“What is your name?”
“He shot me. Ohmigod there’s so much blood and it—“
“Tell me your name,” Seth repeated, pressing his hand over the wound in her leg. Sticky wetness soaked her jeans and spread across his palm, seeping into the space between his fingers as he applied pressure.
“I…What? You want my name?” she got out between pained cries. “My…my name is…is Belinda. Ouch! Could you stop doing that it hurts like a bitch.”
Seth looked up at her from the kneeling position he’d taken beside her. She was shaking and her words were intermixed with shuddering cries that she failed to suppress. Not surprising since she’d just taken a bullet to her thigh, and he doubted that this woman had ever had a gunshot wound before. You couldn’t know how painful that was until you experienced it, and though it wasn’t the worst pain he’d ever endured, it wasn’t a picnic in the park. “What’s your friend’s name?” he asked her, trying to keep her focus where he needed it to be.
“Kit,” said Belinda, biting down on her lower lip and grimacing, pain radiating through her expression and the rigid way she held herself.
Nodding, Seth glanced at the woman sitting on the opposite side of the table. She hadn’t said one word. She hadn’t screamed or moved when her friend had been shot. Seth didn’t think she was in shock, and he needed her help. “Kit,” he started. “Come around to this side of the booth.”
Kit’s gaze swung away from the gunman and to him, but otherwise she remained frozen in place.
“Why did he shoot me? Who are you?” Belinda asked. She pushed at his hand on her thigh and went on, “I need a hospital. What if I—”
“Belinda. Concentrate,” he commanded. “Here is what’s going to happen. Kit is going to come and sit beside you, and she’s going to continue to apply pressure to the wound,” he said. Seth turned his gaze on Kit once more, and she slid out of the booth seat. Once she was settled in place, he removed his hands and said, “I know there’s a lot of blood and that it hurts like hell. The bullet didn’t hit the femoral artery, and you’re not going to bleed out. We’re going to get you medical attention as soon as possible. Okay?”
Both women nodded their heads. Good, they were with him, at least for the moment. Nailing down what he needed them to do, he finished, “Kit, if you can move the table out of the way and help her shift her position so that her leg is resting fully on the seat that will help. Don’t stop applying pressure, though. Work together to get it done. We clear?”
Kit nodded her understanding, though she still showed no sign of emotion and retained her silence. It wasn’t the typical reaction, and Seth wondered if she was simply cool in a crisis or if something else was going on with her. Problem was that he didn’t have time to figure out this particular puzzle. He could only hope that whatever the cause, it wasn’t going to add gasoline to an already flammable situation.
Rising to his feet, he turned away from the two women and faced the gunman. Seth had been aware of him leaning against the bar, watching him respond to the chaos he had created with one pull of the trigger. The man’s hands drew his attention. He slid his fingers over the gun he held, as though he was inspecting it to make sure it was in perfect working order. From this distance, all he could tell was that the man kept his hands clean and his nails trimmed. The only thing that stood out about them was the tattoo. It was a circular maze, similar to the kind found in a children’s book of puzzles where the goal was to make it to the center. Apart from the familiarity of the design, Seth didn’t recognize it as a symbol of any significance.
“I have nineteen bullets left,” the man said. “How many more am I going to have to use before you tell me what I want to know?”
“Why do you want to know where she is?” Seth countered. The man standing before him had shown he was more than willing to use the gun in his hands, and Seth was not in a position to take it from him without taking the chance of someone else getting hurt. Brute force wasn’t going to get him out of this situation. He was going to have to think his way out of it. Which made today like every other day. Except…
“She’s mine. I want her back,” said the gunman.
Seth shook his head. “Women are not property. You don’t own her.”
The man stepped toward Seth and spoke, “You’ve never really loved a woman, have you? If you had, then you’d know that when you love a woman, and she loves you back, you own each other.”
“Maybe you’re right about that,” Seth conceded. “But she doesn’t love you and she doesn’t want to be with you.”
