The weather is changing, the nights are a little cooler, and it's the perfect time to curl up with a McNeil brother. Last week, Adam Blake just wanted to spend a little alone time with Calista Martin. As you know, things got a little complicated. If you haven't read In the Shadow of Malice, chapter 1-2, or the other free chapters from the Shadows and Light series, you can do so HERE.
Now, for the rest of us, it's time to learn just what Calista got herself into and what she's plans to do about.
In the Shadow of Malice
Shadows and Light series
By Nancy C. Weeks
Release date, September 29, 2020
One solid fact hit Calista square in the face. She had no idea who Adam Blake was―except that he loved his little girl and he could kill a man with his bare hands.
The images of blood and death would be with her for a long time. But it didn’t matter that her heart beat like a native drum against the wall of her chest. She had to stay calm. The young girl in her arms needed her.
Anna lay across her chest, motionless except for the involuntary quivering. The back of her little head dampened Calista’s thin T-shirt. Shifting her numb left arm, she repositioned Anna into a more comfortable position and draped the lightweight quilt around her shoulders. She couldn’t help running her hand over the child’s head, giving her comfort―though nothing she did would ever replace what Anna just lost.
Adam’s voice was rough without any sign of humor.
“Still think of me as Batman?”
He was waiting for a response, but she didn’t have one. So much had changed since she teased him about having a bat cave. But had anything about the man really changed?
Like her grandfather, Adam moved like a well-trained soldier. He fought like a warrior, killed like a warrior. But the man she stared at in the mirror was no killer. He possessed too great a love for this child.
“Don’t do that, Adam. Don’t try to make me fear you.”
He wanted her to walk away. She gave up that choice the moment she got out of Adam’s car and walked through Rina’s doorway. Her instincts never failed her. Adam Blake was one of the good guys, regardless of what took place in that home. One day, he might need a witness on his side of the courtroom if it came to that. Or even just a sympathetic shoulder when he was ready to pick up the pieces.
She broke eye contact and glanced at the child in her arms. “My life is an open book. You knew who I was the minute we met. In the last half hour, I met another side of Adam Blake, and maybe that evens the tables a little. But if you don’t want me with you and Anna, take me back to the diner. Pete should still be there.”
Her words sounded bold, even daring. If he did what she suggested, it would be the last time she ever saw him. A growing ache of loneliness settled in the pit of her stomach.
Adam slowed the car and exited off the Beltway onto US 1, about five blocks from the diner. Calista’s heart skipped a beat. She’d played her only card, a miserable bluff, and it was about to kick her right in the ass.
He drove about a block and pulled into the parking spot at the back of the lot of a large chain hotel. Calista stared at the dense trees outside the rear window and raised her head to get a better look.
“Why are we stopping here?” Her voice cracked.
Anna seemed to tremble a little harder in her arms. Calista drew her close to her chest. When he finally spoke, the roughness in his voice made her shiver.
“I’m dropping you off. You can’t go home just yet. You’ll stay here until I’m sure you’re safe.”
“No. I’m not staying here.”
Adam raised his hand, rotating it so she saw all sides. The blood had dried in an abstract pattern that shifted as his hand twisted.
“My life. Open your eyes, Calista. Nothing about me is safe. It hasn’t been for a long time. I couldn’t even see my daughter like a normal dad but had to sneak visits behind walls of steel. I was trying to fix that, but after tonight…”
“Adam.” Calista placed her hand on his shoulder. She didn’t know what to do, what to say. He was clenching his jaw so hard, a small pulse appeared above his jawbone. She removed her hand and cradled his daughter.
He had returned to his death grip on the steering wheel and peered out into the night. “I should have never allowed it to get this complicated.” He raised his bloody arm. “This isn’t your life. You can leave. So far, no one knows anything about you.”
Calista could hear Adam rub his palm back and forth over his pant leg, as if he were trying to wipe away the bloodstain.
A long, low sigh escaped his lips. “I’m every bit as violent as the men I killed. No illusions here, Calista.”
The words run and hide pounded in her head. If she turned her back on Adam and the violence in his world, in a year’s time, tonight would play back as a bad dream, a figment of her imagination. Her eye caught the slight glimmer of her friendship bracelet. Hanna had worn the duplicate, and just eyeing the bracelet brought her friend closer. Calista had no idea where the fierce resolve came from, but there was no way she could leave either Anna or Adam until they both were safe.
