Disclaimers: Mine.

Sex: Silly goose. Of course!

WARNING: I do NOT give my permission for this story to be re-posted anywhere with change in character names, storyline or title. Parasite writers beware.

Note: This story may contain some violence, but nothing graphic.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com .

Hope you like it Wendy!


Force Of Nature


Kim Pritekel


Part 4

Kyle shook her head, never taking her eyes off the pan as she patiently stirred the homemade marinara that she'd made. "No, Eva," she said, grabbing a teaspoon and dipping it into her creation for taste. Deciding it needed a bit more parmesan cheese. "I can't let you do that."

"Why not?" Eva asked from her place sitting at the kitchen table. She hadn't had anyone offer to cook for her in years and was thoroughly enjoying the pampering. "You're paying your way with homemade spaghetti."

Kyle grinned, again shaking her head. "Nice try, but no." Deciding to let the sauce simmer for a bit, she covered it and joined Eva at the table. "I'm not going to live here without paying the amount it was decided on day one for me to pay. I won't do that to you."

Eva was silent for a long moment, admiring the young woman's pride and trying to decide how to go about making her point without offending Kyle. Finally, she met Kyle's gaze. "Do you think your three hundred dollars a month is keeping me afloat, Kyle?"

"I'd like to think so."

Eva burst into delightful laughter. "Oh honey," she exclaimed, covering one of Kyle's hands with her own. "You are such a gem and bright spot in my life."

Kyle sighed, deflated. "This sucks," she muttered.

"Let me help you, my sweet. You've had a rough go of it and I'd truly like to be there for you."

Kyle met her gaze, seeing the genuine sparkle in Eva's. After a very long moment of consideration, she nodded. "Alright. But only for like a week until I find another job."

Eva smiled, the young woman of her soul coming out in her eighty-seven year old eyes. "Fair enough."

"Fine," Kyle muttered, pushing up from the chair and walking back to her sauce. "You'll eat my homemade spaghetti tonight and damn it all, you'll love it, missy."

Eva's crystal-like laughter filled the house.


The incessant beeping of Kyle's alarm clock sent the tiny time piece sailing across the room, meeting an untimely death against the plaster wall as it was shattered into countless pieces. The missile thrower opened one green eye, only to have the early-morning darkness meet her gaze.

"This sucks," she grumbled, throwing the blankets off her and padding to her bathroom where the switched-on light made her cuss unending.

Thirty minutes later, Kyle padded to the front door to answer the call of a working mother and her son. The blonde threw open the front door, bleary eyes meeting the surprised gaze of Jamie and delighted gaze of Rory.

"Hey," she muttered, standing aside for the two Johnson's to enter.

"Where's Eva?" Jamie asked, kneeling in front of her son to remove his jacket.

"Asleep. She put me on babysitter duty today since she has some friend stuff to do."

Jamie did her best to not laugh at Kyle, who was obviously not awake yet, nor used to being up before dawn. "I see. Well, I've got a ten hour today, so you'll need to feed Rory breakfast and lunch. I may be back in time for dinner, but I'll let you know."

Kyle nodded dumbly: she was getting it, truly she was. Seeming to understand that, Jamie prattled off a few other tidbits of need-to-know info before hugging and kissing her son goodbye and walking out the door, leaving Kyle with a five-year old who stared up at her expectantly, waiting for his breakfast.


"Are you sure you can do this?" Eva asked, eyeing Kyle, who sat on the floor in front of the TV with Rory, a game controller in her hand.. "Heck yeah!" she exclaimed, never taking focus off Spyro the Dragon as he ran through the obstacles on the screen.

Eva chuckled. "Alright." She shrugged into her coat and grabbed her purse. "If you need anything, I'll be with Betty and Greta; the phone number is on the fridge."

"Hang on a sec, Rory," Kyle said, pausing the game and pushing to her feet. "Let me help you to your car, Eva," she said, heading for the front door, tugging her jacket on as she unlocked the deadbolt and door lock.

