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Authors: Christina C Jones

Save Me If You Can

BOOK: Save Me If You Can
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Save Me If You Can

Book 3 of the If You Can series

 

Copyright © 2015 Christina C. Jones
 
Cover art by Christina Jones

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real locations, people, or events is coincidental, and unintentional.

To date, I would say that this has been my hardest project to complete. The most planning, the most self-doubt, the most second thinking, just… the most. A planned series, when the full story isn’t over until the third book, is a big undertaking. A lot of elements and back story, a lot of people’s history to honor, a lot of questions to answer, and holes to fill.

It’s stressful.

But reaching this completion has been so, so satisfying.

I know that a lot of people were upset when I pushed back this release, and I apologize for that. I wanted to make sure that I delivered a conclusion that was of the same caliber as the others in the series. I wanted it to be worth your support, your money, and your time.

Because I waited, I believe that I’ve accomplished that.

Thank you, God, for giving me something that I remain excited about, for a passion that has not dimmed since the first day I sat down to start putting the words for “Love and Other Things” on the page.

Thank you, so much, to my amazing betas, who endured so many rewrites, with so much time between. You ladies are nothing short of amazing, and I am so grateful that you consider me worthy of your attention and time.

Thank you to my friends, and family, who have been incredibly patient with me, and always are, because they understand what writing means to me.

And thank you, thank you, to my readers, who have shown me amazing support and love.

This is for you
.

 

 

~

 

He’d
lied
.

As hard as she tried, Noelle couldn’t keep that nagging thought from remaining at the forefront of her mind, burrowing and needling into a bitterness that settled over her heart. There were only two promises she’d ever asked him to make.

One: love her forever.

Two: protect her baby girl.

Right now, as far as she was concerned, he was 0 for 2.

The house was eerily quiet after the terror and destruction from before. She had no idea how much time had passed, only that she was alone now, and the place where she’d last seen Damien was blood-soaked, but empty. The man himself was gone, and there was an odd sort of freedom in that thought, however fleeting. Damien Wolfe, gone.

Ha.

She should be so lucky.

Closing her eyes, she groaned. Guilt and pain washed over her in tandem as she tried to sit up. Guilt because she loved him, and was only thinking so harshly because he’d broken his promise. Pain, because whoever that other man was, gorgeous, distinguished, and very,
very
angry, had broken her.

She realized with a sharp pang that he’d probably broken Damien too. It had been a long time since she’d been handled so harshly, but she’d experienced enough abuse at the hands of a man who claimed to love her that she was numb to it. She’d simply detached herself, and floated away, then come back when it was over. But Damien… being forced to watch while that man violated her with absolute glee… it had to have hurt him.

Noelle enjoyed the thrill of her role as submissive to Damien, relished the marks he sometimes left behind when they played. She was legitimately afraid of him, yes, because any sensible person would be. Afraid of disappointing or embarrassing him, afraid of messing up. Just the knowledge of having done so nearly destroyed her every time. And his physical punishments… those were as good as they were bad.

But raise a hand to
hurt
her? Leave a mark on her face?

Damien would never.

But… that other man did.

Her vision wouldn’t stop blurring, and her jaw felt funny. The pain between her legs was dull, but present, and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath.

Call the police.

No.

Never call the police.

Police meant questions, and questions meant trouble. And
trouble
was the last thing she needed. Especially if Damien was gone, and the girls were… the girls? Where were the girls? Her beautiful baby Kennedy, and the other one, Damien’s bastard child. The one he’d forced on her, told her to love as her own.  And of course, she had. It wasn’t the child’s fault Damien had fucked someone else after he promised to love her forever.

It was
Noelle’s
fault.

Should have made him make more promises
, she mumbled to herself as she tried to stand. They’d married, but Noelle couldn’t be too mad about him straying. She
had
been screwing Damien while she and Nelson were married, after all. So what did she know about fidelity, other than that it was something she wanted, but didn’t deserve? She couldn’t be too upset about an outside child, when she herself– oops.

Noelle giggled hysterically over her spilled secret, even though she’d only spilled it herself. Her head was pounding, clouded, her thoughts covered with a film that she couldn’t push through to organize them into anything coherent, but there was this
one
thing she knew.

