Unveiled (Vargas Cartel #2) (12 page)

BOOK: Unveiled (Vargas Cartel #2)
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Chapter Eighteen

 

 

Hattie

 

I woke to the sound of hushed voices outside of Ryker’s bedroom. I couldn’t make out any of the words, which meant he didn’t want me to overhear the conversation. Resting on my elbows, I stared at the ceiling and the walls, absorbing the minimal details of his bedroom. Similar to the rest of his apartment, it didn’t have any personal effects.

No pictures.

No artwork.

No books or scattered papers.

Just the bare necessities.

Would Ryker always be a mystery? Occasionally, I glimpsed pieces of him beneath his mask, but as quickly as those moments materialized, they disappeared. Just as I thought I’d gained ground, something happened to make me realize I didn’t know much of anything. I shook my head to dispel my morose thoughts. Things were getting better.

When the voices faded, I jumped out of bed and snagged one of his dress shirts from the hanger in his closet. I buttoned it enough to cover me, and combed my fingers through my tangled hair. I hadn’t been back to the apartment I shared with Vera for two days, and I didn’t have anything to wear except for the few things I snagged from Evan’s place.

My phone vibrated on the nightstand. I picked it up and read the message.

 

Vera: Where are you? You haven’t been home in two nights. Your mom and dad are blowing up my phone and threatening to come over.

 

I rolled my eyes. My mom must have received news of my fight with Evan. She probably wanted to have a family meeting to discuss my obligations as a member of the Covington family. Fuck her.

 

Me: I’m fine. I’ll be back later today.

 

Vera responded immediately.

 

Vera: Okay. Can you call your mom? I’d prefer to stay out of her line of fire. She’s on the warpath. What the hell did you do?

 

I groaned. A couple of months ago, I would’ve shared all the sordid details of my relationship with Ryker, but now I didn’t know if I could trust her. In a matter of months, I went from having a best friend, a serious boyfriend, and an organized, predictable life to total chaos. Even crazier, I wouldn’t change anything. I was hopelessly drawn to Ryker, inextricably caught in his web for better or for worse. My soul had chosen him. I didn’t have a choice.

 

Me: Who knows? I’ll call her. Don’t answer her calls. You don’t need to deal with her.

 

I sat crossed-legged in the middle of Ryker’s bed as I scrolled through my missed calls. Five from my mom last night and one from my dad an hour ago. If I could find any way to avoid calling her, I would.

I slammed my finger on her contact. Unfortunately for me, she answered after the first ring.

“Hattie, where the hell are you?”

“I’m getting ready to go on a run. What do you want?” I responded after a lengthy pause. It was a lie, but the truth wasn’t necessary.

I heard her heels, clicking on the tile floor. I guess she needed some privacy to say what she wanted.

“Can you meet me for coffee around the corner from my house in the next twenty minutes?” Her voice was hushed.

I lifted my chin and closed my eyes briefly. “I don’t know. I just woke up.”

“Thirty minutes, then? Is that long enough? This is really important. We need to talk.”

I grabbed my purse off the dresser and pulled some clothes from my purse. I cringed. They were damp and hopelessly wrinkled. “Fine. I’ll do my best.”

When I walked out of Ryker’s bedroom, his apartment was empty. I spotted a note on the kitchen counter.

 

Hattie,

I’ll be back by noon. Breakfast is in the refrigerator. Call me if you leave.

Ryker

 

I picked up the pen sitting next to the note and then set it back down. I’d planned to beat him back here anyway. I didn’t need to leave a note.

 

***

 

Forty minutes later, I walked into the coffee shop. The rich smell of coffee flooded my nose. My mom sat in the back corner with huge sunglasses covering her eyes and her hair styled into an elegant twist. Unlike me, her light gray suit was pressed.

“Hi, mom,” I said as I pressed a kiss to her plastic cheek.

Her eyes swept down my body. “You look…tired.”

I shrugged as I slipped into the chair across from her. “It’s been a rough couple of days.”

She gestured to her cup of tea. She didn’t drink coffee. She drank herbal tea, preferably organic and single-estate. “Do you want something to drink?”

