A novel by
J.A. & P.W. Stinger
Copyright © 2016 by J.A. & P.W. Stinger
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any for or by any means; electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the authors.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance it bears to reality is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
This novel is dedicated to my Aunt Kitty.
I have never met a gentler soul or a kinder person.
Words cannot express how much your quiet presence in my life has inspired me.
I love you.
Cover Art: Deranged Doctor Design (www.derangeddoctordesign.com)
Edited by: Harmony Kent (http://www.harmonykent.co.uk/)
Special Thanks to Blaire Sharpe for being an amazing source of inspiration and encouragement.
“All right—” The sound of a single gunshot cut short Christina Aarons’ words. Her partner, Jonathan Cross, heard the shot just before she spoke; the unmistakable sound of a rifle, like a bullwhip cracking right next to the ear. A fraction of a second too slow, Cross grabbed a handful of her sleeve. From the way she crumpled forward, the shot must have come from behind—the shooter good or lucky, judging by the way Aarons’ body dropped limp to the concrete. The torque from Cross’ too-late grip caused Aarons to twist to her side; cheek pressed against the rough sidewalk, and eyes agape, lifeless. The expanding pool of blood beneath her stained the beige of the sidewalk cement crimson.
Panic spread through the crowd like a spark in a hayloft and rippled to wash over Gabriela, seated at a table nearby. She jumped at the screaming, fleeing mass and scrunched her nose. Her hands reached up and jerked her ear buds loose; long chestnut brown hair spilled from under the gray hoodie while dark green eyes scanned the crowd.
Gabriela caught sight of the blonde woman lying on the sidewalk. A man with short, dark brown hair and wearing a suit crouched beside her, gun in hand, eyes to the sky, and fingers beneath her jaw. “Hey,” Gabriela called. She ran from her table, leaving her laptop behind. It took a few seconds to cross the fifteen feet between her and the crouching man. Her tennis shoes bit into the concrete, and Gabriela came to a sharp stop. When she tried to roll the woman over, her hands came away slick with bright red blood.
The screech of Gabriela’s shoes brought the man’s emerald green eyes back to the young woman. “She’s dead.” He pulled his hand away. “We need to get you out of here, Miss DeLuna.” Cross stood, grabbed a fistful of her dark gray hoodie, and jerked, pulling her with him until he pressed his back against a car parked at the curb. Another shot rang through the air. The sidewalk where she’d stood a second before erupted into a fountain of shrapnel.
Gabriela’s eyes moved to look at her hands. Christina’s blood smeared both palms. Numb and in shock, she shifted her hands back and forth to look at the front and sides of her hand. “Whoa,” she whispered and looked at Jonathan. Her dilated pupils turned her eyes black.
It took Cross’ mind two seconds to register what had happened. “Fuck.” He pulled off her hoodie and used it to wipe away the blood, and then let the garment fall to the pavement. Another shot slammed into the metal of the car inches from his head. Sirens trumpeted their wail in the distance. He looked at Christina and swallowed before gritting his teeth and tossing the waif of a girl over his shoulder. “I hope you’re worth this, kid.” He took off at a sprint, fueled by adrenaline and anger. One hand gripped her, and the other, his gun.
City blocks blurred past in record time. Cross bumped the girl’s head on the car while he shoved her into the back seat like a frat boy with a roofied date. He slid across the hood and hopped behind the wheel just as the police sped by on their way to the murder scene. A few concerned pedestrians looked his way while he drove off, one eye on the road and another on the rear view mirror, but no one seemed to pay too much attention.
Cross put the gun on the passenger seat and pulled a flip phone from his pocket. With steady hands, he pushed the one speed dial on the phone, turned on the speaker, and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. “Jonathan,” Zak’s voice came across the tiny speaker, which diminished the man’s usual boaster, but he sounded no less cheery.
“Need clean evac.” Cross cut off any further words from the other end. “Zone hot. Hostiles and local law enforcement. Two packages.”
“Understood. Wait one.” A long silence ensued from Zak while Jonathan drove, using all the control he possessed to drive like a man out for a mere spin. “Long Beach Harbor. Pier G. The Aegean Veer.”
“Copy. Going dark, forty-eight.” Cross killed the line and popped the battery. He reasserted his focus on driving and picked an indirect route. An occasional whimper drifted from the backseat.
A large man handled the phones. Or perhaps the room appeared small and the desk tiny due to his size. “Understood. Wait one.” Zak muted one phone and lifted the phone in his other hand to his ear. The device rang, and the voice came across clear when it hit his ear.
“Go,” the gruff voice barked across the line.
“Two, hot exfil. Los Angeles,” Zak said in a short tone to match.
“Copy. Harbor at Long Beach. The Aegean Veer.” He paused. “Pier G. Confirm.”
“Confirmed. Long Beach Harbor, Pier G. Aegean Veer.” He disconnected the call on one phone and picked up the other. Alex opened the office door and glided in, mouth open to speak, but a raised finger silenced her. Zak unmuted and parroted back the information to Jonathan.
He tossed the phone on the desktop before sitting back in his chair and looking at Alex with a sigh. Her silence met with his. They stared at one another for ten long seconds before she pushed the door closed. The echo of the door closing hung in the air thick with anticipation.
The closed door muted the din of the Friday night bar crowd. A great cloud of pointed quiet floated between them. “Z, who?” she asked as she pointed at the phone while she approached his desk, one foot after the other, until she leaned on its edge with her hip. She crossed her arms. The painted on jeans gave truth to her athletic frame. Dark eyes narrowed with annoyance. Her long hair, which held an auburn tinge, hung in a thick braid.
“Ah, Jonathan. Trouble in LA. They’re gettin’ out on a ship headed north to Vancouver, though.” He cleared his throat and forced a smile before he ran a hand over his bald head.
“Everyone okay? What kind of trouble?” Alex frowned as she found her way to one of the chairs across the desk from him.
The big man shook his head before he answered. “Don’t know, girl. He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask. Got him the exit. When he calls back, I’ll let you know.”
Alex leaned forward with narrowed eyes. She arched a brow and rested her elbows on the edge of his desk. “You keeping anything from me, Z? Dish. Full story. What aren’t you saying?”
Zak sighed and rubbed his face with a large hand. “Ya know they flew to pick up some kid, right?” Alex nodded. “Well, boyo said two needed out. And he said local law enforcement.” He frowned and looked at the phone in the middle of his desk. “Two outta three gettin’ out and cops in the mix. It don’t sound good.”
Alex gasped as her hands darted to cover her mouth. “Oh, God, Z. Oh, no.”
He waved a hand and looked across the desk at her. “Now, now. We don’t know anything. No use in gettin’ worried. Look, how ‘bout you head on home, huh?”
Alex nodded and rose from the chair with a slack, blank expression. She headed toward the office door with a wave in his direction. “Yeah, okay. S-see ya tomorrow, Z.”
Alex didn’t know how she made it back to her condo or when she peeled off the jeans and top. She turned the television to CNN before heading into her bathroom. The reporters blabbed, yet none of it relevant to Los Angeles. Alex stood in her bedroom and dried off with the cold air assaulting her skin, but she welcomed the sensation. Two hours after the phone call from the West Coast and nothing on the news. Alex frowned and grabbed her phone from the bedside table and dialed a number from memory as she muted the television.
“McIntyre, coding in. One-eight-seven-eight-three-two-five,” she said in a sterile tone. She paused, staring at the flickering images on the screen. “Secure the line.” Another pause. “Inquiry. Los Angeles, seventeen-hundred to nineteen-hundred local time. All channels, all reports.”
Alex frowned and turned the television off before she headed into the bathroom again, phone pinned between her shoulder and ear. “Confirmed. Holding for results.” She put the phone on the counter and pressed a Bluetooth ear bud into her ear.
Fifteen minutes later, a flicker of a smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “Affirmative, still holding.” She nodded a few times as she watched herself in the mirror. Surreal, the way she watched the smile melt from her lips before she felt it happen. “Thank you, McIntyre out.” She hit the big red button on her phone to disconnect the line, removed the ear bud from her ear, and placed it on the bathroom sink next to the phone.
Alex’s lashes clung to the unshed tears as she shambled halfway back to her bed. The information remained thin. But the details: absence of police report, no official record of the shooting, and scattered eyewitness accounts. Alex crawled into her bed and lay facing the large sliding doors, staring at nothing and everything. Anger comforted her and kept the anguish away.
She pulled herself from bed and ran the water again for another shower, a cold one. It provided clarity of mind to decide to get to Montana no matter what happened in Los Angeles. She needed answers.
After the shower, Alex dialed a number on her phone from memory. “Yes, what’s your next flight to Seattle?”
“2:14 PM, ma’am. There are plenty of seats available,” the man on the phone answered.
She wrapped her hair in the towel and picked through her dresser. “Business class, one passenger. Alexandra McIntyre.”
The man’s voice changed to a more cheerful tone. “Ah, Miss McIntyre, I thought it was you. All right, you’re set on this afternoon’s flight from Dulles to Seattle. Drop by the ticket counter when you get here. Anything else I may assist you with today?”
“That’s it.” She forced a smile to make her voice sound grateful instead of numb.
“Thank you. You too, ma’am.” The line clicked and disconnected, leaving Alex alone.
She sighed, and her face relaxed into a neutral mask. Alex dressed and packed her suitcase on autopilot. She completed her routine and ended with a mug of coffee in hand.
“Get it together, McIntyre. Jonny’s gonna need you, girl.” She shook her head.
Alex returned to her bedroom and locked the bedroom door before she opened the top center drawer of her dresser. Her fingers curled under the lip of the oak top and pressed a button that initiated a pair of metallic clicks. The metallic clicks of the locking pins signaled her to pull the dresser away from its resting place and reveal the safe hidden within the wall.
