“I can’t believe this is happening,” she muttered, mainly to herself. More than anything she wanted time to make a solid decision, but they didn’t have that luxury. She had to trust her instinct, and it was telling her to run.
“We need to leave now.” Hunter took the phone from her and shoved it at Michael.
“There is no we. You’re not coming with us.” She hitched her purse higher on her shoulder, thankful to keep her hands busy. If they weren’t, she’d likely wring his neck.
“The hell I’m not.” He didn’t raise his voice, but his dark eyes flashed with conviction.
Despite her desire to keep her distance from him, she shoved a finger against his chest. “You brought this mess into our lives. I agree that we need to go into hiding, but that doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere with you.”
“I think he’s right, Alexis,” Michael said, the words a tired sigh.
Surprisingly, Hunter stepped away. Probably because Michael actually agreed with him.
Michael’s jaw clenched furiously as he moved to stand between her and Hunter. “You need someone with you. At least for a few days until it’s safe for me to join you. You and Jonathan could stay at my house under lockdown, but they’d know where you were and no matter how much security I hired you’d be an easy target. If you stay at my beach house at least you’ll have a higher element of security in that your location would be hidden.”
“He’s right, Alexis,” Hunter said.
Michael glanced at him, then back at her. “He’s already saved your life twice today. If he wanted to hurt you, he’s had the opportunity. Do you trust him to protect Jonathan?”
She sidestepped Michael and glared at Hunter. Conflicting answers battled inside her head. For so many years she’d thought of him as a heartless monster. His leaving back then now made a little sense—if she believed his statement about doing undercover work—but there was still a lot he wasn’t telling her. He hadn’t had to say yes to doing the undercover work, after all. So maybe he was the bastard she’d always thought. Still, he was obviously well-trained and had had no problem taking down two assassins by himself. Her son’s safety was more important than her own feelings at the moment, and if there was one thing she was sure of after seeing Hunter in action, he could protect her son.
She could go on the run with Jonathan by herself and hope that Michael and Sheriff Barton figured out what was going on, or she could stay under lockdown at Michael’s. Neither option was appealing. And even if she and Michael hired security, it would be a short-term fix. No, she needed to hide her son. If she put her trust in Hunter, she’d get answers to her questions and she knew he’d do everything to protect their son. Definitely two positive things.
She could see the truth in his eyes. The man was a trained warrior. If she’d be safe with anyone, it was him. “I trust him enough to keep our son safe.”
“Are you sure this place is secure?” Hunter asked as he checked the rearview mirror. Michael had given them his vehicle and had promised to get rid of the damaged SUV.
“If Michael says it is, then it is. He wouldn’t put me in any danger. If I had doubts, we wouldn’t be going there.” Did he really think she’d knowingly put her son in danger?
He grunted in response.
She turned away from him and stared out the window. The drive to Gwen’s house was short and all she could think about was what she should tell Jonathan. Nothing she practiced in her head seemed right. Lying wasn’t an option, but how much could she tell a five-year-old? He’d asked about his father a couple of times but had never pushed for details, and she’d always been thankful for that small miracle. While she wanted to keep the truth from him, she wasn’t sure how to explain why they were leaving with a stranger without explaining exactly who Hunter was. If she lied to her son now, she’d have to tell him the truth eventually. She couldn’t tell him that honesty was always best, then do the exact opposite. Especially when her own mother had lied to her about her paternity for so many years.
“Have you told Jonathan about me?” Hunter’s voice broke into her thoughts.
What is he, a mind reader? When she looked over, his face was impassive, but he gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white.
She swallowed hard. “Not yet. He’s asked a couple of times, usually around Father’s Day, but somehow I’ve managed to put off giving him a straight answer. I still haven’t figured out what to say. I always thought when I became a parent I’d know all the answers.”
She pointed to Sycamore Street and he made a left. “It’s the house with the manatee shaped mailbox.”
Following her directions, Hunter pulled into the driveway but didn’t make a move to get out. Years had done nothing to dim her attraction to him. Memories of what his sensuous lips felt like assaulted her. It wasn’t the time or place, but they played in her mind like a 3D movie. It was just a physical response, though. She had to remind herself of that.
