reckless abandon (phantom protector book 1)

Reckless

Abandon

 

 

Kate Allenton

 

Copyright © 2012 Kate Allenton

All
rights reserved.

 

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Cover Image 
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / dundanim

 

DEDICATION

 

 

 

Dedicated to
the real Jamie Bloom

For whom my
character was named after.

Your
strength and friendship inspires the best of all of those around you.

May you
always kick butt and take names.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

 

A special thank you to Tara, Sara,
Cathy, April, Rozalyn, Ilse, Rachel, Joanna, Sue, Liron, Megan, Debra, Mikki,
Carrie, Brenda, Tiffany, Melissa, Raena, Angie, Carol, and Lynn for always inspiring me to continue on
my writing journey.

 

With you ladies in my corner, there’s
no way I can lose.

 

I appreciate all of your support.

 

 

 

 

Table
of Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

 

Maxwell Briggs lifted the bottle and sipped the ice-cold
beer. He needed this beer; keeping the Bennett women alive was hard work. He
deserved, and would savor, every last drop of his beer.

He glanced around the little establishment
through the smoky haze that danced around the bar. He’d been in bars like this
before. The only difference was the missing bikers and half-clad women wearing little
else but leather. No, this place was different, calmer than most places he’d
frequented back home. Three older men sat at the bar drinking from frosted mugs
and popping pretzels into their mouths. Their quiet banter gave them away as
friends, or at least acquaintances. A slow country song wailed from the ancient
jukebox with words that mocked him drowning his sorrows. He’d been in town for
three months with no possibility of leaving anytime soon. Lydia Bennett, the
oldest and most powerful of the Bennett sisters, had almost died twice on his
watch. “My track record is going to hell.”

“You can say that again.” Brody Connors, the
most annoying of the Connor twins, agreed as he walked up behind him.

Connors pulled out a chair and swung it around
to straddle the weathered seat. “Is this a pity party for one or can anyone
join?”

Connors lifted his hand toward the young waitress
that looked barely legal enough to be serving alcohol in this joint. “Can I get
a beer, darling?”

The twenty-something waitress gave a shy smile
and lowered her lashes. “Sure.”

Connors was oblivious to the shy girl, but
Briggs wasn’t. He noticed everything and everyone around him. Things like that
made him good at his job, or at least he thought so.

Briggs picked at the label on the brown glass
bottle in front of him. “Don’t you have someone else to go aggravate? I’m sure
Thompson is missing you by now.”

The waitress returned with Connors’ beer. He
winked as he handed her the bills. “Keep the change, sweetheart.”

A light pink traveled up the young girl’s neck
and colored her cheeks.

Briggs shook his head. “Can’t you drink that
somewhere else?” He lifted his hand to his ear and pretended to listen. “I
think I hear your brother calling you. Why don’t you run along now like a good
boy?”

Brody laughed. “Dude, seriously? You think I
actually listen to that stick-in-the-mud? Or you for that matter.”

The door to the bar flung open. The silhouette
of a woman with lush curves stood in the doorway, her face hidden behind the
veil of smoke. She waved her hand in front of her face before she stepped in,
letting the door close behind her to block out the sun.
Jamie Bloom.

Jamie, another one of the powerful, elite
supernatural soldiers, scanned the bar and spotted them in mere seconds. Her
baby-blue gaze held Briggs as she walked closer, closing in on his table. His
gaze lowered. Her jeans hung loose on her hips. Her T-shirt did little to hide
the six-pack abs he’d noticed during their last workout. The woman was sin with
a dash of sugar and a secret past all rolled up in one.

Brody nudged Briggs in the arm. “You’re in
trouble now.”

Jamie sauntered up between the two of them. She
took the beer bottle from Briggs and pressed it against her lips. Tilting her
head back, she drained the remainder of the beer he’d been enjoying.

She swiped at her lush pink lips with the back
of her hand, catching the droplets that had escaped. “You’re up, big boy. She’s
had another vision.” Jaime turned and left the same way she’d entered.

Brody and Briggs remained motionless, both of
their eyes trained on the sway of Jamie’s hips until she was out of sight.

Brody stood and patted Briggs on the back.
“Seems you’ve got some work to do.
 
Do I
need to drive you back to the compound?”

Briggs pulled out his wallet and laid bills on
the table to cover the tab he’d barely started. “I brought the bike. I’ll meet
you there.”

