Hello, fellow romantic!
Happy Halloween! 🎃
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“Stucky, no!” El yelled.
“Pointless,” Lou sighed as Stucky raced off, disappearing into the dense bushes.
“Stucky!” El screamed again, annoyed.
Lou chuckled, “He can’t even hear you right now. He is focused on whatever he saw in there.”
El shot her a look. Lou could tell she knew she was right but didn’t want to admit it.
“Let’s just keep walking,” Lou smiled and reached for El’s hand. “He’ll find us.”
Grumbling, El interlocked her fingers with Lou’s. “Fine.”
They walked in silence, following the path deeper into the forest. It was long after sunset, but the moon was full and bright tonight. Lou could easily make out the different trees.
“This is nice,” El said after a while, looking up at the moon.
“It is,” Lou agreed immediately. She had missed El at breakfast this morning and they both had had a long day at work. She was grateful for the time together.
“You know who I thought about today for the first time in a long time?” El asked.
Lou shook her head. “Who, baby?”
“That awful Hobbs guy,” El said, wrinkling her nose.
“Ugh,” Lou blurted out. “There’s a way to ruin a lovely evening walk.”
El giggled. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
“He was an idiot,” Lou sighed. “He should have jumped off that boat. Could have escaped like I did.”
“He tried to kill you!” El huffed. “I’m glad he wasn’t on that lifeboat with you.”
“Yeah, well, now he is dead,” Lou sighed, looking up at the sky. She still didn’t like to be reminded of that night. Hobbs had been a bastard, but he didn’t deserve to die.
Something moved in the bushes on her right. Lou squinted her eyes at the foliage but couldn’t determine if it was Stucky or some other animal.
“Rick is not doing well, apparently,” El said more quietly.
Lou’s eyebrows shot up. El rarely brought up the attempted coup by Woodward. For her to bring up both Hobbs and Woodward on the same evening…
“Has something happened?” she asked but then got distracted by the sound of movement again.
“What was that?” El asked, stopping and placing both hands on her hips.
“Some sort of animal, I guess?” Lou replied, frowning. “Let’s keep walking.”
“Yeah,” El said, holding out her hand for Lou. “Where is our dog when we need one?”
Lou chuckled. “There are much better guards than Stucky stationed all around this place.”
“Didn’t do us much good before,” El said, squeezing Lou’s hand.
Frowning again, Lou turned to face El as they walked. “What’s going on? Why are you bringing all of this up tonight?”
El shrugged. “Just got some news about Rick. He got into a fight in prison and got severely hurt. He’s in the hospital.”
Lou pursed her lips. She didn’t have much sympathy for Rick Woodward. But she knew Lou had been very close to him. His rebellion had been a huge betrayal. And yet, El still cared about him.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lou said. “Will he recover?”
“They’re not sure,” El replied. “I just don’t recognize him, you know? Why would he get into a fight?”
Lou snorted. “He mounted a coup. A prison fight is….”
The sound of footsteps made her stop and swing around. There was no one there. The path was empty as far as she could see. Her eyes flicked to the left and right.
“Did you hear something too?” El asked, grabbing Lou’s arm.
“I did,” Lou replied, peering at the bushes. “It’s probably just Stucky.”
“Stucky?” El shouted. “Come here, boy!”
They both stood still, listening. Lou couldn’t pick up on any more movement around them. She also didn’t hear Stucky at all. That was odd. He had a habit of barking at birds and other animals.
“Should we look for him?” El asked.
Lou considered it for a moment. They could walk back to where they had last seen him, but she doubted the dog would have stayed there.
“Maybe it’s better if we keep walking like we usually do,” she thought out loud. “He knows where to find us.”
El sighed and rubbed her upper arms. “Okay, let’s keep moving. These sounds are making me nervous.”
Lou wrapped her arm around her waist as they went on their way again. “You seem unusually stressed today, baby.”
“I guess I am,” El nodded. “I just feel so jittery!”
“I think you need a massage later,” Lou said, stroking up and down El’s back.
“Oh, yes!” El purred, instantly calmer.
“I can use that new massage oil you like so much,” Lou said, grinning at the thought of running her hands over El’s naked, oily body. Her skin tingled and her heart rate picked up. “Give you a full body massage.”
“See?” El chuckled. “This is why I want to marry you.”
Lou laughed. “In two years, you can.”
“Think you’ll stick around that long?” El asked, teasing.
“I don’t know,” Lou said, trying to keep a straight face, but failing.
A branch snapped behind them.
“Fuck!” El shouted, looking over her shoulder. “What the fuck is wrong with this place tonight?”
Lou laughed and scratched her head. “It is a little creepier than usual, I have to admit.” She looked up at the moon. “Maybe it’s the full moon?”
Out of nowhere, Stucky barked loud and anxiously.
Lou’s head snapped in the direction of his barking. “Stucky?” she yelled without thinking. “Come here, boy!”
“Baby,” El whispered, stepping closer. “I think I saw someone.”
“What?” El asked, alarmed, her instincts kicking in. She grabbed El and pulled her back until she was safely behind her. Her eyes scanned the surrounding bushes and trees. “Where?”
Stucky barked again, followed by mean growling. He wasn’t far away. The back of Lou’s neck prickled.
