He scoffed. “And I never thought you’d defy your family for a rat either. How can you not look at him and see what he’s doing to his family?”
It was like the bad mood from yesterday had spread so he could torment his sister, but I had to admit he was asking good questions. Hard questions, but ones that needed answering. I also began to realize why he was pushing Brooke.
Because she didn’t want to face it.
She had the wool over her eyes—she’d put it there herself—and she was fine with that.
Even I knew how dangerous that was.
“Because she’s in love with him,” I offered.
“Riley, don’t—” He lowered his voice, though.
“Love is blind. It’s a cliché for a reason. She doesn’t want to see what he’s doing.” I turned toward the bed. “But Brooke, you have to answer him. You have to hear what he’s saying.”
Her eyes went to mine, hurt. “Don’t team up with him.”
I rose from the couch. “But if these things are true, don’t you want to know who it is you’re loving? If he’s like this now, what could he do to you?” I met Kai’s gaze for a moment. “You love him. What then? You get married? You bring him into the family? You run the risk of him turning on you too?”
I hated what I was saying. It was hurting Brooke, but this wasn’t about Levi himself. She had to see that. It was his betrayal. Once a cheater, always a cheater. It could just as easily be once a betrayer, always a betrayer.
“Kai’s trying to protect you from yourself, just so you know. You should appreciate having that in a brother.” I turned and locked eyes with him. “I would.”
An emotion flickered in his depths before he pressed his lips together.
Brooke made a gurgling sound. “God, Riley. You’re sleeping with him; that doesn’t mean you should take his side. I’m your friend.”
A friend who lied to me, but then again, Kai wanted to murder my father. And so did I.
“I’m on your side. Kai is too. But you’re right.” I turned back to look at her. “Maybe I’ll go hang out with Jonah today.”
I’d headed for the bathroom when Kai called after me. “If you leave, let the guards go with you.”
I paused, turning to walk backward.
It was a different feeling, this freedom with a leash, but I understood. I’d just been advocating a form of this to Brooke, so I nodded. Kai and I needed to talk, but right now, I felt like heading out.
With an entourage.
So that’s how Jonah and I came to be sitting in the back of an SUV, heading toward the Lakeshore Wharf.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“The Wharf. It’s been so long since I’ve been there. I want to see what’s all still around.”
He tugged at his shirt collar, watching the businesses go by as we whipped down the back streets. “We don’t really do touristy stuff. This is weird.”
“Come on.” I patted his leg, looking out my window. This had been my home once upon a time. It felt good seeing it again. I’d missed it. “Think of it this way, Kai was laying into Brooke about why she loves Levi. I’m getting you out of an uncomfortable family drama.”
“Well…” He sat back. “When you put it that way, you’re completely wasting your time.”
“What do you mean?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Brooke and Kai don’t talk, really at all. Kai barely talks to anyone. If he does, it’s just to bark orders. And we realize he’s the head of our family. There’s a shared respect we all feel for him and what he’s done for us, but you need to understand, there’s no confrontation with Kai. He tells you how it is, and you can either accept it or not.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Then he’ll bring it up later.” He rolled his head from side to side, moving back to watch out his window. “Mostly until his point is proven right.”
Well, there was that.
After a few more turns, we pulled up to the front of the wharf.
Jonah made a sound. Everything was bustling with activity. “I can’t even remember a time we did something so normal like this.”
“Normal like being a tourist?” I couldn’t hold back my grin.
Forget Kai for the day. Forget Brooke. Forget everything. A part of me wished it’d been a different brother beside me, but I was still happy to experience a little piece of my old home again.
Jonah’s eyes clouded over. “You know we’re not going to blend in.”
I lifted a shoulder, tapping on the door, and the guard opened it from outside. When I’d learned to do that was beyond me. But it felt natural.
I got out and began noticing everyone noticing us, and that part didn’t feel so natural, but falling in step as two guards started ahead of us was second nature now.
