Wilder Days
Linda Winstead Jones

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“It’ll be okay,” she said, trying to draw her hand from his tight grasp.

Del held fast. There was no withdrawing her hand from his, not unless he wanted her to. “Baby,” he growled, “nothing is okay.”

Chapter 2

Vic hadn’t looked him in the eye since they’d left the warehouse parking lot, and the only words she’d spoken had been lifeless directions to her South Huntsville home. He’d bandaged her hand quickly, using the first-aid kit he always had in the trunk, while Shock had checked the Jag inside and out for nasty explosive devices. Shock had found nothing, and they’d gotten out of there while the fire raged. They were gone long before the volunteer fire department could arrive.

Del steered the Jag in and out of shaded portions of the street, driving slowly since there were kids everywhere. They played ball, rode bikes, attempted tricks on skateboards and in-line skates. It was a nice neighborhood. The homes were nothing like the antebellum house in Old Town where Vic had grown up, but nice just the same.

“Here,” she said, pointing to an empty driveway. Del turned sharply and came to an abrupt stop before a midsize, middle-class Colonial home. Two stories, neatly landscaped, nothing special that might reach out and grab a person. It was just…a house.

“Thanks,” Vic said as she opened the passenger door and stepped out of the car. Still, she didn’t look directly at him.

Del cursed beneath his breath. She’d survived the crisis and now she was falling apart. Women did that, or so he’d been told.

He left the car and headed for Vic’s slow-moving form, tempted to put his arm around her as he had when they’d run from the warehouse. She looked like she needed the support, but he didn’t touch her. He stayed close, though, just in case.

She stepped onto the porch and reached out to touch the doorknob. The door easily swung open. Finally, she looked up at him. “They didn’t lock the door.” From the tone of her voice, it was clear she found this the most egregious of the Mayrons’ sins.

“Should anyone be here?”

Vic shook her head.

Del drew the Colt pistol Shock had pressed upon him before they left the warehouse, taking care that the weapon was not visible to anyone passing on the street. “Stay here,” he said softly as he left Vic waiting on the front porch.

His search of the house was quick, efficient and productive in an unexpected way. No one was waiting for Vic’s return. Tripp and Holly, who were not the most brilliant of the criminals he’d run across in his career, had been sloppily confident that there was nothing wrong with their plan. They actually thought that Del would take their warning that they would know if he told anyone where he was going seriously.

After talking to Holly and hearing Vic say her name and then cry out, Del had written a quick note and slipped it to Shock quietly, in case the caller had been telling the truth and he was being watched. He’d suspected all along that threat was false; he knew the other agents in the office too well to suspect that they’d be involved in anything like this. But he couldn’t take the chance that he was right about them all. Not with Vic’s life at stake.

The quick check of her neat home revealed something interesting. The men’s shirt she wore was the only piece of men’s clothing in the house. There was no electric razor in the bathroom, no men’s shoes in the closet…nothing. This was a woman’s house, pure and simple, put together with an easy blending of soft colors and comfortable furniture. The only exception was the daughter’s bedroom, which was decorated in purple and black and adorned with slick posters of bands Del had never heard of. From the looks of the guys in the posters, they weren’t exactly into easy listening.

“All clear,” he said, placing the pistol at his spine as he opened the front door and reached out a hand to assist Vic over the threshold.

She nodded her head, obviously relieved, and stepped inside, releasing his hand as she walked through the foyer. Unconsciously, he was sure, her fingertips trailed across the palm of his hand. “Thanks. Should I…do anything? Call the police?” She turned slowly and tilted her head back, looking him squarely and bravely in the eye. “I won’t,” she said. “Not if you don’t want me to.”

He knew how this looked, what she was thinking. With a few words he could set her straight. He said nothing, telling himself it no longer mattered what Vic thought.

“I’ll handle it,” he said, his voice low.

She just nodded. “Thanks for the ride.” It was a neat, almost polite dismissal.

“Coffee,” Del said, brushing past her. “And I need to use your phone.”

“There’s a café on the corner and they have great coffee,” she said quickly. “And they have a phone, too. I think,” she added in a softer voice.

Del turned before he reached the short hallway that led to the kitchen. “Trying to get rid of me?”

Vic nodded.

“I can’t leave you here alone.” Del leaned his shoulder against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, relaxing outside even as tension coiled inside him. Vic had been less than forthcoming. “I thought maybe I’d wait around until your husband gets home. Is he at work? You can give him a call and…”

“That’s not necessary,” she said, her voice low and quick, her eyes darting away from him. At least she had the good manners to look a little guilty as she lied.

“What’s his name?” Del asked.

“Preston,” Vic whispered. “Preston Lowell.”

“And when will he be home?” How many chances was he going to give her to tell him the truth?

Her face went pale, once again. Her usually luscious lips thinned and tightened. “We’re divorced,” she finally admitted. “He lives in North Carolina.”

Del smiled. “You forgot to mention that earlier.” He turned and headed for the kitchen. “Pack a bag,” he said as he walked away. “We’re getting out of here.”

He heard Vic’s footsteps behind him, the pad of her tennis shoes soft on the tile floor. “No. That’s not necessary. The bomb blew up, surely those two will think we’re dead. Right?” That last word was tinged with hope.

“For a couple of days,” Del answered. “Eventually they’ll wonder why there’s no mention of the bodies on the news, and they’ll do a little digging. Won’t take them long to find out the building was empty when it blew. You’re not safe here.”

He expected Vic to argue, but his declaration was met with dead silence.

He found the coffee and filters in the most logical place—in the cabinet above the coffeemaker. While Vic watched, he measured out the grounds and got the brew going. When he turned around, he found Vic staring at him so hard he could feel it.

“Why me?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you for sixteen years. It doesn’t make sense that they would kidnap me to get to you.”

He’d had the same thought. Why her? True, the assignment to Birmingham, Alabama, put them in the same geographical area, but still…there had been other women in his life. Women who’d lasted more than a month. But then, Vic hadn’t been a woman sixteen years ago, she’d been a little girl playing with womanly things.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I’m going to find out.”

She nodded her head and looked away from him.

“How’s the hand?”

She wiggled the tightly bandaged fingers. “Fine.”

An awkward silence filled the air of Vic’s homey, bright kitchen. The coffeemaker gurgled, and outside a bird chirped. The light that broke through the wide window at the breakfast nook bathed Vic in a way that made her look golden, more beautiful than she really was, surely. Del tried to tell himself that he no longer cared for her, that she didn’t grab him somewhere deep inside and hold on.

“They’re going to come back, aren’t they?” Her voice was breathless with fear.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t think so. And they won’t be back tonight, that’s certain. They want to be far, far away when you come up missing or dead. If they decided to come back and swipe your TV or rifle through your jewelry box like common thieves, someone might see them in the area. It’s not a chance they’ll take. You need to get out of here, though, because when they find out you’re not dead they’ll be back. Like I said, we have a little time.”

She nodded. “Noelle’s not supposed to be back for four days.”

“We don’t have that much time. Should we go to Gulf Shores and pick her up?”

Vic’s eyes were condemning, sharp and no longer afraid. “We? No. I’ll go get her myself.”

Del shook his head. “I can’t let you do that.” Dammit, there was no way he’d leave Vic to handle this on her own. He couldn’t.

“Let me?” Vic snapped.
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