Authors: Noelle Adams
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction
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 © 2013
by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following
wordmarks referenced in this work of fiction: Coke (Coca-Cola) and Porsche.
Emily Brennan felt
sick, and it wasn’t from the virus.
knocked on the door that adjoined her hotel room to Paul’s, fidgeting until she
realized what she was doing.
her body to relax, she told herself she had no reason to be nervous.
had absolutely nothing to lose.
this was a crazy idea. Yes, even a couple of weeks ago, she never would have dared
to do it. Yes, it meant asking someone for help, when she’d spent most of her
life trying to be self-sufficient. And, yes, she was potentially setting
herself up for consummate humiliation.
if this conversation turned out to be an embarrassing nightmare, she had only three
months left to live with it.
was still early, not even seven yet, but she wasn’t surprised when Paul Marino opened
the door, already fully dressed in jeans and a charcoal gray t-shirt that
matched his eyes. He had dark hair, with classic features and a lean, athletic
body. As always, he managed to look cool, sexy, and expensive, even first thing
in the morning.
the state of the desk near the window looking out on the harbor, he’d evidently
been up for a while. A few months ago, she never would have pegged him for an
morning,” he said with a little smile. “You’re up early.”
hated that gentle expression in his eyes as they rested on her face. He’d never
looked at her that way before she’d been diagnosed with this mystery virus, and
now he never looked at her in any other way.
knew what the look meant. He felt sorry for her—because she was going to die.
didn’t want his pity, although she would use it if she had to.
she’d had an appointment with the last of the viral specialists Paul had found
for her—this one in Baltimore. When this doctor’s prognosis was exactly the
same as the others, she’d accepted that there wasn’t any hope.
seen what this virus had done to Emily’s aunt, and they knew all the treatments
that hadn’t worked, that hadn’t even touched the relentlessly progressive
illness. They couldn’t isolate the virus, so there was no hope of developing an
one knew how Emily or her aunt had contracted this virus, but all the doctors
agreed it was terminal.
Emily had stayed awake all night, deciding what to do in her last three months.
could sink into depression at the brutal injustice of the universe. She could,
in desperation, cling to a futile hope for a cure.
she could live, for the little time she had left.
saw room service had brought Paul a cart with coffee, fruit, and pastries, so
she went to pour herself a cup of coffee. Before this last month, she’d never
stayed anywhere as luxurious as this hotel, but Paul always traveled first
might have grown up in the same South Philly neighborhood, but their lives had
always been miles apart.
Even before he’d left town for an Ivy
League college, Paul hadn’t looked or sounded like he was from the neighborhood.
do you feel?” he asked. He’d returned to his seat at the desk.
With the exception of two short-lived, low-grade fevers, she hadn’t had any
aunt had never had any symptoms except intensifying fevers, and the last fever
had killed her.
sat down with her coffee in a chair near Paul, and he turned in her direction,
leaning forward with his elbows on the armrests. He obviously could tell she
had something to say.
considered herself fairly brave. Others had even called her tough. She’d grown
up mostly taking care of herself, tackling any hurdle that got in her way. She
balked, though, at the realization of what she was about to do.
marriage to a man who didn’t love her, who wasn’t even really her friend, just
wasn’t something a girl faced every day.
of getting straight to the point, she stalled for a minute, nodding toward the
laptop and piles of papers on the desk. “What are you working on?”
Emily, Paul was born into money—the son of a department store heiress and an
organize-crime boss. Paul hadn’t taken money from his father in ten years, but
he still hadn’t worked a day in his life.
was looking for another doctor to—”
Emily interrupted sharply. “We talked about this yesterday. No more doctors. No
more specialists. No crazy treatments that will keep me in the hospital and
have no chance of working. Aunt Mary had to go through all that, and she was
miserable for the last weeks of her life. I’m not going to do it too.”
felt a little queasy at the thought of her aunt, who’d worked for two decades
without incident as a security guard before dying in terrible pain from
something as seemingly harmless as a virus. She and her aunt hadn’t been that
close, but they were family and they’d tried to take care of each other this
Emily had no one left.
features twisted slightly, as if he were suppressing an instinct to argue.
