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Jackson: Chapter 31


“They spotted Elijah’s car as it was leaving an old farm.”

Jackson sucked in a sharp breath. He’d been sharing River’s location with Widow and Todd until the signal from her phone stopped abruptly. “Who’s they? And did they stop him? Was River with him?”

Was she alive?

“Two cars with my guys in them,” Todd responded quickly. There was the loud sound of an engine over the phone. It rivaled the sound of the car he, Declan, and Cole were in. “One car stopped at the farm, the other continued to tail Elijah. River isn’t at the farm.”

“Where’s the car heading?”

“Toward Easton.”

Declan fiddled with the GPS, making sure they were en route toward the town.

“They’re driving fast, both of them. We’ve got local police cutting off all exit points, forcing them to drive through. But we might have trouble once they get to Easton.”

“Why? What’s in Easton?”

“A fair. People from all over the county are attending. The good news is, their car will be blocked.” Todd paused. “The bad news is, they’ll likely run, and they could disappear in the crowd.”

Declan pushed the car faster. “We’re close.”

“I’ll keep sending location updates,” Todd said.

“She’s definitely in that car?” Jackson asked before Todd could hang up.

“She definitely wasn’t back with the truck.”

Meaning, she had to be with Elijah.

When Jackson hung up, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. She had to be alive. Jackson couldn’t lose her. He just couldn’t.

“We’ll get her back,” Declan said, almost reading his mind.

Cole grabbed his shoulder from behind. “We’re not stopping until we find her.”

Jackson swallowed, glancing out the window.

When his phone rang next, and an unknown number popped up, he answered straight away. “Who is this?”

“Jackson…”

His entire body froze at the familiar voice. A voice he never thought he’d hear again.


River’s eyes opened slowly. Everything was black. For a moment, she thought it had something to do with the pounding in her head. Then she felt the coarse material against her cheeks. There was something over her head, blinding her. A hood maybe. And she was scrunched into a ball with a light vibration beneath her. She was in a car.

“I can’t fucking lose him!”

The sound of a man’s angry voice had her jolting. And even that small movement made pain shoot through her skull.

She was in the back of the vehicle, but not on the seat. She was on the floor. And even though she couldn’t see, she knew the car was moving fast.

The events of the day came back to her in a wave that had her throat closing and nausea yet again sickening her gut at the memory of the men who had been shot dead.

“Shit. There are too many cars up ahead.” It was a different voice this time. A voice also coming from the front. “Is this why the exits were closed? Because they knew we wouldn’t be able to drive through? What the hell is this?”

Suddenly, the car lurched and her head bounced off something, the middle console maybe, causing her eyes to shutter in pain. She heard the impact of metal on metal, as if a car had hit them.

The men cursed.

“Even if the assholes don’t crash us, we’re gonna have to stop. There’s nowhere to turn off.”

The car started to slow. Before she could recover, they were hit again. This time, the men were even louder in their cursing, and she could feel that the driver had lost control. The squeal of the tires grinding against the road was loud, and she scrunched her eyes tight, bracing for impact.

The second the car crashed to a stop, River’s head once again bashed against a hard surface. Pain shot through her skull like a hundred tiny daggers.

Suddenly, the bag was tugged from her head. She squinted her eyes, the combination of light and that last hit causing more pain in her head.

Strong fingers wrapped around her upper arm.

“Shoot the assholes,” Elijah growled as the creak of a door sounded. “Call me when it’s done.”

Then she was being dragged from the car. The brightness blinded her, and loud music and voices drilled into her skull. She felt like she was in a daze. She knew she needed to try to stop the man from pulling her, to resist, but was barely able to think, let alone fight.

When the blast of gunshots echoed through the air, it was quickly followed by countless loud screams. The pounding steps of people running.

People ran past her, panicked, looking for shelter. Shoulders bashed into her own.

When the next person ran past, causing her to stumble, she started falling, only to be yanked to her feet again.

Then his voice was in her ear. “You fucking run or I put a bullet in your head. Got it?”

His words were obviously meant to scare her into obedience. They did the opposite. They pierced the fog that clouded her mind, reminding her that she was being pulled away from the crowds. Away from safety.

There were people running everywhere. In a crowd like this, it would be hard for anyone to spot her, but she had to try.

