Life couldn’t have seemed brighter as Emma looked out over the crowd invited to the wedding. She spotted her editor, Harold who sat beaming alongside his family. Beside them sat Sylvia Westwood’s mother and father who’d been delighted by the invitation. She couldn’t help but notice the wistful smiles on their faces. Sandra Frazer, Mark’s fiancee was also in attendance and although she looked happy to be here, a tinge of sadness could still be seen in her eyes though she seemed to be moving forward.
Her family was all present and accounted for, the hilarity in preparation unique in every way. Jim stood alongside Jenna, looking dapper, a twinkle in his eye as he shared a joke with Jenna.
As she gazed upon those in attendance, she was more than delighted they were here. Each had received closure. Harold oversaw the articles she’d written, adding his own bits and pieces and declared it a winner. He was exceedingly proud of her and Nathan and all they’d done to achieve incarceration for Jessop and his cohorts. The list shook the community for it included many high rollers, people no one had suspected of involvement. She’d had occasion to talk with Sandra and she’d hugged Emma tightly upon hearing the news, knowing that her former fiancee’s work hadn’t gone in vein and his death counted. He counted. Sylvia Westwood’s parents hugged Nathan and heartily shook his hand. Justice had been accomplished on their behalf as well.
Her family weathered the storm as though it were but a bump in the road. Between teasing her about Nathan and the wedding and highlighting her award from the paper, she’d been in tears. Jenna’s first concert was the following week and although she and Nathan would be on their honeymoon, they’d instructed everyone to take pictures and send them.
Jenna joined her and said, “I don’t want to mess you up, you look heavenly.”
“I’m excited. Happier than I’ve ever been.” Emma assured her.
As she walked down the aisle toward the man of her dreams, her smile glowed, her eyes twinkled with promise as she met that warm sexy look he carried in his eyes. Then everyone else disappeared and it was only them.
Nathan broke protocol and took her in his arms and kissed her passionately for all to see. That brought a round of applause and when it settled down, the minister began. Jim stood proudly on one side his face alight with happiness. Jenna stood on the other staring at Jim. He lifted a hand and whispered across, “You and me, we’re next!”
No, it wasn’t a conventional wedding in any way, but it was the only way for her and Nathan. All that was Nathan was hers. She gratefully accepted what was to come as long as Nathan was by her side. She whispered, “I Love you, Always and Forever!”
“And I you, sweet Emma.”
Nathan and Emma retired after Nathan reassured everyone he looked worse than he felt, which was far from the truth, but it seemed to mollify the others to some extent.
“I’m going to be fine, Emma. I know I must look a sight, but this isn’t usual for me.”
“It breaks my heart you took this beating because of me.”
“No, Emma. I did it because I love you. I’d die before I’d let that miscreant lay one hand on you. My men had it under control. Their priority was finding and getting you out of Jessop’s hands. I knew they’d come for me, I wasn’t worried. Although, I could have done without the shiner.”
“I need a quick shower. I’ll join you shortly,” he promised on a tender kiss.
Within but moments, he rejoined Emma and eased onto the bed an ice pack on his eye, which hurt but would ease the swelling. “I guess I get to play nurse now, huh?”
“Any other moment in time, I’d take you up on that romantic offer, sweet Emma. Tonight, I just want to hold you close, feel your warmth and know you’re safely tucked in my arms.”
Emma gingerly settled on the bed and moved slowly toward him to wait until he was comfortable. Though it must have hurt, he determinedly pulled her close and held on.
“Words fail me, Emma, when I knew he had you, what he may do, what he planned to do…”
Emma quickly interrupted, “But didn’t, Nathan. He didn’t get the chance, you and your men were too organized and you outsmarted him yet again.”
Breathing in the scent of her hair he continued, “He’ll pay for the rest of his life. Of that I am equally sure.”
Staring directly into his eyes Emma added reassuringly, “And we’ll be living ours! To the fullest!”
“Indeed we will.”
“Where do you want to go on our honeymoon?”
Emma’s eyes opened wide. “Pardon? Is this by way of a proposal?”
“Best way I know how! You are wrapped in my arms, I love you beyond words, you love me, and we can fly off at a moment’s notice. I want to show you all that is Nathan.”
Emma smiled. “You mean there’s more? You look pretty svelt and sassy as is.”
Nathan laughed, “Your wonderful, Emma. I can’t picture my life without you. Indeed, it would become meaningless. Your the flower that has been missing from my garden, the one I so luckily found.”
