I melded into the stream of bodies moving toward the exit and stepped out onto the platform. Overhead announcements were being made in French, and I felt lost and confused. I started walking, looking around and searching the crowds for Marc. The throng of people was nerve-racking as I made my way past a maze of restaurants and bars. Overhead the sun shone through the gaps in the metal roof, reflecting off of the ticket vending machines and bright monitors that showed the arrivals and departures.
Breathless and muddled, I stopped near an escalator and was surprised when Mary appeared near my elbow. She was smiling and pulling a small rolling suitcase behind her. “Hello again, Fred.”
“Hi.” I was glad to see a friendly face, and I relaxed a little. I was probably safer if I was with someone instead of completely alone. Safety in numbers, right?
“Is anyone meeting you here?” she asked cheerfully. She glanced around. “I need to grab a cab and head to the airport.”
“Would you want to share a cab?” She raised her brows. “Or are you not headed to the airport?”
“Um, yeah. I have a friend who’s supposed to be here. He’s running late.” I swallowed nervously and shoved my hands in my pockets. I had no idea where I was headed, but I couldn’t exactly tell her that. “My friend is making all the travel plans.” It sounded lame even to me, but it was the best I could come up with on the spot.
Grimacing, she said, “Sorry. I’m always butting into your business.”
“No, you’re not.” I hated that I kept making her feel bad when she was just being a nice person. Normal people talked to each other and had conversations. I was the weird one.
She shrugged. “What can I say? I like people.”
“That’s a good thing.”
“Anyway, I will leave you alone to wait for your friend.” She tugged at her case and huffed. “My lord, this thing seems to get heavier and heavier.”
I gestured toward the suitcase. “Oh, here, let me help you.” Maybe I wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but I could at least assist her with her bag.
She frowned. “No. I’m fine. You don’t have to do that.”
“But I want to help.” I grabbed the handle. Looking around, there was still no sign of Marc. I decided maybe I should make my way to the sidewalk out front. Perhaps that was where Marc would be waiting. “Let me at least pull this out to the taxi area for you. I’m going that direction anyway.”
She sighed. “Well, okay, if you insist. My shoulder is killing me.” She laughed and led the way through the milling, noisy crowd. She walked fast, and I had to hurry to keep up with her so I didn’t lose her in the sea of humans. At one point, she stopped and pointed toward a building off to the right behind a fence with constructions signs hung on it. There were ladders and scaffolding around the doors and windows of the dark structure as if remodeling was being done. “Are you going to kill me if I need to use the little girls’ room?” she asked, looking worried.
“Oh.” I stopped. “No, of course not.” I glanced around, but no one seemed very interested in us, so that put me somewhat at ease.
“You’re an angel.” She grimaced. “I should have gone on the train, but there was a line. There’s always a line at the women’s bathroom.”
“It’s all right.” I attempted to reassure her.
She peered around the open fence. “I think the restrooms are in that building. At least they were the last time I was here.” She chewed on her nail. “Do you mind if I check it out? If these bathrooms are closed, I guess I’ll be forced to find other ones.”
“Sure. If you think this is the right building, I’ll just wait for you.” She definitely knew the area better than me, so I let her lead. Besides, a part of me liked the idea of getting out of the swarm of people for a few minutes. I followed her past the temporary barrier, craning my head every few seconds and praying for a glimpse of Marc.
When she reached the entrance to the building, she grinned and put her hands together as if saying a prayer, and then she disappeared into the dark doorway. Sighing, I leaned against a pylon to wait for her.
“Follow me.” I jumped as if I’d been stuck by a cattle prod when Marc’s voice was suddenly against my ear. Turning toward him, my yelp of joy stuck in my throat when I noticed he had his finger over his lips in a shushing manner. “Come.” He tugged at my arm.
, I mouthed, drowning in his chocolate-brown eyes.
His lips twitched. “Of course.”
I clutched his jacket, loving the feel of his hard bicep under the silky material. “I’m so happy to see you,” I whispered.
