He knew. Of course he knew.
His thumb kept rubbing. The manager returned with three servers in tow. Each held a tray overhead. The manager set up a long table just off to the side. She spread a cloth over it, and one by one, the servers put the food and drinks on that table. They were setting up a buffet, complete with a bartender who had moved to a portable bar in the corner of our space.
Brooke squealed, heading to the bar right away. “Shot, please! Give me a sex on the beach.” The bartender reached for an already opened bottle, and a guard stepped up. He’d merely looked at the bartender before the manager went over to have a word with her employee. Within a few moments, all the already opened bottles were pulled and sealed bottles took their places.
As this was happening, a guard came over and tasted some of every food on the buffet.
He was testing, and it hit me what was happening. They were making sure nothing had been tampered with.
I had fallen in love with a mob boss.
I’d forgotten for a moment.
A wave of doubt hit me, but just as quickly, it was gone. I’d gone down this path. I had tortured myself over what I was doing. I had decided.
I had chosen Kai.
Jonah said before it was all of them together—one for all. Sitting here, seeing how the people around us seemed mesmerized by Kai, I began to think about power shifts. Everything was balanced out. What would happen if Kai forced one of the illegal trades to grind to a halt in their country? What would replace it? I wasn’t naive enough to think something wouldn’t, or someone wouldn’t. Everyone wanted to make a dollar, and bad fucking people could be ingenious.
That’s why Kai kept Jonah close.
Jonah was good. Jonah was a genius, but so was Kai. The intelligence must’ve been passed on through their mother? No, Kai had said he thought the way his father had. Both his parents must’ve been highly intelligent.
Kai pulled me from my thoughts, leaning forward in his chair.
Jonah had joined Brooke at the bar. He shook his head as she pushed a drink toward him. The guards had moved back. The servers were gone, the manager too. In our little bubble, we had a small bit of privacy.
“I know you don’t have a hand in the drug business, but if you pushed to eradicate it, what would happen?”
He didn’t blink or pause. He didn’t even question why I was asking. “A new drug would happen. There’s always something new coming down the pipeline. New guns. New drugs. New form of sex slaves. That’s just the tip. There’s gambling. Black market for organs, for bodies, for anything you want. Credit cards. ID theft.”
“Do you control all of that?”
A beat. Two. Then, “I know enough about it.”
I gave him a rueful grin. “That’s all you’re going to tell me?”
“Why are you asking?”
I pressed a hand to my chest, as if to keep it from exploding. “I thought I could help do something. Anything. But learning about it all, I’m left with this helpless feeling of how can anything be made better when the bad is always there?”
He held my gaze. The way he paused was significant before he reached over to cup the side of my face. His thumb ran over my lips, his eyes darting to them before rising to look tenderly into my eyes, taking my breath away.
“In the world I live in, it’s hard to be good. But I will try. For you.” He tipped his head down, his forehead resting on mine. “I’ll do what I can. I promise.”
I closed my eyes, his words filling me up inside.
He wiped away a tear on my cheek.
That meant more than I could put in words.
It meant the world to me.
It meant that I could stay.
Brooke was drunk, dancing alone beside the table.
Jonah was also drunk. He kept giggling, resting his head on his arm braced on the table, his shoulders shaking. He would stop, stare off, and repeat.
It was past midnight now. The beer garden had closed. I was sure Kai bought out the rest of it. Most of the staff had gone by now, but the manager remained. She approached to let us know she’d kept a lone chef on in case we wanted anything from the kitchen.
Brooke’s hand shot up. “Ooh! Quesadillas! Please.”
People still walked along the wharf, but most everything closed at midnight. I looked over at bright lights moving around at the end of the pier—some kind of event. We had watched couples walk past us in formal dresses and tuxedos. Glittering gowns. Pink. Black silk. Sequins. The rich and powerful. A few looked our direction with quizzical expressions, but none came over to investigate. Heads bent together. Hands came up to cover their gossiping mouths.
Maybe they’d been wondering, while attending their extravagant event, about who had been in the beer garden. There would be rumors that it was someone famous, a celebrity, or perhaps even a government official, because that’s what they did. I remembered that from my time with my family.
There’d been whispers and rumors about my mother too.
The two girls approved to go shopping with me in the mall had proved that. They’d asked if it was true that my father caught her having a torrid love affair and she’d really died trying to run away with her lover.
It twisted me up, remembering, and it didn’t help that I could’ve sworn one of those same girls had walked past us twenty minutes ago. Her hand had been tucked in the arm of a middle-aged man. Slender. Beautiful. And hungry eyes, because she’d been one of the ones to watch us for a bit.
“Did you see him?” Kai asked.
I whipped around, wandering farther down to the very edge of the beer garden. I wasn’t even sure if I was still within its borders. I’d taken some stairs down to a sidewalk. I could still hear Brooke’s laughter in the background, mixing with music and mingling with the beat coming from the event.
I sighed. “How long have you known?”
“That your father is supposed to be attending that event or that that’s the real reason you asked Jonah to play tourist for the day?”
He moved to my side, but he didn’t touch me.
For some reason, I appreciated that. He let me stand on my own, not overwhelming me.
“The second the guards told me where you were going.” He slid his hand into his pocket, tipping his head back, still eying me. “It’s public knowledge that he’s supposed to be attending tonight.” Kai smirked. “If he didn’t show up, people would notice.”
People would notice regardless—I realized what he was saying. I gaped at him. “You’re going to take him tonight?”
But of course. That was why he’d come here. Not to spend time with us, his brother, his sister, but because of my father, because it was already in the plans.
I looked away. “Jonah and Brooke have both told me how much you usually aren’t around. Tonight meant the world to them.”
“Hey.” He cupped the back of my head and turned me toward him. “Look at me.”
I turned, but I closed my eyes. I didn’t want him to see how it hurt.
This was the same Kai. An agenda. Three, four, five steps ahead, and I’d thought… It didn’t matter. I’d been stupid.
“Hey.” A more insistent urge from him. “Look at me.”
Fine. I did.
And my chest was held suspended.
His eyes damn near smoldered, a fierce expression in them I couldn’t place.
“You bringing my family here, me coming and spending time with them, with you, has meant the world to me.” He drew me toward him, and goddamn, I was going. I couldn’t resist. He dropped his tone, his eyes dipping to my mouth. “This is not something that would’ve happened before you. I doubt it’ll be something that happens after—after we leave here again. But never, ever think my family is not first. They’re the reason I am who I am.”
“Where would you have been if we weren’t here tonight?”
“In a hotel. Fucking you.”
I coughed. “Ah.” Some of the burn eased. Or, well, it was washed away by a scalding pot of fire instead. A whole different type of burn took its place.
He rested his forehead to mine, his hand leaving my neck to trace my bottom lip. “I’m going to send my siblings back with some men. Stay with me. See this out.”
He was inviting me into the darkness with him, but I was already there. With this one, I’d gotten there first.
I nodded, and he stepped back. He went to speak to one of his men, and after a moment, with a short nod, the guard went to do his bidding. Kai turned back toward me. He didn’t stop. He moved past me, snagging my hand. He pulled me with him, his fingers twining with mine, and we were off.
His men were ahead, some on the opposite side of the wharf, and more trailed behind us, but for the first time, they completely blended in.
A thrill went through me.