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Conspiracy girl, p.19
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       Conspiracy Girl, p.19

           Sarah Alderson
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  He walks around the bed and faces me. ‘Can I help?’ he asks.

  ‘No, it’s fine. I’ve got it.’

  ‘How’s the head?’ he asks.

  I frown at him, my hand flying to my temple. ‘What happened?’ I ask. ‘I don’t remember anything about last night,’ I add. Hah.

  Finn’s mouth opens and then shuts. A small crease appears between his eyes. ‘Um, you fell, hit your head on the side of the basin.’

  ‘I fell?’

  ‘Yeah, you fainted.’

  Huh. ‘That’s a first,’ I say.

  ‘Yeah, for me too,’ he answers.

  ‘So how did I get out of my jeans?’ I ask, struggling to hold his gaze. His blue eyes are impenetrable. He hasn’t shaved, I notice, and his eyes are circled. It gives me pause, but just for a second.

  ‘I took them off,’ he tells me matter of factly.


  ‘I carried you to bed and took your jeans off to make you more comfortable. They were wet through from the snow. And then I left you to sleep. In case you were wondering.’ There’s no trace of humour in his face. He looks concerned that I might have thought he took advantage of me while I was passed out.

  ‘No,’ I say quickly. ‘I mean, yes, but – I didn’t . . . ’ I break off. My words are getting all mangled. ‘Thanks.’ I finally mumble to the floor, recalling just then exactly what he said to Maggie about not being interested in me. The emphasis he put on at all. But at least now I can claim amnesia from my head injury, saving us both the embarrassment of having to talk about it.

  Finn is watching me half warily, half confused.

  ‘Did you speak to Maggie?’ I ask, testing him.

  He pauses before answering. ‘Yes,’ he finally admits.

  ‘And?’ I ask.

  ‘No intel,’ he says quietly, a look as dark as thunder crossing his face.

  I laugh under my breath. No intel, but a warning. And what did she mean when she called him predictable? Is that what he does? Have relationships with witnesses? Sleep with them? Is that what he got kicked off the FBI intern programme for? I’d lay money on it. It probably wasn’t anything to do with what he told me about the judge.

  Finn sits down heavily on the bed beside me. ‘But she did have some news about Hugo,’ he says.

  My eyes fly instantly to his face. He swallows, fights to hold my gaze and not look away.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ he finally says.

  I shake my head, trying to cut him off because I can see from the look in his eye what he’s going to say next. ‘No.’

  Sorrow passes across his face and when he speaks his voice is soft. ‘He died last night.’

  ‘How?’ I ask numbly, still shaking my head, still not ready to believe.

  ‘He never recovered consciousness. He slipped into a coma and then passed away in his sleep.’

  My fingers clutch at the bed covers. ‘No. No. No. Stop it.’ I’m shaking my head so fast that my vision blurs. Through it I see a curtain of red, the walls pressing in on me. Next thing I know I’m on my feet, throwing myself against something, kicking hard and punching harder, screaming and yelling and sobbing at the same time, but then my arms are pinned against my body and my feet lift off the floor. A part of me realises that it’s Finn, that he has his arms around me and is holding me from behind.

  I try to scream, ‘Get off me!’ But it comes out as a sob.

  ‘Shh . . . shh . . . ’ he whispers in my ear, his arms a vice around my torso.

  I put up a struggle, kicking out with my legs and connecting sharply with his shin. He grunts but doesn’t let me go, and then the fight evaporates out of me as fast as it arrived and I sink to the floor sobbing.

  Finn drops with me, his arms still wrapped around me, my back pressed to his chest. My head falls forwards and with one hand Finn sweeps my hair out of my face and holds me while I cry, rocking me back and forth.

  ‘What can I do?’ he asks after a few minutes when I’ve calmed a little.

  I lift my head, my skull throbbing. My throat is stripped and raw and my body aches all over.

  ‘Nic . . . ’ he says, and the way he says my name, the anguish in his voice, makes me stop crying instantly. I tilt my head backwards against his shoulder. My hair falls in front of my face and Finn brushes it away again, his palm resting against my cheek. My focus falls to his lips.