"Oh, thank you, Kyle!" Eva smiled, grateful. It had snowed more the night before as well as on and off all day, and the driveway and sidewalks had become slick from the chilling temperatures.

"I hope you have a great time today," Kyle said, taking Eva by the arm and escorting to her to the driver's side door of her car.

"No, I appreciate you watching Rory for me so I can go out and play for a bit." They shared a smile.

"Yeah, well you better win big for me," Kyle said, helping Eva into the car. She grabbed the window scraper from the floor of the back. "Something tells me you've got quite the poker face in poker." She closed the driver's side door, seeing Eva's mischievous grin through the side window. She quickly scrapped all the windows and brushed off the heavy, wet snow from the top of the car and the hood. "Are you going to be okay driving in this, Eva? I don't know how thrilled I am that you'll be out on these streets."

"I'll be fine, honey, " Eva assured, taking the scrapper from Kyle and tossing it into the back. "You enjoy time with Rory. I'm sure he'll enjoy it as much as you will."

Kyle grinned, the little kid in her coming out. She shrugged, burying her hands in the pockets of her coat. "Yeah, well I never had video games when I was a kid. They were sinful."

"Aw," Eva nodded, winking conspiratorially.

"Are you in?" Kyle asked, hands on the door, ready to push it closed.

"All settled."

"See you later, Eva. If you need anything don't hesitate to call."

"Same here. I was thinking perhaps taking us all out for a good steak dinner tonight." She eyed Kyle. "Do you like steak?"

"Does a bear shit in the woods?" Kyle asked, brows raised in excitement.

Eva laughed, shaking her head. "I wouldn't know. See you in a bit."

Kyle closed the door with a slam of finality and watched as Eva backed out of the long drive then maneuvered into the street and drove away. Freezing and anxious to get back to her game, Kyle hurried back inside, already planning her next move for Spyro.


Jamie stood in the supply closet, her gaze scanning the shelves full of linens, medical supplies, packaged catheter bags, yet saw none of it. She'd been standing there for several moments, having gone into the supply closet for something, yet that something completely eluded her now. Her focus had been off all day and that made her irritable and jumpy. She hadn't been expecting to see Kyle there to receive Rory that morning, and it had unsettled her. Her week's worth of avoidance techniques had all been for naught.

With a heavy sigh, Jamie leaned back against the shelving unit behind her, arms crossed over her stomach. She had truly believed in "out of sight, out of mind". Not so much, as even though she hadn't seen nor spoken to Kyle since that night – other than this morning, that is – the blonde was never far from her thoughts. Jamie had never been real good at extreme denial, no matter how many times she'd tried over the years for various reasons.

Seeing Kyle this morning and interacting with her, even for that short period of time had brought back every single moment of their time in Jamie's bedroom, and even the kiss in the front yard. Don't deny yourself, Jamie, had been Kyle's words of wisdom. As Jamie stood in an isolated supply closet on the third floor of Mercy General, she felt that's exactly what she was doing: had been doing for years. She was flirted with or asked out on a regular basis, but she always turned it down or ignored it.

In truth, a lot of it was simply the fear and terror she'd been forced to endure during her relationship with Joel; something she was determined to never go through again. Okay, so she'd denied herself love. What about sex? Her body hadn't been touched in nearly three years, and certainly not in passion in much, much longer than that. By the end, her "sessions", as she called them, with Joel had been him grunting and sweating on top of her before he rolled over and went to sleep, leaving Jamie to cry alone in the darkness.

Then Kyle touched her, and she touched far more than just Jamie's body that night. She'd reached in and had lit a spark to a part of the brunette that she thought had long-since died. Jamie's eyes slid closed at the memory, her body tingling from phantom fingers and tongue. Then she heard the cry of her son, angry and hurt that he'd been left so late at night, his mommy not there to tuck him in.

"I can't do this," she whispered, running her hands through her hair. Suddenly she remembered what she'd gone into the supply closet to grab.


