Poughkeepsie, p.42
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       Poughkeepsie, p.42
 

           Debra Anastasia

  Beckett would have to make some decisions, and this news might put him over the edge.

  Beckett rode the four-wheel ATV over a huge mound of dirt, and the vehicle went airborne. His helmet slipped, nearly covering his eyes. He hated it, but he didn’t have a choice. Eve demanded the security and privacy it provided. Like anyone could find me here.

  Eve had stashed him in Rhinebeck, New York, in a place off the road, off a driveway, then off a dirt path. The house had at least forty acres of woods surrounding it and very few neighbors. It belonged to some half-dead celebrity who never used it anymore. Eve paid the rent in cash, and the agreement was verbal. Beckett allowed himself the luxury of expecting this sort of perfection from her.

  He pulled the ATV to a stop and unzipped the leather jacket he wore, revealing his shirtless, chiseled chest. No need to get dressed up. Only deer and chipmunks buttfucking each other out here in the boondocks.

  He managed a smile, cracking himself up a little, as Eve pulled up on her motorcycle.

  “How’s he doing?” he hollered as soon as she cut the engine.

  Her eyes paused on his naked, damp chest. He made his pecs dance to get a smile. She looked away.

  “It may technically be spring, but it’s cold out here, Beckett. What’s wrong with you?” Beckett just smirked, so Eve continued. “Blake’s doing great. He was in the sun for hours today. Beckett, he asked Livia to marry him. He says you’re the best man. He says it’s your place and he’d rather have it empty than have anyone else.” She peeled off her riding gloves.

  Beckett hung his head. The news hit him right in his heart’s nuts. Hungry for physical connection, he pushed himself into her personal space, corralling her with his arms against the bike.

  “I got to get to town before the store closes. I just came back for the minivan,” she said quickly. “We don’t have time for this.” She didn’t push him away, but he could feel the chill rolling off her.

  “No need to bruise my dick. It’s all good. Why don’t you get a steak? I’ll grill it.”

  Eve did finally smirk a bit. “After the sun goes down it’s going to be twenty-eight degrees. You planning on grilling them with napalm?”

  The change in her face made him try harder. “Fuck buying steaks. I’ll torch us some raccoon. I saw some back there.”

  He pointed over his shoulder. Eve put a hand on his chest.

  “Upstate raccoons will kick your ass,” she said, digging in with her nails. “They’d have you crying like a bitch and wearing a dress in no time.” Her hand traced the fine white scars she’d put on his skin during these two months of lying low.

  He was insatiable these days. Beckett knew the time without social interaction was making him even more depraved and twisted. She’d been trying to convince him to leave the country with her—probably because she’d begun to fear he’d fuck her to death.

  But as attractive as a tropical island alone with Eve might be, Beckett knew he could never go. He couldn’t be that far from his brothers. What if one of them needed him? What if Eve’s dad needed her? Family was family.

  Beckett was so fucking proud of his lady and his brother. His heart threatened to swell out of his chest whenever he thought of her patiently, diligently working to get Blake into the sun. He just wished it could have been him. Maybe he’d send Eve to be Blake’s fucking best man. Jesus. He grabbed his helmet and thought for a moment about chucking it as far as it could go, but instead he stuffed his jealousy deep inside and turned to walk with Eve back to the safe house.

  Just one month later, as May began, the next wedding date arrived. Once Blake had conquered the sun, he let nothing hold him back from creating the life he’d always wanted. Livia and Blake had worked quickly to arrange their train-platform nuptials, and when Livia had suggested a wedding after dark, Blake shook his head. He’d insisted the ceremony be held in the full beauty of the sunset.

  Eve dressed quietly after lunch that afternoon, choosing the same dress and hummingbird pin she’d worn to Cole and Kyle’s wedding. As she checked her hair in the bedroom mirror, he appeared behind her. Beckett wore a crisp, white button-down shirt and jeans. They’d agreed he would stay home and watch the live feed again.

  “Why did you pick a hummingbird for the camera?” He reached around and touched the gold wings. “’Cause they’re so cute and pretty?”