  I remember what he just said to Maggie, how he isn’t interested in me, but the pain inside my chest feels overwhelming, like a dozen crossbow bolts have been shot through me, and I want it to go away. I want to forget. For just a moment, preferably longer, I don’t want to be in my head. I want to be in his arms where despite not wanting to, I feel safest. Before he can do or say anything more I lean forwards and kiss him, pressing my lips to his with a desperation that surprises me, and from the way he tenses, I guess surprises him too. But he doesn’t pull away.

  I wrench my arm free of Finn’s embrace and twist so I’m sitting on his lap, then I lace my fingers around his neck and tug him closer.

  He doesn’t kiss me back at first and I almost give up, but then I hear him sigh. His arms snake around my waist and he pulls me tight against his chest, and the kiss becomes frantic, breathless, all consuming.

  I’ve never known a desperate hunger like the one that overtakes me. It cancels out everything: the memories, the pain in my shoulder, the thoughts slamming themselves around my skull. It turns the volume down on my mother’s screams. All I can feel, all I know, is Finn.

  My hands slide beneath his T-shirt again, running over the hard slabs of muscle, feeling the ridges of his scar and following it down inside his jeans with absolutely no hesitation. It’s as if my body is acting independently of my mind, purely on instinct. Finn groans even as he kisses me harder, his teeth biting down on my lower lip. I tilt my head back and he kisses along my jaw.

  I rip his T-shirt off over his head. I bury my lips against his neck and inhale deeply, the scent of him filling my lungs, making me cling to him even more. Then I realise Finn has stopped kissing me.

  Slowly, very slowly, Finn peels my arms from around his neck and taking a deep breath, he picks me up and sets me down on the bed. I sit there, staring up at him, shaking. He can barely look me in the eye. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbles, ‘I can’t do this.’ He reaches for his shirt on the floor, snatches it up, and backs off towards the door as though he’s running away from an unexploded bomb.

  I watch him with my heart pounding in my mouth, barely able to breathe. It feels like I have razor-sharp claws embedded in my side and that they are inch by dreadful inch slicing their way through me, tearing me apart. I want to scream and cry and throw things at the wall but the pain makes it impossible to move. My face burns, my lips throb, tears well up in my eyes.

  Finn backs through the door and disappears, leaving me alone.


  As I close the door behind me I curse myself, fighting every instinct to turn back. I want to rush back inside. I imagine laying her down on the bed, kissing her again, taking my time over it, showing her how much she means to me, how much I want her. But I don’t. I take a deep breath and walk towards the stairs.

  Halfway down, I stop by the window. Resting my palm against the cool glass, I stare out at the icy lake, imagining diving into it. That cools me off, though it takes a minute. What did I just do? Why did I kiss her? I promised myself I wouldn’t touch her again. She’s a witness. And she’s vulnerable. She needed a friend, not some dickhead guy to take advantage of her.

  I run a hand through my hair. What are you doing, Finn Carter? I feel like yelling at myself. Didn’t I learn my lesson with Eleanor? How could I make the same mistake again?

  Eleanor Ricci was a witness on a case I worked when I was on the FBI internship programme. She was the twenty-two-year-old stepdaughter of a mid-level mafia fixer. She had watched him murder her mother in cold blood. Her eye-witness testimony would finally put behind bars a man that the FBI had been trying to bri
ng in for two decades.

  I was only put on the case because the week before the trial Eleanor was getting skittish and having second thoughts about testifying. She knew the mafia would try to silence her before it came to trial and, even though we had her in a safe house, she was rightly nervous. She would have to enter the witness protection programme as soon as the trial was over, which meant giving up all her friends and her family and taking on a whole new identity. I had been shadowing Maggie and she could see that Eleanor and I had a rapport going, so she put me on duty in the safe house to keep an eye on her and try to calm her down.

  One thing led to another. I crossed the line. We wound up in bed together. I’m not proud of my actions and I know that to claim she threw herself on me isn’t gentlemanly but . . . she threw herself on me. And I was nineteen.

