She pulled her dingy hat down further on her head with one hand while she held on to the sling Mrs. Caruthers gave her, inside her four month old daughter Meesha slept fitfully. She walked steadily counting her footsteps silently trying not to look any one person in the eye. She needed to get to the hospital and get home before it became night. She was uncomfortable at night walking by herself. She knew somewhere not far, he was searching for her as well as she knew from the moment her daughter was born she was on borrowed time. He was coming for her and he wouldn’t show mercy. She shook visibly but kept walking. Meesha was waking up and she was not happy. As a first time mother she had no idea what to do, but she did know that her babies constant wailing and labored breathing was not normal. She had insurance thankfully but she was unsure of how long it would last. Her latest job of cleaning houses didn’t pay much but it was the only thing she could do to get paid and watch Meesha at the same time. She didn’t have the money to pay for daycare and she didn’t trust anyone. She trusted the wrong person and now she was afraid at every turn and saw no end in sight. Up ahead she saw the emergency room sign and knew she would be safe at least for a moment.
“Shh Meesha, it’s ok, we’re almost there. Don’t cry baby.” She said while trying to sooth her daughter before she entered the hospital. Unfortunately it was crowded and she knew her thoughts of getting home before it turned dark was looking bleak. She walked to the counter and signed in praying it wouldn’t be long. She turned to take a seat in the waiting room, when while looking for a seat her eyes collided with a man’s. The intensity of his exotic blue gaze sent chills down her body and she quickly looked away, while pulling Meesha closer to her body. She knew the signs for what they were fear. She swallowed it down and skirted her way through the people to take a seat in the far back corner between a mother of two. She tried to tell herself as she settled in that she was safe but she couldn’t manage to rein in the emotions. Dominique was looking for her and she was trapped by her own making. She tried to keep her gaze on the television showing the news but her eyes strayed to the same gentlemen. Thankfully he wasn’t looking at her, but at the television screen off to his left. She took the moment to check him out. He skin was the color of cinnamon, his hair cropped close to his scalp and a smooth beard shadowed his jaw. He was lean in body type but she doubted there was an ounce of fat on him. His face seemed to be in a permanent scowl, while she could vision his dark eyes boring into her face. He looked good and dangerous and she was afraid.
“Ashley Miller” the receptionist called out and Malaya snapped out of her musing. She straitened herself trying to keep her nervousness from showing. She hadn’t gone by her real name in a while and she felt bad every time she lied, but she couldn’t help it. Maybe she watched too many movies or read too many books but she needed the extra security having an alias brought on. She had money but she was afraid to use her credit cards so she used it sparingly. Before she left town a year ago she emptied one of her accounts and kept nothing but cash on her. Her stash had dwindled down to only a few thousand dollars but she knew with her rent and the few bills she had, it wouldn’t last much longer. What if she had to run again? Where would she go?
“Ashley Miller?” She quickly got up careful to keep her gaze on the nurse and sat down in the vacant chair. She quickly supplied the nurse with all the necessary information and told her the issues with Meesha. She was then ushered into a small room. She removed Malaya from the sling and undressed her to her diaper. Her thick jet black curly hair was askew from the sling and her eyes wet from the tears but it took nothing away from her beauty. Malaya loved her daughter and vowed to keep her safe even if it meant doing something she promised she would never do. She allowed a single tear to fall down her face as she thought of giving her baby away to strangers, the thought alone made her heart ache and her stomach lurch but she swallowed it back and brushed the tear away.
“Its ok honey, this time of year a lot of babies get sick, there’s no need to cry about it.” The nurse said as she took Meesha’s vitals.
Malaya didn’t bother correcting her; she just shook her head and looked on as she worked on her baby. She had a temperature caused by the upper respiratory infection and a slight diaper rash. After she plied her with a dose of medicine and suctioned her nose the doctor came in and wrote her two prescriptions and sent her on her way. She redressed her and gathered all of the pamphlets she could and left the hospital aware the whole time that the good looking stranger watched her.
Chico Love sat perfectly still as the doctor inserted the twelve stitches into his forearm. His chiseled face showed no signs of discomfort as he finished.
“I’m all done Mr. Love as soon as the nurse gives you your tetanus shot you are free to go.”
