Chapter 17

Oh fuck, my head hurts…

Ok. Just breathe here. Steady.

Take stock. You’re not dead…there’s a bonus.

One blue eye slowly cracked open, and T.J. tried to ignore the screaming pain in her head caused by the action.

She was in a small room.

Another eye opened, causing a fresh round of searing pain.

She took a mental inventory, and gently tried moving various limbs. Her legs seemed to be in working order, but stiff from being curled up in a ball.

Her arms were pinned behind her…she could wiggle her fingers, but it became apparent from the burning sensation in her wrists that they were tied together.

Icy eyes scanned the room. Shit. No windows.

She had no way of knowing what time it was, or how long she had been unconscious.

Camryn! Bloody hell! She also had no way of knowing if the blonde was safe or not. Jake promised her protection. Count on him. Just concentrate on getting yourself out of here.

Her nostrils flared at the acrid smell of sweat around her, and she realized she was lying on a completely filthy blanket. As her senses returned, she also noticed that the room around her seemed to be gently moving. Damn. You must have gotten whacked pretty good. The room is spinning. But it wasn’t spinning exactly, it was rocking. A boat. You’re on a boat.

Focus. Pain in the head…someone smacked you good and brought you to a boat. Since she did not feel the reassuring weight of the Sig tucked under her arm, she knew that she had been searched. That means no cell phone either. But, I wonder… She always kept a slim stiletto dagger tucked rather inconspicuously into her boot. Pressing her ankles together, she rolled them over but didn’t feel the slight bump that should have been there.

Fuck! They got that too! Gotta be someone that knows me well then, someone who knows I keep one there.

But before she could continue the thought, someone slammed open the door behind her and roughly dragged her to her feet. As she was forced to stand, a wave of dizziness washed over her, but she took a deep breath and forced back the nausea. Hell if I’ll give ‘em the satisfaction of passing out again.

A stocky, dark-haired man was manhandling her towards the open door, and when she resisted he smacked her again in the back of her head. She felt a fresh trail of blood begin to trickle down the back of her neck, and she staggered forward into the arms of another burly man who began yelling in Spanish.

"Vamanos! Vamanos!"

T.J. regained her balance and jerked her arms away from the man. It cost her an incredible wave of pain, but it was worth it when she drew herself up to her full height and stared down at the man with her ice-cold eyes. She saw him flinch, which caused a feral smile to crease her lips.

"Aye. Ya think ya can just push women around, huh? Let’s see how tough you are without my hands tied." The man failed to reply, likely not understanding what she said, but she couldn’t continue the confrontation as the second man placed the barrel of a gun in her back and nudged her forward.

"That’d better not be my Sig you’re using, boy." She glanced over her shoulder at the man in question that was blithely ignoring her. "Or I’ll stuff it down your damned throat when I get it back..."

She was moved the remainder of the way down the dark corridor in silence, and brought up the steps onto the top deck of the ship.

It was pitch black, and the from a quick glance around she could tell that they were well out to sea, as she could not see any lights of the city on the horizon. In fact, she wasn’t even sure which direction the shore was. It was like being enveloped in a black cloth.

The ship itself was large, she judged it to be about 75 feet from bow to stern, and the from the appearance of the fittings around her it appeared to either be very new, or very well taken care of. There were two masts that she could make out from the dim light bleeding up from the corridor behind them. There was no moon out tonight and the stars were barely visible, as the typical cloud cover the usually blanketed the coastline late at night had moved in.

She sensed rather than saw that there were several men in stern of the boat, and several others behind her to the left and right. She judged herself to be outnumbered by about 15 to 1. And even if you got your hands free and jumped overboard, what then? You have no idea which direction to swim in. So. Plan B. Find out what the bastards want from you.

"Bienvenidos, senora. Or rather…senorita now isn’t it?" A gruff voice came from the shadows. His tone mocked her, deliberately using the diminutive way of addressing her.

