running from the past Page 13

Instantly alert, he cranked up the volume. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.


Or seeing. International playboy questioned on charges of murder. Two young women were found dumped behind a Miami hot spot with their throats slit. The badly beaten women were last seen in the company of Ricardo Mendez and some of his known associates. His lawyer is denying all allegations. This isn’t the first time he’s been questioned by the police but this is the first time his girlfriend Emma Garcia has not been by his side. As many know, she is the daughter of the late infamous arms dealer Javier Garcia, though she is perhaps better known for her philanthropic work with the homeless community and troubled teens…


Caleb turned down the volume but continued to gaze at the screen. A picture of Emma Garcia smiled back at him. Though the woman had platinum blonde hair, wore a slim fitting black evening gown and was showing off jewelry that probably cost more than his new pickup truck, it was Emma Cole. No doubt about it. He might not have realized it was her if he hadn’t spent the past few days inside her, memorizing every inch of her.


Emma looked better as a brunette, more natural. Dressed as she was in that picture she literally looked like a million bucks but he preferred her current look. Hell, who was he kidding? He wouldn’t care if she had black and purple, short spiky hair. He wanted her any way he could get her.


Not that he should even be thinking of that. No, he should be worrying why the very pretty daughter of a deceased arms dealer was in his home. Before he could change his mind, he went to his office.


After what felt like an eternity, his laptop flared to life. He looked up one of the few people he knew would help him without asking too many questions. Flipping open his cell phone, he dialed an old friend of his from the service. He just hoped the number was still good.


Caleb hated to waste a favor for this but he didn’t have a choice. Emma wasn’t dangerous, of that he was certain, but she was scared. Though he didn’t have a clue what was going on, he’d somehow figure this out. He had to. If she needed help, he was going to be the one to give it.


“Hello?” His friend picked up on the second ring.


“Hey Nick, its Caleb Ryder, how are you?”


Nick Daley’s loud Boston accent hadn’t changed a bit. “Shit man! How long has it been? Four, five…”


“Five years,” Caleb said, grinning to himself. He’d fought alongside Nick in the African desert, in the Amazon jungle and a couple other places that weren’t on their official records.


“Either you’re in jail or you’re getting married. Which is it?” Caleb chuckled to himself. “Neither but I do need a favor.”


It should have felt strange that he hadn’t talked to him in five years and was calling him for a favor but it didn’t. There were very few people in his life he called friends but Nick was one of those rare ones he could call up in the middle of the night and ask to help hide a body, no questions asked.


“Shoot.”


“You still got friends in high places?”


His friend snorted. “Always. I’m working for an international security outfit located out of Saint Augustine but I’ve still got a few contacts in the DEA and the FBI. And if you’re really in trouble, I’ve got a friend with the CIA. Depends on what you need.”


“Good. I need any information you can get on a woman named Emma Garcia, including all known associates. Last known address is somewhere in Miami.”


“Are you talking about the daughter of Javier Garcia? I’ve seen her picture flashed on the news all week.”


Was he the only person who’d never heard of either one of them until now? “Yeah, the one and only. Is that going to be a problem? I don’t want you taking any heat for this.”


“No, I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. I’m assuming you don’t want anyone knowing that you’re asking about her?” Caleb sighed and rubbed a hand over his unshaven face. He knew what could happen if his friend started asking questions to the wrong people and he didn’t want those people sniffing around here, especially when he didn’t know how much trouble Emma was in. If she was even in trouble at all. “You assumed right. If you can get this for me without any hassle, consider us even.” Nick was silent on the other end for a long moment. Then, in true Nick form, he said, “Man, shut the fuck up. This doesn’t make us close to even. Maybe if I pull you out of a burning building and name my firstborn after you we’ll be halfway there.”


Caleb shook his head even though his friend couldn’t see him and didn’t bother trying to contain the laughter fighting to escape. He might have saved Nick’s ass more than once but Nick had kept him laughing nonstop the last six years he’d been in the Marines. If anything, he owed him his sanity. Any man who could find humor in a sticky, triple canopy jungle filled with mutant bugs and armed drug runners tracking them with the sole intent to torture and kill, should get a freaking medal. “I’ve missed you man.”


