Author: Burning-Ink PM
Hunter has a problem- her mother was wrongly convicted of murder. Starr has a problem- his sister's crazy ex is out to kill him. Of course, neither can leave well enough alone, and so they end up getting dragged deep into each other's problems. But they barely know each other and absolutely cannot get along. Will they survive? Please review.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Suspense - Chapters: 12 - Words: 37,054 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 11-12-12 - Published: 06-28-12 - id: 3037068
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Knowing how cautious you are, I only mean to say that this man really does work here with us and that you have no reason to doubt his intentions.
I glanced back up at the driver and then back to the letter. It looked real, but I really had no reason to trust Danielle on this. Or on anything.
"I'm sorry," I said, handing the note back to him. "I need something more."
He sighed and frowned and reached again into his pocket. This time he handed a note to Lilla.
"Here," she said after a moment, and handed it to me. It was similar to mine, saying the same thing, and from her cousin. I knew this cousin, and I trusted him.
"Okay," I said, handing the second letter back to the driver. "I believe you. When do we leave?"
"Half an hour. I will meet you back here. If you do not show up, rest assured there will be someone coming to collect you from your house. Our Prime Minister is very anxious to see you."
I shrugged and Lilla shifted her weight. "Okay," I said for us both. "We'll be here."
He got back in his car and as soon as he was out of sight, Lilla grabbed my arm and damn near cut off the circulation.
"What are you doing?" she hissed. "Are we really going to the place we're trying to break into? Are you even sure we should be getting in a car with this guy?"
"Relax," I said, prying her fingers from my arm. "It would look really suspicious if we didn't agree to go, and besides, I've got my knife on me. Anyone tries anything, I try them."
She fell into step beside me but still looked uneasy. "Are you also worried about what he wants to talk to us about?"
"Of course. I'm more worried, though, about what I'm going to say to him. The last time I was in the same room with him I called him an unfair bastard and said he should be removed from office." Not exactly true, but true enough.
"You were thirteen, your dad just died, and your mom was sent to jail. I think you had a right to say what you did."
I forced a grin. "Yeah, sure. At least I said it when I was thirteen. Otherwise I might have gotten worse than an escort from the room."
"If being dragged kicking and screaming can be counted as an escort."
"It's better than the alternative."
I frowned and looked around. Grabbing Lilla's wrist, I pulled her into a crowded coffee shop. "I need to make a phone call," I muttered, and pushed my way through the crowd to a table in the corner.
"Okay," she said and left to go get something to eat. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through the caller ID. I had already tried calling Starr's cell about five times, and it always said the same thing- disconnected. It was driving me insane that I had no clue where he was. Don't get me wrong, I was worried about him, but it was insanely worse that he seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Nothing had changed. I didn't get through, and by the time Lilla got back, I had called three times.
"Enough," she said sharply, and slammed a bottle of water in front of me. "If he was going to answer, he would have by now."
I unscrewed the cap. "Who says I was calling him?"
"I do, and I know best. Now, we need a plan. What do we say or not say?"
I thought for a second. "If they're smart, they'll split us up. Don't say anything if we're apart. As for whatever else, we only met with Starr at that coffee shop on Thursday because he asked to meet with us, but he never really got around to the point of the visit. We know nothing about anything else he may have done and haven't seen him since."
"That sounds good."
She sounded scared.
I had been walking now for what felt like a full day. It actually might have been. I barely paid attention to what I was doing, just kind of moved in a haze. Someone else might have said I was in shock, but shock worked if it kept away the panic.
Hold on a second…I recognized where I was. A few years ago Becka and I went 'camping'- we packed a duffel bag full of things and walked until we couldn't anymore, which was twelve hours. We ended up staying here. I was sure of it. I was twelve hours away from home. Could I make it that long?
The heat pressed down on me. It was taking longer than I remembered to get home from where I was. Some small part of me knew that it couldn't really feel like a furnace out in the woods, but the rest of me was dying for a cold shower and a lot of water.
I must have been mistaken. Everything around me looked familiar, but I didn't remember it taking so long to get home. When I was twelve it had taken barely seven hours, I think. I had been walking now for nearly twelve hours. I was dizzy and had a headache and kept stumbling into trees. My ankle felt like hell and after attempting to hop on it for a day and a half, I would probably need surgery to get it to heal properly.
