He stared down at the man he’d just cut down. Walter, the driver had been hanging from the ceiling in this old tobacco warehouse for the last two hours as Andre politely asked for any and all information the man might have about Thresher. It was his experience the man who drove the car heard a lot. So he’d let Walter live for a while. It had paid off.
“Shit, what the fuck? You killed him?”
Andre pulled the bloody surgical gloves from his hands, tossing them onto the plastic where the body lay. He assumed the question needed no answer since obviously the man was dead.
The giant oaf who held Mckenna’s heart stomped up next to him, careful not to step on the sheet of plastic that had caught the various fluids Walter had expelled during their conversation, “Did you get anything?”
“Thresher hired them.” He shrugged out of the plastic coat that had protected his clothing and tossed it on the body, “They were a team, had worked together before. Usual progression. Military. Private Contractors. Mercenaries. They were to deliver her to a private airfield in Buckingham County. The plane took off an hour ago.”
“Thresher was on it.”
“Shit, he’s in the country.”
“Not only that, Walter said the man has property in the state.”
“Fuck!” McIntyre cursed and stared down at the body like he wanted to kill him all over again. Andre knew that feeling. It was frustrating at times that a killing blow could only be delivered once.
“The man who ran this op didn’t care for Thresher. Thought he was obsessed, but the money was very good.” Andre shrugged, “Greed is so often the downfall of men.”
“Whatever,” The giant blew him off. McIntyre was a man of simple tastes with one notable exception, “We need to get Allie to a secure location.”
Oh no, there was no way anyone was taking the Angel somewhere he couldn’t follow. Andre stuck with facts, “She works for the FBI. She lives with the Hellion, Mckenna, and the one who carries poison in her pockets. We are watching her 24/7. How much more secure can she be?”
The oaf acknowledged the truth of the words with a grunt, “You have people on her?”
“The only reason I’m allowing this is that he would recognize my people.”
“You allow me nothing. She’ll have my protection until I see the life leave Thresher’s eyes.”
The oaf’s eyes narrowed, “Keep your hands off her.”
“My feelings for Aliana are none of your concern.”
“I don’t give a shit about your feelings. I said hands off.”
“My hands will be wherever they need to be to keep her safe.”
“Shit,” The man’s eyes raked him with contempt, “You’re not worthy of so much as one of her smiles….”
His single shout of laughter rang hollow and humorless in the dead space, “On that, we agree.”
The cell phone ringing from McIntyre’s pocket cut off yet another grunt. How he managed to hold a phone in those ham sized hands Andre didn’t know, “Grey?”
He watched McIntyre’s face transform and knew the conversation was about Mckenna. The man had very specific facial expressions for the woman he loved. And regardless of Andre’s personal loathing for the oaf, there was no doubt he loved Mckenna with every cell in his gargantuan body. Andre noted frustration, anger, wry acceptance and finally grim determination flash across the rugged features, “I’ll be there in ten.” McIntyre disconnected and shoved the phone in his pocket. Then, without so much as a final grunt, he turned and stomped away.
He couldn’t resist poking the bear, “Give Mckenna my regards.”
You could always tell when Gavin McIntyre entered a room. The volume went down. People whispered. Crowds parted. He was that impressive. Allie knew before she looked up – he’d shown up. He dominated the restaurant simply by standing there. In a gray long sleeve t-shirt and jeans, he wore a lot of t-shirts as collared shirts were hard to find in his size. Allie always had shirts made for him for Christmas, being six foot five inches with a 53 inch chest made clothes shopping difficult. He wove between tables now, oblivious to the whispers and covetous female stares, his square jaw set, his rough-hewn features determined, his eyes blazing, all of his attention locked in and focused on one person.
“Oh shit.” Lena saw him first as Mac was half asleep in her coffee. Lena elbowed her.
“Ow! Hey, what the…” Then she saw him. Her mouth dropped open, “Oh..oh…well fuck…how did he.. who….?”
Just then, Christian Grey walked over with breakfast menus. Mckenna shot him a dirty look. He raised one brow, clearly communicating, ‘Yes I called him and what of it?’ without saying a word.
Mckenna humphed and hunched. Allie covered her grin with her coffee cup. Mac in a full sulk was a rare sight. Gavin had always been able to strip away that distance she wore like armor, as if he existed inside the sphere that kept everyone else out.
Gavin nodded to Grey and, without a word, walked around to the back of the booth, leaned over, grabbed Mac around her waist and picked her straight up. Lifting her up and over the back of the seat, and all her sister could do was sputter.
