HE HAD HIS ARM AROUND ME, DRAGGING me to the front of the club. Dragging because my feet wouldn’t move. I wanted to look back, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Anthony was dead. Anthony.
Then we weren’t moving. Gage had his hands on my shoulders, saying something.
“…Stay. I’ll be quick.” His hands dropped away, and he jogged back to where Anthony and the other man lay dead, leaving me at the club entrance.
I took a breath and followed, not caring what his instructions were. I needed to see what he was doing. I needed to figure out what he had done. He had his gun out as he went around the perimeter of the place, checking the office and back rooms. I stopped following and stood in the middle of the room, waiting, watching.
He ended his search at the people he killed. He crouched beside the other man and checked his pockets, pulling the dead man’s phone out with a gloved hand.
Did he always have those gloves on? That image hit me harder than the bodies on the ground, he had been prepared, and I knew nothing. He had truly betrayed me, but how far did it go?
“Stay back.” Gage pointed to the blood soaked ground. “Watch where you step, you don’t want to leave prints.” He only flicked his eyes to me for a moment before refocusing on the screen. “He already told someone about Viktor, but I don’t see any messages mentioning us by name. Fuck, they probably already told who they were meeting though.”
I couldn’t look at Gage. My eyes were stuck on Anthony. He had walked in here for me, but I led him to his death.
“I hope they did.” I crossed my arms to keep still but then gave up trying, not seeing the point, and I went to Anthony’s side. I laid my hand on his chest but pulled back immediately. He was already stiff, chest inflated unnaturally. It didn’t feel like him. My vision blurred, tears filling my eyes beyond my control.
Gage was pulling on my arm, but I resisted.
“Get up. What are you doing?” He used both hands to lift me to my feet and turned me away from the scene.
“What the hell are you doing?” I pushed at him, but he pulled me into him, restraining me in an embrace that use to give comfort but now only made me sick with anger.
“Trying to keep us alive.” His arms held mine down as he pulled back and met my burning eyes with a look that gave me pause. Concern filled them, but it was the urgent, almost panic, spark in his gaze that froze me. “Calm down for one minute so I can put these phones back.”
I didn’t move, and he dropped my arms.
“Don’t touch anything. Stay here.” He stepped back slow, testing that I would listen.
I twisted to watch him but kept my feet still. He slipped to the backroom for a quick moment and then returned, crouching beside Anthony. He hesitated with Anthony’s phone in his hand, and his eyes slid up to meet mine, his gaze icy as he looked at me.
“He’s the one that set you up, not me. He was recording everything you said.” He held up the phone, but I couldn’t make out what was on the dark screen. He pressed some buttons and then wiped the screen on Anthony’s pants. “I cleared it. I hope that’s enough,” he spoke low as he slid the phone into Anthony’s pocket. “I would take it, but we don’t want anything connecting us to this.” He rose to his feet and his blue eyes pierced mine, determination making them sharp. “Let’s go.”
I walked on my own so he wouldn’t pull me this time. I had to stand on my own, that’s the only thing I kept thinking. Nothing else made sense. I quickened my pace as he came next to me, not letting him touch me.
We both pulled our hoods up as we stepped out of the doorway of the club into the chilling wind blowing dark clouds in.
“Did you park on Connecticut?” He ducked his head against a gust and I nodded, mute.
We walked in silence; cutting through warehouse parking lots and side alleys to get to the car.
“I’ll drive.” He reached his hand out for the keys, his gloves no longer on.
I handed them over, not wanting to drive. My world was spinning, and nothing seemed real.
The moment I sat in the passenger seat, I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temple, trying to block out all my senses, needing all my energy to process and make sense of everything. But I couldn’t. Not on my own.
“Why did you do it?” I asked Gage with a cracked voice. My throat like sandpaper.
He flashed his eyes to me, pulling off the curb we were parked on. “Because I had to.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I pressed when it was clear he wasn’t saying anymore.
“Tell you what?” He was close to shouting, voice sharp. “You honestly think I knew that was going to fucking happen?” He stopped in the middle of the empty street, throwing the shift into park and twisting in his seat to face me in one forceful movement. “That I sent you in there alone to tell him shit just so I could kill him?”
