“I hate hospitals,” Gran said beside me.
“Since when?” I asked. As far as I knew, she’d never been admitted to one. She had both her kids at home, and Grandpa died in his sleep. The only time I could even remember her being in one was when I – oh.
“Since you,” she said, elbowing me in the ribs.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to speak past it. “You’re the one who asked to come with me.”
“I know I did.” She paused and looked around. The nurse’s station was to our backs. Doctors and orderlies moved with swift efficiency up and down the hall. A man in a gown held onto his IV stand for dear life as he shuffled toward us. Gran leaned in and dropped her voice. “That was because I didn’t realize how hospitally it would be.”
She must be really uncomfortable if she was making up words.
I slipped my arm through hers and gave her a tug. “Then let’s quit dawdling out here and go see the doc.”
Together, we moved toward the now-familiar door halfway down the hall. Gran stayed glued to my side, looking slightly queasy. Dr. Perez had been moved from the ICU a few days after she woke up, and I’d started coming to see her as soon as her attending physician granted visiting rights.
A tall, beefy Latino man in a guard uniform stood outside of her room today, and the sight made me frown.
He held a hand out to stop us when we approached. “Names?”
“Krista and Izzy Evans,” I told him.
Gran tugged on my arm. “You didn’t say she was being guarded.”
“Because she wasn’t,” I said.
This new development worried me. Had something happened?
The guard spoke into the walkie-talkie strapped to his shoulder. Someone radioed back that we were clear to go in, and he nodded and opened the door for us.
“Thank you,” Gran and I chorused.
We slipped inside and found Dr. Perez sitting up in bed. Beside me, Gran sucked in a sharp breath. I’d warned her what she was walking into, but this was my fourth visit, and even I flinched when my eyes landed on the doctor. Deep purple, green, and yellow marred the skin of her face from her left jawline all the way to her scalp. A line of bruises ringed her neck, from where Redding tried to strangle her. Medical tape was stretched across her swollen nose, and she had two black eyes because of how badly it was broken. Half her head was wrapped up like a mummy to cover the staples holding her scalp together. Her right leg was broken, and so was her left arm. She sat stiffly because several of her ribs were fractured.
“Oh, Maria,” Gran said, stepping forward.
Dr. Perez lifted her head at the sound of her name. She’d been reading, holding the book aloft in her unbroken hand. I snuck a look at the cover. It was one of those old-school bodice rippers that were usually as problematic as they were addictive. She quickly set the book aside.
I noticed that she placed it with the cover facing down and grinned. “Whatcha reading, Doc?”
From her sheepish expression, she knew she’d been caught. “Oh, just something one of the nurses lent me.” The words came out a little slurred. Between the drugs they had her on and the pain in her jaw, she was still having trouble speaking. She couldn’t smile yet, but her eyes brightened when she shifted her focus to Gran. “Izzy, it’s so nice to see you.”
Gran went over and gave her the gentlest of hugs. “How are you holding up?”
“I’ve been better,” Dr. Perez said.
I made sure the door was shut behind me before joining Gran by the bed. “What’s with the guard?”
Dr. Perez’s eyes darkened. “Redding made bail.”
A hazy red veil of rage tinted the edges of my vision. Bail had been set for half a million dollars. It was one of the reasons Nick thought he’d be able to hold onto Redding. Guess not.
“When?” I bit out.
“A few hours ago,” she said. “The police told the admin here, and they thought there was enough of a danger that I warranted 24-hour protection.”
She met my eyes for a few seconds, and a world of unspoken words flowed between us. We’d talked a lot during my visits, well, I had at least. We’d only briefly touched on what Redding had done to her. She saw a nice hospital therapist once a day to work through her emotional trauma, and nothing I could say would be helpful. All my words about him were tinged with my desire to see him dead. My advice would be, “I bet you’d feel better if you killed him.” Instead, I’d been helping her in what way I could, devoting a lot of our time to my own recovery after the plane crash, what had worked for me, what hadn’t, what might work for her too.
“Are you okay?” I asked her. “Want me to see if they’ll let me sleep in here with you tonight?”
