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Detective Ridley faced me with a hard expression. His jaw was clenched tight and his dark eyes were narrowed dangerously. He had been on my case for a substantial amount of time now. He was beyond p*ssed he hadn’t caught the scarred man yet.
Beside me, Georgia shifted in her seat.
“When you say he, you mean…?”
I nodded my head in despair. There wasn’t anyone else I could be talking about.
Detective Ridley sighed through his nose and pinched the bridge of his nose. He definitely looked tired. He was always overworking.
“Okay, explain what happened,” He ordered, locking eyes with me.
I told him the full story, making sure he knew I was one hundred percent certain it was the scarred man.
“Why didn’t you come to me with this yesterday, Celeste?” He asked me once I finished, perplexed and annoyed. He thought I was trying to endanger my life.
I’m sure I reflected a goldfish. My mouth kept opening and closing, pathetically. I didn’t like being reprimanded by him.
“I—,” I stammered. “I didn’t want you to put me in witness protection.”
He arched an unimpressed eyebrow. Detective Ridley wouldn’t understand my reasons. He would think I was putting myself in unnecessary danger.
“Celeste, we talked about this last time,” He sighed, disappointed. “This man is extremely dangerous.”
I released a long breath and pinched my lips together. “I know. I just…I don’t want to leave this place. It’s my home.”
Georgia shot me a bewildered look. She felt the complete opposite. Stowe was hell to her. She hated this town with a passion. Georgia’s dream was to get out of this small town and live in a big city. Probably New York. She always felt she was meant for more, for someplace bigger. This town was only holding her back.
“Look, I understand that. You are young and you have friends here, but this is about your safety. Your life.”
I swallowed. He was making a valid point. Was thinking like this worth it? I barely knew Lazarus—this was probably just a crush. I was talking about risking my life just so that I could be close to him. God, my mom would kill me if she found out about this.
“Okay, since he didn’t engage with you and there have been no new sightings or attacks, we could compromise. I give you round the clock protection and in return, you can stay in this town. But if he makes an appearance, I am moving you. Do you understand?”
I felt relieved that he was willing to accommodate me. I didn’t want to leave Stowe—and leave Lazarus.
“Thank you, Detective Ridley.”
He sent me a weak smile, still not completely on board with this. If my mother was here instead of Georgia, she would be forcing me to leave.
“I’m going to assign an officer to you. He will follow you around at school. At night, I’m going to get you a police patrol.” He informed me.
“Okay,” I relented. “Can I go now?”
“Yes, but not without your protection. I’m going to assign Marco to you—he’s one of the best officers here.” He told me, rising to his feet dramatically. “Follow me.”
He led us through a corridor, to the police officer’s area where they write their reports and lounge around. The room was quite small yet extremely messy. Most of the police officers were in here, working.
“Officer Martinez!” He yelled to a brown-haired man. The man snapped his head up in our direction and smiled politely. Detective Ridley beckoned him over to us. “Come here.”
Marco Martinez came over to us. “What can I do for you, sir?”
Detective Ridley pointed at me, “I’m appointing you as Celeste’s bodyguard. I’ll fill you in.”
Officer Martinez nodded his head, keeping his facial expression neutral. I wondered how much he knew about me. Most of the police department knew about what I had gone through. I didn’t recognize Officer Martinez so he must be new. Maybe he did know about my case—maybe somebody told him when he first arrived.
“If you two girls wait here, I’m going to catch Officer Martinez up.” Detective Ridley was already leading Officer Martinez away. Georgia and I sat on the couch to the left and pulled out our phones.
She was scrolling through Instagram whilst I was reading messages my mom sent me.
I had to stop reading the apologies in the end. It felt too much.
When they both returned, they had serious expressions on their faces. Officer Martinez caught my eye. There was determination behind them—determination to protect me.
“Okay, Officer Martinez is going to be your protection in the day. He is aware of everything and he has had the training. You are in safe hands.” Detective Ridley said, glancing at me briefly before giving Officer Martinez a meaningful look. “Any problems, you know what to do.”
He replied with a stiff nod and then escorted me out of the station. Georgia trailed behind us; staring at my new bodyguard with suspicion. She didn’t know if he would be able to protect me. He looked very young.
“Okay ladies, what is your mode of transport?” He asked us in a friendly manner.
Georgia pulled out her keys and unlocked her fancy car. Officer Martinez raised his eyebrows in surprise, not expecting her to own an expensive car.
