Authors: Christine Bell
Matty and Kayla, Book Three
The McDaniels Brothers
I read somewhere that physical pain was easily forgotten. That seemed about right to me, but more than a week had passed since the Martin fight and while my body had healed just fine, my heart felt as obliterated as it had the night Kayla had walked out on me.
Memories of that last conversation played over in my head and I squeezed my eyes closed, desperate to shut them out.
“Where the hell have you been all day?” Reid’s voice broke through the wave of misery, and I looked up to see him standing over my barstool, a frown creasing his brow.
A wise-ass remark flew to my lips out of habit, but when I saw the concern in his eyes, I bit it back.
I sighed and faced the wide-screen TV again. “Drink?”
Reid shook his head and pulled out the stool next to me to sit. “Nope. Looks like you’re doing more than your share there, bro.”
I picked up the rocks glass full of amber liquid in front of me and took a long pull before nodding in agreement. “Looks that way.”
It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was bothering him. On top of the fact that I’d been stone silent and unbearable to be around for the better part of the week, I was also half in the bag. Four stiff drinks when, even in my wilder days, I’d only ever nursed a single beer on ten-cent hot wing night probably wasn’t a great look on me.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked, jerking his head toward the glass in my hand. “Probably be easier just to call her and work it out.”
I barked out a laugh and turned to face him. “You think I haven’t tried that?”
Dozens of times.
Not at first, though. I was still reeling from the news she’d laid on me about Mick wanting me to throw an upcoming fight. She’d known for more than a month and hadn’t told me. That stung like a motherfucker. She was the first girl I’d let myself get close to since…ever, and I’d trusted her. The fact that she’d hid something like that from me had been a tougher blow to take than any of the ones I’d suffered in a cage or a ring. It was only after I’d slept on it that it clicked.
She’d done it because she cared about me.
The same way I’d tried to shield her from the fact that her own father had been responsible for the death of her mother.
And then you dropped that little nugget on her like a fucking A-bomb because your wittle feewings were hurt.
My stomach clenched and I drained the glass I was holding just to keep my hands busy.
Reid motioned to the pretty brunette behind the bar. “Can I just have a club soda and a menu please?”
As I stared off into space, wishing for numbness, I wondered idly how he’d thought to look for me here. I almost never came to 1984 on weekends, but tonight, the idea of being home and alone just hadn’t sat right with me.
It was my first Saturday without Kayla in over a month, I had no clue where she’d gone, and I felt like a caged animal. I’d tried everything to shake it off, but after a five-mile run and a horror movie double feature, I finally gave in. The only way I was going to get through today without losing my god damn mind was if I got well and truly shit-faced, which I’d only done one other time in my life.
Beyond that, I had no plan.
“Did you eat something, at least?” Reid asked, holding up the menu.
I shook my head and gestured to my glass. “Liquid diet. Don’t want anything to get in the way of my mission.”
“Right. Well, plan on handing your keys over and coming home with me. And I don’t want to hear any shit about it.”
I reached into the pocket of my jeans and wordlessly handed him my keys. I’d planned to call a cab, so the way I figured it, he’d saved me the ten bucks.
“I know you’re not done…whatever it is you’re doing over this chick, but we still have a bigger issue to deal with here. Mick’s boys have called the gym twice today. He wants to see you, bro.” Reid reached out and shoved me on the shoulder, urging me to look his way. His face was solemn as he set down the menu. “I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to hold him off.”
I was well aware.
Mick had called my cell phone personally a few days before and left a voicemail letting me know that if I was the reason his little girl had left, I’d spend the rest of my life eating through a straw. I guess that should’ve scared me, but all I felt was relief. Apparently, he’d heard from Kayla and she’d told him she just needed a couple weeks’ vacation to sort some things out. That meant she was okay and planned to come back.
Although the knowledge that she had called her father after what I’d told her, and the fact that she’d been ignoring my texts and calls didn’t leave me feeling very confident that things were going to fall my way when she did.
“I’ll take care of it,” I said to Reid.
The bartender came over and took my brother’s order while I tried to figure out how to make good on that promise. If Kayla decided never to talk to me again, I had a very real problem on my hands.
Did I use the information I had about Mickey to strong arm him into releasing me from my contract? Or did I take it one step further, where it really needed to go, and at least try to see that he paid for his crime by getting the cops involved?
If we were still together, I would’ve done whatever she asked of me, without hesitation. This was her mother’s death we were dealing with. Whatever gave her the most peace in a terrible situation was the thing I wanted to do. But until or unless she talked to me and told me how she felt, I was flying blind. Terrified to make the wrong decisions and just make things worse.
That last drink hit me all at once, and I gripped the side of the bar as a wave of dizziness passed over me. “What if she wants me to drop it?” I said, as much to myself as to Reid.
“What do you mean?” Reid asked.
