Times Like These

Chapter 16

It took her longer than she would ever admit to calm her thoughts and make some sort of semblance of an attempt at focusing on what she needed to be doing.

She spent nearly twenty minutes on the phone with her mother, assuring her everything was under control. It wasn’t until Felicity told her that the FBI was now in charge of the case that her mom calmed down, suddenly placated with that information. She promised to call the next day and then took a long shower to try and settle her nerves.

Standing in the obscenely large closet Felicity eyed Oliver’s numerous dress shirts but turned with a sigh and picked up the clothes she’d selected earlier. The ones he’d thrown aside in his pique of anger. She couldn’t help the flush that filled her cheeks at the memories of what that short altercation had led to.

Dressed, with her hair in her familiar ponytail, and her glasses in place she felt more centered than she had in days. The monitors on Oliver’s desk were all dark, and even though she’d told him she’d only use her tablet she turned everything on and got to work.

As she opened Lance’s email and downloaded the file he’d sent she winced noticing he’d used his email account from his job. Once she had the pictures she didn’t hesitate to hack into the SCPD internal server and Lance’s personal account to scrub any trace of his involvement from the system. With a shake of her head she made a mental note to set him up with a dummy account to use that couldn’t be traced to protect both of them.

That small bit of procrastination over she took a deep breath and opened the file containing the pictures. One by one over thirty images appeared on her screen. Each one was tagged with an evidence number and other tracking procedures the Bureau used.

Some were barely more than an inch or two in total, the black charred edges not giving her any idea of what it could have been, others were almost full 3x5 pictures with hardly any damage.

Slowly and methodically she began to go through them one by one. Using image enhancing software she was able to blow each picture up and make sure nothing was missed. The ones that held no evidence whatsoever she deleted, the others she dragged aside for a further look.

As she worked she started separating the pictures into two piles, one of items associated with Jenny and the other of items associated with her. It was chilling, and nerve wracking every time she came across something that she recognized.

In the end she’d discovered her graduation picture from M.I.T that she was certain had been taken from the frame in her hallway, a take out menu to the Thai place she ordered from more often than she should, a picture from her high school yearbook, and a photo of her and Nate that had obviously been trimmed to cut out anyone else.

Heart beating faster she blew the last one up and zoomed in as a shiver ran through her. She was almost certain the picture had been taken at the very family gathering where Nate had begun his suspicious behavior. Their grandmother had demanded all the grandkids pose for the camera and it looked like Nate had made sure he was standing right behind Felicity. In fact, as she zoomed even closer and tapped a few keys the pixels cleared some and she could tell he wasn’t looking at the camera at all, he was looking at her.

With a gasp she frantically closed the picture and jumped to her feet, pacing the long length in front of the windows, the sunlight streaming in not doing enough to chase away the cold that she could feel in her bones.

She wiped a shaky hand over her face and took a deep breath before she forced herself to go back to the desk.

Half an hour later she’d gone through the pictures and other items that were connected to Jenny. There was half a ticket stub to a concert venue near their hometown, emails that had been printed, a take out menu to a local diner, and over a dozen pictures that looked like they’d been taken with a cell phone camera.

It felt strange and a bit sickening to be sifting through a dead woman’s life the way she was, but the longer she worked the more a nagging voice in the back of her head told her she was missing something.

Frustrated, and tired, and with the beginning of a headache creeping in she let her head fall into her hands as she stared at the screen, looking at the burnt remains for what felt like the thousandth time, hoping they would suddenly show her what she was missing.

There was a dull knock on the door and her heart jumped for a split second at the thought that Oliver had returned but then she realized he would have just come in. The door pushed open to reveal Digg carrying a tray, the sight of which made her smile.

He quirked his eyebrows at her look and purposely sat the tray on the coffee table and not on the desk, knowing she didn’t like food near her equipment.

“Come to rescue the princess from her tower?” she quipped,

He snorted a laugh as he approached, “That depends, am I the knight or the dragon?”

