Recondite

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Being on the run with her little sister wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, at least not in Luciana’s book.  Thea did everything in her power to drive Luciana up a wall and there were times she thought about shoving little sister out of the moving vehicle into oncoming traffic.  Then, her temper would simmer and realize she couldn’t live without Thea, needing to protect her at all costs.  Luciana had always been that way from the day Thea was born.  They were 4 years apart in age, but Luciana remembered the day her baby sister was brought home from the hospital.  It was love at first sight.  Even though she was only 4, their parents allowed her to hold Thea in her arms, with help, and there’d never been a more beautiful moment.  As the years passed and Thea grew, Luciana protected her any way she could, be it from bullies at school, heartbreak from boys…and even their wretched parents.

 

Finding out their parents had embezzled millions of dollars from the family company, and murdered their clients for trying to speak out, was shocking to both Luciana and Thea.  Their family was well-off and always had been, due to how hard they THOUGHT their father worked.  The worst part of it was they put all the blame and accusations on their own kids, just to hide behind their crimes!  Luciana remembered the night vividly…the night that ultimately changed her and Thea’s life forever.  She’d walked into the mansion, after a long day at school, and stopped in her tracks at the sight of her father pointing a gun at someone.  Luckily, they hadn’t seen her, so Luciana quickly pressed against the wall and listened into the conversation, her teal eyes widening.

 

“You promised, Charles, and didn’t live up to your word.” Thomas Merlin stated coldly, his eyes narrowed in on his soon-to-be former employee. “And now, you must pay the consequences.”

 

“Tom, please…I have a family and…”

 

“And I don’t?” Thomas scoffed, tightening the hold on the gun in his hand. “Don’t worry, it’ll be painless, and I promise you’ll be buried properly.  Just like our daughters will be after they find out they’re our scapegoats.” He laughed wickedly, eyes flashing. “It’s the whole reason we had kids in the first place, Charley boy!”

 

“H-How could you do that to your beautiful girls?!” Charles demanded, tears filling his eyes while staring at the man he thought he knew. “You’re embezzling money from your clients, which is how you’ve managed to stay afloat financially all these years and now you’re gonna pin it on them to save your own asses?!  Y-You won’t get away with this…”

 

“I already have.” Thomas pulled the trigger, lodging the bullet right in the man’s skull and snapped his head when he thought he heard something.

 

It was a gasp from Luciana, her heart racing rapidly in her chest and she was on the verge of exposing herself in a panic.  Her father had killed someone…and would try to pin it on her and Thea?!  Luckily, Thomas didn’t find her in that spot as Luciana made her way through the mansion to find her little sister, remembering the fear gripping her heart with every step she took.  All she kept thinking was ‘please don’t let Thea be dead already’.  A huge sigh of relief escaped her when Luciana found Thea in her bedroom, watching a movie after a hard day at school.  25-years-old with all the ambition in the world and Thea had chosen to go to medical school to become a doctor.  Luciana majored in computer and technology, knowing both fields would never die and there would always be jobs.

 

“Luci, what’s wrong?” Thea had asked, watching her sister pace back and forth in front of her. “You’re crying…” The mansion was huge, so she didn’t hear the gunshot over her music.

 

“We have to go.  I’ll explain later, but we HAVE to get out of here, Thea!” Luciana had been in a panic and began tossing her little sister’s belongings in a bag, trembling. “P-Please, you have to trust me on this…it’s not safe here for us anymore…”

 

“You need to slow down and breathe…what do you mean it’s not safe here anymore?” Thea had been so confused and listened to what her big sister told her, what she’d discovered and witnessed, her own brown eyes widening in shock.  Her brown eyes came from their father while the teal came from their mother. “They’re WHAT?!”

 

“Ssshhh keep your damn voice down and start packing!” Luciana hissed, thankful she’d gotten an apartment across town and so far, her parents didn’t know she’d come for a visit. “We’ll stop at my place on the way out of town…and then try to figure out what the hell is going on.”

 

Thea was confused, stopping for a second. “Why do we have to run though?  There’s no way they can pin everything on us after what you’ve seen…”

 

“Thea, trust me, if Mom and Dad want to pin their crimes on us, they’ll find a way to do it.  Money talks.” They were billionaires with all the money in the world to cover their tracks. “Dad even told Mr. Kemper before he shot him the only reason they had kids in the first place was to cover up what they’ve done.  That means Mom and Dad have been up to no good with the company for YEARS.  And they’re murderers on top of it.  Now hurry up and finish packing, we have to get out of here before-”

 

“Thea darling, it’s Momma and I brought you some tea.” Elizabeth Merlin called through the door, smiling softly with a sinister gleam in her eyes.

 

Luciana had shoved Thea through the window, which was luckily on the first floor of the mansion and into some bushes along with her.  There was no place to run and no place to hide, but they had to get away from their psychotic parents if it was the last thing they ever did.  She recalled Thea being shaken up, still not fully understanding what was happening to their lives and wondered how they didn’t see this sooner.

 

It’d been one year since it happened and still gave the older sister nightmares, often leaving her sleep-deprived for days at a time.  They were living off their trust funds -Luciana made sure to pull them immediately following Charles’ murder-, which allowed them to travel from place-to-place, staying in unsafe environments, but it was the only way to survive.

 

It was all about survival these days for the Merlin sisters.

 

“You need to pull over and let me drive.” Thea ordered flatly, staring holes through Luciana.

 

Older sister thought she was some superhero, able to go for days and only sleep when her body physically shut down on her.  She’d figure, with her pushing age 30 now, she’d know better.  Thea had been studying to be a doctor and knew very well what the toll all this was taking on their bodies, on Luciana mentally.

 

“Come on.” She sometimes had to remind big sister that at near 26, she wasn’t exactly a baby anymore.

 

This wasn’t the life she envisioned for Thea, knowing she had to give everything up, including her medical schooling.  The knowledge stayed with her, but it didn’t mean a damn when they had to keep moving from place to place.  It was exhausting living life on the run and Luciana had to wonder if they would be doing this for the rest of their lives.  There had to be a way to stop their parents, but so far, she hadn’t come across anything.

 

“Alright.” Stopping the car, she pulled over and put the vehicle in park, heaving another sigh. “We’re almost to our destination…our temporary home.” She bitterly muttered, stepping out and swapped places before buckling her seatbelt while Thea drove.

 

GPS was a beautiful thing, but they didn’t have one because Luciana was paranoid that, somehow, their parents would be able to track them.  She was right, of course, a GPS was a way of not only finding the way, but broadcasting their location as well.  They relied on the old school methods of maps and asking directions, using old school cell phones when they needed to and really old cars; cars that weren’t all chipped and on satellites.  If they weren’t on the run for their lives, Thea would have found this pretty neat, learning how to survive off the grid.

 

“I got it, try to take a nap.” She advised, knowing that was a hopeless cause.

 

Going to school for technology and computers, Luciana had a vast knowledge on what to use and what NOT to use when it came to running.  She hated this life and rested her head against the window, trying to stifle a yawn.  If Thea couldn’t sleep, she wasn’t either.  For the past year, all Luciana kept doing was looking over her shoulder and dodging countless authority figures that wanted to drag them back to their parents…and their death.  There wasn’t a doubt in her mind and heart, if their parents got a hold of them, it would be the very last thing that happened in their lives.  Luciana wouldn’t let anything happen to Thea, vowing to protect her at all costs.  She was the big sister, the protector, and both had enough schooling behind them to keep from falling into a trap set by their parents.

 

“We need gas.” She announced an hour later, looking over at Thea and reached over to touch her sister’s shoulder with a tight smile. “I’ll pump, you get some snacks and drinks for us.” Everything was paid with cash – Luciana wasn’t taking any chances.

 

Drinks and snacks meant energy drinks, water, a few pints of milk and orange juice and, if they were lucky, fresh yet expensive fruit and protein bars.  Thea tried to keep them somewhat healthy, but this lifestyle wasn’t good for anyone.  They were both trim, which was more due to stress than anything else.  Eventually, they had to stop this and find a way to just disappear without needing to run all the time.  She was worried her sister was on her way to a mental breakdown.  Once they were on the road again, Luciana turned the radio down and turned to face her sister, who insisted on driving.

 

“This next area we’re going to is a small town on the outskirts of Houston.  Small population and I think…we’ll be safe there for a little while.  We don’t have to get up and leave right away, we can get an apartment or small house if you want.”

 

Thea had been begging her to do this for months, but Luciana hadn’t felt safe enough.  Hell, she never would, not with a constant target on her and Thea’s backs.  She could tell the constant driving and running was getting on her sister’s nerves and didn’t want to make her more miserable.

 

“What do you think?  We can find jobs and hopefully settle down…” It was wishful thinking, but she injected some hope into her tone.

 

“Yeah, we can do that.” Thea said, after a few minutes of silence, considering it.  In a city the size of Houston, as long as they stayed low on the radar, they should’ve been able to disappear quite easily.  Houston was… not anything like where they had grown up. “You know, I bet there are seriously low-income areas with clinics…” She had learned quickly places like that didn’t care about education as much as ability.  That had earned them some money a time or two and let her practice and gain knowledge in the medical field.

 

“You’ll have no problem getting a job in one of them, if that’s the case.  I’ll try to look for a 9-to-5 too, something lowkey and we have to make sure we have our fake IDs on us.”

 

They had changed their names and appearance by dying their hair.  Luciana used to have honey blonde and now her hair was inky black while Thea had brown hair and it was now platinum blonde.  They were drastic, necessary changes.  Their last name was Cagle, but they had kept their first names.  It was easier to change the last name, but not so much the first.  The only type of technology they had was a laptop, where Luciana did all of her research and made sure the IP address was untraceable.  The laptop she did have had been chucked along with anything else her parents had given her, not trusting anything.  Thea did the same.

 

“There’s actually a small house for sale right now, if you want to head there today.  I can make an appointment for us to look at it.”

 

“Better off renting, Luci.” Thea suggested with a heavy sigh.  As much as owning a house would be fun, it was easier to rent; less paperwork and, if they paid with cash and something happened where they had to jet, they weren’t losing out on money. “If things work out, maybe then buy a house, but… I don’t know about doing it just yet.”

 

“It’s actually rent to own.  The owner wants to make sure we stay put for a year before making any kind of permanent decision.  You alright with that?”

 

Thea nodded, making her crack the barest hint of a smile and pulled her flip phone out to make the call.  They were in luck; the house hadn’t been taken yet and the owner sounded interested in meeting with them.  Sometimes, Luciana couldn’t believe how smart Thea was – she often came up with ideas on what to do whenever they were in a jam.  It was almost as if she was the older sister while Luciana was the younger one.

 

An hour later, they arrived in Houston and went straight to the house to meet up with the gentleman.  He was a shorter man, plump and had black hair with kind dark eyes.  His name was Paul and he seemed nice enough.  Luciana liked the house, which was two bedrooms and so did Thea, knowing they wouldn’t find anything nicer.  It had a few issues, as with any older home, which was perfect since it wasn’t directly in the city. 

 

After paying the deposit along with the first couple month’s rent, the girls brought their belongings inside and was thankful the place was already pre-furnished.  They didn’t have to worry about going furniture shopping, just had to buy the essentials such as cookware and whatnot.  For the first time in a year, Luciana felt like she could breathe somewhat easily now that they weren’t stuck in a car.

 

Their problem was going to be that one car, unless public transportation ran out this way.  She had no idea.  Thea wasn’t the one who was always freaking out.  She knew they were still being searched for most likely, but at the same time, Luciana tended to just stress, panic and try to survive, so one of them had to be calm.  After spending basically a year in a car, Thea had learned not to be an annoying little troll because Luciana could smack her whenever she got to be too much of a bitch.

 

“We’re gonna get you a car.  Two cars are better than one.”

 

They had the money from their trusts, so why not?  The money was untraceable since it was in a huge duffel bag they carted around with them.  It wasn’t the safest way to do it, but bank accounts could be traced and that wasn’t an option.  Neither were credit cards…cash only was the only safe way to go.  Thea had her reservations, but reluctantly agreed to what Luciana wanted.  She had every right to be stressed out and panicked, especially after witnessing her father kill someone.  Thea would never have to live with that memory, thankfully.

 

“That way if you get a job, you’ll have transportation and I’ll be able to go to work as well.”

 

Thea just shrugged, busy looking around the house.  They would need to make an extra set of the house keys and she was taking note of all the windows and potential escape routes.  Finally, she halted in front of a window and looked out, taking in the scenery.  Idly, she wondered if her sister would agree to taking melatonin or something to help her rest properly for once.

 

“Why don’t we go buy some groceries?” She suggested finally, knowing they both needed proper food and a good night’s sleep with the help of a dose of melatonin for big sister.

 

Grocery shopping…Luciana hadn’t done that in a long time and could feel the anxiety building up inside of her, trying to swallow it down.  She wanted to have a normal life and normal life included grocery shopping and cooking.  Sooner or later, they had to stop looking over their shoulder and just live their lives.  Easier said than done, but Luciana would make the effort to do it.

 

“Alright, lead the way, sissy.” She followed Thea out the door, after grabbing some cash out of the bag and shoved it under the bed against the wall.  Taking a few deep breaths, Luciana started the ignition and pulled out of the driveway, eyeing the scenery around the small neighborhood they were in.

 

Chapter 2

 

“So, what do you want our first meal in the house to be?”

 

“We’re having chicken, dark veggies and pasta.” Thea turned a concerned eye on her sister, chewing her bottom lip. “We’ll need to get some cookware and Luci… maybe some nutritional supplements?” They had done that for a while, but eventually it had just gotten lost in the shuffle of constantly bouncing around. “I know it’s hard for you to… to let down your guard, but I think you need to, even if just for a little while.” Before she had a breakdown.

 

“I know, I’m trying.” Luciana didn’t want to sleep due to the nightmares that plagued her, but now that they were settling down somewhere for a while. “The supplements sound good.  We can do that.”

 

Thea had been the one to calm her down and help her with panic attacks when they surfaced.  The closer they got to the store, the more nervous she became.  All they were doing was getting some groceries, that was it.  There was no need to worry; everything was fine.  She nodded when Thea asked if she was alright to go inside and walked inside with her, trying not to look like a deer caught in the headlights.

 

“How about you go get the food and I’ll get the cookware?” Luciana suggested, watching Thea’s eyes nearly bug out of her head and smiled. “I can handle it.  I’ll be okay.  I’ll meet you at the checkout line.” Taking her own cart, she walked in the opposite direction and kept breathing.

 

Shaking her head, Thea wheeled the cart towards the food, knowing money wasn’t really an issue, but… she didn’t want to draw a load of attention to them by dropping a lot of cash all at once.  She figured, given their habit of running, she’d just buy enough for a week.  Plenty of fruits and veggies, healthy lean meats, no more damn energy drinks!  She stopped when she spotted a sweet, knowing it was Luciana’s favorite and slipped that into the cart as well, sighing.  Big sister had been busting her backside trying to take care of them, take care of her; she prayed that this was it for them, a chance to stop running and settle down.

 

Spotting an 8-piece cookware set that was on sale, Luciana lifted it and grunted, barely making it into the cart.  Then she grabbed some cooking and eating utensils, a couple skillets and made sure to grab everything on sale, or close to it.  Potato peeler, cheese grater, oven mitts, measuring cups and spoons...along with anything else she could think of they’d need.  Once she was finished, Luciana turned the cart around and slammed right into another, teal eyes snapping up to meet a pair of slightly startled emerald green.

 

“I-I’m so sorry…” Way to draw attention to yourself idiot, she mentally chastised, pulling her loaded cart back from the man’s cart.

 

Mark Calaway was fairly glad for his height and build or else she might’ve knocked him on his backside with her cart, cocking an eyebrow down at her.  He took in the contents of the woman’s cart, noting all the new stuff and then met her gaze again.  She looked anxious, stressed and he offered her a warm smile.

 

“No harm done, darlin’.” He took a step back, giving her some space since she looked ready to bolt. “Have an accident in your kitchen?” Mark asked curiously, eyeing her cart again.

 

Breathe, he’s not going to hurt you, Luciana coached herself mentally, shaking her head gently at him. “N-No…”

 

Thea had warned her about the dark circles under her eyes and how…hellacious she looked lately.  She’d actually said her sister looked like shit and needed to take better care of herself.  Thea didn’t sugarcoat anything she said, telling it like it is while Luciana was more reserved.  This man was gigantic and made her anxiety level spike, her stomach twisting violently.  He stood somewhere around 7 feet tall, she guessed, possibly a little shorter and had shoulder to wrist tattoos on both arms, completely covering them.

 

“I – um…”

 

“Hey sis, there you are.” Thea called out from behind, walking up beside her sister and eyeballed the giant in front of them. “Did you make a new friend?”

 

“No.” Luciana felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. “I ran into his cart accidentally…”

 

“Oh, wow.” Thea surveyed him thoughtfully.  

 

She hadn’t seen what her father did.  She knew what had happened, she knew what was going on, but those nightmares and the severe paranoia never plagued her like they did Luciana.  She was beginning to think big sister might be suffering from a mild form of PTSD.

 

“You’re tall.”

 

“Too many greens.” Mark joked, taking in the contents of the new woman’s cart. “I’m Mark.” He offered finally.

 

“We really have to go.” Luciana refused to give this man her name or any information, overprotective mode kicking into high gear. “Have a nice day.  Come on.”

 

She rushed past him with Thea following suit, tempted to leave the cart and just make a dash for the car.  No – NO!  She couldn’t do that, she had to stay strong and finish the shopping experience.  That man…scared her, to put it mildly.  He was huge – did they really have guys out here that big?

 

“I’m fine.” She whispered before Thea could ask, feeling her sister’s hand on her shoulder and cracked a small smile while they stood in line to checkout. 

 

Why couldn’t this line go faster?

 

“Sweetie, you have to calm down.” Thea whispered, transferring all Luciana’s items to her cart, so they could be down to only one.  She had picked up supplements, personal items and melatonin, planning on drugging Luciana if she had to.

 

Maybe they were lesbians, Mark thought, keeping quiet in the checkout line behind them; every line was slammed.

 

“I know, sissy, I know.” Luciana murmured quietly, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and didn’t dare turn around, just staring straight ahead. 

 

Everywhere she turned, she felt like eyes were on her.  At any second, she was waiting for someone to jump out and capture her to bring her back to their wretched parents.  She didn’t notice the melatonin in the cart, too busy trying not to have a panic attack.  It’s okay, you’re safe and everything is fine, she kept mentally coaching, breathing in and out slowly while Thea rubbed her back.  When they finally got to the checkout line, Luciana didn’t say a word to the cashier and began putting stuff on the conveyor belt, so their stuff could be rung up.  Thea had the money, so she did the bagging since there wasn’t a bagger, keeping herself occupied doing something instead of looking over her shoulder.

 

Thea made the mistake of trying to unload multiple items onto the conveyor belt at once and wound up dropping a head of lettuce.  Cursing, she tried stooping to catch it, nearly dropping everything in her arms in the process.  Her eyes widened when a very large hand caught said lettuce, instantly recognizing the tattoo work on the large arm.  He seemed like a regular joe, blue collar worker from the grease under his fingernails and smudges on his face.  Mechanic most likely.

 

“Hello again.” She laughed, straightening up alongside the giant.  

 

“Hi.” He set the lettuce down on the belt for her, green eyes moving to the other one who was bagging as fast as the cashier was scanning.

 

Luciana had to fight down the urge to pull Thea away from him and took a deep breath, her black hair hiding most of her pale face.  When a bag ripped, she cursed and grabbed another one, putting said items into it that had fallen out.  Thea was a lot more easygoing with people, strangers, than she should’ve been.  How many times did Luciana tell her not to talk to anyone they didn’t know?  Nobody could be trusted after what they’d been through.  When the cashier finally announced the total, Thea handed over the money while everything else was packed in bags and put in the cart.  Glancing over her shoulder at the green eyed giant, Luciana immediately turned her attention back to the front as she walked out of the store with her sister.

 

Thea made a mental note to have a little talk with Luciana, AFTER she had some proper sleep and a few solid meals in her.  She knew her sister did not trust a soul and had every right after what she had seen and what they had been through.  However, if they were going to try settling here, Luciana would have to learn to adapt and… get over it.

 

Mark paid for his own things, just the essentials: toilet paper, steaks, beer… some kind of body wash that assured him he would smell delicious and walked out.  His emerald gaze quickly found the two women loading their things into the back of a very old looking beater, stopping to watch them for a minute or two.

 

“I’m sorry, Thea.  I’ll get better, I promise.  I just…I gotta get used to this, to being here.” Luciana muttered as soon as her sister stepped in behind the wheel, feeling the disappointment radiating off Thea. “But you need to stop talking to strangers and being so friendly towards people.  NOBODY can be trusted.  We can settle down here quietly, but we have to be careful.  You know how far Mom and Dad’s reach is.  Just…promise me you’ll be more careful, okay?”

 

When Thea nodded, nothing more had to be said as they drove back to their new home to make their first meal and somewhat celebrate finally not being stuck in a beater car on the road.  Thea only nodded because that was the quickest way to shut Luciana up.  She had gone off the deep end and her paranoia ran a bit too deep.  All she’d done was be friendly to the guy, not offer a bunch of personal information; she didn’t even tell him her name.  Luciana having issues the way she was, over what should have been a normal occurrence, told her mental health problems and she knew exactly who to blame, sighing inwardly.  They were not going to make it here like this.

 

~!~

 

Slowly opening her eyes the following morning, Luciana stared up at the ceiling and scrubbed a hand down her face, slowly sitting upright in bed.  Dinner had been tense and quiet followed by her passing out.  She knew what Thea did and wasn’t angry with her because, truthfully, Luciana needed to sleep.  She’d been running on fumes, the circles under her eyes from both lack of sleep and stress were atrocious and her body was frail compared to what it used to be.

 

“Yeah.” She called out when a knock sounded at her bedroom door followed by Thea stepping in tentatively, holding out a cup of coffee. “I’m not mad at you.  I know why you did it.” Surprisingly, Luciana had slept like a rock and it somewhat showed.

 

“Good.” Thea had two cups of coffee, one for each of them.  She set Luciana’s down on her little crate style nightstand and then perched herself on the edge of the bed, sipping hers. “You have to start sleeping normally again, Luci.” She murmured quietly. “I know with everything… it’s hard for you, but for now…” She might need to just take the supplement; short-term use wouldn’t have any adverse effects and the benefits were aplenty.

 

“I know.” Luciana whispered, reaching over with her free hand to take Thea’s and squeezed it, tears filling her eyes. “I’m sorry.  I know I’m a nervous wreck and…I’m difficult to live with, but I’m not gonna let anything happen to either of us.  You wanted to settle down here and start our lives over, so let’s do that.  I’ll…find a doctor and get some kind of anxiety medication prescribed to help with that.  Maybe it’ll even help me sleep better.” If getting hooked on pills is what it took to get her anxiety and paranoia under control, that’s what Luciana would have to do. “I’ll make breakfast since you made dinner.”

 

Thea smiled sheepishly. “I – uh – already made up some breakfast and ate.  Yours is in the microwave, still hot.  I have a job interview.” She had been up quite early and, sure enough, there were underfunded, understaffed clinics who needed physicians.  Even if Thea hadn’t finished school, or residencies, they’d take her, providing she could prove she knew enough to get by. “Are you going to be okay?  You can drop me off after you eat and keep the car.  Maybe explore?  Get some fresh air and maybe just have a look around.  You might feel better if you knew the territory.”

