By Geonn Cannon
Bo Dennis owned the Detroit River. She repeated that to herself as she drove onto the ice without getting out first to test its thickness, gunning the truck's engine as the tires spun to find traction. The muscles in her forearms tightened as she held the wheel steady and aimed the hood at the opposite shore. The gunfire from her pursuers ceased once she hit the icy expanse; a stray bullet could crack the ice and make it impossible for them to follow her. She imagined she could hear the ice cracking under the weight of the vehicle and lifted her butt up off the seat. She knew it wouldn't make any difference, but her mind convinced her it would take a little of the load off.
The ice complained even louder as their pursuers joined them on the ice. They were persistent, she had to give them that. She put her weight on the gas pedal and the truck coughed in irritation. She knew the old girl was already past her limits, but she just needed to get them a little further and they'd be safe.
She hit the Canadian shore and was thrown forward against the wheel, slammed back against the seat as the truck left the smooth but treacherous ice for the rocky and safe ground. She wrenched the wheel to the right and the wheels bounced from the rough stone to the road. One of the crates fell out of the truck bed and crashed on the road. Thankfully it was a return trip and the crate was empty; if she'd lost that much liquor she would be better off surrendering to the American punks chasing her.
The sedan was still on the ice when two Toronto police cars came barreling out of a side street. The Americans lost control of their vehicle in the rush to turn around, the first police car using bullhorns to order them to remain where they were. The second car pursued Bo's truck, weaving across the road behind her so close that their bumpers nearly locked. Bo knew when she was caught so she eased on the brakes and pulled onto the shoulder.
She kept her hands in the air, visible through the back window as the officer approached. She looked through the fogged glass and saw him motion for her to roll down the window so they could speak. She cranked the handle until the glass was halfway down, and she smiled when she recognized the scruffy face of her favorite Toronto police detective. She tried to conceal how happy she was to see him by nonchalantly smiling.
"Well, well. Long way from home, aren't you?"
Dyson Thornwood smiled wide, showing his canines. "I could say the same about you." He nodded at the river where the American sedan was speeding back home in defeat. "Making new friends across the border?"
"You know me. Miss Personality."
"You look a lot better than the last time I saw you." They let the comment hang between them for a moment before he gestured north. "Would you like an escort? It's a long way home, and knowing you... you'd find a way to get into trouble along the way."
Bo touched the brim of her newsboy cap and winked. "My knight in shining armor. I'd be much more comfortable knowing you're keeping an eye on my backside, Detective."
He chuckled quietly and pushed away from the door of the truck. Bo rolled up her window and watched as he made a hand signal to the other car. When he was behind the wheel, Bo turned the ignition and pulled back onto the main road. She breathed a sigh of relief, looking back at the now-empty Detroit River. She'd cut it a little too close that time, got a little too cocky taking trade away from the mobsters. But now she was back on the right side of the river, she had a protection detail guiding her home, and Lauren... Lauren would be waiting.
All in all, the night's prospects were pretty damn bright.
Bo stopped at Trick's bar to drop off his portion of the proceeds from her trip across the river. He made her wait while he examined the bullet holes in the truck and made sure she was okay. The whole reason she did long shots to the South was so they could avoid riling up the Chicago and Detroit boys. They had their own game to run, and Trick didn't want to send the impression he was trying to usurp. But they had to get their product across the border somehow, and it seemed like the Americans didn't even like other rum-runners passing through their turf.
Trick promised to have a talk with the boys in charge on the US side, and Bo actually felt bad for the people who had just shot at her as she crossed the border. They didn't call Trick the Blood King for nothing. And the guys in Detroit had every reason to be irritated. Trick's Fae Rye might have been more expensive than what the other guys were offering, but it was far superior to their hooch. Even in Canada where people were free to drink whatever they wanted, they were willing to pay a little extra at Trick's.
He peeled few bills off his cut and gave them to her so she could get the damage repaired. She made the requisite refusals before taking the two fivers and slipping them into the back pocket of her slacks. He escorted her back to where she'd parked and examined one of the bullet wounds before he turned to face her. "How much did you have to pay the wolf?"
Bo rolled her eyes at Trick's nickname for the detective. "Usual arrangement. Don't worry, grandpa. He didn't take advantage." She kissed the top of his head affectionately. "Thanks for worrying about me, though."
"What is life without hobbies?"
She climbed back into the truck and headed home, listening to the chug of the engine for tell-tale signs that one of the bullets had hit the engine. She'd made the trip from Windsor to Toronto without any problem, and this close to home she was finally starting to relax. The real work would start tomorrow. She had something that needed to be done, something long overdue, and she couldn't put it off any longer. Time was crucial. A little putty in the bullet holes, a bit of paint, and it would be good as new. Then she could use Trick's bonus for something really special.
