Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
I came back here with the thought I could get a handle on what’s happening now Twig and Gunner are gone, and I guess I did, but the lead weight in my chest as I step down into the garage reminds me that things are far from over, let alone underway. We need to sort out our club before I can expect any help with Elena, which brings me back full circle to doing it alone.
How the fuck do I even stand a chance?
I can’t go out and organize anything without being accused of taking club business into my own hands and getting shafted. No, Elena’s not club business, but Carlos sure as fuck is . . . especially after what went down.
Twig’s family. I clean forgot to ask anybody how they’re holding up or when the funeral is.
Fingers and Abbey are nowhere to be seen as I remove the precautions I’d placed around my bike and return them to their respective places. The green machine belonging to that Grime fucker still sits in my space.
Can’t imagine what else you’d call a man who club-hops to suit his needs. It still sits unwell with me that the guy’s even here.
I pull out of the garage, at war with my emotions as I take to the open road. Life sure as shit has thrown curveballs of late, and I’m left the only man to bat, hitting at the wayward fuckers with a split stick of wood.
As I stop off mid-journey to pick up a few things for a woman who needs all the support she can get, it dawns on me how much like my parents I’ve become, carelessly sacrificing my own health and happiness in the name of ensuring those two things are a priority for the people around me.
Let’s just hope it pays off and the reward comes full circle.
Grief is worse than morning sickness. It’s worse than the most extreme gastro bug I’ve ever had. To be honest, I’m not totally sure if it’s just grief, or some concoction of the former with a nasty helping of shock on the side. My stomach is on a never-ending cycle of cramp, followed by nausea, and then expelling its contents. I’m drained emotionally, physically, and every way between.
Maria had cried as Carlos pointed to the stack of drugs my mother’s body brought in for him and instructed her to clean the blood and gore off the plastic wrap. Tears dripped from her chin as she looked across to me with apologetic eyes before Carlos slapped her for “wasting time,” as he’d put it.
Wasting time how? What rush could he possibly be in when I’m certain he has one hundred times that amount stashed away around the state?
Turned out his rush was to “clean the filth from my house.” The blood, the drugs, the packaging, and my mother. At least, what used to be Mama.
I swallow back the bile at the memory and stare at my clenched hands as Sully stands silently by my side. I’m seated on the kitchen counter, my legs swinging over the side as the staff cook prepares dinner. Sully picked me up after Maria left with two buckets filled with the packages, and carried me through to the galley. He probably knew as well as I did that had I returned to my bedroom, Carlos would have gladly disturbed my peace to mock and berate me. But here . . . he’s never set foot inside the servants’ area, or so I’m told.
“Do you think Maria’s okay?” I ask quietly.
Sully shifts on his feet, his lower back pressed against the edge of the counter as he stands with his arms crossed. “Don’t know.”
“You should go find her,” I urge. “I’ll be okay.”
He shakes his head. “If I show up, any strength she has will vanish. She needs to suffer through it alone to get it done and keep that asshole happy, and
I can comfort her, let her break.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and ducks his head. “Fuck. If I held her now, I’d never let go.”
“You love her?”
“Of course,” he grumbles.
I lift my head and smile weakly before resuming my Mexican standoff with the floor.
“What did King say this morning?” Sully turns side-on to pay full attention as I pick at my nails.
“That he wants me ‘home.’ He needs me, or us I guess, to help figure out how I can leave.”
“Simple,” Sully says. “I drive you out the gates and drop you off.”
“And then what?” I ask. “What happens to you when you return?”
“Who said I’ll return?”
I stare at the guy, incredulous. He’d leave to help me? “Where would you go? Carlos would find you.”
“Would he?” Sully smiles. “My background is a little better suited to knowing how to drop off the grid than his is.”
Hope blooms. Could it really be that simple? Just getting in the car and going? “It can’t be so easy.”
“Of course not. He’s got trackers on his cars, phones, and access to personal information on all of his staff. Even after all that is destroyed or corrupted, he might not find me or you, but he’d sure make life hell until he did.”
I already knew all of that, so why did I let myself get so excited about taking such an easy way out?
Because fighting only brings more pain.
