Authors: Lisa Cardiff
Fog blanketed the city this morning, coating the pink blooms of the cherry blossoms in a blurry haze, making them less vibrant. Less alive. The temperature had dropped in the short walk from Ryker’s apartment to Evan’s townhome. A gust of wind, thick with grime and the smell of moisture, whipped through my hair.
This morning, I woke up in a daze, numbed by everything Ryker told me about Evan and his father last night. Even Ryker’s smiles and reassuring words didn’t improve my mood.
Like someone had kicked me in the gut, betrayal simmered in my stomach, making me simultaneously angry and nauseous. I had to do something to reclaim my life, so a half hour after Ryker left me alone in his bed, I found myself standing in front of the door to Evan’s townhouse.
Drawing in a lungful of heavy, moisture-laden air, I fortified my wilting willpower to do what I had to do. In order to understand everything, I needed more information from as many sources as possible. A chilly gust of wind whistled through the trees and I shivered, wishing I’d worn a heavier jacket.
My heart racing violently, I glanced left, then right. Looking for what?
I didn’t know. When I didn’t recognize anyone on the street, I pulled my keys out of my pocket. Evan never asked me to return the key to his place, and I hadn’t thought about it until this morning when I started planning my next move.
Ryker had warned me not to confront Evan, and I promised I wouldn’t, but I lied. I’d had enough. I counted the minutes until Ryker left this morning, not because I didn’t want to spend time with him, but because I intended to go back to the townhome I used to share with Evan.
The alarm beeped repeatedly when I pushed the door open. Thank God, he wasn’t home.
I entered the code and dropped my purse on the kitchen counter. I glanced around the room. Everything looked the same, but dirtier. An abandoned cereal bowl and coffee cup sat on the countertop. Books were stacked haphazardly on the coffee table on top of a closed pizza box.
I slipped my phone out of my pocket and texted Evan.
Me: Where are you?
He replied almost immediately.
Evan: Office hours. I’ll be here for another twenty minutes. Why?
Perfect. I wanted to search the apartment before he came home.
Me: At your place. I want to talk
Evan: Okay. I’ll be home in thirty minutes.
I tossed my phone on the counter.
I didn’t waste a second. I darted into the bedroom. The room looked partially abandoned. Nails littered the wall where I had hung pictures of Evan and me. He had stripped the bedding from the mattress. It didn’t look like he’d moved back into the bedroom after I left. I shrugged, pushing away any emotions. I couldn’t worry about Evan anymore. He sure as hell didn’t care about me.
I flung open the closet doors. I had left some clothes in the bedroom closet, not because I thought I’d be back, but because I didn’t have much room at Vera’s apartment. I stripped off the dress I wore last night and changed into some old jeans and a blouse. I stuffed my dress and a few other clothes into my purse.
After I had finished dressing, I ran into the guest bedroom. Evan used it as his personal study. I flung open every drawer. I didn’t know what I thought I’d find. After all, as of two weeks ago, I shared this study with Evan, but I couldn’t search Senator Deveron’s private files.
An empty notepad.
Nothing. I propped my elbows on top of the desk, thinking where Evan would keep incriminating evidence. As my eyes scanned the room, I spotted the black leather case of his iPad.
I stared at the keypad, searching the recesses of my memory for clues to Evan’s passcode. I recalled a conversation when he revealed he used birthdays for all of his passcodes. I tried his birthday. My birthday. Then, I tried a combination of our birthdays—eleven and fifteen. It worked. Icons filled the screen.
I scanned through his email looking for anything referencing me. Then, I searched through his folders. One named HWC caught my attention. My initials? Hattie Waverly Covington? Maybe he organized all our correspondence into one folder.
I carried the iPad into the kitchen so Evan wouldn’t surprise me when he came home. Sitting on a chair facing the front door, I touched the screen, opening the HWC folder. As I scrolled down the page, I saw at least fifty emails with subject lines referencing me, but none of them were from me.
I clicked on one from a few days ago.
Attached please find a few photos documenting the subject’s moves over the last few weeks. Let me know if you’d like to install listening devices at her current residence as well. We have permission to proceed.
My hand shaking, I clicked on the first attachment. It was a picture of Ryker and me at the park. The second attachment was a picture of Ryker and me walking out of the back entrance of the bar a few blocks from his home.
My stomach twisted as I clicked through three other pictures. All of them were of me. Running. Eating. Leaving Vera’s apartment. Every picture included a date stamp in the lower right-hand corner.
I searched for more emails from Viper Investigations. There were at least ten dating from before I left for Mexico. They contained more pictures, detailed schedules outlining how I spent my day. There was no doubt about it—Evan had someone following me and reporting all my moves back to him since we broke up the first time.
When Ryker implicated Evan and his father in my abduction, part of me held out hope Evan wasn’t involved. That he was his father’s pawn in this whole scheme. But as I clicked on picture after picture and email after email, it became painfully obvious Evan actively participated in my abduction.
I checked the clock. Evan would be home in less than ten minutes. I scrolled through his inbox, clicking on random emails. Most of them were more of the same. Then, my heart nearly seized in my chest when I spotted an email from Vera. I squeezed my eyes as my finger hovered over the iPad.
A chill darted down my spine. I sucked in a deep breath, and then I clicked on the email.
Hattie hasn’t told me anything. Stop texting me. Stop emailing me. Stop calling me. I can’t help you and even if I could, I wouldn’t. I sent you those pictures from Mexico, but it was wrong. You’re on your own.
