His dark eyes narrowed, as if he’d read her mind. At least he didn’t argue. “Okay.”
Her feet were silent along the carpeted hallway. Despite the fire burning downstairs and the heat going, a constant chill seemed to follow her. Something ominous hung in the air. She could feel it straight to her bones. Hunter acted like he had everything under control, and maybe he did, but she wasn’t afraid to admit she was scared. Really, really scared.
She felt like she was stuck in a thriller movie. Her heart never seemed to settle in her chest, and it was as if someone was always watching them. Maybe she was imagining things, but she couldn’t shake her continuous anxiety at the thought of constantly being in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.
Reality hadn’t set in until they’d been chased down at the beach with Jonathan in tow. Now men with guns had shown up at the house. Being a single mother, she’d always prided herself on being able to keep it together. She’d always had to be strong for her son, but tonight, all she wanted to do was curl up under the covers and hide from the outside world. And she really wanted to let Hunter wrap his arms around her. He would if she asked him to but she had to hold on to some of her pride. He’d already made it clear that last night was a onetime thing.
The muted television flashed from the living room as she walked through. One of the agents—Alan, she remembered—was positioned by one of the big windows, hidden by one of the curtains. She presumed the television was turned on to make it look like someone was there. His back faced her, but the way his spine stiffened told her he was absolutely aware of her presence.
Rubbing her temple, she continued on to the kitchen. She’d told Hunter she wanted water, but she really needed a few aspirin.
She stopped short in the arched entryway when she saw the other man standing at the counter. “Sorry. I didn’t know anyone was down here. You’re Michael, right?” Should be easy enough to remember.
The youngest of the three agents looked up from where he was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “No problem, ma’am, and that’s right…but I prefer Mike.”
He was taller than the other men, probably standing at six three. With his bright red hair, gangly arms and legs and baby face, he looked like he was right out of high school or college.
“How long have you been with the DEA?” she asked as she grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, mainly to make small talk, but also to find out a little more about one of the men protecting her family. It wasn’t as if she could ask how old he was outright, so she opted for subtlety.
“A few years. I’m older than I look.” His lips curled up slightly as he took his plate and sat at the table.
Okay, so he probably gets that reaction a lot. She started to leave when she noticed a gold band on his left hand.
She took a seat across from him. “How long have you been married?”
He put his sandwich down and his face split into a wide grin. “Six months, ma’am.”
Ah, a newlywed. “Any plans for kids?”
“In a few years, but right now we’re both focusing on our careers. She works for the EPA.”
Her brows knitted together. There were so many acronyms for the various agencies, she could never keep them all straight.
Confusion must have been evident on her face, because he chuckled. “That’s the Environmental Protection Agency.”
“So you’re saving the world from drugs and she’s saving the world from itself?”
Smiling again, he shrugged and took another bite of his sandwich. When she couldn’t stifle a yawn, Alexis knew it was time to hit the sack and stop avoiding Hunter. Before she had time to excuse herself, Hunter’s angry voice sliced through the room.
“Shouldn’t you be patrolling the house instead of slacking off?” His arms were crossed over his chest as he leaned against the doorway.
Mike didn’t stand, but she didn’t miss the uncomfortable way he shifted in his seat. Probably because Hunter was staring at him as if he’d like to pummel him. “Actually, it’s not my shift. Alan should be out there right now.”
Which he was. Alexis had seen him when she’d first come downstairs. And Hunter no doubt had seen the other man too. Sighing, she snatched her bottle off the table and brushed past him. His anger was obvious even if she didn’t understand it, and that only made her edgier.
She sensed Hunter behind her, but didn’t bother turning around as she walked up the stairs and stalked into his room. After a quick check on Jonathan, she ignored Hunter completely and pulled out a long pajama set then locked herself in the bathroom to change. When she emerged, Hunter sat on the edge of the bed. Without a shirt on.
Her abdomen clenched with need. Instead of joining him, she leaned against the door frame. “Why were you so rude to Mike? He’s helping protect us and he’s practically a kid.”
He rubbed a hand over his face and scooted back farther onto the bed. “I didn’t mean to take anything out on him.”
When he didn’t elaborate, she pushed. “So, what’s going on then?”
“I get the feeling you’re trying to avoid me.”