Carlos took retaliation to an all new level with Mama. If he could do that, then what else is he capable of?
“Besides,” Sully muses, “there are the cameras. If he noticed you leave without pass, there’d go your head start.” He stares off into nothing as the cook bangs and crashes around in the search for the right pot. “We’ll sort it out.” Sully bumps his knuckles into my leg in a friendly gesture.
Our attention is dragged to the door as a pale and panting Maria steps through. I slip off the bench and rush over to throw my arms around her. She sobs into my shoulder, her hands fisting in the back of my shirt. Her tears call to mine, and before long we’re a crying, wailing mess sinking to the floor in each other’s embrace.
“Elena . . . I . . .”
“Shhh.” I shake my head on her shoulder. “None of it is your fault. I’m angry he made you a part of it.”
Sully squats beside the two of us and strokes Maria’s hair as she sobs anew. The cook goes on about her business as if our spectacle is nothing new. Perhaps it’s not?
Time passes, minutes, maybe hours, before either Maria or I attempt to let go. Her crying is a mere sniffle, and I’m sure my eyes are as red and puffy as hers. Sully helps her to stand, and as I lean on one hand, I take some comfort in seeing the adoration he has for her. He wipes her cheeks with his thumbs and places a gentle kiss to her lips.
“I won’t let that happen again,” he promises. “I’ll get us away from here.”
The comparison, the similarity, and the creeping sense of déjà vu are too much. I stand abruptly and inadvertently pull both of their attentions toward me.
“Elena?” Maria turns to console me, but I back away.
“No. I need to be alone.” Her exasperated sigh is audible behind me as I bolt from the galley and run toward my room.
I miss King. I
King. My world is a waking nightmare, and I need his love to ground me and balance the hate that swirls through my soul. I
Carlos. I hate what he’s done. And I hate myself for not being stronger to stop it. But even more, I hate the fact that I see us, King and I, in the way Sully comforted Maria. I’m jealous that she’ll probably have a happy ending with the man who loves her when I don’t think that kind of future will ever be a real option for me.
“Why the hurry?”
I skid to a halt at the base of the stairs and fight back the gag that clogs my throat when I see the pinkish stain left behind on the tiles by the quick cleanup job. “Let me be, please.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Carlos muses.
I spin around, using the banister to hold myself upright. The sight of him alone is enough to have me fighting the desire to crumple into a dry-retching heap. “Why?”
“Jesus, Elena. You think I’d let that bitch get one over on me by dying without giving me anything of use?”
“You have me,” I counter pathetically. “Is that not enough?”
anything of use.
” He waves a dismissive hand my way and bends at the waist to inspect the stain.
I could kick him in the face at this distance. “Do you have a heart?” I murmur.
He chuckles and straightens out to pin me with those stormy gray-blue irises. “I think I used to, but then again, it’s been a while since I truly cared about anything to remember how it feels, so I may be mistaken.”
“Does it make you feel good? Hurting people for your sick amusement?”
He shakes his head, jamming both hands in his pockets. “You misunderstand. I don’t do it because I
to hurt you. It’s not satisfying or fun,
people in my life. It’s simply therapeutic.”
I cock an eyebrow at him, wondering how in the hell that’s supposed to make me feel any better about his disposition. “It’s still not okay.”
“No, it’s not.” He slams a closed fist to his chest. “But if my heart is this black and rotted, then why the fuck shouldn’t everyone else have to feel the same way?”
“You’re deflecting,” I whisper.
He nods. “Although it doesn’t seem to make the ache any lesser. It does, however, make it more bearable.” Carlos absently picks at a seam on his pant leg, frowning at whatever courses through his mind.
He’s crazy. There’s no other way to explain it. He thinks by making everyone around him suffer it somehow averages out his world so that his own pain doesn’t appear so bad. What the fuck has he got to hurt about? “I still don’t understand one thing, though,” I say.
“May as well ask me now,” he sneers, “since we’re having such a civil conversation for a change.”
I adjust the skewed scarf over my neck and ensure I stay front-on to him so any swell isn’t obvious. “What pain do
have to endure? You live in luxury, you rule with fear, and you get what you want
you want because you can pay for it to be that way. None of this looks like suffering to me.”
