NO WORDS CAME OUT OF HIS MOUTH, but he looked like he was ready to breathe fire.
I used the space and time to attempt to get dressed, starting with my underwear, but I didn’t get a chance to slide on my shirt before he finally found his voice.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He was on his feet now, every line of his muscles clenched and showing the strain of his anger. “FBI?” he spit the words. “That’s suicide. You can’t do it, I won’t let you.”
I had paused when he spoke, but now I dropped my shirt over my head, feeling a little less vulnerable partially dressed. “I didn’t ask for permission. You asked what you could do and that’s it.”
I reached for my jeans, but he yanked them from me, tossing them to the ground. “You’ll die. Are you listening? Going to the FBI will get you killed, and not a quick death either. You can’t do it.”
“I’m already dead. No matter what I do, there’s something. I tried being loyal, and that didn’t work; I still almost got killed.”
“But you didn’t,” he gripped my shoulders, his voice low and rough, “You didn’t die, and I can’t let you do this.”
My eyes locked with his. “It’s not your choice to say what I do. You won’t do it? Fine. But you can’t stop me.”
“Like hell I can’t.”
I closed my eyes, done arguing something I couldn’t convince him of. He couldn’t stop me because he didn’t have enough time to devote to keeping me, that I knew. When I opened them, he loosened his grip and was rubbing his palms up and down my arm; it made my stomach swirl with unease.
“Why? Why do you want to do this?” His voice was overflowing with concern and dread.
I shrugged away from his touch, trying to find the answer to that question. There were so many reasons, but I gave him the most honest. “Because I feel like I’ve been banging my head into the same brick wall over and over and getting nowhere.”
His eyes dropped to the floor, his thoughts shadowed. I could see his mind turning in his silence.
“Here.” I handed him his boxers. I needed him dressed.
He stepped into them slow, and I pulled on my jeans.
“There’s got to be another way. Let me think, I’ll come up with something, you’ll see. Things can change, and you’ll be safe. I’ll keep you safe this time.”
“Ugh,” I grunted, near screaming, feeling like I could rip out my hair. “That’s not what I’m asking for. You can’t keep me safe, that’s the whole point. Neither of us are safe. Those people don’t deserve to just get away with everything.”
“The FBI won’t keep you safe either. Viktor has his own informants on the inside.”
“I know.” I spread my hands out. “I figured as much, but I’m just so tired of all this.”
His eyes narrowed, but his lips pressed together in a hard line, so I continued.
“You said anything—”
He cut me off with a step towards me, “But you ask the one thing I can’t do. I took an oath—”
“To who? And what good is it when you can’t even trust them.” My hand vibrated as I pressed it to my chest, I was unable to steady it. “And what about the vows we made? Shouldn’t that mean more?”
He raised his head to the ceiling and closed his eyes, shoulders and chest rising and falling with his deep breaths. “It’s who I am, you’re asking me to betray myself.”
I sucked back my anger, my words. It was time to accept it. I already knew it to begin with, but it was still a jagged truth to swallow.
A blast from outside echoed around us. Gage was quick to get the gun on the counter, already heading towards the door in just his boxers.
“Stop.” I raised my hand. “It’s Blake’s shot gun, he always fires a shot when he gets near.” I shrugged. “Kind of his way of knocking.” I went around the small area, picking up the rest of Gage’s clothes. “Put theses on, he’ll be here soon.”
He took his clothes from me, and I looked around the trailer. “Shit. I’ve got to do something about the table.” I lifted it off its side, but the broken leg rolled away and another was hanging on by a splinter so I dropped it back down. “Oh, well.” Really that was the least of my worries.
“What does he know?” He slipped his shirt over his head, muscles in his stomach and chest stretching as he lifted his arms. The material of his shirt dropped in place, and he was covered.
“Nothing, I never told them anything about me.”
“Who is he to you?” His blue eyes snatched mine, demanding an answer.
“I told you.”
“A friend?” His eyebrow rose as he slid my gun into his waist band, leaving it shown over his shirt. “Never went further? Not even once?”