 

That wasn’t a bad idea. “You’re so much smarter than I am, you know that?” Luciana reached over and hugged her sister, being careful of the coffee. “Thank you.” Thea was her rock throughout the past year and kept her from having a complete breakdown. “I’ll go for a walk and try to get a feel for the neighborhood.  Congratulations on the job interview.” After she ate and showered, Luciana suddenly had an appetite and felt marginally better after sleeping 12 hours straight. “Are you sure you don’t want me to wait for you?  I don’t mind…”

 

Thea had dressed in her ‘best’; they had only a few outfits each, what could be thrown in a bag basically, but it would do.  Everything was clean, which was a plus.  Thea had managed to get the very old iron she had found hanging up in a closet to work, so her white button up shirt was crisp.  She smiled at her sister, watching Luci pick the snarls out of her hair and fluffed her own.

 

“No, you go ahead, you can show me around later.” Sometimes, she missed her natural color, others… platinum blonde hair was interesting, to say the least. “You sure you don’t want the car?” Her eyes strayed to the equally old clock over the wall, everything in this house was old, it held a simple charm, and it was the complete opposite of their old life.

 

“No, I’m fine and besides, we both need jobs.”

 

The trusts wouldn’t last forever, though they’d been very careful with how they spent their money.  Only the bare essentials are what they needed in case they had to pack up and run again.  It was just easier that way to have 5-6 outfits tops a piece with undergarments, socks and shoes.  She had a duffel bag and Thea had one full.  Maybe after they were both working, they could rectify the clothes situation, but not right now.

 

“Since you’ll be working in a clinic, I need you to get me some anxiety medicine.  If you wanna stay here, I gotta get my nerves and anxiety under control.”

 

Luciana didn’t want to go to a doctor though, a stranger, when her sister could do the same thing.  However, they couldn’t go through the legal motions of getting prescription drugs because they were easily traceable.  So, Thea would have to steal them somehow from the clinic she worked at.

 

“Yeah, no kidding?  I’ll be able to get a prescription there for Prozac.”

 

Thea had absolutely no intention of stealing and her few experiences in these types of clinics had taught her how to go about things.  Everywhere differed of course, but… the mechanics were usually the same.  When Luciana gave her a pointed look, she rolled her eyes.

 

“What is the point of all these fake IDs if we’re not using them?  I’m not even going to be legally employed under my actual name or social security number since we got new identities… again.” She’d like to keep this one for a while. “The clinic has an on-site dispensary, so I’ll bring you back something.”

 

“Okay, thanks.”

 

Luciana felt marginally better, not trusting the false identification.  It was her paranoia working overdrive all over again.  Sighing, she watched out the window as her little sister left and frowned, hoping nothing happened while she was at work.  She finished her coffee and took a shower, thankful to have short hair.  It was easier to deal with, rested past her shoulders instead of to her waist like it had been when they first went on the run.  Thea had a pixie cut and she’d also had long hair, but the drastic change would keep the authorities off their backs hopefully. 

 

Changing into faded blue jeans and a plain white short-sleeved shirt, Luciana brushed her hair and teeth before slipping her faded scuffed white sneakers on.  Thea was right; she could look around the neighborhood and maybe it would make her feel better about their surroundings, less anxious.  Taking a breath, making sure to have keys in hand to the house along with a bit of cash in her wallet, Luciana walked out into the Texan heat and closed her eyes, wondering what the day would bring. 

 

Tomorrow, she would start job hunting, needing her nerves and anxiety under control first.

 

Chapter 3

 

Thea didn’t have the anxiety issues.

 

What she had was being cooped up all the time and constantly looking over her shoulder issues.  She was young, she had been pampered and taken care of all her life, but after this year stuck basically in a car with her sister, she had learned a few neat survival tricks.  Patience, generally, wasn’t one of them if it went against her desires to not be trapped.  She got the job, was shown the clinic such as it was, and knew that this was a perfect place for her.  Sure, she’d be dealing with a lot of gross things like STDs, poor pregnant meth heads, that sort of thing, but… it paid, and got her some experience in her field.  Also, it also got Thea access to the pharmacy and a 30 supply of a generic Prozac for her sister.

 

Every corner she turned, Luciana was cautious, taking her time in walking and nodded to a few people that bypassed her.  She still didn’t trust anyone and probably never would again, not with the type of life she had.  Halfway through the day, Luciana found a park to sit down at and just watched, keeping to herself while parents played with their children or couples pushed each other on the swings.  It was a very good thing they weren’t directly inside the city of Houston because that’s where all the bustle was.  On the outskirts in one of the small suburbs was far better.  Would Luciana ever be happy again?  Would she ever be able to fully settle down and live her life peacefully instead of fear?  Jumping slightly when her cell rang, Luciana knew it was only one person and immediately flipped it open.

 

“Thea, what’s wrong?  Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine, calm the hell down.” Thea sounded exasperated, shaking her head. “I’m on my lunch break, so I figured I’d check in and see how you were doing.” From the panic, she was guessing Luciana was having a moment or the phone call triggered it. “I get out in a few hours.” She was taking her break a little late. “Need anything while I’m out?” Unfortunately, Thea would have to stop somewhere and get some scrubs.  Providing the car made it there since it had been rattling this morning, but that was something Luciana didn’t need to hear right now.

 

“Sorry…” Luciana mumbled, sliding fingers through her hair and looked at her shaking hand, immediately clenching it into a tight fist. 

 

She had to calm down…she had to find a way to do it and could feel the tears stinging her eyes.  Why were they in this situation?  Why did her parents have to be such bastards?  Having children just to use them as scapegoats for their crimes was sickening!  Luciana would probably never get the memory of her father planting a bullet in Charles’ head as long as she lived.  Charley was like a second father to them and Tom’s best friend, so why kill the poor man?

 

“How’s work going?  And no, I don’t need anything, baby girl.  Just sitting at the park trying to relax and I walked around the neighborhood to get a feel for it like you suggested.”

 

“Um… work is good, I’m learning a lot.”

 

Thea decided right then and there to not tell her sister about the local wanna-be gangs.  They frequented the place for patch-ups and made in cash, so everything was on the down low.  Or the druggies coming in for detox and overdoses.  There were also the low-income families, who couldn’t get into the city to see proper doctors, or just couldn’t afford it.  Luciana would have a field day because of all the danger Thea surrounded herself in.

 

“I’ll be home soon as I can, but I got to go. You keep trying to relax, okay?”

 

“I will.  Be careful, Thea.  I love you.”

 

Luciana wasn’t completely stupid.  She knew the type of environment her sister worked in with these types of clinics and trusted her judgment.  Of course, she worried about Thea, always had and always would, but at some point, the bird had to leave the nest.  Luciana was, for all intents and purposes, Thea’s mother and had protected her their entire lives.  Their parents were rich, so they had nannies to take care of them, but from the moment Thea came home, even at the tender age of 4, Luciana was overprotective of her.  It hadn’t changed, and they got along for the most part due to the age difference. 

 

Sometimes, they had squabbles, but over the past year it was about survival.  There was no time for arguing and fighting when they were running for their lives, moving from place to place like nomads.  After sitting at the park a while longer, Luciana finally stood up from the bench she’d occupied and stretched her arms, deciding it was time to head home.  Tonight, she was making dinner since Thea worked and figured chicken parmesan wouldn’t be a bad idea with some greens and a baked potato.

 

Sure enough, the car had indeed broken down!  Thea had just pulled out of a Walmart when it happened, wondering where the hell had those stores been all her life.  It was so cheap, but then again, with their old lifestyle, Walmart would have been viewed down an upturned nose she supposed.  She had gotten her scrubs, picked up a few things for the house she had noticed needed replaced that morning and then the car broke down.  The manager had called a tow for her and now she was waiting, inwardly cursing herself out.

 

Luciana was going to have a fit.

 

No, Luciana was in a state of terror, running as fast as she could to the repair shop where the vehicle and Thea were being taken.  Damn it, why hadn’t she gotten Thea her own car?!  After reluctantly getting off the phone with her little sister, Luciana had managed to pull up the address on her phone, which took forever since it wasn’t high-tech.  Surprisingly, the repair shop wasn’t too far from the park she was at and Luciana didn’t waste any time going to her sister.  Throwing open the door, she rushed inside and immediately went to Thea, not caring who else was in the room.

 

“Y-You…” She coughed, her heart pounding vigorously against her chest and sweat poured from her forehead due to the heat. “Y-You…okay?”

 

Thea nodded, frowning at the condition her big sister was in and immediately grabbed a small cup of water from the machine available, holding it out to her. “Yeah…did you run here?” That was a dumb question; it was obvious she had. “Sis, I told you everything was fine…” Luciana had panicked, which she banked on and now she was about to have a full-blown stroke at who the mechanic working on their car was. “Luci…”

 

“Hey babe, you okay?”

 

Jonathan Good could see his boss having a fit if this broad stroked out or had a heart attack in here.  He had come in to let the blonde, Thea, know it was going to be awhile because the amount of rust on that beater was making it impossible to get to where they needed to be.  Only to walk in to find Thea holding her hands over another woman’s mouth, urging her to take deep breaths.

 

“I got a plastic bag?”

 

“Thanks.” Thea took it, not as good as a paper, but there were no holes and she held it up for Luciana to breathe in and out of. “Calm down, everything is fine…” Cardiac arrest was a possibility.  When Luciana had calmed down, she took a deep breath. “You okay?”

 

Nodding, Luciana slowly pulled back and immediately wrapped a protective arm around Thea, eyeballing the auburn blonde-haired man with blue eyes standing behind the counter.  Did he just call her little sister babe?  Luciana didn’t like that, at all, and temporarily forgot her fear as her teal eyes narrowed, her entire body tensed.  As much as she wanted to forget the car and bolt out of there with her sister, Luciana had a feeling that wouldn’t happen.  Thea was rather attached to the junk car for some reason.

 

“Just…sit down and keep breathing in through the nose and out the mouth.” Thea instructed, turning her attention back to the handsome man and smiled. “She’s okay.  She’s my sister.  Luci, this is Jon Good.  He’s been helping me since I got here.” Her tone implied he was harmless, hoping that set her sister’s mind at ease a little more.

 

It didn’t. “How much longer until you know what’s going on with our car, Mr. Good?” She asked flatly, congratulating herself for keeping a steady voice.

 

“That’s what I was coming to tell Thea, we don’t know yet.  Calaway is working on your rust issue, so we can pop your hood without breaking the damn thing.” Jon explained, flicking auburn blonde hair back from his vivid blue eyes, taking in the change in the woman.  She had gone from panicking to… well, ready to rip his eyes out if he so much as looked at Thea wrong.

 

“It’s not rust, it’s character.”

 

“Babe, character out there is gonna give your beautiful backside tetanus.”

 

“I’m up to date on my vaccinations.” Thea laughed, running a hand through her own short hair, spiking the front a little before scowling and smoothing it down.

 

“Thea, maybe we should just junk the car and get another one.” Luciana spoke quietly, though her guard was still up with Jon Good.  She didn’t like him or the fact her sister was openly flirting with him. “And her name is Thea, Mr. Good.  Not babe.”

 

“Luci…” Thea groaned, hating how overprotective her sister was and waved her off dismissively. “No, we need to wait and find out what the problem is with this car.  I don’t want to junk it, not if it still runs.”

 

Jon could call her babe all he wanted with that deep raspy voice of his.  It sent shivers down her spine.  Now it was Luciana’s turn to scowl, looking away from Thea and clasped her hands tightly in front of her, trying to keep her nerves under control.

 

“Fine.” She muttered, only loud enough for Thea to hear and had a feeling it would be a long wait.

 

They were sisters, and Thea was obviously the baby, Jon surmised, grinning at her. “I’ll be back as soon as we know something.  15-20 minutes tops, okay, babe?” He stressed it, ignoring Luciana completely and showed just what a jerk he could be.  Unless Thea told him to knock it off herself, he sure didn’t take orders from overprotective siblings.

 

“Sounds good.” Thea sat down and watched him walk away, her head tilting to the side to watch the way those jean pants hugged his muscular legs and backside. “Jesus, they don’t make them like that back home…” She whistled, trying to remember just what it had been she had seen in the crew cut, polo and khaki wearing boys at the college.

 

Luciana could tell her sister was smitten with the blue-eyed devil and sighed, knowing she couldn’t stop Thea from dating or having a life.  Settling down…they weren’t on the run anymore and she had to keep reminding herself of that.  Thea was smart, knew what she was doing and had gotten them out of several scraps while on the road for the past year.

 

“Please be careful.” She murmured, feeling Thea put something in her hand and looked down at it, side-eyeing her. “What is it?”

 

“Prozac, take it now before you end up having a heart attack.” Thea ordered, keeping her own voice down and got her a refill of water.

 

Not hesitating, Luciana downed it along with the water and crushed the cardboard cup in her hand.

 

Because of side effects, Thea had started Luciana out on the small dose, only 20 milligrams, figuring she could take melatonin for the first couple of weeks to help with potential nightmare issues.  Given what Luciana had witnessed and experienced, Thea would’ve bet money on what those nightmares involved.  It’d take some time for the Prozac to fully get into her sister’s system, but… they’d get there.  Things would get better.

 

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?”

 

They both jumped at that bellow from the garage.

 

Jon’s laughter could be heard out in the office.

 

Luciana jumped out of her skin at that bellowing, teal eyes wide and looked back at her sister, her heart racing again. “What the hell is going on back there?” She demanded, rubbing the back of her neck and tried to calm herself down all over again.

 

“I don’t know…” That bellowing wouldn’t do anything to help her sister’s current mental state and Thea was tempted to go back there to slap the hell out of whoever did that. “Want me to go find out?”

 

“No!” Luciana grabbed her hand, forcing her to stay put and took a deep breath, wishing the Prozac would kick in. “Just…stay here and be patient.”

 

That was the pot calling the kettle black.

 

“Okay, ladies,” Jon came back through the door. “Boss says to give you a ride home because-”

 

“Because if a piece of shit car could be condemned, that car would definitely be.” Mark growled, right behind the smaller man, shaking his head.  They’d gotten the hood popped and he had a hellacious cut on his palm.

 

“Hey, you’re Mark, right?” Thea recognized him from the grocery store and then narrowed in on the cut. “Does it need stitches?”

 

“She’s a, uh, a doctor.” Jon passed over a roll of paper towels for Mark to use to slow the bleeding.

 

Teal eyes flew open at the sight of the same man she’d ran into at the grocery store the previous day.  What the hell was with this man?  Judging by the pissed off look on his face, which reminded her of a mad bull, he’d been the one working on their vehicle.  This wasn’t good.  Luciana had to fight the urge to stop Thea from going to Mark’s aid, looking down at her hands.  They weren’t shaking like they should’ve been.  Did the Prozac finally kick in?  She felt more…calm, still tense, but calm nevertheless.

 

“That won’t be necessary.” She finally spoke up, all eyes turning to her and kept her eyes lowered. “We can walk, it’s not far from here.” When one ran.

 

“Lady, you looked ready to have a heart attack when you got here.” Jon pointed out bluntly, sharing a look with his boss.  Mark obviously had seen these women before, by the look in those green eyes. “Uh… man, you’re bleeding everywhere.”

 

“I have a first aid kit at the house.  I can sew it up.” Thea felt a bit bad about that, guessing Luciana was right.  Now would probably be a good time to retire the beater car. “Are you current on your shots?”

“Yes.” It was required in his line of work and he smiled at them, the corners of his eyes crinkling with amusement. “First the cart…”

 

“Now the car…” They were beating him up apparently.

 

Her little sister just invited two complete strangers to their new home!  Was Thea out of her mind?  Was she really that hard up for dick?  Luciana felt like strangling her, slowly looking up at all of them before locking her eyes on Mark.  He was incredibly handsome, long auburn hair pulled back in a tight braid at the nape of his neck along with a bandana wrapped around his head.  What captivated her the most were his eyes – they were a vivid green that reminded her of emerald stones.  Luciana had to pull her gaze away from Mark and looked at her little sister, who was already tending to Mark’s hand.  There was no way out of this and she knew it.

 

“I guess we’ll take that ride then.” She quietly murmured, feeling her stomach tighten slightly and folded her arms tightly in front of her chest.

 

“Follow me.” Jon guided them to the back toward the huge Chevy Silverado, which would fit all of them comfortably.  It was Mark’s vehicle, his was a simple Ford Ranger truck. “Ladies first.” He winked at Thea.

 

Thea had absolutely no intention of jumping on any man’s dick.  She had survived this long without sex; she could keep on trucking as far as she was concerned.  But… Jon and Mark were both gorgeous, easy on the eyes, and Mark’s hand was messed up from their car.  Also, some time around other people might actually do Luciana some good.  She climbed in, slipping into the back seat and somehow was not surprised when Jon was in right after her, leaving big sister in the main seat with Mark.

 

“Need help?” Mark asked, staring down at Luciana, pretty sure that was the name Thea had muttered under her breath when she had been talking to herself earlier about explaining this to her sister.

 

“N-No, I got it.  Will you be able to drive with your hand in that condition?”

 

When he smirked at her, Luciana was pretty sure her body temperature had risen several degrees.  It unnerved her how tall he was; he towered over her while Jon did the same to Thea.  Texas made them big apparently.  Pulling herself up, Luciana managed to plop in the passenger seat and buckled up, surprised she still wasn’t shaking like a leaf.  She would’ve felt more comfortable in the backseat with Thea, but it was obvious Jon wanted to spend more time with her.  A few minutes later, they pulled out of the repair shop and were on their way to the house since Thea had already given them the address.

 

Chapter 4

 

“How are you not a model?  You’re too hot to be a doctor.”

 

Thea was amused at the palpable flattery, staring out the window to watch scenery fly by. “I can’t walk in high heels.” Which was true enough.

 

“You taking on new patients?  Pretty sure I’m overdue for a phys-” Jon began laughing when Mark’s long arm came over that seat to hit him.

 

“Boy, mind your manners.” Mark was used to Jon’s no filter, blunt nature and anything that came out of Jon’s mouth.  Jon was… interesting and a bit of a wild card. “Sorry, he can be… obnoxious.”

 

“I’ve noticed.” Luciana murmured, also looking out the window at the scenery and had to remind herself she was safe. “Sorry about the cart…and your hand.”

 

She slowly looked over at him, hoping he didn’t feel her nervous energy radiating from her body and kept glancing in the rearview mirror at Thea.  If that boy so much as touched her, in a way Thea didn’t approve of, she would hurt him.  Thea raised a brow, hearing Luciana quietly speaking to Mark and smiled, leaning over a little to place a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Don’t mind her, she’s always been shy.” She staged whispered in his ear, brown eyes sparkling.

 

“Oh, so you’re not shy at all, eh?” Jon wasn’t either and enjoyed having a woman who was as outspoken as him.  So far, this day was turning out to be one of the best he’d had in a while. “Hey boss, how about we take these lovely ladies out after tending to your hand?” Neither of them would be cooking and he was hungry.

 

Luciana swallowed hard, not sure going out in public with these two men would be in their best interest since they were keeping a low profile.

 

“Because I want to do that why?” Mark retorted, glancing at Jon in the rearview mirror and snorted. “Not that I wouldn’t want to go out with you girls, but he’s an asshole.”

 

“Rude much?” He shifted to look at Thea. “How about you babe?  Wanna go eat out?” He wiggled his eyebrows.

 

Luci was going to blow her stack. “I’ll have to pass.” Thea demurred, fluttering eyelashes his way before taking another look at her sister. “We’re still settling and I’m tired.”

 

“So, you guys are new in town?”

 

It took every ounce of willpower not to snap on Thea, her big mouth was getting them in trouble. “Something like that.” She replied tensely, shooting a dark look at her sister in the rearview mirror briefly before looking back out the window. 

 

What was the one rule they both agreed on?  DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS!  DON’T TRUST ANYONE!  At least Thea had half a brain to turn Jon’s dinner offer down.

 

“Besides, I’m making dinner tonight and already have everything set out.” What the hell did she just say that for?!

 

Jon perked up. “Really?  What’re ya making?”

 

Now Luciana realized the mistake she made and groaned inwardly. “Chicken parmesan…” She hesitantly answered, jumping when Jon let out a loud ‘YES!’ with fist pump and everything. “Umm…maybe he needs some chill pills, Thea…” Now she was making jokes.

 

“Sign me up for that shit!”

 

Thea was laughing too hard, shaking her head. “I guess we’re having dinner guests tonight.  Mark, hope you brought your appetite.”

 

“Hell, the man eats all the time just like me.”

 

This was NOT a good idea.

 

While Thea and Jon chatted rather exuberantly in the backseat, Mark and Luciana fell into a very loud silence up front.  Not that it lasted all that long; soon enough he was pulling into their driveway and eyeing the house. “Didn’t realize Paul finally got this place sold.”

 

“You know Paul?”

 

“Sure, he runs the funeral home.  We’ve had to tend his hearse a time or two.”

 

“It was a lot less dusty than you’d think.”

 

That was… terrible and Thea struggled to keep her face straight.

 

They knew their landlord?  What kind of game was this?  Luciana eyeballed Mark shrewdly before hopping down out of the truck, her paranoia once again rearing its ugly head.  It was a small town, so chances were, they knew a lot of people.  She had to be rational about this, even though every fiber of her being was telling her something wasn’t right.  Walking up the steps with Mark, Thea and Jon following, Luciana opened the door and let them inside, not having a choice.

 

“Make yourselves comfortable…”

 

She immediately went to the kitchen, needing to distract herself with something other than her paranoia.  There was a reason they didn’t trust anyone or talked to people and this was why.  Thea came out from her room a few minutes later with the first-aid kit in hand along with some stitches, which she’d stolen just in case one of them ever needed a quick fix.

 

“How come she’s so quiet compared to you?” Jon asked, once again letting his mouth run away with him and ignored Mark’s warning glare. “What?  They’re sisters, so you’d think they’d have some kind of the same personality traits, right?  Right?”

 

Thea just nodded and smiled, busy working on Mark’s hand.

 

“Not everyone is as talkative as you are, Jonny boy.” Mark countered, eyes fastened on what Thea was doing to his hand. “Tiny stitches.”

 

“I’m minimizing scarring.” She said without looking up.

 

“Where’d you train?  Houston?”

 

“Jon…”

 

“What?” Jon was looking around the house.  There was absolutely nothing personal about it.  In fact, it looked like everything, the décor included, had been here for years and he wondered just when they had moved in. “Just trying to make conversation.”

 

“Thank you, darlin’.” Mark murmured softly when she had finished, flexing his hand and testing the stitches.

 

“Thank me by taking this out to the kitchen and putting it under the sink.  I need to go wash my hands.” She handed over the first aid kit.

 

Luciana was busy putting the chicken breasts in the oven, after dipping them in flour and egg for a breading.  The spaghetti sauce was on the stove with all the ingredients already mixed in and she wouldn’t start the noodles for a little while yet.  She heard heavy footsteps behind her and knew it was Mark since Jon had followed Thea into the bathroom to keep talking to her.  It left them alone for a minute and Luciana kept her back to Mark, thanking the Prozac for working because she wasn’t a nervous trembling wreck like she should’ve been.  The scent of gasoline and sandalwood permeated the air around her, Luciana quickly discovering that was Mark’s personal scent and it was intoxicating.

 

“Thanks for…helping my sister out today.” She finally spoke, slowly turning around to face him since she had to grab the vegetables that were drip-drying in the sink in a strainer.

 

“No need to thank me… Luciana, wasn’t it?” Mark tested the waters, saying her name slowly and waited for her reaction.  

 

She had been ready to bolt in the supermarket the day before and earlier, she had seemed… panicky.  Luciana was somewhat relaxed right now, considering how she had been, and he wondered if she was heavily drugged.  Not heavily drugged, but drugged nonetheless for a very good reason.

 

“Yes.  Mark, right?”

