Authors: Kathleen Rovner
Mandy grabbed her around the waist in a hug. She led her over to the side underneath a large orange flower. Julie eyed the petal over her warily—it was a little tattered on the ends and looked like it could fall down any minute.
“Don’t look, but Ethan’s ex is pissed that he showed up here with someone else. Apparently she didn’t think their breakup was for real.” Mandy coolly smiled and pointed across the room at another flower arrangement.
“Awesome. Ethan said he had broken up with someone and wanted a friend to go with.” A thin line creased her brow in irritation. “Who is it?”
“Melissa.” The taller girl smirked. She would smirk. She loved drama.
“Awesome again.” Julie rubbed her temples with her fingertips. She felt a headache coming on. “Why didn’t anyone warn me?”
Melissa was a senior like Ethan, had a large group of friends, and could make life uncomfortable at school for Julie.
Julie was going to kill him. He had to drag her into one of his girl dramas. He knew she hated this stuff.
“Ethan, can we talk?” She pulled gently on his arm to get him off on his own. She caught Melissa narrowing her eyes at them from the other side of the group.
“Sorry, be back in a moment. My date wants me alone.” He pulled her in close, putting his arm around her. Melissa was staring at Ethan now, her face twisted up and noticeably red, even in the semi–light.
She looked up at his face, startled at his big grin. Her eyes narrowed into a glare, and she gripped his arm. Hard. He winced a little.
Julie let him pull her out to the dance floor and leaned in. “What is going on?”
“What are you talking about?” He smiled serenely. “We are just dancing.”
“Fine. You want to play it that way. Just remember I tried.” She cocked an eyebrow and stopped dancing. She pulled his hands off her and stood still in the middle of the dance floor with her hands on her hips. “I don’t appreciate being used to get at your ex–girlfriend.”
Ethan stopped smiling. People stared. His face went rigid. She crossed her arms, waiting. She was used to people staring at her on the dance floor. She tossed her loose hair back over her shoulder.
“Would you just dance? Okay?”
“Not until you tell me what you are doing.”
“Fine! Start dancing, and I’ll tell you.” He pulled her back in close and leaned down to whisper to her. She stiffened a little, aware that this might look bad. “Look, I tried to break it off with her last week before the dance, but she didn’t want to hear it. I thought if I came here with someone, she would get the message.”
“Looks like she understands now,” she said dryly. “Look, I’m going to go the bathroom and chill for a moment. Darn it, Ethan, I had my recital yesterday, and I was looking forward to having fun tonight.”
She stalked off the dance floor. Mandy looked over at her from the other side and raised an eyebrow as if to ask if she should go too, but Julie waved her off. She wanted to be alone right now. She walked out into the hall and past dark entrances to dining rooms.
A hand shot out and grabbed her arm. A shock ran up her arm from the touch, and her hair on her arm stood on end.
Drawing in a breath to scream, her stomach flipped, and she started to shake.
Julie flailed her arms, trying to hit the person who grabbed her arm. She put a gloved hand up to the man’s arm and tried to pull it from around her waist. But her gloves slid against the black fabric of his long–sleeved shirt. The man pulled her closer, grabbing both arms behind her and dragging her into the dark room.
A shiver ran through her, and her legs started to give out as he drew her against his tall, hard form. Her body melted into his. The scream gave way to a sigh.
What just happened?
“Hush,” said a familiar voice she couldn’t place. “I know they were watching you in there. I’m not sure if they were able to keep up with you when you left quickly. Lucky that.”
Her heart sped up, and she had a desire to turn around and kiss the man who was holding her.
“Shhh.” Mr. Black’s breath tickled her ear, and she shivered.
“What is going on?” Her words came out in a whisper.
“Nod once if you promise not to try to scream or run, and I’ll let you go.”
Julie nodded, and he hesitantly removed his hands. She edged away from him.
The moment she was away, she instantly felt she could stand on her own again instead of wanting to melt into him. She liked the feeling of being apart from him, her feet firmly on the ground.
