For Disclaimers see Ch. 1
Author's Note: Being back in the field has really screwed up my nice consistent schedule. And trying to write in my hotel room is proving rather difficult. But the creative juices are thankfully still bubbling away and I'm very eager to finish this story.
* * *
Luce could hear hushed murmurs around her as she came up slowly from the deep sleep she'd been pulled into at Kylie's firm insistence she get some rest. Feeling an echo of memory of the last time she'd been woken from a sound sleep, she pulled herself wide awake, riding a rising wave of panic as her eyes shot open in alarm.
But this time, there was no specter of evil intent waiting for her; no shadows of malevolence practically standing over her vulnerable resting form. Instead, Kylie's family sat around the room, quietly talking, sitting vigil on the two of them as they slept.
Her eyes scanned the room, the panic receding slowly. She was surprised to see several of Kylie's family members waiting patiently for the smaller woman to wake up. They were quiet and calm and respectful. It was perhaps the most placid she'd ever seen the group; truth be told, it was a bit creepy.
She shifted slightly, noticing her mother still sitting in a nearby chair. She gave Luce a soft small smile at seeing her awake. “Good morning, lighteyes. I am glad to see you back with us.”
Luce reached up, careful not to disturb Kylie's still soundly sleeping form, and rubbed her eyes. “What time is it?”
“About 10 o'clock.” She gave Kylie an appraising look and smiled. “Does she always sleep like this?”
Luce looked down ruefully at Kylie's relaxed body draped across her taller one and fought the urge to blush. Someone had been kind enough to throw another blanket over them both but it did little to hide the fact that Kylie had wrapped herself around Luce as if she were a teddy bear.
She gave a small, embarassed nod. “Yeah; she's a bit clingy in her sleep sometimes.”
“Understandable after last night. But somehow I do not think you would mind in any case.” Grace gave her a wink.
For some reason the look from her mother did make her blush and she felt the heat of it suffuse her face. That made her mother chuckle softly which seemed to mortify her even more. Seeing the subtle and not so subtle looks she was getting from Kylie's family members in the room didn't help. And she sat up a bit faster than she intended, making Kylie stir and mumble in her sleep.
Grace reached out to help her daughter untangle herself from the smaller woman, the smile never leaving her face.
Luce pulled herself from the bed and turned to tuck Kylie back in, soothing her with a soft murmur telling Kylie it was ok to go back to sleep, she was safe.
Kylie sighed softly and settled back to sleep easily at hearing that.
Luce stood, turning her attention to the rest of the room. Most of the occupants were avidly watching her and quite a few of them had wide smiles on their faces. For some reason, the attention made her blush even more, as if she'd forgotten everything about schooling her emotions in the last 24 hours.
Her mother's light touch saved her. “The nurses have offered you the use of a shower at the end of the hall, lighteyes. And I have brought you some clean clothes. Being clean will make you feel better. Do not worry about Kylie, we will keep watch over her.”
Luce took the bag from her with a grateful murmur and left the room in a rush. This is not a retreat she told herself in a huff as the door closed quietly behind her. But that didn't stop the sigh of relief that slipped out the minute she took the first step away from the crowded room.
She turned to look down the hall and saw Keith coming up to the room.
He smiled at her warmly. “Good to see you're up.” And to her surprise, he gave her a quick hug. “Does that mean Kylie's awake too?”
Startled by the affectionate display, it took Luce a few seconds to find her tongue again. She shook her head both in denial and hoping it would clear out the cobwebs in her brain a bit. “No, she's still out. I'm on my way to get cleaned up. I smell like an out of control bonfire.”
Keith laughed. “I wasn't going to say anything; spare your feelings.”
That made her laugh too.
His face turned serious as he gave her an appraising look. “How're you feeling?”
She shrugged. “Banged up and slightly toasted; but all in all not too bad.”
He made a noncommittal sound. “Mollie told me what happened. That was a pretty damn brave thing you did, Luce.”
She shrugged again feeling a bit uncomfortable with the slight hero worship she could see building in his eyes.
He brushed off her dismissal. “I mean it. Not a lot of people in your shoes would have done as well as you did. We'd all like to think we'll step up and be heroes when the time comes but it doesn't always happen.” He could see she was feeling a bit overwhelmed and he reached out to give her another hug. “I'm glad you're part of the family.”
She found herself returning his hug without thinking. Touched by what he'd said, she stood there soaking up the unconditional love and support being offered. Kylie's family was so strange and yet so wonderful at the same time. It nearly brought tears to her eyes.
The spell was broken when she heard her name being called down the hall.
She pulled away from Keith and looked to see Agent Jenkins walking down the hall hurriedly towards her.
“Thank God you're alright!” He said as he caught up to her. “We've been looking for you for hours, checked all the hospitals but you weren't admitted anywhere. Agent Smith was terrified we weren't going to find you.”
Luce looked behind the frazzled senior agent to see Agent Smith hurrying up to them. He looked haggard and for once, she didn't feel the urge to needle him about it. “Damn, I never even thought to call you guys.”
Jenkins shook his head slightly. “Understandable considering.” He glanced at Keith.
“This is Keith, my soon to be brother-in-law.” The words flew out of her mouth too fast to censor.
He shot her a strange look but said nothing.
She ignored the look, hoping to get a chance to talk to him and explain before he got a chance to spill the news to Mollie. “Keith, this is Agent Jenkins from the FBI. I think he really badly needs to talk to me about last night. If Kylie wakes up, will you tell her that?”
Keith nodded at her and gave her an affectionate cuff on the shoulder before disappearing into Kylie's room.
As the door shut quietly, Luce turned and looked at the two men in the hallway. “Would you guys be willing to cool your heels long enough for me to take a shower? I smell like I just spent the last several hours sitting inches from a bonfire in a hurricane.”
