Sunday, April 21, 2013 | By: Jenny

In Pursuit Chapter 4

Chapter 4
Marie POV
I was aware of little as Jasper drove the dark gray Ford Taurus down I-495. It was still the middle of the night, just before four o’clock, so it was dark outside, if you didn’t count the headlights from passing cars and lights alongside the interstate. The area was populated enough that there were plenty of small housing developments and businesses that ran alongside the busy road, so it didn’t feel exactly like we were in the middle of nowhere, but I still felt plenty alone, even with Mary beside me and our two guards in the front seat.
I supposed they weren’t guards in the sense that we were prisoners, but they were our bodyguards for all intents and purposes, so the word fit nonetheless. Whatever I called them, they were there to protect us, so I was thankful – even as I hated them for why they were there and why we needed them in the first place.
I’d been right about Mary when I’d told Angela she’d be a goner. Jasper Whitlock had been very calm, very friendly when he’d shaken our hands and said hello. He’d made us instantly feel at ease with two strange men in the small motel room. His southern accent had flowed like warm honey odd as it seemed...felt like the hugs my mother used to give us when we were young. He was tall and lean, close to a foot taller than me and well over a foot taller than Mary, with hazel eyes and dark blond hair, several inches longer in the front, in the style that was popular at the moment. Mary hadn’t been able to keep her eyes off him, barely looking away to say hello to Edward. Even now, she kept darting her eyes between her lap, the window, and the back of Jasper’s head.
Edward, on the other hand, was darker – in personality and in looks. He’d been gruff, just like Angela had said, and almost impersonal. Not impolite, really, just professional and distant. When he’d instructed us to listen to whatever he and Jasper told us, his voice had softened almost imperceptibly, but he’d still been slightly intimidating. But damn, the man was sexy. I wasn’t interested – shit, that was the furthest thing from my mind at the moment – but I couldn’t deny that my eyes had wanted to drink up the sight of him. His hair was short, only slightly longer in the front, and a beautiful shade of brownish red, and his eyes were a piercing shade of green I’d never encountered naturally before. Even through his white dress shirt, I’d been able to see the muscles of his chest and stomach. His sleeves were rolled up on his forearms, and as he’d lifted our bags, I’d seen the muscles tense and flex, which had left me breathless for a moment. It had also exposed a hint of ink on his forearm, although I’d only caught a glimpse, not wanting to stare. Knowing the man had at tattoo – at least one – told me that there was a rebel underneath the tight-ass straight man he’d seemed to be projecting since I’d met him, and that did nothing to assuage the lust that flared every time I looked at him.
But as mouth-wateringly sexy as he was, I wasn’t interested. Not when our lives were on the line and our futures were up in the air.
A phone ringing brought me out of my musings and I looked away from the window to see Edward raise his cell phone to his ear.
“Yeah?...Okay, we’ll follow you.” He ended the call and looked to Jasper. “Ben’s going to pull off the interstate to hit a McDonald’s.”
“He know to park—”
“In a dark spot in the back? Yeah.” Edward turned slightly in his seat to look at the two of us. “Can you ladies wait to use the bathroom until we get to the house? We have another half hour or so.”
We nodded, and he must have seen it in the dim light shining through the window, because he continued, “Ben and Jasper will go in and grab the food while Angela and I stay out with the two of you. You won’t get out of the car, and if I tell you to get down, I want you to hit the floor and keep your head down. Got me?”
“Yeah,” we answered, our voices quiet.
Edward sighed, and when he spoke again, his tone was softer. “I don’t anticipate any trouble. We’ve been keeping an eye out, and we haven’t noticed anyone following us. But better to hear the instructions and not need them than to assume and then not know what to do if surprises crop up, okay?”
“Thanks,” Mary said, sighing before turning her gaze to Jasper’s head.
The man was giving me whiplash. I wasn’t sure about what to think of his seemingly ever-changing mood. He was brusque one minute, barking out orders like I was two years old, yet he could turn it around and make me feel like I was fragile, a skittish colt that would bolt at the slight wrong movement or harsh tone of voice. Like the tattoo on his arm, it was a contradiction that would make my head spin if I let it.
