Return to poughkeepsie, p.22
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.22

           Debra Anastasia
 

  She’d heard the alarm and dragged Kyle into the bedroom. They’d blocked the door as best they could and gone into the bathroom. Livia had pushed her sister into the linen closet and closed it. She’d whispered she was going to hide in the cabinet, but after a peek, she knew she wouldn’t fit. She’d spied Kyle’s flat iron and stuck it through the handles on the linen closet to keep her sister inside, keep her safe. Livia had exited the bathroom and shut the door, barely hearing her sister’s complaints over the alarm’s piercing din.

  When she’d looked up, the sight of the men made her mouth go dry. They’d grabbed her roughly and lifted her over the now-broken dresser. Everything had happened so fast. She’d clawed at them and managed to disarm the one holding her waist. While he wrestled it back from her, the gun had discharged. She’d waited to feel the searing pain, but when the man carrying her yelled, she realized he’d been struck instead. She was passed to one of the other men and restrained by a third until she quit struggling.

  There’d been so many men in Kyle’s house, and they seemed intent on taking her. She’d decided that if she let them, they might leave her sister here. So she cooperated. That might have been stupid. Maybe a whole different crew took Kyle. She might be in another place entirely.

  One of the men now growled in her direction, still nursing the gunshot wound on his leg. He’d been able to walk, so she assumed he’d just been grazed by the bullet.

  She took calculated deep breaths, trying to settle her pulse. She had to think clearly. How many times had her father told her, Never let them take you to a second location? But they had, and now she wasn’t sure what the hell to do.

  Her father would find her. He would not rest until she was found. She knew that as sure as she knew her name. Until then, her job would be to stay alive, to keep thinking. To not let her absolute ache to be with Blake and the kids take away her common sense, not let the choking fear steal her focus. Stay alive. No matter what it took. Her kids weren’t growing up without a mother like she had.

  No way in hell.

  In her room at Mary Ellen’s mansion, Eve slipped on her pale blue high heels as she watched the news. Livia was plastered all over it. The newscaster was damn near orgasming while she delivered the heartbreaking news.

  Shark knocked on her door before letting himself in. The room was wired and video-monitored, so they said nothing of the news story.

  “Got your accessories here. You and Micki and three others have the same necklace.” Shark opened a velvet box that held a gorgeous diamond string with a huge topaz teardrop at its center.

  She held still as Shark draped it on her, clasping the chain together. She nodded. Information received. She wouldn’t be alone. Micki had been chosen to attend this evening as well. Mary Ellen liked to be flanked by women. Eve swore the chick had been a big, hat-wearing pimp in a previous life.

  “I’m your security tonight, just so you know.” He stepped away from her and she took in his monochromatic ensemble. It consisted entirely of the color gray.

  Eve took one last look in the mirror. She was unarmed, so she couldn’t touch anything deadly on her body reassuringly. Instead she looked like a dark-haired version of Birthday Barbie. Mary Ellen had picked a pale blue ball gown for Eve. It would do for Cinderella in a pinch. Her hair had been swept into an elaborate updo and adorned with more diamonds. Eve picked up her clutch, and Shark held out his hand. He rooted through it before handing it back to her.

  “I’m to search you as well.” He lifted an eyebrow.

  Eve’s purse felt a tiny bit heavier. Either Shark had given her a weapon or planted a bomb. She couldn’t look now. His hands were extremely thorough as he searched, but she didn’t flinch when he slipped a finger inside her panties. With one quick thrust, he inserted an object into her vagina. He smiled when he returned to standing in front of her, his pants straining from his adventures under her full skirt.

  She had to smile and walk through the door as if she hadn’t just accepted something into her body. It was comfortable, so at least she could relax a bit. The asshole hadn’t slipped her an uncovered blade.

  He held out an arm, and she took it for their trip down the stairs. Halfway down she turned to him. “Usually a man has to buy me a drink first.”

  He smirked. “Usually a man who did that would come back with a stump.”