“Thanks” he said in a low gravelly voice while pulling his sleeve back down. He received the wound in a bar fight a little under two hours ago and after much persuasion by his good friend Drew he came to the hospital to get it taken care of. Some big guy who had already had one too many drinks decided he wanted to get rough with one of the waitresses when she didn’t respond to his advances. And Chico took exception to it and gave him the fight he wanted. He rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension that remained there. He had wanted a fight for the better part of the last month but had not found anyone to give it to him. Drew would always leave when he got in one of his moods and knew to steer clear of him but obviously Mr. Big Man couldn’t read the murderous intent in his sky blue eyes and challenged him when he jerked him away from the girl. The sight of him bloodied and unconscious gave Chico a little satisfaction if nothing else.
The nurse walked in a stopped short at the look on his face and he forced his face to clear showing absolutely no emotion. He sighed when she hesitated and waited for her to get up her nerve. It was always that way with woman around him. They either wanted him or they feared him. There was never one stood in the middle and waited long enough to figure him out and even he admitted that they would have a hell of a time of it but it would be nice if they would try. She gave him his shot albeit with shaking hands and backed out of the room. Shaking his head he put on his coat and walked out of the room headed towards the entrance. His gaze swept the waiting room for the woman he saw earlier but saw no sign of her. He shook off the thought of seeing her again and headed outside. He could still picture her large almond shape eyes, with long curled lashes, that clearly showed her fear while she gripped a child in a sling across her chest. She was average height for a woman, standing at least five six with tanned chestnut complexion. Her clothes appeared to be well worn as the jeans were faded across her lean hips and the sweater stretched across her generous chest. He briefly wondered what her hair looked like under that ugly khaki hat she wore, but told himself not to worry about it. She was long gone and he seriously doubted he’d ever see her again. What did it matter anyway, he wasn’t a family man and he definitely didn’t have time for a mousy woman. He set out walking up town when he spotted something lying on the ground. He doubted it would be anything significant but felt drawn to it all the same. Lady luck must have felt sorry for him because his mystery woman dropped her id obviously in a hurry to flee from whatever was chasing her. He picked it up and studied her face cataloging every angle and after a few minutes of looking at her sad face and memorizing the address he pocketed the id and walked towards his apartment. As he laid down that night he gazed at the id once again wondering what was her story and why in the hell he cared. He shrugged it off and dropped the id back on the night stand and drifted off to sleep. He’d find out soon enough.
Chico couldn’t believe he was doing this. It was a complete waste of time and he had other things he could be doing like getting drunk, but no he here was walking up to mystery woman’s apartment complex ready to return her id. He looked over it many times last night confused and disgusted by his interest. He could recite everything that the id said although he didn’t believe most of it. Hell he hoped it was the right address because he doubted her name was Ashley Miller. Maybe his good sense left him in that bar fight last night but something told him that all was not right. Now granted her name didn’t mean anything conclusive but it didn’t ring true to him. When he looked at her face he didn’t see an Ashley, he would ring her for something more exotic something sexy. He shrugged again before locating her apartment. Again he questioned his sanity as he knocked on her door. She would probably freak out when she opened the door to see him. Hell she froze when she caught his eye at the hospital and made no small feat as she set as far away from him as possible. He could hope she wouldn’t remember him but he knew that was highly unlikely, he wasn’t the best looking around but he doubted there were many brothers walking around with blue eyes. He knocked again, still no answer. He listened for sounds of movement but didn’t hear any and again chided himself for his foolishness of coming in the first place. He turned to leave when the adjacent door to hers opened and out stepped a petite older woman. “She’s not home.”
He was taken aback by her brash statement and obvious noisiness. But then again he liked her boldness, she wasn’t afraid of him.
“Do you know when she’ll return?”
“Come back around five. She’ll be here then. She works and her and that angel of hers gets here a little before five.”
“Thanks” He said turning to leave.
“You Meesha’s daddy? Because she could use some help, she is about to run herself ragged.”
“No” He said shaking his head and continued walking. He sure hoped he was wrong and nothing was untoward with her, because Lord knows if it was her nosy neighbor would lead someone straight to her.
