Authors: Deanndra Hall
Tags: #Romance, #drama, #Erotica, #erotic romance, #mystery
Vic was shocked – and looked it. “Are you serious? What did she ask, if she’d finally run me off?”
“Nope. Just wondered where you’d been.”
Why did she even bother to ask?
At ten o’clock on the dot the next morning, Laura’s phone started ringing. She rolled over, hung over from the bender she’d dropped into after she’d gotten home the night before. Drinking until dawn wasn’t something she usually did, but it was appropriate at the time. Between watching Cabrizzi work the women and that phone call she’d gotten, she was wishing she had some way to sort out all the stuff fizzing in her brain. When she hit decline, she instantly regretted it, but it didn’t matter; it started ringing again immediately. She looked at the screen: Brewster. “What?” she answered.
“Yeah. What do you want, Brewster? I can’t imagine what you could possibly want with me now,” she snarled through her hung-over stupor. “You’ve already had enough of me to destroy what’s not left of my life.”
“Laura, listen to me: I’m sorry. What we did to you was wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin to tell you. Well, hell, you already know.”
The dead space inside her expanded to finish emptying her out, and she couldn’t help but stab at him with the only weapon she had left – her words. “That the best you can do, fucking lowlife?”
“No. You need to know that it was all Wagner’s idea. That doesn’t excuse the rest of us, but I wanted you to know that. But when I got out I got married, had a little girl of my own. What we did to you, the guilt, it’s almost cost me my marriage. A few times I thought about outright killing myself. If anyone did that to my wife or daughter, well . . . Anyway, I called the other guys. Laura, we’re going to the MPs, turn ourselves in, and take the punishment we deserve. We’ve all talked to our families, and they’re going to stand by us; hell, they’ve encouraged us to do it. So we’re going to. Well,” he stopped for a second, then added, “all of us but Wagner.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” Laura couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was Brewster for real? Were they really planning to do this? What would that mean for her?
“The main reason I wanted to contact you, other than to tell you what we were going to do, was to let you know that they’ll want to contact you, get your side of the story. We’re going to ask them to sentence us outright, not make you go through a trial. You shouldn’t have to do that. It wasn’t your fault, and you’ve moved on with your life.”
Hah, little you know,
“So you’re really planning to do this?” she whispered.
“Yes, Laura. We really are.”
“A couple of weeks. We’ve all got things we’ve got to wrap up for our families, but we’re going to do it together.”
Laura’s hands started to shake. “Do you have any idea what this will mean to me?”
Brewster’s voice was gentle. “No. I can’t even imagine the hell you’ve lived with. But you don’t know what this will mean for me either. It will mean that, even if it is in a military jail cell, at least I’ll be able to sleep for the first time in a long time.”
for real. Everything in Laura’s brain shifted, and she couldn’t think straight. Then it all righted suddenly, and she blurted out, “You’d better watch out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Wagner will kill you.” She knew he could and would.
“He’s threatened us, but that’s okay.”
“No, you don’t understand. He tried to kill me.” There was a long silence. “Brewster? You still there?”
“Yeah. You’re speaking metaphorically, right?” There was a tremor in his voice.
“No. He tried to kill me. That ordnance explosion I survived? He admitted to me before the chopper lifted off that he’d tried to kill me, and he told me he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He’ll kill you. I’m not kidding, Brewster. You just kicked the hornet’s nest.”
“I think he’s full of shit, but I’ll think about that. You know for a fact that he was responsible for that?”
“My body armor was compromised. My . . . somebody I know got their hands on a report that showed that the plating had been taken out of my body armor and replaced with some low-quality steel. He went to a lot of trouble to fake it. The military wouldn’t tell me that, though. They were covering for him, I think. If you’ve stirred him up, you’re in danger – you’re all in danger. And he wouldn’t hesitate to hurt your wives or kids.”
“Oh my god,” Brewster whispered. “Laura, I’m so sorry. I had no idea. I’ll tell the guys. I want to send you a list of our names so you have them. Should I email them or mail them or . . .”
“No. Send them in a text. And guard your phone. If he gets hold of it, he’ll be able to find me,” she said, shivering. She hadn’t felt anything in a long time, and she certainly hadn’t guessed that the first emotion she’d finally feel was terror.
Who am I kidding? He’ll find me anyway,
I’m as good as dead.
hit.” Steve was fuming when Vic walked into the club.
“What’s wrong, bud?” Vic asked him, watching him prowling around behind the bar.
“Butler called in sick. Matter of fact, that’s four days in a row now. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she had another job and didn’t want to tell me.”
“She was acting weird the other night, remember? Well, weirder than usual. Figure that out?” Vic asked, trying to help by drying some glasses.
“No. It’s just not possible with Laura. Can’t read her. No emotion. Dead inside. But she’s a helluva good security agent, so I keep her. I don’t hire people for their personalities.” Steve dried another glass. “And I had Peyton assigned elsewhere. I’ve called Jared in. He’s clueless, but at least he can pull beer and soft drinks.”
“I’ll try to keep an eye on him, help him if he needs it,” Vic said, drying the last glass.
“Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”
“Hey, I need to pay my membership,” Vic said. “I’ll take care of that tonight with José, right?”
“Yeah, he’ll take care of it. Think you’ll stick around, do you?” Steve grinned.
“Well, yeah, I guess I will,” Vic grinned back.
“Do you know how to make a Kick in the Pants?” Jared asked Vic, flustered and confused.
“Hell no. Tell them they can have hard liquor straight up, beer, or soft drinks. Do what you can,” Vic said. “I’m not a bartender either.”
Ten minutes later, Vic was behind the bar, pulling beer from the taps as fast as he could, and there was a sudden influx of female drinkers. They were transfixed, watching Vic’s biceps as he worked. He’d gotten them all taken care of and was wiping down the bar during Jared’s bathroom break when a man he’d never seen before said, “Can I get a Bud?”
“Sure,” Vic said, drawing it and setting the mug in front of him.
“Hey, is there a woman working here named Laura Billings?” he asked, taking a sip of beer.
Something didn’t feel right, and Vic hit the ground running. “Nope. Nobody by that name. Our regular bartender is a guy – Peyton.”
“Funny. I thought she worked here.” He took another sip. There was something about him that made Vic very uncomfortable. Maybe it was the way he swept the room with his eyes every few seconds.
“Nope. Hey, I haven’t seen you in here before.”
“I’m not new, just haven’t been in for awhile. Name’s Paul. What’s yours?”
“Frank. Frank Beckett.” Vic had no idea where that name came from, but it would work.
“Nice to meet you, Frank,” the guy said, and stuck his hand out to shake. When Vic took it, he felt like he’d just touched something filthy and diseased. Something was very wrong, but he couldn’t figure out what. It took everything he had to keep from letting the guy know that he wanted to be anywhere other than talking to that man.
Vic saw Jared making his way across the room and said, “Excuse me for a few. The other bartender is coming and I’ve got to tell him that I need to go get some supplies from the back.” He made it across the room in record time, caught Jared, and spoke in rapid-fire. “There’s a guy at the bar. He’s asking questions about Laura; I told him there wasn’t a Laura who worked here. I also told him my name was Frank. Don’t tell him
hear me? Something’s wrong. Keep him busy and talking. I’ve got to find Steve.” Jared nodded and Vic took off down the back hallway.
Steve was at his desk, looking through the drawers, probably for another energy bar. “Steve, get out here. I’ve got something I need you to see.”
The panicked look on Vic’s face startled Steve. “Uh, okay.” He followed Vic out into the hallway and when they got to the doorway of the large commons room, Vic turned and stopped.
“Look at the bar. There’s a guy sitting over there. Tell me if you know him, if you’ve ever seen him before. I got a scary vibe from him. Don’t want to be around him. And be warned: He’s scanning the room every few seconds, so don’t let him see you.”
Steve peeked around the corner, then stepped back. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“He said his name is Paul. He also said he was a member, just hadn’t been in for awhile. And,” he added, “he was asking about Laura. But he called her Billings, not Butler.”
“Oh, fuck, this can’t be good,” Steve whispered. “I knew she had secrets, but I’m not liking this at all. I’m going out front, check with José, see how he got in. Just go back out there, keep an eye on him, and try to act normal, whatever that is.” Vic chuckled and went back to the store room, got a roll of paper towel, and went back to the bar.
“Here, Jared, the paper towel we needed,” he said, and Jared shot him a knowing glance. The guy who called himself Paul was still sitting there. Vic heard him say something to Jared about Laura, and Jared repeated that there was no one named Laura who worked there. When the guy’s back was to Vic, he nodded at Jared to let him know he was doing well.
In a little while, Vic saw Steve head to his office and he motioned for Vic to join him. Letting enough time pass to keep up appearances, Vic slipped back to Steve’s office. “Well?”
“It’s not good. He’s in the computer all right, Paul Lester. Red flag: The address he listed is the address of the fucking public library here in Lexington. Something’s wrong with all of this. I think he’s compromised our intranet, gotten into our server.”
“Well, we’ve got one thing going for us. I told him my name is Frank. If he’s gotten into your system, he knows who every one of you are, but he doesn’t have shit on me. Good thing I dragged my feet on my membership. There’s no photo of me. Nothing.”
“Yeah, no kidding. Now we’ve got to get to Laura, find out what the hell is going on. That guy? Just looking at him gives me the creeps.” Steve’s skin crawled, and he shivered.
A thought struck Vic. “Hey, pull his photo from the system, show it to Laura, see what she says.”
“Good idea. I think we need to go and talk to her after the club closes tonight. You in?” Steve asked.
“Yep. If something’s wrong and she needs some help, I’m in.”
“So when the club closes, we’ll go to her house. Meet me back here and we’ll go out the back,” Steve said. “Now we’ve got to go out there and act like nothing’s up.”
When they walked back out into the main room, the guy who called himself Paul was nowhere to be seen. “Hey, Jared, where’d he go?” Steve whispered.
“I have no idea. I just turned around and he was gone.”