Authors: Suzanne Rock,Lauren Hawkeye
iv could feel him breathing
. It was a small thing, but comforting none-the-less. It could just be the afterglow of sex, but she had never felt so connected to anyone in her entire life.
It had started out innocent. Nayo was hurting and she wanted to soothe his pain, if only for a little while. She wanted to give him something he couldn’t’ get from anyone else – understanding. What had started out as a flicker of passion had turned into something more. Liv didn’t know how it happened, but she was starting to have real feelings for the man curled up beside her.
“Feel better?” she asked as she rubbed his arm. The fine hairs tickled her fingers and made her smile.
“A little.” Nayo snuggled closer and buried his face in her hair. “I love the way you smell.”
He chuckled. “Like jasmine. It’s comforting.”
“It’s familiar.” He nuzzled her neck. “It reminds me of the bazaars I used to go to as a kid.”
She turned in her arms. “A bazaar?”
“It’s like a festival. The street is lined with local vendors, selling their wares.”
“Ah, like a farmer’s market.”
He thought about that for a moment. “Sort of, but not just food. People sell clothing, jewelry, anything they can, really.”
“Your father let you go to these bazaars?”
“No, he said it was too dangerous. My brother and I would sneak out and go anyway. It was a lot of fun.” His expression darkened. “But that was a long time ago.”
She brushed her fingers along his chest, enjoying the feel of muscle under her fingertips. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” He sighed. “But it’s okay. Taz was more of a brother to me than Jamal ever was.”
“I’m sorry about Taz, too.”
He grasped her fingers and kissed her knuckles. “I know, and I appreciate it.”
“Nayo. . .” She knew that she had to talk to him about their precarious situation, but wasn’t sure how to approach the subject.
She looked at him for a long moment, trying to choose her words.
He tightened his grip on her hand. “Whatever you need to say,
just say it.”
“What does that mean? Ha-bibitty? You keep calling me it.”
Nayo smirked at her failed attempt to pronounce the Arab word. “
It’s an Arab term of endearment. It translates to ‘my love.’”
Liv blushed at his words. “Oh. That’s lovely. Thank you for telling me…
Nayo smirked again. “Actually, you would call me
is the feminine form.”
Liv giggled “Oops. Thank you for telling me,
“Much better.” Nayo laughed. “Now stop stalling and tell me what’s been worrying you.”
Liv let out a puff of air. “Ok. Just before I walked in and saw you, I was listening to the local news channel. They-they think that we are radicals.”
“I know, but they seem determined. They think that you planned all of those bomb threats around the city, and. . . .” she averted her gaze. “They think that I’m your accomplice.”
“But you’re not.”
She smiled. “It doesn’t matter what the truth is, just how they spin things.” She let out a long breath. “They think that we are on some romantic crusade, and are planning a suicide mission as a big finale.”
Nayo muttered something in Arabic as he pulled away from her and rubbed his forehead.
She propped herself up on her elbow. “We have to go to the police and straighten this out.”
“I said no.” Nayo sat up and started pulling on his clothes.
“If we don’t, they’re just going to hunt us down.” When he didn’t respond, she sat up. “You have to see that.”
Nayo rubbed his chin and walked a short distance away. “I can’t.”
He turned to face her. “I can’t go to the cops.”
He sighed and pushed his thick locks back from his face. “I’m not an American citizen. They could revoke my visa and send me home.”
“We could talk to them—”
“They can’t send me home, Liv.” He shook his head. “I just can’t.”
She stared at him for a moment as she digested his words. “Why not?”
“It would be a disaster.”
“You love to ask questions, don’t you?” He sighed and waved his hand in the air between them. “I’m sorry.” He moved over to the window and looked out at the front gates “The truth is that I can’t go back because . . . I’m engaged.”
He turned away from the window and faced her. “It’s an arranged marriage, set up when I was still learning to walk. It’s supposed to unite two powerful families in my country and secure our position of power.”
“Do you . . . do you love her?”
“Love her? I don’t even know her.”
