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  • Inside by Noelle Adams #chapter thirteen

    Introduction

    Here's Chapter Thirteen of Inside, the serial novel I'm working on. If you need to catch up, you can use the links to the earlier chapters below.
    I'm almost to the end of this. After this chapter, I just have two more chapters and the epilogue to go, so I'm going to try to finish it this week. So you can expect frequent updates until this is complete.

    Need to catch up?

    You can catch up on the earlier chapters through the links below.

    Chapter Thirteen


    The next morning, I woke up swelteringly hot. It didn’t take me long to figure out why.
    Will had a fever.
    I knew he had a fever even before I reached out to touch his skin. He was sweating visibly and his cheeks were deeply flushed. He was evidently asleep, but he kept shifting restlessly. Uncomfortably. And heat was radiating off his body.
    My heart started pounding as I blinked a few times and sat up in the bed. I pressed my fingertips against his forehead and sucked in a sharp breath at how hot he was.
    Definitely a fever.
    His injury might not have been life-threatening in itself, but despite what he’d kept insisting, it wasn’t “nothing.” It was serious enough to cause this fever.  The wound was probably infected.
    He needed a doctor. He needed antibiotics.
    And he’d never let me take him to get them when it would alert Kurt and his guys to our presence.
    I knew for sure he wasn’t going to be up to going to the bank to get the diamonds today. We’d have to wait for tomorrow, assuming I could get the fever down by then.
    It was just six-thirty in the morning when I woke up, and I spent the next hour trying to cool Will down. He wasn’t exactly delirious, but he also couldn’t seem to wake up for more than a few seconds at a time. I used cool, wet washcloths, applying them to his hot skin, and I tried to pour a few sips of water into his mouth whenever he was halfway awake.
    We didn’t have a thermometer in the apartment, so I couldn’t tell what his temperature was or how much it was changing. But after an hour or so of treating him, he seemed to settle down. He wasn’t writhing so much, and his skin felt cooler.
    His temperature must be going down.
    At least, I hoped it was.
    It wasn’t even eight in the morning, and I was already exhausted. I’d paused to make myself a cup of coffee, but that was all I’d had time or energy for. I was so anxious for Will that my body was tight, and I was all alone with it.
    I wasn’t any good at this kind of thing.
    I couldn’t deal with life-or-death crises or imminent danger.
    I was a normal woman with a normal life, and it felt like I’d been thrown into some sort of never-ending action movie I simply wasn’t prepared for.
    I needed Will to get better so he could help me.
    There was no way I could do this alone.
    On that thought, I heard a knock on the door. It startled me, although I knew it was probably Bryce.
    I ran to check the peephole and then relaxed and opened it up quickly when I saw Bryce’s familiar face in the hallway.
    Bryce might not be Will, but he was sure as hell better than nothing.
    My relief was short-lived, however. Before I’d even locked the door behind him, Bryce was muttering, “We’ve got to get out of this apartment today.”
    “What do you mean?”
    Bryce was shaking his head with an uncharacteristically sober expression. “They’ve closed in on the building somehow. I saw three of his guys on the block this morning. It took me ages to get around them and get into the building without being spotted. They’re going to find this place by the end of the day.”
    My stomach had dropped on his first sentence, and it kept dropping even more as he spoke. “Oh no.”
    “Why oh no? We can do the bank this morning and be out of here by lunch. We’ll manage okay.”
    “No, we won’t manage okay. Will is sick. He has a fever. He can’t do anything this morning.”
    Bryce turned his eyes to the bed and muttered, “Shit.”
    The one word pretty much summed up our situation.
    We walked over to stare down at Will’s sleeping body. He did look better than he had earlier, but his face was still flushed and damp, and he hadn’t woken up.
    “Is it bad?” Bryce asked.
    “I don’t know. I managed to get him cooled down so he seems more comfortable now. But what if that wound is infected? He needs a doctor.”
    “I’m sure he does, but the minute we set foot inside an emergency room, Kurt is going to know about it. We might as well shoot off a flare gun to announce our presence.”
