Hunt couldn't get Abigail all the way across the city to his condo without her passing out. He flipped open the screen in the SUV and pressed a few buttons. The GPS showed him the location of the nearest Safe house. Five minute drive. Sullivan sat straight, trying to keep herself awake. She'd been silent the whole drive, and for the fourth time, Hunt bit back the urge to ask how she was. She'd never tell him just how bad the stab was, she'd want to appear as strong as possible. He still couldn't believe that he'd stopped chasing the perp to help her. He'd get shit from Grant, but Abigail looked so helpless. Plus, he doubted the guy had that much useful Intel anyway.
A taxi cut them off and Hunt braked a little harder than he meant to. Abigail winced and made a small, pained noise. The slash on her arm was bad. Not long, but deep. She'd lost so much blood, half of which was drying on his shirt.
The longer they drove, the more Keefer whined, making a low, stressed out sound.
“Three minutes,” he said.
Abigail grunted and Keefer whined some more. Hunt got lucky in that car crash. Bruises pained random parts of his body, and he had a scrape on his shoulder, but otherwise he was untouched.
He pulled into the hotel, parking the SUV half on the curb by the backdoor. He got out and grabbed Keefer, the dog practically pulling him off his feet to get to Abigail. He scooped up the bags, almost toppling over at the weight of the backpack, and came to Abigail's door. She'd opened it and was half out before Hunt could stop her.
“Whoa,” he said. “Let me help.”
She fixed him with an annoyed look. “I hurt my arm, not my leg.”
But as soon as Abigail's foot touched the ground, she stumbled and collapsed into his arms. She mumbled a curse word into his chest as he helped her stand and lean against the SUV.
“Take your dog and lean on me,” he said.
She shook her head. “I can walk.” She grabbed Keefer's leash and shuffled forward, swaying and unsteady.
Hunt followed, ready to catch her. She waited at the back door of the hotel. Hunt dug his wallet out and swiped his keycard, the door clicking open. He opened his mouth to offer his help again, but Abigail yanked open the door and stumbled inside.
Step by step they shuffled down the hall toward the interior of the hotel. Abigail left smeared, bloody hand prints on everything she touched. He'd have to call the cleaning crew. Opening the hall door, he peered out. All clear. Good, with all the baggage he was carrying, he couldn't reach his pistol anyway.
He held the door open as Sullivan walked, zombie-like, into the hallway. Then she stopped and looked back at him, blinking, confused, a few drops of blood falling to the floor.
“Don't know where I'm going.” She started to sway. Hunt rushed forward and caught her before she hit the floor. Her eyelashes fluttered up at him.
She giggled.“Hey, Bradley...”
“Come on.” He held her waist with one arm, and lugged the backpack behind him with the other. “Room eighteen thirty-five.”
“Is this headquarters? Are we still in New York?” Her face had paled and her words slurred. Delirium and exhaustion. He needed to get her into the hotel room, fast.
“No,” he said. “It's a hotel room reserved specifically for...us.”
“That's sweet of you.” Her head flopped against his shoulder and he stopped and wiggled his arm.
“Sullivan,” he hissed. “You need to stay awake.”
“I am,” she grunted. “I just...tired.”
Ten minutes later they reached the end of the hall and turned the corner. Hunt propped Abigail against the wall beside the door and went into his wallet for the key card. He swiped in, then punched his four digit code into the key pad. He held the door open and Keefer bounded inside, yanking Sullivan to the ground. She yelped then rolled on her back, clutching her injured arm.
Dropping the bags, Hunt rushed to her, bending down, afraid to touch her in case he hurt her more.
“I'm fine,” she said. “Shit, that woke me up. And hurt like a bitch.”
Hunt stood and shut the door, locking it in three places and typing in the security code on the keypad. He grabbed the first aid kit out of the large dresser and when he turned to Abigail, she was up on her feet, hands out to balance herself, trying to stop swaying. Keefer took to sniffing the room as Abigail shuffled into the bathroom.
Letting her have a moment, Hunt found the small black fridge and popped the door open. Organized to perfect FBI standards, he grabbed a bottle of orange juice for Sullivan, and a bottle of water for him.
He followed her in the bathroom, set the first aid kit on the counter, and handed her the bottle of orange juice.
She stared at the bottle for a second, then gulped half of the drink down. He passed her a couple of pain meds from the kit.
“You're going to want these.”
