Authors: C. L. Scholey
Why was it cab drivers always seemed like they were practicing for the Indy 500? They wouldn't get paid if they killed their passengers by crash or heart attack.
"So do you?" Rain was startled when Jaron spoke, bringing her out of her reverie.
"Do I what?" she asked and frowned, hoping he wasn't about to ask her something disgusting.
"Do you know me?"
"Oh." Rain thought about it. She took a good look at him and once more the oddest sensation of flight-or-fight washed over her. He was large in the confined space of the backseat. His clothes were dry and a tight black shirt molded his broad chest. He wore a dark blue windbreaker. Black jeans clung to his well-shaped thighs. He could use a shave.
"I might," Rain said with a shrug; he seemed familiar but in an old kind of way, perhaps an old school friend who'd moved away. "But I'm not really sure. Maybe from long ago."
"How long ago?" he persisted. Jaron was grinning at her but she sensed a certain malice in his gaze.
Rain turned slightly and crossed her arms over her chest. "Why don't you tell me," she demanded. It was obvious he knew and was acting like some cat with a canary. Well, this canary was an eagle!
Let's see him mess with my claws.
Jaron leaned forward. Rain pressed back against the door, not from fear but he was invading her personal space. It surprised her that his breath was sweet when he closed in on her, their noses only inches apart.
"We were just kids. You were four the last time I saw you and I was twelve. It was back at your old apartment, before you moved away with your grandparents."
Rain felt her skin crawl. Her grandparents had told her that her mom and dad had died in that old apartment, victims of a drive-by shooting by a gang of youths. The youngest was said to have been twelve. The entire gang was caught and put behind bars. Grams and Papa thought the area too dangerous and moved their little family halfway across the country. Was meeting this man a coincidence? Rain highly doubted it.
"My parents were murdered by a bunch of filthy bastards," Rain said with a snarl.
"I know." His well-chiseled jaw clenched. Rain sensed a threat in those two words. Bracing herself against the door, she shoved at his hard chest, nudging him away.
"Driver, stop the car," Rain demanded.
"Never mind, driver," Jaron said as the cab slowed. The cab immediately resumed its pace.
Rain scowled. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
Rain again demanded the car stop. This time she brooked no room for argument. As the cab slid to a halt, Rain thrust open the door. Jaron grabbed her hand and Rain struggled.
"I'm the one who saved your life," Jaron snapped; he was definitely pissed.
Rain glared at him. It hadn't been a chance meeting. The man had obviously planned this. She had a sneaking suspicion her purse had gone missing on purpose and she bet he had turned her phone off and erased the other messages Telor said he left. And what did he mean he had saved her life? It was a lie. They had found her hiding somewhere—alone. She'd wager this guy just got out of prison and wanted payback. Well, he'd stolen her parents. Rain grabbed his thumb and bent it back, forcing him to release her.
Once loose, Rain fled into the downpour. She had the strength from hard years of dancing. Slim but muscular thighs churned down the street. It didn't take long to put distance between herself and the creep. Hill Crest was soon in view. Rain flew through the entryway door and rammed her finger against the buzzer. She saw Jaron racing toward her.
"Trace, let me in," Rain yelled frantically.
The door made a ringing sound, and Rain raced through it. She turned as the door closed and bolted in place, leaving a drenched Jaron on the other side of the glass having just missed out on entry. His chest was heaving. He rattled the door handle. Rain gave him an evil, smug look and strode backward, watching him, to the elevator. Her middle finger lifted in a salute as the elevator doors closed. Jaron smashed his open hands against the glass in fury while he bellowed her name.
"Are you all right?" Telor asked.
"Fine," Rain said.
Telor had picked her up after his class instead of spending the night with his buddies. Rain didn't want to remain in the city. When she had called him, there was something in the tone of her voice that bothered him. She sounded like she was under duress and he knew it had nothing to do with the storm. Thankfully the storm had died down. Pelts of water struck the windshield in the dark. It was well after midnight.
"You look mad," Telor said.
"I'm not mad." Her voice was quiet, tiny.
Telor reached over and clasped her fingers. She jumped and snatched her hand away. "Rain…"
"Do you remember when my family first came here?" she asked.
"Sure. Why do you ask?"
"I was weird."
Telor chuckled. "You weren't weird, no weirder than any other four-year-old girl."
"I used to run from you."
"You were afraid I'd tell Grams you were out in the storm."
"No." Rain turned, and even in the dark he could see the intensity in her gaze. "I was afraid of you."
"I wouldn't have hurt you," he said, feeling baffled.
"I didn't think you would hurt me. I was afraid you would disappear. I was afraid you would disappear and never come back and leave me alone in the dark, in the storm."
Rain sat back and exhaled loudly. She ran her hands through her hair. "I don't know. Some guy came to the studio and said he knew me when I was little, before we came here. I know I should remember him, but I can't. There was something about him, though, something creepy and yet not. I know this sounds dumb, but he was safe—familiar and yet spooky creepy. He looked so angry."
"Did he scare you?"
"Not really. More like he confused me."
"What did he say?"
Rain turned sideways to look at him again. "He says he saved me. But, Telor, my parents were killed in a drive-by shooting. I was found all alone. But no one can tell me
I was found. Grams and Papa refuse to talk about that night. They refuse to talk about anything from the past. I don't blame them; their only child was murdered."
"Why not look it up?" Telor suggested. "They must have some information on it. Maybe an old newspaper clipping."
Rain shrugged and remained silent. There was noticeable tension in the air and Telor left her alone to brood over her thoughts. Half an hour later, Telor pulled into the long driveway and parked at the fork. Rain sat staring at her house. The porch light was on. Telor gathered her into his arms. He took a steadying breath.
