House of V (Unraveled Series) (4 page)

BOOK: House of V (Unraveled Series)
13.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Just a drink,” I cut through the
stillness, trying to convince myself as I looked up at the bar entrance.

The door swung open to a man and
woman; his arm hung heavy over her shoulder as she threw her head back in
laughter. I was slammed with the picture of what a normal couple looked like in
public. Laughing, smiling. I just wasn’t there yet, and I didn’t know if I
would ever be there.

I would always be watching and
waiting for something or someone to come after me. I think that’s what happens
when you’ve murdered more than one person; their demons come back to haunt you.
I wondered how Holston controlled the demons surrounding him, and I realized
that he didn’t. He simply had too many voices and shadows to count so he merely
screamed along with them. Holston Parker screamed in blood.

A shiver ran through my body.

“Just a drink.”
Ryan shut the door with a loud bang.

Instantly, my mantra pulsed through
my head. I closed my eyes and counted,
two, three, four,
. Instead of the usual
calmness it brought me, I began to pant as I thought of Sister Josephine. She
was the one that had given me the technique of self-preservation. I was young
then, maybe six or seven when she had taught me to count to five to stay calm.
I didn’t remember much of that night other than being cradled in her arms on
her bed after she had washed off my red soaked hands. Food coloring, she had
said with a forced smile. I remembered believing her; at that age, most
children would. I could only marvel at how many lies I had been fed in my
twenty-eight years.

She had smoothed out my hair as she
taught me the counting trick in her bathroom. “When you count,
, you are bringing yourself back into your own body,”
she had said. I had no idea what she meant, but it had felt good. Everything
about Sister Josephine had always felt good. She had held me in her arms all
night until Holston had picked me up in the morning.

I wondered who he killed that
night. And I wondered if Sister Josephine knew.

My eyes flashed open, and my boots
were suddenly hitting the pavement of the bar’s parking lot. We were headed to
I was out. I was here. I could still breathe. I felt my knife tucked against my
thigh, beneath my tight skirt, as I pulled my black leather jacket against my
chest. This was easy. Getting a beer at a bar in a small town with a population
just over ten thousand would be uncomplicated. I was thousands of miles away
from my past.

I stepped through the wooden door
of the bar into darkness and followed Ryan down the handful of stairs that led
to the open space. The music thumped to an electronic beat pulsed by a DJ at a
turntable. Small puffs of smoke wafted through the air as neon lights flickered
through the small crowd of people dancing.

Ryan’s hand reached back toward me,
fumbling until it found mine. I followed him to the bar, hand-in-hand like any
normal couple, and we sunk onto two stools next to each other. The last bar I
visited was Angel’s, half-way across the world. It felt like a lifetime ago.
This joint with its mirrored walls and neon lights looked nothing like Angel’s
‘70s diner turned rustic bar. This was a club.

The bartender turned to us; a bald
man with a prickly beard and thick sleeves of tattoos along both his arms. I
closed my eyes, shaking the vision of Ethan out of my head. Delaney’s emails
were flooding me with all the memories I was trying to forget. I opened my eyes
to see the bartender leaning over me with a grin. All I could smell was cheap

God, I hated cheap cologne. It
reminded me of Dave Williams, the CFO at Parker Enterprises back when I was
there. He was beyond guilty of wearing the cheapest, most offensive smelling
cologne on the market. And despite having a ridiculous salary for the work he
did, Dave Williams would only spring ten dollars for a bottle of that horrible

I pushed Dave Williams out of my
head and kept my eyes on the bartender. I forced a small smile as Ryan ordered
and nodded my head in agreement; enough to be unnoticeable.

Two bottles slid across the bar as
I watched the crowd pulse and sway to the beats, raising and pumping their
fists and drinks in the air. I just didn’t get the club scene, and I definitely
didn’t belong here. I wanted out.