It was just getting dark as she parked behind her home. It was a shack by any definition, but completely hers and therefore precious in her eyes. She took the carefully-wrapped package off the passenger seat and tucked it under her arm. She had just started across the frosted grass of her lawn when her neighbor's door slapped open. Bo smiled and lifted her hand in a wave. "How do you always know when to look for me?"
"You make ripples in the ether, Bo-bo. How were the dry states?"
"Very wet, thank goodness. And not exactly friendly." She turned and gestured at the truck. "There's a few bucks in it for you if you can cover up those holes by tomorrow."
"Does it have to be pretty?"
"Nope. Just has to handle the Windsor run."
Kenzi squared her shoulders and nodded, her white-blonde Shirley Temple curls bouncing against her forehead and cheeks. "Your wish is my command. Welcome back to home and hearth."
Bo went up the steps and paused just inside the door to listen for signs she wasn't alone. She could hear the dripping faucet, the creak as the wind pressed against one side of the house and then allowed it to settle back on its foundation. Her home was empty. She sighed and tossed her jacket over the back of the dining room chair. She loosened her skinny tie with one hand, unbuttoned her waistcoat, her saddle shoes thudding heavily on the wood floor as she toed them off and crossed the room in her socks. Her home was a single room with the bedroom set off by folding screens. The living room and kitchen were separated by a counter, on which she placed the package she had bought in Kansas after dropping off the last batch of Trick's liquor.
She shrugged out of her suspenders and let them hang, sitting on the edge of the bed. She took off her cap and tossing it toward the headboard before she sagged backward onto the mattress. She closed her eyes and relished the cold. The last batch of deliveries had taken her south to Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, all places where true cold was mostly a foreign concept. Here she could see her breath, she could feel the chill on her exposed skin like a physical touch. Her last conscious memory was of tugging the bottom corner of the blanket free and pulling it around her.
Her next thought was that she'd been wrong, that someone had been in the house after all. Someone was spooning her, kissing her neck, and stroking her arms. She breathed deeply and smelled Lauren's perfume, so she turned her exhale into a delighted chuckle and pressed back against her.
"Hey. How'd you know I was back?"
"Kenzi." Lauren moved her arms to the buttons of Bo's shirt. "Let me take this off of you..."
Bo submitted to Lauren's exploring fingers, shifting her weight from shoulder to elbow so the sleeve could be taken down. Lauren turned Bo's hand and kissed the cupped palm, then brushed her lips up to the tip of each finger. Bo rolled onto her back and looked at her lover for the first time in almost two weeks, blushing when she realized how beautiful Lauren Lewis truly was. A wave of blonde hair fell across Lauren's face, shadowing her features from the lamp's light. Lauren sucked on Bo's forefinger, her own hands tracing the curved neck of Bo's undershirt.
"I wasn't sure you'd be able to get away from him," Bo said softly.
"Let's not talk about Ash right now... okay?"
Bo nodded. Lauren's husband was a sore subject. His refusal to grant her a divorce was because he considered her property, not out of any love or devotion. He knew about Lauren's relationship with Bo, tacitly allowing them to see each other when it was convenient for him and when he needed Lauren to owe him something. Bo didn't care as long as she got Lauren in her bed. She reached blindly for the belt of Lauren's dress, reluctant to take her eyes off Lauren's face even for a second.
"So." Lauren's hand dipped to the curve of Bo's breast, a teasing caress Bo tried to ignore. "What did you bring me?"
"What makes you think I brought you anything?"
Lauren smiled. "Because you know I would be happy just to have you back home, but you feel the need to make the absence count for something. So you bring me something."
"You're a smart cookie," Bo chuckled. She pushed herself up, temporarily giving up the quest to loosen Lauren's clothes. She sat up and gestured at the kitchen counter. Lauren stood and crossed the room, and Bo was one step behind her. The top of the package held a Greetings from Albuquerque postcard, which Lauren flipped over to read. Bo refused to send the postcards ahead, sure they would be intercepted by Ash and thrown out before Lauren got to read them.
She put her hands on Lauren's waist and pressed against her from behind. "You smell amazin', darlin'," Bo drawled as she burrowed her face into the soft waves of Lauren's hair until she found her neck. Lauren hmmed quietly as Bo's lips moved across the warm skin, her hands moving back and forth over Lauren's hips to feel the material of her underwear beneath it.
"Dearest Lauren. I'm hotter than I think I've ever been! Don't think these people know what winter--" She stopped reading and smiled. "Why am I reading this out loud? You know what you wrote."
"Yeah. But I love hearing your voice."
Lauren turned her head and pecked Bo's lips. "I'll read it later." She undid the twine that held the paper around her gift, then spread the folds open to reveal painted wood. Once it was completely unwrapped she touched the fragile metal hands with one finger, tracing each number before she dropped her finger to the wooden door beneath the clock's face.
"A cuckoo clock. How did you...?"
"You mentioned it once."
Lauren twisted to look back at her. "I did?"
"Your grandmother had one. You said when it popped out at night and made the little sound, it made you feel like you weren't all by yourself. You said you'd always wanted one, so I've been looking for one."
