-over. "Couldn't blame a man for trying." With that parting shot, he turned away and left.
Cal turned around to face her, his worried eyes looking her over. "You okay?"
Dumbly, she nodded.
"So now you understand why I had to sever our ties with him?"
"Why didn't you just tell me? I would've understood."
"Right. You would've been furious at me for allowing my protective instinct get the better of me. You would've tried to convince me that you could handle him. You've seen the man. I wasn't about to risk you being sexually harassed by that lecher."
She reached for him hand and squeezed it, giving him a rueful smile. "I'm glad you didn't."
Cal looked into her eyes. It was a long while before he spoke. "I think it's time we call it a night."
Cal glanced at Gillian. She was staring out the window at the passing scenery, seemingly engrossed. She was quiet, which was a good sign. She had a lot of contemplating to do considering how much he'd revealed about his feelings for her tonight. He knew she wasn't that dense. She was just playing it safe, which he forgave her for. He didn't blame her for wanting to protect her heart from the likes of him. He only hoped he could make her see he was worth risking her heart for and that the risk wasn't just on her side but his as well.
His skin prickled as he felt Gillian's gaze on him. But when he turned his head, she immediately hid her face and turned to face the window again.
Cal's mouth twitched. Without taking his eyes off the road, he asked, "Are you trying to read me, Dr. Foster? Are you trying to figure out if I meant what I said to Norton?"
She was glad for the dark interior of the car because her cheeks were on fire, embarrassed at having been caught. Her mind had been preoccupied during the ride home. She hadn't gotten past Cal's declaration yet: She is everything to me. She had wanted to look at Cal's face again to determine if there was an ounce of truth to it. "Why do you think I'm even thinking about that? You a mind reader now? I thought you only read faces."
Cal laughed. "I love it when you deflect, darling."
"Who said I was deflecting?"
Apprehension. Just the reaction he was looking for. "Answer the question then." Cal turned right towards Gillian's street.
"There is nothing to figure out. I know you said it only to discourage Norton further."
"I'm not a voice expert like you but I can tell even you don't really believe what you're saying."
"Of course, I do. What other explanation could there be?"
Suddenly fed up with her being obtuse, Cal pulled up to her apartment with a muttered curse. The street lamp afforded them enough illumination to make their faces visible. He turned to face her, his expression set. "Look at me and tell me I didn't mean it when I said you were everything to me."
Taken aback by his sudden change in behavior, Gillian blurted out stubbornly, "You didn't mean it."
Cal gripped her arms. "Look at me."
Helplessly, Gillian obeyed, her eyes noting his facial expressions. "I-I can't read you," she whispered shakily.
"Can't or won't?
Gillian just stared at him with tormented eyes.
"The truth is all over my face."
"What is the truth, Cal?" she asked desperately.
"Didn't I tell you to get your eyes checked? I'm in love you, damn it!" he exploded. "I want you in every bloody way a man wants a woman. How many times do I have to ply you with dessert before you finally figure it out?"
She just shook her head, perversely in denial of Cal what saying.
"Damn stubborn woman," he growled before pulling her towards him and capturing her mouth.
Gillian's protestations were muffled by the hard impact of Cal's mouth on her own. Bold and insistent, his mouth courted her lips open. He groaned when his tongue finally gained entrance. She was hot and tasted of champagne. Her taste was more potent than what he'd gleaned from her coffee mugs. He gentled the kiss, allowing their lips to cling before he reluctantly tore his mouth from hers.
Her eyes were flooded with unshed tears, and her cheeks were flushed. Her breathing was ragged, as was his own. His hands cupped her face. "That was a long time coming, love," he murmured. His thumb strayed to her lips, wiping at the moisture. "Does that convince you?"
With her heart beating wildly in her chest and her emotions all over the place, Gillian did what any self-respecting woman would do. She bolted. She undid her seatbelt, gathered her wrap and purse, and ran out of the car as fast as her shaky legs could carry her.