LILAH was startled awake. The noise she heard was only faint and possibly no more than the eighty-year-old bungalow creaking as it settled in the night. There it was again. It’s probably nothing, she told herself as she got up, looking at the clock. It was 4:35 a.m. She might as well check on Erika since she was awake, she decided. Making her way down the short hallway between her bedroom and the nursery, she once again heard the sound, but this time it didn’t seem like the house settling. A slight chill overtook her, which she quickly dismissed.
Reaching Erika’s nursery, Lilah pushed the partially open door wide, allowing the light from the hallway to flood into the room. The baby was sound asleep. Good. The noise repeated itself. It was like a gentle tapping, lasting only a short time and then stopping. What could it be? she thought. What would make that noise? Probably just water in the pipes, she reassured herself.
Looking down at her precious little girl, sweetly sleeping in her crib, Lilah was overcome by the peace and love of a mother. She was such a good baby, Lilah thought, not fussy and never sickly—at least so far. And when she or Steppenwolf cooed baby talk to Erika, that pretty little face lit up like a Christmas tree emblazoned with a thousand twinkling lights.
Lilah was so caught up in her peaceful reverie that she was startled when the tapping sound returned, only louder and possibly closer this time. No! It was closer! She was fairly sure that the noise was now coming from the area of her bedroom. A freezing chill swept through Lilah’s body as she realized the sound was now next to her, emitting from the nursery window. No longer able to deny the danger implied, she quickly turned her face to the window. A dark masked figure stood outside, hands uplifted, gloved fingers tapping quickly on the windowpane.
A terrified scream pierced the air of the nursery, followed by the startled cries of the baby. It was a moment before Lilah realized the scream was coming from her throat. And the tapping only got louder and more insistent as the masked man started growling and snarling in a menacing manner, sending Lilah closer and closer to the edge. Don’t panic! Don’t panic, she told herself. Think of the baby! Protect the baby!
She turned back to Erika, lifting the tiny baby from the crib and running from the nursery into the hallway, slamming the door behind her. Running desperately, she headed for the security pad next to the back door in the kitchen, on the other side of the house from the monstrous figure that was terrorizing her life, but she couldn’t escape the sound of the tapping on the glass, which became more and more frantic, more pronounced. How much harder could he beat on the window before it broke, allowing him to enter the house with her and Erika? She tried not to think about it. She couldn’t think about that, or she would become frozen with fear. But her question was answered when the alarm system went off before she reached the pad. The stranger had reached the level of pressure on the window that triggered the warning siren. At least it was not accompanied by the sound of breaking glass.
The phone rang just as Lilah reached the kitchen. Getting to the phone on the wall, she answered. “Hello?”
“Ma’am,” came the calm, female voice from the other end of the line, “are you all right? Your alarm system has gone off.”
“No! No!” Lilah said loudly into the receiver. “Someone is trying to break into my house.”
“I’ll dispatch one of our security officers and call the police,” the professional, calm voice reassured her. “Where is the intruder? Is he inside the house?”
“I’m not sure. He could be in my daughter’s nursery, but I don’t think so.”
“What about your daughter, ma’am, is she in the nursery?”
“No, no. I was in there when it started and managed to get her out. We’re both in the kitchen at the back of the house.”
“Ma’am, do you have a room with a lock on the door where you could go that doesn’t have a window to the outside?”
“No. The only room I have like that is the bathroom, but it has a window.”
“Okay, ma’am. You say you’re in the kitchen. Does it have windows that look outside into the yard?”
“Yes, over the sink and at the breakfast nook.”
“Have you got the lights on in that room, ma’am?”
“Okay, ma’am. I need you to turn those off so the intruder can’t see you in there but you can see him outside. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes, yes. Thank you. That makes sense,” Lilah said as she turned off the kitchen lights.
“Okay, ma’am, without leaving the phone or going near the windows, can you see anybody through the kitchen windows in the yard?”
It took a few seconds for Lilah’s eyes to adjust to the darkness. “I can see now. There doesn’t appear to be anybody outside.”
“Okay, ma’am. I’m going to stay on the phone with you until our detective gets there. His name is Barker, so be sure to ask his name and see that he has on a uniform, okay?”
