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Parker walked around the big semi three times before he made his way to the driver’s door again. He glanced over at his dad when he came around the back end of the thing, having just jumped down off the hitch. He was glad now that Dad had come with him today.
“Don’t see nothing to indicate that it’s broke down.” Parker said he didn’t either. “Strange thing though, like you said, there ain’t no scent on it. Like it just appeared here without a driver. Mighty weird.”
“No kidding. I saw it two days ago but thought whatever was going on, they’d have come back for it by now. But nothing. And the door is unlocked.” His dad asked him if he’d been inside. “Yes. Just to look but not enter. There isn’t anything in there either. Like you said, it magically appeared.” Parker pulled out his phone.
“You calling the cops?” Before he could tell his dad he was, something came out of nowhere and knocked him on his ass. His dad was backing from him and whatever it was that had attacked. His phone had been tossed away from him, and just as he was reaching for it, a boy appeared. “Christ love a waddling whale.”
Parker glanced at his dad, wondering not for the first time where the hell he got his little sayings. But he also knew that he’d been frightened too. The boy picked up his phone but didn’t hand it to him.
“I’d rather you didn’t bother with the police. They have a tendency to make matters worse for us. And for the moment, she’s happy.” Parker asked him who. “Reese. We’ve been on the run for a long time and she’s having fun and relaxing. She needs it more than I thought she did. It’s been a while since she’s been able to do that, relax I mean. And we need the money, I’m afraid. The rig, it’s very hard on gas and she’s not getting much in the way of work. More than likely due to the men chasing after us.”
“I see.” The boy looked at his Parker’s dad then put out his hand to help Parker up, but Parker ignored it for now. “This woman, she owns this rig? And if so, why is it on my property?”
“It was the only place we could find so that the men trying to find us didn’t see it. We won’t be here much longer, really. The trees will be turning soon, what with autumn coming. It’ll be more visible then and we can’t stay. You understand.” Parker looked at the hand still offered, then at the boy. “My name is Josh Savage. The Josh part is what I picked out, but the last is what I was given at the lab.”
“Lab?” Josh nodded, shaking his hand at him as if to say, take it. “I’m a bit heavier than I look. If you would just back up a bit, I could get up and we can figure out what we’re going to do about these men chasing you.”
“That would be nice, but it’s doubtful that you could help us much. They’re very determined, you see.” When he put his hand closer, Parker took it. The grip was startling, but it was the immediate connection that shocked him more. The kid was an elite shifter. “I’m not what you think. You’re a jaguar, correct?”
“Yes. Parker McCullough. This is my dad, Rich.” The boy shook his hand then turned to do the same to his dad. He knew the moment that his dad felt the connection as well. “These people, can you tell me why they’re chasing after you?”
“Yes. I can.” But when no more was forthcoming, Parker looked at his dad for help. The boy laughed a little. Parker had no idea, but he thought it sounded sort of sad. “I can tell you but alas, I cannot. Reese, she says that I’m too trusting. I suppose in a way that I am. But since I have all the information I need to know about you and that you’re trustworthy, I feel I can. But I need to ask her first. She is not trusting at all.”
“This Reese…is she in trouble too?” Josh nodded. “And these people that are looking for the two of you, do you suppose they’ll kill you when they find you?”
“Not me. Not right away. They need to take me apart, so to speak. To see what I can do if they use their weapons on me. And if I can be made into a weapon. Which, I assure you, I can. But Reese will die. Immediately if they can work it. She is of no use to them other than to get me to do as they wish.” Parker asked him if he would do that if they had Reese. “I would like to, but she has made me promise that I will not fall prey to their demands. She said that they would do as they pleased with her even after they capture me anyway, and that if I can, I am to take them all out.”
Parker wasn’t sure what to do now. If he called the police, which he knew that he should, then he’d have both their deaths on his head. He had no doubt whatsoever that Josh was telling him the truth in this. He looked at his dad when he started to laugh.
“I’m telling you right now that I think this is gonna end badly. Not for you boys, but for those that are chasing that girl and this one.” Parker asked him how he’d come to that conclusion. “I don’t really know, but I have a feeling now that we’re involved—and we were the second that truck there pulled onto your land—that the rest of us is gonna be working on this. I don’t know how, like I said, but there you go.”
Parker turned to Josh. The kid was smiling at his dad but not saying anything. He didn’t know why, but Parker had a feeling the kid didn’t say much of anything unless asked directly. Parker looked at the semi again and thought of someone finding it.
