Wanted Girl by Lexie Winston
The water is a cool, refreshing relief on my sore muscles as I slip into the water for our snorkeling adventure. Harlow hovered around us for a little while until she got the hang of it, and then she was off, chasing turtles and fish like a natural. She barely startles when a little reef shark darts away. A broad grin tries to stretch around my snorkel as I watch her, but it’s a little tricky. When I’m finally reassured she’s good, I put my head down and start enjoying the scenery. I’ve been watching her more than I am the reef, which probably isn't a surprise. I don't really want to stop looking at her at all. She’s become some kind of obsession to me, and this trip has only made that fascination grow stronger.
Jaxon’s not far from me on my left, but he keeps stopping to check on our girl too. Our girl… Who would have thought? I get a deep feeling of satisfaction at that, and it will be even better once all of my brothers have significantly groveled and we have Thomas on board. He’ll be a hard nut to crack, but I have faith that Harlow will eventually break through his defensive shell. If anyone can get through to the loving, devoted partner he can be, it’s her.
Even underwater, I hear a motor start up, but I figure it’s not the tour boat, so I don't worry too much. As I keep paddling, the noise becomes louder, so I pop my head up to check, my heart skipping a beat when I look for Harlow but can’t find her. Doing a circle on the spot, I see her, but she’s too far out of the safe area of the tour.
Fuck my life. There’s a jet ski heading right toward her.
“Harlow!” I scream as I start to swim toward her, kicking my flippers as fast as I can to propel myself through the water. Her head comes up, and I can see her eyes pop in panic under her mask. She swings around and pulls the pool noodle out from under her belly, waving it around in the hope that the jet ski rider sees her. Unfortunately, it keeps coming because that’s just the fucking luck this family has had lately. I kick harder, and my heart practically stops when the jet ski clips her, not bothering to slow down in the slightest. With a muffled shout, she goes under, and the first fissures of a break form in my heart. What am I supposed to do if something happens to her?
The jet ski makes a hard turn and takes off in the opposite direction, but all I can do is keep racing toward where I saw Harlow go down. The driver is covered head to toe in a wetsuit, so I can’t even get an idea of what he looks like, and even if I could see his face, my eyes are really all for Harlow right now. As I get to the spot that’s practically branded in my brain, I stop, and thankfully she hasn't gone far. I reach down, grab hold of her hair, and yank her to the surface. I’ll apologize for that later since I think it’s more important that I make sure she’s alive.
She comes up spluttering and holding her head which thankfully has only a bump and a small open wound. There’s a slight trickle of blood sliding down and around the mask on her face, but it looks like the cold water has already made it slow.
“God, Harlow, are you okay?” Jaxon’s already swimming over, and he grabs Harlow's noodle on the way. When he reaches us, he helps me get it under her before the three of us swim back to the tour boat, the two of us supporting her on either side with the noodle helping us keep her afloat. For the first few strokes, her head is lolling a bit, like she can’t quite make sure it stays steady and straight.
“Ouch,” she eventually whispers. After that, she coughs and splutters some more, but at least some of her initial grogginess has faded. “Yeah, he definitely hit me. If Kai hadn’t gotten to me and yanked me up by my hair, I would have been a goner.” After that, she seems to struggle to swallow, her face screwing up in pain at the action. “I felt myself black out, but the sting of him grabbing my hair jolted me. I think I swallowed a bit of water though. My throat and lungs are burning, and I’m a little dizzy.”
“I can’t believe that asshole didn't even stop to check if you were okay. What the fuck did he think he hit? There’s no way he didn’t see you!” While Jaxon is ranting, I’m studying our girl. I can tell by the look on Harlow's face that she doesn't believe it was an accident any more than I do, but we both keep quiet for now. No need to amp up Jaxon’s panic before we get her back to the boat.
When we get back to the boat, the tour operators are all quick to help us back onto the boat. They’re almost as panicked as Jaxon, firing off worried questions at us, which I’m sure has as much to do with keeping their jobs as it does for Harlow’s well being. Thankfully, they realize pretty quickly that we need more than an interrogation. One of the more helpful guys starts handing the three of us towels while someone else takes care of our snorkeling equipment.
