He did care. He did love.
He was angry with me about flying. He was telling me about his mom. He connected them together, somehow. A way to lose me, another person he lost. I was going with caution, but I had a gut feeling here.
He needed to talk, if even for this one time.
“You said your mom died with her lover, but how exactly did she die?”
He closed his eyes, his head falling back. He let out a soft “shit.”
I waited. Instinct told me to wait, to be quiet, to let him fill the space.
“They made it look like a mugging. A random fucking act of crime, but it wasn’t. She was stabbed three times, once in the throat, and the knife lodged in the side of her skull.”
He didn’t move, his eyes fixed on a point in the wall. Unmoving. Unseeing. “The guy bled out. They nicked an artery to make it slow and painful. Their wallets were gone. That’s how they got it classified as a mugging gone wrong, but it was an execution. The only better way to have done it was a bullet to the forehead, have them on their fucking knees, but they didn’t go that route. I don’t know why. No one was fooled, except maybe my siblings.”
I itched to move closer to him, to touch his arm, his side. “How do your siblings think she died?”
The smile he gave me was ugly. My soul cringed.
I almost choked. “Are you serious?”
“My dad set up a doctor’s appointment, sans my mother. The doctor showed him a file, told everyone about the diagnosis, and she was ‘whisked off’ to hospice. She was supposedly dead days later.” He shook his head. “She’d been in the fucking morgue the whole time, her body on ice until the funeral.”
My head swam. For him. For his mother. For Brooke, and the rest.
He turned to look at me. “Do not pity me. Don’t you fucking dare.” His eyes flared with hatred, but it wasn’t for me. I knew that. It still felt like another punch, though, almost as bad as seeing my dad’s articles earlier.
“This is how we die in my family,” he seethed. “Violently. Harshly. Cord’s death was made to look like a plane accident. I made my dad’s look like it was natural causes. My mom’s was a mugging. The end is the same. We die. You want to be here? You want to be a part of this? You want to be locked in like I am? Because the end is the same. No matter what. Today. Tomorrow. Ten years from now. Twenty, if you’re lucky. The end is the same. Someone will decide they want you dead, and it’ll happen. In this life, we wish for natural causes. I would love to die in my sleep, or even from an accident, as long as it’s a true accident. I don’t want to die because of someone else’s calculations, but I have a hard time imagining I’ll get that lucky.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. For once, I wasn’t cringing, flinching, biting back sympathy.
I rose to my feet, slowly, and locked my chin in place. “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Did he really not remember? “My father used to beat my mother on a weekly basis, sometimes daily. I was sent away to Hillcrest because she feared he’d get me too. He wanted her dead. Remember? He would’ve killed me. You said it before, he’ll probably do the same to my cousin one day. I was born in darkness just as much as you. Maybe yours is darker, I don’t know, but it’s not like I ever decided to be normal. I didn’t like the ‘light’ life. I helped others disappear too. What do you think we see when we find them? Those people are at their lowest. They’re fighting for their lives. And we’ve been too late. Have I told you about those times?”
My voice sounded dull, echoing inside of me.
I kept on, though. He had to hear this. “Girls who got away from their pimps, who called for help. We get to a lot of them too late. We find their bodies. Or we show up to an empty hotel and get word a week later their body was identified in the morgue. Trafficked girls too. It’s not just rich assholes we save people from. It’s all walks of life. Girls who left home trying to get away from an abusive father or mother, get lured in by the promise of easy money, and get hooked on drugs. Prostitution. It’s those too.” I stepped toward him, my voice soft as silk. “Those girls you turn a blind eye to, who are trafficked in your territory, in your country. Those girls.”
He watched me come toward him, his gaze matching my tone. Like a loving snake waiting to pounce.
“What would you like me to do in those situations?” he asked.
“Stop them.” Easy. “Make that go away.”
“Just like that?” He gave me a hollow laugh. “You don’t know anything, do you, little girl?”
Oh, that fucker.
“I know the reason you reacted so violently to those people Brooke was staying with was because you recognized the signs.” This was the ace up my sleeve.
I stood almost toe-to-toe with him. “I know she was being groomed, and she didn’t even know it. She was living in that filth. It would’ve taken one bored night where she went upstairs and had a drink with them. One drink. One drug. A second night of drugs. More and more until she forgot why she was with them in the first place, until she was desperate and would’ve done anything. Or she would’ve started while she was high, out of it enough where they could use a camera on her. Right?”
I reached out, my heart jumping all over the place, but my arm steady.
I shouldn’t have, but I touched his chest.
His heart was racing just like mine, unsteady and erratic. Out of control.
I licked my lips and stared at his chest as it rose and fell under my palm. “You said no one was in the house, but that wasn’t true, was it?” I didn’t wait for the answer. I didn’t need it this time. “You had those people killed, and you burned down the house to destroy the evidence.” My eyes lifted to his now. “Didn’t you?”
He stared right into me, slipping past my walls, my barriers to see me naked and stripped bare for him. But I saw him, just as much as he saw me.
Slowly, he reached up until his hand curled around my neck.
He pulled me close, crushing my hand between us, and as he bent for my lips, he said, so softly, “You’re goddamn right I did. And I’d do it again.”
Then his mouth fused with mine.
No words. None at all.
Just right now.
Need. Want. Claim.
Our mouths battled, both of us trying to dominate the other. I was almost bursting with need.
I needed to feel him.
I needed to touch him.
I needed to claim him.
I didn’t care where we were. We could’ve been in the middle of the street, but I needed his touch on me, his body on me, his everything on me.
I needed him. My feelings were hot. They were demanding. They were dirty and complicated. They were everything in the gray part of life.
As we pushed against each other, our mouths laying claim, he ripped off my shirt. My pants. I dragged my nails over his, trying to tear it off.
“Fuck,” he breathed, his hand sliding between our bodies, pushing inside my underwear, and then finally me.
I paused, gasping for air as I felt him inside of me. I’d been thirsting for this touch from him since he left. The time away, the day, had been too long, and everything was muddied around me.
When he was in me, the world righted. I wasn’t confused anymore.
It was him. It was me. It was whatever this was between us, and as a second finger joined the first, I arched backward from the pleasure pulsating through me.
He moved his fingers, owning me, and his mouth trailed over my exposed throat, my chest, to my breast, then to the other. He suckled, tasted, licked, caressed.
God. I loved this man.
I hated him, but I loved him, and clamping a hand to the back of his head, I knew my need for him wouldn’t be satiated with just one time. It’d be over and over again until I couldn’t walk, until I couldn’t crawl, until I couldn’t even think about moving again.
That time might never come.
I knew, as his mouth switched to my other breast and his fingers pumped inside of me, that I was gone.
I growled, grabbing for his pants. I took out his cock and wrapped my hand around it.
If he owned me, I would own him too. It’d go both ways, or I would burn everything down around us.
I wound my legs around his waist, and he had a moment’s notice to pull his fingers out. He caught me under my ass, and I lowered myself over him, sheathing him inside of me.
He held me, our eyes meeting, and we gasped at the sensation. I began moving up and down.
The surprise was gone. His eyes went black, and his hands tightened. He crashed me into the wall, pinning my hands above my head. His mouth went to my throat, and he began to suck, making me feel things I didn’t know a person could.
I moaned, my legs tightening around his waist.
He moved my hands together, securing them with one of his, and his free hand went to my clit. He rubbed and teased as he took control, as he thrust in and out of me, pushing, shoving almost violently.