Smith laughed at that.
Jenkins simply nodded at her. “We'll find a quiet place to talk. And get some coffee. Take your time.”
She waved her bag at them and headed to the end of the hall. When she opened the door marked “showers” she was pleasantly surprised to find herself in a private room with a rather large half bath area and an even larger shower.
Delighted beyond belief that she wouldn't have to shower in a stall, which reminded her far too much of gym class and many horrific hours spent trying to get her too tall frame into one, she stripped and stepped into the quickly adjusted spray.
She stood there for several minutes letting the hot water wash away the smoke and soot and all the tension from the night before. It felt like heaven and it was just what the doctor ordered. She scrubbed enthusiastically, luxuriating in the sensation of being clean again. The feeling was so intense it almost made her toes curl.
After her second lather and rinse, she stood under the hot pounding spray, letting it wash over her as she sighed loudly in delight. For the moment, all was truly right with the world. She smiled, thinking that Kylie would probably love the chance to get clean.
The thought made her snort softly. If she were honest, Kylie would likely be willing to committ murder to be clean again. The image of her lover running amok in the hospital desperately searching for a shower made her smile.
On the heels of that thought came the image of a too pale and still face lying on the lawn. With a harsh shudder, she reached out and shut off the water with a savage twist of her hand, trying to push the memory aside just as violently.
It went, but reluctantly and not completely. It lay on the periphery of her mind like a low grade headache. Something she was still aware of and something she knew would likely hurt a great deal more as the day went on, but not something she could do anything about at the moment.
She stood there, drying herself roughly, dragging the rough towel over her skin to further distract herself from the dark memories in her head.
As she dressed, her movements rushed and a touch impatient, she could still feel the echo of last night hovering over her. And it was beginning to piss her off.
She caught a glance of her face in the mirror and paused in astonishment. The image that stared back at her looked like haggard face of a stranger. Her eyes were sunken into her face, dark shadows showing prominently under them and her face looked drawn tight as a drum. Staring at her face in astonishment she suddenly understood why her mother had been so concerned the night before. If this is what she looked like after getting some sleep, she could only imagine what she'd looked like the night before, just after all hell broke loose.
And just like that, it went from being a low grade headache to a full blown migraine screaming for her attention. She took a deep breath, fighting to push it back, give her some room to breath. She scrambled for something, anything that would help.
As if she were in the room with her, Kylie was there for her again. The memory of curling up with Kylie in her bed, alone in the hospital room, both of them still numb and shaky from their ordeal. Both of them struggling for equilibrium again.
And with a single sentence, Kylie had brought a light into that darkness. Shining it on both of them and leading them back.
She'd asked Luce to marry her. Such an astonishing thing, really. Even more astonishing that Luce had said yes. They were getting married.
Luce chuckled a bit at that, almost giddy at the thought, the memory of those words floating in the air between them. Driving back the darkness of memory that tried to envelope her. Sent it reeling away as the smile on her face grew.
Her reflection's smile grew, washing away some of the pain, fatigue and stress in her face as the warmth and joy of that memory filled her near to bursting. The last of the memory quieted in the face of that light and she was easily able to tuck it away until she had time to deal with it. On her own terms.
She grabbed up her things, reaching for the door when a new thought flew through her mind.
Now she just had to buy a ring. And tell Kylie's family. And her mother.
She groaned as a new wave panic hit her at the thought of Kylie's family finding out about the engagement. Of course, she'd probably already blown it by calling Keith her soon to be brother-in-law. She felt like slapping herself at that slip. She hadn't been this undisciplined in years; something about being around Kylie's family seemed to just chip away at her armor.
Or maybe last night had done more to throw her off balance than even she realized.
Whatever the reason, she was going to have to grab him and talk to him. And fast; otherwise he was likely to blab to Mollie and that wouldn't be a pretty sight.
She'd rather face an entire oil rig full of dirty, sweaty, chauvanistic, sexist, lusty men than deal with Mollie in full blown hurricane mode. And she had a feeling that the rest of the family would gladly point Mollie in their direction again and again to remove themselves from the line of fire.
Considering she'd probably be more than happy to do the same thing herself, she couldn't fault them for it. But she still wasn't too happy about it.
She opened the door, clean and in a much better frame of mind, ready to find the feds and finish this. It was time to put this whole business to rest; she had a life to get on with.
* * *
Luce decided that looking around for the feds was probably pointless considering they could have holed up anywhere in the hospital and she could spend a week in fruitless searching with neither one ever to be found. Instead, she grabbed a nurse and asked where they might have ended up.
The nurse, thankfully knew right where they were and led her to a room that looked almost identical to the one she'd been in just a few hours before when she called in the cavalry.
She walked into it, not bothering to knock and shut the door quietly behind her.
The two agents were sitting at the lone table, each one nursing a cup of coffee and looking a bit worse for wear. They looked like they'd had a rough, sleepless night.
They both looked up as she entered.
Without a word, Jenkins poured her a cup of coffee from the pot they had on the table. For some reason, Luce found her mind focusing on where it had come from. Maybe they'd gone down to the cafeteria and sweet talked someone there. Or, maybe the nurses had taken one look at the two frazzled men and taken pity on them bringing it in for them.
Of course there was always the really out there possibility it had been personally delivered by Juan Valdez on a heavily laden donkey.
She shook her head a bit as she blew on the hot liquid, fervently hoping the caffeine in it would jump start her obviously sluggish brain. The smell of it nearly made her want to weep, a sure sign she needed the mental boost.
She watched Agent Smith slug the rest of his cup and stand up, beginning to nervously pace around the small room. It seemed they were both more affected by the night before than she would have expected.
She took a sip of the still too hot coffee, ignoring her burning lips and tongue as she tried to suck down as much as she could to wake her brain up. After a few harrowing seconds of nearly boiling her mouth, she turned her attention to Agent Jenkins.
