Blade: Just be safe and come home.
I didn’t respond, instead sliding out of bed and going to wash and change. My old clothes went back into the bag. I had it over my shoulder, sneakers on, a hat pulled low on my forehead when I left the room.
I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe a small part of me just wanted to run from what was happening to me.
I turned down the hallway, moving briskly, and headed down the stairs. As I approached the front door, I didn’t look behind me to see who was in the kitchen. Some of Kai’s guards were likely awake; that was to be expected.
I wasn’t expecting to see the entire group already in the driveway, throwing bags into the SUVs.
Kai stood next to the one we’d ridden in, his arms folded over his chest as he listened to one of the guards. They were looking at a map and a phone. Kai nodded before looking up. His eyes found me immediately.
I should’ve been used to feeling singed every time that gaze found me. I wasn’t. The burn spread inside of me.
He didn’t seem surprised at the sight of me, and I firmed my mouth. He already knew. They already knew.
They’d been expecting me.
I let out a sigh, coming down the steps and meeting him at the door of the SUV.
He reached for the door handle before I could, but didn’t open it. He moved to stand close, his body heat warming me. “You and your pal had a nice chat.”
I looked away. Most of the men were in their SUVs already. Only a few were waiting for us. One came behind me from the house. I could only assume he had locked up.
“What do you expect? I hide people, not find them. It’s not a good feeling.”
He still didn’t open the door, and I looked up, meeting his eyes.
There were a myriad of emotions there.
After a moment he opened the door. I got in, and he shut it behind me, walking around to the other side. As the guard opened Kai’s door, he sat beside me.
After we’d driven for a half hour in silence, I remembered something. “What about Brooke’s boyfriend?”
Kai had been reading on his phone, and he lifted his head. “He’s not a problem.”
I frowned. “Kai—”
“Don’t, okay?” His tone stopped me. “You hate me. I get that. And I get why, but your body doesn’t.” His eyes trailed down, warming said body even further as he went to my feet and back up. “As long as you remain in my company, can you shove the indignation? I am a Bennett. This is what my family does. You know this, and you stayed. Deal with your decision.”
Well. Consider me slapped back.
He has a point, a voice whispered in my head, but instead of addressing that, I put my headphones on and turned up my music.
There was a slight sting in my mouth, though.
? ? ?
Here it was. Here was the time, as I looked out my window on a private plane over West Virginia, that I needed to do some soul-searching. Kai had been right with what he said before.
I did know who he was. I knew the family he led. I knew the lengths he would go to, had gone to already, and I’d stayed.
I knew who I had let inside my body.
But I was still twisted up inside. I needed to decide: stay or go. Help Brooke or just leave.
Sleep with him again, or not.
It had to end.
It had felt right to get those coordinates from Blade. It felt right to get a text message about finding someone, so I had to go help that someone. That synced perfectly inside of me. It was what I was meant to do.
Then I walked out into the main cabin of the airplane and there was an entire envoy of mafia guards, as well as their leader. He was actually sleeping for once, his head resting back on his seat. And yes, I felt the tug inside.
Full lips. A jawline that melted me. Cheekbones that said, “Oh hello there.” And those eyes that could undress me with a look. They almost had. But Kai’s looks weren’t the problem, though they contributed. It was more. There was something in him that beckoned to me.
I hated what he did. But I didn’t hate him.
I lusted after him. But I loathed his job.
Still, my physical weakness—or whatever was going on—wasn’t right. Remembering how I’d felt when I got Blade’s text, I knew my decision. Kai wasn’t the issue, not really. I wanted to remain with the Network. I wanted to keep helping people. I had to. It had once been me who needed help. It’d been my mother. There were others out there like us.
Kai and me, we had to end. No more.
I returned to my seat by the window and thumbed up my volume. Anything to distract me, because I didn’t want to feel the boulder in my stomach.
