Chapter 7

Ava skidded to a halt, bits of gravel filling her shoes. “You need to do what now?”

“This is the part I can’t explain right now, but I will. Please,” he said as he gave her hand a squeeze.

Seconds ticked away with thumping heartbeats. Ava glanced at his car, only ten feet away now. I don’t owe him anything, she thought. She looked back into his earnest eyes and knew, somehow, this was important. “All right. But if I get arrested, I’m gonna be so pissed off at you.” She expected his playful smile, a joking quip, but got neither.

“You won’t. I’ll keep you safe,” he replied solemnly as they jogged to his car.

They were mostly silent during the drive. Ava didn’t want to press him for details he wasn’t ready to give yet. She also didn’t want to distract him as he skidded around the back dirt roads at ridiculous speeds. As they rocketed into one sharp corner, she let out a squeal, gripping the handle above the door for support. At the apex of the corner, as she was pressed the hardest against the side of the car, the handle tore away from the ceiling. She let out another yell of surprise and held it up for Liam to see.

Liam glanced over, his boyishly handsome face illuminated in the dash light. “I’ll… uh, have to patch that back on.”

Ava was about to poke fun at the state of his car but saw a flash of genuine embarrassment across his face. “It’s cool. I don’t even have a car yet,” she yelled over the whipping wind and engine. “So what’s the plan here, Clyde?”

At last he grinned, putting her nerves a little to ease. “Well, Bonnie. I’m looking for something but I’m not entirely sure where it is. I need time to look but I need to do it carefully so no one knows I was in there.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be at a party right now? Dee said you and Sarah would probably be…”

“I made an excuse, said my mom needed me. So that bought me a little time,” he replied, rubbing his mouth absentmindedly as he drove. “Everyone is there, most of ‘em drunk, so I don’t have to worry about getting caught… too much.”

Ava noticed that while the road was rural, houses still dotted the sides every hundred yards or so. This late at night, most of the occupants were sound asleep. He slowed and pulled into a ditch, tucking the car into the underbrush as much as possible. He cut the engine and lights and they were both immediately bathed in darkness.

Liam reached out, hitting her elbow as he fumbled for her hand. “I just need you to keep an eye out, okay? Give me the time I need and I’ll only have to do this once.”

“Okay, sure,” she whispered back.

He helped her crawl out of the driver side door and shut it quietly. Threading his fingers through hers, he led her back down the road towards a house on the left. Ava realized he’d pulled ahead so far in case anyone coming to the house wouldn’t recognize his car. The level of planning was both impressive and a little scary. She chanced a glance up at the clear sky and realized, with a pulse of surprise, she was actually having fun.

Liam led her to a sprawling single level house and went straight for the front door.

Ava grabbed his arm and yanked him back. “Wait, you’re just gonna walk right in?”

He laughed. “It’s the country, darlin’. No one locks their doors. I’m gonna move quick, okay? You just stay out here and keep and eye out. Give me a shout if anything happens, but I promise, we’ll be fine.” Liam gave her a swift kiss on the cheek before disappearing inside.

The deafening silence was broken only by the chirping of crickets and the whooshing sound of blood in her ears. Putting on a brave face, Ava stood guard and lost herself in wondering what he could be looking for. Does this mean he isn’t really with Sarah? Why would he rope me into all this in the first place? Maybe he really does trust me or maybe this is some elaborate scheme to mock me? Sarah will be waiting in the bushes and they’ll…

Ava’s stream of progressively paranoid worrying came to a screeching halt. She focused at the distant rumble of a car engine. In the flat, rural area the sound carried for quite some distance. She stiffened and tried to calm her rising panic. There were a dozen houses along this road. It could be going to any number of them. She waited, listening to the car come closer and closer. The bouncing glow of headlights cut through the darkness.

She put her hand on the door, ready to fling it open and yell inside. But the car zoomed past leaving a fading red cloud of dust in it’s wake. She took a few calming breaths and chuckled at how freaked out a single car could make her.

Suddenly, the door ripped open, flying out of her hand. She let out a small shout and clapped her hand over her mouth.

“Sorry,” Liam said with a half smile. “I heard the car go by. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m getting close. You okay?”

“Just peachy,” she said, sure her heart was about to fly out of her mouth.

“Good. I’ll be quick, I promise.”

Ava stood in the silence for another ten minutes now pondering what he could be possibly looking for. A car engine rumbled again in the distance. She tempered her reaction, this time confident the car would stop before the house or carry on like the other. As it drove closer, she remained alert. She listened to the engine noise grow louder then suddenly slow. The headlights were visible through the brush and with a sour taste in her mouth, she realized the car was slowing.

She opened the door quickly and whispered loudly, “Liam! Someone’s coming.”

No response.

“LIAM!”

Nothing.

The car came to a slow crawl and swung into the drive. With a yelp, Ava slipped inside the house and shut the door a split second before the headlights skated across the front. With a hand on the door, she realized in horror she had now broken and entered. No turning back.

“Liam!” she whispered again, trying to make her way down the dark corridors of the house. “Where the hell are you?”

A hand shot out as she walked past and Liam pulled her into a room. His face was illuminated by the screen of his phone. “What’s going on?”

“Someone’s here. Just pulled in.”

