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THE DANGEROUS THIEF: Chapter Three
(Read Chapter One here: http://mallorycrowe.com/2017/05/the-dangerous-thief-chapter-one/ )
(Read Chapter Two here: http://mallorycrowe.com/2017/05/the-dangerous-thief-chapter-two/ )
He hated her. Willa had been on her best damn behavior during the entire infuriating ride down here and somehow the guy who was supposed to be keeping her alive hated her. She wished she could shoot daggers at him through her eyes, but he had already disappeared through the door that led to the kitchen. Even though she’d had nothing but junk the past day, the idea of eating just then made her stomach turn.
She wanted to stand there and bask in her annoyance for a while longer, but her bladder had other ideas. So she walked down the hallway he’d mentioned until she found the bathroom. It was small, with just a pedestal sink, medicine cabinet mirror, stand-up shower, and the toilet. Still, it managed to feel more homey than the rest of the place. He thought her shock was because of how small his house was, but that wasn’t it at all. In Chicago, her luxury apartment was probably smaller than the square footage here. But the space was so bare, it was impossible to believe it was occupied.
The living room had one worn leather armchair and an end table next to it. That was it. No television. No sofa. No artwork. Just nothing. That was why she couldn’t believe someone actually lived here.
Before leaving the bathroom, Willa gave herself a once-over. She hadn’t put on makeup in over a day, so the dark circles under her eyes were more evident than ever and her skin was about to go into withdrawal from the lack of her normal moisturizing routine.
Out of nowhere, the image of her father firing that gun came to her and she blinked away the memory, along with the self-pity. She was here for a reason. A good reason. She couldn’t lose sight of that.
She went back into the hall, just as plain as the living room with worn hardwood floors and beige painted walls, and looked at the various doorways. There was one closed door at the very end, which she assumed was James Weston’s room. Instinctually she wanted to take the room farthest from him, but then she remembered what his role was in this. He was supposed to be protecting her, so she should stick as close as possible.
She gravitated toward the open doorway right next to his. It was small, but at least it had more furniture than the living room. There was a double bed with a plain white comforter, a nightstand, and a dresser against the far wall. Willa set her bag at the foot of the bed and then went to the window. The blinds were shut and she twisted the plastic latch until they creaked open to let in the bright desert sun.
The view wasn’t surprising. The same thing she’d been looking at for hours as they made it out here: lots of sand, with sparse bushes and vegetation and the silhouette of mountains off in the distance.
She’d always enjoyed the desert. Sure, she had never spent any time besides the drive from the Las Vegas airport to the Strip, but it was a pretty sight and the mountains had always looked so majestic in all the pictures.
But now it was almost like a prison. The miles of nothingness serving as the walls to keep her in.
No, that was a bad way to look at it. She should think of it like a moat. A protective barrier between her and the world out to get her.
She let out a breath and fell back against the bed. It was lumpy and soft at the same time, but she was so tired that she didn’t mind. Now that she was finally done running, she was going to try to catch some rest and for once not let the nightmares catch her….
1 Week Ago
Willa tripped over her own feet and stumbled forward, carefully balancing the glass in her hand so she could keep as much of the drink in it as possible. As the mixture of pineapple juice and coconut rum sloshed down her fingers, she let out a little giggle. “Julie!” she called, even as she kept her voice down and turned the corner to the entryway of the apartment. “I don’t think I can—” Willa sobered up in an instant as she saw something she couldn’t quite comprehend.
She blinked through the alcohol-induced haze in her mind and kept hoping the hallucination would fade away. Not that she’d ever hallucinated after drinking before, but this couldn’t be real. Because her current BFF, Jules Charleston, was on her knees in the middle of the floor, and Daddy held a gun to her head. A gun. Willa didn’t even know he had a gun.
“Daddy, it’s okay,” she rushed out, trying to stop things before they got any more out of hand. “I know I should’ve told you we were coming by, but my liquor cabinet broke and I was out of everything and we happened to be at this party down the street and when the bars closed, we decided to come here for a nightcap. I thought you’d be sleeping the whole time, but obviously we woke you up and I’m really sorry, but it was a totally honest mistake and—”
“Do you have any idea who this is?” bit out Jadon.
Jules knelt absolutely still on her father’s prized Persian rug. She wasn’t shaking, but her eyes were hard as stone as she looked up and met Willa’s eyes.