She hesitated for a second, apprehensive look on her face. Then she swiped the pills and gulped the rest of the orange juice, wincing as she swallowed. She wiped her mouth and handed the bottle back to him.
“Thanks,” she said, blinking, trying to focus.
He took the cleaning solution and held the bottle an inch away from her skin.
“You ready?” he asked. She looked up at him, expression blank. He perched on the edge of the bath tub, and gently gripped her elbow. Then he sprayed the wound.
Abigail gasped and grabbed his arm with her other hand. She dug her nails into his skin and he gritted his teeth. After a few minutes of getting clawed, he leaned back to examine the clean wound. A straight, deep slash, but no nicked arteries.
“About ten stitches,” he said, grabbing the small pair of scissors and thread from the kit. He hesitated and almost admitted out loud that he'd never stitched anyone up before. He was taught to in training, years ago. He'd never had to perform the action live.
Obviously he didn't hide that fact well, because Sullivan sighed and shook her head.
“Cut the thread,” she said. “Stick it in the needle, give it to me, and hold a mirror so I can see my arm.”
“You can't do it yourself,” he said, knowing full well that she could. He just couldn't let her know he couldn't. She threw him an 'oh really?' look, and twisted her body, showing him her other arm.
“See that scar?”
He glanced at the inch-long silver line above her elbow. “Yeah.”
“My cousin, Claude, stabbed me by accident, went and got Uncle Simon. He told me to sew it up myself, in case next time, someone other than my cousin stabbed me.” She nodded to his hand. “Cut the thread, Hunt.”
He did exactly what she told him to do, because, even though he hadn't known her long, the look in her eyes changed. He suddenly saw the criminal come out in her, the one that killed four people by the time she was in grade school. He saw the girl that was part of a ruthless family that ran everything from extortion, to prostitution, to a good chunk of beat cops patrolling their city.
A bit frightening to be honest.
He gave her the threaded needle and held a small mirror exactly where she told him to. She winced a little, but got thirteen stitches into her arm, and handed him back the blood covered needle. He rinsed it off as she examined her work.
“Good job,” he said, patching a square of gauze over the stitches. “Go lie down for a few minutes.”
She snorted. “A few hours, you mean.”
His gut told him not to argue with her, not after that look she'd given him, but he needed to take back the situation, put himself in charge again.
“Minutes,” he said. “This is just a Safe House. My condo is Headquarters of this assignment, and it's on the other side of the city. I'm having my car delivered as soon as my guys can get here.”
She stood and soaked a clean cloth in water. “Fuck that.” She wiped her face and neck. “I'm sleeping.”
She shuffled out of the bathroom and flopped on the bed. Hunt sighed.
So much for putting myself back in charge. Better luck tomorrow.
His phone vibrated in his pocket.
“We didn't get the guy.” His boss, Agent William Grant, barked at him. “Why'd you let him get away?”
Hunt gripped the phone tight, heard the plastic creak. “Sullivan was hurt. I helped her instead.”
“And look what that cost us,” Grant said.
“I wasn't going to let her bleed to death,” Hunt snapped.
“Don't use that tone with me, Agent. Where the hell are you?”
“Safe House Four.”
“Jesus, Hunt. Get the girl to the condo, check in, and finish this assignment as cleanly as possible.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, lazily. “We'll be at the condo at oh-nine-hundred hours.”
“Don't screw up, Hunt.”
Grant hung up and Hunt kicked the wall, then plunked down on the closed toilet seat, wiggling his stinging toes. This assignment was falling apart. He had argued in the beginning that the FBI should've just arrested Sullivan and forced her to talk. Then they handed him the file they had on her family. They thought working with her would be better. After watching her shoot that biker, and stitch up her own arm, he was inclined to agree with them.
Working with her would be easier, but he'd just found out she had a line, and if crossed, he could end up face down in a ditch somewhere, and she'd be gone. That thought made him kind of nauseous. This is not what he'd expected when he asked to do more field work.
He rubbed his face with his hands and groaned out loud. “Fuck me...”
“Not tonight, Hunt,” Abigail called, voice sleepy.
A smile spread across his face. He was crazy. No wonder only a few other agents wanted this assignment. The ones who didn't saw the challenges, saw the danger.
Hunt stood, splashed water on his face, then unhooked his holster and set it and Sullivan's Smith and Wesson on the dresser.
