Authors: Ariana McGregor
She didn’t like this. She really, really didn’t. Not any of it. Tara hated lying to Alex and his mother. She had told them that she wanted a girl’s day, that she would be staying in her home with Sara and Katie. Alex hadn’t been happy, but he had agreed as long as Katie was there. The lioness shifter was a force to be reckoned with and was more than capable of keeping Tara safe. It was just a pity that Katie was nowhere near her. Alex had dropped Tara at home that morning and had seen her sister. What he hadn’t seen was Sara leaving the house about ten minutes later after Tara assured her that she was just packing a few things and waiting for Alex’s mother to pick her up. Tara sighed. Was there anyone she hadn’t lied to lately?
Now she was outside and wandering around. She forced herself to look in a shop window, refusing to give into the urge to look around for Leo. The idea was that Barry would think she was unprotected and try to catch her off-guard. She had to pretend to not be nervous or he might realize something was wrong.
She scanned the reflection in the window, trying to see the rest of the street. Her nerves were screaming at her, demanding that she run and hide. Her mouse was all for that, but Tara was determined not to give up. She was doing this for Alex, to keep her mate safe. She was not going to wimp out, not when it was so important. Taking a deep breath, she moved on.
She wandered for a while, window shopping, occasionally going inside to browse. She even sat outside and had a coffee. Still nothing. What if this didn’t work? What if Barry spotted Leo and knew it was a trap?
She wandered into the local park. It was quiet today and hopefully it would make her seem vulnerable. She sighed. Their plan was actually quite stupid. They were essentially hoping that Barry would just happen to be around to see her. For all they knew, he’d fled town after his bungled attempt to kill Alex. She could spend days wandering around for no good reason. Besides, if it didn’t work today, she may not get another chance. How many times could she get away with lying to everyone?
A bump on her arm had her jumping and spinning around.
“Sorry,” the woman called as she walked by.
Heart racing, Tara forced herself to breathe deeply again. She could do this. She had to do this.
Sitting on a bench, she opened up the newspaper she’d bought. She could waste some time, sitting here and pretending to read. It would buy her some time to work out where to go next. She was starting to run out of ideas. Her phone rang and she pulled it out of her bag. Unknown number. Should she answer it? What if it was Barry? No. She rejected the call and switched her phone to silent. She didn’t have time for this. No doubt they’d leave a voicemail and she could check it later. She put the phone away and turned back to her newspaper.
“Hey, I just saw Mouse Girl.”
Barry looked up at his brother. “Where?”
“Out shopping,” Geoff answered, sitting himself down. “Wandering around without a care in the world. Completely alone.”
Barry smiled. Finally. It was almost as though the little bitch wanted him to find her. No doubt she thought she was safe now that his cousins had been arrested. She’d assume that he’d have left town to avoid the police. It wasn’t happening. He had spent far too much time on this plan to give in now. He would have Tara’s money, no matter what he had to do to get it.
“What about Lenny and Dave?” Geoff asked. “How are we going to get them back?”
Barry looked at him. “We aren’t.”
Geoff frowned. “We’re leaving them there? They’re our cousins.”
“And they were stupid enough to get caught.” Barry shrugged. “Not our problem. Besides, what do you suggest we do? Break them out of jail while the police are looking for us?”
Geoff sighed. “I guess.”
“I’m not going to jail for them,” Barry insisted. “We can’t even afford to get them lawyers, not without the money.”
“I know.” Geoff still looked a little troubled.
Barry leaned forward, looking his brother in the eye. “Look at it this way, the money will now be a two way split instead of four.”
Geoff brightened. “That’s true.” He paused. “And it’s not like it’s our fault that they got caught.”
“No, it isn’t,” Barry agreed.
“They didn’t help us much anyway,” Geoff continued.
“No, they didn’t.”
“And they’re only cousins. It’s not like they’re brothers.” Geoff was smiling now.
Geoff sat up straight. “So are we grabbing the girl? Do you still think you can get her to marry you?”
