Chapter One: A Lucky Break
(Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight.)
I could not believe my luck. In a dive bar just outside the city, drinking away the last three dollars I had to my name, trying desperately to think of some kind of plan to stall the eviction, drowning in my misery... there she was.
I had to look at the photo on my phone a half-dozen times to verify her identity, but after a near hour of watching her from a distance, there was nearly no doubt in my mind that it was her.
"All of you are to be on high alert. If anyone sees this girl, you are to contact me or boss immediately. And make sure you're sure. Call us for a false alarm and it will be your head."
Emmett, my boss', words rang in my mind, and I just couldn't kick that sliver of doubt. Even though the girl across the bar laughing avidly with the burly bartender looked identical to the girl in the photo Emmett had sent all of us, the voice of doubt in the back of my mind just couldn't be silenced.
What if it's not her? What if you call them and they come all the way out here for no reason? Do you think Emmett was kidding about what our boss will do?
I'd never met our boss; well, Emmett's boss, my bosses boss. I was too low in the organization to ever have seen the myth in real standing. I knew him only by reputation, but that was enough.
He'll kill you if you're wrong, then what will happen to mum and Seth?
I cringed, hating the thought of what would become of them if I wasn't here to look after them. Seth was only thirteen, and mum was to sick to work anymore. I was the sole provider for our family since dad passed, and I'd been doing a pretty piss poor job of it. Neither of them knew how close we were to being evicted, being homeless with nothing. Mum wouldn't survive on the streets and Seth was too bright a boy to have his future wasted because his older brother was useless.
But what if it is her? $100,000 reward for her return to the boss. That would make everything right. Pay the rent, pay mum's medical bills, buy the supplies Seth needs for school. Heck, I could probably even put some money in savings with that kind of payout. But I had to be sure.
If I can't call them, I'm going to have to take her with me.
Heaving in a deep, terrified sigh, I slipped my phone back in my pocket and reached in deeper for the bag of powder. I was disgusted at the thought of using it, but the only other option was to draw out my unregistered firearm and drag the girl out of here at gunpoint. I'd rather not have my face plastered all over the six-o-clock news, and I'm sure boss would appreciate it if I kept his girl out of it as well.
Making sure the powder was tucked away but would be easily accessible when the time came, I downed the last drop of cheap beer from the dirty bar glass and charged straight to the chatty bartender.
"Another, please mate," I requested loudly, practically slamming the glass down on the grimy bar top, drawing the attention of the girl now sat beside me. The bartender, a gruff looking man in his late thirties with long hair and a thick ginger beard, practically glared at me before straightening from his suggestive position and grabbing my glass, huffing irritably as he began to pour me another pint I would not be paying for.
It was clear he was agitated I'd interrupted his attempts to woo the fine young specimen before us, but I didn't give a shit. I just needed to get close enough.
"There." He barked, smashing the glass down on a paper coaster, nearly causing the glass to shatter. "What about you darlin'? You want another?" He asked the girl beside me in a completely different tone. Warm, and welcoming, with just the slightest hint of a leer.
"Um... yes, please. I'll just have one more. Thank you."
The surprisingly polite reply had me turning to face the girl at full view and... wow.
That one photo did her no justice at all.
She was stunning. With pale, porcelain skin, a heart-shaped face, slightly chubby cheeks, plump pink lips and bright, popping brown eyes. Her thick brunette hair cascaded all the way down her back in dark, sensual waves, ending just at her thin alluring hips, which curved into her rather lovely looking rear. I felt like a gigantic perv for staring for so long but... It didn't take a genius to figure out why she was worth $100,000 to the boss. I just couldn't help but think... how did a girl like this, get mixed up with a man like that?
That wasn't even the most surprising thing. It was in my (admittedly limited) experience, that girls with a figure like hers flaunted it. If a girl with looks like hers would even walk into an off-the-track dive like this, I had no doubt she wouldn't come in wearing dark jeans and a plain grey t-shirt. Yet despite her humble attire, the dingy atmosphere and horrendously dim purple lighting did nothing to hide how far she stuck out in a place like this. No wonder the bartender had been laughing it up with her all night. She was probably the nicest thing he'd ever seen walk into this dump.