“Lucky us,” he said. “We get about five hours of sleep before we have to go anywhere-”
He closed his mouth. Abigail was curled on her side, face buried in the pillow, bandaged arm thrown across her snoring Rottweiler.
He unbuttoned his sweat-dampened and blood-soaked shirt and tossed it on the table. Running his fingers over the nail marks left in his arm from Abigail, he finally figured out the scent that puffed out of her hair every time she'd fallen into him. Pears. She smelled deliciously like pears. He didn't even know pears had that strong, or that good, a scent. He groaned and trudged to the chair opposite the bed.
He'd just been terrified of her, and now he felt...attraction? He needed sleep as well, look things over in the morning. He couldn't be falling for her, he just couldn't. Sure, she was super sexy, smart, and skilled. But she was Subject 815. The Bureau's ticket to bringing down one of the largest Irish Mobs currently spreading across New York. Not someone he should fall for.
* ^ * ^ * ^ *
Abigail woke stiff, hungry, and with a headache. Rolling away from Keefer, she sat up, blinking away the pain that shot across her eyes. She slowly moved her injured arm. Dull throb, not a concern. She'd done a good job with the stitches.
She slid off the bed and shuffled past Hunt, asleep on the chair, head back, lightly snoring. Obviously he needed sleep as much as she did. She kept shuffling, but stopped as she reached the bathroom door. He was shirtless, a thin blanket that he got from who-knows-where draped across his lap. She walked to him and gently pulled the blanket back on his shoulders, running the back of her hand lightly across his chest. Other than a small scar just below his left shoulder, he was in good shape, surprising for a guy who said he worked in Intelligence.
She fixed the blanket, then grabbed some new clothes from her bag, swallowed some more pain meds and headed into the shower.
Careful of her stitched up arm, she managed to wash all the sweat, blood, and dirt off her. Leaving her hair down around her face, she pulled on dark jeans, a grey , and a zip-up sweater to cover her fresh arm bandage, then she left the bathroom.
Hunt was still asleep, but Keefer was up and sitting on the bed. She scratched his head.
“You stay here,” she said. “Guard Agent Hunt.” The dog flopped back down on the bed.
She looked around for a pad to leave Hunt a note, but her eyes fell on the two pistols on the dresser. Hunt had a nice, small, Smith and Wesson Bodyguard Special. She swung the pistol up and aimed at the door, pressing the tiny button beside the trigger. A red laser shot out and a dot appeared on the wood.
She grinned at Keefer. “I need one of these.”
Hunt's pistol, in its holster, fit nicely under her sweater. She adjusted the straps, hiding the gun next to her ribs. Now, if she could only get her knives back, or at least one of them. She looked around the room, but they weren't on a table or under Hunt's shirt. They must still be in his pockets. She crouched in front of him and gently reached into his pocket. She found her uncle's knife and glanced at Hunt's chest, rising and falling, still asleep. Wiggling the knife a little, she tugged very softly. The knife got halfway out before getting caught on the lip of the fabric.
Using her other hand, she lifted the pocket and tugged. The blanket from Hunt's shoulders slid off and landed on her head, blinding her. She froze and resisted the urge to curse out loud. Then the knife slipped from her fingers and landed on the floor. Her face inches from Hunt's most private area, and her feet starting to tingle, she groped the air for the armrests to push herself up.
“Normally I buy girls dinner first.” Hunt's voice, bubbling with amusement, reached her ears. “But I won't stop you.”
Abigail pushed up so fast she stumbled backwards onto the bed, the blanket still wrapped around her face. She yanked the stupid thing off and chucked it to the floor.
“I wasn't-” she stuttered, standing and fixing her hair.
Hunt held up his hands. “I've learned not to question a girl when she's down there, just let her do her thing.”
“Get over yourself,” she said, glancing at her knife under his chair.
He smirked at her, his blue eyes dancing. “What were you doing down there, then?”
Uncle Simon once told her that deceiving someone later was sometimes easier if you told the truth first, so she fixed him with a sheepish look. “Trying to take my knife back.”
She expected him to check his pocket, but he just stood and grinned. “You get points for trying.” He walked to the bathroom and she couldn't help but watch his back muscles flex as he paused and stretched.
Wow, he was hot.
That's when a pang of guilt hit her in the stomach, reminded her that she had Clint waiting for her back in Tennessee. But, as hard as she'd tried, she'd never had this kind of raw feeling for Clint. Even though Clint was the most charming man on the planet, she didn't feel anything for him. At least not in the way she felt something for Hunt right now.
