Return to poughkeepsie, p.24
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.24

           Debra Anastasia

  He couldn’t remember if it had been a Baker’s Realty property or not, but when he drew close enough, he could see two cars. A few drops of blood were revealed in the dry grass next to them, thanks to the full moon, and Blake’s adrenaline soared. He stilled when he heard the squeak of shoes on the porch. He slipped into the trees soundlessly and heard the flick of a lighter, smelled smoke, as the men lit cigarettes.

  “Some crazy shit’s going down. Bitch has lost her mind. You ever think of leaving?”

  “Tell you what, this thing is getting too damn big for her. She has these giant fucking plans, but it’s the details that bite her in the ass. Can’t believe nobody’s capped her yet.”

  There was manly guffaw. “I hear that. She’s made of some slimy shit…That South American dude—the one she hates—offered me a spot. You get that call?”

  They continued to talk, but Blake tuned out. Inside the house, almost every damn light was on. As he made his way around toward the water, he saw two men in the den playing pool. He scanned the windows farther down the side of the house and saw movement. He watched for a moment and sure enough, a man looked out. Just past him, Blake could see Livia.

  The rush of relief almost took him to his knees, but a swirl of rage—seeing her imprisoned by people who’d taken her—soon followed. He had to focus. He had to decide what to do. Call John? Call Beckett?

  The porch smokers came around the side of the house. “No shit? What are they saying?”

  “Apparently two of the houses have blown their covers. Un-fucking-believable.”

  “Do they want us to move her? Shit, this place has a hot tub. I don’t want to leave yet. Did you see that flat screen? It’s bigger than my actual apartment.”

  Blake watched as the kidnapper with Livia looked at his phone, then grabbed her by the face. Things inside were escalating.

  “I don’t know. Wait—no, somebody just texted to sit tight. The bitch is fixing it somehow? Fuck this shit. Maybe we should call Harmon and tell him who we got. Maybe we can get a signing bonus.”

  Blake watched as the man in the room with Livia came close to her again. He clenched his fist, then touched her face. She tried to bite him. God, I love you.

  The two smokers walked back into the house, still plotting to rat out the woman they worked for. Blake pulled out his utility knife and trotted over to the first vehicle. He slid underneath and sliced through the fuel line. He piled up dry leaves under the car to catch the dripping gasoline. Their slow, smoky burn would give him a few seconds’ head start once he lit the nature and ran.

  After the vehicle was destined to be a fiery distraction, Blake sprinted. He was almost to Livia’s window when the car exploded and he could just see her as the sound ripped through the trees. She looked so scared, and he hoped she would be okay enough to do what he was about to ask. The kidnapper with her ran from the room and headed toward the sound. Blake tried the window, which was locked, of course, so he rapped on the pane with his wedding band. She found his eyes and her mouth dropped open.

  After a frozen moment she seemed to remember how to move. She ran to the nightstand and grabbed what looked like an antique fire hose nozzle—some sort of decoration. When the man who’d been guarding her came back down the hall, Livia cold-clocked him. She dropped the nozzle as soon as he hit the floor and wrestled open the window. In a moment, she was through it and into Blake’s arms. He pulled her to him and whispered, “Shhhh…” into her hair as he cut the rope off her wrists.

  She was his now. Time to get into the woods. He listened, tuning in to hear footsteps over the roiling flames in the driveway. He pulled Livia across the porch and jumped off the edge, showing her what to do. She looked over her shoulder for a moment as Blake’s heart dropped. If they got caught now…She threw herself off the porch, and he stepped under her just in time to absorb the impact.

  “Run.” He pointed to the nearest patch of woods, and Livia listened. They were a bit slower than he wanted them to be as she crashed into the woods with no grace at all. He had just taken her hand when the gunshot rang out, just a bit louder than the flames.

  Livia turned and gasped.