Jaxon and I quickly get rid of our wetsuits before helping Harlow out of hers. Jaxon bundles her up in a large towel, swaddling her like some kind of baby, not that I can blame him, and shuffles her directly into the cabin of the boat. I catch a glimpse of him snuggling her onto a comfy chair before I realize one of the tour guides is still standing next to me. I tear my eyes away from Harlow and my brother to see what he wants. “Would you like us to call for a boat to come get you and return you back to shore?”
I don't even ask the other two what they would like to do; I just want to get us back home. “Yes, that would be great, thanks.”
After handing me an ice pack, the guy hurries away. I wrap a towel around my waist before joining Jaxon and Harlow in the cabin, sitting next to her on the chair. “Are you cold, or is this shock?” I ask, realizing there’s a persistent tremble in her body. Jaxon gets up to grab the rest of our gear while I do my best impersonation of a space heater, rubbing my hands up and down Harlow’s arms. When he gets back, he grabs the hoodie he had on earlier and pulls it over her head, taking care not to jostle her too much.
“Thank you.” Her teeth chatter, and she tries to smile at us both, but it’s a half-hearted attempt. She’s a trooper, that’s for damn sure, but there’s just no hiding her current discomfort. I hand her the ice pack, realizing that was a stupid decision when her trembling makes her nearly smash it into her head. Okay, I can totally handle this. I’m no expert in taking care of other people, but I can sure as hell hold the ice pack for her. With a gentle pressure, I press it to the bump on her head, feeling myself warm with the grateful smile she gives me in return.
The tour operator returns. “The boat is on its way. Would you like some hot drinks to warm you while you’re waiting?” Jaxon and I both shake our heads, but when Harlow goes to do the same, I stop her.
“You need something hot and sweet. It should help with the cold and the shock,” I tell her.
With her reluctant agreement, her face screwing up into a little grimace like that’s the last thing she wants right now, I send the man away with a request for hot chocolate. Both Jaxon and I huddle in close, hoping to warm her with our own body temp, but I’m not sure we’re much help because our skin is just as cold as hers. In the rush of the moment, trying to get her to safety and now being faced with this instinct to just stay within reach of her, neither of us changed into dry clothes.
Before long, he returns with the hot chocolate in a takeout mug. “The wait shouldn't be too much longer. Please let us know if we can do anything else. We’ve arranged for a medic to be on hand to check you over when the speedboat docks,” he informs us before leaving us be. Harlow wraps both hands around the cup before taking a sip, her quiet sigh of pleasure making me feel a little warmth inside. I couldn’t keep her safe in the first place, but hopefully this is at least one little decision that can help take care of her now.
“Not too sore on your throat?” I check, a little worried because she said it hurt.
“No, actually, it feels good, soothing,” she assures me with a smile, and I feel the first bit of tension leave my body.
On her other side, Jaxon has dug his phone out of our bag and has it up to his ear, probably calling one of our family members to give them the update. I should get mine out too and call James to tell him we’re on our way, but instead I sit back in the chair next to Harlow, put my arm around her, and pull her close. It doesn't take much encouragement before she snuggles into me, slowly sipping her drink.
My gaze travels around the room, stopping on Jaxon when I realize he’s got that frustrated look on his face. “Who are you calling?” I ask him, and he looks up with a frown.
“Tom, but he’s sent me to voicemail twice,” he growls before trying once more. He must have luck on the next try because I hear him growl, “Tom, it’s Harlow. She’s been attacked again.”
So Harlow and I aren’t the only ones who had thought about it. I feel her stiffen underneath me at his words.
“She’s okay, got a lump on her head and swallowed a bit of water. I’ll tell you about it when we get home. We’re leaving the tour early.” Tom must be saying something because Jaxon is quiet again.
“Good, I was going to ask you if you could do that.” Through the window on the side of the cabin, I can see a speedboat pull up next to the larger tour boat, so I stand and pull Harlow to her feet.