  That same night Eleanor ran from the safe house. She waited until I stepped into the bathroom, stole my car keys and my wallet from my suit jacket which was lying on the floor and fled. The trial collapsed, the guy walked free, and a little over a month later Eleanor was found in a motel in Denver. She’d been shot once through the head. The mafia had got to her before the FBI could.

  Maggie covered for me at the time, but a month later when I leaked the details of that judge, she couldn’t bail me out again. She was right then just as she’s right now. Eleanor Ricci died because of me. If I hadn’t allowed lust to fog my brain, she would never have walked out of that safe house with my car keys and wallet in hand. A murderer would have been jailed. I can’t risk anything happening to Nic because I didn’t learn my lesson. Even if what I feel for Nic is infinitely deeper and more real than anything I felt for Eleanor.

  ‘Hellooooo,’ someone calls out just then, making me spin around.

  ‘Hellooo, anybody home?’

  I pull on my T-shirt and jog down the rest of the stairs. Shit. My mind instantly starts making calculations. I’ve left my computer on the kitchen table, my bag and the gun beside it. I’m a fricking idiot.

  ‘Hellooooo?’ the person calls once more. By her tone I’m guessing it’s not the police. Maybe a neighbour who saw me standing by the damn window gazing out like some love-lost fool? Plastering on a smile, I yank open the door. There’s only one thing for it.

  A woman with carefully coiffured blonde hair that’s been sprayed into a rock-solid-looking helmet, is standing in the hallway. She’s wearing an Hermès scarf, a jacket and expensive-looking leather gloves. She glances up and, seeing me, steps backwards.

  ‘Hi,’ I say. ‘Can I help you?’

  She purses her lipstick-pink lips and I can see the cogs turning. She’s wanting to ask who I am but manners dictate otherwise. She’s well-bred, something I guessed from her voice. I can use that to my advantage. I alter my posture and my own accent to match hers.

  ‘I’m Dana Fischer,’ she says, immediately flustered. ‘I live next door.’ She points vaguely over her shoulder. ‘I thought I saw someone and that I should come and investigate,’ she purrs. ‘I didn’t know Maureen and Bob had house guests.’

  I keep smiling at her, maintaining eye contact. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Maureen said we could come up and use the house for the week. Her and Bob are so great like that, aren’t they?’

  ‘Yes, yes,’ Dana says, seeming to relax. ‘How is Bob?’

  ‘Oh, he’s great,’ I say.

  She pulls back, looking puzzled and I realise I’ve just said the wrong thing. ‘I mean, you know, doing better,’ I mumble.

  She smiles sympathetically. ‘Poor man. Going through all that chemo.’

  I nod in sympathy.

  ‘And being a doctor too. So hard.’ She smiles frostily. ‘How do you know them?’ she asks.

  ‘Oh, you know. I . . . er . . . family friends,’ I say, hedging my bets.

  ‘Oh right,’ she says, suspicion clouding her eyes.

  Crap. I need to get her out of here before she rumbles me.

  I stretch and yawn. ‘My girlfriend is in the shower and I said I would make her breakfast in bed.’

  ‘Right,’ she says, her eyes darting over my shoulder and up the stairs. ‘Well, I’ll leave you to it then.’

  ‘Thanks. I’ll be sure to tell Maureen and Bob how friendly you were.’

  I start edging her to the door. She pauses just before it, one hand on the frame and with a bemused smile she says, ‘But where’s your car? How did you get here?’

  ‘Um, we got a ride up,’ I say, knowing how unlikely this sounds.

  She narrows her eyes at me but the smile stays fixed in place. ‘Well, then, have a nice day!’ she says, but her face is now stony and when she scurries down the steps she throws me a glance back over her shoulder. I wave and smile then turn around, slam the door, and sprint up the stairs.


  I’m pacing the room, trying to figure out how to escape this situation without transport, money or a clue where we are, when Finn barges into the room.

  ‘Come on, we gotta go,’ he says, reaching for me.

  ‘What? Why?’ Adrenaline surges through me in a tidal wave.

  ‘The neighbour just dropped by. She didn’t buy my story. Guaranteed she’s now on the phone to the police.’

  The look on his face is so serious that I forget what’s just passed between us and my plans to strike out on my own, and let him pull me towards the top of the stairs.

