I’d felt a tug in my gut toward the elder Bennett. He was dangerous too. I couldn’t have explained how I knew, but I felt it. I could taste it. Brooke’s father wasn’t the more dangerous of the two. Kai was. I couldn’t take my eyes from his face. And he knew it—and how I felt that too, I had no idea.
He’d known the effect he had on me, and it wasn’t normal, but he didn’t care. A wave of embarrassment washed over me, heating my neck and cheeks, and it was only then that I tore my gaze away to bring Brooke closer to me. I wasn’t sure if I was comforting her or myself.
“Papa,” she’d rasped out, her body stiff in my arms.
My skin had crawled when I heard his voice.
I’d tried to check my reaction, but when I looked away, my gaze skimmed over Kai, and his nostrils flared. He knew what I felt in response to their father; I couldn’t hide it. Instead, I lowered my head and held still. I was a statue, the way I’d been when my father paced the house, in the moments his anger left their bedroom.
“Dude!” A hand waved in front of my face.
I crashed back to reality. It left a sour taste in my mouth.
I was here in the cabin, not at the school. Not on those steps. Here, Cowtown. Calgary. I wasn’t there anymore, but man, I felt trapped in the past.
“Riley.” Carol’s head turned as she spoke to someone. “She’s out, like out out. It’s weird.”
Carol stepped backward as Blade came forward.
I pulled myself out of my memories and gazed at them, standing together as they regarded me, their arms crossed over their chests.
“I’m fine. Sorry.” My insides trembled. I coughed and tried to steady my voice. “I mean it. I just got…shaken for a bit.”
Blade grunted. “I’ll say.” He went back to his computer and turned off the news a second later.
They stared at me.
“You know the Bennett mafia family?” Carol asked, speaking almost as gently as Mrs. Patricia had all those years ago.
That was the crux of it all. Even all those years ago, I’d known who they were.
There’d been another time, one I didn’t piece together until later when I’d heard my father speak of them, and he’d been scared. He’d been on the phone in his study, and I’d been passing by the door. I’d heard him and stopped.
I’d never heard my father scared, and he was terrified that day.
I’d pressed my ear to the door, and I hadn’t moved until he’d ended his phone call. I didn’t know who the Bennett mafia were at that point. I just knew the name Bennett made my dad nervous, and I’d figured that was a good thing to know. A very good thing to know.
Maybe I should’ve put two and two together the first day I met Brooke, but it hadn’t been like that.
Brooke was bubbly. She was one of those girls who could’ve had anything or anyone, even at that age, and she was still nice. That amount of power corrupted a person, but not her.
Even though she was an extrovert and lively and opinionated and loud, she was warm and mostly down-to-earth. Okay, maybe not down-to-earth, but she was kind. That overrode everything.
She was humble. She was extra, but she was humble.
That had said so much to me, even back then, and as I looked at the black screen where her brother’s image had been not long ago, I wondered if she had remained true to herself until she went missing.
I felt Carol and Blade waiting for me to talk. Lowering my head, like I’d done all those years ago, I started to explain. “For a year and a half of my life, before everything went to shit, Brooke was my best friend.”
? ? ?
It was two-fifteen in the morning, and I stared at my roommates.
They were curled up in blankets, sleeping in the living room. Blade had taken the chair, his long legs resting on the coffee table. Carol was twisted in her blanket on the couch across from me. A dribble of drool glistened on her chin, and her hair had fallen over her face.
They’d sat and listened to me as I told them everything.
What I’d said wasn’t a total revelation. Blade knew I knew Brooke Bennett. They just hadn’t known how much I cared for her or how much I loathed her brother. I’d told them about the day her brother and father came to see her.
I’d told them how Brooke’s father took her into the park, how she didn’t want to go with him.
How they’d talked.
How Kai Bennett had stared at me as we both waited, his eyes lifeless and cold.
