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Authors: Dean Murray

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BOOK: Trapped
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"What
are we doing now?"

"We
both need a shower and a real night's sleep. If Anton hasn't found us
yet, we're as safe as we're going to get. Now seemed like a good time
to stop. Otherwise you were just going to fall asleep in the car
again."

The
attempt at humor was a small one, but it went a long way to chip away
the distance that had been building up between us for the last
several hours.

Ash
still hadn't changed out of his bloodstained clothes so I offered to
check us in. He handed me a gaudy-looking credit card that I assumed
was one of the prepaid types and motioned me towards the night
clerk's office.

The
motel could have been the twin of the one we'd been in when Anton had
tracked us down the last time. It had the same 'U' shape with the
parking in the middle, but based on the condition of the front desk
it at least looked to be in better shape.

The
checking in went quickly and painlessly, but I still put in a new
stick of gum while I was there because of my nerves. I asked for a
single room with two twin beds. I figured Ash wasn't going to tie me
up this time around, but I was positive that he wasn't going to buy
off on having me out of his sight. I even looked back towards the car
while I was checking in and he was watching me through the window
even then.

The
clerk looked at me a bit oddly, but handed me a pair of keys without
comment. As I left, I threw away the stick of gum I'd just put in my
mouth. The rain had picked up even more; I could barely see Ash in
the SUV now. I pointed at our room and it looked like Ash nodded and
indicated that he'd grab our things.

The
room was actually cleaner than I'd expected, if less well lit. It
looked like it had been scrubbed within an inch of its life, and the
carpet was actually the kind of soft, plush stuff I'd always thought
I'd put in my own house someday. I popped another stick of gum in my
mouth, thought about opening the blinds and then dismissed it as a
waste of time. With the amount of rain coming down it wasn't going to
help any.

Ash
knocked on the door a second later. He'd stuffed all of the
bags into the two suitcases and was carrying them both in one hand
while the other held his jacket closed. He sighed as soon as he
walked into the room.

"Kristin,
do you have any idea how obnoxious that gum is to someone like me?"

"What
do you mean?"

"All
shape shifters have a very acute sense of smell. The mint smell from
your gum is overpowering everything else around. It's kind of
like being blindfolded all of the time. I didn't say anything
while we were in the car because my sense of smell isn't very
useful when we're encased in all of that metal. If you could
refrain from chewing when we're out and about though, I'd
appreciate it."

I
flip-flopped back and forth between wanting to tell him to shove it
and wanting to break into tears. The only explanation had to be the
stress and sleep deprivation of the last couple of days. I managed a
stiff upper lip and a nod and then picked my suitcase up and started
sorting through my clothes.

My
back was turned to him, but I could hear Ash shift his weight back
and forth from one foot to the other a couple of times before he
walked over to the door and locked it.

"If
you don't need anything else I'll jump in the shower. I
can trust you not to go outside without me?"

I
nodded, still without turning. A few seconds later Ash had grabbed
some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. My notepad and pen
were in the second bag I opened up. It was a small thing, but I was
starting to expect that kind of attention to detail from Ash. He'd
realized that I'd likely want to resume my letter at some point
and had packed it in with the rest of my things.

I
opened the notepad and started another letter, this time commencing
with the hard part of why I had left. I was still struggling with the
second or third sentence when Ash came out of the bathroom, a towel
over one shoulder, chest bare, dressed only in his jeans.

My
heart instantly leaped into my throat. I tried to focus on something
else, the window, the gash across his stomach, anything but just how
perfectly gorgeous he was. Flawless skin stretched over shoulders
that seemed impossibly broad once his shirt was off and you could see
how slender his waist was.

He
found whatever he was looking for in his suitcase and looked up to
find me staring, and for the first time I could remember he was the
one to blush.

"Sorry,
I forgot the gauze and tape."