Ten minutes later, we took the exit behind Ben and Angela and turned right, quickly pulling into the parking lot under the golden arches. Jasper drove around back and parked in a dark corner, between the big green dumpster and Ben’s car. Mary and I sat still as Edward and Jasper got out of the car and moved around to talk to the other two.
Ben poked his head in moments later and smiled gently. “You two hanging in there?”
“Yeah, thanks,” I told him as Mary nodded.
“Well then, may I take your orders, ladies?”
“Fruit and yogurt parfait,” Mary answered quickly.
I started to tell him I wasn’t hungry, but it had been too long since I’d eaten much at all, and I knew I needed to eat to keep up my strength. “Sausage biscuit,” I said with a shrug. Nothing sounded good, but hopefully the greasy food would help my mood.
Nodding, Ben closed the door and gave it a pat, and I watched him speak to Jasper and Angela before I turned back around to face the front.
“Okay, I know it’s really not the time,” Mary said quietly, causing me to look over at her, “but God, Jasper is so cute!” She giggled, fanning herself. “And that accent? Whew!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, he seems pretty sweet, too.”
She nodded and then gave me a wink. “I don’t mind being stuck in a house for months on end with those two, that’s for sure.”
Snorting, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I needed to get out and stretch my legs, but I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to, so I tried to empty my mind and for a few minutes. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, the door opened, and I barely held in my scream.
“Shh, Marie. It’s just me. I’ve got your breakfast.”
I looked up and Edward was in shadows, his face barely visible from the car’s interior light. In his hands were a wax paper-wrapped breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee, and a cup of orange juice. I took the coffee, jolting at the zing that shot through my body when our fingers grazed against each other’s. Reaching down, I set the warm cup in one of the cup holders and then looked up at him, taking the sandwich and orange juice, which is set carefully between my legs.
“Thanks. Sorry, you just startled me.”
He shrugged. “No sweat.” Holding out his hand, he said, “Uh, here’s some milk, too. We weren’t sure what you guys would want to drink, so we got some of each. It’s got a lid, so you can just set it down if you don’t want it.” He seemed almost unsure of himself as he rubbed the back of his neck. Then he stopped and put his hand on the door. “Whatever you don’t want, just pass up front. Jasper can put away food like nobody’s business.”
I smiled slightly as he closed my door and moved back to Jasper and Ben, who had their hands full.
Mary’s teasing voice pulled my gaze back around. “You like him!”
Chuckling wryly, I said, “Yeah, ’cause that’s what I need right now...a man in my life. Get real, Mare. I don’t know him well enough to like him. He’s hot, yeah, and he seems like he has a good sense of humor if you look hard enough, but that could be said for any number of men that I’ve never started a relationship with.
“Besides, the man is here to protect us and get us situated in a new life, not to start a romance with his witness. I need to concentrate on staying alive...keeping you alive...and learning how to live as someone other than Marie Brandon, CPA. Dreams of a life with a sexy U.S. Marshal are out of the question.”
She frowned but didn’t comment further, instead choosing to pop the lid off her parfait and open the spoon as Edward and Jasper climbed back into the car.
“Damn, man. How many of these are you planning to eat?” Edward complained a minute later, picking through the contents of the bag in his hand. “Did you even get me—”
Jasper smirked and winked at us in the rear view mirror. “Yeah, Ed, your two nasty-ass bacon, egg, and cheese McGriddle things are in there.” He gave a visible shudder. “You ladies want any hashbrowns? We got plenty.”
Mary and I both answered in the negative, and after Jasper quickly downed a sausage biscuit in three huge bites, he turned the car on and followed Ben and Angela out of the parking lot and to the interstate.
Thirty minutes after we left McDonald’s, we exited Highway 27 into Southampton.
Edward’s phone rang again. Putting it to his ear, he said, “Yeah, Ang?...Okay, gotcha. Thanks.”