“Can I ask one more question before we go inside?” Not waiting for a response, he continued, “You haven’t mentioned your mother at all.”
Her throat clenched. “That’s not a question, but Mom died about three years ago. Breast cancer. By the time the doctors found it, it was too late. She didn’t even want treatment.”
“I’m sorry, Alexis.” He reached out to cup her cheek, but she jerked back.
“Don’t, Hunter. I’m going with you because I have no choice. And I’m getting married in case you forgot.” If he touched her, she’d lose the small grasp she still had on her sanity.
His jaw twitched, but he didn’t respond.
“What are you going to do about his school?” he asked as he opened the car door.
“I’ll call them in the morning, and tell them we’re taking a mini vacation. Next week he’s going to be on break anyway so an extra week won’t hurt.” No matter what happened, she knew the absence wouldn’t affect his schoolwork. If he missed a little school, he’d make it up in no time, and for that, she was thankful.
“You ready for this?” he asked when they reached the front door.
She shook her head and rang the doorbell. Gwen opened it and pulled Alexis into a tight hug. “I’m so happy you’re all right.”
Hunter shut the door behind them and Alexis stepped back out of her friend’s embrace. “Me too. Uh, you remember Hunter, right?”
“Yes.” Gwen’s eyes narrowed as they landed on Hunter. Gwen’s now-deceased nephew had actually introduced Alexis to him and she knew her friend had felt so guilty about that years ago. It wasn’t as if she could have predicted Hunter’s abandonment, but her friend had tried to bear the weight of it anyway.
“Is Jonathan in the kitchen?” Alexis asked.
Gwen’s glare disappeared when she turned back to Alexis. “He’s devouring macaroni and cheese.”
She looked back and forth between Hunter and Gwen. “Give me a few minutes, okay?”
“No problem,” Gwen said.
Hunter nodded in affirmation, but was otherwise silent.
When she entered the kitchen, she found Jonathan at the table eating. Well, playing with his food more than actually eating it. “Hey, kiddo.”
“Mom! What are you doing here?” he asked through a mouthful of macaroni.
She sat across from him and pasted on a smile. “How do you feel about going on vacation a week early?”
“Really?” His dark eyes lit up and he dropped his fork.
Okay, that was a good sign. Her tongue felt thick and awkward, but she forced her voice to stay neutral. He might be young but he would pick up on her distress. “Yeah, I was thinking we could head out to the Outer Banks and spend Thanksgiving there.”
“With Michael?” he asked, his voice excited.
She dreaded explaining this, but she didn’t see another way. Her own mother had lied about the identity of her father until she was a teenager and Alexis had resented it. She didn’t want that from her own son. “He’ll be meeting us there later, but we will be going with someone else.”
Why couldn’t there be another way to do this? “Well sweetie, a…friend of mine. He’s in town for a little while.”
“A man?” He stared at her with wide eyes.
She’d never brought any males other than Michael around her son, so she understood why he was surprised. “Your father is in town and he would really like to spend some time with you.”
His expression went from excited to confused. “I thought he was dead.”
Involuntarily, her hand jerked, knocking his glass dangerously close to the edge of the table, spilling water everywhere. “Why would you think that?” Standing, she grabbed a dish towel from the counter and wiped up the mess.
He shrugged and pushed his plate away. “You’ve never talked about him.”
“Do you want to meet him?”
He squirmed in his seat and looked down at his hands. “I guess.”
Maybe she’d made a mistake telling him so soon. Maybe she should have… She shook her head. She could second-guess her decision later. They needed to leave. “He’s here if you’re ready.”
“Okay.” His voice deadpanned, tugging at all her maternal instincts to pack him up and leave on their own. But Hunter could protect them in ways she couldn’t. She had to remind herself of that.
He slid out of his chair and came to stand next to her. Taking his small hand in hers, she led him to the foyer where Gwen and Hunter still stood. Neither said anything and it was obvious she hadn’t interrupted a conversation. It appeared as if they hadn’t moved since she’d left them.
Hunter immediately paled and his hands shook before he shoved them in his pockets. She’d guessed this would be hard on him too, but she hadn’t imagined just how bad.