The restaurant erupted in gasps, laughter, and spontaneous applause while Mac wiggled and cursed, “Gavin McIntyre put me the hell down!”
“No cursing in front of the baby, Babe.” Gavin chuckled, setting her on her feet.
Mckenna jerked around and gave him her favorite Peanuts quote, “I oughta slug you.”
Grinning, Gavin leaned down and said in a stage whisper that easily carried, “Try it, baby. I triple-dog dare you.”
More laughter and applause, and beside her Allie heard Jose sigh, his chin resting in his hand, “Oh..oh that is just H-O-T hot!”
Gavin paid no mind to any of it, already tugging Mac towards the exit, “You’re exhausted. I’m taking you home and we’re going to bed.”
Mac was fighting him the entire way, leaning her weight back, pulling against him, “Let me go, you bossy ass Scott!”
It didn’t slow the man down a bit, “Settle down, you crazy pagan witch.”
Mckenna continued making dire threats, which Gavin kept inviting her to carry out all the way out of the restaurant. Both of them oblivious to the applause and amused stares of patrons and staff alike.
Jose sighed again, “True Love.”
John stared after the two with wide eyes, “If you say so, sugar-plum.”
“What the hell were you thinking? I can’t believe you. You’re all over the news…everywhere. I mean everywhere. What the fuck Allie? When did you turn all vigilante? Auntie is going to be pissed.” Lena prowled around their kitchen, yanking on her short hair with one hand and gulping coffee with the other.
After brunch, the Grey’s checked into the Jefferson. Deciding to stay for a few days. Christy went to check on the animals at the shelter. Gavin had been true to his word and he and Mac were locked up in Mac’s bedroom in the townhouse next door. Lena however, had had enough caffeine to rant after being up all night stuffing who knows what into a wood chipper, speaking of which, “Lena, you have no room to talk. Did you or did you not stuff a body through a wood chipper last night.”
“Not the same thing and you know it.”
“I know nothing of the kind.” She raised her chin.
“Shit, don’t get all prissy with me. He was a Senator Allie, not some penniless hick living in the sticks, and Sweet fucking Charlotte, he fell down the Rhett and Scarlett staircase. It’s made the news worldwide.” Lena threw her arm up and made a giant circle like she was twirling a lasso, “The. World. Like China and New Zealand and Tim-buck-fucking-too!”
Oh honestly, Allie leaned against the counter, settling in for the duration. When Lena started putting random effing into the middle of every other word she could go on a while. Perhaps if she stuck with the facts, “He had a heart attack. He died. Nobody cares. We’re fine.”
“Yeah, well you better hope Auntie doesn’t get a whiff of this. You know you’re not to act on your own.”
“You do. You did.”
“That was self-defense. The man came at me. He was three times my size.”
“You baited him and shot him.”
“Yeah, and do you know who witnessed it? Nobody. Dammit Allie!”
“He broke her collar-bone when she was six months old.”
“Allie…” Lena shook her head, “We can’t…”
“He nearly killed her, Lena.” Allie went over to the old oak recipe box they had inherited from Granny Rose. Lifting it, she dumped the recipes out and popped the false bottom loose. Their Great-Grandmother insisted that nobody expected little old ladies to be hiding contraband in their recipe boxes. Just one of the places she hid things. Allie lifted the photo, “Look at her.” She shoved the picture under her sister’s nose.
Lena took it, flopping down on a bar-stool, her face going white under her tan, “Ah shit… fucking hell…Fuck.”
It was the photo Rachel’s mother had taken at the hospital this last time, when Rachel had nearly died, “I couldn’t stand it.”
“Right,” Lena pulled a lighter out of her pocket and flicked it, setting the photo on fire, “Do you have any more?”
Her twin rose from the stool and stood over the sink, dropping the photo in and making sure it burned to ash before washing the evidence away.
Then those ice blue eyes locked on her, “What’s going on with you?”
“Nothing,” She sent her an apologetic smile, “I know I shouldn’t have acted alone. I’m sorry.”
“Seriously? You may be able to fool Mac with that wide-eyed, I’m a lady shit, but I know you. We kicked each other around in the womb for Goddess sake. Now what the fuck is happening in that perfect, prissy, blond head of yours?”
Lena was dogged stubborn, “Honestly?”
Her twin threw her hands in the air and bellowed, “No, I want you to keep on lying your ass off. Yes, honestly, shit!”
“Nothing I want to share with you.”
