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Christine Rimmer New York Time Bestselling Author
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Christine Rimmer - New York Times Bestselling Author

Hidden Hearts

Chapter One
by Christine Rimmer

Annie Grant regretted two things as she stared down the barrel of the big, black gun.

One: That she never told Greg Flynn she loved him.

Two: That she told Dirk Jenkins she didn’t love him.

Dirk was the one on the other end of the gun. His hand shook—and so did the gun. Sweat beaded at his temples and his left eye twitched.

“It’s all right, Annie,” he said in a ragged whisper, sneaking furtive glances right and left. “I know you didn’t mean what you said.”
It’s all right? What was he thinking? When a person points a gun in your face, it’s not all right. Annie cleared her clutching throat and opened her suddenly dust-dry mouth—to say what? Something along the lines of Dirk, put the gun down, please.

But before she could get a word out, Dirk commanded, “Don’t talk. And come out from behind that counter. Now.”

The counter in question was Annie’s teller station at Red Rock Commerce Bank. Annie shot a quick look around. The other tellers went about their business, handling late-afternoon transactions. Out on the main floor, customers stood at the high circular counter filling out deposit tickets and updating checkbook registers, or waited in the comfortable central seating area to speak to a loan officer. No one else seemed to notice Dirk and his gun. It was business as usual—for everyone but Annie.

This couldn’t really be happening, could it? Annie gaped at the sweating, shaking Dirk. Keeping her gaze locked on his, she slid her hand beneath the counter and gave the silent-alarm button a push.

There. She’d done it. The Red Rock Police Department had been notified. 

Greg Flynn was an officer with the Red Rock P.D. Annie prayed that he’d answer the call….

But no. On second thought, let someone else come and save the day. She didn’t want Greg anywhere near here. Dirk might just shoot him….

“Get your hands up where I can see them,” Dirk ordered in that scary, raspy whisper. Sweat had begun to trickle from under his spiky straw-colored hair and drip down his sharp-boned, too-pale cheeks.

The good news—the extremely excellent news—was that he didn’t seem to have noticed she’d sounded the alarm. Annie sent a little prayer of abject gratitude winging heavenward as carefully, slowww-ly, she put her hands up in the air.

That was when Myrna Plotz, the teller in the station next to Annie’s, glanced over and saw what was happening.

“Ohmigod!” Myrna let out a shriek piercing enough to shatter glass. “A gun! My God, he’s got a gun!”

Big mistake on Myrna’s part. Dirk swung the gun her way. “Shut up or you’re dead.”

Beneath the heavy coat of blusher Myrna always wore, her cheeks went sickly gray. “Omigod! Okay, okay. Whatever you say…” She subsided into pitiful whimpers.

Myrna’s shriek had alerted everyone else. They all froze in place. Pens hung poised above check registers. More than one mouth gaped open. Every saucer-wide eye was focused on Dirk.

Lowering the gun a little, Dirk glanced over his shoulder and saw all those terrified faces. “Yeah. That’s right. Nobody move.” He turned back to point the gun, once again, straight at Annie. His dishwater eyes were narrowed to slits. “You, either, babe. Stay right where you are till I say different.”

In the tiny part of her brain that wasn’t expecting any second to be shot in the face, Annie registered that Dirk sounded a little like James Cagney in Public Enemy.

A movie buff, Dirk worked at the local video store. He’d often tried to amuse Annie with his bad imitations of old-time movie stars.

And look at him now. Playing Cagney again—this time for real. “All a youse behind the counter, get out here where I can keep an eye on ya. Do it now, or one a youse gets it right between the eyes. You too, Annie.”

Youse? Annie thought. Youse. Oh, God. To be shot in cold blood by a crazed video store clerk doing a bad Cagney imitation. Did it get any worse? She pondered that question as she and Myrna and the other tellers filed out onto the main floor of the bank.

Dirk turned and shouted at the two bank officers staring wide-eyed from their glassed-in office areas. “You get out here, too, both a youse!” The women rose from their desks and came out into the main room.

“Okay, now,” growled Dirk, once everyone was assembled. “Everybody flat on the floor, face down.” He waved the gun at Annie. “’Cept you, Annie. You get over here, by me.”

Though she’d rather have stuck her hand in a basket of rattlesnakes, Annie moved to Dirk’s side. All around the room, folks dropped to their knees and then stretched out, faces to the floor. 

“Put yer hands behind yer heads and lace yer fingers, elbows out.”

They all obeyed.

“Good. Now, none a youse make another move,” Dirk warned out of the corner of his mouth, laying on the Cagney. “Or I’ll blow yer brains to smithereens.”

“Put that weapon on the floor, young man.” It was Mr. Apoupopolis, the bank’s security guard. .45 drawn and pointed at Dirk, the guard emerged from behind a potted ficus tree in the corner. 

