The Network didn’t use places like this. If the upstairs looked the same, I would’ve tagged this as an addict’s house. The Network used empty apartments, houses that had been foreclosed. Not places like this.
Brooke remained on the couch, at the one end that seemed fine to sit on. Her hands were tucked between her legs, and her eyes narrowed on me again before she wrinkled her nose. Raising her chin, she rolled her shoulders back.
“I will not.”
“You will too.”
Kai went to the bedroom, grabbing a bag from the ground and throwing it onto the unmade bed.
“Kai, don’t!” Brooke was off the couch, heading in.
He began rifling through the closet, tossing clothes onto the bed. He threw another handful over his shoulder. “Start packing, Brooke. I mean it. You are not staying here.”
She grabbed the clothes from the bed and began putting them away in a drawer.
I watched for a second. There was something slightly comedic about this, and in that second, I knew Kai was telling the truth. This was a sibling fight. Brooke huffed, her eyes strained. She wasn’t crying, pleading. She wasn’t scared for her life. She was…annoyed.
She’d been wailing before, but the second he began to force her to leave, her chest puffed up in indignation.
“You lied to me.”
I hadn’t meant to say it, and both of them paused and looked over at me.
I stared at Brooke, the wind knocked out of me.
She bit her lip and her head folded down, but not before I saw the regret.
“You told me it was life or death. You told me if he found you, he would kill you.”
I was floored.
My voice rose. “You have no idea what I’ve put myself through, what you put me through! Was your boyfriend worth it?”
She looked back up. A shimmer of tears rested there, ready to spill. “What do you know about him?”
I could feel Kai watching me, could feel the weight of his gaze.
I moved my head from side to side, resting a hand on the doorframe. My legs felt as if they could go out from under me. “Just that all this was for him. Were you ever scared your brother would hurt you?”
“Yes!” She clutched a shirt to her chest. “Levi is everything to me. Everything! He’s my air, my food, my—my—my world! He’s the sun and the moon and the stars…”
Then where is he?
If he was the reason for all of this, why wasn’t he with her? Why had we gone to New York?
But I didn’t ask those questions, because my loyalty had switched. I moved to stand behind Kai.
He cut her off, tossing the rest of the clothes on the bed. “Enough talk. Fill your bag or I’ll have my men take you outside while I fill it. Those are your choices. Do it now.” He brushed past, stopping to talk to a guard before heading up the stairs.
Brooke watched him go, and she broke out in a sob, collapsing on the bed.
“Everything is ruined. Everything I was trying to do. All gone.” Tears slid down her face. “Did Kai tell you anything?”
I sat next to her, rubbing her back. “No.”
Her whole body shuddered. “Levi and I met in Mexico. It was a spring trip with a few female friends, ones Kai approves of.” She snorted, wiping a hand over her face. “Hell, I can’t make just him the bad guy. Tanner and Jonah, they’re as bad. But these girls are daughters of our colleagues, if you know what I mean. Other families.”
Other mafia princesses. I bobbed my head. “Got it.”
“Levi came along because he knew one of the girls, and we hit it off. It was a crazy week. If you’ve ever had a fling, think on that and multiply it by ten—instant love. And I mean it. I can feel it in every inch of my body.”
She crumpled the shirt into a tight ball as she spoke.
“I know I can come off as frivolous and empty, a spoiled mafia princess, but I’m not. Levi saw that. He saw through what everyone else doesn’t care to look past. I love him so much, Riley. I don’t know what I’ll do if Kai hurts him.”
“Where is he?”
She shifted to face me. Her crying stopped. “You mean you don’t know? I would’ve thought Kai would say something. He always had a soft spot for you.”
What? “A soft spot?”
“Yeah. When I left school, he kept tabs on you. I asked him to in the beginning, but when you went into the 411, I told him to stop. He didn’t. I lied about the P.I.”
I snorted. “Really?”
