J O H N
Her golden-brown eyes shocked him. The liquid that welled in them but never fell impressed him. The sight of her relieved face soothed him.
She was the girl who had shot him. And yet, seeing her under attack, her cries burning in his ears like wildfire, a rage overtook him that nothing could stop.
Perhaps it was because it was his job. He hadn’t been tasked to protect her, but that was implied. He was to bring her back safely and alive. If he let what was going to happen happen, she would be dead inside.
But he feared that wasn’t the reason for his actions. He feared that it wasn’t because just it was his job but because he cared. She was different to anyone he had met. She could surprise him again and again, and just when he thought he had her figured out, she’d turn another sharp corner. And he loved the thrill of it. And that passion would be dead if he let her get hurt. He couldn’t.
Maybe it was even more than that. Maybe it was because she reminded him of his sister. Or maybe it was deeper. Something inside him that stirred when he thought of her. Something inside him forced him to help her, compelled him to come to her rescue.
Whatever it was, here she was now, in front of him, terrified, helpless and in need of a savior. And he was that savior.
Their eyes were locked, unable to move away from each other. His hands held her waist lightly in case the fright might cause her to faint. But she was a strong girl; he knew that. If he weren’t there to save her, he knew she would have been fine. She would have found a way to get out of it. She always did.
“You’re getting in my car,” he ordered in a low tone right up close to her face.
Without a second thought, he picked the petite girl up and slung her over his shoulder as if she were a simple jacket. And to his surprise, she didn’t fight it.
Perhaps too stunned from the attack to fight. Maybe too tired, or too malnourished. Still, she was surprising him. And surprising was exciting.
He strapped her frozen body into the passenger seat, slammed the door shut, raced around to his side and took off down the main street. They had left unconscious bodies in their wake, but something in him wanted to go further than that. Something in him wanted to make them pay more than giving them pain. They should have suffered a lot more for what they tried to do.
The young girl beside him didn’t speak. He could barely hear her small breaths over the sound of the engine, even when he tried to listen out. He needed to make sure she was okay, mentally. Maybe it was because of his job. Or maybe it was because of that something more. Either way, he didn’t want her to be broken. He didn’t want her to tear herself up over what happened.
He knew the girl had led a sheltered life. No amount of preparation could train her for the patriarchal survival-of-the-fittest world she had come into. Girls got attacked all the time by stronger assholes and that was the world, as unfair as it was. But Alessandro had protected her, no one would cross him, thus no one would cross his daughter.
Out here, she wasn’t Alessandro’s daughter. She wasn’t Marcella De Luca. She was just a girl. A young vulnerable homeless girl. An easy target. She was lucky John had found her when he did.
“You okay?” he asked bluntly. He had no clue how to be sensitive, especially in a situation like this. He just needed to know the answer.
“Why wouldn’t I be? You’re about to take me back to prison. I couldn’t be happier.”
The sarcasm in her response relieved John. She still had her sass and she still had that fire in her. But it was over. She was in his car and they were heading back to New York.
He commended her in how far she got. They were states away, which was quite extraordinary. He had received a phone call from one of Alessandro’s guys telling him to hurry up. Right around the time he had gotten shot by Marcella.
“Let’s not forget about the pain you caused me, princess. You fucking shot me,” he said, glancing over at her. The smirk on her face grew as she studied his irked expression. He enjoyed cheering her up though. Somewhat of a smile on her face was better than the blank one she displayed before.
“You’re not dead so I don’t see the problem.” John released a low chuckle to this, rolling his eyes. The girl had clearly never fired a gun before, let alone shot anyone, yet she was so nonchalant about it all. “Plus, you were strong enough to take them out.”
“You wanna thank me for that yet? I’m still waiting to see if you have any manners.”
“You’ll be waiting a long time,” she replied. “The great human hound needs his fucking ’thank you’s.” She scoffed and stared out of her window.
“So you did look me up. I figured you would after we met, and you kissed me. Speaking of which…” He pulled up at the side of the road, confusing Marcella. Her head snapped around and her eyes locked with his.
In a snap decision, he grabbed her jaw in his hand, dragged her face over to his and slammed his lips on hers. This kiss was rough, and it was clearly revenge. He wanted to bruise her lips almost, or at the least, leave red marks around her lips for awhile.
When he pulled back, he let go of her face and gazed at his handy work. He was pleased when he saw the red rim around the blood-red color of her lips. And he smiled.
“Now we’re even.” He started to drive again instantly after, leaving the girl still trying to understand what had happened. John could see the cogs turning in her mind from the corner of his eye and it pleased him even more.
“Are we? I did shoot you,” she taunted with an innocent smile. The kiss hadn’t surprised her enough. She could still fight back. She was better at recovery than John was. “The human hound always settles the score.”
“My name’s John, as I’m sure you know. Use that. It will be a long ride back and the human hound seems particularly long.” He wanted to seem confident in the name so she wouldn’t use it to piss him off, but she only smiled slyly and fluttered her lashes.
“You didn’t choose the human hound, did you?” she said. John sighed and gave her a glare. She could call him whatever the fuck she wanted. She would be gone soon anyway. “Fine, John it is. You can stop calling me Marcella or princess or anything like that. My name is Mari.”
He still couldn’t figure her out. She wasn’t going to taunt him with the use of his notorious name. Why not? He knew enough to know that she was playing some angle. She had to be. Was she just sucking up to him, hoping he would eventually let her go? It was true that he detested getting too close to a bounty. First name basis was something he rarely did but De Luca was Alessandro’s name. He had to use Marcella. But now he was going to call her Mari. And she would call him John.
“Don’t you have any music or something?” she asked like their whole situation was normal. He supposed it might be for her. She was far from a normal girl with normal life experiences.
“What do you want to listen to?” he responded, his eyes flickering to her. She was fiddling around with his CD player and the radio, which didn’t work.
“What do you have? You’re probably one of the few people who actually has a CD player.”
“It’s because it’s an old car. Was the supposed to be an insult?”
“No, just an observation,” she countered with a shrug. He deeply sighed before popping the glovebox open with his CD collection. She began to rifle through with genuine interest, a face that could light up the fucking world. She looked like a kid in a candy shop, for some strange reason. When she noticed John’s staring, she smiled sheepishly. “I don’t get to listen to music much, anything that’s not Italian. My father wants me to keep in touch with my heritage and be able to speak and sing in the language.” John just nodded and focused back on the road.
He kept forgetting her youth, and every so often, something would remind him, whether it would be the innocence in her eyes, or the glow in her skin, or the idealism and fight she held in that small body of hers. It inspired him. It also made him feel guilty. She just wanted freedom. She just wanted a normal life. But it was time to return to reality. At least she would be safe with her father watching out for her. Alessandro wouldn’t have hired John if Mari weren’t important to him.