She held up the snips, their long handles giving her some bargaining room, at least. His first swing nearly ripped them out of her fingers, but she managed to block him, barely. Her palms stung from the force of the collision and she retreated a step, backing up against the pile of boxes behind her. Daniel wound up again.
"I’m going to enjoy watching you die."
Feeling behind her, hoping against hope she could scramble on top of the boxes and get away from Daniel, one of the flaps came free, and she realized it was the box she’d opened earlier. What was in it? She felt around frantically. Tiles. Grasping the top one, she pulled it out – one of the Bologna marble tiles Carl had gone on about.
Daniel began to swing and she did the only thing she could – threw the heavy square with all her might. It caught him flush in the face, splitting his cheek until it blossomed with blood.
"Damn it!" Daniel dropped the bat and clapped his hands to his face. Claire scooped it up and ran for the door, pulling it open and slamming it shut behind her, wishing she could lock him in.
Somehow she had to get Morgan away from those two monsters and both of them to her car. As she dashed across the lawn she felt her pocket. Thank goodness – she still had her keys. She raced up the back steps, opened the door carefully and peered inside, the bat held ready. The room she entered was only dimly lit, but she heard a cry and a thump from behind a door down the hall. She bit her lip to keep from calling out to Morgan. The only shot she had was to catch her captors by surprise.
When she opened the door, however, all thoughts of stealth went out of her mind. Morgan lay on the bed, her blouse ripped open and one of the men – Kyle – straddling her. The other man sat in an easy chair as if ready to watch a television show.
She only hesitated a second before she launched herself across the room.
"Get off her! Get off my sister!"
* * * * *
A light was on at 6500 Old Hardin Way when Jamie pulled up in front.
"That’s Claire’s car," Ethan said, pointing to where it sat across the street. He opened his door and in moments all of them were out of the truck.
"Hold up, let’s check things from the outside first," Jake said.
They all froze as a woman’s voice called out, muffled but definitely in distress.
"Claire!" Jamie took off like a shot, raced across the lawn and pounded up the three concrete steps to the front door. Footsteps echoed behind him. The door was locked and he scanned the house for another way in.
"Window," Rob said. He jumped off the stoop, picked up an empty terra cotta flower pot and hurled it at the plate glass front window. It shattered and Rob ducked, then knocked a few shards off the lower edge and began to climb in. Jamie waited his turn impatiently. Claire was in there. She needed help.
Once inside they tore through the house until they came to a back bedroom whose door was wide open.
Jamie barreled inside, the others close on his heels, to find Morgan, her shirt torn nearly in half, beating a man over the head with a table lamp. Claire was tussling with a second man, who was trying to wrench a baseball bat out of her hands.
Rob pushed past him and tackled the man with Morgan on the bed. As he heard the smack of fist against skin, Jamie went for the other one, the goon trying to wrest the bat away from Claire. Wrapping an arm around his throat, he wrestled him to the floor. Claire delivered a blow with the bat across his knees that set the man bellowing. When Ethan and Jake joined in, together they subdued the two men in a matter of seconds.
"Daniel," Claire gasped, bent over and breathing hard like she’d just run a race.
"What about him?" Jamie growled.
"I’m right here," a new voice said from the door. "Miss me already, Claire?"
Jamie heard the unmistakable sound of a pistol being cocked. The itch between his shoulder blades told him the gun was pointed straight at him.
"Fuck off, Daniel," Claire said, her eyes blazing.
"No, I don’t think I will," Daniel said. "But I do think I’ll kill you. After I kill this asshole."
Jamie felt the gun’s barrel against the back of his head.
"No!" Claire cried.
Jamie would know that voice anywhere. Cab. He closed his eyes and expelled a gust of air when the pressure of the barrel disappeared and Claire surged forward and wrapped her arms around him. "Jamie!"
A glance over his shoulder told him what he needed to know. Cab and several other men in sheriff’s uniforms swarmed into the room, quickly taking Daniel and the other two men into custody. Glancing from one shocked face to another, he saw that Ethan and Jake had thought he was a goner.
Rob was too busy comforting a crying Morgan to notice anything else. Claire gripped him like she would never let go.
He never wanted her to let go.
As he went to hug her back just as tightly, he remembered he had promised not to touch her. Claire looked up at him, her eyes brimming with tears. "To hell with the bet."
He bent down and lifted her into his arms, carrying her out of the house and onto the front stoop. He sat down as gently as possible, and perched her on his lap. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, still clinging to him. "He wanted to kill me."
He hugged her tighter. "I’ve got you. No one’s ever going to hurt you."
She burrowed into his embrace. "Jamie." Her voice cracked and his anger soared again. How dare anyone terrify Claire – his Claire? He turned to look for Daniel again, only to see him hauled out of the house in handcuffs, barely able to stand as two officers dragged him off. A deep breath restored a little calm. Justice would be done. Claire was safe now.
Safe in his arms.
* * * * *
Hours later they were back in the Big House, gathered in the living room while Autumn served tea and coffee cake. None of them would be good for anything in the morning, Claire thought, but who could sleep?
She sat next to Jamie, who’d kept an arm around her every moment since back at Daniel’s mother’s house. Although the night was warm, she was wrapped in a blanket. She couldn’t stop shaking, a fine tremor that even made drinking tea difficult.
She felt sick. All of this was because of her greed. Her need to prove to everyone she was worth something. Thank God all the supplies Daniel stole were unharmed. She would arrange to return every last one of them first thing tomorrow. But going after him like that – without help? Morgan had almost been raped. They both could have been killed.
She took a ragged breath. The others were scattered around the room, talking in low voices. Rob stuck as close to Morgan as Jamie was sticking to her.