“Definitely the knight,” she replied with a smirk,

His eyes lit up, “So that would make Oliver…”

“Oh he’s the dragon, no doubt.” smiling at the image of a cartoon dragon Oliver in her head, “Can’t you just see the smoke coming out of his nose and the way his eyes would roll up in his…” she trailed off at Digg’s bemused look, clearing her throat as a new image of Oliver’s dragon tattoo came to mind as well as how she’d had her hands all over it earlier.

She spun her chair his direction and clasped her hands in front of her, “I’m guessing you didn’t actually come here to spring me from my prison.”

“I ran into the housekeeper bringing the tray up and thought you could use some company, Oliver’s still on the phone.”

Felicity nodded once, “Yeah, I figured.”

“So, have you found anything?” he asked, coming to stand next to the desk, hands in his pockets as he waited patiently for her to respond.

With a sigh she turned back and brought all the images up on the screen. Digg let out a long whistle as he took in the pictures. “Not much to go on.”

“Not really, makes me wonder what was destroyed.” she said, tapping a few more keys as the images arranged themselves into the two groups she’d broken them into from earlier. “I get why he has these things from his girlfriend, I mean, it’s creepy but I get it.” she pointed that grouping out to Digg and then moved over to the other one, “But I don’t know why he’s got stuff about me in there as well.”

Digg sucked in a long breath as he leaned forward for a better look, “He’s obsessed with you, does there need to be another reason?”

She shook her head and moved back to the images associated with Jenny, “I’m missing something…”

He dropped a comforting hand on her shoulder and squeezed once, “How about you eat and come back to it. The break might help.”

Felicity took off her glasses and rubbed her tired eyes, “I’ve been on a break for the past thirty-six hours,” she protested,

“And that data isn’t going anywhere, especially in the next twenty minutes while you get something to eat.”

Begrudgingly she followed him to the couches and ate obediently while he filled her in on what she’d missed the past day and a half.

The sandwich she’d only had half of was sat down when he suddenly got serious.

“You didn’t tell Oliver about the protective custody, did you?”

Her eyes locked on his as her stomach dropped, “How did…” she began and then stopped. “Monroe,” she finished for herself.

Digg nodded, “He said it took a lot of talking on his part for them to let you leave.”

“You can’t tell Oliver…I can’t even begin to imagine…”

Digg held up a hand to stop her, “I know, trust me. Monroe is pretty perceptive. He told me he didn’t think Mr. Queen would have approved of such an arrangement.”

Felicity let out a soft sound of agreement, “That’s putting it mildly.”

“I don’t see any reason he needs to know. Not right now.” there was an unspoken understanding between them as to how much this was affecting Oliver.

She let herself sink back into the cushions with a sigh, “I just wish I could figure out Nate’s next move. It doesn’t make sense that he’s been quiet for this long. And the things in the backpack…why did he want me to see them? There wasn’t a bomb in that one. Those items were chosen purposefully, but why?”

Felicity shut her eyes, pressing her fingers to her temples as she mentally brought up the images again in her mind. Long forgotten memories were nagging at her, begging her to remember something important.

With a gasp she sat up, catching Digg’s attention as her mother’s voice floated in her head.

'They didn’t even make it to the diner.’

It was from the phone call she’d received at school to tell her about the accident.

“What did that enormous brain of yours just figure out?” Digg asked as she made her way back to the computers.

“Not sure…just something I’d forgotten but…it could mean something.” she said distractedly as she pulled up everything associated with Jenny.

The diner menu and the ticket stub stood out and she focused on those first. It took a quick web search to discover the diner had closed a few years back. The concert gave her more trouble, but finally she’d figured out it had been only the day before the accident.

With a growing pit of ice in her gut she looked at the photos again. At first glance they hadn’t seen anything more than candid shots, but now as she looked with new eyes she saw the pattern. Jenny’s hairstyle was the same. In every picture she was wearing winter clothes, and in several she had on the same outfit. The photos had all been taken in the span of only a few days. The days leading up to her death.