“I’m with you.”
He said nothing for a long time. Anna twisted in her lap and stared at the back of her dad’s head.
“No, Anna. I won’t stop. She needs to be scared.”
Was Adam going into shock or were his senses shutting down? Anna hadn’t spoken a word.
“Who needs to be scared?”
“You do, Calista. You could have been killed. I told you to drive away.”
A moment went by in silence. Then Adam rolled his eyes and a frustrating groan escaped from the back of his throat. He twisted in his seat and addressed his daughter. “Animals get mad, sweetheart. People get angry, pissed. And for the record, I don’t care if she’s pissed.”
The pulse at Calista’s neck drummed. She had just shifted a giant step beyond concerned.
“Adam, what’s going on?”
“Anna just asked me not to piss you off.” His head tilted and his eyes narrowed. “Why would you ask that? You heard her…”
“Anna hasn’t spoken a word since I met her.”
“Yes she has. She doesn’t want you to leave. She likes you.”
Calista hugged Anna closely. “I like her too, but she hasn’t uttered a sound.”
“That’s impossible.” Adam got out of the driver side of the car and yanked opened the passenger door. He knelt so he was eye-to-eye with his daughter. “Anna, say something. Talk to me.”
Anna stiffened in Calista’s arms but didn’t make a sound.
For the next couple of minutes, two identical pair of eyes―father and daughter―glared at each other, but neither spoke. Adam pressed a hand to his temple.
“Is your head throbbing again?”
“Yes.” He rolled his shoulders and neck, facing Anna. “How are you doing this, sweetie?”
Anna’s eyes grew wide as she shook her head.
“Why won’t you speak to me like you always do?”
Anna’s body tensed and she began to tremble. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. The more agitated she became, the more color seemed to drain from Adam’s cheeks until his complexion was almost waxy. He closed his eyes and sucked in a breath.
Calista moved her hand up Adam’s arm and around his neck, massaging the tense neck muscles. “Is she speaking to you right now?”
Calista’s heart dropped to her stomach. Watching the soundless communication pass between Adam and Anna was the most bizarre thing she had ever witnessed.
“Has this telepathic thing between you ever happened before tonight?”
With the tip of her finger, Calista lifted Anna’s chin so their eyes met. “Anna. I want you to try something for me. When you speak to your dad, sing the words in your head.”
“Why should she sing?” Adam’s fingers dug into the soft skin of his temples, rotating the tips in tight circles.
“The suggestion is totally out of my expertise—anyone’s expertise. I think if she changes the frequency of her pitch, the vibration, maybe the headaches will lessen.” She glanced down at Anna. “Try it. Instead of talking to your father, sing your words.”
The inside of the vehicle grew quiet. Moments later, Adam reached for his daughter’s hand. “I understand that, Anna, but…”
A hollow moan came from deep within his throat, and again, the color drained from his face. He yanked his hand away and cupped his head.
Calista placed her hand on Adam’s arm. “What’s happening?”
“Anna doesn’t want me to leave you here. She thinks it’s unsafe.” A tear mixed with blood escaped the corner of Adam’s eyes.
Calista hugged Anna. How did she explain to a four-year-old that the words she was telepathically transferring to her father were hurting him? “I promise you, Anna, I won’t leave you until you’re ready for me to go.”
“Don’t promise her that!”
Anna struggled until Calista released her. She flew into her father’s arms, almost knocking him backwards. He corrected his balance and hugged her tight. She eased away from him and placed her hands on either side of his face. The child was doing something right because the tension eased from Adam’s eyes and his color returned.
He remained silent, studying his daughter for several moments. When he spoke, his voice was rough. “Fine. No one stays here. I’ll come up with another plan.”
A slight smile formed at the corners of Anna’s mouth before she gave her dad a hard hug. He lifted her onto the seat, and the moment he released her, she eased into Calista.
He stood and moved behind the sedan. The trunk opened, and just as quickly slammed shut. Adam knelt at the door opening. Without touching Calista, he ran a small device the size of a cell phone up and down her body. Lifting her feet off the floorboard, he ran the device over the soles of her shoes. He repeated the search on his daughter.
“Okay, you’re freaking me out. What the heck is that thing?”
“Looking for tracking devices.”
He met her stare and shrugged. He stopped when a quiet gasp escaped his daughter’s lips. “It’s okay, Anna. You’re safe. I promise you I’ll keep you safe.”