"Sure thing, love. On the house." He winked at her, smiling from ear to ear as she blushed deeply at the attention. I was trying to act like I wasn't staring, but I had to find an opening somehow.
Thinking of the best thing to say to start a conversation, I stuttered out, "So, you two seem friendly. You know each other?"
She jumped slightly on her stall when she realized I'd spoken to her, her eyes flashing with fear for a split second before relaxing into a somewhat guarded, but otherwise pleasant expression.
"Oh, no. We just met. But he's very nice. Been keeping me company all night long, even if I am distracting him from doing his job." She said quietly, a little guilt tinting the corners of her sweet tender voice.
I held back a grunt. Yeah, work. Sure.
"'ere you are darlin', now are you sure I can't get you somethin' to eat? You've been sittin' in 'ere almost all day an' you 'avn't eaten a thing. Our chicken wings and nachos are great, you know?" The bartender insisted, laying it on a little too thick in my opinion, but the girl merely shook her head.
"No, sir. That's alright, but thank you. I'll be boarding soon enough, and I shouldn't fly on a full stomach. It hasn't done me any favours in the past." She teased gently. The bartender chuckled heartily.
"Alright darlin', if you say so, you just tell me when you're ready to leave and I'll give you a ride to the airport."
"Oh, no, that won't be necessary, sir, but thank you, again. I can get a taxi. It's only a ten-minute drive anyway."
"Nonsense darlin', least I can do. It's dead as a doornail in 'ere tonight and if you hadn't kept me company, I would have dried up like a prune waiting for something to do." He laughed.
I looked around the rather dingy bar, noting the layer of dust covering the glass of the jukebox, the sticky substances melded to half the rickety tables and chairs, the bowl of peanuts sitting beside us that looked close to being invaded by their own colony... I could certainly point out plenty of things for him to do.
She giggled, no doubt causing both of us to swoon a little, before lightly shaking her head.
"No, really, it's okay. I should be making my way back there soon anyway. I wouldn't want to risk missing the plane. But thank you again. You are very kind."
The burly, scraggly man seemed to redden around the ears at her remark, before turning hastily and busying himself with the jars of pickles fermenting on a shelf, clearly just trying to hide his oh-so-manly blush. Taking advantage of his turned back, I forced my voice to sound casual before asking,
"Plane? So you're flying out somewhere later then?"
She turned to face me again, though her body was still directed towards the bar as she took a sip of her drink through a dainty plastic straw.
"Yeah, the plane I was supposed to board had some defects so they pushed the flight back. I figured camping out here for the day would be better than a crowded airport with crying babies and overpriced bottles of water."
I chuckled nervously at her remark, my hand subconsciously fiddling with the small bag of powder in my left jacket pocket. No matter what, I could not let her get on that plane.
My heart was pounding so hard my chest was starting to hurt. I had to do this, and fast. I couldn't risk her riding off in a taxi to an airport, where it would be infinitely more difficult to snatch her. Here... here was perfect. With the bar practically empty save for the bartender and perhaps a cook, there'd be no one to identify the licence plate on the car if anything went wrong. Not that the plate was genuine anyway, but us low life grunts were not supposed to be dumping unwanted attention on our bosses doorstep. I was only hired to do simple jobs, assisting in raids and beatings for people who'd loaned money they hadn't repaid. Low level, low paid work, but the best I could get since no one wanted a college dropout with limited available working hours and massive emotional baggage dampening their place of business. Emmett was the first person to give me a chance, and while this was nowhere near my ideal dream job, it was literally the only option I had.
Unless I returned this girl.
Even though her capture hadn't promised a promotion, it would be a start. If the boss really wanted her badly enough to offer $100,000, then I could no doubt tally some favour, especially if I brought her back unharmed. Not that I wanted to harm this girl, far from it, but... needs must. I didn't know what boss wanted with her, I never asked, but whatever it was... I had to put it out of my mind. Family came first.