“Maybe later.”

She removed her sunglasses and placed them on the table. “Did you get everything settled with your professors?”

I leaned back in my chair. “Yes, but I’m pretty sure I told you that last week.”

She glanced at the exit. “You’re probably right.” She tapped her sunglasses against the table. “How do you like living with Vera?”

“It’s okay.”

She nodded, her teeth nearly splintering under the weight of her counterfeit smile. “That’s nice.” She twirled her mug on the table, then she lifted it to her lips. “You know, you can move home. We’d be happy to have you. You can even take the apartment over the garage, so you have some personal space.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “Mom, what do you want? What’s really going on?”

She exhaled shakily and set her mug on the table again. “Evan called your dad last night.”

I raised one eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“He’s worried about you,” she whispered as she slanted her body against the table.

I snorted. “I don’t give a shit about Evan. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop talking to him.”

Her light pink lipstick disappeared as she pressed her lips into an unyielding line. “I can’t do that. The Deverons are family friends. Very close family friends. We have a special relationship,” she hissed. “Just because you and Evan pressed the pause button on your engagement doesn’t mean I’m going to kick him or his family out of our life on a whim. That would be awkward when you get back together.”

I rolled my eyes. She was so predictable. “I didn’t press the pause button. I ended the engagement.” I unfolded my arms and gripped the edge of the table. “It’s over. Stop pretending otherwise. I hate him. I hate that I wasted so many years with him. I hate that I accepted his engagement in a moment of weakness. I don’t want anything to do with him.”

“You don’t mean that. You’re overly emotional. You’re still recovering from the…” Unwilling to complete the sentence, she waved her hand in front of me.

“Abduction. Is that the word you’re looking for?”

She nodded. “Yes, and that’s why I wanted to talk to you. We’re going on a family retreat with the Deverons next weekend.”

“You and dad?”

“All of us.”

“No way. I’m not going,” I snapped.

“Yes, you will.” Her lips pursed in disapproval. “It’s been arranged. It’d look bad if you didn’t come.”

“I don’t care how it looks. They fucked up my entire life. They arranged my abduction. Does that change your mind? Or are you too worried about screwing up your social calendar to care what they did to me?” The minute the words exited my mouth, I wanted to shove them back. I’d never been good at confronting my mom. As a child, I had rebelled in subtle ways, plotting my time until I could escape from her sphere of influence. She wasn’t used to open rebellion.

Her mouth dropped open. “What are you talking about? That doesn’t make sense.”

I squeezed my hands into fists. “Forget about it. Forget I said anything. I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I’ve never been better.” I picked up my purse from the chair next to me and slammed it on the table. “Are we done here?”

“Oh my God, Evan was right. He was telling the truth.” She covered her mouth, and her eyes flared with panic.

My heart galloped, and my shoulder muscles contracted into tight balls. “What did he say?”

“He said he thought you were suffering from…” Her voice faded away, and the silence stretched like hours instead of a few meager seconds. Then, she cleared her throat. “Traumatic bonding.”

My stomach contorted into a hundred tiny acid-filled knots. “Traumatic bonding?” I repeated.

“You know…Stockholm syndrome. When a victim becomes attached to her captor. He said you’ve been defending and rationalizing the actions of your captors.”

I glared at her, resentment whipping through my veins. She actually believed his lies. “Evan doesn’t know anything. He’s a liar. Why would you believe him? Why would you take his side?”

With her eyes narrowed in thought, she studied me like she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. “I’m on your side. I’m always on your side. That’s why I’m here. I want to make sure you’re happy and healthy.”

“You want me to be happy?” She nodded, and I shifted in my seat. “Great, then stop pushing me to reconcile with Evan. He’s not who you think he is. His dad isn’t either.”

“Evan said you’re blaming him for what happened.”

“If the shoe fits,” I spat.

“He thinks you’re still communicating with someone in the Vargas Cartel and that person is influencing your actions.”

I scrubbed my hands over my face. So this was his plan. Evan thought he could make my family believe I had lost my mind. “Mom, do me a favor. When you want to know the truth, call me.” I snatched my purse from the table. “Until then, we’re done talking.”