He leaned against the wall and ran his hand over his face. “We met a couple of times at formal functions. She was polite, but it was clear that she had no desire to be with me. She seemed distracted and at times condescending.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t take it personally. At the time it didn’t really matter who I married. All that mattered was the power my family would receive. She understood that as well.”
“That seems so . . . barbaric.”
“I suppose it would seem that way to you, but it is how things are in my country.”
“And now?” she asked.
“Now?” He stared at her for a long moment, as if choosing his words. “I guess I always knew that I wanted more than life was offering me. I think that’s why I pushed so hard to come to America. I told my father it was to study western culture and try to find a way to do business with America, but in reality I needed time to think things through and figure stuff out on my own.”
“And did you?”
He shook his head. “Not yet, but I’m close. And I know that now, if I go back, my father will call this trip a failure. He will see my arrest as proof our cultures are not compatible. I will be forbidden to return to the States and forced to marry a woman I do not love.”
“You’re right,” Liv said. “You can’t go back.” She twirled a long strand of hair around her finger as she considered her options. “So what do we do?”
His smile appeared sad as he closed the distance between them. “We don’t do anything.” He took her hands. “You go back to the police and explain that you were a hostage and managed to escape.”
“But that would be lying.”
“Shh.” He put his finger to her lips. “I have already lost so much, Olivia.” He pulled his hand away.
“You’re being framed. It’s the only explanation.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Are you insane? Of course it matters.”
“The police won’t believe you without proof.”
“Then we get proof.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know if I will be able to live with myself if something happened to you, too.”
“Nothing will happen.”
“Are you so sure? Remember what happened to Taz.”
She swallowed and looked away. “It isn’t right.”
“Promise me that you will not defend me in any way.”
Liv blinked back tears as she met his gaze. “But—”
She stared at him, not quite understanding. “Why?”
“Because making me the bad guy is the only way to ensure your freedom.”
She shook her head. “But it’s wrong.”
“As long as you are free from this mess, it’s right.” He picked up her clothes off the floor and handed them to her. “Now get dressed and go before I change my mind.”
“Nayo, I can’t—”
He silenced her with a hot, passionate kiss. “Go, Olivia.” He gently brushed his knuckles down the side of her cheek. “Go talk to the police, before it’s too late.”
Liv stared, tears streaming down her cheeks, as Nayo turned and left her to change alone.
If that man thought she was going to pin this entire incident on him to gain her freedom, then he really didn’t know her very well.
Shoving on her clothes, she made her way to the front door. She would leave and talk to the police, but not to do as he asked. No, she was going to fight this with everything she had.
Nayo was a good man, and it was about time the world heard about it.
, Ms. Bremer, you must know something. Help us help you.” The large, muscular man pulled out a chair and sat down, joining his fellow officer across the table from Liv. Leaning back in his chair as he linked his hands behind his head, he stared Liv down. His brown hair was buzzed short and the deep wrinkles around his eyes made him look older than she suspected he was. Liv figured that must be part of the job description – premature aging.
The room in the police station they took her to for questioning was just what she imagined it would be. Cold and sterile feeling, there was nothing in the room save for a stainless steel table with three uncomfortable chairs around it. There was a small bar attached to the top that Liv assumed was for handcuffing people to the table, and she was thankful they didn’t feel the need to use it with her. At least not yet.
The walls were a dingy looking white and with no windows in the room, the only light came from the unflattering fluorescent lights that ran along the ceiling. A cheap looking clock with a very loud
and what Liv suspected was a two-way mirror were the only things that adorned the walls.
The officer cleared his throat impatiently.
Liv stared at them in shock. “He didn’t do it.”
“How do you know?”
She crosses her arms. “I just do.”
“Do you know where he was at nine o’clock yesterday morning? Or at eleven?” the second cop, a woman named Becca, asked. Liv shrunk back in her seat at the sneer on the woman’s face. She looked as if she had eaten nails for breakfast.
“I told you, we ran into each other in the Black Towers lobby. He told me that he had an appointment with Ethan Black.”
“What were you doing in the building?” Officer Buzz-Cut asked.
“How many times do we have to go over this? I work there!”
“And you can verify this by. . .”