Before she announced her theory to Digg she checked the bits of email they’d found. Most were missing anything that held a date, but the few that did, coupled with the scant lines of text supported her idea.

Slowly she turned and raised her eyes to meet Digg’s. “Everything in the bag that had to do with Jenny…it wasn’t just memories of their relationship…these were things that only surrounded the few days before she died.”

Digg’s eyebrows raised and he looked from her to the screen asking her to explain.

“The concert was the day before she died. These emails were all sent a day or two before. They talk about the concert, and this one here has the partial date which matches with the time frame.” she said, pointing out the evidence. “Also, Nate and Jenny were together for years, they met in high school but these pictures don’t span their entire relationship. Look at her hair and her clothes…”

“It’s the same,” Digg stated,

“Right. I’d guess these were on either his phone or hers and had all been taken just before she died. And then the diner menu…that’s where they were going when he wrecked. They never made it.”

Digg sighed heavily and crossed his arms over his chest, “I can almost understand that. But then why pick random items out of your place to put in there as well?”

She pulled the two groups up and arranged them side by side. While there were definitely more photos of Jenny, a dawning sort of horror fell over her as she saw the connection. Digg must have seen it as well. His quiet 'Oh’, of surprise was the only sound as they both stared at the screen.

Nate had done his best to copy what he had from Jenny with things from Felicity’s apartment. Pictures, the menu, the card…they were the closest way he could parallel the two women and draw a connection between them.

She’d known he was trying to replace Jenny with her in his mind. The hair dye, the calling her by the wrong name…that wasn’t a new revelation. But seeing those items in front of her, as such a stark representation of how fractured his psyche was scared her in a way she hadn’t been scared before.

Digg stepped closer to her and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, “You okay?”

Felicity took a shuddering breath and closed the screen before she answered, “Yeah, I…”

“Want me to go g…”

“No!” she cut him off quickly, knowing he was offering to get Oliver for her, “He’s busy. I’ll be fine. It’s not really anything we didn’t already know just…”

“Just that much more crazy,” Digg finished and she nodded, unable to speak just then over the lump in her throat.

“You looked into the doctor that let him out? Something isn’t adding up there.”

“No, not yet. But it’s definitely on my list. Nate must have found something out about him. I’ll look into his life, see what I can find. I only did a basic search earlier to see if there was a personal connection to Nate or his parents but there must be something else.”

“Need me to hang around?” he offered and she smiled at the gesture,

“No, I’ll be okay. If I find anything I’ll let you know.”

“Don’t work too hard.” he ordered and she waved him off with half an eyeroll,

As soon as Digg was gone she sent Lance a text, informing him of what she’d figured out and to tell him not to send her information through the city’s servers again. He replied with a thanks and an acknowledgement of her warning.

That done she pulled up the initial search she’d done on Dr. Brian Howard, psychologist. She had his social security number, education history, addresses for the past two decades, and a copy of his driver’s license but nothing that actually told her who he was.

Two hours later she found herself padding down the main staircase of the Queen mansion with Monroe following in her wake. Barefoot, tablet clutched to her middle as she tried to will her stomach to settle over the horrific things she’d discovered, she worried her lip as she made her way down the steps. She knew exactly what Nate had used against the doctor and why he was all too willing to help him get discharged.

She hadn’t been able to handle compiling a file with the images she’d pulled from Howard’s personal computer. But she had sent Lance a text suggesting it would be in the Bureau’s best interest to get a warrant for his house.

The mansion was mostly quiet as she made her way through the foyer. She’d passed by the large, formal study on the main level of the house only once before, but she remembered where it was and assumed that’s where she would find Oliver.

Already beginning to speak as she pushed her way in she didn’t expect to see his mother perched on the edge of a leather couch while Oliver stood stiffly behind the desk.