The tires crunched on the packed snow, coming to a stop with the slight squeak of breaks. Two mean wearing heavy boots and leather pants stepped out of the black sedan, their boots leaving waffle patterns in the ice and snow as they walked calmly across the front yard. One stopped, taking a look at the covered motorcycle parked in the driveway. Using a big hand, he tugged up the vinyl cover to see what was underneath. Getting his fill within a moment or two, he followed his companion to the front door.


"You gonna cheat? You gonna cheat, huh?!" Kyle growled, the squealing and giggling five-year old in her arms, even if he was completely inverted, his dark hair brushing the floor beneath his head.

"No!" Rory cackled, his grin unstoppable.

"You sure?" Kyle demanded, grunting as she lugged the boy up onto her shoulder fireman style. "I think you will." She jiggled the boy up and down, for a short second hoping he wouldn't puke down the front of her shirt.

"No!" he bellowed again, followed by more giggles, his legs wiggling uselessly in Kyle's strong arms.

The play was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Kyle gently lowered Rory until he was safely lying on the ground, looking up at her between her spread feet. "You stay there," she warned, a waggled finger emphasizing her point.

Still giggling, Rory flipped over to his stomach, watching as Kyle stepped over his prone body and headed to the front door. He adored his friend Kyle and hoped his mommy would let her play with him more often.

Kyle was enjoying her day with Rory as much as he was, just as Eva had predicted six hours before. She knew Jamie would be by soon to pick up Rory, so she wanted to enjoy the day with him. Still chuckling from their wrestling match, she unlocked the front door and was about to pull it open when the door was kicked open, knocking her back about six feet, hitting her head on the foot of the stairs.

Two men entered, their colors – worn proudly on their leather jackets – turning Kyle's blood to ice. She quickly scrambled to her feet, one of the men turning to her, the other Rory. "Get out!" she yelled, terror seizing her.

"Kyle!" Rory screamed as he was picked up in strong arms, his small body slung over the shoulder of one of the men. "Kyle!"

"Rory!" Kyle went after the man who had the boy, pounding at his back.

"Get this bitch off me!" the man roared.

Kyle was yanked back by her hair. Fury engorged her as she was whirled around to face the intruder. She lashed out, landing a hard punch to the man's mouth, his blood spurting onto Kyle's hand on the floor as two of his teeth bounced out.

"Bitch!" he growled, landing a punch of his own.

"Fucking kill her," the other man demanded, carrying Rory from the house.

Kyle grunted as she was kicked in the stomach by a steel-toed boot, which sent her flying to the floor again, only for her to be picked up by the front of her shirt and punched again. She couldn't even cry out as she heard her nose crack, blood gushing from her nostrils as she hit the floor once more. She had no time to react as the man, who stood like a tower above her, pulled out a pistol. He aimed it at her head, death in his eyes.

A thick finger rested on the trigger, ready to pull. The man growled when nothing happened, his gun jamming. "Fucking bitch," he hissed, turning the gun around in his hand, using the butt to beat Kyle in the head.

Kyle felt no pain, her fear vanishing as her world went black.


Tired from a long day but glad to be home, Jamie pulled into her driveway and killed the engine. She noticed Eva's car wasn't in the driveway, so knew she'd be facing Kyle yet again. As she made her way across the front yard, her steps slowed, her stomach beginning to turn. Her gaze found Kyle's motorcycle, which had not only been left uncovered, but had been pummeled to a pulp, the twisted metal of the frame looking as though it had been dragged behind a car in an accident.

"Rory," she whispered, running to the front door, only to find it sitting wide open. Panic filled Jamie almost to the point of animalistic desperation. "Rory!" She gasped, seeing the crumpled body of Kyle lying on the floor, her head lying in a puddle of blood, some beginning to congeal. Dried blood stained her face and hand. "Oh god!" Jamie fell to her knees next to the blonde. "Kyle?" She knew better than to try and move her, but placed two fingers on Kyle's throat. There was a pulse, though faint.

Jamie pushed to her feet, feeling nauseous as she ran through the house, screaming her son's name. The house seemed to be completely undisturbed other than the carnage downstairs. And other than the fact that Rory was missing.