I turned back to Ryan to see his
beer raised in the air. I reminded myself to breathe as I raised my own bottle
the brown neck of the glass before I put
the beer to my lips. The bitterness of the cool liquid slid down my throat. I
was never a beer drinker, but I knew after this one, I would have the liquid
courage I needed to tell Ryan I was going back.

“How does it feel?” Ryan yelled
over the music as he leaned into me.

“Loud,” I yelled back.

“Won’t be for
I think the party moves to the back in a little bit.
Bigger space for the crowd.
We’ll be gone before then.”

“Good.” I chugged five long
swallows of beer. I wanted to leave now.

Ryan pulled another long tug on his
own before he leaned in closer and pressed his lips into mine. The tension in
my body released, and I let his lips take me in. He finally pulled away,
breathing, “That guy in the corner was looking at you. I had to send him a
quick message, if you know what I mean.”

“Delaney emailed me.” I didn’t even
bother to look at the guy in the corner. I didn’t need to because I had already
seen him when I walked in. He was leaning against a jukebox that probably
hadn’t been used in ten years. He was just under six-feet-tall, maybe one
hundred and sixty pounds. He was wearing a beaded necklace. I could easily take
him. I wasn’t worried.

“What?” Ryan sputtered, pulling the
beer from his lips. I hated seeing those lips mad, and it was only going to get

“Delaney emailed me,” I repeated

“I heard you the first time,” Ryan
said as he moved just inches from my face.

“She needs help.”

studied my face. His mind was desperate to wrap around the method of delivery
instead of the message. He was avoiding. And just like that, BAM. There it was;
the blame and disappointment that I’d been accustomed to my entire life. It was
an old feeling that fell into my lap with ease, smuggling its way back in with
a black vengeance. I guess some things never died.

“Anonymous email.
I gave her instructions a year ago when I sent her a letter,” I replied.

“You sent her a letter?
and you were worried about coming here?” Ryan slid
his beer on the bar and then turned to the crowd moving behind us. They
shuffled through a hallway into the back room, just like Ryan had said they
would. The DJ pulled his headphones down around his neck as the music came to a
sudden stop.

Ryan motioned to the bartender, “E
Another round.

I agreed with an obliged smile and
gave Ryan an abbreviated version of Delaney’s first email from June 15:



I know I’m not supposed to use
this account, but I had to email you. She said it was urgent.

Sister Josephine called to tell
me that Father
is dead. (I don’t know either
of these people, but I think it’s safe to assume you do since she wanted me to
tell you). He died of a heart attack two days ago. They had a break-in at the
rectory, but the person who broke in didn’t take anything. Sister Josephine was
in the house at the time. She said he was in the house for just a few minutes.
By the time she got to him and the ambulance came, it was too late. The police
don’t have any leads.

She wanted you to know that
they are holding services for him on June 20. She would like for you to come
back but knows that it’s probably not going to happen. She thought I might have
contact with you. I lied and told her I didn’t. Thanks for making me lie to a
nun. You bring out the best in me (I’m joking).

I wouldn’t have used this
account, but she seemed desperate when I talked to her. I felt like she was
leaving a few details out - that there was more to the story. Hard to believe
considering she has an association with you (Again, I’m joking). Honestly, I
think she’s scared.

So that’s it. I thought I would
let you know.

I miss you. I feel like I’ve
been missing you my whole life. I hope that can change one day. It’s only two
days short of being a year since I saw you last.

Much love,



“So that’s it?” Ryan asked as the
bartender appeared with two opened bottles of

The beats of the music settled into
a methodic buzz as I set down my empty bottle and slid it across the bar before
reaching out to grab the second. The cool glass soaked into my skin as my
fingers fiddled with the red and gold label. The first beer was registering in
my bloodstream, and I hesitated before I brought the second bottle to my lips.

“That’s it. That’s what she wrote
in the first email,” I replied, realizing that I really should have left
without asking. I didn’t need his permission, and I definitely didn’t need him
to try to talk me out of it. Not that it would work or anything.