“Oliver, I did some digging into the psy….” two heads swiveled her way, Oliver’s giving a sharp shake Moira couldn’t see and Felicity swallowed the rest of her words. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” she said nervously, shoving her glasses up her nose and looking at her tablet quickly to make sure any screens to do with Dr. Howard had been closed.

“Felicity! Oliver said you’ve been resting. How are you feeling?” Moira asked immediately,

“Oh, fine, better. Much better actually.” she replied, eyes flitting quickly to Oliver, it only taking a glance to see he looked even more stressed and worn than he had seemed earlier.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Moira said with a smile, “Now, was there something you needed Oliver for?”

“No,” Felicity said quickly, “I mean yes, or I wouldn’t have come in here looking for him obviously, but it’s nothing that can’t wait.” she knew Oliver would know she’d come to see him about something to do with Nate and that they didn’t need his mother asking questions as to how Felicity knew how to hack servers on the other side of the country.

“Then in that case please, join us. I have a feeling you should be here for this anyways.” Moira gestured to the wing chair across from her and Felicity felt like she had no choice but to sit.

A flush of shame came over her as she realized her break the past day and a half hadn’t just been from searching for Nate, but also from her actual job as Oliver’s EA, and at a time when he needed her the most.

“I’m sorry, of course. I’m sure there’s paperwork and phone calls, and meetings and…I’m sorry I should have been here.” she stammered, unable to look at either of them.

She didn’t hear him move, but suddenly his warm fingers were wrapped around her wrist and she was being guided to the chair. “Felicity, it’s okay.” he said sincerely as she sat, his hand slipping down a few inches to squeeze hers before he pulled away and made his way back to the desk.

Moira looked like she was going to apologize or comment on Felicity’s reaction but instead she folded her hands over her knees and got back to business, something that Felicity was grateful for.

“The Board of Trustees called earlier and asked that Oliver attend an event this weekend, tomorrow actually. It’s being held out in the foothills about an hour from the city, a winery one of our investors owns.” Moira explained, ignoring the ticking muscle in her son’s jaw.

Felicity nodded, “I remember, in fact I sent back the R.S.V.P a few weeks ago that said he wouldn’t be attending.” Oliver hated those events, especially ones that took him out of Starling.

Moira tilted her head towards Oliver, “I understand, but they’re hardly going to say he can’t come.”

“Mom, I explained to you I can do more good for the company by staying here. The police have already said the building is ready to be opened back up tomorrow, it will look better if I’m there when the doors are unlocked.” he protested.

Moira’s hands were up in a placating fashion, “Darling, I know, but you can’t be in two places at once and you arriving at the office to greet the employees can wait until the start of the work week.”

Felicity turned on her tablet and tapped a few screens before she held it so Oliver could see. “I’m sure you’ve seen this but…this is the three day trend for QC stocks.” she winced as she looked at the graph and the steadily declining line. “We’re starting to plateau, which I guess is better than the current nosedive but…anything that helps the investors feel more secure seems like a good thing to me.”

Moira smiled at her proudly while the furrow between Oliver’s eyes only deepened. He shot her a look of betrayal and she gave him a small shrug. She knew the real reason why he didn’t want to leave the city, but she wasn’t going to let him sink his company over something she had brought to their doorstep.

“Felicity,” he began tightly, that one word, as always, conveying more than her name. “I’m not sure that being gone right now is the safest idea.”

She swallowed heavily and closed the NYSE app before she looked up at him, “There hasn’t been any movement, and we’d only be gone for the day…if anything it’s safe because we have no connection to that place and he doesn’t know we’re going to be there.”

She felt anxious talking about this in front of Moira, but Oliver didn’t seem to care. He circled the broad, heavy piece of furniture and came to stand in front of her, moving to cross his arms as he stared down at her but she raised one eyebrow and silently asked if he planned on having another altercation like the one they’d had that morning.

With a grunt his arms fell to his sides and he leaned back to rest against the front of the desk, letting out a long breath as he did.