"Bo, we barely knew each other when I told you that story. We hadn't even..." She shook her head in wonder, touching the grain of the wood. "Thank you, Bo."
"You're welcome. I'm glad you like it. You can tell Ash that a customer traded it to cover their tab and the bartender let you take it home."
"I want to tell him it's from you."
Bo kissed Lauren's shoulder and unbuckled the belt at Lauren's waist. "And then how long you think it would be before you came home and found it had fallen off the nail and got shattered?" She coiled the belt on the counter next to the cuckoo clock. "This way even when you're in Ash's bed, you can hear the little bird counting the hours and know that I'm somewhere thinking about you."
Lauren raised her arms and Bo stepped back, lifting the dress up. She dropped it to the floor and brushed the back of both hands over Lauren's upper arms. She tickled the inside of Lauren's elbows, making her hiss and purr, and Bo smiled as she kissed Lauren's neck and began to sway with her.
"Come back to bed." Bo nipped at Lauren's earlobe and curled her hand around Lauren's fingers, pulling her across the room. Lauren went willingly, stepping out of her shoes before she joined Bo on the bed again. Bo stretched out, propped up by her elbows as Lauren straddled her. They held eye contact as Lauren undid the catches on her underwear, easing out of it and reaching back to drop it off the foot of the bed. Bo sat up and kissed Lauren's chest, her wrists crossed in the small of Lauren's back to pull her closer.
Bo tilted back and Lauren leaned down, their lips brushing against each other before meeting properly. Lauren traced Bo's lips with her tongue and Bo drew it into her mouth, sucking gently as she spread her fingers to cover as much of Lauren's back as possible. Moving her hands down, she hooked her thumbs under the half-slip and pushed it down. She rolled and pinned Lauren to the mattress, sliding down her body to get the slip off and then kissing her way back up. She put her hand on the mattress next to Lauren's head and stared into her eyes.
"I hold you so dear, Bo," Lauren whispered.
"I'm besotted by you," Bo replied, kissing her again. When Ash first discovered about his wife's 'dalliances' with Bo, he insisted that she declare her love for him. He forced her to declare he was the only one she loved. She did so, and now she and Bo delighted in following the letter of his law even as they mocked the spirit of it.
Lauren took her time undressing Bo. A minute for her undershirt and then, after an appropriate bit of exploration, two minutes to push down her pants. Bo was left in tight briefs and socks held up by garters, digging her knee into the mattress between Lauren's legs. She leaned forward, her thigh against Lauren's sex, and Lauren reached up to hook her fingers under the bottom edge of the headboard.
Bo touched Lauren's thighs, bit her bottom lip, and thrust forward. Lauren gave a strangled gasp and pushed down against her, bending her knee and brushing her foot over Bo's calf. The bedsprings groaned under Bo's movements, and she watched Lauren's face to properly pace herself. She knew the telltales of Lauren's impending orgasm, and she backed off whenever it got too close.
Finally, with Lauren's reddened face lined by drops of sweat, Bo leaned down and licked Lauren's cheek, then whispered in her ear. "Do you know what I did on the road? Those long stretches of nothing from Nowhere to Lost? You. Like this. Your body under me and your voice in my ear, and it got me through." She ran her hand over Lauren's thigh, up to her hip, and parted her pubic hair to tease her clit. "And I thought about how you sounded when you come, and I want to hear that sound for real right now. Right now, Lauren."
"Oh, God..." Lauren's whole body trembled, and Bo extended one finger between the lips of Lauren's sex. She stroked, and the muscles tightened around her. She watched as Lauren stiffened, her brow furrowed and her eyes tightly closed. Her lips puffed out with each sharp exhale of breath and then, finally, she growled and sank back down to the mattress.
"Bo... I l--"
Bo quickly pressed two fingers of her free hand against Lauren's lips. "Don't. Don't say that. You promised."
Lauren opened her eyes and stared. She nodded, and Bo took her fingers away. She slid her hand from between Lauren's thighs, brushing the wetness away in Lauren's thick pubic hair before settling gently on top of her. Lauren stroked Bo's shoulders, lightly scratching before gathering handfuls of Bo's long hair and pulling her head back gently.
"Mine," Lauren whispered. She kissed Bo's chin and moved along her jaw. "Mine." She tightened her hand into a fist, holding Bo's hair like a leash as her declarations became more intense. She bent her knee and Bo settled against her thigh. She felt the cotton of her briefs rubbing against the sensitive flesh of her pussy and grunted as Lauren's lips continued to explore her face. She kissed Bo's closed eyes. "Mine..." She kissed Bo's ears. "Mine." She kissed across Bo's face, almost growling now with each repeated, "Mine! Mine! Mine!"
Bo came, her fingers curling into talons in the sheets as she forced her eyes open to look down at Lauren. When she trusted her muscles to support her weight, she moved one hand down until she found Lauren's hand. She lifted it, kissed the palm without breaking eye contact, and pressed it flat over her heart.