I’d done it before. The first day I visited her was rough, and she hadn’t wanted to be alone, so the nurses, grudgingly, let me stay. I had to work tonight, but I’d call in sick in a heartbeat if she wanted me to.
She shook her head. “No, thank you. I should be okay knowing there are armed guards outside.”
“You’ll call me if you’re not?”
“I will,” she said.
My hands itched with the desire to curl into fists. “Can you excuse me for just a second?”
Gran waved me off, saying, “Sure, kiddo,” but Dr. Perez eyed me for a long moment before nodding. She was a good read of people – it was what landed her in trouble in the first place – and she must have seen something in my expression that worried her.
I broke her gaze and beelined for the door before I gave anything else away.
The guard shot me a questioning look when I reemerged from the room.
“I just need to step away and make a phone call,” I told him. “I’ll be right back.”
He nodded. “You’ll need to go outside. They’re pretty strict about cellphone usage in here.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, heading toward the elevators.
One of the nurses at the station, a plump middle-aged black woman who’d been helping Dr. Perez the past few days, recognized me and smiled. “Hey, Krista.”
I forced myself to smile back at her. “Hi, Michelle.”
“Here to see the doctor?”
“Yup. Just need to make a quick call.” I widened my grin a bit, coaching myself to act normal. “You lend her that bodice ripper?”
Michelle barked a laugh and pushed her short braids back from her face. “Lend? Honey, I wheeled our mobile library up to her, and she picked it out herself.”
“I knew it.”
“Don’t tease her too hard now,” Michelle said.
I snapped her a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
Michelle’s laughter faded as I stepped into the elevator. No one else was in it with me, and I dropped my mask the second the doors closed and indulged in some low-level growling. I was pretty sure that if I let out the scream that threatened, someone would hear it and come running. Fucking Redding. That goddamn shit had slipped through Nick’s fingers, and if Redding was vindictive enough to go after Daniel ten years after Daniel “wronged him”, I had no doubt that he was coming back to Kearny to finish what he started here.
No fucking way would I let that happen.
I punched the ground floor button and stepped back to wait. The walls around me were steel, so shiny that I saw my reflection in them. I looked scary. My eyes were wild. The left side of my lips kept trying to curl up into a snarl. The hospital was only six stories tall, and Dr. Perez’s room was at the top. I spent all six of those stories entertaining a brief but vivid fantasy of dismembering Redding piece by piece with my bare hands. Maybe I could hide him away somewhere, in one of The Kings’ forgotten warehouses. If I took my time, I could drag it out for months.
A chime sounded when I reached the bottom floor, and I did my best to school my features before walking through the lobby. My phone was at my ear the second I stepped outside.
“Pick up. Pick up,” I said.
Over a week had passed since I’d stormed out of the Larsons’ house. In that time, Gran and I had gotten a little R&R at Iliza’s farm, I’d found a new apartment, settled Gran back into a now Joker-free Magnolia, and gone back to work at Charley’s. Jakob and I hadn’t spoken that entire time – he was giving me the space I asked for – but every night I worked, without fail, he came to the bar. He sent a flunkie to order his drinks, staying put in a booth in the back. His eyes never left me. I could feel their intensity every minute of every shift.
Other people had started to notice. They knew something was up between us, but since neither Jakob nor I would tell them what, they were left to make their own assumptions. Apparently the assumption was that I’d done something to piss The Viking off, and now people were avoiding me like the plague, which I would have welcomed if not for the fact that it meant that hardly anyone was ordering drinks from me, so my tips had plummeted. Good thing I still had a couple of grand left over from Liam’s check squirreled away. I could live off of that until people came back to their senses and realized that Jakob wouldn’t kill them just for speaking to me.
The phone rang several times before Jakob picked up. “Your two weeks aren’t up yet,” he said. “You throwing in the towel early, Evans?”
I ignored his goading and got right to the point. “Redding made bail.”
He sucked in a sharp breath. And then he laughed. “Halle-fucking-lujah.”
The line went dead.
I pulled my phone away and stared down at the screen. I had four bars, so I didn’t drop the call. Jakob must have hung up on me.