  He dared to tease her on this day, this twisty, pointy, dangerous day.

  “They’re vicious loners,” she said quietly, speaking to her reflection. “Did you know that? They spend most of their time alone, protecting what’s theirs.”

  Beckett’s forehead wrinkled. “Is that how you see you?”

  She shrugged. “It’s what I am. What I am now.”

  She knew regret shone in her eyes before she closed them, and Beckett took a step back. She could sense the guilt rolling off of him and opened her mouth to speak when the high-pitched whine of one of her tripwires pierced the heavy atmosphere.

  She kicked off her heels and had a gun in her hand before the alarm stopped. She nodded at Beckett, and he went to the closet to wait. They’d been through the drill before: a slow deer, a meter reader, a hunter.

  He turned to watch her slide by him. He leaned against the doorframe. He didn’t want to hide any more. His brother was finally out in the fucking sunlight, and here he was cowering from what might be a fat squirrel. He heard Eve trot down the stairs and exit the house through the back door. She was a machine, really. She knew all the right moves. She was a hummingbird. No, not really. She’s a freaking happy canary that I’ve squeezed into a rubber hummingbird costume.

  Beckett heard barking. He sidestepped his way to the window he should have been avoiding and stood behind the sheer. He watched as a dopey-looking beagle sniffed and skittered its way onto the front lawn. He heard another high-pitched whine. The alarm had sounded again.

  He stepped to the center of the window and had to scan the lawn to find Eve. Her blond ponytail was the only thing he could see. She was behind a tree for cover. Beckett hit the window with one knuckle. Her eyes found the noise he made instantly. He pointed to his ear and held up two fingers.

  She nodded once and gave him a glare that clearly said, “Get back in the fucking closet.”

  He ignored her and stepped behind the sheer again. Up the rocky path pedaled the most unlikely of assassins. A little girl about six years old pumped her chubby legs on a pink-and-white bike. The tassels on the handlebars swung in a steady rhythm, and she had a stuffed dolphin crammed in the basket in front of her.

  The little girl was freaking adorable. Beckett watched through the murky sheer as Eve put the safety on her gun and knelt to hide it behind a root of the tree. She seemed to stay on her knee a moment, catching her breath. That’s a first. Beckett was mesmerized by Eve’s reaction. He carefully slid the window open a crack so he could hear their conversation.

  The beagle bounded over to the now unarmed Eve, tongue lolling. Eve offered her hand for the dog to sniff, which it did and then took off in another direction.

  “Peanut! No! Bad dog, come back. Lady! Lady, grab him!” The little girl had an even more adorable voice.

  Why the hell is she out here in the middle of nowhere? She’s so fucking little.

  Eve looked at her new self-appointed boss. “Did he run away?”

  Her voice was so warm. Achingly warm. Beckett almost didn’t recognize it.

  The little girl stopped her bike and took an elaborate, deep breath. “Peanut is not a good dog. He ran away when I tried to put my sister’s dress on him. He likes to run away. Mommy said, ‘Go get Peanut!’ So I went to go get Peanut, and he saw a bunny and took off down the road, and my sister’s crying, and she’s just a baby. I’m a big sister. I know how to give her a bottle, and Mommy says I’m a big help. Peanut! Don’t poop! Oh, I’m sorry, lady. He’s just on a streak of bad.”

  Beckett stepped from behind the curtain so he could see Eve’s face clearly. He knew she was beautiful, but
the smile on her face for this little girl made him grab the windowsill.

  Eve was magnificent. Her eyes were soft, her body language welcoming. Her guard was not only down, it was gone. In just a few sentences, this child had broken through to the Eve he’d only seen hints of.

  Eve got down to the girl’s level. “What’s your name?”

  The big-eyed girl had the audacity to bounce her pigtails while she recited her full name: “Emily Anna Whiteside.”

  Anna. Beckett watched as Eve’s chest caved ever so slightly with the blow.

  She recovered, as she always did, to deal with the task in front of her. “Hi, Emily. I’m Eve. There are no houses close by. How long have you been riding your bike?”

  “It feels like hours. And I have to go potty, but I won’t give up. Peanut’s bad, but he’s mine.”

