Bounty Hunter Ch. 04bbyintropervert©
Okay, so this, I suppose, is really the second half of chapter 4, had my story been properly chaptered. Sorry there is no sex in it – chapter 5 will be a substantial chapter with sex, don't worry! Thanks to HardSalami for superb editing, and helping me keep my characters in character.
Will sat in his truck on the shoulder of the highway, numbed by the revelations of the past few minutes. His captive said nothing, but he could feel her eyes on him.
Either her story had been true all along, or her manipulating abilities were world class. The part of him that was drawn to her rejoiced at the prospect of her not being Brandi Lynn Foster, part of him feared the repercussions of kidnapping an innocent woman, and part of him was desperately grasping for some other explanation for the text messages he'd just received. Could she have an accomplice texting him, pretending to be worried about her? It had been obvious to him all along the geologist persona was rehearsed, not made up on the fly, so having someone else in on the ruse seemed possible. But her getting hold of his phone and sending the text was purely opportunistic; she couldn't have planned it.
He got out of the car, locked her in, and walked around to lean against the front bumper. He called his partner's number. Dan knew Brandi Lynn, of course, rather intimately, and seemed his best means to get to the truth of the matter. As the phone rang, Will chanted desperately to himself, answer, answer, answer.
Will breathed a sigh of relief.
"Hey Dan, Will here. Where are you?"
"North of Flagstaff, scouting a case. If you can make it here in the next six hours or so, we can pick up th—"
Will stopped listening as soon as he heard Dan mention Flagstaff and interrupted him. "Great, I'm right outside Tuba City. Look, Dan I—I need some help. Can you meet me at the waffle place off highway 160?"
"Yeah, I guess. You okay? Debbie's worried about you."
"I'd rather explain everything to you in person if you don't mind." Will tried to keep his voice neutral, despite the panic building in him.
"Okay..." Dan didn't press him, but Will could hear the concern in his friend's voice.
Will got back in the truck, started it up, and pulled back into traffic without a word.
"Everything okay?" She sounded nervous. Will knew if he looked at her he would see fear in her eyes, and he couldn't deal with it right now.
"Yep," he said, keeping his eyes on the road.
He wasn't that far from Tuba City, but the miles dragged by slowly. Dan would tell him immediately and definitively whether or not he'd made a terrible mistake.
They arrived at the waffle house before Dan. Will parked the truck and then just sat there for a few minutes. He was still not thinking clearly. After a while, he heard his passenger clear her throat.
"Um, what's going on? If I'm allowed to ask."
Will could hear the tension in her voice. Of course she was tense. She was picking up on his stress levels and had no idea why he was acting crazy.
It was a while before he answered her. "I need a cup of coffee."
"Oh...okay." Her voice sounded small.
Will glanced at his watch and tried to calculate when Dan would arrive. Finally he asked her, "Are you hungry?" It seemed ridiculous to talk about food, but he didn't seem able to do anything but continue on with the status quo.
"Oh, not really. Some coffee would be good though," she replied.
He got out of the car and unlocked the restraint attached to the cab door. They went inside the restaurant and sat down at a booth. He put her to the inside of him.
The waitress came by and they both ordered coffee, then sipped it in silence.
Finally, Will saw Dan's truck pull into the parking lot. As Dan walked into the restaurant, Will watched his face carefully. He could tell by the look on Dan's face he didn't recognize the woman sitting beside him. Will felt his stomach drop again.
Dan sat down opposite the two of them. Always the gentleman, he took his hat off and acknowledged Meredith with a pleasant "Ma'am." Then he looked at Will inquisitively.
"So...gonna clue me in here?" Dan asked him.
Will hung his head and rubbed his hands over his face, then back over his hair. He felt lost for words.
"Okay then, I'll start," Dan said, breaking the silence and turning his attention to Will's companion. "Hi there. I'm Dan," he said, extending his hand across the table to her.
She extended her hand to shake his, dragging the handcuffs across the table.
Dan dropped his gaze to her bruised wrist and cut Will a questioning look while shaking her hand.
Lust and a little guilt washed over Will as he thought again of how she'd gotten the bruises.
"And you are...?" Dan prompted her.
"Meredith. But he thinks I'm someone else," she said, glancing at Will.
