The headlights of the mysterious truck illuminated the laundry room and the longer Dash stayed out there, the harder my heart pounded against my chest. I was shaking, there was no doubt about it, and even though I was in Dash’s arms, I was still frightened. If it were Karl out there I had no idea what he would do or wouldn’t do. He was a ticking time bomb and completely unstable. The thought crossed my mind that if it were Karl out there and he found me out here with not one man, but two, he might lose it completely and blood would be shed.
But I was going to think positive. There was no way Karl knew where I was. At least that’s what I hoped, but as I stood there shaking in Dash’s arms, my hope was quickly dwindling.
“What the hell is taking so long?” Dash barked out, clearly voicing what my mind was wondering as well. The good news, however, is that if it were Karl out there, there would be some type of commotion by now. I half expected to hear shouting at any moment, but when that didn’t happen I calmed down some. It really must not be Karl then, that or Dane was really good at talking him down, but I doubted it. I knew he would be here for me and there wasn’t a thing that was going to stop him from getting to me. Once that man put something in his sights, he wasn’t going to back down until he got it, no matter how it affected those around him.
“Who do you think is out there?” I asked, looking up at Dash and seeing he looked as stressed as I felt. After all, it was his brother out there.
Dash only shrugged, holding me tighter and still staring into the laundry room where headlights were still beaming inside.
Then the room went dark and I tensed up all over again. What if he took Dane out and was now coming inside? I wanted to get away, needed to, to find someplace safe to hide, even if that meant leaving Dash’s arms. But it was clear he wasn’t about to let me go.
We heard some mumbling as it got closer to the house and Dash pushed me behind his back, facing the laundry room and standing in such a manner that revealed he would strike if someone unwanted had entered the house. My heart was pounding faster and harder against my chest and my legs were shaking.
“Dane?” Dash called out, still holding me right behind him.
“Yeah, it’s okay guys!” Dane hollered back and then the laundry door creaked open. I let out a breath of relief and felt every tense muscle in my body start to relax but I kept a hard grip on Dash’s arm, just in case. “It’s just Jason.”
Jason? I didn’t remember anyone with that name and wondered who he was and why he was here so late. It was a strange time to be making a house call, I thought.
Then Dane and this mysterious man were standing in the kitchen staring at both me and Dash. Jason had big blue eyes, nearly black hair, and a hard look on his face. He exerted a tough guy persona and his presence alone was intimidating, throw in the fact that he was clearly over six foot tall and built like an NFL linebacker and intimidation became an understatement. He wore jeans and a grey sweater and wore black framed glasses. His expression was serious and he had a no nonsense feel about him. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt immediately safer knowing he was here, regardless of who he was or why he was here in the first place.
“This is Joey’s cousin I was telling you about,” Dane said to Dash, who nodded and stepped up to shake the large man’s hand. “He was close by and wanted to come by tonight instead of in the morning. He thinks...”
He was cut off when Jason continued for him, “This situation is dangerous and can’t be put off any longer. If she’s in as much danger as you think she is, no time can be wasted.” Then he looked at me and gave me a small smile. “I’m Jason Cole. You must be Adrena.”
I looked between the two brothers and when I saw that neither of them had fear in their expressions then he must be a good man. And whatever he was just saying, I knew then that he was indeed here to help.
I shook his hand and replied, “Nice to meet you. But...who are you?”
He let out a small chuckle. “Dane called me this afternoon and told me about your situation with an ex boyfriend. I’m a private detective on the weekends and a homicide detective during the week for Atlanta PD.”
Wow. I was not expecting him to say that and it made me feel nervous for some reason. What was he doing here? Karl wasn’t dead, was he? And the last time I checked, I wasn’t dead either.
He must have seen the worry on my face because he continued, “I’m here to help find Karl before he finds you. If I’m correct, he’s the same Karl Deckert the FBI has been after for a long time. I can help give you some peace by finding him and also getting that scumbag off the streets.”
It didn’t surprise me that Karl was wanted. He was a dangerous man and an even more dangerous drug dealer. Even though I had never heard about it, I thought it was fitting, and prayed that he was found sooner rather than later. I was sick of worrying about whether or not he was around the corner waiting to slit my throat.