  “I’m fine. Run.” Blake worked hard to listen to the footfalls behind him as he moved. He overtook Livia and grabbed her hand, pulling her through the woods. With the bright moonlight, they needed cover and quickly. He tried to settle his pulse and picture the forest around him like a map. There was an old barn to his left a few hundred feet away, and beyond that a car that was almost completely obscured with overgrowth. In the days before Livia he’d slept in that car plenty of times—whenever he was out this far past the railroad after dark. He kicked at a large rock, and instead of going down the incline after it, he pulled Livia to the left. The rock rolled down the hill for longer than Blake could listen, which was fantastic.

  He stopped for a second and had Livia jump on his back. Picking the quietest path, he went past the barn and around the back of what looked like an overgrown bush. He lifted the tailgate just enough and let Livia slide off his back and into the old Volkswagen Rabbit. He waited, listening as Livia pulled on his shirt. He held up a finger. The footsteps following them had taken the bait and gone after the rolling rock. He looked back at the path they’d traveled and saw no broken branches, no telltale marks for a tracker to follow.

  He would give the men about twenty minutes before he made a move. If needed, he could take Livia deeper into the woods. He ducked under the tailgate and assessed the inside as he closed it quietly behind him. It was holding up well. Livia was on him in a heartbeat, kissing him and stroking his hair. He finally felt the shudders through his body as his adrenaline left in a rush of gratefulness. Her. Sitting with his back against the rusted-out metal, he pulled her between his legs. He tilted her face so she could see his mouth in the moonlight seeping through what was left of the windows.

  He mouthed, “You okay?”

  She nodded, eyes wide and rimmed in tears. “The kids?” she mouthed back.

  “They’re fine. Kyle is fine.” Blake pulled out his phone, and Livia covered the light from the screen with her hands.

  He texted their location to his father-in-law with the joyous news that Livia was safe. He sent the same message to Cole and Beckett, trusting that they’d relay it to everyone else, before closing the phone and powering it down. Livia gave him a questioning look. “In case they can track it,” he breathed. He was being overly cautious, but damned if he wasn’t getting her home to her kids.

  She touched his face and smiled. She didn’t need to say it. It was all over her face: She loved him. He was her hero. She kissed him again and again. He ran his hands all over her body, feeling for injuries but finding only her softness.

  She cuddled into him and took a deep breath. Blake wrapped his arms around her and felt primal. Here in the woods he could protect her forever. If they just got the kids and lived in the woods…

  His wife. He had her.

  Livia breathed in the smell of the woods on him, his strong arms wrapped around her. She’d never felt so saved, so protected.

  She’d been terrified when they took her, but she should’ve known Blake would rap on the window of some fancy house in the middle of nowhere like it was nothing. He would make them disappear in the forest effortlessly.

  She had a lot to tell him: that she was okay, that she hadn’t been hurt, that he had rescued her so many times. But now, here…the silence was enough. His heart thumped her favorite steady rhythm. She looked up at him as the moonlight trickled in, leaving some of his handsome, intense face in shadow. His green eyes gazed back, calm and assured. He was so sure they were safe.

  She touched his lips, and then his neck and chest. Mouthing it, because they were still in hiding, she told him what had to be said, “Thank you.”

  “Always.” Blake kissed her forehead.

  She cuddled back into him and listened to their breathing. Eventually it was in sync. In the distance came sirens. Blake rubbed her arms.
Soon enough there were the sounds of dogs, and flashlight beams competing with the moonlight. Blake opened the hatchback carefully.

  Her father pulled her out of the car and hugged her tight.

  “Thank God.” His voice broke, and she could feel him shivering. She patted his back. “You hurt? Do you need a doctor? What did they do to you?” His eyes were frantic, but Livia shook her head.

  “I’m fine. Really. It was just scary. I want to go home.” She hugged her father again while the other officers tried to look busy.

  “That’s what you’ll get then.” Her father grabbed her hand and Blake grabbed the other. She didn’t even laugh at her two guys. When they reached the road, her father ordered an officer to drive them home.

  “Thanks, Dad.” She gave him a huge hug.

  He slapped Blake on the shoulder. “I always knew I liked you.”

  Blake laughed before patting him on the back.