“Good, maybe you won’t be such a stranger from now on. It’s getting late but I’ll get back to you in a couple of days, maybe a week but probably sooner. Is there a reason I should put a rush on this?”


How could he answer that? “Don’t kill yourself, but this is important.”


“Just tell me one thing. Please tell me you aren’t fucking her.” He gripped the phone tighter but didn’t answer. He couldn’t afford to piss off the only person who could help him. “Call me when you’ve got something.” Once they disconnected, he pulled up Google and searched Emma Garcia. Photos and articles covering various social events immediately popped up. In almost every picture, she was linked with the same man. Infamous arms dealer Ricardo Mendez.


* * * * *


Emma wiped off the foggy mirror and stared at her reflection. She almost didn’t recognize herself. It wasn’t the slightly altered appearance, because she’d gotten used to her natural hair color by now. No, it was everything about her. Her skin and eyes practically glowed. She looked like she’d spent a weekend at a full service spa. And it was all thanks to the rugged cowboy downstairs. How had this happened? How had he gotten under her skin so quickly?


In a couple of days, she’d be gone. And in a few weeks, he’d probably forget about her anyway. He didn’t seem like the kind of man who depended on anybody. Sure, he asked a lot of questions about her past but he never opened up about himself. It’s not as if she’d actually asked him but he seemed so closed off and private, she didn’t see the point. No use getting even more attached than she already was.


After a quick glance at the clock, she finished towel drying her hair and dressed in a simple v-neck cashmere sweater and black twill pants. She figured Caleb would be done with his shower by now. Her stocking feet were surprisingly silent as she descended the wooden stairs.


When she found his room empty, she tried his office. As a courtesy, she started to knock on the partially open door when she heard Caleb say her name.


Her real name.


Hand still raised, she froze in place and listened. The words were muffled and slightly jumbled but she knew what she heard.


“Emma Garcia…identity…find out what you can…” Bile rose in her throat and she resisted the urge to storm into his room. Is this what he wanted to talk to her about? Without making a sound, she retreated to her room. She laced up her sneakers, grabbed her keys off the dresser and threw her dirty clothes into one of her bags. After zipping it up, she heaved one bag on her shoulder and took the other one in her hand. Luckily, she hadn’t unpacked most of her stuff. She eased open the door to her room and listened.


Before she could chicken out, she quietly but quickly raced down the stairs, through the long hallway and out the kitchen door. She cringed when she realized the garage door was closed. Without wasting another second debating the noise it would make, she punched the button and sprinted across the yard. Carrying two bags slowed her down but she couldn’t afford to leave any of her stuff behind.


An eerie calm permeated the night air. Her sneakers crunched over leaves and fallen branches and she could see her breath in front of her. Her entire body shook with barely controlled tremors but it wasn’t from the cold. Adrenaline and fear ripped through every vein and nerve ending in her body.


She couldn’t believe Caleb knew who she was. Had he been planning to turn her in? She’d been so close to trusting him, to confessing everything. None of that mattered now. She needed to get as far away from him as possible. She’d find a cheap motel somewhere and decide what to do in the morning. Sleep would be impossible but at least she’d be safe.


Clutching her side, she tried to ignore the cramp taking over the left side of her body. Except for a couple of horses that whinnied in the distance, there were no sounds or obstacles in her way. According to Caleb, most of the men had houses scattered across his land but none lived too close to him.


She jiggled the door to the shack where her truck was housed and exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. It creaked and groaned as it swung open but by now, she didn’t care how much noise she made. She was almost free. The key slipped into the ignition and she said a silent prayer that the truck started.


It coughed and sputtered but it turned over. She didn’t know how that was even possible but it did. It kicked into drive, spitting up grass and gravel as she tore out of the dilapidated structure. Now it really didn’t matter if anyone heard her. Cows or not, she was gone. But, as a small precaution, she kept the driving lights off. The dips along the dirt road were difficult to gauge but it wasn’t long until she passed the house and realized the front gate was closed.


After a quick glance over her shoulder, she hopped out of the dying vehicle and unlatched the heavy chain. The metal door swung open easily and clanged against the connecting fence. A couple of cows mooed at her but she ignored them. She turned back but jerked to a halt at the sight in front of her. The only sounds reverberating in her head was her own breathing and the pounding of her heart.