“No place I’d rather be, Nathan.” She reached up a hand and tenderly caressed his cheek. “I love you truly, always and forever.”
“Your parents are already here, it wouldn’t take long to put a wedding together. I can fly the rest of the family out…”
“If we were married in a courthouse, on the corner of Main Street I wouldn’t care, Nathan. As long as we are together, there’s no other place I’d rather be.”
“I’m sure we could manage in a couple of weeks, only because it would give you time to recover so we can do the honeymoon justice.” She winked provocatively.
“Your wish…” he smiled adoringly at her. “Then we’ll set a date three weeks from today.”
“I’ll be there.”
Emma anxiously awaited Nathan’s arrival with nervous anticipation. Jim’s men attempted to prepare her in advance knowing Nathan had received injuries. She didn’t know what to expect or the extent of his injuries. Determined to remain stoic, she calmed herself. Although her parents were appalled when they saw the condition of her bruised wrists along with raw spots apparent where the shackles had dug into her flesh, she was unhurt.
She’d showered and changed as soon as she was home knowing Nathan would be incensed upon witnessing the remnants of her short-lived incarceration.
They were huddled together by the fire when Jim came through the door followed by a battered Nathan. Emma rose, went to him and grasped his hands, the only part she was sure she could touch without inflicting pain.
He wrapped her in his arms and held on tight. “Thank god you are alright, my Emma.”
“I’m fine, Nathan, seriously.” Pulling back she continued, “Looks like I faired better than you.”
“Jessop’s men worked me over, but I’m fine. Bruised but alive. More importantly, you are alright.” It was his turn to pull back to examine her. Lifting her wrists he noticed the marks, “Jesus!”
“They’ll heal, Nathan. I’m fine.”
As if to reassure them both, he pulled her close once again. “If he’d harmed you in any way, Emma….”
“It didn’t come to that. Your men, Jim’s men, were well trained and found me quickly enough for which, I’ll forever be grateful and in your debt, Jim.” She turned to him and opened her arms wide and wrapped them around him to give him a hug.
“Nice, but not necessary, Emma. Part of the job. Still, I’m grateful we found you when we did. Jessop was right, Nathan. She wouldn’t have made it out alive. The men carefully went in after finding several booby traps. There were several banks of explosives ready to go.”
Nathan’s fury was instantaneous. “He’s damn lucky he’s in lock up. I’d kill the bastard for what he’s done and would have done. There isn’t a place on earth he could hide I wouldn’t find him!” he ranted.
“He won’t last long where he’s going, Nathan. He’s a sniveling little coward and once the inmates sense his fear, he’s done for.”
“I suppose that’s some form of consolation.”
Jake, Sarah, and Jenna moved closer. Jake shook his hand, “Glad you’re alright Nathan. Takes more than a beating to keep a good man down. Thank you for all you’ve done for Emma and our family.”
Sarah reached out, “Is it safe to hug you?”
Nathan’s lop-sided grin shone out, “I wouldn’t miss the opportunity,” he said receiving a heartfelt hug.
Jenna hugged him fiercely. “Thank god you’re alright, Nathan. There’d be no living with her, you know.” Nathan winked at her.
“I need a few minutes. I’m sorry you had to see me in this state.”
“Go, relax, do what you gotta do, we’ll be right here!” Jake assured him.
A swarm of emotion slaked his aching body as he eased back into his seat as Jim drove him to Emma. “Did you get all that, Jim?”
“Yes, loud and clear. You have him, Nathan, have him cold, on record, loudly profusely wrapping himself and the others into a net so tight a fleet of lawyers couldn’t get him out from under. He’s destroyed himself in his eager desire to prove his brilliance.”
It was worth it then. Nathan momentarily smiled at the knowledge that Jessop and all his associates were being gathered detained and charged with the murder of Sylvia Westwood, the hit and run and subsequent death of Robert Marks for starters, with multiple charges to follow, all provided by Jessop himself in his own words. He’d never see the light of day again.
Jim glanced sideways at Nathan. “You sure you don’t want to see a medic first?”
“No, I need to see Emma reassure her family Jessop’s been taken care of, there’s no need now for worry or concern.” This was one occasion when Nathan could take extreme satisfaction in a job well done since it was personal. He was only sorry he didn’t have an opportunity to land a few on Jessop – shallow perhaps, but extremely satisfying.
“I have to tell you, Nathan… I may have used excessive force.”
Nathan turned to look at him, “Oh?”
