Return to poughkeepsie, p.6
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.6

           Debra Anastasia
 

  If it’s just us, Kyle, if that’s all there is, it’s enough for me. And if that thought makes you sad, I’ll move heaven and hell until you see a future you want to be in, smiling, with me. Whatever you need, just step into my arms, let me be there with you.

  You’re not protecting me from your pain. I feel all of it, except I feel it alone when you won’t let me help. Come to me. Let me kiss your hair. Let me make love to you for no reason at all.

  I’m yours forever,

  Cole

  He got it. There was no need to describe it to him. He knew when she cried. He knew what she wanted. He loved her always.

  Kyle dug her cell phone out of her pocket, hitting the send button twice, the shortcut for the last call dialed. She could trust that his name and picture would pop up on her screen.

  He answered his phone: “Baby, I love you.” Not Hello? Not What’s up? He got her.

  “Please, Cole. Please.” She bit her fist, unable to tell him she needed his weight on top of her to hold her steady, to keep her from floating away.

  “I’m coming home. Keep the phone by your ear.”

  She heard the rustling noises of Cole rearranging his schedule, talking softly to his colleagues so he could attend to her needs. Every few minutes he would check, “You still with me?”

  She answered from her forever. “Always.”

  His car started, and she listened as he turned off his radio. The engine grew louder or softer depending on where he was in traffic. All the way he kept the line open, finally appearing in their bedroom door, handsome and worried.

  He still had the phone to his ear. “I’m here.”

  She wrinkled her nose and said, “Thank you,” into her phone. They ended the call at the same moment. And like all hell breaking loose, her words flew at him.

  “What if it’s because I’m a whore? What if it’s because I used up all the good I ever had? What if I wasted it all on bastards for a quick high? What if I broke everything? You shouldn’t have to have me. This. I can’t even make a baby for you.”

  Cole was in front of her in two quick steps. He knelt before her, holding the tops of her arms. “No one calls you a whore. Not even you. Ever. You got that?”

  She nodded, the motion causing tears to trail down her cheeks. He released her arms to wipe her face dry.

  “I’m wasted. I’m wasted, Cole.” She began choking on his name as she slid from the bed. Kyle balled herself on the floor, sobbing. It was primal, guttural, and pure desperation. She felt him cover her with his body, like he was protecting her from gunfire. They stayed until her anguish subsided into gentle whimpering. Then he gathered her body in his arms, his own face wet and red.

  “If I could fix this, I’d do anything, Kyle. I’d do anything.”

  6

  Shark

  EVE COULD SEE NEW YORK CITY past her reflection. There was a love song on the radio, and she could almost hear it without thinking about him. Beckett had been gone for five years. He’s dead. She looked down at her shoes. The patent leather heels showed her what she looked like in their smooth surface. That’s what she was now—just an image of her real self. People could see what she looked like, but no one knew who she was. Waiting for him was over. It had to be. She fussed with her low ponytail, and her office door opened.

  “January, the fiscal results are in. You wanted them?” Eve nodded toward her desk but didn’t acknowledge her coworker. This import-export company was huge. Even when you’d climbed the corporate ladder as fast as she had, you were still one of thousands of employees. It was a great place to hide.

  She picked up the file after he’d left, but didn’t have the energy to compare the figures. It was crazy how similar the work she’d done for Beckett was to the work she now did for Silver Force Systems. She had to make sure products got delivered and people paid their bills—although she hadn’t killed anyone in years.

  Eve turned off her computer and locked up her files. She slipped on her trench coat and left the plush office without a backward glance. Normally she took the elevator down to street level and walked to her apartment building, but today she hailed a cab to a different destination.

  When she was feeling particularly numb, she would train. More specifically, she would train others. Through her remaining connections, she knew a few people looking to hone their deadly skills. She slipped cash to the cabbie and got out in front of a warehouse. After punching in the code, she entered a space dedicated to the fighting techniques that kept evil people alive and rich.