I told them how I’d been scared to move, to look at him, to make a sound. I’d felt the same fury and violence from him that I’d seen from my father, and it had almost made me piss myself.
And then I told them how as I stood there, I’d heard Brooke cry out.
She’d folded to the ground, sobbing, as her father stood over her.
He’d just watched—watched as his little girl, his only girl, fell apart in front of him, and he hadn’t made a move to comfort her.
I’d moved to try to go to her, but Kai had blocked me.
“She’s fine,” he’d said, like I was trying to bat a mosquito.
I’d hated both him and his father with the same passion in that moment. Unable to hold my anger back, I’d glared at Kai.
He hadn’t cared. He hadn’t even batted an eye. He’d just stared back at me, unblinking, no reaction.
When his father came back, Kai had turned to follow him.
They were both silent as they returned to the car, and almost without a pause, both got back inside.
But there had been a small pause, because that was the only time I saw her brother hesitate.
The guard had opened their father’s door, and Bennett Sr. got inside. The door shut right away, and that guard returned to the third SUV. But Kai stood there a second, just a split second.
His gaze went to his sister, who was still crumbled in a mess on the ground.
She rocked herself, her sobs shattering me. It was the sound of true agony, as if someone had torn her soul from her heart, and he’d stared at her. One blink. His face had shuddered. Then his father had called him from inside the car, and the emotion was gone. Anything he’d felt had vanished. His face was devoid of all emotion as he’d sat inside.
The door closed.
His guard returned to his seat in this third SUV, and at once, all of the remaining guards returned to their vehicles.
There was a second’s pause before the caravan moved forward.
One by one, the four SUVs had left, and as soon as they were gone, I’d sprinted for Brooke. My heart was in my throat as I slid to my knees beside her, wrapped my arms around her.
Her hand had fisted my shirt as she spoke. “He said—he said. Ka—he killed my brother.”
Kai had killed him.
There was a creak from the floorboards outside my door, and I looked up.
It’d been two days, but Blade still had concern in his eyes. Not that I could blame him.
This wasn’t me. Not usually. Not anymore.
I’d been in a stupor since the news broke about Brooke being missing. There’d been no new reports, just speculation that it had something to do with the Bennett family. I knew that family was big news, but they resided up in Vancouver—Canada, where we were. Still, when news broke about Brooke, Blade monitored the stations in the States, which had learned who exactly Brooke was related to. Images of Kai Bennett, along with Tanner and Jonah, flooded the networks. It was the biggest news story down there, though the local news channels around here were more subdued. They were aware of how the Bennett family worked. If they said anything too outlandish or hinted that one of the Bennetts had something to do with Brooke’s disappearance, they would feel the full force of the Bennetts’ power.
It had happened before.
A reporter produced a full-hour show about the Bennett family, and she was fired the day it aired. There was no word about where she went. There were pictures of her later on blogs, but all with her shielding her face and hiding from the camera.
I never heard a peep about that reporter after that, and she never worked as a journalist again—I knew that much because a Google search of her name brought up nothing, not even from the channel that fired her.
“You going to work tomorrow?” Blade asked.
Shit. I jumped where I’d been sitting at my desk.
He leaned against my doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. Today he wore a black tuxedo vest, still no shirt, and his dreadlocks were pulled back in a loose ponytail.
“Um…” I groaned. I’d had the last five days off for what the nursing home thought was a family vacation.
“You might want to get a spray tan, since, you know.” He smiled.
Since they all thought I’d been in Florida visiting a grandma who didn’t exist.
He was right. I had a tan from being outside and doing what yard work I could between our “errand” and my time watching the news, but it wasn’t a Florida tan.
I sighed. “I should go now. It’s my turn to cook tonight.”
His eyes got big. “Spaghetti? Please spaghetti?”
Blade enjoyed the gluten-free vegetable meatball spaghetti with zucchini noodles I made, and so did I. We worked to keep our bodies in the best shape for work reasons, but Carol wasn’t the same.