Authors: W.R. Kimble
By W.R. Kimble
© W.R. Kimble, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. This book is a work of fiction, and any similarities to real persons or events is unintended.
Many very special thanks to CJ, Sue, Julia, Kerry, Annette, Cat, Vicki, and all the girls in the group for the never-ending support, encouragement, and sometimes much needed laughs. This book would not exist if not for you, even though I know some of you are only in it for the bus ride... Now let’s get back to talking about goats.
I’m being followed.
For nearly a week now I’ve had this feeling of being watched from a distance and no matter where I go or who I’m with, I never lose it. While most people would be concerned about the implications, I know better. The people following me have no intention of harming me or my family and are probably merely staking out my surroundings for the next big move.
It’s strange. I haven’t felt this way in nearly five years—the knowledge of being followed is oddly comforting to me despite knowing that something terrible must have happened to trigger it. I haven’t mentioned my feelings to Tom or anybody else; they wouldn’t understand and their first instinct, probably rightly so, would be to call the authorities.
I walk calmly down the street from my office to grab lunch at a small café, mixing in with a large crowd that barely fits inside the building and wait my turn to place my order. As I wait, my eyes dart out the all-glass front to where a black SUV has pulled up across the street. I know exactly who is sitting in the driver’s seat behind the tinted window and I smile a bit at the thought. Worry is attempting to creep into my body and I’m using every ounce of strength I possess to suppress it. For all I know, this could be a simple matter that can be solved with one conversation and that would be the end of it. Deep down, though, I know it isn’t a simple matter. It’s something I won’t want to face, something I haven’t faced in so long that I think I’ve forgotten
to face it.
Suddenly I want nothing more than to ditch my would-be stalker and hide out in the safety of my own home. This wouldn’t help matters, of course; I would be found in a matter of minutes and the trouble will have been brought to my doorstep, something I cannot allow.
In the five years that I’ve managed to separate myself from my old life, I’ve found normalcy. Perhaps not normalcy by most peoples’ standards, but my own normalcy that allows me to fall asleep at night without fear. And that was the most important aspect of leaving that old life: the desperation to live without fear. I knew I would never fully escape it, that at some point it would rear its ugly head again and find me.
Now I’m worried. The agreement had been to let me live my life quietly, anonymously without the fear of my past returning to haunt me. He told me he would not interfere unless it became absolutely necessary. We managed to stick to our agreement, despite my moments of longing to see him, and never met, even when it came to our son. If something has happened to make him break the agreement and send his security team all the way out here just to follow me from home to my office to the school and back again, I’m not sure I even want to be aware of it.
Twenty minutes later, I’m returning to my office, white paper bag containing my turkey sandwich lunch in hand. With every step I take, I’m becoming more and more aware of the car following me. Any time I glance out of the corner of my eye, it’s there and it occurs to me they’re not even trying to hide their presence. Before I walk through the revolving doors of my building, I turn around, my eyes locking on the SUV to let them know I know they’re here, then return to my day.
When I was nineteen, I fell in love. Having grown up in a tiny one-horse Iowa farming town, I never really had the chance to see what the outside world had to offer. Where I came from, everybody knew everybody and there were never any secrets. This was why I was so desperate to leave after graduation. For most of my school career, I was an above average student with offers from the most prestigious schools in the country for scholarships. It wasn’t until Mom got sick during my senior year that my education became the least of my concerns. The more her health declined, the more my grades dropped until eventually every college I’d applied to retracted their offers. What was more, I didn’t even care. My family needed me and I’d be damned if I let them suffer just so I could run up student loans in a different corner of the country.
After graduation, I got a job at a local diner working as a waitress. For a while I was able to ignore the fact that every single patron of the diner was somebody I’d known my entire life and therefore they knew my exact reasons for being there. I tried to ignore the inflated tips they would leave me—their way of helping out a family who refused to accept charity.
It wasn’t until
walked through the front doors of the diner that I ever considered something more for myself.
The boys I grew up with were farm boys. Their mornings spent milking cows, tending to the horses, gathering crops when it was that time of year. They were all big and burly, wore cowboy boots and flannel shirts, and for the most part, acted like the typical Midwest gentlemen they were raised to become. Some played football with the hopes of attracting college recruiters; some resigned themselves to taking over the family farm. Others dreamed of just escaping and it didn’t matter where they went. Only one or two of the kids I graduated alongside actually made it out of here. I should have been one of them.
Throughout my teenage years, I didn’t date all that much. In a town like the one where I was born and raised if you locked yourself in your bedroom on a Saturday night with books and essays rather than joining the other kids as they trekked ten miles just to check out the drive-in, boys didn’t have much interest. That’s not to say I didn’t date once in a while; it’s just none of the boys I dated were interested in a girl who didn’t put out.
There wasn’t much to do in my town. Work, study, drinking, and sex were about the extent of it. I was only ever interested in the former two, much to the relief of my parents. My best friend since the time I was in diapers was Tom Saunders whose family owned the farm beside my family’s. Our parents worked together often, helping one another when help was needed. Tom was the youngest of four boys and was often teased for being the runt of the litter. Compared to the other Saunders boys, he truly was the runt. He didn’t have the muscles of the other boys, nor the drive to prove himself. He
a lot like me, actually; preferred to stuff his nose into a book rather than head to the state fair or play sports.