He
held up the medical supplies we'd just purchased, as if
mustering his evidence, and then turned as if to walk back into the
bathroom. From that side I could see the way his knife wound wrapped
around him. It was remotely possible that he could bandage it
himself, but it was going to be very difficult with the mirror all
fogged up.

"I
can help you if you want."

The
words jumped out of my mouth without me having really thought them
through, but I found myself climbing back to my feet.

"That
would be appreciated. I'm honestly not sure how I got the
bleeding stopped the first time."

I
took refuge in the clinical nature of what I was doing, trying very
hard to ignore the fact that under any other circumstance I'd
be tongue-tied in the presence of someone so attractive. A few
minutes later we'd taped him up tightly enough that hopefully
the wound would finish healing without leaving too much of a scar.

I'd
started with his back. At the time it had seemed logical, but now it
left me standing in front of him, hands still on his rocklike
stomach.

"I…ah…you
should be OK now."

"Thanks,
Kristin."

I
half-stumbled back to my bed, grabbed my suitcase and fled to the
bathroom. The shower, my first in something like three days, was even
better than I'd expected. I stood there and let the heat work
on the knots that I hadn't even realized I'd had in my
shoulders. At some point the hot water started to run out, so I got
out and toweled off. As I turned to my suitcase I realized I hadn't
given any kind of thought to what I was going to wear.

It
felt stupid to get into jeans and a collared shirt to go to bed, but
there was no way I was parading around in my underwear with Ash in
the room. I went through the bags, trying to decide which of the
shirts would be most comfortable and there, in the second to last
bag, was the perfect answer to my quandary.

Shorts
and a tank top. I was positive I hadn't put anything like that
in the shopping cart, which meant it had to have been Ash. Another
thoughtful detail. He must have realized I was setting myself up for
an uncomfortable night and grabbed them while I was in the changing
room.

I
dressed slowly, examining my feelings for Ash with something more
like my normal detachment than I'd managed for the last several
days. He was gorgeous, that had never been in doubt. The question was
what I thought I was getting myself into. The trucker had been way
off base. Ash wasn't some kind of mafia hitman, but in other
ways the trucker had seen through to the core issue. Ash wasn't
a very safe person to be around. Somehow that seemed to matter less
to me than it should.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Neither
of us said much once I exited the bathroom. I thanked him for
thinking of my 'pajamas,' he nodded and went back to
wiping his gun down. I'd realized partway through my shower
that I was more tired than I'd expected, so I finished packing
my clothes and then curled up under my covers.

Ash
finished examining his armory a few minutes later and turned out the
other lights in the room. I thought I'd fall asleep instantly,
but instead sleep remained elusive for more than an hour. Ash seemed
to drop off immediately, but I tossed and turned for more than an
hour without managing to find sleep myself.

I'd
never been very good at dealing with insomnia. Mostly I just got more
and more worked up as time went on because I knew I needed to be
sleeping. Of course, the more anxious I got, the harder it became to
fall asleep. At the best of times I tended to come unglued when I
couldn't manage to go to sleep. This wasn't the best of
times, and I suddenly found tears coursing down my face. I was tired
and scared nearly out of my mind. Anton was some kind of psychopath
super villain and the one thing that I knew for certain was that I
was in completely over my head.

It
was all suddenly just too much for me to deal with, and I started
crying. I tried to keep my breakdown quiet enough not to wake Ash,
but between one sob and the next he was there with his hard, bare
chest up against my back.

Ash
wrapped his arms around me, but he didn't say anything, he just
held me while I cried myself out. Twenty minutes later I finally
wound down and he loosened his arms enough for me to turn around and
face him.

"Are
you OK?"

I
ran a hand across my face, trying to fix the worst of the mess that
my face had become, but finally just gave up and nodded.

"Sorry.
I didn't mean to just fall apart like that, I just couldn't
sleep and then suddenly it was like all of the craziness of the last
few days just hit me all at once."

