Hidden away, p.5
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       Hidden Away, p.5

         Part #3 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 5


  The cat tried to stick her nose in the chicken multiple times as Sarah sliced it into bite-sized pieces. She pushed at the cat’s head to ward it off but it only purred and rubbed against her palm. With a laugh, Sarah piled the chicken onto a saucer and set it in front of the cat.

  She leaned tiredly against the counter, watching as the poor animal devoured the meal like it was her last. Unable to resist, she slid her hand over the cat’s fur, petting as the cat continued to scarf down the bites.

  Every once in a while the cat would pick her head up and give Sarah sweet eyes and Sarah smiled. “You don’t look or act like you have a home, sweetie. Do you want to stay with me?” In truth, the idea of having a pet here appealed. It made the cottage less intimidating and the idea that she wasn’t alone—even with just a cat for company—was a huge relief.

  After the last bite was demolished, the cat licked the saucer and then looked up at Sarah and meowed. Sarah scooped her off the counter and headed for the bedroom. Tomorrow, in addition to food, she’d need litter and a pan. For tonight, she’d just have to hope the cat could hold it until morning, because she was closing her bedroom door and locking it.

  Even though her fears had been unfounded, she was still jittery from the scare, and she wanted to feel as safe as possible. She dropped the cat onto the bed and then crawled on the mattress to get under the covers.

  To her surprise, the cat padded up to her head, pawed at the covers until Sarah pulled them back and then snuggled down just under the sheet at Sarah’s side. Sarah lay there, the cat vibrating against her side and smiled. It was a nice feeling. Very nice. She and the cat would get along just fine. Sarah would fill a need for the cat by offering food and shelter and the cat would provide some much-needed sanity for Sarah.


  GARRETT lugged his two bags through the door of the cottage and grimly surveyed the surroundings. When he’d imagined a beachfront house with great views and just steps from the water, he’d envisioned something a little more modern. Flat-screen TV, front porch with a hammock, fully stocked kitchen and maybe a hot tub that overlooked the beach.

  What he’d got was a ramshackle cottage that looked like it didn’t survive the last hurricane season, with a dilapidated front porch and sagging steps. The inside smelled like his grandmother’s house. Musty and old. The furniture was threadbare and at least thirty years old. The kitchen had been designed in the sixties and had appliances to match. Worse, there wasn’t a TV at all, and his hopes for a hot tub went down the toilet.

  With a shrug, he dropped his bags and began opening windows to air the rooms out. He’d certainly had worse accommodations during his years in the Marines.

  He peeked out his bedroom window down the beach to where Sarah’s cottage stood in the distance. It wasn’t optimal. He’d prefer closer proximity to the woman he was supposed to shadow, but the houses were sparse along this stretch of the shore.

  The first order of business was a trip into town for food. He planned to take the path down the beach that went directly in front of her house. He didn’t want to be too obvious right off the bat and force a meeting, but if she happened to be out and around when he passed, it was as good an opportunity as any to meet his new neighbor.

  As he went back out the front door and stood on the tilted porch to look out over the ocean, he realized this wasn’t going to be as bad as he imagined. As much as he protested the need for any recovery time, a few weeks on a beach to exercise, eat good food and not trip over all the people who currently inhabited his house sounded pretty damn good. If it put him back to one hundred percent so he could go back to work, he’d take the downtime.

  He felt a little ridiculous in beach khaki shorts, muscle shirt and flip-flops, but with the hint of scruff on his jaw and the fact he hadn’t cut his hair on his usual schedule, he passed for a man only concerned with kicking back and relaxing.

  The sun beat down on him and warmed his shoulders as he set off down the worn path toward Sarah’s cottage. He flexed his arm and was happy to note that his shoulder was limber and not stiff despite the long time he’d spent traveling and cooped up in a way-too-small seat. Puddle jumpers weren’t built for men his size, and they were damn claustrophobic to boot.