A quick look sideways let her know that Moira had found their exchange amusing if the glint in her eye and small upturn of her lip was any indication.

“You can’t keep me trapped here forever.” she said with a smile, hoping to lighten the mood somewhat, but the dark stormy expression didn’t leave his face.

“If we had some idea of where he was…” Oliver started and then cut himself off,

“It’ll be okay. We’ll leave before noon. You can hobnob with the investors, do a little wine tasting, make everyone see you’re fine and QC is in good hands and we’ll be back before dark.”

Moira clapped her hands and stood, “Perfect! I’ll call the Board and let them know. Thank you, dear.” she directed at Felicity, and before Oliver could say a word she had swept out the door.

He turned wide eyes Felicity’s direction, “Did you…just gang up on me with my mother?” his slightly gobsmacked look had her pressing her lips together to keep from smiling.

“That wasn’t my intention but…it seemed to be effective.” she admitted,

His head hung low and she bit her lip in worry, not knowing if he was upset about the change in plans or just stressed and worried about everything.

Slowly she rose to her feet, leaving the tablet in the chair as she crossed the few steps to stand in front of him. She slid forward until she was in between his spread legs, blue painted toenails digging into the plush persian carpet underneath her. Her hands found his waist and then his face as she cupped his jaw and directed his gaze up until their eyes met. “Talk to me,” she said quietly, but he remained silent.

“Oliver, you need to do this. The company has taken a hit. We’ve barely recovered since the Glades, and it was only in the projections for the last quarter that we were seeing a profit. If that doesn’t come through investors are going to be leaving in droves and we can’t afford that. I know you don’t want to go to this thing under regular circumstances, which is why I declined the invite without even asking you about it, but things have changed and you’ve got to work damage control.”

He sighed and raised his head further as his hands came to rest lightly at her waist. “I know all of that, I just…the last time…” her heart dropped as she knew what he was trying to say.

“The last time we went out he bombed the plaza,” she finished for him as he nodded.

“I need you safe, but I need this over with, and I can’t abandon the company…” his eyes fell shut, the small lines at his temples more pronounced than she’d ever seen them.

She pressed up on her toes and let her arms wrap around his neck. “I know,” she whispered into his neck as he pulled her in tight to his chest.

“We’ll take Digg, and Monroe and everyone else he’s hired. I’m leaving nothing to chance.” he said gruffly and she hummed her agreement.

For a long moment they were quiet and she let herself sink into his embrace, feeling the warmth of him seep into her as he held her close.

“You found something?” he finally asked and she jerked back with a gasp, as an icy coolness filled her.

“Uh, yeah, I did.” she said with a shudder, stepping away to grab her tablet.

“I went through all the images Lance sent of the items in the backpack and figured out the connection there. I’ll show you next time you’re upstairs.” she said as she found the files she wanted and pulled them up.

“After that I started looking into the psychologist who advocated for Nate’s release. Dr. Brian Howard seems like a pretty normal guy until you start digging.” her lip curled as she remembered what she’d found on his personal network.

“What did you find?” Oliver asked, coming to stand at her side,

“It’s not pretty. It’s no wonder Nate was able to blackmail him. Howard probably would have done anything to keep this under wraps.”

Without waiting any longer she opened the last file and showed it to him, “He has a thing for young girls, and the younger the better.” she said in disgust as she flipped through picture after picture of little girls in various amounts of clothing.

Oliver’s eyes narrowed and she saw his hands clench as he went rigid next to her, “Child porn?” he bit out, and she could only dip her head as she made the images disappear as quick as she could.

“I found it on all his devices. He’d tried to wipe the history about six months ago on his phone and his tablet but…it was still there. And his home computer…” a shiver of revulsion went through her, “You don’t want to know what I found.”

