Read Beneath the Burn Online

Authors: Pam Godwin

Tags: #Romance, #Music, #Adult, #Thriller, #Contemporary

Beneath the Burn (4 page)

Her eyes flipped open and collided with his where they glittered over the counter.

A smile creased his face. “What are you doing down there?”

Was she trying to break down her options so she could fill her future with better ones? Her pulse pumped hollowly in her ears.

If she bared the ugliness of her two year enslavement, would he respond as detective or lover? Would he go after Roy Oxford and inadvertently lead him back to her, catching a bullet in the process? Her musings of a normal future only delayed the inevitable.

She’d fought so hard to keep distance from Noah, to keep him safe from her and Roy. He was a Marine and a cop. Did he need her protection? Probably not more than she needed his.

She powered on the speakers. “I want to dance with you.”

He arched a brow, and the side of his mouth kicked up. “Oh?”

Stooped over her bent knee, she picked at the black polish on her big toe where it poked through her sandals. Was he thinking about the note he left in her oatmeal squares, wondering if she was going to answer it? Her gaze floated back to his.

He smiled down at her, arms outstretched, waiting for his dance.


Swing Life Away
” she murmured and pressed play.


Rise Against
. Great band.” His face transformed into sweeping bowed lips and white teeth and shining eyes. The beauty of it cartwheeled the distance between them, filling her with longing.

The instrumental intro carried her to her feet, around the counter, and toward the arms of the man who loved her enough to cease his proposals. In return, she wished she could give him her name, her story, and above all, a
Yes
.

A counter’s length away, he stretched his arms wider.

She hummed with the vocals, etching the moment in memory, never looking away from his eyes. Freedom was forward. A freedom she couldn’t have. Still, she reached her arms toward it, toward him.

A board creaked, paralyzing her. The walled entry way blocked her view of the front door. Oh God, did he not lock it? Was it a customer? She wouldn’t wait to find out. Where was her bag? Her gun?

She lurched to move around the counter, and her gaze skidded across the room, slamming into hard eyes deeply set in a familiar face. The horror that bolted through her locked her legs, stripping away four years of freedom, every moment of happiness. The scrap of hope she’d harbored in the depth of her chest shriveled behind her galloping heart and fell away.

Toxic energy buzzed from his taut posture. He raised a pistol, a silencer extending the barrel, intent scorching from his glare.

Her heart stopped. “Noah!”

A pop whistled through the room. Noah’s smile collapsed, as did his legs. She spun back, leaping, falling atop him as he dropped. He stared at his hand clenched on his stomach.

Blots of red stained his white button-up, blooming beyond his spread fingers. Her vision fogged. Blood roared in her ears. “Noooo. No, no, no. Oh God, Noah, look at me.”

He writhed beneath her and wheezed through shallow breaths. She patted her pockets. Her phone…where was it? Oh fuck, he didn’t have much time. His eyes rolled to the side, and she followed his gaze.

A shadow fell over her, and the silencer pointed at his lolled head. She repositioned her body, caging him, shielding him.

The music fell quiet, signaling the song’s end. Oh fuck, her fucking phone was plugged in behind the counter. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Kilroy Tattoo, Charlee? Roy doesn’t appreciate your humor.”

She loathed that rasp, the cruelty in his eyes, and the strength of his fist. She used to call him the Craig. She’d called them all Craig. This Craig was Roy’s right-hand.

“Fuck Roy.” Her shout was venomous, distorted with tears. “And fuck you.”

Hang in there, Noah. Please, please.
She kept her back to the Craig, blocking Noah’s body, her hands moving frantically, searching pockets, front and back, his ankle holster, shoulder holster. Empty. Empty. Empty.

Her bag, which held her gun, sat behind the counter. Fuck, fuck, so fucking stupid.

Blood collected beneath them and filled the grout between the tiles. The stench of sewage and copper pervaded the air. His stomach was leaking, leaking…so much blood. Christ, it wouldn’t stop.

She shoved a hand under his jacket, bumped into the weight of his phone in the inner pocket.
Oh, thank God.
She wrapped trembling fingers around it.

“Bad idea, Charlee.” The Craig’s boot shot out. A direct line with her head. Sharp pain stole her vision and darkness stole the pain.

4

The thrum in Charlee’s head was a small thing compared to the agony crushing her heart. Oh God, Noah. She rubbed her eyes, her hands stiff with blood, though she was surprised to find them unbound.

Flashes of light passed the car window. The crunch of tires on neglected pavement vibrated the leather seat beneath her. The wide bench stretched across the black interior, a standard feature of all the SUVs in Roy’s fleet.

