A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3) (14 page)

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
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Chapter 26

H
olding a bowl of Lucky Charms
, Cassie bounced on her toes in front of a black and white TV.
Creepy house day six.
Frowning, she wiggled one of the tinfoil-covered antennas, trying to make the picture clearer. A screaming woman popped into focus before sputtering back into a haze of static.
Getting creepier.

She snapped the TV off. Not. Worth. It.

Luke had phoned earlier that morning to say he was on his way to take his Psychological Fitness for Duty Evaluation for work. “This is almost over.” He paused for a second. “Man, I can’t believe how much I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” He still was avoiding the house to cut down chances of being followed. Only four days without seeing him, and already all she wanted to do was to kiss his face.

“How’s it going with Trevor staying?”

“Good. Last night, we watched black-and-white ants for most of the evening and ate cardboard pizza. He’s about as talkative as the stuffed animals upstairs. Then he crashed on the couch.” Cassie tested the cushion and felt a loose spring. “Err, you might really owe him after this.” She sighed. “I hate to complain, but after not seeing you…. I’m starting to feel like the walls are closing in.”

“I know, Principessa. I’m going to get you out today.”

“You are?” She cringed at the squeal that slipped out.

“Things seemed to have simmered down over the last few days. There’s talk that Nicholai is taking some heat from the South End gang which is keeping his focus. Both Trevor and I think it’s safe to chance a meeting at Denny’s. He’ll be driving you and keeping an eye out for a tail.”

“It’s weird having him guard me, Luke.”

“I’m not messing around. I don’t want you to drive anywhere alone for the next few days. Just do it and make me less worried.”

Sure enough, right at noon, Cassie heard the car pull into the driveway. She lifted the lace curtain to check. A second later, her phone dinged with a text.
Here.
The police car idled, as Trevor waited for her to come out.

She grabbed her coat and purse and sped out the door. Briskly, she locked it behind her and pocketed the key.

The day was gorgeous.
Oregon sure is beautiful in May.
The branches of the plum tree outside the window, heavy with white flowers, bobbed in the breeze. She took a deep breath in, savoring the fresh air, before dropping into the passenger’s seat.

“Hi.” She smiled to Trevor as she buckled her seatbelt.

He shifted the car into reverse and deftly backed out of the narrow driveway. “Ready for lunch?”

“Yeah, my reprieve,” Cassie muttered glumly.

“What was that?” The burly cop shifted again and spun the wheel, merging the car with the other traffic.

“Nothing. Thanks for all you’ve done to help me.”

“No worries.” Chatter went off on the police radio. He listened intently for a moment, his eyes focused, before continuing. “You’re not going to be stuck there for long.”

“It makes me feel like a kid on restriction.” She rolled her eyes. “But don’t tell Luke.”

Trevor smirked. Ten minutes later, they pulled into Denny’s.

Cassie hurried into the diner and scanned the tables for Luke. Still not there yet. Trevor followed behind, and they grabbed a booth.

The cop flashed a smile at the waitress, and she put an extra sway in her hips as she sauntered over with the coffee pot. “Hi there, Officer Peters.” Her eyes danced across his chest, lingering for a moment on his badge. “Long time no see.”

“Yep. Where ya been, Michelle? Keeping out of trouble?”

She set the coffee pot on the table and handed them the menus. “Always,” she said, lifting her chin. “Unless it comes looking for me. Now what can I get you to start?” She pulled a pen from behind her ear and raised her notepad.

With a clatter, Trevor flipped the coffee cup right-side-up on its saucer. “Coffee for now.”

“You?” the waitress asked Cassie.

“Coffee too, please.”

The waitress filled the cups, making an effort to flash a bit of cleavage as she reached for Trevor’s. “I’ll be back in a bit to see if you’ve changed your minds.” She smiled and walked away.

Cassie added four teaspoons of sugar from the shaker and two creams.

“You like a little coffee with your cream and sugar, huh?” Trevor observed.

She stirred it vigorously, watching the white cream swirl across the top until it blended in. “I have a sweet tooth. What can I say?”

He gave a gentle smile. “You’re good for him, you know that?”

“Excuse me?”

“Luke’s been a different man since you’ve been around. Stronger than I’ve ever seen him.”

“Ever since he’s been with Jennifer, you mean.”

Trevor looked at her carefully, before slowly shaking his head. “Nah. He had tons of issues with Jennifer. Those two broke up more times than they were together.”

Cassie couldn’t help the thrill that went through her.
Why am I feeling this way? Have
I been jealous of a dead woman? Crap! I can’t believe I just called her that.
She cringed.
Cass! You can’t call people who die tragically “dead.” That’s just wrong somehow.

