Carol was wild, adventurous, and a bit quirky.
She loved junk food and every new fad. Eggwhite Chips were the latest in a bunch of new creations she’d brought home. Her stomach was a block of cement. Put anything in it, and she’d crush it and ask for seconds. On the other hand, Blade’s stomach rebelled against processed food. I wasn’t as exciting; I just didn’t like it.
I only liked a few things: bread, some form of protein, and anything the world naturally kicked up. I usually filled up on berries or things I grew in the garden. So no, I I had not consumed the Eggwhite Chips the other night.
“Oh, and hey…” His voice dropped to his serious tone.
“Yeah?” I straightened up.
“I got a call this morning.” His eyes bore into mine. “You need to get off work this weekend. We have a pick up in the States.”
My mouth dried.
I nodded. “I’m on because I was off last weekend, but it won’t be a problem. I’ll take a holiday.”
Holidays were good bargaining chips, at least for me—for us. Normal people wanted their holidays off. They wanted to spend time with friends and family, but not us. It was the time immediately after a holiday or right before a holiday that we needed off.
People tended to have emergencies at those times, but not usually on the actual day.
He nodded as one of his alarms started beeping, and he headed for the living room to check it out.
I had to stop what was going on in my head.
I had to focus again.
Brooke Bennett was no longer my roommate. She wasn’t my best friend anymore. That had ended thirteen years ago. A lot of other crap had gone down in my life, changing the direction of everything.
I was no longer Bruce Bello’s daughter.
When my mom had died, so had his daughter. My death just took a different turn and a lot longer.
This was my life now.
I lived outside of Calgary, and yes, I was hiding. With Blade and Carol. We were doing a lot more than just hiding, though. And in light of that, I had things to do to help set up our next trip—or “errand” as Carol liked to call them—and one part of that was getting a spray tan.
I picked up my wallet and keys, and I headed for the door. Moments later I was pulling out of the driveway in our rusty ’72 Chevy truck.
? ? ?
“Back again, Raven?”
Raven. Not Riley.
I made a mental note to remind Carol and Blade to use my cover name. We’d all slipped over the last nine months, starting to use our real names around the house. To them I was Riley. Carol had never learned my last name, though I knew Blade knew, but keeping these secrets was a point stressed during our training.
We were no longer our pasts, and last names were forbidden. We couldn’t use them, say them, or even think them.
So to them I was Riley, because that’s how we were introduced when we got our assignment, but to everyone in Cowtown I was Raven.
Along with my fake name, I had a whole fake personality to put on, and I sent Holly a dazzling smile I rarely used. “Hey! Yes! You know me.”
Raven Hastings was enthusiastic. She was happy most days, with a bright and cheery disposition. She enjoyed inspirational quotes, and she liked to dress beach casual, in Canada. When Raven went out with Blade, they complemented each other. She was boho chic, and he was blissful hippie.
Today I (or Raven) had dressed in a bohemian light pink skirt that fell to my feet with a slightly see-through white T-shirt knotted over my stomach. Thank God it was summer because I had committed to this look. Right now I was able to pull off sandals with straps running up my legs like ballet slippers.
I stuck my hip out and propped my hand there, striking a pose. “I have a date next weekend, and I have to look good.”
Holly was the Sun-n-Fun’s main evening worker, and she was an eternal romantic. This wasn’t my first time here, and I’d noted she had a stack of at least three new books next to the till every time I came in for a tan. Holly also knew a few of the girls from the nursing home—another way to cement my excuse for next weekend. I knew one of those friends always wanted to trade for the closest holiday or big event, and the next one coming up was the Stampede.
Holly’s eyes lit up, and she asked me all about my date.
I made it a weekend excursion.
? ? ?
Annie didn’t waste any time.
Word had traveled fast to my coworker from Holly at the tanning salon the night before. She plopped down at my table during my first break at the nursing home where I worked as a nursing aide.
“Heard you need next weekend off?”
