Return to poughkeepsie, p.7
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.7
 

           Debra Anastasia

  Her new life had come together nicely, but the longer she worked in New York, the more she felt herself drifting with no real purpose, no idea of her future. Nothing seemed real, and none of it was what she really wanted. Her mind was always on him.

  And now she would have to go back to her previous life, face down an incoming enemy—one that had targeted her father—without him. And without Mouse. She had nothing. Or worse than nothing.

  She pulled out her phone and hit Shark’s number. Instead of hello, he just laughed his knowing, sexy laugh. She bit her lip until he was done and then delivered her instructions: “Meet me tomorrow at five. I’ll be at the river dock in Poughkeepsie.”

  Shark was waiting at the river the next evening when Eve pulled up in her Audi 8. It was a place she hadn’t visited in a long damn time, and she wished she were here under better circumstances now.

  While setting up security for her father, Eve had tapped Midian, a little spitfire down at the courthouse, for some inside info. Mouse had trusted her, and she had ways of finding every slippery bastard in the business. Shark was an easy find for the woman, and turns out Mr. Dax Aaron was not the most trustworthy. Shocking. He seemed to have worked a little bit for everyone, with no real loyalty anywhere. With Midian’s help, it was all coming back to her now. She’d never done business with him without Mouse, but now she didn’t have much of a choice. This whole situation sucked.

  Leaving the car running, Eve got out and left her door open. She wasn’t even armed—well, not with weapons anyway. Her father’s condition had rattled her, and she had to acknowledge it. Brutal honesty was the only way to live through this encounter.

  “Evening, ma’am.” Shark gave her an I’ve-got-you-where-I-want-you shit-eating grin.

  She didn’t look at him. Watching the choppy Hudson River, she waited until her silence became awkward for him.

  “You called me, in case you don’t remember.” Shark leaned against the low brick wall by the boat launch.

  “Why are the Vitullos in Poughkeepsie?” She still wouldn’t look at him.

  “I think we need a little tit for tat. Last I checked I sought you out. Now I’m here at your beck and call. What have you done for me lately?” He pushed away from the wall and approached her.

  Every nerve in her body sprang to high alert, and she monitored him using only her peripheral vision and hearing.

  He wrapped her ponytail around his fist, leaning close to her ear. “I’m never opposed to sexual favors as payment.”

  “I’m too exhausted to kick your ass. Drop my hair. You know better.” Eve waited for him to release it.

  “Maybe you’ve gotten soft these last few years. I might want to try my luck.” He turned her head with her hair so she looked him full in his handsome face.

  As soon as her gaze was level with his, she replied. “I think Mackenzie is a beautiful name. Ten is such a fun age.”

  Shark let go of her hair like he’d been burned. His eyes widened before his stare sharpened. “Bitch.”

  Eve just shrugged and resumed looking at the river like she hadn’t just threatened to kill this man’s little girl. He couldn’t know she’d never hurt a kid—never in a million years. But her stop at the storage unit where Mouse had kept some encoded files had given Eve the edge she needed on this particular contact, once she had his real name.

  Shark prided himself on his anonymity. He wanted you off guard. If he appeared in your bedroom, he wanted you scared shitless and not sure if he was hired to kill you or help you. How Mouse had found that tidbit about Mackenzie, Eve didn’t know, but it had worked.

  “You tell me what I want to know and what you need me for. I don’t have time to see how much bigger my dick is than yours.” Eve pulled out her phone and saw an update from the security she’d hired for her dad’s hospital room door. He was doing fine, sleeping.

  “All right. The Vitullos are in weapons, and they’ve been based in New York for years. My job is from Mary Ellen, the daughter, which is new. She seems to have big plans for this area, maybe wants to squeeze out some other players. She’s gathering info at this point—the hard way when she has to. Apparently it’s personal. That’s all I know.” Shark seemed on edge now, lighting up a cigarette with a fidgety hand.

  “And from me you need…?” She pulled his smoke from his fingers and tossed it in the river. It barely sizzled before floating.