We landed in Minneapolis and were quickly swept into the back of a car this time, rather than an SUV. The guards had those. Kai and I had two guards with us, counting the driver, but it seemed more intimate, more quaint.
I looked over at Kai, who was watching out the window, and for a split second I felt like we were all friends road-tripping to see another friend.
“Aren’t they supposed to have snow here?” I asked.
Kai turned to look at me, his eyebrows pinched together. “You live in Canada.”
I kept my face neutral. “I know.”
His eyes narrowed. “You’re fucking with us.”
It was summer. Of course I was fucking with them.
But I still hid my grin, feeling a bit punchy. “Can I choose the next house we stay at? I mean, you guys rent them, right? You haven’t bought all of them…”
Kai’s expression didn’t waver.
Shit. He did.
“Really?” I choked out.
His nod was faint. “Except the hotel. And who said we’re staying anywhere?”
That shut me up—for a moment. “We’re going to Brooke right now? I thought there’d be a plan, a meeting time, blueprints plastered on the wall. You know…” I waved my hands in the air. “A whole marker board that we can flip over and start writing on the other side when a new idea comes to us.”
He sat motionless. “Is that what you do on your 411 missions?”
“No.” Look at that, my pants became so interesting. I dusted off some lint.
Kai must’ve taken pity on me. “We are staying somewhere,” he relented. “But we’re picking up my sister first.”
Forget the lint. My head whipped back up. “We’re going now?”
He nodded, returning to his phone. “Mmmm-hmmm.”
“But—” My mouth was gaping.
They were moving too fast. Things had to be planned. I wasn’t kidding now.
“What’s the plan?” I snorted. “Going up and knocking?”
Again with the gaping mouth. “Are you serious? You can’t be serious. Brooke will…” Jonah had told me to go. Wait. No. Tanner said that. “Tanner said you needed my help or Brooke will do something stupid. She’ll get someone killed.”
Kai remained focused on his phone, scrolling up to read something. “Tanner lied to you.”
“But, why would he lie to me?”
“Because he didn’t want to babysit you?” Kai sighed, putting his phone away and resting his head against his headrest. He looked me over, a faint trace of amusement tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Tanner had a friend putting on a show at Fortune. He didn’t want to drive all the way to Cowtown with you.”
I… I had no words.
Not just because of Tanner, who was an ass, but because of Kai, who was smirking at me.
It was doing dangerous things to me. “Stop that.”
And damn him, because he knew what I was talking about. His smirk only deepened.
“But Jonah said—”
“I don’t know what Jonah said, but he wanted to get back to his job. He also didn’t want to have to stay and babysit you.”
“Both your brothers lied to me?”
He nodded. “They did, yes.” There was a twinkle in those dark eyes now. He didn’t look like the head of an international mafia family. He looked like a guy Carol would’ve fawned over if she saw his picture in a magazine.
I felt a flutter in my chest.
Kai was young for what he had to handle. He’d taken over the family at sixteen. And he’d murdered his father to do it.
Clearing my throat, I said, “What assholes.”
“Can you blame them?”
No. “Jonah wanted to get back to his job?”
“His residency.” Kai kept watching me as he spoke.
It should’ve been even more unsettling, but it wasn’t. He was warm. He was being honest. I could see that, and somehow we felt like friends in this moment.
“He’s wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. It’s difficult at times, though. Family comes first. A job like that, a family like ours, he gets caught in the middle a lot.”
“He’s young to be a doctor.”
“He’s a genius.”
That’s right. So was Kai.
My words were out before I realized I was going to ask. “How do you do it? Handle everything, think the way you do? How do you… I think I’d go mad just trying.”
He rolled his head to face forward and lifted a shoulder. “I got it from my dad. I think the way he thought.”
Which was why Kai had moved first.
“He sent me to college early, like Jonah. I had the scores for it, but he assumed I was going back after Cord passed.” His mouth closed. His eyes grew hard.
He’d assumed wrong.