“I take it from your sudden frazzled appearances here that you know about Kylie's house being set on fire.”
Agent Jenkins nodded, taking a careful sip of his own coffee. “We would have known about it sooner but there were problems with the local police force.”
Luce looked puzzled. “Problems?”
Smith spoke up, not letting up on his pacing. “Yeah, we weren't notified about the fire when it happened, despite the cops knowing you were an important witness. It wasn't until they found a government vehicle with two dead FBI agents in it that they thought they should contact us.” His face was livid at the memory. “Stupid dick waving bastard.”
Luce blinked in silent shock. In all her interactions with man, as much as she had pushed at him and twisted things to tweak him, she'd never expected to hear him defend her.
“Now's not the time.” Jenkins gave him an understanding and sympathetic look but there was no mistaking the command in his voice.
Smith paused only a second in his pacing. For a moment, it looked like he wanted to say something to the senior agent, to push his luck. But he said nothing and just resumed pacing. His movements cagey and on the the edge of violence.
Jenkins turned back to Luce. “You'll have to cut him some slack. One of the agents on shift last night guarding your house was a close friend of his. We're all in just a bit of shock over this.”
Luce nodded feeling a bit numb herself. Rodrigo had said they were otherwise occupied in their conversation last night; she had hoped that he'd been bluffing. Looked like she was very wrong. She felt her stomach twist in knots over the fact that two men had died trying to protect her and Kylie.
“Did they have families?” She asked quietly suddenly fighting to not throw up. Agent Jenkins nodded. “I'd like to help if you'll let me.” She took another sip of her coffee hoping it would settle her stomach before she embarrassed herself in front of the agents.
He hesitated, looking a tad uncomfortable. “We usually take care of our own well enough; especially in this case.”
She gave him cool serious eyes, her gaze never wavering. “They died p rotecting me. I can't and won't let that go.” She sipped her coffee slowly, mechanically her mind whirling.
She wondered if either of them had children and if so, how young they might be. What a horrible day this would be for them; to wake up and be told one of their parents would never be coming home. Their world would be turned upside down in one violent moment that would forever haunt them with stunning clarity. Just like it had for her and her mother on the day her father hadn't come home.
For the first time in her life, she felt kinship with a complete and utter stranger and it made her very sad. This was not a feeling she would have wished on her worst enemy.
And the worse part would come after the funeral, when the numbness of the death finally shattered and they were faced with the stark truth that nothing they could ever do would change that their loved one was never coming home. No matter how much you screamed and ranted and raved at the world and the universe, it didn't listen, couldn't listen.
She took a deep breath, pushing the dark feelings back down into herself, willing her mind to quiet down until she could deal with it later. It was all about getting through this moment. Later, when this was finished, she could fall apart completely if she needed to. But not now. Now she had to be strong, she needed to focus.
She cleared her throat softly. “I can't replace the person they've lost, but I can make things a lot easier for them. And I can afford it.” He sighed softly, still hesitant. She gave him a dark, smile. “If you don't tell me, I'll just rattle someone's cage higher up the food chain until I get what I want. You might as well tell me.”
He gave her an appraising look and nodded. “I'll pass along the details later.” Then, just like that he switched gears and the subject. “The local cops weren't our only problem last night. We got an anonymous call about a shooting in a rather nice area of town. The victim has tentatively been identified as one Rodrigo Silva aka...”
“ Delgado .” She finished the sentence for him in shock, feeling almost numb. And just like that, between one breath and the next she could feel his eyes resting on her, stripping her down to the bone. Almost as if he meant to plumb the depths of her soul.
The remembered weight of that gaze sucked all the warmth out of her and she was just suddenly shivering and shaking slightly. She took a big slug of her coffee, the liquid still a bit too hot as it burned a path down to her stomach, wishing for desperate moment that it had been laced with something a lot stronger.
Jenkins gave her a piercing look.
She shuddered slightly again. “He was there, in Kylie's house. I woke up and found him standing there watching us sleep. It was the single creepiest moment of my life.”
That soft statement got the agent's attention and he leaned forward eagerly. Even Smith stopped his pacing behind them to listen closely. “Tell me what happened.”
She sat there shaking her head slightly, seeing it all unwind in her mind like a bad movie stuck on a never ending repeating loop. She shook her head again, a little more forcefully this time, knowing without a doubt that she could never convey the fear those dead eyes had awakened in her. Or ever describe how terrifying just being in the man's presence had been.
But because the agent needed to know, she tried. “He was just standing there when I woke up, quiet and patient as if he had all the time in the world. He introduced himself and didn't seem surprised that I knew who he was.” She took another drink, her throat swallowing convulsively. “The real surprise came when Jace came out of the dining room with a chair for him.”
“Jace?” Smith stopped pacing in confusion.
Luce nodded. “He was Delgado's hit man, I think; he stayed behind to finish the job when Delgado left. But the first time I met him he was Kylie's long distance boyfriend.”
Smith and Jenkins exchanged a look, one Luce recognized easily. And one she knew never boded well for anyone.
“I take it neither of you knew about him being part of this?” Agent Jenkins inquired, not even acknowledging the silent exchange.
Luce's mind switched gears easily, glad to be for the change of topic. She shook her head. “No, Kylie told me he was a PhD student studying Anthropology and specializing in South American cultures. She said he was away a lot doing work for his professor. I'm thinking now it was the perfect cover story.”
Smith approached Jenkins his nervous excitement clearly evident. “You know what this means. We know what he looks like.”
Jenkins nodded, almost unable to hide his own excitement. “Call Lieutenant Morgan; we need a protection detail on these two, now . If he balks, tell him I ordered it.”
