“That’s an interesting name,” I said.
“It fits, too,” Jared said straight-faced. “The town is just as hard to find as the garden.”
“Ha, ha,” I teased, unimpressed with his joke. “So do we have an actual destination?”
Jared smiled. “We do, now. When I saw we were on Ocean Highway, I thought of the perfect place.”
“Which is….?” I trailed off.
I smiled. “I’ve never been there.”
He met my eyes, matching my expression. “I thought it would be a relaxing place for you to wait while the investigators figure out what happened, and then when they contact us—and they wil —we wil return in a few days, upset and flustered.”
I frowned. Jared’s plan wouldn’t work. If anything, once the Providence PD fol owed the breadcrumbs we left for them, we would look more suspicious. Jared’s loft had already been declared an act of arson, and they had assumed it was him. Unable to prove anything, no charges were filed. But now that my car had also been targeted, he would be under investigation again. If they found out we were there at the time of the explosion, they could charge and hold us for a number of things. With every thought, my concerns compounded.
“It’s not the first time I’ve had to explain myself to the police. I promise there is no need to worry. We’ll explain our version and leave for Jerusalem as planned. If I can kill a dozen or so dirty cops in one night and keep our names out of it….”
“But her family. Don’t you think the police stopped looking back then because they dug deep enough to see what was going on? Sasha’s family wil want answers.”
“Ryan and Claire wil take care of it. The family wil have answers. They’l just have ones that don’t imply either of us. You have a bodyguard that everyone knows about, Nina. Now everyone wil know why. You’re a target, and Sasha was col ateral damage. It’s not far from the truth, actual y. The only difference is that we won’t have to explain why we fled the scene.”
Jared took my hand and kissed my fingers, and then pressed my knuckles into his chest. “I’m sorry about Sasha. She didn’t deserve to die, but you can’t blame yourself for her death. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.”
I stiffened. “How can you say that? You couldn’t have known—”
“I should have known. That very easily could have been you.” He frowned at the thought. “I’m glad it was her and not you. I know you’re wal owing in guilt about what her family wil feel when they get the cal , but I want you to think about the moment that car exploded. If it wasn’t her? Honey, I would have watched my wife and child’s death in the same moment. You can’t wish that for me.” He released my hand and wiped his eyes with his thumb and index finger, and then sighed. “I’m just glad it wasn’t you.”
I wanted to tel him that it shouldn’t have happened at all , but I was afraid it would only make him feel worse. “First the loft, now the car,” I sighed.
“We won’t have anything before long.”
“We need to take out whoever the hel knows anything about explosives, that’s for sure.” He laughed once, sounding exhausted. “This being so in tune with you and Bean that I’m missing important things like a bomb on your car is also a negative.” He shook his head. “It was ignition-based, so it couldn’t have been there before you left for Titan. It had to been set up between the time you got there and when it blew. Bex would have sensed it.
The only time they would have had a window is after I arrived.”
“How is that possible? You were in the Escalade a few feet away.”
“Exactly,” he said, his expression unsettled. “It was difficult to focus before….”
“Before what?” I asked, knowing better. Jared had become skil ed at leaving me out of the loop. It wasn’t like him to slip.
He replied with only a sigh, but he was visibly upset. It was then that I made a decision. I no longer wanted to be in the dark. I was a mother now.
With so many important things at stake, it was time I took an active role in the effort to save our lives.
“Tel me,” I said.
“After we…I’ve been more in-tuned to you for a while. I had just become used to wading through the mess to get to the basics of what I used to feel when you…when we….”
“This would be a good time to forget your usual hour-long explanation and just get down to the naked truth.”
“The baby. I sense it, too. It’s amazing, but it’s also distracting. Very distracting.”
“You sense the baby?” I smiled. “So is Bean your Taleh, too?”
Jared frowned. “This whole situation is unprecedented. That would mean the baby is human, and that’s obviously not the case. Maybe it’s because the baby is a part of you. I just don’t know.”
From that point on, Jared remained silent except for the few times we made pit stops. As the sun began to set, we had just breached the outskirts of Myrtle Beach. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that Sasha’s mother hadn’t heard from her for a ful day, and at any minute they would go to her home, and the panic would begin. Sasha would be reported missing any moment. The guilt began to close down around me once again, so much so that it was hard to take in the beauty ahead.
While we were eating a late lunch, Jared had cal ed ahead and reserved a condo at Myrtle Beach’s most Northern Point, the Grande Dunes Oceanfront. As we pul ed up to the resort, I gasped at its extravagance. It worsened my sense of guilt.
“What is it?” Jared said. I could see the hope in his eyes. He wanted this to be an escape, but I couldn’t stomach maternity massages and facials knowing my friends and Sasha’s family were going through hel .
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I real y do. But this is not a real vacation. We’re hiding out while most of the people I know think I’m dead, and Sasha’s family frantical y search for her.”
Jared nodded and squeezed my hand. “That’s the idea, but I’m not pitching a tent on the beach for my pregnant wife. You deserve a little comfort while you’re busy stressing out for everyone.”
“’A little comfort’ would be the Super 8 down the road, Jared. This is a resort.”
“It’s beachfront, and the ocean wil clear your head. C’mon.”
Jared checked in while I tried to seem completely normal about the fact that we brought two large ful suitcases for a quick getaway. The staff was too pleasant, almost eager that we had arrived. I thought that strange for two reasons: One, Jared cal ed for reservations just a few hours before; and Two, we weren’t celebrities. Their behavior quickly had me convinced that they were shel s, and they would attack us at any moment.
“Sweetheart?” Jared cal ed over his shoulder.
