Authors: J.A. Hornbuckle
"Can I call you Bayco?" I asked my voice still a bit breathy from my fear of both him and the storm. Yeah, he'd been a gentleman so far, almost a hero if I was willing to let it go that far. But he was still male and I knew they could turn on you faster than you could spit. But then again, there was no telling how I would've handled being in that squall, with that kind of violence, all by my lonesome. "Or do you want me to call you the other name? Brand, was it?"
When he didn't respond, I turned back to look at him over my shoulder. And got caught up in his eyes. I'd never seen eyes that color or with such long, thick lashes. Nor did I recognize the look within them. It wasn't cold or calculating, trying to determine what benefit I could be to him. There was, if I read it right, kindness and compassion in his scrutiny. Along with the promise of his protection.
I quickly slid my head back towards the window, knowing I couldn't be right in my assessment. He was the enemy, albeit maybe the best of them, but I didn't want or need neither him or his protection. I needed stick to my original plan.
A plan that had gone a little off track, but wasn't unsalvageable.
"You will need to wear pants and a jacket when we ride," I heard him say from behind me. "The worst of it has seemed to have passed, but I do not know what we will encounter on the road. I will give you the privacy to change."
I heard the heavy creak as the driver door opened and I was left in the car to put on my jacket and slip my jeans underneath my dress. I wasn't comfortable doing a full-on outfit change with him just outside, the only separation between us being a rain-spattered window.
As I dug through my heavy backpack, my hand brushed the metal of the small gun and knocked against the box of shells which steadied me.
Those items, much like the stacks of green which cradled and surrounded them, helped to firm my resolve in getting through this minor detour and back to my original goal.
He was wiping down the motorcycle when I exited the car and only gave me a once over as I stepped closer.
"Have you ever ridden one of these?"
"No," I answered, looping the straps of my purse cross-wise across my body as I dragged the shoulder straps of my heavy backpack in place. He swung a leg over and braced his feet before he turned back to me with a hand out. "Sit firm. Grip tight and keep your head down."
I didn't look at him as I arranged myself on the damp seat but I did take his words to heart, knowing that they were words which would see me safe in a lot of unexpected situations.
Brand pulled the motorcycle into the huge truck stop, angling it next to a gas pump. They needed gas, food and a toilet and this complex, just off Interstate 70, met all their requirements. With any luck, he might be able to find another helmet. The goggles he'd donned after giving her the only secure head covering, had to be cleaned every twenty miles or so. But that's what you get when you traveled the back roads… bug carcasses over any exposed part of your body.
He dropped the kickstand and eased off the seat, his ass protesting with every movement.
Glancing around the huge forecourt, he made a point of seeing who was or wasn't paying attention to him. Or more importantly, to Renee.
He'd been surprised how little fuss she created in his haste to get her some place where she could arrange for her car to be towed and repaired. She'd done as he'd asked by holding him tightly and only once signaled that she needed to stop for a bathroom break about two hours before.
As she pulled the heavy helmet off, he moved to her backpack and opened the pocket he'd seen her tuck the hat in.
"Hey!" she barked, whipping her head around to glower at him. "Get your mitts off my stuff, Bayco!"
He leaned down and put his mouth against her ear. "I want you to pack all your beautiful hair underneath your hat and put your sunglasses back on," he instructed softly but firmly. "Otherwise, keep the helmet on and the visor closed."
Her response was simply two deep blinks before she did as he had demanded. He acted like he was digging in one of the panniers as she did so, blocking the view of her between his torso and the large gas pump. Once her face and hair were hidden, he filled up the tank, his body still on alert with so many others around. When he was done, he started up the bike and took it out into a space adjacent to the bathrooms before shutting off the motor for a second time.
He got off the seat again but stayed right next to her.
"Here is what we will do. You go into the Ladies room and do not come out until you hear my knock, understand? You will stay inside for however long it takes me to get food and use the facilities myself. I will double knock three times. Do not come out until you hear them," he said. His voice was again very firm, not allowing for any argument or negotiation.