"Yours," Bo confirmed.
Lauren smiled and blinked back tears, nodding as she lifted her head to meet Bo's lips in a hungry kiss. Their bodies settled together, curve against curve, sharing warmth as the energy faded out of them and they let sleep take them when it came.
Bo woke alone in the morning, wrapped warmly in the blankets. She sat up and looked around her home to make sure Lauren wasn't lingering with breakfast, but she already knew. Lauren had gone home to Ash. Bo's disappointment was tempered by the fact that the cuckoo clock was missing. She hoped Ash believed the story about where the clock had come from and let Lauren keep it. She smiled at the thought of the little bird tweeting twenty-four times a day, a quiet whistle from Bo that intruded on Ash's quaint little fiefdom. "I hope it drives you crazy, you son of a bitch," she muttered.
She kept the blankets wrapped around her as defense against the cold as she padded barefoot into the bathroom. She pushed aside the privacy curtain that surrounded the bathtub and stopped with her hand halfway to the faucet. Tiny pieces of pink tissue paper cut into heart shapes surrounded the drain, tiny magenta freckles on the white of the porcelain. Bo crouched and brushed the hearts into the cupped palm of her hand. She couldn't imagine how long it would have taken to cut so many of them.
Probably about as long as I was in the States. The thought made her smile, and she carefully transferred the hearts to the vanity where they would be safe from drowning. She ran the water as hot as it could get, which wasn't very, and then dressed in her threadbare and high-collared shirt and tweed pants. She gathered her hair under her trilby and ran her finger along the brim to make sure it dipped low over her eyes before she left the house.
Kenzi was still working on the truck, her toolbox open on the ground at her feet. Today her hair was brown and bobbed. She slipped a wrench into the front of her bib overalls, brushed her hands over them to leave greasy smears, and met Bo halfway across the lawn. She had a thick jacket over her overalls, the hood flipped back to rest between her shoulders.
"Morning, sunshine. Fixed up the bullet holes. One of them hit your oil pan, so I fixed that before it could give you any trouble."
"Thanks, beautiful." She took a few coins out of her pocket and handed them over. "Stick that in your piggy bank. Save it for a rainy day."
"You're a peach, Bo." She rolled her eyes at the paltry payment, but they both knew she wouldn't take anything more. Her immediate family was made up of grifters and con artists and Kenzi was determined to make up for their shortcomings. To that end, she did quality work for little or no payment. Most of it was for Bo, for which Bo was always grateful.
"Come on. I'll take you on a test drive."
Kenzi headed for the passenger side of the truck, tacitly accepting the invitation as Bo had hoped she would. "Where we going? I don't want to go across the river again."
"Nope, we're staying in town. I just want to go see someone."
And it was someone she wasn't too keen on seeing alone. She could hold her own, but she liked the idea of having a buffer between her and one of the most powerful women in Canada. In the snow was evidence Lauren had actually been present in the house the night before; tire tracks that went up into the driveway and out again, like the twin tracks of footprints leading from the drive to the house. Kenzi had obviously seen it, so there was no point denying it.
"So, uh. I had a guest last night."
"I know. Either she came over or this neighborhood has a new pair of night birds with a really weird song."
Bo chuckled and turned onto the main road. Kenzi settled against her seat, one arm resting on the door as she looked out the frosted window at the landscape. Bo was glad she had to drive slowly so she could take the time to appreciate all the winter beauty. "You know what they call snow in the South? When little flakes drift down out of the sky and sometimes it sticks. Usually the lawns are just a little white, like they have dandruff or something. This is winter. It's good to be home."
"Good to have you home. It's always more boring when you're gone."
When they reached Leanan Street and didn't turn, Kenzi sat up straighter in her seat. "You could've warned a girl we were going there."
"Would you still have come?"
"I might have changed clothes first." She zipped up her parka over her grease-smeared overalls.
A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of Club Marquise. Bo got out and nervously resettled her hat, making sure that her collar was straight and her suspenders weren't twisted. Kenzi waited at her side until Bo finally nodded that she was ready. The club was closed, but Bo knew that the owner would be on the premises; she never left.
She went in through the back, through the door that was always unlocked. The interior of the club smelled of cigarettes and spilled beer even hours after closing. The dressing room, gaily lit and boisterous during business hours, was a dark cavern now that all the performers had gone home. Bo passed without a second glance and Kenzi followed in silence. The stairs to the main office were to the left, but she went to the right instead. She just wanted to see something before she risked getting banished.
The stage seemed larger when she was in the audience. A bandstand, a trio of curtains that hid the wings, and then a small space where the performer would stand. There was no crowd today, no spotlight blinding her as she walked to the middle of the stage. Kenzi hovered in the wings, watching and waiting as Bo approached the microphone stand. She looked out over the forest of upturned chair legs and focused on the bar tucked away in the back corner. It seemed so far away. Miles away. And yet, somehow, all those years ago... Lauren had seen her.
