tagNovels and NovellasForced to Change Ch. 18

Forced to Change Ch. 18

bySimoneLisbon©

I pulled on an oversized gray and red flannel shirt and baggy blue jeans. I stared at myself in the mirror but couldn't recognize the woman looking back at me. My reflection wore familiar clothing, stuff I wore when I was home on the weekends. The clothes hid my body and my scars, but they didn't hide the person I'd become in Cantana. That scared-to-make-a-move-without-a-command-from-another-person girl stared back at me and I hated her.

I was temporarily ripped out of my musing by hearing my name on the television. Mrs. Donnelly's face was on the news begging the public to find me. I had to call her and let her know I was okay. I was her last connection to PJ, her son, my Paul. From what I could tell she'd reported me missing this morning after my car had been found burned out and abandoned.

Jared was still in the shower so he missed the news program. I turned off the television and grabbed my coat. I stopped when I spotted a new one. All I had to do was put on a coat and walk out the door. If I went to the manager's office and told him my name, surely he'd call the police. I could be home in hours. Safe. All I had to do was pick a damn coat to wear.

I wanted to go. I wanted to get away from Jared. I couldn't make myself move to the door. I stared at it for long minutes. Even after I heard the shower turn off, I still couldn't pick which coat to wear.

I loved my apartment and my often lonely and boring life. When I'd left work last night that had been my destination, so how the hell had I ended up somewhere in Ohio with a man who killed two people in front of me as if it were nothing? A man who'd tied me up so that he could run errands. A man who'd promised not to hurt me.

I sat on the bed, defeated, as Jared came out of the bathroom a moment later. I plastered a smile on my face to hide everything I'd been thinking and everything I was feeling. If I went home and someone killed me, I'd feel pretty stupid for leaving without ever knowing why.

Jared shook his head and ran his fingers through his damp hair. "Are you feeling better?"

"Perfect." I grinned. "Well, almost perfect. Actually, no. I'm not even close to perfect. The psycho who saved my life six years ago did it again yesterday and I have no idea why anyone would want me dead in the first place. Other than that I'm perfect. Wait, not even then because I can't figure out what coat to wear."

"Put on the new one," Jared suggested, ignoring the rest of my little rant.

"Um. I'll just wear this one," I whispered, pulling on my old brown coat.

"But it's wet. Leave it. It doesn't make sense to wear that old thing."

I frowned at him. In a small voice I replied, "It belonged to my father."

"Fine, whatever, no big deal." He shrugged into his own leather jacket. "Why don't you wear the new one until that one dries?"

"That's okay." I stood up and dropped the new coat on the bed. I crossed the room to the door. "So where are you taking me?"

"You'll freeze in that thing! Just wear the new one," Jared said. I flinched against the door as he retrieved the discarded coat from the bed.

"Are you going to tie me up if I don't?" I glared. It wasn't that I was angry at him. I was angry at myself for not leaving when I had the chance. No, actually I was very angry with him, too.

"What? No! I just don't want you to freeze, that's all." He stared at me. "Uh, sorry for that. Tying you up, I mean. And sorry for hitting you. Uh, and for throwing you at CJ." His cheeks flushed as he said the last.

"Am I supposed to think you feel bad about all this?" I wrapped my coat tightly around me.

"Yeah. No. Fuck if I know. Are you going to fight me on everything?" He sighed. "You're very frustrating up close."

We stared at each other. The tension in the room was potent, so thick I felt like I was choking on it. Finally, Jared dropped the new coat on the second bed. He followed it down onto the mattress, resting his head in his hands. I stood by the door, digging the toe of my boot into the carpeting. He was trying so hard. What he was trying to do I had no idea, but the effort was written all over his face. I sighed.

He was trying to help me. He just didn't have a clue how to go about it. It was like he had no social skills. He was very Boo Radley. I'd always felt sorry for the character when I read To Kill a Mockingbird and that's what I felt for Jared: sorry.

I just had to get over the fact that this was my life. Occasionally I'd be kidnapped and then my life would be in jeopardy, basically crappy. It wasn't going to help anything to hate the man who was two for two on saving it. Even a crappy life was better than no life at all.

Everything about Cantana had changed my life. It was the only common ground I knew between us and I figured I had to start somewhere.