The blend of old-fashioned tumblers with new-age biometrics needed both a thumbprint and a retinal scan to swing the door open. Alex crouched in the space between the wall and dresser, pushed aside the trio of passports, and pulled out a black leather pocket folio, a matte-black handgun, and belt clip holster, leaving the cash inside before she closed the safe and slid the dresser back into place.
She put the folio and the handgun into her purse, then slipped the strap over her shoulder and grabbed her suitcase. Alex looked at the bedroom and grabbed her phone from the bed before she left for brunch and the airport.
The call came at 21:33. The General looked at the cell phone vibrating on his desk, moving across the smooth, vacant surface. Penn took his time lowering the nursed glass of Scotch and answered the phone. “Is it done?”
“Yes, sir,” came the reply from the other end of the line. “The target has been neutralized.”
“Move Bravo Team into position to contain the site. Charlie team, extract the target. I will not see this on the evening news.”
“Affirmative, sir,” the voice answered before it faded and with orders barked off into the distance. “Team dark for forty-eight hours before returning to base.”
“No mistakes.” Penn ended the call and tossed the phone back on the desk with a heavy thunk.
Gabriela held one hand in front of her, cold steel at her back. “Listen, I don’t know you. What do you mean we’re going to Canada? Where are we?”
“On a ship. We’re going to Canada because we’re both in danger. My partner and I came to see you, to get you somewhere safe. They killed her.” Jonathan focused on remaining calm. The small room held two cots and a wooden crate, which doubled as a table, and one round window looked to the sun and water.
Gabriela brought both of her hands to her head and ran her fingers through her hair, and then paced. “She’s dead. Oh God. That woman’s dead. … The last thing I remember is looking over and seeing her, and you, and it’s fuzzy. Me? Why me?”
Jonathan closed his eyes and leaned back against the hull. From his position on the cot, it might have been somewhat comfortable under different circumstances. “Because of what you are, what you can do. We, I … I’m like you. Someone collecting people like us. I’m here to make sure you stay safe.”
Gabriela gave a short, fake laugh and walked back to the cot and looked at him. “Me? I’m a girl from San Fran. I don’t know what you hea—”
He opened his eyes and looked at her with a cold stare before he stood. “Look, Gabriela, take your innocent I’m nothing special act and shove it up your ass. Gabriela Sofia DeLuna, born 5 July ‘95. Mother, Donna. Father, Santo. For the past two years, you altered grades for your classmates and turned a nice profit. You’re not just good with a computer, you’re a technical wizard. Literally a wizard. You can do things with tech that no one else can. Now, don’t sit there and fucking disrespect my dead partner by lying to me.”
Gabriela slinked back against the wall. “Fine, fine.”
Jonathan sighed as he sat on his cot and put his head in his hands, elbows on knees. “Thank you. There’s a group of people, some of them like us. They want to help. They’ve got this town or village thing in Montana, and the safest way there is across the Canadian border. So, we go to Canada, Montana … we figure out how to build you a life somewhere safe.”
Gabriela scooted forward and swung her hand back in the direction from which they’d traveled. “But, I had a life. I was going to school. I was getting my degree. I was making money. What about my family?”
Jonathan looked at her. “Can you tell me, being honest with yourself, that you would be alive right now if I hadn’t pulled you out of there? Your family will be fine.”
Gabriela shook her head. “How do you know they were there to kill me and not you?”
Jonathan shrugged. “They were there to kill you or take you. Both are like death in their own way. One, the body, and the other, the soul. If you want me to, I can take you back. I mean, if you want to be a lab rat or a corpse.”
Gabriela gave another shake of her head. “I need my laptop, my phone … civilization.”
He stood. “Civilization can wait, kid. Survival is more important right now, and if us surviving means I’m not likable, I’m willing to accept that. These people in Montana can get you a new identity. I’ll give you some cash, and you can set yourself up somewhere with enough tech to make you happy if that’s what you want.”
“Yeah, Santa Monica. The beach houses there are amazing,” Gabriela said.
“France. Nice, maybe. The States are too big a risk right now. Maybe in a few years,” he said.
Gabriela watched him walk aimlessly. “Lay down, or something.”
He shook his head. “I’ll lay down when you’re safe.”
Gabriela gave him a narrowed look. “Yeah, about that. I’m in a steel box on the water. You kidnapped me and put me on this boat, and it’s safe to say, I can’t go anywhere until it stops.”
Jonathan stopped walking and looked at her. “I didn’t kidnap you. I mean, yeah … technically. But it’s not like I did it for bad reasons.”
She smirked at him and didn’t answer for a minute. “Right, if that’s what you need to tell yourself.”
“Christina. In case you wanted to know the name of the person who died for you.” Jonathan scowled and slammed the door behind him when he left their room.
Gabriela stared at the closed door after he’d gone. She pulled her legs under her body and waited alone in the room. The first hour crawled by, and Gabriela stared at various rivets on the paneled wall. When the door opened with a resonating creek that echoed off the walls, she jolted awake. Her entire body shivered, and her eyes twitched as the grinding metal on metal sound vibrated up her spine to the base of her skull.
“Piece of shit. Come on, you stupid—” Jonathan muttered and gritted his teeth.
Gabriela held out her hands while she rose to a seated position. “Whoa, Mister. Respect the tech, even ancient tech.”
“I’m gonna throw this thing in the freaking ocean.” He glared at the small round window.
Gabriela rolled her eyes, flipped her hands, and curled her fingers toward herself a few times. “Give it here.”
From the window, he looked back at her, and then tossed the cell in her direction. “Fine. Stupid thing’s broke or something, anyway.”
She chuckled and caught the phone. “You forget already?” she asked.
Gabriela looked at the phone, checked the battery, and tried to turn it on. She flipped the case open, laid her hand on the keypad, closed her eyes, and sensed the problem. From the light contact with the phone, her mind was able to enter into the tiny, electronic world contained within the case. “Ah, broken circuit on the board. We can just jump over that little hurdle. One number on the contact list? Who’s Zak?”
Jonathan mumbled and shook his head. “Fucking gadget wizard. Zak’s an old friend that saved our butts back in LA by getting us on this boat and not killed, arrested, or kidnapped by overeager lab techs.”
Gabriela’s eyes moved under closed lids. She turned the phone in her hand but kept contact with the case. “Come closer. You talk, I’ll dial.”
Jonathan mumbled under his breath and sat next to her on the cot.
Her smile faded. “Mister, you sound ungrateful.”
“Jesus. Fucking. Christ. Jon—”
Jonathan said, “Z. Watch your fucking mouth.”
A pause followed, then came, “Go, … fuck. Sorry. What happened, Jonathan? I saw the news, or the censored version, and got some eyewitness reports about a blonde shot dead. Was it her?”
Jonathan swallowed and nodded a few times in silence, and then stood and paced. “Yeah. Yeah, Z. She’s gone. Single shot. Heard it before it hit, but I wasn’t fast enough. Dead before she hit the ground.”
Another sigh and a pause came. “Shit, Jonathan. What do you need? Name it; I’ll make it happen. Alex is already on her way out to visit her friends, but I can still manage a few things without her.”
He stopped and looked at the phone and stared for a long moment. “I need papers at the dock for Gabriela; new ID good enough to get through any customs. We can worry about permanents later. Z?”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“I want you to get me a flag before I leave Vancouver tomorrow morning. Understand?”
A longer pause. The voice sounded not quite so sure of itself. “Yeah. Yeah. I understand.”
Jonathan walked back toward the phone. “Thanks, Z. When the shit settles, I’ll come see you. Will send word when we’re safe and sound.”
“Take care of yourself. You owe me those drinks Blondie promised.”
Jonathan sighed, sat down on his cot, and put his head in his hands. His fingers curled and pressed into his scalp while he stared at the floor. “Thank you, Gabriela.”
She opened her eyes. “Gabby. My parents call me Gabriela when they’re mad at me. So, why did you come out to get me? I mean, there has to be a bunch of others more important than me.”
Jonathan lifted his head and focused his eyes on her. “We knew you were the next target for Penn and neither of us wanted anyone else to get hurt by him like Christina was.”
He nodded. “He used to be our commanding officer. General Jason Penn.”
“She’d been through a lot because of him, huh?”
Jonathan frowned. “Years of medical experimentation and blackmailed into doing things normal people should never have to do.”
Gabriela nodded and looked out the window. “I’m sorry I was a smartass to you. My mouth can run away from me sometimes.”
He laughed. “Kid, I can handle being shot, stabbed, and blown up. I can handle your mouth. I did kidnap you, right?”
“I mean, yeah, technically. But it’s not like you did it for bad reasons,” she said with a slight smile.
“Yeah. Think about where you want to live. You can stay in Montana, or go anywhere in the world, as long as it’s not Southern California,” he said with a smirk.
“Do they have Wi-Fi there?” she asked.
While the exodus from Los Angeles had been frantic and hurried, the trek from Vancouver to the Waterton proved as peaceful as a long nap. And as uneventful, too. The hike along the lakeshore, through the forest, and over ridges and down valleys became another story. Not because of the hike itself, but because of the incessant complaints from the city girl.
First, the shoes, the clothes, bugs, birds, water, trees, rocks, dirt, clean air, lack of technology, and dirt. At one point, and for a moment, Jonathan toyed with the idea of sprinting away and leaving her to fend for herself.
It came as a huge relief for both of them, for different reasons, to see the opening to the valley.
“We’re almost there. Maybe another three or four miles. You can crash in my cabin until we figure out what’s going on,” he said.
“A cabin? Are you kidding me? Like, in the woods cabin? Please, tell me you’re joking.” Gabriela stooped to try and catch her breath.