T.J. recognized the voice as belonging to Miguel Reynoso. Ah, the man of the hour. That must mean his dumbshit brother is nearby. As she took a few small steps into the dimness, closer to the voice, sure enough, the giant outline of Carlos came into view. Bingo. But I’ll bet my left tit that ‘feckless Frank’ is nowhere to be seen.

When she said nothing, Miguel continued. "Thank you for joining us."

T.J. almost laughed, but stopped herself. "Aye. Well, who could resist such a charming invitation? Sorry I forgot to R.S.V.P., but I had a previous engagement and dinna think I’d make it."

This time Miguel laughed - a deep, rich sound that carried across the dark deck. "Ah, senorita…you are a feisty one." The voice came a bit closer, but T.J. could still not make out the shape of the speaker. She took a deep breath though and just beneath the salt air, she could make out the distinct, spicy smell of a man’s cologne.

"Aye? Well I tend to get grouchy when I’m tied up, bleedin’ from my head, and I canna even see the man I’m talkin’ to."

The voice deepened with restrained anger. "We’ll expect you to curb your anger for the time being and listen very carefully."

"I expect that if someone wants me ta behave civilly that they will treat me with civility in return. But since the coward that smacked me from behind failed to ask me if I’d come for this meeting, you’ll excuse me if you fail to get my utmost respect while I unwillingly stand here before you with my hands tied." Her anger freely flowed to the surface and manifested itself in a deepening of the normal growl in her voice.

Miguel seemed to ponder this for a moment before answering, his voice calming. "Es verdad, senorita. However, your ex-husband may underestimate you, but we will not. So…" He stepped forward out of the shadows and stood just outside of T.J.’s reach. "You shall see my face, but I’m afraid your hands must remain tied."

"Evenin’, Miguel. I thought that was you. Didya have a complaint ta make about the service at the pub, or is this how ya bring all of the women ya meet on a first date?" T.J. had silently weighed her options and realized that for the moment at least, she had to cooperate. And she recalled how charm went a long way to make herself seem less intimidating and dangerous.

Miguel smiled. "I knew you were a clever woman, Ms. Jameson. I told Frank so." He began to slowly circle T.J. as though she were a prize piece of art that he was judging. But he was ever careful to stay just out of her reach, should she decide to lash out with her powerful legs. "You see, he seemed to think that you would fail to cooperate with our little business arrangement. I told him that I knew you would go along, you just needed to be handled correctly."

"And you know how to do that, eh?" She smiled, her white teeth gleaming in the dark.

"But of course. It is simple, senorita." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver cigarette case and deftly lit one with a silver Zippo. He took a deep drag on the cigarette before he began again to slowly circle his prey. "You are bright enough to realize that your only choice is to allow us to use your bar for a ‘meeting’ place. And you also provide us a creative way to improve cash flow."

Money laundering, too. T.J. was silent for a moment, before sighing internally. "And what do I get in return?" She inquired, knowing the answer, but needing at that moment for him to say it again.

He chuckled quietly, before turning to look at Miguel. "I knew she was smart." With a flick of the ash on his cigarette, he turned back to the captive. "You, of course, get a share in the profits."

"Doesn’t Frank have a share as well? It seems to me that ya are givin’ away all of your money Mr. Reynoso. So my share can’t be all that much." Her voice held no malice, although at the moment she was firmly tamping down on her urge to choke the living crap out of the man who stilled circled around her.

"Ah, well, you bring us to an interesting point." He was close enough now for her to see the sinister glint in his dark eyes. "Perhaps with your help, we don’t need to involve Frank. His share would be yours."

The blood was still slowly trickling from her head down her back, and although she knew that it was normal for head wounds to bleed a lot, it didn’t help her dizziness any that she was still bleeding. She noticed a bench nearby. "Interesting. May we sit and talk about the details." She jerked her head towards the bench on the starboard side of the yacht.

"Please, be my guest - sit." Miguel smiled at her, knowing full well that she was less of a threat if she were sitting down.