    “Do you think we can just wait until tomorrow to go to the bank? He might feel better tomorrow.” There wasn’t much hope in my tone because I wasn’t feeling much in my heart.
    Bryce’s frown didn’t raise any optimism. “It’ll be risky. They’re going to be inside this building by the end of the day. Maybe we can find somewhere else to stay.”
    “I’m not going to try to move Will in this condition unless we know it’s genuinely safe.” I paused, looking at the strain on Will’s face, even as he slept.
    Then I made up my mind.
    “No,” I said. “I’m not going to wait for him. He’s already nearly gotten killed for this, and I’m not going to let him die all the way. Not if I can help it. We’ll go get the diamonds without him.”
    Bryce winced. “He’ll raise hell if we try it.”
    “It will be over and done before he knows. I almost lost him yesterday, and I’m not going to risk him again. Even tomorrow, he’s not going to be up to going into the bank and facing whatever danger is waiting there. I don’t care what he wants. I’m not going to let him do it.” I swallowed hard, cold with a chill of awareness.
    I was going to have to do this without Will after all.
    It was the last thing I wanted to do.
    I added, “So will you help me?”
    Bryce made a face. “You know I’m willing to help, but I don’t think you understand what I’m going to be facing when Will gets well again and learns what I’ve let you do without him. He’s going to completely lose his shit. I’m not getting paid enough to deal with that.”
    “I’ll pay you more,” I said without hesitation. “Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll raise it fifty percent.” I actually had no idea how much money that would be, but I was happy to drain my bank accounts if it meant keeping Will alive. “If you’ll come with me to get the diamonds this morning and leave Will here, I’ll give you fifty percent more.”
    Bryce had lifted his eyebrows at my urgency, but he said in his normal, relaxed tone. “Fair enough. It’s a deal.”
     I let out a breath and hugged my arms to my belly, trying to hold back the jitters of fear. My eyes were on Will’s face. “I hate leaving him alone when he’s like this. What if his fever gets worse?”
    “That’s a risk you’re going to have to take. Our options are to wait it out until tomorrow and pray he gets better and that we’re not found before then. Or else leave him here alone and go to the bank ourselves. There’s no third option here. There’s no one else to call in for help at this point, since Dax is still too far away to get here in time.”
    “Okay. Will stays here then. The bank opens at nine, so I’d like to be there as early as possible so we can get this over with. I really don’t see how they could possibly be watching the bank. It has no connections to anything in mine or my dad’s past. They can’t be watching every bank in the city, can they?”
    “I wouldn’t think so, but Kurt is so tech-savvy, there’s no telling what he might have in place to alert him. But I think we have a decent chance of getting in and out okay.”
    “All right.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “Then let’s make a plan and do this.”
    ***
    I hated leaving Will by himself when he was so sick, but he seemed to be sleeping comfortably when Bryce and I left, and I kept telling myself that we’d be back soon and that Will wasn’t likely to get much worse until the afternoon, when fevers tended to rise.
    He was going to be so upset when he finally got better enough to know what was going on and when he found out that we’d left him behind. But hopefully by that time the whole thing would be over, and Will would no longer be in danger because of me.
    I could deal with him being angry with me if it meant he was still alive.
    I was silent and sick to my stomach as I sat in the passenger seat of Bryce’s car. We’d had to take a round-about way out of the apartment building and then sneak three blocks over to where Bryce had left his car. The fear and exhaustion and the disorientation of being outside for the first time in more than a week were combining to daze and paralyze me.
    I felt dizzy, ice cold. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to walk into the bank, pretend to be a normal customer, and then walk out again with twenty million in stolen diamonds without simply passing out in the middle of the lobby.
    But if it meant the danger would be over—for me and more importantly for Will—then I was going to do it, even if I fainted in the process.
    “You going to be okay?” Bryce asked after several minutes of silence. He was some kind of expert driver, taking turns and quick maneuvers with such ease I could hardly follow them. If someone had been following us before, there was no way they could be following us now.
    He’d obviously been part of my dad’s crew because of his driving abilities, and they sure were coming in handy now.
