Martin was thrilled to finally hear from his daughter, though she had decided to omit several… details about what had happened over the past few days. As far as her father knew, Brooke was being treated well enough and that she didn’t fear for her safety, though progress on the case was hard coming.
“That’s a damned pickle to be in,” he told her over Skype, once they managed to get the service working. “If he were anyone else, I’d say that our perp were close enough to monitor him. But he’s not just anyone else. All she has to do is set up a Google news alert and the hard work of stalking is done for her. She could be anywhere.”
Brooke thought in silence for a moment. “Maybe there’s some paper trail from her having left the island? Unless she had her own boat, then she chartered something from someone.”
Martin snapped his fingers in front of the camera. “I’ll call around and see what I can dig up.”
“Hey, I’m damn proud of you, you know,” he said, eyes beaming. “You’re handling this very well.”
Brooke wasn’t sure that her father should have been that proud of her. Her crush on Jack was unbecoming of a professional-in-training, and it was beginning to frustrate her. She’d crushed on teachers before; local civil servants of the uniform-wearing variety; her damn babysitter when she was 10. They were all cute and harmless, she reasoned – but Jack was neither cute, nor harmless. And unlike her other crushes, who she could bat eyes at from afar, she was staying in his house.
“…Thanks, dad.” Brooke blushed, forced a smile, and waved goodbye.
When she was finished with the call, Amos’s green light came to life. “May I interrupt, Miss Foster?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Dinner will be served in fifteen minutes by the pool. Master Ilyin would like to know if you’ll be joining him.”
She fought a groan. “Thanks. I’ll… be there.”
There was another outdoor dining area near the pool: a sleek bronze and teak set for six. It was smaller than the one on the south patio, putting her easily within arm’s reach of the giant. Brooke decided that she’d have to do a lot of looking around at scenery, otherwise she might wind up staring at his abs all night.
When she approached, he rose from the table – a dramatic sight if she ever saw one, all twenty some-odd feet of him standing at her entrance – and stepped around to pull her chair out for her like a child seating a doll at a play tea set.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she said, laughing and trying to hide her blush.
“I need to get back into practice.” He returned to his end of the table and sat down cross-legged, tugging the sheet down for modesty’s sake. “Dining etiquette is a big deal in my… echelon of society,” he said with a little sheepish self-awareness.
Amos proceeded to bring out the cart again: this time it was heavily laden with smoked meats of all sorts. Pork, sausages, salmon, potatoes… Brooke’s mouth was watering already.
“My god, that smells amazing.”
“Apple wood,” Jack said, clearly pleased with his handiwork. “Please, help yourself.”
Amos served them, and they began to eat.
“So what’s the latest?” he asked, dragging a tiny rib through his credit-card size teeth to clean the meat off of it. He wiped his fingers off on a towel draped over his knee.
“Well, I spoke to my dad and he’s going to see if he can find out how Astarte left the island. It might give us a clue to where she went next,” she said, trying to look confident.
Jack frowned. “How long will that take?”
“Not sure,” she shrugged. “It’s a lot of phone calls to make and records to search.”
He seemed to get a little nervous. “Give me your best guesstimate.”
“I, er… a couple days maybe? At best?”
Jack nodded, thinking. He glanced around, at the pool, at the house, at the meal before him, then down to his own hands. “I just can’t stop thinking about what I’m going to do when I finally get my hands on that suchka.” A pause when he remembered his company. “My proverbial hands, I meant.” Still, it was clear what was on his mind.
“Jack, I can’t make any promises,” Brooke said carefully. “I can only try to help you find her – neither you nor I can make her do anything.”
The faraway look on his face faded as he looked back at his guest. He heaved a breath. “No,” he said in a low voice. “I suppose we can’t.”
“Have you thought about what you’re going to to if you can’t go back?”
Jack paused, and she watched as his grip on the serving spoon tightened hard enough to bend the metal. Brooke swallowed as she began to think about ways to excuse herself.
“You mean if she can’t, or won’t change me back?”
“That’s besides the point -“
“Is it?” Jack suddenly shot her a glare, blue eyes icy again.
Brooke stood up from her chair and threw her napkin down on the table. “You know what? Maybe you haven’t changed after all.”
He dropped the spoon to the table suddenly, and the young woman jumped. Then the giant stood up too. “If she doesn’t change me back,” he bellowed, “Fuck the company, the yacht, the parties, all of it. If she doesn’t change me back, I will die on this fucking rock!”
Brooke stood there, frozen to the spot as he grit his teeth together at her, pointing, muscles tense. His chest heaved angry breaths as he stared her down. She was steeling her nerves, preparing for him to break something, or throw the table, or something worse. But none of it came. He just glowered at her with those harsh, angry eyes, and slowly, slowly let his hand fall to his side.
She swallowed, letting the fear slowly trickle out of her body as she took stock of herself, their surroundings, him.
But it suddenly occurred to her, like a revelation, that Jack Ilyin wasn’t boiling over with vengeful hate; Jack Ilyin was scared shitless.
With a growl he turned from the table to storm away into the dusky wild little forest beyond the edge of the terraces. “I knew I shouldn’t have expected a kid to understand,” he harshly muttered under his breath.
It was Brooke’s turn to frown. A second later, and she was chasing him down like a kitten at the feet of a German Shepherd. “Hey,” she called up to him. “Hey!” He was ignoring her, speeding up his steps and quickly beginning to out-pace her. “Hey, you big, stubborn -!”
Jack stopped and stared her down. “If you don’t leave me the fuck alone right now little girl, I will personally put you on the next boat back to Anacortes.”
Despite her pounding heart, her shaking breaths, despite the fact that she probably should have done as told and went back to the house, Brooke followed her gut and stepped closer, and as soon as she was able, threw her arms around his hard, muscular calf.
It was a risk, but a calculated one. After all, it seemed to her, sometimes all people like Jack needed was a big, warm hug.