Chapter Twenty Seven

Posted: June 1, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
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     “What happened to your face?”

     Maddie winced, her sister’s questioning shriek setting off a stabbing pain in her left eye. Jessie was on her before she could answer, her hands fluttering uselessly around Maddie’s head.

     “I’m fine,” Maddie mumbled. She tried to wave the younger woman away, but Jessie ignored her; fingers clamped down on her hurt shoulder, and Maddie winced. “Stop, Jess, stop. I’m fine.”

     “What the hell happened?!” Jessie turned on Vinnie, her voice strident with anger and fear. “What did you do?”

     “Ran into some trouble,” Vinnie said. He shrugged the bag off of his shoulders and let it drop. It hit the floor with a clank that made Jessie recoil. “Got the guns,” he added, regarding her with a cool stare.

     Jessie eyed the bag, taking in its size and apparent heft. “How did you get so many?” she asked. She turned her suspicious gaze from Vinnie back to her sister. “Did you rob somebody? Did they hurt you?”

     Maddie shook her head. She wished she could crawl back into the blankets, still piled on the floor, and pretend this was all a bad dream. Not just today, either. She’d wish away the last month of her life, if she could.

     Wish in one hand, shit in the other, her father’s voice whispered. Buck up, Madeline.

     Ignoring Jessie’s questions, Vinnie strode into the bedroom, reappearing with another large bag in his hands. “Load this,” he instructed, thrusting it into Jessie’s hands. “Food. Blankets. Put the other bags by the door.” Jessie stood frozen, the empty bag sagging in her grip. “Time to go,” he told her, not unkindly. “I’ll help in a minute.”

     It took her a moment, but she finally moved to do as he’d said. He watched her stuff cans down into the bag, then turned to Maddie. “Let’s clean you up.”

     “I’m fine,” Maddie said again. “It doesn’t hurt.”

     He raised an eyebrow. “It may not hurt, but it looks terrible. Come on.”

     Taking her elbow, he steered her into the bathroom. Glancing into the mirror, Maddie grimaced; he wasn’t wrong. Her mouth and chin were covered with drying blood, and her lip had swollen to almost twice its normal size. Carefully, she probed her bottom teeth with her tongue. The two in front hurt to touch, but they didn’t feel loose. Thank god for that, at least. She had a feeling that finding an emergency dentist wasn’t in the cards right now.

     Vinnie dampened a rag and brought it to her face, wiping carefully. When she flinched away, he gripped her chin. “Let me see.”

     “We don’t have time for this,” she argued. “We have to go.”

     “Let me see.”

     Her stomach in knots, Maddie forced herself to hold still. Gently, he touched her lower lip, pulling it down so he could see the inside. “Ouch.” He probed, his touch feather-light. “You could use stitches.”

     Maddie snorted. “Great. You know how do those, GI Joe?”

     “Nope.” He released her lip and stepped back. “Rinse your mouth out. Should be okay.”

     Maddie did as he advised. The sting of the water made tears spring to her eyes, but she swished dutifully. Spitting was graceless; water dribbled down her chin.

     When she was done, she turned back to him. “We should-” A sudden spike of fear shot through her. “Wait. Take off your shirt.”

     His eyebrow went up again. “I don’t think we have time for that.”

     “Shut up.” When he didn’t move, she reached out and hiked up his shirt herself, tugging until he had no choice but to raise his arms. Once it was off she scanned his torso, running her fingers down the length of him. “Turn around.”

     A bemused smile danced around his lips. “What are you doing?”

     “Looking for scratches.”

     The smile dropped. His brow furrowed, Vinnie turned, bracing his hands against the tile wall. “I didn’t feel anything. It didn’t get that close.”

     “You screamed,” Maddie pointed out. His back was smooth, no sign of injury. She took a moment to appreciate the ripple of muscle across his flexed shoulders before she moved against him; her hands slid down his sides and around, coming to rest on his belt buckle.

     “Um.” He tried to shift away, and she tightened her grip.

     “I have to check your legs,” she told him.

     “My pants aren’t ripped.”

     Working the buckle free, she unsnapped his jeans. “You got a show,” she said. “Fair is fair.”

     He sighed, but she noticed that she didn’t try to move away again. “At least close the door,” he muttered.

     Maddie swung her foot out, kicking the door closed, then slipped his pants down. Easing onto her knees, she ran her hands down the backs of his legs, checking slowly for any marks. She found one, on the back of his left thigh: a faint scratch, already scabbed over. Old, she thought, something he confirmed when she brushed over it. “Friend’s cat,” he offered.

     What friend? Whose cat? On the back of your thigh? She pushed the questions away, tamping down on the brief flare of jealousy. “Turn around,” she said, surprised by how husky her voice sounded.