 

At his nod, she gave him the barest hint of a smile, which felt foreign to her.  There wasn’t much in her life to be happy about these days.  She took the strainer of vegetables and put them in a pot with a little water to steam them.  Thea would have a heart attack if they didn’t have some kind of greens with dinner.  She was somewhat of a health nut and always had been.  Taking a chance, after rinsing her hands off, Luciana extended her hand to him as teal met emerald and felt his much larger one swallow hers whole.

 

“It’s nice to meet you…officially, Mark.”

 

“Nice to meet you too, darlin.” He had been expecting her to have a panic attack to be honest, or go into flight mode, so her not doing either was an unexpected pleasure.  Mark smiled genuinely down at her, letting go of her hand before he did trigger her nerves. “I think you’re going to need a new car.  I got a look under the hood before it bit me and it’s… pretty bad.” That was putting it mildly.

 

“I kinda figured that, but Thea wouldn’t listen to me.”

 

Thea had caught what happened between her sister and Mark, wondering what that was about.  Luciana had barely spoken three words to any stranger and now suddenly she was acting friendly towards Mark.  Interesting…perhaps Prozac was exactly what the doctor ordered for her and it made Thea beam.

 

“Hey!  It’s not my fault you got me hooked on that damn clunker!” She chastised, eyeballing Luciana.

 

“Looks like we’ll be looking for two cars now instead of just one.”

 

“Yeah, you can’t be staying home all the time.  You need a job just like me.”

 

That got Jon’s attention. “Wait, you’re looking for a job?”

 

“Jon…” Mark trailed off warningly, already seeing where this was going and shook his head.  The broad was flighty enough, not that his idiot lackey would know that.

 

“What?  We need help in the office, you said so yourself.” Jon said, very innocently, flashing a crooked smile before turning to Luciana. “How ‘bout it, sweets?”

 

“She’s great with computers.” Thea chimed in helpfully, beaming at her sister.

 

“See?  Match made in heaven.”

 

Mark was tempted to slap his own face, sighing and looked down at Luciana apologetically.

 

She DID say she wanted to find a job and, from her knowledge, there hadn’t been a receptionist of any kind at the repair shop.  It looked as though Jon did that, but the man enjoyed being in the back far more working on vehicles.  It would be secretarial, right up her alley, and Thea was right she was exceptional with computers.

 

“I shouldn’t just be handed the job, Mr. Good.” Luciana refused to call him by his first name right now and cleared her throat. “If you want, I can come in for an interview sometime in the future and…you can offer me the job then, if you want.” She directed that at Mark, peeking up at him.

 

“Thanks, dick, for putting her on the spot.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

Thea had to cover her mouth to keep from giggling, watching the pair exchange looks.  Mark didn’t look overly amused and Jon seemed to be finding this hilarious. “Hey, Jon, would you help me?  I noticed some of the gutters were loose and…”

 

“Hey, I’m your man!  I’m Mr. Fix-It.”

 

As soon as they slipped out the back door, Mark exhaled and so did Luciana. 

 

She didn’t expect to be offered a job, but wanted to acquire it the right way. “If you don’t need anyone, I completely understand, Mark.” She murmured softly, a quiet aura about her compared to Thea.  They were night and day and it seemed as though Mark and Jon were the same way. “Is he your…brother or…?” She blinked when Mark immediately shook his head and bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing. “I’ll take that as a no.”

 

“I’m training him and sometimes I feel like it’s training a really, really crazy puppy.” Mark said finally, laughing softly. “Look, he’s not wrong, we do need someone to work the office.  We’re the only garage out this way, so we tend to get swamped a lot.” With other matters to tend to, they could fall behind or wind up overbooking the repair shop without realizing it. “But I don’t want you coming in for an interview or taking the job out of obligation.  You don’t have to.”

 

She smiled a little softer at him, understanding where he was coming from and laughed at his opinion of Jon.  He did remind her of the same thing, now that she thought about it. “No, if the shop needs help and you’re fine with it, I’ll take the job.  I could really use it and was planning on going job hunting tomorrow anyway.  But I don’t want you handing me the job without at least knowing my qualifications.  I have an associate’s degree in computer and technology and I’ve had a few positions as an administrative assistant.  That’s what you’re looking for, right?  Someone to handle the books, answer the phone, make appointments, stuff like that?” At his nod, she actually grinned and turned the heat down on the stove. “I can do all of that.”

 

“How about we consider this the interview.  You can fill out an application tomorrow and we can do a probationary period, that sound good?” Just meant she wouldn’t be getting what little benefits they did have access to. “Pay is a buck more than minimum to start with; if you impress me during the starter period, you can have a raise.” Mark figured that’d be fairly generous.

 

“Thank you, Mark.  That sounds reasonable and fair.” Luciana felt more at ease the more she talked to him and would admit, only to herself, he was very easy on the eyes. “So, since this is my interview, do you have any other questions for me?” She asked cordially, stirring the spaghetti sauce and the smell filtered throughout the kitchen, making her stomach rumble with life. 

 

It’d been a long time since she had an actual appetite and felt like things in life would be alright.  Mark considered her, finally eyeballing the chairs at the small round table and decided to test it.  If Paul had lived here, the chairs would have held his bulk, so… in theory… He sat down, heard what was an ominous creak and then settled, letting out a sigh of relief when it held him.

 

“Mmm, any history of drug abuse?” When she snorted, he grinned. “What about crimes?” Background checks were kind of a big deal these days, but they cost about $60 a pop.

 

“Do you want something to drink?” She asked, feeling bad she wasn’t being the greatest hostess and grabbed a bottled water from the fridge. 

 

They also had some tea Thea had made, but that was about it.  No alcohol since they weren’t big drinkers.  There was no time to drink when you were on the run and Luciana was too paranoid to get drunk in case they had to make a quick getaway.  Luciana shook her head and walked over to the table to join him after straining the vegetables since they were done.

 

“I’m clean, never did drugs or any kind of crime.  I went to school for 2 years, like I said, and have a degree in computer and technology.  I’m pretty familiar with QuickBooks, if that’s the program you use for the billing and I’m proficient in Microsoft Word as well.  Again, if you use it.  Anything else you need done around the office, I can do, including keeping it clean for the customers.”

 

“College girl, huh?” He supposed Thea had gone as well; obviously, she was a doctor.  Or something along those lines, she looked a bit too young to be a general practitioner – maybe a nurse practitioner. “Got your diploma?  Your associates?” He’d also need to make a copy of her ID.

 

“Hey, do we have a tool box?  Jon wants to straighten the gutter thingy, he needs a hammer for the dents.” Thea poked her head in, frowned when she got two blank stares and stepped back out. “I’ll check the shed.  We have a shed, did you know?”

 

“No, I didn’t.” Luciana blinked, standing up from the table to check on the spaghetti noodles and tested one to make sure it was cooked through.  She got another strainer out and dumped them, draining the water before checking the chicken in the oven, which was nearly done. “I really hope he’s quick about doing that because dinner is almost finished.  And yes, I have my associate’s degree.” It was one of the things she had grabbed in her rush out of the mansion a year ago along with her baby sister. “I’ll bring my identification tomorrow, so you can make a copy of it.” She was a mind reader and didn’t even realize it.

 

“GODDAMN IT!”

 

Luciana jumped, glad she wasn’t holding anything and felt her eyes widen. “That doesn’t sound good…”

 

Chapter 5

 

“Bees!  There were bees!”

 

“Don’t hit them!”

 

“Well get rid of the hive!”

 

“I’M TRYING!”

 

“JON, GET RID OF IT!”

 

“Wait, sorry, one bee… not a hive, it’s leaves…”

 

“Oh you…. you… GIVE ME THE HAMMER!”

 

Mark had moved to open the back door, listening to the pair and shook his head. “Look at them.”

 

He moved his arm up so Luciana could get a glance.  Thea was chasing a laughing Jon around the fenced in backyard with the hammer in her hand.  Thea was laughing too, so he assumed she wasn’t out to actually kill his underling.

 

Luciana realized what she told Mark and immediately regretted it because, even though she had her degree with her, physically, it had her actual last name on it.  She could never show that to anyone.  The panic slowly began building inside of her while she stood at the stove whereas Mark focused on Jon and Thea outside.  Not saying anything for a few minutes, Luciana focused on breathing in and out slowly like Thea ordered, taking the chicken out of the oven to set it on the counter.

 

“You’ll have to take my word for it as far as my associate’s degree goes, Mark.” She finally broke the silence, once she felt she could speak without stammering or panicking. “I don’t have it on me, physically.  It’s...It was lost at the last place we lived at.”

 

“Oh… huh, like the cookware?” He asked after a moment, sounding thoughtful before shrugging. “Sounds like you guys had a rough patch, darlin’.” Mark commented offhandedly. “Fire?  With all this heat, lots of folks been having issues with wildfires.” It had been a very hot, very dry season so far. “Well, no rush, I’m sure you’ll be able to get a copy for when you actually need it.”

 

Luciana hated lying, but it was the only to ensure their survival, especially if they wanted to settle down here. “Yeah, something like that.” Rough patch was an understatement, not that she could tell him anything about it.  Telling someone, a complete stranger no less, how she witnessed her father murder his best friend, her godfather, wasn’t exactly a good conversation topic. “If you don’t believe me, I’ll just have to prove it to you with my skills and intellect.” Walking past him to the back door, she called out to Jon and Thea dinner was ready before setting the table, which had exactly four chairs.

 

“I look forward to it, darlin’.” Mark rumbled when she turned back to face him, his emerald eyes drinking her in thoughtfully.

 

“I’m grounding your sister, sweets.” Jon announced, carrying Thea in over his shoulder like a sack of groceries. “She tried to nail me.”

 

“She still has the hammer.” Thea said dryly, hooking it in one of his belt loops, smirking when it dropped, caught and hit his backside.

 

Grunting, he set her down and inhaled. “Smells delish.” He reached back to pluck the hammer from the belt loop. “Fixed your gutters.”

 

“Hands.  Wash.  Now.”

 

“I don’t remember the last time she was actually grounded, so I’m curious to see how you plan on doing that, Mr. Good.”

 

Thea could hold her own against him, but Luciana would still keep an eye on the auburn blonde to make sure no funny business happened.  Also, she needed to have a discussion with her little sister about protection if she planned on hooking up with Jon in the future.  It looked like it was heading in that direction and they didn’t need any babies to worry about.

 

“Come help yourselves.” She’d made her plate and sat down at the table while Thea, Mark and a freshly hand washed Jon joined the fray. “I hope it’s good…” It’d been ages since she cooked dinner and hadn’t expected to have a house full. “By the way, how do you know Mr. Bearer, Mark?” Luciana had been curious about that, arching a brow at him once everyone was seated.

 

Jon and Thea were both looking at Luci now.  Jon in confusion and Thea was giving her sister a side-eye.

 

“We’ve serviced his hearse a time or two.” Mark said slowly, pretty sure she hadn’t been paying any attention to Jon in the truck, not that he blamed her.  Jon had made a pretty tasteless joke about cremated bodies in the same breath.

Thea sank down into her chair, eyeing the table. “Looks delicious, sis.”

 

“Right – right, he’s a funeral director.” That was a disturbing thought that they’d purchased a house from someone surrounded by death.  Not a good omen. “I did hear you say you serviced his hearse, Mark.  I just thought you knew him personally, like as a friend.”

 

“Paul’s a good guy.  He owns a few properties throughout Houston and we live in one of them.  You guys live in another.  I think there’s 2 more…”

 

How the hell did a funeral director acquire so much land?  Did they really make that much money?  Luciana shared a quick glance with Thea before resuming eating her meal thoughtfully. “I see.” Time for a change of subject. “Well, Mark gave me my interview and I’ll go in tomorrow to fill out an application for the job at the shop.” That was directed at her sister. “So now, we really need to find two cars.  Do you know of any trustworthy car lots around here, Mark?”

 

“What about Kevin?”

 

“Well yeah, Kevin can be trustworthy if you name drop us.” Mark also knew Kevin would also try his best to make a quick buck, though the majority of the cars were decent. “You sure you want two cars?  The garage ain’t that far from here, one of us could give you a ride.” He imagined two cars, with insurance and all that, was probably pretty pricey and this wasn’t exactly one of Paul’s better rentals, or rent to own homes.

 

“That’s a kind offer, but with both of us working and her schedule changing all the time, it would be better just to have two cars.” It wouldn’t look very good for her boss to be giving her a ride to work every day either. “If we can’t find two, then I’ll just walk to work every day.”

 

Luciana didn’t mind walking, having done it a time or two whenever one of their beater cars would break down.  This was the fourth one and…they’d bought it off of some farmer in Arkansas for $500.  Nothing lavish or fancy – they didn’t want to stick out like sore thumbs.

 

“We’ll figure it out.”

 

“Always do.”

 

Even Jon was getting the impression that they did not have an easy life and he was trying to sort it out, chewing on his chicken rather noisily until Mark gave him a look.  Then he remembered the table manners his momma had instilled and used them. “I’ll get Kev on the horn in the morning.  What’s your budget?”

 

Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back and Mark was a bit curious about these women.  Thea was more outgoing, Luciana was quiet and a bit on edge, though tonight she seemed more chilled out.  Drugs or a mental problem would be his guess.

 

~!~

 

Kevin was a nice enough man, though a little pushy.  Luciana purchased two vehicles from him, both in far better condition than the hunk of junk Mark was currently scrapping for them.  It was a blessing to meet these two men because Luciana couldn’t recall seeing Thea smile much throughout the past year.  When she was with Jon, her face lit up and they were spending a great deal of time together.  She did have the talk with Thea about sex and protection, wanting to make absolutely certain her sister was being careful. 

 

The job with Mark was busy and easy; Luciana fell into a relatively normal schedule and routine where she’d clock in at 8 AM and leave at 5 PM.  Sometimes, Mark needed her to stay a little later, which she didn’t mind.  It was more money in her pocket and, on days Thea worked nights, she just took care of dinner with fast food or popped something in the microwave.  Before they knew it, a month had gone by since they’d moved to Houston and slowly but surely, Luciana was coming out of her shell.  She still took the medication for her nerves and anxiety, but she felt more comfortable and settled as each day passed. 

 

Thea did as well.

 

The ‘birds and bees’ talk at age 26 had not been amusing, especially considering Thea hadn’t been a virgin in quite some time.  Not that it didn’t feel like she was still all shy and innocent sometimes, just over a year was a long time to go on bread and water.  Honestly… Thea wondered if Luciana might not be a virgin.  Lord knew with big sister having basically played mommy to her all her life, it was a curious possibility.

 

“Hey, asshole, you don’t get to decide on lunch and then make me pay.” Jon growled as he and Mark walked in, dropping a white sack on the desk. “Hope you like White Castle, Luci.”

 

“Isn’t that what you did to me the other day?”

 

Jon’s blue eyes narrowed as he dropped down into a seat that customers used, his own food in his lap. “Payback isn’t funny.”

 

“But it is delicious.” Mark smirked, winking at Luciana before popping a little cheeseburger in his mouth.

 

Luciana giggled softly, used to their antics and took a burger out of the bag, not minding White Castle’s at all. “Thank you for the food, gentlemen.”

 

She pulled away from the computer, not wanting to get any food on the keyboard or anywhere near the electronics.  Throughout the month, Mark and Jon often brought lunch back for her as well as them.  She didn’t know why since she did pack her own lunch from home, but apparently Mark had caught her a few times not eating it, so he took matters into his own hands.  Luciana looked a lot healthier too, not skin and bones and the dark circles under her eyes were nearly gone.

 

“Thea wanted me to tell you she’s working a 12-hour shift and she won’t be able to go on your date tonight.  She just talked to me about 10 minutes ago.”

 

“What?  Oh man… I hate it when she works that late…” Jon grumbled, reaching into his back pocket to grope for his cell phone.  Huffing, he slouched in the chair, ignoring the sack when it dropped to the floor, his hair falling into his eyes as he began scrolling through his text messages.

 

“She does have a life outside of you.” Mark pointed out flatly, watching Luciana eat.  She needed some greasy food in her life, all that healthy crap her sister was cramming down her throat wasn’t putting any meat on her bones.  Even though she had… filled out, quite a bit, Mark wasn’t blind; the woman had curves.

 

“Not that, idiot.  I don’t like her being in that area after dark.  Not safe.”

 

“I agree with you, Jon, but she’s stubborn and she refuses to leave the clinic.  Nothing we can do about it.  She’ll be okay.” Luciana tried to ease his mind, but could clearly see the concern in his eyes while he scrolled through the text messages Thea had sent him. 

 

She felt Mark’s eyes on her and slowly looked up from her food, smiling at him.  They had become friends, even though he was her boss.  He was the most laid-back boss she’d ever had and left her alone after the first few days since she had to be trained on the equipment and programs.

 

“Carl called again, by the way.  Said there’s something going on with the transmission and he’d be bringing the car back for you to look at it.  He didn’t give me a time though.”

 

“Been telling him the fucking thing is shot.  Replacing it isn’t even worth it, he needs a new car.”

 

Carl was an idiot and his emerald eyes narrowed.  If the moron wanted to keep sinking money into that piece of crap and paying them to just prolong the inevitable, he wouldn’t say no.  Snorting, Mark finished his lunch and stood up, tossing his trash into the bin beside the desk before rubbing his palms against his denim clad thighs.

 

“Jon, take a hike.”

 

Jon simply flipped him the middle finger, other finger replying to a text, fries dangling off his bottom lip.

 

Rolling his eyes, he walked over until he was towering over Luciana.  Even when she was standing, he towered over her. “We’re getting a drink after work.”

 

Jon smirked. “You’re supposed to ask.”

 

“Sorry?” Luciana blinked, not expecting him to be so forward and took a tentative step back, the smile on her face now uneasy. “I – um – …”

 

What the hell was she supposed to say?  She couldn’t tell him she took Prozac because he’d think she was a mental case, if he didn’t already.  Luciana couldn’t mix her medication with alcohol, at least she didn’t think she could.  Her cheeks flushed red as she looked down at the paperwork on her desk and then her shoes, anywhere except him.

 

“For fuck’s sake, man, you’re turning her into a tomato!”

 

“Keep it up, Good, and I’ll tell Thea to give you ANOTHER nipple twister.”

 

“WHAT?!  She told you about that?!”

 

“Sisters, we tell each other EVERYTHING.”

 

Jon paled.

 

“Fine,” Mark fought the urge to roll his eyes.  He knew Luciana was on Prozac because Jon had told him after Thea spilled to the boy.  Jon had asked about how Luciana had been versus how she was now.  Anxiety apparently, which explained a lot. “Will you, please,” Not a word he liked using. “Go out for a drink with me after work?”

 

“Better.” Jon was informing Thea he was twisting her nipple tomorrow.

 

“Will you shut up?”

 

“Nuh-uh.  Please, continue.”

 

Those emerald eyes drew her in like a magnet and Luciana found herself at a crossroads, not sure what to do.  She didn’t want to get close to him or anyone, in case they had to run again.  Luciana was his employee and he was her boss; mixing business with pleasure was never a good idea.

 

“I’m not a big drinker, Mark.  I don’t think it’s a good idea, but thank you anyway.”

 

Unlike Thea, who was making a huge mistake getting close to Jon, in her opinion, Luciana wouldn’t do the same.  Running would mean they would never see Jon and Mark again, if they had to do it.  Better to be safe than sorry.

 

Now Jon was looking at them, his patented crooked smirk on his lips, an amused glint in his eyes.

 

“I can drink enough for the both of us.” Mark said, not exceedingly put off by the refusal.  It took quite a bit for him to even get buzzed.  He could probably drink her body weight and be relatively fine.  When a pained look crossed her face, he frowned. “Are you afraid of me?”

 

“I would be, you just told her she was going out with you.” Jon snorted, already on his way out to the garage bay. “Have fun kiddies.”

 

“No…it’s not that.  You haven’t given me a reason to be afraid of you.  You’re actually a really nice guy.  But you don’t want to get involved with me.  I’m…complicated and messy.”

 

That was an understatement.  She couldn’t tell him anything about her past or her life besides Houston.  What kind of relationship would that be?  Not to mention, she was on anxiety medication because of her nerves, even though that had gotten better the longer they were in Houston.

 

“I should get back to work.  Thanks for lunch.” Giving him another smile, she sat down in front of the computer and began looking at the paperwork to type into the system.

 

~!~

 

“Okay, new theory,” This was a game Jon and Mark had ever since meeting Luciana and Thea.  After Mark had told him about Luciana turning him down, and her reasons, he had considered it. “They murdered Luci’s husband.  Or Thea did, and Luci is protecting her.”

 

“You said mob last time.” He figured Luciana had a bad relationship in the past.  Simple explanations were usually the correct ones.

 

“Could be both.  So much for your date…”

 

“I’ll just ask again tomorrow.”

 

~!~

 

“So, you stayed up until midnight to tell me Mark asked you out for a drink?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

Thea set her purse down on the table, something she had gotten at the local thrift shop along with some clothes during a shopping trip with Luciana. “I’m going to assume by the terrified look on your face you said no.”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“But you want to go out for a drink with him…right?”

 

Luciana’s shoulders slumped in defeat as she nodded slowly. “Yeah.” It was a calmer, resigned answer than the last two times she’d said the word. “But I can’t.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Thea, I know you’re having fun with Jon and you really like him, but…there’s a chance we might have to run again.  I’m not getting close to anyone because of that chance.  You should really think about that before you end up falling in love with Jon.”

 

Thea frowned, hating when her sister made valid points she couldn’t argue against.

 

~!~

 

“So, cheers…. to my buddy… who has a crash,” Jon frowned, brows drawing together. “No, a crush… on a chick who-”

 

Jon had volunteered to be his ‘date’ and Mark let his head bang to the bar countertop, his long hair spilling down around his face. “Fuck you.” He was tempted to throw the smaller man over the bar and into the mirror.

 

“While I, am gonna-” Jon stopped, sniffed and gestured for another round. “Not finish that sentence because I’m a gentleman.”

 

Chapter 6

 

Sunday afternoon was her day off and Luciana was up at the crack of dawn, having another nightmare.  They came and went, but last night had revolved around Mark for some reason.  It’d been a few days since he asked her out and her rejection, which in turn caused friction in the repair shop.  Luciana was already looking for another job, not wanting to make Mark uncomfortable since it was his business.  She didn’t tell Thea about it, just looked on her own and had applied for a couple jobs, but nobody had gotten back to her yet. 

 

With the radio blasting and the windows open, she cleaned, made breakfast for when Thea trudged through the door at 6 AM and sent her to bed, turning the radio down.  Her poor sister was pulling double shifts at the clinic and Luciana decided, when she woke up, they were discussing cutting back on her long hours.  It wasn’t healthy for her to work so much, even though the money she brought in far exceeded the 8-5 job at the repair shop.

 

The only one feeling any friction was her.  Mark rarely was turned down, but he took it in stride.  He figured backing off of her for a bit, letting her simmer down and then trying again would be best, but now she was so tense around him.

 

“Jesus Christ, darlin.” He grunted when she answered the door with a hammer, of all things. “Is that really what you’re planning on hitting me with?” Mark knew it was early, but he had been out walking, clearing his head. “Come outside,” He knew she was up because Thea had worked an indecent shift and Jon had already told him Luciana had a bad habit of watching the clock on those nights. “I want to talk to you.”

 

Why was he here at 8 o’clock in the morning? “No, of course I’m not going to hit you with this!” Luciana had been in the middle of hanging up some pictures they found at the thrift store to make the place more…homey. “Sorry.”

 

She tossed the hammer to the side, wearing a pair of blue frayed jean shorts and a white tank top, her hair pulled back in a small ponytail.  It was long enough to pull back and with the Texas heat, it was a blessing.  Thankfully, the house had central air installed in it, so they didn’t have to worry about sweltering.  Stepping outside, Luciana slid her hands in the back pockets of her jean shorts and didn’t bother grabbing a pair of shoes since they were in the front yard.