He’d lied.

She’d heard what that man said, about going after the thief, and she knew her sweet ballerina had grown into that title. And she was damn good at it too. Noelle pulled her mouth into a semblance of a smile. Even without her mama, Naomi had thrived. Beauty, success, a handsome man, and… a baby.

A baby
!

Damien had said that, right?  Her head was foggy, but she remembered that, she was certain. Her baby was having a baby, and that man had looked right at Noelle and told Damien he was talking about the thief. Her baby girl was in danger, and that’s why she was so upset with Damien, because he had
promised
.

And he was
going
to keep that promise.

She glanced down at her body, confused at the loose rope hanging around her. When had she wiggled free? Had she wiggled free? The sound of footsteps carried from the hallway, and she perked up.

Damien would know what was happening.

Another round of fog made her slump back to the floor, and she watched, only half-awake, as a pair of polished, cognac brogues approached her from the door. Her body felt weak, boneless as she rolled onto her back through no effort of her own. A smiling, handsome face appeared over hers, and she realized with disappointment that it wasn’t Damien. It was
that
man, and she… now she remembered him, from a long time ago, not just hours before. This was… he was…

“Hello, Noelle,” Terry said. “Glad to see you’re awake in time for the show.”

 

 

One.

 

Fire.

Fire
everywhere.

Thick, choking smoke, and glowing red embers punctuated the air. It was hot. So hot that the air shifted, visibly crumbling and collapsing in waves of heat. So hot that Naomi could practically feel the bright red flames licking the black emptiness of the night.

“… scene from the site of an explosion that happened earlier tonight, at the forty million dollar home of Tobacco magnate Damien Wolfe. Firefighters are still working to contain the blaze, but rescue crews have confirmed that two bodies, one male and one female, have been recovered from the scene. No confirmation yet on the identities of the victims, but we’ll keep you updated as …”

The reporter droned on, turning to talk to her colleague about the extent of the tragedy, then switched gears to talk about the mansion. A pre-prepared package began playing, with pictures of the house when it was less… blown to pieces. In the room, everyone was talking at once. It was chaos, because no one knew what the hell was going on, and no one knew how to react to it.

“I think we need to move.”

The booming, accented richness of Kendall’s voice carried over everything else, cutting into the side conversations happening around the room. It only took a glance at the harsh set of his jaw for Naomi to determine that the disorder was getting to him, but there was good reason for the confusion.

Not even an hour ago, they’d been suiting up, preparing to raid Wolfe’s compound and snatch Taylor back. Now, she’d been hand-delivered, but not alone – one more thing to add to the list of steadily growing complications. She was a package deal: Taylor, Kennedy, and Harrison – who was, by far, the biggest of the complications.

“…confirmed that two bodies, one male and one female, have been recovered from the scene…”

Kennedy had been the one driving the armored SUV that rumbled up to the garage door, and it was the sight of her, with Taylor in the passenger seat, that made Inez allow them in at all. Once they were in, Harrison popped up, groggily waving a gun from the back seat.

Whenever he woke up, somebody was going to make sure he understood how lucky he was that none of the team had been feeling trigger-happy. He was obviously woozy, dizzy and confused because of the blood he’d lost from the bullet wounds in his leg. They’d spared him. Not because he was innocent, by any means, but because he was their only reliable source of answers.

“…two bodies, one male and one female, have been recovered…”

They’d get to him later.

“So what’s the plan here?” Inez asked, one of only a few members of the team who seemed calm. “We can’t just burst into action without thinking this through.”

“Do we think they’re coming here?” Renata walked up to where the rest of them stood, leaving the two girls, Kennedy and Taylor, huddled together, still looking distinctly shell-shocked. “Do we know who
they
are? Because whoever
they
are, maybe
they
followed Harrison. And even if
they
didn’t… he found us.
They
probably can too.”

Naomi swallowed hard, absently moving her hands into a protective position over her belly. “I think so too. We could be sitting ducks right now. How the hell did he find us?”

“Does it even matter right now?” Inez asked, glancing between her teammates. “The point is, he’s here now, and so are the girls. We can figure
that
out later. Now, we need to figure out what the hell happened. Did Wolfe shoot him? Is that who he’s running from? Did he blow up his own goddamned house?”