That stopped her. Lena fell back against the sink and stared at her like she’d sprouted another head. Then blowing her bangs off her forehead, the fight falling out of her, “Yeah, okay. Believe it or not, that I get.” Lena then marched up to her and put her hands on her shoulders, “But, damn get some therapy or a hobby or something. Cause this business of sending powerful Senators tumbling head over fucking ass all the way down the The Goddess-be-damned Rhett and Scarlett staircase on New Year’s fucking-Goddess-be- damned EVE has got to stop.” Her sister released her, grabbed her coffee cup, and headed out of the kitchen with on final curse filled piece of advice, “I mean shit, Allie! Fucking take up skeet shooting or some shit. Damn.”
Disposing of Walter had taken longer than usual, by the time the task was accomplished and he’d showered and changed into a much more comfortable black tee-shirt, black leather jacket and jeans, it was full dark, but still he’d had to wait. The hours had seemed to creep by. Finally he was making his way through the alley under the cover of dark and shadows to the bottom of the trellis that would get him to the window he needed, but someone was already there, bundled up in a puffy coat that reached well below her knees. This woman, like her sister, hated the cold. He waited for the pain that he’d felt upon knowing he’d lost her, this unique woman, who he’d been fascinated with since he first saw her slam her fist into a smuggler’s face, it never came.
Fascination, he’d come to understand, was not love, “Good Evening, Mckenna. I’m surprised to see you out and about.”
A shrug, “Gavin sleeps like a log,” Those dark eyes turned on him, “Did they hurt her.”
“One man touched her, though I don’t believe he physically hurt her. He was unfortunately shot by his own people.”
A brief flash of rage, before relief settled on her features, “Thank-you, Andre.”
“How long have you known I was watching her?”
“I knew when I saw you with her that morning.”
“So from the beginning.”
“Yes.” She shrugged, “She needed looking after. Although you’re taking your life in your hands every time you pull this stunt. Gavin’s not a fan, you know.”
Oh yes, he was aware, but the man wanted the Angel safe, and as much as it charred his ass, McIntyre knew of Andre’s skills better than anyone, but that was not what he needed to discuss at the moment, “You didn’t know about the Senator.”
She fell back against the trellis, “No, I did not see that coming. Allie is very good at hiding parts of herself. I have a tendency to underestimate her. This though…”
“She’s no killer, Mackenna.”
“You think I don’t know that?” The girl jerked her hands through her stick straight auburn hair, grabbing it on either side like she was going to rip it out. Oh yes, this had upset her. “Dear Goddess, the convoluted twists and turns I’ve taken to keep this very thing from happening.”
That wasn’t the only thing she’d kept from happening, “You deliberately kept Aliana away from me.”
It was so very subtle, Mckenna’s tell. One had to be watching closely, but over the years he’d learned it. The nearly imperceptible change in breath, a slower blink. Yes, he’d been right, “Why?”
“It’s not like you’re around often. Usually you show up just in time to pull me out of the fire and then disappear again….” The words drifted off and then….there it was. Her eyes flared with understanding. The gig, as they say, was up, “HOLY SHIT! You can track us.”
“Ah well….” It was his turn to shrug.
“How? Gavin can’t even track us unless we activate the chip…” She drifted off again, Then those dark eyes went wide with shock, and he knew the final piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. This was confirmed when she started stomping in circles cursing to beat the band, “Shit, shit, SHIT!!!!! He damn well can, but you show up. HOLY SHIT! You’ve been working together all this time? Well, fuck me, I did not see that coming. SHIT!”
Laughter rolled out of him, “Ah Mckenna, I will remember this night fondly for a long time. The night you, my brilliant girl, realize that you’ve been had.”
“Oh, for Goddess sake, it’s not that big a deal.” She abandoned her stomping and waved him off, but then contradicted herself by muttering in a feral whisper, “I’m going to kill Gavin McIntyre.”
“I’m all for that, but if you could see clear to wait until after we catch Thresher.”
“Right, so how long?”
“May I propose an information exchange?”
“Sure.” She waved a hand, and fell against the trellis again,“What the hell, go for it.”
“Why did you keep me away from Aliana?”
“It was instinct.” She plucked a sprig of tiny berries from the vines growing behind her, “I think it had to do with that first night. She was very taken with you and…
“And I was fascinated with you.”
“Uh…yeah…and she was so young.”
“So were you.”
She shrugged again, twirling the berries, “Not the same….”
True. Mckenna had been way beyond her years even at eighteen. Doling out death had a way of aging a soul. For a second he saw as she had been that night. An eighteen year old woman/child. Brilliant, beautiful, lethal.
