She still hesitated. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Look, the car won’t be reported for a while. Maybe even a few days.” I glanced up to the cameras. “Wipe the footage, then call in a random car. You have cars parked here all the time. I know how auto shops are. No one’s going to look twice. You can say your footage clears every few days anyway.”
She wanted to help. I could see it, but a girl showing up with cash, a stolen car, and a story about a connected mob boyfriend spelled trouble.
A hoarse “Please” finally sold it.
She let out a sigh, nodding. “Drop your keys for the car on the floor and give me a second.” She disappeared behind the counter, returning a few minutes later. She slid an envelope over to me. I could see there were keys inside. “That’s to the Chevy truck out back. Leave what you can for cash. I had a friend who got beat up by her boyfriend, so I get it.”
I reached inside one of the bags, took a few hundred-dollar bills, and held them out to her. The envelope pocketed, I did as she said. I dropped the keys to the Taurus on the floor and headed out. The store had been empty, and as I got to the only Chevy truck in the back, I knew she was either erasing the security footage or calling the cops.
Either way, I pushed down on the pedal, though as I headed out of town toward the interstate, I had to admit I wasn’t sure who I was even hiding from at this point.
Or maybe myself.
I didn’t have a full plan.
The first day I got to Milwaukee, I set myself up at a B&B—one where I had my own exit and entrance—before I hit up a library and forged a new library card. Fake name, fake address, everything fake, but it worked. I got the card. That got me access to the library’s internet, and from there, I searched for my father.
I wasn’t going to search for Kai. I worried if I did then he’d find me instead. My dad was the next thing. I was going radio silent with everyone else, at least until I knew for sure what I wanted to do here.
The first article that popped up was an event my dad would be attending in two days.
The second was my obituary.
Prominent local tycoon’s wife and daughter both dead. Authorities are investigating.
Jesus. I felt sucker-punched.
Clicking it, I read the story of my car accident, and how my mother’s own car accident six months earlier was now looking suspect. The fucker had been investigated. Good. I felt some satisfaction. He deserved it. He deserved that and more, so much more.
There was a small write-up on my funeral. These were all articles I never could bring myself to search for and Blade never offered to get for me. But I saw the picture of my father grieving. He had a hand to his face, his head bent like he was crying, and a woman I didn’t recognize trying to console him.
He was faking it.
My father never cried. Ever. I wondered once if he even had tear ducts.
I got out of there, clicking on other articles.
There were more than I expected. He had gotten national coverage too; and his mafia connection was mentioned in both national stories. No doubt it was the reason for the articles in the first place.
My throat thickened, just thinking about him, about the reason for those articles in the first place.
It still hurt. I thought I was over it, that everything had been pushed into the right categories and boxes and I was this professional, no-emotions operative. But that wasn’t the case. It all swept up in me again.
I usually felt the hatred. That was never far away when I thought about my father, but today, looking at his face, his name, and remembering that time, I felt mostly just pain.
By the time I left and went back to the B&B, I had a plan formulated, and I picked up the phone in my room. I dialed the number at the house we’d most recently stayed at since I didn’t have any other number on hand.
“Hello?” Tanner answered.
“You have my number?” I didn’t introduce myself. He would know. I didn’t wait for a response. “I’m going to hang up.”
There was no hesitation. “Okay. Brooke’s ankle is fine, by the way.”
I paused, then put the phone back on the base.
I didn’t know how long it would take, but I watched the clock and began counting.
It took twenty-three minutes.
Knock, knock! “Let me in. Now.”
I let out a sigh, stood, and opened the door. I stepped back, seeing Kai’s tight features glaring back at me.
I pressed my hands together. “The door wasn’t locked.”
He moved inside and shut it with a kick.
I’d expected him to come to me, to reach out, touch me. He did nothing. He remained just inside the door.
“It has to be your decision,” he growled. “Everything has to be your decision.”
His eyes were hard, his mouth pressed in a flat line.
He. Was. Pissed.
“How long have you been here?” he asked.
His eyes were locked on me, unmoving.
I swallowed. “A day.”
He shook his head. “A day. You’ve been here a full fucking day?”
Well, it was closer to a day and a half with the traveling included, but I didn’t think he cared about that.
“How did you get here?”
I gave him a look. “Are you kidding?”
“No, I’m not! I’m not fucking kidding. How did you get here?”
“My job is to help people disappear. That is what I do, what I’m good at. You do mafia shit. That’s what you’re good at.”
“I’m good at keeping my family safe. That’s what I’m good at.”
“Come on. I mean, did you really think I wouldn’t get here? You really thought I would let you confront my father without me? He’s my dad. Mine.”
“And he deserves to die.”
He was growling, nearly shouting, but he rubbed a hand over his jaw. He was trying to calm down. He looked down. “You flew, didn’t you?”
Aw shit. “Yes.”
“Goddammit, Riley!” Back to shouting.
I had to take a step back.
He wasn’t moving, but it didn’t matter. The air writhed around him, his words like punches. Everything was tense and riddled with fury.
Stark shadows fell over his face, making his cheekbones prominent and unyielding.
“Why are you mad?” I asked.
“I’m mad because I give a shit about you.” His hand went to his hair, running briskly through it. “Maybe it’s irrational, but my loved ones don’t fly. It’s my rule. It’s the one thing I held on to when I took my father’s position. Everything else I gave up. Everything. People I cared about, friends, girlfriends. School. A normal life. All of it was gone the second I took the head council position. It fucking matters, and it’s one small way I’m reassured my family members are alive. You have a shot at living if your car is tampered with. There’s no shot with a plane once it’s in the air. No shot.”
He cared about me.
His loved ones.
And his girlfriends.
It was petty of me, but…girlfriends? More than one?
His hands went to his hips, clearly frustrated. Bent, broken, but still here. Still standing. Still in the room with me.
“Brooke thinks our mother died from an illness. She didn’t.” His now-tired eyes flicked up to mine. Pain flared there. “Our father killed her, and he didn’t act alone. I’ve never told anyone in the family this.”
“How’d she die?”
“With her lover.” His nostrils flared. “With Cord’s father.”
Oh—OH! My mouth fell open.
Kai sat on the edge of my bed, resting his elbows on his knees. He stared at the floor. “I was told by a source that her lover’s family killed them both. They’re a member of the council as well. And I’ve never been able to prove it, but my father helped. I know he did.”
“No one knows?” I sat next to him, wanting to touch him, comfort him.
He gave me a look. “Not about Cord, but come on. Jonah doesn’t look like us. It’s obvious she was a cheater. And who could blame her? Her husband was a monster.”
I winced, hearing my own thoughts flung back at me, words I had spoken before too.
He stood, pacing the room. “Fuck. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.” He stopped suddenly and shot me a heated look, one filled with anger and loathing and worry.
The worry got to me, melting me. His tone, not so much.
“I don’t care where you decide to go. I honestly don’t, as long as you’re safe. You’re not a captive, even though you snuck out like one. If you and Brooke had demanded to come to Milwaukee, what’d you think I would’ve done?”
“Taken away our phones and kept us locked away in a log mansion?”
His mouth closed with a snap. “Yeah. I see your point, but you’re not Brooke. You don’t have a boyfriend that could fuck everything up for this family like she does. You have a logical head on your shoulders. Brooke would get pickpocketed by teenagers at the mall if she didn’t have guards. That’s actually happened. She has no life skills. You saw what house we found her in.”
Yes. The house he had exploded.