Briggs pushed out the doors and into the blazing
sunlight, such a contrast to where he’d planned to spend his entire day getting
a good drunk. He secured his helmet and patted the black beast in front of him.
“Let’s go, Bessie.”

He straddled the Harley he’d come to love and
revved the engine. The motorcycle thrummed between his thighs. This was his
type of enjoyment. He loved the open roads and the peace it afforded him. There
wasn’t anything else in the world that could compare. Briggs turned out onto
the open road. He could feel his lips turn up on a grin.
I need to do this more often.

A white van with black-tinted windows pulled out
of a dirt road behind him, accelerating until it was almost kissing Bessie’s
fender.

“Stupid people,” Briggs mumbled as he sped up,
putting more distance between his beloved beast and the idiots behind him. The
driver apparently didn’t understand the rules of the road either that or didn’t
respect them. Keeping distance behind a motorcycle must have been a foreign
concept.

The van accelerated, catching up again. Briggs
strained unsuccessfully to see the face of the driver. Apprehension struck his
gut, and when his gut gave him warnings, Briggs always listened. “Damn.”

It was time to ditch the jerk. He opened the
throttle and left the van in his dust. There was no way the van was going to be
able to keep up with him. He glanced back in his rearview mirror, and the van
was gone, not even a tiny spec in the mirror to indicate that the van was still
on the road.

Briggs slowed the bike and pulled over then glanced
behind him to the empty road. He wasn’t imagining things. The damn van was
gone, clear out of sight. He shook his head and headed back to the compound
while still checking constantly to see if the van would reappear.

He rolled to a stop at the guard station, pulled
off his helmet, and dug out his wallet, flashing his ID to the men standing
guard. They should have been used to him by now, but with the heightened
security, he wasn’t going to complain; Extra security was just one more way to
keep the little visionary safe. They nodded and lifted the bars, allowing him
entrance to the compound beyond.

Briggs laid his palm on the silver box and
pushed through the doors of the compound, emerging in the Intel room. Lydia stood
with her coffee in hand next to Jaime as they spoke in hushed tones to Jonah,
the computer whiz.

All of their gazes fell to Briggs. Lydia grinned
and walked over to him, entwining her arm with his. “I’ve been waiting on you.”
Lydia
leaned into his shirt. “You smell like a smoke factory. Where have you been?”

“The bar.” Briggs glanced around the command
center. Personnel steadily punched at their keyboards. They seemed to have
grown accustomed to him and his group that had shown up only months
before.
 
“Where’s Romeo?”

She nodded toward the conference room. “In there,
planning.”

Briggs nodded and escorted her to the room.
“Planning what?”

“I think it’s best if I wait and tell you,” Lydia teased.

Briggs opened the door, and they all filed into
the massive conference room. Everyone was in attendance, just as he knew they
would be. General Lister, the man that ran this rodeo, sat at the head of the
table. His presence was still a force to be reckoned with even for someone
lacking gifts like the rest of the unit under his command. Nothing had changed
in the conference room since the last time he’d been in it; plain white walls
surrounded the room with a table for ten sitting in the middle. All of the
major players sat at the table. Some he’d come to tolerate, and others he tried
his best to avoid. Lydia’s
fiancé, Rick Thompson—or, as Brody liked to call him, Romeo—sat next to the
general. Across from him on the other side of the table, the general’s right
hand man and second-in-command, Ridge Connors sat patiently waiting, sitting as
ridged as Brody had described his brother. Briggs held back his chuckle. The
man really needed to get laid. A night on the town would do him some good.

Next to Ridge was Brody, the more annoying and spirited
of the Connor twins. He was doodling on paper just like he did at every meeting
called. Briggs pulled out a chair for Lydia and then another for Jamie,
who’d followed in behind him, before he sat himself.
 

“Okay, now that everyone is here and accounted
for, what’s going on?” Briggs asked.
 

Lydia
shook
her head as Jamie whispered into her ear. His gut tightened into knots. The
fact that Lydia
wasn’t shouting from the rooftops like a woman overdosing on caffeine normally
would wasn’t a good sign.

Lydia
cleared her throat. Her vibrant green gaze held his. “Did anything unusual
happen on your way back to the base?”

Briggs leaned back in the plush leather chair.
“A white van was riding my ass, but I lost it.”

Lydia
placed
her hands on the table. “I saw it in my vision. I saw you make it back to base
without being harmed.” She turned toward the general. “It wasn’t just a dream;
it was a vision.”