  Eve acknowledged the truth with a nod as they proceeded down the stairs. Mary Ellen was flanked by Micki and two other girls at the bottom, each dressed like a colorful cupcake. Eve left Shark and took her place. It was as if they were flock of geese with Mary Ellen at the point of the V.

  Unlike the other women, Mary Ellen had on a simple, white gown. But her accessories took the prize, easily tripling the copious jewels on the women behind her.

  “As always, be ladies. Be available. We’ll be looking to entice, to distract certain gentlemen.” Mary Ellen had the demeanor of a strict schoolteacher. “With the exception of January, who has a gentleman caller this evening, you are all to seek one of the powerful men you’ve been studying.”

  Eve wished she’d been in on those meetings. Had she been purposely excluded from the plans for this evening, or just not around? Her duties with Ryan did give her a much longer leash than the other girls had. Either way, no further instructions were given, and the drill from the first disastrous event began again. Each girl had a driver and her own car, but only Eve had security too. Shark was patted down before leaving, which also struck her as odd.

  When they settled themselves in the car, she met his eyes. He motioned for her purse. She looked inside first, spying a Beretta Nano before handing her bag to him. He discreetly palmed the weapon and it disappeared into his jacket. With the divider up, Shark and Eve were as alone as they were going to get. She raised an eyebrow, asking him every question she had without saying a word.

  “There are no ears in here, just cameras, so mind yourself.”

  Eve crossed her legs and looked at her crotch.

  “You’ve got a small blade in a waterproof container. Couldn’t let you get caught without something.” He stretched his arms above his head.

  She covered her mouth with her hand. “And you’re not allowed to carry because?”

  Shark smiled at her. “Apparently you’re dangerous. They were afraid you might get a hold of my gun.”

  “I will.” She looked at her pale pink nails. “You know anything about a lady getting bagged tonight?”

  Shark looked out the window, covering his mouth as well. “Heard some noise about luring Taylor back from his supposed death. That woman has a hard-on for him. Not sure why. You’ve gotten pretty fucking far without her knowing who you are, considering you murdered Taylor how long ago now?”

  Eve ignored his barb and shrugged. “She could know. Cagey bitch. Where’d they take the lady?”

  “Somewhere down by a river, so I heard. Planning some sick shit. Televised nonsense here tonight. I didn’t catch it all.” Shark scratched the back of his neck.

  Eve’s stomach dropped. If she was televising shit, what the hell was she going to do to Livia? Was Mary Ellen expecting Beckett?

  “Just make sure Micki gets out alive if any shit goes down. I have a few other things I have to do tonight.” Shark sat back against the seat, putting on the sham of a relaxed man.

  She took the warning for what it was worth: Things were going to get wild. Again. She wasn’t a huge fan of parties in general, but the ones that involved Mary Ellen sucked the hardest.

  “I’ll do what I can, but you have to give me more than ‘down by a river.’” Eve wished she had a phone to tell Ryan to stay home.

  The car pulled up at another gorgeous mansion. The façade resembled the White House. Shark held out an elbow for Eve as she exited. She followed the other girls behind Mary Ellen up the steps.

  Shark leaned closer. “You look too smart. Get vacant.”

  She shook her head and pinched him.

  As they promenaded up the marble ste
ps he added, “The place isn’t vacant like the others. Someone lives there, at least some of the time.”

  Someone inside announced Mary Ellen as if she were a visiting queen. Eve took in the scene as she descended the stairs into a huge room. The Long Island Sound furnished the backdrop.

  Primo stood reluctantly and joined his sister in the center of the dance floor. At least he had pants on this time. A strange jumble of emotions seemed to bubble just below Primo’s almost-handsome surface. Eve spotted Ryan across the room, and he nodded. He looked ridiculously good in a tuxedo, though his bowtie was undone. The orchestra began with a slow waltz, and Eve motioned for him to come closer.

  He traversed the dance floor until he was in front of her. “May I have this dance?” He looked suspiciously at Shark.

  Eve let go of Shark’s arm and took Ryan’s hand. “Please.”

  He led her to the corner of the floor and pulled her close. “This is one hell of a dress. Jesus.”