After he hung up the phone, he turned to us. “Ben and Angela are going to go a bit ahead and get off the street to watch as we go by. They’ll watch to make sure we aren’t being tailed, and then we’ll meet them at the house.” He smiled in a reassuring manner before turning back to face front.
I watched out the front window as Ben and Angela sped off, leaving us behind. Ten minutes later, Edward’s phone beeped.
“All clear. They’ll meet us there,” he told Jasper.
“How we going to do this?” Jasper asked him.
“Ben said the house has a garage, so just pull up and park in front of it. Ang and Ben will park and go next door to get the key, and then they’ll open the garage door for us. We can pull in and close the doors.” To us, he said, “Go ahead and slide down to the floor, ladies, so you’re hidden from the windows. Although we’ve been watching for tails and no one should know the location of the house, better safe than sorry if anyone happens to get a glance at the car.”
Mary and I scrambled with our seat belts and then dropped down so our heads were below the windows. I leaned down and lay my cheek on my bent knees, wrapping my arms around them. It was cramped, even for us, so hopefully it wouldn’t be long before we could get up.
Being unable to see, I startled when Jasper slowed the car and turned, pulling to a stop.
“All right, just stay down for a bit longer,” Edward said. “I know there’s not a lot of room, but we’ll get you out of there as soon as possible.”
After what felt like forever, we began to move and the car was suddenly bathed in light as Jasper drove into the garage. I could hear Ben’s car pull in beside us and then the garage doors being lowered. Then it was silent as Ben and Jasper turned off the cars.
“Okay, it’s safe to get up and out,” Edward said gently. “There are no windows in here, so you can get out and stretch your legs.”
Mary and I slowly crawled up off the floor and then climbed out of the car. My back popped as I stretched, twisting one way and then the other to loosen up my stiff muscles.
“Well,” Ben spoke, making me jump, “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about a nosy neighbor coming over and trying to be friendly. She wasn’t real happy about being woken up at the ass-crack of dawn to give us the key.” He chuckled. “I almost expected her to answer the door with a shotgun, the way she was yelling at us that she was coming after I rang the bell the second time.”
“She’ll live,” Edward said with a shrug. “Come on, let’s get this done so we can get inside.” He looked back at us as he followed Jasper and Ben to the door from the garage into the house. “Stay here until we come back for you. Ang, shoot anyone who tries to come back in here without announcing themselves, you got me?”
She smirked but nodded. “Yes, sir, Deputy Cullen, sir.”
“Smart ass.” He winked but then was all business as he turned back and followed the other two through the door, shutting it soundly behind him.
“God, I don’t know about you,” Mary grumbled, “but I have to pee.”
I looked over at her and nearly laughed. She was standing beside the car, legs crossed and doing some sort of pee-pee dance, like the little kids in her dance classes when they really had to go.
“It shouldn’t take long,” Angela promised. “They’re going to do a perimeter check and then sweep the house with the scanners to check for bugs.”
“Oh, that’s what was in the bag Jasper took inside?” I’d wondered, but hadn’t wanted to ask.
She shrugged. “Yeah. There won’t be any, but...better to do it and be able to relax a little bit.”
I nodded, leaning forward with my hands resting on the wall of the garage to stretch my calf muscles. A thought suddenly occurred to me, and I turned back to Angela.
“Hey, if the owners are overseas, where are their cars? Wouldn’t they have left them here?”
Smiling, she said, “I remembered Shelly telling us that she and her husband had them so they could turn them on and run them occasionally so they wouldn’t just sit the whole time. So I knew the garage would be empty, and that’s part of what made me think of this place.”
“Gotcha,” I murmured, covering my mouth as I yawned.
“Hey, Angela,” Mary asked, her voice quiet.
“Yeah, sweetie?”
“What’ll happen to my studio? I’ve got classes all this week...”
Angela frowned. “I’ll go by there as soon as I can and put up a notice that says it’s closed until further notice. I know that’s not ideal, but I think it’s the best we can do at the moment, okay?”
Mary nodded, looking down with tears in her eyes.
I yawned again and tried to lighten things up a little for my sister. “Damn, I think I could go to sleep and sleep for a week.”