  The unacceptable dog now licked his hindquarters with abandon a stone’s throw from where the two were getting to know one another.

  “Okay, Emily. I’m sure your mom’s worried. I’ll get Peanut, and we’ll get you home.” Eve put her hand out like she might like to touch the top of the girl’s head, but she pulled it back at the last second.

  Would soft hair hurt that much to touch? Beckett dropped to his knees, trying to see this tender Eve more closely.

  Eve headed for the dog. “Here, Peanut. Here, boy.”

  The dog trotted eagerly toward her, then veered away just as Eve got close.

  The little girl laughed and scolded the dog at the same time. “Go, Eve, go! Peanut, stop.”

  She dissolved into giggles. Like a husk of ice cracking and falling to the ground, the giggles changed Eve. She began exaggerating her movements to make the girl laugh, and she pretended to growl and bark at Peanut, who stopped and cocked his head to one side.

  Little Emily had to hold her middle as Eve finally dove at the dog, tackling him efficiently. All dressed up for the wedding, Eve was now covered in clinging leaves and smudges of dirt. Emily clapped her hands at the sight of her beloved pooch captured and safe. As Eve knelt to get a better grip on the dog’s collar, she faced the house.

  Maybe he could have changed his mind. Maybe he could have continued thinking only about himself. But Beckett had seen her face. He’d been looking at her eyes when the grateful girl reached up to give Eve a hug.

  Emily was so excited she forgot. She was so happy she made a mistake and said, “Thank you so much, Mommy!”

  Beckett watched baby Anna die all over again on Eve’s face. Her raw agony was worse than any bullet he’d ever taken. As the icy husk crystallized again around this beautiful woman, he made his decision, determined his future.

  He watched as Eve took Emily in the front door, disappearing beneath him. Evil Peanut’s paws made regular clacks on the wood floor as Eve showed Emily the bathroom. Eve’s murmurs and the little girl’s bright-voiced answers decorated the house with life. Too soon Eve had loaded the little girl, her pink bike, and the wayward dog into his minivan.

  After they’d pulled away Beckett found a blazer to wear over his shirt. He went out on the porch and waited in the rocking chair until she returned and parked the minivan just where it had been before.

  Eve sat for a split second in the driver’s seat before she leaped out and slammed the door. He waited until she’d come to lean against the porch railing before he looked up at her face again.

  “You can have that life,” he told her. “It’s right there for you to take.”

  “I love you,” Eve quickly countered.

  “Loving me hurts you, doesn’t it?” Beckett asked, looking down. “No, you don’t have to tell me. I know. I can smell it. I can smell the pain coming off of you,” he said, looking at the floor. “You had love before and a future. What does loving me get you, Eve? What does it get you?” He stood, angry with himself.

  “I don’t need to get anything from you. It’s the way it is. There’s no changing that.” She gripped the porch railing.

  Beckett stepped close to Eve and tenderly tucked a lock of hair that had escaped her ponytail behind her ear.

  “You’re saying goodbye,” she said, her eyes full of questions.

  “Do you know there are other little girls out there like that one? I lived with a few of them. They would sell their souls for a mother like you.”

  At the word mother Eve’s chin crumpled. She tried to hold back the tears, but they wouldn’t obey.

  “See that? It’s what you need. You need that—a little kid calling you Mom.” Beckett put his arms around her as she shattered.

  The pain she kept hidden surfaced from where it had been smoldering. When he felt her knees weaken, he hugged her harder.

  “That’s right. It’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, baby. You want normal.” He guided her to the chair he’d vacated. “There’s a guy out there who’ll hold your hand. There’s a little girl out there. She’s waiting for you. It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.” He knelt in front of her and rubbed her arms.

  She slapped at his hands, letting outrage carry her words. “I don’t want another man. I want you. I’ve killed for you. I’ve protected you. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Do you honestly think these hands that kill can hold a child?” She held her fingers in front of her face.

  “Yes. Absolutely. Don’t you know, gorgeous? Mothers are some of the most vicious killers out there, if their kids are threatened. You just have more practice.” He took her hands and kissed them.