She gave them her name and other relevant information again. “I swear that this is pointless. Why do you keep asking me the same questions over and over again? There’s a terrorist out there on the loose. Shouldn’t you be doing something to bring him in?”
The cops exchanged a look, then the man nodded and left the room.
“Where’s he going?” Liv asked.
The woman opened up a folder that was sitting in front of her and started leafing through the contents. “You swear he was in a meeting all morning, is that right?”
“That’s what he told me.”
She pulled a photo from the file and dropped it in front of Liv. “Then how do you explain this?”
“What is it?” Liv asked, picking up the photo and examining it.
“This was taken at ten that same morning by the security cameras at the Chinese Theater. And this. . .” She dropped another photo on the table. “Was taken down at the port two hours before that.
Liv placed the photos next to each other on the table and studied them. In one, a tall, dark-haired, Middle Eastern man was putting a duffle bag into a crate on the loading dock of the port. In the other, the same man, wearing the same clothes, was placing a similar duffle by the main doors of the theater.
“This looks like the same guy.”
It sure looked like Nayo in the picture. The man had the same angular face and shoulder width. His hair was covered with a traditional Arab head scarf and his coat was oversized, but the features were strikingly similar.
“Well?” the woman asked.
“It’s not him,” Liv said with confidence. She tapped the pictures. “Here the man is wearing bulky clothing, probably to hide his size.”
“Nayo was wearing a fitted suit when I met him. It looked to be tailor-made.” She pointed to the man’s head in the picture. . “And he doesn’t wear the traditional Arab headwear,” she said.
Just then the man wheeled in a small television set and positioned it in front of her.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Security tapes,” the man answered as he picked up the remote. “We want you to take a look at something.
He pressed play, and the front of Black Towers came into view. Liv watched as she saw herself stumble through the revolving door, and how Carrie verbally cut her down in the lobby. Liv cringed when Carrie turned her back and headed for the elevators, remembering how rejected she had felt.
“Stop it right there,” the woman said. The man stopped the tape and she pointed to the side of the screen. “See this?”
Nayo was standing off to one side with his friend, Taz, and they were both watching her. Liv‘s heart softened when she saw how angry he was getting.
“So?” Liv asked.
“Look what he’s carrying,” she said.
Liv squinted and sat forward. Sure enough, it was a duffle bag similar to the ones in the photos.
“I don’t understand. He didn’t have a bag when we met in the foyer.”
Liv watched as he handed the bag to Taz and then moved toward her. As she bumped into him, Taz moved off-screen. When he returned to warn Nayo of the bomb threat, he no longer carried the bag.
“Taz?” she asked him.
“They were working together,” the man explained as he shut off the television.
Liv shook her head. “That’s impossible. Taz isn’t in these photos. Only one man was seen at the other sites.”
“We have confirmed with the suspect’s father that the man you refer to as ‘Taz’ has been working for the Darzi family for quite some time.
“Yes, of course. He’s Nayo’s closest friend.”
The officers exchanged a look. “It is also well known that both he and Nayo’s brother Jamal, are sympathetic to a fringe radical group who have claimed responsibility for multiple failed attempts at terrorist threats in North America.
“Taz is sympathetic with Jamal?” Liv looked from one officer to another. “I don’t understand. Nayo said that when his father forbid him to go to the States, Taz was the one who helped convince him. Taz has been his greatest supporter in bringing western culture to his country.”
The cops exchanged another look. “Either your boyfriend is lying to you,” the woman said. “Or he is being lied to by someone else.”
“Either way,” the man said. “We’d like to bring him in for questioning.”
Liv nibbled her lower lip in thought.
“Ms. Bremer?” the woman asked.
Liv looked up and nodded. “Okay.”
The man breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Now tell us where he’s hiding.”
“I don’t know.”
“What?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know.” Liv looked at each of them in turn. “I mean, I was hiding with him yes, but he knew that I was coming here. He’s probably long gone by now.”
“Great.” The woman threw up her hands. “Another dead end.”
“Can I go now?” Liv asked the man.
“Yes, you can go.” He sighed and rubbed his temple. “Come on, let me bring you out front where you can fill out the paperwork.”