Hunt's voice brought her back to the hotel room. He leaned on the bathroom door frame, eyebrows pulled together, staring at her. She casually wiped her mouth to make sure she wasn't drooling, though now that he'd turned around revealing surprisingly muscled arms, a hint of a six-pack and a thin line of dark hair trailing down his chest and below his jeans, she was sure to start all over again.
“I'm going down for breakfast,” she said, managing to keep the high-school girl giggles out of her voice.
“No, you're not,” he said. “Give me ten minutes, then we leave together.”
“No.” She inched toward the door. “I'll go alone.”
Hunt folded his arms and narrowed his eyes.
“I'm not going to run away,” she said. “Keefer's here. I just need a few minutes alone. How about a coffee, eh? I'll bring you back a cup.”
He shook his head. “I can't let you go, Abigail. Sit tight, and give me ten minutes.”
The bathroom door closed and she heard the water. She grabbed her knife from under the chair and shoved it into her pocket. Snatching the remote, she sat on the bed and turned on the TV. The regular Friday morning news shows were on. She flipped to the local weather channel, and was disappointed when Kip, her weatherman, wasn't there. Annoyed at the fact she was in Manhattan and not on her way to teach her class full of kids, she turned the TV off and chucked the remote at the chair. It bounced off and hit the floor, back popping off and batteries flying out.
The bathroom door opened once again and Hunt came out, still shirtless. Water dripped from his face, stuck to his day-old stubble. Abigail watched a bead run down his neck and over his shoulder.
“How's your arm?” he asked, patting his neck with a towel
The question threw her and her suspicion jumped up automatically. She searched his face but his expression seemed genuine, like he actually cared about the answer. Between his question, and the water glistening on his chiseled jaw line, forming a coherent thought took a minute.
“Uh...yeah,” she said. “Hurts. But I'm good, thanks.”
He smiled then popped back in the bathroom. Abigail sank into the bed and rubbed her face, massaging her temples. She was actually getting distracted by a hot guy. Throughout high school she laughed at how the girls got so caught up in a guy because, though he had absolutely no brains, he was super-hot.
And now she was acting the same way.
She needed to eat something, get her blood sugar up.
She almost fell asleep again, when Hunt poked her shoulder. She sat up, blood rushing to her head, spots in front of her eyes.
“You okay?” he asked, rolling up the sleeves of a black, cotton, button up shirt.
“I need food,” she said.
He nodded. “There's a cafe just down the road. One of my favourites. We'll stop there.”
She stood and slung her bag over her shoulder, then leashed Keefer and waited by the door.
“My gun?” Hunt lifted the backpack on his shoulder and held out his hand.
Damn, she'd hoped he'd forget. She dropped the bag, took off her sweater, and handed him his holster and pistol. He stuck them on. “And you can keep the knife you stole.”
“Gee, thanks,” she said. “I'd feel better with a gun.”
“You don't get one.” Hunt opened the door and peeked into the hall. “Not yet. All clear, let's go.”
As she followed him down the hall it dawned on her that, despite the fact he hadn't brought along any bags, he'd changed his clothes to black jeans and shirt. “Where'd you get those?”
“There's always a stash in the hotel rooms,” he said, turning toward the back door. “There's supposed to be several sizes, but these were the only jeans. They're a little tight.”
She cocked an eyebrow at his backside. “You say that like it's a bad thing.”
He stopped and turned, bag swinging on his shoulder, amused smirk on his lips. “Are you flirting with me?”
She laughed. “I said you have a nice ass. That's not flirting, that's...stating facts. Now, hurry up, I'm hungry.”
Hunt pushed open the back door to the hotel and Abigail shielded her eyes from the morning sun. Hunt led her around the building to the sidewalk. People in business suits flooded the sidewalks, large black and grey SUVs, small sports cars, and business trucks honked their way through a sea of taxis. Across the street sturdy, strong buildings-turned-apartments sat atop shops with fancy Italian names.
“You'll get run over,” Hunt said, circling back to collect her. “If you just stand there.”
He put his hand on the small of her back and walked her down the sidewalk.
“I'm a tourist,” she said. “I'm allowed to gawk.”
“No, you're working.” Hunt tucked close to her as they stopped at a traffic light. “You can gawk later.”