Willa fought through the buzz still swimming in her head and remembered that her father had asked a question. “Of course I know who she is. Jules is my friend.”
“She’s a fed.”
For a moment, Willa forgot how to speak. She knew the words coming out of her father’s mouth, but the meaning behind them—along with the gun—just didn’t make sense. “Fed? Like short for federal agent? No. She’s a college dropout who….” Willa saw the determined glare on Jules’s face. She didn’t look like a terrified girl. She looked like, well, like a fed. “What does it matter if she’s a fed?”
Jadon tilted his head and looked at her, his face full of something she’d never seen from him. Pity. “Honey, there’s a lot you need to know.” And then he fired.
Willa shot up in bed and her gaze darted around the room, looking for the blood on the Persian rug. But there was no rug. Ancient-looking hardwood floors and boring beige walls looked back at her.
She caught her breath as she got her bearings back. She wasn’t home. She wasn’t even in Chicago anymore. She was stuck in the middle of the Arizona desert with James Weston. As she got control of her breathing, she could still feel her heart beating out a frantic rhythm in her chest.
She wished she could write it off as just another nightmare, but she couldn’t. It was no dream or hallucination. That had actually happened. The night that had ruined everything.
Her stomach growled but she knew that if she ate anything, she’d end up throwing it right back up.
Willa looked out the window at the slowly setting sun. It wasn’t quite twilight, but it was getting close. She had eked out an hour or so of a nap, so she’d never be able to get back to sleep anytime soon.
Fantastic. No television. No phone. No civil company. Maybe there would be something she could do in this expanse of nothingness to keep herself from going crazy.
Or better yet, maybe Melody would come through with something that would allow her to go back home. Going to Melody for help had been a calculated risk. And the calculation had been that Willa could do nothing and know that she was going to be in a living hell for the rest of her life, or she could do her best to get justice for Jules.
And after she’d gone to her father’s head of security for help, his mode of refusal had been trying to put a bullet in her head. So her option of pretending nothing had happened was cut off. It was run for her life or hope her father would show her mercy for trying to turn on him.
Considering how little he’d thought before firing that gun at Jules, she didn’t want to test the limits of his mercy.
Willa didn’t want to think about this any longer. After the long, boring trip here, her mind was sick of overthinking and second-guessing every little thing. She already felt as if she were about two steps from falling over the edge of absolute insanity, and she had to try her best to cling to the top of that cliff.
What she really needed was a good, long shopping trip. She was currently wearing a pair of old yoga pants and a loose graphic shirt from a more bohemian designer with a foil design of the Taj Mahal. An outfit that was an old go-to for her, but now that she’d been wearing it for two days straight, she was about ready to throw it in a trashcan and burn it. To make things worse, her hair was stringy and damp from the humidity and her skin was begging for moisturizer.
Not only was she totally in over her head, but she was so out of her element, she barely knew what her next step would be.
But there was one person she could ask.
Willa tentatively opened the door to her room and glanced around the hallway. There was no sign of Weston, not that she thought there would be. There was only one door to her left, Weston’s room, so she turned right. Her bare feet softly padded across the hard floor, but every few feet, the floor would let out a moan or groan, giving her no chance at all of sneaking around. Not that she would want to, but the paranoia had been escalating lately. Could it really be called paranoia if you’ve seen someone murdered in front of you?
The living room was just as depressing as before, so she turned in the direction of the kitchen. The cupboards were a fresh white color. They seemed to be much fresher than the rest of the house. Maybe Weston wasn’t as careless with his home as she thought. The hardware on the drawers and pantry were all clean brushed nickel. The counter was an older laminate that seemed to have been through the ringer. A lot more wear than she’d expect for a guy who lived alone, but she supposed she knew almost nothing about Weston, so what did it matter?
A deep double sink beneath a window looked out over the flat scenery outside. A newish gas stove and mismatched beige dishwasher and a black refrigerator filled out the room. Maybe if Weston kept her alive, she’d get him an interior decorator as a thank-you gift.
Something told her he wouldn’t appreciate it.
Even though she wasn’t hungry, she pulled the fridge open to examine her options. It didn’t exactly look like a bachelor’s fridge. There were two cartons of eggs, a jug of milk, and the produce drawers were all full. And from what she could see, it was all reasonably fresh.
When she opened the freezer section, it was a bunch of Ziploc bags of beef and chicken and some packages of salmon and trout. Considering how buff Weston was, she shouldn’t be surprised that he was a health nut, but somehow she hadn’t been expecting it.