Angela looked sympathetically at me. “As soon as we get the all-clear, we can go in and you can do what you need to do. If you want to sleep, you can. Ben and I will probably stay for a bit and then head home, but Jasper and Edward will be here and will keep you safe.”
“Sounds good,” I told her through another yawn. “Thanks...ya know, for everything you guys are doing to make it easier for us.”
She sighed. “No need for thanks, but you’re welcome. As long as you’re safe, that’s all the thanks we need, okay? So just keep listening to Edward and Jasper, and you’ll be fine.”
Edward POV
“Jasper, sweep for bugs,” I ordered, gesturing around the room.
“Yup, on it.” He unzipped the bag in his hand, taking out a scanner.
A beeping sound reverberated around the room, and I glanced over to Ben, who was checking windows. “Excellent,” he said with a grin, gazing around the room. “Looks like motion sensors are on all the windows.”
I nodded once, liking that...a lot. “Those can be disabled, you know,” I told him, stalking from the living room into the dining room.
“Yeah, yeah. I know, but they won’t know you have it,” he snorted, continuing to check each entry point. “Not at first, anyway.”
After checking all three bedrooms, both bathrooms, and the kitchen, I eyed the backyard, stepping out onto the back porch after flipping the switch to turn the yard’s light on. The sun wasn’t out yet, but with the light on, I could see that it was a wide open space with a small shed in the farthest back corner. There was no fence, no enclosure, really, but the yard was edged with trees and shrubs. I didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t a fence, but at least there was enough space between the trees and the house that I could see someone coming.
Pulling out my gun, I ran the perimeter of the yard, surveying the small shed. It was locked up with a damn thick padlock, I noted, and then I turned to stare at the house from my position. I shook my head once, thinking if I was coming in, it would be from that point right there.
Securing my gun into its holster, I made my way back across the yard and into the house, my eyebrows raising up at the sight in the kitchen.
Jasper spun to face me, saying, “The sweep was clean, and the house is fully stocked.”
“All windows and doors are secure,” Ben advised, smiling at Jasper rummaging through the cabinets. “Yeah, the neighbor stocked the house for you. Shelly Cope told her someone would be staying, and she asked that the house have everything you’d need.”
I nodded. “Thanks, Ben.”
He shook his head, stopping me before I could make my way back to the garage. “No, Ed. Thank you. This is... Well, I don’t know what would’ve happened to those girls if we’d gone about things a different way.”
“Don’t thank me until they’re on the stand, yeah?” I stated, patting his shoulder. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
I cracked the door open, and I couldn’t help the smirk that crossed my features at the sight of poor Mary. She looked desperate, dancing from one foot to the other. Marie, on the other hand, looked dead on her feet, like it was taking all she had just to lean against the car.
“All clear,” I stated.
“Oh, thank God! Move!” Mary gushed, shoving me out of the way and darting down the hall.
Angela chuckled, stepping past me into the house. “Two cups of coffee and an orange juice. You should’ve known that was coming.”
I smiled, but it fell as I watched Marie fighting with her bag. “Don’t sweat your things. I’ll get them. Head on in.”
She muttered a soft thank you and nodded at me as she stumbled into the house. I snatched up my bags and the girls’ stuff, lugging it all into the house.
When I walked in, Angela met me in the hallway. “The girls are going to take the master bedroom.”
“Together?” I asked her. “They don’t have...”
“We’re used to it,” Marie interrupted from the other end of the hall with a large, sleepy yawn. She waved a hand. “You guys...just...”
Nodding, I followed her into the master bedroom without argument, setting their bags on the floor. It didn’t matter to me whether they shared a room. Marie sat on the edge of the bed, looking up at me.
“One of us will be in the living room at all times, okay?” I asked her, and she nodded, tucking her dark hair behind her ears. “And see this?” I walked to the window, flipped the lock, and cracked it. The beep from before echoed from down the hall. “If you hear that, you hide. Stay down, stay low, stay quiet. Those are only on the windows. If you hear that, then someone’s trying to get in.”
