“He signed on for another year, but we had to double the bastard’s pay,” he said without rancor.

He said something else but a noise outside distracted me at just that moment. What had it been? It hadn’t been particularly loud, just something slamming against the concrete, but it sidetracked me enough that I completely tuned James out as he continued to talk on the other end of the line for several pregnant moments.

“Bianca?” he asked, snapping me out of my momentary distraction.

“Hmm? Oh, sorry,” I said, trying to focus.

It could have been anything. A neighbor had been working on building something on his back patio earlier, and that had been much louder than that single slam had been. What about that noise was troubling me so much?

I kept my phone to my ear as I moved through the house, looking for Blake. The noise was probably nothing, but I figured that we would both feel better if she checked it out.

I heard it again as I moved into the kitchen. This time it was louder, and I could have sworn that it was accompanied by a low grunt of pain.

“Blake,” I called out, sure now that something was wrong.

She burst into the kitchen right as James began to sound a little frantic on the other end of the phone.

“Bianca, what is it?” he was saying. “Is something wrong? Talk to me, Love.”

I opened my mouth to answer, my eyes meeting Blake’s, when I heard a noise that made my blood run cold and my heart stop in my chest. It was a loud echoing boom that I knew all too well, and it made me freeze in terror. A gasp escaped my throat, my free hand flying to my chest.

Blake was moving instantly, pushing me to the ground, her gun already in her hand. “Stay down, Bianca,” she said. “Don’t move, and whatever you do, don’t leave this house. I’ll be right back.”

She disappeared towards the front of the house, though I thought that sound had come from the back.

I was listening so hard for what was going on in the back that it took me awhile to remember that James was still on the phone, which was surprising, since he’d been keeping up a steady, desperate dialogue the entire time.

“Tell me what’s going on, Bianca? What was that noise? Why did Blake tell you to stay down? Where did she go? I need to know what’s going on!”

I blinked, my mind going very shocky in reaction to that noise and the memories it dredged up. How did he not know what that noise had been? Could it sound so very different across the line?

That dreaded noise sounded again, and my body jerked as though I’d been hit, even though I was safe inside.

“We’re on our way to you, Love, and we’ve put in a call to the police, but I need you to tell me what’s going on. What was that noise?”

I swallowed hard, trying to focus on that beloved voice. I closed my eyes tight. “I love you, James,” I told him softly.

I heard him take an unsteady breath. “What’s happening over there?” he asked roughly. His voice broke on the words.

I shook my head, but of course he couldn’t see it.

That noise sounded again, and I whimpered.

“I love you, James,” I said again, my cheek on the cool linoleum of my kitchen floor. I was so happy, so unutterably relieved that he wasn’t close enough to be hurt by whatever was happening in my backyard.

“Talk to me. I have to know what’s going on. We’re in the car now. We’ll be there in less than twenty minutes, but you need to talk to me. What’s all that noise?”

I didn’t want to say it. It was completely ludicrous, but saying it would make it more real. The noise sounded again and I shuddered helplessly on the floor.

“Are those gunshots?” James asked in the most wretched voice. I could tell just by his tone that he was already certain of the answer, had likely guessed it with the first shot.

“Yes,” I breathed. “In my backyard, I think. I’m scared, James. I need you to tell me that you love me back. Please. Just in case.”

“No,” he whispered. “I’ll be right there. Are all of your doors locked up? Just stay hidden, and stay down. You’re going to be fine, and I will be there so soon…”

I closed my eyes, just wanting to listen to his voice until the danger had passed. As though it would just magically pass after that many gunshots…

I was doing so well, just planning to stay right where I was, when I heard another sound that changed everything.

A rough shout sounded in the back. It was the shortest noise, and it should have been indistinguishable from all of the other sounds, but somehow I knew with absolute certainty just who it had been. I fought to breathe, because I suddenly felt like I was drowning. That shout had changed everything. I went in an instant from being a scared little cowering mouse to being so desperately terrified for someone other than myself that I began to stand on trembling limbs.

Another gunshot sounded, and then another. A rough shout that tore my heart into jagged little pieces was stopped short somewhere amidst those two loud bangs.

I began to move resolutely through the house. I didn’t forget that I still held the phone. I’d gone from being in shock and into a desperate kind of clarity.

“I love you, James,” I told him again. “So much. I’m so sorry.” I hung up the phone, feeling it drop from my hand before I’d reached my back door. I took one deep breath before unlocking the door and sliding it open. Resolutely, I stepped outside.

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Mr. Tragic

STEPHAN - MINUTES EARLIER

I was getting a lot done in a short amount of time when it came to packing up my house, right until the time that I ran into a box of photos. Javier and I studied the first stack of pictures and laughed. It was a large stack of snapshots from a company Christmas party from maybe three years ago. They’d been taken on a super cheap camera, so they were grainy with a lot of red eye, but they brought back good memories, and we sat down on my bed and went through them all carefully.