Dan's eyebrows rose up at her comment and he looked back at Will.
"You don't know her?" Will asked Dan. He had to be sure.
Dan cocked his head slightly, as though Will had asked him a trick question. He pursed his lips and shook his head ever so slightly. "Don't believe I do. Are we supposed to know each other?" he asked.
Will felt the ache in his gut intensify as the finality of his error crashed down on him: he had assaulted and kidnapped an innocent woman. And then forced himself on her. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Man, I fucked up. Big time."
He looked at the woman beside him. "I'm sorry," he said to her. "I'm so sorry." He unlocked the restraint around her wrist. At least he'd not worsened the inflammation from last night.
"Uh, Will, enough of this beating around the bush. What is going on here?" Dan demanded.
"She's right. I thought she was someone else. Brandi Lynn Foster, to be exact."
Dan gave a small laugh of disbelief. "You're serious?"
"Uh, she don't look nothin' like Brandi Lynn, Will. How did you make this kind of mistake?"
Will smiled wryly and shook his head. It was a long, convoluted story, and he didn't quite know where to begin.
"I guess it started in Farmington. I finished a job with time to spare, and had an unexpected lead on the Foster case. Debbie faxed the bail piece and all the information to me, but my fax machine was on the fritz."
"So you didn't have a photo."
Will shook his head. He told Dan about tracing her up the mountains outside of Montrose, and of finding Meredith with the incriminating bag of evidence.
"Brandi was up there, no doubt in my mind. And that was her bag Meredith picked up. At that point, the lack of a photo confirmation seemed pretty inconsequential," Will admitted.
Dan turned his attention to Meredith. "You had no way to prove who you were?"
Meredith shook her head. "I have my own set of unlikely events that threw me in to this mess," she explained, and as she continued, her tone became sharper. "Then again—and let me be really clear here—I don't think I should have to explain why I was alone on a mountain without any I.D. Or, for that matter, why I had a gun, or a wad of cash. Even though neither were mine, they could have been, and that would have been none of anyone's damn business. Furthermore—"
A look of surprised horror came over Dan's face, and he started back pedaling. "Ma'am I agree with you; I just—"
"Look, Meredith," Will said, interrupting the conversation before it derailed any further. "Dan's my business partner. He's just asking questions to try to understand this mess I've created, that's all. He's not blaming you for anything. He knows Brandi Lynn because he picked her up a few weeks ago. That's why I called him as soon as I got those text messages."
Meredith reeled in her temper. "Okay, sorry. I mean sorry to you, not to you," she said, addressing Dan first and then cutting Will an incensed look.
"Did you pick her up yesterday?" Dan inquired of Will.
Will shook his head. "Day before yesterday," he said. It was becoming even more real to him this wasn't just a run-of-the-mill, random case of mistaken identity. He'd had a few of those over the years. Typically they involved him pinning a guy his size or larger against a wall, maybe slapping cuffs on him as well, only to find out shortly thereafter he'd cuffed Bubba's cousin or brother-in-law instead of Bubba himself. He'd never kept the wrong person in custody for going on 48 hours.
"Is there someone likely to be looking for you?" Dan asked Meredith.
"I imagine so, yes."
"Oh yes, people are looking for you. The text message you typed last night didn't get sent until we drove back into service a while back on the highway," he explained. "Whoever you sent it to sent two messages back; one of them saying you needed to call the sheriff in Montrose. I guess that's what really convinced me I'd fucked up."
He showed her the last text message he'd received. "Who's Kyle, by the way?" he asked, trying to sound nonchalant, even though he really wanted to know who the hell Kyle was.
"He's my student," she said in an irritated tone. "The one that was supposed to come back to get me Saturday night. The one I said would be freaked out with worry when he found me missing. The one I told you about not once but several times."
Will took in stride the ass-chewing she was dishing out to him. He deserved worse, and before all was said and done, he might be receiving a lot worse. He dialed directory assistance and asked for the Montrose Sheriff's number, jotted it down on a napkin and then slid it along with the phone over to her.
Meredith picked it up hesitantly.
"If you want me to talk to them I will. It's up to you," he said.
Dan interrupted. "Shit, Will. If I can interject here with some advice that's in both your best interests, 'cause neither of you are thinking straight right now. You both need to talk to the sheriff."
