Poughkeepsie, p.30
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       Poughkeepsie, p.30

           Debra Anastasia

  She put it to her lips and tried to imagine what finding it here meant. Had he left it in anger? Had he been kidnapped like Cole and left it as some sort of sign she was supposed to understand?

  She turned to trudge back up the steps. She might as well wait for Mouse and tell him what she’d found. Her cell phone made an ominous beep. Low battery. Damn it!

  Livia looked to the sky in anguish and saw a glow in the distance, just past Firefly Park. She began to run. When she reached the car she turned off the cruiser’s emergency lights. There was definitely a hazy orange hovering in the trees. In the woods. It hit her like a punch in the teeth. Our spot in the woods. His clearing is on fire.

  Livia jumped back in the police car. She punched the buttons of her phone, only to hear the jingle of it shutting down. She picked up the police radio instead.

  “Hello? This is Livia McHugh. I need police assistance at Firefly Park!” She listened as the dispatchers’ voices overlapped each other. They seemed to completely disregard her in their buzz over the recent explosions.

  Livia looked around, surveying her options, and felt like throwing up when she saw Chris’s Beast parked in the lot with stupid Dave’s crappy little black car next to it.

  Livia drove the cruiser right up on the grass and tried one last time to make contact with the rest of the world. “Send cops to Firefly Park,” she ordered. “There’s been another explosion.” Maybe…but I definitely need help out here!

  The idea of walking into the dark woods was not appealing. She looked in the car to see if her dad had anything worth bringing along. Peeking out from under the driver’s seat was Kyle’s favorite weapon. A Mag light! She dragged it out and hefted its comforting weight in her hands. A Chris-basher.

  She felt a trickle of courage like an IV straight from Kyle. Livia ran for the woods, ducked under the fence, and turned the flashlight on the underbrush. She moved quickly, trying not to speculate about what she might find at the clearing.

  Deeper into the woods, the inky black threatened to engulf her tiny beam of light. But everything was so clear in its path. Within that beam, she and Blake had danced in the club, twirling in the corner. She had felt his white shirt under her fingers. She had kissed the hollow of his neck. He had touched her so gently, and when his eyes sparked with a naughty idea, he’d tightened his hold on her. Blake.

  She heard the crackling of the fire, and its ominous glow appeared over the next slope to compete with her beam. She set herself on a direct course. What the hell could Chris be up to? All I have is this flashlight. And me.

  She heard the shouts before she saw the men. She heard the punches before she saw the fists. Livia entered the clearing to find Chris and Dave taking turns punching Blake while two others held his arms. Blake spotted her and returned her gaze with indifferent eyes. Another punch from Chris broke their stare.

  At that moment, Livia discovered a volcano inside of her. Her mind exploded, and she flung her body between Blake and his attackers.

  “You will stop. Now.” If she could have killed with words, four bodies would be lying in the clearing.

  She felt Blake behind her, just where he’d been the first day they’d spoken. She wanted to tear out her heart and hand it to him, so he’d know she hadn’t meant to hurt him. But first she had to get them out of danger.


  Prayer of a Devil

  THE ROADSIDE PLOTTING CONTINUED, but Beckett and Eve had taken seats inside the Hummer for both comfort and cover. Beckett’s phone beeped and Eve read the message from Mouse, holding the phone so Beckett could see it too:

  Livia and Kyle r @ hospital. Both r fine. Heading 2 train station

  2 look 4 Blake.

  Beckett nodded. “Tell him to watch his ass.”

  Eve closed the phone almost the same instant he was done talking.

  “Damn, girl, you type so shitastically fast. You should be a fucking secretary or something.” Beckett still talked too loud, like he was at a rock concert only he could hear.

  The phone beeped again as Eve rolled her eyes. “Mouse is pretty fast too,” she commented, flipping open the phone again. But instead of a text from Mouse, she found another horrific picture of Cole. Still bound, he now lay in a heap with Merkin, who was lumped next to him. Beckett pounded the steering wheel, and the night filled with sporadic honks. Eve read the message accompanying the picture.

  “They want you to come to the warehouse,” she told Beckett, but turned to find he was gone.