    “Yes.”
    “You’re freaking me out with how white and frozen you are.”
    “I’m nervous. But I’ll be okay. I’m going to do this.”
    “You need to try to act casual when we get inside. This isn’t a high security bank. You’ll have no problem getting in with the ID and the box key. The staff there will have no reason to suspect anything unless you act all nervous and jittery.”
    “I’m not going to act nervous and jittery.” I was annoyed with Bryce now, and it was actually helping. Better to be annoyed than terrified. “I’ve got this.”
    “All right. I’ll be with you, and I’ll try to cover if you mess anything up.”
    “I’m not going to mess anything up,” I gritted out between clenched teeth.
    “If you say so.”
    “I do say so. Now shut up for a few minutes before I wring your neck.”
     Bryce just chuckled, and the distraction at least had broken me out of my frozen paralysis.
    This was as simple a task as could be. I just needed to walk into a small bank. Show my fake ID and ask to be shown to my safety deposit box. Open it with the key. Take out of the diamonds and put them in my bag. Then walk out of there with Bryce and get back into the car.
    Easy.
    Compared to what Will had already done for me, it was nothing.
    I could do it.
    I was doing it.
    Bryce had pulled into a metered parking place about a block away from the bank and we were getting out of the car.
    The world had faded into a dim blur around me as I walked next to Bryce toward the bank building. He’d put a hand on my back, giving the semblance that we were a couple. Even though I knew it was just for show, I appreciated the support his hand offered, the knowledge that I wasn’t alone.
    I had absolutely no awareness of the blue sky, the cars on the street, the people on the sidewalk, the door to the bank as we entered. But my feet were moving in the right direction, so I figured my body was doing what it was supposed to despite the blurred tension in my mind.
    To tell you the truth, I can’t even remember specific details of what happened next. I know we approached a pleasant-looking blond woman and asked her about accessing the safety deposit boxes. I know she asked for an ID and I showed her the driver’s license and the key. I know she took us to a small room in the back with two walls full of boxes.
    I had a momentary panic about which box I needed to open, but she took care of that for us. She pulled a box out from the wall and put it on a table.
    It was locked.
    I had the key.
    She said, “Take your time. I’ll be just outside. Lock the box and come on out when you’re ready to leave.”
    I might have said something. I can’t remember. I know Bryce said, “Sounds good. Thanks.”
    Then we were alone in the small room, and I unlocked the box with trembling fingers and the key my father had left for me.
    There was a small black case inside the box.
    I pulled out of the case and flipped the latch.
    “Fuck,” Bryce breathed when we both stared down at a glittering collection of diamonds. They were all different sizes, and each were positioned in a small slot in the case.
    “I can’t believe we finally found them,” I said.
    “Good thing I’m a trustworthy soul, or I could just snatch them right now and have myself a fortune.”
    “I don’t think you’d do that.” I didn’t know Bryce very well, but Will trusted him and that meant something to me. “But if you want to, I wouldn’t stop you. You could have Kurt on your tail instead of mine, and I could get Will to the ER and be done with this whole thing.”
    Kurt snorted. “Nah. I wouldn’t do it. And if I did, I wouldn’t just have Kurt on my tail. I’d have Will too. And, believe me, Will is a lot scarier than Kurt is.”
    I almost smiled at this. Then I lifted the first tray in the case to find another one, also full of diamonds.
    I was pleased with our success until I glanced over at Bryce, who was frowning down into the case. “What is it?” I asked.
    “This isn’t all the diamonds.”
    My spine stiffened. “What do you mean?”
    “I’m not an expert, but I don’t see how this is all the diamonds. Not twenty-million’s worth. This is maybe half of them.”
    I groaned out loud. “You’re kidding me. This isn’t all of them?”
    Bryce was shaking his head. “I don’t think so. Would your dad have split them up or something?”
    “Yes! He would have. It’s just like him. Half for me to get and half for Chance to get. Damn it, Dad. I thought we were done.” I put down the case and then looked into the safety deposit box to make sure there was nothing else there.
    There was an envelope, so I grabbed it and tore it open.