Yes. I did. And the fire in his eyes didn’t look like he was sorry about any of it. He looked wild. Dangerous. Someone who would take whatever they wanted no matter who they hurt, including me.
I leaned away as he came at me, but I couldn’t move quick enough. He gripped my shoulders, leaning into my space.
“Think. Think for a moment. Why would I do that?” His eyes bounced over me, and his grip relaxed on my arms. He softened and deflated as he exhaled, and his hands slid over my shoulders and arms. “Babe, you’ve got to trust me.”
I pushed off his touch. “No, I don’t. Not when you do things like this. You killed him.”
His hands had hung in the air between us, but he curled them into fists now and pulled them back to his body. His muscles went rigid and jaw flexed under his skin. “Was I supposed to let him shoot me first? You saw that. He was going for his gun, his partner already had his gun out and on me.”
The truth in his words cracked my anger a little, I wanted to reach through and believe in him.
“But you came in there with your gun up.”
“I saw that other guy sneak into the back, so I came through the front. But he had you cornered, and his hand kept fucking going to his pocket. I wasn’t taking any chances.” He ran his hand over his head, knocking off his hood and tugging at the ends of his hair. “It was them or us. And they might have fucking screwed us already.” He looked around the car, chest rising and falling as something built in him. A storm, the flash in his eyes was a warning. He directed it at me, his energy blowing down my defenses. “Why can’t you see it? I did this for you. For us. All of this. Everything I’ve done since I’ve got you back has been for you. And now this fucking plan has blown up, and I need you to—I just need you.”
He broke first. His head dropped, and his hands reached for me, one grabbing my hand, the other my leg. “I need to know you’re here with me and not going to run.” His breathing strained, the tension in the air making it hard. The dark despair in his eyes stole my heart. “But I can see it in you. You’re going to jump the second I turn my back.”
I shook my head, but I couldn’t deny what he said. “I just don’t understand what happened. Make me understand,” it was more of a demand than a request.
“How can I, when I’m not sure either?” But he was speaking calmer now, and that helped to calm me. He watched his hand move absently on my leg. “I was walking up on the club like we discussed, but you weren’t out there.” The lines on his hand strained slightly, and I knew that had been my first mistake, even if he didn’t say it out loud. “I saw that guy slip into the back though, so I went to the front. I still have the keys for the place and was able to let myself in. I could hear you two talking, and he sounded angry, but when I saw he had you cornered, plus knowing he had some other asshole in the place, I had to put an end to it.”
There was a strong thread of anger to his words, but he was trying to keep calm. His muscles strained, but his touch stayed soft on me. “Even then, I wasn’t planning on killing him. I wanted to question him and find out what the hell he was doing. I pulled my gun because he reached for something in his pocket. It was his phone so I took it. But it’s like I said before, we have to be prepared for anything, and when I pulled him to the other room and that guy put a gun to my head, I reacted.” He paused a moment before continuing, trying to read my reaction, but I had none. Not yet. “It worked for our benefit that they both pulled their guns. I used Anthony’s to shoot his partner and pulled him in the line of that guy’s bullet before it could hit me. Only thing is, now we can’t ask them questions.”
I let his story sink in and shaped my thoughts around it, wishing I hadn’t been so quick to accuse him. But I couldn’t stop being skeptical.
“What about Viktor, did you know he was with the FBI?”
“What?” He flinched back a little. “Viktor’s FBI? That’s not right. He’s some political lawyer or something, not FBI.”
I shook my head. “Anthony said he was head council of the task force.”
He sat back in the drivers seat and pulled out his phone, frowning at the screen. “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out. There’s a lot we need to figure out right now. Let’s get home, okay?” He set his phone on the console and shifted the car to drive.
Text messages popped up on the screen from different numbers. He kept glancing to it, and so did I.
I grabbed his hand before he could pick up the phone. “What does it mean?”
Another text vibrated his phone, and I removed my hand to read it.
We both looked at each other then.
“It means, we need to come up with a new plan fucking quick.” He stepped on the gas, forcing the car back to our condo as fast as possible.