J O H N
“What do we have here?” He held a rifle in his arms, ready to fire at anyone who tried anything. This wasn’t exactly what he expected when he returned to the motel. He thought he would find Mari picking at the lock on the door. Now here she was by the leader of the hell-raisers. How the fuck did they find him?
The first thing he did was scan her to check for injuries. He didn’t know why that was the first concern to pop into his mind, but it was. And she was staring at him with eyes containing a swirl of emotion. He couldn’t get distracted by her beauty whilst both their lives were in danger. He had to get his head in the game, and he tore his eyes away from her. And over to Tyson Striker, the leader of the hell-raisers.
“Why are you holding a gun to my bounty, Striker?” John said coolly, inching closer to them. He hadn’t done anything. The feds already knew who was responsible and he didn’t go through with the wire stunt. If anything, he had been fairly loyal to someone who didn’t deserve it.
“Bounty? This little girl? So, she’s valuable to you,” Striker taunted, narrowing his eyes. John couldn’t show any emotion. He blocked it all out. He needed to not care about Mari for now.
“She’s valuable to my client, not so much to me. You wouldn’t want to piss off my client. Hurt her and you will. Let her get in my car and we can talk,” John replied with an even tone.
The guy with the gun to her head lowered it at the command of his leader. And Mari was allowed to come over to John. He pushed her over to the car so that she would be safe.
This was between him and Striker. Whatever it was that he wanted.
“You talked to the feds, Keller. The fucking feds. Explain that,” he demanded darkly.
“I talked to the feds because you told them I murdered someone. I didn’t do anything. I was picked up because of you, so maybe if you didn’t like that, you shouldn’t have snitched on me yourself,” John hissed back.
“I didn’t rat you out. No one here does that. We have a code. I don’t appreciate you accusing me off breaking it.”
“They have sworn testimony. That’s a fact. If you didn’t snake me out, who would?”
Before Striker could reply, they heard an engine roar behind them. That little piece of shit. Fuck.
How could he fuck up so badly? Leaving the keys in his car. He was just so concerned about her safety that he didn’t even think about the fact that she would do anything to leave. She wasn’t panicked. She was level-headed and she stole the opportunity to leave. He couldn’t be mad at her.
She was pulling away. Did she even know how to drive? Trouble followed her. She probably wouldn’t make it down the street before she flipped the car. But that couldn’t stop him from doing something.
He borrowed Striker’s bike, without permission, and chased her through the streets of the closest town. He imagined they didn’t get the excitement of motorbikes chasing cars around there often. At the corner of his eyes, he could see civilians stop and stare at the scene. But he had a job to do.
He heard faint roaring behind him, but he was so close to catching up to her. He steered her off the road, chipping the corner of the car and into a sea of land. Just field and deserted mess of nature. The car skidded across the sodden mud, dirt tracks printed into the ground, and John shortly followed behind. He tossed the bike to the ground, hauled open the car door and threw her out of the car.
She fell straight on her backside, her hand drenched in the soft pasture. He smirked slyly as he stood over her. She wasn’t frightened. She wasn’t angry he had derailed her attempt at freedom once again. She just looked up to him with a charming smile and the slight tilt of her head. What was her game?
“Failed again, princess. No matter where you run, I’ll always find you. Although, you already know that. Why did you run, Marcella?” he asked, despite knowing the answer. He just wanted to see what she would say.
“I had to try,” she replied sheepishly. He watched every movement she made, every slightest twitch or reach for something. “You just expected me to sit in that car when you so stupidly left the keys in there.”
“Well, sorry for being so stupid. I was distracted by the fact that they had a gun to your head whilst you’re one-track minded. All you think about escaping,” he spat back.
“What do you want from me? I wasn’t just going to sit there when I could possibly get out,” she argued, her face screwing up into a cute guinea pig-like expression. Her eyebrows furrowed halfway over her eyes. Her nose scrunched up like she was smelling something foul. She was truly adorable when she was angry.
“I expected you to be smart. I thought you were smart. Running was stupid.” She rolled her eyes defiantly like a spoiled teenager.
“I am smart,” she rebutted but knew it was pathetic. It was stupid. And she knew it was stupid. But he understood that she had to try, especially when he made it so easy for her.
Then, her eyes widened rapidly. She looked like an innocent dear in headlights. Fear shot deep inside her in an instant and John had no clue why.
And then he did.
She shoved him out of the way in a flash and in another second, she was lying on top of him.
There wasn’t time to contemplate the position they were in. Because along with Mari’s dive at him came a gunshot sound. And she was shot.
John took her into his arms and took cover using the car whilst running over to the driver’s side. He knew bikers loved their bikes more than they loved themselves. But why were they shooting? Why did they shoot at him?
As he pulled away, he saw their faces, aggressive, violent, changed. What the hell just happened?
He couldn’t think about that now. Not whilst there was little girl writhing from pain with a bullet inside her meant for him. Her pained whimpers hit him right in the heart, like a kid slinging pebbles at his chest.
“Where are we going?” she grumbled, clutching her shoulder.
“You’ll be temporarily patched up by my friend who lives around here and then we’re going to see Marcus,” John explained calmly, even though he was freaking out inside.
“Marcus lives states away. And in the other direction to New York,” she pointed out.
“Very astute observation, Mari,” he snarked.
“You can’t be sarcastic with me when I just got shot for you.” He chuckled lightly, brightening the mood.
“You’re right but I have to keep you talking.”
“So, you think being mean is the best thing to do,” she pouted, wincing as she moved slightly. He could feel the guilt stirring within him, effervescing upwards, wanting him to explode.
“Why did you push me out of the way?” he asked genuinely. If he died, she would be free. And it wouldn’t even be her who had to do the deed. And all she wanted was to be free. She would be free without the guilt. And yet she still dove in front of him, protected him, saved him from possible death.
“You saved me, I saved you. We’re even now,” she responded nonchalantly. He couldn’t believe that was true. There must have been another reason. An ulterior motive. She was too slippery to do it just because she owed him one. He knew she was a good person; that had always been obvious. She was nothing like Alessandro. But she wanted nothing more in this world than her freedom, even if getting that damaged her honor and her values.
“If you say so.”
“I do say so. Now thinking about it, I should have let you take the shot. Hopefully, you would have died,” she spat back with hints of humor mixed in with her strained tone.
“That’s adorable. You know what they say about little children when they have crushes on each other. The boy pulls the girl’s hair. The girl slaps him and pushes him down the slide. Well, you’re a child, you see, and it makes sense that you would treat a crush like that little girl does,” he mocked. She narrowed her eyes at him and then scoffed, shaking her head.
“Or maybe it’s because you have a crush on me,” she countered.
“You wish, princess. I know you dream about me.” Why the hell was this where the conversation was going? He just couldn’t stop it. It was like a train heading off in the wrong direction. And she was increasing the speed of the train. She made no effort to steer it back onto the comfortable track.
“More like nightmares of you.”
“We both know that’s a lie,” he joked.
“You’re right. It is a lie. The truth is, I don’t dream about you at all, because you are not so much to me,” she spat back. And that kept him silent for a good while. He was racking his brain around what she just said and why it sounded so familiar.
And then he remembered what he had said to Striker. That she was only valuable to his client and not so much to him. But that wasn’t the truth either and he knew it.
The truth was, he would have taken the bullet for her and not because of her father, but because he cared.