Lisa Renee Jones
I’m remarkably calm for a woman who’s just now coming to grips with the fact that I’m standing in downtown Nashville, not two blocks from Hawk Legal, while apparently being abducted. The fact that my potential captor is a refined, good-looking Black man in a ridiculously expensive suit, who speaks with what sounds like an English accent, pretty much tells me all I need to know.
He’s a professional, and for some reason, I’m allowing that to translate to him being just another attorney or agent, but he’s not one of us. He’s probably not an attorney at all. His job isn’t legal or literary. It’s criminal.
And still, my heart is steady and calm, and my adrenaline has yet to go bonkers. In contrast, mere weeks back, when facing down a studio head, battling for my brother’s TV deal, my heart was nearly bursting from my chest. I really don’t know why other than the fact that I’m the daughter of a daredevil NASCAR driver, and thanks to him, there’s a gun in my purse I know how to handle.
“I’m going to need you to come with me, Bella,” he repeats, a hint of impatience inking his otherwise refined tone.
“You know who I am,” I observe. “Can I ask who you are?” I sound polite, but then so does he. It really does feel like Hollywood. Everyone smiles to your face, but the minute you walk out of the room, the red carpet is pulled from right beneath your feet. Which is why you handle your business with a contract, unless of course, there’s a gun involved.
“Who I am doesn’t matter,” he replies, and I’m now certain he has an English accent, or perhaps Australian. “You, Bella, are the person who matters right now.”
It’s easy to assume this problem before me is connected to Tyler and his father’s will, but with the big stars and powerful executives I deal with, I can’t be sure. “You mean your employer is the one who matters,” I say, digging for facts. “I’m going to take a swing and guess that’s the Allen family.”
His lips quirk, and his eyes—a shade I can only call steely gray—glinting with amusement. “Let’s go have a little chat.”
Blood rushes in my ears. The moment I leave this public place is the moment I may never see the light of a new day. “Where?” I ask, stalling, mentally processing what to do next. Scream? Reach for my weapon? Run?
“Not far,” he says, catching my elbow. “Let’s walk.”
I plant my feet.
His energy bristles. “It’s in Tyler’s best interest that we chat, Bella, and I’d like to think between the two of us, we can keep it nice and professional.”
I’m good at reading between the lines. That word is meant to be a warning. He’ll kill me if it’s necessary, but it’s not just me he’s threatened. It’s Tyler, and that’s when reality hits. This is real. The danger is real.
He starts walking, still touching my arm, and this time, I fall into step with him, expecting to be shoved into a car, or worse, the trunk of a car, but that’s not how this plays out at all. We travel a few blocks, “not far” as he himself stated, when he directs us to a corner bar that I’ve walked past many a time but have never actually been inside.
My mind is back in a race, calculating a plan. I’ll ask to go to the bathroom, and text the name of the bar to Tyler. No, Dash. I’ll text Dash. Tyler will lose his shit over this. Dash is former FBI. He’ll be cool under pressure. He’ll get me back before Tyler ever has the chance to fret. And if “Oliver” gets smart and takes my phone, I can write a note in the bathroom to ask for help.
It’s an option.
But once we’re at the door, it’s with a stab to my heart that I realize there’s no name anywhere to be found to identify the establishment. My new “friend” pulls the door open and motions me inside. I step into a rather cozy, but extremely dimly lit spot, with high-back booths framing a bar. My captor steps to my side and motions toward the other side of the room.
I start walking again, and now I’m feeling the adrenaline. It’s darting through my blood, hyping me up, and I’m not sure why now, and not the moment I knew I was being abducted. I’m in a public place, not that trunk of a car I’d feared but then, there’s more to this stop than meets the eye. This location is obviously planned for a reason; perhaps he owns it, or the Allen family owns it. In which case, this would be a perfect location to kill me. The staff could clean up. He’d never even get blood on his fancy suit.
My fingers curl in my palms, and I’m thinking about my weapon again. I could reach for it, just go for it, and this would end one way or the other in a matter of minutes. But what if this man, whoever he is, really does merely want to talk? Okay, not merely. Maybe he wants to scare us all to death while talking? If I reach for my weapon, this could get deadly, when it might otherwise simply be frightening and unreasonable.
I try to think about what my brother would do, what his stories say to do, what he has told me to do, and I’m pretty sure I should have screamed when we were outside, but at what cost to Tyler or even Dash? I should have reached or my gun in public, but I did not. Am I stupid? I think I am right now. My father and brother will torment me over how I’ve handled this.
If I survive it.
I draw in a breath at the idea, holding it, dreading what might come next.