  Beckett was out of the Hummer and cursing at the top of his lungs. “Motherfucking, ass-crunching, donkey-slutting cocksucker!” He prowled around and seethed.

  Eve crawled onto the hood of the Hummer and timed a jump onto his back. Beckett kept going like he didn’t notice.

  “Ball-sniffing, pussy snot-fuckers. Mother of fuck!” He ran his hands through his hair, almost poking Eve in the eye.

  As if the horror hit him from above and pressed down, he collapsed on his knees and beat the ground. Eve slid off his back and crouched in front of him.

  Beckett registered her presence by venting. “Safe! All I wanted to do was keep them safe. How do you protect your brothers at eight-fucking-teen? How do you make enough money, get enough respect to do that? I wasn’t smart, Eve. I’m a big, dumb fucking bastard. I couldn’t even get a job as a bagger at the A&P. I wanted to make their lives worth living. That’s what they’d done for me—made my life worth living. They’re my family. I can’t…I just can’t.” Beckett pounded his chest.

  Eve didn’t touch him. She didn’t reassure him. Now was not the moment.

  “They would’ve been better off without me,” he continued. “Blake would still be homeless, but Cole made his own damn way. But I wanted in. I wanted to belong. I was too fucking selfish to walk away. I should have walked away. But I didn’t and now—” Beckett choked on a deep, angry sob. “Now, they’re paying for it. All my stupid decisions. They’ll die tonight. They’ll both die, and I can’t stop it. I can’t plug it with money. I can’t bring them back from the dead, even if I act tough or kill more people.”

  Beckett looked at Eve, his eyes brimming with hopelessness and panic. She grabbed a handful of his balls through his cammo pants. She squeezed until his eyebrows lifted.

  “Are you done twisting your nipples and crying like a pigtail-wearing girl?” she asked in her loudest voice. “I can’t work with this shit. You’re no good to me right now. You need to stand up, tuck your junk back into your pants, and be a hardcore killer right now. The sobbing, self-hating bullshit will not get those boys out alive. We’re wasting time, and frankly we don’t have it to waste. Are you on board? ’Cause otherwise I’m leaving now to go get your brothers.” Eve’s eyes flared, and her gaze was constant.

  Beckett ran a hand over his face and managed a smile. “All right. Fucking all right. Let’s make a plan. You can keep your hands on my nugget sack, though. I find it comforting.”

  Eve leaned forward and gave his lips a quick kiss. She stopped being his nut warmer and returned to the phone. Together they looked at the poorly lit picture. There was at least one leg in the frame that didn’t belong to Cole or fucking Merkin. Add that to the dude taking the picture, and you had at least three assholes against them.

  Beckett reached for the phone. “You know that tampon-chomper is tracking this.”

  Before he could crush the device, Eve shook her head. “No, the minute you smash this, Merkin will know we’re on to him. I killed mine because he just thinks I’m hiding from you. I’ll get there and scope it out before you come on to their radar.”

  They discussed the layout of the warehouse and snooped through the weapons they had with them—not enough to take out an army, but enough to singe the ball hairs off a nice group of people. They hashed out a plan that was a little unlikely, very determined, and mostly crazy and headed for the warehouse.

  “Save Cole,” Beckett told her as he straddled the motorcycle. “I don’t intend to put my life at a premium,
so no matter what happens, just get him out.”

  Eve got in the Hummer and raised a quick hand as they separated to take different paths to the same destination. She tried to ignore the dread in the pit of her stomach. She set her mind on the positive. She wanted Cole and Beckett breathing when this confrontation was over. She gently tweaked the plan she and Beckett had developed as she drove. She knew in her heart he’d roll with the punches when she changed shit up.

  She parked the Hummer a good distance from the destination. She grabbed her guns, checked her knives, and tucked an envelope of cash into her jacket. Eve had no idea what type of weapons she might need tonight, but she wasn’t opposed to monetary ones. Eve walked half a mile or so, then climbed a tree for a view of the meeting spot. The trap did not actually seem to be in the warehouse. The activity currently centered on a long expanse of asphalt between the warehouse and various outbuildings. Whoever they were, the men were well-placed and well-prepared. The closest assassin to Eve’s tree was outfitted with a Kevlar vest and bulletproof helmet.

