Anna was gone. There was no trace of her. The neighbors didn’t see anything, Finn was still unconscious, and every piece of evidence was pointing towards me starting the fire.
“Insurance money.” The investigator explained.
“I wasn’t even there!” I yelled.
“You don’t need to be there.” The detective argued.
They didn’t seem to care that everything I owned was in that house.
“That’s just a way to get more money.” They explained.
Charlie took the detective aside and talked to him for about ten minutes while I watched Finn get loaded up into the ambulance.
“I don’t know what to feel.” I whispered to Charlie as I stared at my gutted, burnt up childhood.
“Anger.” Charlie said as he reached me, following my gaze, “I would concentrate on anger.”
I finally tore my eyes away from the house and looked up at him “You’re filthy.” I whispered. He was covered in ash from head to toe.
“So are you.” He said, reaching over to wipe my bottom lip clean with his thumb. “We should get out of here.”
“I need to go see Finn.” I said with a frown, “And someone needs to tell Liam.”
Charlie nodded, “I’ll call him.”
“Should we go back to camp before we go to the hospital?” I asked him.
“No, its too far. I’ll get us a hotel room close to where Finn will be.” He said as he led me to the car.
“Okay.” I whispered as I climbed into the passenger seat, “Maybe we should go to the hospital first? What if Finn wakes up and we’re not there? I don’t want him to be alone.”
Charlie frowned, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen, Kate. He could be there for hours before he wakes up depending on his injuries.”
“Please,” I sighed, “Just take me to the hospital.”
Three percent; that was Finn’s chance to live. They said he was hit so hard in the head that his brain started to swell. To relieve the pressure, they had to drill a hole into his skull and put him into an induced coma. Three percent chance. That’s what we were hanging on to for dear life.
They finally allowed us to visit Finn in his room. His physical state didn’t look too rough if you could look past all the tubes going in and out of him. Charlie had fallen asleep on the sofa by the window shortly after we got settled in, but I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even close my eyes without seeing my house burnt to a crisp.
I had so many questions running through my head, and as I was sitting there trying to organize them, I realized there might be someone who had the answers I was desperate for. “Lou.” I whispered to myself before I quietly got to my feet and slipped out of the room. If he was still checked in, maybe I could play dumb and find out where Anna was.
My heart started to race as I made my way up to his room. I wasn’t sure where I was going to start and being covered in ash might give me away immediately but it was worth a shot. As I rounded the corner, I was jolted into a quick stop as I observed what was in front of me.
Anna was standing outside of Lou’s room talking to two police officers. Slowly, I backed out of sight and watched from around the corner. I was enraged. The person responsible for Finn’s condition and my home being destroyed was standing twenty feet away from me and I couldn’t do anything. Or could I?
“Don’t.” He growled into my right ear, making me jump.
I turned, “I wasn’t going to.” I whispered, looking up at Charlie.
Maybe it was all the ash, but I think that was the first time I saw true anger come out in his features. The longer he stared at her though, his face became more relaxed. “I have a plan and its unfolding nicely; don’t mess it up.” He whispered as he pulled me farther away from the corner.
“Maybe if you would let me in on your plan for once…” I started.
“What do you mean, for once? How many evil plans have we even made together?” He argued.
“Uh, one so far and you’re doing a pretty shitty job at including me.” I paused, “And what do you mean by evil plan?” I asked with a raised brow.
“I’ll tell you later, right now we need to get out of here. Once they’re done talking to her they’re going to want to talk to you and I haven’t figured out your statement yet so let’s go.” He said as he grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the stairs.
“I’m not leaving Finn all by himself, Charlie.”
“He’s not all by himself, Kate. Liam just got here and I have Brandon outside the door. Finn will be fine. I promise.” Charlie said softly.
“Liam’s here?” I asked surprised.
“Yes, I called him, remember?”
“Of course, I just… forgot he was coming.”
Charlie sighed, “You can have a reunion later, Kate. Lets just focus on what’s important right now.”
“Okay.” I whispered as we made it out of the hospital.