 

“Is everything okay at the shop?”

 

“You tell me.” Mark dropped down in the grass, stretching his long legs out before him and planted his hands palm down behind him, leaning back to stare up at her. “Sit.” He ordered, watching as she did so and half-smiled, though his green eyes were narrowed. “Mind telling me why you’re looking for another job, Luciana?” He asked, his tone rather mild, but there was just an undercurrent of annoyance there.

 

How did he find out about that?! 

 

She hadn’t even told Thea! 

 

Her teal eyes widened as Luciana stared back at him like a regular fish out of water. “I…” The words were not coming out and she did not want to start stammering like an idiot.  Lowering her eyes from him, Luciana sat Indian style beside him and took a deep shaky breath, trying to find the right words to say. “I…I thought it would be best if I worked somewhere else.  I didn’t want to make things awkward for you…” She had turned him down for a drink, which implied he thought of her as more than just an employee.  Maybe a friend.  Maybe more.  Luciana didn’t know and felt shame course through her body. “How did you find out about this?”

 

“First,” He held up a long pale finger, wagging it at her. “If I was feeling awkward, I’d let you know.  You’re having your own issues, don’t give them to me.” Mark felt absolutely no awkwardness over her turning him down. “Second, there’s not much that I don’t hear about in this part of town.” He was… connected, to say the least. “How’s the job hunt going?  Need a reference, darlin’?” He smirked at her scowl. “Luce, I don’t know what’s got you all wound up.  I find you attractive, so I asked you out.  You said no and that’s that.  No need to find a new job.” Not like he’d let her get one anyway.

 

“You’re not funny.” Luciana mumbled, clasping her hands on her lap and shut her eyes, feeling like a complete idiot. 

 

Of course, he wouldn’t get all wound up over her rejection!  The man could have any woman on the planet; he was gorgeous, successful, kind and a little rough around the edges.  He had this aura about him she couldn’t explain or describe, it was overpowering, and his voice was also a huge plus.  That southern draw had made her panties wet a time or two at work, not that she’d ever admit it.

 

“I find you attractive too, but…I can’t get involved with anyone.  I can’t get close to anyone…and that’s on me.” She spoke quietly, looking straight ahead and let the warm wind soothe her. “I won’t go to another job.  I’ll stay now that I know you’re okay with everything.”

 

“Good.” Mark nodded in satisfaction, though he was also grinning wickedly. “So, you think I’m attractive, hmm?” He began laughing outright when she blushed. “Darlin’, what do you mean you can’t get involved with anyone?  Some guy mess it up for the rest of us?” Would explain quite a bit about her, and maybe Jon wasn’t too far off the mark about them running from killing a guy or something, a bad ex perhaps.

 

“Any woman who doesn’t find you attractive is either blind, stupid or both.” Luciana bluntly remarked, her cheeks flaming more and couldn’t look at him, plucking some grass with her fingers.  She sighed heavily, forcing back tears and cleared her throat, anguish written all over her face. “No, it’s nothing like that.  I wasn’t in a bad relationship or abused or anything like that.” She didn’t blame him for thinking that because of how she acted. “Just can’t get close to anyone…and I can’t tell you why.  I’m sorry.”

 

Mark considered her, finally nodding before standing up.  He bent down, grabbing her under her arms and lifted her until she was on her feet. “I expect to see you at work tomorrow, Luciana.” He informed her, eyes flashing for a brief moment. “And darlin’, I do love me a mysterious woman.” Because… he wasn’t giving up and all she did was entice him just a bit more with that slight explanation.

 

Her heart flipped in her chest, pretty sure it also did a somersault and felt his hands slide down her sides to grip her hips, the warmth searing through the material of her clothes. “I’ll be there with bells on.” Luciana promised, feeling him reluctantly let her go and once again there were apples in her cheeks. “Thank you for coming to talk to me.  Not a lot of people would.  Just shows what a great guy you really are.” Reaching up, she brushed a stray strand of red auburn hair from his face and smiled. “See you tomorrow, boss.” Winking, she headed back inside to finish up her cleaning/redecorating, feeling better about the situation with him.

 

Well… that had been a lot easier than he anticipated.  Mark strolled down the sidewalk and around the block where his truck was waiting.  Whistling, he got in, started it up and pulled away, heading towards his own place.  Just a tiny little apartment, nothing major, nothing too personal.

 

~!~

 

Another month passed by in the blink of an eye.  Things were going smooth at the repair shop and no danger had plagued them.  Thea had cut back on her hours at the clinic, but it wasn’t because Luciana asked her to do it.  Jon had, and her little sister agreed, even making sure not to have late night shifts because he was scared for her safety.  Luciana could already tell Thea was in love with him and it seemed to be the case with Jon.  He was a good guy, strong, hilarious and handsome.  Nothing like Mark though.  It was getting harder to resist him. 

 

Once a week, he asked her out for a drink and she kept turning him down.  The man was PERSISTENT, and she didn’t understand why.  Even if they did go out for a drink or date, Luciana could not fall for him the way Thea did with Jon.  It was too risky, and they’d only been in town for 2 months.  She didn’t do much besides work, eat and sleep her life away while Thea went out on the town with Jon, having fun.  As long as her little sister was happy, that was all that mattered to Luciana.

 

Given the fact that Thea had had several run-ins at the clinic with cops being called for homeless people or junkies, and nothing had ever come of it, she wasn’t as paranoid as her sister.  Not that she used her name when given reports, she found she didn’t have to.  Things seemed to be settling into a routine; she just wished her sister would relax, just a little bit.

 

“Fair season is here and you, my deliciousness, are coming.”

 

“Did that this morning.”

 

He smirked, licking his lips. “Yeah, I know, but seriously.  Drag Luci out.”

 

Maybe it’d be good for her, Thea thought, kissing Jon goodbye and walked up to the front door to the house, taking a deep breath.

 

“A fair?  With all those people?” Luciana shook her head, holding her hand up. “No thanks, I don’t want to go out more than necessary and you know why.” Did Thea suddenly forget they were still being hunted and chased by their parents and authorities?

 

“But it’s been over 2 months, and nothing has happened!” Thea argued, refusing to back down from her sister and took her hands, worry-filled brown orbs locking on apprehensive teal. “Please, Luci.  You said we could settle down here and we’ve done it, but you’re still so nervous and anxious, even with medication.  You need to get out and stop holing yourself up in here.  You need to live your life.  Why do you think I go out with Jon?  Because I refuse to live in fear and piss my life away!  I refuse to let our parents win and that’s exactly what you’re letting them do!  You’re letting them WIN!”

 

Those words stung, and they were hard to hear.  Luciana didn’t mean to act the way she did, but Thea didn’t see what she did.  She didn’t see Charley die before her eyes because of their father, a man they used to love and worship.

 

“Living a normal happy life isn’t in the cards for me, not after everything that’s happened.  All I’ll do is bring everybody’s mood down because of my anxiety.  The only place I truly feel safe is in this house.  I’m sorry, I’m not laid-back and easygoing like you are.  You didn’t see someone get shot to death, so how could you possibly understand what I’m going through?  What I deal with day to day and all the nightmares I have, because of that night, you don’t get it and you never will.  Have fun.”

 

“You’re right Luciana, I don’t get it and I never will because I didn’t see it.  But I have lived in the shadow of your fear for over a year and I’m telling you enough is enough.  They haven’t even gotten close to us, and we’ve covered all our bases.  It’s time to just start trying.  Please?” Thea was so close to crying right now, getting down on her knees and clasping her hands when Luciana shook her head firmly. “Luci, please, you have to try.  Please?  You can’t keep going on like this.”

 

“Do you think this is easy for me?  DO YOU?  Having to hide and cower in fear from the people we were supposed to be able to trust the most?!” Tears streamed down her cheeks as Luciana sank down on the couch, putting her head in her hands. “You think it doesn’t bother me that, every time I walk out of this house, I feel anxious, nauseous and scared out of my mind?  Do you think it’s easy for me to go to work and pine over a man who I know wants me, but I refuse to take that step with him?” Her voice had grown lower and softer with each word. “I want nothing more than to be as carefree and alive as you, Thea.  I want to be happy, but I CAN’T.  Because at any second, we may have to go on the run again.  Houston is NOT permanent, and you need to get that through your head.  That’s why I’ve dodged Mark at every turn because, as much as I want to be with him, it’s NOT safe.  Every time you walk out of this house and give more of your heart to Jon, you’re risking that man’s happiness and I lost count how many times I’ve told you that.  So, if living in my shadow of fear is proving too much for you, there’s the door.  Find your own way.”

 

“Yeah, so is Jon and Mark, dry it up.  You’re going.” Thea ordered, standing up and brushed away her own tears. “Maybe we need to stop running and start figuring out how to get out of this mess.  I know you’re scared, but I’m not going to live my life looking over my shoulder.  Besides, after all this time, maybe they’ve let it go… maybe they’ll cut their losses and find someone else to make a scapegoat.  Hunting us down is too time consuming and costly, even for them.”

 

“What the fuck is taking them so long?” Jon grumbled from the truck, tapping his foot impatiently.

 

“Oh my god, what do you mean they’re…?!”

 

“No, no, no relax – RELAX – calm down they’re not directly at the door.  They’re outside in the truck waiting for us to come out so we can go to the fair.” Thea had to hold her hands over Luciana’s mouth, so she could breathe in and out in slow deep breaths. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say they were directly at the door.  You’re going, now stop fighting me on this.”

 

“How do you expect to get out of this when our names and everything are on the documents?” They had been nearly caught by a bounty hunter some time ago in New York, when they first went on the run and both were informed of what their parents had done. “Everything has OUR prints and our names on it, Thea.”

 

“I don’t know, but…come on, let’s just go out and have fun.  Please?  If you don’t come, I might have to bring Mark in here to force you…” She smiled wickedly, wondering if that wasn’t a bad idea to do anyway. “You say you want Mark, well it’s time to start living and stop being afraid.”

 

“And what if we have to run again?”

 

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  And just so you know, I haven’t told Jon anything and I won’t.”

 

Looking down at what she was wearing, Luciana had simple blue jean shorts and a red short-sleeved top, nothing fancy or nice about it. “I don’t…” Her eyes snapped to the door as several loud knocks sounded on it. “I think we took too long.”

 

“I’ll handle it, you go wash your face and brush your hair.” Thea ordered softly, gently shoving her sister towards the bathroom.  She quickly wiped her fingers along beneath her eyes and answered the door. “Hi, sorry, Luci was-”

 

“She’s not coming, is she?  Man, Mark is gonna-” Jon blinked when she pressed a finger against his lips, smiling. “Okay, cool babe.” Because talking Mark into this had taken him a lot of promises about whiskey and not skimping on lunches.

 

Chapter 7

 

Staring in the mirror, Luciana had to take several deep breaths to slow her racing heart and tried to calm her mind down.  Maybe Thea was right.  It’d been over 2 months, just shy over, since they moved to Houston and nothing had happened.  Nobody knew the truth about them and that was the way it would stay.  Would it be terrible to go out with her sister, Jon and Mark?  Mark…a soft smile spread across her face at the thought of him.  The way he smelled – his personal scent always lingered in the office and it drove her crazy. 

 

Crazier than she already was. 

 

Running the water, she washed her face as Thea instructed and brushed out her shoulder length black hair, having dyed it recently with her sister’s help.  She didn’t trust a boutique and her sister was a jack-of-all-trades type of woman, able to do virtually anything.  With one final look in the mirror and smoothing her shirt down, Luciana walked out and grabbed some socks and her scuffed up white sneakers, taking another breath.  A few minutes later, she opened the front door and stepped out on the porch, putting one foot in front of the other until she reached the truck where Mark was waiting.

 

“Sorry, Thea sprung this on me and I…had to clean up a bit.” As much as she could anyway.

 

He stepped out of the truck, nodding down at her. “That’s fine, darlin’, Jon had to-”

 

“Bribe his ass, he hates fairs.”

 

Mark rolled his eyes, which were hid behind his black sunglasses.  His auburn hair was pulled back into a loose tail, light blue skintight jeans and a denim vest along with a chain around his neck.  He would attract attention and not fit on anything they’d want to ride.

 

“I don’t hate them.”

 

“Be nice Jon.” Thea lightly swatted him, shaking her head when he just gave her a smirk and nodded at her sister. “This will be fun!”

 

“I don’t like them either.  Thea had to bribe me as well.” Luciana admitted somewhat sheepishly, shooting a playful glare at her giggling sister and looked back at Mark. 

 

Even through those shades, she could feel his eyes on her and tried not to show how much it affected her.  He opened the door for her and gripped her hips, lifting her into the cab of the truck in the front passenger seat.  Jon and Thea once again occupied the backseat.  Once Mark was behind the wheel, they pulled out of the driveway and headed down the road to the local fair Houston had every year.  It was in the city, around 25 minutes or so, depending on traffic, from the suburbs. 

 

Everything is okay, nothing is going to happen and you’re safe, Luciana reminded herself mentally, jumping slightly when Mark reached over to take her hand in his.  Instead of recoiling, Thea’s words flowed through her mind about being happy and Luciana wanted to be, knowing she had to take a chance.  Her hand tightened slightly on Mark’s as she turned her head to stare out the window at the scenery, the sun going down over the horizon.

 

Thea had already mentally promised herself that she would behave and not be an asshat to her sister, or pressure her into anything else, for the next week.  5 days for sure, but doctor’s orders were to get out and get some sunshine, some fun and some wickedly fatty fair food.  She was excited, chatting away with Jon, completely unaware of the hand holding going on up front or else she might’ve decided payback was a bitch and retaliated for all those ‘safe sex’ talks she had been getting lately by tossing condoms up front.

 

Arriving at the fair, Mark and Jon paid their fees to get inside and Luciana couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to something like this.  Vendors, rides, bright colors, games…Luciana walked with Mark slowly while Jon and Thea acted like big kids, buying wristbands that would allow them to ride everything without needing tickets.  They asked Mark and Luciana if they wanted bracelets and both declined at the same time, their eyes locking briefly.  As expected, the place was packed with people coming and going every second, whizzing past them to either go on rides, get food, play games or buy something from one of the vendors.

 

“It’s so good to see her like that.” Luciana said wistfully, watching Thea and Jon together waiting in line with him picking on her.  She didn’t even realize she’d said that aloud, feeling the darkness lift from her heart a little more. “She’s happy and that’s all I’ve ever wanted for her.”

 

She may not have caught what she had said out loud, but Mark had, and he remained silent, letting Luciana muse to herself.  He had just filed that little bit away with everything else he knew about her; at this point he had a mental vault of tidbits and information on Luciana and Thea, courtesy of Jon.  Each time he learned something new, just a little bit more of the big picture was revealed to him and he smiled down at her when she looked up at him, coming out of her reverie apparently.

 

“Want to play some games or somethin’, darlin’?” He offered softly, knowing she would probably be content to walk around watching Thea enjoy herself, but… from what Thea had said, big sister needed to stop living vicariously through others and start doing some living herself. “Maybe go eyeball the barns or somethin’?” Chicks liked horses and fluff, right?

 

“Sure.”

 

She had no idea what she wanted to do, besides watch Thea have the time of her life with Jon, but it was obvious Mark had been sent on a mission.  To get her to have some fun.  Glancing over her shoulder at Thea getting on the ride, Luciana had to remind herself baby sister was in safe hands and slowly walked away with Mark toward the games part of the fair.

 

“Oh wow, the water gun race.  I haven’t played this in ages.” Walking over to it, she smiled back at Mark with a little mischief in her teal orbs and patted the seat. “I’ll race you.  And if you win, I’ll do something for you.  Whatever you want.  But if I win, you have to do something for me.  Deal?”

 

Mark considered her proposal and he sure as hell hadn’t missed the impish sparkle in those gorgeous eyes of hers, wondering what she was up to.  Or maybe she was just that good at this sort of game and confident she would beat him.  Entirely possible.  He had a feeling if she won, she was telling him that he wasn’t allowed to ask her out anymore, not even once a week, but ever.  He would wind up breaking that deal.

 

“Sure, darlin’,” He said finally, nodding his head and stuck out his hand, shaking on it with her. “Deal.”

 

Once it had been sealed, so to speak, they each took a gun, paid the carnie and waited patiently.  He had pushed his shades up onto his head, emerald green orbs fastened on the target and his lips curved up into a smirk.  She might be good, but he was better and in a few short minutes, he had proven it.

 

“And the big man is our winner!  You can have anything off this bottom shelf, sir!  A lovely unicorn for the lady maybe?”

 

She smiled, shaking her head when Mark arched a brow at her and spotted a little girl down from them, who had also raced. “Give it to her.  You’re alright with that, right Mark?”

 

He nodded, and she watched the little girl jump for joy, clutching the purple unicorn stuffed animal.  It was the one she wanted, apparently.  Luciana had no idea what she would’ve asked from Mark had she won.  They walked away from the game a little bit and she stopped, looking up into his eyes since his shades were still on top of his head.

 

“Alright big guy, a deal is a deal.  What do you want me to do for you?”

 

Mark considered it, and her, staring down at her thoughtfully before smiling. “I’ll think on it and let you know before we leave the fair.” He promised, knowing whatever it would be would have to be worded carefully and also be a ‘prize’ Luciana was comfortable with or else she would quit her job and probably hightail her backside right out of Texas.  She was just that damn skittish.  

 

Well, maybe not leave Texas, but get away from him for sure, which isn’t what he wanted.

 

“That okay?” When she nodded, he took her hand and guided her away from the game. “Come on, let’s find something to eat.” Something greasy.

 

“Oh my god, do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had an elephant ear?  I forgot how amazing these are!”

 

Mark had gotten a funnel cake, both of them sitting beside each other at a nearby picnic table under a white tent set up for people to eat.  They had also bought some fried vegetables with ranch sauce, corndogs and cheesy fries.  Mark had also ingested a pulled pork sandwich, having a big appetite.  No wonder he was as big as he was!  Not fat wise either, which amazed Luciana.  She figured he probably worked out on the side besides at the shop.

 

“Here, help me finish this.” Holding up a piece of elephant ear to his mouth, Luciana watched him take it in and licked her fingertips in the process, her heart starting to pump faster as their eyes sealed to each other.

 

“Delicious.” He rumbled, pulling away and slowly slid his tongue along his lips, tasting sugar and winked at her.  

 

He had been tempted to try the deep-fried alligator but… no, not today.  This was much better.  Mark grinned, leaning back against the table and let his arms rest on the tabletop, running a finger up and down her shoulder blade.  She was pink, blushing, and it was… stirring up some issues for him actually.  Luciana was so shy, reclusive, and she had been telling him no for weeks.  This was the longest chase he had ever been on and he already knew the prize was worth it.

 

“Yeah…”

 

She licked some more of the dipping sauce off her fingers he’d missed, caramel and enjoyed his touch, tearing her eyes away from him again.  What was it about Mark Calaway?  Luciana had asked herself countless times over the past 2 months, ever since they’d met at the grocery store.  She wanted to find out more about him, discover where this could lead and replayed her argument with Thea earlier.  What if their parents had found other scapegoats for all the crimes they committed and tried pinning on their daughters?  What if they were completely safe and Luciana had driven herself mad for nothing?  What if she was pissing away a once in a lifetime opportunity with a great man like Mark?  Would opening her heart to him really be so bad?  Thea was right; they had to stop running and live their lives instead of constantly being in fear, make themselves happy.

 

“Come on, the night is young, and we need to walk off all of this junk food we just ate.” She stood up and extended her hand, not an ounce of fear in her eyes. “You wanted to go to the barn or whatever, right?  Or do you wanna play some more games?”

 

“Let’s go walk around, look at the animals, the crafts, all that fair shit.”

 

He laughed, threading his fingers through hers.  Something had changed in that instant, that moment she had been sitting there and he wasn’t sure what, but he did like it.  Whatever internal conversation she had been having with her demons, it looked like she had squashed them for now.

 

“I don’t think you can afford to lose another game to me, Luci.” He drawled, winking down at her to show he was teasing.

 

She rolled her eyes playfully at him, nudging his side and walked with him down the path with the vendors, just looking not buying.  Mostly, she was more interested in talking to Mark and spending time with him, letting him guide her into the barn where all the different animals were.  There was a pure black stallion her eyes instantly landed on it, not believing how gorgeous he was.  It had to be a male just by the size alone.  Sure enough, Mark confirmed it was and she didn’t question it, simply looking up at the horse while it neighed at them.  Mark held out his hand with a red apple, the horse instantly taking it and then handed her one. 

 

Luciana was scared at first, but Mark urged her gently, standing behind her with his hand on her wrist, extending it enough to where the horse took the apple, slobbering on it in the process.  Then, he took her hand and together they began petting the animal gently with Mark whispering in her ear how showing kindness would allow her to touch him, but fear wouldn’t.  Animals could sense it and she had nothing to be afraid of.  Feeling him behind her, his body heat radiating through her clothes…Luciana was having deep issues while she continued petting the horse.

 

She didn’t seem familiar with animals, which was nothing out of the ordinary.  People came from all walks of life.  After that first stallion, Luciana seemed to be a bit braver about touching the horses and, while not showing fear was a good thing, he also cautioned her to remain alert because not all animals were the same, much like people.  Some didn’t want to be touched.  Some were antsy from being around so many people and some were young and new.

 

“You want to ride one?” He asked, spotting some youths saddling up the more broken in, calmer mares.

 

“I think just petting one is good enough for now.”

 

Luciana had to take baby steps and pulled her hand away from the black stallion, their hands immediately clasping again.  It felt right and safe holding Mark’s hand, like her hand was specifically made for him.  That was an absurd thought; this man was absolutely gorgeous, and it was hard to believe he was interested in someone like her.  They pet a few more animals like goats, rabbits and even chickens, which were surprisingly soft.  It looked like whoever had these animals took great care of them and it made Luciana feel good inside.  Walking out of the barn, the colors were even brighter now that night had completely fallen, and the breeze turned somewhat cool.

 

Now, fair at night was a whole new ballgame for Mark.  He rather enjoyed the night lit up by the flashing lights, the loud music, and a lot of the little kiddies were packed up, meaning adults and teenagers.  Entertainment picked up as well.  Houston put on one hell of a fair, one of the largest in the state, so everywhere they turned was something new, fun, vibrant… and if that jackass did not stop eyeing Luciana, he’d shove a corndog up the man’s backside.

 

There was a tribute band to a variety of country artists playing and Luciana stopped, along with Mark, to listen to a few songs.  She jumped when someone tapped her on the shoulder with Mark standing on her other side and slowly turned her head to look at the man.  Luciana was very observant and had felt the man’s eyes on her all night, feeling her stomach clench violently.

 

“Evenin’ honey, why don’t you ditch this sack of shit and come have some real fun with me?”

 

“I’m quite happy with my company, but thank you anyway.” It was smart to be polite instead of hauling off and slapping the taste out of this jackass’s mouth.

 

The man snorted, having one too many beers and slapped her backside with authority. “Mmm pert as I thought…if you change your mind, honey…”

 

“Mark!” Luciana shouted when he did it for her, only he punched the prick in the mouth.  She could feel attention drawing to them and immediately took off away from the band, tears filling her eyes.  They’d been having such a great time too and it was ruined because of a drunk bastard! “Thea, I have to find Thea.” She whispered, knowing it was time to go because the police would be involved, and she couldn’t have a run-in with the authorities.