T.J. eased onto the bench rather awkwardly because her hands were still tied. But taking the pressure off her legs was a welcome relief, and it allowed her to use her energy to think through the conversation she was currently having, rather than concentrating on not passing out. "So. Frank is out? What happens ta him?"

"Do you care?" Miguel stopped pacing around and leaned indolently in the doorway to the corridor that led below decks. His tone suggested that he genuinely wanted to know.

"If ya are asking if I still have feelings for Frank, the answer is no. But…" She paused, searching her soul for the truth. "I dinna want to see him die, if that is what ya are askin’."

"Hmmm…" That seemed to give Miguel pause. "I see. The woman of fire has a heart after all." That made him smile, a slow sexy smile that burned right up to his eyes, with obvious intent. "Well, there are ways to… silence Frank. But if you prefer him alive, it would be up to you to keep him quiet."

"So he becomes my responsibility and my liability. I presume it would be my life if he goes ta the cops." She arched a dark eyebrow at the man before her. "Clever."

Miguel nodded his head in acknowledgment, but was otherwise silent.

"And if I refuse any part of this ‘arrangement’?" She also knew the answer to that question, and was practically taunting Miguel to answer truthfully. But his unexpected answer would stun her.

"Your blonde girlfriend dies. Slowly. For every day you fail to keep your end of the bargain, I will send you a different part of her body that I will have carefully removed so as to cause the maximum amount of pain without killing her right away." The evil grin spread across his handsome face, distorting his countenance until he took on an almost devilish appearance.

T.J. had no doubt he meant what he said. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Camryn… The rage boiled up inside her, but she refused to let Reynoso see her temper. She looked slowly around the deck at the men surrounding her.

Clenching and then unclenching her jaw, she was mostly successful at tamping down on her anger; but her defiance would not be silenced. She responded in a clear, strong voice. "Machiavelli once said that ‘since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved."

The backhanded slap came so quickly that she scarcely had time to react at all, barely jerking her head away as she sensed the hand coming toward her. So instead of taking the full weight of his blow, his diamond pinky ring sliced open her creamy cheek, causing blood to spray across her silk shirt and begin to run freely down her face to drip onto her linen pants.

Miguel had walked away from her after he hit her, and now had his back to her. "You go too far, senorita. You forget your place."

T.J. deliberately spit a stream of blood that trickled from the corner of her mouth, staining the deck at Miguel’ feet. "No. I dinna forget."

When he turned back to face her, his face was hard and angry. "Pleasantries are over. You know my terms. You cooperate with me or suffer the consequences. Any hint that you have broken our agreement, she dies. Any stirring of the police, giving me the idea that you talked too freely, and she dies. If I am displeased with you in any way, she dies. Comprende?"

"That’s pretty clear, yeah." T.J. nodded willing images of Cami in pain to get out of her head. Dammit! Do they have here already? And no police? Shit! Agent Knight is already in place. Fuck! But nothing could be done about any of that right now.

"Get her off my ship, she’s making a mess." With a wave in her direction, he disappeared into the corridor that led below decks, and three men stepped forward to push T.J. towards the opposite side of the boat. One man held an Uzi and the other two sported large caliber handguns. Slowly and steadily, T.J. stood and obeyed their silent, physical command to move.

Internally she was shaking with fury. She had been kidnapped, beaten and now Camryn’s life had been threatened - exactly what she feared would happen. And the son of a bitch who had done all of this was currently well outside her reach. The red haze of anger clouded her eyes - she wanted to strike out, to kill the bastards that stood looking so smugly at her. Unbidden, Cami’s smiling face popped into her tortured brain, and T.J. was reminded of the night in the pub when she nearly choked Frank to death. Cami’s presence had calmed her, as the memory of it was doing now. Easy girl. There is a time and a place. Something rash here will just get ya injured further. You start something now and you may never know if Cami is all right.

