His dark eyes were nearly black now. The promise of death lingered in the air, filling the room.
“Kai…” My throat closed in on itself, around that boulder. “He knows. My father knows I’m alive.”
That really started to sink in.
My vision blurred. Spots flashed around me.
I felt light-headed, and Kai began to swirl around me in a circle, the bed with him.
I was going to faint.
I realized what was happening, and then, it didn’t.
Kai caught me in his arms, carried me to the bed, and stayed with me.
I lost track of time after the first hour.
I woke up in a bed, but not one I recognized.
“Where am I?”
Brooke shifted in her seat and leaned forward. “You’re safe.”
“What do you mean safe?” A pause. It all flooded back.
“Kai said you almost fainted. He wanted you to sleep as long as possible.” Her hand covered mine. “You fainted before?”
“Yeah.” My throat felt scratchy.
“Jonah’s coming, but Kai talked to him on the phone. He said it was probably the shock of your father knowing about you and everything.” She patted my hand before inching her chair closer. “I’m so sorry, Riley. I really am. When I thought to go to you, I didn’t know any of this would happen, that Kai would pull you into this. But I should’ve. I was being selfish, and I feel horrible. I don’t know how to make it up to you, but I’ll try. I swear.” She sniffled. “I’ve been selfish.”
Yes. She had.
I looked away. “Where’s Kai?”
“I don’t know.”
I turned back. She seemed solemn.
“What do you mean? Kai isn’t here?”
She shrugged. “After you must’ve fallen asleep, Kai came out, and he was at another level. I’ve never seen him like that. Between you and me, he was terrifying. I thought he was going to kill some of his men right then and there.”
The traitor. My father.
I remembered that part now.
Kai wouldn’t return until he had dealt with the traitor. I was sure of it. Jonah was coming, so all the questions I wanted to ask, there was no point.
Instead, I asked, “Tell the truth. Why’d you run?”
Brooke straightened up, her hands falling to her lap.
She expelled a frustrated gargle, her eyes flicking to the ceiling. “I wasn’t lying about it being about life and death. Kai found out something about Levi, and I’m terrified of what he’ll do with the information. I love this guy, Riley. He’s the one for me, and I couldn’t bear it if my brother destroyed us.” She snorted, leaning back in her seat. “I mean, if anyone’s going to screw things up, it should be me. Give me a chance here to mess things up myself.”
Raking a hand through her hair, she shook her head. “I’m a mess these days. How are you?” She gave a self-deprecating laugh, but her eyes focused on me. “You seem well, actually.”
“I thought Kai kept track of me?”
“He did, but I stopped asking for the reports. You went into the Network, and I knew you’d be safe.”
That was a year after she’d left school.
I snorted. “Thanks for your concern.”
She winced. “I know, I know. Going back after my dad died, it was different. Kai was even scarier. Tanner was pissy all the time, and Jonah turned in on himself. He wouldn’t leave his room some days. We were a mess. I’m a mess now, but we were worse then. I mean, Kai was sixteen. Our uncles kept trying to become our guardians, but Kai fought them on it. I don’t even know how he did it, but finally, they stopped. That probably took seven months. Seven months of hell—not knowing if we’d have to leave each other or what. Even the actual law came in a few times, social services and such. Kai bought them off right away. It’s such a joke sometimes. Our family gets away with murder.”
That was the truth. Literally. “Yeah…”
Brooke kept going, even a slight cheerful note in her voice. “Kai said something about your father. He knows you’re alive?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer, or if I even wanted Brooke to know.
I used to trust this girl. She gave me what I desperately needed. Security. Safety. Acceptance.
“You hurt me when you lied to me.” It stung to admit that.
She folded her hands together in her lap. “I know.” Her voice softened. Apologetic. “Are you mad that I involved you or that I lied?”
“Lied,” I said immediately. That was the truth. “I don’t mind that you involved me. I would’ve helped you anyway, but you lied to me. You didn’t need to lie to me. If you hadn’t, I could’ve helped you better. I would’ve understood.”