I glared at the girl behind the desk. Her blonde spiral curls bounced against her ful , pink cheeks. Her warm brown eyes were glazed over with the absolute captivation she felt standing before Jared. I remembered that feeling. Jared was ridiculously beautiful, and his looks and confidence alone must have made them think he was famous in some way. Okay, maybe they weren’t demons with skin, but that girl was stil looking at my husband as if she wanted to eat him.
“Just fine,” I said with my best fake smile. Other than watching a col eague I’d known for three years turn into toast before my eyes, I wasn’t sure why I was in such a foul mood. Girls like that behaving in a completely understandable way hadn’t affected me in years. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d rol ed my eyes at waitresses or coeds nearly slobbering over Jared. It could be several things, but I was sure my rounding form was the culprit.
Jared returned to me and the luggage. Inside the room, Jared placed our luggage on the mattress, and looked around. The room was spacious and light, not unlike any other hotel room I’d spent time in.
“This is nice,” Jared said.
“Have I ever told you that you suck at smal talk?” I smiled. I walked the few steps to reach him, and then pressed my forehead against his chest.
Jared laughed and kissed my cheek. “Yes.”
I went tot he bathroom and splashed water on my face. The puffy towels smel ed sterile and flowery, a quick giveaway that we weren’t at home. I groaned and stretched. A bel y nearly in ful bloom and a long road trip didn’t mesh wel together. I felt stiff and groggy.
“Nap or beach?” Jared said. He pul ed off his boots and slipped his bare feet into a pair of leather sandals.
“Both sound equal y appealing, but a walk on the beach after being stuck in the car is the better option.”
“Agreed,” he said, holding his hand out to me.
We lazily walked to the near-private beach of the Grande Dunes, letting the new summer wind whip around us. The scene looked like a postcard; everything I imagine the perfect beach to be. Jared picked a spot and unfolded a blanket. He sat with his elbows resting on his knees as he looked out toward the ocean.
“It’s almost like being back in Little Corn.”
Jared peered up at me. “Sit with me.”
I fidgeted, knowing I was about to play into my childish insecurities. “They were attractive.”
“The girls behind the desk.”
Jared laughed once, and then crawled onto his knees. He leaned toward me and placed his hands on each side of my bel y. “Nina, there has always been something about you that I couldn’t shake. Even when I didn’t want to love you, I was drawn to you. I couldn’t think of anything else. Now you’re my wife, and you are carrying our child. There is nothing more beautiful than that. When you’re sweaty and exhausted holding Bean, then that wil be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. When I see tears fal from your eyes when we send Bean off to the first day of kindergarten… that wil the most be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. When you comfort me each time we send our kids to training; on every one of our anniversaries; and when you’re hair turns gray. Every one of those moments wil be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
He nuzzled his nose into my bel y, and then wrapped his arms around my middle. “You always say the right thing,” I whispered, touching his ears.
He looked up at me. “If the impossible happened, and something more beautiful existed, I wouldn’t notice. You have my constant, undivided attention. You always have.”
I smiled. “Only because I pay you.”
Jared’s white, wide grin was a contrast against the tan tone of his face. “Not any more. When you marry your boss, you can pay yourself.”
I playful y nudged him in the ribs, stil he hugged me to him. Resting on the blanket, we watched the sun slowly melt into oranges and purples until it sizzled against the ocean. I wondered if the sky looked the same on the other side of the world. If once we arrived in Jerusalem, if we would see the sun again until the baby was born.
I relaxed back against the blanket, looking up at the sky. The stars were visible on the eastern half of the sky, but they were stil burned out by the sun in the West. Jared grabbed my arm, and I froze.
“What is it?”
Jared smiled and pul ed out his Glock. “You almost laid on my sidearm.”
“You brought your gun? Worried the grains of sand would shel ?” I smiled.
“When the others start shel ing, it’s impossible to know who’s a threat and who’s not. That’s why we can’t get to the Sepulchre fast enough as far as I’m concerned. I almost wonder if they didn’t blow the Beemer on purpose. If they knew our plan—and I’m sure they did—if they didn’t kill you in the process, they thought it would keep us from leaving. Bex has a harder time sensing them, so I know with my…distraction, it could be dangerous.”
I nodded. “It’s not fair that with everything else we’re dealing with, your senses are overwhelmed, too.” I frowned. “Now that I think about it, none of this is very fair.”
“Considering the circumstances, I think it’s clear we have some fans up there. We have Eli and Samuel vying for us. That’s a huge advantage in and of itself.”
“It doesn’t feel like it,” I grumbled.
My cel phone rang. It was Beth again. I closed my eyes tight while Jared took the phone and pushed the silence button. He buried it into the tote I had carried with me to the beach and then pul ed me against his chest.
“You can tel her goodbye before we leave. She’l only feel this way for a few days and then you can comfort her. She’l probably tackle you and forget all about it.”
“No, she won’t.”
Jared took in a deep breath and wrapped his arms tighter around me. “I’m just trying to help.”
“I know. I know you are. It’s just that I feel I’m hurting her intentional y. It’s not fair that she is the only close friend that isn’t in the loop.”
“Do you real y want to expose her to all of this? More importantly, do you think she can handle it?”
I shook my head. “No. I know you’re right. I don’t want to tel her, I just feel like a jerk. ‘Jerk’ doesn’t even cover it. I’m a bad friend—a bad person.”
“She’l be able to close her eyes every night not wondering what’s with her in the dark, Nina. I’d say you’re being kind.”
“Maybe. Can you imagine her reaction when she finds out we’re leaving for Israel in a few days? She’s going to freak out. I don’t even know how to explain it to her.”
“Then don’t. It’s not a necessity to tel her we’re going to Jerusalem. Just say the West Coast or something.”