“You found me.” Her words were raspy and barely audible over the noise the gunman was still making as he faltered and floundered in the water behind us. He might not be able to swim but he was doing an all right job of keeping his head above water.
“You found me first, Avett.” I closed my eyes and squeezed her as tightly as I could. “I love you.”
One of her arms moved sleepily up and around my neck as her legs started to kick so that she was helping keep us afloat.
“I know you do, Quaid.”
“I will always come after you. You know that, right?”
She nodded and winced as she put her fingers to the oozing wound on the side of her head. “You didn’t only come after me, you jumped.”
I rasped out a shaky laugh and rubbed my frigid nose against her cheek. “Yeah, I jumped and I always will, when it matters. You matter more than anything, Avett.”
She opened her mouth to respond when her name, called by a voice that sounded as frantic as I felt, split through the darkness. He father had found us. He had come for her, like he always did. Her eyes widened as I hollered back to Brite, “We’re in the water! You have to climb down and help us out. Avett is hurt.”
She wrinkled her nose at me as I started to float us towards the lower outcropping of rocks. “I hit my head when I jumped.”
I breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn’t been hit with a bullet. “Good thing your skull is rock hard and you’re the daughter of a badass.”
I huffed in exertion and wondered if hypothermia was close to setting in. I was so cold I couldn’t even shiver anymore, and I was pretty sure my lips were as blue as hers.
“You saved him and your mom. You saved everyone, including yourself. That makes you your own hero, Avett.” I couldn’t keep the pride out of my voice, even though I was pretty sure I was going to black out if we didn’t get out of the water as soon as possible.
She let out a shaky laugh and her arm tightened around my neck as her dad and two men I didn’t recognize suddenly appeared on the rocks. Brite called Avett’s name, again the fear and panic that only a parent could have when their child was in danger reverberating from one side of the ravine to the other.
She looked at me and then back at our rescuers with a faint smile touching her quivering lips. “I might be able to save myself now, but it’s still nice to know that the people that love me will show up when I need them to.”
I kissed her hard and fast as I finally got us to the rocks.
“Always.” I’d told myself I needed to show her that I loved her.
All I had to do was jump.
3 weeks later …
I used the key Quaid had given me a couple weeks ago to let myself into his loft and simultaneously wrinkled my nose and covered my ears as I walked into what looked like a culinary massacre.
When he texted and told me that he would take care of dinner tonight, that he wanted to cook for me, I was surprised. The only person that ever got any use of that amazing kitchen in his loft was me, and the delivery guy who brought in packages of carryout and set them on the counter. Quaid wasn’t exactly comfortable amidst the pots and pans, but the gesture was sweet and I knew the reason he was doing it was because I had been beyond anxious the last few days about what the future had in store for me.
Jared’s trial had been pushed back because of all the new charges and empirical evidence against Acosta and his goons. His attorney had filed a motion for continuance while he tried to figure out how to argue against the new kidnapping, attempted murder, attempted arson, tampering with a witness, and coercion charges that his client was now charged with. Quaid was sure the feds were going to step in now that there was enough evidence to put Acosta away for a long time, but so far everything was still happening on the state level. Realizing he was very much the low man on the totem pole, Jared had swung back the other way on the legal pendulum, and fired Tyrell, and was singing at the top of his lungs to the D.A.’s office. He missed his shot at a deal, but in exchange for his testimony against Acosta, the D.A. had agreed to move him to a secure facility where Acosta’s reach on the inside couldn’t get to him. Quaid thought my ex was hoping for a federal deal that would move him into witness protection, but he assured me that wouldn’t happen. Jared was going to do jail time, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.
I was still going to have to testify at Jared’s trial when he finally went to court, and now I was looking at having to be involved in the other trial against Acosta as well, but I was no longer scared or hesitant to face either my ex or the men that had made me run for my life. I wanted to see them all behind bars and I wanted justice served. I was ready and willing to do the right thing and I knew that I wouldn’t have to do it alone. My parents and Quaid would be right by my side as I told my story and that gave me all the courage I needed.
I watched with wide eyes as Quaid swore and wrestled a pan with something black and smoldering in it into the sink as he wrenched on the water and swore like a biker. I shut the door behind me before the smoke from whatever he incinerated could set off the fire alarm in the entire building. He gave me an exasperated look as he climbed on top of the marble countertop with a towel and started to fan the shrieking alarm.
“Hey, back.” The words came out on a laugh that quickly turned into a sigh of appreciation as his T-shirt rode up when he lifted his arms and exposed the ridged slats of his tight stomach. I’d had a lot of casual Quaid time since he wasn’t working right now, and I was getting used to him in faded jeans and T-shirts. I knew it wouldn’t last because he was already fending offers left and right from other law firms that wanted him, but I planned on soaking up as much of the softer, gentler Quaid as I could get. It was so much easier to get him out of jeans and a T-shirt than it was a three-piece suit, and ever since he jumped after me, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved me and whatever kind of chaos I came with, I hadn’t been able to keep my hands, mouth, and the rest of me off of him. It wasn’t merely celebrating the fact that we both made it out alive and reaffirming the life we had together; it was a desperation to have as much of him, the need to make as many memories, and the desire to have as many stories that surround him and me as I could. Nothing was guaranteed, and I wanted to make sure the time I had with this man was spent in goodness, and a big part of that was getting him naked and inside me as often as I possibly could.