Liv went through the motions, and soon found herself on the outside of the station. She walked slowly to the metro station, and thought about everything that had transpired in the last forty-eight hours.
Taz must have been lying to Nayo. There was no other explanation. Taz was loyal to his brother and had used Nayo as an excuse to come to America to carry out his terrorist plot.
Or not. Taz might have left a duffle bag at Black Towers, but the man in the photos and in the video looked nothing like him.
Liv entered her apartment and locked the door behind her. As she made her way to the kitchen, she rolled the events around in her head and tried to make sense of them. Time and again, she kept falling back on one question—why?
She looked in her refrigerator and found only a bottle of wine and a stick of butter. Grabbing the wine, she poured herself a glass and sat at the kitchen island to think things over.
Could it be possible that Taz had been lying to Nayo about everything? How could Nayo not realize it if he was, he was a smart man, you would think he would be able to read his closest friend well enough to know when he’s lying or up to something. So does that mean Nayo was in on it the whole time? Liv shook her head, she just couldn’t bring herself to believe Nayo knew anything about it. She trusted him.
Then maybe everything was just one big misunderstanding and Taz had nothing to do with it either. Liv had seen firsthand how the police could spin things to look how they want, they painted her to be an accomplice after all. This was ridiculous. The more she thought about this situation, the more questions arose. The best thing to do, in her opinion, was to go straight to the source. She needed to talk to Nayo.
Finishing her wine, she dumped the dirty glass in the sink and headed out the door. As she navigated the busy streets of Los Angeles, she felt more and more confident about her decision. From the first moment they met, Nayo had been up front with her, and she appreciated his honesty. He needed to know that there was someone running around the city pretending to be him. And if either of them was ever going to catch this imposter, then they needed to work together.
As she stopped off to pick up some food and headed toward the condo, she noticed that security wasn’t at the gate. Red flags went off in her mind as she carefully approached the small stand where he had sat earlier. Peering inside, she found the small hut empty. Frowning, she made her way through the open gate and up to the correct floor.
As soon as the elevator doors opened, she heard the shouting. One of the voices was Nayo. The other was someone she didn’t recognize. It was female, and by the sounds of it, this woman was quite angry. Liv carefully stepped down the hall, trying to make out the words of the argument.
“You never should have come here,” Nayo said.
“Me? I’m not the one running around town in some terrorist plot—”
“That wasn’t me and you know it.”
The condo door was open, so Liv slipped inside and made her way to the kitchen, which seemed to be the source of the voices.
“You never should have come to America,” a third female voice said. This one was new and distinct from the other.
“Excuse me–and who are you again?” Nayo asked.
“Yes,” Liv said as she entered the kitchen. “Please tell us. Who are you?” She sized up the two dark-haired women before her. “Who are you, and how did you get in here?”
. Unease slipped through Nayo as he watched Liv cross her arms and glare at the women.
“I told you not to come back,” he said, closing the distance between them. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Oh, so you care about her, and not me,
?” The woman closest to him slapped him in the arm. “I’m going to be your wife.”
“Your wife?” Liv asked. She turned to Nayo. “This is your fiancée?”
“Yes.” He took a step back and waved his hand in the air. “This is Deema Kader, my fiancée.” She was stunning with large, almond shaped brown eyes that she accentuated expertly with minimal makeup. Her brown hair was covered by a beautifully draped scarf that framed her face.
“As much as it displeases me.” The woman rolled her eyes. “Men.”
“And I’m Violet, but everyone calls me Vi.”
“And how exactly do you fit into all of this?” Liv asked.
Violet took a step to the side and put her arm around Deema’s waist. The movement lifted her tank top just enough for Liv to see the tattoo angled across her hip. “I’m her girlfriend.”
Deema lifted her chin, as if preparing for a verbal assault. “Yes, do you have a problem with that?”
It seemed as if Nayo had some explaining to do. He wedged himself in between his fiancée and Liv. “Let me explain.”
“She has a girlfriend,” Liv said as she turned to him. “If she has a girlfriend, then why is she marrying you?”
“Why don’t we all have a seat in the living room,” Nayo said. “I’ll explain everything.