They did attempt to blend in with the crowd, but it was an awkward fit. If someone broke through their circle around us, one of them stepped forward and steered the person—or a child, one time—away.
Still, I wasn’t going to let it stop us, or stop me.
We picked up some breakfast first, but we didn’t sit down. Eat. Grab. Go. Let’s keep it moving. The guards nabbed some food too. They tried to sneak their eating, but when one saw me watching him, he just smiled and finished up his breakfast sandwich. These guys moved almost as one being. They had their ways, and an hour later, after hitting some shops and the Ferris wheel, I saw more guards coming and switching out. So that was how they did it.
One ride on the Ferris wheel wasn’t enough, not for me. For Jonah, yes. But he was trying to be a polite companion after I caught him wincing as I steered him toward the wave swinger. I heard a mumbled “Oh, God,” but he climbed on next to me and rode like a trooper.
I took pity on him after that.
We did the carousel next, though I selected one of the benches in the middle.
“Thank God.” He sighed.
I laughed, tipping my head back.
He smiled. “Sorry. This is just not what we do.”
“That’s what you said.” I shifted slightly to face him. “It’s not what I do either, to tell you the truth.”
“Yeah. I can see that.” He eyed me. “Is it weird for you? To go from a life where you were a professional Hider to this?” He waved to the guards around us, one going up and down on a pink tiger.
I bit back a laugh. “Yes. But right now, I’m only focused on the next step.”
He nodded, not asking what that was, and I was grateful because I didn’t want to lie to him.
“Can I ask you a question?”
His eyebrows rose. “Sure.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
His eyebrows went higher.
“I’m not asking for me.” My grin was easy. “I’m just wondering how that part of your life fits with everything else.”
“Oh.” He settled back against our bench, mulling it over. “It doesn’t. I mean, there are questions, but we learn to lie. Every Bennett is born an amazing liar. We’ve had to become that just to function sometimes. As far as a girlfriend…” He paused, his cheeks becoming pink.
I sat up. I’d thought I was fishing in an empty barrel here.
“There is a girl.”
“She’s another resident.”
“Ah.” He laughed shortly. “A doctor. She’s in my year. We work at the same hospital.”
“How do you do that, by the way? What with the constantly leaving for family things.”
He rubbed at his eyebrow. “To be honest, Kai rarely calls on me. This whole thing with Brooke threw all of us for a loop. We were scrambling. Then he brought you in, and I knew what Brooke had done wasn’t the normal little tirade she sometimes throws. It was more serious.”
“You didn’t answer the first question, though.”
“Oh. Yes. Uh, I’m in trouble, to be honest.” He bobbed his head forward in an easy, smooth motion. “But having my last name as Bennett helps. Kai will just step in, grease some wheels, and I should be fine.”
Why wasn’t I surprised? “That’s how it’s done? He bribes your way through medical school?”
He frowned. “Yeah. It’s part of our world. If I want to have some semblance of a normal life, I have to accept that.” His frown deepened. “I’m just grateful to have this time to become a doctor. This never would’ve happened if my father were still alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“He sent Brooke away. He killed Cord. He would’ve killed Kai too. Who knows what he would’ve let Tanner and me do, or get away with. He didn’t even let me live with the family.”
“What?” My heart twisted.
“I was sent to live with an aunt. He didn’t want me around the rest of them. I got to see them on holidays or if Cord or Kai insisted they visit me.”
The pain in my chest doubled.
He shrugged and swallowed tightly. “It is what it is. I look different. He treated me differently.”
He coughed, shifting in his seat. “Kai changed everything. He brought Brooke and me back…but yeah, to answer your initial question, we compartmentalize.” He coughed again, blinking rapidly. He flicked a hand to the corner of his eye. “Brooke falls in love every two months. Tanner doesn’t. I don’t know what he does. He rarely talks about women. And I…” He quieted, flashing me an uneasy smile.
I grinned back. “You have a girlfriend.”