I finally nodded in agreeance and then asked the obvious question. “What do we do now? How do we find him?”
Jason nodded as if this was what he needed me to ask in order to get started. “We don’t do anything. I need you to stay put with these men who are clearly here to protect you. Stay out of town and away from the public’s eyes while I do my investigating. Do you have a photo of him by chance?”
I noticed that Dash was watching me intently and I really had to think about it. I hadn’t brought any real personal effects with me when I ran and the cell phone I had for years was shattered into several pieces along the interstate that led me here. But then I remembered I had something in my wallet that I had completely forgotten about until now.
“I have one. It’s from when I first met him so he has changed a bit but...” I trailed off, watching the three men in front of me. “It’s in my purse.” I turned on my heel and went upstairs to Dash’s old bedroom where my things were and dug for the small wallet. Then I pulled the small strip of photos from a hidden pocket and stared at it, wondering how I could have been so stupid not to see how much of a monster he was even then. The photos were taken in one of those minute booths where four pictures were taken for a dollar. We were smiling in one, kissing in another, and making goofy faces in the last two. He had completely fooled me back then into thinking he was my soul mate. Oh, how wrong that was.
I went back downstairs and found the men talking in hushed tones and went quiet when I entered the room.
“This is all I have.” I handed the strip to Jason as he studied it. Dash was looking over his shoulder at the photos and I saw that his jaw went tense. If the situation wasn’t laid out clear on who Karl really was, you’d see a happy couple through those photos and I hated that Dash had to see them.
“Has any of his features changed dramatically since this was taken?” Jason asked, looking up at me over the photo.
“Yeah, he has a goatee now and more tattoos but the rest is pretty much the same,” I answered, feeling my heart rate pick up a bit. I wanted Karl caught more than I wanted anything right now. Then I looked back towards Dash who was studying me, his eyes dark.
“Great. It’s late now so we should all get some sleep but I’ll get started on this right away in the morning. We don’t know where he is obviously or how much he might know so we all need to keep an ear open.” This came from Jason as he put the photo strip in his back pocket and grabbed the small bag he dropped in the laundry room. “Where can I sleep for the night?”
Dane finally piped in. “We have a pull out in the den if that’s alright.” Jason nodded as Dane began walking in that direction but stopped dead in his tracks and turned to Dash. “Why don’t you stay in the house tonight, Dash? The barn is too far away and we all need to keep an eye on each other; on Adrena.” Dane looked over at me and it was clear that he was battling with something inside of himself but was keeping it to himself the best that he could.
I saw that Dash looked a bit taken back and eyed his brother skeptically so I walked up to him and took his hand. “You can stay with me.”
He gripped my hand in his but kept his gaze on Dane. “Yeah, that will work.” The brothers were having a stare off and I made a mental note to tackle that later. Now that I had chosen Dash it was going to be awkward between the three of us until the big elephant in the room was discussed.
Dane simply nodded and then went on his way to show Jason the den. I pulled Dash towards the stairs as we went up and into his old room.
As I laid in bed I couldn’t help but think about my cousin and knew I should try to reach out to Kristina in the morning and warn her about Karl and to tell her to keep an eye out. I wouldn’t put it past Karl to do something to her and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to her because of my ex boyfriend. Hopefully Jason will find him before he can do any more damage.
Dash climbed in next to me and pulled me into his arms, nuzzling his face in my hair before asking, “What are you worrying about?”
I pressed my face farther into his chest and inhaled his scent before replying, “Just about everything. Karl is a dangerous person and I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I hope Jason can find him soon.” I let out a sigh. “I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep tonight.”
Dash held me tighter to him, kissing the top of me head. “I promise nothing bad will happen to you as long as I’m here.”
“I know that,” I paused, leaning back to look up at him as a single tear slid down my temple. “I just don’t want to lose you if it means protecting me.” Then I couldn’t help it, my sobs broke through before burying my face back into his chest. The thought of something bad happening to Dash tore at my emotions as dark thoughts of him dying swarmed my mind and tormented my waking thoughts.