Instead, he said quietly, “You can’t just give up.”
wasn’t a quiet man. He could talk his way out of any sort of trouble and into
any woman’s bed. She assumed he was restraining his natural charisma because he
thought she was too delicate to handle it. It was annoying but not something
she could deal with now.
not giving up.” About this she was sure, so she didn’t waver or hesitate in her
response. “I’m making a conscious choice about how to spend my last three
right. It’s your choice. So what do you want to do?”
want to live.” Despite her attempt at self-possession, her voice cracked on the
last word. She swallowed over the lump and hoped Paul hadn’t noticed.
he had. His handsome face was briefly torn between pity and discomfort.
known each other all their lives from the neighborhood, but Paul was six years
older than her, and they’d run in very different circles. He wouldn’t be any
more comfortable with this intimate conversation than she was.
hadn’t needed her to testify against his mob-boss father, who was being brought
up on federal charges, then she wouldn’t be more than a brief blip on his
course, you want to live. If you’ll just let me look for more options—”
no options. You’ve done what you can, and I really appreciate it.
But I’m not expecting you to save me.”
promised to protect you when you refused witness protection. Do you think I’d
go back on my word?”
briefly wondered how Paul Marino—bad-boy prince of their community, who’d spent
most of his life playing around, chasing thrills, and getting in trouble—was so
utterly serious right now. With her.
out of affection, but because he’d decided sometime in the last six months that
his father should be in prison.
needed her to testify. That actually worked in her favor, given what she was
about to ask him.
I know that.” She pitched her voice as light and ironic on purpose, since this
was another topic that made her uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure what to do with
Paul’s somewhat paranoid suspicions regarding his father. Everyone else seemed
to understand Vincent Marino better than his own son did. “But you were talking
about protecting me from garrote-wielding wiseguys, who might try to off me
before I can snitch on your dad.”
laugh it off.” He sounded annoyed for the first time that morning. “He might
pretend to be civilized, but he’s the same kind of thug his father was. You
don’t know him like I do. He’s perfectly capable of—”
believe he’s capable of violence, and I have no doubt he’s arranged to have
people killed. But only…only soldiers. He’s old-school. He’s not going to kill
a teenage girl from the neighborhood. Or his son.”
not convinced of that.”
was silent, wondering if Paul, with his privileged life and innate entitlement
to anything he desired, really believed his own father was so completely ruthless.
burned down your house,” he added.
no one was in it.” She made the comment offhand, but she didn’t feel that way.
She’d loved the old row house where she’d lived most of her life. There wasn’t
anything left to salvage after Marino’s men had burned it down as a warning to
keep what she knew about him to herself.
irony was, if he hadn’t burned down the house, she never would have decided to
testify against him. South Philly wasn’t what it used to be, but there was
still a lingering community loyalty that Emily would have intuitively fallen
back on. She didn’t like to be bullied, though, and her instinct was always to
resist any attempt to control her.
Marino had tried to do both.
don’t want to get into this argument again.” She rubbed her face and tried to
focus on the matter at hand. “The point is that I was fine with you hiring a
bodyguard to follow me around, but you can’t protect me from this. No one can.”
felt vulnerable again, so she shifted in her seat, distracting herself by
scanning the papers on the desk.
noticed something that struck her as strange. “What is this?” she asked,
picking up a legal pad with Paul’s scrawlings on it. “This doesn’t look like
research on viral specialists—”
broke off abruptly when he snatched the pad out of her hand.
that?” she persisted, despite Paul’s annoyed scowl. “Why are you
researching biological weapons?”
tightened his lips, as if he wasn’t going to answer. Then he must have
remembered she was dying and must be humored, since his face relaxed and he let
out a sigh. “You know my father traffics in drugs and arms—anything with a high
profit margin. The weapons he deals in aren’t just guns and missiles. I know
he’s been interested in biological weapons for a while, and I was wondering…
This virus seems like a strange coincidence, and since your aunt was going to
testify against him too and she worked in his research facility…”
gasped. “You can’t be serious. You think he gave us this virus? Paul, that’s
totally paranoid. I know he’s a criminal, but he’s not some diabolical
mastermind.” Her opinion of Vincent Marino was what the neighborhood’s view had
always been, and nothing in her experiences this year had changed it. “Besides,
my aunt didn’t have important testimony to give. She was just going to confirm
that I was bringing her a snack when I overheard that conversation. She didn’t
know anything worth killing over.”
obviously disagreed and wasn’t happy with her vehement response, but he nobly
suppressed his instinct to argue with the sick girl. “I’m not assuming you were
given the virus on purpose. Maybe it was accidental contamination.”