Trace bolted upright in bed, sweating profusely. His heart hammered in his chest and he pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes, trying to erase the nightmare from his mind. It had been several years since he had nightmares about what happened to his parents, and he assumed all the recent stress was what triggered them. The conversation was never really intelligible but the end result was always the same; they ended up dead.
He rubbed his chest where it ached and he sighed. The rain was splattering against the windows and the only light in his room shone from the clock on his nightstand.
He picked up his phone and checked it, just in case.
He flopped back down on the bed and threw an arm over his eyes.
Fuck, he thought.
Trace had never felt so helpless in his life. It had been ten days since Leslie had snuck out in the middle of the night. It felt like eons ago. The only sound in the room was the sigh he breathed out.
His phone sounded and the hope he felt at who it might be was overwhelming. It wasn’t who he wanted it to be, yet someone equally as surprising.
He hadn’t heard from his sister in a few months. After their parents had passed away and their estate was settled, she had taken over the farm in Texas and he had acquired the ranch in Montana. They both took on positions as co-partners and owners of the family oil business, passed down for generations since their great-grandfather discovered oil on his property. Trace remembered his mom telling the story about how he had found the oil and knew it was going to change his life.
Frederick Williams, Jr. had known from the moment he saw that crude, black oil seeping up from the ground that he was going to be an extremely wealthy man. He had discovered it while drilling a well for water in the location he planned to build a home for himself. And, he hoped, his future wife.
He knew that he would have to keep himself at arms length from many after it became public. So, as quickly and as quietly as possible, he created a company and continued drilling to extract it.
It happened during the height of the oil boom in Texas and many simple, unsuspecting farmers had discovered oil on their properties, including his great-grandfather. Others had tried desperately to find some of their own oil but failed miserably, often sacrificing their livelihoods in the search. Many went bankrupt and had to sell their land and downsize, or move to a more industrialized town in search of work. It was tough, especially when most ended up working for the other families they knew who had struck it rich with oil.
The jealousy and anger seethed, flowing like a river beneath facades of loyalty and hard work. Some lashed out and others accepted their fates as the lowly employees of their much wealthier and more powerful friends. It bred hostility and many employees often betrayed their former friends by selling secrets or resorting to sabotage.
Trace thought fondly back to the stories his mother and grandmother would tell him about how their great-grandfather had kept the oil a secret as long as he could while he courted his true love, their great-grandmother Henrietta. He would never tell anyone, but he loved the sweet stories he heard about how his great-grandad had wanted to make sure she was marrying him for love and not for his money.
Funny how some things never change, no matter how much time has passed, Trace thought wryly.
AnnaMae: I can’t sleep. I’ve been having nightmares again.
Trace: Huh. I just woke up from one, too.
AnnaMae: I wonder if they are trying to tell us something?
Trace: I doubt it. How are you, Mae?
AnnaMae: Ok I guess. I think I’d like to come visit, take some time off for a little while.
Trace: I’d love that, Mae. You know there’s plenty of room.
AnnaMae: Ok, let me tie up some things here and I’ll be up there in a few days.
Trace: That sounds great.
AnnaMae: Ok, see you soon big bro.
Trace: Night, Mae.
Trace was unable to fall back asleep so he made his way down to the kitchen to make himself some coffee and get his day started. It was still dark out, not even a hint of light of a sunrise peeking over the horizon, but he knew it would be up before too long.
After starting the coffee, he let it drip while he entered the hallway off the kitchen which was more like a wide mudroom that connected to his three car garage. There was a thick oak door on the wall to his right that he entered and flipped on the lights for his office. He rounded his desk and powered up his computer, ready to put his talents to use.
He zoned out, thinking about Leslie while he waited for the computer to boot up. He had decided, in the week since her disappearance, that he may have harbored more feelings for her than he would ever dare to admit to anyone else. Although, seeing as he was doing everything in his power to find her, he reluctantly admitted that his feelings for her ran fairly deep and he had to figure out just how deep before he lost his footing and drowned.
He wasn’t sure when it happened exactly, but it was mind boggling that he could feel so strongly for someone he’d only known a few weeks. During the time she was in town, he had gotten a glimpse of the strong-willed, feisty, intelligent, passionate woman inside who was running from a past that would have anyone weaker cowering and slipping into depression.
He thought he’d gotten through to her on the last night they’d spent together. He thought she understood that she wasn’t alone anymore, that he would help her, that he would keep her safe, that he would never intentionally hurt her. He had an insatiable urge to show her how he was different from all the men she’d ever known in her life and that she should be cared for, respected, and loved.