The sound of sticks snapping and heavy boots approaching signaled that Blake was out front now. I wanted to say something smart and biting to Gage but didn’t want to pull Blake into this. I opened the front door, letting in the daylight and cool breeze, as I responded, “No Never.”
When Gage’s hands gripped my shoulders from behind it made my stomach dip with the familiar touch, and his whispered voice sent a wave of homesickness crashing over me. “That wasn’t my answer.”
I craned my head to the side to meet his eyes behind me, ready to push him away if he was going to keep getting on me about Blake, but his soft tone made me hesitate.
“I haven’t answered you yet.” His clear blue eyes met mine, and his hand moved to my chin, keeping me from turning away. “Give me some time, okay?”
I nodded, speechless. It sparked a small flame of hope in my stomach, but I wasn’t sure if I should protect it and let it grow, or stomp it out before it burned down the walls covering my weakness. Gulping down feelings that tried to surface, I stepped out the front door and down the two metal steps of the trailer.
“Everything all right?” Blake questioned, spitting on the ground. His shotgun rested against his shoulder.
“Yeah. Are you all right? After the other night—”
“I’m fine.” He turned his gaze behind me as Gage came out of the trailer. “I knew you had secrets, and I’m not going to make you share them. But damned if I thought even your name was fake.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry for lying to you, but…”
“You had your reasons. I get it.” Blake was still watching Gage as he came up next to me, and he gripped the gun at his shoulder.
My skin tingled with Blake’s movement and the tension flowing off Gage as he stood silent, arms crossed, just behind me.
“Can we talk?” Blake pulled his eyes back to mine. “Alone.”
I nodded, but Gage spoke up. “You can talk in front of me.”
Blake spit again, eyes narrowing on Gage. “Well, sir, I want to make sure you don’t influence her answers, understand?”
“Well. Sir,” Gage started with attitude and took a step towards Blake. “That’s my wife, and you’re not taking her out of my sight.”
“I’m not the one she’s been hiding from for the past several months.”
“Stop.” I turned to Gage and put both hands on his chest to keep him from charging forward.
“You know nothing about this. So shut the fuck up.” His words were angry, but he stilled and dropped his eyes to mine. Then he brought his arm up to cover my hands on his chest, holding them in place. Holding me in place.
“Stop, both of you. Blake, I appreciate the concern, but I can talk in front of him.” I still had my eyes locked with Gage’s.
“You can back away from him, he won’t do anything.”
Gage dropped my hands and pulled me behind him.
I turned and looked straight into the barrel of Blake’s shotgun. “Blake. Put that down.”
Gage had the gun at his waist, but he wasn’t going for it, so I did.
“Put it down, Blake.” I pointed the revolver at him.
“Girlie, I’m quicker than you.” But he lifted his gun back to his shoulder.
“You’re crazier than me, that’s for sure.” I slid my gun in my waistband.
“You’re the one that met a shotgun with a handgun.” He grunted, with a sort of laugh. “But if you were trying to protect him, then maybe you weren’t running from him.”
“It’s complicated.” I grabbed Gage’s hand, cautious and trying to read his mood. He was silent and still, like a bomb, but I was thankful he hadn’t escalated the situation. “It was just better that no one knew where I was, but that’s blown now. And I’m glad he found me.” I wasn’t sure if I spoke for Blake’s benefit or Gage’s benefit. Or if it was the truth.
Blake’s eyes were slits. “So are you in danger now?”
“No,” Gage spoke before I could and slipped his arm around my waist. “We’ve come up with a plan. Things are going to be okay. But she doesn’t need to stay here anymore.”
I looked up to him, but his expression was controlled and gave nothing away. I wanted his words to be the truth though.
“When are you leaving?”
“Today. Now.” Gage stepped forward, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket and pulling several bills out. “This should cover whatever she owes.”
“She’s always paid up front.” Blake waved away the money.
“Take it.” Gage still extended it. “The table inside is broke as well.”