I called him back. He didn’t pick up. I tried texting him.
What are you going to do? I want in!
He didn’t text me back. Goddamn it. I texted him again.
Be careful. Nick must be watching him.
Still no answer.
I ground my teeth and turned on my heel, heading back inside.
“Everything okay?” Gran asked when I walked into Dr. Perez’s room.
“Yup, fine,” I said, grinning ear-to-ear.
She frowned at me. I must look deranged. I felt a little deranged.
Jakob was right about me. I heard that Redding made bail, and my reaction was to formulate a plan to track him down and kill him. Not let the law deal with it, not trust the police to guard Dr. Perez, but to see that Redding got the punishment I thought he truly deserved. And my plan wasn’t some hypothetical revenge fantasy. I was deadly serious about wanting to kill him. Jail wasn’t enough. The man needed to die for what he’d done to Dr. Perez. For what he’d done to all of those other women. For what he wanted to do to me. If Jakob let me in on whatever he was obviously about to do, I would gleefully take part and lose not a minute of sleep afterward.
The fact that Jakob was right didn’t come as some new revelation. I’d realized it within a few hours of walking away from him. Iliza and Fred welcomed Gran and me with open arms. We’d had a wonderful dinner reminiscing about past visits and how good it was to see each other. Afterward, I went outside and sat on the front porch of their farmhouse to drink a couple of beers and unwind. Iliza had those quaint café lights strung across the porch ceiling. Their place was so set back from the road that I heard not a single hum of human machinery. Crickets kept me company. Every now and then, a sheep would bah, or a horse would neigh from the nearby barns.
It was peaceful, even more tranquil than the Larsons’ screened-in porch near the river. I’d enjoyed it for half an hour. And then I got bored. Then I started wondering what Jakob was doing. Was he thinking of me? Had he left his parents’ house and gone back to his tidy little apartment? Did Jennifer tell him what I’d said to his father? Would he be proud that I stood up to Liam or annoyed? I pictured Jakob’s scowling, disapproving face and grinned.
My smile slipped a few minutes later, when I realized the last few days with him were the most alive I’d felt in years, and it had as much to do with the man I’d spent them with as it did the batshit crazy events that took place. How, after all of it, did I duck my head back down like a good little civilian and go back to tending bar and visiting Gran and going home, alone, to my empty apartment?
The answer was that I couldn’t.
But I still took my time. I still stayed away from Jakob and thought about it endlessly while we were apart. Nothing changed, despite how much I willed it to. I didn’t suddenly become a decent person. If anything, those days with my great aunt and uncle out on their farm only reinforced how much I didn’t want to be a decent person. I didn’t want to live a contented, stable life. I wanted violence, passion, upheaval, a new surprise every day. In short, I wanted in, with Jakob, and maybe even with The Kings, which made me wonder if I had more of my parents in me than I thought.
We’d left the farm and gone back to Kearny a few days later. I settled Gran in at the nursing home and went to sign a lease on a new apartment, across town from my old one, closer to the bar and club territory. The first thing I did afterward was head to a furniture store and pick out a California King. It would take up most of my small bedroom. I didn’t need something that big for just me, but I pictured Jakob’s massive body and knew that nothing smaller could comfortably hold him. The clerk at the store eyed me funny when I started yanking on the headboard, wondering how much of a pounding it could take, but I ignored him and went on with my stress test. I was done giving a shit what anyone thought of me.
That night, I had my first shift back at the bar. I held my breath during the beginning of it, trying to keep my cool, surreptitiously sneaking glances out into the crowd, looking for him. And then there he was, as if I’d summoned him, staring at me through the sea of bikers spread out between us. I’d shivered when I met his gaze, awareness and anticipation coursing just beneath my skin, threatening to break the surface and make it obvious to anyone watching how desperately I wanted this man.
I nearly went to him but stopped myself. What if I didn’t cave? What if I took all two weeks before answering him? I was already wound tight enough to snap, but, God, the way he looked at me. I wanted him to keep looking at me like that, like he had just stumbled out of the desert, and I was the first drop of water he’d seen in days. How would he react when my two weeks were up? How much tension could I build between us until then?