“I have a barn we can have Reese pull this into. It’ll be safer than it is out here. Also, I don’t know where you’re staying, with her or not, but I have plenty of room at my place that’ll be safer than the truck or wherever you are hiding now.” Josh told him. “Then I’m sure of it. Margaret runs a nice place but it’s not terribly secure. If she doesn’t want to stay at my house, I have a married brother that can put the two of you up as well.”
At least he hoped so. And with these guys coming around, it would be a good thing to have them close to Lauren. She was way more bad assed than any person that he’d ever met. Parker looked at his dad when he cleared his throat.
“Might want to go and see this girl. Just to let her know in person what you have in mind.” He nodded. “And Parker, I’d make this a request, not a demand. Things don’t go well when you boys make demands on women.”
“No, I’d never do that. I do think that the semi going into the barn would be better. But if she has other plans that’s fine too.” He looked at Josh then. “You know where she is?”
“Working. She works for May Roy, at Roy’s Place. Reese cooks for the morning group and sometimes, a lot lately, for the lunch one too. They like her.” His dad laughed. “You’ve tasted her food?”
“I believe that I have. Every morning, as a matter of fact. She’s been there about a week and a half now, correct?” Josh nodded and smiled. “Thought so. May is a wonderful woman and the best bartender you might want to come across. And Margaret is about the sweetest, most ornery woman you’d want to meet. But neither of them could cook a meal and have it come out right if their lives depended on it. Yes, sir, Reese is a fine cook.”
They made their way to his dad’s truck. They’d come out here together to have a look at the tomatoes and corn that he’d planted. His dad wanted to open up a little roadside place to get rid of the stuff he didn’t need, and Parker had brought him out to show him just how much there was. As he put a bushel of tomatoes and corn with some potatoes in the back of the truck, he thought of the young boy.
He wasn’t human, that much was certain. And he’d told him that he wasn’t right in thinking he was an elite shifter either. Parker had no idea what that might mean, nor the part about the lab that he talked about. Why a bunch of men would want anything to do with this kid was beyond him; especially enough to kill for him.
As they loaded into the truck, Josh telling him that he’d meet them there, he watched as he flew away as a beautiful red tailed hawk. His dad said his name quietly as he backed out of the field.
“Look.” They both turned to see a black SUV go by them. It was going pretty fast so he doubted that anyone in the thing had seen the truck, but he worried. “I’m thinking we might want to circle our wagons. There is gonna be trouble if we don’t help them.”
“I agree.” As he reached for his family, he was glad when Lauren said she was in town and would go by the diner to look around. He told her about the boy and the woman; also about the semi that was parked on his land.
I’ll see what I can do about that too. Bear is with me, as well as a few others. We’re here looking around for someplace to have a couple of meets and greets. He was almost afraid to ask her what that meant. I’ll keep an eye on things on this end for you. And Bear is gonna move the vehicle now. The barn unlocked?
Yes. He didn’t ask how Bear was going to move the big rig. There had been no keys in the sucker that he’d seen, and he was pretty sure that, without her knowing them, Reese wasn’t going to hand over the keys to them. Just tell him not to damage anything on the truck or the barn. I have stuff in there for the house that I bought cheap, but I don’t want it damaged.
She was still laughing at him when they pulled up in front of the diner alongside three big black vehicles without any sign of license plates. He could see the men in the cars as he walked by them. Parker felt the hair on his neck dance in fear.
Reese nearly screamed when someone spoke to her from behind. When she turned, holding the spatula like a weapon, the woman simply took it from her and pointed to the walk-in. Reese started to ask her what the hell she was doing when Josh came in the back room with them.
She’s going to help us. Reese wanted to ask him how and why they might need help when he continued. They’re here. And before you think to run, they’re all around this place. Do as she asks, please. I think she can help us.
She was so afraid that she stood there for a few seconds just staring at the woman. When the woman pulled out a gun and then nodded to the walk-in again, Reese went where she was told, grabbing Josh’s hand as she passed him to take him with her. As soon as the door closed behind them, she looked at her friend.
“What the hell is going on?” He smiled at her but she could see the fear. “How did they find us? We…. The truck. They found the truck, didn’t they?”
“Not that I’m aware of. But a man did find it. He said that he’d take care that it was safe.” She asked him how they were going to do that. “He has a barn. I have been over his property. The barn is sufficient to hide it in. Also, he said that we should stay with him rather than the hotel. I think that might be a better plan. When I came here, they were at the hotel too. May, she was calling the police even as they left her office.”
When the door opened, she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. The elderly man standing there smiled at her and asked her to please come with him. Josh started forward and she grabbed him by the arm.