The coffee machine beeped, rousing him from his reverie, and Trace could already smell the intoxicating fumes of the caffeine infused beans wafting into his office. He was thankful it interrupted his spiraling thoughts; they were too heavy to deal with before having at least one cup of coffee.
Several hours and even more cups of joe later, the sun had risen and Trace’s mind and legal pad were filled with notes of all the research he had done into Leslie’s past: her father; Jonathan Preston; her mother’s life and the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.
He had found the old YouTube video that went viral from when Leslie had beat Jonathan Preston to a pulp after he attacked her on the street. He felt both angry and elated while watching it. Angry that someone had made her fear for her life so much that she was forced to learn how to defend herself to the death and elated that she was a damn good fighter and could obviously fend for herself. He liked that in a woman. It made him feel like she wouldn’t ever need a man but, instead, she would want him, and there was a serious difference. Need implied that feelings would be forced upon someone to be indebted to them, to feel grateful, to have feelings because of their need. Anyone could fulfill her needs, if he looked at it practically. But want? Want was a whole other ball game, want would lead to a type of need so overpowering that you couldn’t control it. He wanted her to want him, not need him.
His desire to be wanted for him, not the things he could give, was what he found with her. The desire he had felt emanating from Leslie whenever he was close to her was heady and it made him want to give her everything.
But, he had to find her first.
Ten Days Ago
“Baby, I’m preying on you tonight, hunt you down, eat you alive, just like animals, animals, like animals!” Leslie was singing along with Maroon 5 on the radio as loud as she could with the windows open, the wind blowing her hair wildy around her face.
She was unsuccessfully trying to push thoughts of Jackson, Montana and everyone who lived there, out of her head. She was heading West. She wanted to see the Pacific, to walk along the shore, to pick up shells and watch her footprints wash away into the surf. She was tired of running from Jonathan. Maybe she should just go to the police and tell them everything she knew.
Yeah right, she scoffed internally. Like they’ll believe you. You don’t even have an ounce of evidence that he’s been after you. You are on your own, girl.
Leslie sighed and turned the radio to a country station. Blake Shelton came on with his song, Lonely Tonight. Leslie was brought back to that first night with Trace, thinking about how they had both been lonely. She knew a lonely soul when she saw one. She felt like that was part of the reason she gave in so easily to him. She usually wasn’t so quick to jump into bed with a man, but he had sparked a heat in her that, combined with her own loneliness, led to more. She supposed they had used each other for their own selfish desires that night.
The song broke through her thoughts – “I don’t wanna be right, I don’t wanna be strong, I just wanna hold you ‘til the heartbreak’s gone. When the sun comes up we can both move on, but we don’t have to be lonely tonight.”
She smiled sadly, squinting her eyes into the midday sun. She remembered how he’d held her, almost tenderly. She knew he felt something for her, even if it wasn’t a lot. Even if it was just enough to help him get through a lonely night or three. But it was something, and that something was more than anyone else had expressed to her in a very long time. He looked so serene when she left; his arm thrown over his eyes and his large body taking up most of the bed she knew was warm with his heat. Leslie knew that she would be tempted to stay if he had woken up again. Instead, she quietly packed up the rest of her stuff and slipped out into the night, just before dawn.
Leslie’s mind wandered to the other men in her life; her father and his abusive tendencies that led to the death of her mother. Then, she had one boyfriend in high school, and he had only used her to take her virginity on prom night. After that, he had dumped her and gone on to the next girl – what a jerk, she thought bitterly. She had fallen head over heels for that guy. Several years later, after college, there was Jonathan. She had fallen for him, too. She was caught in the whirlwind of his love for her and she had believed every word he’d said hook, line and sinker. She didn’t suspect anything until he had hit her the first time. That was enough to bring her back, full circle, to when she basically watched her mother die at the hand of her father. He had broken her spirit long before he ever broke her body. She knew her mother would have wanted better for her so Leslie put on her big girl pants, faced her fears, and broke up with Jonathan.