“So somehow Nate found out about it and then…”

“He had to have been planning this for longer than he was blackmailing the doctor. I don’t know. Maybe he was willing to wait until the opportunity presented itself, regardless of how long it might take.” it frightened her to think he was able to be so patient. “And Howard’s gone now. Cleaned out his bank account, dumped his car in long term parking at the airport, and hasn’t used his passport or credit cards. He could be anywhere.”

Oliver scrubbed a hand over his face before he spoke, “We need to find this bastard. Both of them.”

“We will,” she assured him, turning so she could run a hand down his arm. His hand snaked around her waist and drew her to his side.

“Call Digg, tell him to do whatever it is he needs to do. I’ve already passed all this on to Lance and the F.B.I. Now I need to put on my EA hat and put together profiles on the investors you need to meet with tomorrow. We’ll have time to cram in the car on the way there.”

Oliver shot her a look but she just gave him an unsympathetic shrug, “Sorry, even hero CEOs have homework.”

The grumble he emitted let her know he wasn’t thrilled with the plan but she didn’t hear him suggesting a better one. She turned in his arms so she was facing him, head tilted back so she could meet his eyes. “It’s going to be okay,”

“Promise me,” he said suddenly and with such force it almost took her breath away,

“Oliver…”

“Felicity,” he countered in the same tone and she wanted nothing more than to be able to ease his burdens. She brushed her fingers over his temples and into his hair, able to feel the fine tremor of emotion that rolled through him.

She answered him by pushing up on her toes and pressing her lips to his.

The kiss was slow and unhurried, but more intense than any kiss they’d shared before. She could feel it in her toes as his lips moved over hers, like he thought it might be his last chance to kiss her.

When they finally separated tears pricked her eyes and she slid down his chest until she could lay her head over his heart. She rose and fell as he let out a great exhale, his arms banding about her until she almost couldn’t breathe from how tight he held her.

Reluctantly she pushed back, and then made herself exit his embrace. “I know you’ve got work to do, and so do I.” she said almost hoarsely, and the look he gave her made her stomach flip, “I’ll see you later.”

Before she could either break down in tears, or run back and jump him until they did inappropriate things on his father’s desk she forced herself to turn and walk out.

Monroe was still stationed outside the door and he fell into step behind her as she headed for the stairs. Once they were far enough away that even Oliver’s preternatural hearing couldn’t pick them out she turned to the agent. “Thank you for not telling Oliver about what the Bureau wanted to do.”

He nodded stiffly, “It did not seem like it was in Mr. Queen’s best interest at the time, and Mr. Diggle agreed.”

“As do I. We didn’t need to add Oliver breaking me out of a federal safehouse to our list of things to deal with this week.” she said under her breath and then winced, “Not that he could have. But he probably would have done something that would have brought more bad attention to the company and we’ve got enough of that already.”

Monroe was silent and she gave him a tight, uneasy smile before she continued down the hallway to Oliver’s room.

The quiet of the space was welcoming, and she quickly made the decision to grab her laptop and climb in the bed with it and the tablet instead of sitting back at the desk.

It was actually a sort of comfort to be able to let her mind focus on something relatively normal. After spending the afternoon hacking into a computer filled with things she never wanted to see again, losing herself in putting together profiles on the rich men they’d be rubbing elbows with the next day was a task she appreciated.

She focused on the venue first. The private winery was east of Starling City, in a secluded, exclusive area. Soon enough she had satellite images of the property, blueprints of the main building and the outbuildings, and a fairly comprehensive list of pictures that had been taken inside that would give them a better idea about the layout of the place they’d be going to.

After she’d sent that batch of information on to Digg she settled back against the pillows and began working her way through the guest list.

Three hours later she’d fallen asleep as the sun had set and the room had darkened. But she knew everything about everyone who would be there. If Oliver needed to know the name of their wife, the depth of their stock portfolio, which candidate they’d supported during the last election, or what soccer team their kid played on she knew.

She woke up to the laptop being taken away from her and she protested weakly, her eyes still too heavy and tired to bother opening. A familiar squeeze of her hand let her know it was Oliver, and she gave him a sleepy smile.