Malaya closed and locked her door behind her and felt the relief of being home. Meesha fell asleep on the ride home and hopefully would sleep long enough to allow her to eat some semblance of dinner. She unloaded her cleaning supplies before she laid her daughter down in her playpen. She kicked off her shoes and stretched her body to remove the kinks from lifting and bending, in truth she was dead on her feet, but she needed to eat something and then stay awake long enough to give Meesha her medicine. She removed her jacket and hat letting the weight of her day fall away. She wanted to jump in the shower but she knew her neighbor Ms. Simmons would be over shortly to tell her the happenings of the day. She felt sorry for the old woman, both kids in prison and all alone, she thrived on the news of others. She shook her head and made her way to the couch to rest for a second before she fixed dinner. She had just sat down when a knock sounded at her door. She sighed and rose yet again to her feet to answer the door. Ms. Simmons never once missed coming over and today would be no different. Unlike normal she opened the door to allow Ms. Simmons in without checking the peep hole and that’s when she realized it wasn’t her.
Chico was momentarily stunned at the beauty staring back at him. He managed to look past the dirty hospital scrubs to see her large black eyes staring at him in what could only be described as panic but he barely noticed as her curtain of long curly hair fell over her shoulder in a thick braid that reached the middle of her stomach.
“You” she said softly her voice fueled with terror. She instinctively backed up preparing to run and scream and not necessarily in that order when he walked towards her and placed his hand over her mouth.
“Don’t scream, I’m not going to hurt you I just came to give you your id you dropped last night.”
Her eyes wide with fear, her body tense ready to spring at any moment, she kept perfectly still.
“Now I am going to remove my hand and give you your id, don’t scream.”
She shook her head agreeing, she didn’t want to upset him. Truth of the matter was if he wanted to kill her he could easily then he could take her baby and that she couldn’t have so she decided to bide her time and wait. Meesha was stirring softly in her playpen and she needed to get to her before she could leave.
Chico slowly moved his hand from her mouth, while keeping his gaze on her face. To say she was terrified was an understatement and telling himself that he was all kinds of an idiot to have even come here was pointless. The damage had already been done. He lifted his hands showing them to her then slowly reached into his pocket and produced her id. She appeared to be frozen in her spot, because she stood perfectly still and refused to take the offered card.
“Take the card” he said softly
She hesitated for a moment then with shaking hands she closed her fist around it. She didn’t look at it but kept her gaze on him. Danger surrounded him and now she felt cloaked in it. She was running out of time. He stood there watching her cataloging everything missing nothing and she felt exposed. More exposed than she felt when she opened her door to find him there. Her shaking hadn’t dwindled but with each passing second only intensified. He looked her up and down at his leisure then let his gaze sweep her shabby but clean apartment. He noticed the baby in her playpen then in a move that surprised him, she stepped into his line of sight blocking the baby from his view and said in a shaky but audible voice,
“Thank you” clearly she was dismissing him, or at least hoping he would leave.
“Yea” he finally responded and turned and walked out of the door not bothering to look back.
Chico sat a table in the back of the club nursing his bottle of jack trying to drown the sight of her fear out of his mind. Whatever was chasing her was very real if only to her and he couldn’t help but feel the pull to help her. Why? He had no idea. He preferred to stay in the shadows and keep to himself but for some reason the need to watch over her was burning in his veins something fierce. He swallowed another swig of the bottle hoping to calm the fire in his belly. He hadn’t felt that feeling in over three years and he had no inclination to listen to it now. The problem was that the more he drank it seemed the more sober he became and the more thoughts came through his mind. Janice, her death, his failure, his downfall, everything coming in a whirlwind and him not being able to staunch the flood. He took another gulp ignoring the burning in his chest and swallowed hard. He sat back hard on the chair and let his eyes adjust to the dim lights inside. The place was pretty much deserted but yet he had no plans on leaving. He was part owner while Drew ran the place and wouldn’t close down until two in the morning regardless of the crowd so he felt content to stay as long as he liked. He was just about to pick up the bottle again when he begin to overhear the conversation from behind him. He quickly counted it off as nonsense until he heard the particulars and felt a tickle of warning roll over his neck.
“Man we have got to find her, Dom is getting restless.”
“Yea so what else is new? We’ll find her; a friend of mine said he spotted someone resembling her about a week ago.”
“Yea but is she still here and what about the baby.”