As I sat there in the silence of Evan’s townhouse, I realized I didn’t know anything. Without a doubt, I had spent the last few years of my life in the dark, blind to everything and everyone. Every single moment of my life had been a carefully crafted illusion. All the lies I had yet to discover scared the shit out of me. How far back did the deception go? Was anything with Evan ever real? Horror-struck at myself for caring, I flipped the iPad over so I wouldn’t be tempted to read anything else. I had read enough. I had seen enough…for now.
My hands curled into fists as I stared at the door, waiting for Evan to open it. With every passing second, anger curled through my body, tainting me with a venomous fury, and robbing me of rational thought. Diabolical plots for revenge flickered unbidden through my mind. Rage sharpened my thoughts and calibrated my vision. I embraced it. I reveled in it. I got drunk on it.
Evan and his dad wanted to play games with my life. Well, turnabout was fair play. I’d spent too much time embracing my martyrdom like I was next in line to be canonized and declared a saint. Fuck that. I wasn’t a saint, and I refused to be a martyr. I slipped the gun I found in Ryker’s closet from my purse and leaned back in the chair, waiting for him to open the door.
I didn’t have to wait long. Evan walked in the door five minutes later.
“Hattie, I’m glad you stopped by,” Evan said as he strolled into his home with a big smile on his face. “I was going to call you—” Evan froze mid-sentence, eyeing the gun on the table in front of me. “Why do you have a gun?”
I ran the pads of my fingers over the barrel of the gun, locking eyes with my deranged ex-fiancé. Before today, I didn’t believe it was possible to hate someone as much as I hated Evan and his slimy dad. “I thought I’d bring some protection.”
Evan’s eyebrows slanted downward. “What the hell are you talking about? I would never hurt you.”
I raised one eyebrow and smirked. “Really? Your actions prove otherwise.”
Evan lifted his hands up in mock surrender as he shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you’re scaring me. Have you been skipping your therapy sessions?”
Clenching my teeth, I trembled with pent-up aggression. The amount of hatred and anger seeping out of my pores could’ve slayed an army. I flipped over his iPad, slamming it against the counter. Pounding my index finger against the screen, I typed in his passcode. “While you were out, I took the liberty of scanning through an email folder labeled HWC. Does that change your perspective?”
Evan stuffed his hands into his pockets and licked his lower lip as his eyes looked everywhere but at me. Fucking shifty-eyed bastard. “It’s not what you think,” he mumbled.
I folded my arms across my chest. “So you’re not having me followed?”
His shoulders sagged. “I am, but only because I don’t want something to happen to you again. Even though we’re not together anymore, I haven’t stopped caring about you, loving you. I was crazed when you were abducted. I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate. I didn’t go to class. I can’t go through that again.”
“All signs of a guilty conscience.”
He repeatedly swallowed, his Adam’s apple rocking up and down like a fishing bobber. “You’re right. I felt guilty because you should have been in the Virgin Islands with me. I made a bad decision that hurt you. All of this could’ve been avoided if I had been faithful.”
Laughing, I stood up and walked around the table. “Sure, if I hadn’t gone to that bar and caught you cheating on me, things may have been different, but then I would still be in the dark. I wouldn’t know the extent of you and your dad’s corruption.”
“That’s not true.”
The stubborn set of Evan’s jaw caused a flashflood of resentment to roar through me. What a liar. I lifted the gun and aimed it at the center of his chest. “Don’t lie.”
He took a step back, his eyes flickering back and forth between the gun and my face. “This is crazy. What are you doing? You don’t need that.” His voice cracked on the last word.
“I know your fucked up family arranged my abduction. Your dad planned everything, and you agreed because you’re a spineless piece of shit—a puppet dancing to your dad’s corrupt tune.”
He sucked in a breath as a flash of surprise washed over his face. “We didn’t—”
I shoved the muzzle of the gun against his chest, twisting it slowly from side to side. A sick and perverted satisfaction slid down my spine when I spotted the sweat beading his brow. “Shut the fuck up. It’s too late. I know everything. I know you offered me up as a pawn to stop Rever Vargas from talking about your dad’s criminal connections. I know you only wanted to marry me so my dad would have a reason to conceal your dad’s connection to the Vargas Cartel.”
“I didn’t care about that. That’s my dad’s business. I did it for us. I love you, and I knew you wouldn’t give me another chance. I didn’t have any choice.”
“Are you delusional? Are you seriously trying to argue you handed me over to a drug cartel because you loved me and wanted me back?”
A muscle twitched in his cheek. “They weren’t supposed to hurt you. I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.”
“Not hurt me?” Acid swirled in my gut. “And you think that justifies what you did?”
“It was all a ruse to put pressure on your father and force the government to fast track Rever Vargas’ release. That’s why Ryker Vargas was involved. It was his job to shield you from the ugly side of the Cartel. He promised to keep you safe. You weren’t supposed see anything except the inside of a room and take an occasional walk under heavy guard.”
“Safe? A ruse?” I scoffed as my mind marinated in resentment. “Do you have any clue what actually happened to me?”
“No. You haven’t told me anything,” he accused. “Not one fucking thing. I’ve tried to get you to open up to me, but you’ve shot me down every single time. I wanted to help you move past it.”
“They drugged me. They locked me in a room without windows until I didn’t know if it was day or night. That maniac sliced my neck, but you already know that. We were attacked by a rival cartel, and I fucking killed a man.”