Bulletproof

Sloane

Damn flat.

I slam the door of my borrowed shit-on-wheels pickup and groan when the door jams. It finally closes after I push on it with all my weight, but I still contemplate kicking it, just so it knows who’s boss. I would too, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m wearing flip flops and I don’t want to add broken toe to the ever-growing list of reasons to hate my car.

My T-shirt sticks to my skin and I pull at the collar as I head toward the porch, but it’s no use. No matter what I do, it’s still going to feel like I just stepped out of a sauna. What I need is a cold shower and an even colder beer, and not necessarily in that order.

I take the porch steps two at a time and think about Bubba and his car repair shop, that can’t actually repair cars. Bubba isn’t even the owner’s real name. It’s just the first name that came to mind when I saw the pot-bellied, hairy man wearing denim overalls, standing in front of his garage the day I got into town. As he never formally introduced himself, I figure he doesn’t mind. At least that’s what I tell myself, instead of the fact that he may be withholding a formal introduction because he doesn’t want to talk to me at all, which is probably closer to the truth.

Still, I smile when I think of the way Bubba’s chin dropped almost to his chest when I drove into the garage. Watching the shock and awe play out on his face when he saw the spare on the truck, had been worth the hour I’d spent in the hot sun changing the tire. Witnessing that kind of reaction never gets old. The glazed look in his eyes and the length of time he’d spent bent over the front driver’s side wheel was proof that Bubba would never believe I’d taken down men twice his size with nothing more than the twist of my pinky finger.

I can’t blame him. It’s not like I broadcast my special set of skills to the world. The fact that I’m a black belt and trained in Krav Maga, didn’t exactly come up in conversation while I was haggling him for a decent price, or this afternoon when I complained about the lemon he’d loaned me. Unfortunately, the not-so-tiny thrill I got at surprising Bubba only lasted as long as it took for him to smile his toothless grin and tell me I was welcome to ride a horse into town if it made me feel better. The pickup was all he had.

Figures.

The screen door slams behind me as I walk into the house and, by the time I take my third step, I know I’m not alone. I don’t stop or slow down, I just walk straight to the kitchen, my mind already scrambling to determine how someone managed to get in without me knowing. The farmhouse I’m renting is old as sin, but I still managed to wire it to alert me if there’s trouble.

I open the cabinet next to the stove where I keep one of my guns but, when I reach inside, my hand touches only air. That’s when the familiar click of a cocked pistol sounds in the silence.

Double damn.

“Still hiding your piece next to the peanut butter, Bullet?”

I freeze at the sound of a low voice that I know almost better than my own. My skin pebbles like it’s being poked by tiny pins, as I make my way to the living room.

Cade Foster sits in an arm chair in the corner. Not just any chair. My favorite chair. I grind my teeth because, other than the fact that it’s the only chair in the room with a clear view of the outside, it’s also the only piece of furniture in the whole house that’s even remotely comfortable.

The shades are drawn but, through a slant of light peeking through from the fading sun, I watch as Cade lifts his arm, my missing revolver in his grip. He releases the cylinder, emptying its contents onto the dusty area rug consisting of some type of psychedelic pattern that would make my mother cringe, and looks at me.

“This thing’s a relic,” he says, admiring the handiwork of my Colt Python. “I didn’t even know they still made these.”

“They don’t.”

His crooked grin makes me grind my teeth harder. “Make a friend?”

I want to ignore the fact that his assumption that the gun was a gift, rather than something I purchased for myself, pisses me off, but I can’t. Instead, I inch my way over to the desk against the wall.

“That’s none of your business,” I say, lunging for the desk at the same time Cade clucks his tongue.

“Eh, eh, eh.”

He places the now empty revolver on the coffee table and stands, pulling the switch blade I normally keep taped to the underside of the desk from his back pocket. “Should I be offended that the first time you see me in months you’re reaching for weapons?”

I notice the .32 automatic I keep under my pillow on the couch cushion next to him and sigh. “What do you want, Cade?”

“That’s it? No, ‘hi, how are you?’”

“You’re standing in my living room. I can see how you are.”

“Nice place,” he deadpans.

“I’m keeping a low profile.”

He glances down at the array of weapons laid out beside him like silverware at a dinner party, before looking back at me with one raised eyebrow. I say nothing.

“You’re not going to ask how I found you?”

“I know how you found me.”

Despite the fact that I’d signaled to Blackstone months ago, the all-clear had still come to my door five days ago. And when I say it had come to my door, I mean literally. It arrived in the form of a newspaper I had never subscribed to, waiting on my front porch. A paper with the wrong date printed on the front page.

“You’re not even going to ask how he is?”

I don’t respond, because it’s not a real question. It’s bait. Judging by the huge grin on his face, I can tell he knows that I know he’s stalling. If he’s been to see Blackstone than he knows I’m out. The fact that he’s here and hasn’t mentioned it yet, just means I won’t be able to trust anything that comes out of his mouth until he does.

Cade drops the blade on the coffee table next to the revolver and walks toward me. I dig my flip flops into the floor to keep from backing into the hallway and wince as I put more weight on my heels. For the record, I don’t recommend changing a tire while wearing flip flops. Cade notices and stops, cocking his head in another question I don’t answer, but now he’s barely a foot away, and I get my first look at him in eight months.

He’s dressed as usual in a black t-shirt and dark jeans covering sloppily tied black boots. His dark hair, usually longer in the colder months, is buzzed short for the summer. It’s not just short, he’s almost bald, which shouldn’t phase me. I’ve seen his hair this way every summer for nearly two decades but, this time, I’m reminded of how much the cut makes his eyes look like an Eight Ball, the moment you turn it over to read the fortune. Swirls of gray and blue mix with inky black in a way I know most women find mystifying, but that I just find annoying. How many times have you turned over an Eight Ball only to find that your fortune is too stuck in thick chemical goo to appear? You shake it, and…nothing. It stubbornly refuses to give you a centimeter, let alone an inch. It’s why I chucked mine back in eighth grade, along with my rollerblades and Velcro sneakers.

The look he’s giving me now is a dare. It makes me want to shake him even though I don’t need to read my fortune. I don’t need an Eight Ball because I already know what my future looks like. I’ve known since the last time I saw Cade, the day I left him standing in the rain that turned Beck’s grave to mud.