 

Chapter 8

 

Nobody was calling the police because this dickhead was drunk, and the fairground rent-a-cops were not about to say anything to a near seven-foot-tall giant who flashed a badge their way.  His… alternative employment gave him a lot of leeway and authority half the time than local boys, though he tried not to overuse or abuse that privilege.  Sighing, Mark turned to look for Luciana, not surprised she had bailed and caught sight of her whipping through the crowd.  It took him a few seconds, but he quickly caught up with her, wrapping an arm securely around her waist.

 

“Darlin’, calm down – calm down.  It’s handled.”

 

“Thea, I have to find Thea!  I have to go!”

 

She felt Mark’s arm tighten around her waist and turned her until her face buried in his chest, tears streaming down her cheeks.  Her entire body trembled from head to toe, the fear consuming her once again.  Would this ever end?  Would she be able to be happy without constantly being afraid of running into someone who could take her back to her wretched parents?  Luciana clutched his shirt, feeling his hand rub her back up and down, not seeing him flash a badge at the rent-a-cops for the fair.  She didn’t see any of it or else…she would’ve tried getting away from him instead of clinging to him for dear life.  Slowly, she began to calm down and slowly pulled back, wiping her tears away.

 

“T-Thank you…” Luciana whispered softly, her voice slightly shaky from what happened.

 

For punching the guy?  Highly doubtful she’d be thanking him for that, but Mark had wanted to do a hell of a lot more than just punch the bastard.  He stared down into her tear streaked face, reaching out to gently brush away tears with the pad of his thumb, frowning.

 

“Luciana… what has you so scared, darlin’?” He asked softly, letting the palm of his hand cup her cheek, feeling how warm she was.

 

Her face contorted in a new kind of anguish, hating the lying and felt more tears flood her eyes, slowly shaking her head. “I can’t.” She whispered, reaching up to cover his hand with hers as their fingers laced together. “I can’t tell you, Mark.  I-I’m sorry…” Luciana had to get away from him and distance herself again, having an inner battle of conscience.  It was inner turmoil and it had been for the past 2 months. “T-This is why it’s not a good idea to get involved with me.  Because there are things about me I won’t ever tell you.  It’s for your own good and safety.  So please…” Her tone was nothing more than a plea now as her eyes closed briefly before opening again to lock watery teal on concerned emerald. “Please walk away from me.” Luciana didn’t have the strength or desire to do it, so Mark had to be the one to end whatever this was between them. “P-Please…”

 

“Not a chance, darlin’.” Mark whispered, bending down until his forehead was pressed against hers, his eyes staring at her, taking her in.  She looked so desperate, sad, so lonely and fearful and a large part of him wanted to take that all away from her.  Sighing, he pulled back, letting his hands fall to rest loosely on her waist. “I know what I want for winning.” He said quietly. “I want you to promise… that you’ll never ask me to walk away from you again, Luciana.  Your past is your past, and I walk in the present.”

 

“What?” Luciana’s voice cracked, disbelief shining in her eyes while she searched his for any sign he was screwing with her. 

 

No, he meant every single word he said.  A deal was a deal and what the hell had she been thinking making it in the first place?  She was stuck now, unable to walk away from him and since he refused to do it, they were at a standstill.

 

“So even though I have things that have happened in my past, things I can never tell you about, you still want to pursue this?” At his affirmed nod, Luciana felt her heart nearly explode with a sensation she hadn’t felt in ages – happiness. “Alright…a deal is a deal and I don’t break deals I make.  I-I promise.” She really hoped she didn’t have to break it in the future if her and Thea had to go on the run again.

 

“Good.” Mark draped an arm around her, steering her away from the main crowd so she could have a few moments to continue calming down.  He sat down under a tree, leaving them in near dark, pulling Luciana down with him. “Darlin, I’ll tell you this right now, there isn’t anything about your past that’s going to scare me off, so get that out of your head right now, understand?”

 

She sat between his legs on her knees, which is how he pulled her down and placed her hand over his heart, the anguish still plain as day on her face. “It may or may not, but…the less you know about it, the better and SAFER you are.” Luciana stressed the word and slid fingers through her hair, trying to stop trembling.  Even through the darkness, she could clearly see Mark, the moon above being their only light since they were away from the nights of the fair. “I would never forgive myself if something happened to you…because of me.  I hope you believe that.” Keeping him completely in the dark was the only way to ensure her parents never came after him, if they were still chasing them throughout the states.

 

She was sitting there trembling and fearful, on his behalf, and all Mark could do was smile in amusement. “Darlin’, don’t you worry about me.” He rumbled, self-confidence oozing from every pore and maybe just a dash of arrogance. “There isn’t anything that comes at me I can’t handle, bank on that.” He pulled her up and planted her sideways on his lap. “Word of advice though, Luciana, if you want me to not be curious about this mysterious past of yours, you need to stop stressing about it and telling me how bad it was, or is, or can be.”

 

Looking up into his emerald eyes, Luciana could feel the words bubbling up inside of her to spill out, but fear is what held her back.  So much fear and doubt, not to mention she didn’t know if she could trust Mark yet.  What would happen if she did tell him?  What if he didn’t believe her?  What if he called the police and forced her and Thea to run again?

 

“Maybe one day I’ll tell you, but not right now.  I have to…I have to trust you completely first and I don’t right now.  I barely know you, besides you being my boss and owning a repair shop.  Just…be patient with me, Mark.  That’s all I ask.” She lowered her eyes from him to her clasped hands in her lap, hoping getting close to him wasn’t a colossal mistake.

 

“Hey you two!” Thea greeted, her cheeks flushed, hair spiked everywhere from wind and Jon constantly ruffling it. “We’ve been looking-”

 

“Don’t lie, we haven’t been looking for them, babe.” Jon teased, his arm wrapped around Thea’s waist, grinning broadly. “Dude, she digs monster trucks, we just caught the show.  It was GREAT!”

 

“Grave Digger was awesome!  Luci, it was amazing, these huge trucks they jump on little cars and CRUSH them.” Something perceptibly she had never even heard of until tonight; monster trucks and fairs had not been in their childhood events.

 

“Oh wow, really?” Luciana tried to sound excited for her sister, but she was drained from crying and plastered on a smile. “I’m glad you had fun, Thea.”

 

Thea could instantly tell something was wrong with Luciana and pulled away from Jon, dropping down beside her sister. “Luci, what happened?” Her eyes were for her sister at the moment, not even looking at the position Luciana sat on Mark’s lap. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine, just…had to talk with Mark and everything’s fine.  I had a little scare earlier, but I’m good now.  Mark and I are…we’re gonna start seeing each other and take things slow.” It was a given after his request from earlier and she watched him nod to confirm they were indeed dating.

After their fight earlier that day, it was shocking, to say the least, hearing these words could out of her big sister’s mouth.  Her eyes immediately went to Mark, the coolness coming over her brown eyes. “I like you Calaway, so don’t give me a reason NOT to.  Don’t hurt my sister.  She’s been through a lot…”

 

“Thea…”

 

“And make sure you use protection.” She couldn’t resist after the ‘sex talks’ Luciana forced her into when she began dating Jon. “Payback, sissy.”

 

“Oh my god…” Luciana buried her face in her hands, shaking her head.  Payback was indeed a bitch sometimes.

 

“No shit, no glove – no love and make sure you both know which hole is which.” Jon said with a straight face, though when Mark gave him a look that flat out said he was going to die a painful, horrible death, he snorted. “Sucks to be you, junior, maybe next time you’ll think twice about giving out sex talks to a grown ass man.”

 

“And on that note, let’s go walk the midway, yeah?” Thea pulled Luciana up. “Come on, let’s go get our pictures taken at that wild west booth.  They even have costumes!”

 

Mark had the talk with Jon regarding Thea? 

 

They were more alike than she realized, and Luciana once again felt something funny in her chest, her heart doing another flip. “Whatever you want, sissy.” She truly meant it, smiling from ear to ear. “I’m gonna kill you for saying that in front of him.” Luciana whispered in Thea’s ear, making the younger woman laugh as they wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders while walking, Mark and Jon trudging behind with Mark having Jon in a headlock.

 

“Man, come on, you had it coming – OW!!”

 

“You deserved it.” Thea whispered theatrically, smiling in exhilaration.  

 

So far, this ranked in the top 3 best days of her life and it was pretty close to tying for first.  Today had been great.  She couldn’t believe Luciana had actually come to this fair, allowed her to come no less, in front of all these people and wasn’t panicking about who or what could happen.

 

“I’m so happy, Luci!” She twirled with her sister, right there in the crowd.

 

Luciana laughed, unable to push her sister away who looked like she was on cloud 9.  When they stopped spinning, holding onto each other from getting dizzy, she pressed her forehead to Thea’s and held her face in her hands. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you, Thea.  This.  Happiness and not constantly living in fear.  You’re living, your flourishing and that makes me happy.  Maybe I can find some happiness myself.” She glanced over at Mark and Jon, who were still messing around and smiled genuinely, looking back at Thea. “Come on, let’s get that picture.” After dressing up, Thea held out a fake gun to Luciana and she instantly recoiled, her face turning stark white. “N-No…”

 

Thea realized what she did wrong and immediately dropped the gun, swallowing hard. “Oh god Luci, I’m so sorry…” She knew the mistake she made and immediately cupped her hands over her sister’s mouth as she began hyperventilating.

 

“I-I’m okay…” Luciana pushed her away gently but firmly, taking slow deep breaths and immediately shed the dress up clothes, stumbling out of the wild west booth. “L-Let’s do something else, please…”

 

“Okay, alright, whatever you want.” Thea shot a worried glance at Jon as they walked past them rather hastily, moving as fast as her sister, who was still shaking like a leaf. “I’m so sorry, Luci…” That had been a dumb move on her part.  Luciana was terrified of guns and wouldn’t even watch a movie that had one nowadays.

 

Mark and Jon both hung back for a moment, Mark nodding at the younger man to let him know to go ahead.  While Jon took off after the girls, he turned to the perplexed woman running the booth. “What happened?”

 

“They were behind the screen, gotten dressed.” She said frowning, shrugging her shoulders and held out her hands helplessly. “It looked like one of the props scared the dark-haired woman.”

 

“A prop?”

 

“We have playing cards… fans, rope…. a fake gun.  I don’t know.”

 

“Hm.” Mark nodded his thanks and went after the others.

 

Again, Luciana completely missed that slight investigation from Mark, too engrossed in what her sister was telling her about the monster trucks.  Jon had joined them, keeping her distracted from looking to see where Mark went.  When he joined them a few minutes later, she was a lot calmer and smiled up at him, standing in front of the Tilt-A-Whirl Jon and Thea were getting ready to ride.  Luciana declined going on it, watching Jon pull her sister on the ride and felt Mark’s hands on her hips, instinctively leaning her head back against his chest.

 

“So, dating your secretary, or whatever I am at the shop, won’t be weird, right?” She tilted her head back enough to look up at him before turning her gaze back to the ride again, sighing softly.

 

“I’m the boss and it’s not like there are a bunch of people to say shit about it.” It was him, her, Jon and some part timers they brought in when they either got busy or were off doing other business. “You sure you don’t want to ride something, Luci?”

 

She seemed a lot calmer now and he was wondering which prop set her off, mulling it over as he idly dropped a kiss on the top of her head.  Gun or the rope, either one indicated something very bad had happened.  Just another piece of information to store for later.

 

“I can do… the Ferris wheel.” Theme parks, or amusement parks, those usually had stuff for someone his size; these traveling fairs, not so much.

 

“I – I don’t know if the Ferris wheel is a good idea.  That’s pretty high…”

 

Luciana had never ridden a Ferris wheel before, not necessarily afraid of heights, but it looked intimidating up close.  His big green puppy dog eyes bore down at her and she groaned inwardly, unable to deny him anything.  What was this man doing to her?  Her insides were turning to mush, and she didn’t understand why besides the fact she really liked him.

 

“Okay, but you have to hold onto me because I might get scared.” She gasped when he lifted her by the waist, her hand immediately gripping his shoulders and caressed the back of his neck gently. “I’m putting my trust in you, Mark.” Please don’t let me down, she added in thought, unable to say those words aloud.

 

The Ferris wheel carts weren’t the large round ones, which was a good thing because his weight alone would have made that a very tipped ride.  Instead, they were the smaller but wide carts and he simply stretched his legs out, draping one arm around Luciana once she was settled in against him.  She was looking up at the cart still stuck at the very top and he smiled slightly.

 

“You’ve never ridden one before, have you?” It wasn’t really a question, so her nod affirming it wasn’t surprising. “Not afraid of heights, are you?”

 

“Maybe a little…” Luciana confessed, smiling sheepishly and leaned further against him, enjoying this moment with them in the air. “I’ll try anything once though, this is my first Ferris wheel ride.  So, you’re taking my Ferris wheel virginity.” She laughed, looking up at him and saw the amusement on his face and in his eyes. “You’re a great distraction, so maybe this isn’t the best way to determine if I am afraid of heights or not.”

 

She would not go near a rollercoaster, ever.  Luciana was not an adrenaline junkie, unlike her sister, who couldn’t get enough of fast and high rides.  Jon was the same way, apparently.  They really were the ideal couple the more she saw them together.

 

“Ferris wheel virginity…” He echoed, his already deep voice dropping to a husky timbre. “For now, I guess that’ll do.” Mark could already imagine himself taking other things from her as well, darkening green eyes roaming over what he could see of her and squeezed her just a little tighter. “Keep sweet talkin’ me, darlin’, and I’ll distract you even more.” He promised, leaning down enough so his breath was hot against her ear.

 

Shivering against him with desire, Luciana felt goose bumps form on her skin and wondered what his lips felt like against hers.  She was 30 years old, definitely not a virgin, but it’d been…quite a while since she had the company of a man.  Being on the run with Thea, that was one year…and when she lived at the mansion, there was no way she could bring guys over to mess around with.  Not that she was the messing around type because she wasn’t.  Luciana wasn’t a whore and didn’t give herself to just any man that looked her way. 

 

There had to be something special about him and she had to feel deeply for him, not to the point of being in love, because who the hell could determine that without sex?  She didn’t understand the whole point of ‘saving’ herself like the Christian faith she was born into wanted.  However, it had to be a deep connection to where she could see herself falling for the man before she would consider giving what he had to offer.  Luciana could count on one hand how many men she’d slept with in her life, which was two.  Mark would be the third, if they ever reached that point.  When he asked if she was cold and wrapped an arm around her waist, Luciana shook her head in response.

 

“No, definitely not cold.” She murmured, every part of her body tensing the moment his mouth came in contact with her neck, kissing right on the pulse point. “That felt good, your lips feel good against me…”

 

Eventually, he’d kiss other places on Luciana that would feel a lot better than good, Mark concluded, just not tonight.  He reigned himself in, dropping one last kiss on that pulse point before sitting back up properly, looking out over the fairground as they moved upward.  It was a beautiful night and he had a marvelous, interesting, woman on his arm.  Right now, he felt like they had all the time in the world, even when they both knew it wasn’t true.

 

Chapter 9

 

The following morning, Luciana was up just as the sun rose over the horizon, having the day off and surprisingly, she had no nightmares.  Instead, her dreams had been plagued with Mark Calaway and it made her blush while she cooked breakfast for herself since Thea went home with Jon.  It still made her nervous, but Thea was a grown woman capable of making her own decisions.  Luciana had to keep reminding herself of that and had already popped a Prozac, hoping she wouldn’t have to live off of pills for the rest of her life in order to keep her anxiety and nerves in check. 

 

Flipping the pancake in the pan, with classic rock blaring from the radio and in a long nightshirt, she moved her hips to the beat since she was alone.  Her hair was pulled back as much as it could be in a clip and her feet were bare.  The kitchen was off to the side, so it didn’t face the front door and her back met it.  So when Luciana turned around and saw Mark standing there, with a shit eaten grin on his face, she screamed, dropping the spatula.

 

Mark stooped to pick up the spatula off the front porch and shook his head, straightening back up. “You got issues, Luce.”

 

He wondered how the hell she could be terrified at someone being in her house when she had left the front door open and the screen door unlocked.  That was an invitation.  When she looked like she was either going to have a panic attack or slap the piss out of him, Mark tossed the spatula into the sink and stooped down to kiss her forehead.

 

“Your pancakes are burning, darlin’.”

 

“I – SHIT!”

 

Rushing over to the pan, Luciana turned the stove off and moved it to the next grate, shaking her head.  She reached up to turn the radio down and finally turned to face him, having left the front door open to let the breeze in.  It was a cool morning for a change and all the windows were open as well.  It was barely going on 8 AM and she recalled him visiting her around the same time to confront her about finding another job.  Mark was an early riser, she surmised, and rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly, feeling her heart slowly start to go back to normal.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“Windows and doors wide open, it’s quiet enough outside that I could hear your music and Thea is spending the night with Jon.” Mark said quietly, figuring startling her further was going to result in him getting whacked upside his skull with that very hot skillet. “You don’t know where I live, do you, darlin’?” Not so far from her actually, few blocks away, small apartment building.  Jon did not live with him, thankfully, or near him. “I walk this way almost every day.” One of his favorite types of exercise was walking and it also allowed him time to think.

 

“Oh okay.” Luciana would never strike him with a hot skillet and took another deep breath, remembering how Thea taught her to calm down. “I didn’t mean to freak out.  Just didn’t expect you to be here this early in the day.”

 

The man either had insomnia or had some kind of problem when it came to sleeping, just like her.  She still had to take Melatonin to be able to fall asleep at a half-decent hour.  The black circles under her eyes were gone, but it sucked she had to rely on yet another substance in order to rest.

 

“Are you hungry?” She dumped the burnt pancake in the garbage and fired the skillet up again, having plenty of pancake batter left. “Maybe we can go for a walk afterwards, if you want.” The man liked to walk, and she didn’t mind it either. “Unless you have other plans…”

 

“I don’t.”

 

Mark made himself comfortable at her kitchen counter, taking in what she was doing and the dishes in the soapy dishwater, ready to go.  He began washing while she cooked, figuring if he was going to get a hot meal he might as well contribute in some way.  When Luciana turned back on the radio, he watched her out of the corner of his eye, expecting her to start dancing again.

 

“Come on now, darlin’, get back to swaying them hips.” That had definitely been his favorite part of the impromptu show.

 

“Oh my god…” Luciana groaned, feeling her cheeks burning in embarrassment and smacked him lightly on the arm since he kept chuckling at her. “That is NOT funny, Calaway.” She chastised in a mumble, not believing she’d been caught doing something she ONLY did when she was alone. “You don’t have to do…that…” His finger pressed against her mouth, cutting her words off, but managed to mumble the last word and held her hands up in defeat. “Thank you.”

 

Pouring the batter in the pan, Luciana moved her head to the beat of the next song that came on, but not her hips.  She was very self-conscious when it came to other people and that stemmed from how she’d been raised along with running.  Flipping the pancake, she gasped when Mark suddenly pulled her into his arms and began dancing with her, twirling her around.  It was a miracle the pancake didn’t burn again as he released her long enough to put it on the plate and poured more batter in the pan before dancing all over again.

 

“You’re good at this.” She laughed breathlessly when he dipped her, after allowing her enough time to make another pancake and stared into his deep emerald eyes, her arm draped around his neck. “Better let me up before the food burns again.”

 

Mark’s reply was to take the spatula from her, look over and flip the thing himself, before pulling her upright and spinning her again, smiling as her peals of laughter echoed around the kitchen.  What a change from the woman he had first met, the way she had opened up, the life in her eyes now… it was a good change.  He felt something shoot through him, his eyes closing as he ignored it.  Or tried.

 

There was still a long way to go for Luciana as far as her nerves and anxiety went, but Mark made it all go away whenever he was around.  She could already feel something bubbling up inside of her, feelings she tried desperately to fight off because of the possibility of having to leave one day.  Houston wasn’t permanent and how she wished and longed for it to be.  She longed to be with the man currently making her dance in her kitchen while she made breakfast, the man who made her heart soar to the heavens and made her temporarily forget about her messed up, complicated life. 

 

After dancing and eating breakfast together, Luciana went in her room to change and left the door cracked open, sifting through her duffel bag of clothes.  Even though the room had dresser drawers, she didn’t bother unpacking because of the chance they would have to pick up and run, always prepared for it.  Thea, on the other hand, was more confident and had unpacked, using the dressers.  Again, they were polar opposites, but she did make sure Thea had a duffel bag packed, which was currently in Luciana’s closet.  After she changed into faded used blue jean shorts and a simple blue tank top, she slipped her white tennis on before rejoining Mark in the living room.  Together, hand in hand, they walked out of the house and began walking down the sidewalk, enjoying the beautiful day.

 

That’s how it went for the next month.  Mark would come over on Sundays when he knew Thea and Jon wouldn’t be there, which was quite frequently and have breakfast with her.  They went on countless dates: dinner, movies, walking all over Houston just showing her the city, especially at night, going to the park and sometimes staying in to snuggle on the couch together to watch television.  Luciana even had that drink with him after work one evening, her trust in him building and growing.  One thing Mark hadn’t done since they began dating was kiss her.  There had been moments where she thought he might, but then…it never happened.  It made her wonder if he was old-fashioned at heart or…maybe he didn’t want to be with her. 

 

They had a great time hanging out together, sharing laughs and even some embarrassing stories about each other.  Luciana had to be careful how she worded hers, not mentioning where she was from or any of that type of information.  It pained her to lie to him, but it was the only way to ensure his safety and she’d made sure Thea hadn’t spilled anything to Jon.  Surprisingly, even in her euphoric state with the man, baby sister had kept her lips zipped.

 

So there’s something I wanna talk to you about…” Thea looked nervous, sitting down at the table with her sister to have dinner, something they hadn’t done in a while.  Between the clinic and Jon, Thea barely had time to spend with Luciana and felt bad, wanting to make it up to her. “Jon…asked me to move in with him…”

 

Luciana choked on the piece of carrot she’d just popped in her mouth and coughed it up, clutching her throat while staring at her baby sister in shock. “W-WHAT?!  You…you…Thea…” She stood up, needing a glass of water and frowned, not sure what to think or how to feel about this turn of events. “Houston isn’t…”

 

“Yes, it is.” Thea cut her off, already knowing what she was going to say and stood up from the table. “I love Jon, Luci and he loves me.  We want to be together and…I want this.  I want this so badly and…just please be happy for me.  Please sissy…”

 

Tears swelled in her eyes, seeing the desperation in her sister’s eyes and all Luciana could do was pull her tightly into her arms, closing her eyes. “You do what you feel is best.  I can’t protect you forever, try as I might.  I knew this would happen eventually…and I am happy for you.  I just hope…Houston is permanent, and we don’t have to run again.”

 

Thea shook her head and pulled away from Luciana, wiping tears out of her eyes with her knuckles. “Luci, we’re not running again.  I’m not running.  It’s been a year and a lot of months.  They probably set some poor person up to take the fall, or they just got rid of the body and let it all sort itself out.  They have money, they can make problems there disappear a lot easier than finding us.”

 

She meant it, she was done running.  Hell could appear on her doorstep and she’d probably just flip it off and shut the door at this point.  She had a job she liked, she was learning so much, and she was in love.

 

“Houston is permanent Luciana, you got to believe that.”

 

“I wish it was for me.”

 

Luciana had a sinking feeling, if trouble came, Thea would stay right where she was, and it was her decision to do so.  She couldn’t force Thea to do something she didn’t want to do.  No matter how much she loved her sister and wanted to protect her, she couldn’t do it forever.  The amount of love and devotion in her eyes when she spoke about Houston and Jon made Luciana’s chest tighten because she wanted to feel the same way.  She couldn’t, it wasn’t possible or in her future.  Staying in one place for too long wasn’t smart, not when their parents were still gunning for them.  It wasn’t just about Charley’s death; their parents had embezzled money from their clients and used THEM to pin all of their crimes on.  Love blinded people, however, so for the sake of not upsetting her sister, Luciana just kissed her forehead and wished her well.

