All’s fair in love and war…
Sometimes in life, choices just aren’t part of the plan. When fate interferes and bulldozes right over you.
That’s how I felt the first time I saw him. Standing in my kitchen, soaking wet, hotter than a man has the right to be, and holding a knife.
Declan’s cold, stone-cold. I can’t help but want him. His presence stirs up some raw emotion within me. He seems so…alone. But is he here to kill me or save me?
He’s the one man I should never want…and the one I can never forget.
“I’m not a goddamn drug dealer, okay?” he grinds out, sounding exasperated. Yet his hands firmly grip my arms, holding me close. Close enough to feel his breath warm on my face.
“You’re not a cop, either. Or so you said when you dropped me off in San Diego.”
“Fuck no. What I am, you don’t want to know.”
“Why? Are you an escaped convict? A criminal on the run.” I don’t believe he’s either, at least not until . . . now.
He glares at me. “I never run. Period.”
I reach out and run the pad of my pointer finger across his tight lips. “Why not tell me what’s going on? I’m loyal. I can keep quiet. And to be perfectly honest . . . I like you.”
His eyebrows arch. I’ve surprised him.
We stare at each other. Time seems frozen. Until he drops a verbal sledgehammer and forces us apart. “Get out. Grab you things. Go.”
“Get the fuck out before I change my mind.”
“What’s wrong?” I manage.”
“This entire goddamn situation. I’ll count to three. If you don’t listen to what I’m offering you, I’ll drag you out of this vehicle myself.”
“Offering me? You leaving me stranded on the side of the road.”
“One. Fucking two . . .”
“Don’t think for one second I don’t get what this is about. I like you, Declan. Get over it.”
“Goddamn it. Three.” He hits his door handle as if he’s actually going to spring from the driver’s seat and follow through with his threat.
I open my door and slide out.
“Take your duffle bag with you. It’s in the back.”
Swallowing hard, I muster my pride and retrieve my duffle bag, which is wedged between the passenger seat and the backseat. I hesitate, spying a bottle lying on the floor mat. A familiar bottle, the same one he pulled that little blue pill from. My thoughts flash back to our first ride together, and the roofie he admitted to giving me. I scoop it up and shove it inside my duffle bag, not really thinking too deeply about what I’d do with its contents once I’m away from him.
No. I’m not sticking around.
Declan doesn’t turn. “Take a bus from Dayton and get out of Oklahoma.” He doesn’t say another word. Unaffected. A one-man cure to global warming.
He’s letting me go.
“You led me to believe I could count on you,” I say.
It takes every ounce of self-control not to slam the door shut. With a sigh, I secure the handle of my duffle bag over my shoulder. The irony of this situation isn’t lost on me, how I was in a similar one this summer where I’d planned on walking to Dayton in the darkness of night and with three duffel bags to contend with. It’s like I’ve had a four-month reprieve from my walk only to find myself back on the same path. Closer to Dayton and further along on the roadway but at a standstill in understanding exactly how I got here.
I’ll find my sister without his help.
I pause to dig into my duffel bag, searching for the gun. Organizing myself for next step in this twisted, unpredictable journey.
It’s gone. Declan’s probably taken it to keep his knife company.
Hitchhiking is out of the question, especially given how he kept checking the mirror. I straighten and start walking. Looks like it’s just me and my tried-and-true instinct to survive that’s going to get me to Dayton. While there, I’ll subtly ask a few questions about my sister in case I am wrong and that for some inexplicable reason, she’s stuck around. Like I’ve said, it’s highly unlikely.
So why would Declan believe otherwise?
I straighten my back and begin walking.
The strongest will survive, I think. Declan’s a beast. He’s a prime example of physical prowess. But he’s damaged on the inside. He can’t even handle someone vocalizing how she likes him. He’s a powerful man with troubled soul and a disaster waiting to happen. I can’t fix him. I can’t fix someone who doesn’t understand how deeply he’s broken.
I pick up the pace, listening to the gravel kicking up from behind me as he pulls the pickup out onto the road. I catch a glimpse of him as he drives by. He’s on the phone. I’m forgotten.
Disappointment creeps in but I shake it off.
A flock of seagulls fly noisily overhead. Headed toward Shelby. I shake my head. Wrong direction. The warm sunshine of the gulf is the other way. Nothing but Shelby and all her misery that way. The flock flies out of sight across the horizon. I lower my chin, my focus back on the road.
That’s when I notice the taillights of his pickup turn red. He’s slowed the truck, enough where seconds later, I’ve caught up to it. The window’s down.
He . . . waves. Come closer.
I hurry toward the open window. “I’m not taking back what I said,” I holler into the pickup. “Everyone deserves to be liked, to have someone care about them.”
He avoids looking at me and keeps his attention fixed straight ahead.
“Madelyn,” he warns.
“You never run, that’s what you told me. But Declan, you’re running . . . from me.”
“I’m not who you think I am,” he says, his words coming out like a growl.
His head snaps my way and our eyes meet. It’s like an invisible rope lies between us, him holding fast to one end and me to the other. A frayed rope that’s about to snap.
“Then why did you stop?” I murmur.
“I can’t let you go.”
Michele Mannon is an avid fan of traveling, skinny cinnamon lattes, and gawking at shirtless men on television–jocks, MMA fighters, vampires, and bikers alike. With a love for different cultures and rich “characters”, she earned a degree in French, taught English in Japan, and worked in the NYC fashion industry. Now she puts her experiences to pen, by creating sassy heroines and oh-so sexy Alpha males, and throwing them into situations they’d never dream of being caught in. Michele lives in New Jersey with her family and three wicked cats.