  “I’ve lost too much. I can’t lose you. Don’t make me. Please. I’ll beg you if I have to.” She watched his lips on her palms.

  He shook his head and used her own words against her. “The hardest part of loving someone is not being with them when you want to be.”

  He stood, and she mirrored his motion, already shaking her head. “Don’t say it.”

  Beckett ignored her; he knew what he had to do. He had to set beautiful Eve free to find that soft, touchable woman he’d seen her become with the little girl.

  “I’m going to my brother’s wedding. I’m his best man.” He straightened his jacket.

  “They’ll arrest you. That’s a wonderful present for him.” She wiped tears off her face.

  “Did you notice he can walk in the sun now, and I can’t?” Beckett lifted an eyebrow.

  “I can change that for you. We can get away—the money’s there. Let’s go. We’ll go now.” Eve grabbed his lapels.

  He covered her hands. “And what happens when we get far away from here and your eyes start to glaze over again? What happens when a little girl loses her dog? Do you think I ever, ever want to see that pain in your eyes again? It was like I was shooting you myself.” He looked down at their feet and back up at her again.

  “Where would I get a kid for us, Eve? No one would let me adopt. Christ, I wouldn’t let me adopt. You can get out of this free and clear. You will get out of this free and clear. It’s my last order to you. Have a good fucking life. Promise? I’ll beg you if I have to.” He put his big hands on her cheeks.

  Time ticked by as they stood at the edge. Beckett knew he was right. She wanted the kids. She wanted the normal—sticky waffle breakfasts and runaway dogs and a minivan that spilled Barbie dolls when the door opened. She wanted it so very much. He just needed her to accept that.

  “I can’t watch you get arrested.” She finally dared to look in his eyes.

  He nodded. “Then you can’t come, can you, baby?”

  She said nothing. Her breath was shaky.

  “Know this: I love you so fucking much,” Beckett said. “No other person has been to me what you are. No one else ever will be.” He leaned down and gave her the sweetest, gentlest kiss.

  He wanted her to know what she should expect from the next guy, what she should demand. And because he needed it once more, he tried to make her smile. “Though the first dude to give me the Prison Shocker will be a close second.”

  She shook her head and showed a ghost of a smile.

  “I’m
taking your bike ’cause you’re going to need the minivan for all those kids.” He winked and willed himself to smile at her.

  Before he could change his mind, Beckett got on her bike. He fired it up and let it sit for a minute. After he’d committed her face, this moment, this heartbeat to memory, he obediently put on the helmet. Then he turned the bike and headed toward the road, intent on Poughkeepsie.

  She watched as the dirt kicked up in a cloud. When it cleared, she couldn’t see him anymore. She stayed until she couldn’t hear him anymore.

  Staying.

  Not chasing.

  Not stopping him.

  She knew she could bring him back. She was more than capable, and yet her feet refused to move. It felt like the little arms that had encircled her neck still clung there.

  Was it my Anna? Was her name just a coincidence?

  Eve hated that she had these questions, and that the only man she wanted to talk to about them was David. Have I just forsaken Beckett?

  Roots continued to form. Her murderous hands remembered how satisfying clicking the seatbelt around Emily’s small body had been. It sounded just like releasing the safety on a gun. Could motherhood be even a tiny possibility?

  Her inaction chose her future.

  49

  Will You Marry Me?

  AS HE PREPARED FOR his wedding, Blake had arranged his shirt three times. It refused to be tucked into his pants in any normal way. He ripped it out and tried again as he heard someone’s key in the lock of his apartment.

  “Today’s the big day!” Cole announced as he entered. When he found Blake in the bedroom, he started laughing. “Remember how many times I did my hair the day I married Kyle? I think that shirt is my hair for you today.”

  Blake sighed. “What? Could you not launch riddles at me? I can’t think straight.”

  “I’d help you with your pants, but I think you’ll manage.” Cole sat on the edge of Blake’s bed as Blake rolled his eyes.

  The men skipped their traditional greeting. They’d dropped the ritual. This was their unspoken acknowledgment of Beckett’s absence.

 
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