After being confined under the same roof as Kell all day yesterday she’d needed the fresh air and to get out of that house. He’d wanted to call in for a personal day at work, but she’d convinced him not to. While he’d been amazing and loving with Reece they needed to keep their lives as normal as possible. Plus, the thought of spending an entire day with him was too much for her already frayed nerves. Once they’d gotten Reece to bed last night Kell had showered and decided to walk around wearing lounge pants and no shirt.
It was his house and it wasn’t like she could tell him to put clothes on, especially when she had a feeling he hadn’t intentionally been trying to tempt her with that hot body. Unfortunately that was exactly what he’d done anyway. All those sleek muscles and defined striations just reminded her of how amazing things had been between them on a physical level. It had only been one night, but he’d been so giving. When she’d made that first move on him, it was like she’d unleashed something in him. Looking back she realized he’d clearly had feelings for her before that night. At the time it hadn’t registered. She thought she’d just been another warm body for him. But a man didn’t spend all night pleasuring a woman like that if he didn’t have feelings for her. She’d assumed they could both take what they needed and walk away. If only life was that easy.
For the last half of her pregnancy and the last three months, her sexual needs had been dormant. Half the time she felt like a feeding machine, like her body wasn’t even her own.
Until Kell was suddenly back in her life.
Now she felt alive again and was utterly confused about that. She didn’t want to want him. She didn’t want to want anybody. After Andrew’s betrayal, yeah, she couldn’t even go there. Sighing, she turned the stroller around and headed back toward Lincoln Road. She was meeting her mom for lunch at a tapas restaurant and knew she’d have to feed Reece before she got there, but she’d wanted to get some walking in before they met. The fresh air was good for her son. The walk was quiet and despite the cooler February weather, a few people zoomed by on bikes wearing shorts and T-shirts.
When Reece opened his eyes, blearily looked around and started that murmured cooing sound she recognized too well, she crossed the street and found a quiet bench in front of one of the historic hotels. As she finished up feeding Reece, she started to put him back in his stroller when she heard loud, frantic shouting coming from the side alley next to the hotel.
Her son had already dozed again, his head resting against her breast, clearly not disturbed by the noises. The boy could sleep through anything, which was a minor miracle. Though she wanted to ignore the shouts they were getting more panicked by the second. Pulling out her smartphone to call for help if necessary, she kept Reece tucked against her body and strode down the sidewalk to where the alley opened up. She just wanted to peek around and see if calling the police was necessary. This was a very quiet, safe area so she doubted it, but she wanted to be prepared.
What she saw made her freeze. Two men, one blond, one with dark hair, were arguing heatedly with a younger Hispanic man probably in his twenties. He was holding his hands up defensively while the dark haired one held a gun loosely at his side. Panic punched through her at the sight of the weapon. The blond bit something out in a sharp tone, then lunged forward, pulling the Hispanic man to his chest.
Oh God, he’d stabbed him. The realization slammed into her, forcing her legs into action as she stepped back and out of sight. That was a dead end alley which meant they’d have to come back this way. She had to get Reece away from this. Had to keep her son safe.
With her heart pounding wildly, she hurried back the few yards to her stroller and began pushing it down the sidewalk as fast as she could. Still holding her son, she knew how frantic she must look. The traffic was too thick to cross to the other side and if she stopped to put Reece in his seat and they saw her they might guess she’d seen them.
Hoping it was the right decision, she glanced over her shoulder then sat on another bench farther away from the alley. She yanked her nursing cover from the stroller and hooked the strap over her head and covered Reece. He was asleep so it looked like she was just breastfeeding. Then she held her phone up to her ear and dialed Kell. She knew he’d be smart enough to help her without her having to spell everything out.
“Hey,” he answered on the first ring.
“Yeah, mom, just running a little late. Had to stop and feed the baby.” She tried for a light laugh but it came out brittle and strained.
There was a brief pause in which she heard male voices trailing somewhere behind her. She refused to look over her shoulder as she prayed they ignored her and kept walking. “Where are you?” Kell’s voice was tense.
“Not far at all, just across from Lummus Park near Avalon. I’ll be there in ten minutes, twenty tops.”
“Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“No, he’ll be done soon.” The voices behind her had stopped but she could see the dark haired man out of the corner of her eye walking in her direction. Her arms tightened around Reece’s sleeping form. Oh God, she was going to throw up.
“Is Reece safe?”
“For right now.” She would fight these men until her last breath to keep her son safe.
“I’m on my way. Can you stay on the phone?”
“Sure, I love that tapas place.” The man was moving closer, closer… He paused by the sidewalk and looked at her. Praying she didn’t look guilty, she shot the man a quick glance and smiled politely.
He smiled back, the action tight and suspicious and he frowned when he seemed to finally notice the lump under her cover. Holding the phone down for a second, she tapped into an inner strength she didn’t know she had as she held eye contact. A woman who’d just witnessed a murder wouldn’t talk to said murderer, now would she? “Sorry, the little one got hungry. Hope this doesn’t bother you.”
He just shook his head politely, relief flooding his expression as he looked over her at someone behind her and shook his head. She could only guess he was motioning to the blond man. Her nausea swelled to epic proportions as she tried to keep her breakfast down. When the man turned away, some of the terror forking through her seeped out—until she saw the bright, shiny gold badge flash under the man’s jacket as he twisted away from her. Holy shit. He was a cop.
“No, mom, I promise, I’ll be there soon.” She felt numb as she continued rambling. Kell was mostly silent, only telling her he’d be in her area soon and that everything was going to be okay. His voice was the only thing steadying her, the only thing keeping her sane when all she wanted to do was have a breakdown. As soon as the dark-haired man reached the park side of the street and got into a four-door car and pulled away from the curb, she took a risk and glanced over her shoulder. The blond man had to have gone that way.
The hair on the back of her neck was prickling and she knew she was probably being crazy, but she had to see if he was gone. There were a couple women with shopping bags walking her way, but the blond was leaning against the front of a shutdown hotel the next block over. He was far enough away, but not so far that she couldn’t make out his face clearly.
And he was watching her intently.
She tried to hide her expression, the knowledge that she knew must be in her eyes, but he locked on her in that moment, straightening from the wall and pure terror shot through her. He took a determined step toward her, his face murderous. Holding Reece tight, she jumped from the bench, looked left, then ran into the road and started screaming at the top of her lungs for help. There were no cars coming from the west and the one from the east slammed on the brakes, forcing the line of cars behind him to stop. The two people across the street at the park jumped into action, racing toward her.
Too many things were happening at once. At least Reece hadn’t stirred.
“Charlotte! Charlotte!” She could hear her name being shouted and realized it was coming from her phone. She held it loosely by her side as she glanced over her shoulder.
The blond man was running down the street away from her. Suddenly the man from the stopped car was out and in front of her.
“Ma’am! What’s going on?”
“I saw a man murdered,” she said both to Kell and the stranger. “Call the police, now. He’s in that alley.” She motioned with her head, before hurrying the rest of the way across the street to where more people had gathered from the park on the sidewalk. Reece was now moving against her, his eyes open. He started making gurgling sounds with his lips, trying to blow raspberries and just drooling as he watched her happily.
Nothing should have been able to make her smile in that moment, but her son was alive, unharmed and completely oblivious to what had just happened. Her knees were weak with terror and she couldn’t stop shaking, but her son was okay. She had to remind herself of that.
Charlotte might hate being part of any spectacle, but there was safety in numbers and for once she was incredibly grateful for the gathering crowd of park and beach-goers.
“Honey, can you talk now? What’s going on?”
Charlotte quickly filled Kell in, more relief flooding her when she heard sirens in the distance. The only thing she held back from telling Kell was the fact that one of the men she’d seen had been a cop. She didn’t want anyone overhearing that. When he got there she’d tell him everything and let him figure out what to do. Last night when they’d talked about the company he now worked for, he’d mentioned they had a lot of former local law enforcement working for them, including one of the owners. She’d accept his judgment on this because there was no way in hell she was trusting this knowledge to anyone else. Especially not the police.
Kell felt as if his heart was going to jump out of his chest. The second Charlotte had started talking to him and pretending he was her mother he’d clearly known something was wrong. But when he’d heard her scream he’d thought he might lose ten years of his life. He’d been downtown already so getting here had taken ten minutes. Even if they’d felt like an entire lifetime.