“Can a tracking device fit anywhere?” Calista lifted Anna into her lap. For some reason, the shivers returned. The little girl was scared, and Calista didn’t know what to do to ease her fears.
“What about the items from the room and the backpack?”
“Ludis wasn’t in that room.”
He reached for her cello case and backpack, scanning each. “Calista, please step out of the car.” He placed his hand on his daughter’s head. “She’s not going anywhere. Promise.”
Anna released her grip around Calista’s neck and shifted off her lap. Calista took in a deep breath and left the car. The cool breeze caught the strands of her bangs and blew them across her face. She removed a band from around her wrist, pulled the mass of curls into a messy ponytail, and tied it back.
The scent of pine and dirt assaulted her senses, while the concert of crickets and other night creatures remained strangely hushed. Again, what was so obvious to them that she slipped passed her?
Adam reached for her hand, and in a low voice asked, “Do you really know how to handle a weapon?” The cold metal of a handgun pressed the inside of her palm.
She swallowed, hard, but gave him a nod.
How she hated the weight of a gun in her hands. But with practiced ease, she removed the magazine and the slide assembly, then replaced the parts without breaking eye contact with Adam. “I’ve been going to the firing range since I was eleven. It was important to Pete that I not only could hold and clean a gun, but also shoot one.”
He stepped away from the door and handed her the keys. “If you are coming with us, we take only what’s on us.” He nodded toward the hotel. “My company rents a couple of rooms here. I can store our belongings, but I need you to stay with Anna.”
“But wouldn’t your sensor pick up any tracking devices?”
“Yes, but the lighter we travel, the easier it will be to disappear.”
“My cello. It’s my grandmother’s. I just don’t want anything to happen to it.”
“Is there anything else in your belongings you have to have?” He set the cello case, canvas bag of books, and the laptop on the asphalt.
“No, nothing that can’t be replaced.” Calista dropped into the driver seat.
Adam moved around to the passenger door, opened it, and placed her instrument on the floor next to her. “For now, it stays. If I’m not back in five minutes, get the hell out of here. There is an untraceable bank card in the glove compartment, as well as cash.”
He took out a pen from his coat pocket. Lifting Calista’s hand, he scribbled something on the inside of her wrist. It tickled, but her nerves were too jumpy to laugh.
“Give me five minutes. If I’m not back, leave. I’ll find you.” He reached into the car and keyed in an address into the GPS. “I’ll meet up with you here. If Robert isn’t there,” he said, raising her wrist again, “trust only this man.”
“I trust Pete.”
“But Pete can’t protect you.” He tapped her wrist. “This man can and will.” In a deep, hoarse whisper, he said, “Please take care of my daughter.”
Adam didn’t wait around for her response, but grabbed their belongings and jogged across the parking lot. Calista followed his progress until he disappeared into the entrance of the hotel. She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Could she really leave him here?
Calista met Anna’s wide-eyed stare in the mirror. “It’s going to be okay, Anna. Your dad will be right back.”
Anna moved her head back and forth. She fumbled with the seatbelt clip until she had it undone, and climbed over the console into Calista’s lap, burying her head in her chest.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said again, cradling the child in her arms. Taking in a calming breath, she began to hum her favorite childhood lullaby, never taking her eyes off the clock.
Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, a black CR-V with no headlights pulled right behind them. Calista’s heart dropped to her stomach. Where did it come from?
She didn’t hear a thing. It had to be Adam because Anna didn’t react. But God, what if it wasn’t? When someone stepped out of the vehicle, all Calista could make out was a general height and build.
“Anna, crawl onto the floorboard of the backseat. Now.”
She helped ease the child over the console. As soon as she was lying prone on the floor, Calista reached for the Glock with her left hand and placed her right hand on the keys in the ignition.
Adam stuck his head into the back window.
“Shit, Adam. You almost made me pee my pants.” Calista charged out of the car, one hand planted on her hip while the other gripped the weapon.
He placed his hand lightly on the gun, lowering the barrel to the ground. “Let go, Calista.” He gently pried it from her hand. “I’m sorry I startled you.”
He stuck the gun into his holster. A slight grin touched the corners of his lips. She wanted to punch him, hard. He didn’t look sorry at all.
When he opened the back door, his daughter moved into his arms. He grabbed her stuffed elephant, quilt, and backpack, and then faced Calista.