“What else happened?” the general asked with a
bit of annoyance in his voice. His inability to understand Lydia’s visions
always set him on edge.

Lydia
glanced at Brody and then Briggs. “They’ll be coming for us, soon. I saw Brody and
Briggs leaving the compound on a trip. They were searching for something, and
they failed. Everyone sitting here dies.”

Briggs crossed his arms over his chest. The last
thing he wanted to do was take a trip with the most annoying person he knew and
cause the loss of those lives he’d been sent here to protect.
 

Ridge leaned forward. “That’s impossible.” He
lifted his hands. “With all of our combined skills and extra security, there’s
no way that Floyd could beat us.”

Lydia
shrugged. “I don’t know how, but he does. That’s why it’s important that Brody
and Briggs find whatever it is they’re looking for.”

Floyd was the psycho that had been after Lydia. He was
the only reason Lydia was
still in the little town of Henderson. Her presence
in Henderson
was supposed to keep her safe. He might not understand what made her tick, but
he’d learned to trust her the same way she’d trusted him.

Leaning forward in his chair, in a controlled
voice, he asked, “What is it? Tell me what I’m after, and I’ll find it. I can
find anything.”

Lydia
lifted
her coffee to her lips. Her gaze over the rim of her cup traveled to Jamie. She
nodded once. “Jamie holds the key. Whatever that key unlocks is our only hope.”
She met Jamie’s eyes. “It could potentially save us all.”

“What key?” Briggs asked, placing his elbows on
the table. He held out his hand to Jamie. “Hand it over.”

Jamie pulled out the gold chain from beneath her
shirt. Attached to the end hung a nondescript silver key. “This is the only key
I’ve got, and to be honest, I’m not sure it goes to anything.”

The general’s brows pulled together. The air
around the table vibrated, either from Brody or Lydia, but Briggs couldn’t tell
which. The general spoke. “Where did you get it?”

Jamie lowered her lashes and clasped her hands
together, entwining her fingers. She looked up and met the general’s gaze. “I’m
sure it’s in my records, but I was abandoned when I was a baby and grew up in an
orphanage.” She lifted the key from her chest. “The women at the orphanage said
this was on a chain around my neck when I was left on the doorstep. I’ve had it
ever since, and I have no idea what it unlocks.”

The general nodded and pushed from the table.
“I’ll get Jonah to start researching.”

Brody stood. “When will Briggs and I be
leaving?”

The general shook his head. “Lydia’s visions
get altered when something changes, and if we all end up dead in her dream,
then something needs to change. You aren’t going.” He turned toward Jamie.
“Briggs and Jamie are. She’s the one that holds the key.”

Brody’s mouth hung open. “But, sir…”

“My decision is final.” He turned toward Lydia. “How
long do we have?”

Lydia
squeezed
her eyes closed as if trying to remember the vision in living color. “A month
tops, I think. In my vision I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, and the weather
isn’t cold enough yet. So if I had to guess, I would say maybe a month.”

The general nodded intently and walked to the
door, pulling it open. “Time’s ticking, people.” He looked over his shoulder.
Briggs didn’t miss the tightening in the general’s jaw. “Jamie, make sure you
give Jonah the key so he can copy it and research it. He’ll give it back to you
before you leave.”

The general turned toward Briggs. “You leave at
oh eight hundred tomorrow.”

Briggs rose from the table and shoved his hands
in his jean pockets. “I didn’t sign up for this. My mission was to keep Lydia safe, and
to be honest, I think I just need to get her the hell out of here and let you
guys figure this one out.”

Jamie walked over to Briggs and placed her palm
on his arm. “Rick will keep her safe and whisk her away when the weather
changes, but I need your help. You were the one who said you could find
anything and right now…” She raised an eyebrow as if contemplating her words. “You’re
all I’ve got.”

Lydia
smiled
and patted his other arm as she walked by. “Don’t worry. He’s going to help.” Lydia followed
the general out the door as everyone else gathered their things and left them
too.

Jamie’s crystal eyes watered. She was trying to
fight back a tear from escaping. The strong, kick-ass woman he’d come to admire
over the last several months was counting on him. Could he really let her down;
would he?

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

There was no way she was going to let him refuse
her. Even if it meant turning on the waterworks like a pansy girl, she would
have done it. The people at this compound were the only family she knew, and
she could shed a bucket of tears if that meant getting the silent giant to
cooperate.