  “Right? It’s like a prop from Gone with the Wind.” She grabbed his bowtie. “And is this a stylistic choice?”

  “I’m lucky I know it belongs around my neck. You know how to do this up?” He winked at her.

  He smelled great. He looked devastatingly good. Eve wanted him out of this house with a visceral need. Damn it if she didn’t want to protect him.

  “No. I don’t. Leave it. It’s got flair.” She held on to him as he assumed a dance position.

  “I don’t have a freaking clue how to dance. So I’ll follow you.” Ryan looked lost.

  Eve touched his face, pulling him down for a kiss. She spoke while their lips touched. “I never learned. We’ll just stand here and wiggle.”

  He smiled into their kiss, eyes lighting up a bit. She got a lump in her throat. To be looked at the way he looked at her…“Trish is an asshole for dumping you.” Eve scanned the room.

  “She’s an asshole for a lot of reasons. One being ordering four hundred pizzas on my credit card. ‘Just leave them in front of the door, don’t knock.’” He shook his head, and Eve smiled. “I had to climb through the boxes to get out of my place today. I can’t even…”

  Eve snuggled into his chest and began to whisper the information she’d gathered from Shark. “I need you out of here and soon.” She looked into his eyes.

  “No way, baby. This place is filled with shitbags and fucksores. We can both go.” Ryan looked determined as they swayed.

  “I need a drink.” Eve pulled him toward a huge bar.

  “That’s my girl.” Ryan squeezed her hand.

  Eve fought the chill that went down her spine. She couldn’t stop thinking. Ryan was a good guy. A cop. A dream come true, if she was still a dreamer. But she needed not to be. Instead she scanned the room for anything that might offer insight into Livia’s predicament. And if she was being honest, for anything that even vaguely resembled Beckett.

  After a lengthy battle, and long after their usual bedtimes had passed, Blake finally had both kids asleep—in his bed. Kellan had been fussy, and he hadn’t consumed much of any of the bottle of formula Kathy had prepared. Emme had required her favorite lullaby six times before she closed her eyes.

  Now he paced in the bedroom. It just wasn’t fair. They’d been through enough. He’d truly believed the worst was far, far behind them. But that wasn’t how life worked. He should’ve known there was no quota of shit. He took more deep breaths. Every instinct he had as a man told him to be out looking for her, but he also needed to stay with his kids. Surely Beckett had been right. The kids needed him to stay safe so they would have a parent—always.

  He set up the baby monitor and aimed it at the bed. Leaving the door open a crack, he tiptoed down the hall to knock softly on Livia’s old bedroom door, now Kellan’s nursery and a guestroom. Cole opened the door almost instantly, a question in his eyes. Kyle lay on the pullout bed, eyes wide open.

  “Can I talk to you?” He stepped backward so Cole could exit the room.

  Blake handed him the baby monitor. “Listen, I know you won’t like this—”

  Cole shook his head. “Don’t. I know you’re going after her. Kyle and I will watch the kids.”

  “No matter what?” Blake waited.

  “I’ll get you my gun.” Cole turned to go back into the room.

  Blake touched his arm. “No, I’m good. I’m just going to find her and bring her back.”

  Cole closed the door, and he went downstairs. Sitting on the mantel was Livia’s paper rose bouquet from their wedding. He touched it briefly. She would come for him if the situation were reversed. She had come when he was in the woods, and she’d stood between him and a man set on violence. Blake slipped on his jacket and some gloves, tucking his messy hair into a knit cap. He had no good plan as he exited his house, and the cop on duty came over to greet him.

  “You guys need something? I can have it brought for you.” He looked at Blake briefly before scanning the area again.

  “Thanks. No, I’m going for a walk.” Blake moved past him.

  “Blake? Really? Did you talk to John about this?” The cop matched his stride.

  “No. Turns out I’m a grown man. But thanks for watching my house and keeping those kids safe. My wife…I can’t sit here. She needs to know I’m looking for her, even if I’m not the one to find her.” Blake turned to face the cop. He was a young one. Probably didn’t have kids yet. “You can tell John I was belligerent if you want. Don’t get in trouble on account of me.”

