Authors: Tracie Puckett
Tags: #Romance, #young adult
Just a Little Honesty | Tracie Puckett
Just a Little Series | Part 7
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Tracie Puckett. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the author: [email protected]
Manufactured in the United States
First Edition May 2013
© 2012. All rights reserved.
Cover Photo © Dmitri Gromov | Dreamstime.com
Photoshop services for this installment cover art was provided by
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The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: BMW
Friday, April 05 | 6:30 p.m.
“State authorities have suggested that the convict is considered armed and dangerous, and all residents of West Bridge—and all neighboring communities—should be on high alert and prepare for immediate lockdown.”
My head snapped involuntarily; something—reflex? Or maybe it was Luke’s advice all those months ago—had me at a constant state of awareness.
Keep your eyes peeled, Julie.
It was advice that I hadn’t taken too seriously back when he’d first offered it, but I heeded his warning every day following Hannah’s lock-up.
Keep your eyes peeled, Julie.
It seemed strange even now; I couldn’t escape the constant reminder of the man I’d once loved—even long after we’d gone our separate ways. He was always there; I could never let him go.
Keep your eyes peeled, Julie.
Something about the moment felt eerily wrong. It couldn’t have been the rolling thunder, or even the bold strikes of lightning on the distant skyline. I had my doubts that the torrential downpour had any bearing on the sinking feeling that kept hollowing deeper into my stomach.
There was a storm brewing, and something in my heart told me that it had nothing to do with the weather outside. There was something bigger, something monumental lurking around the corner; I’d felt it coming for days, possibly even weeks. Something was about to change, and whatever that
was… it had finally arrived.
I could feel it.
Keep your eyes peeled, Julie.
His words echoed in my ears as I slid out of the booth and stood up, slowly walking closer to the bar as I watched the TV.
“Carl,” I said to the man wiping down the counter. “Can you turn that up?”
With one swift nod, the bartender turned to pick up the remote.
“Again,” the young newscaster repeated herself. “Milton has escaped from the West Bridge high-security prison where he was being held on two counts of first degree murder. He was serving a life sentence for the 2011 murders of Officer Stephen Little and his wife, Elizabeth Little, of West Bridge.”
Almost everyone at Frank’s Bar & Grill turned to the TV to watch the breaking news. As his father’s mug shot was suddenly plastered across the screen, Derek followed me out of the booth—where we’d only just sat down to order dinner—and joined me in the middle of the floor. His hand landed softly on my back, and he pulled me closer, but I didn’t fall into his embrace. I stood still, momentarily mistakable for any other inanimate object in the room.
Other than the sound of heavy breathing and the rain on the roof, Frank’s had died to a deafening low; no one talked, and no one made a sound. Most of the patrons watched the TV, but some—like Derek—were more interested in watching me.
Conan Milton had escaped from prison, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he was headed straight for Oakland; he was coming to kill me.
“Citizens are strongly urged to remain inside and not to open their doors to anyone except for properly identified police officials,” the woman reported. “James Gregory is on the scene with breaking information.”
I turned to meet Derek’s wide-eyed stare as a reporter—straight from the gates of the West Bridge Penitentiary—began reporting the details of the prison break.
I swallowed hard and took a few deep breaths, fighting the urge to break down in the middle of the restaurant. It might’ve been nothing more than paranoia, but I felt as though the entire town was watching… watching and waiting to see the Chief’s niece cry herself into a puddle on the floor. I had to hold it together; I couldn’t break. I had to keep my wits about me, and I had to stay strong.
If I let my guard down…anything could happen. Despite my vulnerabilities—and the fact that I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a ball and die—I knew I had no choice but to accept that this storm was one I had to weather.
“Come on,” Derek whispered, putting his arm around my shoulders. “Let’s get you home.”
Once outside and away from the crowd, Derek pressed a kiss to the top of my head and pulled me into a tight hug. We stood in the rain, wrapped in each other’s arms, and let the silence speak for itself. I trembled beneath his touch, and Derek knew as well as I did that it had nothing to do with the fact that my clothes were soaked through to my skin.
“Derek,” I said, pulling away, but only slightly. I rested my chin on his chest and watched his doleful stare. “He’s coming here, isn’t he? He’s coming for me.”
“No,” he said, almost whispering. I dropped my head to stare at my feet, but he lifted his hands to my face and forced me to meet his gaze. “Julie,” he said, and his voice was firm, but kind. “He’s
coming for you.”
“Of course he is.” Derek dropped his hands back to his sides. No matter what he really believed, he wasn’t going to win the argument—not in that moment, not given the circumstances. I buried my face back into his shoulder and bit back tears. “He’s coming to finish the job he started when he killed Mom and Dad—”
“Don’t talk like that,” he said, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me closer. “He’s not coming anywhere near you, Julie.’
Something about the way he held me told me that even
didn’t believe the words he’d said. Though he tried to mask it with a gentle embrace and soothing tone, even Derek couldn’t disguise the fear in his voice.
He knew, and so did I. Conan Milton wouldn’t stop until I was dead.
For the second time in only minutes, my body shivered involuntarily beneath his strong hold.
Without a word, Derek led me to his car. He opened the door, helped me inside, and retreated to the driver’s seat.