“At this point,” Quentin chimed in, in his creole twang, “I wouldn’t put nothin’ past Wolfe. Ren… you told us Harrison wasn’t a bad guy. Maybe he was turning on Wolfe, bringing the girls back anyway?”

Ren shrugged, then shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean… it’s plausible to me. Harrison has intervened on my behalf before with Taylor, so I wouldn’t be shocked to hear he’d done it again. I saw Wolfe put him through a glass table over that. Harrison should probably consider himself lucky that it was just a few bullets to the leg. Wolfe is a monster. Like Q said… I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

“My father is
not
a monster!”

Tension thickened the air at the sound of Taylor’s voice, right behind them. When Naomi turned around, both girls were there, glaring at all of them. Taylor was scowling hardest at her mother.

Renata’s eyes went wide. “Tay, sweethe—”

“Don’t sweetheart me!” the teenager snapped, jerking away from Renata’s attempt to comfort her. “Mom, how can you stand here and say this stuff? He’s never done anything but help us. He told me all about how he tried to help you, but you were ungrateful and kept me from him. He’s never done anything to you!”

Renata flinched like she’d been slapped, and the entire team fell into a heavy sort of quiet. Facial tics played over Renata’s expression as she tried to remain calm, but when she spoke, she ground her words out through her teeth. “Taylor… you don’t know what you’re talking about, sweetheart. Let’s just calm down, okay? I know this has been a stressful night for you, so we should—”

“You’re
wrong
!” Taylor interrupted, her voice cracking with building tears as she shook her head. “My father is a good man, and he didn’t do this to Harrison. Men came, when we were having dinner, and my dad and Harrison exchanged this look, and then they both said something about a king. Harrison grabbed us, me and Kennedy, and he tried to get away.”

“And my mom.” Kennedy had a lot less composure than Taylor did, and was barely able to get words out through her tears. She glanced up at Naomi, staring hard before she broke into choked sobs and looked away.

Taylor nodded. “Yeah, and Mrs. Noelle. But they grabbed her, and she told Harrison to go on, and make sure we were safe. But he got shot in his leg, so Kennedy had to drive, but it
wasn’t
my father. It was one of those men, so you can’t blame it on him! You can’t
lie
on him!”

“Watch your mouth, little girl.” Renata’s voice was dangerously low, and she’d positioned herself to stand right in front of Taylor so fast that Naomi hadn’t even seen her move. She was barely taller than Taylor, but somehow she seemed to tower over the teenager as she raised an admonishing finger to her face. “I know things are crazy right now, but you will
not
disrespect me. You understand?”

For about a second, Naomi wondered if they were going to need to intervene to keep Renata from murdering her daughter, but the teenager mumbled
whatever
under her breath, then hurried away, with Kennedy at her side.

“So,” Marcus chimed in, wisely shifting focus. “It seems to me like this is a dream come true. King and Wolfe, fighting it out? Let those two muthafuckas kill each other, and we can go on about our business. I doubt they’re concerned about any of us right now.”

“But we can’t just leave it like it is.” All eyes went to Naomi, who glanced around at everyone before she continued. “What about… what about Noelle?”

“…bodies, one male and one female …”

Marcus grunted. “What about Noelle? If she really has been around all this time, when you’ve been hurting for her, as far as I’m concerned, her ass is just collateral damage.”

“But I need answers, Marcus.” Naomi met his eyes, pleading without words. “I
need
answers, and she has them. I need to get in touch somehow. I need to talk to her.” Naomi didn’t move her gaze away from Marcus, and after a long moment, he nodded.

“Fine. I get it. But, we can agree that’s not happening tonight, right?”

“Right,” Quentin and Kendall answered, at the same time.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Quentin continued. “We need to regroup, and like Kendall said, we need to move. Harrison found us, so we need to assume Wolfe or King can too.”

“But we can’t yet,” Inez said, shaking her head. “Savi needs time with Harrison before she can move him. We need to eat, we need sleep, we need somewhere to go, we need a
plan
.”

Kendall nodded. “I agree with that. I’ve got a place we can go, an old safe house from my CIA days. We can use a few hours of sleep, so we’re alert. Talk to Harrison to find out if he can give us answers. So how much time? How many hours from now?”