Trevor watched her over the top of his coffee. “Your face is telling quite a story right now.”

Cassie bit her lip. “I’m just realizing what an idiot I am, that’s all.”

Trevor took a sip and set the cup down, rattling the silverware. “I don’t think you’re an idiot. People tend to get idealized after they die. It’s hard to remember that in the end, we’re all flawed humans. Just like it’s hard to remember to cut each other some slack now, because we’re all flawed humans.” He smiled at her. “So, practice on yourself. Cut yourself some slack.”

She flipped her hair off her shoulder. “Thanks, Trevor. I can see why Luke thinks highly of you.”

“He said that?” Trevor snorted. “I’m never going to let him live it down.”

Cassie nearly choked on her coffee.
Distract him so he forgets.
“Yeah, great. So, how are you feeling about the case? Are you going to catch Nicholai this time? How many people are assigned to go after him? Is it okay that I ask that?”

“Whoa!” His eyes grew wide, and he raised his hand to stop her. “I’m pretty sure you hit my question limit. Have you talked about any of this with Luke?”

“Yeah. He tells me to butt out.”

“Excellent advice. We’ve got it covered. Don’t you worry.”

Always Mister Talkative.
“I’m not worried. I just hate having to hide out waiting for some news.”

Trevor looked over her shoulder at the entrance of the coffee shop. “Well, you’re in luck, because here he is now.”

Cassie spun around in her chair to watch Luke walk in. His broad shoulders were pushed back; his button-up shirt was tight across his chest. He was looking good.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Luke said as he flopped down next to her, his arm moving to rest along the back of the bench.

“Well?” Cassie leaned into his shoulder. “How’d it go?”

“I think it went well. I’ll find out soon enough.” He squeezed her. “Mmm…. You smell so good.”

Trevor cleared his throat. “Glad you could finally join us. Your little lady here is quite the interrogator.” He tipped his head towards Cassie and took another sip from his coffee.

“What? You giving Trevor a hard time? I can’t believe it.” Luke held up his empty cup to the waitress.

“What can I say? I’ve been bored. Giving people a hard time is my new hobby.”

Luke regarded her like she was trouble. “What do you want to know? I may not be able to answer, but ask away.”

“Have you found Nicholai yet?”

Luke hunched forward over the table. “Yeah, we have an idea of where he’s at. And that’s all I can say for now.”

“Really?” Cassie blinked. “Are you serious? I’m being sequestered to the dungeon for who knows how long, and that’s all you’re going to give me?”

“Hey, you’re out right now, right? Getting some fresh air, being introduced to the public.”

“I’m not a dog, Luke. I don’t need public socializing. For crying out loud.” She rolled her eyes.

The waitress walked over with the coffee pot and filled Luke’s cup.

“One slice of apple pie, please,” Luke asked, before looking at Cassie. “You want anything?”

“A club sandwich would be awesome.” As the waitress left, Cassie turned back to Luke. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

Cassie sighed. “Sequester, house jail, etc.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “You said you were going home at the end of the week. I guess we can bump that up.”

“Really? I’m free to leave now?”

Luke glanced at his partner. “No.”

“No?”

“Yeah. No. Sorry, Cassie. I didn’t think you’d actually call my bluff. I need you to stick around where I can keep my eyes on you. Especially since he knows who you are now. You don’t live that far away, and he has people everywhere. Better to keep you here where I know you’re safe.”

Cassie pushed back in the booth. “Wow, this whole time I thought I was rebelling against you by staying.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday.” He winked. The waitress brought over his slice of pie and set it before him. He thanked her and grabbed his fork. “Don’t worry. This will all be over soon.”

“How did your conversation go with Sheila?” Cassie asked.

Luke paused with a bite halfway to his mouth. He shoved it in, chewing slowly, his forehead creased. “It didn’t go well. The message came through the proper channels, so she didn’t do anything wrong. Somehow, the line has been hacked. She sent a request for a team to investigate it.” His eyes darted to hers. “She, uh, she felt terrible.”

Trevor whistled through his teeth. “You’re pushing it, Luke. All over that crucifix.”

Luke’s forehead wrinkled into a deep frown. He chewed the inside of his cheek as his gaze flickered from Trevor back to the pie.“And, what do you suggest we do instead?” Luke said, his voice in a metered tone.