Bless you, dear, sweet old Mr. Apoupopolis, Annie thought.

But then, in a lightning-quick move, Dirk hooked an arm around her neck and hauled her right up against him. The barrel of that big, black gun dug into her temple.

“Drop it. Or Annie’s dead.”

Oh, great idea. Kill the one you say you love…

Absolutely, positively. This could not be happening. Annie’s heart was beating so hard she feared it would punch a hole in her chest. Her knees shook. Her hands and feet felt numb.

“Drop it, I said,” Dirk growled. “Now.”

Mr. Apoupopolis did as he was told.

“Now kick it over there, against the far wall.”

The gun went spinning—away from all the stretched-out customers and bank employees.

“Now get the hell over here and get down on the floor with yer hands behind yer head.”

Mr. Apoupopolis moved closer to the others and then dropped down to join them.

Dirk gave Myrna a shove with the tip of his high-topped tennis shoe. “You. Get up.” Quivering, making weak mewing sounds, Myrna scrambled to her feet.

“Annie.” Dirk’s hot breath touched her ear. “There’s a cloth bag stuck in the back of my belt. Take it out.” Annie reached a shaking hand behind him and found the bag. “Give it to Myrna.” She passed it to the other teller.

Dirk took the gun away from Annie’s head for a moment to wave it at Myrna. “Now, get back behind that counter.” Myrna scuttled to do his bidding as he guided

Annie around so they faced the teller area again. “Empty those drawers into the bag—and do it fast. No funny stuff.”

As Myrna went from station to station filling the bag, Dirk put his gun to Annie’s side and pressed his sweaty cheek to hers. “I’m getting us outta here, Annie,” he muttered. “You and me. Outta this town. You won’t be livin’ at your folks house any longer, working here at the bank, taking lessons in flower arranging. Uh-uh.

You’ll be with me. We’ll be outlaws, babe. It’s gonna be one wild and crazy ride.”

Annie’s stomach rolled. She felt her lunch rise toward her throat and had to gulp it back down.

Oh, God. Dirk had always been totally harmless—until now. What had gone wrong? Could what she’d said to him yesterday actually have driven him round the bend? 

She dared to speak. “Dirk. Please. I told you I didn’t—”

“Shut up.” He jabbed the gun into her side—hard. “I know you love me, whatever you say.” He scowled at Myrna. “Get a move on.” Myrna emptied the final drawer and scurried back around the end of the counter holding the bag full of cash. “Here. Give it here.”

Myrna whimpered and shoved the bag toward Dirk.

“Annie. Take it.” Dirk drilled the gun into her ribs again to emphasize the order. She’d be black and blue there tomorrow—if she lived that long.

She tried, one more time, to get through to him. “Dirk. Listen, I—” He jabbed her with the gun again. “Ow!”

“You want to draw your next breath, then do like I say.”

Annie took the bag.

“Drop,” Dirk said to Myrna, who instantly assumed the proper position on the floor. “Okay, babe.” Dirk planted a sweaty kiss on Annie’s cheek and raised the gun to her temple again. “Let’s get the hell outta this dump.” He scanned the floor and all the terrified people spread out there. “None a youse move if you want to keep on breathing.” Each word dripped with fake-Cagney menace. “Come on,” he said to Annie, and hauled her around to face the door.

He was dragging her toward it when the police officer came in through the main vestibule, duty pistol drawn and ready. 

It was Greg!

Annie’s pounding heart stopped dead in her chest—and then lurched to pounding life again.

How can this be happening? Annie asked herself desperately for about the tenth time. This just can’t be real…

Greg had his gun trained on Dirk. “Let her go, Jenkins.”

Dirk only tightened his stranglehold on Annie—and turned his gun on Greg. “Annie’s with me now, Flynn. Get down on the floor.”

Slowly, Greg shook his head.

“What are you, crazy? I’ll kill you, just watch me.”

Still, Greg refused to drop. Instead, to Annie’s abject horror, he holstered his pistol and began to stride slowly and deliberately toward her and Dirk.

“Back,” Dirk growled, shaking and sweating worse than ever. “Not one more step.”

Annie couldn’t keep silent. “Greg,” she pleaded. “Don’t…”

But Greg only kept coming. He looked from the gun Dirk had pointed at his broad chest, into Dirk’s eyes and back to the gun again. The strangest half-smile curved the mouth that Annie had only last Friday so thoroughly kissed. “Jenkins.” He actually shook his head and softly advised, “Give it up.”

“Yer dead,” Dirk muttered—and fired.

Myrna screamed as a thin jet of water erupted from the barrel of Dirk’s gun and wet the front of Greg’s khaki uniform.

 

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