Big grey clouds were starting to roll in as I followed Charlie across the street to a hotel that was facing the hospital, “It’s gonna rain.” I said to him as he held the door open for me.
“It’s gonna do a lot more than rain.” Charlie said with a rough tone, taking one last glance at the hospital before he followed me into the lobby.
My shower was long and relaxing. I scrubbed myself from head to toe, trying to wash any and all evidence of this morning even happening off of me. I feared that roasting a marshmallow over a fire would never feel the same again.
I walked out of the bathroom in a towel. My damp, wavy hair falling past my shoulder blades, and my toes wrinkly from taking a thirty-minute shower. Charlie made sure we had a large hotel room, two queen size beds facing a flat screen TV, a Jacuzzi tub in the corner, and a small balcony where Charlie was sitting.
“Hey…” I said softly, walking up behind him.
“Hey.” He said standing up to face me, “How uh…” I watched him divert his eyes from my towel covered body, “How’s the water pressure?”
“It’s fine.” I shrugged.
“I have to show you something.” He said as he walked past me and to the bed. He had papers scattered everywhere.
“What is all this?” I asked as I picked up a folder with John’s name written on it.
“This is the plan.” Charlie said softly.
“Why is John’s death involved in it?” I whispered, flipping through the paperwork.
“Because Anna killed him.” He said firmly.
I blinked up at him, “She did?” I asked confused.
Charlie grinned, “That’s what it’s going to look like.”
“So, you’re framing her?” I asked with a raised brow.
He nodded, “Anna killed John because she thought it was you in that bed, and when that didn’t work out, she tried to get close to you and then burnt the house down.”
“But… what’s her motive?”
“Jealousy.” He said with a shrug, “Being hospitalized for being crazy wont help her case either.”
“You seriously want to frame your sister?” I whispered up at him.
“She’s your sister too.” He said, taking the file out of my hand and tossing it on the bed.
“Right.” I nodded.
“Think about it while I get cleaned up, and order some food for us. I’m starving and I know you are too.” He said as he made his way to the bathroom.
“Starving, yea, that’s what I am.” I mumbled under my breath as I stared down at Anna’s fate, slowly grinning at the thought of justice.
After I called room service and ordered us come breakfast, I started digging through Charlie’s duffle bag to find something comfortable to slip into. I found a two-piece bathing suit that was my size and of course, it was all black. “Hmm.” I said to myself, thinking about taking a dip in the indoor pool downstairs.
I eventually talked myself into it, quickly slipping on the suit and grabbing a fresh towel off the bed. I wrote a note to Charlie, letting him know I was going for a swim before I grabbed my flip flops and headed down to the pool. The loud thunder reminded me of the night my house lost power due to the bad storm, changing my direction from the elevator to the stairs.
The pool area was vacant. Seeing’s how it was the middle of the day on a weekday, it made sense. The large windows scaling the pool area allowed me to watch as the lighting struck outside, putting on a beautiful light show against the dark grey clouds. The crappy weather set a nice relaxing mood for my swim. The only lights that were on were the ones glowing inside the pool, which felt like something out of a horror movie at first with the storm, but my worries went away as soon I dove in.
It was crisp, and refreshing, and peaceful. I floated there for a while, listening to my heartbeat echo through my body as I watched the the rain trickle down the windows outside. Eventually I went back to doing laps, pushing myself to the point of exhaustion until it felt like a good time to hit the sauna.
“Finished already?” I heard him say as I climbed out of the pool, making me jump.
Charlie stepped out of the shadows in a pair of black trunks, “You really need to work on your cardio, Red.”
“How long have you been standing there?” I asked with a frown, trying to ignore the fact that he was half naked and getting closer to me.
“About twenty minutes.” He smirked.
“I didn’t hear you come in.” I said between breaths. As I quickly checked him out, I noticed a deep cut on his left oblique, “What is that?” I asked, meeting him halfway to examine his mark.
“Just a little scratch.” He explained.
I could feel him looking down at me, making me bite my bottom lip as I focused on his wound, “Charlie, this is deep, you might need stitches.”
“Nothing a little TLC won’t fix.” He said softly.
Finally, I looked up at him, “From a professional, Charlie.”
