Time to Run(10)

By: Marliss Melton

Sara snatched up her backpack, pulling out two twenty-dollar bills. "Take this," she said, holding out the money. "I need some scissors and some hair color." She wanted something in a blond shade. "Maybe we should come with you?"

He took the money, sliding it into his pocket. "Not yet. Stay away from the windows, and keep the door locked," he instructed. "Oh, and Kendal?"

Kendal lifted wary eyes at him.

"You mind feedin' the dog for me? His food and bowl are in that plastic bag right there. Don't forget to give him water."

'"Kay," the boy said, slipping off the bed.

With a wink at Sara, Chase was gone, shutting the door behind him.

Reassured by the wink, Sara drew the latch a second time. "I know he sounds rough, honey," she said, as much for herself as for him, "but he helped us four years ago, back in California, when our car wouldn't start at the library. Remember that?"

Kendal had been six years old, then. "No," he said, dropping nuggets into Jesse's metal bowl.

Sara plopped down on the edge of a bed and watched him carry the water bowl to the bathroom. It was obvious that Kendal didn't trust the stranger helping them. She couldn't blame him. Chase had been silently forbidding since his appearance at the park, not exactly the laid-back, considerate gentleman he seemed to be before.

Trust me, no one's going to hurt you again, Kendal, she swore to herself, watching as he offered the dog water and petted his broad head.

An hour later, she had to wonder if she'd let him down already. In addition to the sandwiches that they'd wolfed down, Chase had bought a deluxe hair-cutting kit that included an electric shaver.

"We need to cut the boy's hair," he'd said to Sara.

She'd been so eager to start coloring her own hair that she'd agreed to his offer to do so. The bathroom door was left ajar, reassuring her further as she stood before the desk, using the mirror in the room to put dye in her hair.

Entering the bathroom fifteen minutes later, she found Kendal's hair buzzed down to a smart, military cut.

"All set," Chase said, whisking the boy's neck and ears with a brush. Kendal winced at the dusting. Chase pulled the poncho off.

With the look of a wounded animal, Kendal pushed past his mother and went to flop down near the TV and sulk.

"It'll grow out," Chase called after him. He sent Sara an apologetic grimace. "Sorry 'bout that. I should've used a different size head," he muttered.

"That's okay." The apology appeased her. Not once in eleven years had Garret ever apologized.

Skirting around Chase, Sara dropped to her knees beside the tub and stuck her head under the faucet.

Warm water sluiced by her ears. Yellow-brown dye rushed down the drain. She was conscious of Chase coming to stand behind her.

"You're missing some," he observed, and suddenly his hands were cradling her head, angling it under the stream to ensure that all the excess dye got washed out.

A gasp wedged itself into Sara's lungs.

He was touching her, and she could feel the strength in his gentle fingers all the way down to her toes.

"All set," he said, turning the water off.

Sara fumbled with the conditioning tube, squirting the white stuff into her palm and rubbing it briskly into her hair. Before Chase could help her again, she rinsed it out, not bothering to wait the requisite two minutes.

He plopped a towel over her head. She came shakily to her feet, wondering when he intended to step out.

"How do you want your hair cut?" he asked her.

"Oh." From beneath the towel she added, "I think I'll cut it myself." Although, on second thought, Kendal's haircut had looked professional.

"Suit yourself," Chase replied. "Concealment's what I do for a living. I know how to make you look different," he added.

Sara wavered. Pulling the towel off her head, she looked at him.

"Trust me," he said, his blue eyes compelling.

She wanted to. She was longing to put her whole faith in him. If he could just act like the laid-back cowboy who'd rescued her in San Diego instead of this serious, uncommunicative commando.

"All right," she agreed, taking her chances. She positioned herself before the mirror.

"Color looks good on you," he said, lifting the comb and drawing the snarls out of her shoulder-length hair.

She thought so, too, but watching him groom her was distracting. He was perhaps just six feet tall, several inches shorter than Garret, but his shoulders were twice as broad, making her seem petite by comparison.

"I was blond as a child," she admitted. At one time, she'd been told that she resembled Meg Ryan, but that was way back before she'd started planning her escape.

Chase put the comb down and picked up the scissors. He began by hacking four inches off her hair.