He tugged her forward again, but this time she pulled back, lowering her body for leverage and causing Elijah to stumble. He grunted before firming his grip and pulling her onto a quieter side street. Her body was thrown against a brick wall. Then he was crowding her, his fingers wrapping around her throat, cutting off her air.

“Don’t fucking mess with me!” Elijah growled, his head lowering.

When he removed his hand, the air rushed back into her lungs, and her legs tried to cave, but he was already dragging her down the street again.

She sucked in deep, steadying breaths, trying to ward off the dizziness that was hedging her vision. Everything was a blur. Elijah. The path in front of her.

Still, she pressed her heels into the pavement. They both stumbled yet again, but she remained on her feet—just.

The man had barely turned when she raised her leg and kicked him as hard as she could in the knee.

His knee gave instantly, and he shouted in pain, his fingers untangling from her arm as he fell. She ran back the way they came. She got only steps away before a hand tangled in her hair, yanking her back.

More pain splintered through her skull.

Her body was shoved against a wall again, her cheekbone colliding with and scraping against the rough brick surface.

“What did I fucking say?”

She felt the sticky wetness of blood running down the side of her face. The throbbing in her head intensified, hazing her vision further.

When he pulled her back again, she wasn’t sure if he was going to throw her against the wall once more or force her down the narrow street.

He did neither. Instead, he gasped sharply—then she was tugged roughly in front of him, the cold muzzle of a gun pressed to her head.

You…!” he whispered.

River’s vision was dim. She scrunched her eyes, trying to clear them, but all she could see was a blurry outline.

“How the fuck are you here—and where the fuck are my guys?”

Elijah took several steps back, dragging her with him.

“Your guys are dead.”

River’s world narrowed to pinpoint accuracy. The pain, the dizziness, it all faded at the sound of his voice.

“And I’m here to make sure you die, too.”

Her breaths were coming out in jagged gasps. It couldn’t be him—could it? Maybe she’d already passed out. Maybe she was hearing something that wasn’t there.

The gun pressed harder to her head. It barely registered. She took two more blinks, and finally, she saw him clearly.

“Ryker…” she whispered.

This time when her vision blurred, it was due to tears. She blinked them away as fast as she could, desperate to keep him in her line of sight.

Ryker’s gaze hit hers for a second, his eyes softening just a fraction, before sliding back to Elijah and hardening once again.

Even though she was hurting and tired and probably would have collapsed if she wasn’t being held up, for the first time since the agents had left her home, she felt okay. Like her heart had reconnected to her body. Like she was finally whole again.

Ryker had his gun aimed at Elijah, and for every step the man took backward, Ryker took one forward.

“My guy drove you over a bridge! He killed you,” Elijah growled.

“Only he didn’t. I killed him. We just made you think I’d died, so you didn’t look for me or come after my family.”

She could feel the angry, panting breaths coming out of Elijah. “I’m gonna kill you, motherfucker!”

Suddenly, two police officers ran around the corner onto the street. Both looked young. Their guns were drawn, aimed at Elijah, and she could have sworn she saw a tremble in their hands.

She heard the frustrated growl from behind her. Then the gun moved away from her head—and she knew exactly who he was aiming for.

Before he could pull the trigger, River threw an elbow into Elijah’s gut. His gun went off. There was the sound of bodies hitting the dirt, men diving to the ground.

Then Ryker was shouting. “Don’t shoot!”

But it was too late. Two shots were fired from the direction of the police officers. Elijah roughly shoved her forward and one of those bullets caught her in the ribs.

She crumpled, pain stealing her breath. She was vaguely aware of additional gunshots from both behind and in front of her, followed by Elijah’s loud grunt.

There were footsteps—then she heard a different voice.

“River, talk to me! Rae!”

Jackson. Oh, God. Jackson was here. He’d come from behind them, shooting Elijah, while Ryker had shot him from the front.

Warm hands touched her cheeks. Her arm. There was pressure on her ribs, but the wound was oddly numb.

She closed her eyes, hearing Jackson but too tired to answer. A fuzziness was seeping through her mind.

“River! Don’t you dare give up!”

A smile tugged at her lips at her brother’s voice.

“I knew you were alive,” she mumbled with lips she could barely work.

A breath brushed against her ear. “I am alive. And I need you to stay alive too. Don’t give up on me, River.”

She tried to nod but it didn’t quite work. The fog was winning. And she could only pray that when she woke up, Ryker would still be there.


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