She was dropping off Trick's latest delivery, resting her elbows on the bar while the manager was summoned to deal with her invoice. She was underdressed for the crowd and felt conspicuous, and she was eager to take her payment and get the hell out. She drummed her fingers on the wood, glancing toward the stage out of boredom when the music began to play. But boredom was replaced by instant interest and Bo stood up straight, not wanting to risk missing a second by blinking. She was transfixed by the blonde at the mic. Her eyes were closed, her shoulders moving slightly as she waited for her cue.
People call a certain blood-red, but that's not accurate. Blood is brown and dark. The singer's dress was ruby and fire. She finally opened her eyes and, with the glare of the spot and in the sea of darkness, she seemed to look directly at Bo. She smiled and the air left Bo's lungs. The singer cupped the mic as she would cup the back of her lover's head, leaning in and parting her lips, and Bo touched her tongue to her own lips in anticipation.
"Who can call the sad betrayed?" the singer crooned. "Who can take the road of Fate? Who can halt the feeling of pain?" A pause and then she breathed, "I can, I can, I can..."
Bo believed it. The manager approached with the invoice but Bo held up a hand to stop her from speaking. She wasn't willing to miss a moment of the song. Drums and a guitar picked up the beat and the singer began to move to the rhythm. Bo was hypnotized by the movement, and the singer locked eyes with her again. Bo struggled to draw a breath.
"Ah, ah, ah, ah... You gave your heart, but I want your soul. I think I love you, can I kill you some more?" She wet her lips and Bo felt an electric shock run through her body.
"Her name is Lauren."
Bo turned toward the voice and saw the club manager, Evony Morrigan, smiling knowingly at her. She started to deny whatever the smile was implying, but her eyes had been off the singer - Lauren - for too long. She looked again.
"Here is just a bitter strait. Here you're just a bird of prey. Here is where the people play. So I'll wait... I'll wait... I'll wait..." She closed her eyes and sighed the last, "I'll wait," and the music picked up again. When the song ended the crowd applauded, they hooted, and Lauren accepted their appreciation gratefully. She dropped her hand from the microphone and backed toward the curtains, turning once more toward the bar.
And Bo could swear that her smile changed, ever so slightly, when they locked eyes again.
Evony had introduced them that night, and three days later their romance began in earnest. As much as Bo had learned to distrust and despise Morrigan, she still owed her for making the best thing in her life possible. Now she hoped she could ask another favor, one that would make the best thing in her life even better. She was startled out of her reverie by a voice coming from the back of the club.
"If you're going to sing, give me a moment to find some popcorn."
Evony approached through the shadows from stage left, smiling with her arms crossed over her chest. She was dressed in a provocatively mannish way, with a suit jacket and necktie but no shirt underneath. Her jet-black hair was styled into a bouffant, and she wore full makeup despite the early hour. Bo could see the fingernails of one hand and, unlike Lauren's dress all those years ago, they were blood-red, as were her lips.
"What a surprise to see you here, Bo. I thought you'd been scared away forever last time Ash caught you here."
Bo pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, the blood from her lip dripping onto the pavement between the scattered yellow petals of her devastated flowers. The bouquet had been torn apart by angry hands as Bo was punched, kicked, and manhandled out of the club. She knew her knees and the palms of her hands were skinned by the impact with the pavement and she looked up into Ash's angry eyes.
"I have been very understanding with you, lady. Lauren wants to go to the slums, she can go to the slums. But the next time you come to my turf to gawp at my property, you think about this." He feinted a blow to her head and Bo hated herself for flinching. Ash laughed and brushed off his hands, nodding for his friends to lead the way back inside. Bo spit blood at his retreating back, then tried to gather the flowers with hands that trembled from anger and unspent adrenaline. She would have hurt Ash, but she'd promised Lauren she wouldn't. But she could still salvage the bouquet.
Bo hated the memory. The time in America had given her wounds time to heal and Lauren had never seen the damage her husband had done.
Evony spoke again, her mocking tone concealing the true warning behind her words. "If he catches you overstepping the bounds again, you know what he'll do to you. And what he'll do to Lauren."
Bo could picture it all too well. "That's why I've come. I know Lauren has a contract with you. I want you to break it."
Evony stopped a few feet in front of the stage and raised an eyebrow. Somehow, even craning her head back to look up at Bo, she seemed to command respect. She looked toward Kenzi, blinked, and then slowly turned her attention back to Bo like a jungle cat who had decided certain prey wasn't worth the effort to pursue.
"And why would I do that?"
"Because I'm going to make it worth your while."
"Ash would be very unhappy if he knew you were dictating his wife's career."
Bo said, "Let me worry about Ash. I don't want Lauren to be stuck here if she doesn't want to be. No contract, no stipulations... she decides if she stays or goes. Deal?"