From an outside view, Tom and I were the perfect match. There wasn’t anything we didn’t know about one another and we were stuck to one another like glue anytime we ventured out. He was my date to prom. He was the first person to see me after Mom died. He was the person who helped me pull myself through what had been the most terrible ordeal of my life
up to that point. And later, when I was surrounded by the shattered remains of the life I chose above him, he was there to pick up the pieces. I never had a doubt of his feelings for me. The problem was that I didn’t reciprocate the way I thought I should have and as a result, I allowed myself to be taken away from the person who knew be best, who kept me safe, who loved me unconditionally.
I still remember the day my life changed from the monotonous routine I’d found myself living since Mom’s death like it was yesterday. I’d been working the dinner shift at the diner when an unfamiliar car pulled into the lot. Immediately it attracted the attention of everyone in town. Most of the vehicles we were used to were aged twenty years and in the pickup truck line. This one was sleek, shiny, and new, and we all practically stood at the windows staring with wide eyes as it parked. Doris finally snapped us out of our stupor and we returned to our jobs or meals, but even she was glancing out the corner of her eye as the doors opened.
That was my first sighting of him. He was nothing like what I had seen before and I knew even then I’d never see anything like him again. Tall, dark messy hair, clothes that were quite obviously not purchased at the Wal-Mart in the next town over like the clothes I wore, and a persona that seemed to scream that he owned the world. He didn’t own quite the whole world at that point, but I sure as hell didn’t know that.
The moment he walked in through the door with his driver, even Doris couldn’t take her eyes off him. He didn’t seem bothered with the staring—which, of course, he wasn’t—and actually had an amused little smirk on his face as he placed his designer sunglasses on top of his head as he surveyed what I knew to be about a quarter of my town
After what felt like
ages Midwest manners kicked in and we all went about our business, whatever that might have been, and pretended the strangers hadn’t entered the diner at all. Well, all of us except me, since the only open table in the place was on my side. I wasn’t ever the type to be intimidated by good looks. In my experience, the better you look the worse your personality. Not a fair assessment of the population, but I couldn’t help that. I grabbed a pair of menus and strode over to the strangers, determined to take their orders, deliver their meals, and not think another thought about either of them after tonight.
That determination lasted until
gave me a smile. At that point, I was lost and it would be three years before I found my way again.
Over the next couple days, I was on my guard. I tried not to seem too paranoid, but wherever I went, I was looking behind me. The cars continued to follow me and the only time I felt myself panic was when I seemed to have lost them. I still never mentioned my thoughts or feelings to Tom—if he didn’t believe I was being paranoid, he’d be angry that my past had returned once again and would undoubtedly overreact.
Since I returned home five years ago, Tom has managed to pick up all the pieces of my shattered existence, accepted everything that came along with me, and helped me start anew. Unlike my father and siblings, he never said
I told you so
, even though he of all people had every right to do so. Now we’re living in Omaha, he’s manages a small chain of family restaurants, I’m an office manager, our home is simple compared to what I had before, and we’re happy.
Compared to the life I lived for three years, this one is dull as dishwater. I went from small town farm girl to the arm of a multi-millionaire who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes, showed me the world, and gave me everything a girl could ask for to life in suburbia. The best thing I have from that time is the six-year-old little boy who is a mirror image of his father and is a daily reminder of what I gave up for the sake of anonymity. He was the reason I walked away. I couldn’t in good conscience subject my son to that fast-paced lifestyle where nothing was certain, not even safety, knowing what the risks were. When I walked away, I walked away from everything: wealth, notoriety, and love. The last was the only one that haunts me; the rest I couldn’t give a shit about.
Currently, I’m home alone—a situation that doesn’t occur very often. Tom is at the opening of his newest location and Tyler is down the street playing with his friends. Normally I would take
this opportunity to clean house, prepare dinner, launder Tom’s suits, whatever needed to be done. Instead I’m in the tiny closet of my bedroom digging through old shoe boxes sitting in the very back. I have no idea whether Tom has any clue that the box I’m looking for exists; if he does, he has the good sense to not mention it.
My hands are shaking as I find what I’m looking for and sit cross-legged on the closet floor as I open it. Inside is a multitude of items ranging from pictures to postcards to ring boxes and notes. Whether my desire to sift through the remnants of my old life has been triggered by what I believe to be the return of that old life doesn’t matter at this point. I shuffle through photographs set in
London, Paris, Sydney, New York City... And in every one of them the photographer managed to capture the disbelief in my expression that I was there at all and in the arms of the most amazing, sweet, gorgeous man on the face of the planet.
When the doorbell rings, the longing for that life is at an all-time high and I sit frozen staring at an image of my wedding day. I’m not surprised at the sound—part of me has been expecting it long before now—but I know what’s coming and I’m dreading it with every fiber of my being. At the same time, my heart is beating in way it hasn’t in five years because I know this is the only way I’ll ever be reunited with
I take a few moments to collect myself before pushing to my feet and walking downstairs with a calm that surprises me, and as though my guest knows I’m approaching, the doorbell rings once more. At the front door, I glance at the mirror beside it, knowing it was way too late to change my appearance, but at least I could smooth my hair a little and attempt to st
op my shaking hands as I reach for the doorknob.
The breath is knocked out of my chest when I see the man leaning on my doorframe wearing a crooked smile that, unfortunately for me, still has the power to reduce me to a puddle of nothing.
“Hello, Samantha.” The husky tone of his voice throws me back eight years to that nineteen-year-old diner waitress who had no idea what the outside world was about. And I suddenly know that life has returned with no intention of leaving again.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me.”
I’m standing just inside my front door, looking out at the man who is leaning on the doorframe as though he has every right to be there when in fact the opposite is true. He hasn’t changed in the slightest. His dark green eyes still penetrate every defense I have—and most of those defenses were developed to protect me from him. He still has that lock of black hair that hung down across his forehead, partly obscuring his right eye and begged for someone to reach out to push it away. If anything, he was more gorgeous than my memory recalls. And the fact that he was on my front porch did nothing to settle my nerves.