He leaned over her, his breath tickling her neck. She shuddered and reminded herself she liked the feeling of being away from him.
“What? Why?” Julie couldn’t think of any other words at the moment. All she could think about was how close he was.
“Look over there.” He pointed down the hall the way she had come.
She peered out the darkened crack in the doorway. Two men wearing dark clothes walked slowly towards them. They stopped a few feet away. One reached to his side, picked up a radio, and spoke into it.
“We believe she went into the bathroom alone. Do we attempt extraction from there or wait for backup?” The radio crackled for a moment as the man waited for a response.
“This is a possible asset. It would be better not to scare her when we take her in.”
“Understood.” The man shrugged and looked at his partner. “We wait out here.”
“What is the deal with this girl anyway?” The other man asked. “We’ve had surveillance on her and her family now for a couple of weeks. She doesn’t seem like anything different from a normal teenager, besides always dancing.”
The first man snorted. “Who knows? You know the boss is weird sometimes about the people we follow. We watch them and their families for a week or so and then move on half the time.”
These people had been watching her. They had been watching her for weeks, and she didn’t notice.
“Why now?” the second man asked. Julie leaned as far into the hall as possible without actually putting her head out to listen. “Why not grab her from her dance studio earlier this week? It would have been easier.”
“Oh, he recognized Black hanging around her too. He’s with another agency. The boss wants to be the first to bring in someone with proven abilities. The fact that Black is hanging around makes him think this may the real deal, but he wants to make sure.”
“That pretty boy at the school is Black?”
“Yes,” the man said. “Don’t underestimate him—he’s dangerous. Why else do you think the boss is so desperate to have an agent like him? He’s been looking for years.”
Julie turned her head and looked up at Mr. Black—Agent Black? He smirked back at her.
She edged a little further away. He took a step closer to her, staring in her eyes entreatingly. He reached out to grab her again, and she opened her mouth.
Quickly, he pulled back, waving his hands frantically in front of her and put his finger to his lips. She crossed her arms and watched him with narrowed eyes. She didn’t know who to trust, but the fact that she wanted to desperately trust him made her wary.
The light from the hall illuminated his sincere blue eyes and ruffled blond curls. The darkness behind him made him stand out like a beacon.
She shouldn’t trust him. Her eyes flickered to the doorway. She shouldn’t trust them either.
High pitched laughs echoed down the hall. A group of girls in evening gowns entered the hall from the bathroom. Julie recognized them from her school, even though she didn’t know them well.
The two men stepped back toward the doorway to get out of their way. The one with the walky–talky pushed back into the door to make room for the three girls. The girls didn’t even glance at them, probably believing that they were just security.
Mr. Black took advantage of the moment and pulled her back into the shadows behind the door, pushing her face into his hard chest.
Julie let out a gasp. Her knees went weak as she smelled his clean scent of…pine trees? He tightened his hold on her waist in warning.
She didn’t think the two men had heard her. They stayed still as all of them waited for the chatting girls to pass. She held her breath, not daring to breathe.
The girls’ laughter faded. The music from the dance grew loud as the door opened down the hall and cut off again as it closed. The two men stood still in the door, staying silent. Julie risked taking a small breath.
But the air was knocked out of her as Mr. Black threw her to the side and tried to shove the door closed. A foot and arm caught in the door.
“I thought I heard something in there! Julie, come out now, and we promise we won’t hurt you.”
She crawled away from the door and further into the dark room. She passed by the door’s crack and caught the eye of the man as she did. He was holding a gun. She screamed and started crawling faster. Her heart thudded painfully in her chest.
“Who’s in there with you?” He pushed harder at the door.
Julie turned back to look. Mr. Black reached around the door and grabbed the bare skin of the man’s arm with his hand. The man’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he collapsed in a heap in the doorway. Mr. Black kicked him, trying to get him out of the door.
What the hell had he done?
The other man now pulled the gun from his side and aimed it right at her. She screamed again. She was frozen in place, chest tightening and unable to move as he took aim at her.