Blake took the money. “So you were just going to go? Without saying anything?”
“No. I would have stopped to say bye first.” My muscles pulsed, unsure what the hell I was doing, saying. I knew I couldn’t stay here now, now that my real name was released. But Gage hadn’t given me a real answer yet, just dangled it in front of me. It almost felt like a trick, a ploy to get me away.
He dragged his eyes between us. “I’ll go now. But make sure you do stop by before you go to say bye to Breezy.”
There was nothing to pack, nothing I needed to take if I was going back to my old life, but I packed a backpack, just in case I wasn’t going back. Just in case his answer was no, and I had to go on my own.
But I followed his lead until then, holding onto the little hope he gave. His maybe. His words to Blake that we had a plan. We.
When we were on the private jet, flying back to New York, I pressed for a real answer.
“What are you going to do?” I asked him as he took a seat on the couch next to me.
He handed me a container with a salad and sandwich in it. “You should eat.”
I set the food on the table at my side. The jet he rented was small, but decorated more like a living room than a plane.
“Just tell me what you decided.”
“Tell me why it has to be this way? When you know it will get us killed?”
“It may not. Anthony came to me twice and nobody knew. Talking to him could be safe.”
He wiped his hand over his face. “That’s because you didn’t say anything. If he went back with information, you better believe someone would have been after you.”
“Maybe.” I dropped my eyes to my hands, a little less sure than before—of him, not my plan.
His fingers lifted my chin to face him. “What do you hope will happen? What is it you want from this?”
He looked open, willing to listen and that encouraged me to talk.
“I don’t have a clear idea. I just want something different. I’m so tired of everything, and the things those people do.”
“Those people. That’s me too. That’s what you seem to forget.”
“No, you’re not like them. How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true.” He gripped my thigh. “I’m part of that system.”
“What about Shadow? Are you involved with him? Do you sell those girls?” I held my breath for the answer. If he did, then I was wasting my time with him.
“No,” his voice was quiet. “No. Is that who you want to target? What can you possibly tell?”
“I don’t know. I know names. I know Viktor and Alessandra have something to do with it. The girls she brings over from Russia, no one should be sold like that.”
“So what? You want to be some sort of hero?” He was frustrated, hand running through his hair as he threw his words at me.
“I want to be something.” I sat back, away from him. “Something more than I am now, because doing nothing has only destroyed me. I’m already ruined, but maybe I can help someone else, is that so bad?”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, he leaned in towards me, hand sliding to my face. I tried to push him away, but his other hand reached out to grip my waist and still me. “You are something. You’re everything to me. You—”
I pushed on his chest to keep him from pulling me in closer, my muscles shaking as I resisted crumbling into him. “I can’t live like this anymore. It’s not living. It’s not working.”
His strength slipped from him as he dropped his head to mine. “Baby, I’m so sorry.”
I curled my fingers on his chest, gripping his shirt in my palms. Breathing him in, I tried to take comfort in his nearness, but it was still so uncertain. My emotions pulled every which way as he built me up and tore me down with every touch.
His arms slipped around me, pulling me close. His lips pressed to my head, but I refused to turn into them. I couldn’t.
I don’t know how long he held me. It felt like an eternity and a second, all at once.
Then he answered. “Okay. But we do this together. From now on. Every step from here, we take together”
I pulled back to look at him, unbelieving what I was hearing.
But he met my eyes, and there was a determination in his. “It’s not going to be easy, and I’m not going to tell them everything, but we can give up the information about Shadow.”
A sob of relief erupted from somewhere deep in me, ripping open a part that I had locked away, and I collapsed into him, wrapping my arms around his hard waist.
“But, Regan?” His hand moved over my back, trailing up and down.
“There’s more to it.” He lifted my shoulders and waited for me to look at him. “We’re going to have to get out of this life. There’s no going back once you’ve given up information. The only way is to break all ties, all connections. And I can think of only one way to do that so we don’t have to run the rest of our lives.”
I couldn’t speak because I could only think of one way too.