"Yeah, you're probably right." He turned to Meredith to confirm. "I'll talk to them, then you talk to them. You can go outside if you want, for privacy. They may need formal statements and such. Honestly, I've never been in this situation before, so I don't know what's going to happen."
She nodded in approval, and he made the call. He reigned in his frustration as he got transferred to several different people and had to re-explain his reason for calling three times. Finally he got the deputy assigned to the investigation. The officer asked quite a few questions, and Will pulled out every skill he'd ever picked up on interacting with law enforcement: he was factual, professional, humble. Finally, the deputy asked to speak with Meredith, and he handed the phone over and let her out of the booth.
"Um, its just kind of loud in here," she explained in an apologetic tone.
Will nodded curtly and watched her walk out of the restaurant. He looked at Dan, who was studying him intently.
"So?" Dan asked him.
"What's the rest of the story here?"
"What else is there to say, Dan? I fucked up. I assaulted an innocent woman in the middle of a wilderness area. I chased her down, tackled her, threw her in my truck and transported her across state lines, an action that is a felony kidnapping, should she wish to press charges. She's out there telling law enforcement personnel about it as we speak."
Dan laughed cynically. "We've cooked up a mess of trouble this month, haven't we?"
Will sighed. "Yeah. How're things going with you and Marcie?"
"Pretty good. She came home a couple days ago. We had a real good heart-to-heart. Seems we've both been takin' each other for granted for a long time. We're going to try to make a fresh start of things."
"That's good," Will said distractedly. He was happy his friend had patched things up with his old lady, but most of his attention was on Meredith.
"So, uh, how's she getting' back to Montrose?" Dan asked.
"She's from Boulder; she was just in the Montrose area doing research. She's a geologist." Will explained.
Dan gave a frustrated sigh. "I got two jumpers in the Flagstaff area we could pick up today. We sure could use the income, seein' as how we're way in the red this month."
Will shrugged and looked outside, where Meredith was still talking on the phone to the deputy. "I don't know what to tell you. I'll have to get her home somehow."
"Look, I still don't have my license back. You should go after the jumpers. I've already done all the leg work. They'll both be a piece of cake. Let me make the arrangements to get Ms. Lee home."
"And you can't just drop her off at an airport or bus station; she doesn't have any I.D. on her."
"Okay, how about this: My brother in Flagstaff has a plane, and he owes me a favor. I can see if he can fly her directly to Boulder. Both those airports are tiny, its mostly just private planes and crop dusters, anyway. I'm sure he can get her around the security issues."
"I don't know. I feel it's my responsibility."
"Will, it's a ten hour drive from here to Boulder. If you ask me, the best thing for her is to get her home quickly. It will be much quicker to fly her home."
"Yeah, okay. You're right." Will sighed and scrubbed his head. "I just...shit. You're right, I'm not thinking straight."
Dan smirked. "She's pretty, ain't she? Maybe that's why you're not thinking straight."
"Jesus, Dan. She's beautiful, but I've spent most of the last two days thinking she was the same woman who duped you in that motel room in Prescott. I was angry on your behalf, and I've said some terrible things to her. I've done some terrible things..." He trailed off as his thoughts drifted back to the previous night. He felt regret, to be sure, but he also ached with want every time those memories surfaced.
"I think she likes you."
"Oh really, what the hell gives you that idea? If looks could kill, and words could break bones, I'd be a dead man."
"Right, see? She's angry; that's a good sign. Apathy's your enemy, not anger. After the whole Brandi Lynn thing, Marcie acted completely emotionless, and let me tell you it scared the holy shit out me. A few days later, she worked up a serious temper about it, and that's when I knew she still cared."
"You don't say."
"Plus, anger's a hot emotion...I've found," Dan said with a sly nod and arch of his brow.
"Jesus, Dan, I do not need to hear this from you!"
"Why not? You were eager enough to hear all of the sordid details of Brandi Lynn and me."
"Yeah, well, that was different. It was...sordid. Not...married people stuff. Fuck!"
Outside the restaurant, Meredith finished giving her account the past two days events to the deputy sheriff.
"Ma'am have you suffered any injuries in the ordeal?" he asked her.