  Sand got between his toes and between the bottoms of his feet and the flip-flops. Worthless shoes. He stopped periodically to shake the sand from them and then continued on down the beach.

  He was careful not to show any undue curiosity as he neared Sarah’s cottage, though he memorized every detail of the place from his periphery. Like his accommodations, it had seen its better days, although hers had underwent fresh paint recently. Still, it would take nothing to get inside. A good kick to the door—or hell, even the walls—and it would probably knock right down.

  He continued past, wondering if she was unconcerned as she appeared. Simply using a fake name to rent a beach house didn’t guarantee anonymity. Her trail was sloppy all the way from Boston. She’d done a better job of covering her tracks once she reached Miami, but it still wasn’t clean. Resnick had been able to find her. Garrett supposed he couldn’t fault her, though. It wasn’t like people got lessons in school on how to be a fugitive. Not that she was classified as a fugitive, but she may as well be. There were certainly enough people interested in her whereabouts.

  The closer he got to town, the higher the dunes on his left stacked up. There were a few shoddily fashioned walkways up over the dune to turnouts on the road. Public access to the beach, but he hadn’t come across a single beachgoer on his walk into town.

  The sand ran smack into a rock outcropping, and cut into the stones were steps leading up to a coffee shack. He climbed but circled around the front to cross the cobblestone street to where the market was located. Outside the front were stands of fresh fruits and vegetables. He bypassed those for now and went inside to find the essentials. Red meat.

  He soon learned that to the locals, “meat” meant fish or other seafood. He grumbled through the selection of ground meat and winced at only finding two steaks. He bought up all the pork chops and put a healthy dent in the chicken breasts. He wasn’t a fish person. Oh, he’d put a hook in one, but eating them didn’t appeal. Not enough substance.

  Which reminded him, he really needed to check out the local bait shop, pick up a surf casting rod so he could spend some time fishing. It would give him a good excuse to be on the beach, where he could watch Sarah’s cottage and get an idea of her routine.

  At least the locals appreciated beer. There was a ton of variety, and well, when it came to beer, he wasn’t picky. He picked up several six-packs, tossed them in the cart and headed down the aisles to see what else he needed to feed himself for the next while.

  Eggs, stuff for his protein shakes. Then he frowned. What were the odds of his cottage having a blender? He was lucky to have a few pots and pans to cook in. Cheese, bread, mayo, mustard and ketchup. Definitely ketchup. What meal was complete without it?

  He smiled at the memory of his mother grumbling about his need to pour ketchup on everything.

  When he finally rolled the cart to the front of the store, he was treated to several curious stares. It was then he realized that most everyone else had a basket with maybe one day’s worth of food. It took a while to check out since there was only one clerk, and the line piled up behind him as everyone waited for all his groceries to be tallied.

  A young guy who looked to be in his teens approached Garrett as he finished paying.

  “You want I deliver the groceries to where you stay? I can get my friends to help. We work cheap. ”

  Garrett eyed the eager kid. “How cheap?”

  “Twenty euros apiece. ”

  “I wasn’t born yesterday,” Garrett said dryly. “I’ll give you twenty American and you split it with your friends. ”

  The kid beamed at him. “Deal. ”

  Garrett pulled out his wallet. “I’m the last cottage down the beach
from the coffee shack. ”

  “Yes, I know it. I’ll bring them down and leave them on your porch. Don’t be long. You wouldn’t want your meat to spoil. ”

  No, he didn’t want his food to spoil. Who knew how long it took the grocery to restock their non-fish meat items.

  Since the kid was taking the groceries, Garrett ambled down to one of the shops that boasted fishing supplies. He walked in to see the shopkeeper sitting behind the register with his feet propped up on the counter. He had a floppy hat pulled low over his eyes, and it looked like he was taking a nap. Garrett was nearly by him when the guy tipped up the brim, gave him a cursory onceover and then nodded.