“Yeah, a cabin. In the woods, and shit.” He laughed.
“Fine, fine. But, we better get there soon because I’m not peeing in the woods again,” she said.
Jonathan pointed ahead of them. “Four miles that way. The faster you walk, the faster we get there.”
Gabriela hurried to keep up with him. The rest of the walk didn’t take long. Neither Jonathan nor Gabriela spoke until they crossed the valley’s length to the structure near the lake. The closer they got, the more somber Jonathan grew and the more determined and focused he seemed.
“This it? This the one?” Gabriela nodded to the building.
“Yeah.” Jonathan shadowed her to the door, in no particular hurry.
She repeated the same phrase, “I gotta pee … I gotta pee …”, over and over again while she pulled the door open and dashed inside. In the main room, she looked right, left, and right again, and then hurried to the left and found the bathroom, slamming the door before locking it.
Jonathan walked through the door and swung it shut. Then he turned to the left and raised a hand, but instead of a keypad, the wall showed a blank space. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Cross. Chase appeared to be gone, but Jonathan checked the master suite regardless. It came up empty. He felt relieved to find none of Chase’s things in the room, which made him feel ashamed.
“Pull it together,” he muttered, closing the door to the suite.
Next, he crossed the common room to the other two bedrooms; his and hers. He went to his first and collected his things, and then went into hers, put his stuff on the bed, and looked around. Her stuff, her smell, but it wasn’t until his eyes fell on the rings on the bedside table that his breath caught in his chest, and he swallowed hard. “Oh,” a sound and a word that dripped with a dozen different emotions.
Jonathan walked around the bed and plucked the rings between two fingers as if they were made of glass. He let out his held breath with a long shudder before leaving the room.
“Going out. Make yourself at home,” he spoke in a loud, monotone voice with his eyes glued to the rings cradled in his hands as he made his escape from the cabin.
Gabriela walked out of the bathroom, holding the hand towel and looked at the big, empty cabin and whispered to the empty air, “Okay?” In one room, his bags sat on the bed. Then she turned her head to look in the other. With ginger steps, she walked forward and looked at the meager surroundings. Gabriela found the bedroom that Jonathan had vacated and sat in the middle of the mattress with her legs crossed. After a minute, she reached for the pillow and hugged it to her chest.
“Jonny, I heard you were back,” a female voice called from the main room, followed by the sound of the door closing. She came around the corner and stopped short when she caught sight of the girl instead of the man. The woman wore a pair of baggy cargo pants and a gray tank top, with her usual just enough makeup and long dark hair hanging loose.
“Oh. Hi?” she said, blinking a few times.
Gabriela looked at the woman. “He left. I don’t know where he went.”
“You’re DeLuna. Gabriela, yeah?”
“Gabby,” Gabriela said.
The woman gave a sad smile, stepped into the room, and went to the bed. “I’m Alex. You get some rest while I go find Jonny, and we can talk about what’s next. ‘Kay?”
Gabriela gave a tired nod with a drowsy smile. “Got it. Yeah, sleep.”
Alex closed the door on her way to find Jonathan, wherever he’d gone. With the door closed, Alex’s smile faded into a frown that started off a touch sad but managed to find its way to angry by the time she left the cabin.
It took a few questions to the right people for Alex to track Jonathan’s whereabouts. They told her he’d holed up in one of the bunkers used as a meeting room. The sight she saw when she found him was one that she’d half-expected and still couldn’t believe.
“Jonathan Nathaniel Cross,” she said, hands on hips while she scowled at him, sitting there with his back to the door, pistol on the table, a bottle of what smelled like something that could strip paint off a car, and something small, glinting in the light.
“Fuck off,” he said without bothering to turn, and his attention focused on the small object in front of him, twirling it to make it spin like a top.
“Fuck, what?” She walked to him with a purpose and smacked him on the back of the head.
“Leave me alone.” Still he didn’t take his eyes off the objects on the table.
Alex walked around to stand on the other side and planted her hands on the wooden surface to glare at him with a shake of her head. “I ain’t leavin’ shit. How the fuck you gonna leave that girl alone after ripping her from her life? Walk off an’ leave the little thing in a bed, in an empty house? Your momma raised you better than that.”
Jonathan raised his eyes to hers and then spun the rings again. “Go. Away. I want to drink alone.”
Alex smacked the glass off the table and sent it to the floor where it shattered. “Fuck you. I know you. I know you don’t want that shit.”
Jonathan stood and scowled at her, and then threw the table across the room. Everything skittered across the floor amidst a shower of broken glass, potent booze, and the soft tink of jewelry.
“What? You wanna fight? You gonna hit me, big boy? Big bad spec ops man?” Alex kicked the upturned table and advanced on him with her eyes focused on the center of his chest.
Jonathan forced her back, hard, which caused her to stagger before regaining her footing. With his face in hers, he said, “I told you to leave me alone.”
“Fuck that shit.” Alex pivoted off her back foot and jumped into the air with enough rotation that she managed to get her foot moving toward his head. A kick that never landed, as Jonathan captured her ankle with one hand and her neck with the other and catapulted her across the room, sending her sprawling on the stone floor and sliding into the bunker wall.
“Alex. Stop it.”
Alex rolled and flipped to her feet before she rushed him, ducking under the swing that came at her to hook his upper arm, and then spun to wrap her legs around his neck. A quick twist, with her momentum, slung him off his feet, head over heels, and to the flat of his back with her on top. She didn’t hesitate, and instead, drove a fist into the soft part of his side twice in rapid succession. Then he grabbed her and pushed her off.
Jonathan rolled to his feet in a half-crouch and looked at her with narrowed eyes. He charged her but missed, as she ducked and toe tripped him, followed with a kick in his ribs as he stood. Then she darted from reach again. “Fucking stay still,” he said, but she circled him and came at his left side while he ran at her.
Alex ducked, and he readied a second blow that connected to the center of her chest, followed by his elbow to the side of her neck and head as he drove his shoulder into the blow, sending her to the floor again. From her back, Alex swept his legs from under him and spun, landing a heel kick to his chin when he fell. A satisfying grunt came from Jonathan while she got to her feet. He rolled to his hands and knees.
“What the fuck are you doing, you psycho bitch?” He spat blood and stood. His lip and the cut above his eye bled.
Alex didn’t move as quickly as she had at the start of the fight. “Knocking some damned sense into your thick grunt head, you fucking asshole. I gotta keep going?” With a grimace, she sucked in a deep breath.
He shook his head. “Leave me alone. Let me deal with losing a man in combat in peace.”
She dropped her hands and breathed hard. “Bull. Fucking. Shit. Jonny. You’re not mourning the loss of one of your men. You’re not dealing with someone KIA.” She shoved him as tears came to her eyes. “You’re fucked up because the woman you’re in love with died.” She pushed him again, but he stood against the wall already. “Don’t you fucking get it?” With each of those words, she pounded on his chest without much effect.
The words left him in stunned silence. Not because of what she’d said, but because of the tears that they brought to his eyes. “I never told her. I never told her, Alex.”
She leaned against him, laying her head on his chest. “I know. But you can’t dive into some bottle like your dad did, and you sure as hell can’t hide in a hole. There’s a girl back there that needs you right now. She’s alone, and you’re all she knows here.”
He shook his head and looked at the wreckage, then picked through pieces of glass until he found the rings, which he picked up and clutched in one hand. “I can’t. I hate her. God help me, but I loathe her, even though it’s not her fault. What kind of man am I? How can I do anything for her?”
Alex turned to look at him and forced a smile. “You grow up, find your nuts, and do it. You’re a fucking doctor in this shit. Pray—whatever you have to do. You’ve been through the shit. I’ve heard your stories, remember? Go find your box and take it out. That girl needs Jonny, not Captain Cross. You can do this.”
He shook his head. “What if I can’t?”
“You can. I have faith in you.”
“For Christina,” he said.
Alex nodded and kissed his forehead. “For Christina.”
He grabbed the gun, shoved it back in his waistband, and looked at the room. “Shit, we made a mess. I’ll come back and clean later.”
“I’ll get it, Jonny. You go.” She shooed him off.
He paused in the doorway and looked back at her. “I fucking loved her, Alex.”
She watched the door for a while and whispered, “I know.”
Jonathan walked through the forest. He needed time. Time to think, time to pray, and time to prepare himself for what needed to be done before he slept. While he walked, he tried to remember the words spoken to the families of his brothers who’d fallen in combat. He needed to conjure something to ease the news. There was nothing, though.
“Gabby?” he called from the front entrance. With the door open behind him, he waited in the middle of the living room.
In the spare room, Gabriela cracked open her eyes and stretched. She rolled from the bed and almost didn’t get her legs under her in time for her feet to hit the floor. She grimaced, stood, and opened the door. “Jon?”
He took a half-step toward her. “Shit. I’m sorry. If you’re tired, go on back to bed. We’ll talk later.”
She waved a hand in his direction and walked to one of the chairs. While she squinted, her eyes moved to him “Have you been drinking?”
He shook his head and looked down. “No. No. I don’t drink. I rolled in it a bit.” He looked at her face, which contorted as he stammered, “F-family history about that. I’ll tell you about it sometime. I’ve never had a drop.” He stopped and sighed. “But, I almost drank today. Alex stopped me and beat some sense into me.” He waved a hand at his face and arms; limbs littered with small cuts from the broken glass, and a face with a busted lip and a cut above his left eye that had stopped bleeding.
“She did come looking for you. You okay?” Gabriela asked.
He pulled the nearest unoccupied chair closer to her and sat more heavily than he’d intended. Then he swallowed and looked down for a moment. “Okay is relative. But not okay enough. I need to tell you something, but I need you not to overreact, okay?”