Swallowing down the bile that rose in my throat I quickly reached out between us as though to grab the bowl of mushy peanuts, only to 'accidentally' knock my drink down. It landed with a smash, shattering glass shards everywhere. I tried my hardest to look as shocked as she did as the bartender spun, immediately pinning me with a disdainful glare, as though he knew I'd done it intentionally. Yanking a rag off the rack, he angrily marched from behind the bar as I hastily jumped from my stool, giving him enough room to clean as I quickly darted to the other side of the girl.
"Don't get up lassy. I'll clean this up, wouldn't want ya' getting hurt." The man said while scooping pieces of glass into the rag with his hands. With both of them distracted, I frantically looked left and right, then dumped the full bag of powder into the girl's drink, giving it a quick shake while her back was turned. My palms were so sweaty, blood pounding violently in my ears. I only had one shot at this, I just hoped it worked. While the man huffed off to no doubt dump the shards and perhaps return with something more effective than a piece of cloth, the girl turned back around. I practically leapt away, afraid I'd be caught out.
"I'm sorry, I..."
"It's not a problem. It was an accident. You did nothing wrong." She assured me kindly, before taking a hasty sip of her drink.
If only you knew.
I couldn't help but feel like hot human garbage as she obliviously sucked down the shit I'd spiked her drink with. It wouldn't do her any harm - at least not past a headache - it was only to make it easier for me to get her back to the city. A sleeping, incapacitated girl was a lot easier to handle than a screaming, crying, fighting one.
Finally, after a full five minutes of just watching this girl slowly take the drug sip by sip, it started showing signs it was taking effect. Nothing too serious, just a noticeable sluggishness to her movements, symptoms easily passed off as having a bit too much to drink. The bartender had finished cleaning the remaining shards before returning back out of sight, and I watched his back like a hawk while I side-eyed the girl getting progressively more tipsy until I felt it was the perfect time to strike.
"Well, we should probably get you to the airport then, wouldn't want you to miss your flight," I remarked offhandedly, as though it had always been my intention to drive her there. She turned to look at me slowly, the glaze in her eyes a clear sign the drug was taking over.
"My... my flight. Yes. I mean no, I can't miss it. I should... I should call a c-cab." She stammered, clamouring off the stool, nearly tipping over before catching herself on the bar side. I stayed close, hands hovering just in case she needed the support.
"Are you alright?" I asked, as though I wasn't the sole reason for her dwindling awareness. Her alluring eyes, though stunned in the dark, flashed with a petrified fear that stabbed right through my chest.
"I... I don't... feel so good." She whimpered weakly, taking one more step before collapsing to the floor. Perhaps I shouldn't have given her the whole pack so fast.
Quickly jumping into action, I wrapped my arm around her waist and gently pulled her up, resting half her weight on me. Reaching out, I pulled her cascading hair away from her eyes and mouth, trying to appear sympathetic.
"Come on, I'll take you. It'll save time waiting for a cab." I insisted, gently nudging her towards the door. Of course, it was just my luck the bartender came out as I was nearly home free.
"Oi, what's going on? Leaving without sayin' goodbye?" He called out with a smile, which quickly sank when he noticed her weakened state practically leaning all over me. I pulled her closer to my side, making sure she didn't collapse. Damn this man. Now I had to lie my way out the door. Forcing a fake laugh I said, "Yeah, I don't think she can hold her liquor too well. I'm just going to drive her to the airport and make sure she gets on her plane safely. Sorry about the glass, man. Have a nice night."
I turned to leave, almost had the door open before I heard it.
The crack of a gun being cocked.
"Don't ya' dare take another step." Came the bartender's stern command. My heart jumped.
Slowly, I turned back to face him, settling the sagging girl on my right side while raising my hands in surrender.
"Whoa man, what are you doing? Put that thing down."
The gruff older man was pointing a hunting rifle at me, something he must have kept hidden under the bar in case of break-ins or violent patrons. I cursed myself for not getting the girl out of here sooner. Now I had to deal with this guy.