She grabbed my wrist. “Are you coming next weekend? I think it’d be nice for us to spend time together.”

“No, but you can give Evan and his dad a message from me.”

Her brows furrowed. “What’s that?”

“Tell them they won’t get away with what they did to me, and I have every intention of exposing Senator Deveron.”

She shook her head back and forth. “That sounds crazy, Hattie. Is that some kind of threat?”

“It’s not a threat.” I ripped my wrist away from her. “It’s a promise. If you pulled your head out of Senator Deveron’s ass for a few seconds and opened your eyes, you’d realize you need to be far, far away from him. It’s only a matter of time before his corruption is exposed.”

My whole life, I had waited with baited breath for my mom to believe in me and support me 100 percent, but I was starting to realize it’d never happen. She second-guessed every decision I made. She treated me like a naughty toddler instead of an adult with dreams and goals. Her inability to let go of my relationship with Evan had gone on long enough. If she wanted me in her life, she had to choose my dreams over hers.

“Don’t go. Let’s talk about this. You can’t make those kinds of accusations and run away. Maybe you should come over tonight and talk to your dad about some of your concerns.”

“Let me know when you’re ready to listen to the truth, and if dad wants to call me, he has my number. Goodbye, mother.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

 

Hattie

 

At exactly 11:45 a.m., I tried to turn the door handle to Ryker’s apartment. I didn’t have a key, so I’d left it unlocked. If he found out he wouldn’t be happy, but he lived in a secured building, and I hadn’t been gone long.

The handle didn’t move.
Shit.
Ryker beat me home. I slipped my phone from my purse, checking for any missed voicemails or texts. None. He hadn’t attempted to contact me.

I balled my hand into a fist and tapped on the heavy, dark wood door, lightly at first and then harder when no one answered. The thud echoed down the long hallway.

Just when I had decided to give up and call Ryker, the door opened.

“Who are you? Where’s Ryker?” I glanced over his shoulder, but I didn’t see Ryker.

“You weren’t supposed to leave without calling Ryker,” the man said, a faint accent flavoring his words.

“How do you know that?”

He tilted his head to the side and smirked. “I read the note.”

“Great, and who are you?” I asked, repeating my question. His dark eyes and his angular nose looked familiar, but I hadn’t met him before.

“Ryker’s brother.” His dark hooded eyes swept down my body. “And you’re Hattie Covington.”

The minute he revealed his connection to Ryker, I couldn’t deny the family resemblance between Ignacio and Rever, and to a lesser extent, Ryker. His face was fuller than Ignacio’s, and he wasn’t as tall as Ryker, but they all shared the same nose and eye shape. I backpedaled a few steps. “I didn’t realize you were still living here.”

He turned away, leaving the door open for me. “Ryker doesn’t let me come out to play when you’re around. He likes to keep me locked away in the guest bedroom.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, closing the door behind me.

He plopped down onto the sofa, stretching his legs out on the coffee table. “Who knows? Maybe he doesn’t want to upset your delicate sensibilities. Maybe he thinks you’ll like me better.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think he has to worry about that.” I walked into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator.

He scoffed in disbelief, but otherwise ignored the comment. “By the way, he should be back any minute. He decided to cut his day short when he found out you left without calling him.”

I bristled as I leaned against the wall and took a sip of water. “How does he know I left?”

Rever snickered. “I called him.”

My brows snapped together. “Why would you do that?”

“For some dumb reason he thinks he can trust you. I wanted him to know he can’t.”

I squeezed my bottle of water, forcing myself to stay calm and unaffected by his words. “You don’t know me.”

He scowled. “I don’t know you, but I know all about you. You’re just another entitled bitch who thinks everything revolves around you, but you don’t know shit about living in the real world. The minute things get complicated, you’re going to run to your daddy and confess everything, and in the process you will ruin my brother’s life.”

I folded my arms across my chest and raised one eyebrow. “And he can trust you? The man who stole from his family. The man who planned to sell out his dad in exchange for prosecutorial immunity. The man who abandoned his pregnant girlfriend in Mexico because he didn’t want to deal with his dad. I think not.”