“I want you to rethink going with us. If this hotel doesn’t work for you, I have several safe houses I can hide you in until I figure out if your identity has been compromised. You don’t have to give up anything. In a couple of days, you can return to your life and this will just be a bad dream.”
Her temper rose, but she banked it down. “How do I just walk away from that sweet girl after what’s she’s been through tonight? I did that to my best friend, and that didn’t work out so well. You don’t know what you’re asking.” A cold chill spiked down her spine. Anna reached for her hand, the pressure almost painful. “Talk to me. Tell me what I can do.”
Anna flung herself into Calista’s arms, wrapping her arms and legs tightly around her.
“It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” Her gaze held Adam’s. “And don’t tell me you don’t want me mixed up in your problems. I’m right smack in the middle of it.” She reached into her back pocket of her jeans and pulled out her cell phone. “I forgot I had this on me.” She handed it to Adam. “Just toss it.”
Fear had a nasty, bitter taste that settled in the back of her throat. Giving up her cell phone meant breaking contact with Pete. What would this do to him?
Adam’s face grew tense. In fact, his whole body was one hard, taut muscle, but his eyes held a deep retching sadness. He reached over and tried to take Anna, but she wouldn’t let go. He let out a sigh and stepped back.
“Let go of Calista.”
If anything, the child’s grip grew tighter.
“We can’t stand around arguing.” Calista raised her wrist. “You said this guy could be trusted. If that’s so, will it matter if I stay with you for another few hours? I know it doesn’t make any sense. Anna wants me with you, and you can keep us all safe.”
“I don’t know that, Calista. Damn it, you can’t know that.”
She didn’t miss the anguish in his voice. “I’m willing to chance it for Anna.”
Maybe Anna’s clinging was just a desperate attempt to hold onto another female, a substitute for what she lost. Calista did the same thing after her parents died in a drunk driver accident when she was only eleven. The pain, the loss never went away.
Caring for the frightened little girl in her arms wasn’t a choice but a necessity. She strolled over to the CR-V, cradling Anna close to her chest. “This is the right thing to do right now.”
Adam reached inside his coat pocket and handed her a flip phone. “We need it to stay in touch with Pete. We’ll replace this phone with another after each call.”
“And my phone?”
“Is there anything on it that isn’t backed up some place else?”
He dropped it onto the asphalt and smashed it with his boot heel, kicking the remains down the storage drain. “I owe you a new cell phone.”
“You don’t owe me anything…”
His palm caressed her cheek. “I owe you more than I can ever repay. Your number will come up on Pete’s phone as unknown caller. You will need to check in with him and let him know what’s going on.”
Calista did not look forward to that conversation. She replaced the phone in her pocket. “Is this yours or are we borrowing it?” she said, nodding at the black CR-V.
He pressed his lips together. “This is a company vehicle. I’ve spent too many years fighting people who had no respect for the law. I don’t break them unless I have to.” After opening the back door, he reached for his daughter. “Let go, Anna, just long enough for Calista to get settled.” Anna released her hold and went into her father’s arms.
Calista scooted over to the seat behind the driver. Adam leaned in and set his daughter behind the passenger’s seat. She leaned her head down on Calista’s lap, using the quilt as a pillow. Adam buckled her seat belt and draped his jacket over her shoulders.
Calista fussed with the jacket as Adam placed his hand over hers. She kept her eyes down. It was late and she was tired of arguing with him.
His palm cupped her chin and turned her face to meet his. Instead of expressing total frustration, his features softened, and a tender smile touched the corner of his lips.
“Thank you, Calista… for caring.” His eyes scanned the darkness. “It’s been a long time since anyone has worried about me.”
“Are you going to tell me about the telepathic thing?”
“It’s totally new to me. I…maybe we can figure it out together, but it will have to wait for now.”
His lips brushed across hers with such tenderness, she almost forgot she held his child in her lap. Calista covered his hand with hers and deepened the kiss for an instant before he broke away. He stepped back, soundlessly shutting the door of the CR-V.
She ran her tongue over her bottom lip. The simple kiss released a hunger in her she didn’t know existed. For the first time that evening, she was truly scared.
(Copyright @Nancy C. Weeks September 2020)
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Happy Reading. Until next week, stay safe and healthy!
Hugs to all,
Nancy C. Weeks