Authors: Melissa Wright
And just because I couldn’t seem to get her to do what I wanted didn’t mean Morgan wouldn’t.
I was going to have to do something different, and I didn’t like having to change my plans. Annoyed, I took my eyes from the road to glance over at her where she leaned against the window, knees pulled up and thumb wrapped inside the seatbelt at her shoulder. She was staring out into the night, and the tiny strands of hair that had pulled loose from her ponytail caught the light of the oncoming car.
Had I not been staring at her, I would have missed the truck that was passing that car, lights off and heading straight for Emily.
I swerved and ran the car up over the curb, but wasn’t able to avoid impact. The truck slammed the rear quarter of the car, spinning us around in the intersection, where another car smashed into the front panel on my side. We were pinned, but still moving. Tearing metal screeched through the car and Emily’s wide eyes found me as she searched for escape. I released the buckle on her safety belt and tried to push my door open. It was stuck, jammed from the collision with the other car which, judging from the horrified look on the driver’s face, must have been involved only by chance.
The window was jammed as well, so I turned to climb over the back seat and saw Emily grasping for the handle on her side.
“No!” I yelled.
Her head whipped around to first find me, and then, realizing why I’d stopped her, the truck that was even now pushing against the back of our car.
I was over the seat in a heartbeat and dragged Emily behind me. The only warning I gave her before opening the door was, “Run. Don’t stop, don’t look behind you.”
I had her arm and was towing her for the first few steps, but once we hit sidewalk, she was running. I could hear the engine of the truck revving behind us, but it was trapped in the chaos of a six-car pile-up, and had to plow through several stopped vehicles to reach us. It did just that.
“Turn,” I yelled, and Emily listened, heading straight down the first side street. Two more blocks, and we’d have been on the interstate. They should have let us. It would have worked.
“Right,” I said at the next block. We’d gotten lucky. We had a chance. But how had he found us?
“Aern,” Emily called from beside me, “you’re bleeding.”
I pressed Emily closer to the buildings as we ran, dodging an elderly couple with a pushcart. When I glanced down, I saw the long gash on my arm from the twisted metal of the car. “I’m fine,” I said. “Are you all right?”
She laughed breathlessly as we sprinted down another block and turned left.
When we finally stopped running, the whirr of emergency sirens was only a distant hum. Emily leaned against the back entrance of a Chinese restaurant, gasping for breath while I decided what to do first.
“I need to make a call,” I said.
Emily nodded and pushed against the wall to standing.
The door banged open and I shoved her back, pressing my own body alongside hers as a dishwasher slung a bin of food scrap into the trash. He spared us no more than a disapproving head shake as he turned and spotted us, a couple of delinquents making out in the alley, so I grabbed the door right before it slammed behind him.
“What are you doing?” Emily hissed.
“I’ll be right back,” I said. “Don’t move.”
I peeked in to find a short hall that split toward the kitchen and two alcoves. The one to the right, the only one I could see into from my vantage point, held the alarm system and electrical box. I was hoping the one on the left had what we needed.
Through the steam of stir-fry, I watched the cooks and staff for a pattern. Seeing there was none, I took a chance and slipped inside the door and around the corner.
I found two jackets, a ball cap, and the cell phone before I threw a few more items on the haul for good measure. When I peered around the corner to check the coast, it was all clear. The sizzle and clatter of the kitchen didn’t falter so I didn’t expect anyone to follow us, but I didn’t test our luck. When I shoved the door open, Emily lurched back, having been standing right next to it, and I grabbed her arm to run with me to the end of the alley and behind another dumpster.
“What—” She stopped mid-sentence to examine the jacket I shoved at her. “You’re kidding,” she said.
I smiled. “It’ll look good on you. Besides, I didn’t have time to be picky.”
Her eyes narrowed on me, but she slid her arms into the gold silk sleeves.
I shrugged on a dark twill jacket and pulled the baseball cap low on my head. It only made things worse.
“This is so unfair,” she said. “You look like
The Bourne Identity
and I look like
Big Trouble in Little China
I laughed. “What? I like the embroidered dragon on the back. It’s cute. Now put this scarf over your head.”
She jerked the red and purple crochet scarf from my hand. “Right, because I wasn’t standing out enough already.”
I took a few steps toward the end of the alley to scope out a car while she tied her scarf. When I turned back, another laugh escaped.
She crossed her arms, but the movement only made the material of her jacket puff up more. “It’s not my fault,” she said. “Tying scarfs was not covered in my mother’s curriculum.”
“It’s fine,” I said, reining in the laugher. “Let me.” I unknotted the ball she’d formed beneath her chin and draped it over her head to wrap around and cross over the lower portion of her face.
When I finished, she was staring up at me. “Did you find us a new car?”
I gave her a questioning look.
“Because I was thinking, a truck might be better. Or a tank.”
I shook my head. “That’s not what we’re using it for this time.” I held the cell phone up. “I’ve got to make a call. When I’m done, keep up.”
I couldn’t help but smile at her baffled expression. I dialed Brendan’s personal cell, the only one I was certain wouldn’t be tracked.
He answered, “Go ahead.”
“It’s me,” I said. I could almost hear the relief in his silence. “I need to bring something in.”
“I’ve heard. Is she hurt?”
“No, but not for lack of trying.”
“Should we pick you up?”
I glanced at Emily. “No. We’ll make it to the drop point late tomorrow. Just get us from there.”
“Got it. And Aern?”