She nodded jerkily, her eyes very wide.
"No, Renee. I need you to repeat it back to me so I know you will do as I ask," Brand commanded.
"I'm going to the ladies and stay until I hear three double-knocks," she replied, her wide eyes glued to his, and he saw her lower lip quiver when she was finished speaking.
"Good," he said. "I will not be long."
He watched as she carefully swung her leg over the seat and stood up. They had been on the bike a long time, so he wasn't surprised when she stumbled in taking her first step. As he caught her arm, he felt her tremble. "I do not do this to frighten you," he tried to explain. "But to keep you safe."
"I ain't scared," she snapped back, her face lifted to his as she yanked her arm away. "Stop with the grabby hands, all right? My legs just have those pins and needle thingies."
Brand couldn't help his grin as she flashed a bit of temper, but he didn't speak or move until she was securely behind the closed door of the facilities. Quickly making his way to the Men's room, he took care of business as well before he washed his face and combed his hair, catching it in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. All this was done as his mind wandered over the puzzle of her.
He had pieces of information, glimpses of what was true and what wasn't, much like having only certain parts of a complex puzzle. He'd gained more knowledge when they'd stopped to allow her to relieve her bladder in a cornfield at sunset.
When she'd left her backpack behind, propped against the back tire of his bike.
He hadn't been shocked by either the handgun or the stacks of cash as he had rifled through it. They merely added to his curiosity. He'd already tried putting the bits together, but he was still missing too much information for the dissimilar pieces to make cohesive sense.
He'd considered and discarded several different theories of who she was and why she was running.
Drug user had been his first thought until he'd seen the luggage and her mouthiness at his carrying the water, but instructing her to bring only enough clothes for four days. Fashion was not a priority when you had a chemical habit that heavy.
Drug smuggler had been his next choice, especially after the discovery of her firearm and the money, but she would've had a backer. A backer who would've ensured she had a nice run of the mill, working car to do their work. Plus, she would've been traveling the interstate, hurrying to get the money back to whomever.
Someone running from the police?
No, she was dressed too brightly in a way that could be remembered. Most people running from Johnny Law preferred to blend into their environments, even if they were out in the boonies.
So. She was running from someone but didn't really know how to do it. The tired, worn-out car with the Missouri plates spoke volumes about her ignorance and lack of connections in obtaining an untraceable mode of transportation for her journey.
He hadn't meant to get caught up in her business, but as they hit one small town after another, they'd found, on a Sunday afternoon, most places were closed. And, for whatever reason, he felt he had no choice but to get her to safety. As the miles began to pile up behind them, he recognized his interest and curiosity had been engaged.
His mother had called him Bay-co, which was the braying bark of the dogs in their village who could sniff out even the deepest secrets. All his life he'd been the kind of person that once his awareness, his inquisitiveness had been engaged, he couldn't let go of the riddle until he solved it.
As a small boy, the satisfaction in the understanding had been enough.
As a man, he was driven to fix, resolve or correct those curious situations. Especially if they involved women or children.
Why he'd felt the need to give his passenger that old nickname, the name his mother had lovingly used for him, was still a mystery.
Tucking a bag of sandwiches, chips and sodas into the front of his leather jacket and zipping it to his neck, his knuckles hit the metal door adorned with the silhouette of a skirted female, giving the prearranged knocks.
It was time to get more information.
I hadn't been to a park at night since I was fourteen, but that's where he took me to eat our food. It was the typical kind you find in small towns with its kids play area tucked in one corner and the prerequisite baseball field in the other. The expanse of grass, not specified for any certain purpose, was dotted with the aging picnic tables and waste receptacles.
"Looks like we're chasing the storm," I announced just for something to say. Our damp, weathered bench and table just caught the edge of the lights beaming from the area where two teams were battling it out on the scoreboard in the twilight of late evening.
