“Ellie, listen to me. Yer going about this the wrong way. Ye can’t just go around those kinds of places expecting to find evidence lying out in the open. These are bad fuckin’ people, and anyone caught snooping, well… If they took Jeremy, he’s far from here lass, I can promise ye that. Why don’t ye just let the police do their jobs? I’ll even give you yer money back.”
I stiffened. “You really don’t believe I can do this, do you?”
He sighed and leaned back against the bench. “Honestly, no.” “Is this so you can go back to your other job?” I asked.
“It’s… part of it.”
“Fine,” I said, pulling out my wallet. “I’ll just have to do this on my own.”
He groaned as I threw some cash on the table and left without another word. He didn’t even try to stop me, that non-chivalrous ass.
When I stepped out onto the sidewalk I took a few deep breaths and turned in the direction of the motel. After two steps I snarled in frustration, turned around and walked right back into the diner.
“I need to borrow your car,” I said, holding my hand out.
He sat up and gave me a patient look before dropping some money on the table and walking right out of the restaurant. We were probably giving the other customers whiplash, but I followed him out, hot on his tail. I walked beside him, assuming he was going back to the motel, and barely noticed the lovely day we were having.
“Ellie,” he finally said, as we entered the motel parking lot, “have you or Jeremy ever done anything to any Russian person in the past who may have taken offense? Anything at all?”
I frowned. “Not that I can think of.”
“The name Piotrovski doesn’t ring a bell?”
“No.” I shrugged.
“And this business with his da’. Why would the FBI want to cover up his death? What’s his father do?”
“He was a stock market guy. He and Jeremy’s mom divorced when he was a kid and I barely knew him. He was important though. Worked on Wall Street. Why do you ask?”
He frowned and I followed him into his room. I wasn’t ready to leave just yet, but I wanted his keys before he changed his mind. His room was the same size as mine, but a mirror image, and I couldn’t help but notice that his bed was ruffled, the indent mark of his head still in the pillow. An uninvited image of him sleeping in that bed crawled into my head and I couldn’t manage to get it out. For some reason, seeing his bed like this was too intimate.
I snapped out of it and nodded. “Yep, uh huh. So, why all the questions?”
He shuffled through some clothes, throwing them in a pile on the disheveled bed. “It only occurred to me to ask just now. Sorry.”
I shrugged. “You’re not a detective… are you?”
He grunted a “no” as he continued looking through his clothes. The muscles in his back rippled beneath his black polo and his biceps flexed menacingly as he searched the bed.
“Keys?” I asked, blinking away my thoughts.
“Where did you put them last?”
“On the desk.”
I helped him look without touching his things too much. He either didn’t care that I was moving around his clothing, or he didn’t notice, for he seemed perfectly ensconced in his own search.
“Maybe you left them in my room?”
“I’ve not set foot in there.”
I shrugged and opened the adjoining door, remembering with a grimace that it did open from his side. When I saw my crisply made bed I did a double-take and frowned. Taking a step backwards I looked back out to the open main door of Troy’s room and back to his bed.
“Did you… did you put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door before you left?”
He dropped what was in his hand and turned to me in confusion. “What?”
A silence swept the room and I stood perfectly still.
I could see the wheels spinning in Troy’s head and his demeanor change into something strong and indestructible. He held his finger up to his lips, telling me to be quiet, and waved his hand to the floor. I shrunk down next to the dresser in the corner, adrenaline coursing through my blood.
He pulled out a gun from his back waistline and slowly slid over to the main door. Before closing it quietly, he took a quick peak outside and then flattened his back against it. I started to shake uncontrollably but tried to remain calm. So far there was nothing here except a scatterbrained chambermaid, nothing too egregious.
He motioned that he was going into my room, and I shook my head, about to tell him not to leave me alone, but he held his finger up to his mouth and gave me the international sign of “calm down.” But I couldn’t promise anything.
With his back ramrod straight, and his gun held expertly in his grasp—yes, a freaking gun—he rounded into the adjoining room, effectively leaving me all on my own. I watched the empty doorway, and the only sound I could hear was my breath as I waited for him to return.
Just then, the adjoining door began to close and I sat up in confusion, finding no reason for that to happen. When someone emerged from the bathroom I started to scream, but it was too late. The masked man ran straight at the door and locked it, keeping Troy out. Above all my terrified thoughts, my sharp panicked breaths and the thundering heartbeat in my ears, I could hear things breaking and crashing next door in my room.
“Troy!” I screeched.
The tall, black-clad bandit walked with deliberate, stable movements as he came over to my side of the bed, staring down at me from only a few feet away. I shrunk back against the wall and tried to see through the little eyeholes of his balaclava, but all I saw was black nothingness.
“Please,” I whimpered, “I’ll give you anything you want.”
His head tilted to the right and I felt a chill go down my spine. It was the type of head movement you’d expect to see in a horror film, a stone-cold mask cocking slightly to the side, as if the creature beneath couldn’t understand what it was seeing. I pressed back into the corner, my hands grasping at everything around me, searching for anything that could be used as a weapon. There was nothing there but the side table and phone, and I couldn’t exactly launch that at him while it was still connected.