She heard the dance music again as the door opened down the hall. The man hesitated and looked down the hallway. Once he broke eye contact, feeling came back to her limbs. Julie crawled under one of the round tables dotting the room, but there was no tablecloth to hide her.
“Is that someone screaming?” someone asked and then cried, “Oh my god, is that a gun?”
Screams started coming from the other end of the hall and grew muted as the door to the dance shut again.
Mr. Black finally pushed the man out, shut the door, and turned the lock. He spun around faster than she could believe, almost like a dancer. Her eyes met his from under the table. “Get out. We have to go.”
She shrank back as he tried to grab at her. He caught a hold of her dress and pulled. The thin fabric ripped, and he dragged her out. She hugged one of the table legs and screamed again.
“What are you doing? I’m trying to help you! We have to run!”
Running sounded good, and Julie let go of the table leg. He pulled her upright easily and shoved her ahead of him. She stumbled across the room, twisting her way around the dining tables to another door on the other side of the room.
She jumped at a loud popping noise. Her ears rang and everything around her went quiet.
Was that a gunshot?
Her skin prickled and flushed cold with fear. The door behind them splintered as the man shot the lock off. The door flipped open as soon as they reached it.
Mr. Black pushed her through, slamming the door behind them. The sound rushed back to her as he clicked another lock. Julie leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. He paused for a second, glancing each way in the dimly lit service hall.
“This way.” He dragged her along behind him. His hand grasped her gloved one tightly.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Quiet.” He ran past a couple of doors and opened one at random. But when he entered, he kept up the pace as if he knew where to go.
There was another gunshot, and a piece of wall flicked off beside her. She fell, as the man chasing them blew through the other door to the hall. Her eyes started to water, and she blinked back tears. Mr. Black pulled her up, half carrying her as she regained her balance. They ran through another doorway, turned again, and went in another. Julie was completely lost.
They went through a set of double doors with round windows in them. On the other side were long stainless steel tables, and oven ranges lined the opposite wall. The floor in here was tiled, unlike the carpeted hallways, and her shoes clattered.
Mr. Black swung her up with ease, causing her to let out a little yelp, as her stomach hit is shoulder. His arm held her steady across the top of the back of her thighs. She was glad that he couldn’t see the instant flush to her face.
He carried her over the tile floor and gently put her down when they reached a large metal door on the other side. He opened it up and stuck his head out, peering around.
A cool breeze wafted in with the scent of rotten food. They stepped out onto a concrete landing. Clearly this was where delivery trucks brought food to the hotel.
A little further down the alleyway there was a dumpster. One light illuminated the alley, just above their heads, putting everything else in shadow.
Another alley. Julie backed up against the door. She didn’t want to go out there.
“Wait here,” Mr. Black said. “And take those stupid gloves off. If you need to grab something, they’ll slip right over it.”
He hopped down into the darkness as sirens rose in the distance. As she pulled off one of the gloves, she saw a pair of headlights turn on, temporarily blinding her. The car started forward, blinking its lights a few times in a pattern.
Mr. Black gave the car a thumb’s up sign. He turned around, peering up at her. “Okay, hop down, and I’ll catch you.”
Julie hesitated. “Umm, I know we have been running from the man with the gun, but I’m not sure about this. I mean, getting in a car with you.”
He arched a brow. “We can talk about this in a minute. We need to go. I will take you home. I promise.”
She backed up against the door where he couldn’t reach her. Wasn’t that the type of thing all crazy kidnappers would say? She waved her arms at him, placating. “Look, I appreciate your help with whatever this is, but I think I should run down the alley. I don’t need a ride or anything. Once I find my brother, I can get home.”
The sirens were getting closer. The police would be here soon, and she would be safe. She didn’t need him. Mr. Black pulled himself up next to her on the platform.
“Okay, I get that you are scared.” His voice was smooth. He kept his distance from her with his palms held up and out to her. “Normally it wouldn’t be a good idea to get in the car with someone you don’t know, but I promise that I will get you back to your parents.”