She supposed it had something to do with the health nuts she knew in Chicago. She knew dozens of guys who spent half their days at the gym and the other half trying to impress women with the bodies they’d sculpted at the gym. Weston sure as hell hadn’t seemed interested in impressing her.
Though, considering how she looked at the moment, maybe there was a good reason. Besides, she didn’t want him to try to impress her. She wanted him to keep her safe from her homicidal father. Then she could go back to Chicago and get back to her old life of hanging with health nuts and vapid socialites who were not federal agents undercover.
Willa shut the fridge and continued on her little tour. There was only one other direction to go from here and it was a closed door on the far end of the kitchen. Except this wasn’t a door to a bedroom or anything. At least she hoped not, because there was a high tech-looking electronic keypad next to the knob. What would be behind there that was so important to him? She figured that being all the way in the middle of nowhere was protection enough….
She walked up to the door and stared at it for a moment, considering what Weston would want to keep under lock and electronic key. Money? Drugs? Sex dungeon?
Maybe she’d read Fifty Shades of Grey a few too many times….
She figured she’d try her luck. She reached out to the knob and gave it a little turn to see whether anything would happen.
“What are you doing?”
She jumped back a good foot from the door as she turned around, trying to keep the guilty expression off her face. “Just exploring.”
Weston wore the same jeans and T-shirt he’d worn their entire trip, but now he had taken his shoes off. It was always strange to see someone barefoot for the first time. Such a small thing could change someone’s entire appearance. Except Weston. She didn’t think she knew anyone else who could look so intimidating in bare feet. “You can’t explore there.”
“I didn’t mean to snoop. I just….”
“If you didn’t mean to, why did you snoop? Not something that happens accidentally.”
“Wow. The most words you’ve said to me at once and it’s to scold me. I’m guessing you don’t get a lot of houseguests here, do you?”
He tilted his head. She had seen that look before. It was the look someone got the second they realized she wasn’t going to be railroaded. Every time she walked into a room, people assumed that because of her reputation for partying and not working—a well-earned reputation, to be fair—that she was an airhead who could be pushed around.
Even though she’d never met a man like James Weston before, she was sure she was strong-willed enough to take on even the toughest desert hermit.
“I’m not here to show you around and paint your nails. I’m here because you said you could help us take down Jadon Belli,” he said between clenched teeth.
“Great. Let’s talk about that then. Tell me what I need to do.”
“Give me the financial records to get your father to give me whatever I want.”
She pursed her lips. He knew she didn’t have those. She wouldn’t even know where to start. “Be reasonable.”
“I am being reasonable. I’m working on finding a way for you to help. Until then, you have to lay low and stay out of locked rooms.”
“If I’m going to stay here, I’m going to need some supplies then.”
“I have everything you need.”
“Really? You have some fresh underwear for me? An extra change of clothes? Because I am running out of things that don’t smell.” She’d run out of her apartment in such a rush that her haphazard packing job had been almost pointless.
She blinked at his quick agreement. “So we can go shopping?”
“Sure. We’ll need supplies eventually anyway.”
She thought back to how full the refrigerator had seemed. “And when will that be?”
He shrugged. “When we need to go into town.”
“Well, aren’t you a fount of information,” she muttered. “What am I supposed to do until then?”
“There’s a washing machine. We even have one of those high-tech dryer things out here. It’s amazing how much use you can get out of clothes when you wash them.”
She tilted her head and glared at him. “I liked you better when you were refusing to speak to me.”
“Hey, I’m here to keep you alive, not to be your personal servant. So you will make do with what we have.”
Her mouth fell open but nothing came out. It wasn’t as though she never dealt with rudeness. She’d pissed off her fair share of people in her time, but there was absolutely nothing she could think of that she’d done to get on his bad side. If anything, she’d been on her best behavior, which was strange for her.
She was about to defend herself before she thought better of it. If he wanted to hate her, fine. She didn’t need some desert redneck’s approval, and she’d be damned if she was going to bend over backward to make him happy.
Willa squared her shoulders and walked away from the mysterious locked door. Her shoulder bumped his arm as she walked by because he refused to fully move out of the way. Screw this. She didn’t have to put up with his attitude. She was going to do the same thing she did every time someone tried to remind her exactly how little she mattered.
She was going to run.