Smith nodded, reaching into his pocket for his phone even as he headed for the door to step outside and make the call.
Luce watched them in silence, clearly confused as she tried to decipher just what was happening. “What the hell is going on now? And why is Jace so damned important?”
Jenkins turned back to her, his full attention back on her. “Remember when I told you someone was trying to find The Ghost?” She nodded and Jenkins went on. “We did some digging and it turns out he actually was Rodrigo's right hand man; has been for some time. He was the man's secret weapon. And he was sent out to kill anyone who got in Rodrigo's way. He never missed a target, never failed to make a kill, until you and Ms. Rogers.”
And just like that, the weight of the world came crashing down on her shoulders. The implications were crystal clear. This man would never stop, never rest until they were dead. Forget that he had a very personal reason to come after them. Failing to kill the two of them put his very reputation at stake. He had no choice but to finish where he left off.
“Shit.” The word was heartfelt and vicious.
Jenkins nodded wholehearted agreement at the sentiment. “And until the two of you, we had no idea who he was or what he looked like.”
She rubbed her temples feeling a massive headache building at the idea. This was worse than when they told her there was a hit on her. Especially considering how she'd pushed him to the brink of madness in their last encounter, using the one thing she knew would push him past all restraint, her relationship with Kylie. “There may be a bigger reason for him to come after us than simply because we know what he looks like.”
“What would that be?” Jenkins asked quietly.
Luce takes a deep breath. “He hates me. And I'm sure after what I said to him last night to goad him into making a big enough mistake for us to escape, he's got an even bigger reason.”
“What happened after Jace came back into the room?” Agent Jenkins pressed for the rest of the story.
Luce took a deep breath and let in out in a rush. “Rodrigo and I talked. He ended up offering me a job in a round about way. I think the fact that I busted the damn money laundering ring wide open impressed him, a lot. He said he was fascinated by me.”
“That had to be a bit nerve wracking.”
She nodded. “It was probably the single strangest moment of my life. It was all just too surreal.”
“Obviously you turned him down.” His tone was hesitant, almost questioning.
She looked at him like he was insane. “Of course; who in their right minds would take what he was offering?”
He shrugged. “I've known a few people who might be tempted.”
She shook her head firmly. “Well I wasn't one of them. That man was maybe the single most terrifying person I've ever met. And in my line of work, that's saying something.” She paused, thinking back to that night. “He was pleasant enough; had a nice smile was polite and well spoken. But his eyes, his eyes were like nothing I've ever seen.” She paused again feeling the terrible weight of his gaze settling on her shoulders like a granite wall. The oppressive weight of the memory made her shudder. “They were just...empty. Like there was nothing behind them, no emotion, no compassion, no love, no hate. It was almost like he had no soul. Working for a man like that, someone who didn't even really see you as human, would be just plain stupid.” She shuddered again, harder this time, and slugged the rest of the lukewarm coffee trying desperately to wash the feeling from her skin.
Jenkins was quiet for several moments letting her pull herself back together a bit before pushing her to tell the rest of what happened. “He left after you said no?”
She nodded “He told Jace he would be waiting to hear from him and then, he was out the door. The second he left, I knew the only way to get out of it alive was to get him to do something stupid. To make a mistake. And the only way I knew to do that was to piss him off.” She paused consideringly. “To be honest, if it had been someone I didn't know, I don't know if it would have worked. But I had a leg up with him. I had a pretty good idea of what might push him over the edge.”
“Why do you say that?”
She paused for several moments unsure of how much to tell him. What happened between Kylie and Jace the day he came home and caught the two women together was not something either of them was very proud of. Point of fact, she felt a great deal of shame over it.
And all because she'd become, at least in her mind, a home wrecker. She'd known Kylie was involved and that should have been enough to put her firmly in the unavailable category. But it hadn't. Because what was between them had swept it all aside; all their pride and good intentions swept away like so much dust in the breeze in the face of such a maelstrom.
Kylie might try to take a great deal of the blame for it on herself, but the truth was the whole situation didn't make either of them look very good. And she would be damned if this man or anyone else thought badly of the woman she loved.
So she edited the truth slightly. Keeping it simple and to the point.
“I'm the first woman Kylie's ever been with. He thinks I seduced her and turned her gay. And he is so not happy about that.”
A light dawned in Jenkins eyes. “You used that against him last night.”
She nodded. “I said some pretty nasty things to goad him into losing his temper and attacking me. It worked, and things were going great right up until he tasered my ass. Which is how I woke up with Kylie's house burning down around me.”
“So now you think he'll come after you because of your shared history with Ms. Rogers?”
She nodded. “I do.”
Jenkins seemed to mull that over for several seconds as if unsure of exactly what to do with the information or how it could help him.
She pushed on, trying to make her point. “I've been out of the closet for a long time, Roger. I've dated across the entire spectrum of women. I learned really quickly to avoid the ones where I was the first woman they'd ever been with. It complicated things because 9 times out of 10, they had an ex boyfriend that was completely clueless about who they really were and thought that somehow I was responsible for their girlfriends leaving them and jumping the fence.
“Jace is one of those men. And worse, he's a closet homophobe. The type that manages to pass for tolerant so long as the homosexual behavior doesn't hit too close to home. Walking in on your ex-girlfriend with her hand down the pants of another woman is more than a bit personal.”
She watched as he flinched slightly at the rather blunt and graphic description she'd just given him. It was exactly what she'd been hoping for. That her making such a blunt statement would make him shy away from digging too deeply in how Jace had discovered they were seeing each other.
She knew from past experience that police officers of any flavor still had difficulty with certain types of behavior from women. And it was usually one of two reasons. Either they were a bit old fashioned and didn't like pressing a woman they saw as respectable into revealing too much of her personal life, or they were what she like to call dirty old men at heart. These were the type of men that were slightly turned on or intrigued at the suggestion of what two women might get up to together. Which usually led to feelings of embarrassment on their part for what they saw as inappropriate behavior.