“Yeah,” he paused significantly, “I may have landed those punches on Jessop with aggravated intent.” He grinned at Nathan, “Wasn’t sure you’d have the opportunity, so he received three hard-hitting “jabs” shall we say, before he went down.”
“My, my, Jim, I suppose we should discuss technique… is a reprimand in order do you suppose?”
“Couldn’t say, Nathan, it’s a matter for the powers that be to decide.”
Although it hurt, he turned toward Jim and they exchanged an effusive high-five. That said it all.
Nathan continued stringing the blowhard along, teasing information out of him, pushing buttons, in turn stroking his ego, silently applauding as Jessop dug himself and his cohorts in deeper and deeper. His desire for Nathan’s approval, pathetic on every level, before long he’d divulged enough information about how his operation worked, how his connections were made, that lines could be drawn easily connecting the dots. It was an avalanche of self-incriminating proof, delivered on a platter by the gloating bloated egotist himself.
“Time’s up, Nathan. I tire of the game. It’s game set and match, my favour! Wished I could say it’s been delightful, but you’ve cost me a fortune and it’s time to pay the piper. And you certainly will!”
He turned heading toward the door when Nathan called, “Where is Emma? Where are you holding her?”
“In a location from which she’ll never be found, Nathan.”
Nathan’s tightly reigned in anger, rage, even touch of fear rose like bile and he lunged from the chair. Instantly Jessop’s thugs were on him, punching him in the face, stomach, and kidneys. Blow after blow fell and Nathan felt nothing. His mind was blank. He’d make it, he had to!
Jessop cringed at the sounds of the body blows. He paid these men big bucks to do the dirty work so he didn’t have to. He hastened outside, running to escape the sounds exploding in his ears. Suddenly he was body slammed to the ground and three quick blows rendered him unconscious. Jim grabbed his hands and clasped handcuffs on him with distinct pleasure. He turned, motioned to his men who silently moved toward the barn that held Nathan. Breaking into two teams, they entered the rear of the barn and keeping low moved stealthily forward. They could see Nathan tied to the chair, his face bloodied laying on the ground. A single shot rang out immediately felling the blackguard with his fist in the air about to land another blow. It wasn’t a kill shot but it took him down. They rushed forward and following a satisfying fight, he was knocked cold and cuffed while the other cohort who’d used the opportunity to flee, was slammed to the ground by a flying kick that landed directly on his back. Before he could move, Nathan’s man was on him.
Jim handed Jessop over to one of his men and raced to the front door witnessing the brutal battle. Before hurrying to Nathan’s side, he frisked both men for the lock to the cuffs, “Got you, Nathan. You’re safe.”
Nathan’s breath was laboured, but he nodded while attempting to catch his breath. “Emma!”
“We have her, Nathan. Jessop’s men were only too happy to talk once they found out they weren’t leaving the compound alive unless they did.”
“Good. Good. Get me up.”
Jim bent close, wrapped an arm around Nathan and assisted him to a sitting position. Nathan valiantly attempted to hide the pain, but Jim knew better. From the look of him, he probably had a broken rib or two while one eye was already swelling shut. His arm hung limply at his side.
When he could speak Nathan asked, “Clean me up. Can’t see Emma like this.”
Jim helped him to his feet and Nathan made it to the jeep where his gear was stored, tore it open and cleaned his face best he could. Wincing every time he hit a bruise, he knew he was a mess. Nothing a bit of ice couldn’t take care of he assured himself but relieved Jim arrived when he did. He was getting the use of his arm back which had gone numb from the angle at which they’d attacked him. Ripping open a bag containing clean clothes, Nathan dragged them on, eager to get to Emma and hold her in his arms, reassure himself she was alive and well allaying the fears swirling through his entire body.
“I have a trophy room, did you know that? Of course, you didn’t.” He smirked, avarice greed and spite all equally reflected in his eyes. “I’m trying to decide what of yours I should add. Perhaps a painting. Yes, indeed, but something special, something unique.” He paused dramatically then leaned in, planting his face directly in front of Nathan, “A picture of Emma. I’m sure you have one stashed somewhere.”
Nathan barely flinched although he wanted to punch Jessop in his sneering slimy face and keep on punching until he was unrecognizable. Instead of allowing such fantasies to continue, he said, “I invite you to try to enter my place. We both know it’s a fortress.”
Jessop straightened. “Nothing is impenetrable, Nathan, you know that. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I have a large payroll and the will.”
“My sources tell me your business is drying up, Jessop. Why is that? Why are so many shunning your business acumen?”