Wrapping my arms around myself, I raise an eyebrow at him. “Should I be?” I ask quietly.
His smile falters and he pushes himself to a stand at his full height. “Am I to assume Leo’s team wasn’t as covert as I instructed them to be?” he asks, an edge appearing in his tone.
My eyes dart past him to where the SUV is parked in my driveway and a tall man with short, parted blond hair leaned against the vehicle wearing his usual outfit of black suit jacket, white shirt, and blue jeans. I give him a tight smile which he returns with a sympathetic one of his own. “I’m sure they did their very best to be covert,” I say, dragging my eyes to the man in front of me, “but for three years, I spent enough time looking over my shoulder that I know what it feels like when I’m being followed.”
He winces, looking sad, and I relax my posture just a little. “May I come in?” he whispers, looking straight in my eyes. “There are some things we need to discuss.”
I’m hesitant. Anyone would be in my position. My ex-husband whom I haven’t seen in five years is at my doorstep after swearing on everything he would not make contact unless something directly threatened me and my family. Allowing him inside would be allowing whatever is following him into my life as well.
On the other hand, the last thing I want to do is send him away after so long of having not seen him. I long to spend time with him, talking to him, looking at him, fighting with him. Whatever, as long as I can be reminded that our time together wasn’t an illusion.
Your son isn’t enough of a reminder?
There truly are times I hate hearing the logical side of my mind.
The only other option was to have this conversation on the front porch in full view of all the nosy, bored housewives in the neighborhood.
Yeah, that won’t be happening.
I stand aside, gesturing stiffly for him to enter. After sending Leo some sort of
hand signal, he walks past me, looking around the house in interest. I know him well enough to know he’s wondering how I could have left him for
and how I can possibly be happy. It’s not until he stops directly in front of a wall of photographs that I see a bit of the man I loved—
Standing beside him, I know exactly what he’s looking at. It’s a picture of Tyler taken just last month, a huge grin that matches his father’s on his face. There is no possibility that there could be an identity mistake with the photo; he knows exactly at who he’s looking. Immediately, guilt floods me. It doesn’t matter
he receives updates and pictures from a mutual friend whenever he asks. It doesn’t matter that he agreed to keep his distance from us. What matters is that I’ve kept a father from his son and the two of them don’t know each other in the slightest.
“How is he?”
The question is asked so quietly and so full of emotion that it takes me several moments to form an answer. “He’s good,” I whisper, staring at the photo. “Incredibly smart, sweet, funny...” I bite my lip against the
just like his daddy
add-on. “You’d be proud of him.”
I watch all the different emotions play across his face, knowing he’s imaginin
g the years lost, knowing it’s my fault. “He’s beautiful,” he says, turning towards me. My heart stalls at the sight of his watery eyes. There is so much we need to say to one another, so much I need to apologize for, and so much he needs to explain. But a darting glance at the wall clock tells me we’ve got about an hour before Tom comes home from work and the last thing I need is for him to find our guest.
“Coffee?” I ask, breaking my gaze and heading for the kitchen.
I hear him sigh. “Sure, thank you.”
Immediately I busy myself at the coffee pot, my mind a whirlwind of activity as I take two mugs from the cabinet, measure out grounds, fill the water... I don’t want to turn around. I don’t want to have this conversation, whatever it might be. I want to go back to my dull as dishwater life where I was able to predict every second of my day.
Matthew is watching my every move. It’s something I haven’t experienced in five years and in that time, I’ve forgotten what it feels like. I know he’s not missing a thing about me and suddenly I’m self-conscious. Unlike the day he met me, I’ve gone through “mom changes.” I’m not as skinny as I was the day I met him. I’ve got a few more curves, my breasts are a little bigger, my hair is shorter, and I know damn well I couldn’t pull off half the positions in bed I did when I was nineteen. Not that Tom would actually consider anything aside from missionary.
But unlike my ex-husband, who seems to have only gotten better looking with age, I’ve let my appearance fall to the wayside. I never rea
lly put much effort into it to begin with, but at least there had been
effort. Now I just roll out of bed, shower, throw my hair up, use the very minimal amount of makeup I can get away with, and go about my day. I can’t remember the last time I had a haircut that cost more than $15 and a mani/pedi is not a phrase used around here.
Suddenly I wish I’d ignored the ringing doorbell...
Once the coffee is brewed, I pour in my creamer, stirring a little too intently, then turn towards the table with both mugs. Matthew is standing just feet behind me and I swallow the flood of emotion at the look of longing and regret in his eyes as I hand him one. “I assume you still drink it black?” I ask, cursing myself for the wavering in my voice.
“Yes,” he says, his own voice uneven. “Thank you.”
I nod and gesture for him to have a seat. Though instinct wants me to sit as close to him as possible, I walk around the table, pretending I don’t see the disappointment that flickers through his eyes. For a few minutes, we merely stare at one another and I properly take in his appearance. The changes are so subtle I nearly miss them. Physically, he hasn’t changed a bit. He still takes care of his body religiously. His skin a little tanner than I remember. The real difference is in his eyes. When I first met him and in the years following, his eyes were always sparkling with excitement and life. Now the spark is gone, replaced with a dullness only brought on by sadness and loneliness. Without fear of playing up my importance in his life, I know I’m the cause of that and it’s just another reason why I don’t deserve him and never will.