Our destination is the farthest booth in the rear of the building, where the bar hides us from view of the front door. The perfect place to kill me, I think again. And clearly, he’s not worried about who might walk in. The staff probably locked up after we entered. He motions for me to sit with my back to the door. Once I’ve settled onto the leather bench, I’m aware now that the high backs create the illusion of a secret hiding spot. A place where only we know what happens next.
Oliver joins me, claiming a position directly across from me. “This is cozy, isn’t it?”
Cozy is not a word I’d expect to come from such an intensely male and formal man such as this one, therefore the word sounds patronizing at best, threatening at worst. He leans into the aisle and motions to someone, which can’t be good either. With a leap of my heart, I unzip my purse, but before I can reach for my weapon, my moment has passed.
Oliver straightens to face me again, my spine is stiff with yet another rip of anticipation. Who is joining us? Who did he just invite to be a part of my “talking to”? That’s when a pale-skinned mid-fifties woman steps to our side, an apron around her waist. “Sorry. I didn’t see you come in. Can I get y’all some drinks?”
“The lady likes lemon drops,” my abductor states before arching a brow at me. “Unless you’d prefer a bloody mary?”
Unease settles low in my belly at the mention of the two drinks I favor, which is no doubt his way of letting me know he’s been watching and studying me. “I’ll pass,” I reply tightly. “Thanks.”
“Two bloody marys,” Oliver orders, his eyes locked with mine before he glances at the waitress. “And some of that amazing spinach artichoke dip you make here.”
“Coming right up,” she replies and hurries off.
“Who are you?” I demand, deciding there is strength in confrontation, and I need to show strength. This table has to be a negotiation like any other, with the endgame being a peaceful resolution.
“Call me Oliver,” he urges.
“Oliver,” I repeat. “It doesn’t suit you.”
He doesn’t bite on my effort to get him talking, replying as if I had not spoken. “I want you to pull out your cellphone and hand it to me.”
Not yet, I think. “And if I don’t?” I challenge.
“Again, this is in the best interest of Tyler.”
My lips press together, and my heart thunders in my chest. I don’t need my phone, I remind myself. I have a sweet little Smith and Wesson tucked away in my bag. Almost as if he’s read my mind, he says, “It’s also in your best interest to leave your weapon in your purse. I don’t need you to hand it to me, but I do need you to be smart enough to stay alive. If I die, the people I work for will stop playing nice. And believe me, I’m the nicest this gets, Bella.”
Acid burns the back of my throat, and I decide his version of nice is likely the promise to kill you but make it fast and clean. After all, he wouldn’t want to bloody up his expensive suit.
I reach into my purse and offer him my phone. He doesn’t reach for it. Instead, he commands, “Unlock it.”
My jaw clenches. “Why?”
“Unlock it,” he repeats, his tone low but taut as a rubber band about to pop you right in the face.
I have no idea what he’s about to do, but it can’t be good. I unlock the phone and fight the urge to rebelliously text Dash, right here in front of him, everything inside me warns against it. I’m trembling inside when he motions for me to hand over my cell, but somehow my hand is steady when I drop it in his palm. He snaps a photo of me, and then starts typing. He dramatically taps a button, clearly wanting me to know he’s sent a message, before he removes my SIM card, and sets my phone face down at elbow length to himself.
My fingers curl on my knee beneath the table. “What did you just do?”
“I let Tyler know you’ll be late.”
I scream in my head.
No. No. No.
And yet, it’s done. Tyler is about thirty seconds from losing his mind.
The waitress appears and sets chips and waters down in front of us. “Drinks coming right up,” she says and walks away.
“Oliver” drops my SIM card in the water and then laces his fingers in front of him. “Now we won’t be rushed. You can enjoy your drink.”
I tamp down on my emotions and with good reason. Everything about his demeanor is calculated and I must meet that energy with my own. “What is this game you’re playing?”
“One where you walk out of here alive with a new friend who might be an asset one day, should you need me.”
“Because kidnapping me is how you make friends?” I challenge.
“I let you keep your weapon for a reason. I’d like this conversation to feel it's on even ground, a mutual meeting of the minds, meaningful in his content. Alternatively, this chat of ours can turn dark and nasty and do so in a blink of an eye. I don’t think you’re stupid enough to let that happen though, now, are you?”
The waitress reappears and our drinks are set in front of us, as is the dip. After a brief exchange between her and Oliver, we’re left alone. He wants to play this game, and I decide doing so works for me. He talks. I find out things.
“Where are you from?” I ask. “England? Australia?”
“England. Home of James Bond. You know he isn’t big on killing people. It’s a necessity of his job at times. Call it the English way. Let’s talk about why Tyler Hawk has been asking the wrong questions about the wrong people.”
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