“Hello, Francesca, aren’t you excited to see me, darling?”
My eyes must be playing tricks on me. There is no possible way that Andrew is standing in front of me right now. Excited to see him? No, I don’t think so. Shaking the fog that has taken up residence in my mind, the throbbing of my heart in my ears, I can once again hear Deacon shouting frantically for me through the phone line. So close, yet so far away.
Andrew reaches out and I watch in muted fear as he runs his fingertips down to my cold lifeless ones and takes the phone from my hand. He shakes his head as he thumbs the button, disconnecting the call. “Deacon—I should’ve known,” a small, rueful smile touching his lips. “It was always him. It was always going to be. I did everything I could think of to keep you two apart, keep him out of our everyday lives, erase him from your skin,” he says as he brushes the tattoo curling over my shoulder.
I flinch away from his touch and take a step back, stammering nervously, “Don’t touch me. You—you shouldn’t be here. I’m ca-calling the police.” I can hear the terror in my voice. Feel the trembling throughout my body screaming at me to run and get help, but I can’t. It’s as if I’m frozen from the inside out. My senses are all too acute, making me feel sick. The cloying smell of Andrew’s cologne, pine and rosemary, a scent I used to love, now making my eyes tear and my throat close.
“Francesca, there’s no need to call the police. They’re already here,” he tells me gently, almost eerily calm, pointing to a nondescript town car at the curb with two equally nondescript men sitting inside. They could be anyone. My eyes dart back to him when he starts talking again, “Well, marshals not police, but the law just the same. If you let me in, I can explain.”
Let him in? Is he fucking insane? There’s no way in hell that I’m letting him in this house. I need to figure out a way to get him out of the doorway so that I can slam and lock the door. My mind is racing, tuning out what he’s saying. I’m brought back to reality when I hear “Whole Lotta Love” coming from my phone. I reach for it in desperation right before Andrew silences it and tucks it in his back pocket. Crying out in frustration, I lunge for it, but he grabs my wrists, squeezing tightly.
“Will you stop? With my luck he’ll be pulling up in the next two damn minutes playing hero as per usual. I need to talk to you and get out of here before that happens.”
He’s exasperated. Getting more aggravated by the minute. I should be afraid, but I’m feeling braver than I was a moment ago. Maybe it’s the knowledge that Andrew’s right—any minute Deac will be pulling up with or without a police escort. He only lives about two miles from Indie’s brownstone, and even as upset as he is with me, he’ll be coming to save me.
“He’ll kill you if he finds you here,” I vow calmly and confidently. “He won’t care who you supposedly have in that car.” There is no way that I’m going to take his word on anything. Why would the marshals be here? Why would he know that? Where in the fuck are detectives Adams and Flores? They are supposed to be here any moment. That’s the only reason Reggie and Trent even left.
“I am well aware of that, hence the reason I would like to go inside. I don’t have long anyway. This little visit is costing me dearly.”
I open my mouth to speak when I hear the racing of an engine down the otherwise quiet street and the screeching of tires just before the crunch of metal as a vehicle crashes into another. I don’t have time to see who it is before I am thrown to the ground by Andrew. My head smacks the cement hard, bouncing once with a painful thud, making me see stars. Blinking back the spots dancing in front of my eyes, it registers that I am being dragged through the door of Indie’s house, the ground scraping the bare skin of my legs and across my back where my shirt has ridden up.
Once inside, Andrew is crouched down in front of me, swimming in and out of view. His lips are moving, but I can’t hear what he’s saying. I blink slowly and when I open my eyes again he’s gone. Taking a deep breath, I roll over onto all fours and lift my head. I need to find where he went before he can do me any more harm. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement. Slowly, I stand, placing my hands to my pounding head, willing the ringing in my ears to dissipate.
As the ringing fades, I’m startled to hear someone grunt in pain and the crunching of bone. As quickly as I can, I turn to the noise and see Deacon on top of Andrew, fists coming down fiercely and swiftly on his face. I open my mouth to scream for him to . . . what? To stop? Before I can even figure it out, two men come barreling through the door, sending me reeling back as they tackle Deacon. It’s then that I find my voice and scream for them to stop. It makes absolutely no difference, as they’re in no way strong enough to contain him.
I watch in horror and fascination as Deacon flings one man into the wall, the plaster cracking from the impact while the other one is trying with all of his might to put Deacon in some kind of hold. Shaking man two off like he’s little more than a pesky child, he turns in my direction. Seeing that I’m up and still screaming, he shoots past the fallen men scooping me up, never breaking stride as he heads toward the open door. We make it to the threshold when I feel Deac tense. My eyes shooting to his face, I see him wince in pain. Putting me down gently, he twists at the waist, looking over his shoulder and then yanking the pronged wires of the Taser that one of the men had used to stop him from leaving.