“How are you, Sam?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper.
Sighing, I lean back in my chair, mechanically bringing my mug to my lips just to give me something to do. “I’m okay,” I tell him firmly, knowing any other answer would only rile him. Of course, we both know I’m lying, but at least he has the good grace not to call me out on it. “Why are you here?”
His jaw tightens and I know he’s biting back some annoyed retort. I don’t want chitchat. I want to know why, after five years of silence, he suddenly appears out of the woodwork, shattering our agreement. “There’s some trouble,” he finally says, his voice cold and hard. “Threats. I ignored them for as long as I could, thinking they would just go away, but that, unfortunately for all of us, is not the case.”
All the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up at the implications of his words. “What sorts of threats?” I ask, trying to mask my uneasiness. His eyes narrow on me and I know he’s not fooled.
“We’ve been working on acquiring a new license that will expand us across the world,” he explains briskly. “The details are top secret, but we’ve got competition. It’s a lab operating out of Italy and they’re known for getting what they want, any means necessary. I’ve been receiving subtle hints that their ‘any means necessary’ may involve going after family or those most important to us, specifically you and Ty.”
The blood has drained from my body. I left Matthew to live a quiet life and up until now, I’ve achieved it. Now he’s here to tell me I’ve been dragged right back into the line of fire even though I made it a point to sever all ties. “You’re sure it’s real?” I ask in a hopeful whisper. There were dozens of threats in the time I was married to Matthew, and the vast majority of them were nothing but hot air. Every so often a real one got through the cracks and Matthew’s security team was usually able to take care of it quietly. I never asked how they took care of it and the one time I showed curiosity, I was told I didn’t want to know. “Maybe it’s nothing...” My hopefulness slowly drains as he shakes his head just as slowly.
“Sam, I’ve spent months digging into this one and I’ve had all my best guys trying to diffuse it, but nothing we do can find the source and if we can’t find the source...” He trails off, shrugging apologetically.
I know what’s happening. Part of me hates the man sitting across from me. If not for him, I’d be happily married to my best friend in the world, we’d be living on my parents’ farm with three or four kids of our own, and I’d never have to worry about anything. There wouldn’t be any concerns about unknown threats due to bad business dealings.
Not that my life with Matthew was all bad. In fact, about ninety-nine percent of it was pretty damn incredible. Without Matthew, I’d never have Tyler. And there is nothing in this world I would trade for my baby boy. He’s my life. He’s my reason for everything. He’s the reason I have to face whatever this threat is head-on in ensure it doesn’t come anywhere near him. If anything happened to my son, I wouldn’t rest until those responsible suffered at my hand.
I know that’s why Matthew is here. Tyler is the reason he broke our agreement. He might have promised to keep out of our lives, but only on the stipulation that should something happen, if our safety was compromised for any reason, he would be right there to get us out of trouble. Of course, he’s usually the cause of the trouble, but that’s beside the point.
Feeling all the fight leave my body, I look at the man sitting across the table from me. In the time that I’ve known him, I’ve seen every side of him—happy, sad, angry, depressed, loving, romantic, challenging, determined... He could be the most amazing, sweet, frustrating man on the planet and there were times I just wanted to beat some sense into him, but he was also the only man in the world I could ever love unconditionally. He was also the only man who could incense me to the point that I couldn’t see straight, who could calm me when I’m upset with seemingly little to no effort, who could make me laugh so hard my sides hurt for hours.
But one side of him I never see, one side he never
me see is the desperate vulnerable one that I know he fights to hide from everybody. Seeing it now makes me realize this isn’t some ploy to get back into our lives, like a very small part of me believed, however briefly it might have been. Matthew Young is positively terrified. And I think for the first time in our relationship I’ll have to be the one to push, to be the strong one.
“Tell me everything,” I say, unable to help my defeated tone.
His dulled green eyes shoot up to meet mine and he sighs deeply, opening his mouth to speak. “Sam, please believe me—”
I’m leaned forward on the table, debating the merits of reaching across to hold his hand. My decision is made for me when I hear the front door slam open.
Matthew rolls his eyes at Tom’s panicked call. I purse my lips and glare at him, which only makes him smirk. “In here, Tom,” I call resignedly, not taking my eyes off Matthew. I know exactly what is going to happen once these two are in the same room. If this doesn’t end with somebody bleeding—probably Tom—I’ll be surprised.
Tom stomps into the kitchen and even though I can’t see him from where I’m sitting, I know exactly what happens: he stops dead in his tracks, his face grows red in anger, and his hands are flexing into fists. “What the fuck is
doing here?” he growls.
Sighing, I turn around, poised to speak, but as always, Matthew takes the opportunity to rile Tom up a bit. “Is that really any way to greet your guests?” he asks lightly. “At least Sam offered me coffee.”
I can almost hear Tom’s teeth gnashing together as he glares at Matthew. “You’re not a guest,” he spits quietly. “You’re a fucking disaster.”
“Tom, calm down,
” I say quietly. “Please sit.”
“Are you kidding me, Samantha? Five years and not a word, and all of a sudden, here he is. What’s going to happen this time, Young? Gonna break her heart again?”
I close my eyes, knowing any amusement Matthew might have gotten from his favorite game has dissipated completely. “I don’t have to explain a fucking thing to you, Saunders,” Matthew says coldly. “This is between Sam and me. Go milk a few cows.”
