Time for another music-inspired story. This month the song is Criminals, by Ms. Mr. I’ve never heard of this band or this song, so… it’s a new one for me. The song video, if you’d like to give the song a listen, is right below. I’ll admit. It’s an odd video, but… she has a nice voice. Though I do kind of feel as if I’m back in the 70s, lol. They had some weird ones back then, too.
For this one, I’m going to jump a bit into a story that’s in my head, but some of the important details are missing, lol. But… the recurring lyrics from the song… “do you want a way out” seems to fit perfectly. You can read the very rough beginning I wrote as another flash fiction, here… but this is jumping to the present and what’s looking like a potential joint case between my estranged couple.
Now… some preamble. First… this is a long, long one. I couldn’t help it. It’s a full chapter length, but it just kept coming. I looked for a place to cut it off, but… I decided, you can decide if you want to read it or not. It’s about 4000 words. I know. I really know.. so, your choice.
Having said that, I’m really looking forward to writing Maddison’s and Rhett’s story.
Rhett Grier pulled into the gravel parking lot, glancing at the neon sign blinking on the post—The Red Pony. He sighed. It was the fifth pub he’d checked tonight, and the last bar he’d pictured her in. It had always been his place, full of cowboys and country bands, with couples two-stepping on the worn wooden floor. She’d always made a point of rolling her eyes whenever he’d taken her there. Why she’d come here of all places…
The voice in his head laughed at him. Rhett knew exactly why she’d chosen his bar as her escape. She’d figured it would be the last place he’d ever suspect her to go, and the one spot where she might be safe from another encounter. Of course, she had no idea how desperate he was. He just wasn’t sure if it was the case or them that he wanted to talk about. Not that she’d talk to him about either.
He rubbed his cheek. His jaw still ached where she’d punched him, and he knew he’d have a bruise on his hip from impacting the floor in her boss’ office. While he knew their impromptu meeting wouldn’t go over well, he really hadn’t thought she’d hit him. Not like that. Damn, she packed a hell of a wallop for someone her size. And he hadn’t missed how much weight she’d lost.
He grunted under his breath. She’d always been stunning in his eyes, and had been athletic and fit before they’d separated. But having not seen her in nearly six months, he’d had to force himself not to stare at her with his mouth hanging open as he’d taken in her new look—one he wasn’t sure he was happy with. While she still have enough curves to prove she was all woman, there was a leanness about her he found unnerving. As if she’d gone to extreme lengths to become someone else. Someone who looked every inch the hardcore federal agent he’d been told she’d become—only more.
He’d been keeping tabs on her through friends, and he’d been more than concerned regarding her apparent lack of self preservation—taking high risk missions at every turn. Which explained the hours she’d obviously been spending running and in the gym. Though she’d been fully dressed, he had no doubt about the firm line of muscles that lurked beneath her clothes, and he’d bet his ass she had more of a six-pack than he did.
He chuckled. Not more than him. He’d been working out hard, too. But in an effort to keep his mind off of losing her. But he wasn’t sure her motivations had been the same, and it killed a part of him to think that she hadn’t seen herself as good enough, before. That maybe her obsession had stemmed from the anxiety of having to find another guy to take Rhett’s place. That no one else could have loved her the way she’d been. Which was insane, seeing as she’d always been the most beautiful woman in the room. Hell, the state. Now…now she seemed as if she didn’t even care whether anyone ever gave her a second look. And he knew men did. They’d have to be blind, not to.
A hand connected with his shoulder, and he turned to look at his partner. Carole frowned, glancing at the seedy looking bar.
“Really, Rhett? You think Maddison came here?”
“What’s wrong with this place?”
“Do you want the list numerically or alphabetically?” She snorted. “It’s just…it looks more like a place you’d go. Your ex seems far more…sophisticated.”
“Maddy’s not my ex. We’re not divorced, yet.”
Carole held up her hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“And besides, that’s her Jeep.”