I wanted to find out, and my desire to drag it out for as long as possible was driven by more than just that small – okay, probably larger than I was willing to admit just yet – sadistic side of me.
I’d started smiling at random men during my shifts, just to get a rise out of him, but he only sat there, stonily, wearing the same expression but with a spark in his eyes like he thought it was cute that I was trying to make him jealous. A few nights ago, a pretty redhead sat down at his booth, pressing her hip right against his, and he let her. I’d nearly vaulted the bar, but then I saw his lips twitch. No one else would have noticed, but I’d become a connoisseur of his expressions, sniffing out his moods like a sommelier with a rare vintage of wine, and I knew he’d seen the possessiveness on my face and liked it. As payback, I didn’t look at him once for the rest of my shift. Nina told me he looked like he wanted to kill someone by the time he left, and I decided that meant I’d won the night.
We continued on like this, our little game of brinkmanship gaining more and more attention. Last night, Nina leaned into me and told me we needed to cut it out before we started a brawl.
I’d frowned down at her. “What?”
“The tension between you two is infecting everyone else,” she said.
I’d looked out into the crowd with fresh perspective, noticing the pinched expressions and hunched shoulders, like everyone was holding their breath right along with me, waiting for whatever was happening between Jakob and me to boil over.
As I chatted with Gran and Dr. Perez, I began to wonder if holding out for all two weeks was a bad idea. I might not be the best human being, but sitting here with the doctor in her hospital bed made it clear that I wasn’t willing to let someone else get hurt just because Jakob and I were having fun torturing each other.
I spent the rest of the visit convincing myself that it was okay to cave, to be the bigger person if it meant keeping other people safe. We said goodbye to Dr. Perez just before suppertime. I dropped Gran off, went home, changed, and headed in for my shift, prepared to suck it up and act like everything was fine between Jakob and me. I needed to speak with him tonight. He still hadn’t called or texted back, and we needed to figure out what to do about Redding. He’d promised that I could be in on payback, and he seemed like the kind of guy who didn’t give his word lightly.
But he didn’t show up at the bar that night.
And he wasn’t there the next night either.
Nor the one after that.
I called and texted him half a dozen more times without hearing back from him, and was starting to really worry by the time Friday rolled around. What if he’d gone after Redding and Redding put up more of a fight than he’d anticipated? Redding was ex-army, like Jakob. Who knew what kind of training he had? Jakob could be in trouble. He could be hurt somewhere, at that sociopath’s mercy.
I finally caved and called Jennifer Friday morning.
“Hi, Krista,” she said.
I took a deep breath. “I know I’m probably not your favorite person right now, but I’m having trouble getting ahold of Jakob. Have you heard from him?”
“I have,” she said.
“He’s okay?” I asked.
“Do you know where he is?”
“No,” she said, worry creeping into her tone. “Should I be concerned?”
“I don’t think so,” I told her.
“You’ll let me know if that changes?”
“I will. Thank you for talking to me.”
She chuckled. “Relax, Krista. You and I don’t have a problem.” The laughter slipped from her voice. “But break my son’s heart, and I’ll come for you.”
Uh…yikes. She sounded deadly serious. This must have been where Jakob got his scary side.
“I’ll try not to,” I told her.
We said goodbye and hung up, and then I let myself get mad. I might not want to break her son’s heart, but right now, I’d settle for breaking a few of his bones. Teasing me at the bar with some rando redhead was one thing, but if this was another one of his games, it was too much. I’d been truly worried about him. Sick to my stomach worried. Worried enough that if Jennifer hadn’t heard from him, I would have driven to the Larsons’ house and worked with The Enemy, aka Liam, to try and find Jakob via GPS or spy satellite or whatever the hell else Liam had at his fingertips. But his mom just confirmed that he was fine, so what the hell was he doing, and why wasn’t he responding to me?