“The way you said that is kinda freaking me out.”
Jonathan nodded and looked up at her. “I know. Alex made me realize something. I loved Christina. Maybe I realized it before, and maybe I didn’t. But I loved her. Probably even the first person not family that I could say that about and not be lying to myself.”
He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and shook his head. Then he held out the hand with Christina’s rings. “For the past few days, since getting on the boat, I’ve hated you. I have no good reason for it. And coming back here and finding these pushed me over the edge. We married as part of a cover. But after that, we remained close, and I blamed you for her dying.”
While Gabriela listened to Jonathan explain his feelings, and his justification, she remained unmoving. Her eyes glanced from his face to the rings in his hand and back to his face once more.
Jonathan shook his head, shoved the rings into his pocket, and folded his hands. “You didn’t deserve me abandoning you, and I’m sorry. I should’ve dealt with this better. I need to ask for your forgiveness. If you can’t, I understand.”
Gabriela swallowed hard. “No, I understand. I’ll admit, it’s been a terrifying few days from when I found out a maniac wanted to capture me. Now, I’m told that the guy who rescued me, and could kill me with his pinkie, hated me the whole time. Not a happy-happy moment.”
With a shrug, she looked him in the eyes. “As for forgiveness, I don’t see that there’s anything to forgive. If you want me to leave, I’ll find Alex.”
Jonathan shook his head. “No. I don’t want you to leave because of something I’ve done. If you leave, I want it to be because that’s what you want to do with your life. Five days ago, I left here with a mission. A mission to find and keep you safe. I’ll do that for as long as you let me.”
“As long as I let you? You got me here, but I can’t stay. I don’t know where to go. I’m not as good as I thought I was if Big Brother was able to find me. I … I don’t know.”
Alex’s voice came in from the still-open front door. “Don’t stay here. Say the word, and we’ll get you two set in Alexandria. Might take a few weeks, but Z and I could get everything set. We’d need funding for that kind of thing.”
“Christina funneled money into offshore accounts. Would you want to live in Alexandria?” Jonathan glanced at Alex and back to Gabriela.
“With Jonny?” Alex said.
Gabriela looked back and forth between the two of them for a moment. “Yes?”
“You don’t sound sure,” Jonathan said while Alex walked to the sofa and lay on it.
She shrugged. “You admitted to me that you hated me until how long ago? I don’t want you to feel that you have to babysit me.”
“Want,” he said the word with a half-smile and leaned back in his chair.
She nodded. “All right. How soon can we leave?”
Alex smirked. “I’ll need a few weeks, knowing Jonny’s tastes. We need to get our hands on that money.”
Jonathan shrugged. “No idea. Christina had the laptop and computer magic. I just cook—”
Gabriela chuckled. “Hello?”
“Hi?” He gave her a confused-puppy look.
Gabriela shook her head. “Can I get my hands on her laptop?”
From the sofa, Alex laughed hard and long until she stopped because of the pain. “Asshole. You bruised my ribs.”
Jonathan shot a glare in Alex’s direction before standing. A few minutes later, he came back with the laptop. “It’s got some kind of something-something encryption something. She told me once, but I stopped listening halfway through.”
Gabriela took the computer from Jonathan and ran her fingers over the top of the laptop before opening it. She pressed the power button and put both her hands on the keyboard, palms flat, as the screen came on. “Hello there, beautiful. Oh, this is nice. Good security and strong passwords, but I’ll get through it no problem. No Wi-Fi, huh?”
“Uh, no. That a problem?” Jonathan glanced at Alex.
Gabriela tilted her head while the screen flashed. “Well, it depends. I found the documents she hid. And wow, so much stuff on here. I have account numbers, routing numbers, and the balances as of a couple of weeks ago, but I can’t move the funds without getting online.”
Alex stood. “I can take care of that for you. Not today.”
Alex laughed, but Jonathan shook his head. “Do we need to hike back out and drive to somewhere with Wi-Fi for you?”
Gabriela’s smile changed to a huge grin. “I could give Alex everything she needs to move the money. But, if it will get me to a hotel with room service and Wi-Fi, I’ll say anything you need to hear.”
“No hotel, no room service. The sooner Alex gets the money, the sooner we get everything we need, and the sooner you’re not in a cabin in the woods.” Jonathan chuckled.
“Give me an account with three mil’, and I’ll get everything taken care of and ready for you to come in two weeks,” Alex said.
Gabriela turned her head to face Alex. “The account with the lowest balance is $12.3 million. She has eleven other accounts with much higher amounts.”
“Jesus,” Alex said, and then fired off a quick, “Shit, sorry, Jonny. I’ll get out of here and get started with this. Two weeks. I’ll call, and we’ll discuss getting you into your new home.”
“Thanks.” Jonathan smiled at Alex, and then looked at Gabriela.
Alex headed toward the door. “And don’t let him scare you, doll. He’s a big softy.”
Gabriela smiled, and then said, “His phone’s broken. And, uh … thanks for kickin’ his butt.”
“Oh, I like her.” Alex smirked at Jonathan before heading out on her mission.
“Wow. What is it with the women in my life and Alex getting along so well and ganging up on me?” Jonathan shook his head with a grin, and then leaned his head back while he rubbed his aching jaw.
Gabriela powered down the laptop and raised her eyes to look at Jonathan. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
He lifted his head enough to look at her again and smiled. Then, with a wince, he stood and pushed the chair back into its normal place. “It can be. I need a shower. After that, I need to go see Christina’s parents, but I’ll cook us dinner when I get back. You going to be okay here?”
Gabriela set the laptop on the other chair. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I’ll catch another nap while you’re taking care of your business.”
Jonathan headed toward his new bedroom and a shower. “Nap as much as you need to, kid. This is home for a few weeks, so make yourself comfortable.”
The sun set, casting long dark silhouettes from the trees, through the window, and into his occupied bedroom; her bedroom. Jonathan wrangled a box for her effects; at least, those that he could part with. Any materials pertaining to the professional aspect of her life remained. After his shower, Jonathan boxed everything but a few bits of her personal stuff. The container sat on the bed, with the brown, triangular, paper-wrapped parcel sitting atop the lid. The ring set she’d handpicked hung with his dog-tags under his clothes—a welcome weight in the center of his chest.
On the window, he caught the shimmer of his reflection dressed in his blues. He’d taken great care getting the uniform on after his shower, as he did when she went to Mass with him. Despite packing most of her things, he’d retained a personal memento—her blue semi-formal lace gown waited in the closet. Soon, his blues would rejoin it. A fine match the pair made—like they did a few months back.
He shaved the stubble clean and tended to the cut lip and brow; presentable by his standards. Most people would call him spectacularly prepared. Unseen, the inner workings of his mind and heart proved him anything but.
Jonathan had never had occasion for this part of the job. And seeing it wasn’t the same—talking about it wasn’t the same. Nothing had prepared him for the lead weights on his shoulders, the sudden quicksand in place of the floor, or the tightness in his chest. He put his hat on top of the parcel, opened the bedroom door, picked up the stack, and walked into the main room of the cabin.
“Gabby. I’m ready to leave.” His tone sounded flat.
Gabriela scampered from the room she’d claimed. A wide leather belt held a pair of khakis, too big at the waist and too long in the leg. A drab, olive t-shirt hung to mid-thigh. She tried to give him a reassuring smile. “I’ll come with. You look slick, Jon.”
Jonathan returned her nod. “Thank you. Can you carry this box for me?”
“Sure. You’ll be okay. You got this. I’m right here with you.” Gabriela stepped toward him, took the box, cradled it in her arms, and brought it in tight to her chest. Her eyes went to the box and back to him.
“Thank you, again. Let’s go, before it gets too late.” Jonathan advanced toward the front door, which he opened and held for her.
Gabriela walked through the entrance, down the front steps, and onto the cleared path to the lake. The large trouser cuffs at her shoes made shuffling sounds along the wooden planks of the floorboards.
Jonathan walked next to her, each step precise, and the length of the stride uniform, as well as his turns. The walk to Christina’s parents’ cabin presented enough time for him to drift through his head. He rehearsed the words he’d memorized years ago and hoped he’d never need speak.
By the time they arrived at the elder Aarons’ cabin, he felt sure of his ability to deliver the words but unsure of his ability to bring any pretense of comfort to a twice-grieving family. It wasn’t what he’d done, but what he had to do.
At the cabin, he mounted the stairs toward the front door, ahead of Gabriela, with that same care and precision, stopping inside an arm’s length of the entry. To calm himself, he drew a slow breath and knocked twice.
A woman’s voice drifted from the interior of the cabin. “Come in.”
At that moment, he thought of Dante and opened the double doors. Abandon hope, he said to himself as he stepped across the threshold. She sat at the kitchen table—her mother—and Christina’s father sat across from his wife while Chase lounged on the sofa that they’d transformed into a bed.
Christina’s mother sat reading a book. The smile on her face dropped. Christina’s father, slower to look at the visitor who walked to their table, slouched in his chair and drew his eyes together in a look of confusion. He looked from Jonathan and back to his wife. Chase took one look at the unknown woman with Jonathan before he stormed out the front door.
Jonathan came to a stop and removed the brown paper wrapping that protected its charge. He placed the paper on the table, revealing the tightly folded American flag. He looked at Andrea. “Mrs. Aarons,” he said with a tight voice. “On behalf of a grateful nation, and the United States Army, as a token of appreciation for your daughter’s honorable and faithful service, I present you with this flag.” He held it out and leaned forward to put it at her level. One white-gloved hand on top, the other on the bottom, he lowered his eyes in respect and deference. “I regretfully inform you that your daughter was killed in action five days ago. Her passing was without suffering.” He swallowed. “You have my deepest sympathies for your loss.”