Carole glanced at the red Wrangler parked off to their left. “Funny, I didn’t picture as the Wrangler type, either. She’s definitely got BMW or Mercedes written all over her.” She grabbed his wrist as he opened his door. “We don’t have to do this tonight. Don’t you think it might be better to give her some more time to cool off? I’m not sure we want a repeat of her display in the office. Not here.”
“If time was a luxury we had, I’d agree. But that race starts in a few days, and if we aren’t on the docket as an official team, we’re finished. And it’ll be another full year before we get a chance to stop this before it goes too far. God only knows what might happen as a result of the information that will be passed during that week.” He shook his head. “We need to stop this. Now.”
“You’re preaching to the choir. I’m just not sure your ex—Maddison is going to agree. She seemed pretty upset.”
Of course, she’d been upset. Rhett hadn’t realized until she’d dumped him on his ass then stormed out that she thought he was the father of Carole’s unborn child. That he’d been having an affair during their last few months together. A fact which pissed him off more than anything else. How she thought he could ever hurt her that way—that he hadn’t loved her—burned hotter than having her walk out.
“It’s my job to make her listen. Maddy’s a lot of things, but she’s also dedicated to her job. To the oath she made to serve and protect. Once she realizes how many lives are on the line—how bad this could turn out if we don’t stop it—she’ll come on board.”
“If you say so. I guess it’s your jaw on the line.”
Rhett glared at her smug smile. The woman seemed to be enjoying his humiliation a bit too much. “Just, don’t get in the way of her fists. Or her legs. She’s got a hell of a reach.”
Rhett ignored the jib, taking a deep breath as he got out of the car and shut the door. The heady whine of a steel guitar carried across the parking lot, accompanied by echoed shouts and whistles. He smiled, the familiar sounds comforting as he headed for the door. He didn’t waste time searching for her, confident he’d find her at their old table near the window off to the left.
Carole tugged on his sleeve before he had a chance to move. “I’ll meet up with you in a minute. I have to use the ladies’ room.”
“Remind me never to get pregnant. I swear you’re in the washroom more time than you’re out of it.”
“I hardly think that’s something you have to worry about. Just remember to be nice to the woman who agrees to have your kids.”
He nodded, unable to reply. He’d always thought Maddison would be the mother of his children—had pictured her pregnant more times than he wanted to admit to—but those dreams had walked out the door with her. And he couldn’t see himself ever trusting another woman enough to get that serious. He’d known from the start that Maddison was the other half of his soul. If he couldn’t make marriage work with her, he knew he’d be doomed to spend his life alone, with only occasional one-night stand to curb the itch.
Pain tightened his chest as he wove through the throng of cowboys and country girls, catching sight of Maddy’s partner, Tyler, in Rhett’s usual seat. The guy was nursing a bottle of beer, absenting picking at the label when his gaze locked with Rhett’s.
Tyler’s eyes widened a moment before he huffed, palming the table as he rose to his feet. “Jesus Christ, Rhett. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Great to see you, too, Ty. What’s it been, six months?”
“Eight, you dick, and you know what I mean. Maddy’ll be back any minute, and the last thing we need is a scene.”
“I didn’t come here to fight. But since she wouldn’t listen to me in Bart’s office this afternoon, I had no other choice but to track her down.”
“You know what she’s like. And I can assure you she hasn’t come close to cooling off where you’re concerned. Fuck, this is the first time she’s asked me to go drinking since she came back after you two…” He sighed. “Why don’t you just let it go and try again tomorrow?”
“Because I don’t have any tomorrow’s left. Do you really think I’d be here if it wasn’t life or death? I know how she feels. She made it painfully obvious when she walked out.”
Tyler’s eyes narrowed as a light flush colored his cheeks. “She walked out? You’re blaming her for your fucked up situation? That’s rich, buddy, even for you.”
Rhett frowned, stepping closer when footsteps sounded behind him. He turned, his gaze clashing with Maddison’s as she sauntered back from the bar, two beers clasped in her hands. She stopped a few feet away, mouth half open as is she’d been about to say something, eyes impossibly wide. Some of the color drained from her face before she drew herself up and closed the last bit of distance between her and the table.
