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Home > Shooting Scars (The Artists Trilogy #2)

Shooting Scars (The Artists Trilogy #2)
Author: Karina Halle

CHAPTER ONE

ELLIE

“You wanted me to catch you, didn’t you?” Javier’s voice cut into my thoughts like a drill. I blinked at the dry, rough desert of Arizona as it flew past my window, trying to remember what was happening. This wasn’t a dream, this wasn’t a scenario; this was real. I was in the back of an SUV driven by a thuggish man and the ex-boyfriend of my nightmares was right beside me. I had given Camden a second chance at life, at love, at everything by taking a step backward with mine. I was Javier’s prisoner now, his six years of chasing after me having finally come to a close.

I was trapped with a man who would either love me or kill me. There was no middle ground with Javier Bernal.

“Didn’t you?” he repeated. I caught him wave his hand dismissively out of the corner of my eye, his watch catching the sun that streamed in through the tinted windows. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. I know.”

I didn’t want to take the bait. I wanted to keep looking out the window, pretending this didn’t exist. I wanted to ignore the anger that started to prick at my toes, rising up my limbs, and the disgust and defeat that was about to sink in my chest.

He had found me.

“You tracked my cell phone,” I said, my tongue sticking to the roof of my dry mouth.

He chuckled. The hair on my arms stood up.

“Seriously? Your cell phone. Angel, you aren’t Jason Bourne.”

I both wanted to laugh derisively at the way he pronounced Jason and sneer at the use of my old pet name, Angel. I was Angel six years ago. That angel had died on broken wings and with a broken heart.

He continued, “I can’t track your phone unless I have physical access to it.”

“Then you were tracking the car,” I said, still to the window.

Another chilling laugh. “Tracking that car all this time? I had people looking out for it – you took quite a big chance driving around in a flashing ‘find me’ sign. But no, there was no tracking device in the car. Why would I plant one in my own car?”

“Someone might steal it.”

“Only you, my dear.”

His voice lowered over that last phrase, twisting in a curiously compassionate way. I brought my eyes over to look at him and immediately regretted it. I realized that up until that moment, I’d been trying to see through him like he was a hologram.

Javier’s hair was longer now, but just as thick and dark. His face had thinned out a bit over the years and his build was somehow wider, stronger. He looked like a citron-eyed lion in a white linen suit, a creature that felt larger than the sum of his parts. The more I stared at him, the more the space around me became smaller.

He smiled at me, his eyes glinting. It wasn’t a kind smile and I quickly cast my eyes downward, feeling that the less eye contact we made, the better it was for me. I caught a glimpse of his Wish tattoo on his wrist, partially covered up by his watch.

“Ellie Watt,” he said smoothly. “It didn’t take me long to figure out your real name. In fact, it was almost like your name came floating in my window one day. So, you must realize that when you’re on the run and using your real name, well, any f**king idiot can track you down.”

I blinked hard and ripped my head to the window again. I’d been so careful with Camden’s name, going through all the steps to make sure he could never be found as Connor Malloy. I barely did the same for myself. The minute we knew that Javier and his men were after me in Palm Valley, the minute we headed for Nevada, I should have been more careful, more cautious. I should have concentrated more on myself than on Camden. Javier had tracked me to the resort in Laughlin and after that I thought I was playing it smart by taking on an old persona.

I wasn’t smart enough.

“I had people waiting in Las Vegas, you know,” he said and I could sense him examining his fingernails. “It wasn’t hard to figure out that’s where you’d be going next, that you needed to keep laundering your money. You were cocky enough to stay on the Strip. One of my men saw your car – my car – driving through. Followed you to your hotel, where you went through a half-hearted attempt to hide it.”

I swallowed hard. Disgust was beating out defeat at the moment.

“I realize now, Angel, that I didn’t know you very well at all. I don’t know who I knew. But I do know you’re not an idiot. You wanted me to find you. Perhaps you’ve been asking for it since you ran away.”

“Where are we going?” I said, trying to keep my breath from shaking.

He sighed. “I told you. To the past.”

“I have many pasts. Pick one.”

He leaned back in his seat, his legs splayed open, the tip of his knee touching my leg for a brief second. Just a tap. His way of reminding me where I was. I eyed the rocky landscape flying past and wondered when it became too reckless to jump out of a moving vehicle.

“Child safety locks,” he whispered and I wished he’d get the f**k out of my head. “And our past. Do you remember it?”

“No.” Although it wasn’t that much of a lie. I’d had so many pasts, that it was easy to bury them all with each other. When I left Javier all those years ago, I only remembered the pain he brought me, the humiliation and deceit for as long as I needed to. For as long as I needed to become someone else, to never make the same mistakes again. Then I let it go.

“Now you’re just trying to hurt me.” His couldn’t have sounded less sincere.