“No.” The denial popped out before she could stop herself. At his raised eyebrows, she shrugged. “Okay, maybe a little.”
“You had this look like you wanted to talk about what happened last night.”
“I do. I wanted to see if you were all right.”
“All right, as in…” Something mean sprung up inside her as she let her words trail off. She wanted him to feel uncomfortable.
His jaw clenched tightly. “As in after what happened between us.”
“I think I can handle having sex, Hunter. I’ve had it since you left and I’ll likely have it after you’re gone from our lives.” The words were cruel. She knew that. She meant them to be. The fact that he’d be leaving again hurt so much that she wanted to lash out at him. It was childish and she hated herself for it, but at the moment she just didn’t care if she hurt him.
He sucked in a deep breath and nodded. Finally he spoke, his words deadpan. “You’re right. You will. You’ll find someone a hell of a lot better than me, and you’ll be grateful I’m not in your life anymore.”
Something cracked inside her chest. “Will I?” For all her desire to hold on to her pride, the stupid question popped out.
He nodded again, and this time she saw a peek of sadness in his dark eyes. It was raw and vivid and made her chest hurt. “You’re dodging a bullet, Alexis. You just don’t know it yet.”
Her throat tightened painfully as his words sank in. He was determined to leave. No matter what. “And what about our son? What am I supposed to tell him once you’re gone? You’re in his life one day then gone the next. How the hell am I supposed to look into my five-year-old’s eyes and tell him you left again and this time, you’re definitely not coming back?”
“It’s better this way,” he muttered.
“Better for who?” Her voice rose a notch with barely suppressed emotion.
“For both of you.”
She narrowed her eyes and made a sound of utter disgust. “Better for you, you mean. Whatever your reasons are for leaving, don’t hand me some crap about ‘doing the right thing.’ This decision is about you and your own issues.”
When he opened his mouth, she didn’t want to hear him defend himself. She stabbed her index finger at him. “If you don’t want to be in our lives, then you are the one making the decision and it’s you who will have to live with it. After last night I might as well not even deny that I love you.” When his eyes widened a fraction, she let out a sharp bark of laughter. So much for holding on to her pride. “I never stopped loving you. But if you leave and walk out on our son, anything I felt for you will die. And I feel sorry for you because Jonathan is an amazing kid. He’s so much like you and me, and if you don’t get to know him, then that’s your loss and you’ll have to live with that forever. Whatever sins you think you’ve committed, none will be worse than walking out on our son. None.” Unable to look at him any longer, she hurried to the next room and shut the adjoining door. The urge to slam it was strong but she didn’t want to risk waking Jonathan.
Her entire body shook as she pulled back the covers and slid in next to Jonathan. He didn’t stir as she lay against the pillow and let out a pent-up sigh. Her heart hurt so badly she felt as if it could actually break in two, split right down the middle and put her out of her misery.
Hot tears burned her eyes and spilled onto her cheeks, carving little rivers of her pain. But she didn’t sniffle or sob. She couldn’t. Not with Jonathan so close. Turning on her side, she wiped her cheeks off and closed her eyes. Sleep was the only thing that would make this better. She needed rest then she’d deal with all that other stuff in the morning.
A little voice in her head wouldn’t let go, though. Alexis wasn’t enough and Jonathan wasn’t enough to make Hunter stay. The weight of that knowledge made it feel like someone had taken a sledgehammer to her stomach and she had to bite back her tears. Once this mess was over, Hunter was leaving. She knew it without a doubt.
Through the oversized window facing the backyard of their rented house, Davis watched Marcus smoke a cigarette. His breath intermingled with the cold, reminding Davis of what would happen to him if he screwed things up. He’d be six feet under and cold for eternity. Marcus had just lit up, so he made a decision.
Slipping a throwaway phone out of his back pocket, he promptly dialed his contact’s number.
“Yeah?” The man’s voice was low.
“He’ll be there tonight.” Davis kept his eyes on Marcus’s back as he spoke.
“Yes, and you know what to do. There isn’t room for a screw-up, either.” At that moment, Marcus flicked his cigarette to the ground, and turned toward him, making eye contact through the frosty glass. His expression revealed a trace of surprise, maybe because Davis was on the phone.