She placed one beer in front of Tyler, taking a long pull of the other before facing Rhett. “And here I thought our awkward meetings were over.”
Rhett steeled his resolve, doing his best not to focus on how her jeans hung low on her hips or that he could see a hint of her ribs beneath the hem of her crop top. He didn’t know if he was upset by how lean she’d gotten, or aroused by the flex of muscles beneath her skin. “If you’d behaved like an adult earlier, I wouldn’t have had to track you down.”
She snorted, taking another long drink. “If you don’t like my work ethics, feel free to bugger off.”
“That wasn’t you doing your job. That was you throwing a tantrum.”
Maddison’s eyes rounded, then narrowed, as a flush raced along her cheeks, down her neck and across her upper chest. “A tantrum? You bring your pregnant partner to my boss’ office, flaunt her in front of my face, then ask me to be part of a joint investigation, and you think me dumping you on your ass was a tantrum?” She slammed the bottle on the table then palmed the surface. “Trust me, baby. You haven’t seen anything close to a tantrum, yet.”
A gasp lit the air behind them, and Maddison turned to stare at Carole. Damn, Rhett had forgotten she’d been using the washroom, and he didn’t want her to get caught in the crossfire. Not that he thought Maddy would intentionally hurt her, he just wasn’t sure Carole would know when to back down.
Carole glanced at him, then back at Maddison. “Oh my god. You think Rhett’s the father, don’t you?”
The muscle in Maddison’s jaw jumped before she took a step to the side. “Doesn’t matter what I think. I already told you I wasn’t interested. So you can both leave, now.”
“He’s not.” Carole reached into her purse and removed her wallet. She pulled out a photo then held it in front of Maddison. “This is Rick. He’s a flight service specialist close to the ranger station we’ve been stationed at. We’ve been dating for about a year, now.” She smiled as she rubbed her slightly rounded belly with her other hand, though Rhett didn’t think she was even conscious of it. “We hadn’t planned on starting a family just, yet, but…” She giggled. “We’re happy.”
Carole extended her hand. “See? We’re engaged.”
Maddison glanced at the diamond sparkling in the bright lights. “I don’t recall seeing that on your finger this afternoon.”
“I’ve been having some issues—retaining water, and some other problems. I don’t often wear it in case I can’t get it off. But, I missed the comforting weight of it, so…” She met Maddison’s gaze. “Rhett and I are just partners. That’s all we’ve ever been. I swear.”
Maddison slid him a quick look, then motioned to the chair beside Tyler. “You should sit down.”
Carole focused on Rhett, slowly making her way to the chair when he nodded.
He waited until she was seated before continuing. “Like I was saying…we need to talk.”
“Talk?” Maddison thumbed her beer. “Funny, but I’m not really in the mood. I came here to drink, so unless you’re buying the next round…”
He watched her down half of the bottle in her next gulp. “I didn’t know you drank that much.”
Maddy arched her brow, finishing off the last of the beer. “I didn’t know you cared.”
Heat burned beneath his skin as he inched closer to her. “All this time and you want to have it out in a bar? Fine. Let’s have it out.”
Maddison glared at him, looking as if she was going to start a fight, after all, when some redneck cowboy shouldered up beside her, smoothing one hand down her waist to settle on the curve of her ass.
He leaned in close. “Hey there, pretty mama. How about you and I take a twirl on the dance floor? Then maybe we can go somewhere and get to know each other better.”
Maddison’s mouth pinched tight as she turned to face him, glancing at where his fingers rested on her butt, then up to his face. She arched a brow, knocking his hand off her body. “What part of my persona suggests I’m the least bit interested in getting hit on, let alone going home with you for some lousy sex?”
He chuckled, palming her ass, again. “Feisty. I like that. Bet you’ll be just as wild in the sack.”