Rever jumped up, his hands curled into balls. “Shut the fuck up. None of this is your business.”

“It became my business the minute your actions fucked up my life. You’re a selfish prick who doesn’t care about anyone.”

A vein pulsed in the side of his neck. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Oh really,” I said. “Because Ignacio told me a lot about you, but it can be summed up pretty simply. He’s disappointed in you. He thinks you’re worthless and disloyal. He doesn’t think you’ll ever do anything with your life.”

The air stagnated as my accusation hummed through the room.

“Shut the fuck up,” he growled, his teeth bared like fangs. “You’re lying. He would never tell you any of that.”

I shrugged. “Think what you want, but you wouldn’t be living in Ryker’s home begging for his help if it wasn’t true. If you were a real man, you’d take care of your messes instead of forcing your family to do it for you.”

I shouldn’t have said it. I should’ve walked away and waited for Ryker in his room, but I couldn’t stop myself. Seeing his face—the man who put so much destruction and chaos into motion—ignited something inside of me. I wanted to wound him and tear his life apart even if I could only do it with a few well-placed barbs.

Rever’s nose flared, and his dark eyes glowed like polished obsidian. I retreated, taking baby steps backward while eyeing the clenching of his hands.

“I don’t know why Ryker tolerates you. It certainly isn’t your sparkling personality or welcoming attitude. Maybe you’re blackmailing him.”

I moved to the other side of the rectangular coffee table, putting something solid between us. “That’s ridiculous. How would that work exactly?”

“You’re right.” He cocked his head to the side. “Ryker would outsmart you. Maybe he’s just taking pleasure in fucking you under Evan Deveron’s nose. You’re the toy he’s dangling in front of Evan’s face, taunting him. He always had a twisted sense of humor.”

“You’re an asshole,” I yelled and tossed the contents of my bottle of water in his face.

His eyebrows scaled his forehead, and he raised his hands in the air. “What the hell?” He wiped the back of his hand across his lips.

“You started it.” I snatched the marble coaster off the coffee table and held it up next to my head, prepared to strike if he came one inch closer to me. “Leave me alone.”

Rever shook his head. “I can’t believe Ignacio tolerated you in his home for more than a few hours.”

“I can’t believe he didn’t smother you at birth,” I countered.

The front door flung open. “What the hell are you two doing?” Ryker said, pausing near the entrance.

My head snapped to the side, then I eyed the coaster in my hand. “Trying to kill each other.”

Rever snorted, his shirt and face still dripping with water. I smirked, and a laugh bubbled out of my mouth. We looked ridiculous. We were ridiculous.

“She started it,” Rever said, a wide smile on his face as he pointed his finger at me.

I folded my arms across my chest and tapped my foot on the hardwood floors. “I did not.”

Ryker rolled his shoulders back and knitted his brows. “Rever, I told you to stay away from her.”

Rever held up his hands. “Don’t be mad at me. She’s the one who took off to do God knows what the minute you walked out the door.”

“She’s not a prisoner.” Ryker’s eyes flickered to me as he shrugged out of his black leather jacket. “But a note or call would be nice, Hattie.”

Blood heated my face. “I’m sorry. My mom wanted to meet.”

“Rever, can you leave us alone for a few minutes?”

“My pleasure,” Rever said, practically running out of the room.

When the door to Rever’s room closed, Ryker sat in the gray lounge chair. “What happened with Rever?”

I chewed on the inside of my cheek for a second. “Nothing really,” I finally answered. “We were tossing insults at each other.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “And water?”

My lips twitched. “Yeah, that too.”

He nodded. “What did your mom want?”

My eyes darted around the room, landing everywhere but on him. “Don’t worry. I took care of it.”

“No more secrets, remember?”

I drifted forward and sat on the arm of his chair. “I know.”

“Then, tell me what you’re hiding,” he said as he pulled me into his lap.

I stared at him for a second, deciding what information I wanted to reveal. “She wants me to go on a weekend getaway with my family and Evan’s family next weekend.”

His arms tensed around my waist. “What’d you say?”