"What did ya' do to 'er?" He demanded to know, slowly stepping out from behind the bar, never moving his eyes from me. Feigning ignorance, I said, "I didn't do anything."
"Bullshit!" He yelled. I jumped back in shock. "That girl's been drinking nothin' but water all night long! You sit down beside 'er and now she can't stand? I knew you were a wrong'un! Sensed it the minute I clocked eyes on ya', I ain't never been wrong. Now put that nice girl down and get out before I decorate my pub with the back of your skull!" He ordered angrily, taking another threatening step towards us. By now I was sure we were the only three occupants of this tiny crappy bar, but I couldn't hope for that for long. I had to get this girl out of here quick and this knight in dirty armour wasn't going to stop me.
"Look, man, you have no idea what you're dealing with, just forget you ever saw her." I bluffed, hoping to keep him talking long enough to reach my gun. It was tucked in the waistband of my pants on my right side, so I pulled the practically unconscious girl closer to me to cover what my arm was doing.
He cackled humourlessly, cocking the barrel once more.
"I'm the one with the gun here sonny, so I'm warning ya', put her down and leave, this is the last chance I'm gonna give!"
We stared at each other in utter silence, sizing the other up. I really didn't want to shoot this guy, all he was doing was trying to protect an innocent girl from getting kidnapped by an apparent creep; heck, if I was in his position I'd probably be doing the same thing. But I didn't exactly want to get shot either.
Maybe I should just run. No one knows I found her, no one would blame me for her disappearing. I could just leave her here, drive home and go into work as normal tomorrow morning.
But the thought of returning to that flat, that tiny little flat we were mere days from being chucked out of. The thought of poor Seth's face when he realised his big brother had failed to protect him. The thought of watching mum wither and die just because we couldn't afford her overpriced medicine or hospital visits...
This one girl was my free ride out of all of that. And yes I knew it was wrong, trading my freedom for hers, but... she was a stranger.
Family comes first, Edward. Always.
I couldn't leave her behind. I'd gotten this far. I just had to convince this idiot to put his weapon down before he screwed everything up for the pair of us.
"Look, you don't know this girl, alright? Some very powerful people want her, and even if you kill me now, they will find out you helped her escape. And when they do... well, you'll wish you'd pointed that rifle at your own head and pulled the trigger." I declared with false confidence. Though I had no doubt in the boss' reputation when it came to torture, whether anyone would actually find out she had ever been here, let alone connect her to this random guy was a complete mystery. I was the new guy. No one would miss me. If I died here, they'd probably just send someone out in a couple of weeks to get the car.
The bartender looked me dead in the eye, as if trying to decern the validity of my story, before raising his gun once more. The blood drained from my face as my own shaking fingers finally touched the cool metal I needed.
"One. More. Chance. I don't want to kill you kid, but if you don't leave that sweet girl alone, you're gonna be sent to your mama in bits and pieces. Now put. Her. Down."
He left me no choice.
Pretending defeat, I sagged my shoulders and went to gently lower the limp girl down to the ground. He was watching me carefully, with a calculated, smug gaze as if he'd won. Oh, how wrong he was. As soon as the girl was dropped to the floor, I drew my weapon. I didn't even have a chance to order his surrender. His gun went off, the bullet shattering the dirty stained glass of the door mere fractions from my face.
He was a lousy shot.
But I was not.
The sound of the bullet's bang seemed to reverberate long after the man crumbled to the ground, his eyes staring blankly as though he couldn't figure out why he was on his knees. But he wasn't thinking. He'd never think anything again. The bullet went right through his skull, and he collapsed in a pool of his own blood, and was silent.
Oh my god! I just killed someone!
I wanted to freak out, start crying and screaming in horror, but I didn't have the time. Putting the safety on, I shoved the smoking handgun back in my jacket pocket, no doubt melting a hole right through it, but I didn't have time for such petty problems now. Quickly lifting the unconscious girl in my arms, I gave the place one backwards glance before carrying her to the car, buckling her in and starting our drive back to the city.
I just hoped the sedatives lasted the whole journey.