“Yeah, okay, I've got to go. I’ll let you know when we’re in the air.”
Jaxon hangs up and grabs all our gear while I keep my arm around Harlow. He leads the way to the side of the boat where there’s a little door that opens. The staff have grabbed a line from the smaller speedboat. He chucks our gear on board before jumping on himself.
“Are you going to be okay until we get to the plane? You can have a hot shower after we’ve taken off, and we can sleep the rest of the way home,” I offer to Harlow as Jaxon holds out a hand to help her.
“God, that sounds amazing. Yes, please,” she says as she takes his hand. Once she’s on the speedboat and out of the way, I join them, waving off the offers of help.
The three of us get settled on a bench seat, and before long we’re back at the marina, where the waiting medic hovers over Harlow the second we all climb off the boat.
“The cut on her head is superficial and has already stopped bleeding. Head wounds always bleed badly, but it will heal fine with no scar. She may have a slight concussion but should be fine to fly. Just rest for a few days, and if headaches persist, see a doctor.”
Preliminary medical check-up taken care of, we make our way to our car in the secure parking. On the way, Jaxon stops to speak to the guard at the entry while Harlow and I keep walking, but he catches up before long.
“The guard said nobody came near our car. Should we call the police and report the jet skier?” he suggests as he throws our stuff into the back of the Jeep. I unlock the car and help Harlow up into the backseat.
“No!” she says rather loudly before taking a breath and continuing at a lower volume. “No, I just want to go home, please.” The two of us exchange a glance, and I can’t help but feel that there’s the same emotion in my brother’s eyes: helplessness. We couldn’t stop this, but like the hot chocolate or just snuggling with her on the chair, if we can at least get her home, we can help her feel a little bit better now. With the jet skier long gone and no way to prove the incident was connected to our car accident, what could the police do? We’d just be prolonging Harlow’s discomfort by staying here.
“Of course, let’s go home, but we’ll need to tell Detective James about both incidents,” I warn her.
“Yes, anything,” she agrees gratefully. “All I want to do is go home, curl up on the bed next to Holden, and spend a couple of days resting with him. I want to be back to normal when we go to Europe at the end of the week. I don't want anyone leaving me behind.”
“Even if you weren’t back to a hundred percent, I don’t think that would be a problem. Both Dad and Tom would insist on you coming, I’m sure. If you hadn’t noticed, Harlow, we’re growing to be a bit attached to you and your safety,” Jaxon says wryly as he climbs into the back with her and wraps his arm around her shoulders, gently shifting her body so that she’s leaning against him.
“Just get comfortable. The drive won’t be long,” he tells her as I climb into the driver’s seat. Before I get us out of there, I peek into the rearview mirror, selfishly needing just one more glimpse to see that she’s okay. Her head is on Jaxon’s shoulder, and my brother’s got his phone out again, tapping away, probably letting James know to expect us.
He’s right; the drive isn't long, and although I’m concentrating on the road and where we’re going, I’ve also got so many other things running through my head. The deal with the Blaze twins, Holden, our upcoming trip to Europe, but mostly Harlow and my worry about what the fuck is going on. I’m hoping Tom might have more of an idea by the time we get back. Hopefully, they got ahold of Declan’s PI and he’s made some inroads into Harlow’s mom’s background. I know they were talking about looking into the people around us every day, like drivers, staff at our businesses, and all that, but I feel like this is going to be somehow connected to her instead. Maybe we need to look into Harlow’s friends from college? I’m almost a hundred percent sure that Maxine and her family have nothing to do with the stalker, but what about someone in their friend circle? We really need to sit down and talk this through logically. So far we’ve all been reacting to what’s going on, and no one has even bothered to sit down with Harlow and really talk through it.
When that realization hits, I suddenly feel like we’re all idiots. Yeah, it makes sense that we wanted to go straight to protecting her, but you don’t ignore the most valuable member of any team. Harlow could have the answers even if she doesn’t realize it. I’m sure Tom would already have thought of that if he wasn’t so thrown off by her being here and what she could potentially mean to all of us.