    Written on a slip of paper were two lines.
    Blue jays don’t build nests like sparrows.
    They just want to fly.
    “What the hell does that mean?” Bryce asked, clearly as frustrated as I was.
    “I don’t know. I have no idea. This is meant for Chance. It’s some sort of clue, but only she can figure it out. We’ll have to get it to Dax and Chance.”
    “Okay. We can do that. But first we need to take these and get out of here.”
    I closed and latched the case and then put it in my leather saddle bag. I closed the bag, slung the strap on my shoulder, and straightened up. “I’m ready. Let’s get out of here.”
    I was scared again, but in a different way now. The world wasn’t a blurry haze as Bryce and I walked through the bank lobby and out of the front door. All the details and colors seemed sharper, more vivid. All my senses seemed heightened.
    We got to the car without any problem, and then Bryce was pulling it onto the busy city street.
    I really thought we were going to manage to get back to the apartment without incident.
    It seemed too good to be true, but we’d managed so far. We just had a few minutes to go.
    But then Bryce started looking into his rearview mirror. He did it so often that I turned to look at the road behind us. “What is it?” I asked, when I didn’t see anything suspicious.
    “I think we’re being followed.”
    “What? How did they find us?”
    “The hell if I know, but Kurt knows what he’s doing. They must have caught us as we were leaving the bank.”
    “Shit.” I kept turning behind to look until I saw the sedan that Bryce must be worried about. There were two guys in it, and they looked like professionals. I knew the type.
    “Can you lose them?” I asked.
    “I’m going to try.”
    I folded my arms in front of me and hung on as Bryce suddenly accelerated and started swerving around the traffic in front of us. He took a quick left turn and then another turn just on the edge of a red light.
    The sedan was behind us, though, and they simply ran the red light, causing oncoming traffic to slam on their breaks.
    I didn’t say a word. I didn’t move. I just clung to my seatbelt and prayed to anyone who might hear me that we’d live through this.
    After several minutes, Bryce muttered, “Damn it. I can’t shake these assholes.”
    “What should we do? We can’t lead them back to the apartment.”
    “I know. If I drop you off somewhere, do you think you can get back on your own? I can lead these guys away.”
    I nodded. “Yeah.” I had no real confidence in this claim, but what else could I say?
    We couldn’t keep living through this ridiculous car chase for much longer. Something had to give.
    “Okay. Sit tight for now. In about three minutes, I’m going to turn a corner and then stop, and you jump out. You’ll have fifteen seconds to get out of sight, or they’ll see you. You need to duck inside the parking garage that will be right in front of you before they turn the corner too. You think you can do it?”
    “I can do it.”
    “Okay. I’ll give you thirty-seconds warning so you can be ready to get out.”
    My heartbeat was pounding in my ears and my fingertips as I poised tensely and waited. When Bryce gave me warning, I unhooked my seatbelt and put my hand on the door latch.
    Then he made a sudden turn and stopped abruptly.  “Now,” he barked.
    I jumped out, stumbling slightly as I closed the door behind me and raced through the entrance of the parking garage in front of me. It was a car entrance, and there was nothing inside but parked cars.
    Bryce had started up again immediately, and he was halfway down the block when the sedan chasing us turned the corner and passed by the entrance.
    I was already inside the parking garage, so I didn’t think there was any way they could have seen me.
    I stood and caught my breath for about thirty seconds before I was able to move again. Then I hurried through the parking garage. I remembered it from a week ago when Will and I had gone through it on our way to the apartment.
    I also recognized the two other buildings I needed to pass through to get to the apartment.
    I didn’t stop. I didn’t hesitate. I moved as fast as I could.
    I had the diamonds now, and Will was sick and injured, all alone in the apartment.
    I needed to reach him as quickly as I could.
    ***
    Six minutes later, I caught the door to the apartment building as someone was leaving and then entered the stairwell that led up to our apartment.
    I’d made it this far. All I needed to do now was walk up the stairs to the third floor and then go down a short hall to the apartment door.
    I had the key.
    I could finally get back inside and make sure Will was okay.