I shook my head and shrugged. “I mean, here I am trying to work out all the possible scenarios, but I’m ignoring the most likely one. What if she doesn’t believe me? Or what if she doesn’t care? What if she just loves him so much and feels so beholden to him that she turns her back on it all…her mother, the murder…”
I shoved the thought aside and looked at my brother. His face was blurry, so I closed one eye to get him into focus. “For all I know, she could come home and get right back into the fold with him, like nothing happened. Then what am I supposed to do?”
He shrugged. “Fuck her.”
I frowned at him as my muzzy brain attempted to make sense of that advice. It wasn’t gelling. “That’s what I’m saying. If she won’t let me, and won’t talk to me anymore-”
He snort-laughed and rolled his eyes. “Jesus, you’re hammered. I don’t mean fuck her, fuck her. I mean like, screw it.” He threw his hands up. “You told her the truth. That her father is a piece of shit who not only terrorizes half of Southie, but who also killed her mother. If she chooses to stay by his side knowing that? If she’s that much of an idiot? Then she’s not worth your time anyway.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, asshole.”
The melodic, feminine voice burrowed its way into my consciousness, and I turned so fast, I nearly ended up falling off the stool and onto my sorry ass.
Who stood there, but Kayla James, looking partly furious, partly heartsick and totally beautiful. My pulse throbbed like a jackhammer as I resisted the urge to stand and drag her into my arms.
“Uh, hey Kayla.” Reid’s cheeks went ruddy and he sent me an accusing scowl. “I didn’t realize you were-”
“Yeah, obviously. If you did, I imagine you wouldn’t be sitting there talking shit about me.” Her eyes shot amber fire as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Can you give me and your brother a few minutes alone?” In spite of her chilly words, the look she gave Reid had gentled and he nodded and pushed himself from his stool.
“Sure thing. I’m going to go play Frogger for a while.”
He made his way toward the arcade room and me and Kayla watched him go. I wanted to be the one to start talking, but for all the times I’d tried to get in touch with her, now that she was standing in front of me, I didn’t have a single clue where to start.
After a long, tense few seconds, I decided that rational thought wasn’t an option. As drunk as I was, I had no choice but to go with my gut.
“I’m sorry, Red.” My voice was slurred and I bitterly regretted that last drink. The one time I didn’t have a clear head was when I needed it most. “I’m so sorry I didn’t listen when you tried to talk to me that night, and I’m sorry I accused you of lying. I know you thought you were protecting me. It’s…a feeling I’m not used to. And I fucked up.”
Battered with the need to touch her, to prove to myself she was really there, I reached for her, but she held up a hand.
“No.” She met my gaze and the unshed tears in her eyes disappeared with a blink. “I’m not here about us,” she said, her tone so icy it made my blood go cold.
I fought through the jab to the heart at her words and nodded slowly. “Okay, so why are you here then?”
She straightened and threw her shoulders back. “I want to talk about Mick.” Her gaze was so intense, it was like she was looking through me. “I need to know how sure you are that what you told me is true.”
I let the question marinate in my alcohol-saturated brain for a long time, wanting to make sure I answered her as honestly as I could. We’d had enough lies between us to last a lifetime, and I wasn’t about to add more.
“Sure enough that I told you about it,” I said quietly, leaning against the back of my stool. “If I had a single doubt, I wouldn’t have said anything at all.”
She seemed to take that in stride, like she’d expected that answer, and nodded. “Who told you?” she asked.
I hesitated. I still had no idea where her head was at. After the time we spent together, the idea that she was here as some sort of mole on Mickey’s behalf to find out where the leak had sprung seemed crazy, but who knew anymore? And I was in no shape to be making judgment calls.
“I can’t tell you that.”
She drew back like I’d slapped her. “Meaning you don’t trust me enough to tell me.”
I looked away and stared blankly out the window.
She blew out a sigh, tugged back the stool Reid had vacated and sat in it. “I guess I deserve that after all the secrets. But if we’re going to trust each other going forward, it needs to go both ways, Matty. And it needs to start today. I trust that you’re telling me the truth, about what you heard and because of that, I have to dig deeper. I need information. I’m going to get it from you, or I’m going to go out on my own and get it from someone else. You decide.”
Her voice rang with sincerity and I had no doubt she was sincere. The thought made the contents of my stomach curdle. Mick might love her, but if he got wind of her rolling around Southie asking questions about her mother’s murder, I would bet my gym on the fact that she’d wind up just like her, in an urn somewhere.
Because at the end of the day, Mick Flynn was a survivor down to his very marrow. Like a lion, he would eat his cub if he thought, even for an instant, that it was a threat to him.
“Please tell me, Matty. I can’t process this all until I know.”
I met her gaze and spun the stool around to face her fully. As broken as things were between us, I couldn’t deny the rush of warmth I felt just getting to look at her again. And just like that, my doubts melted away.