The pink hue on her cheeks deepened. “Get. Lost.”
“Just as soon as you give me a dance.”
Rhett lunged forward, fisting the guy’s shirt and lifting his feet off the floor before shoving him roughly back. He waited until the jerk caught his balance on the table before grabbing him, again, and drawing him in close. Rhett’s breath ruffled the guy’s shirt collar as he glared down at him. “You touch my wife’s ass one more time and I’ll break your arm then shove it up your ass.” He exhaled, leaning in even closer. “And then I’ll get nasty.”
The guy tripped backward when Rhett pushed him away, looking from Maddison back to Rhett. “Wife?” He took another hurried step back at Rhett’s grunt. “Hey, she’s not worth getting arrested over. You can have her.”
He stumbled his way through the crowd, disappearing out the door.
Maddison groaned, swatting him in the shoulder. “What the hell was that?”
Rhett arched a brow. “That, sweetheart, was me keeping you from getting pawed, again. Jesus, you toss me on the floor just for showing up, but you let some drunk cowboy grab your ass? Twice? And you do nothing?”
She moved closer, getting up into his personal space. “I’m a federal agent. I can’t go around punching every jerk who thinks he can manhandle me. But I had it completely under control.”
He did his best not to inhale the sweet scent of her perfume, but it wove through his senses until he knew he’d still smell it long after they’d parted ways. Hell, he was pretty sure he’d never stopped smelling it.
Tyler appeared beside them, gently pushing them apart. “Easy, you two. The last thing we need is more of a scene. So…neutral corners.”
Maddison stared at her partner, chest heaving, hands twitching at her sides before she backed away. She kicked out her chair then sank into it, thumbing her empty bottle. “What do you want, Rhett?”
Rhett nodded his thanks to Tyler, taking the seat across from her as Tyler returned to his on the other side of Carole. “I need your help.”
She laughed, still tracing the outline of the label with her fingers. “Six months we’ve been apart and suddenly, now, you need my help?”
“I wasn’t the one who left. And it’s not like I didn’t try to get in touch with you. I called. I texted. Every damn day until after three months of trying, I got your message. So don’t put this on all me, sweetheart. You could have at least had the decency to answer one of them. Told me to fuck off to my face. I think I deserved that.”
“You deserved?” Tears gathered in her eyes, a few slipping free before she sprang to her feet, blinking the rest away. “I think I deserved to have you show up!”
She looked away, visibly drawing in three shuddering breaths before facing him again. She shoved her hand into her pocket and tossed a twenty on the table. “Turns out I’m not thirsty, anymore.”
She spun, gasping when Rhett reached for her, circling her wrist and twisting her to face him.
He moved in close, torn between wanting to shake some sense into her and needing to hold her. Seeing her fighting back tears had hit him hard in the gut. She’d never been one to cry, and knowing his presence at pushed her that far…
He tried to gentle his grip, reminding himself to speak softly. “I didn’t come here to fight. I really just need you to listen. Please, Maddison. I think you know that I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t upset you like this, if it wasn’t important. Life and death, important. Five minutes. That’s all I’m asking.”
She stared at where he held her arm, looking more lost than before. More tears pooled in her eyes, making the blue seem lighter than usual. Her other hand shook as she reached for him, brushing against his arm before using her fingers to loosen his grip enough to slip her hand free. She stayed poised like that for another few moments then pulled her hands back as she retreated a couple of steps. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
Maddison turned, taking two hurried steps away before stopping. Her back stiffened then shook as she turned, looking directly into his eyes. “Do you want to know why I never returned any of your texts? Why I never answered the damn phone calls?” She took a single step back toward him, wincing when a few more tears slipped free. “Because I thought that if you really cared—if you were at all serious about getting me to change my mind. If you thought I was worth a minute of your fucking time, you’d pay me a visit…in person. Beg. Shout. Demand I take you back. Something to show me I’d been wrong. That I’d acted impulsively. That maybe, just maybe, we still had a chance.” She snorted, wiping at the next wash down her cheeks. “How poetic that it took a case to get you to knock on my door.”
