To Catch A Cheetah
They arrived bright and early at the Amtrak Station in Charlotte, and true to his word, Delilah had little time to see much of anything before Chase whisked her down to the nearest car rental station, where he paid for a nondescript sedan in cash. They loaded up the trunk, stopped by a McDonald’s to refuel, and then they were on the road again, zipping down the I-85 South.
“So, what got you into the assassin life in the first place?” Delilah asked as she unwrapped her sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, and took a bite.
Chase was silent for such a long time that Delilah nearly repeated her question. “You could say that I was born into it,” he finally said, not taking his eyes from the road.
“Born into it?” Delilah asked incredulously. “Like, you were wielding throwing knives from the cradle?”
Chase smiled. “Not quite like that,” he admitted. “I had a relatively normal childhood for a shifter, up until around eight years old when my mother died. I was the product of a one-night stand, and due to my father’s unsavory profession, my mother decided to raise me on her own.”
“That’s so sad.” Delilah took his free hand into her own and squeezed it gently, wanting to comfort him. “How… how did she die?”
“Leukemia,” Chase said quietly, his hand tightening around hers, and Delilah could hear a hint of the pain he was obviously trying to suppress in his voice. It made her throat tighten, and she wished she could reach out and take him into her arms. “At first, she was optimistic, but as things got worse, and she knew she was getting closer to the end, she arranged for my father to take me in. My dad was a cold, ruthless bastard, but he understood blood and loyalty, and he did as she asked… just perhaps not as she wanted.”
“Because he raised you as an assassin?”
“It was all he really knew,” Chase said. “He put me through a series of physical tests, and I could see the gleam in his eyes as he realized how much potential I had. I craved his approval, so I did whatever he asked, and when he told me that he was enrolling me into the Guild and that I was the youngest candidate ever to be accepted for assassin training, I was proud.” Bitterness seeped into his tone. “I was such a stupid little kid.”
“Oh, Chase.” Delilah touched his face. “Wanting to please your father doesn’t make you stupid. Almost any child in your situation would have responded the same way.” The corners of her mouth turned down. “I certainly know I did.”
Chase glanced at her, a considering look on his face. “I guess your father turned you onto the family business, too,” he said.
Delilah nodded. “I was always good with numbers, and he encouraged me as a teenager to ‘practice my skill’ by working his books. I hardly needed the accounting degree he paid for,” she said darkly, “But he insisted, always saying how he wanted the best for his little girl.” She fingered the bite mark at her neck absently. “Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I’d just ran away.”
Chase’s gaze followed her hand, and his eyes narrowed, flashing that yellow gold that made her heart race with a combination of fear and excitement. “Did he put that there?”
Delilah dropped her hand. “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
Chase pressed his lips together, then nodded, returning his eyes to the road. They made the rest of the ten-hour trip in relative silence with the occasional burst of small talk as they saw something interesting on the road. At first things were tense, but then Chase turned on the radio and they settled down in a more relaxed atmosphere, enjoying the music and the comfort of each other’s company.
The sun was setting when they crossed into Louisiana, and Delilah sat up straighter when she noticed they were headed not into the city, but toward a marshy, open area that didn’t appear to have a lot of human life around.
“Where are we?” she asked as Chase turned down a dirt road.
“The Louisiana bayou,” he said, chuckling at her wide-eyed expression. “It’s the perfect hideout. A secluded area with lots of marshy water to help hide our scent, and alligators.”
Delilah paled. “You’re joking, right?”
“No, I’m actually quite serious.” The dirt road grew progressively muddier, and Delilah worried more than once that they were going to get stuck in some kind of bog. “You should have rented something with four-wheel drive,” she grumbled as they made it around the final bend. A rustic-looking cabin lay just ahead on a grassy knoll that sloped gently down toward the bayou. Delilah noted a kind of bulkhead made out of piled white stone acted as a barrier between the bayou and the lawn, which probably helped protect the house during high tide, and she was relieved to see no alligators peeking out of the water, though admittedly she probably wouldn’t be the best person to spot them anyway.
Chase pulled up around to the front of the house, then killed the engine and sat back. “Well, here we are,” he said, sounding exhausted, but satisfied.
“Here we are,” Delilah echoed dumbly. “Out in the middle of nowhere, in the Deep South.”
Chase laughed. “You don’t have to sound so put out about it, sweetheart.” He popped the trunk, then opened the door and went around to the back to grab their luggage.
“Whose place is this, anyway?” Delilah asked as she grabbed her own bag from the trunk. She followed him up the front porch steps, which were a little ricketier than she would like, and raised an eyebrow when he fished a set of keys from his pocket. “Well, I guess that rules out the idea that we’re house crashing,” she said dryly.
Chase rolled his eyes. “I’m not that stupid, honey,” he drawled, opening the door. Delilah followed him in, squinting around in the pitch dark – the windows were all boarded up so she couldn’t see a blasted thing. “The place is mine, or at least the house deed proclaims the owner as Sam Dawson, which is the same thing, as far as I’m concerned. So, there’s no need to worry about some family barging in on us in the middle of the night.” He sauntered over to the first window and began unscrewing the board fastened over the glass.
“I guess you decided to take your retirement plan seriously,” Delilah said, then sighed in relief as the board came off and light spilled in through the window, illuminating a dining area with a medium-sized oval honey oak table and several matching chairs. A thick layer of dust covered it, as well as pretty much everything else Delilah was able to catch sight of, and her fingers itched to pick up a rag and get to work – that is if any rags could be found around here, anyway.
I’ll just use an old t-shirt if I have to.
“Hey.” Chase waved his hand in front of her face to get her attention. “Why don’t you get the rest of these things off while I go ahead and take care of the breaker,” he said. “I pay for electricity around here, so we ought to get the heater going before the evening chill sets in.”
“You mean it actually gets cold around here?” Delilah asked, already moving to the next window. She was eager to see what else was in this house.
“Not as cold as New York, but anywhere from ten to fifty degrees, and I hear tonight’s going to be a cold one.” Chase winked. “I’ll be back in a few.”
Delilah shook her head, then got back to work, her heart already lighter at the prospect of a cleaning project to distract her from her worries.