Water. It hadn't rained, had barely even dewed since I found myself out here. I almost started to wonder if I was even out in open forest and not in a zoo or something. But by now I would have run into a wall. There was no wall, and not much time.
I knew I probably wasn't going to make it out. I had apparently bled a lot when I got hit on the head, and I had no water to help with replenishing that. I was dehydrated and low on blood and energy. I was hopelessly lost in the woods and had no way of contacting anyone. This far I had been able to keep going, but I could feel the desperation setting in.
I walked for another few hours. There was nothing but unbroken forest around me and a clear blue sky above me. No clouds at all. I began to feel a little hopeless. No, not hopeless. But the only thing I hoped for was a quick end.
Just as I thought that, I stumbled and fell. My ankle screamed at me and I moaned. It took a few seconds before another feeling overrode the pain. Wetness. Coolness. Water on my arm.
I looked up and saw that my arm had landed in a small pond. It wasn't one I recognized, but it was all I could do to drag myself closer and drink some. In a few minutes, I was asleep.
The drive to Holtville took a little over an hour. I was right, and they did split us up. Lilla was in the front car, me in the back. I watched the world pass outside my window and ignored the driver, who was obviously someone hired at the last minute, because he had a look that clearly wondered what a murderer's daughter was doing talking to the Prime Minister.
When we finally reached the Council Buildings, the driver came around to open my door, but I beat him to it. Lilla was just getting out of her car a few feet in front of us. We exchanged a glance and let ourselves be led down the road to the gates. There were no cars allowed in the yard, only horses, if you were lucky. The place always reminded me of a mix between a prison and a palace, with the security and the architecture. The actual buildings, three of them in total, were pure white marble with about fifty steps leading up to huge double doors. There were carved pillars and stained windows and gold accents on the roof. They were beautiful, but I still had never liked them. They seemed like a pretty cover of a horror movie.
We walked as a group of four- Lilla, the two drivers, and me- right through the gates. The watchman waved us through as though he had been expecting us. Of course he had. We walked down the road until we came to the steps of the center building.
I turned to our escorts. "Thanks," I said coolly. "Just tell us where to go from here and we'll be out of your hair."
The taller one shook his head. "We were told to escort you straight to the Prime Minister's office, miss."
Of course you were. Out loud I said, "That won't be necessary. I appreciate your concern, but we know our way around here. We won't get lost, I assure you."
The shorter one smiled. It was a little unsettling not to be able to see their eyes through their tinted sunglasses. "It's not a question of whether or not you will get lost, miss. We have… concerns… about whether or not you will find it worth the time to keep this meeting."
I actually was debating about whether or not it was wise for me to keep this meeting, but where would I go? Any watchman at any gate would know I would be with an escort and if not, something was wrong. I wouldn't be able to leave, and half the people here probably knew about this meeting.
"Fine," Lilla allowed chillingly. "Take us there. But be quick about it."
They nodded and started up the steps. I could tell they were shocked that it was Lilla who had snapped at them. I was too, actually.
We followed them up the steps and into the building. I had been there plenty of times before, but this was the first time I actually paid attention to my surroundings. There was a surprising lack of security in the building, but I was sure there were cameras everywhere. We passed the main meeting rooms and wandered down a few hallways before stopping in front of an elaborately carved door. I was sure I could remember the way here, and anyway, it would not look too out of place for me to ask directions if I needed to.
"This is where we must leave you," the tall driver announced.
"Good," Lilla snapped. "Leave."
They exchanged looks and walked a different way than we had come. It made me wonder if there was more security in the hall than it looked.
I wasn't sure if we should knock or just walk in, so we settled for knocking as we walked in. James Matthews was sitting behind a big wooden desk, arguing with someone on the phone. It had something to do with money or trade or something, so I let my eyes explore the room. There were bookshelves on one wall, floor to ceiling, covered in every book I could think of. The big windows behind the desk had a good view of the mountains and forest just a few miles away. I spotted the cameras, one in every corner. No place to hide in here. There was also a map of the building on the wall to my right, blown up so that I could read it from here. The control room, I saw, was directly a floor beneath us.