So she walked across the deck, her chin held defiantly high, and allowed herself to be pushed over the side of the ship into a waiting Zodiac raft. The driver fired up the outboard and another man with a gun stepped on board to guard her. Do they really think I’m stupid enough ta struggle in a rubber boat, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark? She shook her head and sat as comfortably as she could, arms still bound behind her.

As the boat sped away from the Reynoso’s ship, ice blue eyes watched it fade into the darkness. You’ll pay for this one, mate. She vowed into the darkness to the man who was now living on borrowed time.


Sometime around midnight, Cami had put the uneaten food away and given up the small hope she still had that T.J. was eventually going to show up. Face it, you’ve been stood up. Her brain mocked her heart. But maybe she had an accident or something…

Tormented by worrying about her friend, earlier she had decided that she should try the pub one more time, in case they had heard from her. A new bartender named Peter answered, and had seemed genuinely concerned that T.J. seemed to be missing. He had promised her that he would let her know if he heard from his boss, before hastily hanging up.

For a long time, Cami lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. Her brain was racing with the possibilities of what might have happened, and her heart ached with the notion that perhaps T.J. just didn’t feel for Cami what the blonde had hoped for. Here you are in love after spending one night together. You are probably just another conquest for her.

The ugliness of her insecurities was at war with the joy she still harbored in her heart. And maybe she just went home to change and fell asleep or something…things happen. Give her the benefit of the doubt why dontcha!

By about 3:30 a.m., sleep had still not claimed Cami, so she decided that she might as well get some work done. The residual pain from her concussion was bearable today, and she felt she could probably focus on her pictures well enough now. Besides, it will give you something else to concentrate on.

She padded through the darkened house in her t-shirt and boxers, heading resolutely downstairs towards her darkroom. As she passed through the living room, a soft knocking sound startled her. Flipping on lights as she went, she made her way towards the sound, only to discover it was coming from the side door in the kitchen.

T.J.? Her heart leapt into her throat. Peering through the curtains into the darkness beyond, sure enough, the dark woman was standing there, leaning on the doorframe.

Cami jerked open the door and gasped at the sight before her. T.J. was indeed there, but she was caked in mud and blood from head to toe, and she looked like she was barely capable of standing upright. "Oh shit, T.J.!"

"Cami…I…" Her hoarse voice stammered.

Camryn recognized a woman about to pass out, so she quickly stepped forward and grabbed the taller woman, placing an arm about her waist and leading her into the brightly lit kitchen. "Shh…quiet sweetheart. It’s all right."

T.J. painfully lifted her head and looked deeply into Camryn’s sweet, green eyes, and she read nothing there but love and concern. So for the first time since she had left the pub that evening, T.J. actually felt the cold veneer of her mercenary-self slip away. Relief at seeing Cami unharmed washed over her, and tears rolled unwittingly down her cheeks, only to be brushed away by soft, gentle hands.

When she touched T.J.’s cheek, Cami noticed the gash there - likely the cause of the dried blood that was all over the barkeep. "Darlin’ you’re hurt! We have to get you…" She was stopped short by the pleading look in T.J.’s eyes.

"Dinna do anything right now, please. Just…. please just let me hold on ta you. Let me know you are alive."

Cami was scared, puzzled and very concerned about what might have happened to her friend since the past evening, but something in her knew that T.J. didn’t need logic at the moment, she needed comfort and love. She quickly scanned the lanky body that was before her and determined that T.J. wasn’t likely to bleed to death anytime soon.

So she stepped into the arms that T.J. was offering and embraced the still seated woman - dark hair pressed into her stomach and long arms wrapped around her, as Cami held tight to T.J.’s head and smoothed back her hair. She felt the moisture through her cotton t-shirt and was unsure if it was blood or tears, but not really caring at the moment. Right now, T.J. needed her, and that was all that mattered. "Shhh…I’m here, T.J. I’m all right…we’re both all right."