I set my phone on my kitchen island and turned around. The main living area in my new apartment was open concept, kitchen spilling into dining and living room. A slider was set in the far wall, with a small balcony looking out onto a much nicer pool than the one at my old place. I started pacing as I mulled everything over. All this time, I’d been so focused on my own shit, on working through everything that had happened and how I felt about it. I’d interpreted Jakob’s taunting in the bar as playfulness. That, like me, he was weirdly enjoying this little separation. He said he liked riling me up; it was a fair assumption to make. But what if I’d misread the situation like I’d misread everything else? What if instead of teasing me to get a rise out of me, he was being mean? I’d forgiven him, I wanted him, all his baggage included, but had he forgiven me? Did he still want me?
I kept pacing. My leg barely protested. I had physical therapy a few days ago, and the new set of exercises my therapist recommended were working out pretty well. Plus, I’d been taking it easier. After all my revelations over the past week, I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I wasn’t 100%, and I probably never would be again. Pushing myself too hard proved nothing and only hurt me in the end. It was time to stop acting like I didn’t have chronic pain.
I’d started sitting on a padded stool in between customers at the bar, and miraculously, no one gave me shit for it. Before getting into bed each night, I worked through a long series of stretches and then massaged the stiffness from my joints and muscles. I repeated the routine every morning, iced my knee more to prevent swelling, and was quick to pop an aspirin if I felt I needed a bit more help. Barely a week had passed, but I already noticed a difference, and I wanted to kick myself for being so stupid about my leg for so long.
A knock sounded from my door.
My feet were already moving in its direction before my brain fully processed the noise. Was it Jakob? I stopped mid-stride. Or Redding? I’d spent the last several days paranoid in the extreme, checking over my shoulder any time I felt exposed, having a co-worker follow me home every night and stand in my doorway, ready to press 9-1-1 while I searched my apartment for signs of forced entry or an intruder.
With Redding in mind, I turned and grabbed a gun from the kitchen before moving to the door. I glanced through the peephole and let out a breath when I saw Jakob standing on the other side. God, he looked good, looming there in the brightly lit stairway like a little slice of night.
I threw open my door, and he strode inside without being asked. He shut it behind him, turning, and we faced each other in silence. His eyes roamed over me, taking in every tiny detail. My focus stayed fixed on his face, searching out any clues about how he was and how he felt about me. He arched a brow down at my hand. Whoops. I was still holding my gun. I set it on the kitchen counter and turned back to him.
“Where have you been?” I asked.
“Getting everything ready for our long weekend,” he said.
It was good to hear his voice again. A flash of relief shot through me at his words, but I couldn’t let it distract me. “Is that why you hung up on me and couldn’t be bothered to send so much as a text the last few days? I’ve been freaking out, Jakob.”
His smile was sharp. “How’s it feel?”
I sucked in a breath. Shit. This was payback for turning my phone off when I went to meet Nick? Maybe he hadn’t forgiven me after all.
He caught sight of my face and relented. “I’m sorry if I freaked you out.”
“What were you really doing?” I asked.
His expression hardened, and this time I recognized the warning look in his eyes. “Setting up our trip,” he repeated, slowly.
Huh. For some reason, he didn’t think he could be honest with me right now. Why? Did he think that someone was watching me? Liam or Daniel or maybe even…Nick. If it was Liam or Daniel, Jakob wouldn’t worry about how they’d react if he said, “What I was really doing was violently murdering a sociopathic piece of shit,” so he must have thought that Nick might be watching.
Just when I thought I’d finally get a break, shit went sideways again. Was Redding a setup? Had Nick let Redding go to see what I would do? To see what Jakob would do? If we killed him and Nick found out, he would either throw us in jail or, the more likely option, blackmail us into working for him to take The Kings or The Specters down.
This was what you wanted, I reminded myself.
I took a deep breath. Yes, it was. And I realized now how fucked up that probably made me, but screw it. I’d decided I was in, so I was in. I’d have to trust Jakob to tell me the truth when he felt like he could.
“Okay,” I said.
He gave me a pointed look. “Okay?”
He glanced past me for the first time, taking in my apartment. “I like your new place.”
I looked over my shoulder, following his gaze. It was still a little sparse; the only piece of furniture in the living room was a couch. I hadn’t gotten around to replacing my TV yet, and there were no little side tables or area rugs or throw blankets to make the space feel safe and cozy yet, but it would get there. I was determined this time to make a real home for myself.