  “Well, Sunday night they’re having an audition for new girls. I need one of them to know this same information I’m giving you.” Shark pulled another smoke out and lit it, this time keeping it far away from Eve.

  She nodded.

  “They want classy chicks. Ones that don’t actually slut it up.” He took a quick drag from the side of his mouth. “You’ve got four days to get ready.”

  Eve raised her eyebrows. “That’s it?”

  “Yeah. That’s it.” He pulled out a twenty with an address written on it.

  “Eight o’clock is the time. Dress sharp. Your name is still January. Find Micki and tell her everything I just told you.” He used his lighter to ignite the bill.

  “I never said I wanted to get into a weapons ring.” Eve watched as her breath turned to mist.

  “You want to be there. Trust me.” Shark headed for his car.

  “I don’t trust anyone. Give Micki the message yourself.” Eve turned toward her car as well.

  He stopped her door from closing, and she allowed it. He looked panicked. “They’re looking for Beckett.”

  She gave him a look that clearly said she didn’t care. “Killed him. Doesn’t matter.”

  “They’re looking for anyone with the same tattoo he had.” Shark gave her a knowing look before slamming her door shut.

  She waited until he’d pulled away before pounding her steering wheel. “Shit!”

  She’d be damned if anyone was going to punish the people she considered family. Shark knew about the brothers, and this Vitullo woman knew about the brothers. Granted, they weren’t the biggest damn secret, but why now, after five years? She’d hoped they were long off the radar. And that no one would fuck with Beckett. Ever.

  7

  Nourishment

  BLAKE LIKED THE CRUNCH OF FRESH SNOW under his boots, and little clouds of his breath led the way. The trees were barren fingers pointing at the gray sky. He could smell more snow in the February air. Perfect. And she was with him, so snow or no snow, the afternoon was a grace. A blessing.

  Emme stuck her mittened hand in his big warm one with barely a glance. Instinct, maybe. She liked to hum while she walked, but she did it quietly, barely alerting the wildlife. Blake liked to tease her that she was like Snow White, just to watch her stomp her foot. “Daddy, that princess was a wuss,” she’d say. “I woulda fought that bad witch. And you don’t take food from strangers. Everybody knows that.” Walking in the wintery woods with his daughter was a simple pleasure. He loved to hear what she said in the quiet, just him and her.

  “Wait, baby, let’s sit for a minute.” He took another glance at the sky. It was just about time, if he was gauging correctly. She climbed into his lap, and he wrapped his arms around her middle, loving this puffed up, dressed-for-cold-weather version of his little girl.

  “I’m not a baby. I’m a big girl, Daddy.” She rested her hooded head under his chin.

  Blake wanted to protest. He wanted to show her he could still toss her high to hear her laugh. But he respected her independence. “Of course. You’re huge. Gigantic. You, little girl, are a giant.”

  Emme’s laugh finally did scare a skinny squirrel, sending it scampering up the trunk of a nearby oak.

  “Daddy, why does Kellan cry so much?” She tilted her head back so her solemn green eyes could watch his face while he answered her.

  Stunning. She was absolutely breathtaking. Blake gave her the smile he’d felt on his face since the first time he held her. He had expected to be nervous. He had anticipated all the fears he’d have as a new father. But as the nurse laid
a freshly wrapped Emme in his arms, the world connected to his heart. Her tiny baby face had soothed him. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. “Hello, little girl. Welcome to the world. I’ve been waiting for you.” Livia gently teased him because Emme had wrapped herself so quickly around his soul.

  “Kellan cries because he’s brand new. You cried just as much, and maybe a little more.” He kissed the soft skin of her forehead. She smelled like angel’s wings and Livia.

  Emme bit her lip and seemed to think for a moment. “I love you, Daddy.”

  She always said it. She would stop in the middle of playing to get up and cuddle him around the neck.

  “I love you too.” And he did. So big was his love for his little girl, it nearly overwhelmed him. It should have had him fretting for her future, especially now, but she made it all so much easier. Her small voice brought him peace.

  “Ready?” he asked. He motioned for her to look to the sky.