“What makes them any better at patching up a wound than me?”
“Oh I don’t know, years of experience,” I shrugged, “A degree maybe…”
“Tell me, Kate, if we were stranded out in the wilderness and you were injured, would you trust me enough to take proper care of you?” He asked, his tone becoming more firm and serious.
“Yes.” I admitted, “But-”
“Then trust that I know how to take care of myself.”
“Charlie,” I protested, but he interrupted.
“Stop arguing with me.” He said simply before he took a step back and looked me up and down, “Where were you headed?” He asked.
“To the sauna.” I said, nodding my head in the direction of the cedar box.
“When you get too hot, why don’t you join me for a swim?” He asked me with a grin.
“I’ll think about it.” I smirked back.
“You do that.” He said as he slowly reached out and hooked his finger under my bikini bottom strap, “This suit looks good on you, Red.” He whispered as he took a step forward so we were toe to toe.
His presence was overwhelming when he was that close to me. He smelled like a delicious mixture of men’s soap and mint, and his bare chest rising and falling in front of me was a temptation all on its own. I swallowed hard as I was forced to look up at him, “Don’t get any wicked ideas.” I warned him.
“Wicked ideas are all I have.” He reminded me as his finger trailed up my stomach.
I closed my eyes, trying to ignore his lingering finger, “How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not yours to take?” I whispered.
I felt him lean in closer to me, his hand at my side, his lips brushing against my ear, “Do you see me taking you?” He whispered in a husky tone.
My knees were going to give in any second, I could feel them weakening under his touch. I answered him with a soft exhale as I grabbed onto his forearms for support.
“The thought of you keeps me awake most nights.” He whispered as his left hand ran up the side of my body and rested along the crook of my neck. “I lay there and imagine every possible way to devour you.” He told me as he used his thumb to tilt my head up so he could look me in the eyes, “I’m not taking you against your will, Kate. Everything that I do to you will always start with you begging for it.”
I knew he was right. He did things to me no other man could come close to doing but that wasn’t something I was ready to admit, “Go fuck yourself.” I whispered with a fierce glare.
The second I stepped away from him the lights went out. We looked at each other for a second before we split; I looked down the hall, he looked out the window, “The entire hotel went dark.” I told him as I grabbed my towel.
“Yea, well, everyone else has power.” He said as he walked back to me, “Lets get back to the room and see what’s going on.”
“I don’t have a good feeling about this, Charlie.”
“Neither do I.” He said as he took me by the hand and lead me down the hall.
“Did you leave a window open?” I asked him as we cautiously walked into our dark room. His grip became tighter on my hand, squeezing my fingers together as he pulled me back and walked ahead of me.
He silently kicked off his flip flops and pulled me close to him as he guided us to the bedside table. The balcony door was wide open; rain was pouring in with every gust of wind. All of our research that was lying on the bed was now flying around our room, circling us, mocking us.
“What’s going on?” I whispered to him but he answered me by covering my mouth with his hand as he reached for something on the table.
“Looking for this?” I heard her say as the balcony door shut.
I blinked in the direction of the voice, I didn’t need to see her to know who it was, but the silhouette of her waving a gun around made me uneasy.
“Anna…” I said between my teeth as I pulled Charlie’s hand away from my mouth.
With a click of a button she had a lit flashlight pointed at her face, and a sly grin grew across her lips, “Well done, pumpkin.” She whispered.
“What the fuck are you doing here!?” I snapped. My anger hit me like a rush of adrenaline. My hands were shaking, my heart was racing, my emotions were taking over. I wanted to rip out her throat where she stood for everything that she put me through. I wanted her begging for her life before me and I wanted to see how far I would take it.
“Kate.” Charlie said with a deep subtle tone, pulling me from my violent reverie.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember what Finn had taught me. He warned me about situations like this, where your sympathetic nervous system takes over and you have little to no control over your actions.
“You’re going to find yourself in a situation that terrifies you at some point in your life. Your heart rate is going to rise, your hands are going to shake, you’re not going to be able to think clearly. Most people black out and don’t remember a thing.” Finn explained, “The first time you have someone at gunpoint for example, your fight or flight instincts are going to kick in and you’re going to have to make that decision to pull the trigger or not. This is where you take in a deep breath, control your heart rate, control the shaking, clear your head, make your decision, and exhale.”
