Chapter Seven ~
When Jude arrived at the hospital the next morning, there was a short, red-haired man sitting in the chair beside Justy’s bed.
He gave her a look and she said, “This is my cousin, Max.”
“I didn’t know you had any close relatives around here.” What was going on?
“It’s not like we were close enough to talk about relatives, Jude.” There was a slight snotty tone in her voice, and he examined her closely. Something is definitely weird this morning.
“But I’ve known your family since I was a little kid, and I never met anyone named Max.”
“That’s because I was adopted.” Max stood up and offered Jude his hand. He took it and shook it firmly. It was hot and sweaty, and Jude’s hackles rose.
Jude looked at Justy again, but she was smiling sweetly at him. She looked tired, and there were dark circles around her eyes. He decided to drop the inquisition for now. “Okay, but I’m here to get you out of here, and he can’t come.”
Justy looked at him in confusion. “Why can’t he?”
“In order to keep you safe, the less people know where you are, the better.” He gave her an encouraging smile.
She looked thoughtful for a second, and then agreed, “Okay, if you say so.” She looked up at her cousin. “It’s okay, Max. I trust Jude.”
“But I wanted to go with you. I need to help keep you safe,” He protested.
“My friends and I can keep her safe, so don’t worry.” Jude heard the hardness in his tone and cringed. He couldn’t help it, he didn’t trust the guy. I’ll have Jackson run a check on him while I get Justy settled into her suite, he thought. He pulled his cell phone out and texted Jackson with the request and slipped his phone back in his pocket. “Do you need help getting ready?”
“No, I got dressed a little while ago. I’m just waiting for my discharge papers.”
“How long do you think that’ll take?”
“The nurse should be back anytime.”
“Ok Max, we’ll see you later. I’ll have Justy text you and let you know when she’s settled in.” Jude’s tone was dismissive and the red-haired man gave him a dirty look and left the room with his shoulders pulled back, anger in every step.
The nurse came into the room with a clipboard full of papers and Justy signed them and slipped off the bed into the waiting wheelchair.
“Take care,” The nurse said, and then departed.
Jude pushed Justy down the hall in the chair, and they didn't talk. He knew she must be angry for his rudeness to her cousin, but he hadn’t changed his mind. The man gave him the creeps.
When they finally reached his car she let him help her in, and then the flood gates opened, and she let him have it. She started a tirade that lasted several minutes. Who is this new Justy? He walked around and slid into the driver's side of the SUV and started it up. He was trying to listen to what she was saying without becoming emotionally upset, but he lost the battle when she brought up the skirt-over-her-head incident she’d already assured him she would drop forever if he would help her find her parents' killer. He didn't notice the red and gold glitter all over the car because he was too busy arguing with her.
"You promised me you wouldn't bring that up anymore,” he said, not able to keep the hurt from his voice.
"No, what I actually said was I wouldn't bring it up if you found my parents' killer, and you haven't done that yet, so I’m well within my rights to do so at this time." She gave him a smug look.
Maybe I don’t know her like I think I do. He put the car in reverse and pulled out of the parking garage. He drove out onto the street beside the hospital, and then merged with much heavier traffic. He prayed a quick prayer of help to the Lord. Suddenly, all the wind went out of his sails. "You know Justy, I am so sorry about what I did to you back at that dance. I was just a jerk, and you have every right to hate me. To show you how much I really do regret my actions I'm going to tell you why I did it." He glanced in her direction to see if she was listening. Her return look said, 'go on,' so he did. "I had a huge crush on you back in high school. To my shame, I was also ashamed of it because you weren't exactly a twig back then. I let my reputation get in the way of a wonderful girl, and I've regretted it ever since. I don't intend to let that happen again. The minute I laid eyes on you once more, I knew my feelings hadn't changed a bit." He let her hear the raw emotion in his voice.
"You're just saying that to make me forget all about it, Jude."
He couldn't blame her for not believing him. He would have to earn her trust, because he'd hurt her.
"I'm not just saying it. One thing you're going to learn about me is I seldom lie. Since the minute you walked back into my life, I've been unable to concentrate on anything else. I know I should feel shame because I can't control these feelings, even in the face of your parents' deaths, but I don’t. I’m too overjoyed to see you and be near you again."
"What exactly are you telling me?"
"I'm saying I have feelings for you, Justy."
"What does that even mean?"
He heard the exasperation in her voice and sighed. "It means I care about you."
"Whatever Jude Johnson, you haven't changed that much, have you?" She jerked her head to the side window where it stayed until they pulled up at the mansion.
"We've already got some of your things here. Amy was nice enough to pack a bag for you last night. She even brought your cat." He got out and opened the back door to grab the bag Justy had brought from the hospital, and that's when he saw it; Red and gold glitter covered the backseat and carpeting of the SUV. A single folded piece of paper lay in the middle of the seat. Jude pulled a pair of tweezers from inside his coat and grabbed the note. With the very tips of his fingers he opened it and read what was there in letters cut from a magazine. "Now I know where you go, you should really be more aware...of your foe.
Tendrils of fear spread through him as he read the words. His first thought was the killer had planted a tracker on the vehicle while he was in the hospital.
Amy opened up the door and peaked out. "Hey you, I was beginning to think you weren't coming back..." She was saying. When she got a look at Jude's face, her voice trailed-off. "Jude, what's wrong, did something happen?" She ran out the door toward the SUV. Jackson was right on her heels. Right behind him were Amos, Scott and Otis, who’d arrived while Jude was at the hospital.
They all crowded around the SUV trying to see what was on the backseat of the car, and the paper Jude held gingerly in his hand.
"Whoa Dude, that's not good. The killer must've planted a tracking device while you were in the hospital," Scott said.
"Do you have a tracking detector, Jackson?" Jude asked as he scooped some glitter up with a glove Scott handed him. He slid it into an examination pouch and handed it to his friend.
"Of course, mate. I'll go get it while you call this in." He turned and disappeared back in the house, but came right back out seconds later. He handed the long slender electronic pole to Otis, and the older man began scanning the car from front to back. Less than a minute later a shrill beeping noise was heard from the detector.
"I found it!" Otis yelled triumphantly.
After the commotion was over Jude took Justy inside and showed her the suite she’d be staying in.
He asked, “Do you need me to help you unpack?”
"No, I can manage." Her answer was cool, the frost in her voice enough to warn him away.
He turned and trotted back downstairs to talk to his friends and further his plans to keep Justy safe, even if she was mad at him.