  “Feel free to look around. If you need any help, just holler. ”

  Garrett was surprised to hear an American drawl. Not just American, but clearly southern. “Got a recommendation for something to do a little surf fishing with?”

  The shop owner slid his feet off the counter and they landed with a clunk on the floor. He pushed back the hat and sized up Garrett more fully. Then he grunted. “Military, though probably not for a few years. Injury to your shoulder. Recent. Looking for some R and R and don’t much like other people. Am I right?”

  Garrett raised an eyebrow, immediately suspicious.

  “Relax. I read people. Nothing much else to do around here when what little tourist season we have is over. ” He stuck out his hand to Garrett. “Rob Garner. Retired army. Opened up shop here five years ago. Doesn’t take much to live here and the scenery’s good. I got in at a good time. In a few years, the rest of the world will catch on to what we have here and the property values will soar. Then I can sell and live high on the hog. ”

  Garrett returned his hand shake. “Garrett Kelly. Marine Corps. And yeah, here for some R and R and no, I don’t like people much. ”

  Rob laughed and clapped his hands together. “I don’t have much use for them myself. Now, if you want to do some surf fishing, I’d suggest a casting rod that you can get out there a ways with. Then you can slip it into the holder, kick back with a beer and wait for the fish to bite. All the casting and reeling those bass fishermen do is for idiots. Fishing’s supposed to be relaxing. ”

  Garrett cracked a smile. “Fuckin’ A. ”

  “Come on, I’ll get you what you need. For bait you can use shad or shrimp. Cut bait is good too. ”

  Garrett watched as Rob pulled down about a twelve-foot rod, handed it to Garrett and then went down another aisle to get hooks, surf weights and liters. A few moments later, he piled everything onto the counter. “You’re all set. I’ll ring you up and you can be fishing this afternoon if you want. ”

  “Thanks. I might do that. Got the beer already. Maybe I’ll grill some steak and have dinner on the beach. ”

  Rob nodded. “Yep, that sounds like a pretty good damn day to me. Enjoy it. If there’s anything else you need, don’t hesitate to come back in. ”

  Garrett broke down the rod to make it more manageable to carry, then collected the bag with all the other supplies. With a nod, he headed back outside.

  Hopefully the kid had delivered the groceries while Garrett was in the bait shop. Breakfast had consisted of a dry bagel on the plane, and his stomach was doing some serious protesting. A steak and a little fishing sounded next to heaven.

  He glanced over to the market to see a woman step out, bag clutched close to her chest. She glanced furtively left and right and then strode toward the coffee shack. His pulse picked up. If he wasn’t mistaken, he’d just gotten his first real-life glimpse of Sarah Daniels.

  On impulse, he crossed the street toward the coffee shack. He’d intended to take the main road back, but carrying the fishing pole and supplies, he had a ready excuse to take the beach path.

  When he rounded the corner of the shack, he saw her head bob down the stone steps leading to the beach. He waited a moment to give her a bigger head start and then took out after her.

  At first she didn’t realize he was following her. Which further cemented his opinion that she was hopelessly naïve. When she did look over her shoulder, her eyes flared in alarm. Then she made a concerted effort to shield her reaction. She even offered a semblance of a smile as she took in the fishing gear he carried before turning around and increasing her pace.

  Twice more she turned just enough that she could see him and each time she sped up. By the time she reached her cottage, he could tell she was alarmed by the fact he still trailed her. She hurried up her steps, and in her haste to open the door, she dropped one of the bags she carried.

  She yanked the door open then turned so she could see him while she picked up her things. Her gaze never left him as she shoved the items back into her bag. Garrett found himself strangely transfixed and unable to look away. The pictures hadn’t done her justice, nor had they captured the haunted, frightened eyes rimmed with shadows. She looked infinitely fragile, scared out of her mind, but he also saw something else. Maybe it was the way she tried not to look scared or maybe it was subtle stiffening of her shoulders and the rebellious twist to her lips. She was a fighter, not the timid mouse he’d imagined.

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