  “Okay…I think this is a bad idea. You at least got a phone on you?” The cop stopped following him.

  He nodded. “Thanks again.” Blake stepped it up to a jog, the night air filling his ears with its quiet. He would go back to the blood spots in the woods and track the car if he could—though it was probably pointless. But he wouldn’t think about anything other than bringing her home. Not that she was taken by multiple men. Men who still had her, who could do anything they wanted to his wife.

  He wiped the angry tears from his eyes, letting his inner tramp take over. This was no time to let his mind feel fragile. He was going to find Livia. He began to compose a song to her, and it was joyful and triumphant. He would play it for her when he brought her home.

  25

  Pretty Little Thing

  BECKETT BUSTED INTO THE ABANDONED HOUSE with enough gun power to level a small village. Every single teenager in the place probably wet their pants. After kicking in all the doors to make sure they weren’t a front, with Livia hidden somewhere, Beckett cursed his way back out.

  He dialed his phone and was soon talking to a douchebag. “You got Joey?”

  “He and his Cadillac are here right now. Where you want him?” Beckett could hear Joey whining in the background.

  “Put him on the fucking phone.” Beckett put his car in gear and drove toward the strip mall parking lot.

  “I’m not talking. Tell that cocksucker to eat shit.” Joey sounded full of himself.

  “He doesn’t want to talk, boss.” The douchebag sounded perplexed.

  “No kidding. Put me on speakerphone.” Beckett needed to avoid the time it would take to torture answers out of Joey. “Hey, sweetheart. You hear me?”

  “No. Fuck you.” Joey was all riled up. Which wasn’t good. He was a slippery bastard with little loyalty. Whoever had him by the shorthairs had a good grip.

  “You’ve been with me in the past when I needed answers from people. You remember how that turns out, babycakes?” Beckett listened to the silence for a second. “Now you’re thinking. Don’t do that. It gets you in trouble.”

  “I can’t.” Joey sounded less sure of his anger.

  “Asshole, I’ll turn your taint into a hand puppet. You know I will. You can bet your virginity on it.” He listened again, only a few miles from the parking lot now.

  “Fuck you,” Joey said, with little conviction. “You don’t know her. How this chick works. It’s personal. She’s got a guy on my mom. My mom.”

  Beckett pulled into t
he parking lot and almost ran over Joey’s toes. He opened the door hard and slammed it into Joey’s kneecaps. He grabbed him by the hair and forced the man to look at him. “Your mom?”

  Joey tried to nod, but winced and seemed to think better of it when his head didn’t move. “Yeah.”

  “Isn’t she in the nursing home?” Beckett slapped Joey’s face.

  “Fuck you. Yeah, she’s there. Doesn’t even know who she is anymore. The fucker sent me this.”

  Joey struggled to pull out his phone, and Beckett released him so he could scroll through the pictures. He found a video and hit play. Beckett took the phone from his hand.

  A frail old woman sat in a dimly lit room when a man’s voice startled her. “Annie! You’re on fire! You’re on fire!”

  The confusion in the woman’s face was heartbreaking. Beckett could almost see when the word fire surfaced from within the fog she lived in. All of the sudden she was petrified. The man kept telling her she was on fire until she started crying and swatting at her nightgown.

  “Jump out the window! Jump. You’ve got to jump, Annie. You’re on fire!” The man unlocked the window’s safety latch. There was a brief shot of the ground, stories below. Then he swung back to the woman, who was pulling herself to her feet.

  She staggered and fell, all while the man kept encouraging her to jump. She stood again, her face that of a wild animal scared out of its mind. Just before she could pull herself onto the sill, the man closed the window and relocked it. The video cut out.

  “It’s from a disposable cell. Mom’s okay, other than her knees are all banged up. She couldn’t tell me anything about the guy. She couldn’t remember any of it—not surprising since she can’t remember my name.” Joey took the phone back and touched the screen before slipping it into his pocket.

  “That’s some freaky shit.” Beckett waited for more information. Joey’s body language had completely transformed. It now seemed like talking was about to happen.

 

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