“Keep her safe.”
The call disconnected and I read the screen. One full second ahead of a possible trace time. I didn’t risk it.
I grabbed Emily’s hand and headed for the car that was double-parked on the busy street, pushing her around the rear quarter as I dropped the cell into a crack in the open window. I crossed the street quickly and she followed as instructed, keeping tucked just behind me with her head down. I shoved my hands in my pockets and raised my shoulders as if I were chilled by the wind, then picked up my pace.
Several blocks later, I turned into the lobby of a busy hotel. I could see Emily follow in the reflection of the glass front windows.
“Look at the brochures,” I said quietly. “I’ll get us a room.”
She stood in the foyer while I crossed the lobby to the elevators. I pressed the button twice and glanced up at the numbers above the door as any guest would. The first time it opened, a family of four went in.
I waved them on. “I’ll grab the next one.”
The little boy took the opportunity to slide his hand over the entire bottom half of the floor buttons. His mother smacked his fingers away and groaned.
A graying businessman sidled up beside me, chuckling at the scene. “Excuse me,” I said, touching his forearm where it rested on the handle of his rolling suitcase.
Minutes later, I leaned around the corner and waved Emily over.
She glanced at the agitated businessman as she passed him on his way to the doors. “What’s wrong with him?” she whispered.
“Bed bugs.” I shrugged. “Said he was going to stay at the Marriott on Ninth.”
Her face twisted.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “The receptionist assured me it wasn’t true.”
She didn’t look convinced, but before she could examine the distance between us and the reception desk, the elevator doors dinged open and I urged her in.
The keycard I’d swiped was to an executive queen on the fourth floor. Basically, this meant the room consisted of a lone bed, a dresser holding a small television, and a desk and chair with access to the internet. After where we’d been sleeping, it seemed like the Ritz. I didn’t even bother checking the windows. At this level, and in this part of town, they’d be sealed. If anything were to happen here, we’d have to fight our way out.
I tugged off the jacket and tossed it on the bed, and then scratched my hair after taking the ball cap off. Emily was leaning over near the end of the bed, lifting the corner of a blue patterned comforter.
“What are you doing?”
She straightened, her face red and hair askew from being upside down. “Bed bugs.”
I bit my cheek. “Why don’t you go ahead and clean up. I’ll check the bed.”
She nodded, but then turned back on her way to the bathroom. “Is it safe?”
She narrowed her gaze on me for a moment, but the temptation of clean water won out.
I picked up the phone and pressed the room service key, trying to mimic the gruff voice of the man whose credit card was on file. I ordered a salad, a fruit plate, and then decided Emily was a cheeseburger girl. “Extra fries,” I said. “And the cherry cheesecake.”
As I returned the receiver to its cradle, I heard the water shut off in the shower. The bathroom door cracked open and in the reflection of the mirrored closet doors across the narrow entry hall, I could see Emily peek out through the opening.
“No one here but me,” I said. “Still safe.”
She didn’t say anything, but the door clicked closed for another few minutes. When she emerged again, it was in bare feet. Her wet hair hung in dark waves over her dirty gray tee shirt, and her jeans were rolled up at the hems. She held the damp towel in her hands.
“Are you going to shower?”
“Nah.” I smiled. “I’ve got a few more days.”
She made a face as she pressed the towel to the ends of her damp hair. She absently glanced around the room, dark carpet, beige walls, generic still life painting over the bed, and then her eyes fell on me.
“Your arm,” she said, suddenly recalling the injury.
I glanced down. “It’s fine.”
She crossed to me. “It’s not fine.” She leaned closer, examining the wound. Her eyes came up to mine.
“It’s fine,” I said again.
She took a corner of the damp towel and brushed a section of dried blood away. She swallowed, not able to look at me.
I took the towel from her hand. “I’ll clean it up.”
I stood to go rinse it in the sink and Emily backed up to sit numbly on the bed.
I left the door open as I washed the blood away. Nothing remained but a thin pink line. I wadded the towel and tossed it to the floor.
When I returned, Emily was still sitting motionless on the side of the bed near the nightstand. I would have to wait, I thought, tell her in the morning.
I sat beside her, but on the far end, and that was how we stayed, unspeaking, for the next twenty minutes. It was so still and quiet, I could actually hear her stop breathing when the impatient knocking echoed loudly through the room.
“It’s okay,” I said, reaching out to touch her forearm as I spoke. “Room service. I’m sorry, I should have told you.”
She swallowed, and began breathing again. The bellman’s knuckles rapped the door three more times.
I glanced through the peephole, but he was staring, annoyed, at the tray of food and not the door or the hall. I heard the bed creak behind me as I slid the chain, switched the lock, and opened the door. She was watching again.
“Good evening, Mister”—the bellman glanced at the tray—“Smith.”
“May I come in?”
“Please,” I answered, moving out of his way only long enough to let him pass before securing the door once more.
He crossed to the desk and slid an extension out from the bottom. “Lovely weather this evening.”
“Yes,” I said. I grabbed the ticket from the tray as he removed the dish covers to display our dinner. I tipped him well, but not enough that he would mention it to anyone.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, only nodding to Emily before heading for the door. “Have a wonderful stay.”
I touched his shoulder as he passed. “Here,” I said, brushing away his memories of the couple in 402. “Let me get the door for you.”
He walked, slightly dazed, from the room, and then seemed to remember himself halfway down the hall.
“What?” Emily said from behind me.