She nodded, still gazing bleary-eyed up at me. “Okay,” she whispered, and for the first time, I noticed just how beautiful those dark eyes really were. They weren’t just brown; they had flecks of gold toward the center, and they revealed everything she was feeling all at once – fear, anger, guilt, and weariness.
It was that last thing that made me move. Once I’d locked the window back, I left her to her room, meeting Jasper in the hallway.
“What the hell? You couldn’t grab my shit, too?” he asked with a laugh, lifting his duffel for emphasis.
“Do I look like your fucking mother, Jazz?” I retorted, rolling my eyes at his laugh.
“Nah, you’re prettier,” he snorted, trying to pinch my cheek, but I smacked his hand away. “Mother Whitlock...not so much...”
I shook my head, but for a quick second, I thought I heard a giggle as I walked into the other room across from the master suite. I tossed my bag onto the bed and then went back out into the kitchen where Ben and Angela were waiting. I opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water, downing most of it.
The house was quiet, comfortable, almost like my sister’s. It was clean, with natural wood furniture and calm, easy colors. There was nothing too loud or bright, which I hoped would keep the girls calm while we were there.
“We’re gonna get out of your hair, Edward,” Angela said, walking to me. She grinned, ruffling my hair. “It’s good to see you. You don’t know what it means that you’re here.”
I met her gaze as I leaned against the island counter. “You’d do this for me,” I stated without pause, shrugging a shoulder.
“That’s true,” Ben agreed, reaching out to shake my hand. “But it seems you’re coming to us more than we can return the favor.”
I blew off that last sentence, saying, “If those two can put away Daniel’s killer, then I’ll make sure they get there. Volturi may not have been directly involved, but he damn well paid the asshole that pulled the fucking trigger.”
“I know,” Angela said with a touch of emotion to her voice. She hugged me tightly, then kissed my cheek, only to cup my face in both hands. “They’re brave girls, Edward. Don’t scare the shit out of them.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “I’ll do my best. And if Wonderboy over here doesn’t behave, let me know... I’ll rescue you from his scrawny ass.”
She smacked my arm. “Edward Cullen. I don’t need rescuing. Those girls do. In fact, I’m going to say goodbye.”
Angela hugged me again before she wandered down the hall, but I turned to Ben.
“Watch your six when you leave, though I can’t imagine you’ll have any trouble,” I told him.
He nodded. “Don’t contact me unless its an emergency. I never know who’s listening.”
“That reminds me,” I started, finishing off the bottle of water. “Watch that asshole in your office.”
“No shit, right?” He chuckled. “Little weasel. I don’t know if he’s my leak, but fuck, I hate that kid. He only got the detective position because his father is a judge.”
Laughing, I glanced up when Angela and Jasper came back in.
“Those girls are out for the night. We’ll leave you to it,” she said, taking Ben’s hand.
We walked the couple to the garage, getting another round of hugs.
“I should hear from Al soon. The DOJ will want to meet with those girls once their paperwork is approved,” I told Ben. “After that, it’ll stay damned quiet up until the trial. They’ll let us know about ten days before the girls are needed to come forward.”
Ben nodded, gazing up at me with a wry smile, but his eyes were dark. “Well, you hope it stays quiet.”
“True.” I sighed, rubbing my face; I needed a cigarette. “If something happens, I’ll take us off-grid if I have to.”
“Do what you can,” Angela said. “We trust you. That’s why you’re here.”
They got in their car and pulled out. Jasper and I walked back in the house, but I aimed straight for the back deck, pulling out a cigarette. I sat down in one of the chairs and put my feet up on the railing, letting my head fall back and the smoke relax me.
“Fuck, I need a drink,” I muttered, but Jasper merely chuckled, taking the chair next to me.
“Uncle Al would kick your ass,” Jasper stated, nudging me. He was quiet for a moment but sat forward with his elbows on his knees. “So, what do you think?”
“I think this yard is our weakest point of entry. No fence, but at least there isn’t a lot of cover.”
He snorted. “Edward, you’re not blind...or fucking stupid. What do you think? Of them?”
