By the way his eyes are stinging, Eliot knows he’s been driving for about fifty hours straight. If he doesn’t stop soon, he’s gonna fuck up his alertness all to hell, and that’s the worst kind of idea when he’s not sure how many of Gutman’s backorder of third-rate goons are still coming after him.
Lucky for him, fifty hours of driving and about twice more evasive manoeuvres than he could count have landed him in just about Middle of Nowhere, Colorado. Eliot is fairly certain he can blend in around these parts enough to buy himself a couple hours rest and a decent bite to eat. Then he can just hit the ground running again. Only thing he’ll have left is decide if he wants to take a job locally or head out and change continents for a while. Odds are any local job would send him out of the country anyway.
He doesn’t know why he’s stuck around for this long. He slept through the night in alternating ninety-minute shifts, only getting up a couple of hours before dawn to do a full-ish sweep of this spot. That wasn’t the plan, but some time between changing cars and finding a place to lay down his head, his mood shifted and he found himself changing the game.
Another couple of hours gone by, Eliot is seated in what passes for the back corner of a little local diner. It’s not quiet, but he’s used to that; he likes having a bit of noise around him — the kind of din that he can lose himself in when he needs to think. Right now, he’s relaxing, just letting his eyes scan every spot from the street to the crowd in here then back outside again.
He already knows he’s not gonna linger.
He recognises the thugs; seen dozens, maybe hundreds like them. Their type has a distinctive MO, ad those kids are telegraphing it with everything from their footfalls to the angle of their approach. He knows what they’re gonna do, and how, about a minute or so before they make their entrance. They spell minimum trouble, but even the minimum tends to be unacceptable when there’s so many people around. Eliot starts mentally cataloguing his options, because one way in for them means no other way out for Eliot to head off and intercept, and it’s already too late to cut them off point blank.
What Eliot isn’t counting on — which apparently he isn’t the only one — is the waitress.
He’d noticed her from the second he walked in. Of course. Tall, pretty girl like that, lookin’ for all the world like she should be in any place but this? He would have been hard-pressed not to take notice. He wasn’t in her section, but he kept an ear open while she was making her rounds. There was a note of something in her voice that took him back to Boston a couple of days ago, to full lips and a dress like bold sin, but he’d let that thought pass without dwelling.
He wasn’t gonna linger.
There’s a few things that Eliot Spencer knows better than the back of his own hand — of either of his hands. All his Momma’s family recipes. The limits and breaking points of his body, and when he can push into and beyond them. Different styles of fighting.
...A lot of different styles of fighting.
Which is why he could swear he feels his jaw drop when he sees the staccato of moves that lays out those kids. She — he thinks he caught earlier that her name is Val — is affecting a very particular stance, and the seamless flow of her movements shows how well her body masters them.
It’s a very distinctive style. It’s also one Eliot has never seen before, anywhere.
His interest caught, Eliot really takes the time to read her.
Her stance is stiff, but not aggressive, and still entirely too alien to him for his liking. Her body is poised, well-balanced. There’s tension there, but he doesn’t need more than his quick glance to tell it’s not from the adrenalin. The look on her face is one of such honest shock that, for a moment, it leaves Eliot scrambling to figure out what it means. If he’s honest with himself, he’s not sure he does have it put together.
He wants to figure her out, suddenly. Some instinct tells him there’s a lot to learn if he looks deeper.
...But he can’t linger.
He works his way out of the diner before the cops show up — as good a time as any for him to clear out and be on his way. When he leaves, it’s with her accent and name and bearing imprinted in his memory. You never know when you gotta fight a woman like that.
A day or two later, he’s a stowaway on his way to Kiev, muscles heavy with practiced imitation moves and their devised counters. After all, that’s a very distinctive style.