Evony laughed. "You want me to make her a free agent? She'll talk to the other clubs and get better offers... if she raises her price--"
"Then you'll finally be paying her what she's worth."
Evony pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "Okay. What are you offering in exchange for your mistress' contract?"
Bo hated that word but she chose her battles. "The exclusive Toronto distribution rights to Fae Rye. You'd be the only place in Ontario that offers it."
Kenzi forgot herself and gasped, "Whoa." Even Evony stood a little straighter. "Fitzpatrick McCorrigan would never go for that. He works the other side of the tracks."
"He'll agree to it if I tell him to. Thanks to me, he's making more profit from the States than he's ever made up here. I spent the time away setting up some new contracts. Made a few enemies, nothing I can't handle. There's gonna be a market for it up here, and Trick owes me. If I say the Club Marquise is where he should sell, he'll agree."
Evony was nearly drooling at the prospect. "There's a chance that Lauren won't leave even if I tear up her contract."
"That's not the point. The point is that she can leave if she wants."
After a long moment of consideration, Evony dipped her chin ever-so-slightly. "If you come through on your end, then your Lauren will be free to stay or go as she pleases."
"Pleasure doing business with you, Morrigan." Bo turned and walked toward Kenzi. She was almost to the curtain when Evony spoke again.
"You should move fast. If Ash finds out about this little arrangement, he'll come to find you. And a few weeks hiding across the border won't be enough to hide what he'll do to you then."
Bo put her hand on Kenzi's shoulder and urged her back through the shadows. Once they were far enough to speak without being overheard, Kenzi grabbed Bo's sleeve.
"She's going to tell him."
"No, she's not. She won't risk a contract as big as this. But still... word has way of getting to Ash. I'm counting on it, in fact. Come on, we don't have a lot of time."
"Right. The--" Kenzi stopped walking. "Wait... 'we'?"
"I'm going to poke the bear, and he's going to be reluctant to poke back if I'm not alone."
"So I'm a decoy."
Bo winced. "I wouldn't put it like that..."
Kenzi shrugged. "I'm a decoy that keeps you from getting hurt. And I don't get hurt. So it's fine."
"But if I'm wrong about this guy, he might decide--"
Kenzi cut her off with a wave of her hand. "Stop shilling, Bo, you made the sale. Where are we going?"
Bo looked down at herself and decided she needed to change clothes. "First, we're going home. Then we're going to get permission to do something very, very bad."
Bo chose a dark maroon blouse and a black waistcoat for her visit to Lauren's house. Her hair was down, and she nervously rubbed her hands together as she waited for her knock to be answered. She heard footsteps on the floor and, a moment after the curtain was pushed aside and dropped back into place, the door opened to reveal Lauren. She wore a shapeless blue nightgown with lace across the bodice, somehow making the shift look utterly provocative. Her eyes were wide with panic. "Bo... you cannot be here. He has friends, people watching..."
"I know," Bo said. "But there's something I have to tell you." She took Lauren's hands and brought them to her lips. "You're nobody's property, Lauren. Not Ash's, not Evony's, and not mine. I made a decision without your say-so today, but that decision left you free to choose. You can keep things like they are, or you can make them better. And you decide what better means. No one else. I love you, Lauren. I know you promised not to say it, but I never made a vow. I love you and I don't care if you can say it back."
Lauren blinked away tears. "Bo... I feel the same. You know I do. And that's why you cannot be here."
"Thirty more seconds." She stepped forward and pressed her face into Lauren's sleep-tossed hair. She found the shell of her ear and whispered. Lauren kept her grip on Bo's hands, eyes searching for one of Ash's spies as she listened. Bo's breath on the side of her neck was warm, making her feel weak as she tried to focus on the words that were being said. Finally Bo stepped back. Lauren's face was wet with her tears and they looked at each other in silence.
"If you tell me not to, I won't."
Lauren said, "Would you be in danger?"
"Yeah. Nothing new."
"Whatever happens... whatever happens, make sure you're safe. Whatever else you have to do, promise me that. I can't lose you, Bo."
"I promise." She kissed Lauren, lingering longer than she felt was safe. The idea of kissing Lauren for as long as she wanted, without worrying about who might see, made her giddy.
When she pulled away Lauren leaned forward to hold contact just a second longer, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth when she finally accepted the kiss was over. She curled her fingers into a fist and put it on Bo's chest. She extended her forefinger, pinkie, and thumb and pressed against Bo's shirt with the tips. Bo got the message and covered Lauren's hand with her own.
"I yearn for you," Bo said.
Lauren's voice broke when she said, "I used to dream about finding you."
Bo brought Lauren's hand to her lips and kissed the knuckles. She reluctantly let go and walked off the porch, hurrying to the truck where Kenzi was waiting. She forced herself not to look back, certain that if she did she would lack the strength to keep going. She got behind the wheel of the truck, revved the engine, and drove away in a cloud of thick exhaust. When she finally did look back, she was too far away to see the house Lauren shared with Ash.