  Blake held the door open and slid in next to her, holding her hand and kissing her knuckles as the car started. She sat with her back straight, eyes combing the passing landscape, the whole way home, and she barely let the car stop in front of their house before she was out. Cole flung open the front door as Livia ran up, Blake coming behind her.

  She hugged her brother-in-law and took the stairs two at a time. She hit the door to her bedroom and busted out crying when she saw her sister sitting in the center of her bed, Emme curled up next to her and Kellan in her arms.

  Tears ran down Kyle’s face too. “You bitch. How dare you lock me in a closet?”

  Emme woke, startled by the talking and crying. She started to cry, which woke up Kellan. Livia climbed into her bed, holding her daughter to her and hugging her sister and her baby with the other arm.

  Blake and Cole appeared in the doorway, laughing and wiping their own escaping tears.


  Guy Fieri

  BECKETT ROLLED UP TO THE ADDRESS—a giant house in Eastport on Long Island—in a tuxedo and a fedora. Dark sunglasses gave him a bit of privacy. He was sure he looked crazy and eccentric in the fucking ridiculous dead-skunk—make that a dead blond skunk—wig Milton had insisted on. But considering who was likely at this party, he’d fit right in. He’d stationed three douchebags on the perimeter. As they knew, his style was grandiose and messy most of the damn time. He might need backup.

  He passed the guards his invitation and waited, music blasting from the sweet Nissan GT-R that had also come from Milton with the invite. He did appreciate the man’s attention to detail. OnCue spilled forth with another verse, and Beckett smiled.

  “Sir, we need to search you and the car.”

  “Sure you do.” He held his hand out through the open window and passed the guard a wad of bills.

  “You know what? We’re good. Go ahead. You can just park yourself.” The guard patted the hood of the car.

  Beckett nodded and drove off, selecting a rock-star spot in the circle driveway. He checked his wig, straightened his glasses, and pimp-walked in the front door. It seemed security had left their posts. There were people everywhere and music poured from the sound system. Typical of these fucking shows, everyone pretended to be safe when they were all packing heat. Jeez. Had security ever been at their posts? And this was a bizarre group—pretty much all dudes. Some looked like they’d come straight from Wall Street, while others channeled Tony Soprano, and still others looked like they’d crawled out from under a rock. This bitch was asking for trouble. He grabbed a glass from a passing waiter.

  He stepped to the side of the huge, over-decorated room and rested his back against the wall, leaving his glasses on. The air was electric, and he knew one spark would set the whole thing off. He felt her looking at him before he saw her. Like a whip straight to his balls, he just fucking knew. And then she was there, across the room. She was furious. And she was stunning. She blinked quickly and looked to the left of him, hiding the feelings—like she would. The lump in his chest felt like a heart attack. He put his glass down on a table as she turned and opened the door to the balcony. She stepped outside, and he knew he had to get there—she could disappear like a fucking ghost. Beckett skirted the room and left through the same glass door she had. It was freezing, the wind off the Sound stealing all the warmth from his body. She didn’t turn when he approached.

  “We’re being watched.” Her voice offered nothing welcoming, and not a hint of surprise. She continued to look at the water below. She was so close he could touch her, see the goose bumps on her arms from the chill.

  “Figured.” He stepped up next to her and peeked at her face. She was so beautiful he closed his eyes and exhaled audibly. The familiar curve of her neck and slope of her shoulder stole his common sense, his swagger.

  Eve turned slowly to face him. She’d changed her hair color, but it just made her blue eyes more vibrant. She took his sunglasses carefully from his face, not touching his skin at all.

  He gulped. Her stern gaze revealed nothing. “Where’s your boyfriend?” He lifted his eyebrow, hating himself for asking her that first. Of all the damn things…

  Eve slapped him. Beckett turned his face and felt the burn on his skin.

  “Fuck you,” she growled.

  Beckett bit his lip and resisted the urge to rub his face.

  She handed him his sunglasses back. “Livia’s been taken,” she reported. “But then I guess that’s why you’re here.”

  “She’s been found. I got a text just a few minutes ago—Blake brought her home.” Beckett stepped closer, invading her personal space.