"Tell me what you know about Cantana." I raised my chin up as I looked down my nose at him, wishing I had half the confidence the move portrayed.

He raised his eyes to stare at my chest. "It all seemed wrong from the start." He balled his hands into fists and pressed them against his jean-covered thighs. "The money was way too good for what he wanted. I mean, who are you, Katie? Kathryn Rollins? Who are you that someone would pay that much money to get you out of there?" His words were pressured, as if he struggled to speak them.

My mouth dropped open. "Me? Someone paid to...Who?" I gasped.

"Donnelly. Paul Donnelly, Sr. It was a lot of money. Retire to your own private island kind of money." Jared finally met my curious eyes. "I didn't understand it at first. Not really. I questioned who you were as I read the dossier. Why were you so special that he was willing to pay that much? Then I found you, and I got it. I cut you free and I carried you to the Jeep. I held you in my arms and I understood why he did what he did."

After a long pause he said, "You didn't know? I thought someone would have told you."

I was too stunned to speak. Paul's dad had always redefined arrogant prick. He never thought I was good enough for his son and he made sure I knew he felt that way.

"No way Mr. Donnelly did that. He never even liked me. He thought I was the maid when he first met me. I was sitting at the kitchen table with Paul going over the bio test I'd just bombed. Mr. Donnelly walked in and asked Mrs. Donnelly what the maid was doing sitting at the table instead of working. I remember Paul's mom turned bright red, but she recovered quickly and introduced me. Even my own cheeks colored from the misunderstanding. Everyone tried to blow it off. Eventually we all laughed about it. I always thought he said it on purpose, though." I sighed. "Like he knew who I was, but wanted to insult me. He's never liked me. Certainly not enough to pay the kind of money you're talking about." I giggled. It was ridiculous to think Mr. Donnelly cared what happened to me in Cantana. There was no way he paid to have me rescued.

"He did. He hired us. You don't just hire the men I used to work with. It's not like we advertised on the internet. There isn't an ad in the yellow pages. You were the main goal. Our orders were specific about retrieving you or your body. But it's not like your rescue was the only thing he paid for. He hired a group of assassins to get you out of there."

I crossed from the door and sat down at the opposite end of the bed before I fell flat on my face. "So Mr. Donnelly paid some outrageous chunk of change to get me out of Cantana?"

I could feel the tears threatening to spill out my eyes again. I didn't want to cry and I didn't want to believe what Jared was saying. I shook my head. "I don't think so. Maybe, for Paul. You must have misunderstood. He paid to get Paul back." Mr. Donnelly must have figured out Paul was on the trip. It was the only thing that made sense.

"No, he paid for you. Every report we had...the other students said they saw Paul killed. He knew that. You were our priority," Jared said firmly.

Tears streamed down my face. I wiped the nuisance away with the back of my hand. "No, you're wrong! You've got it wrong. He wouldn't do that. He didn't do it!"

Jared moved closer to me. I refused to believe I owed my life to Mr. Donnelly. He had never said a thing about it not that I'd had so many opportunities to speak with him. I'd barely seen Mr. Donnelly since my return from Cantana.

"You're wrong. You got it all wrong," I whispered.

"Okay," he said. "Okay." Jared patted my shoulder almost as if he were afraid to touch me. My head felt like it would explode at any moment.

"So we...I got you out. But Jorge and Noel Riaz got away."

I recognized the second name, but not the first.

"Who?" I asked.

"Jorge Riaz—you knew him as the Commandant—and his brother Noel. There wasn't a trace of either man when we got there. It was like they got tipped off." He held me against his side, stroking my back through the coat. It was almost comforting except I was still reeling about Mr. Donnelly.

"Oh." I rested my head on his shoulder.

I felt like Harry Potter finding out that Severus Snape was actually helping him all along in the last book. I'd always thought Mr. Donnelly was an ass—not evil, just rude. On the few occasions we had dinner together he barely said a word and would stare daggers at me. He'd done everything to break up Paul and me. When he bothered to speak he always talked down to me. He arranged the internships overseas just so Paul and I couldn't be together.

I felt like I was going into a mild shock from the information that this was the man who paid to have me rescued. How many times can a body go into shock in twenty-four hours before it gives out?

"You wouldn't have found Noel." My voice took on a hollow sound.