She'd placed Jenkins firmly in the first camp from almost they moment they met. And he didn't disappoint her. He didn't even ask another question about the incident.
He took a deep breath and nodded his head in acceptance. “Damn, you're right. He's going to be gunning for you.”
“I know. Which is why I want you to send Kylie away and give him a chance to come for me.”
“You want us to use you as bait for this madman?” To his credit, he looked completely appalled at the suggestion.
She nodded. “Yes, but I can't do it if I know Kylie's in danger.”
“Do you really think the FBI would condone me using you as bait to catch this guy?” His angered tone told her exactly what he thought of the idea.
“You're not using me, I'm volunteering.” She pointed out heatedly.
“I'm sure that'll make it all better for my supervisors.” He threw back, practically shouting, the noise of it beyond loud in the small room.
She sighed, grabbing hold of her temper. She reminded herself that she was a professional, an expert at manipulating people. She needed to try another tactic. “Look,” she began gently, her voice even but firm. “This might be the only chance you get to catch him. He's likely still pissed about what I said to him last night and the fact that we escaped that house to be thinking clearly. If we wait, we risk him calming down and realizing how dangerous coming after us would be at the moment. If he comes to his senses, he'll be in the wind and you'll likely never have a chance at him again.”
Jenkins opened his mouth to reply when the door behind her suddenly opened and Agent Smith burst into the room. Annoyed but resigned, Luce turned to the agent.
His excitement was palpable, coming off him in waves as he shut the door. “Sir, there's been another fire; this time at a warehouse. They found a body and they think it's our guy.”
Jenkins perked up. “Rodrgo's hit man?”
Smith nodded excitedly. “They're sending someone over with pictures to see if we can get an ID on the body.” He looked at Luce expectantly. “But they were still able to get fingerprints and they come back to a Jason Alexader Wilman.”
“We'll have to verify that name.” Jenkins turned to Luce. “Do you think Ms. Rogers would be up to answering a few questions this morning?”
Luce grimaced at the thought of just what those pictures might look like. But she knew that neither of them really had any other options. Not if they wanted to put this whole thing to rest. Still, the idea of of it made her hesitate and she she shrugged for Jenkins. “I'll go ask her. Give me a few minutes to wake her and get her settled. Maybe even a chance to get clean before talking to you.”
Agent Jenkins nodded. “Of course. We'll be here waiting for you. Take all the time you need.”
She stood and hurried back to Kylie's room. Not surprised to find it as jammed full of people as when she left. And she found herself wondering just how in the world they were all being allowed in the room without attracting the ire of a well meaning nurse.
She bet someone had bribed them. She might have. And she certainly wouldn't have put such a thing past either Keith or Connor.
She smiled to herself at the image of the two of them headed to the nurses station with a ludicrously giant chocolate cake; or even a comically over sized bag of money. And she knew without a doubt she likely losing her mind. Either way it struck her as absurdly funny. And she giggled softly to herself as she walked through the large group of people to Kylie's bed.
Kylie was still sleeping. And there'd been a change of the guard. Tom sat in Mollie's seat next to the bed. Mollie and her mother weren't even in the room; she hoped they'd taken the chance to step away and get something to eat. Even a walk. They both needed it.
Tom looked up as Luce came through the door and made her way to Kylie's bed. “I am very glad to see you; both of you.” He said quietly.
She took the empty seat her mother had been in and gave Tom a solemn nod. “Me too.” She gave a soft sigh, looking at Kylie's quietly sleeping form in the bed.
“Everything alright?” Tom's voice was quiet, not wanting to disturb his sleeping niece.
She nodded. “For the most part, I think. But she's really going to hate me for this.” Hating herself, she reached out grab Kylie's shoulder, giving it a gentle shake. “Hey, sweetheart. I need you to wake up for a minute.”
Kylie came to easily but Luce could see she was still a bit foggy, caught in that moment between sleep and waking where reality can be a bit questionable.
She reached up, looping an arm around Luce's neck and pulling her down for a deep, soft kiss.
Annoyed that they have an avidly watching audience, Luce pulled back. “Sweetie, there is nothing more I'd rather do than fall back into this bed with you and spend the rest of the day with you wrapped up in my arms. Especially after last night. But your entire family is here with us right now and I don't think they'd appreciate the show.”
That brought the other woman roaring awake in a single heartbeat. She sat up and looked past Luce, her eyes focusing as she shook the last vestiges of sleep from her dream addled mind.
She rubbed her hand across her face and gave Luce a chagrined look. “Sorry.”
Luce smiled at her. “Don't be. The things you do for my ego and reputation.”
That made Kylie laugh. Then she caught the serious expression on Luce's face. “What's wrong.”
Luce shook her head. “Things might be going right for a change. The FBI found me this morning. They found Rodrigo dead this morning. And maybe Jace too; they need our help in identifying him.”
Kylie took in a shocked breath and sat up too fast. It made the wind hiss through her teeth in pain as she jarred her knee and other bruised parts of her body. “Jace is dead?” The question came out in a hiss as she fell back down into the bed.
Luce helped her shift herself into a more comfortable position as she shrugged. “They think so. And there's more but I need to tell you when we're alone.” She dropped her voice looking at Kylie's surrounding family. “I'm not sure how you're family will react right now and I think we should discuss how much we should tell them.”
Kylie glanced at the crowded room and nodded slowly, knowing Luce was right. There was a great deal they had to discuss about what to tell people about the night before. She was particularly thankful at that moment that Mollie wasn't in the room.
“When do they want to speak with me?” She asked Luce.
