Finally ready to face the music, she crawled out of bed and quickly tossed on the clothes from her suitcase, feeling more like herself. Tucker followed shortly after, and he brought her downstairs to meet the gang.
She quickly made friends with everyone in the room. She had such an easy way about her; she made everyone feel welcome and special in their own way. She asked about their families, their hometowns, their pet dogs, and she had the attention of everyone in that room for all the right reasons.
Eventually she turned to him and asked for the plan. He turned it over to Boss.
“Now we wait.” The old man’s wise voice etched out. “We want to catch him in enough criminal acts that he will be in prison for a long time. Proof of breaking no contact orders, restraining orders, trespassing, vandalism, jaywalking, or parking next a fire hydrant. Anything we can possibly get to prove in a court that he needs to be behind bars.”
That is not what she wanted. She wanted to be home tonight. Or on her way to her next home. Not sitting here and waiting.
“For how long?” she asked, trepidation leaking into her words.
“As long as it takes. A couple days, a week maybe. We need to catch him making the phone calls, and I definitely want to get him connected to hiring out that bastard from the park. He at some point will want to retaliate for the failed plan – by cell phone, email, or a personal visit. Whatever he chooses, we will be ready.”
A few days, a week maybe, her mind swirled at the thought. Too long. Much too long. She must find a way to speed up that process.
Her mouth had gone dry. She excused herself and found a bottle of water. She grabbed it and headed out the door. She needed some fresh air. She felt as though her world was imploding on her, crushing her, making it difficult to even breathe. She needed some time to think. She needed to figure this out on her own.
She headed back down to the river, and she figured Tucker was following. When she stopped and listened, she could hear his footsteps behind her. The twigs snapping, the swish of the grass. She didn’t stop until she reached the river bank, needing something vaguely familiar before setting sail in uncharted waters, at least for herself. She found the familiar boulder to lean back against, and she took a huge swig of the water.
“I really don’t want to be such a burden to everyone” she started in, not wanting to be placated. “I really was just going to head out of town, and I’d be out of your life and you could go back to normal. Not only have I burdened you, but now Boss, Brad and Taylor, well they’re all involved. Instead of being at home with their families, they are here. Instead of clocking in to whatever their jobs are, they are here. Instead of being somewhere safe, they are putting themselves in harm’s way” she rattled off, the gravity of the situation resurfacing in her psyche, scaring her.
She heard him approach, so she finished quickly before she lost the courage. “I can just go back to town,” her voice pleading, “I will let him see me, and I’ll let him chase me to the next place. Then he’ll not take after you, and you all can go back to normal. I can take care of myself. Honestly, I never meant for all this fuss.”
To her surprise, it was not Tucker’s voice that she heard reply. Instead, it was Boss’s. “Well, little lady, I think we need to get a few things straightened out then.”
Oh boy. Boss wasn’t exactly a fan of hers; this was going to be bad. She felt herself freeze in place.
“First off, Tucker isn’t one to back down from a challenge, so I doubt he’ll let you off the hook that easily. Second of all, he can take care of himself, same with the rest of us. We have all met and surpassed much greater challenges than a pencil dick that thinks violence is the only way to get a girl. Thirdly, you’re not a burden to any of us. We all owe our lives in one way or another to Tucker, and this is the first time he has ever asked for help. Ever. We are all proud to be able to return the favor in our own way. Taylor drove six hours straight as soon as he got the call to help him out, dropping his family for a week is nothing. Without Tucker, Taylor would be dead, and he wouldn’t have a family to miss him. So get that out of your head.”
She didn’t know what to say, and he already intimidated. How does one even form a response to that.
“Finally,” he continued, “I owe you an apology. Plenty of ladies try to take advantage of Tucker, his good looks, and his money. When I saw you slipping in to the gym after hours, I wanted to figure out who you were. I wanted to keep the riff raff out of our gym, and out of Tucker’s life as well. I did a little research and called a few favors from some buddies in different places. Well, let me tell you little lady, I was in for one hell of a surprise.”
This whole conversation was a surprise if you asked her. She braced herself for whatever came next.
“I never imagined that you were the one being pursued. I never imagined you were in danger. I only thought the worst of you, and for that I apologize.”
Wide eyed, she accepted his apology. “No hard feelings,” she managed to squeak out, still not able to make eye contact.
Boss continued, “During my research, I read the reports. I read all of the police reports. You are an incredible woman. You survived some things 99% of us couldn’t have and things that 100% of us hope to never endure. You’re clearly good at design and have made a decent living from it, so clearly you are not out for Tucker’s money, just his heart, and I hope you accept it. I really think he has already given it to you.”
Oh boy. This is not anything that she could have expected coming from old Boss, and he just never let up. So many emotions she was feeling, so little ability to process them all.
“I think if you give him a chance, you’ll see that you two are more alike than you think. He can understand things most of us can’t imagine, same as you. He is dedicated to his job, the same as you. He is very independent and self-motivated, the same as you. I think you two would be great for each other.”
She just nodded in response.
“When I grabbed your suitcase, I found a handmade blanket, so I also grabbed that. It’s sitting by the front door. Same with your handgun,” and with that, he up and left.
“Thank you! Thank you so very much!” she hollered back him through the woods.
Jeez, in her surprise she forgot to thank him for the suitcase, and now the quilt. He knew she had a gun but didn’t make a fuss of fit. She needed to get her head back on straight, and quick.