But the soft spot…
“What has he said to you?” She drew her leg up and leaned forward. Her eyes grew determined.
A guard came down the stairs at that moment.
Brooke moved back, watching him.
“Boss said to finish up.” He looked at me. “He wants you upstairs.”
Brooke flicked her eyes upward. “Yeah, yeah. We’re going.” But she cast me a quizzical look as I stood and crossed the room for the stairs.
Kai was leaving the kitchen as I arrived, his lips pressed together.
I felt his fury blasting me. “Did she say anything to you?” he asked gruffly.
Really? A soft spot?
“Not really. Just that Levi is the galaxy to her.”
His lips thinned, a shadow of a grin there, but it vanished right away. He stepped behind me, his hand coming to the small of my back. “Let’s go.”
I tried to look over his shoulder, to see whatever had made him so furious, but he moved to block my view.
“It’s better if you don’t see.” His words were soft, but laced with authority.
I looked down and went outside, Kai still behind me. I started for the car, but he urged me toward one of the SUVs.
When I got in, he lingered in the opened door. “Do you want to ride with Brooke?”
I always kept myself walled in, protecting my feelings. But little by little, that wall to him was being chipped away. I felt anger and hurt at Brooke for what she’d done, but there was more for him. Just more of the other feelings.
“If you’d asked me that an hour ago, I would’ve said yes. But now, I want…” I took a deep breath, trying to see my way clearly. “You.”
His eyes darkened. Desire, lust, and another ominous emotion wound its way down my spine.
“Give me a moment.” Then he was gone.
A few minutes later, he slid back in next to me.
The guards led Brooke past our SUV into another one parked in front of us. Two guards got in on either side of her, and a minute later, our whole caravan was leaving.
We turned down the block, then went around the corner to the next block—the street behind the house Brooke had been in.
I felt the explosion through the SUV’s floorboards. It was that powerful. Twisting around, I found myself speechless for the third time since coming to this state. I couldn’t say or do anything.
I could only stare at the fire lighting up the sky, the dark black smoke swirling up around it.
Kai had blown up the house.
We drove north, away from the city.
We kept on for five hours before we turned off onto smaller roads, and finally we turned on to a gravel road again. This place felt similar to the New York home, with the driveway that wound back into a forest of pine trees for almost a mile. Finally we pulled up to the cabin, which perched on a cliffside overlooking a lake. It was still large for my standards, but not one of the oversized mansions we’d been using. Water stretched out for what seemed like another mile around us. We were so far up, it was a little scary.
Forest packed us in, with trees that seemed to stretch as far as the water did. Miles and miles. Stepping out and stretching my legs, I took it all in. A shiver went down my spine. I couldn’t even see the roads out there, though I knew they were there. We’d just come from one.
Looking for even another house nearby, I saw nothing.
That shiver doubled, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I wrapped my arms more tightly around myself, and Kai approached. He didn’t touch me, but he studied me, his eyebrows pulling together.
Brooke got out of her vehicle, her bag close to her chest. She marched past us, glowering. “Traitor,” she hissed under her breath.
Something inside me snapped. “YOU LIED TO ME!”
I wasn’t sure who was more shocked by my outburst. I think me.
“You have no idea what you have done, what lives you have uprooted, what futures you have changed,” I told her in a fury. “No idea! Your lie had a domino effect. It brought your brother to me. It pulled me out of the life I was living, a life I loved. It brought me away from my roommates, my job, my mission in life—and it’s not even just me. Hiders from my Network were affected by your decision. My roommate was affected. You, you—since leaving my father, everything has made sense in my world. Everything. I knew right and wrong. I was good at what I did. I loved what I did, and then your brother had me brought to him, and ever since then, everything has been turned upside down. All because of you. All because of your lie!”
I started forward, ready to slap her. But I caught myself.
No one said a word. Brooke gasped and jumped in reflex, but even she didn’t speak.
They all would’ve let me hit her.