 

~!~

 

Of all the reactions from Mark, being punched right in the face was the one Jon had suspected was most likely.  Moving Thea in was probably not the best of moves all things considered, but… here he was doing it anyway. “Mother fucker…” He cursed, holding his blood gushing nose. “Really, dick?”

 

“Want another one?” Mark asked gravely, folding his bare arms over his chest.  He was in the garage, bare from the waist up, his t-shirt hanging out his back pocket and hair pulled back with a red bandana.  It was just them, playing the catch-up game on some work. “You out of your mind, boy?”

 

“Look, you said to keep her close and I have…maybe more than I should, but…” Jon was a rambler naturally and had certain tics, such as rolling his shoulders while he spoke, never able to stay still.  His cool blues stared back at his boss, who didn’t look happy with him, which is what he expected. “I already told you my thoughts on this entire situation.  I’ve spent a lot – A LOT – of time with Thea and the next logical step in a relationship is moving in together.  Maybe not after 3 months, but…you get what I’m saying, right?  I’m doing what you told me to do!  So how much longer until we take this to the next level?”

 

“When I say.” Mark never did anything in a hurry, or a rush, not without all the facts.  He took his time, gathered knowledge, reached a conclusion and went from there. “You going to be able to do what needs done when it’s time, boy?” Or was Jon wrapped, he was betting money Jon was wrapped.  Jon had that stupid look of a man falling in love.

 

“If they’re not innocent, yeah of course.  Just let me know when the ball drops.  I gotta go pick Thea up from Luci’s.” Jon raised a brow at a tensed Mark, fighting the urge not to throw that obnoxious question back in his face.  He knew Mark was falling for Luciana, it was obvious…either that or he was a damn good actor and should be in Hollywood instead of their line of work.

 

Mark shook his head, watching Jon jump in his Ford pickup truck to go grab Thea to take her to his place.  What the hell was his apprentice thinking?  That’s exactly what he was in their line of work.  He feared the boy wasn’t thinking clearly anymore, letting Thea cloud his judgment and mind.  It didn’t set well with him after everything that transpired and everything Jon had done to pull himself out of the dark misery he’d befallen when Mark found him.  Now he was afraid the boy was doing it all over again, delving into that darkness and hoped he wasn’t making a mistake by pursuing these women, especially Luciana.

 

Chapter 10

 

“Hello Jon.” Luciana greeted as soon as she opened the door and let him inside the house, feeling exhausted in every way. “Thea is in the bathroom, she’ll be out in a minute.” Walking back over to the couch, she curled back up on it under a fleece blanket they’d found at the local thrift store and began reading her book.  Also a thrift store purchase.

 

“Hey – hey, Luci Goosey,” Jon greeted, perching his sort of massive frame on the edge of the couch to stare at her. “You look like shit, doll.” He commented, tipping his head to the side, hair falling in his eyes.  He blew it away, a half-crooked smile adorning his lips as he raised a palm to her forehead. “You feeling okay or just one of them days?”

 

“Just one of those days, I’m fine.  Just…reflecting and trying to get my mind off of things.” She quietly said, flashing a small smile at him and tossed the book to the side, scrubbing a hand down her face. “Thea told me about you two moving in together…and I don’t have a problem with it.” Yes she did, but again more lies.  She didn’t want to hurt Thea. “You better take care of her or I will hurt you.” Much like she had threatened 3 months ago when they first started dating. “And I hope you’re not moving too fast with her either…”

 

Jon considered her, his usually warm, teasing blue eyes flickering with something cold for a brief moment, though the smile on his face never faltered.  If anything, it only got bigger, and a hint of teeth were now showing. “Babe, fast is a – uh… a relative term.” He said finally, running his tongue over his teeth. “I’m not looking to pop the question and a few kids, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 

“No, I’m not worried about that.” Because she’d already had that long discussion with Thea and didn’t need to relive with Jon. “Me personally, I think it’s too soon for you two to move in together.  You’ve only been dating 3 months, that’s hardly enough time to really get to know someone.  And that’s my feelings on it.  Thea is a grown woman and I can’t stop her from moving in with you, but I’ve given you fair warning: Do NOT hurt my sister, Jon.  She’s been through…a lot.  We both have, and I won’t let some guy come along, have her fall madly in love with him and then get hurt.  I know she’s in love with you, I can see it and I hope you’re not the type of guy who would use that to your advantage.” The bathroom door opened, and Luciana stood up from the couch, hugging her sister. “Jon’s waiting for you.  I’m going to bed.” She’d said her piece to Jon and he could do whatever he wanted with it, but at least Luciana spoke her mind when it came to Thea.

 

“You know,” Jon said musingly, looping an arm around Thea as they both turned to stare at Luciana. “As much as you ride my balls, Luce, I almost think you have a crush on me.”

 

“Jon!” Thea was trying not to laugh, shaking her head. “Ignore him Luci, he’s in a mood today.” She tugged on one of his curls. “You be nice, buster.”

 

“Mm… so, what’re we taking?”

 

“Follow me.” She headed upstairs.

 

Luciana rolled her eyes at Jon, her bedroom on the first floor while the other bedroom was on the second, shaking her head. 

 

Thea pointed out a few things to grab, wondering how she would receive her trust fund from Luciana and decided not to worry about it tonight.  She had bigger fish to fry. “Jon.” She grabbed his arm, stopping him from walking out the door and softly kissed him, letting her lips linger on his for a moment or two. “When we get home, I need to talk to you about something.” Her conscience with lying to him was getting the better of her and she couldn’t, wouldn’t, live with him until he knew the truth about everything.

 

“Yeah, sure babe, keep your sister off my ass and we can talk about anything you want,” He stopped and turned to stare at her. “Unless you’re planning on proposing to me, I’m not looking for a big shiny rock.”

 

“You’re such an ass!” Thea shrieked, trying not to laugh when he snatched her up.

 

When Jon set her back down, kissing her again, Thea cupped his face in her soft hands, getting lost in his electric blues. “Let’s move a couple things tonight, talk and then if you change your mind about me moving in, which I won’t blame you for, at least I won’t have that much to take with me.” She was completely serious, not a trace of playfulness in her tone or eyes.

 

“Sounds like a deal, doll.” Jon stared intently at her, wondering just what she had to say to him and sighed, leaning down to kiss her forehead. “Come on, let’s get this done before your sister decides to skip the wait and just behead me now.” Luciana was meek and mild, but when it came to Thea, he had seen the inner dragon.

 

The entire ride to Jon’s place, Thea thought about everything her and Luciana had been through, staring out the window while leaning her head back.  There had to be a way out of this, if their parents hadn’t given up.  She was tired of hiding and running, just wanting a normal happy life with Jon.  Moving in with him was a huge step and she didn’t take it lightly, which is why she’d made the decision to tell him the truth about her parents and what happened.  At least, what Luciana had told her anyway.  She hadn’t witnessed the death of Charley, but believed her big sister wholeheartedly.  Luciana would never lie to her for any reason, Thea believed that with every fiber of her being.  Once they pulled up into the driveway of Jon’s two-bedroom home, her home, Thea shut her eyes briefly before slipping out of the truck and felt Jon take her hand a few moments later, leading her up to the front door.

 

“We’re talking first.  No sex until after we talk.  Deal?” Her belongings they’d brought over could wait until later.  This talk couldn’t.

 

“Yeah babe, deal.” Jon nodded, figuring they probably should have a chat and cleared his throat. “Gotta promise there’ll be sex afterwards though.” He added, teasing, though… If he spilled himself, castration was what would likely happen to him.

 

Nodding, Thea let him guide her inside the house and could feel her stomach tightening, finally realizing what Luciana had gone through prior to taking Prozac.  She patted the seat on the couch beside her and waited for him to settle down, clasping her hands in her lap.  At that moment, she looked a lot like her older sister, nervous and unsure, chewing her bottom lip pensively.

 

“I don’t know how to start.” She admitted, not able to look in his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to keep her heart from racing. “We’re in trouble, Jon.  I mean…I don’t know if we are anymore or not, but…” Blinking away the tears, Thea let a few slide down her cheeks at the memory of leaving her home and everything she’d ever known behind to go on the run with her sister. “Luci…there’s a reason she’s nervous all the time and constantly looking over her shoulder.  There’s a reason she’s on Prozac to keep herself calm, or as calm as she can be.  And it all revolves our parents…” Now her eyes had hardened, her jaw tightening at mentioning them. “They’re trying to frame their own daughters for crimes they’ve committed…me and Luci.  She…walked in on a meeting between our father and…her godfather, Charley, and watched him be killed.  Our father murdered him in front of her in cold blood, but luckily, he didn’t spot her.  She was hiding and had watched from a distance.  She came to me in a panic, after overhearing how our parents had embezzled money from the clients in their company…and killed anyone who got in their way or tried to expose them.  Our parents are cold-blooded killers, remorseless human beings and…they were going to use us, and probably already have, as scapegoats to cover up everything they’ve done.” By now, she was crying, which was something Thea had never done in Jon’s presence in the 3 months they’d known each other. “They’ve sent countless people after us and we had to run for a year straight until…we settled down here.  I-I couldn’t live with you and start a life with you without telling you the truth.  Luciana is going to kill me for this, but…I trust you completely and…I just hope you believe me.  We’re not killers; hell, Luciana freaked out when she held that toy gun at the fair a month ago, when we were about to get the picture taken with the wild west background.  And I can’t stand guns, never touched one in my life and…we could never kill people.  That’s not who we are, just our parents.  Please tell me you believe me, Jon.” She waited with bated breath for his response.

 

All Jon could do was stare at Thea, his blue eyes widening with each word that came out of her mouth.  He stared into her face, studying her intently, and finally nodded before clearing his throat. “Babe,” He began slowly, rubbing the back of his neck and laughed awkwardly. “I – uh, haven’t been entirely honest with you either.” She looked a bit surprised that he believed her so easily and he would have to tell her why.  Because her story… fit, and he felt it in his gut.  

 

His Thea was no killer.

 

“W-What do you mean?”

 

Thea pulled away from him, confusion swirling through her eyes and could feel her heart thundering in her ears.  What did he mean he hadn’t been honest with her?  Her stomach twisted violently, and fresh tears filled her eyes as he tried finding the words to say.

 

“Jon…” Now her tone was full of fear and Thea stood up from the couch, backing up when he reached for her. 

 

Was Luciana in trouble? 

 

Were they in danger again? 

 

Would they have to run and find a new place to settle down in?

 

“Please just tell me…”

 

Taking a deep breath, Jon took hold of Thea’s hands and guided her down onto his lap. “Now, you have to promise to hear me out to the very end, Thea.” He said gently, knowing she would considering what he had just sat through for her.  At her nod, he began, telling her absolutely everything about him, Mark, and what their side job was.

 

Bounty hunters. 

 

They were bounty hunters!? 

 

“Oh my god…”

 

She had fallen in love with a bounty hunter that was after her and Luciana?!  Thea gripped her hair in her hands, shaking her head and couldn’t believe big sister had been right all along.  Her heart plummeted to the depths of her stomach and Thea suddenly bolted off of his lap like he’d burned her, keeping her eyes locked on him.

 

“You were going to turn us in, weren’t you?  You and Mark…you were waiting for the opportune moment.  This was all part of your job…getting close to me while he gets close to her until we let our guards down…” She had to warn Luciana; they had to go back on the run and get as far away from Houston as possible.  Her mind raced, and she took a tentative step back when Jon took one forward, holding her hands up. “Stay away from me, Jon.” He wasn’t the first bounty hunter who tried to take them in and wouldn’t be the last. “I’m leaving and you’re not going to stop me.”

 

“Whoa babe, whoa…” Jon stood up, hands out in a gesture meant to show her he meant no harm. “I’m not waiting for shit.  Mark figured out who you guys were a while ago and I don’t care anymore.  I don’t care about the bounty or turning you in, Thea.” His eyes filled with sadness and regret at the fear all over her face. “Thea, you trusted me with your secret, you didn’t want lies between us.  I’m telling you all this because I feel the same.  I don’t want there to be lies between us and I believe you.  I don’t think you killed anyone or stole a shit ton of money.  Your folks, they’re real shady.”

 

He knew because he had done some extra homework, looked into those people and they were rotten to the core.  His sweet words didn’t fall on deaf ears, but Thea kept backtracking away from him until the wall stopped her, his 6’4 frame towering over her with those deep electric blues piercing her.  They always had from the moment he saved her on the street when her car broke down.

 

“You do, really?” Her heart wanted to believe him, but she could hear Luciana’s words flowing through her mind, not sure what to believe or think anymore.  Jon could’ve kept this a secret from her, he didn’t have to come clean about being a bounty hunter, but he did. “Mark doesn’t though and that puts my sister in danger, Jon.  I have to tell her.  I have to warn her to stay away from him and leave Houston.  I have to-” His finger pressed against her mouth, silencing her temporarily and gripped his t-shirt with her shaking hands.  This was a lot to take in, all this newfound information.  Her eyes told him all he needed to know – they were innocent, not just her.

 

“Thea, the minute a word is said to Mark, he’s going to try running you both in.” Jon said seriously, wrapping his arms around her and rested his head on top of hers, closing his eyes.  Relief was coursing through him at her words, knowing right now that losing her would damage him.  More than he probably already was. “He’s busy collecting ‘data’ as he calls it and he won’t do anything until he has the big picture, so there is time, but if Luci knows, she’s going to run.  If he knows, you both go to jail and… and I want to help you.  I need you, Thea.” He whispered those last words.

 

“I need you too.” Thea whispered back, holding him close and could feel his entire body tensed, knowing he was afraid to lose her. “I’m not going anywhere, but we have to protect Luci.  Promise me, Jon, right here and now.  Promise me we’ll protect her.” He nodded, relief flooding through her and knew he’d do whatever he could to help. “The only way I see getting out of this, honestly, is clearing our names.  And I have no idea how to do it or where to start.  They have a lot of money, but you already know that, and I know Mark does too.” Her eyes lowered from him, feeling helpless and had to find a way to help her sister, protect her, the same way Luciana had done with her throughout their entire lives.

 

“I’m going to help you clear your name, yours and Luciana’s, Thea, I promise you that.” Jon wasn’t doing it for Luciana though.  He liked her, but he was falling in love with Thea. “But we need to be careful about it… Mark, I’m not kidding, he likes you guys and I think he might care for Luci, but he’d still run you in if he thinks you’re going to disappear.” His blue eyes widened as he stared down at her, suddenly afraid she’d run anyway.

 

“Do you have ANY idea what you’re asking me to do?!  You’re asking me to LIE to my sister, Jon!  You’re asking me to keep Mark’s actual profession a secret!  She WORKS with him, for god sakes!” Thea snapped, the guilt already eating away at her and wasn’t sure she could keep this from Luciana, not after everything her sister did for her.  Protecting her while on the run from their psychotic parents. “How much longer do you think until Mark drops the ball and wants to turn us in?”

 

“Probably another month, I’d say.” Jon was just guessing, not having a clue how the man operated. “I think we should leave and find a way to clear your name.  If Mark doesn’t know where you are, he won’t turn Luciana in.  He wants both of you, not just one.” Divide and conquer strategy usually worked. “But we can’t do it for at least another week…possibly a little longer.  Until then, you have to keep your mouth shut about this, babe.  It’s not only for your own good, but Luci’s too.  Promise me, you won’t say anything.”

 

Hoping she didn’t regret this, Thea nodded reluctantly. “I promise.”

 

Chapter 11

 

Just as Luciana stepped inside her bedroom, her cell phone rang as she sat down on the bed to answer it, closing her eyes at the sound of Mark’s voice filling her ear. “Hi big guy, I didn’t expect to hear from you tonight.” She could already feel her body responding to him and chewed her bottom lip, knowing he was at the shop currently working on a vehicle.  He stayed late, which is why she’d invited Thea over for some sister time with dinner.

 

“I’m bored, want to go out?” Mark asked, hearing her huff and chuckled. “I know, I’m a jerk.  How’re you darlin’?”

 

“You’re bored, so you want to go out with me?  You do realize I’m the most boring person on the planet, right?” Luciana remarked cheekily, leaning back against the headboard and stared at the wall in front of her. “And I’m…frazzled, honestly.  Thea told me about Jon asking her to move in with him and…I just think it’s too soon.  It’s not my relationship though, so I wished her well and they’re currently moving shit over to his place, I guess.” She sounded a little disappointed and resigned, sighing heavily. “Where do you wanna go?”

 

“Wait, tonight?” Mark echoed dumbly, a hint of frustration seeping into his tone. “I thought they were talking about it, not doing it so damn soon.” When she murmured the same thing, he snorted. “Out, anywhere, I’ll come pick you up.  Be there in 15, that okay?”

 

“Okay, I’ll be ready to go.”

 

Mark sounded just as agitated about Jon and Thea moving in together as she did.  What was that about?  Jon wasn’t his brother; as far as she knew, they were friends…sort of and Mark was Jon’s boss, like her, at the repair shop.  Something didn’t fit there, their friendship was…interesting, to put it mildly.

 

“See you soon.”

 

Hanging up, Luciana tried pushing all the questions out of her mind and looked down at what she wore, which was simple black cotton shorts and a matching tank top, deciding that was good enough.  There was no reason to change since she didn’t have that many clothes to begin with.  Slipping her white tennis shoes on, she tied them and could hear the front door shut, knowing Thea and Jon were on their way to his – their – place.

 

When people asked, Mark tended to say he felt like Jon’s older brother.  Jon had a rough childhood and life, and it had been Mark to straighten the little punk out, take him under his wing so to speak.  So, for Jon to be pulling these antics, against his wishes, was not alright.  Groaning, he tugged on his boots before dropping his head in his hands and sighed.

 

When a knock sounded at her door exactly 10 minutes later, after Jon and Thea left, Luciana answered it after looking through the peephole.  She still didn’t trust someone wasn’t after them and smiled at the sight of Mark.  Opening it, she looked into his eyes, his shades pushed up on top of his head and reached up to caress his face with the back of her hand.  He took hers and laced their fingers together, pulling her out of the house into the night, not an ounce of fear in her eyes.  There used to be, but not when it came to Mark, not anymore.  He had gained her trust and she felt deep in her heart he would never hurt her, hoping it wasn’t an illusion on her part.

 

Mark pulled her down the steps and gestured out to the street, where his pristine Harley was waiting. “Brought my bike.” He rumbled, informing her of the obvious. “Hope you can ride.”

 

Luciana wasn’t exactly dressed to ride on a Harley, but went with him nevertheless and wrapped her arms around his waist.  She had confessed to never riding before and he promised to go slow, not wanting to scare her.  So thoughtful and attentive this man was toward her and had been from the beginning, ever since her cart smashed into his at the grocery store.  Her black hair whipped around her while they cruised the streets of Houston, enjoying the feeling of her body pressed against his and Luciana felt the warmth course through her body, her veins.  Only Mark made her feel this way, no other man had before and it both excited and terrified her.

 

He knew Luciana didn’t get out that much.  So Mark drove around showing her the sites, in the dark, but it was enough.  She seemed to be enjoying herself and he would admit to himself that this was… nice.  Wind in his hair and face, a beautiful woman wrapped around him.  If things were different, he could’ve gotten used to this.

 

“That was amazing!” Luciana crowed as soon as Mark pulled up in front of her house an hour or so later, feeling a twinge of sadness that it truly was just her house now.  Thea was moving out to be with Jon.  She didn’t want to think about that, pushing it aside and slowly unwound her arms from Mark’s waist, breathing in the cool night air. “Thanks for the ride and getting my mind off of things.” She murmured, pressing her forehead against his back briefly before dismounting, using his shoulders as leverage and looked down into his hypnotic eyes.

 

“Anytime, darlin.” Mark rumbled, gesturing her back so he could dismount as well, towering over her.  He reached out to smooth down her flyaway hair, green eyes practically glowing as he took her in. “You do look a lot more relaxed.” He remarked thoughtfully, letting a finger stray down her cheek and across her bottom lip. “Anything you want to talk about?”

 

There were moments, like this one, where he treated her as if they were in a relationship, caressing her lovingly and making her heart thunder in her ears.  However, there were other moments where he treated her like a friend and nothing more, which really confused Luciana.  She wanted to ask him what was the deal and beg him to stop the confusion.  Something held her back though; maybe she was the reason he hadn’t made a move or even attempted to kiss her.

 

“No there isn’t.” Taking a slow step back, Luciana could tell their time had come to an end and felt more restless than ever.

 

“Mmm…” He considered her, eyebrows drawing together at the confusion in those beautiful eyes of hers. “What’s wrong?  You look… puzzled.” That was a good choice of words because she did, relaxed yet confused and maybe sad.  

 

Sighing, he bent down to press his forehead against hers, wondering why he was doing this and not for the first time.  Being around her… bothered him and Mark knew he came across hot and cold sometimes.  He was blaming her for bewitching him.

 

“You going to invite me in, darlin’?” He asked quietly, his lips near grazing hers.

 

So close, she could feel his lips against hers, even though he hadn’t closed the gap completely and his hot breath made her head spin.  Luciana wanted to ask him for what reason would she invite him in for.  What would happen between them?  Would it be more games on his part?  Luciana felt like she was being toyed with and it wasn’t a good feeling, especially with how fragile she was.

 

“Would you like to come inside, Mark?” She asked softly, taking his hand and began pulling him backwards toward the house, their eyes not leaving each other.

 

His answer was to bend and grab her about the waist, lifting her up guiding her legs around his waist so they were eyelevel.  His eyes took in her face, lit by the night sky and a dim street lamp.  Mark smiled, bending down slowly, not wanting to startle her.  It was easy, sometimes, to forget his job, forget she was the job, and now was one of those moments.  Giving her plenty of time to stop him, Mark moved in until he could gently but firmly brush his lips against hers, waiting for her hand to collide with the side of his face.

 

It did, but not the way Mark presumed.  Her hand gently touched the side of his face as Luciana returned the kiss, his lips as soft and pliant as she thought they’d be.  Being lifted from the ground had somewhat startled her, but the moment Mark’s mouth met hers, all trepidation and fear vanished, want and need taking over.  It’d been a long time since Luciana was kissed, so she took her time, not rushing anything and slowly increased the pressure, her hand sliding from his face to his hair, pressing herself as close to him as she possibly could.  His touch, taste and smell…everything about Mark lit her blood on fire and she could feel it coursing through every vein of her body.  Slowly pulling back, Luciana needed oxygen to breathe and had gripped his shoulder with her free hand since she was quite a-ways from the ground.

 

“I was starting…to wonder if you didn’t…see me that way.” She joked breathlessly, pausing in between gulps of breaths, resting her forehead against his and felt his arms tighten around her.

 

Her words elicited a low growl from him as he wondered just how she thought he did see her.  She was all woman, even he knew that, and he was definitely reminded by the way those thin cotton shorts clung to her every curve and crevice, the heat of her against him…If he moved her just a little lower, she’d feel the proof and he smirked, carrying her up the steps to the front door.  Reluctantly, he set her down, so she could unlock the door, pretty sure she had slid down on purpose and another growl escaped him, eyes darkening with desire.

 

“Trust me, darlin’, I see you for the woman you are.”

 

The moment the front door was kicked shut by Mark’s boot, Luciana barely had time to drop the keys on the floor before she was swept up in his strong arms again, clinging to him.  Their mouths crashed together, this time with urgency and once again her feet left the floor, her legs encircling his waist.  He carried her to her bedroom, not bothering flipping the light on and Luciana felt her back hit the soft bedding with Mark hovering over her.  The kiss never broke, her mouth opening as soon as his tongue slid across her soft lips and immediately granted him access, a soft moan escaping her at the first taste of him.  Her fingers delved in his hair as Luciana took the band out to let it fall over his shoulders and tossed it aside, desire flooding every spectrum of her body.