  She’d been on enough long walks with her father to know it was time to open her mind. Their times in nature usually held a secret surprise. It could be anything, really—a rainbow touching the snow or heart-shaped shade cast by a pair of trees. Anything. Today, the gift was being outside the second it started to snow.

  “Ooh, Daddy! Look, it’s like a salt shaker!” She stuck her tongue out for the newborn snowflakes.

  Blake followed her lead. Snow tasted sweeter with Emme around.

  She hopped up from his lap and twirled in the misting of crystal rain. He tried to take a picture with his senses: Emme’s snow boots squeaking in the snow at her feet, her hood falling off her head, her laughter making it hard to keep her tongue out.

  When she was full from the experience, Blake put her on his shoulders so they could get home quickly. In half the time it had taken them to get to their spot in the woods, they’d returned and unlocked the door to John’s house. Our house, he amended mentally. He was still trying to make the adjustment. Livia’s father had sold them the house for an obscenely low price, claiming he and his new bride, Kathy, didn’t need all that space for themselves. “I hate yard work, son. You’re doing me a favor, not the other way around.” He and Kathy were now settled in a condo about ten minutes away.

  As they entered, Livia looked up from her rocking chair. Kellan was blissfully asleep, evidently having passed out while nursing.

  “Our boy’s eating again?” Blake smiled at the sight of them.

  Livia nodded and raised her eyebrows. “Shh…”

  Blake looked in the hallway mirror to see what Livia was indicating. Sure enough his long, steady steps had lulled Emme to sleep. She had her arms crisscrossed on his hair with her eyes shut.

  Livia maneuvered Kellan to his playpen and slowly laid him on his back. After his limbs twitched with complaint at the loss of her warmth, he settled into a deep nap, mouth still moving, clicking on occasion, soothing himself with the memory of his feeding.

  Livia held up one finger and disappeared. Blake waited, knowing what was next. She reappeared and took a quick slew of pictures with their camera. He smiled for her, and then pretended to be asleep while standing. Finally, Livia reached up to remove Emme from her perch. Blake stretched his neck. Supporting her that way was getting tougher, as she was almost five years old now.

  Livia efficiently removed Emme’s snow clothes and tucked a Mouse-knitted afghan around her on the couch.

  Blake watched his wife as he removed his own coat and boots. Livia got on her knees and warmed Emme’s cold cheeks with her hands. He tiptoed over and held out his hand to help Livia up. She glanced at both her children, then snuggled into his arms.

  He tilted her face toward his as he walked her back to the living room, letting her see his pride. It almost choked him at times, there was so much of it. His house, his woman, his babies, all of it was everything.

  She shook her head and whispered into his shirt, muffled. “I can’t kiss you. I haven’t brushed my teeth.”

  He kissed the top of her head. She often forgot to take care of even the most basic things for herself. For Livia, being a mother was a calling. She said it was instinct, but he knew better. She revolved around her children. Whether it was folding the children’s laundry and stacking it in drawers, or yanking her knotted hair into a ponytail instead of styling it so she could hold Kellan sooner, he knew she worked constantly at the job of motherhood.

  She spoke into his shirt again. “I didn’t take anything out for dinner.”

  He whispered in her ear, “I’ll handle it.”

  “No, I’ve got it. I have to pick up first.” Livia stepped away from him and bent down to straighten the toys.

  Blake placed a hand on her back. “Hey, gorgeous, can you come with me for a minute?”

  She sighed and looked at the strewn things. He could tell she really wanted an organized living room, but she followed him upstairs anyway. He left her in their bedroom and went into the bathroom to turn on the shower.

  “It’s ready for you,” he announced as he returned. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but instead just nodded gratefully as she closed the bathroom door.

  When she was finally done, she pulled back the curtain. Sitting on the bathroom vanity was a folded towel and her favorite, very not-sexy pajamas, both warm from the dryer. Livia dried herself and put on the offerings her husband had snuck into the bathroom.

  When she opened the door, the bed was made and the laundry folded. Blake sat on the edge of the bed with a grin that told her he knew she’d be impressed.

  “You know I suck at that.” He pointed to the clothes he’d wrestled with while she showered. Sure enough, the piles were a bit askew.