  A quick change in the makeshift locker room and Eve was ready. It was quiet tonight—she had to slap lights on as she went. She stretched and went to the knife-throwing area. The blades were already sharp, and they were gorgeously weighted. One after another she landed her mark: the dead center of the outline’s chest.

  She sensed him before she heard him, felt his breath on her neck.

  “Nice shot.”

  “Sneaking up on me is a quick way to die.” She ignored him and retrieved her knives. When she turned, she was armed to the teeth. But he held a hand grenade. If they’d been playing poker with weapons, he won.

  “That’s not what everyone thinks, apparently.” His gaze traveled over her.

  He was stupidly good-looking—so much so that most women would miss the sharkish look to his eyes. Eve knew his face and ran through her memories to figure out who he worked for. She couldn’t even pull up a name.

  She put the knives back on their platform. “Why are you here? I don’t have the energy for puzzles and riddles.” She picked up a jump rope and began her cardio workout.

  “I’m here to exercise, baby. Just like you.” He tossed the grenade in the air, pin still in. She didn’t look his way.

  After three sets of thirty, he was still watching, waiting. She narrowed her eyes. “What?” She tossed the rope and made her way to the punching bag.

  “Just watching the view.” He bit his full lip. He’d perfected the five o’clock shadow, as well as the placement of tattoos to highlight his muscles.

  Punching and kicking, she did her best to ignore him. Finally getting up a decent sweat, she switched again to the treadmill. The pounding of her feet and the sound of the machine were all she could hear.

  Still he waited. She could tell he was trying to unnerve her. It didn’t work, or at least she’d never let him see it. The minute she flinched or showed human emotions, it would be over. After her run, he remained, tossing his hand grenade from hand to hand like a tennis ball.

  She walked into the locker room. It was really just a place in the center of the warehouse with plumbing, divided by what looked like a long series of bathroom-stall doors. He followed her—obviously daring her to change in front of him or leave in her sweaty gear. Eve didn’t hesitate as she pulled off her clothes and started the shower. His gaze crawled over her body. She forced a shiver from her spine. She took her shower, taking time to shave her legs and condition her hair. She could tell he was still in the room.

  She dressed in jeans and sweatshirt and pulled her wet hair in to a ponytail. He was right behind her, looking in the mirror with her.

  “That was quite a show. Thanks. I bet Beckett loved getting that all the time.” He smirked.

  She thought about Beckett constantly, but she knew she’d closed her eyes at the unexpected mention of his name. She spun, and her brush clattered to the ground. She snagged his grenade mid-toss from one hand to the other. Holding his pants open, she pushed it inside and slipped her pinkie under the pin.

  “Speak. Tell me what you’re doing here.” She finally met his oily eyes, and in that instant his name came to her: Shark. It should have been so obvious.

  He rotated his hips, and she felt his penis pressing against her hand and the weapon.

  “Well, now there’s two explosive things in my pants. Feel free to get creative.” He smiled.

  “You’re wasting my time.” She pulled her hand out and tossed the grenade, pin still in place, back
to him. He caught it, but fumbled a bit. She felt better since they’d both made mistakes now. She’d feel spectacular if she could remember who he worked for. Instead she grabbed her bag from her locker and walked past him.

  Before she could get to the main door, he caught her arm. She faced him, nearly nose to nose.

  “Did it ever occur to you that I’m here to help you?” He was perfect, even up close. And he smelled amazing.

  “No. Because you’re not.” She wrenched her arm free just as two more “patrons” entered. Neither of the burly men seemed inclined to get involved in Eve and Shark’s tense situation.

  “Now I’m hurt. After the striptease I thought for sure we were best friends.” He licked his lips.

  Eve ignored him and stepped outside. There were no cabs to be seen, and it was dark—later than she thought. She’d have to walk. Glad she wasn’t burdened by high heels, she started off at a quick pace. He stayed right next to her.

  “We’d make a stunning couple, you know. My dark and your pale? Half the time we could be killing each other, the other half screwing our brains out.”

  He’d never know, but he’d just described her relationship with Beckett to a T.

