The drive from Fort Collins to Skin Gulch, Colorado took roughly forty-five minutes. We drove westward into the Rocky Mountains and basically turned left at the fork in the road onto Stove Prairie Road. The compound of the Concrete Angels sat a few hundred feet off the main road with a sliding steel gate and an actual guard shack beside it. The hard-eyed men who watched us arrive in Melinda’s sporty little Kia had beards to make ZZ Top jealous. I swallowed hard and hoped they looked meaner than they actually were.
“Hey, Egyptian, can you let us in? I need to talk to Roy.” She tipped her chin and smiled coyly.
The dark-haired man with a beaked nose and fathomless eyes stared past Melinda to me. I tried to keep my expression impassive, fear and unease locking my voice in my throat. Sweet glory, I’m in so much trouble.
He narrowed his eyes and lifted his chin at me. “Who’s this?”
“This is my best friend Oriana. She’s good with numbers.”
Wait, what? My eyes widened as I transferred my gaze to the back of Melinda’s head. What does she mean I’m good with numbers? Was this a setup? My gut sank. Shit-oh-dear, had my “best friend” broken up with her boyfriend as a ruse to get me to come up to the Concrete Angels’ compound? Anger, betrayal, and fear did the do-see-do in my stomach.
“Huh.” Egyptian looked me over like a tasty steak and a small smile curled his lips. “Okay. Go inside.” He waved his hand and the steel gate slid open revealing a surprisingly elegant compound.
I expected old, crumbling double-wide, warehouse-like buildings. Instead, what I found was a well-maintained motel sort of setting. Several small cabins surrounded a central club house and a large aluminum barn. All of the buildings had clean lines and clean windows. A few even had stained glass artwork in their front windows. All the cabins sported flower window boxes with petunias and marigolds of various colors, and all the buildings were neatly painted.
This doesn’t look like a biker gang hangout.
Melinda pulled up in front of the club house and shot me a look bereft of smile.
“Now listen up. I brought you here because you’re a wiz with numbers and the Concrete Angels have some money troubles. I told them I have a friend who could help.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. When were you gonna ask me if I wanted to help?”
She raised her chin, not at all repentant. “They need your skills and I gave them my word. No one ever goes back on their word and lives to tell about it.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic, Mel. But it wasn’t your word to give.” I scowled. “You didn’t ask, you kidnapped me and made me think I was helping you. You lied and manipulated me into coming up here. What if I say no?”
She shot me a flat look. “You can’t say no to the Concrete Angels.”
“Oh, yes I can. You didn’t ask if I wanted to help them, you just took me here. And I said I didn’t want to come.” I matched her stare for stare. “I also said they wouldn’t let me leave. But you did it anyway. This is your mess, so get me out of it.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
Melinda scowled, but she looked away and swallowed hard. “Oriana, you have to listen to me. They need your abilities and they don’t take no for an answer.” She met my gaze and I read real fear in her eyes. “I didn’t have a choice in asking you to do this. I had to ask and I had to bring you. If I didn’t, there would’ve been consequences I couldn’t pay.”
I shook my head. “Why are you involved with these people, Mel? Why would you stay with anyone who threatened your life like that?”
She tilted her head with a sad half-smile. “They kinda, sorta saved me at the lowest point in my life. I owe them.”
I nodded slowly. “And now they own you.”
She shrugged. “Come on, Oriana. It won’t be that bad. Just one job and you’ll be done.”
I snorted. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
She laughed, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Nope.”
I bit my bottom lip and stared down at my lap. I’d gone all out today with a V-necked t-shirt with “E=MC2 Enthusiasm = More Coffee Squared” emblazoned across my boobs, and denim capris. At least I’d worn my glasses and close-toed shoes. Too bad I hadn’t brought my Sig Sauer. Guess I’d grown a little lax since I’d left the FBI.
“Am I dressed okay before I meet the other cult members?”
Melinda scowled. “It’s really not like that.”
I raised an eyebrow and she grimaced.
“It doesn’t matter. I packed you a bag.”