The book in her mother’s hands dropped to the kitchen table with a thud. Her eyes no longer focused on Jonathan, but on the flag. Her hand moved slowly and touched the material of the flag before moving over the stitching of one of the stars displayed on top. Hesitant, without a word, she moved her other hand and took the flag from him and pulled it to her chest.
Her father’s voice came from the other side of the table while he looked from his wife to Jonathan. “But, she said she was going to be back in three days. I don’t understand … I don’t understand this. She was just here.”
Jonathan removed his hat and tucked it under his arm while his eyes roved from father to mother—Neil to Andrea. He stood in uncharted waters, all out of memorized words. “Christina.” His tongue felt cumbersome in his mouth. “Christina was a brave woman.” He paused. “She had a kind heart and thought more about the well-being of others than she did herself.” He swallowed hard. “She knew the risks in going on this mission, but she also knew that keeping a young girl from the horrors she experienced was more important than staying safe here.” He looked at each parent in turn. “I can say without any reservations, sir, ma’am, that I am a better person for having known your daughter.”
Christina’s father opened his mouth a few times, but no words followed. After those failed attempts, he turned his head to look at his wife for something: help or support, perhaps. She held the flag, cradling it in one arm and running her fingers over the embroidery.
Gabriela moved forward, managing not to trip on the extra pant material, and stopped just shy of Jonathan to nudge him with her elbow.
At the prod, he gave her a glance and a solemn nod. Then he took the box from Gabriela and set it on the table on top of the brown paper. His hand paused on top of the box for a heartbeat, and then he moved it to rest at his side. Jonathan’s voice shook as he looked back at the parents, “Mr. and Mrs. Aarons, I have Christina’s personal effects with me.”
Mr. Aarons took the box with one hand, sliding it without opening it. Then he rested his forehead against the cardboard top. Her mother looked from the spot she’d stared at on the table. “Thank you, Captain Cross. You should leave us now.”
“Of course, ma’am. Do not hesitate to contact me if there is ever anything that I can do for you.” With exacting precision, he turned and crossed the space between the dining room table and the open front door. When he turned, Gabriela ducked out of the way and followed in his wake. At the exit, he paused to wait for her.
Jonathan walked in silence for the first half of the trip back, and then he loosened up. “Thank you, again, Gabriela. Thank you for being there. Thank you for carrying and holding that box.”
“Gabby. And you’re welcome. I couldn’t let you do it alone.” They continued their walk in the dark.
“Gabby. … It’ll take a while to get used to that. I can’t tell you how long it took me to get used to Alex instead of Alexandra.” He attempted a smile.
“But you did. You’ll get it. I have faith in you.”
Once they arrived back at the cabin, Jonathan went to his room to change clothes and rehang his uniform. Gabriela continued into the kitchen. Then he joined Gabriela in the kitchen. She pulled open the refrigerator. He watched her mull everything over for a moment, before retrieving the raw venison and leftover vegetables and placing them on the counter. It took stretching on her tiptoes, but she was able to reach various spices in the cabinets without asking for his help.
Bemused, Jonathan said, “Hey, I’m gonna cook in a minute.”
She tossed the dish towel over her shoulder. “It’s good. I got this.”
The motorcycle darted between cars on the George Washington Memorial Parkway as Alex picked the path northward along the river. The ramp carried her out of the trees in a wide loop that cut back to the main road and brought her southwest, where she left the other traffic.
Ahead, Alex spied her destination. She smiled. The guard stood outside of his shack waving her to stop, and she slowed the motorcycle to a standstill when she neared the gate. Alex pulled off her helmet and gave the guard a smile on the other side of friendly. “Hey, Carl. How’s your mom doing?”
He returned the smile and took the black leather pocket folio that Alex offered. “Oh, she’s doing fine, Miss McIntyre. She loved that blanket. Everything sunny in your world?”
“Little cloudy. But nothing I can’t handle. Ya know?” Alex shrugged while Carl inspected the photo identification.
He chuckled, flipped the folio closed, and handed it back. “Can’t say there’s much you can’t handle, ma’am.”
She laughed and pushed the folio back into her inner jacket pocket. Carl nodded, stepped back, and waved to the other man in the booth. After the gate had opened, he gave her a polite nod. “Have a good one, Miss McIntyre.”
“You too, Carl. Tell mom I said hi.” With a return nod, she donned her helmet again, and then drove forward through the gate at a far more casual pace. The parking proved horrible. When she’d finally found a spot, she strolled through the large double doors, and her heels echoed through the cavernous lobby. Alex walked straight to the security checkpoint without a glance at the seal she strode over—a design of black and white marble that depicted a plain white shield with a dual-toned twelve-pointed star emblazoned at its center. The shield sat on a field of mottled black, with the head of an eagle looking left; the words at the bottom edge of the inlaid circle read United States of America and at the top, Central Intelligence Agency.
Alex navigated the considerable maze of halls and doors that led from that lobby to her final destination. Her impromptu office greeted her. She scanned around at the others, devoted to a myriad of purposes ranging from cryptography and research to good-old-fashioned intelligence analysis, with the main area dedicated to real-time intelligence monitoring and collection.
From the opposite end of the room, her goal stared at her. Alex announced herself, “Hey, Ash.”
Ashlynn Rediger stood taller than Alex, even without the black heels. Aside from height, the two women made for polar opposites. Ashlynn’s creamy skin held the barest hint of freckling along her cheeks, and her clear green eyes caught every minute detail. Her blonde hair threatened to show a hint of chestnut.
“Alex. What, might I ask, brings you in today?” Ashlynn spoke without turning from the data displayed on the large screen. Her precise diction held a wisp of Queen’s English.
“Nothing too important. What’s this?” Alex asked the question with a gesture using her chin, leaving her arms free to cross over her chest.
Ashlynn’s lips turned to a pouting frown while she pressed a button on the remote in her hand. “It is satellite surveillance of a house in Iowa. We are attempting to determine whether a cell operates out of the property. Nothing interesting here, sad to say.”
Alex turned her head to look over at the other woman and tilted it to the side. Ashlynn sighed and laid the remote on the table to her side, and then turned to lean against its edge with crossed arms of her own. “Hopefully, you have something more … intriguing?”
Alex laughed and shook her head. Then, with a smile, she put up her hands and shrugged. “Negative. I got two assets that need deep covers in the Metro. Sorry.”
Ashlynn shook her head, gave a brief laugh, pushed off the desk, and walked toward her office. “How droll. Come.”
Alex followed after Ashlynn but stayed far enough back to admire her tight, navy, pinstripe Irene Lentz. “Love the dress, Ash. It new?”
“Hardly. But I did acquire it recently from a private collection.” Ashlynn turned and held out her hands to show off the hourglass lines of the jacket.
“You look amazing.”
A touch of red crept into the alabaster cheeks. “Thank you. Shall we discuss your assets and their needs? Two, you say?”
“Yes. One man. One woman. Related is preferred. Brother and sister, maybe?” Alex sat in the chair opposite the desk and leaned back to cross her legs at the knee.
Ashlynn held a hand in a precise but effortless gesture to stifle any further talk of the specifics. “First, we need to discuss the why. Do not think your flattery or flirtation will allow us to bypass the formalities.”
Alex laughed and let her hands lay folded in her lap. “Maybe one day. I need them for that project I’m developing. They have information and contacts concerning our Army friend.”
Ashlynn nodded. “How vital are they? Why not bring them in and get the information we need?”
Alex arched her back to reach the office door behind her and pushed it closed. “We could. But, this is personal too.”
Ashlynn’s brow arched. “Oh? This is getting more interesting by the second. Do tell.”
“Captain Jonathan Cross, United States Army Special Forces Intelligence Officer. Was. He used to be Army. Technically, he’s a deserter now, after Colorado.” Alex shook her head.
Ashlynn nodded. “I read your briefing on Colorado. Is the woman the same one your report references? I seem to recall that you suggested the pair were lovers. Why a brother and sister cover instead of a husband and wife?”
Alex looked at her hands and swallowed hard. “Not the same one, no. She … she died in Los Angeles six days ago. Covered up; my bet is our Army friend’s doing.”
A long pause followed. Rather than surprise, Ashlynn’s face showed contemplation. “May I infer from your reaction that …”
“Christina,” Alex said.
“Christina and yourself were close? And may I offer my condolences?”
Alex nodded and looked away at some spot on the floor. “Yes, we were. And, thank you.”
“So, who might this other woman be if not Christina?” The raised brow morphed into a full arch.
“Gabriella DeLuna, college girl. A person of interest to our Army friend, it seems. And a rare talent with a computer. With the right equipment, I bet she could crack our servers.”
That revelation did draw a look of surprise from Ashlynn. “That good? Can this one be trusted, Alex? Do we need to place her on our watch list?”
Alex shook her head and waved off the question. “Nah. Gabs is good. She isn’t interested in top secret stuff as much as tech in general.”
“I will trust your judgment for now, but if you feel as though she needs watching, I expect you to bring her in for an interview.” She gave Alex a look that left no room for any discussion or rebuttal. Alex nodded. “Good.” Ashlynn nodded in response. “A brother and sister package seems the best approach, based on what I know about your Captain and his college girl. What is the timeline for a deliverable product for them?”
“We got three weeks on the outside. But Jonny can get impatient, so sooner’s better. Hopefully, we’ll have time to run it through the fire.”
“Jonny? And do you know your Captain intimately, or is this just another pet name you have added to the others?”
Alex grinned and gave a coy shrug. “We’re good friends.”
“I see.” Her smile grew into a knowing and narrow smirk that threatened to purse her lips.