On the desk, papers were strewn everywhere. I saw invoices and letters and more floor plans, and one folder marked "Renovation Plans". They were renovating? Things would be in disarray then. It would be perfect. And, when he moved his arm just a tiny bit, Matthews uncovered another folder marked "CLASSIFIED" in big, bold, red letters. I wanted that folder.
I gently stepped on Lilla's toe and willed her to understand. I guess she did, because her eyes brightened slightly as she looked where I was looking.
"Sorry about that," Matthews said as he hung up the phone. "I was not expecting you until later this evening."
"Blame your drivers," I told him. He smiled.
"Yes, Hurin is always one for quickness. Please, have a seat."
I wanted anything but to sit in one of the hard-backed chairs he offered. But it seemed the only way to get closer to those folders on his desk, so I sat stiffly on the edge of the seat, Lilla doing the same.
"Can I get you girls something to drink?" he asked pleasantly.
"No," we answered in unison. His cheerful smile slipped a little bit. "I suppose you're wondering why I brought you in here."
Lilla sort of nodded; a tiny bob of her head. I just stared at him.
"I heard this morning, Victoria, that you had some…strong opinions about the actions being taken regarding my son."
If any part of me had been relaxed, I would have lost that.
"I think that I would like your help."
My eyes nearly fell out of my head. He was asking for my help? No. No way in hell. No matter what he was offering.
"Help with what?" I asked quietly. I saw him jump at my tone.
"I want your help in finding Scott and the people that took him."
I watched Lilla's face slowly freeze into anger. I felt my face do the same.
"We," she said coldly, "don't do anything when we think there are strings attached. If we were to do this for you, what would we get?"
I liked that she emphasized that we would be doing this together. She even somehow made 'we' sound like we were including Starr. Were we?
Matthews stiffened slightly. "I think that would depend on how well you did with my job, don't you?"
I felt my gut twist. This guy was sneaky. He thought we couldn't do it; I could tell. This was either a test or he was setting us up for certain failure.
I stood and Lilla did the same. "We're very sorry," I told him with a smile that said I was lying, "but we're not interested. It will take more than a vague bribe to get our help. If that will be all, we'll just be going now."
I turned to leave, but his voice made me stop. "Hunter," he spoke smoothly, "my vague bribe can be anything. Are you sure you want to turn that down?"
I wanted to strangle him for using that name with me. And he clearly thought he was being clever by mentioning my mother.
"Miss Lexington, please," I almost hissed. I didn't turn around. Lilla shot me a nervous look. "And yes, I am quite sure that you cannot give me what it is I want. So you see, there is really nothing you can offer me. But you were quite right to ask me for help; I could do a much better job than your entire team could."
I walked out of there like I owned the place, and as Lilla followed me, I heard something heavy slam on the desk.
"You scared me there," Lilla whispered as we made our way back to the main hall. "I thought you were going to hit him or strangle him or something."
"I thought about it," I breathed. "We'll talk later." It was in no way safe to talk about these kinds of things in this place. We walked the rest of the way in silence, every once in a while almost saying something but then shutting our mouth.
When we reached the main hall, there was a crowd swarming the doors and a line of guards keeping them out. Quite a few people milled in the hall, too, no doubt attracted by the excitement. I paid nearly no attention to the people outside and just tried to get through. But then I spotted someone I knew and could use right now.
"Gavin!" I called, and hurried toward him. He saw me and walked off down a small, quiet hall, no doubt meaning me to follow. Lilla followed, completely confused. Gavin led us through a maze of halls and unmarked doors until we came to a back exit. He pushed it open and left. I waited a few seconds before following. This guy was the kind of person it was better not to be seen with, not if you were coming to him for help like I was.
The door led into a back alley, clean and completely unlike the one I met Starr in. I was sure there would be nobody watching it, though.
"Hunter," Gavin said, and nodded to me. "You look like someone in need of a hand."
I half-smiled. "You could say that. What are you doing here, anyway?"
He leaned against the wall of the next building. "The same reason you are. That man's trying everything to catch whoever took his kid."
Lilla stood straight up. "What did you say?"
