Home > Taming Cross(17)

Taming Cross(17)
Author: Ella James

Jim picked me up at six sharp in a big, black SUV I’d never seen before, but I didn’t question it. When I got into the back seat, Priscilla Heat was there, and then I started freaking out. The two of them wanted me to quit seeing the governor. Priscilla told me he was hers, and I needed to go back to Georgia. I wondered how she knew I came from Georgia, but then I remembered: I’d told Jim.

“Are you guys working together?”

Priscilla laughed, and they explained how I was going to call Drake and ask him for more money.

“He already knows your plan, my dear.” Priscilla grinned. “How you’re actually an undercover reporter. How you’ll tell everyone about what a lying, cheating bastard he is if he doesn’t pay your price.”

I was so young and stupid, it took me a minute to understand: This was blackmail. We were on the highway, then, and when Jim Gunn turned around from the driver’s seat, he held up a pistol.

“I think you want to do what we’re asking, darlin’. We’ve got some fun things in store for you.”

I was so young. So stupid.

I never even had a chance.

Hopelessness washes over me now, as I think of walking out of here to meet Jesus.

Maybe I should run. Maybe running would be better than walking into yet another trap.

Instead, I pack my bags in the attic—where no one will find them for a while; so they will assume I ran away—and when the sun comes up, I'm prepared to face my last day of freedom.

I go to breakfast. Eat my rice and beans as if it's not the last time I'll ever spoon them out of these metal bowls. The hardest thing, I think, is Sister Mary Carolina. She pulls me into a hug after my first appointment and whispers in my ear, “No worries. God will take care of you.”

It's all I can do to hold back tears.

I'm sitting in a tiny office, filling out paperwork to order more menthol back cream for a little boy named Fernando, when I say the only prayer I will ever say for my own fate.

Whatever happens, please help me to bear it. Please don't let any of the children get hurt—or anyone at all. Please don't let the Sisters see me walking out tonight.

That's the last thing that I pray before the door swings open, and Sister Mary Carolina tells me that I have a visitor.

 

 

Cross

 

 

I’M SURPRISED BY how pretty Guadalupe Victoria is. It’s a small, flat city surrounded by rising hills that might be mountains, and in comparison to the dusty haze of Mexicali, it’s green. Not so much of a waste land, even though I know that technically, it’s got to be poorer than shit.

By the time I stop at a small, two-pump gas station on the outside of town, my shoulder is aching and my neck feels really tight. I sit on my bike for a minute rubbing the tendons in my neck before going inside to ask about the St. Catherine’s Clinic.

“The sick kids’ clinic?” the man asks.

I shrug, then nod. “Yeah.”

He gives me directions to the north east side of town and tells me the building was burned.

“Burned?” I put my hand to my chest, where my heart feels like it might have stopped. “So it’s gone?”

He shakes his head. “Only part of it.”

Shit. “What happened?”

He leans close to me, so I can smell the food residue in his moustache. “The cartel,” he hisses.

“They went after a kids’ clinic?”

“They went after a woman. She belonged to Jesus Cientos. She left him and went to the convent. He wants her back.”

I clutch the counter. “But he didn’t get her?”

The guy makes a fish face and shrugs his slim shoulders. “How would I know? I work at a petro station.”

Fuck.

I think him and speed toward the area of town he mentioned. I was thinking of buying a hat or maybe even ditching my bike, but I’m so impatient, I just drive right to the clinic. It's not the only building in town that's half burned, but it’s the only half-burned building that smells just burned.

What if she’s not here?

Then I’ll find her somewhere else.

What if I get shot when I walk through the door?

I swallow. I’m not backing out now.

I park my bike beside the charred remains of the left side of the stout, wide, stucco building and pull my bag into my lap, cursing myself for not doing this sooner. I slide Carlos’s gun—a black 9 mm Beretta—into the bag and check the clip. Completely full. That’s good.

She's probably gone, I tell myself as I situate the gun in my pants. What kind of self-respecting Mexican drug lord would blow up half of a clinic and not claim the woman he came for? This is probably just a pit stop for me. I might have to chase Missy King all the way to Jesus Cientos's doorstep.

Damn, that makes me feel tired.

I pull off my helmet and look around. If anyone’s expecting me, I’d like to know before I get off my bike; but the parking lot is still and calm. There’s no sign of a threat. Beneath the helmet, my hair is matted damply to my head. In some spots, it's dried and sticking up at weird angles. I run a hand over my face and wonder if I still look like hell. The look that was so convenient for the club last night will probably scare the pants off everyone in here. Assuming the place hasn’t been claimed by the cartel.

With my teeth gritted, I stride toward the clinic. A willowy woman is pushing out the door with a tiny baby in some kind of sling. I give a weak smile, just to let her know I mean no harm, and she holds the baby a little closer.

Two more steps and I find myself inside a tidy, worn-down waiting area, outfitted with your basic metal foldout chairs and a round wooden table piled high with dog-eared magazines. Beyond the waiting area, only a few paces behind the last of the chairs, is a simple school-style desk. A petite girl with braided hair sits at it, thumbing through a day planner and looking surprisingly prim in a plain navy blue dress with a large, brass cross necklace.

When she sees me, her brown eyes widen. She audibly swallows, and I notice her left hand is clenched around a bunch of peanuts.

“Did I interrupt your snack?” I ask her in Spanish.

She smiles a little, but it's a nervous smile. She looks down at her hand, like maybe she's going to offer me some of her peanuts, but instead she draws the hand into her lap and looks me up and down.

“Welcome to St. Catherine's Clinic. How may I help you?”

I reach into my pocket for the photo I'm so used to carrying around, and I guess the girl thinks I'm reaching for a gun, because she jumps up, tossing up her hands. Her mouth is stretched wide in a scream I never hear. Instead her lips pinch shut and with a frenzied shake of her head, “I'll go with you! I won’t make any noise! Please, don't harm the children!”

Holy shit.

“You think I'm here to kidnap you?”

She lowers her eyes, as well as her hands. “Y-you're not?”

“I'm not with a cartel.” I had thought that didn’t need saying, but clearly I don’t know how things work. “I'm only here to find someone.”

“You came here for…an American?”

I nod slowly. I didn’t really plan on having this conversation with a kid. “I'm looking for my sister.” My fingers twitch in the direction of my pocket, but of course, the photo I had is gone. “I lost my photo of her—” and the video in my inbox on my phone, of Missy King wearing a baseball cap and a heavy coat, is next to worthless if I even have service— “but she's got red hair and green eyes. She's not very tall, but she is pretty. Close to my age,” I say.

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