“Hey,” he said softly, rubbing his hands along my back, “I know you’re afraid, but we’re going to find the son of a bitch before he finds us.”
I could only nod because my sobs were still shaking through me and my voice was lost. I didn’t think I was going to be able to sleep but exhaustion immediately overtook my senses and as I began to breathe normal again, my eyelids felt like lead as I slowly closed my eyes and fell asleep in Dash’s arms.
When I woke in the morning I was alone. The room was quiet and no one was in the bathroom, so I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, slipped into some pajama pants, and went in search of my guy.
The sun was just cresting over the horizon, giving the house a beautiful orange hue of a promising day as I descended the steps and followed the voices to the kitchen. But I stopped dead in my tracks in the hallway leading to the kitchen at the sound of my name.
“Adrena isn’t this delicate flower that you think she is, Dane. We can’t treat her like a kidnapped child.” Dash sounded irritated and sighed out his frustration.
“I know she isn’t, Dash, but this Karl guy is seriously a problem. I don’t want her leaving this house. I don’t even want her to go outside just in case the creep is watching the place to scout us out. It’s too risky.” This came from Dane who sounded just as irritated.
Dash laughed. “If you think she’s going to allow you to keep her locked away inside until he’s found, then you’re crazy. We might as well just lock her in the barn where she would be completely hidden.”
I didn’t want them fighting over me and I didn’t want them fighting with each other at all over anything, so I took this moment of silence to step into the kitchen.
“Dash is right, Dane, you can’t keep me locked up. Karl is smart, but he isn’t that smart. If he’s out there watching us, we’d know by now. He isn’t a very patient person so he isn’t sitting in the woods watching us.” I turned to Dash then and winked. “If you want to lock me up in the barn for other reasons, I’d be okay with that, but you,” I turned back to Dane, “are not keeping me caged up like an animal.”
Dash laughed from behind me as I watched Dane shake his head as he looked between the two of us. “I’m sorry,” he finally replied, “I just,” he paused and cocked an eyebrow at me. “Did you seriously just make a sexual innuendo when you’re life is in danger?”
I couldn’t help the small laugh that escaped my lips at the sight of Dane’s expression. I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Maybe. I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”
Dash came up behind me then and wrapped his arms around my waist. “He’s just jealous that he can’t have you anymore.”
Dash was probably right but I didn’t like knowing that poor Dane stood here watching me and Dash love on each other when he was once in the mix with me and now he wasn’t. I needed to have a heart to heart with Dane before things got even more awkward. For now though, I needed to change the subject as I looked around for a subject change.
“Hey, where’s Jason?” I finally asked.
“He left early this morning. He wanted to scope out Savannah before setting up a plan. He isn’t completely familiar with the area and wanted to meet up with Joey. He said he’ll call if he finds anything promising.” Dane turned his back to me then as he began pulling things out for breakfast.
“So, we just sit here and wait then?” I asked.
Dash rubbed his hands up and down my arms and replied, “That’s all we can do right now, babe. We don’t know where Karl is right now so we need to play it cool and stay out here until Jason tells us.”
“Can I use one of your phones?” I really needed to call Kristina.
“Who do you need to call this early in the morning?” Dane asked as he pulled his phone out of his back pocket and tossed it on the island for me to take.
“My cousin Kristina. I need to know that she’s alright and to tell her to watch her back.”
Dash nodded. “That’s a good idea. Tell her she can stay here if she doesn’t feel safe in the city.”
I nodded as I started dialing Kristina’s number and stepped out of the kitchen for a bit of privacy as Dash and Dane’s voices drifted away.
The phone rang and rang and rang and finally her voicemail picked up. I knew that she probably wouldn’t answer this early in the morning. She was probably sleeping off a hangover or just went to sleep after being out all night at one of the clubs close to her apartment.
“Kris, it’s me, Adrena. I just wanted to let you know that I’m alright and that Karl is still on the loose. I’m safe with Dash and Dane and just wanted to check up on you. You’re welcome to come stay out here too if you want. I don’t like that you’re alone in the city while that monster is still out there. Please call me back when you get this. This is Dane’s number. Okay. Bye.” I hung up and just stood there thinking about all the things that could go wrong if Karl got his hands on someone I loved.