"Oh my god, my god, my god," she whimpered, digging her cell phone out of her pocket with shaking fingers. "Hello, yes. Oh god. I need police and ambulance here immediately!" Jamie ran outside, her panicked brain unable to think straight. She looked at the numbers nailed to the front of Eva's house then rattled off the address to the dispatcher. "Hurry!"

Ignoring the dispatcher's command to stay on the phone, Jamie set her phone on the floor and hurried back over to Kyle, looking into a face that was deathly pale. "Don't you do this to me, Kyle," she whimpered. "Please. Don't you leave me!"


Eva couldn't keep the tears from falling as she sat on the hard plastic chair in the ER waiting room. Mason Watson sat next to her, his knee jiggling nervously. She glanced over at Kyle's brother, her heart reaching out to him. She took one of his big hands in her own, squeezing it as she gave him a comforting smile. He tried to return it but only managed a watery grimace.


"Where is my son!" Jamie screamed, her heart pounding and tears streaming down her face. "Where is he? What are you going to do to find him!"

"Ma'am, I understand you're upset, but-"

"Upset!" Jamie pushed up from the chair she'd been given at the police department, where she'd been answering questions. "You don't understand Joel Johnson," she raged, glaring watering daggers at Detective Bill Hopper, who had been put in charge of the case. "That bastard is capable of anything. Anything!"

Det. Hopper ran a hand through his thinning hair. He felt sweat beading on his upper lip and down his back. "Listen," he began, lowering his voice to a calming tone. "Let's just calm down and discuss this, okay? If you're so upset Jamie, I can't get anything from you that I need." He met her gaze with understanding in his brown eyes. "I'm a father myself, and can understand your panic and fear. But I can't help you until you help me."

Seeing the logic behind the detective's words, Jamie forced herself to calm down. She tugged a Kleenex free from the box that sat on the table and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "Alright." She sat down again, taking several deep breaths to calm down.

"Okay." Det. Hopper gave her a smile. "Can I get you coffee, soda, water… anything?"

"Coffee, please," Jamie sighed.

"Okay. Be right back." The police detective hurried from the room.


Eva stood next to the narrow bed, the soothing sounds of beeps and muted hues of machine readouts surrounding her. She could feel Mason standing to her side and slightly behind. Eva couldn't take her eyes off the figure that lay on the bed, Kyle's normally powerful body seeming so frail and tiny now.

"Oh honey," Eva whispered, taking one of Kyle's hands in her own. She looked into Kyle's face, which was ghostly pale, the skin beneath her closed eyes splotchy with dark bruising. The words of the ICU doctor echoed in her head: too much swelling… medically induced coma… have to wait and see…

"I always worried that I'd see her like this in the old days," Mason murmured, reaching out and tracing a finger over Kyle's unmoving arm. He shook his head, a sad sigh blown out. "But not now. Not after she'd gotten everything worked out."

"She'll pull through, Mason," Eva said softly, not taking her eyes off Kyle's face, silently willing her to open her eyes. "She has to."


Jamie pulled up in front of her house, noting that the lights were on in Eva's. The mere sight of that house brought back the horrendous memories of that afternoon: her son vanishing and the lifeless and bloody body of Kyle sprawled out in the entryway. She tapped on the steering wheel of her Sorento with her fingers, trying to decide what to do. She had no desire to go into her own dark, empty house, yet knew she couldn't go back to Eva's.

Decision made, Jamie backed out of the driveway and carefully navigated back down the snow-covered street.

The hospital was quiet as the hour was late. Jamie walked down the halls, mostly undisturbed as she headed for the ICU ward. She smiled at the night duty nurse, whom she recognized from a couple classes the two had been in together. She made her way into the glassed in cubicle that was Kyle's, the soft beeps meeting her ears.

Jamie stood beside the bed, looking down at the blonde, her emotions crowding her throat and making it hard to breathe. Pulling up a chair next to the bed, she sat, never taking her eyes off Kyle's pale features. She noted a bit of blood had soaked through the bandage wrapped around the blonde head and knew a nurse or doctor would be in soon to check the wound.