“Thanks,” I said, turning back to him.
He nodded. “Was Dad’s check enough to cover everything?”
“And then some,” I said. “So, when are we going on our trip?”
I frowned. “I can’t. I have to work all weekend.”
He shook his head. “I had Lisa switch out your shifts.”
Well, that settled that.
Excitement bloomed in my chest, and I tried to tamp it down before it got away from me, and I ended up doing something stupid like giggling. “Does that mean you’ve forgiven me?”
He stepped forward, finally closing the distance between us. His eyes were steady on mine as he stared down at me. “You did what you felt you had to do. I might not like it, I might not agree with it, but it worked. It solved most of our problems. Even my father has been acting less fucked up.”
Holy shit, maybe I’d actually gotten through to Liam.
“Plus,” he said, hand dropping to cup my cheek, “after everything I put you through leading up to that point, I’d be a hypocrite not to forgive you.”
I leaned into his touch. “Yes, you would.”
“I don’t want to turn into my father,” he said.
I gripped his wrist and stared up at him. “You won’t.”
A small crease formed between his brows. He was on the verge of scowling. “I’m not perfect. I’m not even a good person, but I’m going to try not to treat you like that again.”
I angled my face up, gaze dropping to his mouth. “No more bullshit.”
“No more bullshit,” he agreed, sealing his lips over mine.
I swayed into him. He still cupped my cheek, using it to tilt my head back even further as his tongue delved into my mouth. His other hand snaked around my back, bicep flexing against my side as he pulled me closer.
In that moment, I knew I’d made the right decision. I’d never felt like this about anyone else. He drove me crazy in the worst and the best way, and now I couldn’t imagine myself settling for anything less.
He gave me one last lingering caress and then pulled away just enough to speak. “Are you in, Evans?”
“I’m in,” I told him.
His arm fell from my waist as he stepped back. “Then pack a bag, and let’s get the fuck out of here.”
I wanted to, God I wanted to, but I couldn’t leave town without knowing if there was a risk that Redding might get to Dr. Perez or Gran. I couldn’t ask him outright, not if Nick might overhear somehow – if he’d bugged this apartment, so help me God, I would find a way to make him regret it – so I spoke to Jakob like I had after finding out Liam bugged the van.
“Is it okay to leave town right now?”
Jakob nodded, leveling his gaze at me. “Yes.”
From the conviction in his tone, I believed him.
“Okay, I’ll pack,” I said. “Where are we going?”
He grinned. “Somewhere that no one will hear you screaming for the next three days.”
I blinked. “Is that supposed to be sexy or scary?”
His grin turned deranged. “Yes.”
I laughed. It must have been the reaction he wanted because his smile went back to normal. Better than normal, actually. He smiled at me wider than he ever had before. So wide that two little dimples appeared on either side of his lips.
I turned away from him and went to pack. It was either that or tackle him, and if I got my hands on him now, we’d spend the whole weekend humping each other in my empty apartment. That wouldn’t work. I hadn’t forgotten his promise to let me tie him down, and there wasn’t anything strong enough to hold him in here.
I called Gran while I packed, telling her that I’d be gone for a few days.
“With Jakob?” she asked, and I could hear her smiling.
“Yes,” I said, shoveling clothes into my duffle bag.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” she said in a sing-song voice.
I snorted. “You’ve told me enough traumatizing stories that I know damn well how little you wouldn’t do.”
Gran cackled. “Then have fun.”
“I will. I’ll call you when we get there.”
“Okay. Love you, kiddo.”
“Love you too,” I said.
We hung up, and I called Nina to cancel our plans for tomorrow morning. She was supposed to come over and test out the pool with me. She sounded bummed at first, but her tone changed the second I told her why I needed to bail.
“You better tell me every sordid detail when you get back,” she said.
“Drive safe then.”
I frowned after we got off the phone and quickly finished packing. “Hey,” I said when I re-emerged from my bedroom. “Are we taking my car? I can’t handle a long trip on the back of your bike.”