She tilted her head, questioning. “Has Kai said anything to you about Levi?”
Some of my anger faded, but not all of it. I was torn between so many things, and between more than a few people.
I shrugged. “We were in New York for a day; then we came here.”
“New York?” She sat up straighter. “Where in New York?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. We didn’t go anywhere. We were at a house, and then we came here.”
But that first night… Kai went somewhere that first night.
“Oh. Levi had to leave for a trip. I thought he went to Boston, though.” She sounded disappointed. “Okay.”
We were silent for a moment.
“Are you going to run again?” I asked her.
She was the one to shrug now. “I don’t know. It depends on Levi, on where he is.”
“You can’t get ahold of him?”
“I couldn’t before you guys showed up, and now Kai took my phone. He gave me a computer that doesn’t have wifi. When Tanner or Jonah call, the guard gives me the phone and stands there. I’m only allowed to speak into it, that’s it.”
That was a bit much, but Kai had said he wanted to use Levi. He was his way into the Barnes family. I wasn’t even going to try to guess at what he was planning.
Unease crept down my back.
“Can I ask you something?”
I nodded, surprised. “Sure.”
“Are you sleeping with Kai?”
My mouth went dry. I stared at her.
“I mean, you can tell me to piss off. I violated our trust, and he’s the one who’s been watching out for you since school, but are you?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Because I like you. We were friends once.”
I flinched. That’s what she thought of me? A week ago, I was ready to go down with guns blazing for her. I’d been too loyal. I had put too much stock in our old friendship, and I felt more than a little bit stupid.
“I thought we still were,” I countered.
“Of course. I mean, you know, if I still have your friendship. I lied to you. I used you. I get it. Jonah would hold it against me for years if I did that to him.”
I grinned. “Not Tanner?”
She snorted. “Fuck no. Tanner’d just critique my lies, maybe say what I did was shitty. I’d have to do more than run away to piss off Tanner.”
“And Kai.” She took a breath, sadness coming over her face. “Kai will love me no matter what, but he’s never trusted me. Kai doesn’t trust anyone. He grew up being molded the way our father wanted him to be. Cord got some freedom. Tanner, me, Jonah—we were all given our roles to play in the family, but it wasn’t anything to do with the business. But Kai’s role was to take over. When Cord turned eighteen, I think my dad realized everyone was looking at him to take over. Kai was sixteen when Cord died. He was supposed to be groomed for another two years.”
She shook her head again. “Kai won’t even ask me about Levi. He knows why I ran away, but I’m back with the family, and that’s it. Once he thinks I won’t run again, he’ll drop all the extra safeguards, but until then, I’m in a luxurious prison.” She gave me a wry smile. “He’s even shipping in Tanner to entertain me.”
“Jonah’s coming too, but more to check on you. I’ve no doubt he’ll want to go back to his hospital once you’re cleared. I’ve not seen Kai since.” She gestured out the door. “I know he calls in quite a bit. The guards keep poking their heads in, asking about you.”
Speaking of which, Eric entered the room, a phone in his hand. “He’d like to speak to Riley,” he said.
Brooke nodded, staying put.
“In private,” he added.
“Oh!” She got up, shooting me a quick grin before turning to him. “If you wanted some alone time with me, you just needed to ask. You don’t have to be all coy, making up a lie to get me out of the room.”
A faint flush came to his cheeks, and he coughed. “Ma’am—”
“Ma’am! Ha.” She slapped his bicep, moving past him. “You slay me, Eric. Come on.” She gestured to me. “Give her the phone so they can have phone sex, and maybe you and I could do the real thing?” She winked, reaching behind her to shove open the door and step out.
He stayed put a second, not making eye contact. Then with a jerk, he handed me the phone. “Sorry, ma’am. Just set it aside when you’re done. I’ll be outside.”
He practically shoved the phone at me and bolted for the door.
I raised the phone to my ear, but as soon as he was out the door, I heard Eric shouting, “CODE PURPLE. CODE PURPLE.”
“What’s happening?” Kai said in my ear.