    I was almost finished.
    Walking up the first flight of stairs, I heard someone tramping down the steps above me. I immediately tensed up and ducked my head.
    Chances were it was just an innocent person who happened to live in this building, but Bryce had said Kurt’s guys would probably start searching here before the end of the day, so it was possible that it was one of the bad guys, looking around, trying to find us.
    If so, he’d recognize me.
    I paused momentarily, thinking about turning around and going back the way I came to avoid him. But before I could actually do it, I caught a glimpse of the guy on the flight of stairs above me.
    If I could see him, then he could see me.
    I couldn’t turn around now or he’d know something was suspicious.
    I took a deep breath and kept climbing, desperately trying to fake a pose of casual normalcy.
    It might not be one of Kurt’s guys. And, if it was, maybe he was stupid or distracted and wouldn’t immediately know who I was.
    I glanced up as I reached the landing, just as he was about to step down onto it too. I managed to murmur, “Good morning,” in a voice that was shockingly natural.
    I sounded like anyone, doing anything, living a regular life.
    It was definitely one of Kurt’s guys. I recognized the type even from a quick glance. It was clear he was hired muscle from his hardened expression, his bulky body, and the way he held his right arm, as if he had a gun holstered beneath his jacket.
    Kurt’s guys were in the building.
    But hopefully they hadn’t found the apartment yet. It wasn’t like they could bang on every door and demand to be let in. There were dozens of apartments in this building. Hundreds of people. And if they were too obvious someone would call the cops.
    I was sweating beneath my clothes, and my skin was chilled and clammy, but maybe he wouldn’t be able to see it.
    I’d actually gotten past him and was starting up the stairs when he reached out to grab my arm.
    His grip was strong, rough. It hurt. “Hey, wait,” he demanded in a gravelly voice.
    “What are you doing?” I tried to shake off his arm. “Let go of me.”
    His eyes searched my face. “You’re one of the twins, aren’t you? We’ve been looking for you.”
    Shit. He recognized me. He knew who I was.
    Which meant I needed to get away from him. Right now.
    I pulled as hard as I could, trying to pry my arm out of his grip, but he just grabbed me with his other hand as well. He was much stronger than I was. There was no way I could win a tug-of-war with him.
    So I did the only thing I could think of.
    I tried to scream.
    I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to scream when you were genuinely panicked, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Maybe some people are naturally screamers, but I’m not. I never scream—even when I’m angry. And panic makes everything harder. On my first attempt, my throat closed up. Only a stretched squeaky sound came out.
    The guy actually laughed at the pitiful sound I made, which made me so mad I reacted without thinking. I stomped on his foot with the heel of my shoe.
    He didn’t let go, but he did grunt, and as he did, I tried screaming again.
    This time was better. I actually made a real sound.
    The third time, I managed to get out a loud bellow. “Help! Help! Fire! Fire!”
    My dad had taught me and Chance long ago that when you’re calling for help, you should always yell fire. If you scream out about theft, assault, or rape, then people might not risk leaving the safety of their homes. Fire got people outside.
    The man made a growling sound while I screamed, and he slapped me hard with the flat of his hand.
    It hurt. Stunned me. I’d never been hit before.
    But I kept screaming.
    “Shut up, you little bitch,” the man said, giving me a painful shake.
    He wouldn’t be so mad at me if my screaming wasn’t doing something, so I kept it up. The stairwell was bleak and empty with concrete floors and thick walls. But maybe someone would hear me. Maybe someone would call the police.
    The man tried to pull me down the stairs, and I resisted as much as I could. I couldn’t get away from him. He was simply too strong. But at least I could make this as hard for him as possible. I writhed and kicked out and kept screaming, and the guy got more and more exasperated with the struggle.
    He was going to hit me hard soon. He was going to knock me out so he could take control of my body. I couldn’t let him do it, so I fought him like a tiger, scratching and kicking and doing everything I could.
    “Bitch,” the man bit out.
    I prepared myself for the blow I knew was coming, still struggling as wildly as I could.
    “Get your hands off her!”