“Aww, it ain’t rocket science.” Trevor casually bantered back with a shrug. “Maybe you need to reconsider.…”

“Reconsider? What are you saying, dude?” Luke cut him off, his gaze hardening. “You want me to give the necklace back? Maybe I should buy a pie here and trot up outside his place of business and offer it to him?”

“Nah, man. It’s just that you’re finally getting better. Healthy. I don’t want him to have an excuse to gun for you. He’s bulletproof. We can’t get ahead of him lately.”

Luke cursed, dropping his fork on his plate. He waved to the waitress. “Check please!” Turning his attention back to Trevor, he growled out. “Gun for me? I’d like to see him try. He won’t even know what hits him.”

The tension in the air grew. Cassie glanced between the men; Luke with his face red from anger, Trevor’s mouth turned down plaintively.

“You can’t go into this angry, Luke.” Trevor raised his hand, palm up. “You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get
her
hurt.”

“That’s enough, Trevor. She’ll be fine.”

They glared at each other. Trevor broke the gaze first. He grabbed his phone and read an incoming text. “Whatever, man. I’m just looking out for you. Anyway, I need to head home. Wife says I need to at least check in with her today or she’s changing the locks.”

“Tell her thank you from me.” Cassie tried to play peacemaker.

“She’s kidding. I think.” Trevor smiled, before rereading the text. With a nod toward Cassie, he said, “I’ll bring home KFC for dinner.” He flung down a five-dollar bill and headed out.

Luke leaned over and kissed Cassie.
Finally.
“Don’t let him worry you. Trevor already knows we have a plan. We have an entire task force on this. And we have one goal. While Nicholai is distracted—” He stabbed at the pie and brought up the last bite. “We end this.”

Chapter 27


I
f Luke finds
out I’m here, he’s going to kill me,” Cassie muttered to herself as a wave of guilt descended on her. Clutching a box of tampons and a bag of Skittles, she watched the grocery clerk, feeling like her gaze should be burning a hole into the woman’s head. The clerk looked to be in her late fifties, and was having a good long chat with a brunette about the same age.

“Come on, come on!” Cassie whispered.

The two of them let out loud, cackling laughs at something the customer had said. Agonizingly slow, the debit card was dragged through the machine. Cassie shook her bag of Skittles. Almost there.

Earlier, the sun seemed like it had been mocking her as she sat in front of the staticky TV, watching the light stream through the dust motes in the house. Then ol’ Aunt Flo had arrived, and she’d only had one spare in her purse. Trevor wasn’t answering his texts. So, she’d snuck out of the house, thinking she could just zip to the store three blocks away undetected.

But she’d never planned for the slowest checkout line in the history of mankind.

Finally, it was her turn. Cassie tapped her fingers on the counter as she handed over the money. “Doing anything fun today, ma’am?” The clerk’s brassy, dyed curls bobbed as she opened the cash register.

“Not really,” Cassie answered. “Just going to enjoy this wonderful weather.”

“Oh, it sure is beautiful. I think it’s the warmest temperature we’ve had in spring since 1983. Or was it 82? Cupcake—that was my chocolate poodle— she was alive then. My, how time flies.” The clerk slowly counted back her change, and Cassie held her breath to control her impatience.

Finally, with a wave goodbye, Cassie left the store. She ripped open the package of Skittles and carefully picked out three red ones, popping them into her mouth. Chewing, she turned her face up to the sun and smiled under its warm caress.

She folded down the package of candy and opened her purse to stick the bag in. Her hand brushed her phone, showing three missed calls. Cassie’s stomach sank when she saw Luke’s name. She checked the settings.
For crying out—
Somehow she’d bumped it into silent mode.
Do I call him back now? Will he hear the traffic?

A text came in.
Cassie where are you? I swear I’m going to tape this phone to your body the next time I see you.

Okay, then. Better call.

“Hi, Luke.” Her voice was high with fake cheerfulness when he answered.

“Cassie! You had me completely freaking out. Why haven’t you answered your phone?”

Her heart flipped at his tone. “Mmmm. Sorry. I just ran to the store for a minute. I needed some fresh air.” She paused to look at the package in her hands. “And some Skittles.”

She could hear him exhale loudly, and bit her lip waiting for his response. “I’m seriously angry. We have the Russian mob after us. This isn’t a game.”

“I’m not playing a game, Luke. But, I mean, come on, I just wanted to stretch my legs. I can actually take care of myself, you know. Give me a little credit here.”

“Hey, you said you’d cooperate so I wouldn’t have to worry.”

Cassie squirmed at his words. She hated that he was right. “I just didn’t think it would be taking this long.”

“Long? Whatever, Cassie. We’ll finish this talk later. Now get your butt back to the house.”

