Authors: Cami Checketts
Tags: #romance, #running, #kidnapping, #suspense
I gasped for breath and choked into his fingers, “Time?”
“No!” I yelled into his hand. Jesse restrained me with his other arm. I kicked and squirmed, but was no match for his strength. I wasted precious seconds fighting with no progress. Finally, I stopped resisting and he released my mouth, “Jesse, please, please, if you care about me at all, please let me go.”
He held me tighter. “What are you going to do? Run in there and either get shot or blown up? Nana would want you to be safe. You know she would.”
“I-I can’t,” I gasped for air, the world spinning. “I can’t let her die.”
Jesse pinned my shoulders against the wall, his face inches from mine. “You can’t die, Cassidy. You can’t. Your dad and Nana would never forgive me if I let you go and I can’t,” he shuddered, staring into my eyes, “I can’t lose you.”
“B-but can’t we stop the bomb?”
He shook his head. “It’s more than one bomb, Cassidy. There’s no way to stop all of them.”
A guard strolled around the edge of the barn behind us. My eyes widened. My heart thumped against my chest. Jesse grinned and gestured to me. “Found a pretty one.”
The man returned the smile. “Your shirt looks better on her.” He raised his gun in a kind of salute to Jesse and continued his walk.
I shuddered and deflated against Jesse, tears streaming down my face. “My N-nana,” I whimpered.
Jesse gently stroked my arms and back, loosening his hold on me and murmuring soft apologies. It was just the chance I needed. I rammed my heel down on his ankle and hit my head against his as hard as I could. He howled in pain and let go completely. I raced around the edge of the barn and towards the house. I had no idea how I was going to save Nana, but I would rather die trying than cowering behind a barn.
“Cassidy,” Jesse yelled, racing after me. A man on the front porch jumped to his feet and pointed the barrel of his shotgun my direction. Jesse tackled me. We hit the ground as explosions rocked the earth. The man was thrown from the porch. He didn’t move after he hit the ground. Jesse covered me with his body, pushing my head into the ground as burning debris flew around us.
“Nana,” I cried, my anguish drowned out by the roar of the blasts. There were no cries for help. Everyone had been blown to pieces. The house collapsed in on itself, the roof sitting where the main floor should’ve been. Everything was on fire.
Acrid smoke filled my nostrils. Ash drifted into my hair. Pain exploded from my heart. Nana was dead.
Jesse slowly lifted me into a seated position, cradling me in his arms and rocking me back and forth. “I’m sorry, Cassidy. I’m so sorry.”
The tears flowed, but there were no words to tell Jesse how I blamed him for this. My Nana had survived so many things and now the man I thought I loved had killed her. It was too awful to wrap my mind around, so I just sat there as Jesse rocked me and apologized and I cried and cried. I glanced at his face and saw a tear rolling down his cheek as well.
“It’s a little late to feel guilty.”
“I know.” He shoved the wetness off his cheek. “My dad always . . . tried to protect me.” He shook his head as if clearing the thought.
Suddenly, he pushed me back down into the dirt. “Stay down,” he commanded, rising into a crouched position as several guards cautiously approached from the barns. They pointed machine guns at the burning remains of the house, confused, almost scared expressions on their faces, like they didn’t know what to do or who to shoot. I clenched my hands together, unable to catch a full breath. When they noticed us they’d have a perfect target.
Jesse slowly stood.
What was he doing?
I grabbed at his pant leg. He pulled away from me and shook his head, whispering, “Don’t move,” before striding several steps away from me and yelling at the guards in a terrifying voice, “Who did this?”
They all shrank from him, eyes falling to the ground. I couldn’t hear their groveling replies as Jesse strutted to them. He was hollering and gesturing wildly at the house. I had no idea what his game plan was until I saw the swarm of people who appeared behind the guards; women and children, a few men. All were dressed in tattered clothing not warm enough for October with eyes trained on the guards.
Jesse demanded something of one of the guards. The man obediently handed over his gun. Jesse pointed the dull metal barrel at the other two guards. The people were almost upon them, but the guards were completely focused on Jesse. One of the guards dropped his gun. The other lifted his chin obstinately and moved his finger to the trigger.
. He was going to shoot Jesse.