She grimaced, wrapping her arms around her as if they were a shield then nodded at Tyler. “Thanks for the beers.” She glanced at Rhett over her shoulder once she’d turned, again. “Good luck with the case.”
Rhett watched her escape, colliding with a few patrons as she raced for the door, quickly vanishing into the night. He took a moment to process what she’d said then fisted his hands. If she thought this was over…
Tyler cupped his shoulder as he took a step forward, stopping Rhett from getting more than a foot toward the exit. “Rhett. Don’t.”
Rhett turned, glaring at his friend. “Don’t? Maddison’s the one who keeps running. And if she thinks this is close to being finished…”
“She’s hurt. And angry. And embarrassed. You know better than anyone, she’s not going to listen to anything you have to say. Not right now. Let her calm down. Gather back some of her dignity. She’s already pissed at you. Crying in front of you like that…fuck, she’s going to be seeing red for hours.”
“I don’t have time for her to calm down, Ty. I wish I did.”
Tyler raked his hand through his hair, glancing over at Carole, who looked more than a bit pale. “If you go after her, you’ll only make it worse.”
“Story of my life where she’s concerned.”
Tyler cursed behind him as Rhett made for the door. He turned right, heading for her Jeep. Maddison was bent over beside the driver’s side, looking as if she was trying not to puke. The sight made him stumble a step, kicking up a boot full of dust. He must have grunted because she snapped her head up, staring at him with panic-stricken eyes.
She straightened, yanking open the door then sliding in behind the wheel. The engine growled as she turned it over, nearly taking off before he had a chance to grab ahold of her arm through the open window.
He leaned in. “I need to talk to you.”
Her chin quivered. “I already told you. I’m not interested.”
“I know you’re upset. I get that, but… Damn it Maddison, this is important.”
She took a deep breath then looked at him. “I thought our marriage was important, but apparently, I was wrong.”
Guilt punched him in the gut, but he did his best not to show it. “You can yell all you want. I’ll take it. Just, please…don’t walk away without hearing me out.”
She pursed her lips, obviously trying not to cry, again. “I’m sorry, I…”
She looked away, hands white-knuckled around the steering wheel.
He sighed, shoving his hand in his pocket until he felt the thumb drive beneath his fingers. He held it out to her. “If you won’t talk to me, then at least have a look. If after reading through all this, you still think it’s not worth your time—that the lives at stake aren’t worth you having to work with me—I’ll leave. No arguments. No trying to convince you otherwise. Just please look at the file.”
Her shoulders hunched, and for a moment, he thought she’d simply rev the engine and take off, until her head bowed forward, a hushed sob barely reaching him. She closed her eyes, holding out one hand. He placed the small unit in her palm, wishing she’d look at him.
Maddison closed her fist around the drive, finally glancing sideways at him. “I won’t make any promises.”
Rhett nodded, releasing his hold then backing up. “I’ll be in Bart’s office tomorrow morning—ten o’clock. If you want to discuss anything on there, you know where to find me.”
She stared down at her closed hand then popped the clutch and took off, leaving him in a cloud of choking dust. He watched the taillights slowly fade into the distance until they eventually winked out. Another shot of guilt soured his stomach, the soft sound of her anguished sob replaying in his mind. He’d never seen her that upset. Had assumed she’d been happy since leaving him. Thinking that it might have hurt her as much as it had gutted him had never crossed his mind. Not when she’d refused to answer his calls.
If you thought I was worth a minute of your fucking time, you’d pay me a visit…in person.
Had she really been waiting for him to knock on her door? After everything that had happened, he’d just assumed… He cursed under his breath, heading back to the bar. He’d obviously assumed wrong, and that one final mistake might be the one reason he failed the most important mission he’d ever stumbled across. And the reason he’d lost the only woman he’d ever love.
If you hung around and made it to the end, you can go check out the other two ladies jumping in today. And thanks for going the distance.