Alex laughed at Ashlynn and shook her head with a roll of her eyes. “One day, maybe I’ll get one by you, Ash. I’ll keep workin’ at it, but I need to get working on this package.”
“Agreed. I expect you should be able to construct something suitable for long-term placement within forty-eight hours.” Ashlynn assumed a post behind her desk and rested her fingertips on its surface.
“Yes, ma’am. I have private funds to get set up.”
“Very well. Keep me informed as to your progress.” Ashlynn offered a waif of a smile.
“Don’t I always? See ya later, Ash.” Alex opened the office door and headed into the bullpen.
With a little finesse, from the communications bunker under Porcupine Ridge, Jonathan had arranged rail travel from Edmonton to Toronto in a respectable cabin for himself and Gabriela. The trip to Edmonton took a short six-hour hike and a bus ride. However, the train from Edmonton to Toronto required two-and-a-half days to cross the continent.
“That’s the first time I’ve done a train. Like a hotel on wheels. Didn’t even seem like two days to me. What about you?” Jonathan chuckled and rubbed his face; uncomfortable with the week-long growth. His hair had grown some since the last time he’d cut it. A few inches but a far cry from the crew cut that he’d sported for more than a decade. While they walked through the parking lot at the Niagara Falls Amtrak station, he glanced at Gabriela.
She carried a black nylon duffle bag by its shoulder strap. They’d bought her a few outfits and necessities before boarding the train. Her black cotton Capri pants matched the bag that she carried. In addition, she wore a light-gray shirt under her dark-gray hoodie and a navy baseball cap turned backward with her long brown hair hanging loose. “I liked it. Much better than the woods. How long do you think until we get there?”
Jonathan stretched while checking the gun at the small of his back. “Another ten hours via train between here and DC. We’ve probably got a layover in New York before we switch trains, depending on when we get in. We reach Alexandria late tomorrow.”
“Good.” Gabriela adjusted the weight of the bag on her shoulder. Her gaze shifted down as she took the prepaid cell from her pocket. Jonathan had bought her something manageable at a drug store along the way. Although not much, it gave her unlimited access to the Internet while they traveled. She slid it back into her pants pocket as a man bumped into her left side. “Hey, watch wher—”
The stranger took a firm hold of her around her waist, clamped a hand over her mouth, and pulled her toward a row of parked cars. She kicked, and her heel connected a couple of times but didn’t do any real damage. Then she grabbed hold of meaty flesh with her teeth and bit down as hard as she could. He grunted and snatched his hand away.
Jonathan shoved a shoulder into the man and knocked them both to the ground. The guy lost his grip, which sent Gabriela rolling off. “Run, get to the trains,” Jonathan shouted, and put himself between her and the man.
Gabriela rose to a crouch, pulled herself off the ground, and then ran toward the train yard.
“Get out of my way,” the would-be kidnapper said through gritted teeth.
“You picked the wrong girl on the wrong day.” Jonathan smirked, stepped counter to the man’s movements, and closed the gap. A hard kick to the side of the man’s extended leg blew the knee and brought a shriek of pain. A quick blow to the back of the head drove his face into the pavement and silenced him. Jonathan took off after Gabriela.
Gabriela ran to the side of the train station just as the blood-curdling scream cut through the air. Her breath grew ragged, and the bag banged against her side and threw off her balance. She hugged it to her chest while she ran and ducked between the train cars.
Jonathan exploded from between the cars and almost missed the fact that she’d stopped. He skidded to a halt and grabbed her arm. “Come on. We can’t stop. There’re two more.” As if to punctuate his words, a metallic thunk resounded when a bullet slammed into the nearby train car. “Let’s move.” He tugged her into motion toward the larger collection of stationary trains and possible escape.
“They’re shooting at us? Why are they shooting at us?” Gabriela gave up on carrying the bag and tossed it aside.
“Yeah. Keep going. Keep a train between you and them. Do not look back.” In mid-stride, he shrugged on the strap of his rucksack and pulled his .45 from the small of his back. He slowed to put himself between the men and her.
Gabriela swallowed hard, then turned and ran to the far train. When she reached it, she grabbed the thin metal rail and turned to look for Jonathan. The first of their two pursuers emerged from between the train cars next to where Jonathan stood with his back flat against the metal side. Jonathan grabbed the man’s gun hand, twisted hard in a fluid motion, and brought his gun under his assailant’s chin. A loud crack of gunfire ripped through the air, and a gush of red splattered across the metal train cars, and then the attacker sagged to the ground.
Gabriela’s hands covered her mouth, but not before a short, shrill scream escaped.
Jonathan’s attention snapped back to Gabriela in time to see her turn and sprint between the parked trains. He cursed under his breath and grabbed the extra gun from the ground before running for the lane after her.
Jonathan rounded the corner at speed and stumbled and bounced off the far train. He regained his footing and corrected course after Gabriela, who sobbed while she ran. Jonathan caught up and gave her a push to guide her between a pair of train cars.
On the other side, he took the lead again and picked a winding path through and along the trains. They covered ground more slowly, and Jonathan’s eyes darted from car to car while his ears stayed attentive for any foreign sound. After they’d woven between train cars, they emerged on the other side of the yard. Jonathan pointed at a line of trees less than a hundred and thirty feet away. “Go as fast as you can and take cover. I’m right behind you.”
Gabriela nodded and took off. She didn’t stop until well past the trees.
Once she’d reached cover, Jonathan started across the open gravel between them with a wince and a grunt. As he slipped into the foliage, he felt his blazer and found an exit wound oozing blood and leaving his fingers slick and bright red when they came away. “Gabby,” he whispered, as he stopped and half-crouched.
“Jon?” Her shaky, questioning voice came from a dozen yards away. Gabriela stayed crouched behind a large bush.
Jonathan moved toward her voice. “You good? You injured?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not good, but I’m not hurt.” She looked at his face and his blood-spattered clothes. “Jesus Christ.”
“We need to find a car. Train’s off.” He gritted his teeth to keep the words low and within the confines of their leafy refuge. Careful of his wound, he turned and went down on one knee to peer through the gaps in the bushes and trees. The view revealed what looked like a residential neighborhood. He pointed with the gun in his hand and winced. “Over there. Houses.”
Gabriela touched the front of his jacket and pulled her fingers away to find them smeared with blood. “Jon? What happened?”
“Single GSW. Took it in the shoulder. It’s a through and through; nothing vital hit. Blood loss slowing, but I’ll need to get it patched within the next hour or so.” His flat tone sounded like he’d read from a manual.
“Fan-tastic. We need to work on our communication skills. And by we, I mean you.” She stood and looked in the direction Jon had indicated with his gun. “Fine, we borrow.” She used air quotes. “And get you patched up.” More air quotes. She made her way through the light foliage. “Hopefully, Suzy Soccer Mom left the car running.”
Slowly, he moved through the underbrush after her. “Up here it’s more likely to be a hockey mom.”
“I’m thinking blood-covered man might be high profile.”
Jonathan stopped at the edge of the trees and looked up and down the street. He spied plenty of cars; some inside open garages, and some in driveways. Just about to ask if she saw anything, he noticed a car on their side of the street. “There. It’s running, and I don’t see anyone.”
“Okay, I’ll drive.”
“Have you driven before?”
“No. But, how hard can it be?”
Jonathan shook his head and wiped his face. “Uh huh. I’ll drive. You find a drug store and motel somewhere on the south side of town.”
She looked back at the car, and then they took off at a run. They made it to the car, and Gabriela tried the handle. The handles on both sides lifted, and the doors opened. Jonathan tossed his bag into the back seat, and the pair slid into the vehicle. Gabriela pulled her belt across her body and helped secure his.
He put the car into drive, scanned for anything out of the ordinary, and fought the urge to drive faster, to get them to a safer location. “Next time I tell you not to turn around, maybe you listen?”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to see if you were all right.”
“I know, kid. It turned out okay. Next time, if it’s related to us staying alive and unharmed, trust me and do it.”
It took him a few minutes to navigate from the suburban grid of houses, fences, and yards and into a more city-like area that gave way to a larger highway heading south.
Gabriela nodded and pulled her phone out of her pocket to search navigation. “I’ll find a place to get supplies and somewhere to go. If you turn right at the next light and go three blocks down, it’ll be on the right.”
Jonathan nodded and made a few turns, ignoring her directions. Instead, he took them to an alley and stopped the car. “We walk from here, keeping off any crowded streets. Motel first.”
“You can walk, after being shot? Well, I guess you did run.”
He leaned into the car and pushed in its cigarette lighter. “I’ve done a lot more after getting shot before. But we can talk about my past life once we’re at the motel, and I don’t have two open holes in my shoulder. There are some good stories, I’m sure.” Despite the soreness and pain, he cracked a smile. The pop of the lighter drew him back into the car to stuff napkins into the cloth seat and light a fire. He left the car with its fledgling flames and walked down the alley. “Time to go.”
Gabriela hurried after him. “You’re scary, Jon.”
“Yeah. Sometimes scary’s what you need.” He slipped an arm around her and pulled her close.
With the strap of the backpack covering his bloodstained top, no one paid them any mind as they made their way the six blocks to the motel. The flaming car destroyed evidence and created a distraction. He hung back, away from the office, and gave Gabriela three hundred dollars in assorted bills from his bag.
“Go get a room for one. We’ll get in, and then we can make a list of what you’ll need to patch this up, okay?”
Gabriela folded and shoved the bills into her pocket opposite her phone. She took a deep breath, turned, and walked around the corner, opening the door to the motel office.