He surprises me by tugging up the legs of his suit pants and taking a seat on the second to last step. “The day I graduated as a police officer was the first real defining moment in my life.” He stares off at the closed front doors. “I wanted to be the good guy from as young as I can remember. I had this toy gun—you know the ones, made to look like a cowboy’s pistol with the wood handle and all.” He looks to me for understanding, so I nod. “I ran around the house and shot the imaginary bad guys with it, protected my parents and our two cats from harm. Thought I was the hero.”
What do I say? This man whom I’d love to watch bleed out before me opens up such an intimate side of him, and yet I can’t find it in me to feel any compassion toward the guy. I am, however, curious. “What changed?”
“The bad guys became real.”
“You’re one of them.”
He clears his throat and stands. “Yes, I am. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Silence hangs thick, as does the next question. Asking him could spin this new side of his coin back over to angry and place me in harm’s way. But I need to know. “May I ask a personal question?”
He nods, apparently frustrated enough already to accept.
I swallow back the hesitancy and plunder straight in. “You said you loved your first wife before you shot her.” His face pales. “So why shoot her?”
Carlos runs a hand over the flattened hair at the back of his head as he answers, “I only wanted to scare her.”
“It was an accident?” I never would have picked that.
“I was high. I was angry and jealous. I thought she was going to leave me.”
“So you shot her?” I ask incredulously. I can’t hide the disbelief in my tone, the confusion.
Hell of a way to put the frights up someone.
He sighs and paces to the far side of the entrance, his back to me for a while as he lets the silence hang between us. I pick up on every physical cue, every little nuance of his that he’s agitated.
have the man feeling uneasy, rather than the other way around.
“I wanted to hurt her bad enough she’d need me to care for her, that she’d need me to be her hero and save her from death. But she moved.” He hangs his head briefly. “She moved, I think to try and protect our son—so I wouldn’t know he was there.”
My disgust at the man eases a little. The monster has a heart after all—he’s just forgotten where he put it. “Your son saw?” I murmur.
He nods before spinning to face me with such speed that I lose my breath. “Enough chit-chat, precious.” His eyes are the color of the clouds before thunder. “Run on before I decide I need to remind myself why being the bad guy is so much better.”
Apprehension tickles my palms as I stare down at my full hands. My boots scuff on the concrete step. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. I’ve been out of play for several days; I’ve got no idea how she’ll take me just turning up like this, what the consequence will be.
The lock rattles on the far side of the door, and I stop shuffling my feet. Hinges creak as she opens up slowly to reveal a huge smile on her otherwise sad face.
“King . . .”
Twig’s old lady steps back from the door, one of their girls attached to her hip, and ushers me in. “When I heard you were hurt too—”
“It doesn’t matter.” I set the bags of groceries down on the floor and nod toward them. “Just a few things to help out.”
She clucks her tongue as she fights tears. “He always spoke so highly of you.” Her chest heaves as she drags in a breath. “And I always agreed with him. You’re a good man.”
If only she knew.
I ignore the lump that forms in my throat and focus on the golden-haired girl at my side as I step into the living room.
“Hi, King,” she says, whisper-soft. Big eyes look up at me while I stroke her hair back.
“Hey, baby girl.”
“Have you seen my daddy today?”
I whip my gaze to Shanaya and plead silently for help. She offers me a sad smile and beckons to her daughter. “How about I set you girls up on my bed with a movie? You can pick one each.”
The children sprint down the hallway, squealing about which Disney movie they’re going to select and who gets to play theirs first.
Nervous minutes pass where I wander aimlessly around the small room waiting on Shanaya to return. I pick up on all the subtle reminders of Twig: a belt buckle left beside a new leather strap on the lamp table, photos of happier times in a frame by the door, and the TV remote still perched on the arm of his chair. His spare boots are tucked beside the front door, and his riding jacket still hangs on the hook behind it. Kind of reminds me of the awkward stretch after Garrett died when Mom wouldn’t shift any of his things that still lay about. I can’t imagine the pain that comes with physically removing the last pieces of a part of your life like that. I don’t think anyone would think any less of Shanaya if she simply let them be for a while longer.