I turned my head to look at him, taking another long drag on my cigarette. I knew him well enough to know that he liked one of them – most likely the little one. Mary.
“Apparently, you have an opinion,” I taunted, not giving him shit for an answer.
He grinned, staring down at his hands. “I do. And I think I’m in big trouble. They’re hot, Ed.”
Chuckling low, I nodded. “That they are,” I agreed. “And scared and overwhelmed and...extremely important.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Keep that in mind. You might want to remind your dick about it, too.”
He let out a long sigh. “Yeah. But you’re not blind, right?”
“No. Not at all.” I huffed a laugh, taking another drag.
I wasn’t blind, but I wasn’t stupid, either. I couldn’t let my dick control this situation. We were responsible for the lives of the two girls now sleeping in the bedroom. My head had to prevail – meaning the one on my shoulders. I could see how Mary had looked at Jasper, with darkening eyes and a flirty smile. She seemed to be the lighter spirit of the two. Marie, on the other hand, seemed to have secured herself behind some pretty high walls, which was understandable. She was beautiful, definitely, and those eyes of hers could most likely bring a man to his knees. And I could well imagine they had in the past. The fact that I was on duty didn’t detract from noticing her tight little body that was hidden beneath comfortable T-shirts – something I couldn’t fault her for, considering their circumstances. There was also a quiet intelligence to her, a hidden sense of humor, and I’d be willing to bet some spark there if it weren’t being bogged down at the moment.
“Marie’s healing some pretty ugly wounds,” I stated out loud, stubbing my cigarette out on the bottom of my shoe. “It was her boss, her cell phone they were going to get, and her idea to call that murder in. They could’ve run, but they didn’t. Now, because of all that, she’s uprooted herself and her sister and put them in harm’s way. That’s a lot of shit to carry around. I don’t know if Mary blames her, but I could well-imagine she’s blaming herself.”
Jasper’s nose wrinkled, but he nodded. “Yeah, that’s the part that sucks. They’ll never be...who they are again.” He looked over at me. “You like her. Marie, I mean.”
“I understand her. There’s a difference,” I hedged, shrugging a shoulder, because if I was being completely honest, Marie was extraordinarily attractive. “Have you watched the two of them?” I asked, and he shook his head no. “Watch them. I don’t know if it’s a twin thing or just their personalities, but Marie is the caregiver, the protector, and Mary is the taker, free spirit.”
“Oh, yeah... I have noticed that.” He nodded and then smirked up at me. “Twin thing,” he chortled, shaking his head. “Reminds me of that asshole at One PP. I can’t believe you went there with him.”
Laughing, I stood up. “Fucker. He’d been watching Ben from the second we stepped off the elevator. Idiot couldn’t handle one woman, much less two at the same time. And I’m not sure it’s women he likes,” I snarked, rolling my eyes. “He seemed to freak the fuck out just a little too quickly when Ben mentioned that prostitute bust.”
“No shit.”
I kicked the leg of his chair. “I’m gonna grab a shower, and then I’ll take the living room for now. You can get some sleep.”
The house was quiet, the sun having risen to a pretty bright day, but everyone slept on. I honestly didn’t expect anyone to be up for several more hours. I flipped through the channels on the television, thanking whoever that the homeowners had cable. I kept the volume low, finally settling on a reality show about restoring motorcycles.
I bent my arms behind my head, my bare feet hanging off the end of the loveseat. Focusing on the TV and crossing my denim-covered legs over one another, I let my ears listen for sounds inside the house and out. Aside from a few cars passing by, I heard nothing until the soft padding of feet echoed down the hallway. It had to be one of the girls; Jasper stepped heavier than that. I looked up when the light in the fridge came on, and I saw Marie grab a bottle of water.
I sat up, swinging my legs down to the floor when she stepped lightly into the living room. I wanted to chuckle at her disheveled appearance because she looked grumpy as all hell.
“Can’t sleep?” I asked.
One eye twitched as she glared at me. “No...Mary kicks in her sleep. It’s like sleeping next to a ninja.”
