Home > The Ones Who Got Away (The Ones Who Got Away #1)(4)

The Ones Who Got Away (The Ones Who Got Away #1)(4)
Author: Roni Loren


   She picked up her pace. Her high heels clicked on the gym floor at a rapid clip.

   But instead of hearing her footfalls, all she heard were gunshots. Click, click, click. Bang, bang, bang.

   Anxiety rippled over her nerve endings, and she tried to breathe through the astringent pine scent that haunted her. No. Screams sounded in her ears.

   She walked so quickly that she might as well have been running. Finn might have called out her name.

   But she couldn’t be sure, and she didn’t turn back.

   The faster she could get away from this place and the memories, the better.

   She was not that girl anymore.

   She would never go back.

 

 

chapter


   TWO

   Finn needed a stiff drink, a warm bed, and a long-ass vacation. He gratefully accepted the first from the waitress at the hotel’s only restaurant and ordered another before she could leave.

   “You want to add a little food to that, hon? We’ve got a great chicken-fried steak tonight with homemade white gravy and mashed potatoes. That’ll make any night better.”

   Finn fought back a grimace. Nothing could improve this night except a pass-out-in-bed kind of drunk. But Janice, who’d been working there since he was a kid, looked way too eager for him to crush her with a snide comment. This was why he’d moved away from here. The whole town always wanted to do something for the Long Acre High survivors. But there was nothing anyone could do.

   Even he had found himself trying to do something today when he’d seen Olivia Arias. Beautiful, quirky Liv all grown up. Seeing her had hit him like a hundred fists to the gut. Had jolted him back to a time when what he’d looked forward to most each day was sneaking away with Liv to steal a few kisses and share a few sparring words. A bittersweet ache like he hadn’t felt in longer than he could remember had tightened his chest and stolen his breath.

   He’d wanted to reach for her. He’d wanted to fix things. Apologize. Do something to take that haunted look out of her eyes. Do something to show her how goddamned sorry he was for how spectacularly he’d let her down. But he’d seen it in her face. There was nothing to be done. The past was locked in stone. He knew that better than anyone. The scars were deep and permanent, and he’d left an extra vicious one on Liv.

   Now this lovely woman was trying to fix it with deep-fried beef. He found his voice, the words like gravel in his throat. “Sounds great.”

   Her smile brightened. “You betcha. I’ll get one going for you right now and bring by that second drink.”

   Finn laced his fingers around his glass of Maker’s Mark, staring into the liquid, watching the amber light play along the ice cubes. He should’ve gone straight to the lake house. The interviewer had asked all of them to stay in town an extra night in case he needed more information or more footage, but Finn felt exposed here and out of place. He wasn’t the kid who’d left Long Acre. And after years of undercover work, he wasn’t sure he knew who the man he’d become was either. Two weeks ago, he’d killed a guy and almost gotten killed himself. Tonight, he was supposed to be the hometown hero who’d shielded his date. The shift was enough to give him whiplash.

   Even his name felt like an ill-fitting shirt. He found himself forgetting to answer to it. For almost two years, he hadn’t been Finn Dorsey, former high school running back and school shooting survivor, he’d been Axel Graham—employee of Dragonfly Industries, a company that owned strip clubs officially, but trafficked drugs and guns by the shit ton while the pretty ladies danced.

   He’d done what the FBI had needed him to do, even though he hadn’t found what he’d ultimately been looking for. On that front, it’d been another false trail. One of many he’d tracked down over the years. But he’d uncovered high-level criminals and turned them in. Mission accomplished, though he wasn’t sure at what cost. Pretending to be a bad guy for two years, seeing all the things he’d seen, and being part of those things, had seeped into him like tainted water. He wasn’t sure when or if he’d ever feel clean again. Even his boss was concerned about him. But a summer alone at the lake house would hopefully be a start—if he could ever get there. He just needed to make it through one more night in Long Acre.

   He lifted his glass and drained the liquor. The alcohol turned to smooth fire at the back of his throat right as Liv Arias walked in. He stilled and almost choked on the bourbon.

   Liv didn’t look his way. She’d have no reason to. He’d grabbed a corner booth in the dark restaurant to do his drinking, and she was already in conversation with someone. But he definitely couldn’t take his eyes off her. She’d walked in with three other women, all around the same age, and he vaguely registered that the redhead was Rebecca Lindt. The others were probably classmates of his, too. The reporter had told him that he’d managed to get eighteen of the survivors for interviews and the mother of one of the shooters. But Finn hadn’t considered that he’d be running into anyone. He’d been too focused on making sure the guy understood Finn couldn’t be shown on film.

   He needed to bail. The last thing he wanted to do was make small talk with anyone. But he couldn’t seem to move from his spot. Liv was smiling at one of the women, a simple tilt of glossed red lips that illuminated her entire face. He remembered that smile. He used to be able to put it there.

   She’d changed from her business suit into a pair of figure-hugging black pants and a simple white shirt that emphasized her bronze complexion. Her hair was pulled back into a curling ponytail, and his gaze snagged on the delicate tattoo on the back of her neck. That little detail had heat building in him that had nothing to do with the alcohol. That was the Liv he remembered. The girl who’d had a rebellious streak, the girl who’d dyed her hair crazy colors that skirted the edge of school rules, and the girl who had trusted him with her secrets. The girl who’d put up with being his secret.

   God, he’d been such a spineless coward with her. He hadn’t dated Liv publicly because his family would’ve had a shit fit. The daughter of the man who took care of their lawn, she was from the part of town his parents had told him not to drive through at night. On top of that, she was artsy and weird and foul-mouthed. She wouldn’t have known the right fork to use at his mother’s dinner parties. And she wouldn’t have cared. So he’d kept their relationship hidden, and she’d put up with it.

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