When she was in Florida, she drowned herself in her training and in her trainer, Jared. She didn’t love him and he didn’t love her. She figured he was fighting his own demons, although he never shared any details and she didn’t bother to ask. Leslie assumed she liked Jared because he was the opposite of Jonathan; where Jonathan had cared too much in his own maniacal way, Jared had not cared at all. Well, at least that’s what she told herself. She caught him staring at her a few times with a look in his eye that she refused to acknowledge. She wanted nothing to do with it. She wanted to train, to fight, and to leave. Sure, she was attracted to him; he was built like a wrestler and covered in tattoos. He had a thick, black goatee and a pierced lip and eyebrow. She had liked kissing him with his lip ring, it was different, cold and hot at the same time. Yet, she knew he could never give her what she ultimately wanted. At least, at that point in her life. And to be honest, at that point in her life she didn’t want anything more than to be able to take care of herself, completely independent. Free. Now? She was free, but she knew something was missing, and knew that she needed to figure out what that was, exactly.
She just had no idea where to start.
Her thoughts continued their leisurely stroll, like a tumbleweed down an empty two-lane road like the one she drove that day, and ended up where they usually did: on Trace. He was nothing compared to Jared, Jonathan, or any other man in her life. He was honest, straightforward, and a gentleman and she knew deep down that he was a good man. He may have his own messy past, that much she was sure of, but he was a good man underneath it all. He had done nothing but make her feel cared for, safe, desired, and cherished.
She remembered how he had made her feel and she shivered, despite the fact that it was an unusually warm day for the location. She could still smell him on her skin; a mix of his cologne and the pure male scent that only he had. She could see and feel the chafed skin on the insides of her thighs from the rasp of his beard. She felt her body tingle at just the thought of his lips and tongue on her pussy. She clenched her legs together as that familiar ache that only he incited inside of her, spread from her thighs and up to her belly. Her nipples tightened under the thin material of her tank top and she wasn’t wearing a bra, so it was pretty obvious, not that anyone else was around.
“Damn, girl,” she scolded herself. “You’ve got it bad for that man, but you’ve got to forget about him. You can’t go back there! Just keep moving forward. Happy endings are not written for people like you.”
The wind whipped her long blonde hair all around her head as she drove and it was then she spotted the lights from a state police car pulling up behind her. She glanced at her speedometer and cringed. She was going ninety in a seventy.
“Shit, shit, SHIT!” she exclaimed. She turned on her blinker and pulled over. Leslie gripped the steering wheel as she waited for him to approach. How could you be so stupid, she admonished, mentally kicking herself. This is time wasted.
A few moments later, he came up to her driver’s side window. “Ma’am,” He tipped his Trooper hat at her. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he asked. She looked at him and smiled sheepishly.
“I’m not sure, Trooper,” she said. Never admit anything, she reminded herself. She glanced at his name badge. Trooper Marcs. “Why don’t you tell me why you pulled me over, Trooper Marcs?” She took slow, deep breaths, pushing her chest up and down with each one. His eyes flicked down, then quickly back up to her face. She watched his pupils dilate at the sight of her protruding nipples. Thank you, Trace, she grinned internally.
Trooper Marcs looked younger than he most likely was. She could see the smile lines around his eyes and a slight greying of his hair at his temples. He had a strong jaw and a dimple in his chin.
Trooper Marcs cleared his throat. “Ma’am, I clocked you doing ninety-two back along that straight stretch.”
Leslie gasped, and placed her hand on her chest, drawing his attention back down. “Oh, my god! I could not have been driving that fast!” Deny, deny, deny, she thought. She watched his eyes flick back down at her fingers as she pulled them away, letting them linger on her skin at the line of her tank top. She then placed them into her lap, drawing his attention even lower to her bare thighs.
She bit her lip and tried blinking back the tears. “Trooper Marcs, is there anything you can do for me? I’m trying to get to my sister in Portland. Her husband is on the force as well and landed in the hospital last night due to a gunshot wound in the line of duty. She needs me to watch her kids for her.” Her voice wobbled at the end of her sentence and she wiped the back of her right hand over her eyes. She sniffled. She tried to look brave for his sake. Leslie watched his resolve waver and then crash and burn like a car wreck you couldn’t look away from.
His eyes softened when he looked down into her shimmering green eyes. “Consider this a warning. Please, slow down. You’ll want to get to Portland in one piece.” He tipped his hat at her again. “Take care, miss.”
“Oh, thank you so much!” She cried out tearfully as he walked away. He just lifted his hand in a wave as he opened the door to his cruiser.
Leslie sighed in relief, put her blinker on, and put the car into drive. Grinning, she gave a mental high-five with the tiny devil version of herself on her shoulder in a red dress. Then, she pulled away and took off down the highway, this time doing the speed limit.