Fifteen minutes later, Gabriela walked out and turned left to head down the row of room doors, and then stopped at number fifty-three, where she inserted the key and pushed open the door. Without looking toward him, she walked through and left the door ajar. Jonathan walked along the sidewalk until he moved out of view of the management office, and then turned to head to the room. When no one was watching, he slipped into the room and closed the door.
Jonathan took off the rucksack and dropped it onto the full bed, and then peeled the blazer from his right shoulder and upper arm. In the bathroom, he dropped the bloodied clothes into the tub, and—in just his jeans and boots—he returned to the bedroom. “We’ll need gauze, tape, alcohol, a sewing kit, and antibiotic ointment. Grab some snacks, a t-shirt, and a magazine, too. You can do this. I know you can.”
She blinked, shook her head, and looked at him. “Sorry? Magazine?”
Jonathan nodded, then walked by her to the bed where he grabbed more cash. He looked back at Gabriela and held out the money. “Yeah. Makes it more normal seeming than just buying medical supplies. Throws off most standard data mining algorithms and doesn’t make the clerk at the counter think twice. Don’t rush. Take some time and browse. And make sure it’s a magazine that you would read. Not something like Fish and Game. Get a Cosmo or something like that. Play into the cute teenager stereotype.”
“Cosmo? Really? I’ll be back soon, but not too soon.” Room key in hand, she turned and walked out.
Jonathan poked his head out after her. “Some trash bags, too.”
Forty-five minutes later, Gabriela unlocked the door and walked in with three bags. She carried in everything he’d asked for and a little more. Jonathan sat in a chair by the window and watched her walk back to the bathroom counter, where she laid out the medical supplies with the sewing kit. The snacks, she put by the microwave with the energy shots and PowerBars. Finally, she tossed copies of Wired and PC Magazine on the bed.
Jonathan stood more slowly than he liked. With the adrenaline long gone, he felt the sluggishness that he remembered from the years before. On his way to the counter, he gave her a crooked smile. “Good. Now, you get to clean. It’ll probably be easier over the tub than the sink.”
She glanced at him, the bathroom, and back to him. “Are you sure you want me to do this?”
“I have faith, Gabby. The hardest part is sewing it shut. But it looks like it’s a 9mm, so it’ll be easier than most.” He didn’t wait for her to say anything more and sat with his right side against the outer tub wall with his arm over the side into the bath.
“With normal thread? Is it sanitary? Oh God.” She grabbed Jon’s phone from the counter outside the bathroom and returned.
“Gabby.” His voice held a grumpy tone.
“You know what? You can tell me to watch my blasphemy after you’re back together. Until then, zip it.” Gabby snapped at him, and her voice cracked a little. She flipped open his repaired phone, pressed the quick dial for the number on his contact list, put the phone on speaker, and set it on her lap.
It rang once before the line clicked. “Hey, boyo. You on the train yet?” Zak’s deep voice came across the line.
“No. Jon’s been shot. I need your help, please.” Gabriela’s voice shook.
“What? Who’s this?” The tone switched from friendly to guarded.
Jonathan said, “Z, I’m here. This is Gabby, the girl from LA. We had some company at the train station. Took a shot in the arm getting away.”
“Son of a bitch. All right. Missy, whatcha need?”
“I don’t know what to do. I bought a sewing kit like he said to. I, uh, I have alcohol, ointment, gauze …” She paused and looked at Jonathan.
Z chuckled on the other end of the phone. “I can walk you through this. What we looking at, kids?”
Jonathan said, “Through and through. Right upper arm, just outside the shoulder. Gun was a 9. Exit is clear.” He probed the wound in front, and then checked the back. “So is the entry.”
“All right, kiddo,” Zak said. “Here’s what you do …”
It took an hour for Zak to talk Gabriela through cleaning and closing up Jonathan’s wounds, with more than a few sessions of calming and reassuring from Jonathan, but the procedure went by without any setbacks. Jonathan turned the faucet on with the water draining from the bath. When he stood, he felt dizzy. “How you holding up?”
Gabriela shook her head. She sat on the side of the tub. Gabriela flapped her hands to shoo him away. “I feel like I want to vomit. If I’d had anything since breakfast, I would. You need to eat, Jon, and get some sleep.”
He laughed before taking a bite of a PowerBar and looking back in at her. “I can sleep when you’re doing better. Besides, I promised stories, remember?”
“Yeah, you did. We sure did make a mess in here, didn’t we?” She stood and cleaned the various things around the room.
“Lucky it was just the arm.” He shrugged, then caught himself and winced.
Gabriela dumped her armload of medical supplies in the sink and followed him. He tapped the two circular scars on the left side of his abdomen. “These, these bled a lot.”
Gabriela sat in the chair across from the tiny table in the corner of the room and kicked off her shoes, and then she propped her feet on the bed to listen.
Twenty minutes before 08:00, the alarm clock on the floor burst into life and played a local radio station. Jonathan rolled onto his left side and pushed the button to silence it. He’d slept in front of the door. It had taken some convincing for Gabriela to agree to take the bed. His back and neck weren’t happy with his victory. With a soft groan, he shifted and got his feet under him to stand and stretch. The right-hand-side he stretched as well, but more carefully so as not to rip the stitches.
With a nod, he shuffled to the bathroom with a trash bag. He cleared the sink and set the bag aside, and then ran cold water to splash on his face. “A little. How’d you sleep?”
“About that …” Gabriela rolled off the bed and brought her knees to her chest so that her feet landed below her as she pseudo-fell to the floor. She slipped her phone from her pocket, placed her palm against the screen, and closed her eyes. “There’s nothing reported on the local news about what happened yesterday.”
“The beauty of a government cover-up. Anything about the car?”
“They found it. Minimal police movement in the area this morning.” Her head moved back and forth while her eyes shifted under closed lids.
“Hopefully, it stays that way until we’re gone. Let’s find out where we need to head.” Jonathan flipped open his phone and dialed. He sat next to her on the mattress and put the phone on speaker.
The voice that answered wasn’t Zak. “Jonny?”
Jonathan laughed softly. “Yeah, Alex. Gabby’s here too. We survived the night.”
Gabriela opened her eyes and lifted her hand off her phone before putting it back in her pocket.
“Not funny, Jonathan. Hey there, girl. How you holding up?”
“I’m okay; ready to leave,” Gabriela said.
“Stay strong, baby girl,” Alex said. Jonathan gave Gabriela’s leg a light squeeze. Alex’s tone shifted when she went into business mode, “All right. I stayed up late, but I managed to get some things set. You’ll need to get to Pittsburgh. However you want to do that, but the car I bought for you won’t be ready until tomorrow morning.”
“Pittsburgh, got it. You have a pickup address?”
Alex paused, and papers shuffled in the background. “Yeah. One thousand Ross Park Mall Drive. There’s a Tesla gallery there; give them your name. Everything’s taken care of already.”
“Wait. Did you just say Tesla? Did you seriously get him a Tesla?” Gabriela said.
“Yeah. Blue, fully loaded. I had my guy do some aftermarket stuff to black box the GPS unit, too. It’s off the grid, but still connected.”
Gabriela looked at Jonathan. “Oh, that’s nice.”
“What? This Tesla thing a good car?” He glanced at her with a look of pure confusion.
“You’re lucky. Let’s just get there and to where we’re going. I need a change of clothes real bad.”
“Pittsburgh, tomorrow morning. We’ll meet you in … ” Jonathan thought about it. “Annandale. It’s, what? Six hours from Pittsburgh? I’ll call when we’re closer, and you can set the exact place.”
“Sounds good,” Alex said. After a long pause, her voice came back, “Be safe. Both of you.”
Gabriela stretched and stood. “Pittsburgh? How will we get there?”
Jonathan stood and made another pass over the room to make sure everything that needed to be cleaned or wiped down had been taken care of. “Bus? Can you check the Greyhound schedule on that phone?”
She placed her hand on her cell and closed her eyes. “I’ve found it. The bus we want leaves in an hour-and-thirteen-minutes, straight shot.”
He frowned. “How far from here? We may miss that one and need to catch the next.”
“Ten miles or so. What about catching a cab to get there?”
“If we catch a cab, yeah. If we miss the bus, we’ll just take the next one. We can’t do anything with that Tesla thing until tomorrow anyway, so it’s just getting close and finding a place to crash.”
Gabriela took a deep breath in. “I just want to be gone. I’m still freaked out about being picked up like someone’s handbag and carried off.”
Jonathan almost passed right over her comment but caught himself at the last second. With his lips parted ready to speak, he walked toward her. “Hey. You’re doing great. We’ll get through this just fine.”
“Sure. I just need some sleep and real food.” She managed a smile and something resembling a nod.
Jonathan frowned and gave her arms a little squeeze. “Can’t do anything about sleep, but we can take the bus to Buffalo instead of Pittsburgh and grab food there before going the rest of the way.”
She looked at him. “I just want to get home, Jon. Wherever home is. I want to feel safe again. I don’t want to feel like I’m gonna have to sew you up again in just a few minutes. I want to feel like it’s okay to sleep.”
Jonathan smiled and pulled her into a hug. “We’ll get to DC and a house. Whether we get to Pittsburgh from here, or from elsewhere, that will happen. I can promise that.”
Gabriela stiffened at the sudden show of comfort. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face against his chest.
Jonathan stroked her hair and kept his voice barely above a whisper, “It’s all right. I’ll keep you safe and get you home to Virginia.”
“Okay.” Her voice didn’t sound as close to panic as before.
He grabbed the PowerBar that he’d left out and gave it to her. “Eat, and we’ll go. I saw a dumpster around the side.”
“I’ll eat on the way.” Gabriela opened the package, took a bite, turned toward the door, and dropped the keys off on the top of the TV. She paused by the open door and looked back at him.