     He turned, slowly. Despite the ridiculousness of their current situation, he was excited; evidence of that poked through the flap at the front of his boxers. Maddie glanced up, expecting to find him leering down at her, but his eyes were closed, his head resting back against the tiles. She thought she saw a flush in his cheeks. He was blushing.

     She checked the front of his legs and found nothing. Relief flooded through her. “You’re clear,” she told him. She expected him to move, to cover himself, but he remained still, his eyes clenched shut. She let out a breath, and his cock twitched.

     “Sorry, soldier,” she said. Rocking back on her heels, she rose, yanking his jeans up as she did. “My lip is a little too swollen for that.”

     He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her against him, his dark eyes boring down into hers. For just a moment, she thought she saw fury there, anger over being played with, however inadvertent it had been. Then his expression softened and he inclined his head, slowly, giving her time to move away if she chose.

     Which she did not.

     His lips met hers gently, barely touching. It was the softest kiss she’d ever felt in her life, and Maddie feared she would burst into tears. When he finally pulled away, she felt ravaged.

     “Time to go,” he said quietly.

     She gave herself a little shake and stepped back. “Go where?” she asked.

     He frowned. “I have an idea. I don’t know if it will work.” He raked a hand through his hair, a gesture that left it sticking up in places, stiff with sweat. “Have to try, though.”

     Before she could question him further, Jessie’s shrieking pierced through the bathroom door.

     “Get UP, you piece of shit! Get UP and HELP ME.”

     Emerging from the bathroom, Maddie saw why she was yelling. Caleb remained seated, his blank gaze focused on the television. The news coverage had dropped out, leaving only a screen full of static.

     Jessie turned toward them, tears of frustration trickling down her face. “He won’t get up!”

     “Finish with the bags,” Vinnie said. “Both of you.” He took a knee beside Caleb and grabbed the kid’s hand; Maddie saw his knuckles whiten and knew he was squeezing, but the kid didn’t flinch. “We have to go, kiddo.”

     Caleb said nothing, didn’t even acknowledge that he’d spoken. The way he was staring made Maddie’s skin crawl.

     “Bags, Madeline.” Vinnie kept his eyes on Caleb’s face. “Everything from the bedroom. Hurry up.”

     Maddie hurried, grabbing the two small suitcases that were beside the bed and adding them to the pile by the front door. She saw that Jessie had stuffed the spare rucksack with canned goods, blankets and their ill-gotten gains from the pharmacy raid; the bag would be heavy, but everything had fit.

     “Caleb.” Vinnie kept his voice low, but firm. “We can’t stay here.” When the kid didn’t move, Vinnie gave him a shake. “They’re down in the basement. They’ll be up here soon.”

     Jessie heard him, and gasped. Maddie reached out and took her sister’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

     “If we go now, we can get out.” When Vinnie looked up, Maddie saw the worry on his face. “We’ll leave you here,” he told the boy. When not even that spurred a reaction, he gave a resigned nod. “Suit yourself.”

     Vinnie crossed the room quickly, heaving the bag of supplies up over his shoulder. The other shoulder was burdened with the gun bag; he staggered minutely under the combined weight, grimaced, then straightened. “Take a case, each of you,” he ordered, nodding toward the remaining gear. “If it slows you down, drop it.”

     “They could already be through the basement door,” Maddie said.

     “We’re not going out the front.” Vinnie paused, thinking. “There’s another staircase, starts up a few floors. It leads down to the back.” He sighed heavily. “Have to go up before we go down. We’ll cut through the alley to get out to the car.”

     Maddie didn’t like it, but she liked the idea of revisiting the lobby even less. Finally, she nodded, and hefted her case. “Him?” she asked.

     Vinnie shook his head. “If we get down there okay, I’ll come back up for him. Can’t do anything else.”

     And if not, Maddie thought, he’ll sit there until they find him. She wanted to rail at him, to slap the kid’s face and jerk him to his feet, but part of her knew it wouldn’t do any good. Wherever he’d gone, he was immune to their pleading.

     “But he’s just a kid,” Jessie argued weakly. “We can’t leave him here.”

     “Are you gonna carry him?” Jessie looked at the ground. “If he won’t come, I can’t make him.”

     Maddie knew he was right, but it still felt all wrong. She’d fought to bring the damn kid, and now he was refusing to go any further. Weak, she reminded herself. You already knew he was weak.

     Vinnie left first, with Jessie on his heels. Maddie glanced back once, at the boy in the chair, his impassive face lit by the flickering screen.

     With a sigh, she shut the door.

  1. mxcoot says:

    All i can say is wow!

  2. deltajuliet74 says:

    Yaaaaaay a new chapter! 😀

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