  These guys were the real deal. And Beckett’s plan was to walk unarmed into the middle of it all and talk. Then Eve was to provide cover for him while he made a play for Cole. Beckett wanted only to get his brother on the motorcycle and out of Dodge. He’d refused to discuss his own options, and Eve didn’t see a whole lot of opportunity for Beckett to get out alive—no matter how well she picked off the enemy. Beckett was ready to martyr himself for brotherhood and past mistakes.

  Eve waited until the sentry walked under her branch. She pulled a knife from her hair and dropped from the tree. She let her knees bend to quiet the impact, but he still turned toward the sound. Eve stayed in her squat for another split second, then lunged up and stabbed the man through the bottom of his jaw, nailing his tongue to the roof of his mouth. No scream. She cracked his thick forearm on her thigh, using his own strength against him. His gun fell from his hand.

  She pulled her knife out of his jaw and inserted it in his temple, just inside his protective helmet. He went down instantly. Death was quick. Eve stepped back swiftly to avoid his limp body. She retrieved her knife, and a quick inspection of his body yielded a two-way transmission earpiece tuned to the enemy’s channel. Her frisk also turned up two handguns, which she tucked into the back of her pants.

  Her earpiece clicked to life. “All men in position. Target approaching. Alpha One ready up top?”

  She scanned the roof to find Alpha One lying on his belly behind a bi-pod, which steadied his weapon.

  Shit. Eve set a ridiculously brisk pace and slunk her way to the building in question. She kicked off her boots so they wouldn’t make noise and made the leap onto the roof-access ladder. She felt it creak under her weight. That’s not good.

  Eve climbed a few more rungs, and her earpiece chirped again. “Target arriving on motorcycle. Any moment now—look alive.”

  Eve looked up to gauge how far she had to go—about fifteen steps. She felt her knife slip out of her hair as she tilted her head, and a quick second later she heard the metallic clatter as it struck the ground. Damn it. Eve knew she had next to no time. She ripped her top roughly off her body. With her breasts exposed, she pulled herself up the remainder of the ladder in a hurry.

  The dude had to get up off his stomach to come see what’s up. I just need to get my hands free.

  Alpha One came to the top of the ladder just as Eve made the last step. He wore a Kevlar vest, but no helmet. Eve knew then how he would die. She smiled her biggest come-hither grin as she climbed over the edge of the rooftop, and Alpha One’s mouth fell open. Her glorious rack had struck him numb from the penis up. She rolled her shoulders to make her boobs bounce, mesmerizing him like a cobra.

  He missed the motion of her hand as it found the knife latched to her belt. She whipped it at him and ducked to avoid a counterstrike. It hit him in the voice box. Eve ran behind him and grabbed his jaw and the top of his head. He seemed to know the maneuver and tried to swat at her, but he could only use one hand. His other was useless, hovering over the small knife protruding from his throat. Eve gave his neck just enough torque to snap it from his spine. He fell in a lump at her feet.

  Her earpiece was alive in her ear. “Alpha One, signal if you’re ready. Alpha One?”

  Eve took a diving belly flop in the direction of the fallen bi-pod and gun. She felt little bits of gravel from the flat rooftop embed themselves in her chest. She took a wild guess and held up one fist, ducking her blond head under the lip of the building.

  “Alpha One is in ready position.”

  Eve propped up the firearm and used the gun’s scope to get the lay of the land. Cole and Merkin stood side by side between the warehouse and another building, their hands bound with rope and still gagged. Merkin seemed to be sending frantic messages with his eyes to the men around him, who included a dude in a business suit and two more attackers. Eve swung the scope to find Beckett tearing in on her bike.

  Be safe, Beckett. And forgive me.

  Beckett roared the motorcycle up to the meeting point. He’d be damned if his choices were going to make Cole road kill. Beckett cut the motor and stepped off the bike with a huge smile on his face. These bastards would never know he was a wreck inside.