“I don’t know you and I’m not going anywhere with you. That woman out there, she has a gun. While I think that can be a good thing, as I said, I don’t know you.” He nodded and told her that he knew Josh. “How do you know him? Did you call these guys? Did you tell them that I would give him up? I have news for you, you overgrown fucking bastard, I will not go down easily.”
“Good for you. And my family isn’t going to let a thing happen to either of you now.” She started to ask him why but she wasn’t given the chance. “Lauren is talking to those men now. She would like for you two to come to the house with me. She assures me that they’ll not know you’re there. And I’d believe her if I were you. She’s got a way about her that makes grown men sob when she doesn’t get her way. I love her to death, you see, but she scares the bejeebes out of me too.”
“Sob? What the hell is a bejeebe? Never mind, I don’t want to know.” He nodded and that was when she heard talking. Well, shouting might have been a better term. As she made her way out of the walk-in with Josh, she peeked into the dining room where she knew the woman had gone.
Reese could see her back to her and four men down on their knees in front of Lauren. Two men were standing behind the men, one of them with a gun to the bigger guy’s head and the other man holding a knife to the throat of the last guy. Reese wondered what the hell was going on when the woman spoke.
“You see, I don’t really give a fucking good shit what you think you’re going to have done to me. In the event that you might have missed this, I’m holding all the cards right now.” A man spoke then, telling the woman that she was going to pay for this. “Nah, I don’t think so. You can think that all you want, but the only thing I might have to pay for is the mess in this dining room should I have to kill you all. Margaret gets kinda pissy when I make a bloody mess in here. She might even bar me from coming here again. It was pretty messy the last time.”
Margaret huffed and pushed her ample bosom up when she moved to stand behind the woman. She was a large woman, both the sisters were, but Reese thought that the younger, smaller woman looked meaner by a lot.
“Honey, if you break one table in taking care of these fools, I’ll be happy as lemonade on a warm day. They done went and dicked around with our hotel too. Messed up two of the rooms like they owned them. May and me are not gonna be able to rent them out for a time now, and that’s just not right. You have to kill ’em, then you go on ahead and do it.” The woman asked the men if that was true. But Margaret answered for them. “You darned right it’s true. The guest staying there isn’t gonna be a bit happy to find all her things a mess.”
Her things? Reese wanted to know, but the man behind her touched her arm. When she turned to him, she could see fear and something more. Something in his eyes told her that he was afraid for her. When she shook her head at him, turning back to the scene in front of her, Reese had a feeling that the four men weren’t going to get out of there without some heavy fines.
“We’re not paying for shit.” The man behind him popped him in the back of the head with his gun. “You fucking do that again and I’m going to tear you apart. I’m here on official business. That woman, the one that we were telling you about, she’s kidnapped my boss’s son. And he wants him back. You either hand him over, with the woman, or I’m going to call in the troops.”
“Troops? Would that be the army? Or perhaps you might have been thinking of some other branch of the services?” The man told the woman that he’d call who was necessary to finish this peacefully. “I think that boat has done sank, don’t you? Peaceful went out the door the moment you came into my town and messed with my friends. Perhaps later, if you’re still breathing that is, I can show you the meaning of the word. I think there might be a dictionary around I can use. By the way, you can read, can’t you?”
“Yes, I can fucking read, you cunt. You’re going to regret this.” She nodded and pulled out her phone. When whoever on the other end answered, the woman said her name, Lauren McCullough, and that she had a problem here. “You think this is gonna win you points with the boss? I got news for you, bitch, he’ll take you down with that brat and woman.”
“You think? Here, my boss wants a word with you.” She held the phone to his ear and when the man paled, Reese looked at Josh when he laughed. When the woman turned and winked at them, Reese backed from the scene. Something was going on there, something bigger than her and Josh.
As they made their way out the back of the diner, she tried to tell herself that this was going to work out. That the woman in there, whatever boss she had, was going to give her enough time to get out of town with Josh. She had no idea how that was going to happen, but she was going to do it. Then the older man said her name and she looked at him. He did look sad.
“You have nothing left at the hotel, child. Those men destroyed everything in the room. Parker is there now with the police getting things squared away. Also, we’ve had your truck moved to the barn on his place so nobody will notice it. You have to know
that you can’t keep doing this, running like this. Not now.” She nodded. Reese didn’t even have the strength to cry. “You come on home with me and we’ll have my wife make you up a nice dinner and gather you up something more to wear. Parker will be along in a bit and you can go out to his place to stay. He’s a good boy, my Parker.”
