On the Run

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A Choice

Isabel thought hard about her talk with Mark over the next two weeks. Jo had chosen to stay longer than expected so Isabel and Elia were still staying in the main house. To her surprise they had gotten into a rhythm with Mark and in some ways she was finding it easier than living alone.

She didn’t feel the need to rush in the shower when Mark was home because she knew he would keep Elia safe. She also, more than once, slept in to find Mark had already fed Elia and they were coloring or playing together. She had never had much help with Elia and was finding that she had more energy and time to keep up with everything else.

At first she had been nervous about every meal she cooked and every tiny mess Elia made, but that soon passed. Mark seemed to truly like her cooking for him, if only because then he didn’t have to, and he didn’t mind Elia having crayons out when he got home or finding toys out. In fact more often than not he would join in her game or sit down to color with her.

What shocked Isabel more than anything else though was how Mark persisted in asking for a high five every day. She had assumed he would have given up weeks ago. She almost asked him to stop a couple times but then she would realize that Elia didn’t seem to mind at all, in fact the child seemed to enjoy it.

Another thing the child enjoyed was school. She started kindergarten the second week at Marks, and Isabel was a mess. She called the school no less than ten times to check in on her. It was that fear that made up her mind.

Friday night after Susan had dropped them off Isabel made some marinated chicken and rice. By no means a four course meal but after a long day at the restaurant, and spending her lunch break walking to pick up Elia, Isabel was exhausted.

As usual, Elia sat up to the table with her crayons and an almost full color book. Isabel made a mental note to buy another one, and smiled knowing that she could.

“Good afternoon ladies,” Mark grinned as he came in the door.

Elia giggled then beamed at him, holding up her color book. “Look!”

“Oh my goodness.” He gasped, leaning down next to the table. “Are you coloring in my book without me?”

“No, it’s my book.” Elia giggled, pulling it back to her.

“But I bought it.” Mark teased.

“For me, because you love me.” Eila trilled.

Mark couldn’t help but compare the little girl playing with him to the little girl he had met at the bus stop. That day Elia had cried simply because he had spoken to her. Now she was sassing with him. He had worked hard to earn her trust, and the way she beamed at him now warmed his heart.

“That’s right pretty girl I do.” Mark beamed at her then held out his hand.

Elia looked at his hand then back at him. Then, to his utter surprise she slapped her hand onto his. Mark couldn’t help the tear that slid down his cheek as he beamed at the little girl who had quickly stolen his heart.

“I love you too Mr. Mark.” Elia blushed then wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck hugging him tightly.

Mark froze for less then a second before gently wrapping his arms around the little girl. He held her for a moment before letting her go.

“Mr. Mark, why are you sad?” Elia asked concerned.

“I’m not a sad baby girl, you made me so, so happy.”

Elia smiled then hugged him again.

Isabel watched the whole exchange fighting tears. She was so happy to see her daughter coming out of her shell. And out of all the people she could learn to trust, Mark seemed the most worthy.

“Okay princesses, I need to go get ready for dinner.” Mark said after a minute.

Elia was sad when Mark pulled back, she had never gotten a daddy hug, and she liked it. She felt safe and warm in his arms. Despite that, she nodded and smiled before turning back to her color book.

Mark gave Isabel a look that read clearly, what do you think.

“Wow,” She responded, “I didn’t think she would ever trust a man like that after what he did to her.”

“Children naturally want to trust. With dedication and good intentions you can win them over.” Mark responded, admiring Isabel.

Reaching out he slid a piece of her silky brown hair behind her ear. Her vibrant green eyes, identical to her daughters, burned into him uncertainly.

“Adults on the other hand take more work and hope that they want to trust, because they have to want it.” Mark’s dark brown eyes glittered and his dark copper skin shifted as he gave Isabel a crooked grin.

Isabel’s heart stuttered and for a moment she wondered why she had ever been afraid of this man.

“I do.” She breathed quietly, “I want to trust you and I want to trust God. I believe he sent you to help us, so I’m going to let you. I’ll testify.”

“Good.” Mark smiled though she could tell he was concerned as well. “I will protect you Izzy. I promise.”

With that Mark kissed Isabel’s forehead then headed to the bathroom to wash up for dinner.

That night after Elia was in bed Isabel came and joined Mark on the couch. She tucked her feet underneath her, and sighed relieved. She was surprised how happy she was to just be with him.

Mark slid his arms around Isabel’s shoulders pulling her closer. She allowed him to fold her into his side before snuggling her face into his chest.

Mark smiled content and thrilled that Isabel seemed to be just as comfortable in his embrace as he was having her there. He wanted to just snuggle and not have to worry about anything, but he had to talk to her. He comforted himself knowing that, if he had his way, they would be able to do this every night after they were safe. Their safety had to come first though.

“I have a lawyer who is eager to represent your case.” Mark said, soothing his hand over her hair. He couldn’t help but notice her stiffen suddenly, and he knew she was terrified. “I won’t let them get their hands on you.”

“I know, but I need you to promise me something just in case.” She said quietly.

Mark knew what she wanted, and though he didn’t want to hear it much less think of it he knew she needed the reassurance.

“If he does get to me, you can’t let him get Elia. I know I’m asking a lot and if you don’t want her maybe Susan can take her but please you have to protect her. Please.” She ranted, looking up at him desperately.

“Izzy.” He sighed, meeting her gaze, “Firstly, I love that little girl. I would die before I let Andrey get his hands on her. Secondly, I love you and the same thing applies.”

She smiled slightly and nodded.

“Now relax babe. We have top notch security here, no one is coming in. You are both safe.” He soothed.

After a few minutes her breathing evened out and he knew she had fallen asleep. He adjusted so they were both lying down, Isabel cushioned on her side between Mark and the back of the couch. Mark reached behind him, turning off the light before laying on his back staring out the window.

The night was dark with no moon or stars to be seen. It looked cold and foreboding, and he couldn’t help but imagine somewhere out there a predator was hunting. Isabel and Elia were his prey.

According to his contacts, the Segretos were being found well out of their territory. They were hunting. What Andrey couldn’t know was that his prey wasn’t alone anymore. Mark could be a predator too.

Isabel whimpered in her sleep curling more tightly to him.

“It’s okay. You’re okay.” Mark whispered, tightening his arms around her. “I’ve got you.”

She settled down quickly, relaxing into him. Before he knew it he was drifting off to sleep as well.

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