Written in 61 minutes.
Studio: Back Alley
Jason was already irritated with himself as he approached the back door entrance to her building. He hadn’t been checking on Elizabeth when he’d called his sister earlier — but Emily had no idea what he was talking about. She was going to a party that night, and Elizabeth was definitely not supposed to be with her.
Elizabeth wasn’t someone who lied without a damn good reason, and Jason had a feeling he knew who had caused all of this. Carly hadn’t gotten the reaction she wanted from him, so she’d gone another someone she thought of as a weaker target.
He’d find out what Carly had said to Elizabeth, he’d fix it — and then—
He stopped short when he saw that the back entrance to her building had been blocked off. There were boards nailed across it.
They had not been there that morning.
“What do you want?” Elizabeth demanded, her heart racing as she went back to the door and started to pull on it. Damn it, damn it—it wouldn’t turn—
“I can’t have you speaking to the PCPD about the night Anthony Moreno died,” Sorel said, his voice almost tinny in her ear. “You agree not to alibi Jason Morgan, and I’ll tell you how to deactivate the bomb—”
“Are you—” Her heart seized. “Wait — can’t you just turn it off?”
“Oh, it’s not that kind of remote,” Sorel said with a laugh. “Once I start the timer—”
“Then why am I wasting my time talking to you—” She hissed and slammed the phone against the receiver. Almost immediately, it started to ring again. “What? I told you—”
“Jason!” Elizabeth nearly sank to her knees in relief. “Jason, I can’t get out of the studio—there’s a bomb—”
“What?” Jason bit out. “Where? What—damn it—both entrances to the building are blocked—”
“My door—they did something to the—” She pressed the receiver to her ear, trying to think. He’d never make it upstairs in four minutes. She was trapped. “Jason, you have to go.”
“You won’t—” She turned around, trying to gage the size of the window. Could she push it open and get out? It was a hard fall but she had a better chance—She turned back to the phone. “You won’t get here in time, and I don’t want you to get hurt, okay? This is my fault—”
“I’m sorry.” She hung up the phone and went to the window, shoving the couch over to it. She booted herself onto the window sill and shoved it open. She glanced down, swallowing hard. It was trash day and the alley was littered with boxes and crates—
She looked back to the studio, focused on the door in the back, the closet. Could she hide in there? Would that block the shockwaves? How strong was the bomb? Damn it, why hadn’t she paid attention when bombs went off on television?
She looked under the table, swallowing hard. Two minutes left.
Jason didn’t bother calling her again. She wouldn’t answer. He needed to get upstairs, he needed to get to her and get her to safety—
He tossed the phone side, grabbed one of the boards with his hands and yanked. Nails and splinters dug into his flesh but he didn’t stop to let the pain register.
He had the door unblocked and was running up the stairs, taking them three or four at a time, his chest heaving, his heart pounding—
How long was the timer—did she know to hide—
Elizabeth dragged the sofa in front of the table, and then stacked a few things — unused canvases, her easel — anything to block the shockwaves —
And when she knew her time was almost at its end, she went into the closet, curled into a ball in the closet, pulling more boxes and supplies in front of her.
Then she put her head down and hoped for the best.
On her floor, Jason rushed down the hallway towards the studio. He tested the knob but it refused to turn—he braced a shoulder against it and forced it open —
Elizabeth heard a loud bang and screamed, thinking it was the bomb, thinking it was over—
Then the door to the closet was dragged open and hands were reaching in, reaching under her elbow to drag her out. “Jason?”
“Let’s go,” he said, half carrying, half dragging her out of the studio, past the broken down door. Elizabeth didn’t argue.
Elm Street Pier
The blast of wintry cold air against her cheeks forced her brain to react. “Wait, wait—” She turned back to her building. “It didn’t go off.”
Jason was running his hands down her shoulders, down her arms, checking for injuries — then he stopped. “What?”
“Five minutes.” Her lips started to chatter and Jason yanked off his jacket to wrap it around her. “The timer. And when I went into the closet, it had to be around thirty seconds—”
They both looked back at the building now, waiting to hear the explosion. Waiting. Nothing. Elizabeth blinked. “Was it real?” she asked softly. “Was it fake?”
“I don’t know, but I’m not leaving you out here in the open to find out,” Jason said. “I’ll call a team—” he winced. “Will someone call in the noise I made when I came through the door?”
“Not in that building,” Elizabeth said, leaning her forehead against his shoulder. She frowned, reached for his hands. “What did you do?”
