“Why? WHY?!” Anger was the heaviest. The most prominent. I was so damned mad he left us. Me. He left me. In the time I needed his support and love the most, killing Johnathan fucked with my head for weeks afterward. I had to move in with Neil just to get any sleep to keep me sane.
“I don’t have a lot of time to explain,” he pushed his way into the hut and shut the door. “Turn out the light.” I did with shaking hands. He surprised me by embracing me so tightly, my back hurt. He hugged me as he may actually lose me again.
“Why Howie? What did we do?” my whisper was hardly heard over his own sniffles that he pushed away quickly.
“The Irish, they’re pissed at Neil for getting into bed with us Italians specifically. We’re a real threat to them now. Whereas before it was only the Russians they’d keep an eye on. Well, the car crash last year, it was not Johnathan as we thought. I got intel it was them after Gray looked further into it. They thought I was you in the truck that night, they want you dead. So I faked my death, hoping losing one of us would satisfy them till things calmed down for you and Alex.” I shook my head as he told me this, taking the onslaught of information as best I could.
“You didn’t have to do it this way. Who else knew? No way Alex knows. He’s still struggling, Howie. Bad.” The pain flashed over his face as he ran his hands down my arms trying to calm my shell-shocked body. We went and sat on the couch side by side.
“Gray knows. He’s been keeping me updated about you all. He obviously didn’t know about the trip here or I would have laid low.” he chuckled ironically and it twisted the dagger in my heart just a bit more. “And Shamus. He helped me fly out the same night... Well, you know.” I slowly nodded, it added up. Shamus never showed up to have family dinner with us as Neil said he would. We thought he had just passed out after being shot and such a long day.
“Well, what do I do now Howie? How can I just leave in two days knowing you’re here hiding from the goddamn Irish?” my voice wavered but we needed a plan. I wouldn’t just continue to pretend he was dead. He deserved to live, home, with his family.
“I’ve got to talk to Neil. I just needed to wait for him to leave in case he had a tail. Which he does so be careful what you say until you both are home again.” I agreed and just stared at my brother sitting next to me. He had changed so much and yet, not at all. His beard was thick and coarse. He never had one before. It was Alex’s look. He liked to be clean shaved for the ladies.
“Does Stephanie know?” he sighed heavily and shook his head. My heart hurt for them both. “Just come home.” my second wave of tears betrayed my voice and I just whispered.
“I can’t, not yet. You and Neil-” The door to the hut opened and Neil walked in holding a bunch of flowers and his paperwork. They both quickly met the floor as petals and papers scattered the entryway. He drew his gun from his waistband and threw me a protective glance.
“Who the fuck are you?” I stood and put my hands out in front of me to calm my angry Irishman. His voice was stern and laced with aggression.
“It’s Howie, Neil. Put the gun down. Please.” he kept it trained on Howie a moment longer before I put myself between him and my brother. He lowered the gun and laid it on the kitchen table. He took me in his arms and let out a long calming breath.
“It’s a lot to just drop on you like this, on vacation I’m sorry Neil. This is not how I wanted anyone to find out. Especially her.” His apology was genuine and he rose to his feet to offer a handshake, a sign of peace.
Neil grabbed his hand and pulled him in for a hug too. The guys slapped each other’s backs and mumbled a few words I couldn’t make out. Neil offered to sit at the kitchen table and I drew the curtains shut after peeking out, making sure no one was nearby listening.
“The Irish are pissed, as I’m sure you know.” Neil gave a nod and laced his fingers with mine, a sweet gesture I’d never get sick of. “They were the ones who ran me off the road last year. We thought it was Johnathan but Gray has been digging for me, using his guy in the DEA for details on their doings lately. They’ve been quiet. Unusually so and it’s got me worried. I’m staying here to lay low but you two need to leave. Like tomorrow. Get hold of Shamus and Rue, work something out to have more protection at home. Encourage Alex to do the same.” I chewed the inside of my lip and Neil gave my hand a squeeze to get me to stop, at this rate it would bleed.
“What am I supposed to tell him?” Howie hung his head and didn’t respond immediately. He knew the kind of pain Alex was in, what he had caused.
“The truth. When the time is right, don’t lie to him as I did…” I pulled my hands from Neil and took Howie’s instead. The act brought some comfort to his twisted face that was holding back tears. “You guys have to leave. Tonight if you can. The sooner you’re both back in Somerville the better. I’ll keep in touch through Gray. I don’t want any trace back to you Lo.” I nodded and wiped a tear away before looking at Neil.
“Tonight?” he gave a short nod and took his phone from his pocket, excusing himself from the room.
“I don’t want to leave you.” he forced a smile for me and kissed my hands. I relished the feeling of being so close to him for what could be a while still before I see him again.
“I know. You have to. You have to go on like you don’t know. We will figure it out in time. I love you, little chick.” My eyes welled with tears again and Neil returned from his phone call.
“The plane will be ready when we arrive. Loreinna, go pack. I need to speak with Howie alone.” I wanted to take offense to being shooed off like I was too delicate to hear the conversation. But I didn’t want to. I knew it was bad news and I was already emotionally exhausted for today.
As I unpacked the dressers and bathroom Howie and Neil spoke at the kitchen table.
“The Irish aren’t just spreading rumors. If they’re out for Loreinna, they’ll find a way to get her. Tell me what you know.” Neil’s grey eyes were dark and furious at the thought of his own organization betraying him. There was never any ill blood between them and the Italians which is what left him with a clear conscience to pursue Loreinna to begin with. “If there is a problem here I will handle it personally, I just need a name. Does your guy know who sent the hit to take out your truck? What else happened? I know that wasn’t enough to push you to fake your own death. You’re not a coward Howie.” Howie sighed and ran a hand down his beard. He knew the answer wouldn’t make him happy.
“It was Curran. John Curran. My guy says he was booked last year on international drug charges but escaped custody. They still haven’t found him. The Irish police are keeping out of it, they’re all in his pocket.” Neil’s jaw clenched over and over as Howie went on. “They said he was mad about you walking away from The Real Irish and moved to an American woman to taint the line.” Neil had kept his time dealing drugs across the pond hush from the Rossi’s and of course, Curran would out him without even having to open his mouth.
“Howie, I don’t mule anymore. It’s not what my family wanted, that’s why Shamus brought us here. My father and I.” Howie nodded and didn’t ask any more questions.
“I don’t care about the muling. I care about Loreinna and that you will keep her safe. Swear to me.” Howie stood and held out his hand for Neil. He followed suit and took the Italian’s hand in his own, firmly shaking it. Promising without words that he would die for Loreinna.
“I’m done if you two are I mean.” I rounded the corner and caught the two men shaking hands, deadly dark eyes locked together. They had made some sort of agreement and were in the midst of the cool off.
“We are, Love. Let's do one more walk-through before we go, I don’t think leaving anything behind would serve us well.” I nodded as he went to the bedroom to look behind me and I flew into Howie’s arms. He was ready for it and caught me, squeezing me tighter if even possible.
“We will see each other again, Lo. I promise. We just have to sort out this mess.” I nodded and tucked my nose into his chest, hiding my sniffles. “I love you,” he whispered into my ear as Neil returned with my book and a few hairpins.
“I love you.” he shook Neil’s hand again and left us alone. My little bit of strength crumbled as I watched him leave. Again. But this time I knew he’d be back. Alive and well.
“Let’s get out of here before I can’t leave at all.” Neil nodded and grabbed our bags and headed for the rental car.