I jumped to my feet and screamed, “Hey!”
The guard spun my direction, depressing the trigger. I hit the ground as bullets whistled over my head and Jesse shouted, “Cassidy!” He slammed the gun into the guard’s head. The man went down. I covered my mouth with my hand, hardly stifling my own scream of terror.
A young boy, maybe eight or nine, broke free from the group of people. He sprinted for the guards, ramming into one of their backsides at full tilt. The guard swung around and started pummeling the young boy. Jesse smashed his gun into the man’s shoulders, and then lifted the boy to safety as the group of people swarmed like ants converging on a mound of sugar. The men had no chance, suffocated by the masses.
Jesse set the boy on the ground, affectionately ruffling his hair. A woman swept the child into her arms, kissing and scolding at the same time. A man broke away from the group. He angled towards Jesse. They spoke rapidly in Spanish. Jesse handed him the gun and then the man gestured to several others with machine guns and shotguns. They conferred briefly before splitting up, some heading back towards the barns, some running down the long driveway.
Jesse strode to my side and helped me to my feet. I struggled to free myself from his arms.
“It’s all over now, love.” He brushed his lips across my forehead. “I’ve got you, relax.”
“I’m not sure I want you to have me,” I muttered. The fighting had died down and the people were milling around as if unsure what to do next. I completely understood. The adrenaline rush was over and all I could think was my Nana was dead and Jesse was to blame.
Jesse swung me off my feet, cradling me like a child and walking towards the burning wreckage. A roof beam collapsed, sending sparks and ash into the air. The smoke was horrid, with a stench like death itself.
“What are you
“I don’t want to leave you alone, but I’ve got to make sure.”
“Make sure of what?” I mumbled.
“That no one got away.”
“Fat chance of that.” I leaned against his chest, too exhausted to fight my way free, but knowing inside no matter how much I loved this man I couldn’t forgive him for killing Nana, I couldn’t.
“Who was that guy, what did you tell him?” I asked.
“He was one of the slaves who helped free the others. I told him to search for other guards, but to put their guns down when the police come. These people don’t have a lot of faith in the police and I don’t want a battle.”
Jesse carried me gently around the wreckage. A cloud of dust appeared on the road and within minutes policemen were spilling onto the scene. They quickly started canvassing the area and asking questions. Jesse hurried around the edge of the house where we could continue our search unimpeded. Shouts drew us to the backyard.
“We’ve got a live one here,” someone called.
“Get the EMTs, quick.”
Jesse and I exchanged glances. He set me on my feet and we ran. When I saw Nana lying there on the grass, eyes closed, blood trickling from her forehead, but obviously breathing, I smacked Jesse as hard as I could, then sprinted to her side.
“Nana,” I screamed.
Jesse pushed a couple of cops out of my way. I dropped onto my knees.
“Cassie,” she moaned, opening her eyes and looking me over. “You’re okay.”
okay!” I wanted to fling myself into her arms but thought better of it. She looked like she might not survive the next minute, let alone an excited hug.
“I’m a surgeon,” Jesse told the cops. “I can take care of her until the EMTs get here.” They nodded and drifted away. Jesse started examining Nana, playing his doctor role.
“I’m fine,” Nana pushed weakly at his hands, “just let me pretend I’m old for a minute.”
Jesse ignored her and grabbed my, or actually his, T-shirt, and used his teeth to rip a stretch of material off the bottom. He tore it a couple more times then started using the fabric as compresses against her cuts.
Another section of roof collapsed, launching more smoke and debris into the air.
Nana stared hard at Jesse. “Thank you. I wasn’t sure if we could trust you, but you protected her.”
I threw my hands up. “Don’t thank him.” I lowered my voice in case any cops might overhear. “He’s the idiot that set the bomb.” Jesse arched an eyebrow at me as he checked Nana’s neck for spinal injury. I folded my arms across my chest. “Yes, Nana survived, but you still did
.” I gestured towards the wreckage.
Jesse focused on Nana. “It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t just murder a bunch of people.”
Nana growled as loud as Jesse. “Don’t be such a brat,” she said. “I came here to save you and Jesse not only saved you, he saved all of these people. This is more than the rest of us have accomplished in the past ten years fighting against the traffickers.”