"It's
OK. The first time you realize that you're out, more or less on
your own, in a world that would like nothing more than to chew you up
and spit you out, can be a hard day or two. It gets better though."

I
cocked my head to the side and looked at him.

"Are
you speaking from personal experience?"

Ash
gently guided me down to my bed and pulled the covers up to my chin.

"It's
late, you should go to bed, Kristin."

Ash
went back to his side of the room and seemed to fall asleep within
seconds. I expected to toss and turn still, but instead I fell asleep
myself a few minutes later.

All
of the dreams that I'd been too tired and scared to deal with
earlier chose to make an appearance as soon as I dropped into REM
sleep.

The
first one started off fairly sedately. I was hiking the hills around
our town. It wasn't something I did very often. I didn't
have a lot of free time, and what time I did have tended to be spent
reading rather than running around outside during the three or four
weeks a year that you could comfortably do that kind of thing in
southern Idaho.

Still,
this time I was actually enjoying myself. I'd just finished
climbing to the top of the 'mountain' that had the
school's initials on it when I started getting the feeling that
someone was watching me. I spun around looking for the source of the
feeling, but couldn't see anyone for miles. Even the town
looked deserted. I turned around to head back home, telling myself it
was just my mind playing tricks on me, but I couldn't shake the
feeling. Even worse, I started seeing things out of the corner of my
eye.

I
flipped my head around trying to see what was following me and
tripped over a rock. I'd been moving pretty quickly so I rolled
a few feet before stopping. When I looked up Anton was there. It was
Anton, but it was something worse. His eyes weren't really
human anymore. Instead it was like looking into a pair of dirty
windows. I couldn't really see inside them, but I kept getting
vague impressions and all of them filled me with fear.

Anton
reached down and picked me up by one arm. When I started struggling,
he hit me. Hard. In the stomach. I doubled up, gasping for air, and
he just laughed at me. Once I could breathe again he frowned,
dropping me on the ground and then stepping on my hand.

I
felt the bones in my hand break. Not one or two, every single one of
them. It was the worst pain I'd ever felt. I screamed, but he
just laughed again. He backed up a step or two and I rolled onto my
knees. Even holding my hand tight against my chest resulted in too
much jarring to my injury. I thought I was going to pass out from the
pain, but I pulled myself to my feet and took a couple of wobbly
steps.

I
only made it a short distance further before Anton knocked me down
again. I screamed in agony and then he kicked me in the ribs. It was
like a vise had been fastened around my chest. It seemed like it went
on forever. Anton would let me feel like I was making progress and
then he'd hurt me again.

At
some point I heard Ash calling my name.

"Kristin,
it's me. I won't let him hurt you anymore."

I
looked around, desperately wanting to see Ash and only seeing Anton.
Somehow that was what told me this had to be a dream. I believed Ash
when he said he would protect me from Anton. I knew that didn't
mean I was safe. I didn't know the details, but it was obvious
that Ash wasn't as strong as Anton. I wasn't safe, but I
knew I wouldn't die alone until after Ash was dead and that as
long as he was alive he'd be fighting to keep me alive.

The
knowledge that I was dreaming was all that I needed to wake up. My
thrashing about had kicked my covers away, but that was of secondary
importance. Ash was on my bed, cradling me against his rock-hard body
in an effort to stop me from flailing. A textbook probably would have
said that restraining someone in the throes of a nightmare wasn't
the best thing to do, but it worked perfectly for me. I relaxed into
his arms and my heartbeat slowed almost instantly.

"Are
you alright?"

I
nodded, not quite trusting my voice. I could tell that I was on the
verge of tears again, but the range of emotions that had pushed me to
the edge of crying were too complex to identify fully. Gratitude for
Ash, for him having saved me now multiple times, was there, but so
was regret. I was feeling things for him that I was fairly sure he
wasn't going to reciprocate. He was too closed off for it to be
any other way.

BOOK: Trapped
8.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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