“That I lie to every day.” His laugh was uneven, forced. “But that’s how it is. We lose our footing with the council, and we’ll all be wiped out.”
“You didn’t know? I thought Kai would’ve explained…” He trailed off again, frowning. “Sorry. I thought you knew.”
“No,” I gasped. “What do you mean you’ll be wiped out?”
“Um...” He hesitated.
“Tell me, Jonah.”
“We’re only at the top because they fear us. They fear Kai. If someone moves against us, they’ll have to kill us. All of us. It’s literally all for one, one for all with us.”
My head swam. I had no idea.
No wonder Kai was so concerned about who Brooke fell in love with.
“Thank you for telling me. I didn’t know.”
“About that…” He bit his bottom lip. “Can you not tell Kai you found out from me?”
I barked out a laugh, a little louder than I meant. “Yes. Of course. Yes.”
And then, because we hadn’t covered it, I asked, “What about Kai and his love life?”
The ride was coming to an end. Jonah reached for the top of the bench in front of us. “Kai has women in every city for his needs.” Then he stood and glanced at me. “I mean, that was before you. I think?” His grin turned lopsided, and he hopped off like his life depended on it.
I sat rooted to that bench.
Kai had a woman in every city? But of course. I cursed myself. How stupid was I? To think I was special? I’d been brought in because of his sister’s actions, not his.
It hadn’t been his choice. Though maybe that didn’t matter.
I stood on wooden legs and moved to where Jonah was waiting for me. The guards moved in behind me, and we were tourists for the rest of the day. But my spirit wasn’t in it anymore. The thought of Kai’s other women plagued me, sitting heavy on my shoulders. I only did one silly face in the photo booth.
I really threw myself into the movie at the theatre. And by throwing myself, I mean I sat in the darkness and pretended I was into it. Silently. Soullessly. Just imagining all those women at Kai’s beck and call.
Of course he had them.
He was powerful and gorgeous.
I was foolish not to have thought about that earlier.
It was dark when we emerged, and if someone had asked me what movie we saw, I would’ve had no idea. A guy was in it. That’s all I remembered.
“Where to now?” Jonah asked.
We had switched places at some point after the carousel. Jonah had begun to enjoy himself, and I was the one not really here. I could hear his reluctance to go home. Hell, I didn’t want to go there either.
I moved behind him. “I think there’s a beer garden here.”
He brightened. “That’s a great idea. We should call Brooke and Kai.”
Brooke burst on the scene like a four-year-old colt getting her first run through the field. She zipped in, ignoring the guards in front of her, her arms swinging and her braids flying. Almost in sync. Spotting us in the back, she stopped and did a hop-skip-jump before twirling around and landing on the seat across from me.
“Hi, guys,” she said in a rush, smiling from ear to ear.
Dressed in leather pants, a silky, shiny skin-tight tank top and a faux fur vest, she had glammed up for the night. Her hoop earrings swinging with her braids, she was embracing her freedom.
“Finally, finally, some booze and boys.” She clapped to herself, doing a little shuffle in her seat. “I’m free!”
Jonah and I had picked the back table for a reason. It afforded a modicum of privacy, and there was a walkway beneath us, so if we had to do an emergency getaway, we could go out that way. Plus, just as we figured, the guards were already spreading out to surround us on both fronts.
The place was full, and all eyes were on us.
They’d been watching us since we entered. Two of the guards had taken position at the bar. One was trying to lean against a post, pretending to be on his phone the whole time, but people noticed. Another guard had claimed an entire table behind us. When the staff tried to fill it, he walked off with them, and I saw the manager coming out seconds later.
That table remained empty the whole night. I could only imagine they’d paid them well for it.
The attention from the other customers followed Brooke, because who acted like that? Apparently Brooke did, and I now remembered a time we went to a mall and she decided to start dancing in the food court. I’d forgotten she had that side. She didn’t care who was around. If she felt something, she did it. Tonight, she’d wanted to come in swinging, literally.
As she grabbed a menu, I knew who else was coming.
I felt him. A little tingle on the back of my neck.
He walked in at a more sedate pace, with no dance moves, but it wouldn’t have mattered how slow or fast he came. Power and authority rolled off of him in waves. His aura filled the entire beer garden, and even the staff paused to watch him walk past.
I heard someone whisper to their friend, “Is he famous?”
“Sssshhhh,” was the response.
The closer he got, the more evident it became that guards were following him. More whispers started. Someone pulled out a phone, but the guard closest to her moved to block her. He said something, and the phone disappeared. I had no clue how he managed that, but I tried to fixate on it, focus on that woman whose eyes were suddenly much bigger than they’d been mere seconds ago, because while I was watching her, I wasn’t watching him.
The tingles rose in power, zapping me. But I was calm.
When I looked up, he was staring right at me, a mocking glint in his eyes. He smoothed a hand down the front of his shirt, as if stroking a tie that wasn’t there, before he folded into the chair beside me. He moved the chair over as he sat, and his thigh pressed against mine for a moment before he settled in his seat.
“What?” I asked.
He didn’t answer, shaking his head before turning to face the manager as she approached.
“Mr. Bennett.” She folded her hands in front of her, her head dipping as if she were going to bow, but decided at the last second just to lower her head in a brief nod. She cleared her throat, her neck becoming red. “It’s a pleasure to have you here tonight.”
Oh, yes. That guard had really schmoozed her.
She reached up, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear.
She was a plain-looking woman, and she wore the same uniform as her staff: a white button-up shirt over black dress slacks. The only thing setting her apart was the manager tag on her blouse and the fact that she was the one greeting us.
Kai spoke to her as Brooke leaned over the table, talking over them.
“All I have to say is if there’s a chance we can get this one—” She pointed at Kai. “—to a nightclub, I will have died and gone to heaven.”
Kai shot her a look, but continued speaking to the manager. She had stepped closer, bending her head, and oh—what a coincidence—the top three buttons of her blouse were open. I was fairly certain only one had been opened when the first guard bought the table behind us.
Shifting in his seat, Kai reached over to touch my side, but he continued as if he wasn’t aware of the touch. He knew. His fingers pressed into my side before drifting to the top of my leg. He so knew. I caught the faint grin teasing his mouth. He was enjoying this too.
He must have seen me eyeing the manager like a starved hawk seeing a rival falcon on the next perch. And why I was using animal metaphors was beyond me. I needed to get out. Well, I needed to get out more than I had today.
Maybe a nightclub visit was in order…
But no. I had plans.
There was a reason I’d asked to come here, had asked to stay here. I just hadn’t entirely figured out my plan. But glancing at a nearby clock, I saw I still had time.
“Thank you,” the manager finished, nodding before she left.
Kai leaned back, putting an arm over the back of my chair.
Brooke and Jonah noted the movement, but Brooke didn’t stop talking.
I tried to tune in. She was asking for Jonah’s recommendation on the first shot for the night when Kai touched my shoulder, pulling me back into his side. He moved his head as if he were looking past me, his lips right next to my ear.
“You abandoned me earlier,” he said, his breath tickling me. “I could’ve used your backup.”
I turned my head just slightly so our eyes could meet. “You were handling it just fine. Besides, you left me in the lurch earlier than that.”
“I had work to do.”
He eyed me, daring me to bring up my parting words from our argument.
A flush worked its way up my back, my neck, and he felt it, his hand moving to the back of my neck. His thumb began rubbing in circles, which caused another tickling sensation to vibrate over my skin.
“Is your work done?”
Now he smirked. “You tell me.” He looked meaningfully over his shoulder.
I followed his gaze and gulped.
He saw the clock too.