“You can show me how much you appreciate me later. Let’s move.”
I started to follow him, and then I stopped, my shoes squeaking on the floor. “Oh, wait. Let me just tell Mary that I’m leaving,” I said in a hushed tone. It was amazing how much safer I felt with him here beside me now, as if nothing could hurt me.
“Yeah, I met her on the train.”
He narrowed his gaze. “What did you say?” He took in the suitcase next to me, and his mouth hardened. He looked over his shoulder in the direction Mary had gone. “Son of a bitch.” He yanked me down to the floor so fast I didn’t even know what the hell was happening. My elbow banged onto the cement, and I gritted my teeth against the pain. Something smacked off the pylon above us, sending powdered fragments of cement onto my head. “What part of don’t trust anybody was unclear to you?” he said in a raspy voice.
I was in shock. Instinctively, I knew that someone was shooting at us with a silencer, and in the back of my mind, I was worried Mary might be in the line of danger. That was until I got a glimpse of her squatting behind a trash can with a gun trained on our position.
“I don’t understand,” I muttered, feeling dazed. The pleasant little white-haired lady from the train had been replaced by a pinched-faced huntress. It was like watching Mrs. Claus turn a high-powered rifle on Rudolph.
“We need to get out of here before her friends arrive.” Marc was breathless as he crouched over me, shielding me with his body when another round of bullets smashed into the concrete above us.
“Mary’s a bad guy?” I asked, stupidly.
With a long, heartfelt sigh, he ignored me and pulled his gun from beneath his arm in one smooth move. He aimed in the direction of Mary and fired without any hesitation. The sound was like someone banging a hammer against a wall, but it didn’t sound like gunfire exactly. The noise of the trains and hordes of people was loud enough inside the terminal that no one seemed to notice what was happening only fifty feet away behind the barricade. He cursed under his breath and covered me again as a barrage of bullets slammed above us. Then he straightened and fired, and peeking under his arm, I saw Mary slump to the ground, her firearm clattering to the cement. I stared at her motionless form in sheer horror with my mouth hanging open.
” Marc’s voice was like steel, and he grabbed me and dragged me in the direction of the entrance.
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled as we shoved through the crowd. I kept expecting a gunshot to ring out and to feel the searing pain as a bullet tore through me. But nothing happened, and soon we were at the entrance to the building, slipping out the front. Any other time, I’d have found the ornate 1900’s architecture of the station and the distinctive old clock tower amazing. But right now, all I could think about was how nauseated I felt at being hunted like an animal. We headed north through the expansive parking lot toward the boulevard Diderot. If Marc hadn’t had his fingers dug into my arm, I might have had trouble keeping up with his reckless pace.
“I can’t believe you made a friend
on the train.” He emphasized that one word sneeringly. “I specifically told you not to trust anyone.”
I was short of breath, but I forced out, “She seemed nice.”
He looked at me like I’d said I wanted to invite Charles Manson to Christmas dinner. “She seemed nice? Nice?
” He grunted. “I don’t care if she baked you cookies and gave you a puppy; you weren’t supposed to talk to anyone.”
“I thought she was a harmless old lady,” I muttered, almost tripping over my own feet.
His laugh was harsh. “Yeah. That’s her favorite act. She’s about as harmless as a scorpion trapped in your shorts.”
We crossed the busy boulevard and hurried past the restaurant Aux Cadrans. There was a line of motor bikes parked along the front, and a few of the patrons sipping espresso on the patio looked surprised when we flew by. Next we ran around a corner and down a street named Rue de Lyon. I was winded and my arm ached from slamming into the cement, but I kept running, pushing my burning muscles. Marc seemed uneasy, with his mouth tense and his gaze scanning every inch of the area as we hurried along. I figured if Marc was worried, we were in some deep shit.
