J O H N
He narrowed his eyes at her, but she just went back to staring out the window and playing with her hair. She had no idea what she just said but the effects it had on him was something he attempted to hide from her.
Fuck, she was a little girl. He was more than a decade older than her. She was a child. And yet he couldn’t help it.
He needed to get out of the fucking car right at that second. He pulled into the closest gas station quickly, even though the tank was still half full. He cuffed her to the seat and then he sped out. He paid for the gas, stocked up on snacks for the journey and dumped the stuff in the back. He appreciated the air.
But as he got back into the car and his eyes connected with her big doe ones, he was instantly reminded why he needed air. Why was she looking at him like that? It wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary, but it seemed so… fuck, he was in fucking trouble now if this didn’t stop.
He had found her beautiful from the moment he met her. But each time he even had a thought about her in that way, he would remind himself of her age and that she was Alessandro’s daughter. So, he would do that now.
“Are you okay?” she asked sweetly. Innocent fucking Mari. She was way too young and way too naïve to be where she was. She dove out of the car just to get away. Now she was sitting there, crippled, small and weak. And as innocent as ever.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” he snarked for no reason at all. He was aware he was acting like a fucking teenager, but he couldn’t stop the words from spewing out of his mouth.
“Sorry for asking,” she muttered back, rolling her eyes at his response.
After a comfortable silence washed over them and light music of the radio played in the background, he listened to her light whimpers in her sleep. She had done the same last night and he wondered whether it was him who had traumatized her. He realized what he had done before it was too late. He hadn’t even thought about whether what he did would scare her.
He hadn’t seen her fragility in his time with her. Her youth, yes. Her naivety, yes. But she always held her fire in the worst of times. But fear had knocked her back, made her obedient for a short time. And whilst she had seen a different side of him, he had found a different side of her. One that showed she had some sense for once. He had found her courage, although amusing and impressive, foolish. She always ended up back with him, and yet she still kept trying. In that moment, when he reached for her hand and noticed the fear glistening in her eyes, he knew the girl was far from foolish. In fact, she was learning, quickly. He had given away a side of himself that he was saving for a rainy day, a last attempt to break her if he ever needed it. But she had seen him. All of him. And after a good night’s sleep, everything returned to normal.
Perhaps this was why feelings were growing that shouldn’t be. He had always been aware of her beauty. He had always admired her strength, courage, determination. He had seen many sides to her that made her incredible, but she had somehow accepted him. She was able to make jokes with him after seeing what he could do.
John never fully discovered his strength. His passion was for finding people, that was all. The violence was a means to an end. Sometimes, in his field, it was required. And brutality came easily to him after training over the years. He wasn’t like the other men who enjoyed violence, who enjoyed the victory that came with shedding another’s blood. He wasn’t prideful and he wouldn’t hurt unless it was necessary. But he did it for Mari. He did it so that he could do the job and bring her home. It was necessary. At least, that was what he was telling himself.
Mari’s stirring brought him back to reality and he set his gaze back on the road. She wouldn’t catch him staring. He couldn’t have that. There was something about her that drew his eyes to her.
“I’m hungry,” she mumbled with a slight pout on her face having just awoken. She looked the smallest thing when she was tired, and he then wondered how the little girl who looked so vulnerable had outsmarted him several times like no other bounty had. She was truly an enigma.
“Get something from the back then.” In their time together, they had gotten through many cars. First his beloved mustang, then Marcus’, then this one. Three different stashes of food. The girl could eat.
“Can’t we get some real food? I’m starving.” When he looked at her, she was fluttering her lashes pleadingly. He wondered whether this was her attempt at seduction to get what she wanted. Because if it was, she wasn’t very good when she was trying. She only had to be herself for John to perhaps succumb to her charms. But they weren’t stopping. Not again. She would try to find another way out, again.
“So, you can escape? Pathetic try this time. Come up with something inventive,” he mocked.
“Didn’t you like the car roll?” she retorted with a stunted giggle. She was only laughing at herself really. She was the one with the broken arm, not John. He knew that couldn’t have been the extent of her injuries, but it had been weeks since she had escaped. Those most likely healed.
Somehow, John knew she still didn’t regret it, even though she was back in his clutches. She had bought herself time, that was all. But he supposed that was enough for her, for now. She would try to find a permanent solution. Until then, she would keep trying ridiculous escapes that would surprise John and ultimately extend the time they had together.
He enjoyed chasing her. She was difficult. Her mind wasn’t seasoned like his other bounties. She was more complex in the way she thought. Not in an intelligent way, but in a youthful one. A youthful mind could be plenty creative. And it was a mind John had long lost. Which was why Mari presented such a challenge and such a mystery.
“Anything else like that up your sleeve?” he asked.
“You’ll soon find out if there is, won’t you?” she replied cunningly. But he doubted she had anything planned. There was nothing for her to do just yet, from what he could observe. They were in the exact same position as they were when she jumped out of the car, so any possible escape would have to be more painful and illogical than that. Although Mari was privy to doing such a thing. Impulsivity usually got the better of her even though she did have a fairly intelligent mind.
“Giuseppe Mancini,” John stated, testing the waters. When he saw her posture drop and her body stiffen, he knew she knew what had happened to him. But he had to know. He was intrigued by her escape. And he was a part of it. “You called him with Marcus’ cell, right? That’s how you got away?”
“You know that he’s dead. That’s how you found me, isn’t it?” Her voice was so much quieter than it had been. He realized that the man and this girl had a connection. What type of connection? He couldn’t be certain.
“Yes, it was. How did you know him?” John asked.
“He worked for my father. He was like a father to me. He was in hiding. He was doing well. The second I ask for his help, I end up getting him killed. I’m not good for people. You should remember that,” she said in a cold tone. This was a man she viewed as a father figure. And here she was, talking about him like he was just some distant relative. He knew she felt the guilt. He also knew she was shutting it out, like he had done. For that, he admired her even more.
“Why were you with Manuel?”
“He was just a man. I wasn’t anything to him. I wasn’t Alessandro’s daughter, I had no power, I had no reward. I was just a girl and I still got into trouble anyway. Is that what it’s always like when you’re free?” she questioned. He looked over to her to see doubt in her eyes. Something he hadn’t seen in her before.
There were plenty of times when he thought she was done with her quest. That she had given up. That the fight was gone. But it was stronger than ever. Now, he saw doubt, as plain as day. He hadn’t seen that. She was very certain of her mission. That was where the determination stemmed from, and perhaps, that was where the determination would die.