“They’re going to figure out where we are and come there too. You might be better off just dropping me off at my truck. Josh and I need to head out of town now while the getting is good.” The man turned the opposite way of her truck and she just sat there. It wasn’t until Josh took her hand and reminded her that the truck was hidden in Parker’s barn that she started to cry. “We’ve had a good run, haven’t we? I’m sorry. So sorry about this.”
“Now you see here. This isn’t done. It might look like the storm has come in and is raining on your party, but those men, they don’t know what they’ve messed with in coming to the McCullough doorstep.” She nodded at the older man. “Chin up there, child. You’re in good hands now. We’ll get the two of you safe.”
“You have no idea how long we’ve been running. And what sort of monsters they are. They just don’t care who they hurt to get us. Josh is all I have.” When Josh said he had to go, she simply rolled down the window and watched him fly away. If the man was shocked, he didn’t say anything. Then something occurred to her. “You spoke to Josh. He told you what was going on, didn’t he?”
“No. Well, yes and no. We talked to him. My son, Parker, the one that’s out there getting things squared away with May, he and I were out looking at the truck you left here. Josh sort of just come out of nowhere at us. Told us a little, that you and him were in trouble, but not why or with who.” She said nothing, not sure how much the man really did know. “So when he told us about the diner, we were headed out that way when those cars flew by us. Josh, he went on ahead to see to you and we come in a little later. My daughter-in-law—that’s Lauren that came in with me—she was already in town with her men and headed in first. She’s scary, that one is. Love her to death, but she can be a mite intense when she’s got herself in a pickle.”
“Yeah, I noticed that too. But we’re broke and down on our luck. I was doing okay for a while, then the runs sort of dried up for us.” He nodded but didn’t question the way of her runs. “Josh isn’t really my nephew. He’s my friend.”
“Didn’t figure that after meeting you. I know that you’re human and he…well, he ain’t. I can see that the two of you are close though. Yes, ma’am. He sure does love you.” She told the man that she loved Josh as well. “My name is Rich McCullough. My missus, Bea, she’s rounding you and the boy up a meal right now. It might be a little cramped at the table with us all, but you just leave that to us. We’ll get you in.”
“You don’t have to do this, Mr. McCullough. We’ll be fine once we’re rolling.” He only told her that she was all right. “I don’t want these men coming here and hurting you guys. It’s our fight.”
“It’s mine too, and that of my family. When you parked on the land out there, you sort of give us the okay to take you in. You’re not going to be with a better family than this one.” She didn’t say anything, knowing that talk was cheap and she was going to be
going as soon as she could get Josh to her. “Josh mentioned a lab, said that’s where the men are coming from. You work there?”
“No, I never worked there. I did deliver things to there for a time, but I never worked there. And after talking with Josh, I’m glad that I never did.” She waited for him to ask her about Josh but he only nodded. “Those men aren’t going to give up. They want him back. And as I said, they’ll go to great lengths to get him.”
“Well, I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either. It’s not going to happen. Not so long as you’re here with us.” Reese said nothing again. “I’m assuming that Reese is your right name. May called you Anna. Anna Reese. You thinking that was gonna hide you some?”
“I wasn’t sure. I’ve never been on the run before.” Mr. McCullough laughed and said he’d not been either. “I think you should just let this go. As I said, these men aren’t going to give up, and they’ll hurt or kill whoever is in their way.”
“You just leave them to us. We’ll take care of them.” She thought of all the things these men, all of them, had done to people who had helped her. Reese knew that she shouldn’t have stopped to work for the little diner, nor stayed in the small but clean hotel, but she’d been tired and broke. She would have to take better care from now on. “What’s the name of this here lab?”
“Barker Benton Institute of Regeneration. It goes by BBIR.” She looked at the man when she told him the name. It hadn’t been her intention to tell him. In fact, she’d not told a single person she had asked for help what the name was. “You made me tell you.”
“No. I’d like to think I had that much power over someone, but I didn’t. And so you know, I’d not do that to you anyway. You’re worn down and that just slipped out. You’ll see, we’re a good group of people to have in your corner. Lauren, she’s going to have a look-see into them and find out what she can. Her and my son, Colin, they’ll have a whole lot of information before dinner is done, I’m betting. And a way to figure this out too. We got us some pretty powerful people in our neck of the woods now, you wait and see.”
“You mean Lauren’s boss?” He looked at her and nodded. “I’m betting that he’s just another man with a lot of money just waiting to get Josh in his hands. Well, I got news for everyone…over my dead body will he ever go back there and be tested on.”
“I believe you. But when Lauren and Colin sit down with you to talk about this, I’d like for you to have an open mind. Her boss might just surprise you.” Reese doubted it. She had become really jaded over the years on the run. “Here we go. Home sweethome.”