Theirs to cherish, p.48
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.48

         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 48


  Werner slipped into the driver’s seat. Thorpe folded his tall frame in on the other side, sliding to the middle of the bench seat. His knees damn near folded against his chest. He had nowhere else to put them.

  Looking like he’d rather eat dirt, Sean climbed in beside him until they sat with their broad shoulders squeezed together and their thighs pressed close. He pretended like Thorpe didn’t exist and put her backpack on the floorboard between his feet, then reached down a hand to help her. “Come up. Sit on my lap. ”

  She braced her foot on the running board and climbed in, doing her best to perch on Sean’s thighs. Curling up against his chest, she found her senses pelted by the two men she loved. Their scents blended, the press of their bodies quickly warming the cab on this chilly morning. She’d missed that so much as she’d tried to sleep last night.

  Callie wondered if this was the last time she’d feel remotely whole.

  As soon as Sean managed to shut the passenger door, Werner took off, driving into the glorious sunrise spreading across the Nevada desert. It looked expansive and calm. Best of all, there was no way anyone could follow them clandestinely out here, in the middle of nowhere. There was no place to hide. So Callie tried to sink into the moment and push all the angst and worry aside. None of it would help her today. But it kept crowding in. By the time she laid her head down tonight to sleep, everything would likely be different.

  Or she’d be dead.

  “Elijah says his Jeep is still at the Walmart,” Thorpe offered. “He was waiting for his wife to return before he went out there, and that won’t be for another few days. He says its ours for the duration if we need it. ”

  Sean didn’t say a word, just nodded. She really wished he wouldn’t be so angry, and she suspected it wasn’t totally about Thorpe hurting her. He’d been hurt, too.

  “Thank you,” she said softly.

  “Least I could do,” Thorpe answered with a wealth of meaning behind his words.

  The rest of the drive was silent. Traffic was minimal this early in the morning. Soon, the roads would be hopping with commuters, but for now, they reached the big-box chain store with barely a stoplight to obstruct them.

  Once in the parking lot, they fished the keys from the magnetic holder behind the wheel well and shoved most of their bags from the truck into the back of the Jeep. Sean jumped in the driver’s seat, watching the parking lot all around them for any activity. But it was dead empty, save for a few employees. Callie gestured Thorpe to the front, then crawled in the back with her pack, wishing she could curl up and sleep. She hadn’t all last night, even when Sean had drifted off with his arms around her protectively. She’d missed having the other half of her soul beside her.

  What she wouldn’t give for everything to be different with Thorpe and for today to turn out right . . .

  Sean looked at her in the backseat. “I’m hoping we can drive straight to the field office here and walk you in to see the SAC. ”

  “SAC?” she asked.

  “Special Agent in Charge. Once we do that, we’ll call back to the Dallas office and—”

  Thorpe’s phone rang. They all froze. No one calling him at six-thirty in the morning was going to be trying to reach him for a friendly chat.

  “Who is it?” Sean barked.

  “Logan. ”

  “Put him on speaker. ”

  Thorpe frowned, then did what Sean demanded. “Hey, man. What you got?”

  “A little more information, and none of it gives me a warm fuzzy. Elijah was finally able to send me a security image of the dude trolling for Callie at the airport . . . How is she, by the way?”

  She smiled. Callie knew firsthand that Logan packed a hell of a wallop when he spanked a girl’s ass, but he had also proven to be a friend through and through. “I’m fine. Thanks. You and Tara?”

  “All good. Don’t worry about us. The guy at the airport, hun? His name is James Whitney. Does that ring a bell?”

  “Not at all. ” She’d never heard it in her life. “Should it?”

  “I wasn’t sure. Tara did some digging, but is having a tough time finding much. He’s twenty-nine and from some little-ass town in Alabama. An Iraq War vet. He came home to find his wife and kid had left. Between his PTSD and his antigovernment ravings, most of his neighbors thought he was a loose cannon. He was arrested for drunk and disorderly and unlawful possession of a handgun, but the charges didn’t stick. About three years ago, he dropped off the grid. There are rumors that he’s joined some group of mercenaries. That’s all I’ve got now. But there’s something here. I can feel it. ”

  Callie drew in a deep breath. Why would this James Whitney want anything to do with her? He had barely been much older than her when her family had been killed. “I don’t understand. ”

  “I don’t, either. But there’s an answer here. We’ll keep looking. Do you need anything else?”

  “No, thanks. ” There was nothing Logan could do for her from Lafayette.

  “I do, Edgington,” Sean spoke up. “Sean Mackenzie here. ”

  “Name it. ”

  “If my sub ever comes to you again wanting to disappear, politely refer her back to me. ”

  Logan cleared his throat. “I was trying to help. I didn’t have all the info. Sorry, man. ”

  With that, they ended the call. Sean drove northeast as Callie tried not to nibble on a ragged nail and imagine the worst.

  “There are a million pieces to this puzzle and I don’t get it,” she said finally, her voice tight with encroaching panic.

  “I don’t know why this Whitney character would be hunting you down in the Vegas airport. But if he was wearing the same uniform as the older man who came to your house just before your father’s murder, they might be in league together,” Sean mused. “After all, Werner just said that two uniforms visited him, one old, one young. ”

  “That’s what I was thinking,” Thorpe popped in. “And if they’re related to some sort of mercenary group, maybe they wanted Aslanov’s research to make themselves better or something like that. ”

  Yeah, that made sense in a warped way. “But to kill innocent men, women, and children?”