What do you want me
to say? It’s not overly compelling.”

“I know. She sent me another.” I
twirled the bottle in my hands. The second email had convinced me to go back to

Ryan lifted his eyebrows, looking for the information I was purposely

“More compelling,” I answered
before taking a hard swallow. I should slow down, but I didn’t want to. I knew
the conversation wasn’t going to end well.

“Well, I’m not your keeper,” Ryan
replied, tightening his grip on his bottle. His forearm flexed just as it had
earlier today on the docks. Damn, that little movement made me so uneasy. I
averted my eyes. “But how important could it be that you are willing to risk it

“Well…” My voice trailed off
despite my deep-seeded conviction to do otherwise.

Every single moment that we have fought for over
the last year.
All of that could be gone, just like that.
The risk that
took. You’re putting me on
the line. I knew Holston was worth it, but this? I just don’t
- ”
Ryan stopped mid-sentence as a man in a cowboy hat sat
down in the seat next to him.

The bartender slid the cowboy a
beer before he could even mutter his order. The two began talking feverishly in
Norwegian, but my ear perked at the sound of the cowboy’s accent. His Norwegian
was just a tad slower, his accent a hint off. I eyed the woven straw hat that
sat lightly on top of his head, red flannel shirt, and blue jeans, then all the
way down to his tapping cowboy boots on the stool.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” I
whispered, sucking another draw from the bottle.
The cowboy was American.

My thoughts went back to Sister
Josephine. Ryan couldn’t possibly ever understand the importance of this woman
in my life as a child. My childhood had been filled with random comings and
goings of babysitters that never really stuck. I remembered when I was
eight-years-old, I had spent every single night alone while Holston built his
empire. I now wondered which “empire” he was building. A woman who didn’t speak
a lick of English would stop by to make me food. I don’t even remember her
name. For all I knew, she didn’t have one. She would maybe stay for thirty
minutes and then she was gone. I brushed my teeth alone. Put on my pajamas
Locked the door alone.
went to bed alone.
So the woman that showed me affection on Sundays,
naturally, was the woman I remembered the most, and the woman that needed my
help now.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have,” Ryan
muttered, tipping the bottle back until he slammed it back on the counter
empty. “This is crazy. You are
I knew you were, but to go back? I can’t
- ”

“You don’t have to,” I said as an
alarm signaled in my body. The slow burn had stopped festering and a new swell
of fury coursed through my veins. A year ago, I wouldn’t have even thought
twice about it. I went, with or without his permission. Going at it alone was
faster, easier. I could get in and out without a hitch. This was what I did;
I’d been alone my whole life until now. It made things complicated, and I
didn’t like complicated even though I did love him. “I never asked you to come
with me.”

“Good because I don’t plan to,”
Ryan said, finally turning to me with eyes blazing. I tried to focus on him,
but I was abruptly drawn to the cowboy and bartender next to us. Their
conversation had stopped and the cowboy had thrown a few bills on the bar. He
got up from the bar and vanished through the crowd.

“Good.” I slid my beer back on the
counter, moving off the seat to stand next to him. I felt a strong squeeze on
my right arm, just below my scar. The pink skin flared, the pain of the bullet
entering my arm rattled my body.

“Where are you going?” Ryan
demanded, pulling me closer to him.

“Bathroom,” I replied, yanking my
arm back as he shook his head.

Drink up, Ryan. The drunker he was,
the easier it would be to leave. I pretended that it didn’t matter; I pretended
that for the first time, I didn’t feel something stirring in my gut. It was a
foreign feeling to me, a sentiment of guilt I didn’t like. As quickly as it
came, it disappeared as he turned back to face the bar. I wouldn’t change now,
not for anyone or anything. I
Parker. I would do what I did best. Run.

BOOK: House of V (Unraveled Series)
13.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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