 
He threw
his arm around her shoulder and led her out of the conference room. “I’ll help,
but we’re going to do this my way.”

Jamie opened her mouth to argue but instead bit
her tongue… for now. She thought about using her gift. All she would have
needed was to touch the big brute and she could have made him feel empathy for
her, but she decided against physically manipulating him. If he wouldn’t help a
woman in distress, then he wasn’t the man to go on this journey with her.

She’d dreamed about this moment. Not a vision
like Lydia
had, but dreams of a little girl finding out about her past. As a child, every
year she’d wished during Christmas, and when she blew out her birthday candles,
she wished that her parents would return, and every year she’d been
disappointed. As the years went by and she grew up, she placed another brick
around her heart to protect herself from the disappointment. She’d done the
only thing she could do and toughened up. She would never let anyone wield that
much power over her again…ever.

Jamie held back her smile as she reached up and
pulled the chain over her head. She ran her thumb over the metal key once more just
as she’d done a thousand times before. She handed to over to Jonah, the
computer geek. “Don’t lose this. It’s important, and I’d hate to have to kill
you.”

Jonah chuckled, and Jamie raised her brow. His
eyes widened, and he cleared his throat. “Oh… that wasn’t a joke.” He clutched
the key to his chest. “I’ll guard it with my life and have it back to you
within the hour.”

Jamie nodded and left both men standing there as
she made her way toward the gym. She wanted to grab one more workout before
she’d be leaving to find the answers that had eluded her all of her life. She
felt the aggression building inside of her. She needed an outlet, and she knew
it. Jamie knocked the living crap out of the hanging bag until sweat streamed
down her face. With every punch she drained some of the anger she held for her
parents. After an hour of the intense workout, she returned to her room, only
to shower and collapse on her bed.

Her body was fatigued, but that didn’t stop her
mind from running rampant. Jamie tossed and turned all night thinking about how
she would react to finally meeting her parents, if that was where the key took
them. She wondered what type of possible excuse they could give her for
discarding her when she was just a tiny baby.

Jamie opened her eyes, unable to sleep with all
of the thoughts running through her head. She glanced at the clock. The red
numbers, saying it was only five in the morning, mocked her. She let out a sigh
as she reached up and held the key in her palm and asked the age-old question
she’d whispered countless times. “Why? What did I ever do that was so bad?”

She shook her head and slid out of the bed,
giving into the fact that a peaceful night’s sleep wouldn’t be returning
anytime in her future.

When six o’clock rolled around, she couldn’t
take the anticipation anymore. She grabbed her packed bag full of clothes and
her weapons of choice and strolled down to the cafeteria. Hunger wasn’t
necessarily on her mind, but waiting in the only company of her thoughts was
out of the question.

The cafeteria was like a ghost town. Most of the
linoleum tables sat empty. The large bulletproof windows surrounding the room
gave her a view of the compound walls and indicated that it was the start of
another beautiful day, one that didn’t match the pending doom bubbling in the
pit of her stomach. Brody and a few others were the only ones eating breakfast.
Jamie dropped her bag in a chair at Brody’s table and went in search of
something that would calm her stomach. The smell of eggs and bacon drifted to
her nose. It was the type of breakfast she normally ate, but she didn’t think
she’d be able to stomach it today. She returned only moments later with a bowl
full of fruit and a glass of orange juice.

Brody winked at her as she sat down across from
him. “I suggest you eat more than that. I wouldn’t count on Briggs stopping if
you’re hungry later.”

“I’ll be fine. This will hold me over.”

He leaned across the table. “Anything new to
report on your search for your parents we talked about last month? Last you
told me, they weren’t going to give you access to the hospital records.”

She shook her head and popped a grape in her
mouth. “Nope, after everything that happened since Lydia’s been here, I haven’t really
had any more free time to look into it.”

“Are you scared?”

Jamie almost choked on her grape. “Scared, about
what?”

Brody waved his fork in the air. “Oh, I don’t
know… finding out why they ditched you so long ago. You’ve been looking for a
mighty long time and considering you hold the key”—He pointed with his fork at
the dangling key—“to everyone’s lives, I just thought you might be a little
worried.”

Brody had hit the nail on the head. She wanted
to believe that she could forgive her parents for their terrible deed all those
years ago, but there were new stakes on the table and a future she was going to
have to confront in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together. “I trust
that Briggs knows what he’s doing.” She shrugged. “Besides, I’m sure Lydia will call
if she gets anything new. We all know what happens when we make choices that
weren’t in her vision.”

