The unspoken said so much.
Knowing the monster their father had been, I found myself in a position I’d never experienced before. I was okay with what Kai had done. I was thankful for it.
“He would’ve killed you?”
Kai didn’t respond. But he rolled his head to look at me again, and I saw it there. He would’ve, and that sent a pang through my heart.
I don’t know what he saw in my eyes, but he reached over in response. I waited, suspended, as his finger tipped my head toward his and he leaned down. I reached up.
My decision faded, and our lips met.
It meant something.
He pulled back, and the flutters within me multiplied.
I turned back to the window. We didn’t speak the rest of the ride.
I touched a hand to my lips after a minute, still feeling his there. And those flutters just kept flying around.
I still wasn’t clear on the plan.
I hadn’t thought Kai was serious when we pulled into a driveway, but he motioned for his men to fall back. Two started to protest, but he just turned his back, grabbing my hand. Threading our fingers, he tugged me after him.
My eyebrows raised. We’re doing this? On the flight, I’d decided we wouldn’t be again. Then we’d kissed…
He leaned in, dropping his voice low. “If anyone is watching, a couple is less imposing.”
Ah. Got it.
We were pretending. I could do pretending.
I bounced right into Raven’s cover and smiled brightly at him.
His eyes widened, and he fell back a step.
Raven wasn’t one to be deterred. I pushed up on my toes, placed my hands on his chest, and bounced up and down. “You know what they say.” Another dazzling smile.
Kai had fear now. Real fear.
“Be the inspiration for someone every day, and be the reason that person smiles.”
He cursed under his breath. “Your cover?”
“You bet!” I bounced back a step and gave him a thumbs-up. I pointed to the door. “Let’s turn someone’s frown upside down.”
I started off, almost at a march.
I knew I didn’t look like myself. With my smile in place, different clothes than when Brooke saw me last, and the sun going down, I was different. If Brooke was watching us come up, I hoped she wouldn’t recognize me. Kai, on the other hand…that was his problem to solve. I knew the pretending to be a couple was more for curious onlookers outside, but if Brooke really was scared for her life, she’d have cameras set up and some way to be alerted.
The second we’d pulled into this driveway, she would’ve known. Or she should have, if she’d followed my instructions.
Kai caught up with me, tucking my hand under his arm, and I leaned into him.
“She’s going to know it’s you, if she’s looking out,” I told him.
“You’re pretty convincing, though. I know you, and I’m having second thoughts on your identity.” His gaze studied me a moment. “You’re good at your job. You can change your perception by holding your head at a slightly odd angle, or having your hair parted on the wrong side. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? You change something on the inside and that emanates out, doesn’t it?”
I grew quiet. Yes. That was a thing—change how you feel inside and people sense it. They sense it without even realizing they do. I’ve used that trick for many disguises, but I decided to keep it light.
“I’m not joking.” He flashed a grin at me, but tightened his hold on my arm and headed for the back door.
I was still waiting for his diversion. Anything.
But he went right up to the back and opened the screen door.
I shot him a look. “For real?”
He raised his hand.
“You’re just going to—”
Amusement flashed in his eyes as he stepped to the side, pulling me so I was front and center before the door.
“What if she has cameras?”
He let go of my arm and leaned against the wall. “This is my sister.” He could’ve yawned from the alarm that wasn’t in his tone. “If she’s here, we’re safe.”
As if on cue, I heard from inside, “Coming! Hold on.” Someone was running up some stairs.
“Kai!” I hissed under my breath.
He motioned to me. “You know what to do. Get her to open the door.” He shook his head. “This is going to be anticlimactic. I feel like I should apologize to you for this.”
“All of this—” I motioned between us. “—for a fucking knock on a door?”
He raised an eyebrow just as the person got to the other side of the door.
“The climactic part was finding her,” he said.
“Coming! Hold on. This door jams sometimes.”
It was Brooke. She was fumbling with the door.
She started to open it, but it got stuck. “Oomph! So sorry. Again. Crappers. I don’t have the strength.” One big tug and the door swung open, almost clipping her in the face.
I kept my face half turned, my eyes drilling into Kai’s.
He’d been casual, but the closer Brooke came to facing us, all that dropped from his face.
His jaw firmed, and he straightened from where he’d leaned on the wall.
Brooke pulled the door all the way open and stopped, staring at me. “Uh… Where’s the food?”
My chest lifted, and I pivoted swiftly to look at my old roommate.
Her eyes popped open and her mouth fell. “Wait! What? Riley?!” She started to step out at the same time Kai decided he’d had enough.
He spoke into his hand. “GO!”
And he moved forward at an alarming speed. He had grabbed her around the throat, pushing her inside, before either of us comprehended what was going on. Once inside, he held her against the wall.
“Wha—KAI!” She began twisting around, hitting at his arm.
“Kai!” I tried to pull him off.
His arm was cement solid, but I could see the hold he had on her throat was tightly controlled. He wasn’t hurting her, just pinning her in place. She wasn’t gasping for breath. I didn’t think there’d even be redness when he let her go.
Her eyes were wild, taking me in too. She flailed and jerked like a wild animal.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER, YOU ANIMAL? YOU PIECE OF SHIT. YOU MURDERER. YOU—”
“Enough!” he roared.
The front door of the house busted in, and his guards began a sweep.
Kai looked around, still holding her in place. “Who else is here, Brooke? Who else is here?”
She couldn’t stop looking between us. “No one! And why is Riley here? What did you do to her? You brought her into this?!”
He snapped back to her, moving to invade her space. “No.” His nostrils flared. “You did. You brought her into this the second you showed up at her house, and you know it.” His jaw clenched, a vein pulsing at the side of his neck.
Brooke saw it too, and gave up the fight. Her head leaned back against the wall, and her hands fell to her sides.
She began crying instead. “What did you do to him? You’re the reason he’s not answering my calls today, aren’t you? What’d you do to him, Kai?” Her hand balled into a fist. She raised it and pressed down on his arm. “Please, Kai. Don’t hurt him. I love him. Please don’t hurt him.”
I backed away.
The guards were moving behind us. Three thundered downstairs.
Their yells of “clear” ricocheted around us.
“What is she talking about?”
Both Bennetts heard my quiet question. Both stilled.
Brooke frowned, her bottom lip pausing in its trembling. Understanding dawned, and her fist fell away from his arm again. “Oh, Kai.” A whispered regret. “What did you do?”
“All clear,” one of his guards yelled for the last time.
Kai dropped his arm from his sister and pointed downstairs. “Down. Now.”
She pulled her gaze from me, meeting his. “What did you do to both of us?”
She didn’t expect an answer. A defeated slump in her shoulders, she headed down.
I started to follow.
Kai’s hand touched my hip, halting me.
He inclined his head, his voice so soft only I could hear. “Please don’t think the worst of me right now.” He caressed my waist a moment, then rested his forehead to mine and expelled a sudden rush of air. His entire body had been tense. Some of it now dissipated.
I watched as the tension returned, and he moved away, his head down.
“I haven’t earned it with this one,” he added.
He went downstairs to deal with his sister, and as was my pattern, I followed.
Kai pointed to the bedroom as soon as he got downstairs.
The basement was filthy. There wasn’t a better word to describe it. The couch Brooke sat on looked like it had dried milk on one end, right over its mustard paisley pattern. The rest of the room wasn’t any better. Empty water bottles filled one corner. Pizza boxes littered the floor. A television sat on a card table, a PlayStation on top and game controllers down below. A faint musty smell lingered, mixing with old cigarettes and dried puke.