Taking one of Kyle's hands in her own, Jamie let out a long, heavy breath. She was emotionally exhausted, mentally frazzled and physically exhausted. She looked down at Kyle's hand, the fingers just as she'd remembered: the power and strength within, just like in all that was Kyle. Except for right now; she looked so vulnerable and fragile.

"I never thought I'd ever think of you as weak or vulnerable, Kyle," she said softly. "You're so strong: everything about you says strength." She felt her throat tighten even more. "What happened to you?" she whispered. The police had informed her they believed blunt force trauma had occurred, the butt of a gun the suspected object.

Jamie felt her chest expand for a moment as emotion-filled gratitude filled her. Not all the blood on Kyle had belonged to her. A second blood type had been found on her knuckles – as well as on the floor – proving that Kyle had fought her assailant, likely trying to stop him from taking Rory. The blood had been sent out to a lab to get the DNA profile and see if perhaps the perpetrator was already on the books, but that would take time.

"How did this happen, Kyle?" she asked, feeling her chest – which had been filled with love and feeling moments before – collapse and heave as her tears began to take over. She buried her face in her arm, which rested on the railing of Kyle's bed, her body heaving with the fierceness of her emotion. Jamie felt as though her world were falling apart. "I don't know what to do! My son is gone, you're lying here next to death and I feel like my world has completely dropped out from beneath me."

Jamie lifted her head, red-rimmed eyes focusing on the wall across from her, the black night beyond the window looking back. She tried to get her emotions under control, but the more she tried, the more they got out of hand until she was full-out sobbing, her hand never leaving Kyle's.

"What am I going to do?" she cried, feeling as though a little more of her soul escaped with each tear. "Oh Kyle, what am I going to do, dammit!"

She got herself under control then checked out Kyle's chart, which was left in a plastic holder at the foot of the bed by Kyle's doctor. She read the notes and prognosis, shaking her head in despair.

"Please don't die."


Eva felt a heavy tension radiate though the house. She'd cleaned up the mess in her entryway the night before. It had been a somber task, taking her back to many years before while she'd been stationed in Germany. So much blood so unnecessarily spilt. Luckily the front door hadn't been damaged during the intruder's violent entrance, though Eva was considering having extra locks put on all the doors of the house. It had been suggested to her by the police that she find somewhere else to stay during the investigation, but Eva refused to be run out of her own home. As it was, she'd lost Rory and perhaps Kyle.

Sitting all alone in her kitchen, she sipped her coffee, not even bothering to make breakfast, as her appetite was lost the moment she found out about the events of the previous day. She felt horribly alone and unimaginably lonely. She'd tried to call Jamie several times, only getting her once. Jamie had been at the hospital, deeply concerned about Kyle. The conversation had been brief and deeply heartbreaking for Eva; it seemed as though Jamie had lost any and everything that meant anything to her.

Eva was surprised – and somewhat alarmed – by the sudden knock on the front door. She set her mug down on the table and grabbed the cordless phone, carrying it with her to the front room. Through the large window she could see an orange pick up truck sitting in her driveway, behind the mess that was Kyle's motorcycle.

Relief washed over Eva when she recognized Mason through the peephole in the door. Setting the phone down, she unlocked the door and pulled it open, taking the large man in a hug. "How are you?" she asked with the hushed tones of the grieving.

"I'm alive," Mason sighed, pulling out of the warm hug. "How were things here last night? Quiet?"

Eva nodded, closing and locking the front door behind Mason, then leading him to the kitchen. "Can I get you some coffee, Mason? Something to eat, maybe?"

"Coffee sounds great, Eva. It's damn cold out there." Mason watched the old woman as she prepared his coffee, his mind whirling on what he'd seen outside. "Eva," he began, "what do you know about this ex-husband of Jamie's?"

"He's a jackass," Eva said dryly, setting Mason's coffee in front of him.