Brody sipped his coffee. “Yep, the gates of hell
open and everything goes to crap.”

Jamie chuckled, leaned across the table, and
stole a piece of Brody’s bacon. “You can say that again.”

They ate in comfortable silence, well as silent
as Brody was capable of being. He told a few jokes to lighten the mood and
offered more than once to go on the mission in her place. Everything seemed
normal and calm, until
he
walked in
and dropped his bag. His grunt indicated he hadn’t had his coffee yet and
wasn’t likely to be a morning person. She sighed as he made his way to the
coffee pot. “Traveling with him ought to be interesting.”

“Yeah, he seems to be a whole ball of fun in the
morning.”

Briggs plopped down in the chair next to Brody
and grunted again before he sipped his coffee.

“Good morning.”

“Not yet,” he replied.

Brody stood and picked up his plate. “I guess
that’s my cue to leave before he sucks the life out of me too.”

“You must have me confused with Thompson.”

Jamie couldn’t contain her grin and smiled. Rick
Thompson had been captured by Floyd and stuck with a needle containing an
unknown substance. The mission to rescue him had almost cost his fiancée her
life, a fact that Jamie would never forget since she had to perform her magic to
help heal Lydia.
Rick hadn’t been the same since he’d returned. He, just like everyone else at
the compound, had new abilities of performing the impossible. Rick’s was the
hardest to believe. The idea of him sucking the energy from those around him
was just something that was hard to digest.

Brody called over his shoulder as he left.
“Nope, it’s you… All you, big guy. Have fun on your trip and try not to let Jamie
get killed. We kinda like her around here.”

Briggs didn’t reply.

“So I see you’ve got your bag packed. Are we
leaving when you’re done with your coffee?”

Briggs lifted his brow but didn’t reply.

“Not a morning person, are you?” she asked.

Briggs set his coffee cup down and leaned back
in his chair. “Tell me something.”

“Shoot. What do you want to know?”

“How a girl like you, who was born and raised in
Jonesville,
Tennessee,
came to end up at a place like this.”

Jamie was momentarily stunned, and she was sure
it was written all over her face. She shook her head and leaned forward. “If
you already know my background, then you also know the answer to that.”

Briggs grinned. “I do.”

Jamie drained the remainder of orange juice and
rose and lifted her bag. “Then maybe you can tell me who my parents are and we
can forego this whole trip. That would save us a lot of time.”

Briggs stood and picked up his bag. “Finding
your parents isn’t our mission. Finding out where that damn key fits is.”

Briggs walked past her, leaving her to catch up
with him. “Well, big guy, if you were smart, then you’d know that one leads to
the other.”

Briggs slowed his stride to walk beside her.
“You hope.”

Jamie silently agreed with the big brute who’d
actually been smart enough to look into her past. She felt some of the morning
tension lift from her shoulders. Was it possible that Briggs could actually
pull this off and help her find what she’d spent the last thirty years of her
life hunting? Could he be for real?

 

****

 

Briggs wants to argue with the general when he
insisted that they take an SUV. His bike would have gotten them their quicker
and maneuvered easier in and out of a jam if they found themselves in such. It
hadn’t been until the general pointed out the extra features that he’d agreed.
The midnight black SUV with its tinted windows held more surprises than even he
could have hoped for. The SUV had hidden structural reinforcements to stop the
frame from collapsing, thanks to Brody’s accident with a tree a month ago. It
had GPS engrained into the structure and an electronic system for easy tracking.
A dual exhaust, a big engine, and a reserve gas tank had been installed. The
fact that it held enough guns and ammunition to support a small country didn’t
hurt the appeal. It was a vehicle that Briggs would have picked for himself if
he’d had the choice.

The general handed the keys to Briggs. “I expect
you two to check in daily and give me a report of any new findings.”

Briggs nodded once but didn’t reply. That was
all the general would be getting from him. He was aware that Jamie wasn’t a
rule breaker. She’d follow his orders to a T if need be.

“Jonah is running a scan of your key through his
database to see if he can pinpoint a possible match.”

That got Briggs’ attention. Why he hadn’t
thought to do the same thing amazed him. He’d been up all night, too busy
researching Jamie and her past and not focusing on the most important piece of
the puzzle—the damn key. He was under the impression, as Jamie was, that only
her parents were going to be able to tell them the significance of the key…if
there was one at all.