“Get a hold of her?” Dash asked as I whipped around to find him walking towards me with two cups of coffee, extending one out to me.
I sipped the hot liquid into my mouth and flinched from the burn before shaking my head. “Voicemail. She’s probably in a drunken coma from being out all night. I probably won’t hear from her until well after the noon hour.”
Dash lightly laughed. “Kind of wish I were in a coma right now too. How’d you sleep last night?”
I took a seat on the plush couch as Dash joined me, placing his hand on my thigh.
“Better than I thought, but still not great.” I sipped my coffee some more. “Do you think Jason is going to find Karl?”
Dash blew out a breath. “I can’t honestly answer that. I hardly know the guy but he has to be good at his job if he’s a homicide detective for Atlanta. You don’t just fall into that career.”
I nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” But I still couldn’t help the uneasiness that consumed me. I just wanted this to all be over with so I could move on with Dash and figure out where our futures went together.
When the doorbell rang my blood ran cold and I froze in my spot, staring over at Dash with huge eyes. He was staring back at me with just as much concern on his features as I felt.
He set his cup down on the coffee table and told me to stay there as he made his way towards the front door. I looked around to see where I could run to if things went south. Then my heart clenched at the thought of something happening to Dash so I called after him.
“Dash! Don’t open that door!” I called out, finding my voice, as I set my own cup down and jumped to my feet but not moving.
He looked over his shoulder at me and held his finger up to his lips. “Who is it?!” He called out to the person on the other side of the door. I froze again, my heart beating rapidly against my chest.
“Chris. I-I have a letter for you, sir. I know it’s early and unexpected but...” the kid sounded horrified, “but I was paid a hundred bucks to deliver this letter.”
Dash walked closer to the front door and I watched him do it, unable to say or do anything.
I watched him open the front door and although I couldn’t see very much from my spot in the living room, I was able to make out a young kid who looked to be in his late teens standing there looking terrified and holding a manila envelope.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so early, sir, but it wasn’t urgent that you received this today.” He held out the envelope for Dash as he slowly took it.
“Who gave this to you?” Dash asked, looking down at the envelope.
“A guy. I don’t know his name. He just gave me a hundred bucks, gave me this address, and said I needed to deliver it right away or I would be food for the worms.”
I felt the blood drain from my face as my hands began to shake. That was a saying Karl had always said to anyone he wanted something from. I knew then that Karl had sent that envelope, that Karl knew where I was.
“Thanks, kid,” Dash stated, watching him intently, “but I can’t let you leave just yet. Come on in.” He held the door open for him but the kid just shook his head.
“I was instructed to leave right away.” The kid looked over his shoulder. “He said he’d be watching.”
I gulped. Karl was watching. Karl was near. He knew where I was and it would only be a matter of minutes until he acted.
“Dash. Shut the door.” I finally spoke, pleading with him. “Shut the fucking door!!”
Dane was near me now, his hand on the small of my back as he watched Dash at the front door. Dash actually listened for once and shut the door, quick to lock it back up before joining us in the living room, the envelope still in his hands.
“What is it?” Dane asked, nodding towards the envelope.
“I don’t know.” Dash grabbed at it and started ripping it open. I was full of adrenaline as I watched him rip into the envelope. He pulled out what looked like a handkerchief with a bit of blood on it and then he unfolded it. I couldn’t see the contents but Dash sucked in a breath and cursed. “What the fuck is that?!” He dropped the contents onto the coffee table and I went towards it but Dane tried to hold me back.
“Stop,” I warned, pulling my arm from Dane’s grasp as I leaned over the coffee table and pulled back part of the fabric to reveal a chunk of skin with a familiar tattoo on it. I sobbed out and put my hand over my mouth as I stared down at the tattoo I had just inked onto Kristina’s arm the first day I got into town. “Oh my God!” I cried out, my hands shaking as I stared down at the filleted skin in front of me.It was then that I knew that Karl had Kristina and he was torturing her for answers and hated to think that she was probably dead now. Anger filled me more than any other emotion as I violently shook. I was going to kill Karl Deckert if it was the last thing I ever did.