 

Now, Mark knew better.

 

He knew better than to have sex with Luciana, that was just a bad idea all the way around for the both of them.  But that didn’t mean there weren’t other things they could do, because there were… many other things… Outside of that one thing and he highly doubted she was on birth control because from his understanding, the woman didn’t have a social life outside of them.  She wasn’t the kind to get her kicks from a random stranger and, if he had thought to carry a condom tonight… there’d be sex.  He pushed all that out of mind, focusing on the woman beneath him and what they could give each other.

 

Luciana would’ve made that decision for him regardless, refusing to sleep with him when they’d just started kissing.  It was stupid; she knew it was, but Luciana had morals and enough self-respect for herself not to jump into bed with him on a whim.  Caressing and kissing for hours on end was all Luciana wanted from him right now.  It was enough for her, just feeling his bodyweight on top of her, pressing her into the mattress and his large strong, warm hands sliding up and down her sides.  They were getting familiar with each other the old-fashioned way, something she did not see a problem with.

 

“Mark…” She breathed out his name, feeling his mouth seal to her neck and gently but firmly pushed him back enough to lock eyes with him.  Dark forest green on smoldering turquoise. “T-This is all I can give you right now.  I-I don’t have a lot of…experience with this kind of thing and…” Her eyes closed briefly, her body trembling because it was on the verge of going on strike against her. “It’s been a while…a long time, actually…and I’m nervous…” That was nothing new. “Please tell me you understand and you’re not…angry with me…”

 

“Does it count if you’re telling me to tell you?” He teased, nuzzling her neck again before pulling away, bracing his weight on his elbows as he regarded her thoughtfully.  Mark nodded, he did understand and was glad she was making that call because, while he knew it was the right thing to do, he wasn’t sure about his restraint right now, not with her. “I’m not angry with you, darlin’.”

 

“Believe me, I want you.  I want this.  Don’t think for a second that’s not the case.” Luciana wanted to assure Mark it wasn’t him, it was all on her. 

 

She’d be crazy not to want this man; Mark had the kindest heart and had helped her and Thea out more times than she cared to admit.  However, in the back of her mind, she kept playing the ‘what if’ game and it annoyed her.  Luciana didn’t want to be away from Mark or leave Houston.  She’d gotten used to being here, even the heat didn’t bother her anymore and this man had made her stay all the more enjoyable.  Going slow built the anticipation and Luciana still didn’t fully trust him, not yet, and she would not sleep with him until it was complete.

 

There she went, doing one of her long-winded, crazy explanations and Mark sat back, moving until he was sitting Indian style and pulled Luciana up onto his lap, pressing a finger to her lips to shut her up. “Darlin’, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.” He assured her, letting his hands drop to rest on her waist, squeezing gently. “As much as I want to ravage you right here and now, I don’t want that kind of relationship with you.” Not a find them, fuck them, forget them deal; that wasn’t his style, usually.

 

“I feel the same way.”

 

Luciana nuzzled his chest briefly, glad they were on the same page and felt contentment flood over him.  Eventually, they would take the next step and have sex, but both were fine with going slow.  Where had this man been all her life?  He was patient with her, even with her craziness and decided he was either a little insane himself or he genuinely liked her.  Either way, she wouldn’t question it anymore and decided to let the chips fall where they may between them.  She was done fighting her feelings for him and wouldn’t let fear dictate her life.  However, in the far recesses of her mind, Luciana couldn’t help wondering if this was too good to be true between them and if the bubble would burst sooner rather than later.  Mark kissed the crown of her head, gently laying her back down and moved so he was laying beside her on his side, his head propped up by the palm of his hand, elbow on her bed.  He simply stared down at her, tracing a finger up and down her stomach lazily.

 

Chapter 12

 

“You going to be able to handle being alone here, darlin’?” He asked quietly, having a feeling Thea moving in with Jon was what had been giving her all these issues this evening.

 

“It’ll be different, but yeah I’ll be okay.” Thanks to the Prozac her sister kept getting for her at the clinic, her anxiety no longer controlled her. “It’s not like she’s leaving state or something.  Then I’d really have an issue.” Luciana joked, not realizing that was exactly the plan her little sister and Jon were currently concocting at that very moment. “You seemed wound up earlier, yourself.” Reaching up, she caressed his face tenderly and enjoyed the slight scruff he took on along with the goatee, teal eyes staring at him curiously. “Anything you wanna talk about, big guy?  I’m all ears.”

 

Mark blinked, then grinned, shaking his head. “Can’t hide shit from you, can I, Luce?” He joked, catching her hand and bringing it up to drop a kiss on the back of it, his lips lingering just a second longer than necessary. “I’m worried about Jon rushing shit with Thea.” He confessed finally, laughing softly at the look on her face. “Darlin’, if he botches it with your sister, you might not be inclined to see me anymore.”

 

“You really think that?” Luciana watched him drop his gaze from her and lifted his chin until he looked at her again, shaking her head. “If they don’t work out, that’s on them.  I’ll be pissed at Jon, but that won’t stop me from being with you.  They have their relationship, and we have ours.” She softly brushed her mouth against his and tapped his nose, giggling his playful growl. “And as for what was bothering me earlier – it was you.  I was…I didn’t think you wanted me anymore because you hadn’t kissed me yet.  So now we can both relax and enjoy each other, however long this last.  I promise, I won’t leave you if Thea and Jon don’t work out though.” If ever, she added in thought, getting lost in his eyes again.

 

“Wait, you thought, honestly thought, I didn’t want you?”

 

Mark could not believe that.  Didn’t this woman know how desirable she was?  How beautiful?  Even without her… quirks and interesting personality, she was sexy as hell, but he had seen the whole crazy package.

 

“Luciana, with as skittish as you’ve been since the day we met…” He trailed off, remembering all the times it seemed like she was about to have a panic attack or her long rambling explanations of stuff she wasn’t bothering to explain. “I didn’t want to scare you off.”

 

“It wasn’t you.  It wasn’t you that scared me…that still scares me.”

 

Luciana didn’t move away from him, feeling the anxiety and fear creeping up all over again.  How could she have a relationship with someone when they didn’t know the entire story?  Her nightmare?

 

“I was scared of how you made me feel, but not of you as a person.  And I’m not scared of that anymore, of my feelings for you.  I know I’ve been skittish and freaked out, and I wish I could tell you why.  You have no idea how much I want to tell you, Mark, but…I’m afraid if I do, something terrible will happen to you.  To Thea.  To Jon.  Keeping you in the dark is the only way to protect you, like I told you before.” She was also scared of losing him, if he ever found out the truth about her past and all the running she’d done.

 

“There you go again.” He whispered, leaning in to kiss her, which was turning out to be a very effective way of shutting her the hell up. “Luce, I already told you, I don’t care about any of that, but you either need to stop trying to explain what you’re not explaining or spill it because all you do is needle me with it.” On a lot of fronts and he groaned, rolling onto his back and slapped a hand against his face. “You’re driving me crazy woman.”

 

“I don’t mean to needle you.” She sat up to look down at him, such turmoil swirling through her back to normal teal eyes and felt her shoulders slump in defeat.  It was the right thing to do, keeping him in the dark. “But you also needle me every time you say I’m skittish.  You know there’s a reason for it and, yet, you keep pointing it out.  I don’t mean to be skittish and scared all the time.  I wish I could just…be, like Thea, but I can’t.” Touching his chest, she leaned over him and softly kissed him. “The only time I feel completely safe and not scared is when I’m with you, Mark.” That was a confession she hadn’t even told Thea when it came to how she felt for Mark.

 

“Well, Luce, I guess we’re both going to have to learn how to shut up, aren’t we?” Mark said finally, not a hint of anger or malice in it.  

 

He’d just have to quit pointing out she was a skittish crazy lady and she’d have to learn how to stop rambling about things she had no intention of telling him.  Also, to stop telling him how scared she was all the time.  Nothing worse than feeling impotent over a situation he couldn’t help with.

 

“I can think of a few ways to shut us both up.”

 

Luciana smirked, not taking what he said offensively and slid her hand up and down his chest, her mouth sealing to his neck.  No more talking, she wanted to explore him the same way he had her earlier.  She swung her leg over both of his until she sat straddling his abdomen, not stopping her administrations.  It was only when she took his hooped earring in her mouth to gently tug did Mark let out a growl, his hands warningly squeezing her sides.  She smiled, releasing it and slid her lips and tongue along his strong neck to tease his Adam’s apple.

 

Mark let her explore and tease him for an hour or so longer before he finally gently but firmly pushed her away.  Needing to get the hell out of this house and away from this woman before he forced her into submission.  If her damp cotton shorts were any indicator, it wouldn’t be that hard to do.

 

“I got to go, Luce.” Mark managed to get out, his voice coming out low and raspy.  He would have to face her at work with a serious case of blue balls and snorted at himself.

 

“Before you do…” Luciana pulled him back, sitting up on her knees on the bed and brought his mouth down on hers, passionately kissing him. “Good night, Mark.  I’ll see you in the morning.” She murmured against his lips, feeling him growl and felt him extract himself from her. 

 

Watching him walk out of her bedroom, Luciana couldn’t follow him and collapsed back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling with a brilliant smile on her face.  She had a dazed look on her face and in her eyes, not an ounce of fear or anxiety anywhere.  Mark had completely relaxed her and she touched her slightly swollen tingly lips, the memory of their make out session flowing through her mind.

 

He didn’t go straight home that night.  Instead, Mark drove around a bit more, heading out of town, out in the country where it would be nothing but him, the moon and stars.  Needing to clear his head as well as let the nearly all-consuming urge to go back and have his wicked way with Luciana dissipate.  Did she realize what a little cock tease she was?  One last kiss… Jesus Christ he was going to walking around tomorrow with a hard-on that even the devil would show sympathy for.

 

~!~

 

Another month passed by in a flash with Luciana and Mark unable to keep their hands off each other.  Even at the shop, he’d pull her into his office during her breaks or his, including lunch, for impromptu make out sessions.  It was an amazing feeling to be wanted and desired, especially by Mark.  Luciana was more than ready to take the next step with him, craving to feel him buried to the hilt inside of her body.  She’d even voiced how much she wanted him and it finally happened one night after work. 

 

They were the only ones left in the shop and Mark had spun her chair around, his eyes having a predatory gleam to them.  He’d lifted her from the chair to where her legs wrapped around his waist and took her back to his office, planting her on his desk kissing the breath out of her.  Luciana surrendered every bit of herself to him, not caring if their first time was at work in his office or in a bed; it didn’t matter to her.  Mark had swiped everything off his desk, besides his computer and undressed her, the urgency in his hands, his body, equally matching her desperation and need. 

 

Screaming his name, Luciana sincerely hoped nobody overheard them while Mark took her to heights only they could reach together that night.  Ever since they first had sex, their display of affection had increased tenfold and Luciana enjoyed every second of it.  Mark was just as playful with her as Jon was with Thea, it seemed.  Slowly but surely, her anxiety and fear of being chased down and captured by her parents dissipated, thanks to Mark Calaway.

 

Thea felt like she was living multiple lives at once.  Hiding this huge secret from her sister didn’t feel right, didn’t sit right with her, but at the same time… there was no denying that Luciana was happier than she had been in… well, forever actually.  Thea realized that Luciana hadn’t even been truly happy when they hadn’t been running from their parents, but Mark made her happy.  Jon said Mark was acting different too and she figured that Luciana was having an effect of her own on the bounty hunter.  She just prayed they could get this all sorted out before somebody got really hurt.

 

All day long, Luciana had tried getting a hold of Thea, but to no avail.  It was her sister’s day off from the clinic, so what was going on?  Thea never ignored her phone calls and there was no way a person could have sex for hours on end…at least, she didn’t think so anyway.  Granted, her and Mark had a nice 2-hour session, but that included foreplay and…she immediately stopped that line of thinking, frowning down at her cell phone.  It’d been a month and a half since Thea moved out of the house, which still felt weird, but Mark stayed almost every night.  For some reason, he didn’t bring Luciana to his apartment, claiming it was too small and her house was spacious.  She believed him, of course, but it still bothered her he didn’t want her seeing where he slept whenever he wasn’t with her.  Getting a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, Luciana tried pushing it away and went back to reading her book, hoping her sister called soon.

 

Thea wouldn’t be calling at all and held onto Jon’s hand as he drove out of the city toward the highway, closing her eyes. “I’m sorry, Luci.” She murmured to herself, silent tears falling down her cheeks.

 

Jon heard her muttering, but didn’t catch what she had said and squeezed her hand reassuringly.  He had done a bad thing and ‘borrowed’ Mark’s laptop along with the SD card from his cell, which he’d probably figure out sometime today.  He knew what kind of toys Mark played with and also knew Mark had a lot of information on those drives.  They’d be needing it.

 

“They’ll understand, babe, once we’ve… done what needs done.” Clearing Thea and Luciana’s names.

 

When nightfall hit, and Luciana STILL didn’t hear a thing from Thea, that feeling in her stomach had exploded into something entirely different.  Fear.  Gripping fear that something happened to her baby sister.  She was just rushing out the door, wearing blue jeans shorts and a red tank top, when Mark’s Chevy Silverado roared into the driveway.  Her eyes widened as he jumped out and stalked toward her, grabbing her upper arm to shove her right back through the door.  Luckily, the screen door hadn’t been shut yet or Luciana was pretty sure she would’ve gone through it.

 

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” She shouted, trying to wrench his hand off of her arm and could see the fire in his green eyes along with venom. “Let go of me now, Mark…”

 

Mark was PISSED.  

 

His tiny ass apartment, the one he hadn’t been to in a few nights, had been ransacked!  Well… after Jon had no showed work today, not answered his cell and wasn’t anywhere to be found, Mark had figured he’d just use the GPS locator on his cell phone.  His SD card had been pulled and so had the GPS.  So, home he had gone, and his laptop was gone, his files on Luciana and Thea gone, physical evidence related to that case, gone.  All he had left was Luciana and he was not amused.

 

“I’m guessing your sister isn’t anywhere nearby.” It wasn’t a question, just a snarl and he pulled her door shut behind him.

 

“I don’t know…”

 

Luciana felt his hand leave her arm and immediately clutched it, taking a step back.  Mark currently reminded her of a mad bull and it…terrified her.  His temper was volatile, Jon had warned her ahead of time, but he’d never shown her how angry he could get.

 

“I’ve been trying to call her all day, but she won’t answer her cell phone.” She admitted quietly, meekly, unable to stop trembling while he paced like a caged animal in front of her, mumbling incoherently under his breath.  The first chance that came to her, Luciana was running and started searching the house for any means of escape, knowing the window in her bedroom would probably be the best way. “What do you want with my sister anyway?”

 

His acidic eyes snapped to her, fingers moving to stroke his chin as he watched her.  She was trembling and trying to hide it, her eyes were going everywhere, but always strayed back to her bedroom door. “Because, wherever she is, he’s with her and that fuck stick stole some of my shit on his way out the door.” He knew he was scaring her, but his partner had run off with a fugitive, he just knew Jon had.  When Luciana’s eyes moved back to the door, he strolled around her, blocking that escape and looked at the window behind him, frowning. “Why are you freaking out, Luce?” His voice had dropped to something gentle and dark.

 

Chapter 13

 

“You’re joking, right?  That is the dumbest question you’ve ever asked me, Mark Calaway!  You scared the hell out of me just now, snatching me up like you did and dragging me back in here!” Luciana snapped, her protective side when it came to Thea overriding her fear and anxiety.  Her eyes had widened at Mark’s confession of Jon and Thea stealing from him, wondering what the hell her sister was thinking.  There had to be a reason, a legitimate reason and hopefully Thea would call her soon to explain everything. “I have no idea why JON stole from you,” She paused, emphasizing his partner’s name and folded her arms tightly in front of her chest, teal eyes narrowed. “But Thea isn’t involved unless he dragged her into doing it!  That doesn’t give you the right to manhandle me and scare the shit out of me like you just did!”

 

“Darlin, I never said Thea stole from me.  I know it was Jon,” He growled, raking a hand through his hair in obvious frustration and groaned, contemplating what to do next. “He’s the only one with a key to my place.” Because his place was off limits to everyone else and even Jon knew better than to use that key unless it was an emergency.  Well, apparently, Jon deemed this an emergency. “Sorry to tell you this, but your sister is just as willful as he is, and I doubt he dragged her into anything.”

 

“No, she’s not!” Luciana could feel her temper rising, clenching her fists at her sides and couldn’t look at him, shaking her head. “Thea is a good, decent person who helps people in need, you son of a bitch!” The claws were out; NOBODY talked about her sister in a negative way, not without paying for it. “Your ‘friend’, ‘partner’, whatever the hell you want to call him is a bad influence on her and has been from the moment they met!  So don’t stand there and tell me what kind of person my sister is!  You don’t know a fucking thing, asshole!  You have no right to judge her and you don’t know if she was even involved in this!  And when I do find out where my sister is, you’ll be eating your words!  Now get out of my house!” It was time to leave and find Thea.

 

“Wow… you really do think the sun shines out of your sister’s ass, don’t you?” Mark was thoroughly amused and leaned back against the wall, informing her physically that he had no intention of getting out of her house, such as it was. “Are you that blind to the fact that Thea does what Thea wants now, Luciana?  Hmm?” To think, all he had said was that Thea wasn’t someone to be dragged along for a ride and Luciana had come out swinging.  He had known the bitch was crazy and still dipped his dick in it. “Come on, kitten, keep spitting fire.”

 

She didn’t like the sound of his voice taunting her, wondering what happened to her sweet, kind Mark.  Luciana didn’t know who this Mark was in front of her and could feel the tears sting her eyes.  She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry, having shown him enough of her tears to last both of them a lifetime.  What was Thea up to?  Why had she run off with Jon?

 

“Since your partner stole from you, it has nothing to do with me or my sister.  So I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here, but you need to leave.” Her voice had lowered considerably to a chilling calm. 

 

The moment he was gone, she would be too and already had the bags packed along with a getaway car.  Finding Thea was her top priority.  When Mark didn’t move from the wall, Luciana headed for the front door and jumped when he moved to stand in front of it, blocking her.

 

“I’m leaving, get out of my way, Mark!”

 

Mark rolled his eyes and reached behind him, pulling out the gun he usually didn’t carry.  He watched her carefully, not surprised when she began hyperventilating. “You know… that day at the fair,” He began quietly, thumbing the safety. “I was curious about what set you off in the photo booth… figured it was either the rope or… the gun…” He stifled down the regret that panged through him at the obvious fear in her eyes. “Now, Luciana Merlin, you have two options.  You ready for them?”

 

All Luciana could do was stand there, staring down the barrel of the gun in his hand and it took several seconds to register what he called her.  Merlin.  Her birthname.  Guns scared her to death and him pointing one at her sent her backpedaling, screaming when he fired a warning shot.  Luciana couldn’t speak, clapping her hands over her ears and dropped to her knees, trembling so hard her teeth chattered.  Houston wasn’t safe, it had never been safe!  What the hell was she thinking settling down here?!  Thea was…her head snapped up, tears spilling down her cheeks and the harsh realization crashed over her.

 

“T-Thea…” Her baby sister had been taken by Jonathan Good.

 

“Probably ran off with Jon, don’t be so fucking stupid, Luciana.” He sighed, rubbing the business end of his gun against his temple. “You know, there is a lot I like about you,” Which was true. “But you are so damn quick to just jump to conclusions when it comes to Thea.  I get it, you practically raised her, but she’s got more spine than you do.  Time to wake up, kitten, your sister bolted on you with my fucking partner.” His eyes had turned to acid again. “He fucking took everything we had on you two…” Love was disgusting, it made people crazy.

 

All these months, she had kept the truth from Mark to protect him and…he knew it all along.  Mark had played her like a fiddle and Luciana cursed herself for being stupid, burying her head in her hands.  Mark and Jon were bounty hunters and had targeted them the moment Thea’s car broke down.  They should’ve just kept going in the beater car and never stopped because now…her days were numbered.  If Mark took her back to their parents and if Jon did the same thing with Thea, they would be murdered, all of them.  Her parents didn’t give a damn about authority.  What sickened Luciana the most about this situation was she had actually given herself to this man, willingly, and that alone destroyed her mentally and emotionally.  She had fallen in love with a bounty hunter that planned on turning her over to her parents for money. 

 

Blood money.

 

“If it makes you feel any better,” Mark said coldly, pausing, forcing himself to not feel for her when she was visibly having an inner meltdown. “Jon has no intention of turning you or your sister in.” He cocked his head when her own shot up, crinkling his nose at the tears in those teal eyes he had spent so much time staring into. “He loves her.  If I know Jon… he’s probably trying to run with her or clear her name.”

 

“We’re innocent, not that you’ll listen to a word I say anyway.”

 

Luciana shakily rose to her feet, her heart completely shattered, but her worry over Thea overrode what she currently felt towards Mark Calaway.  She really hoped what Mark said was true about Jon and Thea.  Did Thea know about Jon and Mark being bounty hunters though?  If she did, why would she keep that a secret from Luciana?  The thought of Thea lying and keeping things from her broke her heart for an entirely different reason, refusing to believe it.

 

“So, if you knew about us this entire time, why drag it out?  Why not just turn us in?  Why start a fake relationship with me?”

 

Everything was fake and phony when it came to Mark, that much was obvious.  He toyed with her for months – MONTHS – and had sex with her.  What kind of sick games was this prick into?

 

“I generally try not to run people in until I’m 100% sure of their guilt.  I don’t take money just to take money.” Mark cocked an eyebrow, wondering just what kind of guy did she… never mind, he knew, and he had broken his cardinal rule of sleeping with his potential convicts. “I wasn’t faking it.” He said quietly, that much was true. “And I’m not running you in, not yet, Luciana.”

 

So you get your rocks off terrorizing people, huh?  That’s rich!  And I don’t believe a word you say.  Just take me in and be done with it.  You’re not the first bounty hunter I’ve dealt with, Calaway.  Let my parents kill me in front of you, but don’t be surprised if they turn the gun on you too.  They don’t like leaving witnesses.”

 

Luciana couldn’t look at him, shivering at the memory of Charley’s death, which was a nightmare used to have on a nightly basis.  Ever since Mark started staying the night with her, the nightmares had vanished, and Luciana slept better than she had in her life.  Sinking down on the couch, the anxiety and fear was gone, replaced with deep sorrow and regret about so many things.  Please be safe, Thea, she silently prayed, clasping her hands in her lap, not sure what Mark planned on doing with her now.  She would find out in due time.

 

His first order of business was to lift Luciana up under his arm and cart her to the kitchen.  There he retrieved the duct tape and covered her mouth with it.  Finally.  Silence.  Then Mark did her hands and ankles before helping himself to a glass of water, contemplating his next course of action, the gun, with safety back on, tucked away again.  He had no intention of turning her in, not just yet.  First order of business was to find his runaway partner and Thea.

 

All Luciana could do was sit there, silent tears coursing down her cheeks while staring at her bonded wrists and ankles.  Now he was treating her like an animal.  Of course he would!  He was a damn bounty hunter!  She could only imagine what he planned on doing, figuring he’d go after Jon and Thea and drag her along for the hellacious ride.  Obviously, he didn’t enjoy being mouthed off to either, hence the duct tape over the mouth.  When he finished his water, Luciana gasped through the duct tape as he lifted her over his shoulder and carted her out of the house, setting her in his Chevy Silverado moments later.  Looking out the window at the house, Luciana knew she’d never see it again and suddenly remembered all the money, beginning to try pushing the duct tape off her mouth while yelling through it. 