“This morning. Someone's coming down with some pictures for you to ID and they've got some questions.” She paused seeing the look in Kylie's eyes. “They're good men, Kylie. They want us both safe and if Jace and Rodrigo are dead, we likely will be. We'll know in the next few days.”
Kylie looked at her and then nodded. “Then it looks like I can squeeze them in. Do you think I've got some time to get cleaned up? I'm pretty sure I can't quite manage a shower yet. But maybe you could help me with a sponge bath?” Her eyes twinkled impishly as she gave the taller woman a rather innocent look. Luce's rakish grin was all the answer she needed and she laughed. “We're going to scandalize the nurses at this rate.”
Luce laughed. “They'll be fine; we're in a hospital.” She turned to Tom sitting on the other side of the bed raising her voice a bit. “Tom, do you think you could get everyone out and give us some privacy? We need to get Kylie cleaned up; The FBI wants to ask her some questions this morning.”
Tom nodded, and turning to the rest of the room, said rather loudly. “Alright, everybody, unless you want to see more of Kylie than that time you all got caught skinny dipping in the neighbor's pool, it's time to get out.”
Luce's eyebrows shot up and she turned to see Kylie turning scarlet from her head to her feet. She arched a raised brow at her and Kylie shrugged slightly. “He forgot to mention most of us were around 10 or so.” She ignored the giggles in the room and shot her uncle a murderous look. Which he returned with a wry and self satisfied grin. “Just for that, you can go hunt me up some coffee. I'm going to need my wits about me this morning if you're all going to stick around.”
Tom leaned in past Luce and kissed her on a still blushing cheek. “Your loving family is ever at your service.” The sarcasm was so heavy, Luce could have leaned against it.
Kylie snorted loudly. “Loving family indeed. You're all a bunch of jackasses.”
Tom grinned at that before patting her on the cheek and joining the rest of the crowd slowly filing out of the room.
The door closed with a soft click and Luce called the nurse to bring them the things they needed to get Kylie cleaned up. Thankfully, she also offered a hand for which Luce was extremely grateful.
Luce is relieved to see that Kylie looks a great deal better this morning than she did the night before. Most of the marks on her face and arms she thought were bruises were actually soot from the fire, easily washed away. Her eyes no longer had a pinched sunken to them and her face was tight with stress or pain. She'd have to track down the doctor later and thank him for whatever meds he'd put the shorter woman on. They seemed to have helped a great deal.
But nothing can wash away the bruises on her body. And Luce knew they were likely caused by her frantic leap through the window when the two of them ended up in a tangled heap on the lawn. It made her chest tighten to think she was responsible in any way for the other woman's pain.
Kylie, as if sensing Luce's darkening mood, touched her hand and shook her head, her voice soft and gentle. “You saved my life. This is worth that, don't you think?”
Luce nodded, pushing back the tightness in her throat, unable to say anything.
A few minutes later and she was in a fresh hospital gown, as freshly scrubbed as they could manage and sitting up ready for the federal agents. Luce asked the nurse if she would be willing to go get them; unwilling to leave Kylie's side for a moment.
The nursed nodded and left the room.
Tom came by shortly after that with the promised cup of coffee from a nearby shop. Luce gave him several bonus points for not subjecting his niece to possibly terrible hospital coffee.
Kylie gave him a grateful look, wrapping both hands around the cardboard cup and sniffing appreciatively as she waited for it cool down a bit before drinking.
She was attempting a few tentative sips when there was a soft knock on the door. Then Agent Jenkins and Smith walked through the door.
Agent Jenkins stepped forward, giving the two women a small nod before focusing on Kylie. “Good morning, Ms. Rogers.” He stepped forward, shaking her free hand. “I hope you're feeling better this morning.”
Kylie chuckled. “A bit; still banged up but they snuck me in some coffee so you should be safe now.” She held the cup up in both hands almost like an offering to the gods.
That made Jenkins laugh. “I know we've met before, but in case you don't remember, I'm Agent Jenkins and that's my colleague, Agent Smith.”
The impish light was back in her eyes. “Oh, I certainly do remember but I won't hold that against you.” That made the agents chuckle again. She sobered, taking another sip of her coffee. “Luce tells me you need to ask me some questions.”
Jenkins nodded. “We do, and we also need you to look at some photos, if you're up to it.” He reached into the folder in his hand.
Kylie took a deep breath. “I guess we'll find out.” She set her coffee aside and took the first photo the agent handed her.
She sucked in a sharp breath at the image of a burnt body lying on a metal gurney. Half the man's hair was gone and it was very obvious he was dead. But his face, what was left of it, was unmistakeable. She shuddered a bit, handing the picture back as she swallowed back the bile that rose in her throat. “That's Jace.”
Jenkins took the photo. “You're sure?”
Kylie nodded, swallowing audibly as she took a hold of herself. “Yes, that's him.” She shuddered again and Luce was there next to her, holding her hand, squeezing it reassuringly.
The agent nodded and grabbed the chair near her bed, sitting in it, leaning forward a bit towards the bed. “We were able to run his prints and they came back to a man named Jason Alexader Wilman.”
She nodded again, her hand tightening a bit on Luce's. “That was his full name, yes. Jace was just what everyone called him.”
“Ms. Donovan said he was grad student. Do you know where he was enrolled?”
“He said he was in the anthropology grad program at the University of Michigan. He was studying South American culture; said he found it fascinating.” She shrugged almost as if to herself. Now his long absences and his numerous trips south made a great deal of sense.
“How long had you known him?”
She thought a moment. “Maybe 5 or 6 years. We met during one of my new store openings. Started talking about hiking, things like that. Struck up a pretty good friendship first. It wasn't until about a year or so ago that he asked me out.”
“Did he ever say or do anything strange, made you think that maybe he was lying about his life?”