  “You totally suck at that.” She twirled her damp hair into a knot, then picked up the baby monitor.

  “They’re both still napping. I just checked,” Blake told her. “And yes, look, their feet are covered by a blanket.”

  “Well, it has been more than six weeks,” Livia sighed. “We should get this over with.”

  Blake rolled his eyes. “So sexy. Just what every man wants to hear.” He patted the top of the bed, and Livia got in as he slid back to the pillows, the mattress creaking with their arrival.

  She curled into his arms again, smelling his chest and smiling. He was her home.

  “How long has it been since we’ve been in this bed alone?” Livia closed her eyes and sighed.

  “I think it was three weeks ago.” His chuckle rumbled in his chest.

  Livia put her hand on his heart, waiting for it to beat. It did, over and over.

  Blake pulled the comforter around her shoulders, and she snuggled deeper into his arms. He began stroking her hair.

  “You’re going to put me to sleep.” The warmth, the shower, and his arms were forcing her eyes closed.

  “That’s the point, my love. Take a nap.”

  Livia’s mind whispered thanks, but the words didn’t make it to her lips.

  When she woke three hours later, she was disoriented. She looked to the monitor first, and it was off—no comforting green light assuring her the world was still on axis. Listening closely, she could hear the TV on and Emme’s playful voice. Livia tossed off the covers and headed downstairs. Every light was on. Emme had an elaborate fort set up with bed sheets over chairs.

  Blake was walking with a fussy Kellan. He looked grateful and pleased with himself as he saw her panic slide into knowing. He had let her sleep. Now she was unbearably turned on. Dear God, that nap was better than money, sex, and more money. Her kids looked cuter. Her life seemed brighter. It had been a wonderful rest.

  She sat in the rocking chair, and Blake passed a wriggling Kellan into her arms.

  “Did we wake you?”

  Livia grabbed a fistful of his hair and held his face close to hers. She peeked in Emme’s direction—she was deep in her fort. Livia smiled and turned her attention back to his mouth. She whispered, “If we were alone, I would have you right now.” And she kissed him until he moaned.


  His eyes full of lust, he backed away to let her feed the baby. “Are you hungry? I ordered pizza.” Blake turned toward the kitchen.

  “That’d be great.” Livia put her head back and enjoyed the feeling of the baby releasing her milk.

  Emme peeked her head out from under the flower-patterned ceiling of her fort.

  “Mommy! You’re awake. Kellan was getting hungry, and I told Daddy to let him eat pizza, but he said no, and I said, ‘Daddy, put the pizza on your chest and let Kellan suck it,’ and Daddy just laughed, but I bet Kellan would love pizza. Hi, Mommy.”

  Livia watched her daughter emerge from her fort. She had a stuffed dog tucked under her arm. Livia used her free hand to pull her little girl close, kissing her cheek over and over noisily. “I want to eat you. Forget pizza. I’ll eat you with no teeth!” Livia tickled Emme’s armpit and gently nibbled on her.

  “Mommy! You are too silly!” Emme leaned into the love, letting the attention fill her.

  Blake returned with a warm slice of pizza and a tall glass of ice water.

  Livia knew she had it made. This was it. She’d daydream about these glory days as an old woman. She hoped she’d still be able to dream up the details, years and years later. She prayed she’d never forget Blake’s wild hair, sexy and careless. She hoped she’d remember exactly how lopsided Emme’s pigtails were when she demanded Blake do her hair instead of Mommy because he was “less ouchy.” In a perfect world, whenever Kellan’s nose wrinkled up, she would remember what it felt like to be so connected to him, to be his nourishment.

  8

  Mary Ellen

  EVE LOOKED IN THE MIRROR of her Mahopac hotel room—her home away from home now that neither New York or Poughkeepsie seemed like a good option. Staring back at her in this dinky little dive was a new woman. A few subtle changes and a different hair color made a world of difference. Her long blond hair was now bluish black. Her eyebrows were thinner with a new arch. The effect made her blue eyes pop, and she’d used liner to make her lips appear a bit bigger.

 
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