"Maybe it's time you find out what really happened that night. Face your demons. In some ways I think you remember yet you just don't want to. Or aren't willing to. Trauma will do that."
"You already know, don't you?" Rain asked him.
"I know why you're afraid of fire," he said. But he was worried. If the guy she saw said he was from her past, it did not bode well. Telor would need to keep his ears open and his eyes wide.
Telor felt her tremble in his arms. Rain was a strong woman. She met most things head-on. Only she would know when she was ready to meet this tragedy.
"I guess I should," she said, sounding resigned. "It looks like my past got tired of waiting for me, so it caught up."
Telor kissed her forehead. They both got out of the truck and he walked her to her front door. She rose lightly to her toes and kissed his cheek, thanking him for the ride home. The door closed almost soundlessly behind her.
Telor decided to check out the perimeter. He walked around to the back of the house and waited until he saw her bedroom light flick on. He stood there watching her silhouette behind her breezy curtain. Telor smiled when her arms lifted and her shirt came off. Her breasts were beautiful.
From his vantage point he could see her exposed flesh each time the curtain blew back. She slipped into a tiny red spaghetti strap camisole with matching lace panties. Rain waved at the window as though she knew he watched and her light clicked off. Whistling, Telor strode the few steps to his own backdoor and bounded inside. No one was there to greet him—he lived alone. His parents were deceased. He didn't have time for a pet, not even a goldfish.
Telor poured himself a double shot of bourbon and downed it in one gulp. It was the last thing he remembered. An explosive pain shot through the back of his head and Telor hit the floor, unconscious.
~ * ~
Rain was choking. Her lungs were burning. When she opened her eyes, her room was full of smoke. She fell out of bed onto her floor and screamed for Grams and Papa. When she crawled to her door, she put her hand against it. The door was scorching hot. Rain knew if she opened that door it would be disastrous. Her bedroom window was open. The fresh air would fuel the fire and she could be incinerated in a back draft. Rain would have to go out the window and come back into the house from another entryway to get to her grandparents.
With steely resolve she clambered out the window onto the overhang. She looked down into the darkness, held her breath, and jumped down from the one-and-a-half-story house. She rolled when she hit the ground. With the breath knocked out of her, Rain crawled to her feet. She screamed when someone grabbed her from behind. Instinctively Rain knew it wasn't Telor. Whoever had her had grabbed her hair in a painful grip.
Rain spun and punched at the same time. Her fist collided with solid flesh.
Goddamn, that hurt,
she thought and winced as she shook out her hand. A foul expletive was ground out and Rain was backhanded. She hit the ground and scrambled to her knees. She screamed for Telor.
Where was he?
Her whole house was ablaze. Her grandparents were nowhere to be seen.
Rain scooted between her assailant's legs and jumped up. Barefoot, she struggled toward the house, intent on saving her grandparents. Her assailant grabbed her again. She jerked herself from his grasp. The man was huge, not tall, but buff and beefy, built like a brick shithouse or an army tank. He was very dark-skinned and bald. Beady eyes were fastened onto her in an intimidating way. He clenched his fists into hammers. With menace he came at her.
"We got things to discuss, little girl," he ground out.
"Not bloody likely."
Rain was furious. Athletic dancer legs spun high and smashed the man in the face in a roundhouse kick that sent him spiraling backward. He thumped, ass first, to the ground with a loud expulsion of air. Rain was running with a small limp. The bastard had a rock for a jaw. She hadn't gone more than a few feet, the front door now in sight. She was so close—but was tossed over a broad shoulder by a new assailant.
"Put me down, they're burning," she screamed.
"You can't save them." It was Jaron's voice.
Jaron was running with her while she pounded her fists against his back. Jaron spun sideways, obviously in search of anyone in pursuit, and Rain caught a glimpse of a black car. She was being kidnapped. The other man was nowhere in sight. Rain heard sirens in the background.
When they reached the car Jaron set her on her feet. Rain hammered her fist against his cheek. It barely nudged him. The car door was flung open, and Jaron shoved her in. Rain landed sideways and kicked her foot at him, barely missing his throat. Jaron dove into the car, grabbed her shoulders and turned her roughly around and pinned her with ferocity against the door.
Rain was screaming while she struggled. She was unable to stop him from snapping handcuffs on her wrists. When he finished he spun her back around; with his face only inches from her own he snarled at her.
"I'm trying to save your life…again," he ground out.
"My grandparents are in the house," Rain said through gnashing teeth.
Jaron grabbed her hair and turned her head. Rain gasped as she watched Telor stumble from her house. In his arms was her grandmother. Jaron released her hair and started the car. Telor set Grams onto the ground; she remained in a sitting position. Rain's thoughts were racing. Telor would go in again for Papa—then again for her. He wouldn't come out until he found her. But she wasn't in there…
Oh God, he would never stop looking for her.
What should she do? She didn't want him to go in after her and die, but he needed to get Papa out. If she called for him he would try and rescue her. Flames from the roof were rising higher. A window exploded. Papa didn't have much time. Jaron would be gone before Telor came out again with Papa. Telor would go back in. He wouldn't come out again if he went in; she knew it. Telor would die looking for her.
Telor was stumbling to the house again. Something was wrong with him. For a second he pressed his hand to his head and wobbled unsteadily. Jaron had the car in gear; the tires were spinning. Rain struggled to climb into the backseat. She went over, headfirst, onto the backseat and slipped to the floor with a bang and struggled up. On her knees on the seat she came as close to the back window as possible, pressing her face against it.
"Telor," she screamed. Again she called to him, begging her angels to let him hear her. Telor stopped and looked around. "Telor, I'm not in there. Save Papa. I'm not inside; don't go back in for me.
Don't go in for me."