“Matthew!” I yell. “Both of you, knock it off! Tom,
!” Both men look at me in surprise. It’s not often I raise my voice, but when I do, I mean exactly what I say. Tom takes a seat beside me and when I glance at him, Matthew’s amusement has begun to seep back into his expression. I want to slap both of them. “Now. We’re all adults.” They each snort derisively, looking anywhere but at each other. “Tom.” I’m trying my best to keep my voice even in an attempt to calm tempers all around the table. “The reason Matthew is here is because he believes there is a threat that affects us.”
Tom’s blue eyes narrow. “What do you mean, threat?” he asks, his tone no less hostile.
“Exactly that, Saunders,” Matthew says, sipping at his coffee. “Unfortunately, my professional life has a slight tendency to slip into my personal one and though I’m usually able to stop this from happening most of the time, this time I’m not.”
Surprise is visible on Tom’s face as he looks between me and Matthew. “I thought you were in computers,” he says disbelievingly.
After a second of staring at Tom, Matthew lets out a short laugh, sending me a questioning yet knowing glance. “Not exactly,” he says evasively. “I’m a defense contractor.”
Looking as though he’d believed this to be the very last thing he planned on discussing today—which it probably was—he sighed. “Defense contractor. That’s what my company does. We provide new technology or improve technology for the government and military, US and foreign. It’s a very competitive field, one which I’ve learned to navigate quite well since I got into it, but I seem to have this...
of pissing people off.”
“Imagine that,” Tom mutters sarcastically.
I shoot him a glare; Matthew pretends not to hear. “Anyway,” he says with a roll of his eyes. “With such a competitive field comes danger. Some people will go to any lengths to get a contract with certain agencies. A lot of it doesn’t go any further than professional threats, which comes with the territory. Every so often, though, a group will get involved in the bidding wars and knock everyone out of the way until they reach the top. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m usually at the top and as a result, get the brunt of the attack. If it’s only me, I can handle it with my eyes closed. But this time its worse.”
Though I know it will be the last thing he ever admits aloud, I know Tom is hanging onto Matthew’s every word. “How bad is it?” he asks quietly.
Matthew sighs and looks over at me. “Pretty bad,” he says regretfully. “They’ve done enough digging that they’ve found out about Sam and Tyler. We’ve been keeping an eye on things, hoping it didn’t get past the digging, but we’re currently at a point where you need to be aware.” He’s speaking directly at me and I know as far as he’s concerned, Tom isn’t in the same state, let alone the same room.
“What’s the danger?” I whisper, thinking through everything I know of the possibilities of danger that goes along with being associated with Matthew Young. It’s enough to give me nightmares, which is has over the years, and considering my last involvement with the danger and trouble, I know this isn’t something to take lightly.
The look Matthew gives me tells me I don’t want to know and I sink a little in my chair, wanting nothing more than to go up and crawl into my bed. I sit up suddenly, panic filling my veins as a thought flits into my mind, taking over everything. “
” I jump to my feet, nearly knocking over my chair in my haste to get a move on and to find my son.
Matthew jumps up just as quickly
as though he expected this reaction from me; in contrast, Tom is looking at me as though I’m crazy. “Sam, calm down,” he says firmly, walking around the table and putting his hands on my shoulders to stop me from running out of the house. Just his touch through my shirt is enough to relax me, to calm my breathing, and to rejuvenate a multitude of other feelings I’ve managed to bury. He folds his tall, lanky frame enough to look me in the eyes. “Do you really think I would come here without considering Tyler? I’ve got people watching him. He’s perfectly safe.”
This seems to snap Tom out of whatever daze he’s been lost in. “Watching him?” he repeats. “You’re spying on us now?”
There is no more amusement in Matthew’s eyes as he turns them from me to Tom, not releasing me from his hold. “Yes, I am,” he says bluntly. “Fucking good thing I am too; do you realize you were followed home from work a couple nights ago, Saunders? Black BMW that trailed you all the way to this neighborhood. Oh yeah...” He nods as Tom’s face pales. “For all I know, it was nothing, but it could have very easily been something.”
“The cars following me...” I say with growing dread.
“Mine,” Matthew tells me forcefully, laying my concerns to rest. “My guys, Sam. On my orders.”
I nod in relief and allow myself to be guided back to my chair. “What do you think we should do?”
Matthew retakes his own seat, running his hands through his messy hair. “Well, considering the intel we’ve gathered over the last few days, I strongly suggest the three of you take an extended vacation somewhere very far away using aliases. Of course I’ll pay for everything—this is my mess—”
“Damn right it’s your mess!” snaps Tom. “You led this shit right to our door and now you’re telling me you’re going to throw money at the problem that’s threatening my family?”
I see Matthew’s gaze darken at Tom’s last two words and I know his normally long temper is nearly at its breaking point. I’m about to intervene when the front door opens again. Three heads swivel around when we hear, “Mom, I’m home!”
A quick glance at Matthew shows me his heart is breaking a little. Tom’s anger is dissipating at the sound of my son’s arrival. And I’m just eager to intercept him before he wanders into the kitchen. “Behave,” I hiss at the two men at the table before heading out into the living room
, knowing it might be too tall an order for them.
Tyler is shedding his shoes, ja
cket, and backpack when I find him in the front hall. Now more than ever I’m aware of just how much he looks like his father and even more aware that his father is just in the next room from him for the first time in five years. Forcing a smile on my face as he looks up at me, I know immediately I can’t hide from him. Unfortunately, no matter how much I’ve tried to hide it, my son has been witness to my sadness and depression and loneliness over the years. He’s very sensitive to my emotions, even though I know he doesn’t understand any of them, and his light brown eyes that match mine exactly zero in on my face immediately. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” he asks quietly as I approach him.