“Have him email me the same schematics he’s
using to do his search.”

The general nodded, and Briggs shut the door and
waited for Jamie to get situated in the passenger seat. He let his gaze linger
down her body, making sure her long, lean legs had plenty of room; at least
that was what he was telling himself. She was a pretty woman, a bit more
guarded than most. She rocked a body that most women only dreamed of and was
down to earth enough not to realize it. She reminded him of the Bennetts, not
necessarily in looks but in attitude and the way she handled herself.

Thinking of the Bennetts gave him an idea. He
unhooked the watch around his wrist and handed it to her. “Put this on.”

She took it and turned it over. “Does this mean
we’re going steady?”

Briggs chuckled.
Yep, just like a Bennett
. “Nope, just a little insurance that you
don’t get lost.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Come again?”

“There’s a tracker in the band. That’s how the Bennetts
find their family when Emma gets one of her ‘feelings.’”

Jamie lifted her head in understanding as she
made to put the watch around her wrist. “Oh, that’s right… PMS symptoms when a
family member is in trouble.”

“Yep and a ghost too.”

Jamie twirled the too-big watch on her wrist.
“But I’m not a Bennett, and come to think about it, neither are you.”

Briggs turned to her and grinned before training
his eyes on the road in front of him. “Nope, just a trusted friend they don’t
want to get lost.”

Jamie play-slapped his arm. “Ah, how sweet, you
care enough about me to not want to lose me.”

Briggs shrugged. “Like I said, insurance.”

His phone dinged, alerting him of a new message.
He pulled it out and glanced at the screen. He steered to the side of the road
and quickly forwarded the email to one of his trusted business partners, Butch
Edwards, the man who was now happily married to Claire Bennett. He grinned and
punched the letters on his phone. “If anyone can figure out where that key
goes, he’s our guy. I bet we have this wrapped up within the week.”

Their trip was going to take days; four states
over tended to do that unless they drove straight through.

 

 

 

 

Chapter
3

 

 

 

Jamie settled into the plush leather seat on a
journey she wasn’t sure she wanted to make. Finding her family and the reason
behind the key she’d been left all of those years ago scared the crap out of
her. As it was, her stomach was doing summersaults at all of the possible
answers this week would provide. She twisted the watch around her arm,
reclaiming her focus that this was not going to be an easy assignment. Her
heart would be broken when she finally learned the truth. Nevertheless the
assignment was too important to let go.

“I’m not sure what Lydia thinks this will accomplish.”
Jamie reached up and stroked the metal key between her fingers.

“Her visions have always been a mystery to me.”
Briggs glanced at her. “You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think I have
any insight into what it all means.”

Jamie bit her lip and tucked the key beneath her
shirt. It dawned on her that neither she nor Briggs had any clue what the hell
they were doing. Jamie watched the tree line pass by. She was leaving a town
that she’d called her home, her family, and all that was familiar to her.

“Why don’t you tell me your story?”

“There isn’t much to tell.” Jamie remained
silent for a brief moment as she contemplated his request. “I was abandoned as
a baby and grew up in an orphanage. When I turned eighteen, I joined the
military, and the rest is history.”

Briggs glanced at her again with sadness in his
eyes. She didn’t need his pity; she didn’t want his pity.

“Don’t feel sorry for me, Briggs. Everything
that happened and everything I went through made me into the person I am today…
and I turned out okay.” She swallowed around the lump in her throat and twisted
the watch again.

“More than okay, Jamie. You’re kind of like me
in a way. Your friends are like your family, and I get that.” Briggs reached
over and took her trembling fingers into his and gave a slight squeeze. “More
than you’ll ever know, I understand.”

Briggs released her hand and clenched the wheel
as he gritted his teeth. She knew he had a story but remained silent as not to
pry.

“You have a gift, and you use it for good. No
one can challenge the smart, beautiful woman that you turned out to be.”

It was sweet sorrow as Jamie watched them pass
the town line. A feeling of emptiness sat in her stomach. Everything she’d ever
come to care about was getting farther and farther away with each mile they
drove.

“We’ll be back before you know it,” Briggs said
without taking his eyes off the road.

She turned in her seat. “Do you have some
special mind-reading gift? How do you know what I was thinking?”

A grin formed on Briggs’ lips. “Nope, Lydia’s sister,
Claire, is the one who reads minds.” He looked over at her. “I’m just really
good at reading body language, and yours is telling me you’re sad and worried.”