The group of people started across the middle of the street and Hunt ushered her forward. “Go, keep up with them.”
“The light's red,” she said, eyeing the taxi that just missed a lady with a stroller behind her. “We're jaywalking.”
“There's no such thing as jaywalking in New York,” Hunt said. They reached the other side and she stopped to let Keefer relieve himself on a telephone pole.
“It's just like the movies and TV shows,” she said.
Hunt glanced at the few people staring at her. “You sound like you've been locked in a cage all your life.”
“It's Manhattan, Hunt,” she said. “I can't help myself. Whoa, look at the size of that book store.”
“Let's go.” Hunt grabbed her arm and practically dragged her around the corner.
She wiggled away from him. “I can walk.”
A large man in a dark suit bumped her injured arm and sent a jolt of pain through her.
“Son of a bitch!” She dropped Keefer's leash and clutched her arm, glaring at the man, who didn't even notice, just kept walking. Hunt swiped Keefer's leash, and pulled her out of the way.
“New York's not so great now, huh?” he said.
He laughed as they turned onto a quieter street. The sun warmed her skin and she almost regretted wearing a sweater. Soon they came to a small bakery, the scent of toasted bagels and coffee drifting through the air. Abigail tied Keefer to a post outside, told him to be good, then followed Hunt into the cafe.
There was a line of four people, and about a dozen more customers dotted the small tables inside. Abigail peered around the man in front of her to scope out her breakfast. Hunt kept glancing out the window at Keefer.
“Why do you keep looking at him?” she asked. “Afraid someone's going to steal him?”
“I'm afraid someone's going to try, and get their hand bitten off.”
Abigail chuckled. “He only attacks if I tell him to. Otherwise he's calm as a clam.”
They shuffled forward in line and the man two ahead of them ordered. Cradling her arm, Abigail studied the glass-covered baked goods, settling on a bagel, tea, and muffin. The man ordering leaned on the counter and said something, sending the server into a small fit of giggles. She accidentally dropped a half-full cup of coffee and her face went red. She apologized profusely, but the guy waved his hand.
“No use frettin' over spilled coffee, sweetheart,” he said. “It's when you spill the whiskey that you better shed a tear.”
And if you're spillin' whiskey, you don't deserve to be drinkin' it.
Ice filled her veins as her uncle's voice finished the saying in her head. But who the hell started it? The guy at the counter was just under six feet, thick, messy dark blonde hair, slim. He took his newly poured coffee and headed toward the other door to the bakery, his head turned, face hidden. He limped slightly with his right leg. Before she could stop herself, or tell Hunt what she was doing, Abigail stepped out of line and followed the guy out the door.
He walked down the sidewalk much faster than someone holding hot coffee should, causing Abigail to practically jog to keep him in sight. Uncle Simon used to repeat that saying to her and her cousins all the time as kids. Coincidence? Possible, but she highly doubted it. The way the guy said 'sweetheart” struck something in her, too.
Who did she know that called people sweetheart?
The janitor at Big Pigeon Primary.
Four dozen other guys and a few girls she'd known over the years.
And Uncle Simon.
Who did she know that walked with a limp?
Schneider, the gym teacher, who got a little close to a horse she was riding on.
James, the yoga teacher from six years ago who fell and broke his leg when she accidentally pulled a ladder from under him.
And a few other people she'd come in contact with that had somehow ended up with a broken leg because of something she'd done.
Jesus, she was bad luck to be around. Who else had she hurt? Like a tidal wave, the name and face slammed into her.
She'd accidentally shot him in the leg with Uncle Simon's shotgun when they were kids.
A wave of nausea rolled through her, and her knees went weak. She froze on the sidewalk and watched him turn a corner and disappear.
No. Not possible.
But she knew it was. She grew up with Ryker, would know him anywhere.
He was right in front of her, close enough to touch. She shivered as the world around her slowed. Memories flooded her mind. Ryker, the oldest, the big brother, her leader. Ryker the bully, her enemy. Her worst nightmare.
“Abigail!” Hunt caught up to her and grabbed her wrist, bringing her back to the present. She'd only made it a block from the bakery. Hunt was smart enough to grab Keefer on his chase, and the dog sat at Abigail's feet, whining.
“What the hell are you doing?” Hunt snapped. “Do I need to cuff us together?”
“I...” She trailed off and tried again. “I just saw Ryker.”