Deacon flings them to the side and is about to lift me back up when Adams and Flores finally show up, guns drawn. Shaking uncontrollably, I start to sob in relief, falling into Deacon’s chest, clinging to him as my legs give out. He puts his arms around me to keep me from falling, and brings his lips to my ear, talking to me softly, though I can’t hear what he’s saying over the sound of my own crying and chattering of my teeth. My head snaps up as I feel him being pulled from me, and I shake my head confused as I see Flores wrenching his arm behind his back.
“You’re making a fucking mistake, you asshole! He attacked her again! Look at her legs, she’s bleeding, you fuck!” Deacon’s voice is booming, but he’s cooperating and letting them cuff him. Why are they cuffing him?
“Why are you arresting him? What’s going on? He was protecting me,” I yell frantically to be heard over all the commotion in the front room and the sirens blaring outside. The tears are coming faster and faster, my head is still pounding and I fear I might pass out, my heart is beating so erratically. I’m jostled from behind when two medics make their way into the house and toward Andrew, slumped against the wall at an unnatural angle with blood covering his entire face, soaking through his white Oxford shirt nearly to the waist. I have no idea if he’s even breathing. I should care. But I absolutely don’t right now. This must be a dream. No, a nightmare. None of this can really be happening. Focused on Deacon, hands behind his back arguing heatedly with Detective Flores, I stomp over and start yanking on his hands, at the two pairs of handcuffs they’ve had to use on him. I’m on the verge of a panic attack.
“You let him out of these right now, you’re going to hurt him! He was helping me,” I yell hysterically at the room as a whole. Tears fall faster and faster, my breath coming out in hiccupping gasps. “You can’t take him, I won’t let you. You’ll ruin his career. He didn’t do anything! Andrew hurt me first.” My words are almost incoherent, and even though I realize they are, I don’t care. I need them to listen to me and let him go. A hand on my shoulder halts my actions. I turn to see Detective Adams holstering her weapon, trying to lead me away from Deacon. I won’t go. She can’t make me; none of them can. It’s then that I hear Deacon calling my name calmly.
“Princess, baby, deep breaths, okay?”
I circle around to face him, noticing for the first time that he’s covered in blood. I search his face for an open wound before I realize that it must be Andrew’s. Sniffling, I bury my face in his chest and let his soothing tone calm me.
“I need you to calm down for me, Frankie. You have to keep a straight head and make some phone calls, okay?” he says, not a hint of panic in his voice, only tenderness and worry. For me. Lips rolled in, I shake my head no and start sobbing all over again.
“Get him the hell out of here,” one of the men who had attacked Deacon spits in disgust as he holds an ice pack to his shoulder. Whipping my head in his direction, I feel all of my fear turn into anger.
“Who the hell are you?” I demand, setting my feet wide and planting myself in Flores’ path, which is funny because both he and Deacon tower over me and outweigh me by a lot. If he wants to take him out of here, me standing in front of him won’t matter.
“I’m one of the U.S. Marshals that he went all Neanderthal on, and I want him the fuck out of here now.” Turning his back on me, he goes back to the medic who’s tending to Andrew and the other man from the car who looks like he’s just gone a few rounds with . . . well, a few rounds with Deacon.
My attention is brought back to Deacon and Flores when he starts moving him past me, reading Deac his Mirandas as they head toward the door. I scramble to catch up to them, still disbelieving that this is all happening.
Deacon looks back at me over his shoulder as he’s led to the squad car at the curb, cameras and news crews already setting up.
“Frankie, you do not fucking stay here, do you hear me? You follow us to the station or go right to the gym and stay with one of my brothers. I need you to be somewhere safe; I don’t give a fuck who those guys say they are. Do you understand?”
I nod my head yes and wrap my arms around myself as the cool wind whips my hair around my head as I walk behind them. As Flores is about to put Deacon in the back of the car, I rush forward and wedge myself in between him and the car door and pull his head down, putting my lips to his, kissing him softly. He stiffens before he kisses me back just as softly.
“It’s all okay, baby. I promise. Just stay away from him until I can get out. Make the calls, Frankie. Sonny first—he’ll call my lawyer—and then Mav.” Every word is spoken against my lips, like he can’t bear to pull away, same as me.
I sigh into his mouth on a shaky breath. “I will.” Kissing him one last time, I step out of the way and watch as they push his head in and close the door. The screech of tires for the second time that night has me jumping in fear. Whirling toward the sound, I see Reggie and Trent running down the street to where I stand.
From the backseat and through the window I can hear Deacon scream, “Where in the motherfuck were you two?” just before Flores pulls away from the curb. Deacon is looking back at me through the rear window of the cop car. I somehow manage to stay upright until the taillights disappear around the corner, and that’s when my world goes black. I feel myself falling and he’s not there to catch me.