I felt him with me as I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. I pushed out all the overwhelming thoughts of Anna burning down my house, almost killing Finn, and giving the police another reason to investigate me. Slowly, I took control over my body and mind and was able to concentrate on what was right in front of me as I opened my eyes.
“Anna, what do you want?” Charlie asked her as he moved in front of me.
“What do I want?” Anna laughed, “Hmm… what do I want?” She repeated as she stepped closer to us. “I want the empire.” She grinned.
I blinked up at Charlie’s side profile and watched him frown, “Empire?” He asked.
“Come on, Charlie, you’ve never wondered who was going to inherit the camp our family worked so hard to build?” She asked with a head tilt.
“Anna what the fuck are you talking about? What does any of this have to do with Kate or Finn or anyone else?” Charlie snapped with confusion.
“This has EVERYTHING to do with her.” Anna said as her lips fell into a straight line. “Every one of the founding fathers is dead, Charlie. Lou is the only one who remains and he’s on his death bed! As soon as he’s gone it will be left to the three of us and let’s face it, Katie doesn’t have the balls to be a leader, let alone see things from my point of view.” She shrugged, “So I took care of it.”
“Took care of it?” I asked, stepping forward.
“I can’t believe you actually figured it out to be honest.” Anna said with a soft laugh, “Framing you for John’s murder was easy once Charlie lead me to your apartment.”
My jaw dropped. “W-What?” I whispered in disbelief.
“I KNOW! I had to act fast once you came to the camp! I didn’t even know about you until then. But the police were taking so fucking long to find the murder weapon, I had to figure out how to get close to you and as soon as you brought me to your house I knew that’d be the perfect set up!” She grinned, meeting my gaze.
“Set up for what?” Charlie asked her.
She looked back at Charlie, “For the arson, darling. Now I’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone! The firemen and police are going to be rifling through all your burnt up memories looking for what caused the fire and there, amongst the ashes, they’ll find the dagger with John’s blood on it.” Her hands were flying around dramatically as she spoke. I could tell she was enjoying the attention as she bragged about her marvelous plan. “And poor Finn, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Wait…I didn’t kill John?” I whispered, staring past Anna.
I could feel Charlie looking down at me with confusion. Up until now I couldn’t fully deny whether I killed him or not. I had no idea what I was capable of, and to hear that I didn’t have a hand in John’s murder brought me to tears.
“Oh sweetie” Anna laughed, hard, “You actually thought you killed him? Oh my god why did I tell you all of this?! That would have been perfect!”
“Why did you tell us this, Anna? Why share any of this with us?” Charlie asked.
Anna sighed, “Because I had to tell someone, and none of this will even matter when you’re dead.”
My mind was still elsewhere, only half focused on their conversation as I stared out onto the balcony, but my peripheral vision caught movement and directed my attention back to Anna. I moved quickly as I saw her raise the gun at Charlie, and with one swift jump to my left my body was blocking his. I used the bed to my advantage the best I could, using it as a stepping stool to cover the height Charlie had on me. We were shoulder to shoulder by the time the bullet left the gun.
After that it was pretty peaceful, believe it or not. The power of the bullet had thrown me into Charlie, making us both collapse onto the floor. There was a little burning near my left clavicle but other than that, I just felt tired. My ears were ringing and my vision was blurred from my tears. I didn’t understand why Charlie wasn’t getting up, and Anna had completely disappeared out of my line of vision. It was dark, and then it was light. I had to squint because it was so bright, was that the light they tell you to stay away from when you’re dying? Or did the power come back on?
I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t think. Warm liquid pooled between my left and right clavicle as my fingers started to tingle. Was I going to die here? I wondered. More importantly, was Charlie okay? I squeezed my eyes shut at the thought of Charlie lying there lifeless. I felt so helpless, I didn’t know what to do. My entire body was paralyzed and my eyelids became more and more heavy the harder I tried to keep them open.