I kneel down in front of him. “Nothing, baby,” I tell him, smoothing down his dark hair, though I know it’ll only return to the way it was the moment I move my hand. “Mommy is just a little tired.”
God, I hate lying to my son. “Why don’t you get cleaned up and start on your schoolwork, and we’ll have pizza for dinner.”
It doesn’t matter how attuned Tyler is to my emotions; he’s still a six-year-old and as such, he’s easily distracted. Especially when there is pizza involved. He beams at me, grabs his backpack, and bolts up the stairs to his bedroom, leaving me kneeling in the middle of the living room. I don’t want to stand up. If I stand up, I have return to the kitchen. There hasn’t been any noise to signify a fight has broken out, but Matthew has been trained in several martial arts as personal defense and there is no doubt in my mind that if it came to it, he could kill somebody without either of them uttering a sound.
Sighing heavily and resolving to drink just as heavily after Tyler is safely tucked into bed, I return to the kitchen, relieved to find no blood has been shed. Matthew and Tom are glaring daggers at one another and the tension is almost painfully thick. “Can we resume this conversation civilly?” I ask as calmly as I can manage as I sit down again beside Tom. Matthew’s jaw twitches in annoyance as his eyes dart between us. I ignore him.
“I want you out of my house,” Tom says just as calmly even though he’s radiating anger and hostility. “I don’t fucking care about your problems. Stay away from my family and I swear to
God, if I see you here again, I’m calling the cops and having a restraining order put into place.”
“Tom!” I say loudly.
“Your family?” Matthew repeats calmly and quietly. He snorts in disgust and shakes his head. “Your
is in danger, you stupid fuck.” He pronounces each word slowly as though addressing a small child. If this is how he addresses small children, though... I really hope this treatment is reserved specifically for Tom. “I came here to provide protection to all of you from some very bad,
people. I just told you somebody followed you from your work to your home and clearly that means nothing to you.”
“I told you,” Tom says stubbornly, standing. “I want you out of my house, Young. Now.”
Glaring, Matthew finishes off his coffee and stands as well. “Fine. But don’t come whining to me when you’ve got a gun pointed between your eyes.”
Personally, I think this last statement was a bit much, but Tom flinches ever so slightly and seems uncertain. “I’ll see you out,” I say quietly, refusing to look at Tom right now. I’m pissed at him for his treatment of Matthew, not to mention how he completely disregarded very real threats against me and Tyler. And peripherally to himself. I pretend not to see the little triumphant smirk on Matthew’s face directed at Tom as we head to the front door. “I’m so sorry for his behavior, Matt. He doesn’t understand.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Matthew says dryly. “Computers? Really?”
I shrug, smiling a little at his tone. “Well, you always said it was better that people know as little as possible about what you actually do,” I say defensively.
He smiles softly at me. “I did say that...” We step out onto the front porch and my eyes dart towards the SUV that is parked in Tom’s spot. No wonder he was so pissed when he got home... “Look, I am beyond sorry that you and Ty have been dragged into this, Sam. I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe, despite Farm Boy’s wishes.” I glare at his nickname for Tom, and he snickers for a second before his expression grows serious again. “I mean it. Nothing is going to touch you. I promised you before you left I would always keep you safe and take care of you. I have no intention if breaking that promise.”
I nod slightly, unable to do anything else. “I know,” I whisper, looking up at his sincere face. “Thank you.”
His lips twitch in what I think might be an attempt at a smile that doesn’t quite appear. “It’s good to see you, Sammy,” he whispers, his voice cracking as he speaks my name.
“You too, Matty,” I say, biting my lip again
st a grin. He scowls in a mostly playful way and I’m reminded immediately of how much he hates that nickname. “Take care.”
“Yeah, you too,” Matthew murmurs,
his eyes darting down to my lips. I hold my breath as he bends his neck and try to swallow my disappointment when he only kisses my cheek. “Keep your eyes open,” he whispers into my ear. I feel a slight pressure on my hand. “If you have any trouble, please call me. Okay?”
I nod again. “I will,” I respond, looking down at my hand at the business card he gave me. On the back is a hastily scrawled phone number.
“I had to change all the old ones,” he informs me apologetically. “I know you’ve been kept up to speed as far as my contact information goes, but this is very recent.”
“Okay,” is all I can think to say.
One hand running through his hair again, Matthew glances over his shoulder at the SUV where we both know Leo to be waiting very patiently. “I should go. I’ll let you know if there is any change.”
Again wrapping my arms around myself, I watch as Matthew walks away from me, however reluctantly it might be for him. Before he pulls himself in
to the passenger seat of the car, he glances back and I don’t know whether I’m just seeing what I want to see, but I swear his eyes are radiating longing for me. My vision grows blurry as the SUV backs out of the driveway and leaves the neighborhood. I never thought I’d again experience watching distance, physically and metaphorically, growing between us and this wound is just as raw as it had been last time.
Over the last couple days, ever since Matthew came to speak with us, I’ve been extremely on my guard. I thought after the way Tom had treated him, Matthew might have called off the people tailing me all around town, but he didn’t. If anything, they’ve made themselves more obvious, not bothering to hide themselves, and I can’t help but think they’re doing this because they want to let anyone after me with intent to harm to know they’re present. This probably shouldn’t make me feel better, but somehow, it does.