Mason smiled, liking Eva's spunk. "Other than that. Do you know anyone he's affiliated with?"

"'Anyone', who? What are you getting at, Mason?" she asked, joining him at the table. "Are you sure I can't make you something to eat? I feel so damn useless around here without my girls and Rory."

"No, I'm sorry. My wife just made us a big breakfast, but thanks. Maybe I'll come back for dinner, though."

"Bring your wife, too." Eva thought Mason's smile and the twinkle in his eyes so matched his sister's. She felt her heart begin to ache for what was and what could potentially be.

Mason saw the dark clouds pass over Eva's blue eyes, which matched what was in his heart. "Eva," he said quietly, setting his coffee mug down on the table. "I know who did this and have a pretty fair idea why."

Eva felt her face pale and heart flutter. "Who?"

"There's a biker outfit called the Devil's. We've been at war with these bastards for years. I think what happened yesterday was twofold." He held up two fingers, ticking off his points as he went. "First, I think Joel Johnson is involved with these guys and got them to do his dirty work for him where his son is involved. Secondly, I think they saw Kyle's bike – which was actually my bike back in the day – and decided to get revenge. That's why they trashed it; that's the Devil's calling card to the cops, Eva. `Don't mess with us or this is what'll happen'."

Eva could only stare, her blood gone cold. "Do they want revenge against Kyle for what happened in that fire?"

"You know about that?" Mason asked, stunned. At Eva's nod, his shock gave way to deep gratitude and affection for the old woman who would still be so good to his sister, even knowing her ugly past. "And, I'd say probably."

Eva sat back in her chair as though the wind had been knocked out of her. "So now what?"

"Now I'm gonna get some of my boys together and we're going to go after the sons-a-bitches. Nobody is gonna attack my little sister and snatch a little boy and not pay for it, Eva."

"I understand, but what about the police? Or maybe even the FBI-"

Mason shook his head. "They can't do anything for Rory or Kyle. These guys are beyond dangerous and aren't afraid of a badge. Trust me on that one."

"You can't put yourself in that kind of danger, Mason. You could get yourself killed."

Mason finished his coffee then pushed up from the chair to place the mug in the sink, ready to head off to work. He turned to Eva in the doorway of the kitchen. "Eva, I'd die for my little sister in a heartbeat. Nothing can stop me from doing this." With a kind smile he began to leave again but stopped. "Do you have a picture of Rory?"

Eva sat where she was, too stunned to even remember her manners and respond. After a moment, she shook herself out of her dread and stood, walking over to the fridge where Rory's snapshot – given to her by Jamie – was pinned with a magnet. She handed it to him, giving the glossy a loving caress first.


Jamie jerked, a wrinkle in her brow forming between her closed eyes as she was jarred into wakefulness. Finally, blue eyes blinked open, followed immediately by the screaming of her neck and back. Confused and disoriented, Jamie tried to figure out what had woken her.


She looked up to see an ICU nurse standing next to her, understanding in her eyes. "I need to get in here and check on the patient."

Jamie looked to the bed to see that she was still holding Kyle's hand in her own, the edge of the bed having been used as her pillow. "Oh," she said, grimacing when she felt the dry remnants of drool on the corner of her mouth. "I can't believe I fell asleep."

The nurse began her morning duties with Kyle Johnson as Jamie pushed up from the chair, stretching her back with her arms over her head. She turned her attention back to Kyle when she was finished, noting that Kyle looked exactly as she had the night before.

"How is she this morning?" Jamie asked, wanting to push the nurse aside and check for herself.

"Everything looks stable," the nurse responded. "Though the doctor will be in a little later this morning to check her over."

Jamie nodded in understanding, bringing a hand up and gently touching the soft skin of Kyle's face. "I'll see you later," she whispered, reluctant to leave.

The drive home was a quiet one for Jamie, her emotions and thoughts spinning and spinning in her head. At first her head was filled with images of Kyle and their time together, but then suddenly Rory's face was smiling at her mind's eye. Instant tears stung behind her eyes as she grabbed her cell phone, dialing Det. Hopper's personal line.