When she felt her glasses being slipped off her face and a hand raising her neck far enough to work out the band holding her hair back she tried to sit up.

“Shhhh, stay asleep, you’re fine.” he assured her, lips coasting over her forehead before she felt him step away. She expected to feel the covers being drawn up and let herself sink into the sheets, the pull of sleep too strong, until she was being shifted again and her shirt was worked over her head.

A tiny voice in the back of her head was screaming at her to wake up because Oliver was undressing her, but her tired body and need for more rest was stronger. Even when she felt him undo the clasp on her bra and pull it away she still couldn’t get her eyes to open more than a crack. Then her arms were slid into sleeves and she felt the backs of his knuckles brush against her as he did the buttons up the front of one of his dress shirts. Another smile cracked her face at the undeniable conformation that he really did like her wearing his shirts.

Her pants were quickly removed before he tugged the heavy duvet up and laid it over her. She sighed contently and held a hand out his direction, making a noise of protest when she felt him walking away.

“I’ll be back soon.” he promised, and pressed a kiss to her lips,

It could have been ten minutes or an hour before she felt the bed dip behind her just before long arms reached out to draw her to him. She let out a hum and turned so her head could lay on his chest, one leg thrown over his as she curled into him. He kissed her on the forehead once again, and she fell asleep feeling better than she had in days.

Warm sunlight, a soft hand in her hair, and the steady thud of Oliver’s heart under her cheek brought her from sleep. She shifted against him and squinted into the bright light at first seeing nothing but the far reaching expanse of his chest.

Her fingers curled into his abdomen, tracing over the ridges and valleys of muscle as she blinked several times before tilting her head up to see him waiting expectantly.

The tablet was held in his other hand, all but forgotten as it half rested on the bed, but she could see the profiles for the meeting they were going to that day.

“Doing your homework?” she asked, voice a bit gravelly with sleep,

He smiled and leaned over pressing kisses to her hairline and then the bridge of her nose, before landing at the corner of her mouth. “I’m a very good student.” he quipped, making her bark out a loud laugh that had him pulling back in mock affront while she scooted up to chase him.

“I don’t think anyone has ever accused you of being that. But I guess there’s a first time for everything.” she said as she draped herself over his chest, arms worming their way around his neck.

“Speaking of first times…” he began, the low tone he spoke with sending an instant heat through her as she knew exactly what he alluded to. One hand slid up her thigh while the other stroked down her back, the tablet now lost in the sheets.

Her head fell forward with a groan, “I’m so sorry. I actually fell asleep on you last night, didn’t I?”

“You needed the rest,”

With a shake of her head she sat up quickly and maneuvered so she was straddling his middle, “Nope, no excuses.”

His eyes darkened as he looked up at her, hands settled easily at her waist. “I promise, tonight…no interruptions. No knocks on the door, no phone calls. Just you, and me, and maybe a bottle of wine we pick up today if it’s any good. If not, I’m fairly certain you’ve got a cellar we can raid.” her breath was a little short and she couldn’t help the way her hips rocked into him some as she sat there.

His fingers tightened where they held her and she could see the thoughts that crossed his mind, thoughts that most likely involved forgetting about the meeting altogether and staying in bed all day.

In an instant he’d flipped them and she let out a startled squeal that turned into a laugh. He gave her a broad smile, one that she rarely saw, and cupped her cheek. “I am going to hold you to that.”

Felicity bit her lower lip as she stared up at him, “Can’t wait,” she said in a high, breathy tone.

“Tonight,” he repeated and she swallowed once before she replied,

“Tonight,”

He dropped a hot kiss to her lips and then he was lifting off of her as she let out a disappointed groan and rolled to see the time. It was later than she’d hoped and she’d have to hurry to get ready before they had to leave.