We turned right onto Rue Parrot and slipped into the lobby of the Hotel Lyon Bastille. Marc led me to one of the leather sofas farthest from the front desk. I sank onto the furniture, trying to stifle how out of breath I was. Thankfully nobody seemed very interested in us as they gathered their luggage and said their heartfelt good-byes to one another.
“Stay here. I’m going to book us a room.” Marc didn’t wait for my answer. He instead went to the desk and started chatting in French with the desk clerk. I noticed he paid in cash and refused concierge help.
We took the elevator to our room in stony silence. Marc didn’t seem to want to talk, and I felt foolish for having been tricked by Mary, or whatever her real name was. When we entered the small sleeping space, the color scheme took me aback with its lavender walls and pale blue carpeting. There were deep purple curtains and white, carved furniture near the bed, where more purple made an appearance in the form of quilts and pillows.
“Barney would love this room,” I muttered, collapsing onto the bed with a grunt.
Marc was still tense, and he peered out the window, staring down at the busy street. He seemed withdrawn, and I tried not to take it personally. I reminded myself that this was how he was when he was in work mode. And if he hadn’t been in work mode at the train station, I’d be dead.
When he finally left the window, he peeled off his jacket and stood at the foot of the bed, studying me in silence.
“Are you mad at me?” I asked. It was pretty obvious from the stern set of his jaw he wasn’t happy with me.
“I told you not to trust anybody.”
He squinted. “But you thought you knew best?”
“No… I just…” I shrugged. “She was middle-aged, and she spoke English.”
“She also speaks Russian, German, Cantonese, and Arabic. Just ask her last victims. Oh, wait, that’s right, you can’t. They’re fucking dead.”
I turned on my side, feeling nauseated, and I hugged my knees to my chest. “I’m not used to this shit.” I was beginning to understand why maybe Marc wasn’t always warm and fuzzy. In his world, making friends could get you killed.
“That’s why it’s even more important that you do as I say. I am used to this shit.” His tone was impatient. “If you ignore the things I tell you, I can’t protect you.”
“It was a mistake.”
“Yeah. A big one.”
“Understood,” I snapped as the tension crackled between us.
He raked a hand through his hair as he paced back and forth. “Just because you’re homesick and someone speaks English, that doesn’t make them trustworthy.”
“I get it. Okay?
” I covered my face with my hands and sighed. “Jesus Christ, I won’t ever talk to anyone ever again.” My voice was muffled and shaky.
I could feel him still watching me for a few seconds, and then he sighed and the mattress compressed as he sat behind me on the bed. Another long exhale, and he climbed on the bed and spooned me, his strong arms wrapping me close to his hard body. Even though I knew he was frustrated with me, I felt instantly better at his touch. He grazed the nape of my neck with his warm lips, and his heated breath made my stomach flutter.
“It’s okay, Dillon.” He sounded husky.
I covered his hands with mine, gaining comfort from his touch. “I’m sorry.”
“I know.” He sighed. “I keep forgetting what a softhearted person you are. But you have to realize that conniving people will use your kindness to hurt you.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to forget the image of Mary sprawled on the ground. I was confused about what I felt. Yes, she’d tried to murder me, but I kept remembering her little affectionate stories about her brother and her friend who’d hurt herself contra dancing. She’d been so warm and friendly, it was hard to reconcile her with the killer she apparently was. “Is she dead?”
He was quiet for a second, and then he said, “I hope so. You do not want that bitch coming after you angry. Trust me.”
I swallowed against the bile that wanted to rise in my throat. “Are we safe here?”
“We aren’t safe anywhere at the moment.” He pulled me tighter. “But I don’t think they’ll expect us to have checked into a hotel so close to the train station. The smart thing to do would have been to get the hell out of the area. That’s certainly my first instinct. Hopefully not performing predictably will save our asses.”
“We’re hiding in plain sight?”
“Yeah.” He nestled his knees behind mine, and my entire body warmed with arousal. “Just long enough for them to leave the immediate area.”
“How did they find us in Nice?” I hoped that talking would keep my lust for him in check. All he had to do was touch me, and I was turned on.