“Kate.” I heard a muffled voice shout. I forced my eyes open but saw no one.
“Kate.” He repeated, and finally, Charlie was crouched over me. His chest was bloody. I wanted to ask him if he was okay but I couldn’t find the words.
I watched as he ripped a white t-shirt in half and pressed it to his chest, “Kate!” He yelled in my face, getting my attention, “I need you to hold this.” He said as he pressed the soft material against my chest. It hurt, but the overwhelming feeling of being tired was more powerful. He guided my hand to the cloth on my chest and told me to press hard. I tried my best to push as hard as I could as I watched him get to his feet and jog to the other side of the room. It felt like forever before he came back. He had something shiny in his mouth and a pack of matches in his hand.
“This is going to hurt but its going to stop the bleeding, you understand?” He told me as he placed something in my mouth, “I need to clean the wound, so bite down on this.” He ordered. I wanted to explain to him that I wasn’t feeling much pain but that took too much energy. I watched as he opened a mini bottle of alcohol and felt him take away the cloth and pour it onto my chest. He was right, it stung like a son of a bitch. I bit down on what felt like leather to ease the pain, it didn’t work.
I whimpered as he pulled out a pair of pliers. “The bullet exited out your back and hit me. You’re losing a lot of blood and I can’t take you to the hospital, the cops will get involved and it will be an even bigger mess than it is now.” He explained as he used the pliers on what looked like a bullet. “I have a surgeon standing by about thirty minutes away but you’ll be dead by then if I don’t stop the bleeding. Kate, pay attention. I’m pouring gunpowder on your wound and lighting it on fire for a few seconds. This will seal your wound for now.”
My eyes must have been huge because he paused for a second to run a shaky thumb across my cheek, “You’re going to be fine.” He whispered and then moved on. I found the strength to reach up and hold the cloth against his wound as he lit a match and took a deep breath. It was the longest few seconds of my life once he touched the match to my wound, the heat and pain together was unbearable.
I was in and out after that. I came to just as Charlie used the pliers to dig out the bullet nestled under his clavicle, and then again when he carried me out into the rain to get to the car. The cold rain stung as it hit my face and the gray clouds rolling around in the sky was a sight to see. Everything about this night felt dark and angry. The next time I came to, I was lying on what felt like a table made of cold steel. Charlie was talking to someone about my condition; all I could make out was “steady” and “lucky” before I was out again.
When I finally woke up, it felt like days had passed and I found myself lying in an unfamiliar place. It was all very bright; there were French doors to my right that were wide open, allowing a pleasant salty breeze to blow in. The bed was large and the comforter was white and fluffy. I climbed out of bed and took a long look in the mirror attached to the white dresser. I was in a navy blue silk nighty with lace trim, and my hair looked like a wavy mess.
“How did I get here?” I whispered to myself as I stared at the stiches under my left clavicle. I remembered what happened but barely.
I grabbed the white cotton robe lying at the end of the bed and wrapped it around me before I walked out the French doors. There was a small patio I stepped onto and beyond that was miles and miles of sand and ocean.
“Kate.” I heard Charlie say as he came up behind me.
I spun around and felt the corners of my mouth curl into a smile, “Charlie.” I whispered as I walked up to him and hugged him tightly, “You’re okay. I can’t believe you’re okay.”
I felt him chuckle softly as he wrapped his arms around me, “I’m fine. You were the one I was concerned about.”
“Where are we?” I asked him as I took a step back to look him over. He was in a pair of gray board shorts and had a white button up shirt on that was left open, exposing his firm chest.
“We’re at my safe house until we figure out our next plan.” He said as he took my hand and lead me into the dining room. The table was full of fresh cut fruit, oatmeal, toast, and orange juice.
“Oh my god I don’t remember the last time I’ve eaten.” I said as I sat down and started to snack on a little bit of everything, “How long was I out?” I asked him between bites.
“About thirty-two hours, give or take.” Charlie said as he sat across from me.
“Jesus.” I mumbled.
“We also gave you a sedative to help you sleep.”
“The surgeon that helped us.”
“Ah,” I nodded, “Well, where do we go from here?”