  After three blocks, he seemed to realize she was never going to start a conversation with him. And he felt compelled to fill the void.

  “Okay, I’m just letting you know there’s some movement on Poughkeepsie. And I know it’s Taylor’s but…”

  She stopped and turned to look at him. “Who?”

  “I’m proposing we work together and get Poughkeepsie organized before it gets absorbed by someone else. There’s some lucrative deals to be had there.” He winked at her, smirking the whole time.

  “Why not go alone?” She didn’t like how this was going—or anything about this guy. He knew way too much.

  “Well, you have the connections already. The respect.” He shrugged his well-built shoulders.

  They both looked around, assessing the situation.

  “I think you’re fishing for information, and I’m not helping.” She spotted a cab and hailed it.

  He got in behind her. The cab ride to her apartment building was silent, save for the crackle of the radio, which wasn’t quite tuned in. The cabbie didn’t seem to notice.

  Shark paid for the trip, and they stood in front of her building, staring at each other as the cab drove away.

  “Unless you have something useful to offer, I’m going to kill you,” she breathed.

  He tilted his head. “I know. I’m not your friend or your lover, but I’m smart enough to find you, to find where you work out. Aren’t you at least a little interested in who my angel is?”

  She looked toward the sky, hazy with the lights from the building. “What do you want?”

  “Just a little information on the two-way street. Taylor still alive?”

  When Eve looked back at him, shrewdness had crowded out any playfulness in his eyes. It was a hard choice, right there on the sidewalk, to decide which answer would be the best for Beckett, for his brothers, for Poughkeepsie.

  “He’s been dead for four years, thirty-eight days, and four hours.” She looked Shark in the face and gave no tells.

  “So specific. How can you be sure?” He shifted his weight.

  Eve noticed his shoes were Italian and expensive. “That’s two questions, and yet you’ve told me nothing.” She stood as still as a predator, filing away everything she could about him. She’d stalk him later.

  He leaned in close—close enough to stab her or kiss her. “The Vitullos are coming that way. Looking for information. Stirring things up. Evidently there’s money to be made there.”

  Eve didn’t tell him she’d light every bill in the world on fire if it meant saving her loved ones.

  “So how do you know for sure he’s dead?”

  “That’s a stupid question,” she said.

  “You did him?”

  She forced herself to shrug and look at him knowingly.

  “He was a tough bitch to crack.”

  She didn’t answer, letting his imagination fill in the blanks. “Give me a number, and I’ll think about it,” she finally said.

  He pulled out his wallet, and she handed him a pen from her bag. He scrawled a number on a hundred-dollar bill.

  She left him and walked into her lobby without another word. This wasn’t good. How did this random asshole have more information on her town than she did?

  She didn’t get more than a few feet into her apartment before her cell phone rang. Blake was on the other end.

  “Hey, are you sitting down? Your dad’s in the hospital. He’s alive, but he’s really injured. I think you need to come home.”

  “I’ll be there in forty-five minutes.” Eve ended the call and put the phone against her forehead.

  In spite of all the time she’d spent building her new, placeholder life, she’d always known she’d eventually get a phone call like this: one that would drag her right back.

  Blake waited for Eve in the hospital parking lot. A sleek sports car caught his attention, and he wasn’t surprised when she stepped out of it. He hadn’t actually seen her in years. She looked hollow. He silently cursed Beckett for leaving her for so long.

  “How bad?” She was composed, but barely.

  “He took a real beating. The kind I used to see back in the day.” Blake didn’t need to say more. They were speaking of Beckett’s sins and Eve’s talents. Her steps faltered a bit.

  He reached out quickly in case she tripped. She shook off his questioning hand.

  “Okay, I understand. Come with me?”

  When they made eye contact, he knew she was coming undone. Blake took her hand in his as they entered the hospital. They were cousins. She’d helped him with his rehabilitation. And now he would be here for her.

  Blake explained who Eve was to the duty nurse and led her to her father’s hospital room. Blake stopped her before she stepped through the open door. “It’s rough,” he warned.