She could, however, see the car that had been following her since the club. He could have confronted her when she stopped at his house, but then he would have been forced to hurt her in front of Lauren. Ash was smart enough to know if he did that, she would never forgive him. So now he was waiting for an opportunity to get her alone.
She focused on the road ahead. "You ready to jump out, Kenzi?"
"Yep. But... are you sure you want to let me out so soon? Windsor is four hours away. That's a long time to be all by yourself in the truck. We could stop somewhere in between to make the call and still give Dyson enough time--"
"No. You've been a decoy long enough. I'm not risking anyone's life but my own."
Bo shook her head. "No. I'm going to do more than risk his life."
Kenzi looked at her for a moment, maybe giving her a chance to back off the comment or sugarcoat it a little. When she didn't, Kenzi just nodded and looked out the window until they got to their destination. Bo idled at the curb and Kenzi opened her door.
"Wait until he catches up. I want him to know you're not in the truck."
"Bo, what's to stop him from just running you off the road before you even get to Windsor?"
"If he tries, I'll evade." His car appeared and she nodded at Kenzi to go. "If anything happens to me, tell Trick about the deal I made with Morrigan. He'll honor it. And there's a bag of money under the floorboards in my bedroom. Under the purple rug. Give it to Lauren. Tell her to use it to get away."
Kenzi's bright eyes were filled with tears, finally accepting there was a possibility Bo wouldn't be coming back. She sniffled and said, "The oil pan is completely fixed, but I didn't have time to give it a complete... I mean, there might be... if something goes wrong, I don't want you blaming me, okay? It's your truck, and all I had was--"
Bo hugged Kenzi. "Thank you, Kenzi."
"Bye for now," Bo corrected. She looked in the rearview mirror and saw Ash's car still idling a block away. "Okay. Go on. Make the call. Tell him I'm about four hours away."
"Will do. Good luck."
Bo nodded and watched until Kenzi disappeared into the bar. She took a deep breath, gripped the wheel, and pulled away from the curb. A few seconds later Ash pursued. Bo had dismissed Kenzi's warning but she was truly concerned about how pissed off Ash might be. The man had bizarre ideas about property, loyalty, and territory. It was okay if Lauren slept with Bo, if they made love and held each other all night, but actually saying "love" out loud was verboten. He was apparently fine with everything Bo did with Lauren in bed, but crossing the threshold of Club Marquise was worthy of a beating.
And she knew that if he was willing to go to those extremes with her, it was only a matter of time before he went after Lauren. If he hadn't already. She swore he'd never physically harmed her but Bo had her doubts. She'd never seen a bruise but she had seen how frightened Lauren was when she missed a curfew or risked breaking one of Ash's unspoken rules. Something had to be done about the bastard. She wouldn't be able to take him in a straight fight, so she had to get creative.
Her plan hinged on a Toronto cop named Hale Santiago. He was a seductive son of a bitch, able to sweet talk anybody into almost anything. Bo had gone to him and, not exactly a slouch herself in the seduction department, had gotten him to gather the carbons from every "misfiled" and dropped report leveled against Ash Lochlyn. He was the one who convinced Dyson that they needed to do something to stop him, but he was far too powerful and much too connected.
Before Bo left for America to lick her wounds, she had stopped by Dyson's apartment to show him what Ash was capable of. "When I get back in town, I'm going to do something about him. I'm going to stop him before Lauren looks like I do right now. Will you help me?" His only question had been when she would need him. She promised she would give him a call when she was near the border. If he showed up, she would know he was in.
He'd shown up. After that she'd just needed to bring Evony into the plan. If everything went the way Bo hoped, then Ash would be out of the picture and Lauren would be free once and for all. And if she chose that freedom to live a life without her, Bo would be fine with that. Maybe Fate had brought them together just long enough for Bo to eliminate Ash. Maybe that, and not being Lauren's lover, was the purpose she was meant to serve in the world. But she had been Lauren's lover. She had treasured Lauren without making her feel like a prize, and she knew she'd shown Lauren how it felt to be loved.
For the duration of the trip, Bo made sure Ash was close enough to keep her in his sights but far enough away that he couldn't try anything. She would have fair warning if he sped up enough to try running her off the road. It was a dangerous game of follow-the-leader but Bo had played the game enough times with the US authorities to know her odds were good.
She was well-practiced in crossing the frozen river. Today she had the added benefit of knowing exactly where bullets from the day before had weakened the ice. The day wasn't cold enough to have completely healed the cracks the gunfight had created, so it would be doubly vulnerable today. She knew the kind of car Ash would be driving because she always kept an eye out for it when she stopped at Club Marquise to listen to Lauren sing. She knew how heavy it was. She found the spot where she had entered Canada the day before and drove out onto the ice. She drove to the middle of the lake and twisted the wheel carefully, fishtailing around until she was facing the way she had come.