"Hello, Detective, this is Jamie Johnson. I wanted to know if there was any news." Jamie listened, bringing her Sorento to a stop at a red traffic light. "I see." She could feel her anger building. "Well, I guess if you guys manage to find out anything call me."

Not even waiting for a "goodbye", Jamie slammed her phone shut and tossed it to the passenger seat of the SUV. Making a sudden turn, she cut off two lanes of traffic, and among cars honking and drivers cursing, she managed to make her turn, getting the SUV headed south.


Mason pulled glanced at the directions he'd been given then matched those with where he was. Satisfied, he pulled his truck into the long dirt drive, noting the double-wide trailer he was parking behind. He was glad the driveway led all the way around back where a few out buildings were snuggled on the land. This way, no one would realize he was there when driving by.

Quietly shutting the heavy door of his truck, Mason looked everything over from the road beyond to the house to the out buildings: all was quiet and still. He reached into his back pocket, bringing out his switchblade and credit card; he wasn't sure which he'd need.

The house was obviously locked up tight, including the windows. Making sure one more time nobody was around, Mason hurried to the screen door of the back door and tugged it open, the flimsy aluminum door squeaking on its hinges. Mason dropped to his knees, the doorknob now at eye-level as he examined it to figure out what he'd need to gain entry. The lock was simple and nothing that a few straightened out paper clips and a credit card couldn't handle. Within three minutes, he was in.

The house was dark from closed shades and smelled stuffy and like garbage that hadn't been taken out in far too long. Nose wrinkled, Mason made his way through the kitchen, noting the dishes piled up in the sink and clutter of old mail on the small kitchen table. His gut speaking to him, he walked over to the fridge and pulled open the door: the light was off, power not on. It was obvious from the look – and smell – that most of the food inside had gone bad.

Slamming the door shut, Mason moved further into the house. The living room was in no better shape: the small, cluttered room was filled with wrappers from fast food restaurants, including a McDonald's happy meal. Mason picked up the discarded happy meal bag and saw that the wrapper from the meal's toy was in the bag, but the toy was nowhere to be seen.

"Looks like you got a toy, little man," Mason murmured to the little boy who wasn't present. "Where did he take you?"

A quick check in the two small bedrooms showed clothing thrown everywhere, as well as a discarded duffel bag with a broken handle. Mason felt his stomach drop. Joel and his goons had a huge head start, and the truth of it all was that they could be anywhere.

Mason was about to head back to the kitchen to leave when he heard someone enter, the door squeaking their presence. Freezing, Mason hid behind a wall in the living room, peeking around the corner. He could see movement near the kitchen table then a loud, sudden crash as a chair was knocked over, followed by the soft cursing of the person who ran into the chair.

Mason jumped out and grabbed her, a hand held to her mouth, her body pressed back against his. "Move and I'll fucking kill you," he hissed. The body against his froze, her breathing coming in quick pants, warm against his palm. Once she was calm, he removed his hand and pushed her away from him but kept an iron grip on her arm. One look in her stunning face and Mason knew he was looking at Kyle's perfect girl. "From the look of you I'd guess you're Jamie."

Jamie looked up at the big man with wide, stunned eyes. It took everything in her to not claw at his eyes, as he'd scared her to death! "Who the hell are you? How did you know who I am?"

"Because I've had to listen to my sister yak about you for months now." Mason let go completely and took a step back, running a hand through his hair. "What are you doing here?"

It took Jamie a moment to get her wits about her, especially the bit that Kyle had spoken of her so often. At first she had just been plain terrified and suspicious, but one look in the man's eyes and it was obvious who he was: he saw Kyle in those depths, as well as her own profound sadness at the situation.

Taking a step back, Jamie let out a breath, dropping her purse to the kitchen table and sitting down. "I'm looking for my son. Why are you here and how did you find this place?"

Mason joined her, straddling a backwards kitchen chair. "The same reason. Nobody's gonna try and kill my sister and get away with it."