“I’m going, I’m going.”

“You’ve got five minutes. Better run.”

Grimacing, she clicked off the phone and chucked it into her purse along with the other stuff.
I hate running!
She groaned and started to jog. After a few minutes, sweat trickled down her forehead as her purse clanked against her hip. “This definitely didn’t turn out as fun as it sounded earlier.”

She could see the duplex’s driveway ahead when she finally slowed to a walk. Inhaling deeply a few times, she tried to catch her breath. Her hand clutched the sharp stitch in her side.
Wow, girl. You’ve gotten a little out of shape, haven’t you? I’m going to have to do one of those Zumba shows on TV.
She laughed at the thought of trying to follow the static dance moves.
If I can’t see it, I can pretend I don’t suck.

A noise behind her made her glance up. Brakes squealed as a black car pulled up next to the curb. Cassie flinched at the sound. The two car doors closest to her opened.
What the—
No time to think
. Run Cass!
Cassie spun around and ran.
CrapOhcrapOhcrap!
From behind, she heard another door slam. The sound spurred her on faster.

She dove down a one-way side street, her brain screaming a deluge of curse words. At the end of the street, she skidded around the corner.

It was noon. The street was filled with people milling about on their lunch break. Some gathered around a taco truck parked near the sidewalk.
Blend in!
Her pulse beat in a crazy staccato as she forced her pace to a crawl. She ducked into the first business she passed, a consignment store. Inside, she snatched a hat from a display and tugged it on, tucking in her blonde hair.

The store was nearly empty. Muzak played on the overhead speakers, strangely jarring under the circumstances. Cassie made her way through the overflowing clothing racks and shelves of used shoes, to the emergency exit. Her steps faltered at the large, red warning sign on the door, but she shoved against it anyway.

No siren. Relief flooded her chest and made her feel ten pounds lighter. She hurried down the alley behind the buildings and turned right at the end.

This street was unfamiliar to her. It was also filled with people, but they looked like a rougher crowd. Heart in her throat, Cassie pushed through what felt like a sea of bodies to get down the sidewalk.

“Hey, watch it, lady,” A skinny guy snarled around his cigarette. She flinched away from him.

How did they find me?
She tugged her hat down and tried to catch her breath again, walking calmly.
Blend in. Don’t act scared! It’s broad daylight. I’m okay.

The end of the street was lined with bars. Parked in front of one was a row of motorcycles. Cassie scanned the people, bikers in their leathers, girls in tiny skirts and eyes jet-black with thick eyeliner. Her spine tingled as she kept an eye out for anyone following.

Cassie reached for her phone and searched for Luke’s number. She stabbed at it with trembling fingers.

“Your five minutes were nearly up.” He warned as he answered the phone.

“Luke! They found me!”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know?” Panicked, she spun around, trying to find a street sign. Outside the bar a few of the bikers looked at her curiously. “A black car pulled up and men got out. I ran. I’m standing outside of—” she squinted at the bar’s name. “Minos Bar.”

She heard a clatter on the other end. “Stay where you are. I’m coming to get you. I’m only two minutes away.”

His words were like a warm balm of safety. “Hurry, Luke!”

“Stay on the phone with me.” She heard his car roar to life. “You see anyone?”

She glanced around. “I don’t know. The street’s kind of crowded.”

He bit off a cuss word. “I’m coming. Hang tight.”

Cassie looked up. A man exited from the same alley where she’d just been, his head swiveling both ways. “Oh, crap.”

“What? What’s going on? Talk to me, Cassie.”

Trembling, she backed away, before wheeling around the opposite direction.

“I see him,” she whispered into the phone. “One of the guys, I think.”

“Go into a business. Any business. I’m almost there.”

“It’s just bars!”

She hurried around the side of the building, running solidly into someone. “Trevor?”

He smiled, his hands open disarmingly. “Cassie, what are you doing here?”

Someone grabbed her from behind and yanked her backwards. She screamed as her flip-flops flew off her feet. She kicked at the person with her bare feet, her blows useless. Her shrieks cut off as a hand clenched tightly around her throat.

A deep growl rumbled in her ear. “Hey, little lady. Time for our date. I’ve been looking forward to it.” He ripped the phone out of her hands. “Luke. Sorry to interrupt your phone call. But we need to talk with our new friend here. Give you a little reminder to return what isn’t yours, and keep out of our business. Go back to your bottle, Luke. It got you into less trouble.” The man clicked off the phone before jerking his fist and connecting with her jaw.

Like a light switched off, everything went dark.

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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