“I said we’ll find her and when we do I just might have some fun before we hand her over. Just thinking about that lush mouth and that long hair makes my dick get hard”
“You better control yourself fool, Dom will kill you if you touch her. And I ain’t met a woman that fine yet that I’m willing to die for her or you for that matter”
“What do you think he’s going to do to her? Exactly so shut up and grow some balls.”
“Look I don’t care about Malaya or the kid all I want to do is get this job done and get the hell out of here. Dom wants her and the kid found and brought to him, and that’s what he’s going to get. So get your shit together”
Chico felt the need to swallow the entire bottle. He hoped his instincts were off and his mind was going in the complete wrong direction. Ashley or Anna whatever she was calling herself could really be her real name the hired hands behind him could be talking about any woman and child but even as he tried to convince himself of that he knew it wasn’t true. Malaya he thought as the name washed over him and her face came to his mind. He stood up from the table and walked to the where Drew stood cleaning glasses. He laid down a few bills and told his friend he was leaving. Drew didn’t question him, just took in his appearance and nodded his head. He needed to sleep it off, hopefully that would bring things to the clear in his mind. At least he hoped so, but he doubted it would work.
Malaya was leaving again. She packed up her meager belongings and closed her apartment door for the last time. She had no idea what she was going to do now. She had no family or at least none that wanted any part of her and definitely no friends she was alone except for her baby girl and even that was about to change. At the rushing thoughts in her head she gripped her daughter tighter in her arms. This was the best way, she knew it was but she couldn’t help but to feel her heart shattering into a million pieces. She avoided Ms. Simmons and managed to leave hopefully without a trace to her but it was getting old and she was growing tired of the chase. Dominique was going to show no mercy on her and she refused to let her daughter suffer for it. She met him at a charity function three years earlier when she was working as a volunteer when they hit it off. Of course she had no idea what in the world the man saw in her but she knew she saw a handsome man that seemed sincere in his intentions and she instantly fell for all of his lines and words of love not knowing that it was all a set up. Oh let him tell it he loved her alright, loved her enough to kill her if she ever thought to leave him. That of course wasn’t even a thought to her until she found out what type of dealer and killer he already was. She made the mistake of listening to a private conversation and heard of some of his extracurricular activities and he took exception to it. Only the before knowledge that she was carrying his child held him from doing more damage to her than merely slapping her around, but he told her then that he would not hesitate to kill her and she believed him. Now here she was on the run again in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on her back and a backpack full of her baby’s things and food and she was sick of it. She pulled her hat down a little lower and walked briskly towards her destination. Her hands shook with uncertainty and fear but she refused to think on it another second. It was one thing for her to get caught but she refused to allow him to get her daughter. So now here she was walking towards Saint Christopher’s Church with the intent of leaving her most precious possession behind and never looking back. She was so caught in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice she was being followed and continued on her way allowing her pursuers to follow her at their leisure.
He hated being right but as he thought, she was running again. He tried to forget about the conversation he overheard and hoped with some sleep he would feel a lot better about her situation but he didn’t if anything he felt worse with more assurance in his gut that the mystery woman and child was her. He didn’t care to think about the significance of his search or the urgency he felt in finding her and her baby alright. He walked silently behind her in the shadows avoiding detection, wondering why in the world did she decide to leave at night when the streets are deserted and anyone looking for her would not miss her. Shaking his head he kept his distance and wondered where she was going and how in the world he was going to convince her that he was going to help her instead of hurt her.
Malaya had bundled Meesha up tightly in her warmest clothes and scribbled her name and instructions on a piece of paper, she silently hoped and prayed that someday when she was all grown up she would forgive her for leaving her and realize that it was done for her protection and not because she was not loved and was a burden. She felt the tears gathering in her eyes the same tears she shed the night before when she realized that this was the only option she had. She felt a tingle of awareness in her body and turned to see if she was being followed but saw no one. She turned and kissed Meesha one last time before she ascended the steps that led to the church and placed her sleeping bundle on the steps out of the way with her bag and a note. She was about to turn to leave when she felt the presence behind her. Immediately she stiffened, shaking with fear, which only intensified when she heard the voice in her ear as the hand was placed over her mouth.
“Pick up your baby and let’s go”