“And Allie..she…her mind is different.”
That statement snapped his full attention back to the present, “Different how?”
“McGoverns have strange memory quirks.” She glanced up from her study of the berries in her hand, “I fall back in time.”
“Yes, but that’s a rare disorder correct?”
“Uh…yeah…that’s what they said.” Her eyes back on the berries. The girl never did like to reveal too much, not that he blamed her. He understood every revelation was a truth that, in the wrong hands, could be used against you, “Christy and Lena both have photographic memories. That has to do with reading and cognition, but Allie…” Mckenna hesitated, looking up to the room at the top of the trellis, “Shit, she doesn’t like to bandy this about.”
And he didn’t give a fuck, he needed to know, “Mckenna,” He planted his hands on the woman’s shoulders, turning her to face him, “Tell me.”
Those dark eyes, frosted opaque in the moonlight, met his, “It’s very rare. She has something called Superior Autobiographical Memory. She remembers every day in her life. Can pull it up like a file folder.”
He dropped his hands and took a step back, “I had no idea there was such a thing.”
“When I say rare, I mean it, less than a dozen people have been diagnosed with it.”
“I see.” He put his mind to work on what this would mean, but the ramifications seemed endless.
“You made a heck of an impression on her that night. That fascination stayed, it’s more difficult for her to gain emotional distance….”
“So any experience whether good or bad…” He continued the thought.
“It stays with her.” Mckenna picked it back up, “Time does eventually give her some emotional distance, but if she had kept seeing you over and over again…..” She shrugged again. Silence settled on them, Mckenna’s eyes drifting to the moon as they always did when she was troubled. Andre doubted she was even aware of it.
His eyes drifted to the window at the top of the trellis. Bad memories, like what happened to her last night. The attack, the man touching her. His Angel would remember. It would haunt her. Blood rage threatened to consume him all over again, but he pushed it away. His mind working towards something that had been bothering him for a while, “Mckenna, where does her sensitivity to blood come from?”
She never took her eyes from the moon, “I’ve asked myself that over and over again. I just don’t know….”
“But you think it has to do with memory.”
The woman went eerily still, and though her eyes never strayed form the moon, he knew she was no longer seeing it. That strange stillness meant she was no longer with him. Mckenna visiting the past in all but her physical body. It went on for over a minute, she could have been etched in stone. Then she blinked, rubbing her hands up and down her arms she turned to him, “Yes, I think she’s repressed a memory. A very bad one.”
“Shit.” He was halfway up the trellis when Mckenna called out to him again, “So how long?”
He released one hand to hang sideways so he could see her face when he told her, “The night you knocked Mia on her ass, of course.”
Laughing at Mckenna’s shocked face, he made it to the top of the trellis with ease. There were only so many ways to break into a house. This house in particular was difficult. Fortunately he had inside help. Mckenna had been aiding him from the beginning. Anonymously, of course. Providing him with the deactivation code to their alarm system. With a few touches to his phone, he overrode the security system. An easy climb up a suspiciously strong trellis, a leap over the balcony and the picking of a lock. Then he was in the Angle’s little slice of heaven.
The first time he’d been in her room, he’d thought how very perfect for her it was. White and fluffy like a cloud. Entirely feminine. He crossed the room on silent feet and looked down. Golden hair lay strewn across a pale cheek. The sheet pulled down to her waist he saw tiny straps holding whisper thin silk in place. In silence, as he had many nights before, he crossed the room, sat in the chair at the foot of the bed, and proceeded to watch the Angel sleep.
This activity had become an addiction. She was an addiction. For a man who stayed alive only because of his ability to be one step ahead of his enemies, this addiction was a distraction that could easily get him killed. He could honestly say he didn’t much care if it did. No, it was the danger he posed to her that kept him awake at night. His enemies were always on the lookout for an Achilles heel.
Some had thought Mckenna to be one, but when they tried to act on it, the men they sent to take her died a most horrible death from the poison she’d pumped through the ventilation system of the very house she lived in. When he’d asked her how she managed to do that without dying herself, she’d shrugged and said she’d been immune to that toxin since she was fifteen. His enemies decided the crazy woman was more dangerous than he was. It was possibly, he would concede, a tie.
But the Angel….no. She was vulnerable. He would see her safe and happy, and for that to happen his plan had been to maintain his distance. Andre was self-aware enough to admit that plan had been an epic fail. He would have to come up with another way, because staying away from the woman who’d beguiled him with little more than a smile was no longer possible.