She’d never successfully escaped one of his vehicles. The tinted bulletproof glass didn’t roll down. The doors never opened from the inside. And they traveled in a procession of three. She would be in the center one.

An unfamiliar Craig drove. The other occupant—the Craig from her shop—tilted his head. With a phone pinched between chin and shoulder, he shook a water bottle with one hand. “Yes, sir.” His other hand gripped her jaw, turning it. “She’s just waking…I understand.” He dropped the phone in a breast pocket and held out the bottle.

“I’m not thirsty.” Not for Valium, Xanax, Ambien, or whatever sedative he was offering.

“We can do this the nice way or the Salvador way.” The manner in which he whispered his name flared old wounds, surfacing memories of the flex of fingers, the whistle of parting air, and the crack of her jaw beneath his fist
.
The Salvador way.

She swallowed. “What’s in the water, Craig?”

“Don’t be ‘Craig’ing me, bitch. I’m not your father.”

Craig Grosky was the first and the worst in a long line of Craigs. She glared at the ear of the Craig beside her, the one missing the lobe. Last time he called her a bitch, Roy relieved him of that bit of flesh.

He glared back. “Rohypnol keeps you out of trouble.”

Roofies. Roy wasn’t taking chances. “Is Noah alive?”

The intensity in his gaze agitated. “If you want to live, you will not let Mr. Oxford hear you utter that name.”

If there were a chance he survived the wound, reminding Roy and the Craig of that possibility was counterproductive. Anything could’ve happened after she lost consciousness. Perhaps Noah’s gun was at the small of his back. Maybe the Craig tossed her over his shoulder and ran out with a volley of Noah’s bullets at his heels. She grasped onto that thought, wrapped it around her, and nested into it. Then she grabbed the water, a promise to behave while she scrambled for options. “Where are we going?”

“Airport. We’ll be at the tower when you wake.”

Roy’s private jet. Roy’s tower penthouse. Back to San Francisco.

Fear, a living tangible thing, erupted in her stomach, grew in strength and size, and boiled through her throat. She folded at the waist and heaved. Bile splashed the floorboard, her sandals, and the door.

“What the fuck? You got that shit on my shoes.” He yanked a Taser out of his pocket. “This or the water. Choose now or I’ll choose for you.”

Her stomach plunged. He’d choose both and would probably do so with a hard-on. She leaned back, wiped her mouth, and came to grips with her destination in three long, drug-laced gulps.

5

It had only been two hours since Jay watched Charlee walk away. Two
hours
wandering the empty St. Louis streets only served to echo his loneliness. What if it took too long to become the man she deserved? What if she got pregnant or married in that time?

A stab of pain shafted through his heart, and he stumbled on the sidewalk in front of Lewey’s Uptown Bar. When would he be able to see her again?

Fuck. He was going to be on the road for the next couple months. He could call the shop, couldn’t he? He could keep in contact with her under the guise of coordinating more tattoo work.

He pushed through the front door of the bar. Since his escape from the van earlier in the evening, the music had deteriorated into a repetitive din of mechanicalistic effects and distorted vocal synthesizers. He scanned the crowd for his bandmates and found them gyrating in a circle of women on the dance floor in front of the stage.

How could they stomach the noise banging from the speakers?
The Burn
could produce more rhythm pounding a hammer on a cymbal.

He weaved through the crush of half-naked, sweaty bodies, dodging the sweep of arms and swaying hips. Too many goddamned people. The sudden tightness in his chest spread to his neck and locked his jaw.

No way in hell would he pass through the crowd without a random touch. An elbow, hip, or leg didn’t trigger his memories, but a purposefully placed hand, like that of the girl he was fucking in the back of the van, could bring out a catatonic meltdown.

What a shit idea. He considered turning around and escaping back outside, but he needed a bathroom and the bar was the only business open within walking distance.

A hand brushed his ass. He whirled and glared into the glazed eyes of a staggering brunette.

“Oh mmm, you’re purrrtty.” Hiccup. “S-sexy, too. Wanna fuu…cum?”

He jumped back from her waving hand and bumped into an entwined couple as they ground their groins together, damn near fucking each other to the
thump, thump, thump
of the bass notes.

A familiar clawing awoke beneath his skin. His shadows were digging out. He ducked his head and quickened his pace toward the restroom sign illuminated on the opposite side of the stage.

“Hey. Weren’t you s-s-singing tonight?” The drunken woman followed him, scampered around him, and looked up out of beady eyes set in a rodent-like face.

“Get away from me.” He sidestepped her and jogged around the dance floor.

The persistent gnawing inside him amplified. Chasing the dragon was one way to soothe it, and the brown powder in his pocket was prepped for smoking.

He raked a hand through his hair. Fuck that. No more drugs.

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