 

****

 

 
Briggs
was used to babysitting. Heck, his job required him to be really good at
it.
 
He knew she wanted to be anywhere
but with him on the mission they’d been assigned. She was a good person, unlike
him. She wanted answers, and he feared
 
she
wouldn’t like the ones she got.

Briggs ground his teeth together and glanced in
the rearview mirror. The van that had been following them since they’d left the
compound remained three cars behind them. They didn’t make a move to approach.
Yep, he knew they were there, and he would have to handle them soon but didn’t
want to worry Jamie. It was reasons like this that made him wish he had his
motorcycle. Different scenarios ran through his head, none of which were good.
He glanced down at the gas tank and remembered about the extra fuel they had as
a grin split his lips. His day was already starting to look up. He could get an
extra three hundred miles before they needed to stop. Briggs hit the Bluetooth
button and spoke into the air. “Call… Jonah.”

Jamie glanced at Briggs. One eyebrow rose as if
to question the call.

Jonah picked up on the first ring. “Don’t tell
me the SUV is giving you trouble. I designed it myself.”
 
The humor in his voice told him he wasn’t
worried.

“Nope, actually your modifications are going to
get us out of a jam.”

Jamie crossed her arms over her chest. “Jam,
what jam?” she asked.

“I need you to pull up the specs on a 2011 Ford
cargo van and tell me how much gas their tanks can hold.”

“Hang on a second.” Briggs could hear Jonah
tapping away at the keyboard. “It gets eighteen to twenty-four miles to the
gallon and holds a thirty-three gallon tank. Why?”

Briggs cleared his throat and gripped the wheel
tighter. “Give me an estimate of where it would need to stop for gas if it left
the base when we did.”

“It could be on empty anywhere from 500-700
miles. Why are you asking?” Jonah said with an unsteady voice. “Is it following
you again?”

Jamie swung around in her seat and glanced out
the back window. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She turned around and pointed
with her thumb the way she’d just looked. “You think that’s the same van that
followed you back to base?”

Briggs nodded. “I know it is.”

“How can you tell? I can’t even see the driver.”

Briggs glanced in the rearview mirror. “There’s
a dent in the fender on the passenger side. It’s the same one…trust me.”

“What do you need?” Jonah asked.

“I need an exit point off the highway and a new
route to Jonesville taking the back roads when the van runs out of gas.”

“You got it. Have Jamie text me when you see
them get off the interstate, and I’ll send the new route to the SUV’s GPS
system.”

“Copy that.”

Briggs hit the end button on the Bluetooth.

Jamie looked back once more. “Why didn’t you
tell me we were being followed?”

“There’s nothing you could do about it. I didn’t
want to alarm you.” He kept his tone void of concern to disarm Jamie’s anxiety.
“Just sit back and relax and trust that I’ll get us there in one piece.”

Jamie’s eyebrows lowered; her eyes narrowed into
slits, her disbelief in his words evident. She lifted a finger and pointed to
her chest and then to his. “If we’re going to do this together, you need to
work on your communication skills.” She released a breath. “Trust runs both
ways, Maxwell Briggs, and I’m not some little sorority girl that gets scared
easy.”

Briggs rolled his eyes but knew she was right.
She was one bad-ass woman who was highly trained in hand-to-hand combat. Her
skills were unparalleled to even those she’d trained. He’d seen first-hand that
she was capable of taking care of herself. “I know. I’m just used to handling
it myself.”

Jamie twirled the watch on her wrist and
remained silent as she looked out the window. Minutes passed before she spoke
again. “You know, you’re not alone anymore. All of that changed when you came
to the compound to protect Lydia.”

Briggs let her words sink in, but she was wrong.
Yes, his friends in Southall were like family to him, but he was still alone.
His world had turned upside down fifteen years early, and his soul had never
been the same. He’d learned to live with it and adjust to what life had thrown
at him, keeping people at arm’s length and keeping to his self as often as he
could. He glanced over at the passionate, caring woman riding shotgun. Her
healing abilities could fix what had broken all of those years ago, but he
didn’t want to be fixed. He wanted to remember the pain. It helped keep him
focused, and he couldn’t afford the distractions and feelings she was trying to
make him face. Nope, this women didn’t possess the ability to bring back the
dead, but he could understand her desire to make things right. Floyd scared the
hell out of her, and Briggs was one hundred percent certain that he needed her
help to extinguish that threat.

 

 

 

 

Chapter
4