I haven’t seen or heard a thing from Matthew himself, not that I really expected to, and I’ve been fighting to hide my disappointment. After five years of trying to get over Matthew Young, to move on to a more normal life, I feel like I’d finally begun to pull it off, and then he shows up out of nowhere. Unlike Tom, I took every bit of what we were told seriously. I wanted to pack Tyler up that night and go wherever we might be safest, but after the worst fight Tom and I have ever had, I was too exhausted to do anything but go to sleep. Tom is still barely speaking to me. He’s angry that Matthew has made a reappearance. He’s angry that I’m “buying into” everything Matthew says. He’s angry that we’ve apparently got people out there who are trying to hurt us
of Matthew. He’s angry that every time we try to talk about it, I faithfully defend Matthew.
I think that last one is the real problem, but I have no intention of backing down. Despite everything, I trust Matthew Young with my life and the life of our son
, and that will never change. I may not have been completely honest with Tom when I showed up on his doorstep five years ago during the middle of a torrential downpour carrying my one-year-old son beneath my jacket and a single backpack that contained nothing but diapers, bottles, and other young child necessities. Over the years, I know Tom has formed his own beliefs of what happened between Matthew and me, and all those beliefs center around blaming Matthew for everything.
Of course, in reality, it was all my doing. I was the one who left. I was the one who ended our marriage and removed our son from Matthew’s care. It’s a decision I’ve regretted every day since, only because I knew I was leaving behind the only man I’ll ever be in love with. Deep down, I think Tom knows this. It’s why our relationship is at such a stand still. He wants something I could never give him and he’s just desperately hoping I change my mind. If Matthew hadn’t shown up on our doorstep, I think somewhere very soon down the line, I would have been worn down, if for no other reason than to give Tyler some stability. He already considers Tom his dad and loves him like he is, and really, all that matters to me is my son’s happiness. Tom makes him happy, therefore, I’m happy. And it doesn’t matter if Tom and I both know it’s a lie. It’s a lie we’re willing to live with.
As I said before, since Matthew left, I’ve been on guard everywhere I go. The slightest thing makes me jump: a backfiring car, someone yelling, a slamming of the door, the floorboards of my house creaking in the middle of the night, even though I’m well aware they always do that. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, searching for anyone suspicious.
Three nights after Matthew’s sudden visit
, I’ve tucked Tyler into bed. Tom is working late, and I need some
time. I spend time in the bathtub, intending to read, though I knew my mind wouldn’t focus. I keep thinking about Matthew and whatever this threat is. Is he safe? What happens if they turn their sights on him? I don’t think I could survive him being hurt again. The last time early killed me and it turned out to be the last straw of what I could handle.
On the other end of the spectrum, I keep thinking about Matthew. What we had together and how incredible it had been. He showed me things, taught me things I never would have imagined existing. He taught me things about myself, made me realize my full potential in life, encouraged me to go after what I wanted. It was because of him that I decided to start college. Of course, that was before I got pregnant, but even then, I had his full support in everything. He took me away from something I desperately wanted to escape; I just didn’t know how to go about doing it.
The most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do was leave him. After his release from the hospital following the attack, he gave me a choice—stay or go. He’d dedicated himself to keeping me and his son safe, and he’d very nearly failed us and I know that guilt still eats away at him. Once I made my decision, he made all the arrangements to get me back home. The divorce was much smoother than I thought it should be, but I think Matthew somehow managed to make it easy as possible, quickly dividing assets between us. The last thing I ever wanted was his money; I’ve never been
girl. Even knowing that, every couple weeks, Matthew deposits almost obscene amounts of money in a bank account he setup. His reasoning has been that it’s for Tyler: his care, his education, his happiness. I understand that, but the amount of money in that account pretty much guarantees our son will be the richest boy in middle school. Tom is aware of the account, though he’s never asked for details. Not that I would give him any; that’s something between Matthew and his son.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if Tyler knew Matthew existed outside of pictures?
It’s true I’ve downplayed Matthew’s role in my son’s life. I made this decision for many reasons; the most important one being it’s dangerous for Ty to know too much while being required to keep it quiet. I always resolved to tell him everything when he gets older, but right now the best description I can come up with that won’t terrify Tyler is that his father resembles Q from the James Bond movies; he develops all sorts of gadgets that a lot of people use and want. That’s a very simplified description and I know personally Matthew’s job involves a hell of a lot more than that and more often than not, he’s targeted for some of the technology he develops as well as his determination and success in gaining contracts that are very much sought after. I know him well enough to know that he enjoys that aspect of the job; the more danger the better. At one point he considered getting out of his line of work, particularly after Tyler’s birth. Clearly, with us gone, he decided against it.
I have a brief thought that it’s better this way; he loves his work and every
little detail that goes into it. I know he’d be miserable if he gave it up to work a nine to five job where he was forced to wear a suit and tie every day.
At least someone is living their dream.
With a heavy sigh, I switch off the television and resign myself to hours of tossing and turning in bed before my alarm goes off at 5AM. On the way to my and Tom’s bedroom, I stop to check up on Tyler who is spread out on his bed, his arms and legs contorted in a way that if I attempted to sleep like that, I’d be sore for a week.
Of all the things Matthew and I did in our three years together, this beautiful little boy is undoubtedly the best. He was a surprise to say the least, and while I was nervous about telling my husband
of less than six months about my pregnancy when we hadn’t really discussed children, Matthew had been over the moon about the news. He was made for fatherhood and for the first year of Tyler’s life, Matthew doted endlessly on his son. He lived and breathed for that little boy. And I know it kills him to not be involved with Tyler, but it had been Matthew to suggest that things be this way. The dangers Matthew is surrounded with on a day-to-day basis is innumerable and constant, and the more separation he put between Tyler and me is better all around.