Chapter 18

After holding T.J. until the tears had subsided, Cami had immediately begun her ministrations, removing T.J.’s damp, ruined clothing and trying to eliminate every physical trace of her ordeal. The blonde had not even flinched or paused when she removed the leather jacket and was confronted with an empty shoulder holster for a gun. She had simply removed it with deft fingers.

Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, but Cami was determined to make sure T.J. was in one piece before she asked any questions. T.J. felt much better once she was clean; Cami had gently helped her into some fresh clothes - a t-shirt and a soft pair of sweat pants that were too short for her, but felt wonderful nonetheless.

Leading T.J. meekly into the bathroom, Cami’s tender, gentle hands washed the blood and mud from her face, careful to avoid the nasty gash across T.J.’s right cheek. Once T.J.’s face was clean however, Cami took a good look at the two-inch slice that was still oozing a bit of blood. "Sweetheart, I’m no doctor, but I think this should have stitches." Concern was evident in her voice.

T.J. stood on unsteady legs and examined the cut in the mirror. It was long, but not very deep. Though, with a sigh she realized that Cami was right — stitches were necessary if she wanted to avoid a really nasty scar. "Got a needle and thread?" Her voice was rough with emotion and pain.

"Yeah. Somewhere, I’m sure." Cami started to look around for the items, and then it dawned on her what T.J. was suggesting. "Uh, uh…no way! I can barely sew on a button for Christ’s sake!"

T.J. would have smiled if the pain hadn’t been so sharp. "No. I wouldna make ya do it. I’ll do it myself."

Cami just shook her head. "Listen, I know you are tough and everything, but really…" As she spoke her hand stroked the back of T.J.’s head and it suddenly occurred to her that there was matted blood in her hair as well. "Oh shit! You’ve got another cut back here." Gently she moved the dark hair aside, ignoring the stickiness of the blood, and noticed that there were two more cuts on T.J.’s scalp.

Turning T.J. around so they were face to face, Cami smiled her best charming smile. "Ok. No fair. I had to go to the doctor after the Jeep accident. So now it is your turn, and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, got me?" Humor and unshed tears glistened in Cami’s eyes, but her jaw was set and her chin held at a stubborn angle.

T.J. sighed and pondered her options for a moment. She was so used to needing to hide her injuries from the authorities that she hadn’t thought about the fact that a simple cut would not draw any attention at an emergency room. She had simply reacted out of habit. Now, if this was a gunshot, different story… but I guess a hospital is all right now.

"Aye…. well…I guess in that case I’d best go then, huh? But you’d probably better drive, I’m still a bit loopy."

She was rewarded with a dazzling smile from Camryn. "Oooh. I get to drive the cool Bond-mobile then, awesome!"

Aw shit. Until that moment, T.J. hadn’t even thought about the fact that her car was, hopefully, still at the pub, where it had been before Reynoso nabbed her.

"Uh…no. My car isn’t here. Uh…" She looked down into puzzled green eyes.

"Oh? Okay…. well…" Camryn glanced at her watch — 4:30 a.m. Much too early to call Jo or Vicki.

"Listen, darlin’, I promise you that I’ll explain everything — we’ll have a really long talk. But right now, my head hurts like a bitch, so will you just trust me for now and go along with me?"

"Trust you?? Jesus, Taylor! You show up at my door in the middle of the night, battered and bruised and I haven’t said a word! Do you really need to ask me that?" Cami was clearly getting frustrated. While she was dying of curiosity to know what had happened to T.J., her first concern was her friend’s health.

T.J. slowly shook her head. "Of course not. I’m sorry…I…" She sighed again. You are just so used to people questioning you, old girl. Just call Jake, get to the damned hospital and explain later!

"Ok, then. May I use your phone?"


Jake had sent his best guy, Mick, to drive the two women to the hospital. He had personally driven to the pub to retrieve T.J.’s car, which didn’t appear to have been tampered with.