“This is your car?” He questioned Georgia.
We all hopped in. I guessed my bodyguard had to follow me around. Thankfully, Georgia didn’t question it. She understood what needed to happen.
“Do you want to come around mine for a bit or do you want to go home?” I knew she was offering me an out. I could hang around Georgia’s for a bit until mom fell asleep. That meant I could avoid her. However, I was only delaying the inevitable.
So, as much as I didn’t want to, I told her I wanted to go home.
She shot me a wary look but didn’t argue with me. The rest of the drive was spent in silence. Well, there was some music, but it was quiet, and it did very little to help ease my mind. I was running through scenarios in my head of how my conversation would go. How I would tell her about Detective Ridley’s new plan.
Georgia rolled up to my house and killed the engine. She turned to me, blanking the police officer, and loosened a breath. “Are you sure you want to go in there now? I can take you away from there?”
I really wanted to say yes. Instead, I shook my head.
I exited the car and said goodbye to Georgia, thanking her for today. She really helped me today and I was beyond grateful.
Officer Martinez slid out of the car and placed his hands behind his back, formally.
“Would you like me to sit outside or come inside?”
I frowned, “You don’t have to come inside?”
“No, I can keep watch here.”
“But…where will you do that? There isn’t anywhere for you to sit.”
He smiled softly at my concern. “I’m going to ask one of my friends to bring a car around.”
“Oh,” I blinked. “Well…if you change your mind, you are welcome to come inside.”
He bobbed his head up and down in acknowledgment.
I walked towards my house, with a heavy heart. I was not ready to talk to my mom, but I knew I had to sooner or later.
Noises from the back of the house told me she was in the kitchen, cooking. The noises came to a halt when I shut the front door.
She knew I was home.
“Celeste?” Her voice called. It wasn’t strong and was filled with intense emotions. “Is that you, sweetheart?”
Rushed footsteps were heard along the creaky wooden floor. She came bounding towards me in a hurry. I caught a glimpse of her expression; my heart stuttered at the sight of the desperation. I felt guilty for causing her pain.
“Mom…” I drawled, placing my bag on the ground.
“Baby, I’m so sorry.” She apologized, sniffling. “I didn’t want to lie to you at first, but I could never find the confidence to tell you the truth. I thought you would hate me if I dated another man.”
I didn’t know what to say to her, so I kept my face expressionless. Her features crumbled at my coldness. Whether I wanted to say it out loud or not, she hurt me. A lot.
“Honey, please say something. Yell at me, push me. Just do something,” She pleaded, brokenly. We rarely argued so when we did, it was brutal for both of us.
“I…I’m tired,” I eventually said, averting my eyes to the ground. “I’m going to catch some sleep.”
Her chin wobbled in dismay.
Franchesca O’Connor was not an overly affectionate person. She did not wear her heart on her sleeve. Yet, she must have felt like she was losing me. This changed our relationship. I always thought it would be two of us against the world but now there was someone else. Somebody who was here to replace my dad.
That left a bitter taste in my mouth. Nobody could replace my dad.
“Oh, and Detective Ridley will probably call you soon. There’s been a development.” I added, nearly forgetting.
Her eyes shot to mine in horror.
“W—what?” She stuttered, placing her hand on the wall for support.
“I saw him. So, I went to Detective Ridley. He’s assigned an officer to me who is going to be my bodyguard.” I spoke in a strong voice.
She gasped and stared at me with wide, petrified eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” She demanded. And then she must have realized my reason because she let out a choked sob. “Oh god.”
She peered up at me through her long, wet lashes. My stomach churned at the sight of her puffy red eyes. To her surprise, I hugged her.
She clung onto me like a koala bear. I was her lifeline. Or at least, I was before that man came into her life.
I couldn’t say how long we hugged for. It felt like a while. She was afraid once I pulled away, I would vanish.
“I love you so much, baby. I will protect you no matter what,” She whispered, determination coated in her words.
I pulled away from her and stared deeply into her eyes. She was being sincere.
“I’m going to get some sleep now,” I told her, firmer this time.
She wiped her nose and nodded, “Of course.”
I rushed up the stairs and fell on my bed straight away. Exhaustion hit me. I could sleep better knowing I had somebody to protect me outside.
When I closed my eyes, I saw Lazarus’s green eyes again. I found bliss straight away.
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