An hour later she was rushing to finish. Slipping on her heels she grabbed her bag and slid the laptop in before pulling back the covers on the bed to find her tablet. “We’re going to have to have a long discussion about proper care of my equipment.” she muttered as she checked the charge on it before tucking it in next to the laptop.

Oliver came up behind her, wearing the grey suit that made his eyes pop as he slid his arms around her waist. “You sure you want to go?” he asked, suddenly very serious.

Her hands dropped over his as she gave them a comforting squeeze, “Yes, my leg hardly hurts and my ribs are good with some over the counter stuff which I already took.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she could feel the tension in him rise as she turned to face him,

The smiles and easy expressions from earlier were gone, once again replaced with stress lines, and furrowed brow. Her hand raised to trace over the ones near his temple but they didn’t ease, “Hey, Digg’s got it covered. The other car has already left with three agents to set up security on site. We know the layout of the place like we would if this was a mission. I’ve got you, Digg, and Monroe with me in the car. And most importantly he has no idea we’re going to be there.”

He sighed heavily and tugged her in even closer. His back felt like iron under her hands and she knew that wasn’t going to abate until the day was over and they had returned.

A sharp rap on the door had them stepping apart and she looked around Oliver’s arm to see Digg waiting.

“We’re ready when you are.”

She hitched her bag over her shoulder and felt Oliver’s hand settle against her lower back as they walked towards Digg.

Monroe was standing by the car when they stepped out under the portico. “Good morning, sir, ma'am.” he said, opening the back door for them,

“Good morning, Monroe,” she greeted warmly and entered first, sliding across the cool leather easily.

Soon enough they were heading into mid-day traffic as she pulled out her tablet and began to quiz Oliver on the people he’d have to spend the next several hours with.

The last minute prep gave him something to focus on, and as much as she knew he hated this aspect of his job he’d been around long enough to know how important it was.

It took them longer than expected to get out of the city, but once they were, the roads were open and mostly empty. They’d been in the car an hour when Digg pulled off onto a dirt and gravel road that wound up into the hills where she knew the winery was located.

“It’s nice out here.” she said absently, staring out the window at the scenery.

“Tuscany is nicer,” Oliver said as he flipped through the tablet for the hundredth time, barely looking up.

“Maybe you’ll have to take me there sometime,” she returned, fully meaning for it to be a joke,

“Maybe I will,” he replied, and she turned to look at him incredulously.

The moment was short lived as they rounded a corner and were suddenly thrown forward and to the left as Digg let out a strangled curse.

Oliver’s arm came out to press her into the seat, as a stab of fear shot through her.

“Hold on!” Digg yelled before there was huge roar of noise from outside the car, followed by the surreal sight of the front end of the vehicle rising up in front of them before they began tumbling down the hillside.

She screamed as they began to flip, the seat belt cutting into her sharply. Oliver called her name and tried to reach for her but the violent rolling kept him on the other side of the seat from her. She let out a cry of pain as her head slammed sharply into the window, the front airbags already deploying. Everything was spinning so quickly she couldn’t make out what was up and what was down and then her head hit the window again and her vision dimmed to almost nothing.

She could have been unconscious for seconds or minutes or even longer. Through half slit eyes she could tell they were almost upside down, her arms thrown over her head, hair obscuring her vision, as the seat belt held her in place. There were no other sounds and no movement from the men around her. A whine of panic filled her throbbing head as she tried to turn and look towards Oliver, but when she did a burst of pain flared across her skull and she saw nothing but black.

Faint noises drew her from the dark but she couldn’t get her eyes to open. She heard what sounded like a struggle. Harsh words, and grunts of pain. Two voices that were familiar, but only one that filled her with dread.

There was a loud, sharp retort that made her ears ring and her head pound even harder, and then deadly silence. With great effort she forced herself to open her eyes. What she saw made her blood run cold.

Nate was leaning in the shattered passenger window with blood splattered across his face. When he saw her looking at him he gave her a damaged, brittle smile.

“Hello, Jenny, it’s time for you to come home.”


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