I smiled. “You wanted to go Stampeding?”
She didn’t even blink, only leaned forward. “I want that whole weekend off.”
“Done…if you take my Friday shift too.”
Annie had started to rise, but now paused and hissed. “Are you serious?”
In some nursing homes, a full weekend was Friday through Sunday, but not this nursing home. If we traded a weekend with someone, it was just Saturday and Sunday. So I had to make it clear I wanted that Friday off too.
But I knew Annie. She loved partying, and Stampeding was a huge party. Ergo my sunny Raven disposition.
I couldn’t mess around. “Take it or leave it…”
She growled under her breath, but nodded. “Fine. I’ll write up the slips to put in for the trade.”
And I was now free for whoever we were helping next weekend.
Bolstering a bright smile, I bounced in my seat. “Great! Thanks! I can’t wait for my date now.” And because Raven loved inspiring quotes, I added, “Be fearless. Be beautiful.”
Annie’s eyes flicked upward before she pushed away from the table. “Yeah, okay.”
“Weirdo,” she breathed as she left.
But Raven loved all, even meanies.
With Riley that girl might’ve been introduced to a door, but I was Raven today.
“Hey, Rave girl. Bee is taking her clothes off.”
I checked the time. I had five minutes left.
“Okay. I’ll head up in three.”
Bee loved being naked, but she had dementia.
“By the elevators,” he added.
And I was up and leaving. Bee had been in bed when I left for break.
I called Blade as I was leaving work.
I’d parked close to the staff door, so I was just getting in when he picked up.
“You get off?” he asked.
Two retorts came to mind.
Raven’s was, “Embrace your orgasm.”
Mine was, “Last night. Thank you for your concern.”
But Annie and another girl who worked on our floor were walking by, and I still hadn’t closed my car door, so I went with Raven’s comeback.
Blade snorted as the girls moved past my car, rounding my trunk, and I reached for my door.
“I’ll take that as an affirmative, and I’ll start making the arrangements.”
I shut the door and replied, “Roger that. I’m going to the gym.” So they shouldn’t expect me for two more hours.
“Hey. Can you grab something from The Chopped Leaf on the way home?”
I heard Carol yell in the background, “And those chocolate-flavored Pringles.”
“Ew. No.” He immediately shut her down.
I laughed into the phone. “I’ll see what I can do. See you two at home.”
I was reaching for my seatbelt when Blade hung up, and that’s when it happened. There was no warning. No sudden tingling to hint at something amiss. I hadn’t been watching my perimeter as I usually would. I was distracted, talking to Blade on the phone, and I cursed myself as two of my car doors opened at once: the passenger front and the one behind.
My training kicked in, like a switch being flipped on.
I didn’t wait to see who it was.
I bailed. Or I would’ve.
I had my door open even before they sat down, but they had someone outside my door. As I pushed it open to run, he shoved it back, and then I heard a gun cocking.
I stilled, knowing that voice.
He found me.
But no. My split-second panic flared to something else. Curiosity?
The guy next to me hadn’t spoken. The voice was the guy behind me, and I’d heard that voice on the other end of numerous phone calls.
I looked. “Tanner?”
Brooke Bennett’s brother stared back at me through the rearview mirror. His face was like a concrete slab, total lockdown.
“We won’t hurt you,” he said. “We just want to ask you a few questions.”
The guy with the gun growled, “So drive.”
Some of my fear diminished, but a firm knot remained stuck in my throat, along with my training, which was telling me: “Run, bitch. Run fast.”
The guy who’d been outside my door was heading to a car parked in the next row, and this was my only window.
My seatbelt had already snapped back since I hadn’t clicked it in place.
One second. That’s all I had. I had to make the decision NOW! So, I did.
I went with the door as I shoved it open, and my feet hit the paved lot hard.
Something twisted, but I didn’t stop.
Adrenaline raced through me, and I was three steps away before I heard them in pursuit.
Tanner barked out, “Grab her. Don’t hurt her.”