“You’re proud he almost killed you?” I could not believe this crap.
Nana waved a hand at me. “I’m wrinkled body and soul. Who cares if I got blown up when so many lives have been spared today?”
I swallowed and glanced at Jesse. His eyes begged me to understand why he didn’t stop the bomb, why he agreed with Nana.
An arm came around my waist. “I’m glad you both made it.”
“Daddy!” I turned into his embrace. “You’re here. You’re okay.”
He held me at arm’s length and looked me over. “You being okay is the important thing.” He patted Nana’s hand, glancing at Jesse. “Is she all right?”
Nana swatted him away. “I’m fine. All that matters is our girl is all right.” Her eyes actually glistened. Wow. I didn’t know Nana could express that much warmth.
“From the initial assessment she doesn’t have any serious injury,” Jesse said quietly.
I could feel how uncomfortable Jesse was with my dad watching him. He’d almost killed Nana and my dad had already warned him to stay away from me. He was really going to get an earful now.
“How did you get here?” Nana demanded of my dad.
“I followed the tracking device to a truck stop west of Twin Falls. When I realized Jesse wasn’t there.” He gave Jesse a hard stare. “I doubled back to the last stop he’d made. I’ve been searching the fields since last night. When I saw the fireball I knew I was in the right place.” His full lips turned up into a grin. He released me and offered his hand to Jesse, eyeing him like a proud papa. “Great job. Amazing. But next time don’t go all hero on us and do it alone. We’re lucky none of you were killed.”
Jesse nodded, stopping his perusal of Nana and returning the handshake. “Yes, sir.”
Two men ran at us with a back board.
Jesse gave them his report, “I don’t see any sign of spinal damage, but I know you’ll take every precaution. Besides the scrapes she looks pretty good, but make sure they do a full cat scan at the hospital just to make sure there’s no internal damage I might have missed.”
They nodded, not questioning why a tattooed man with no shirt was telling them what to do. They lowered the board to the ground and after strapping a soft collar around Nana’s neck, carefully transferred her. “Stop,” Nana commanded. “Jesse, did you catch Ramirez?”
Jesse leaned towards her. “He wasn’t inside?”
“He took me out onto a patio, bragging to me.” Nana did an all-over body shiver. “He’s such a slimy putz. They were planning to kill all of us, ship the slaves off to their destinations tonight, then leave. It would’ve been a while before anyone found our bodies.”
“You think Ramirez survived?” Jesse asked.
Nana nodded. “He’s too evil to die.”
Jesse squeezed my hand and kissed me quickly. “I’ll be back for you,” he said before taking off at a run into the cold morning air.
I watched until his muscular form disappeared behind a large barn. Dad put his arm around my shoulder. We walked slowly after the EMT’s carrying Nana. “Jesse’s a good man. I might have to revoke my decree and let you date him.”
How ironic that my dad had been convinced of Jesse’s goodness by the very thing that was driving me away. Jesse had almost killed Nana. He’d killed his own father. What kind of a man could do that?
I watched Sham sleeping, amazed that this man had taken a bullet to protect me. I knew Jesse would do the same, but I’d been focusing with all my might to keep Jesse out of my head. Sitting in this room, where even the air was sterilized, and touching Sham’s smooth, brown hand seemed to help. It was also nice to be alone for a few minutes. The rest of my family was still sitting with Nana, who luckily just had a few stitches and some gnarly bruises to show for her bomb experience.
I persuaded Tasha to go home and get some rest. Apparently she’d been watching over Sham since Nana left early this morning to come find me. As she gathered her purse she commanded me, “If he wakes up make sure to tell him I’ve been watching over him. Do
try and be cute with him, make sure he knows you love Jesse,” I cringed at that, but said nothing, “Oh, and tell him how wonderful I am—here’s a picture.” She thrust her latest glamour shot into my hand. I smiled and agreed so she would leave. I was pretty sure, but admittedly not 100%, that Sham was too smart to be Tasha’s latest conquest.
Sham opened his eyes. I pulled my hand from his, afraid I’d taken liberties I shouldn’t have. For several seconds he simply stared at me, and then he whispered, “Cassidy.” His eyes were suddenly sparkling. A tear crested the side of his lid and rolled slowly down his cheek.