She frowned a bit thinking; part of her confused by the relevance of the question and part of her annoyed that they even need to ask it. What was the relevance? “I don't really see what any of his past with me has to do with the current situation.”
“It just gives us insight into the person; makes it easier to understand him.”
“He was a hitman; even hitmen need to feel normal every once in awhile. What more is there to understand?”
“Why did you break things off with him?” She gave him an indignant look, her back up to protest again and he merely held up his hands. “I do need to know this, Ms. Rogers. Luce mentioned that the two of you didn't exactly part on friendly terms and he was holding a grudge against her because of that. We'd like your take on that.”
She took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “I did a very stupid thing, Agent Jenkins. I broke his heart. I didn't mean to but I did.” She squeezed Luce's hand for reassurance, finding Luce there with her every step of the way. The solidarity of it gave her the courage to push on. “The fact is, he was gone when Luce and I met; things hadn't been going well between us and I was going to stop seeing him when he got back. I was hoping to wait until he came home because I didn't want to be the type of woman who would give him a Dear John call when he was out of the country. It probably would have been better if I had.”
She looked at the woman sitting next to her holding her hand giving it a firm squeeze, her face filled with love. It was almost palpable between them; even a blind person would have felt it. “And then Luce and I became involved and I completely forgot about him.” She turned her attention back to the agents with a soft sigh. “Until he used his key to come into my house unannounced and caught us together.” Her eyes squeezed shut at the memory of his hurt face. No matter how much she'd wanted it over, she hadn't wanted to put that look of pain and betrayal on his face. “The exchange was not pleasant. He told me he'd come home to propose; had a ring and everything. He blamed Luce for what happened, said she turned me gay and when he stormed out of the house he almost took a swing at her. But he didn't. Last night was the first time I'd seen him since then.”
“Can you tell us what happened last night?” Agent Jenkins asked gently.
She shook her head a bit. “I'm not sure I even understand everything that happened last night.”
“What about after Luce was knocked out?” He pressed.
Kylie took a deep breath filling her lungs as much as she could, fighting the tightness in her chest as she exhaled. It helped clear her head for a moment so she could think. “I was watching them fight, trying to stay quiet on the sofa. I didn't want to distract her.” She took another breath. “I didn't see him pull the taser, but I did see her jerk and fall to the ground, shaking. I thought he'd shot her at first. But it didn't really matter because I jumped him while he was distracted.”
“You jumped him?” Luce was a bit shocked and flabbergasted by that.
She gave the other woman a pained look. “I couldn't think of anything else to do. Besides after years of fighting dirty with the boyos, I figured I had a pretty good idea of how to hurt him.” There was a seriously pissed off gleam to her eyes; an almost murderous look.
The image of Kylie jumping onto Jace and pummeling him just seemed so absurd to her. Almost comical. And despite the seriousness of the situation, Luce started laughing.
Kylie gave Luce a dry look and went on as if she hadn't been interrupted. “He wasn't a match for Luce, but I wasn't any match for him either. I got in a couple of good licks before he hit me hard enough to stun me pretty good. I didn't pass out, but it was a near thing. But I must have lost some time because the next thing I know, I can hear the fire start, feel it burning around me. Then, I felt him come up and stand over me. I was able to focus on his face and it was like there was nobody home. His eyes were completely empty and dark. He didn't say anything else, just gave me one last long look and then left. I passed out after that.” She shuddered a bit at that and found Luce's arm just suddenly around her shoulders pulling her close.
She remembered clearly fighting to wake up, to get up and get her and Luce out of that burning house. Knowing that if she didn't they were both dead. But she hadn't been able to force herself to her feet. Whatever Jace had done to her had stunned her enough that nothing would respond like it was supposed to.
Her last thought, just before she slipped under, had been bittersweet at best. If this was how they were meant to die, at least they were going together. The truth of that thought was why she hadn't protested Luce's declaration the night before when the dark haired woman had told her firmly and without hesitation that she didn't want to live in a world without Kylie. She had understood that thought all too well.
Luce sat on the edge of Kylie's narrow bed holding the other woman close, rubbing her back absently as she eyed the agents. “Is that enough?”
Smith nodded. “For now. You'll both have to give statements, but this answers a lot of questions we had. Including why Jace ended up dead like he did.”
Luce gave him a sharp look. “What exactly happened? I would have thought a professional of his caliber would have been able to get out of nearly everything.”
Smith shrugged. “Kind of hard to escape a shoot out with police.”
“What?” This from both Kylie and Luce simultaneously.
Agent Smith nodded. “Witnesses say he knocked over a gas station. Cops responded, there was gunfire, he was wounded and fled. They trapped him in a nearby warehouse and a fire broke out. There wasn't anything they could do. It went up too fast. By the time it was put out, he was dead.”
Kylie shook her head slowly, trembling slightly.
Luce pulled her tighter against her and changed to subject. “And how did the bossman end up dead?”
Smith shrugged, reaching up to rub his neck. “If the chatter from South America is any indication, it looks like a coup.”
“And what does that mean for us?” Kylie asked quietly. “Does this mean it's over?”
Agent Jenkins spoke up. “For the time being, it looks like you're both safe. But I still want you followed, protected. Until we have confirmation that the new boss wants nothing to do with the old boss's unfinished business and I'm sure no one else is gunning for you.” He paused for a moment his face unreadable. “We don't want to fail to protect you again.”
That bald statement made her pause. That hadn't occurred to her before; that they might feel guilty for nearly getting her killed. She gave Agent Jenkins a small nod in understanding and ackowledgement.
He looked at her, some unnamed emotion warring in his eyes and she just knew what was coming next. “Luce,”
She held up her free hand, stopping him from saying anything else. “Look if you're going to apologize, save it. I'm the one that brushed off your warnings.” And got two people killed a small voice spoke up in her head. She tried very hard to ignore that voice.