“Jason—” His hands were bleeding, scraped, and there were splinters—She raised her eyes to his. “I—”
“Come on.” He reached for his cell phone, then grimaced. “I lost it in the alley. We’ll go to the penthouse. We’ll figure it out.” He hesitated. “Please. I just—I need you to be safe. We can—”
She hadn’t listened to him earlier. He’d asked her not to go back to the studio alone, and she’d not only done that—she’d lied to him about it. Elizabeth swallowed hard. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t—I didn’t think—” She pressed a fist to her mouth as it sunk in. She’d nearly died and Jason might have trying to get her out— “I’m sorry,” she repeated.
“We’ll talk about it later, it’s okay,” he assured her, tugging on her her arm again. She sighed and followed him. Sure they’d talk about it, and then it would probably be over. He’d never trust her again. Not after she’d nearly gotten them both blown up.
Harborview Towers: Hallway
“Wait here,” Jason told Elizabeth as they stepped off the elevator. “I need to get Sonny to get guys to your place.”
“Okay.” Feeling exhausted, she leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. She couldn’t think about it yet. Couldn’t really understand how it had happened — in less than five minutes —
“They did what?” she heard Sonny demand. Then he appeared around the corner, following Jason. “Elizabeth, you okay? What the hell?” Without waiting for her to respond, he turned back to the guard on the door. “Get a team to down there. Grab Mikey and Paulie. They got explosives training. I want to know if that was a dud —” He turned back to Elizabeth. “What happened?” he bit out. “How did you find the bomb?”
“Sonny—” Jason began.
“He called me,” Elizabeth said at the same time. Jason blinked and looked at her. “I got home from work and maybe two or three minutes later, the phone rang. He said he was Joseph Sorel. Something happened to do the door and I couldn’t open it. Then he told me to look under the table.”
Sonny hissed. “He was watching you.”
“I guess so. There was a bomb under the table. And while I was looking at it, the timer started. Five minutes.” Elizabeth lifted a hand up, intending to rub her temple, but it was shaking. Instead, she curled it into a fist. “He told me that if I promised not to alibi Jason about that night with Moreno, he’d tell me how to deactivate it.”
“That doesn’t—” Jason narrowed his eyes. “It wasn’t on a remote timer then. Or it was just a starter timer. He couldn’t stop it.”
“Risky as hell,” Sonny muttered. “If it was a live—” He bit off his words. “What happened then?”
“I realized it wasn’t a bomb he could turn off, so I hung up on him,” Elizabeth admitted. “I didn’t think it was a great use of my time. Then Jason called — but when he told me the studio was blocked—”
“Back and front—they’d nailed boards to the front,” Jason said, flexing his hands.
“I didn’t think he’d make it in time, so I hung up on him, too,” Elizabeth said with a wince. “I thought about going out the window—”
“That’s three stories into the alley—” Jason began, clenching his jaw. “And all that crap—”
“Yeah, so I piled a bunch of crap in front of the bomb and then hid in the closet. I thought it might block some of the shockwaves.” She rubbed her fist against her collarbone, restless. “I read that somewhere.”
Sonny grunted. “Not a terrible idea. Would it have worked?” he asked Jason.
“I don’t know. I got through the door and heard her in the closet. I didn’t stop to look.” Jason paused. “Is that all Sorel said to you?”
“That’s all I gave him a chance to say,” Elizabeth said. “I’m sorry—”
“You did the right thing,” Sonny said with a wave of his hand. “We’ll get some guys down there to look at it. I’ll go supervise,” he told Jason. “You get those hands taken care of.”
“Yeah—” Jason paused. He looked at Elizabeth. “Can you go inside? I’ll be there in a minute.” He reached into the pocket of the jacket she still wore and drew out his keys. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I mean, well, no, but I can manage,” she clarified. Her fingers fumbled as she slid the key into the lock, but then she went inside and closed the door.
She was tempted to press her ear against the door, but she knew she wouldn’t need to do. Jason and Sonny would make sure she was safe, but she knew she’d made a mistake. She hadn’t taken Jason’s safety concerns seriously, and—
She went over to the sofa, sat down, and clung more tightly to the jacket. She was such an idiot.
Back in the hallway, Jason looked after Elizabeth, his browns pinched together. Was she okay? Was she angry at him? She was going to change her mind, he decided. This wasn’t what she wanted—
Jason blinked, realized Sonny was looking at him. “Sorry.” He cleared his throat, flexed his hands again. Now that some of the adrenaline was fading, he could feel the stings. “Look, something about this feels strange,” he told Sonny. “Sorel calling her? Leaving her a warning?”
“If the bomb is a dud, then he was just trying to scare her. If it was live and just didn’t go off for whatever reason, he was playing with her. Next time, it’ll be real — ”
“There’s also the chance that he meant it to go off and it didn’t. He tried to kill Elizabeth,” Jason said flatly. “Because of me—”
“Don’t go there yet,” Sonny warned him. “He wanted her to refuse to alibi you. Whether the two of you are together or not — that doesn’t change the fact that she’s involved. People know it. The PCPD has her in their sights over all of this. Moreno and her part exists either way.” He paused. “You’re scared, but this isn’t the first time people you know have been targeted because of you.”