"Yes," he said simply, his limpid eyes meeting mine as he shifted the pile of our jackets further down the table. He'd already polished off two sandwiches and two bags of chips. I was still working on just my one. "We need to discuss your situation."
When it came to plain speaking, I was thinking that my new friend Bayco was the world-champion. "I don't have a situation. Just drop me off at the nearest motel and I can take it from there."
His eyes narrowed as I spoke.
"Shall I tell you what I know?" he asked, low and slow. For whatever reason, I braced myself even though I nodded as I took another bite of my sandwich. I had a definite suspicion I wasn't going to like what I was going to hear.
"You are running from someone. More than likely a man. But you do not know how to run, to escape, properly," he said flatly. "You have tried this before and each time you have done so, you have learned a new skill, a new way of hiding from him. However, he always finds you."
Fuck! My stomach clenched and my jaw seized mid-chew.
"This time, though, is different. You have alluded either him or the men he has sent after you and have gotten further away than you ever have before. But you know that he and his men are still searching."
Goddamn! How had he… what had I said or done… how did he…
"Stop. You need to keep a clear head and you must tell me of this situation," he said, making a small hand movement, probably in response to whatever expression my face held, or the lack thereof. Ice was now running through my veins. I needed to think and think quickly, but my brain had turned to sludge at his words.
"You're imagining things, Dude," I replied, breaking the laser beam of his eyes before turning away and upending the last of the soda can into my extremely dry mouth. "My car broke down and I just need to get to a motel so I can rest up and get my peeps to, you know, come and take care of things."
Of all the things he could've said or done in reaction to my words, none shocked me more than him breaking out into laughter. Not just a chuckle or a smirk, but a head pointed straight up, braying into the night sky, full-on laugh. I didn't think what I'd said was funny in the least, so I just sat, waiting for him to get his shit under control.
I saw him wipe his eyes with a corner of his t-shirt sleeve as the barks of his merriment slowed, which took more than a few minutes. Minutes that I used to gather up all the paper, metal and plastic from our meal and take to the nearest trash can.
"Peeps?" he said with a chuckle when I sat back down at the table. "No, I do not think so."
Okay, he maybe one of the most gorgeous things I'd ever seen, and I admit that he seemed to have the 4-1-1 on how to keep a girl safe and out of the public eye, but he was really starting to piss me off. True, I hadn't trusted him at all, mainly because of his gender in the beginning. But at his words, that distrust had started to morph into good old fashioned shut-the-fuck-up anger.
"You don't believe me?" I asked with as much outrage as I could, considering, once again, he had caught me in a lie. As stated, I'm not a very good at the prevarication stuff.
His eyes again zeroed on mine and all traces of humor were gone from his face as he shook his head 'no'.
"Which part?" I pushed. I needed to know so I could back pedal as fast as my legs, erm, my mouth could work.
"All of it," he said finally after letting me stew and squiggle under his unwavering stare. "Let's start at the beginning. What is your name?"
"Ah…uhm," I began trying to remember what name I'd given him earlier. I always tried to keep the first letter the same, but I couldn't dredge up the one I'd given him before. Remy? Roxy? Reina? Rita?
"Look at me, please," he barked on a low note. "I asked for your name, which should not be a difficult question. Not for someone that just needs a place to sleep so she can call her people to resolve her 'problem'." The bastard even used his fingers for air quotes over the word problem.
I snapped my eyes back to his and saw his were guarded. He was on to me, and I couldn't shake him off.
"Your name?" he prompted, breaking the silence that had descended. A silence that wasn't comfortable in the least. "And the truth this time."
I stared at him, doing a bit of measuring and assessing myself.
Could I trust him?
I reviewed the hours I'd been with him, trying to find a chink or a crack in any of our interactions that showed me he was looking to profit from my 'problem'. The way he'd held me during my freak-out over the storm was the part that swayed me as well as the bit at the truck stop in hiding my hair.