They managed to get lucky with a cab two blocks into the ten-mile walk, after dropping the trash bag in the dumpster. With fifteen minutes to spare, they made the bus station—long enough to get tickets and find their seats for the long five-hour ride to Pittsburgh.
Jonathan spotted the ramp for the Beltway before the car’s GPS system prompted him. The car had more bells and whistles than a middle-school music class, but the people at the Tesla gallery showed him the ins and outs of the vehicle before handing over the key fob and turning him loose.
Alex had nailed it on his tastes in cars when it came to the aesthetics. The sleek cobalt body, with a dark tint and an odd panoramic roof, hit the right notes for him, though a far cry from the Charger he’d bought in Colorado. With a quick glance, he tapped his way through to making a call to Zak, where Alex waited.
The call connected as he merged onto 495 south. “Jonny? Everything good?” Alex’s voice came through the speakers.
He checked his mirror before changing lanes to weave between slower cars. “Yeah, Alex. Just got on the Outer Loop. We’ll be in Annandale in twenty.”
“Great. I managed to get everything wrapped up with the house ahead of schedule. And we’re polishing your deep cover, but it’s ready to go. I’ll meet you at Mason District Park in fifteen. You can follow me in from there.”
“Sounds good. We’ll see you soon.” He glanced at the sleeping Gabriela with a smirk.
“Hey. How’s Gabs doing? Past few days were an awful lot for a kid to deal with.”
He chuckled. “She’s sleeping. I think she’ll be okay, but the shit at the train station rattled her. Not sure what got her more, being grabbed or sewing me up.”
“I’m pretty sure it was a tie. She seemed like a tough kid when I saw her. I’m sure she’ll be okay.”
Jonathan nodded and changed lanes again. “I think so. You better get moving if you’re going to get there without making me wait. You’ve got ten minutes.”
“That’s plenty of time, sugar. You know my driving.” The call ended, and music filtered through the speakers. The station he’d listened to since Pittsburgh was some modern service called SXM radio, which played nothing but the good stuff from the nineties. While the playlist helped pass the time on the long stretches between the brief stops at the charging stations, Jonathan needed something different for DC Metro traffic.
The change of music did the trick as he pulled into the park that Alex had named. He drove for a minute, and then found her bike, with her not far away, leaning against a set of bleachers and watching a little league soccer game. He parked at the same time that she glanced over her shoulder. She smiled and walked toward them and the car.
Jonathan got out, shook his head a touch as she drew closer, accepted the hug she threw his way with his good arm, and gave her a tight squeeze.
“I’m glad you’re safe, Jonny. Where’s my Gabby? She still sleeping?” Alex looked toward the car and in through the windshield.
“Yeah. I think she’d sleep for the next five hours if I let her. She can get some good rest once we’re home.”
Alex nodded and walked to the passenger side to tap on Gabriela’s window.
Gabriela stirred and cracked one eye before closing it again. After a few heartbeats, the same eye opened again and focused on Alex’s face with a slow smile. “Hey, Alex.”
Alex opened the door and leaned against the car. “Hey, girl. Sleep good?”
“The car’s comfy. Are we home?” She pushed herself up further in the seat and looked outside.
Alex crouched with a smile. “Not yet, baby girl. You wanna stay in here, or ride with me?”
“I’ll stay with Jon a little longer. I’m still tired.”
Alex smiled. “Half hour, you’re home. ‘Kay?”
“Okay,” Gabriela said.
“Can you keep up, stud?” Alex asked with a smirk as she rounded the front of the car toward her bike.
“Yeah, you’re not as fast as you think you are.” He opened the driver’s door and slid into the seat.
“All right, pretty boy, follow me.” Alex grabbed the helmet from her bike. Within minutes, they headed south toward the highway.
“You all right over there?” He moved in and out of traffic while they moved along 495 at a quick but legal pace.
“Yep,” Gabriela said.
The exit from 495 looped in a long, smooth curve that broke onto surface streets and the traffic that they held. A few turns and Alex motioned for Jonathan to pull into an opening garage in a nice townhouse neighborhood by the river. Alex pulled in beside him, shut off her bike, and pulled off her helmet.
Jonathan looked at Gabriela. “Guess we’re here. Home sweet home.” He exited the car and looked across at Alex in the other half of the garage. “Nice location.” Gabriela unbuckled and stepped out of the car.
Alex nodded. “Yeah. Place cost north of two mil’. I think you two will love it.”
Gabriela pointed at the silver scooter on the far side of the garage, opposite from where they’d parked the car and next to Alex’s bike. “Is that for me?”
Alex smiled from her seat on her bike. “Sure is, baby girl. I picked up a few outfits, too. I figured we can go shopping sometime this weekend for a full wardrobe.”
She gave a sleepy half-smile. “You’re awesome, and I don’t care what Jon says. Give us a quick tour?”
“Of course. Shall we?” Alex smiled, left her helmet on the seat, and walked toward the lone door that led from the garage and into the house.
Inside, a security panel with a blinked intrusion light, and complete with a countdown timer greeted them. Alex keyed in the PIN code and stepped aside to let them into the house. “There’s a control panel at each entrance, including the balconies.”
A large furnished room took the remainder of the bottom floor. Jonathan nodded, walked in, and tapped the button to close the garage door outside. Along the left wall, a pair of recessed shelves flanked a fireplace with a sixty-inch LED television. On the right, a nice sized desk held a tablet and a cell phone. A brown suede sectional sofa dominated the center of the room and an area rug lay over hardwood flooring.
Jonathan walked to the desk, picked up the phone, and looked at it. Then he lifted the tablet and revealed an attached keyboard cover. He glanced back toward the doorway where Alex stood. “Guess I get a phone and computer?”
Gabriela corrected him as she stepped in and closed the door. Then she stepped closer and looked it over. “Tablet. But I’ll make a guess that it’s got more juice than most machines you’re used to. Surface Pro Two?”
Alex nodded. “Yup. Phone’s the new Lumia. Both of them connected to your account, Jonny, and the home network. You’ve got a pair upstairs in your room, too.”
“Yay.” Gabriela danced and turned where she stood.
Jonathan powered the phone on and pushed it into his pocket, leaving the tablet on the desk. He glanced at the back door that led outside, and then headed toward the stairs, where he squeezed by Alex and Gabriela. “Nice little area down here. Three bedrooms?”
Alex nodded. “Yeah. Master suite plus two.”
The stairs turned into a landing between the second and ground floor with a stairway leading down to the front door with a security panel recessed into the wall. Off the landing, sat a half bath, but Jonathan continued up the stairs and into a large open space with lots of natural light coming in from both sides of the townhouse.
To the right, lay part living room, part dining room that contained a fireplace on the side opposite the stairs. Large windows lined the front wall at the far right. An eight-person hardwood table and chairs, set with another area rug, occupied the space between. The living room looked cozy with its curved sectional nestled into a windowed alcove, which housed a modern-styled rounded coffee table. The light switches looked unlike anything Jonathan had seen before. He turned to the right and studied what looked like a nice kitchen and a deck that looked over an open park and had a nice view of the river.
Gabriela stepped into the living room area and kept going, right past Jonathan, and into the kitchen to check out the fridge. She chuckled and leaned back to glance into the living room and called to Alex, “You know, this refrigerator is going to freak him out, right?”
“Nah. He’ll adjust.” Alex smirked and walked over to Gabriela.
“Adjust to what? Oh. What is this thing? It’s like the car.” Jonathan rounded the corner into the kitchen to look at the refrigerator and poke at the touch screen.
Gabriela touched the screen faster than he did. “It’s better. If I know Alex, this gem is synced up with our phones and tabs so we can keep lists and other things, like recipes where we need them.”
“Mmhmm. Bedrooms this way, folks.” Alex nodded before heading to the next flight of stairs.
Jonathan doubled back to head after Alex. At the top, on the third floor, a narrow, but not cramped, hallway connected two bedrooms, as well as giving space for a full bathroom. An alcove also held a washer and dryer, which looked like spaceships.
“Everything looks new.” Jonathan made another mental note of the bizarre switches on the walls.
“It is.” Alex nodded as she followed him.
A smaller bedroom to the right, but not small by any means, held a futon and a small three-drawer dresser. “This one’s gotta be a spare.” Jonathan made his way down the hallway to the other massive bedroom. “And this one’s mine.”
“Yes and yes. Gabs’ up here.” Alex opened a door to reveal more stairs.
“You sure this one isn’t mine? I can make a convincing argument.” Gabriela popped her head around Jonathan.
The space spanned the entire width of the townhouse and a full third of its length. It had a fireplace on the left side, opposite the large king bed on the right. The left half of the room was set with a chaise, another sixty-inch LED television, an end table, and an armoire. A set of doors led onto a balcony with the same view as below, but at a better angle from the river.
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LA. Montana. Virginia. Colorado. Jonathan Cross must find a new home for himself and his new charge, Gabriela DeLuna, after the tragic events that shattered his world. The decorated Special Forces Army Captain must learn a new skill set, how to blend in with his new cover as an older brother to Gabriela and keep her safe after an attempt was made for her. Who is after her and why? Do they know where they are? After Gabriela makes a shocking discovery, Jonathan’s circle continues to splinter around him. Trusts are betrayed, lines are crossed, and the word family is pushed to the limit. Jonathan is driven to make the devastating decision to run and keep Gabriela or be forced into doing something he knows isn’t right but has to be done before the opportunity slips through his fingers. Will he finally be able to confront Penn? Generations Unbound, the second book in the Project: Generations Series will answer questions while still leave you guessing and take you on a journey and keep you hanging on until the last sentence. Grab your copy today and follow the breadcrumb trail left behind by Christina Aarons. ** WARNING: This book does end in a cliffhanger that is revealed in Book Three. **