"Why not?"

"He, um, he was killed." I gripped the edge of my shirt and fingered the extra buttons on the inside. I'd only told one other soul that I killed Noel, but for some reason I wanted and didn't want Jared to know.

"Who killed him?" Jared asked.

"He died. Yup, I saw his body. He was definitely dead," I mumbled.

Jared lifted my chin and smiled down at me. "So that wasn't a bluff? You really killed a man? Why didn't you ever tell anyone?" His fingers traced my cheek, wiping away the tears.

I rolled my eyes at him. "I didn't. He...I didn't." My face flushed as I spoke, trying to avoid his gaze. I was back to not wanting him to know. "I couldn't let Noel beat me again. I had to stop him. He was so angry and I tried. I tried so hard to please him. If Rosa hadn't left the razor—" I had to stop talking. I'd never admitted exactly what I'd done, not even to Mrs. Donnelly.

"What happened to Jorge?" Jared's voice was soothing as he spoke as if he were talking to a small frightened child.

"I don't know. After he tied me up in the Chamber I never saw him again. He was so mad at me. I never knew Noel was his brother." My brow furrowed. My earlier epiphany tainted my feelings about the Commandant. I had to change the subject. How had I ended up the one being interrogated during my interrogation of Jared?

"Rosa? Paco? What happened to them? Did they get rescued, too?" I asked. That was safe. Safer than discussing what I'd done.

Jared swallowed hard. His eyes were steady as he answered. "Sure. I'm sure they're fine. I bet they're back in their villages or wherever they were from. We should get back on the road. Wear whatever coat you like." He cleared his throat and tried to smile reassuringly at me.

"Just let me wash my face," I said. I pushed my hands against his broad chest and his arms locked tightly around me, reluctant to let go. I looked up at him through thick eyelashes. We sat staring at each other for what felt like forever. Neither of us moved. His eyes stared at my lips. I wanted to say something and I wanted to stop him. His head fell forward and I knew what he'd do. I should have pulled away.

It felt sudden but slow, as if time slowed down and sped up at the same time. His lips were on mine, warm, soft, caressing. His kiss was gentle and surprising. I gasped as his tongue pushed out tentatively, tracing the seal of my mouth. I opened to him. His tongue entered me, tasting me. I didn't know what to do so I did nothing. A slow tingle, almost a burn, slid through me to my core and the shock of it was the most surprising of all.

Jared's hand traveled up my back and fisted in my hair as he increased the pressure on my mouth. His lips felt firm and unyielding. His teeth captured my bottom lip, biting down on the flesh, pulling it. I felt the kiss everywhere. My body flushed with heat and electricity more volcanic than anything I'd ever felt.

"Katie," he murmured as he released my lip.

I sat dazed. My body had betrayed me once again. I couldn't catch my breath. All my conflict refused to be reconciled. One thing working in Jared's favor was the fact that I hadn't been kissed like that in a really long time. It was like my lips had missed that kind of contact. I yearned, ached, as if my skin had been denied another human's touch much too long.

Jared undid the buttons on my coat, and then peeled it down my arms. He kissed my cheek softly and moved back to my lips, claiming my mouth in the process. Working the buttons of my shirt open with clumsy fingers, he licked along my jaw and then down my neck. I closed my eyes and sighed, wanting to stop him but unable to move. I didn't want to.

"Katie," he whispered as his hands caressed my breasts. There was something about the way he said my name. His nose brushed along my pulse in my neck and I could feel my heart trying to jump out of my body. His tongue followed his nose and licked me, tasting me. He ascended in his assault, moving back up to my chin, licking. Then he captured my lips and sucked my tongue into his mouth.

He released my lips and finally opened his eyes to stare at me. Something about the way I looked froze him in place. My arms hung limply at my sides and fresh tears streamed down my cheeks. I had no idea what was in my eyes or on my face.

"Sorry," he whispered, pulling back and releasing me. "Sorry."

"I...Just...Um, Just...Give me a minute, okay?" I wiped my eyes with the back of my hands, holding my shirt closed and inching away. "I just need a minute," popped out firmly but more breathy than I would have liked.

"Okay," he panted.

I swallowed hard and tried to think. Two things scared me in that moment. First, Jared was a wonderful kisser. Second, I wanted to kiss him back.

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