“Do you even have to ask?” I flicked his chest. “Of course I didn’t agree. Evan fed my dad a pile of psychobabble bullshit and now she’s freaking out.”

Ryker tipped up my chin. “About what?”

“That I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome and that’s why I rejected him. I think they planned some sort of intervention during the vacation.”

He tensed, and shadows flashed through his eyes. “Do you think that’s a fair assessment?”

We sat awkwardly, staring at each other, words singeing the tips of our tongues. I had so many answers to his question, but I feared breaking our truce. Finally, he nodded. “You do.”

I shifted, and my legs straddled his waist. “I can’t deny the thought has crossed my mind. More frequently in Mexico than recently.”

He winced, then lifted me off his body, placing me on the armrest again. Wordlessly, he stood and crossed the room.

“Where are you going?”

“Nowhere.” He pointed to a white bag next to the door. “I bought you some clothes if you plan to stick around for a few days.”

I cocked my head to the side. “If I plan to stay?”

“It’s up to you.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets.

I took a few cautious steps closer to him and placed my open palm against his chest. “You’re mad.”

“No.” He grimaced as he shook his head slowly from side to side.

“We promised not to lie or keep secrets.”

He blew out a breath. “I’m not asking you to lie to me about how you feel.”

“Then, what?” I asked, searching his face.

“I don’t know, Hattie.” He backed away from me, and my hand slipped from his chest. “I have some stuff to do. I’ll be back in a couple hours.” He cracked open the door. “There’s food in the refrigerator for dinner.”

“What the hell is wrong? What did I do?”

He glared at me, his veins vibrating in his neck. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me. I’m sick of the back and forth.”

His harsh tone slashed at my heart. “Back and forth?” The anger radiating from him prompted me to take a step back. We eyed each other, sizing each other up like two boxers in a ring.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. One minute you want this, and the next you’re running away. Pushing me away. Throwing every roadblock you can come up with in my face.”

“Ryker.” I held out my hand to him. “It’s complicated.”

His hand sliced through the air and darkness swirled in eyes. “Fucking save it. I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Why are you leaving? We need to talk.”

“We’ve talked, but you’re still riding the fence while I’m all in. I picked you over my family, and you still can’t decide how you feel about me. You’re in. You’re out. You have Stockholm syndrome. Well, you know what? I’m sick of it.”

“You can’t blame me. In Mexico, you put out a million mixed signals, and then you pushed me away—”

“Mexico.” He yanked on the roots of his hair. “Fuck what happened in Mexico. I had a job to do, and I was conflicted as fuck. I wanted you even when I knew I shouldn’t touch you.”

“Why?”

“Because regardless of what happened between us, I knew how it ended.”

“And how was it supposed to end?”

“Exactly the way it did. With you running back to Evan. Tell me. How long did it take for him to convince you to marry him? A day? An hour? Ten minutes?”

“How dare you,” I screamed. “I did what you asked and now you’re pissed. If you wanted me, you shouldn’t have let me go. You shouldn’t have thrown me at Evan with your blessing.”

“I had to let you go.”

“No you didn’t,” I protested, whipping my head back and forth. “You could’ve asked me to stay. You could’ve fought for me. You didn’t do any of that.”

His mouth twisted into a sneer and he pointed his finger at me. “Are you trying to tell me you would’ve given up everything to stay with me? Your family? Your friends? Finishing your degree? You would’ve been happy disappearing forever? Because that’s what we would’ve had to do.”

My shoulders sagged as the anger drained from my body. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him I loved him, but I held back. “No, you’re right, but things are different now. I choose you. I chose you. I’m just confused. I’m not sure how to navigate everything.” I was more than confused. I was driving blind, in a blizzard at night on an unlit road without GPS.

“You say that now, but the next time something happens you don’t like, you’ll run again, expecting me to chase you and convince you to change your mind.”

“That’s not true.” I reached for him, but he held up his hands, putting a symbolic wall between us. We didn’t need any more walls. We had too many already.

“I’ll be back later. If you’re still here, we’ll talk.” He shut the door before a response filtered through my brain.

BOOK: Unveiled (Vargas Cartel #2)
4.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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