- Bullet Proof

- Prologue

After our third 'relocation' in less than a year my nearly nonexistent parents decided more stability might allow me to gain friends and with those friends also gain confidence and in the process I would, hopefully, grow out of my standoffishness. At first I was ecstatic, think that my parents would have found different jobs. My dad owned multiple factories and was constantly moving from one state to another to keep them all on the right track. My mom, well, she was a computer programmer and worked out of our house, so she had the ability to pull up roots and follow dad anywhere. It was in our family to have a bit of Gypsy blood in us. We all loved to go places, never staying in one spot too long. The hope that my dad had finally got the factories stable enough that we would be able to settle for more than three or four months was shot down almost immediately. My parents sent me apologetic smiles and told me I would be moving in with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins in a crowded suburb outside of New York City. The only place I loathed. I loved my cousins and my aunt and uncle, but I loathed the city. It was well beyond hate.

Why my parents wouldn't send me to my family in Montana, I don't know. They knew of my loathing of the city and they still elected to send me there. I did know there was no way I was staying in the city. Even if I had to hitch a ride and sneak away in the dead of night, I would get away.

Yeah, I know, I was being really irrational. Take a closer look. Do I look like I care? My mom says I'm a drama queen for a reason.

How was I supposed to know I wasn't going to be staying in the city very long? That I wasn't going to have to resort to running away to get out of the city? How was I supposed to know that I'd be incredibly happy where we were heading? Exactly. I wasn't.

On the day my parent's dropped me off at the airport I was determined to make the best of my stay. They were only doing what they thought was best for me. I couldn't blame them. Especially when my dad tucked a check for two-thousand dollars in my pocket. When I opened my mouth to protest he gave me a stern glare and told me he wasn't sending his only child to New York City without any money. I didn't have the heart to tell him I had almost one-thousand dollars that I'd saved over the past year as well, and that it wouldn't get spent, because I was extremely cheap and saved every cent I could.

I boarded the plane and slipped my headphones on and grabbed my knitting out of my bag. It wouldn't take long to get to New York from Indiana. And yes, I knit. Odd for a sixteen year old girl, I know. But I got a pretty good profit from selling the scarves I knit. Five or ten dollars for the yarn and ten for my hour or two of work. Plus it keeps my hands busy. I have mild ADHD, more ADD than the hyperactive part, but I'm better off if I'm constantly doing something.

The plane took off and I settled in for an easy ride. Luckily I have always been a good flyer. I couldn't say so for the man sitting next to me. He had the arm rests in a death grip, his eyes closed, and his face was sickly pale. I sympathized. I really did. It honestly wasn't just because I didn't feel like having him throw up all over me that I did my best to take his mind off the flight. Seriously! It wasn't! Well, maybe it was… But it worked. Before I knew it we were landing and I had gotten his mind off of flying and I had actually gotten to know him a bit.

He was going into his senior year in high school and was flying to New York to visit some family and possibly obtain a new mare for his family's ranch in Montana. I was excited, since my aunt had married a rancher in Montana and I asked him if he had heard of the Black Diamond Ranch. He had. In fact, it was only a twenty minute ride from his house. The flight flew by after we got talking and I was surprised when we landed. We walked down the ramp, still talking. I saw my family waiting for me and I turned to my new friend. He gave me a solemn look and held out his hand. I shook it and he sent me a grin.

"When you visit your aunt out in my country stop by."

"I will." I promised. Surprisingly I meant it.

We were silent for a second.

"Good-bye Lane McJames." His name fascinated me for some reason and it was fun to say.

He gave me a lopsided grin.

"Good-bye Taryn Madison."

I returned his grin and made my way to my cousins, who attacked me before I could even get a greeting out. Mallory, who could pass as a supermodel, jumped on me, squealing something about her excitement about me living with them. I appealed to Carson for help. Luckily me and my oversized cousin have always been fairly good friends and he literally yanked her off me. Of course he had to give me our customary 'breakyourribs' hug, which I returned with equal fervor. My Uncle John and Aunt Lisa both got their turns to squeeze the life out of me. My aunt took an extra second and gave me a desperate warning.

"I'm so glad you've come to live with us. You have no idea." She whispered in my ear. "Mallory hasn't been making the best choices and we're hoping you can help, but don't let her suck you in."

I nodded and she finally let me go.

After the initial greetings we headed to get my luggage. I walked arm in arm with my cousins and we drew some odd looks. Not that any of us cared. We were pretty close, considering we had all grown up together, literally as neighbors, until Mallory and I were thirteen and Carson was fifteen.

I noticed Mallory flaunting her stuff for a few of the guys that walked by and checked her out. No wonder her mom was worried about her. The girl was gorgeous and she knew it, and she knew how to use it. Carson seemed to smell trouble too. Between the two of us we'd get her on track.

Once we got my luggage we began the long trudge to my uncle's black Trail Blazer. Since I'm not much of a girly girl I only had one suitcase and a carry on, so getting my luggage into the Trail Blazer wasn't such a big deal. Deciding who got to sit by who, however, was. Eventually I ended up squished between Carson and Mallory. We were already planning ideas to get ourselves into trouble. All during our growing up years we'd been notorious for our practical jokes and pranks. If we weren't getting each other back for a joke played on us, we were terrorizing someone in the neighborhood.

