A/N: Thanks for sticking with this and my other stories guys! Hope to have more chapters up this week for this story, M is For Monroe, and my very first fic Run Away, Baby. Fingers crossed!
Connor wasn't sure what he hoped to accomplish when he decided to wait for Charlie outside her usual bar. Maybe he wanted time to think. Maybe the things he wanted to say – and do – to her were not up to even Barker's standards.
But, whatever the reason was, he waited.
For an hour he waited.
And when she finally came to the doorway, he waited still.
He waited as she stumbled back toward the rooms they'd rented.
He waited until he saw the group of men walking purposefully after her, beer bottles in their hands, and the confidence of tracking easy prey in their stride.
Apparently oblivious to the ever-looming shadow she was was walking in, Charlie ambled on, her hips swaying as though she wanted them to follow her.
Without thinking, Connor turned and walked quickly away from the noisy street. When he hit the back ally that ran parallel to the main thoroughfare, he started running. Hidden from their view by the shanty storefronts and bars that littered this desert town, he didn't stop until he was a block ahead of Charlie and her newest admirers. Only when he was once again hidden in an ally's shadows, he hesitated.
Wasn't this what she deserved? Hadn't she brought this on herself?
Connor shook his head, trying to clear it of the instinctive response: Absolutely. Screw her.
If only it were that easy.
Whatever he thought of Charlie, he knew she was smart. Smart enough to survive this long when most of the powerful people left in their world wanted her dead. And smart enough to know what she was getting herself into.
Maybe she'd been tracking these men earlier and was only now getting around to catfishing them to their demise.
Or maybe screwing an ex-dictator old enough to be her father in the same night she'd slept with his son wasn't kinky enough for Charlie.
He took a step backward, seconds away from disappearing back into the shadows from which he'd come. Maybe this time for good.
Charlie heard the men behind her, knew they were following her. Even when she was drunk half out of her mind, she was still a survivor. And survivors never let their guard down-
Except when you're around Monroe.
Charlie shook her head, trying to brush aside her own accusation, but it only made her vision swivel dangerously.
She tried to pick up her pace, but quickly realized that wasn't going to be possible if she wanted to stay on her feet. Behind her, she could hear their heavy breathing getting closer. She almost imagined she could feel it dampening her neck.
Somehow, the smell of their heavy, beer-soaked breathing seemed almost more real than they did. If only she could not feel their breath on her, she wouldn't mind whatever else happened. But she knew; knew when they caught up with her, that with their heavy, smothering breath would come other things…
But surely, surely after everything she'd lived though – after undoubtedly ruining one of the last relationships she'd wanted to fight for – she almost didn't give a damn.
Surely, it was only the small, ever-shrinking part of her that could still feel – the part that had felt Bass' lips against hers, his hands on her neck, his fingers under her shirt – that felt anything but indifference toward what she knew was probably about to happen.
But that part of her – however small – was still terrified.
Stumbling over nothing, Charlie fell to her knees, and even the fear now rising to the surface couldn't force her to rise again.
All of a sudden, as her vision blurred strangely, Charlie remembered that night in the Plains Nation bar. When they'd drugged her, bolted the door so she couldn't get out, and almost…
Bass had saved her then.
Her head bowed forward, pulled by the dual weights of gravity and guilt, as the men behind her closed in.
Bass wasn't here this time… and after the shit she pulled tonight, she was sure he wouldn't be showing up for her again.
And it was her own damn fault.
In a manner of seconds – seconds filled with stupidity – Connor had rounded the corner and found himself face to face with Charlie's would-be… paramours. The mild surprise on their faces reminded him that what he was doing probably didn't make any sense.
He glanced down at Charlie, hoping for some sign that she had this handled and he could pass by the group with nothing but a muttered apology. But her head hung low, and honestly she looked like she was about to topple over any second.
If this was some convoluted plan of hers to lure these men away from a crowd, she'd be pissed he'd ruined it.
She swayed slightly and Connor's hands curled into fists automatically.
Guess it was a good thing he didn't care if he was making her life a little harder. Just like she hadn't cared when she'd led him on, all while trying to get with his Dad.
Unfortunately for both of them, just because he didn't care about her anymore didn't mean that he wanted to find her mangled body on the streets in the morning.
After all, then he'd have to deal with Miles. Maybe with his Dad too if he actually gave a damn about her. They'd create more drama if she died and if there was one thing he didn't need in his life it was more damned Monroe and Matheson drama.
