He opened it, and I sat up in bed, tugging the sheet to cover me.
His guards were there. And I was able to get a glimpse of the B&B’s owner.
I almost snorted. That word coming from Kai was a new one. He said something more, shutting the door so I couldn’t hear the rest.
“I want to see for myself,” the owner said after a moment.
Swallowing my amusement, I climbed out of bed. It was time to go anyway. We’d stayed in this cocoon for as long as we could. Her presence just brought the inevitable. I hurried to dress and wash up, grabbing the little I had pulled out of my bags and stuffing it back in. I gazed around the room, still hearing the owner arguing with Kai.
I snagged what he’d left behind, but it wasn’t much.
I went to the door.
“—assure you, I—” Kai stopped when I opened it.
The guard moved aside.
Kai took in my bags and nodded behind me. That guard slipped inside, and I knew he was clearing the room, making sure nothing was left behind.
“Mrs. Gambles.” I had a wide smile on my face and held out my hand. “Thank you for letting me stay.” I nodded toward Kai. “But you can see it’s probably time to go.”
She looked over the crowd of men in her hallway.
“You in trouble? Why are all these strange men here?”
“Everything’s fine. I promise. I paid for the night, yes?”
“You did.” Her tone was still untrusting. “I won’t hesitate to call the police, you know.” She stared hard at Kai.
“No! No.” I took Kai’s hand. “We’re good. Thank you.”
Kai glared at her, seeming a bit bewildered.
I tugged him behind me as I started down the hall, the guards jumping into action. They led the way, two falling in behind us, and I was even more mortified when I saw some of the other customers standing in the living room, their mouths gaping at the whole show. Three SUVs were parked on the curb, waiting for us as we left the house. As we approached, the door opened on the one in the back.
I went in first, Kai’s hand on the small of my back to guide me.
We waited for the last of the guards. A minute later, he came out and got into the front seat of our SUV. He twisted around, holding out what I’d completely forgotten.
My gun box.
My stomach sank.
“You were going to shoot your father?” Kai finally asked. He’d been silent during the car ride here.
We were in house number thirteen million, but it wasn’t really a house. It was more of a warehouse somewhere outside Milwaukee with the upper floors renovated into living space. That was our domain. All the guards were beneath us and around us.
I ignored Kai, dumping my bags on a couch and wandering around. There was a loft set above, but the main living floor was large. At one end, I was surprised to see a sliding door with a deck attached. It overlooked the lake, and we were quite a ways north of the city.
We were almost in our own world. Again.
“Riley!” Kai snapped from behind me, banging something down on the table.
I jumped, looking back.
His neck was tense, every muscle rigid. His jaw clenched.
I gave in, wandering back. “Yes.”
I raked my hands through my hair, then hugged myself. “Blade offered me the gun, and I took it. I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do when I saw my dad, but I took it to shoot him.” I frowned. “Why are you mad about that? You’ve offered the exact thing, for me to kill my father.”
He didn’t answer, just stared at me as he breathed out through his nostrils. “I need a fucking drink.”
I followed him into the kitchen area. “You’re confusing the fuck out of me.”
He ignored me, opening a cupboard, slamming it shut. He moved to the next and repeated the same vicious motions.
“What’s going on with you—”
“You!” He whirled toward me, his face twisted. “You. You’re what’s wrong.”
I fell back a step, feeling slapped in the back. “What? But—”
He picked up a glass and threw it against the wall. It shattered into pieces, falling to the floor.
My mouth fell right alongside it. “What is wrong with you?!”
“Yeah,” I cut him off this time, surging forward. “You said that already. Me. I’m wrong. But it’s not me. It’s you. This is what you’ve said since the beginning. You wanted me against my father. You offered to bring him to me to be killed. Then you said you would kill him anyway. Now you want to use me against him, and what?” I flung my arms out wide. “Why are you shocked that I brought a gun to actually do it?!”
“Because it’s you!” he yelled. “It’s you.” He lowered his voice, his hand raking through his hair. When he looked back at me his eyes were stricken, haunted.
He paused, and when he spoke again it was almost a whisper. “Because—because I’ve fal—I care about you. I more than care, and I don’t know what the fuck to do about that.”
Those words almost shoved me on my ass. “What?”
He twisted around, both his hands in his hair again, his shirt stretching over his back. “Yes! Everything you’re saying makes sense. Killing is something I don’t think about anymore. I wish I did. I wish…” He snarled. “I wish I gave a damn about who I kill. It’s him or us. That’s how—”
“Him?” I said faintly.
“You said him or us.”
He frowned. “Us or them. It’s us or them. That’s how I grew up. That’s how we Bennetts are.”
“No.” I shook my head. “You said him or us. Who’s him?”
But I knew. My gut was twisting on it.
I gentled my question, “Who’s him, Kai?”
He couldn’t look away. He flinched. He tried to turn away, but I hurried over and caught him. I touched the side of his face, holding him in place.
“Who, Kai?” He had to say it. “Who? Say his name.”
He jerked out of my grasp, walking away.
“What?” He flung his hands out, stopping. But he didn’t turn around.
He didn’t. He didn’t respond either.
He took another step. Here we were again. I was chasing him. I was following him.
“Kai.” I sighed. “Look at me.”
He did, though. He looked, with sheer defeat on his face. Every inch of him looked like it’d been through the wringer, as if a truck had hit him.
“Why?” he said again. “This isn’t goddamn therapy. You know who I meant. You know who the monster was who created me. You called me a monster before. Well, I learned how to be one from someone.”
His eyes narrowed, a dangerous spark in them. He started for me, slowly.
“A monster created you too, but you didn’t turn into one. I’m about to do that for him,” he spat. “I’m taking you into my world, little by little. And you’re coming.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re supposed to fight me on it. You’re not supposed to come, but you are. One touch and you fold for me, and a part of me loves it. I thrive on it, but a part of me hates it. A part of me is disgusted when I touch you.”
I flinched. He was disgusted when he touched me?
“I am everything that’s bad in this world. You are everything that’s good, and I am turning you into me.” He choked out, “I hate myself when I look at you. You reflect everything wrong in me, every time I’m inside of you.”
His words were like whips, cutting into me, but there was goodness too. I closed my eyes, forcing myself to breathe out through my nose, forcing myself to focus on the good. There was good.
There had to be.
Find it. Cling to it.
Maybe he was making me bad, but I was making him good.
There was this fight, this dance between us. Good versus evil—but I wasn’t perfect, and Kai wasn’t evil. He just did evil things. He was good that had been twisted into something darker.
I didn’t know what to say to any of that, so I went with what I knew to be true.
“I care about you too.”
I shook my head. “I care about you, and I know I’m changing, but I can’t stop it because I care about you.” He intoxicated me. “I more than care about you—enough to see this through.”
And here was another truth. If I walked from him now, I would be shattered.
I turned to that glass, broken in pieces. That would be me if I walked, if he walked, and it was fast becoming too pronounced for me to not acknowledge it.
“You said I can’t leave again. You can’t either.”
He rubbed a hand over the side of his face. “What are you talking about?”
“I can’t leave. You can’t either.”
“Say it!” I went to him. “Say it. Now.”
“What are you doing?” He shook his head, hands on his hips, and he watched me come. His nostrils flared. “What are you playing at?”
“You think this is a one-way thing? You make demands, and I have to follow? I don’t think so.” I stopped just out of reach, forcing myself to hold firm. “Say it back.”
He continued to watch me, something sparking alive in those dark eyes of his.