“Because you poked your bloody nose in my business, but since you’re in the unenviable position of being a captive, with no hope in sight of leaving this place, alive, I’ll quickly mend broken fences and I’ll be stronger than ever.”
“Unlikely, Jessop. You’ve committed murder, twice, attacked the Banks family, gone after Emma. It’s all on record. Not to mention the little side-line you have going in four separate warehouses.”
“So, it was you that broke in. Too bad the world will never know you enjoy trespassing. I’ll have to keep that little tidbit to divulge later how Nathan Armstrong wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. The clandestine activities you were involved in will I’m sure, parlay into an inticing morsel for journalists to twitter over in their by-lines.”
“What makes you think I’m noteworthy? I’m simply a gifted artist who travels the world.”
“Anson Morgan suggests otherwise. He has it on good authority that you meddle in all kinds of situations you should keep your nose out of.”
“So he’s involved in your arms enterprise then?”
His eyes lost focus, he peered through Nathan as if he wasn’t there, eyes unfocused almost demented “No harm in divulging that little tid1bit, considering you won’t have an opportunity to disclose any of what I tell you, but yes, he’s a great asset with the right connections in all the right places. He’s unwittingly made me a wealthy man. I’ll have to pay him a visit with a fine scotch to celebrate.”
One man stood with a gun pointed at Nathan while the other patted him down. Finding nothing, they cuffed his hands behind his back and shoved him into the car. Immediately a bag was rammed over his head. The car ride continued for forty-five minutes, best he could tell and finally stopped. The man to his left got out and the other gave him a rough shove toward the door.
Outside the vehicle, he was dragged by a man on either side hauling him roughly along. Nathan was angry wondering if this was the treatment they’d given Emma.
He heard the swish of two doors and a hand in the middle of his back impelled him forward. There were no sounds, not even footsteps as they pushed him forward. Dirt, he thought, along with the smell of manure. Some sort of stable?
He listened intently but other than the harsh breathing of both men, there were no other sounds as yet to identify where he was.
They grabbed him and twisted him around and slammed him by the shoulders onto a chair and the bag was removed. The moment his eyes adjusted, he scanned the area to determine, exits, the number of captors present, movement, weapons.
“Where are we? Where’s Jessop?”
“Shut up!” one of his captors growled before slapping him across the face. Nathan’s head swiveled back to center. “I’ll be sure and return the favour and high five your face next opportunity.” He knew he was inviting another but Nathan couldn’t resist the dig. It came and he wasn’t surprised. The miscreant raised his fist ready to continued when a disembodied voice rapped sharply, “Enough!”
“Ah, Jessop, finally.”
“Come out of the shadows, let’s get a look at you.”
The moment he was visible Nathan asked, “Where’s Emma?”
“She’s fine for the moment, safe and sound.”
“Make sure she stays that way, Jessop!”
Jessop laughed, “Doesn’t look like your in a position to call the shots here Nathan. I suggest you shut up or my men can work you over.”
“Did it give you a kick to attack innocent people such as the Banks?”
“It got your attention, didn’t it?”
“My shops will survive so no prize there,” Nathan goaded.
“I can always rectify the situation at a later date should the need arise,” Jessop assured him.
“What of all those innocent businessmen and families, whose lives you stole by destroying their companies?”
That hit a nerve, Jessop closed the gap, fuming, “they got what they deserved!”
“I don’t think they saw it that way.”
“All that matters is that they received retribution, MY retribution.”
Jessop was beside himself with self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement. His plans were working like clockwork. Soon, very soon, he’d have Nathan locked up tight. If only he’d thought to work this angle before….ah well, what did it matter, everything was falling into place as it should. He was vibrating with excitement. He felt good. He had the upper hand.
His men were in place, had picked Nathan up and as ordered, he’d come alone. Good little doggy. He’d listened well. He wasn’t into torture, couldn’t bear the thought of it, but he had friends who would be delighted in adding a little agony. It was a thought.
First, he must find out how much Nathan had managed to uncover and who else knew. It wouldn’t be enough to finish Nathan off with loose ends dangling for someone else to come upon. He must clamp down any loose ends to finish this off.
He must give the idea some thought. The list was long and connected. The entire Banks family ( a slew of misfortunes could befall them, as with Nathan’s parents). Yes, he knew all about that and how it had eaten away at Nathan for years. It was a consideration.
The newspaper man could be taken out one way or another. His family probably didn’t know about his work or the details. Research told him he played the game close to his vest.