Really, when you looked at it that way, he was stepping in more for his own convenience than anything.
Connor looked back up at the men, who'd come to a stop behind Charlie and were eyeing him with surprise that was quickly becoming dangerous irritation. Connor squared his shoulders and flashed them a smile.
"Evening, gentlemen. Looks like you've making evening plans with my friend here." He gestured to Charlie, who's blurred eyes were currently trying to focus on his face.
"Conner? What are you–"
He stepped around her, coming to stand before the men, at whom he aimed an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but Charlie here has other plans tonight. She'll have to be coming with me."
The largest of the three men chuckled, though he was clearly not amused.
"Yeah? You think so?"
Conner let his smile turn icy.
"Like I said, sorry to disappoint. But to be clear, I'm not asking." He paused, praying this would work. "Mr. Gould isn't the kind of man you want to keep waiting."
The men's expressions shifted instantly from arrogant to cautious.
"She's Gould's?" The biggest man's voice was far more serious than before.
"Sure is. And since you all clearly know my boss, I think you'll understand why we'll need to get going."
After a long moment, the big man's eyes narrowed and his eyes slid to Charlie and then back to Connor.
"If this bitch is so important to Gould, why is she running around here like she owns the place instead of back where she belongs?"
Connor didn't flinch.
"You're welcome to come ask him yourself." Connor turned back toward Charlie, who'd finally gone completely limp against the wall of the nearby building. Lifting her into his arms, Connor felt her head fall against his chest. Turning back to the men, Connor gave them a curious look.
"You don't owe him money do you? Because I'm sure he'd be happy to see you then."
Within moments the men had muttered their apologies and dissolved back into the shadows from which they'd come, and Connor started walking, wondering what the hell he was going to do now.
Bass was furious.
By God! Miles' niece…
As he marched down the road, the low-lifes he passed knew instinctively to give him some space. It may've had something to do with the violence written all over his face.
And violence was what he wanted – needed – right now, because the more he thought about what had happened, the more he enraged he became.
It was all ruined. He and Charlie – whatever they'd had – was certainly gone now.
And Bass didn't think he wanted to live through losing another person.
Not if that person was Charlie.
He kicked a bucket lying on the side of the road so hard it flew down the street and nearly obliterated a few rats scavenging for scraps.
He wasn't angry at her. How could he be? It was his own damn fault, all of it. He hadn't wanted to… Bass didn't let himself finish that thought.
He sure as Hell had wanted to kiss Charlie. Since when, he didn't know, but it had become crystal clear to him tonight that he'd wanted it for a while.
But by God he hadn't meant to really do it!
He'd only made a show of pretending, of leaning in to kiss her with every intention of pulling back, to remind her… that he was… him! And that Connor was his son – a Monroe.
None of it was supposed to happen.
But then… she'd looked up at him with those eyes, so young and empty, and not at all like the first time he'd seen them. Then, they'd been full of life and fight and fury, trained on the barrel of Strauser's gun, ready to take a bullet for her little brother. And now, when she'd looked up at him only an hour ago, she was still convinced he wanted to kill her, but the fight that had once lit her beautiful her eyes was completely gone.
Beautiful…? Bass raked a had through his hair, pulling at it, hoping to shake all those kinds of thoughts loose.
If only it were that easy.
After a long moment, Bass realized he'd stopped in the middle of the road, his head clutched feverishly in his hands, and his breathing ragged.
He must look like a madman.
He felt like he was going mad.
When she'd struggled, he'd loosened his grip, just enough for her to break free, but even then… it seemed she couldn't find the will to do it. She'd become all but lifeless in his arms, staring down what she thought were her final moments with a sort of agonized apathy. She hadn't tried to get away, hadn't tried to stop him.
So he'd kissed her.
He told himself it was to make her angry, to get her to punch him – anything but look at him like nothing mattered to her anymore. Like she could stand to just waste the rest of her life in unfamiliar bars, drinking herself to death. He hadn't been thinking about scaring her away from Connor at that point. He'd just wanted to snap her out of whatever place her mind had gotten lost in between all the fighting and dying she'd faced. It wasn't rational, and it was more than a little sick, but he thought it would work.
He hadn't counted on her kissing him back.
Then again, maybe he should've. Hell, when had Charlie ever not surprised him?
Bass took off in a different direction, not really sure where he was going, but sure that if he didn't keep moving, he really would go insane.
But Charlie and him? It was too ridiculous to even imagine, let alone put in the context of last night.