“Shit,” he hissed. “We need to hide.” He grabbed her wrist and pulled them into a small closet, sliding the accordion door shut just as the front door opened.

“We’re gonna get caught!” Ava whispered.

Liam clapped his hand over her mouth, making her heart skip a beat. The tight confines of the closet meant they had to stand closer than normal. Neither of them could see very well in the darkness, but it only heightened their other senses. His fingers lingered on her lips before sliding down her neck to rest on her forearm. The adrenaline pumping through her veins coupled with pressing against Liam’s body was enough to make Ava a little light-headed. The fear of being caught faded into a low hum of danger, other desires taking a front seat.

A light flicked on in the hallway. They looked into each other’s eyes, wordlessly. The surprise visitor started humming as they moved around the house. The humming shifted to singing and soon Ava recognized the voice.

Liam dipped his mouth to her ear, whispering as quietly as he could. “It’s all right. It’s Dee. I’d still rather her not find us here.” His warm breath tickled the soft hairs on her neck, a shiver racing down her spine. Though she had the room to move back, she pressed into him further. After a short internal debate, she wrapped one arm around his waist and tucked her hand into the back pocket of his jeans. He caught her chin with his fingers, lifted her face to meet his eye, and searched her expression for a split second. And like a dam breaking free, Liam and Ava finally gave up on the little self control they’d clung to.

In a pile of clothes and who knows what else, Liam pulled her close, devouring every inch he could get a hand on. Caught off guard by his sudden affection, it took her a moment to reciprocate. But within seconds, their lips met and hands clawed under clothes to reach bare skin. Liam groaned against her mouth as he pressed her against the wall. It was further away than either of them anticipated and they both landed with a soft thud.

Dee stopped singing.

They froze, Liam’s hand still cupping her breast, their lips only a fraction of an inch apart. They stared into each other’s eyes as they waited for Dee to come investigate and both breathed a sigh of relief when she continued singing. It doused the flames a touch, but they continued kissing, now with more of an ear to the rest of the house.

When they heard the heard the front door shut, a flutter of nerves hit Ava. Maybe tonight is the night I actually…

“Hey,” Liam whispered against her neck, breaking her thought. “We could probably get out of the closet now.”

The car engine revved outside as if agreeing. “Um, yeah. Okay,” Ava replied with a touch of relief and disappointment. As she took his hand, she slammed her foot against something heavy and metallic.

“Sonofa…” she cursed, hopping out of the closet.

“You okay? What was that?”

“Gold bricks for all I know,” she replied through gritted teeth. “I’m all right. Stubbed my toe.”

Liam shined his phone into the closet and let out a small hiss. “I think I found what I was looking for.” Ava peeked over his shoulder to see a small safe, only a foot tall and two feet wide.

“The thing I broke my foot on?”

“Here, hold this for me,” he said as he handed her the phone. She watched as he tested a few codes on the keypad, cursing under his breath with every failed attempt. After the third, a red light flashed. “Shit. I have one more shot before it locks down completely. What could it possibly be?”

“You tried birthdays?”

“Yeah.”

“Anniversaries?”

Liam rolled his eyes and looked back down at the safe. “Could she seriously have been… it was like, five years ago. I suppose I could try it.” He carefully inputed the sequence of numbers and was rewarded with a satisfying thunk as the door unlocked. “Fuck yea!” he cheered. He jumped to his feet and gave Ava a celebratory kiss as he plucked the phone from her hand. “Great job, darlin’.”

He dove into the safe, placing a handgun on top as he continued to go through stacks of notebooks. Ava wasn’t unfamiliar with firearms, but seeing it brought the danger of their situation crashing back in.

“Did you find what you need?”

“More than I need,” he laughed sardonically.

“Then we should probably get going…” she said as she fidgeted.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re right.” He paused with one notebook in his hand, scanning the pages slowly before placing it back inside. After adding the gun, he shut the door and took a step back, rearranging the messy closet to conceal anyone had been in there. “Let’s go.”

Ava looked at him in shock. “Wait, what? You aren’t going to take any of it? We did all this just so you could look at whatever the hell…”

Liam grabbed her hand and led her out of the house as he explained. “Tonight was just about confirming suspicions, that’s all.”

“But won’t Sarah notice how you ransacked the place? I know you were trying to be careful, but…”

Through his arm, she felt him shrug. They made their way back along the dirt road to the parked car beyond. “It’s her old room in her parent’s house. She hardly visits and if she does, she’ll just think her mom was going through her shit again.”

As they stopped at the car, Liam rested his hand on the door handle. He gently guided her back against the car and trapped her with both arms. “Thank you for jumping into the deep end with me. I knew you were a special kind of girl. There’s something different about you, something…”

“And do you think your girlfriend would say I’m all that special?” Ava snapped. She’d panicked, wanting to stop his train of thought straight away. Don’t think I’m different. I’m normal. Normal girl Ava.

Liam didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he pressed her against the car, a hand sliding into the hair at the back of her head. “I told you, she’s not my girlfriend,” he whispered before kissing her deeply. “But the position is open if you’re interested.”

And for once in Ava’s life, her mind was utterly blank. No thoughts, no worries, no smartass remarks. Just her and Liam kissing in the dark after one of the most confusing nights of her life.

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