They all exchanged looks, but Inez was the first to speak.

“Six hours. We leave here in six hours.”

 

&

“You’re supposed to be in bed.”

It didn’t surprise Marcus, not even a little, that his statement was ignored. Or maybe she wasn’t ignoring him, maybe she simply wasn’t listening, too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice she was no longer alone outside.

Naomi’s face was in the shadows, but the tiny, barely rounded bulge of her stomach was shrouded in moonlight. He smiled. Already, he loved the tiny being that would eventually grow into a baby. And he loved the woman carrying it.

Marcus approached her slowly, covering the hand that rested against her belly with his as he came to stand behind her on the balcony.

“What if she’s dead?” Naomi asked, her voice choked with emotion. “Alive all this time, just waiting for me to figure it out, and when I finally do… she’s gone now? In a fucking explosion, of all things.”

Marcus groaned, then took Naomi by the hand, tugging until she turned to face him with glossy eyes. “Naomi… baby, first of all, we have no idea what happened, not yet. Wolfe gets off on toying with people, you
know
that.”

She shook her head. “No. Noelle
is
alive.
That’s
what I know.”

“Baby, no—”


Yes
.
Yes
. Marcus, I…” she stopped, like she was embarrassed by what she had to say next, and shook her head. “I talked to Kennedy a little more.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “You talked to Kennedy. When?”

Again, her eyes darted away in shame. “Um… tonight.”

A frown crossed his face as her words sank in. “Tonight, as in
tonight
? As in, you interrogated a sixteen-year-old girl who’s seen God knows what, then drove her father’s shot-up assistant onto a secure compound? Do I have that right?”

Slowly, still not looking at him, she nodded.

“Goddamnit
, Naomi! You don’t think that little girl is traumatized enough?!”

Naomi gave a frantic shake of her head. “No, not like that, Marcus! I didn’t ask her about tonight, I just… I asked her who her mother was, what she was like. What she looked like.”

“And?” Marcus snapped, trying to get a lid on his anger. “What did she say?”

Fresh tears sprang to Naomi’s eyes, and she wrapped her arms around herself. “She said… she looked like me. That girl could barely look at me, Marcus. Taylor showed me a picture in her cell phone before Quentin confiscated them.” She stopped, dropping her head as her voice grew thick with tears, and when she looked up again, two lines dripped down her face. “It was
her
, Marcus. With Kennedy and Taylor, two days ago. She barely even looks like she aged. Like looking in a mirror.”

Marcus… wasn’t expecting that.

He expected trickery, illusions, more lies to cover up old ones. Real evidence, concrete proof of Noelle Prescott’s continued existence… that blew him away.

“So what does this even mean?” Marcus asked, his anger over her insensitivity to Kennedy temporarily forgotten. “How the hell…?”

Naomi shrugged. “I wish I knew. If I could talk to her, ask her why... I’ve been empty for so long, missing my mother. If I could just see her,
touch
her, then maybe… Marcus, I can’t deal with this,” she whimpered, dissolving into sudden, heavy tears. Marcus caught her as her knees gave in. He held her against his chest as sobs wracked her body, then blew his frustration out in a quiet sigh. In that moment, he hated Wolfe and Noelle both. If this woman had been alive all this time, why hadn’t she reached out? What was her excuse?

Shaking his head, Marcus realized that it didn’t matter. There was no excuse good enough to make him forgive the pain Naomi was feeling now. She didn’t need this shit. The hurt, the stress, the worry… it wasn’t good for her, and it wasn’t good for their baby.

He reached down, sweeping Naomi into his arms to carry her back inside and deposit her on the bed. He crawled under the covers with her, letting her cry against his chest until finally, she fell asleep.

Long after that, he still lay awake, his mind running with possibilities and questions. He didn’t believe for a second that one of those bodies belonged to Wolfe, or Noelle, for that matter. Damien Wolfe was too slick, too calculated, too…
powerful
for something like this to be the end. But… then again, according to the girls, Terry King had walked into his house, and shot up his dining room like it was nothing.

So… Marcus wasn’t sure
what
to think anymore. There were a billion possibilities, and a billion questions.

BOOK: Save Me If You Can
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