When the two women returned to Cami’s house around 8 a.m., they saw T.J.’s car in the driveway and an anxious looking Jake waiting for them. T.J. had gotten stitches in her cheek, two separate sets of stitches on the back of her head, and some really strong pain medicine which she had yet to take. The hospital staff had been kind and didn’t pry too much into the cuts, although one doctor was likely still nursing a bruised ego after T.J. had given him an earful about minding his own damned business.

"Hi ya, cuz." She whispered to him. Jake had skipped the pleasantries and was examining T.J.’s cuts and bruises, his big hands amazingly gentle in their touch.

"That little son of a bitch! I’ll kill him, I swear it." Jake was furious, red coloring his normally pale cheeks.

"Easy Jake, calm down." T.J. was still feeling weak, now from lack of sleep as well as from the blows to the head. Cami recognized the fatigue right away and intervened.

"Uh… perhaps we can all go inside and sit down. I think T.J. needs some rest right now." She commented, smiling sweetly, but in a tone that forestalled any arguments.

Jake glanced down at the petite blonde woman, who was currently holding possessively onto T.J.’s arm. "Begging you pardon, Ms. Wells. I’m Jake Tierney." He offered a smile to Camryn. "You’re absolutely right. Let’s get you inside, Jamie."

Jamie? That’s a cute nickname for her. But how in the hell did he know my name? However, Camryn kept her questions to herself. For now.


Much to T.J.’s chagrin, she was forced to take her pain medicine, which made her drowsy. Camryn neatly tucked her friend into bed, lingering over her for a moment and dropping a chaste kiss on her forehead before leaving the room quietly, to talk to Jake.

The big man was perched on the edge of Camryn’s couch, looking uncomfortable and out of place on the rather dainty looking furniture. "Can I get you something, Mr. Tierney? Coffee perhaps?" She inquired as she entered the room.

"Uh. No, no thanks." He examined the blonde photographer again, and could certainly see how his cousin had lost her heart — an adorable face, pixie blonde hair, and those amazing eyes…One thing had become very clear to him in seeing the two women interact: he could trust T.J.’s care to Camryn. He knew that although she was small, this woman was fiercely protective of his cousin, and with several of his men running ‘back-up’, T.J. would be safe here. "I’d best be going actually. Now that I know my cousin is in good hands, Ms. Wells." He stood and smiled down at Camryn. He knew that Camryn would want some answers, and he also knew that it was up to his cousin how much she would tell the cute little blonde.

Cousin, huh? Interesting. "Please call me Cami, all of my friends do." A winning smile was exchanged. "And you can rest assured Mr. Tierney, T.J. is safe with me."

Jake studied those expressive green eyes for a moment and had no doubt she was telling the truth. Nodding slowly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. "Call me Jake, okay? And listen, Cami - If you need anything...anything…call me. My cell number is on there and it’s good 24 —7, okay?"

"Uh...Sure. Thanks." She accepted the card, noting that his company was simply called Tierney Enterprises. "And thank you for sending out Mick to take us to the hospital. He was very kind."

Jake had started for the door, but turned before he opened it and locked eyes with Camryn. "Cami, you should know that I’d do anything for my cousin. She’s a very special woman. And…well..." The big man flushed with embarrassment. "I can see that you feel the same way about her. So take care of her and keep me posted, okay?"

Camryn just nodded up at the giant and eased the door closed behind him as he left without another word.

Camryn turned and leaned her back against the closed door and pondered the past 12 hours. She had gone from the heartache of not knowing where T.J. was, to the panic and fear of her bloody arrival at the kitchen door, to the complete and utter confusion of where her friend had been. And now her enormous cousin was obviously giving his blessing to their relationship and leaving T.J. in her care. Whew. Strange...

She glanced up the stairs towards her bedroom where T.J. was sleeping. Ok, my friend. I think you owe me quite a few explanations. But one thing was very evident to Camryn — her rational side had been right…she didn’t really know much at all about Taylor Jameson. But damned if I won’t take the time to find out. With weary steps she quietly climbed the stairs to her bedroom and silently curled into bed, wrapping her arms around the soundly sleeping dark-haired enigma.

Part 11

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