Bo rolled down the window and crawled into the bed of the truck. The ice groaned pitifully at the weight of her truck, and she had a horrible vision of it giving way before she was ready. But it held, and she crouched behind the truck's cab. She had just gotten into position when Ash's car appeared at the shore. She could see him through the glass, jaw set tight and eyes narrow as he debated whether or not to risk continuing. She was too far out for even a shouted conversation, and he'd come too far to just turn around. The engine chugged quietly and Bo stared at the round headlights as if holding eye contact until he made his decision.
His car rolled out onto the ice.
Bo tensed and drew the revolver from the back of her pants. She held the gun by her side where Ash couldn't possibly see it, heart pounding as she waited for the opportune moment. When he was past the point of no return, Bo stood up and aimed the gun. She fired not at Ash or his vehicle, but at the ice on either side of the front tires. The car lurched to a stop and she heard gears grinding as he tried to back up, but it was too late. The ice cracked, shattered, and the front half of Ash's car plunged through like it was made of tissue paper.
Freezing water rushed up onto the hood and crashed against the windshield. The cracks spread out to either side and the front of Bo's truck sank as well. She jumped from the bed of the truck and catapulted herself forward and outward. She hit the ice hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs, flattening her palms against the ice and shoving forward even as it buckled underneath her. Her shoes slipped as they sought traction, the surface of the lake shifting until gravity seemed to have changed direction.
Fighting the sensation that she was trying to climb up the side of a building that was becoming ever-steeper, Bo pushed onward. Cold water splashed up and over her, soaking her to the skin even as the world around her seemed to shatter. There was just enough snow on the slick surface of the river to give her traction, and she continued sliding forward on her belly until the world stabilized again. She got onto her hands and knees, completely soaked and shivering as she used the last of her strength to pull herself up onto the snowy shore.
She lacked the strength or the ability to even try warming herself, so it was fortunate that a heavy wool blanket was draped across her shoulders. Strong hands closed around her upper arms and helped her stand, and she pressed against Dyson's chest to share his body heat. "H-h-hi."
Bo looked back at the river. There was a smooth circle where she and Ash had been parked, the surface already glassy again. She knew Ash still had a chance to escape, if he managed to get out of his anchor of a car and break through the newly-formed ice layer and crawl to shore. Bo let Dyson hold her, thawing her out bit by bit as they watched and waited for signs of life.
After ten minutes, Dyson said, "If he was going to surface..."
He stepped back and guided her toward the road. "Come on. I brought the spare outfit like you said. Let's get you out of these wet clothes."
Dyson chuckled and continued up to where he had parked, and Bo looked back at the still, quiet river. The day before she had declared ownership of the river, but now she was willing to grant it to Ash. He wanted property and now he had it. She turned away again and joined Dyson at the road, her feet squelching in her wet shoes.
Lauren opened the door, pausing before she stepped out onto the porch. "You're back," she said softly. "Ash?"
Bo had changed in the car while Dyson mostly kept his eyes on the road. He had dropped her off at Lauren's and gone on to the police station to begin paperwork on the missing person's report he'd file on Ash in forty-eight hours. He and Hale would make sure the case never went anywhere. Lauren's expression was unreadable, and Bo held her breath as she waited for her to say something else.
Lauren closed her eyes and took a series of short breaths. Then she looked at Bo. "I love you."
Bo nearly sobbed. "I love you, too."
They embraced, then kissed, and Lauren pulled back with a frown. "You're freezing."
"No, you're not. Come inside."
Bo looked down at the threshold of the house. Lauren's feet were bare. Bo waited a moment and then pointedly stepped through the door. Once Ash's territory, now Lauren's. Bo breathed in the scent of the house - it reminded her of Lauren, naturally - and reveled in the warmth of the room. Lauren brushed Bo's arm as she passed, on her way to the kitchen to start heating up something for Bo to drink.
The house was so domestic, so very "Lauren" that Bo wasn't sure what to look at. An afghan was draped over the back of the couch (for when she gets cold while she's reading), a pair of slippers were resting next to the armchair (for going outside without needing shoes because Lauren loved being barefoot), a broom in the corner (because Lauren loved to keep things tidy). Once the teapot was on the burner, Lauren returned to where Bo was standing. She hadn't gone farther than the threshold.
"What happens now?"
"That's not for me to decide. Not me, or Evony, or anyone but you. What happens next is your call, Lauren. I know you'll make the right choice."
Lauren considered that. "And if I want to stay? If I want to work at Club Marquise...?"
"Evony will let you, but you'll be free to get offers from other clubs. You can leverage that into a raise. Earn what you're worth."
"Wow," Lauren said softly. "And... if I wanted to... be with you?"
Bo struggled to act uninterested. "I'd be amenable to that."
Lauren brought her hand up and stroked Bo's cheek. "Well. Looks like I have some thinking to do."
"Let me know if you need any help."
Lauren smiled and pulled Bo to her for a kiss. By the time they parted, Bo was pretty certain she could guess what Lauren's decision was going to be.