Although the security company guard showed up within a few minutes, it seemed like an eternity for Lilah as she stood there on the phone, clutching Erika to her breast and hearing herself breathe so loudly she was afraid that the burglar outside would be led right to her. But at least the baby, now feeling secure, had returned to sleeping quietly in her mother’s loving arms, a tribute to Lilah’s ability to conceal her fears.
That interlude of peace and quiet only lasted those few minutes until there was a sharp rap at the back door. “Ma’am? It’s Detective Barker with Horizon Security. Are you okay?”
Lilah, flipped on the back porch light and cautiously peeked through the curtains on the window in the kitchen door. There stood a big, hulking man with wispy blonde hair covering the top of his head. The uniform looked right, but Lilah was taking no chances. “Show me your ID,” she shouted through the door.
Detective Barker held up his security company ID that showed both his name and his picture. Deciding that it would be all right, Lilah unbolted the door, allowing the security guard entry. “Thank God you’re here,” she gasped. “I’m scared to death.”
“It’s all right, ma’am. I’ve got another detective searching the outside of the house looking for any evidence. Now, I need you to wait right here while I go through the house and make sure the intruder is not inside. Did he display any weapon?”
“Not that I could see,” Lilah answered.
But Detective Barker took no chances as he drew his revolver and exited the kitchen to begin his search of the rest of the house. Lilah was still shaken when he returned. “Nobody inside, ma’am. You say you actually saw the man?”
“Yes. He was banging on the nursery window.”
“Can you give me a description?”
“Unfortunately not. He was wearing a black ski mask, black clothing, and even had on black gloves,” Lilah explained.
Just when Lilah was beginning to calm down ever so slightly, there was a tapping on the back door, once again raising her anxiety level. “It’s Jones,” said a man’s voice from the other side.
“Sorry, ma’am, to scare you. It’s my partner. May I let him in?”
Lilah nodded her head and pointed toward the door. Barker let Jones in. “There’s fresh footprints in the gardens under every window of the house,” he reported.
Lilah fought with all she had to keep herself from collapsing under the panic that was sweeping through her mind. But no matter how hard she battled her emotions, her expressive, dark eyes started sending tears streaming down her warm, brown cheeks.
Erika stirred in Lilah’s arms, her bright green eyes opening, looking up at her mommy. Knowing she had to keep her baby from feeling the emotions that were wracking her psyche, Lilah cooed at her little girl, “How are you doing, little girl?” Erika’s little face lit up with one of those million-dollar smiles, and there it was, the child reassuring the mother that everything would be all right. Erika’s smile indicated that she simply expected it, giving Lilah some comfort as she waited for the police to arrive.
By the time the police came and went, asking the same questions the security company detectives had, the sun was beginning to color the April sky over Houston, bringing a little peace to the household. The security guards offered to stay until the au pair arrived and Lilah left for work, an offer she gratefully accepted.
She did feel that she had to do one more thing. Even though she didn’t want to bother him, she knew she needed to call Erik and tell him what had happened.
STEPPENWOLF was continuing his conversation with Mookjai when his cell phone interrupted them. He fished it off his belt, taking a look at the number displayed. “Sorry, Mookjai, I’ve got to take this. It might be about my kid.”
“Go ahead,” Mookjai allowed.
A panicky voice greeted him. “Erik?”
“Lilah, what’s wrong?”
Lilah told him the story of the attempted break-in.
“Listen, Lilah, it might be better if you and the baby moved over to my house for a few days until you can feel safe again. It’s going to take a while for you to be comfortable in your house after that.”
“Do you think that will help? It’s only next door.”
“It won’t have the scary memory attached to it for you.” Because of Lilah’s description of the man’s actions, Steppenwolf didn’t really believe what he next said to Lilah. “It was probably just a junkie trying to steal some money for a fix. He won’t be back now that he knows you have a security system. And, look, I’ll arrange for 24-hour security guards until you feel better, okay?”
“Well, that’s good. I’ll sure be glad when you get back home.”
“I know. Hang in there, and don’t worry.”
Steppenwolf turned off the phone and directed his attention back to Detective Mookjai. “Sorry about that. Somebody tried to break into my baby’s mother’s house in Houston.”
Before Mookjai could respond, Steppenwolf’s phone rang again. He pulled it back out, glancing at the message screen. “Number blocked,” it read.
“Just a minute. I’d better answer this.
“Hello?” Steppenwolf spoke into his cell.
It was Lola. “I hear Lilah and your baby had quite a scare.”
“How do you know about that?”