“Can you call security?” she whispered to El.
“How would I do that?” El whispered back, “I don’t have a radio on me.”
“Shit,” Lou hissed, her shoulders tensing up more with every second that passed.
More barking and growling from Stucky. He seemed to be even closer now. Lou heard something moving in the bushes on her right. Her hand automatically moved to her hip, even though she didn’t have a gun.
“Fuck!” a voice suddenly screamed, followed by lots of branches snapping and leaves rustling.
“Get back,” Lou told El, shielding her with her whole body. Her heart was thumping in her chest.
Stucky came out of the bushes first, his whole body tense as he dragged something behind him. Lou didn’t realize it was a man until he screamed again.
“Shoot this fucking monster!” the man yelled as he slid over the ground on his back, his arms wailing.
Lou spotted something metallic in his hand. She nearly pushed El to the ground, already grabbing her shoulders, but then got a better look at the object. The moonlight was reflected in the glass of a large lens. It was a camera.
“Stucky,” El shouted. “Let go!” She hurried over to the man.
Lou wanted to stop her, but she was too late. The dog obeyed El’s command and let go of the man’s leg.
“Are you okay?” El asked, looking down, her hand on Stucky’s collar.
Lou wasn’t worried about the man’s wellbeing at all. She placed a foot on his chest before he could reply to El’s question.
“Stay down,” she barked.
“I’m just a photographer,” the man coughed, showing her the camera.
Lou narrowed her eyes. “A trespasser, you mean.” She didn’t lift her foot.
“Hey, I’m just trying to make a living,” he snarled back, his chin on his chest as he tried to push Lou away.
Stucky barked at him and he froze. “Keep that thing away from me!”
“Who do you work for?” El asked, the disgust in her tone evident.
“Freelancer,” he replied a little out of breath, eyeing Stucky. “For anyone who will buy my photos.”
El took a step back, pulling Stucky along with her.
“Get up,” Lou said and finally lifted her foot, “But keep your distance, or you’ll be on the ground again before you know it.”
He scrambled to his feet, panting. “Fuck,” he mumbled to himself as she dusted off his pants and jacket. He looked at his camera and frowned. “If that dog destroyed my camera….”
“You won’t need it in prison,” Lou snapped.
El placed her hand on Lou’s upper arm. “It’s okay, baby.”
Lou’s head snapped to the side. “What?? This guy could have attacked you!”
“Hey, I told you! I am just a photographer!” the man interrupted, brushing dirt off his camera.
“And a criminal! Do you know how many years you can get for breaking into the presidential compound?”
“Baby,” El whispered and squeezed Lou’s upper arm again. “He does look familiar. I’ve seen him at press events.”
Lou met her gaze, saw El’s kind eyes pleading with her and let out a deep breath. “You don’t want him arrested?” she asked quietly, frustrated.
“I don’t,” El said. “I don’t want another scandal.”
Frowning, Lou looked at the guy. He was older than she had first thought. He looked like he was well over 60. Why would someone that old risk jail time for a few pictures?
“How did you get in here?” she asked after letting out another sigh. “Tell me that and I will let you go.”
The man bit his lip and stepped back. “I can’t tell you that.”
Lou grabbed him by the coat before he could even think about running away. “Tell me now, or I will personally escort you to your cell and make sure you stay there for a long time.”
El intervened again. “Lou…”
Lou shot her a look that said, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ She let go of him, though.
“You need to tell us,” El said to the man. “You are not here to hurt me, but the next person might be.”
The photographer’s shoulders dropped, and he took in a deep breath. “Fine. I bribed a guard.”
Lou’s blood went cold. “Name?” she said as calmly as she could.
“I’ve known the guy for a while,” the photographer said, raising his hands. “He knew I was only here to take pictures. He never would have let me in otherwise.”
“Name,” El snarled. Lou turned to her with an eyebrow raised. Had El finally realized how serious this was?
“Martin Hall,” the man said, deflated. “Can I go now?”
El nodded and turned around without another word, pulling Stucky along with her.
Lou eyed the photographer. She mouthed, “If I ever see you again….”
He nodded and quickly hurried away. Lou watched him for a long moment. She couldn’t believe she was letting the guy get away with this. She sighed and followed El and Stucky in the other direction.
“What was that all about?” she asked El, once she had caught up. “Why did you let him go?”
“I recognized him,” El said. “He’s had a rough time, baby. His wife died of cancer last year. I remember now.”
Lou shook her head. “And that’s an excuse to harass you?”
“It’s not,” El sighed. “But he must have done it for the money. I don’t think he’ll bother us again.”
“Okay,” Lou said in disbelief. El still was so damned naive at times. Then again, that’s what she liked about her.
“Hey, come here,” El said and grabbed Lou’s hand. “Let’s just go inside and forget about all of this.”
“I don’t know,” Lou started to say, already thinking of the things that needed to be done to step up the protection. But El stopped her in her tracks by pulling her close and covering her mouth with her lips.
They kissed until Stucky barked again, startling them both. His barking sounded enthusiastic and happy, though.
“Yeah, let’s go inside,” Lou laughed. “I’ve had it with this creepy forest for the night.”
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