I pull up to the private part of the Honolulu airfield, parking the car in a spare bay. Jaxon helps Harlow out and walks her across to where the plane is ready for takeoff, meeting Chris at the bottom of the stairs. After a quick conversation, they both climb up while Chris jogs over to me.
“Hey, man, can I give you a hand with the luggage?” he says, reaching for Harlow's bag. Once he has it, he starts walking back to the plane with me a step behind, carefully considering the man in front of me. Both Chris and James have been on the island the whole time we have. The person on the jet ski was fully covered in a wetsuit, and he likely would have had enough time to get back here after he hit Harlow. But what would be his motivation?
“Listen, James had a mechanic go over the plane this morning, just to make sure it hadn't been tampered with while we were at the hotel,” Chris says over his shoulder to me. “After Jaxon called us last night, we both got here early this morning to supervise him. Neither of us wants to take any risks with your or our lives. It seems like this stalker can follow you anywhere.”
Chris’ words have a quiet sigh of relief escaping my mouth before I can help it, and I can feel some of the tension drain out of my shoulders. I hadn’t realized I’d prepared myself for a fight until just this moment. So it couldn't have been either of them. Fuck, this is making me think things that I shouldn’t have even considered.
I follow Chris up the stairs and stow our luggage in the right place. “Thanks for that. Let’s get airborne as soon as possible please,” I tell him, slapping him on the shoulder before moving into the cabin and taking a seat. Jaxon already has Harlow settled with a blanket over her lap. I hear Chris close the stairs and feel the cabin pressurize.
“Once we get airborne, take a shower to warm up and get out of your swimsuit, and then you can have a nap,” I say to her as I buckle my seatbelt. We’re sitting in a group of four chairs that are two sets of two facing each other.
“Shall I grab you some clothes out of your bag?” Jaxon asks as the plane starts to taxi out to the runway.
“Yeah, that would be great, thanks.” Harlow is still looking a little pale, but she gives my brother a small smile.
“Are you going to be alright in the shower, or do you need a hand?” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively in the hope it brings a bigger smile to her face. I’m definitely not pressuring her for any real intimacy, though I don’t know if I have the willpower to turn her down if she shows that she’s interested in that.
She chuckles, the slight sound making my own smile more genuine this time. “I’ve got a feeling that the shower isn't going to be big enough for the both of us, but thank you.”
I stop wiggling my eyebrows. “All joking aside, I think it would be better if I at least came in so I could keep an eye on you. We’re not sure if the bump has had an impact. I’ll just come in and stand around to make sure you’re okay. I wouldn't want you slipping while in there.”
Her smile drops as she nods. “Yeah, you have a point. Okay then.”
“Hey, guys, we’re about to take off. Weather looks clear between here and LA. We have a meal prepared which will be served as soon as we get to cruising altitude, and then you can all nap until we get home.”
Jaxon pulls up a phone in the arm of his chair, replying to James. “Yeah, hey, can you give us an hour before serving the meal? We’re all going to take showers and wash off the salt water.” After a quick thanks, he hangs up. We’re all silent as the plane finishes its taxing and the engines rev for takeoff.
“Thank you both so much for this,” Harlow says, suddenly breaking the silence. “Despite the two incidents, I have had an amazing time, and I would love to come back with you one day.”
Jaxon grabs her hands and squeezes it as I lean forward and do the same thing to her knee. “It was our pleasure, believe me, and I can’t wait until the next time we can do this.”
Jaxon echoes my sentiments as the plane starts to hurtle down the runway. Harlow grabs hold of the armrest with her empty hand and clenches hard to Jaxon’s in the other.
“Don’t worry, Harlow. By the time we get back from Europe, you will be an expert at this.”
While I know he’s talking about the flying part, the wary part of my brain, the part that still can’t shut down the niggling worry for Harlow, takes it in a more sinister light, thinking about how many times she’s had to pull herself back together after an attack. Jaxon didn’t hurt her, I know this, but someone else is trying their hardest to put her through everything they can. God, I hope Tom figured something out.