  “Greed does strange things to people, lovely,” Sean pointed out. “I’ve been a criminal investigator for a decade. I’ve seen some terrible instances of that. ”

  How fucking tragic. Her father had only tried to do something good for the world and instead, he set off a chain of murders, including his own, and set her life on its ear.

  “How long will it take the FBI to read everything on the SD card, investigate, and arrest people? Weeks? Months?”

  Sean didn’t answer.


  “We don’t know where it will lead, Callie. You’ll be free from any implication. ” He paused. “It’s possible you may be put in Witness Protection. If that happens, I’ll go with you. ”

  Callie’s heart stopped. She had spent a decade being someone else. She didn’t want that anymore. The time had finally come to be Callindra Howe again, to put her family’s memory to rest. To live the life her mother had hoped for her.

  And if the federal government put her into hiding . . . She watched movies and read books. Callie already knew that she’d never be allowed to contact Thorpe again. That would put them both in danger.

  “No. There’s got to be another way. I won’t do it. I’d rather die. ”

  Sean gaped at her from the rearview mirror. Thorpe turned around and glared.

  “I won’t let you do that,” Sean snapped.

  “I have to second that,” Thorpe added.

  They gave one another a wary stare before Sean snapped his gaze back to the road. Traffic was beginning to pick up as rush hour began and they drove closer to the heart of the city.

  “Do you know anyone trustworthy in the Vegas office you can call?” Thorpe asked. “Let them know we’re coming in. Or better yet, maybe they can send someone to escort us
, just in case. ”

  Sean’s face tightened. “The agents I worked with a couple of years ago have been reassigned or retired. I’m not sure who I can trust. ”

  “You’ve had questions about the decisions in the Dallas office,” Thorpe conceded. “But does that necessarily mean that someone here is keeping secrets?”

  “Maybe not . . . but I can’t say for sure. ”

  “But we already know that killers are hot on our tail from Werner,” Callie argued. “No one in the FBI will shoot us dead. ”

  “No,” Sean agreed. “But there are worse things than being shot. That’s what worries me. ”

  “You mean if someone is dirty?” Thorpe looked tense and pensive.

  “Yeah. But it’s possible I’m being paranoid. ” He sighed. “I’ve got an escape route if we need it, so I’ll call. ”

  Sean pulled off the road into a fast-food restaurant’s parking lot. As commuters started wrapping around the building in their vehicles, waiting for liquid caffeine and fortification, he drove to the edge of the lot and kept the engine running. “Wait here. ”

  He jumped out with his phone in both hands, staring intently at the screen and dialing something. A moment later, he pressed the phone to his ear. The conversation lasted less than thirty seconds. Then Sean was running back to the car. He tossed his phone onto the asphalt, and it splintered into a dozen pieces.

  Callie gasped. “What the . . . ?”

  He peeled out of the parking lot and swerved back onto the freeway, cutting off a little subcompact. “As soon as I identified myself, the SAC took the phone. That shouldn’t happen. He demanded that I bring you in, Callie. I won’t do it. ”

  Her heart caught in her throat. “Like he wants to arrest me?”

  “He called it ‘questioning,’ but something is off. He asked what we’d been doing in Vegas for the last thirty-six hours. He knew you were with me. He knew I’d shopped at that Walmart and that we’d taken a taxi from there. Which means he may even know we’re in this Jeep. ” Sean weaved in and out of the swelling traffic. “I tossed my phone so that he couldn’t trace that signal anymore, just in case they’re locked on to it. ”

  “Should I do the same?” Thorpe asked.

  “Can’t hurt. ” Sean nodded tightly.

  Thorpe rolled down the window and dumped it onto the freeway without hesitation. “Now what?”

  “Our one saving grace was that they hadn’t been able to find out from the cab company exactly where they’d taken us. They were still doing paperwork to obtain the information. We have to ditch this Jeep and find another cab. ”

  “Then we should probably head back toward the Strip,” Thorpe suggested.

  “Yeah. ”

  Mouth pressed together tensely, Sean switched lanes and followed the signs toward the touristy section of Vegas. “It will probably take twenty or thirty minutes or so from here. Depends on the traffic. ”

  “Once we get a cab, where are we going then?” Callie asked. “It’s all fine and dandy to disappear into anonymous transportation, but where do we tell him to drive us if not the field office? Local police?”

  “No,” Sean said immediately. “The SAC will just swoop in and claim jurisdiction, then we’ll be right back to where we started. There’s got to be another way to get you free. Who else wants the information on that disc?”

  Callie sat back in the seat, trying not to let panic overwhelm her. If Sean didn’t know where to turn, she feared they were doomed. “Maybe Logan could get paperwork for us to leave the country. ”

  “I’m worried that if the killers tracked us to Lake Mead, they can follow us anywhere. The way they’re operating, I don’t think they have boundaries. They’ll go wherever and do whatever for that remaining research. ”

  “But you said my father burned it. ”

  “We know that,” Thorpe reminded. “They don’t. ”

  “So if we find a way to convey that the research doesn’t exist anymore, maybe they will leave me alone?” That sounded awfully optimistic, but Callie still hoped deep down that Sean believed it, too.

  “No,” he scoffed. “You still know something about these people and what they want. You still have enough evidence to suggest they killed your family and the Aslanovs. And you’re the only eyewitness who can tie both Whitney and the older bastard he’s working with to this conspiracy. They will kill you in a heartbeat to bury their skeletons. ”

  He was right. Callie fought to breathe. She wouldn’t die for greed, for research that didn’t exist anymore, to keep a dirty secret.

  Then a solution hit her—so simple and effective. She grabbed her backpack and tore into it, pulling out her cosmetics case. “As soon as we find a taxi, I think I know where to go. ”

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