  She nodded and exhaled. As they walked around the curtain giving Dr. Ted Hartt a bit of privacy, Blake put one hand on Eve’s lower back. She swooned a bit before shoring herself up and proceeding. Blake had been with Ted since shortly after the phone call from the hospital, and he still wasn’t accustomed to the sight. Ted was covered in bruises, abrasions, and worst of all, burns. The doctor on his case had been surprised to find he had no broken bones.

  Eve gently touched her father’s unmarked hand, then his cheek. Blake watched as her jaw tensed. Her father opened his eyes, heavy with pain meds.

  “Who did this, Dad? What happened?” Eve’s jittery hands belied her cool, confident voice.

  “I was walking and…fell. I fell.” Ted closed his eyes again, a wave of medication taking him under.

  “Hello, Eve.” The doctor on call swept into the room. “Your father’s on a powerful sedative. His condition is stable.”

  Blake’s eyes widened for a moment before he realized the doctor knew Eve personally. Considering Dr. Hartt’s prominent place on the staff, this shouldn’t have surprised him.

  “Is this all superficial? The wounds?” Eve crossed her arms in front of her.

  “Yes, for the most part. He lost a lot of blood, and the burns will take a while to heal—he’ll have to be fastidious with his bandages. He was brought in unconscious.” The doctor scrolled through the chart on his iPad and nodded, as if approving his own facts.

  “Who brought him in?” She glanced at Blake, who shook his head.

  “Ah, your father arrived as a John Doe by ambulance. He was found on the side of Ritcher Street by the bar. When we were finally able to bring him around, he insisted he fell and that no police be called. And he didn’t want you called either, but one of our nurses had already called Blake so…”

  “Okay, thank you.” Eve nodded to the doctor, giving him his cue to leave.

  The minute the door closed behind him, Eve put her hands on her head and squatted, quiet sobbing nois
es escaping her. Blake came around the bed and put his arm around her.

  “I’m sorry.” He tried to pat a comforting pattern on her back.

  Eve wiped her tears and stood, her moment of humanness over. “Listen, go home. Tell Cole to keep his head up. If either of you see anything out of the ordinary, call me immediately. You watch the girls and the baby like hawks. Until I know what’s happening, I need you both to check in three times a day. Make sure someone knows where you’re going at all times.”

  Blake nodded. “This about Beck?”

  Eve leveled her cold blue eyes on him. “Right now? It’s about me.”

  She leaned over and kissed her father’s head. “Dad, don’t worry. I’m gonna take this burden from you,” she whispered. She stood and smoothed her blond hair. “There’ll be security here soon, so Dad will be fine. You don’t come back. Stay with your family. That’s your only job. Got it?”

  Blake nodded as she brushed past him and out the door.

  Eve started her car and pulled away from the hospital. Whatever happened to her father, it hadn’t been an accident. What had they wanted? Money? Information, like Shark said? Had they connected him to Blake and Beckett, or just to the hospital? Maybe his skill as a surgeon had caught someone’s eye, and the next time he saw them he’d be expected to help. Or maybe knowing her had been his downfall.

  She’d gotten people’s attention the same sort of way for Beckett, once upon a time—back when she was a monster. But now five years had passed since he’d left her in a hotel room, naked and hoping for a better life. After weeks in limbo, she’d realized she had to do something, be something while she waited for his return. Vegas was over for her, and Poughkeepsie was just too much. There her role was labeled and marked. Too many people wanted her to replace Beckett, and she had no desire to be him. So she kept her distance and did her best to disappear—just sneaking in and out to visit her father for holidays.

  Clearly, Beckett was either trying so hard to be different that he’d found another life entirely or he was dead. So many years later, she wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. But not being near him, memories of the time she’d spent enforcing for him—all of it hurt. Damned if she’d show it. If he was still alive, she could find him. Yet she hadn’t even tried. It mattered that he came to her. And maybe he’d found someone else. He wasn’t a damned priest, after all. Her heart hurt thinking about him.

 
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