He shook his head. “We’re taking my truck.”
I didn’t even know he had a truck. It reminded me how little I actually knew about his life. I felt like I knew him, what made him tick, how his mind worked, but the day-to-day details were something else. Something I looked forward to learning over the coming days and weeks and hopefully months.
We kept our distance as I locked up the apartment. I couldn’t touch him right now, and from the way he kept looking me over, he couldn’t touch me either, not without us ending up naked on my floor.
He grabbed my bag from me and slung it over his shoulder as we headed down the stairs. “Awfully light,” he said.
“That’s because it’s nothing but lingerie and high heels.”
The toe of his motorcycle boot caught on the next step, and he nearly tripped. Score one for me.
“Jesus Christ,” he muttered, the words almost a groan.
My laughter echoed through the stairwell.
His truck was parked in the space next to my car. It was an older model Ford pickup, and it was, unsurprisingly, black. He’d added an after-market lift kit to it, and it was tall enough that we wouldn’t have to worry about traffic on the way to wherever we were going because he could just drive over everyone else.
He opened my door for me and chucked my bag in the back. “You got it?” he asked.
I looked up, and up, at the seat. “Give me a hand, and I should be fine.”
He held his hand out, and I gripped it with one of mine and grabbed the handle on the door frame with the other. I hauled myself up with my arms, my good foot planted on the footrail.
“Piece of cake,” I said, settling myself in.
He lingered at my open door. “You’ve been taking it easier lately at the bar. Leg acting up?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m just done acting like it doesn’t hurt me all the time.”
“Good,” he said.
He shut my door and climbed in next to me a minute later.
“I’m assuming it’s okay to talk in here?” I asked as he pulled out of the parking space.
“Yes, and before you ask, no, I didn’t kill Redding. I told you that you could be in on revenge, and I’m not about to break my word to you again.”
“But you’re sure it’s okay to leave? The hospital posted a guard at Dr. Perez’s door.”
“It’s okay to leave,” he said. “I have eyes on Redding. He’s nowhere near Kearny right now, but if that changes, you’ll be the first to know.”
“What if he slips through the cracks again? What if he’s able to shake whoever you have trailing him?”
He shot me a look as he drove. “You really think he slipped through the cracks?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I want to think he did. I want to believe that Nick wouldn’t set a rapist free just to try and entrap either of us.”
Jakob let out a grunt. “Don’t underestimate your old friend. You might have shared something once, but his loyalty is to the Bureau now.”
“Do you think my apartment is bugged?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I’ve been away for a few days. No telling what happened while I was gone. Your apartment might be bugged, or you could have a second GPS tracker on your car.”
“Great,” I said, glaring out the windshield. How the hell was I going to enjoy this weekend without being stuck in my head the whole time?
“Hey,” Jakob said, reaching out to thread his fingers through mine. “Just let it go. Let it all go. I swear to you that Redding isn’t going to hurt anyone while we’re gone, and all this other shit can hold for a few days without imploding. We’ll have plenty of time to deal with it when we get back. You promised me a weekend, and I didn’t think you were the kind of woman to go back on your word.”
“I’m not,” I said, sighing. “And I’ll try to let it go.”
He nodded. “Good enough for now.”
“So, where are we going?”
“Lost Maples,” he said. “A friend of Dad’s has a cabin out there in the middle of the woods.”
I watched his profile as he drove. “Right. Where no one will hear me scream.”
He glanced my way and sent me a look that smoldered. “Or moan, or pant, or beg.”
I lifted a brow at him in challenge. “The only one doing any begging will be you. Remember what you promised me.”
He jerked his head sideways toward the truck bed. “I remember.”
I turned in my seat and froze. Coiled up in the rear of the truck was a length of off-white rope.
“It’s made from flax,” Jakob said. “The woman at the sex shop said it wouldn’t chafe as much as the others.”
The woman at the sex shop? Oh my God, the visual of him picking out his own rope, some poor, unsuspecting woman staring up at him while he tested its tensile strength.
I doubled over in my seat, laughing. Maybe it would be easier to relax this weekend than I thought.
Copyright © 2021 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.