“What the fuck, Mel?” I stared at her in horror. “Give me the keys.” I held out my hand.
“What?” Her eyes widened.
“Give me the fuckin’ keys. I’m getting myself out of this.”
“No, you can’t.” She held them out of reach. “You have to do this and stay. That’s why I brought the clothes.”
“Mel, I’m not going to be held here against my will. Give. Me. The. Keys.”
Her eyes filled with tears, but I wouldn’t be swayed by her puppy-dog looks anymore. Who knew this woman was so manipulative? I need to start thinking like an FBI agent again.
“The keys. Now.” I wouldn’t be swayed. The situation had grown too dangerous.
Before she could do anything, someone knocked on the driver’s side window. We both jumped, my heart galloping like an entire herd of bison. Panic flashed across Mel’s face before she pressed the button to lower the window.
“Everything okay in there, Melrose?” The man on the other side of the door was tall, blond, and had the biggest nose I’d seen in a long time. He also had piercing blue eyes that seemed to see into my soul when he switched his gaze to me.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s all good, Michael. We’re just getting out.” She shot me a meaningful look and opened her door.
“Melinda, no.” I reached for her, but she slipped out of the car and I was stuck.
Aw hell, now what do I do? I couldn’t stay in the car, but I didn’t have the keys to make a run for it. Sure, I could hot wire it. I’d learned that long before I joined the FBI. But I didn’t want anything to happen to Melinda if I rabbited.
Before I could make a decision, my door opened and I looked up into Michael’s earnest eyes. “You coming?”
Arguing wouldn’t do any good and sitting in the car wouldn’t give me a chance to assess my escape routes. Right now, I was stuck here until I figured out the lay of the land, and just what kind of mess Melinda had gotten me into.
I got out of the car, but stepped away from the man trying to take my arm. “I don’t need a physical escort. Keep your hands to yourself, big guy.”
“Michael.” He tilted his head and gave me a half-smile. “You don’t want to be here, do you?”
“What was your first clue? I don’t like liars, cheats, or scammers. So far, my ‘friend’ has been at least two of the three. So keep your hands off me. Got it?”
He held his hands up as amusement creased his lips. “Roger that, Ms…” He waited for my name.
He raised an eyebrow. “Ms. Hunter. Let me be the first to welcome you to the Concrete Angels.”
“Oh, I’m not staying.” I lifted my chin as his eyebrows went up. “I just need the keys so I can drive myself home.”
One of the other men laughed, a harsh, grating sound that sent fear skittering up my spine. “Once you drive in, there ain’t no drivin’ out.”
My gaze lasered into Melinda as she turned to look at me. “I told you this had Hotel California written all over this.”
She didn’t laugh. Her mouth tightened and her eyes rolled up in her head as she toppled backwards with a surprised gasp. My jaw dropped and I took a few steps toward her, away from the car, as she swooned like a friggin’ damsel in a dress. Exclamations erupted from the men around us and someone caught her, carrying her toward the club house, and leaving me with Michael and a new man who’d approached from behind.
“Who do we have here, Schnoz?”
I spun to identify the gravelly-voiced speaker, but when my gaze landed on him, I forgot everything about trying to get away. Sweet glory, where the hell did he come from?
He had close cropped hair, a cleft chin with scruff on it, and broad shoulders encased in a faded black t-shirt. But the eyes took my breath away. A rare color of seafoam green, most often seen in cats’ eyes, stared into me from under arching brows and half-closed lids. He appeared sleepy and relaxed, but I bet those eyes missed nothing.
“Ms. Hunter, meet Scott.”
“Not mister, just Scott. As in scott-free, sweetheart.” He smirked at me and anger surged in my chest.
“Not sweetheart, Scott. Hunter. I’m not your sweetheart, doll, honey, little lady, or darling. You don’t need a pet name for me because I’m not your pet. Copy?”
If anything, his smirk grew. “Yes, ma’am. Copy that.”
Yeah, I doubted it.
There you have it. Stop by the following other flash fiction authors below. Happy reading and happy June!