“Yeah, we’re grabbing her.” Barry stood up. There was only a tiny little twinge of pain, his shifter DNA had finally healed most of the damage from that vicious bear woman. “I can do it. I managed to beat her down before and I can do it again.” He sighed. “It’ll take time though. I’ll have to start over, but I can make her submissive again. Then once the hitman gets to that damn bear, their mating bond will be gone. She’ll be especially vulnerable then and the process should speed up.” He glanced at his watch. “Actually, the bear should already have been dealt with.”
“So we grab her now?” Geoff asked. “While she’s alone?”
Barry grinned. “Yeah. Let’s go get ourselves a mouse.”
“Where the hell is my baby?”
The voice penetrated his thoughts, dragging him back from the soothing quiet of his mind. He frowned. He knew that voice. His bear grumbled inside his mind and went back to sleep, clearly not seeing the newcomer as a threat. He opened his eyes, seeing an unfamiliar ceiling. Where was he? What happened?
“I want to see him now,” the voice demanded. “Don’t even think about getting in my way. I am going to see my baby boy whether you like it or not.”
There was a small thud and a muffled yelp.
The door swung open and Alex turned his head to see his mother striding into the room, a flustered looking doctor hurrying behind her. Bringing up the rear was Ethan, his expression the one of bewilderment that people often wore right after meeting Alex’s mother. The look that said ‘I have no idea what’s happening but I am totally not getting involved here because that woman is crazy and she scares me’. Alex had seen that look many times over the years. Heck, he sported it himself from time to time.
“Alex!” His mother rushed over to him.
“Hey Ma,” he said, his voice all croaky.
She reached out and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. Tears glistened in her eyes and her hand shook. “How are you feeling, baby bear?”
Alex glanced at Ethan to see if he’d caught the ‘baby bear’. It was one of his mother’s favourite terms of endearment. Cute when he’d actually been a small cub, not so much now. Ethan didn’t appear to have heard since he was still looking shell-shocked, staring at Anna with wide eyes. The doctor was standing in the corner, unwilling to approach while his mother was there. She often had that effect on people too.
“Alex?” his mother queried. “Can you hear yet? The doctors thought that the blast might have hurt your ears.”
“Blast?” He asked. Then it came back. The flash of light, the bang, being thrown off his feet and then the ringing in his ears. An explosion. His hearing seemed fine, except for a very slight ringing noise. Any damage must have healed while he was out. Thank heaven for shifter genes.
Wait… how badly was he hurt? He tried moving various body parts, checking that they were still there, worked as they should, and didn’t hurt.
“He’s having a seizure!” Anna exclaimed. “Doctor!”
Alex stopped moving. “Ma, I’m fine. I’m not seizing. I was just checking to see how bad the damage is.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“I’m sorry,” he tried, looking up at her with big sad eyes. Hey, it worked when he was a cub.
She sniffed. “Don’t worry me like that. I was worried sick about you.”
“How bad is it?” he asked.
She patted his hand where it lay on the bed. “The doctor says you’ll be fine. You were lucky.” She stopped and swallowed hard. “The blast just missed you. You hit your head when you fell and a few pieces of debris hit you. It’s mostly just cuts and bruises. You’ll hurt for a while but you’ll be okay. You’ve been out cold for hours. Not that anyone bothered to tell me until recently.” She glared at Ethan.
Alex looked over at Ethan. “What the hell happened?”
His mother lightly slapped his arm. “Language.”
He looked at her incredulously. “It’s the same language you used five minutes ago on your way in.”
She sniffed. “I’m your mother. It’s allowed. Especially when you were lying here at death’s door.”
“You just said I was fine!”
She shrugged. “But you might not have been.” She gave him a look. “And we’ll be having words about that later.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Later.” She gave him her ‘you’re in trouble’ look. Inside his mind, his bear yelped and huddled in the corner. Coward.
Alex looked back at Ethan. “Well?”
Ethan stepped forward a little, keeping some space between himself and Alex’s mother. Smart wolf. “It was a bomb,” he said. “It was in your office and detonated just as you left the room.”
“Coffee,” he said with a sigh. “Saved by my caffeine addiction.” If he hadn’t forgotten to get some on his way to work, he’d have been inside his office when it exploded. He repressed a shudder. That was too damn close.