But it was the first time with Elizabeth. “Sonny—”
“Don’t be stupid, and and don’t do anything you can’t take back. You could walk away from her,” Sonny said, and Jason grimaced, “but it won’t change anything. Sorel had guys watching that building. Guys who just saw you rip your hands apart and bust down doors to get her out.”
“I know all of that,” Jason retorted.
“Okay. Then I’m going to go see what I get from the studio.” Sonny jabbed the elevator button. “Get those hands looked at,” he repeated. “And make sure she’s okay. You’ll feel better when you know she is,” he added.
Jason watched him step on the elevator, and then looked back at the penthouse. He took a deep breath and headed for the door.
Elizabeth was sitting on the sofa, staring blankly at the television that wasn’t even switched on. She turned when he came in, rising to her feet. “Um—” She stripped off the jacket and handed it to him. “I forgot to…”
“It’s okay.” He tossed it on the desk, then went to the closet for the first aid kit. He really didn’t know what to do or say to her. He had that ridiculous conversation with Alexis rolling around in his brain, the threats from Carly — and now Elizabeth was standing in the penthouse, a place she clearly didn’t want to be.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I—you didn’t want me to be at the studio tonight. You asked me not to go back there.”
Jason remained silent, setting the kit on the desk. That was true, but he also knew if she’d run into Carly — Carly had a way of making people do destructive things. “It’s okay,” he said finally.
“It’s not. You need to know that I know it’s not. You—you need to be able trust that I’ll do what you need me to do with things like this. With safety—and your job, I mean.” Her voice was shaking, but the words made sense to him. “I was going to do that. I was just—” Elizabeth faltered. “I was going to do it tomorrow. Emily had plans tonight, and I just—”
“Didn’t want to come here,” Jason finished. He cleaned off the last of the blood on his hands, then started to close the kit. Instead, Elizabeth came forward to grab it.
“You didn’t clean—” Elizabeth bit her lip and reached for his hands. “It wasn’t about not wanting to come here,” she finished. “I mean—” She took one of the antiseptic pads and pressed it against a particularly nasty gouge in his palm.
“Then what was it about?” Jason asked. “I’m not mad,” he reassured her when she didn’t reply. “I didn’t think the safety thing was such an issue,” he admitted. “If I thought things were bad enough there’d be a bomb, I would have said something. I’m not mad,” he repeated. “I just want to know what I did wrong, so I don’t do it again.”
“Nothing.” Her eyes flew up to meet his. “Nothing! It’s just, um, I thought—staying at the penthouse for a few days—I thought it would mean—” She bit her lip, color staining her cheeks. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that—”
Jason started to frown because he didn’t really understand, but then with her next words — “I was going to talk to you about it, and then Carly—”
“Carly,” he muttered. “I knew it.”
“She just…I don’t know. She just has a way of saying things that get in your head,” Elizabeth said in a quiet voice. “Things you know aren’t true the way she means them, but they are—”
Knowing some of the vile things Carly had spewed to Robin in the past, Jason steeled himself. “What did she say?”
When Elizabeth started to pull back, he wrapped his hands around her wrists to keep her in place. “Elizabeth.”
“She just reminded me that I’m not…” Elizabeth looked away, broke eye contact as a tear slid down her cheek. “I’m not…I can’t—I don’t know if I’ll ever able to trust anyone—even you—because of what happened to me.”
Jason stared at her for a long time, trying to absorb it—trying to wrap his head around all the implications. Elizabeth had been nervous about the penthouse because she thought it meant he expected sex, and then Carly—
“What,” he said, “exactly did she say to you?”
“Why does that matter?” Elizabeth asked. “I just told you—”
“We’ll talk about that,” he told her. “Because that’s important, but I can’t—she came to me first,” he said finally. “And when I didn’t give her the reaction she wanted, she went straight to you. I need to know what she threatened you with.”
“Threatened—” Elizabeth’s eyes were wide. “Is that what she did to you?”
“Yeah. That’s something else we need to talk about,” he admitted. “But she did, didn’t she? She threatened you.”
“Not—not in so many words—” Elizabeth tried to edge away again.
“We need figure it out, Elizabeth—”
“This is just like that night at Vista Point,” she muttered. “You just keep pushing—fine—fine—” She twisted until he released her hands. “Fine. She reminded me that I’m fragile and I’m damaged, okay? Because I don’t like sex, and according to her, you do. A lot. Happy now?”