We drove back to the house without another word; had it not been for the wiper’s repetitive strikes against the glass, the ride would’ve been a silent one.
Back home, Derek rushed to the passenger’s door and helped me out. With his arm draped over my shoulders, he held me tight as he led me up the steps, onto the porch, and back into my house.
No sooner than he had me settled on the couch and under a blanket, he darted from the room.
“Where are you going?” I asked, jumping to my feet. The blanket he’d just draped across my shoulders fell to the floor.
“You can’t leave me, Derek,” I said, but it was more of a plea than a demand. My voice was thick with desperation.
“I’m just going to the kitchen,” he promised, nodding to the doorway. “I’m only getting you a glass of water.” I watched him for one long minute, and he stood staring at me with tired eyes. “I’ll be right back.”
I nodded and fell back down on the couch. But the moment my butt hit the cushion, the front door busted open, slamming itself into the wall as it flew forward. A tall shadow lurked in the doorway, and from where I sat, all I could see was a man’s silhouette.
Every thought I’d had earlier about staying strong, holding it together, and keeping my wits flew right out the window. I didn’t care so much anymore about saving face.
I had every reason to believe that my nerves were about to throw themselves into overdrive, but then they suddenly shut down. I waited for my heart to beat against my ribs, but I couldn’t even tell if it was still in my chest. I opened my mouth to yell for Derek, but my voice had simply vanished.
I suddenly found myself experiencing a familiar sensation, but on a whole new level; it was a feeling like nothing I’d ever felt before.
I was overcome by heavy, dark, paralyzing fear.
“Julie!” a voice echoed through the foyer as the man stepped over the threshold.
I watched as Luke passed the doorway (not even bothering to search the first floor). He immediately darted up the staircase, yelling my name along the way.
Elvis perked up from the floor beneath my feet and howled; he was undoubtedly put off by all the sudden disturbance. With the dog’s call, Luke flew down the stairs faster than I’d ever seen a person move. He stopped short in the doorway and stared at me as I sat motionless on the couch.
“Julie,” he said, letting go of a heavy sigh. “Thank God.”
It was the first time I’d seen Luke in nearly a month, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised that the only reason he was there was because he’d suddenly felt the need to come to my rescue. After all, being my (unsought) hero was what he’d always done best.
He dropped his shoulders and watched me with sorry eyes.
Somehow—leading up to that moment—I’d managed to keep from breaking down; I hadn’t shed a single tear since learning about Conan Milton’s prison break. But the second I saw Luke standing in front of me with a furrowed brow and sunken eyes—looking as defeated as I felt—every tear I’d managed to hold back broke under pressure.
Luke rushed to my side and took the space next to me, and he draped his arms around my shoulders. He pulled me to his chest and rocked me gently in his arms.
“It’s okay, kid,” he kept whispering against my ear. “It’s gonna be okay.”
I cried a thousand tears against his uniform, but our embrace only lasted until Derek’s shadow hovered above us.
Luke and I looked up at the same time, both staring at Derek, and Derek staring back at us.
Not only was it the first time I’d seen Luke in a month, but it was also the first time Luke and Derek were crossing each other’s paths since the night Derek left Oakland back in December.
With his hand still gripped firmly around my side, I could feel Luke’s muscles tense at the simple sight of the other man in the room. He suddenly felt warmer, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the heat was nothing more than anger boiling beneath his skin.
As if it took every ounce of restraint he had, Luke closed his eyes and bit back whatever awful thing he had thought to say.
Derek tried to divert his stare as he handed me a glass of water.
“Thanks,” I said, wiping my runny nose with the backside of my hand.
“Charlie’s on his way over,” Luke said, pretending to ignore Derek as best as he possibly could. But none of us could overlook the fact that Luke’s senses had suddenly hit overdrive; he sat straighter, studied the room with a keen eye, and kept his voice low. If I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve assumed that Luke had just made an involuntary change from
man on the job
. And all it took was the presence of one, single, solitary Milton.
“You need to be fully prepared to take his orders the moment he arrives,” Luke said, taking a formal tone. He sounded just as he had the first day I’d met him, the day he stood in the Oakland PD break room giving me orders before we set out on patrol. “He’s making arrangements to get you out of town and into hiding until Milton is back in custody. In the meantime, I need you to get upstairs and pack as much as you can fit into a suitcase.”
Unlike the first time I’d met him, I didn’t feel the need to disobey any of his orders. I nodded once and stood up.
“You need clothing, toiletries, essentials,” he said, not dropping his stern expression for even a second. “Don’t pack anything you don’t need. There’s no time to be picky, Little; this is a life or death situation, and we need to get you out of this house as quickly as possible.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” Derek said, taking my arm as I started to rush out of the room. His simple touch on my skin evoked a dirty look from Luke. “She can’t leave—”
“This isn’t up for discussion,” Luke said, grinding his teeth. “We need to keep her in the safest place possible, and that sure as hell isn’t Oakland.”
“I beg to differ,” Derek said, raising his chest with confidence. “If he’s coming for her—and I’m not saying he is, but
he is—the safest place for her is here—with
. I can protect her in ways you can’t, Luke;
don’t need a weapon. He’d have to go through me to get to her, and he’d never lay a finger on his own son. He may be a homicidal maniac, but my father has this thing about family loyalty. She needs to stay.”