The ride home was fairly uneventful. My cousins lived in an apartment type deal. There was only one building and there were only six units. As soon as my uncle parked the Trail Blazer we all piled out of the truck. It didn't take long to unpack my things, but in the time it did take Mallory's boyfriend found time to slink up and wrap himself around her. I saw Carson go on guard dog duty right away. In truth he made me uneasy. He was the kind of guy that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It didn't really have anything to do with the way he was dressed, he looked like any teenage guy, somewhat baggy jeans and a white muscle shirt. It was more the way he seemed to be hiding something.

"Taryn, this is my boyfriend, Mike. Mike, this is my cousin Taryn Madison." Mallory introduced.

He lifted his chin from her shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes. I held his gaze evenly.

"No one's going to believe you're cousins. They're all going to think you're twins." I didn't like the implication behind his rough voice.

"And I'm supposed to care?" I asked, one eyebrow raised.

Stupid Boy just looked at me with his dark brown eyes. I frowned at him and made my way into the apartment with my family. Mallory didn't seem to notice the tension in the air between us. And if she did, she apparently didn't care. Strike one for her.

Carson waylaid me the moment I walked in the door. I glanced out the tiny window at the top of the door at Mallory and her boy toy.

"Am I the only one that he bothers?" I asked as soon as the door was shut.

"Good, you noticed too?" Carson answered with a question.

"He is one creepy dude." I agreed.

"Mom and Dad don't think there's anything wrong with him. They think he's good for her because he's the school's golden boy." Carson relayed.

I stared at him with my jaw hanging.

"Are you serious! He gives me the heebie-jeebies!"

Carson just gave me a look that confirmed it. I couldn't believe my aunt and uncle could be that naïve.

"The last time I got that feeling from someone was when my horse wouldn't let the guy near me and he turned out to be a serial sex offender." I reminded my cousin.

"I realize that. Which is why you have to say something to my parents. They trust you're people judgment." He agreed.

"Should we say something now?" I asked doubtfully.

"No time like now." He confirmed almost apologetically.

"Thought so."

We resolutely went to found his parents. Aunt Lisa and Uncle John were both in the small kitchen. Carson shoved me through the door before following me in. Uncle John looked up from setting the table and my aunt turned around from the stove.

"What's up?" Uncle John asked conversationally.

I hesitated and Carson nudged me to force the words out of my mouth. My aunt and uncle looked at me expectantly.

"I don't like Mike." I eventually got out.

There was complete silence for a few moments. My aunt looked a bit shocked.

"Why not." Uncle John asked with concern evident in his voice.

"I don't know, but he gives me the same feeling as that guy that was a sexual predator." I explained, feeling extremely ridiculous. I was more than likely over reacting and causing problems that didn't need to be there.

"Oh my." Aunt Lisa said, looking a little faint.

Uncle John just looked grim. I smiled apologetically with a bit of embarrassment.

"You know what, it's probably just my imagination. I'm a little stressed with the flight and the shock of it all. Just never mind." I murmured, backing out of the doorway.

"No." Uncle John said, looking haggard. "You're right. There's something off about the kid. I know it. I just tried to ignore it."

My aunt's face adopted an old look.

"We all have." She agreed.

I shot a look at Carson, begging him to help me.

"There's not really much we can do about it." John said. "That's mostly why we've been ignoring it."

I nodded.

We sat and tried to figure out what to do about my cousin for nearly an hour. We didn't stop until said couple walked into the kitchen. Mike looked at me and there was something in his dark brown eyes that made me sure I had caught a glimpse of the devil himself. A chill ran down my spine as though someone had taken their hand straight from an ice cold bucket and trailed it down my back. I looked back at him and there was no trace of the malice that had been there. The chill, however, remained.

----

For a month my cousins and I got reacquainted and I got to know the town. Though I didn't loath it quite so badly I was still extremely uncomfortable there. I didn't like the hustle and bustle or the fact that no one knew their neighbors. I came from a series of small towns where everyone knew everyone and you never had to lock your doors. And I liked that kind of living. Not the constant worrying that the next corner you turned in the night may lead to your murderer.

Mallory was still seeing Mike and both Carson and I, as well as her parents, were doing our best to find small ways to make her realize he wasn't all she had him cut out to be. Obviously we weren't getting very far. She refused to see the bad in him. But, then again, she had always refused to see the bad in anyone. It wasn't always necessarily a good thing.

It wasn't until she didn't return home one night that my uncle decided to take some action. At that point something had to be done. Carson and I planned to stay out until Uncle John was done talking to her. That was the reason we weren't there when she finally showed up. She didn't come home on her own. In fact, she didn't even come home. We got a frantic call from Aunt Lisa tell us to meet her and Uncle John at the hospital, they'd found Mallory.

a/n

This is a one shot, unless you guys think it should be longer. It's all up to anyone who reviews. I can go either way. Most likely I'll write more, but I won't post it if you guys want to make up the rest in your heads. Thanks and please review!

Underestimated