He smiled at her. "Something about me, miss, is that I don't catch killers until I know they are." She frowned in confusion. "Our leader is nearly convinced his son is dead. He doesn't want to think that, but the facts point to it. He wanted me to catch whoever took his son, but I'd much rather look for Scott before it's too late. I said no."
"That's why I need to talk to you," I put in. "How fast can you get a search party together? Without it being public knowledge."
He thought. "An hour, maybe more. Why?"
"I want the same as you- to find Scott. I have an idea as to where he might be."
"You do realize that the entire island has been searched, right?" Lilla said. I rolled my eyes.
"Obviously not the whole island. They didn't find anything, right?"
"Where am I looking?" Gavin asked me.
"The woods around Boulder Creek. West of town. Near all the big houses."
I saw the surprise on his face before he hid it. "Thinking he's going to come home?"
"Yes. But we'd better hurry. If he's been there since he went missing then we're running out of time."
An hour later, I stood just inside the trees behind Starr's mansion. That's really what it was, not just a big house. Becka had seen me and came to join us. We were just waiting for Gavin, who told us to meet him in this spot.
"Who is this guy?" Becka asked, sitting with her back against a tree. "He doesn't sound very trustworthy."
I kept my eye on the road. "He is. He's just not… traditional, I guess. He's kind of shady, but he's helped me before."
"And you think he can find Starr?"
"I know he can get us what we need to find Starr. A search party that won't be suspicious."
"And a large group of people trekking up to my house isn't suspicious?"
I shook my head. "He'll do something crafty, like getting them to show up at different times and come from different directions. And he'll get people who know how to lay low. It's what he does."
Lilla was quiet until now. "And you're sure we're going to find Starr?"
I looked over at her. "Pretty sure. I'm assuming he's been in these woods before. If he's not dead yet, he'd try to get home." Becka and Lilla flinched. I shrugged and turned back to the road. "I don't think he's dead. But I do think he's near here."
We waited for a few more minutes. Lilla and Becka talked quietly, but I ignored them for the most part. I still watched the road. Where was everyone?
I sat down in the dirt. Eventually Becka and Lilla stopped talking behind me. Still nobody came.
"Looking for me?" Gavin asked, appearing beside me. I heard Lilla gasp, but Becka and I just looked at him.
"Where were you guys?" she demanded as we all stood up.
He smiled at her. "We had to find a few different ways to get here. But I got about twenty people to come, so I think I did pretty good."
Becka went to snap that twenty wasn't enough, but I smacked her in the arm. Any other day it would have been a mistake. Today she didn't seem to care.
"So," I said, looking around. "Where's the rest of your group?"
"Oh, we're all here," someone said behind him. One of Starr's friends from the other night popped out from behind a tree. "Just waiting to get this thing started. Hey, Becka."
"Cole," she said. "I assume Spencer's around here somewhere?"
"That would be a fair assumption." The other friend came from deeper in the forest. Now that I looked, I could actually see more people in the shadows around here. With the sun barely starting to go down, it was dim as dusk in the trees. "Hey there, Hunter."
"Hey, Spencer, who I've never officially met before tonight."
He grinned. "Not my fault you showed up in a dark alley and nearly got yourself killed. You're lucky we were there."
"What?" Gavin's head snapped around to me. He's been kind of protective since my dad died. "You've been getting yourself into messes in dark alleys with these guys? Are you crazy?"
I frowned at him. "It wasn't intentional. There was a fight and it was totally unfair, so I tried to even it out a bit."
Spencer laughed. "Yeah, you basically earned yourself a death wish that night. Matt's never going to get over it."
I groaned. "Thanks, really. I really wanted him to know that."
Gavin looked ready to drag me off by my neck. I looked away and tried to see the people in the trees.
"Okay, so I guess we should get started. Spread out as much as you can, but make sure you can see someone else's flashlight. If you can't, just shout. If you find him, shout. Nobody goes out of sight. We don't need to be looking for you too."
Gavin gave me one last LOOK. "We'd better do what she says. Go."
We all spread out and started into the forest.
A/N: I feel like I'm doing something wrong with the lack of response here! Please, tell me what you want! Give me advice! Tell me you hate it! Tell me you love it! Just please stop ignoring me!
And no, Starr does not die. This is probably going to end up with three books, and he sticks around until the end. I just don't know what I'm going to do with him then.