“True.” He conceded. “But in my line of work, we hear that kind of thing every day and normally ignore it. You on the other hand, you're a force of nature. I'm not sure just how anyone manages to stand against you.”
That made her smile a bit. “It makes me very damn good at what I do.”
“I can imagine.” He stood, shaking Luce's hand first and then Kylie's. “Ladies, we'll be waiting for you to make a full recovery before coming down to give us a statement.”
Luce shook their hands mechanically, her brain going on auto pilot, the rest of her far too numb and dumbfounded by how it all ended to do much else. It all seemed a little too convenient, a little too easy, a coup occurring just as she and Kylie escaped the hit. What were the chances of that?
Not even a casino managed those kind of odds. Truthfully, she wondered if maybe this had been something far below divine intervention. It seemed an occurrence with far more Earthly origins behind it.
The door closed quietly behind the agents as her mind raced.
If she were a gambler, she'd lay even money that someone had been behind the sudden coup. Most likely someone who wanted Rodrigo out of power. But who that could have been and why, she didn't really have a clue. Maybe they needed someone easier to control or manipulate; it was entirely possible that despite his decades long tenure running the Lobos , that he'd reached the end of his usefulness to people behind the scenes.
For all she knew, he'd stopped playing along and someone decided to make a lesson of him. Disobey us and suffer the consequences. It wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility.
But she was paid to wonder, to see patterns and make connections and often come to conclusions so far out of the box they were often round. She'd be a fool not to do it now. And if there was one thing her mother never accused her of, it was being foolish. So she wondered. And she didn't like the other thought she came up with.
Because Mac had told her she'd attracted the attention of the people he worked for. Mac wouldn't have given her an idle warning. And now, the man responsible for nearly killing her was dead.
Was it in an effort to protect her? Maybe get some leverage on her to use against her later when they wanted something from her? Had she been pulled out of the frying pan only to be tossed right into the fire?
She had no idea; but she knew she needed to ask Mac. And the sooner the better.
She'd already told the devil no once this week; she had no intention of having to do it again. Because next time, she might not be so lucky to walk away.
She pushed the morbid thoughts aside, turning her attention to Kylie. The other woman looked tired, her face drawn and tight. The questioning had taken a great deal out of her.
She pushed Kylie back into the bed, rearranging pillows so that she was lying down a bit more. Then she crawled in and snuggled up to the shorter woman, just quietly holding her.
“It's over.” Kylie's voice sounded soft and unsure; as if she didn't believe it really could be.
“Looks that way.” Luce absently traced a pattern on the sheets over Kylie's shoulder.
“This all seems surreal.”
Luce nodded. “I know; I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“Hmm. Maybe its because we were very damned lucky. We should have been hurt by all of this.” Luce cleared her throat slightly, giving Kylie's an appraising look. Kylie shrugged. “I mean more hurt than we were. We should have ended up dead from this.”
Luce nodded gravely. “I know. But for some reason we didn't. And I for one am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.” She gave Kylie a soft kiss. Pulling her close, feeling a sudden need to just hold her.
Kylie relaxed in Luce's arms, relishing the gentle contact. Luce's arms were so strong and sure around her, making her feel safe and loved. And her lips were so soft, so wonderful. The gentle touch of them made her blood race, tightening things on her body and making her limbs feel heavy. It still amazed her that she responded the way she did to the taller woman. So easily, so quickly, so powerfully. She hoped that it never went away.
She pulled back, her face flushed a bit as she asked. “Just what are you going to do then, Ms. Donovan?”
Luce stroked her cheek, a mischievous smile on her face. “I, Ms. Rogers, am going to enjoy every moment of my life with you.”
She smiled brightly at that. “Sounds like a great plan.”
There was an evil glint in Luce's eyes as she sat up. “But first, I'm going to let your rambunctious family back in before they get any ideas of coming to your 'rescue'.” Her exaggerated miming of air quotation marks made Kylie laugh. The sound made Luce smile. “Then, I'm going to go out and sneak you in some lunch.”
That made her groan and laugh all at once. “I'm looking forward to lunch. Can't say how I feel about the other.”
“They're all behaving themselves rather well I thought.”
“Hmmm. Surprisingly so. Even Mollie. It's making me very nervous.”
Luce stilled next to her, her face and voice suddenly sombre. “I didn't tell them about Rodrigo trying to hire me last night; or about Jace for that matter. I figured we could tell Mollie, Keith and my mother later, in private. Leave the rest of the family in the dark if that's what you want.”
She thought about it for a moment before nodding. “It'd probably be better that way. I mean, how do you explain that you were sleeping with a stone cold killer and you didn't even know it?” She shivered a bit, looking at Luce, her eyes suddenly lost and unsure.
It made Luce want to kill the bastard herself. “You don't have to explain, Kylie. He was very good at hiding who he really was. Not being able to see him for who he was doesn't make you a bad person. We just don't always want to see the bad in people.”
“But you do; you see it quite a bit and you're almost never wrong.”
Luce shrugged. “True, but I'm usually being paid to do it. And I completely missed Don, didn't I?”
That made Kylie pause in thought a moment. “Yeah, I guess you did. I hadn't thought of that.”
Luce leaned over and kissed Kylie on the forehead. “You're human, Kylie, we all are. We're going to screw up from time to time; especially when it comes to our fellow human beings. If you start looking for the bad in everyone around you, you're going to eventually find it; if for no other reason than you're looking. Don't give up on your ability to see the good in people, love. It's one of the things I love about you.”
Kylie smiled at that. “I love you too.” She pulled Luce closer, their eyes inches apart as she stared into them. “Now, go get me some lunch, woman!”The sharp command in her voice made Luce laugh and she stood up to do just that just as the door opened to Kylie's room and her family started to slowly filter in.
* * *
To be continued...
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