Still The One (Family Stone #4 Jack)(5)

By: Lisa Hughey

They still had no proof, besides Maria’s officially documented and audio-taped testimony, that Fernandez was guilty of kidnapping and false imprisonment. And they couldn’t bring those facts to light until they had their only eyewitness in hand.

No court of law would convict or even allow the taped evidence without the actual witness live and in person. Or without some other authority to validate the credibility of the witness. Otherwise everything was just hearsay and could be thrown out of court and Adams-Larsen left themselves open to a slander charge.

As far as Fernandez’s reputation, there might be a blip on the political meter, but without any proof, without Maria, they were screwed. He’d get off scot free.

José Fernandez was the scum of the earth and Bliss wanted to nail him to the wall and watch him bleed. Watch his life be crushed, just like he’d crushed Maria’s spirit for the last eight years. Bastard.

“This is her last known location.” Bliss pointed to the small farming town on the map as Jack seated himself in the delicate chair. His shoulders were nearly as broad as the chair back and his large frame dwarfed the feminine lines of the chair, causing a tingle deep inside at his sheer size and dominating presence. Until he opened his mouth.

“Iowa?” Jack frowned. “What the hell was she doing in Iowa?”

Bliss stiffened. She’d worked tirelessly to get Maria to a place where she’d be at ease and could try to reintegrate into the world. To a place where she would feel comfortable enough to actually have a life and not just hole up in a new, different prison.

“Are you an expert in witness relocation, Mr. Stone?” Jillian asked graciously, a pleasant and almost vacuous smile on her classically beautiful face. Thank God for Jill.

Jack was zipping through the contents of the file Bliss had handed him, absorbing information. Even while he responded and questioned the contents, he was assimilating. She’d forgotten about his innate ability to multi-task. Jack had a brilliant mind. Which had made his decision to go into the military and use his brawn an even odder choice to her. A more heartbreaking choice. He could have been anything. Done anything. And he’d chosen to put his life on the line. And while his intentions were honorable, Bliss had not been able to handle even the potential for any more violence and loss in her life.

But she couldn’t tell Jack that. She hadn’t told him that the thought of him in danger left her with nightmares. She’d started waking up in the middle of the night sweating, her fight or flight instinct triggered, her heart tripping like she’d been discovered. The nightmares had brought back all the fear and sadness she’d spent years trying to overcome.

He’d never even noticed that she’d been totally freaked out. Either that or he hadn’t cared enough to ask what was wrong. After weeks of worry and stress, she’d realized that she wasn’t going to be able to do it. To be able to live with the fact that Jack would be under constant threat of danger. Just the thought of him in peril brought too many of her own demons screaming to the forefront of her mind.

And he may have been shocked when she’d told him they were done. But he’d never tried, not once, to talk it out with her. He’d just packed up his stuff and left. She may have verbally ended their relationship but he’d physically ended it by walking away. By not fighting for them like he’d planned to fight for their country.

“No.” He fingered the papers in the file. “But I would have thought you’d place her somewhere with at least a decent amount of Spanish speakers.”

“Her English is better than her Spanish now,” Bliss informed him. “She spent the last eight years alone with a television set that only received three English speaking channels. She hasn’t spoken Spanish in a very long time.”

Bliss hesitated. She hated to explain herself but since he was here and needed to work with them, needed to work with her...he needed a firmer grasp of the oddities of this situation.

Maria’s placement was radically different from their usual ‘special’ clients. Normally the client came to them and wanted to disappear. They had already come to terms with the realities of taking on a new life to be safe. They knew if they followed the rules, they could escape the threat that plagued them.

Maria Torres was a completely unique case.

She’d been imprisoned below ground, in a dank basement, for eight years. Her only contact with the outside world had come from three television channels and the pigs who checked on her once a week. They shoved bags of food and clothing in through a small cat door and retrieved her garbage bags using a long metal trash grabber. She rarely even saw their faces.

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