Until now apparently. Everything is catching up to me again and I’d be a fool to not be afraid. Knowing Matthew has assigned his security team to keep an eye out is more than a small comfort, but experience says no matter how well trained they may be, they’re not perfect and they do sometimes let things slip through the cracks.
Faintly, I hear my cell phone ring downstairs. Placing a kiss on Tyler’s head, I quietly make my way out and down the stairs, expecting Tom to be the caller to tell me he’s working later than anticipated. When I reach my phone, I feel a smile growing on my face. It’s not Tom or even Matthew to check in on us. It’s the person I’ve needed to talk to most after the last few days.
“Hi, Claire,” I say happily, wedging the phone between my ear and shoulder as I move around the kitchen for something to drink.
“Hey, stranger,” returns a slightly husky yet bubbly voice. “Sorry I didn’t call you back last week. Been a little hectic around here.”
I sigh. “No worries,” I say. “I know the feeling.”
“Uh oh. What happened?”
Sitting in a chair at the table, I try to think of what to tell her. Claire is very familiar with Matthew. More familiar than I am, being his younger sister. She’s my age, tall,
average-built with her brother’s dark hair and eyes—apart from the age difference, they could be twins. Claire is also the only member of Matthew’s family, aside from their mother, who liked and approved of me rather than merely tolerating my existence because of Matthew. Over the years, she’s supported every decision I’ve made, even not knowing exactly why I left her brother, while the rest of the family remains slightly bitter. She’s also been my go-between with Matthew, passing on photos and information about Tyler. I don’t think I would have survived the last five years without a friend like her and she’ll never know how much I appreciate her.
“Matt is in town,” I say quietly.
I hear a sigh on the other end of the phone. “Am I to assume he’s made contact?” My silence is enough of an answer. She curses softly and I hear the click of a lighter, then an inhalation as she puffs on a cigarette. “Are you all right?”
This is what I love about Claire. She skips the bullshit questions—the how’s and why’s of Matthew’s reappearance—and jumps right into what I’m really dealing with. “I don’t know,” I answer honestly. “It’s wonderful seeing him, but at the same time, he’s drudged up all the shit I’ve been trying to bury.”
“Bet Tom loved that,” she says grimly.
I laugh. “You know it,” I respond wryly. “I’m just relieved they didn’t kill one another with all the animosity between them.”
“Well, considering what I know about the agreement you and Matty made, I’m not going to ask for details,” Claire tells me briskly. “And before you ask, no, I didn’t know he was planning on going to Omaha; we haven’t heard from in over a month. He’s been overseas working on some project or another. All I really know is whatever trouble he’s brought home, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep you out of it.”
Bit late for that...
I quickly change the subject, asking about Danny and the kids. Apparently my ex-brother-in-law has broken his leg after trying to do some sort of home improvement project that involved a ladder. The kids are growing like weeds and grating on their mother’s last nerve, and are practically begging her to convince me and Tyler to come for a visit. That’s an offer that has merits, especially in light of recent events. I can’t think of a better vacation than Claire’s house in upstate New York hidden by trees in the middle of nowhere. After promising to look into vacation time at work and planning a visit as soon as I can manage, Claire tells me to keep her posted on everything going on and to give Tom and Ty her love before we hang up.
That conversation seems to be what I needed to settle my mind enough for sleep. I shut off all the lights again, check the doors are locked, and retreat to my bedroom. Before I crawl into bed, I have the urge to glance out the window, a bad feeling settling in my belly. I
hate that I know what I’m going to find before I even part the curtains, and that doesn’t make the reality any easier. Out on the street, parked directly across from my home and in full view of my neighbors is a sleek, black sports car I’ve never seen before. Briefly I consider that it might be one of Matthew’s guys keeping an eye out on us. That’s until I see the man leaning against the car, arms and legs crossed as he locks his eyes on my house. There’s a very simple way to decipher whether this person is friend or foe and knowing I’ll never get to sleep until I know which it is, I grab my cell off the bedside table and the business card I tucked into the drawer, quickly dialing Matthew’s phone number while keeping the man outside in my view.
He answers on the third ring. “Sam?” he says in surprise.
“Hi,” I say quietly.
“Hi,” he responds. “What’s the matter?”
Of course he can hear the nerves in my voice and like Claire, doesn’t bother with chitchat. “I don’t want to panic you,” I say, uncertain whether the statement is directed more at him or me, “but have you sent somebody to stand outside our house?”
Dead silence on the other end of the phone confirms my fears. “No,” he says evenly. “Why?”
“Because there is somebody standing outside our house, leaning against a car,” I tell him.
“Can you see what he looks like?”
I don’t ask why he assumes it’s a man; it’s irrelevant. “Not really,” I say apologetically. “He’s in all black. I think he might be bald, but I can’t really be sure.”
Matthew curses and I hear him lower the phone and place his hand over the mouthpiece as he barks instructions at someone, probably Leo. “Samantha, I need you to listen very carefully,” he says calmly. “That is not one of my guys. I have a suspicion of who it is and I promise you, you’re going to be okay.” Someone speaks to him. “I don’t care!” He sounds pissed. “I want eyes over there, Leo! Five fucking minutes ago!”
I can almost see people scrambling around Matthew to follow his orders and it momentarily calms me knowing I’m not completely alone right now. Glancing outside, I confirm the man is still there, only he’s not leaning against the car anymore; he’s standing in the middle of the street, staring directly at my bedroom window. The logical side of my brain tells me there’s no way anyone can see me through very slightly cracked curtains, especially when the bedroom behind me is pitch black. The illogical side, however, the one that has been panicking for what feels like hours, screams that the person outside knows exactly where I am and to whom I am speaking on the phone.