Okay, so I’ve been playing around with my third manuscript, which I’m developing under the title “Outrush,” and I’ve selected the following section of narrative for my opening. Could change my mind tomorrow, but I’m liking it for now. This story is the third in my New Adult Paranormal romance series, the first of which was “Updrift,” the second parked under the title, “Breakwater.” For your reading pleasure (I hope…)!
Maya took a break from her notebook to sip her coffee. Afterward, she stretched in her chair, using the activity as an excuse to check and see if the guys following her were still across the street. Yep. The Undertaker was behind the wheel of his car, reading his newspaper as usual; and Jethro was in the window of the café opposite hers, texting on his phone.
She didn’t know these men, but she’d needed to call them something, and the Undertaker was a gaunt, cadaverous-looking guy. Maya could picture him draining blood in a basement mortuary, hence the name. Jethro looked even less like a detective, Maya thought; he was too beefy and handsome and built, and not at all inconspicuous. Her made-up story for him was that he’d been sent over from central casting to shoot a toothpaste ad and got lost on his way to the studio.
Week four, Maya sighed, rubbing her eyes. About a month since she’d noticed she was being followed, or watched, or whatever. Most people would have run, she supposed, and at first, she wanted to. Not that she’d done anything wrong, as far as she knew, but being the subject of someone’s surveillance mission was creepy, made her want to sneak away even if she was innocent. The scientist in her prevailed, however, and, instead of acting to avoid scrutiny, she’d done the opposite. She maintained an even stricter schedule, leaving and returning to her apartment at the same times each day, running errands on set afternoons to the same places, even stopping for coffee at the Bean Machine each afternoon, as she was doing now. If she found her regular table was taken, she took her second regular table instead, and then moved if her first choice opened up.
This constancy, which she knew made her easier to trail, also allowed her to verify she was being followed, and by whom. Now she could recognize the characters sent to attend her, and she’d become familiar with their quirks, like the Undertaker’s tendency to tap his fingers when he was restless, and Jethro’s fondness for chewing gum. She’d trained them, too; like good little ducks following her mother-duck lead, they had fallen into the pattern she dictated, meaning they took up the same posts in the same places each time she took up hers, and wasn’t that just a sad testament to their spying competence? There were four of them on rotation – Porky and Popeye had the day off today. Which she could predict at this point, since it was Tuesday, and Tuesdays were Jethro and Undertaker days.
One thing for sure, these guys weren’t the low-level paparazzi she was used to seeing around her socialite in-laws. These guys didn’t have the look – no cameras, no slouching around in what looked like permanently slept-in clothing. Even their expressions were wrong, devoid of the mix of desperation and defiance Maya considered a kind of trade calling card.
No, these guys were paid babysitters looking for something other than media currency, which was the variable in this situation she couldn’t, no matter how hard she racked her brain, figure out. What did they want? What had she done to warrant such an action? She stared at her notebook screen again and pretended to take interest in her work…
…and then she felt it, that overwhelming sense of peace she sometimes, God knew not often enough, experienced like a gift, always when she was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Her last reprieve had been weeks ago. But here it was again out of nowhere, blanketing and embracing her like her own mother’s caress, and oh, how lovely to feel cared for and protected and like everything was going to be okay. She understood just how tightly wound she was if a fantasy encouragement could undo her to this extent. And here she thought she’d been coping just fine with her disaster of a life and smashed-up emotions. She was wrong.
But for the moment, her feeling of well-being was complete and intensifying. Something was coming, and she opened her eyes, realizing only then she’d closed them. A man approached her table, no one she knew, but she instinctively identified him as the source of her comfort. When he reached her, she smiled at him as if they were old friends.
He stopped to rest a hand on her shoulder, a hand she clasped in gratitude and held against her cheek.
Everything will be okay. I’m going to help.
She heard the words as if he’d spoken them, and she was so grateful, she thought she might cry. She turned her face to press her forehead against his forearm. Thankyouthankyouthankyoupleasestaybyme, she thought. The man looked out the window and frowned, and then gently disengaged his hand from hers. After a stroke to her hair, he walked away.
Maya noticed the alarmed expressions of her watchers across the street but couldn’t be induced to care. As she reveled in her break from anxiety, she followed their actions without real concern, like she was watching a television show instead of real people who might be planning to hurt her. Jethro spoke grimly into his headset while the Undertaker left to tail the man Maya considered her angel of mercy, and she knew they were reacting to the exchange they’d just seen. Even so, nothing pierced her calm until she became aware of what Jethro said.
Her protector was retreating, his soothing influence dissipating as he went, but she still felt connected to him, was still fortified and hopeful, even imagined she heard his voice. Just now, he whispered urgently in her ear, You need to know what’s going on, Maya. Then he provided a kind of short-distance translation of Jethro’s phone conversation.
“Contact’s been made,” Jethro was saying. “Looked like a lover, but that had to be a front. Been here all month and never seen the guy before. May have passed a message. We’re following.”
Maya’s confidence faltered, but she still felt bold enough to meet Jethro’s eyes when he looked up from his call. She was tired of pretending to be unaware, tired of his lurking oversight, and really tired of the subterfuge he and his colleagues represented, one she couldn’t figure out and could no longer stand to live with. Jethro held her gaze while he discreetly moved a panel of his jacket aside, just enough for her to see his holstered gun. She’d thrown down a challenge, and his response – a clear threat – caused fear to rocket through Maya’s veins like a shot of jet fuel to an over-primed engine. She launched herself from her chair, grabbed her things and bolted away from the window, running through the kitchen to find a back way out.