Javier giggled, flipping a picture to me. I laughed so hard that I had to sit down. Murphy had his shirt off in the photo, and was trying to do splits, with absolutely no success. That was funny, but the highlight in the photo was by far the look on Damien’s face in the background. It was a mixture of admiration/horror/confusion. I must have been taking the picture, because Bianca was off to the side, doubled over laughing, and I wasn’t next to her.

Javier flicked me another picturing, still smiling widely.

This one was a close-up of a still laughing Bianca. Her eyes were twinkling as she looked directly into the camera. It was a great picture of her, though she wouldn’t notice or care how beautiful she’d looked in a bright green dress that night, her pale hair hanging smooth around her shoulders. I made a note to get a copy of it for James, who would love a picture of her laughing like that as much as I did. I sometimes thought that our fast friendship had been kind of like joining a club, one made up of men that thought that Bianca Karlsson was the most perfect woman on the planet.

Javier flipped me another picture, giggling harder than ever. I joined him with one glance at the image.

This one was of Murphy lying on his back on the ground. He held his arms up straight in front of him. His suit jacket and tie were crumpled all over the floor around him. I remembered that they’d gotten that way during his impromptu strip tease.

Marnie stood next to him in the photo, caught mid-curtsy motion. Javier flicked me another picture.

Murphy was making a valiant effort at bench-pressing the tiny woman.

Javier flicked me another picture.

The same tiny woman had collapsed onto him, and they were both laughing at his failure. We laughed even harder at the memory.

“I’m going to miss that job,” I said wistfully.

“Well, we don’t have to miss the people, which were what made it great. What do you want to bet that Damien and Murphy will be regulars at our bar?”

I smiled at him. “You’re so right. We’ll probably have to kick them out at closing time every night.” The thought filled me with warmth. Our lives were changing, yes, but they were only getting better.

Javier was playing more than helping me pack, and I couldn’t have cared less. I didn’t mind doing it myself, and would have preferred his company, help or no.

I reached up to pull a box down from the top of my closet and felt his arms wrap around me from behind. He nuzzled into the middle of my back, purposely tickling me with his nose, and I turned into him with a laugh, pushing him until the back of his knees touched the bed. He fell back with a laugh, and I followed him down.

He tried to get up, but he’d started it, and I intended to finish it. I tickled him mercilessly, wrestling with him on the bed, pictures and clothes falling off with our exuberance.

“Uncle,” he cried, still giggling. “Uncle!”

I let up, kissing him. He practically melted underneath me. I loved it. I could feel how I affected him, and I treasured that. I pulled back, stroking his cheek as I gazed into his eyes.

He opened his mouth to say something, but a loud bang made his breath catch.

I tensed for one long moment, still staring at him, before I sprang into action.

I stood up, pointing at him. “Stay here, and stay down, ok?”

He swallowed. “Was that a gunshot?” he asked in a very small noise.

“I’m not sure what that was,” I lied. “But I just need to go check on Bianca.”

I was already striding to the bedroom door before he spoke again.

“Don’t go, Stephan. Please. I love you. Don’t put yourself in danger.”

I looked at him, my heart in my eyes. “I love you, too. Stay down. I have to make sure she’s safe, Javier. I couldn’t bear it if she were hurt.”

I tried to appear calm as I closed the bedroom behind me, but I was tearing through the house like a madman the second it closed. A second and third gunshot had sounded by the time I reached my back door. My heart was trying to pound right out of my chest with the fear. I couldn’t lose her. I was a survivor by nature, but I knew that I wouldn’t survive that.

I unlocked, opened, and tore through that door in an instant, fueled by blind terror. If that monster had hurt her, if he had so much as bruised her, I swore that I would tear him apart with my bare hands.

A fourth shot sounded just before I vaulted over the tall barrier desperately, scraping my hands with the effort. I landed on the other side, taking in the bloody scene before me with shock and horror.

Bianca’s father straightened over the fallen form of Blake. His chest was bloody, bloody circles blooming on his chest, but he was still standing. He held a small pistol in his beefy hand. It was so small against those huge hands that it almost looked like a toy.

Another body lay in the yard. Patterson, I thought, but I couldn’t even spare him a glance as Sven Sr. pointed the gun at Blake, aiming to take another shot.

“No,” I shouted, rushing at him.

He turned impossibly fast for such a big man. He smiled at me through bloody teeth as he aimed into my chest and fired.

My last thought was one of relief. Bianca wasn’t amidst the casualties.

BIANCA


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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