"But, how do you know where Joel lives? And, what is your name?"

"Mason Watson," Mason said extending a large hand which Jamie reluctantly took. "Good ta meet you." Mason studied the beauty sitting across from him for a long moment before continuing. "How well do you think you know your ex-husband?"

Jamie was taken aback by the question. "What?"

"Well," Mason said, sitting back in the chair, never taking his eyes off her. "I got some real bad news for you."

"And what's that?" Jamie asked, unable to keep the defensiveness out of her voice. She didn't know this guy, nor did she trust him. She still wanted to know how the hell he knew where Joel lived and why he was creeping around his house!

"Joel Johnson is wrapped up in some bad shit with some bad guys. When you were married, did he hang out with some rough characters?"

"Rough characters?"

"Yeah, you know: bikers, mean guys, lots of drinking and drugging, that kinda thing." Mason watched as Jamie's face turned pale, her gaze dropping to her hands, which played in her lap. Bingo.

"I didn't know who they were," Jamie murmured.

"Jamie," Mason said, his voice softening in understanding. "I'm not here to judge you. I'm only here to see what I can find about this son-of-a-bitch, and to figure out where he's taken little Rory."

"I don't get any of this, Mason. I understand that Joel would come and take his son, but I never saw this kind of violence. I truly don't think he'd do something like that in front of Rory."

"Yeah, that's because he didn't. See, Joel got himself mixed up in a group called the Devil's. Ever heard of them?" When Jamie shook her head, Mason nodded. "Not many have. They are a very underground organization, not flaunting their shit like the Hell's Angels or the Outlaws. No, no. The Devils keep to themselves and make sure their shit truly don't stink."

Jamie studied him for a long moment, head slightly cocked to the side. "How do you know so much about them?"

"Because me and Kyle have a past with them. See, she and I had some friends of our own back in the day, and a few of them asked Kyle to do a nasty job for them almost ten years ago. She did it – against the Devils, of course – and served nearly nine years for it, but got some of the main bad guys of the Devils put away in the process. My guess, some real bad luck."

"So," Jamie began, her mind trying to wrap around what she was being told. "You're telling me that Joel put a couple members of this motorcycle gang up to kidnapping my son, and to also beat Kyle for revenge?"

"Nah," Mason sighed, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. "I think Kyle was just a bonus, to be honest. If it had been Eva there that day, who knows what would've happened to her; maybe nothing. But, the fact that they destroyed Kyle's bike in the process," he took in a drag then slowly blew the smoke out through his nose. "That tells me all I need to know."

"Which is what?"

"That the cops can't do a damn thing and that it's become personal now. That's why I'm here, Jamie. I'm on the hunt."

"I'm going with you."

"No!" Mason slammed his cigarette into the scarred tabletop, his eyes on fire. "No, you're not."

"Who the hell do you think you are?!" she exclaimed, fire coming through full throttle. "That's my son out there and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit on my ass and not try and find him!"

Mason sighed, knowing now that he was dealing with a strong, bull-headed woman: just like his sister. He had to try and handle her carefully and get her to see reason. The last thing he need in reality – or on his conscience – was a dead Jamie Johnson. "Jamie, this is blood vengeance for me. If Kyle dies, her blood is on their hands. You've got to stay put and be strong, not only for your son, but also for Kyle. I know she cares an awful lot about you and would never forgive me if I let anything happen to you."

Jamie tried to wrap her mind around what she was being told, the train of her brain wanting to stop at the station of: Kyle cares about me? She knew she had to push on, her focus far from some frivolous crush. She grabbed the strap of her purse, feeling the stiffened leather between her fingertips. Finally with a heavy sigh, she looked up at Mason. "Alright. But I'm telling you now: if you don't bring my baby back to me, I'll hunt Joel Johnson down like a dog, then I'll hunt you down. You got me?"

"Yes, ma'am." Mason gave her a Boy Scouts honor salute.

Jamie studied him for a long moment. "You still never told me how you found this place."



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