  She leaned close to his ear and whispered. “And you came anyway? Did this just sound like a good time to fucking resurrect yourself? Crappy wig and all?”

  Beckett smiled, trying to get past her venom. “Livia’s back, but that bitch is still loose. She seemed worth a talking to, and…” He stepped impossibly closer.

  “And nothing,” she said. “I have work to do.” She stepped away from his arms and went to leave.

  “Hold on.” He grabbed her wrist.

  She faced him again, chin up and proud.

  “I’m happy to see you.” He had to force the words out. She was so angry, and he felt utterly exposed.

  “Are you?” She bit her lip.

  “Of course I am.” Beckett traced the inside of her forearm gently.

  Eve shook her head. “Don’t. You. Dare.” She twisted and yanked her wrist free.

  She was still strong as fuck.

  “Tell me why you’re here.” He watched as she seemed to teeter between leaving and staying.

  “Because my family—your family—needed me.” Her gaze ripped through him.

  “I was trying to be a better man.” He held her stare, trying to convey his intentions.

  “I don’t have time for this. People are depending on me.” Eve seemed primed to run. “Are you back or what?”

  “I don’t know what I am.” He put his hands in his pockets, not trusting them around her.

  “I think that’s been your problem for a while.” She turned and opened the balcony door, leaving him to the view of the water.

  God, he wanted her.

  Eve almost tripped coming back inside. The fucking ball gown was pissing her off. She checked Ryan, who was still slumped in his chair. Her heart hurt for him. And then there was Beckett standing outside on the balcony. Beckett. Right behind her—after all these damn years. Her heart hurt because of him.

  She approached Mary Ellen, who was remarkably still alive and talking to Primo, and tried to focus. Beckett had rocked Eve off her foundation. She could still taste the anticipation his body brought to hers. It was chemical. She needed a few minutes to collect herself, but that was time she didn’t have. Ryan had to get out of here.

  “You should know better than to doubt me by now,” Mary Ellen told her brother as Eve joined them. “I’ve been following Daddy’s example all these years. Unlike copper over there,” she added, shifting her eyes over to Eve. “He was too busy to foll
ow my instructions.” She looked like the cat that ate the canary.

  Eve watched as Ryan came to a little. He coughed and hung his head again.

  “I’ve got just a few more insights to share with the crowd,” Mary Ellen said, batting her eyes at each of them. “Would you excuse me for a moment?” She signaled the closest guard and headed back over to the podium in front of her video screens, which had all gone black.

  “Okay, everyone.” Mary Ellen tapped the microphone. “Time to have a feel-better moment. I need you to understand, I’m here to help. I’m not heartless—at all.”

  She snapped her fingers and grinned for a few seconds while nothing happened. Preparation for the moment took an extra-long time that reduced the “magic” quality she was clearly hoping for. By the time the last remaining kidnapped girl was revealed on the screen again, Mary Ellen’s smile must have been drying out her porcelain veneers. Her lips stuck around her next words:

  “Pam Bookbinder may be released!”

  A collective question rose up from the crowd, but sure enough, on the screen the guards freed the woman. She staggered to her feet.

  “Sam Bookbinder? Your niece will be available for pickup at the flower shop in Oyster Bay in ten minutes. You may leave to collect her in just a moment. There’s just one other thing I’d like you to see…”

  Mary Ellen remained at the podium, but the crowd had begun to rustle, clearly wondering what the hell was next. She tapped the microphone and kept tapping it long after everyone in the room had quieted down. Eve had to hold in her exasperated sigh.

  “Thank you. Finally. I assure you, becoming quiet when I ask is the best choice.” Mary Ellen added a fake Marilyn Monroe-style giggle. “I think we all know at this point that I’m ready to take charge. And I’d like to add that there’s no one out of my reach. How about a police captain’s daughter? Much too risky, right? Not for me. You’ll recall my interest in Poughkeepsie from the beginning. You’ve been less than forthcoming about the whereabouts of Beckett Taylor, so I just had to test the waters myself. This lovely girl is not only a captain’s daughter, but someone close to Mr. Taylor…”

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