 

When Mark ripped it off, she cried out and glared at him, flexing her jaw. “Under my bed is a bag of money.  I can’t leave it behind, it’s all Thea and I have.  You can use it to track them down, but don’t leave it here.  Please.”

 

“I don’t think so.  It’ll be fine.  I’ll call Paul and let him know to lock up the house.” He’d just tell the older man they were going on a vacation for a few weeks. “You going to be good and not shoot off at the mouth, or do I need to put the tape back on?” Because he wasn’t about to have her spouting off her nonsense or insults.

 

Mark’s question was met with stony silence.  Luciana didn’t say a word to him and stared out the window as he pulled out of the driveway.  She had no clothes, no belongings of any kind, just what she currently had on.  No money, no identification…and she had a feeling Mark preferred it that way.  As they hit the highway, much like Jon and Thea had earlier that morning, Luciana just kept praying her sister was safe and not with their murderous parents.  Hopefully, Mark’s assumption about Jon was correct and he actually did love her sister. 

 

Why couldn’t she have that? 

 

She was stupid and naïve, that was why. 

 

If Mark thought for a second she would help him track her sister and Jon down, he was sadly mistaken.  She wasn’t helping him at all.  He took the long route back to Jon and Thea’s place, preferring Luciana to not try jumping out of a vehicle that was moving at a slow pace.  Highway was out of his way, but he doubted she was going to risk going splat.  Once in front of the building, he shifted to look at her.

 

“We’re going to go see if they left anything behind and, if you pull anything, you’re going to really regret it.  Do you understand that, Luce?” He was serious and would rather not hurt her, but… he would blow her kneecap off if he had to.

 

“I can’t go anywhere being taped up like this.  I’ll just stay here while you search the place.  Trust me, I can’t go anywhere anyway.” To prove her point, she lifted her wrists and tried pulling them apart, failing. “And my name to you is Luciana.  Do not call me Luci or Luce.  You don’t have that right anymore.” Looking away from him, the tears had dried up and all that was left was a woman taped up with a mangled heart. 

 

A fool woman at that.

 

Smirking, her bent down, pulling a switchblade from his boot and freed her ankles, keeping one arm against her legs to prevent her from trying to kick him in the head or something. “Your hands remain that way.  I’ll be holding onto your arm and, as long as you don’t struggle or act stupid, nobody is going to take a second look.” Not past him anyway. “Got me, Luce?” At her look, his eyes narrowed. “Until you’re proven innocent in a court of law, or concrete proof falls in my lap, YOU have no rights, kitten.”

 

“Fuck you, asshole.”

 

Yanked out of the truck, Luciana kept her balance and gritted her teeth, already planning her escape from Mark.  She would bide her time, just like with the other bounty hunter and wait for the opportune moment.  Scowling, she was dragged into the building and up the stairs, standing behind him while he unlocked the door with his own key.  That wasn’t a surprise he had one.  Then she was dragged inside by the arm again, Luciana was sure her upper arm would be heavily bruised from his vise grip.  Being shoved on the couch none too gently, Luciana simply sat there while he ransacked the apartment, already knowing Thea and Jon would’ve been smart enough to get rid of absolutely everything.  Thea was smart, she’d gone to medical school and Jon seemed like he knew what he was doing too.  Street smarts.  Being on the run for a year also taught Thea a couple things as well, but apparently not Luciana.  She had trusted far too easily and now it was biting her on the backside.

 

Chapter 14

 

Oh that jackass…” Mark muttered, standing in the bedroom and groaned, staring at the bed.  

 

Or more specifically, just over the wall.  Jon was such a dick.  He had sprayed painted I QUIT on the wall in bold black letters.

 

“What a bitch…”

 

His eyes narrowed in on a polaroid tacked just beneath it, snatching it off the wall.  Jon and Thea… sticking their tongues out and flipping the camera off.  Yeah, Thea was such an innocent little peach alright.  The picture of Jon and Thea being tossed at her feet made Luciana’s eyes widen and then…she began to laugh.  That was defiance all the way and the fact Jon had turned on his own partner, should’ve told Mark something.

 

“Seems you were right.  Who knew?  I guess my baby sister has convinced your ex-partner she’s innocent.” Amusement at the picture shined in her eyes and it was Mark’s turn to scowl.  Luciana merely rolled her eyes while he kept searching, demanding her to get up and help him. “Fuck off.  I’m not helping you with anything, asshole.” There was no way she’d help him track her sister and Jon down, though she did hope whatever they were doing did clear their names and pin the crimes on their parents for good.

 

“Let me put it this way, darlin’, you’ll get up and help me or I’ll call it in that Jon is aiding and abetting a person of interest in a murder and embezzlement case.  And then I’ll turn your ass in without your sister.  Jon and Thea will never have any chance whatsoever of proving your innocence because he WILL get them caught, you can bank on that.” Jon would grow desperate, reckless and stupid.

 

“Do it then.” Luciana challenged, already knowing he would do it anyway, so there was no point in being afraid anymore.  She was caught, would try to escape, but if not at least she’d have a bullet in her head by the end of the day.  Her parents would no doubt use their ‘pull’ to get her out of jail, take her home and kill her. “Thea is safe, that’s all I care about, and I know Jon will protect her since I can’t anymore.  So go ahead, turn me in.  I’d rather die than be around you a second longer anyhow.” She meant that with every fiber of her being, her voice full of pure malice.

 

She was such a pain in his ass and Mark rolled his eyes at the dramatics. “Duct tape on the mouth again it is.”

 

He found some and shut her up again, sighing in contentment as silence, sweet silence, reached him.  Mark dropped down in the chair beside the couch, drumming his fingers on the armrests as he took in the small living room, contemplating what he would do if he were in Jon’s shoes.  He knew the man loved Thea, wanted to prove her innocence… so why run?  Why not keep working on those facts?  They were rich, and everything pointed at the girls, sure, but from what he knew of the Merlin’s, the parents, they were entitled dickheads, and something was off with them, that much was obvious.  However, after knowing Luciana, maybe it was a genetic thing.

 

“I wonder if they’d go back…” He mused thoughtfully.

 

Luciana would’ve told him her thoughts on that subject, but her mouth was duct taped shut, so she just sat there, fuming.  Mark was all talk, no action.  She knew damn well he wouldn’t turn her in, not when he didn’t have a lick of evidence against her.  Jon and Thea had made sure to steal all of it and probably destroyed it too.  If she knew what Mark was thinking at that moment about her parents, she would’ve been more inclined to help him.  Instead, he had stormed her house like a caveman, treated her like an animal and gave her absolutely no chance to tell her side of the story.  Again, he wouldn’t believe her because she was under the impression he believed her parents.

 

If he had known what she was thinking, he would have laughed her all the way to the bank.  There were rewards out for her capture and return to the police in her hometown.  Of course, the amount was higher for both of them, but one sister still fetched a mighty fine price.  Mark also would have probably told her maybe she shouldn’t have gone off on one of her stupid little rants with her hackles raised the moment he had even referenced Thea earlier.  

 

“Well, darlin’, I think we’ll be heading back to your place to grab your money… and you’ll need clothes.  We’re taking you home.” He said finally, pushing himself to his feet.  

 

That’d be where Jon and Thea would head.  Nobody would think to look for them there because sane people did not return to scenes of crimes and criminals usually avoided them as well if they were trying not to get caught.  But if Jon was convinced Thea and Luciana were innocent, that’d be the place to find the proof.

 

Raising her taped hands up, she flipped him the double bird and was yanked off the couch roughly, dragged out of the apartment before tossed inside the truck.  Luciana kept her eyes lowered the entire time, her heart dropping to the pit of her stomach at the mention of going home.  Back where it all began with her parents – where Charley had been murdered.  Clenching her fists, Luciana had to stay strong, no matter what happened and prayed Thea hadn’t gone back home.  That would’ve been the biggest mistake, even if she was trying to get their names cleared.  All it would take was one mistake and her life could end.  When they pulled into her driveway 20 minutes later, she finally tore the tape from her mouth and hissed, tossing it aside.

 

“There’s a bag of clothes for me and Thea in my closet in my room.  The bag of money is under the bed.  Jackass.” That was all she had to say to him, thankful she would at least be able to shower and change her clothes during this trip.

 

“Yeah – yeah.”

 

Mark rolled his eyes and reached out to pop his dashboard, retrieving a length of cord.  He then proceeded to bind her ankles again.  She’d wind up smashing her face if she tried getting out of the truck.  He slid out, pocketing his keys and locked it behind him, heading towards the house.  It took him little time to grab the money.  Who travelled with hundred-dollar bills and that many at once?  These women were out of their minds.  He filled another bag with clothing and personal items, figuring it’d be his luck she’d wind up on her period in his truck.  Mark walked out of the house, locking it behind him and stared at the truck, not surprised to find Luciana sitting there staring straight ahead and sighed.  This… was not going to be like the times before.  He had messed up with his own rule.

 

“Fuck me…”

 

Spotting the bag with the money in it, Luciana breathed a huge sigh of relief and it showed on her face.  It was all she and Thea had to live off of, not that Mark would understand what it was like living on the road…on the run.  She couldn’t wait until her innocence was proven to this cocksucker because, even though she loved him, Luciana would never forgive him for treating her like this.  Once he was back in the truck, they took off again and this time headed for the open highway toward her hometown.  Obviously he knew where he was going being a bounty hunter and all.  Mark probably traveled all over the United States to make his money.  Luciana didn’t want her mouth duct taped again, so she remained quiet and simply stared out the window, not moving an inch except when the truck jolted by flying over cracks in the road and whatnot. 

 

The silence was deafening.

 

One hand was on the steering wheel, the other was messing with his cell phone.  He had left Jon several messages, some nice and some were not, he wasn’t amused.  As a general rule, a bounty hunter’s job was to just bring in the person of interest and call it a day.  They collected their money and left.  Mark generally preferred to make sure suspects in cases like these were guilty or not, one way or the other, because he had seen what happened to people who had been turned over and then later found out innocent.  He refused to have that on his conscience.  But Jon and Thea… they had really, royally, mucked this all up.

 

Over the next couple days of driving and staying in motels, silently, Luciana began drifting back into her old routine.  Zero sleep came to her.  She was too anxious, her nerves completely shot.  The dark circles had returned under her eyes and she refused to eat hardly anything, just a sip of water every now and then.  The melatonin and Prozac had helped her tremendously, but Mark had been a big part of her recovery too.  That had all been shot down the drain. 

 

With zero sleep came a grouchy Mark Calaway because, if she didn’t sleep, he didn’t either.  Energy drinks and coffee galore!  Luciana was miserable, worried about her sister’s whereabouts and stared out the window while driving or at the wall laying down in a bed.  Not a word came from her, what was she supposed to say?  Mark dragged her from place to place, stopping every 12 hours or so to rest before they were back on the road again.

 

Jon was leaving a trail and Mark was following it.  Or, he hoped.  Knowing now what he did, it could be Thea laying a trail to throw them off, though the fact that she hadn’t at least checked in with her sister to reassure her was odd.  Thea had always worried about Luciana’s mental state.  Mark remembered Jon talking about how much Thea tended to dwell on Luciana’s state of mind.  Jon would know Mark was chasing him, so for Jon to go out of his way to avoid even checking in, trying to talk to him, was also weird.  Jon, under normal circumstances, would have pleaded his case by now, via cell of course, so he couldn’t be punched.

 

“I want you to tell me about that night, Luciana.”

 

It’d been 3 days since she’d said a word to him and they were currently stuck in a motel room on the outskirts of some town in Illinois.  Traffic had been crazy, and they still had a ways to go since Mark was taking a longer route to get to New Hampshire, which was the ultimate location.  The rain poured in gallons outside and she jumped every time a streak of lightning flashed across the sky, lighting the window up.  There was only a small lamp to give enough light to see each other, but that was about it.  She currently sat on the bed, away from the window and stared at the wall, her wrists and ankles taped.  Mark had taken it off long enough to let her shower, with the door open, which was humiliating or when she had to go to the bathroom.  He refused to help her in that area, which Luciana was silently thankful for.

 

“You won’t believe me.” She finally spoke, her voice low and quiet, shaking her head sadly. 

 

The last bounty hunter hadn’t either, so why would Mark be any different? 

 

He wasn’t.

 

“You’d be surprised.” Mark drawled, eyeing a menu for ordering takeout on the nightstand.  Luciana hadn’t tried running yet and he knew she was waiting for the perfect moment.  She had already escaped another bounty hunter, he wasn’t about to be caught with his pants down. “Of course, you tend to jump to assumptions, accuse me of bagging on your sister, and everything else so it might take me awhile to sort out the shit, but we’ll get there, darlin’.  So, explain.”

 

“I don’t assume anything.  I KNOW you won’t believe me because you’re no different than the others that have hunted us down.  You’re out for blood money and you don’t care who gets hurt in the process.  That’s the type you are.  That’s all bounty hunters are.  I’m not gonna sit here and bear my soul to you, not after how you’ve treated me.  So you can sit there, stew in your belief you’re right and assume what YOU want about us and leave me the hell alone.”

 

It was the longest thing she’d said to him in several days and Luciana had to look away from him.  Staring at this man she had given herself to and believed would protect her hurt too much.  She had nobody else to rely on; Thea was in the wind and Luciana could tell Mark was getting fed up with the wild goose chase.  Mark began laughing his ass off, the first he had done so in days.  Hell, he hadn’t even cracked a smile in days.  He laughed so hard he had to wipe away tears, his face tinging red as he tried to reign himself in.

 

“Okay – okay.” He managed to get out, rolling and getting to his feet, shaking his head. “You believe that, darlin’, you and your own assumptions there, you hypocritical little bitch.” He was still laughing. “I’m ordering pizza, got any special requests my little hypocrite?” He asked sweetly, eyes filled with a mixture of venom and amusement.

 

“I’m not eating.”

 

Luciana couldn’t believe he was laughing at her and another shard of glass went into her heart, doing everything in her power to fight back tears.  No sleep, no food…maybe she would starve to death.  It would be better than being in her parents clutches with a bullet in her head.  Then again, that was a quick way to go.  Luciana wasn’t getting out of this alive, she’d already come to that conclusion and accepted it.  She went back to staring at the wall while he ordered pizza of his choosing, leaning her head back against the headboard. 

 

Silence resumed between them again.

 

When the pizza got there, Mark paid and locked the door behind him, the delicious supreme scent wafting through the room. “You sure you don’t want to eat this?” He asked, an undercurrent of darkness in his tone.

 

She had to eat; she was done starving herself on his watch.  He had no idea what she was thinking because she kept assuming he wouldn’t care or believe her, so he was done asking.  The woman was a basket case and assumed everyone was against her.  God help him, it pissed him off to the point where he treated her like some nobody convict when he knew she wasn’t.

 

“Positively sure, Luce?” Because the alternative wouldn’t be pleasant for her at all.

 

Why should she trust him?  She may have been a basket case, but this man had a volatile temper and treating her like an animal wasn’t doing him any favors!  For months, Mark had strung her along and made her think she was safe, waited for her guard to be down before striking.  Showing his true colors.  No, the trust was completely gone, and Luciana vowed to never trust another living soul again besides her sister.  Thea was lucky and had found someone who actually believed her, who didn’t treat her like a criminal.  Her parents were the culprits, but money talked, and she knew it.  She didn’t answer him, ignoring his taunting and didn’t even look up when his shadow fell over her.

 

Chapter 15

 

“Luciana, you need to eat, darlin’.” He coaxed, kneeling down in front of her and gently placed his hands on her knees, trying to get her to look at him.  Of course, she refused and he sighed, staring into her pale face.  She had been declining and he would have to start force feeding her sleeping pills and Prozac.  After he fed her. “Fine, have it your way, Luce.” He said softly, walking over to pick up his overly large bag, pulling out three packets, long flexible tubes and several other things. “Vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry?”

 

“Why are you prolonging this?  Why are you dragging me around with you trying to find your partner and Thea?  Thea is innocent, and you need to leave her alone!  Turn me in, let me take the fall for both of us!” He didn’t care about her, only the fortune he would rake in once he finally did turn her over to the authorities. “I don’t want anything from you and I damn sure won’t eat if I don’t want to.” Luciana injected a little heat into her tone, keeping her gaze on the wall and wished he would give up searching for Jon and Thea. 

 

Leave them alone, let them be happy together wherever they were.  Thea deserved to be happy after everything that happened, and Luciana didn’t mind dying for her baby sister, not for a second.  If anything happened to Thea, she would never forgive herself and her protective mode had kicked in again when it came to the only family she had left.

 

“There you go, Luce, assuming again.” He said darkly, figuring she might be on the run because she didn’t know when to shut up and had pissed off the wrong people.

 

Mark was going to find Jon because the kid didn’t need to be causing any more trouble, not after his troubled youth and run-ins with the law when he was younger.  He had actually been the one to bring Jon in and he shook his head at the memory.  He had been wrong before; he’d likely be wrong again, but he’d be damned if that kid was going to mess everything up after getting his life straight.

 

“All right, dinner time.” He announced, walking over to grab her.  Ignoring her attempts at stopping him, he strapped her to the only chair in the room.  It was perfect for this, straight back, no arms, and he made sure to secure her neck, so her head was upright. “Luce…” He knelt down again, staring up into her face. “You will eat, one way or the other, darlin’.  But if you won’t do it yourself…” He’d feed her through a tube. “And you’re going back on Prozac.” Since he was feeding her liquids… he’d just crush one of her pills up nice and fine and she could have them both at the same time.

 

Gagging as the strawberry flavored substance slid down her throat, along with the crushed pill, Mark shouldn’t have been surprised when she promptly vomited all over him.  Tears streamed down her face as he stumbled back, looking thoroughly disgusted and she struggled to the point where the chair toppled over on its side, hitting her head against the nearby vent on the wall.  It was a small laceration, not deep enough for stitches, but Luciana would have one hell of a headache.  Through her hazy, blurred vision and ringing in her ears from the headshot, she overheard Mark cursing up a storm.  She had to get out of here; she had to get away from this monster.  Thea had to keep running with Jon, no matter what and Luciana hoped Mark never got his hands on them or else they’d end up in the same condition she was in.

 

That’s how Luciana wound up going nighty night because he lost his temper and injected her with a sedative.  Mark monitored her vitals, roused her enough every hour to get her to grumble out something about Thea, and then proceeded to go the route he should’ve the first time.  He fed her via a tube down her nose, which included Prozac.

 

“You’re disgusting.” He informed her, freshly showered himself and now holding her vomit covered naked form under warm water. “By all rights, I should’ve left you like that.”

 

Besides coughing from water going up her nose and in her mouth, Luciana couldn’t fight him off due to the sedative.  Her head felt like a weight was on it.  Mark could’ve easily had his way with her if he wanted because there was no fighting him off.  All she could do was sit there, eyes half open, finally slumping down against the tub.  If she was alert, Luciana would’ve kicked and hit him, anything to get him away from her.  Barely feeling herself lifted out of the tub, Mark laid her on the bed and pulled on some shorts and a shirt, foregoing undergarments.  He was a man, of course he wouldn’t put a bra and panties on her.  It was lights out once she was dressed, her body not moving and chest rising and falling steadily, her wet hair clinging to her head and soaking the pillow.

 

Because he had absolutely no trust for this lunatic, Mark handcuffed her ankle and wrist, the set on the outside, the bed frame before storming outside to scream at the sky.  He was going to murder Jon.  Thea.  Maybe Luciana before all was said and done.  When his cell phone vibrated against his hip, Mark practically crushed it, ripping it up.

 

“What?”

 

“You’re still pissed?  Come on, bro, it’s been… like forever.”

 

“I am going to rip your fucking head off, Jon.  Where’s Thea?”

 

“Here, with me, why?”

 

“Because I want to know if it’s just Luce who is crazy or if it’s hereditary.”

 

“Fuck you, Mark.  Where’s Luciana?” Thea demanded, holding the cell phone with Mark cursing through the speaker phone. “You better not hurt her…”

 

“Mark, you wouldn’t listen to me.  You wouldn’t listen to anything I said about the sisters, so…I had to go rogue.  I had to protect Thea.” Jon couldn’t imagine what Luciana was going through at the moment, already knowing Mark had her.  The moment they decided to leave town and he quit on Mark, she would’ve been the first stop. “They’re innocent and we’re gonna prove it.  We’ve already visited some of Merlin’s clients and a few of them are willing to testify on behalf of Thea and Luci.” With some… persuasion, of course.

 

“I want to talk to my sister now, Calaway.  And don’t even think about tracing this call because it won’t do you a bit of good.” It was one of her old cell phones she’d kept and required a pay card.  Her name was not associated with it and neither was Jon’s.

 

“Shit, hang up Thea.” Jon grabbed the phone, hearing Mark laughing and ended the call, shaking his head. “All he needs is a number to trace, not a name.” He informed her, frowning and then realized his mouth mistake. Old clients… “Well fuck, we should go.”

 

Mark spent the rest of his night watching Luciana sleep and retracing the route, cross-referencing with prior Merlin clients.  He now had a better trail to follow, thanks to Jon.

 

As soon as Luciana was up the next day, in clothes she didn’t remember changing into and still slightly damp hair, it didn’t take her long to realize what happened.  Mark had bathed her and there was a band-aid on her forehead.  He kept the cuffs on her, lifting her over his shoulder and carried her out to the truck, setting her in the passenger seat.  The man had an extra kick in his step and she didn’t want to know what caused that, refusing to say a word to him.  Her head was killing her, and the sedative had left her drained.  Mark explained where they were going, and she just looked out the window, not having an interest in anything he said or did.  The sooner they caught up with Thea and Jon, the sooner this game would end.

 

Jon had screwed up, which was great for him, not Jon or Thea.  But… Mark’s curiosity was burning.  Clients of the Merlin’s, willing to testify. “Did you ever meet your parent’s clients?” He asked, eyeing the first and closest name on the list he had compiled after finally accessing his online storage to retrieve files.  Mark was mildly surprised Jon hadn’t thought about those, but if Jon and Thea had been in a hurry, and scared of getting caught, he could see how they’d bypass it.

 

“Just a few…one of them was my godfather.” Luciana quietly answered, not looking at him and could feel the tears building in her eyes at the memory of what happened to him. 

 

Charley. 

 

Her father was a cold, ruthless murdering bastard and her mother was no different, according to the last bounty hunter she’d had a run-in with.  Mark didn’t know anything about that, but she’d gotten an earful from the guy, who had surprisingly treated her better than the hunter she was with now.  Tilting her head back, Luciana managed not to let a single tear fall and congratulated herself, hoping and praying Thea and Jon were long gone by the time they arrived at their next location.

 

“Charley, the one you’re being accused of murdering.” Mark said thoughtfully, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.  He didn’t think he was treating her all that badly.  When his temper shot up, he was a little rough on her, but when she got going her mouth just didn’t stop. “What other clients do you remember meeting?” He glanced over at her, frowning when he seen the way she was sitting. “You’re not feeling sick, are you?” Cleaning puke again didn’t sound amusing.

 

Being tied up like an animal was being treated badly in her book.  Charley was shot pointblank in the head and Luciana didn’t even know how to use a gun, much less shoot one.  Her father was an idiot trying to pin this on her, but then again, any problem could be swept under the proverbial rug with enough money.  Charley meant the world to her; he was like a second father and watching him die was an image permanently seared in her memory.  There were other clients she remembered, but Luciana refused to give him any other information and did everything in her power not to cry, her body trembling.  There was nothing in her system to bring up, so there wouldn’t be a puke fest in his precious truck.  However, she hoped Mark learned a lesson not to force-feed her because it would happen all over again.

 

Now she was shaking in the seat.  Sighing, Mark pulled over and put on his blinkers, shifting so he was facing her. “Luciana,” He said gently, reaching out to place a hand on her knee.