Charlie sighed, “We track down Anna.”
“That can’t be too hard, can it?” I frowned.
“No, but, my sources tell me she has a god damn army working for her. I think she’s been working on this for a while.” He said as he rubbed the scruff on his jaw, “I should have noticed.”
“Don’t go there.” I said firmly, “We need to focus on what to do next.”
Charlie smirked, “Look at you taking initiative.”
“If Anna really did kill John I need to find evidence and clear my name.” I shook my head at the thought, “How did you even know she did it?” I asked, meeting his gaze from across the table.
“I didn’t. I had no idea Anna had anything to do with John’s murder, I just thought it would be perfect to pin it on her along with everything else.” He explained.
“What about the other night? Do we have any of her confession recorded or taped?” I asked.
“She cut the power, all the cameras were down.” He explained.
“Right.” I sighed as I ran a hand through my hair, “Do we have an update on Finn?” I asked him.
Charlie let out a deep exhale before he began, “Finn is stable but doesn’t have a lot of brain activity,” He whispered, tapping his fingers on the table, “It’s not looking good.”
My eyes started to water at the thought of Finn lying in a bed somewhere like a vegetable because of Anna, because of me.
“I’m going to kill her.” I said, my voice like gravel.
Charlie slowly nodded with agreement as we locked eyes, “I’m already on it.”
I was intrigued, “What do you mean?”
“I’ve assembled the team already; they’re outside drawing up a plan as we speak.”
I was shocked, “They were fine with the idea of murdering someone they knew?” I asked with a raised brow.
“We’ve all worked with Finn for a long time, he’s family. She is not.” Charlie said as he sat back in his chair.
“Well let’s go hear this plan.” I said as I stood up.
“I’m not sure its finished.” He said as he walked over to me, “You didn’t eat much, how do you feel?” He asked softly as he put the back of his hand to my forehead.
“Weak, tired.” I admitted.
“Come on, lets get you back to bed.”
“Bed? Charlie we have a lot to do.” I argued as he led me back to the bedroom.
“That can wait a few more hours, you need to rest.” He said as he shut the French doors and windows. “I installed these blackout blinds that makes it pitch dark in here so you shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping.”
As he pulled down the blinds and turned on the fan I became less argumentative, “Fine, but I’m only sleeping for a few hours and then we’ll get to work.”
“Deal.” He said with a satisfied grin as he slowly made his way towards me, “You seem to be healing well,” He whispered as he untied my robe and pushed it off my left shoulder.
The thought of him undressing me had me leaning against the bed for support, “Yea, it’s a little sore but I’m a quick healer, so.”
“You should have never stepped in front of that bullet, Kate. You almost died.” Charlie said as he looked down at me. His gaze was full of concern, something I wasn’t use to seeing in him.
“You took care of it, Charlie. I’m alive. It’s over.” I reassured him, taking his hand in mine, “Thank you, by the way.” I smiled, “For saving my life.”
“Is this a good time for ‘I told you so’? Because I feel like it is.” He joked with a proud grin.
“I’ll let you have your moment.” I whispered as I let the robe slide off my shoulders and onto the floor.
“Yea…Thanks.” He whispered as he let his eyes wander up and down my body, “I’ll let you get some rest.”
I finally gave into my longing for him as I reached out and ran my hand down his warm abdomen, “I don’t want rest.” I whispered.
“I know you don’t.” He whispered back, grabbing a fistful of my nighty to guide me closer to him.
“Charlie!” I heard a male voice shout from the hallway.
“What is it?” Charlie asked him, his eyes never leaving mine. I could feel his hand tremble with anticipation as we stared at each other.
“We found her.” He said, “We found Anna.”
“That’s great, man. I’m a little busy right now so give me an hour.”
“That’s not the news, Charlie.”
“Hurry up, mate.” He ordered.
“She’s at the camp. She has all the weapons and all the men on her side. Whatever she’s planning, it’s going to be big.”
Charlie blinked, “Can we get a guy in there to see what’s going on?”
“We already have a mole planted, Sir.”
Charlie frowned, “Who?” He asked.