I cleared my throat. “I’m thirsty. Do you have any water?”

“Later. First we have something to discuss.”

I turned my head and shot him a deadly look. “We have nothing to discuss.”

The corner of his wide mouth twitched up into a smile. I wondered how I ever found this man charming. I must have been out of my mind.

My phone rang, jarring me. I reached for my jean pocket but Javier was quicker. His fingers wrapped around my wrist twisting it painfully away from me while he deftly got the phone out with his other hand. He held my arms down, pinning me against my door, and checked the screen. His eyes blazed for an instant before he punched the button for the window to go down and then chucked my cell out of it.

In a second, the window was back up and he was sitting in his seat like he never moved and my wrists were left aching in my lap. He smoothed his hair back behind his ears and grinned to himself. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you a new phone.”

I looked down at my wrist, the red marks from his fingers quickly fading. He’d never used force on me before, at least not in a non-sexual way, and to tell you the truth, it was sobering. For the first time since I’d gotten in the car, I was actually afraid.

What had I gotten myself into?

“So, tell me about this Camden McQueen.”

My heart rattled in my chest. “I’m sure you know more about him than I do.”

“I found out a lot, yes. But you … you seemed to be intimate.”

Acid burned along his words, seeping through his smooth façade. I really didn’t want to discuss my relationship with Camden though I felt like doing so out of spite. It bothered him, somehow, after all this time, that I had been with another man. And I guess somewhere, somehow, I still held a grudge.

“I f**ked him, if that’s what you mean,” I said bluntly. I told Camden I loved him too, I thought to myself, playing with the sentence like a hand grenade but deciding it was safer keeping it inside.

Javier stiffened beside me for an instant. “So crude.”

“Yeah, well,” I said. “It is what it is.”

“Nothing more?”

I glared at him against my better judgement. “What is it that you want, Javier? I’m sure it can’t be whether I got nailed by Camden or not, because you have your answer.”

“I want,” he said slowly, drawing it out. He licked his lips. “I want you and I to work together.”

I nearly laughed. In fact a small snort escaped from my lips.

He raised one perfect brow and tilted his head toward me. “You find this funny?”

My fingers were splayed against my collarbone. “I find this horrifying.”

“Eden,” he said, then squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “Ellie. You don’t think you’re here just for the sake of being here, do you?”

“You tell me. You f**king kidnapped a mother and child in order to get me. You paid I don’t know how much money. You have me now. For whatever you want. And you’re telling me, after all these years, you found me because you want us to work together?”

His eyes were on me, growing more golden in the light. Steady. Not blinking. Unnerving if I wasn’t so sure this was a test. He who looks away first, loses. I wasn’t losing yet, not when I was unaware of the prize.

I stared right back.

“Yes,” he said after a few beats. He licked his lips again and it made me realize how thirsty I was. “I could have found you long ago, if I really wanted to. I would have let you go. The car, the money, the lack of answers—”

“The lack of answers?” I repeated.

“You just left. No note, no phone call. No answers.” He slowly broke into a grin and then turned his attention to the window where a truck was thundering down the highway, dirty exhaust in its wake. “You know I love my answers, angel. You left me as high and dry as my mother’s bed sheets.”

My mouth gaped, tongue fumbling for something concrete. “What the f**k are you talking about? I left you high and dry …”

He shrugged. “No matter, it’s the past.”

It was the past. The past he was totally wrong about.

“You cheated on me!” I spat out, instantly ashamed at how much passion there was in my voice.

“Right,” he said. He raised his hand in the air as if to shut me up. “I did. I forget that sometimes, that what I did was wrong on some accounts. But that’s nothing.”

It wasn’t nothing. What he did, me finding him in bed with some ginger-haired bitch, it shaped who I was. It ruined my heart, my ability to love, to trust, to … live. He scarred me just as much as Travis did. It wasn’t nothing. Maybe, maybe it should have been.

I took in a deep breath, knowing he probably loved the fact that I was getting so riled up. “Okay, so it was nothing. You could have found me years ago, so you say. Why now? You’re lonely, is that it? Having a lot of money not getting your dick up enough?”

His eyes fastened into slits. “I’m not the person I was six years ago, my dear. And, I can see, neither are you.”

He was right about that. Javier had obviously changed for the worst. Had I?

Stupid question.

“I can understand why you think I’d pursue you for, uh, delicate reasons,” he continued. “But that’s not the case. We both want the same thing. And for once, I think you have the upper hand in getting it.”

My forehead scrunched. “Don’t tell me you need lessons in being a con artist.”

I saw the first genuine smile yet stretched briefly across his face. “You’re a lot better at other things, Ellie. You have something that I don’t. You have access, contacts, and in some cases … womanly charms. Jesus knows how I fell for them once.”

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