I wasn’t expecting him to rush me like he did, but one moment I was there on the floor, and the next I was slung over his shoulder. I screeched and squirmed, pounding my fists on his back and flailing my legs around wildly, but he didn’t seem to notice as he ran to the door and yanked it open. Stories and statistics flooded my brain, and I knew my chances of survival were frighteningly slim if he managed to take me wherever it was he wanted me to go. I swung and kicked and punched with all my might. We were in the parking lot now, and if someone would just hear me they might be able to help. I screamed and wriggled wildly, and when my knee finally landed on his chest, he stopped dead in his tracks. I wasn’t expecting him to throw me down into a trunk.
I spun around, sitting up so he couldn’t close it, but I came face to face with the barrel of a gun. I froze and stared at the dark aperture, my heart in my throat. After all my careful planning, this day had taken an unexpectedly frightful turn.
“Please,” I whispered, my eyes stinging with tears. “Whatever they’re paying you… I’ll double it.”
“It’s typical that you think I chose to come here.”
“I didn’t want to. But I had no other choice.”
“Why?” I asked, quashing down the pain in my chest.
“Why didn’t I want to, or why did I have no other choice?”
“I don’t know…”
“Let me make this clear for ye then, Anya. I didn’t want to come here because I knew that after all the apologies and guilt, ye’d still hate me. Was I right?”
I scoffed and turned away. “I don’t hate you.”
“Why did they make you come here? Why did they send you to replace Jimmy?”
He shook his head and stopped at the light. I looked at his profile again, seeing the tightening of his eyes. What the hell? “Because you what?”
“Come on, tell me,” I said, following him across the street. The puppy barked at a squirrel going up the tree and ran towards it, pulling on Troy’s arm in the process. I was suddenly very glad I was not the one holding her, since I knew that this would have hurt my tender muscles.
“None of your business. I’m here to protect ye, and I will, let’s just leave it at that.”
“We can’t just leave it at that, Troy, we were lovers, and I almost died, and I didn’t see you for months… I deserve an answer from you!”
A businessman walking by gave us a strange look, and I closed my eyes in exasperation. I felt like a child having a temper tantrum, but this was my business. After months of being left in the dark, it was time to finally get some light on the matter.
“I have already apologized for not being there,” he gritted through his teeth.
He turned and faced me, and I felt the full weight of his golden eyes on me, shrinking me down a foot or two. I didn’t think he could ever be so angry.
“Why did they want you here, of all people?” I asked quietly.
“Because I’m the best.”
“That’s debatable,” I said, instantly regretting it. A wave of guilt and rejection crashed over me, and my stomach twisted into a knot.
He gave me a sour smile, the black stubble on his jaw almost blue in the winter sunlight. “Tonight, in front of your friends, ye’d bloody better well act the part of girlfriend, Eleanor. I’m serious.”
“We don’t have to hump on the table to prove anything, you know.”
“Is that what you and Jeremy used to do?” he asked, his eyes flashing fire.
My heart dipped into my stomach, tightening painfully, and I knew with absolutely certainty that we couldn’t continue like this. I shook my head, hating with a passion how tears instantly appeared whenever he was mentioned. This had to stop.
“It sounds like you’re stuck with me until the trial, is that right?” I asked quietly.
He nodded curtly.
“That could take a year, maybe even longer… couldn’t it?”
He looked away and nodded.
“Then I think we need to come to an agreement, okay? I don’t want to hear his name again, not in that jealous angry way you say it, not when you’re trying to be cruel to me.”
“Wait,” I said, holding up my hand. “I will try to be nicer to you and I will play the part of your girlfriend if you never talk to me like that again,” I said, thinking it sounded like a perfectly good deal to me. “But I won’t just make out with you in front of people for no reason,” I added quickly.
“Deal,” he said right away.
I blinked. “Okay.”
“Moving on then…” he said, looking out towards the street, still sounding a little miffed.
Without thinking I reached up on my tippy-toes and gave his cheek a small peck. It was tame, the very definition of mild and most certainly prude considering the stuff we’d done to each other in the past, but the warmth of him so close to me and his trademark smell I loved so much invaded my senses, and when I lowered myself back to the ground I felt a violent blush creep up my neck.
I could see how my proximity affected him too, I could see it in the darkness of his eyes, the way his hands clenched at his sides. It wouldn’t have been disconcerting to anyone if I kissed him on the lips. We were boyfriend and girlfriend after all, weren’t we? I was so tempted. It’d been so long since I felt anything remotely sensual. Did he want me to kiss him? His gaze dipped to my mouth like he could hear my thoughts and I felt that magnetic pull towards him.
Somewhere down the street, another dog was being walked and Vesper could no longer contain herself. She pulled on the leash, barking wildly, and breaking the moment that I wasn’t even sure happened. Troy pulled on the leash and bent down to soothe her, and I turned away, getting a grip on reality. If I was him, I’d have me committed. My mood swings were cataclysmic. What the hell was I thinking?