His mother sniffled.
“Hey, Ma,” he said, reaching over to take her hand. His ribs groaned in protest. “It’s okay.
okay,” she said, glaring at him. “Someone just tried to kill my baby bear.” She turned to fix Ethan with a steely look and he took a small step backwards. “You find out who did this. Find out and give me his name.”
“But…” Ethan stuttered, looking wildly at Alex.
“But nothing,” Anna snapped. “I want the name of the person who did this.”
Ethan swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good boy.” She nodded approvingly and then turned back to Alex. “Now, is there anything I can do for you?”
Alex sat up gingerly. Various bits of him hurt but nothing serious. He looked at his mother and Ethan.
“Has anyone called Tara?” he asked, looking around the room. If she knew what had happened, surely she’d be here.
“I’ve tried calling her several times,” Ethan said. “I haven’t been able to get hold of her yet.”
Fear skittered down his back.
“Where’s my phone?” he asked, looking around. “Hell, where are my clothes?”
“Language,” his mother said, slapping his arm again.
“Sorry, your phone didn’t survive the blast,” Ethan said with a shrug. “Your mother brought you some clean clothes. Your other ones were a bit… shredded.”
He growled in frustration. “I need to know that Tara is okay.”
“She’s probably not answering because she doesn’t recognize my number,” Ethan suggested. “Especially with everything that’s been going on lately. I’ll phone Dana and ask her to make the call.” He pulled out his phone and walked to the door.
“Ma?” Alex asked. “Can you…?”
“I’ll go over to her house and stay with her,” Anna agreed. “Do you want me to bring her to you?”
He thought about it and shook his head. “No. I’m fine. I should get back to the station and find out what’s happening. We still have a hitman to catch. I’d prefer that she stay out the way, somewhere safe.”
“I won’t let her out of my sight,” she promised, leaning over to kiss him. She walked to the door, stopped, turned back. “I still want that name. Make sure the wolf knows that.” With that, she was gone.
Tara sighed in frustration. How hard was it to get yourself abducted? She’d been out here for hours and she was tired and fed up. The only people who had approached her were people collecting for charity and a couple of overly aggressive salesmen for energy suppliers. She’d been stopped three times on her way along one street by people asking where she got her gas and electricity. Next person to stop her was in danger of being gnawed to death.
Her phone buzzed in her bag. Probably someone who wanted to talk to her about her energy supplier, or a new government ‘scrappage scheme’ of some sort, or maybe about PPI claims. None of which she had the slightest interest in.
She’d spent long enough pretending to read her newspaper. Standing from the park bench, she looked around. The park was still quiet. The afternoon was marching on and she was tired of wandering aimlessly. Sneaking glances around the park, she tried and failed to spot Leo. A little shiver of fear worked down her spine. He
there, right? He wouldn’t leave her out here by herself, would he?
She walked to the park exit, careful to keep her movements relaxed and natural. As she reached the street, she decided that she’d had enough for one day. She was tired, hungry, and becoming increasingly grumpy. She checked her watch. Plenty of time to duck into the café where she worked and order some cheesecake. After the day she’d had, she deserved it.
She was just passing a doorway when someone grabbed her arm.
Alex stood in the remains of his office.
His desk had been obliterated. Shards of wood littered the floor and his chair was in several pieces. Dammit. He’d had that chair ordered specially to hold his weight. There was a large pile of unidentified debris, bits of wood, brick, paper, and glass. The window was gone, leaving a huge, gaping hole in the wall. Rubble was everywhere and a coat of dust covered every surface.
A sneeze sounded behind him.
“It could be worse.”
Alex turned to look incredulously at Ethan. “There’s a hole in the wall.”
Ethan shrugged. “Yeah, but it could have been bigger.”
“There is a hole,” Alex repeated slowly, “in the wall. Where there shouldn’t be one. It’s breezy.”
“Think of it as ventilation,” Ethan suggested.
“I’m thinking of it as a hole in my wall!” Alex gestured at the offending space. He sighed. “Any news yet?”
Ethan shook his head. “No, nothing yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I have any leads.” With that, he turned and left Alex to his ruined office.