"No, not really—oh, yeah, I fell and got a few bruises. It's not serious."
"Do you wish to press charges against Will Carlsen?"
"What? No—I mean...no. He's not a bad person. It was just a bunch of unlikely events converging. I can't really blame him for the mistake. I probably would have done the same thing in his place..."
"Okay Ms. Lee, look, you might want to go home, rest up, and clear your head a little before you decide about pressing charges."
His comment irritated her. "No, I don't need to clear my head—"
"I mean no offense, ma'am, but there's this thing called the Stockholm syndrome people can suffer from during and after kidnappings. I'll just leave the file open a few days in case you change your mind."
"Okay, fine. You want me to rest and call you back in a few days? Fine, I will do that. Do you need anything else from me today?"
"No ma'am. We can chat again in a few days, and then I'll need you to sign a statement. I'll draft it up from our conversation today, fax it to you, and you can make any necessary changes to it. Do you have a way to get home?"
"Um, I don't know. I'll have to see what I can work out. I think my student is still in the Montrose area."
"Kyle James? I sent him home this morning. The back roads are still dangerous from the rainstorm, and I didn't want another person needing rescue."
"Okay, well, I'll figure something out. Thanks for everything."
She hung up, then called Kyle and assured him she was okay. It took a while to calm him down. He was keyed up and full of questions for her.
"Kyle, I'll fill you in tomorrow, I promise. Right now I'm exhausted. But look, I'm not sure what time I will get home, and I have class at 10am. If I'm not back in time, will you put a note on the board to cancel class?"
"Sure, doc. Call if you need anything, okay?"
Meredith hung up and looked around at the desolate landscape. She loved deserts, but they didn't fare with the poverty of Tuba City. The land surrounding the cluster of businesses was mostly overgrazed fields eaten down to rocks, invasive weeds, and badly eroding soils.
The sheriff's deputy was right; she was probably suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Why else would she feel so sad the ordeal was over and she was going home? For some reason, the thought crossed her mind she never got to run her fingers through Will's hair, and she laughed wryly at her own idiocy. She would probably never see him again at all, and she was still thinking about his pretty hair. Her brains were addled for sure.
In contrast, he would probably be eager to forget her along with this whole mess. He'd made a big mistake, and she would forever be part of that mistake. But she would probably never meet anyone like him again; he was so intense, so full of smoldering sexuality, so alpha. The guys she dated were typically soft and milquetoast in comparison.
She walked over to the edge of the parking lot just to stretch her legs and picked up a small rock that caught her eye; it was a pebble of pink, cross-bedded sandstone, probably late Triassic, worn smooth by water and wind. It could serve as a memento of the weekend, she thought as she palmed it and turned to walk back to the diner.
Will's partner was outside talking on his cell phone, one finger stuck in his ear to block the noise from an idling truck. She went in and sat down beside Will again.
He looked at her apprehensively.
"I told them I didn't want to press any charges," she informed him.
He nodded in thanks. "Meredith, I—"
But Dan crashed their conversation boisterously. "Come on, we gotta go now. I got everything worked out, but there's a tight schedule to keep."
"What's going on?" Meredith asked, turning to Will.
"Meredith, we've got plan to get you home quickly, in time for the class you have to teach. Dan's going to get you on a direct flight from Flagstaff to Boulder."
"Direct flight? No, I'd have to go through Phoenix and Denver at the least. You can't—"
"My brother's a pilot," Dan explained. "He's going to give you curbside service. Or nearest thing to it."
Meredith crossed her arms defensively and looked at Will with uncertainty. "Uh, look, no offense, but I don't really know him or his brother..."
"I've known Dan and his family most of my life. His brother is an Arizona game warden. I'll vouch for them, if that means anything. But, it's up to you. We're ten hours from Boulder by car, not counting necessary stops. A commercial flight would end up being just as long, possibly longer, plus there's the issue of you not having any I.D."
Meredith thought about it for a few seconds. She really didn't have any choice, not if she was going to be back in time to teach tomorrow morning. Like everything else in the past 48 hours, this too was out of her control, but she was too tired to protest. "Okay, sure," she agreed.
Dan put his hat on and pulled out his keys. "Well, say your goodbyes and then we're off. We're meeting him at his hangar in half an hour." He headed out to his truck.