Grinning, I nodded. “You can take my room.”
“No, I’m okay. She’ll settle down in a few,” she sighed, taking the chair in the corner of the room and pulling her knees up to her chin. “Besides, when you’re ready for sleep, I can’t imagine you spooning with Jasper.”
I snorted. “Nah, he snores like a lumberjack.”
She finally cracked a smile, and it changed her whole face completely. It took me by surprise for a moment. I tried my damnedest not to notice that the sleep shorts she was wearing showed off every inch of her amazingly toned legs. Her eyes left my face and locked onto my right arm. I waited for the questions that usually came when someone saw my tattoos, but they never came. Instead, she gazed up at the TV.
“Bikes?” she asked.
“You can change it,” I said, offering her the remote.
“No, it’s cool. You like motorcycles?”
“I do.” I nodded, kicking back to lay on the couch again. “I have one,” I told her, shocking myself with that bit of information. When I looked over at her, she was staring at me, her expression not giving anything away. “My dad and I bought an old rundown Harley when I was a senior in high school. We rebuilt her. Took us most of the summer before college. He still likes to work on her with me.”
She smiled again and nodded, only this time, the smile left even quicker than before. Marie waited until the show was over before extricating herself from that chair.
“If the ninja’s still kickin’, take my room,” I told her.
She laughed, stopping in front of the table. “Thanks. Sometimes, I just kick back.”
“Good for you.” I glanced up at her face to see that her eyes were locked onto the coffee table where I’d dumped everything from my pockets before my shower. My shield, two cell phones, and two guns were right there within hand’s reach. However, one of the guns wasn’t mine. Sitting up, I picked up her nine millimeter and turned it over in my hands. “Ben salvaged this from evidence,” I murmured.
“It was my dad’s,” she whispered, her brow furrowing. “I thought for sure Ben would turn it in.”
“He said you shot the intruder at your apartment. Did he tell you what happened to the perp?” When she shook her head no, I sighed, gauging her expression. “They found him. Matched his fingerprints to a body dumped in the East River.”
She gasped, her hand covering her mouth.
I stood up and stepped around the table with the gun still in my hands. “You didn’t kill him. You wounded him – in the arm and shoulder. Someone else killed him.” I tapped the middle of my forehead. I eyed her for a moment. “If I give this back, can you handle it?”
She swallowed thickly, nodding a little. “Yeah, my dad...he was a cop. He taught us how to handle guns. That gun.”
I’d figured as much, but I didn’t get to say anything yet because one of the phones on the table went off, making poor Marie just about jump clean out of her own skin.
“Easy,” I soothed, picking up the phone to see a message from Uncle Al. “Fuck me,” I groaned, shaking my head.
“What?” she asked, barely above a whisper.
I sniffed, my brow furrowing. “Caius Volturi made bail. They took his passport, but he’s out on the street.”
Tears welled up in those deep brown eyes, but she took the news with a single nod, like she’d expected as much. “What happens now?”
“Nothing changes. We stay here as long as its safe.”
“And when it isn’t?”
“We move. And we move fast,” I told her firmly.
She bit her lip, eyed her father’s gun once more, and started for the hall. “Okay,” she simply said.
“Marie,” I called her, and she turned to face me. I held out the gun to her. “Take it. If you’re sure of yourself with it, then keep it.”
A small spark lit up her eyes briefly, and she took the gun from me. “Thanks, Edward.”
“Mmhmm,” I hummed, but before she turned, I grabbed her shirt sleeve. “Next time, Marie...” I started, making sure she was listening. “Next time, you shoot to kill. Got me?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at her.
She nodded fervently. “If I’d been able to see him, I would have,” she countered, smirking a little.
For a split second, I saw the real Marie. Not the scared and tired girl, not the girl that carried too much guilt, but the woman that probably took life by the horns and shoved it around like she wanted it. It was sexy – and a little unnerving that I found it that damn sexy – but it was the facts all the same. She raised her own eyebrow up at me after checking the weapon and securing the safety.
I chuckled. “Thatta girl.”


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