Nathan’s men, well once Nathan was completely discredited and disappeared, those puny minuscule remnants would likely go their own way with nothing to hold them to Nathan. They were simply pawns assigned to various jobs as his men were, readily replaced at a moments notice.
The creme de la creme in his mind was his ability to parlay the situation into a two-fer. How exceedingly delightful! What a boon! If only there were someone to brag to. Then there was the consideration of which piece of Nathan’s would fit in his den…there were certainly hundreds of paintings to choose from. Perhaps he’d done one of Emma. Wouldn’t that be the icing on the cake? Having his beloved’s picture hanging on his wall, for his eyes only. His eyes danced as he balled his hands into fists and raised them in the air. Oh yes, how completely delightful! He was a master and masterful indeed. He smiled menacinly. “Let the games begin! or rather End!”
Emma didn’t doubt for an instant Jim found the note she’d strategically left behind, he’d know instantly Jessop was behind her disappearance. She shook the restraints. After a thorough examination, she realized there was no easy escape for her. Those blasted movies always suggested a hair pin or something similar might work. Emma didn’t have one, and upon a closer inspection realized they couldn’t possibly work.
Thankfully, her feet were free so she could move about or sit. She wasn’t a pacer, but right now, pacing worked. She asked herself questions in an attempt at remaining calm. How many men were present? Where was she? How would Nathan enter? How should she respond if Jessop was near her? She went over all the moves Nathan had shown her, relieved because she had an idea of how to respond and stay out of Nathan’s way while assisting him if possible.
Jim gathered Jenna in his arms, kissed her passionately before nodding toward Jake and Sarah, met his men at the car and headed out. He checked his watch, Nathan’s blip was coming through loud and clear. He was nearing the airport and would touch down in a half an hour. They would be situated on sight momentarily.
Since he wasn’t sure which direction he’d take Nathan, three crews were standing by just outside the north facing exit. His men wore bracelets with indicators as well so would be aware of Nathan at all times. It was a waiting game now. Calm alert and prepared for any possibility he mentally prepared.
Jake, Sarah, and Jenna wandered aimlessly unable to take their minds off the situation, concern running high. Jake attempted to allay their fears constantly reminding them that Nathan Jim and his men were pros, knew what they were doing and would get Emma out safely. They wanted to believe him, needed to believe him, and reiterated his words in different ways to constantly reassure themselves. Still, none of them had been involved in anything like this. Knowing what Jessop had done, that murder wasn’t beneath him and that he was motivated by revenge and hatred did nothing to calm their fears.
Nathan was on board his jet when he received a call from Jim notifying him Emma had been taken. His breath caught in his throat and his heart stopped. Until his body was fused with unstoppable anger, the kind of anger he’d never felt before, even when he’d lost his family so tragically years before.
He immediately called Jim for details. Jim informed him it had to be Jessop’s work since he’d found the note Emma had left behind indicating why she’d taken flight. So far no one had been contacted regarding a time or place to meet. They both felt Jessop would contact Nathan directly. Nathan issued orders for Jim in preparation for a meet, what they could expect and how to follow through. It went without saying that Emma’s welfare came first and foremost.
Moments after his conversation with Jim, a call came through on his phone. An undistinguishable voice said, “If you want to see Emma alive again, you’ll come with us upon landing.”
Big mistake Jessop, Nathan thought, you’ve provided indisputable proof linking you to Emma, to me, to all the other incidents. The phone call was added proof for whoever was on the other end of that call, whether Jessop himself or someone else, would lead straight back to Jessop. It wasn’t the way he’d wished to have this come down, but so be it. Jessop would pay either with his life, or prison. Personally, Nathan didn’t care which, as long as he got Emma out safely.
He couldn’t fault the men or Emma. Knowing her gentle heart, there was no other recourse but to meet with whoever had Julie. Jim indicated they were all safe, the rest of the family, surrounded by his men. It was a ruse plain and simple, and one Emma wouldn’t take a chance with. Just as Jessop knew he’d never take a chance with Emma’s life. “Ok, Jessop, we end this!”
Since he was on his plane, he had all the requirements necessary to contain Jessop. He began his preparations so that when he landed, he was ready to rumble. He secreted the items in question inside his clothing where they wouldn’t be found upon pat-down.
“I’m coming to you, Emma. Hold on!” If his thoughts could transcend time and space, she’d hear his words, know he was coming, that she would be safe shortly.
He checked his watch. Two hours until touchdown.