  Finn grabs his laptop and gun from the kitchen table and stuffs it into his bag. I glance out the window at the blindingly white view then make a move towards what looks like a utility room. Inside I spot a rack of coats and scarves. I grab two jackets and two scarves and then pull out some drawers and find some gloves. I walk back into the kitchen and find Finn rooting through the kitchen drawers.

  I join him. Yanking open the drawer next to me, I discover a selection of stainless steel chef’s knives. I slide one out and because it’s too big for my pocket I tuck it into my boot. I feel a bit stupid doing so, but without Goz or my Taser I feel like I want to have some kind of weapon to hand.

  ‘Let’s go,’ Finn says, pocketing a bottle of Advil and slamming the drawer shut.

  When we head outside, the chill of the early morning barely penetrates through all my layers. The air is startlingly clear and makes my eyes water. In the distance the lake glints dully. The snow muffles all sound. We could be two lovers heading out for a winter’s day walk around the lake. Except we’re not, I think to myself, as Finn pulls out two hundred-dollar bills and leaves them on the side before pulling the door shut behind us. We’re fugitives. Lovers is the last thing we’ll ever be.

  The woods are so silent and still that the sound of our feet crunching is deafening, but we haven’t made it across the road before we see flashing lights in the distance. We start running, cresting the bank on the other side and flattening ourselves behind a tree just as a police car goes racing past.

  As soon as it turns down the drive into the house we borrowed for the night, Finn moves off and I follow behind him, struggling through the deep drifts that have built up, trying to ignore the shooting jets of pain that rocket up my arm.

  Another half mile and we’re in the parking lot where we left the truck yesterday. It sits covered in a fresh layer of snow. I ponder whether it’s wise to drive a truck that must have been reported stolen by now, but it’s not like we have many other options.

  Once inside, I sit huddled as Finn tries to start the engine. It refuses to turn over. He tries again but the engine gives a weak sputter and dies. I glance over at Finn. He has yanked his gloves off and is glaring angrily at the dashboard. ‘Come on, come on,’ he hisses, as he twists the key and pumps the gas.

  I twist to look over my shoulder, but the road and the house are out of sight. It won’t take long before the police find our footprints by the back door, and if they start following them . . .

  For a brief moment I contemplate what would happen if we just turned ourselves in, if we stopped running. Would I be safe in police custody? It’s not like the FBI
could protect me, I remind myself, so how could the police? But would I be at any more risk than I am now? I look across at Finn. Would he be safer? I think of all the laws he’s broken trying to protect me and keep us safe – assaulting two policeman, breaking and entering, stealing two cars . . .

  No. We can’t get arrested. I can’t allow it to happen. Finn would be in so much trouble. As if someone is listening to my silent plea, the engine roars to life.

  Finn guns the truck down the track, his hands white-knuckled on the wheel. We jolt over the ruts and, when we make the road, fishtail on to it. From here I can see the police cruiser parked up outside the front of the house and a cop speaking to a woman with blonde hair who is gesturing towards the house. Hearing our tyres spinning on the icy road, they both whip around.

  ‘Damn,’ Finn says, and I turn around just in time to see the second cop stepping into the road in front of us. He’s followed our footprints through the snow. At the sound of the truck he turns, and his eyes widen like a cartoon character’s as he sees we’re not slowing down. He leaps backwards out of the way as we roar past him. In the rear-view mirror I see him stagger into a snow drift while fumbling for his gun, all the while yelling over his shoulder to his partner.

  I grip the seat and brace myself as we go flying down a hill, putting the house and the police out of sight. Finn doesn’t take his foot off the gas even though the road is slick with ice, and a few times we skid. He fights for control each time, spinning into the skid, and I sit with my eyes glued to the mirror, watching for flashing lights and sirens coming up behind us.

  Two minutes later we hit the highway with still no sign of the police and Finn swerves into a small gas station. He parks up at the side of the building in between a car and a truck. Neither of us speaks. Finn has his hands still wrapped around the wheel and his eyes locked on the mirror, watching the road behind us.

  The tension is tight as elastic stretched to snapping point. What are we doing? What are we waiting for?

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