  He looked at the hostage and the fake fucking hostage, and it took a big-ass load of restraint to resist popping Merkin’s eyes right out of their sockets.

  “You guys all right?” Beckett refused to acknowledge the armed men or the shitbag in the monkey suit.

  Merkin nodded. Cole just stared at Beckett, but there was no hate in his eyes. With that tiny kindness, Beckett cursed his own evil being.

  “So which of you cum cowboys called this little meeting? Whose dick is so infinitesimally small that he had to gather a huge posse to put one bullet in my brain?” Beckett rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.

  He’d thrown down the gauntlet, and due to his wording no one really wanted to pick it up.

  Finally, Craig cleared his throat and spoke. “I brought you here, Mr. Taylor. We have business dealings.”

  Beckett landed his jovial smile on the speaker. “And you are?”

  “Craig Ledert. I own the property around your building. You’ve been thwarting my efforts to develop my real estate.” Craig straightened his back like there was a rod in his ass.

  “Back the truck the fuck up,” Beckett said, shaking his head. “You’re, like, a real estate agent? You wimpy-ass ball nibbler. Seriously? You kidnap people? Did you ever think of taking out an ad? This is the crappiest way to build a business I’ve ever seen. Then again, if you’re ignorant enough to pay money for a roach-infested nightmare in my part of town, you might also think you stand a chance in hell of living through this night.” Beckett had inched closer to Cole during his tirade.

  He’d left Eve’s motorcycle angled toward the road. As soon as Cole was free, he could fire it up and get the hell out of here. His brother had to leave.

  The men tensed and seemed to wait for a signal. Craig looked at Beckett and swallowed.

  “You can say I’m idiotic, but me and your man here will improve the community for the better.” Craig motioned to Merkin, who miraculously freed himself from his loose bindings.

  Beckett was about to tear into Craig again when a dull pop sounded and a red dot appeared in the center of the man’s forehead. Another pop and Merkin’s forehead had a matching dot. They hit the ground like collapsing dominoes in perfect synchronicity.

  Beckett wasted no time in dragging his brother to him and pulling a knife from his waistband. He slashed at Cole’s ropes. “Take the bike and go!” he yelled.

  Eve was jacking shit up, changing the plans. The remaining men seemed to be listening to their earpieces with their guns trained on the two brothers.

  “Go!” Beckett didn’t care why the men were slow to kill. He wanted his brother gone.

  Cole ripped the tape off his mouth and spit out a wad of gauze. “I’m not leaving you here. I’m not.
” His voice was raspy and angry.

  “Kyle’s okay,” Beckett countered.

  He fully expected a bullet to find his head at any moment, and he wanted his brother to know his lady was safe. At least he could give him that. The men lowered their weapons a fraction and gave Beckett a thumbs up. What the fuck?

  “Is what she’s saying true?” asked the taller of the two.

  “Absolutely. You have my word,” Beckett said seriously. About what, I have not a twat’s clue.

  Eve walked out from around the warehouse with Beckett’s envelope from the bank. She had her leather jacket buttoned up and a high-powered sniper rifle slung over her shoulder. She gave each man a wad of cash.

  “Like I already arranged with your pal—” Eve tapped her earpiece as proof of the dead man’s compliance “—if you don’t kill us now, we’ll use you in the future. Beckett keeps his employees well-paid.”

  They nodded and started packing up their gear.

  Fucking genius. Pay the paid men. Of course.

  The other rooftop sniper stood and collapsed his gun support.

  Beckett sidled up to Eve. “Hey, gorgeous. This wasn’t the plan.”

  Eve ignored him and spoke to the wirelessly listening mercenaries. “Yup, come on down and you’ll get your share.”

  Eve turned to the brothers and gathered them in an uncharacteristic hug. Then she slid a handgun to Beckett and passed another to Cole. She covered the speaker on the wire and murmured in their ears. “This is all going to hit the fan when they find out I killed the other two in their group. Be ready.”

  The three turned around and made a triangle, shoulders touching, as they faced the mercenaries and waited. When the remaining men failed to make contact with Alphas One and Four, they suddenly scrambled for their guns.

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