    It was a new voice, and it was coming from the flight of stairs above us.
    I gasped and looked up to see Will.
    He was still wearing the shorts I’d left him in, with nothing covering his abdomen but his bandages, and his face was damp and wan. But he was on his feet, and I’d never seen anything like the cold steel in his eyes, on his face.
    He was holding a gun.
    I could suddenly see what would happen now. I’d witnessed it in movie after movie, television show after television show.
    There would be a standoff. And this guy would use a threat to me to keep Will from advancing any farther. There might be two of us, but we had the disadvantage because Will would never let me get hurt.
    Those standoffs never ended well. I wasn’t going to let it happen.
    So I readjusted while the man was distracted by Will and kneed him as hard as I could in the groin.
    He made an oomphing sound and doubled over, and his grip on me loosened enough for me to yank myself free.
    I ran.
    Down the stairs, as fast as I could, trying to get distance between me and that horrible guy.
    The man chased me, and he was bigger and faster than me. Evidently, I hadn’t hurt him enough to slow him down. He grabbed me again when I got the bottom landing. I felt his fingers close around my upper arm.
    But then something changed. The man let me go.
    Because Will had reached him, hauled him away from me, and thrown him against the wall.
    I gasped and froze as I watched the two men grappling. It was raw and intense and ugly, nothing but grunts and body parts and visceral pain. Normally, I was sure Will would be able to take care of this other guy with no problems, but Will had been shot yesterday. He’d had a fever all day. And he wasn’t even wearing shoes right now.
    The other guy was getting the better of him.
    For a minute, I was too dazed to do anything, and in one irrational part of my mind, I heartily sympathized with all those females in action movies who just ducked out of sight instead of going to help the hero fighting with the bad guy. Every instinct in my body was saying to get out of there, to hide, to shrink away from this primitive violence.
    But this was Will. And he was sick and injured. And this man would kill him without a second thought.
    I couldn’t let it happen.
    I knew from my dad’s training that the best self-defense was always aimed at vulnerable parts of the body. The man was hunkered over Will, his hands around his throat, so the only vulnerable part of his body I could reach was one knee.
    So I kicked him there, as hard as I could.
    I heard something crack. The sound almost made me vomit.
    The man howled, and Will finally got an advantage. He threw the man off him and knocked his head against the concrete floor.
    The man went limp.
    “Will,” I rasped.
    “Sweetheart.” He was sitting on the floor now, ghost white and dripping with sweat. I could see blood on his right arm and blood seeping through his bandages. “You left without me.”
    “I didn’t have a choice.” I reached down to help him up, and he gave me a sudden hug that was so hard I lost my breath.
    Then he pulled away. “We need to get him out of this building or they’ll know we’re here.”
    “What should we do? You can’t carry this guy in your condition.”
    He hesitated, wiping sweat off his face with his forearm. Then said, “We’ll do it together. Help me.”
    ***
    The next ten minutes were painful and unpleasant.
    We got the guy up between us and supported him like he was drunk. Fortunately, we didn’t run into anyone who was close enough to see the man’s real condition as we took him through back hallways and a parking garage to deposit him in an alley. They already knew what neighborhood we were in, so it didn’t matter if they found him and deduced what had happened to him.
    The guy wasn’t going to regain consciousness any time soon. Not with that blow to the head.
    When we got rid of him, Will and I went back to the little apartment.
    “Did you hear me scream?” I asked as I locked the door.
    “Yeah. But not from the apartment. I’d woken up to find you’d left without me, so I called Bryce and he told me you were on your way back alone. I’d already left to look for you when I heard you scream.” He shook his head as he gazed at me. “I can’t believe you did it without me.”
    “You were sick.”
    “I wasn’t that sick.”
    “Yes, you were.”
    Will took a shuddering breath, using one hand to prop himself up against the wall. “So did you get them?”
    “Half of them.” I pulled the case out of my bag and then opened it to show it to Will.
    He stared down at the diamonds for a long minute. Then he parted his lips like he would speak.
    He didn’t get anything said.
    He collapsed to the floor in a faint.

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