He moved closer to Seth, less than a foot between them now, and he pointed the gun at his chest as though it was his index finger. “You know nothing about it. She loves me. She said it every day and every night.”
“Did she? Was that before or after you left marks on her body?” Seth challenged.
“Is that what you think gives you the right to take her from me?”
“I didn’t take her from you. She left you,” said Seth, though he thought the distinction was lost on this man. This man thought of himself as the king of his world. Everyone else existed in relation to him, reacting to his declarations and lacking the power to act in a way that was contrary to his desires. Janie Savoy had made a choice. She had acted. All Seth had done was give her what she needed to execute her plan to leave her abusive lover.
“He sent me to the cemetery,” said the gunman. “Gave me a map and pointed out the plot where her grave is located. I went there, saw her name etched in slate. It sent me to my knees. Filled me with feelings I can’t begin to describe and swore I would forget once I learned it was all a lie.” His grip on the gun tightened, and he visibly pulled himself out of the memory and redirected his concentrated focus on Seth. “In that moment, I understood how far I’m willing to go to get her back. Thinking she was dead—I couldn’t live with that, and I knew I would do anything and everything he asked of me so long as it meant bringing her home where she belongs. Now it’s time for you to decide what you’re willing to do—what you’re willing to endure—to keep her from me.”
Movement in the back corner of the bar filtered into his awareness, but his gaze didn’t flicker in that direction. He hadn’t expected that Neil Moser would sit quietly for long while this situation unfolded, and though he wasn’t comfortable introducing another variable into this volatile standoff, he hoped that whatever Moser planned to do, it would provide enough of a distraction to give Seth time to disarm the man and neutralize him.
“I know who you work for,” said the gunman. “I know that one of the things you do is get people who have been kidnapped back to their families. Ironic, really, since you’re a carbon copy of the kidnappers you spend your days and nights trying to subvert or capture, only you don’t demand a ransom in exchange for a safe return. Instead you leave a hole in someone’s life that can never be filled.”
“Is that what you think this is? A hostage negotiation?” Seth avoided confirming still more facts that this man knew about him, though the desire to ask how he had gotten so much detailed information on him was strong.
“That’s exactly what this is,” he replied. “You have someone I want back. I have…” He paused, using the barrel of the silencer like a pointer, counting heads as though he were the teacher on a school field trip checking to make sure all of the students were present and accounted for. “Nine hostages. Nine lives if you will. One for the many. Isn’t that one of the codes your kind lives by? Besides, I’m sure none of these people would thank you for putting their lives in danger in order to keep someone they don’t know hidden from the man who loves her.”
“Just tell him where she is,” said one of the frat boys.
His comrades shifted but didn’t echo his sentiments. They avoided making eye contact with him or Seth, staring at the table, the walls, anywhere and everywhere else.
“He’s right.” Seth looked over his shoulder at Belinda, and she took that as her cue to say more. “You can end this, so end it. So he knows where this Janie woman is. So what? That doesn’t put her in instant danger, and besides that, she can get a restraining order against him if she needs it. She’s one person, and you heard him say he has nineteen more bullets. Give him what he wants.”
“Yes, Seth Marlowe. Give me what I want.”
“No.” He took his eyes off the gunman long enough to make eye contact with Jules. Tension radiated from her in palpable waves. If hers had been one of the voices telling him to reveal Janie Savoy’s location, it would have been much harder to ignore. Perhaps more than anyone else in the bar, she knew precisely what was at stake for Janie Savoy. Maybe that was what put the steely resolve in the depths of her eyes and drove the silent communication he heard loud and clear.
Taking another step closer to Seth, the man pressed the barrel of the gun into his chest and warned, “You’re making a mistake. I only wounded that one. I won’t be as benevolent next time.”
Seth heard the whispering sound, located its source and trajectory only seconds before the weapon hit its target.
Seizing the opportunity he’d been waiting for, Seth swung out his hand, intent on disarming the man and ending this standoff on his own terms.
Read Chapter Four