He wanted to kill him. The need tingled within him and had him itching to reach for a gun. There was only one thing stopping him from putting a bullet in the man’s skull, and that was her. He had promised her. And he couldn’t afford to break this promise or indeed any promise he made to her. He knew the consequences of not having her in his life and nothing, no matter how it irked him having this man draw breath, was worth losing her.
The man glanced in his direction and watched him. He wasn’t hiding his murderous intent from Jose, nor from anyone in the room. He radiated it and that was probably why everyone was giving him plenty of space. And why Jose was looking at him like one would watch a snake.
“Why am I still alive?” Jose asked without taking his eyes off Felix, “He knows, and yet I am still breathing, why?”
“Yes, he knows,” Emma spoke without turning from Jose, “You heard what Juan said. So, you also know that you were sent here to die.”
“Of course,” Jose nodded, “He sent me here for the same reason why you did not wish me to be here. I represent a weakness to you. You knew that this man would not stop until I was dead once he knew we were lovers.”
A snarl came from Felix’s chest that could not be restrained. Emma’s back tensed but she did not turn to look at him. He balled his fists tighter but did not move. Jose twisted his head as if curious to see his reaction.
“I must admit,” Jose continued to watch Felix, “I am flattered. I knew of my feelings towards you during our affair, of my genuine affection for you, but I did not expect you thought of it as anything more than just sex. I see that I was wrong.”
Felix felt his feet move before he could contain his fury. He felt like a zombie. His feet involuntarily shuffled towards the man he needed to kill more than he needed air in his lungs. It was if an invisible rope was pulling him towards his intended victim.
Emma stood and turned to look at him. His fists were raised but she was standing before him. He pulled himself to a stop, but he was shaking with the effort.
“Emma,” he hissed through his clenched teeth.
“Felix,” she whispered as she placed her hand on his chest and leaned it to whisper to him, “Don’t.”
“Impressive,” Jose cocked his head, “I would not believe it if I had not seen it.”
“Jose,” it was Emma’s turn to growl as her hand placed more pressure on Felix’s chest to stop him from leaning forward any further, “Do you want to die? Because the only reason why you still draw breath is because I have convinced him that you have value.”
“Value? If you think I will betray Cordoba, then you should release your dog now.”
“I am no dog,” Felix snarled.
“You have a tight leash,” Jose smirked, “Obey your master, and you yap like a puppy.”
“Enough,” Emma raised her voice, “Felix, take a seat or leave the room, I will not allow you to kill him, at least not yet.”
“Woof,” Jose tossed the insult.
“And Jose,” Emma glared over her shoulder at him, “If you are to die then I will ensure that it is not as quickly and as painlessly as Felix here has planned. You might antagonize him in the hope of a clean death but if you continue you will only succeed in angering me.”
Jose shrugged but was silent. Felix pushed himself backwards and away from the man. Emma eyes were on him, and they held a promise. He sat down in the chair that was on the far side of the room and turned away from her soft suggestive smile. He wanted what she was implying but that desire was only barely enough to silence the screaming voice in his head. He closed his eyes and tried to envisage the cords on his wrists.
“Jose,” her voice was clipped and business like, “I understand that you would never betray Cordoba. I find that honorable. What I ask from you is to define Cordoba? What is Cordoba?”
“Cordoba is my family,” Jose seemed perplexed by the question.
“Actually, it is my family,” she mumbled not contradicting him but making a casual correction, “Is the head of Cordoba not my paternal grandfather? Did he not build his empire for his sons and his descendants?”
“Yes,” Jose said, “But that does not mean they are not like family to me.”
“Like family,” she noted, “Is not family.”
“It is if they saved your life, gave you meaning and provided for you,” he growled.
“They gave you meaning?” she raised an eyebrow but not her voice, “If the meaning you were given was the death of your father, then Juan has just admitted to manipulating the facts to ensure that, like you, your own sons would be beholden to him. The meaning you speak of was a lie.”
Jose shrugged by the lines on his forehead deepened.
“You have been sent here to die,” she said, “So that your sons would be indebted to Juan and take your place.”
“My father died in the service of Cordoba,” Jose lifted his chin, “Just as I will.”
“Are you sure about that?” she asked, “Juan will tell your that they owe Cordoba and to take revenge on the Byrnes for your ‘death’ irrespective of what transpires here today. So, I ask you, do you really know how your father died? Was it really for a the good of Cordoba or was it for the good of Juan?”
“They are the same,” Jose turned away, “Juan is Cordoba.”
“Juan told me that my uncle Diego died as a result of his addition to the product,” she looked at her hands, “Do you know how he really died? Do you know what truly who was responsible for the death of both of Juan’s sons?”
“Juan would never,” Jose stopped himself, “He is Cordoba and I have no right to question his word.”
“Both Juan’s heirs died,” she exhaled, “Under questionable circumstances. The next in line, my sister died as a direct result of Juan’s meddling. And now he will send his assassins after me because I have done exactly what he asked me to do, up to a point.”
Jose lifted an eyebrow at that.
“He twists the truth,” she signed, “He planned on manipulating me to reignite a war. Just as he threatened my sister and brought about her death and, in doing so, gave away my father’s identity to Patric Byrne. He knew that Carlos would be exposed and have no choice but to return to Cordoba. He orchestrated this war to force his son back under his thumb. And when that backfired on him then he used the war to strengthen his own position.”
“What does it matter?” Jose looked away, “It is history now.”
“It matters because it is my present and my future,” She stopped herself and took a deep breath, “He has my son, my Eli, and I am next for his executioner. Do you truly believe that my death will benefit Cordoba? This is not the actions of a sane leader preparing for a clean succession at the end of his reign. These decisions are that of a frail man who is desperate to hold onto his power at the expense of the organization he doesn’t care about anymore.”
Jose dropped his eyes to the floor.
“I am not Cordoba too?” she asked, “It is my bloodline, is it not? What have I done that justifies my elimination? When have I acted in a manner that would jeopardize or shame the organization? Falling in love with Felix is not a threat but an alliance, an end to hostilities. It should be a cause of celebration.”
Jose huffed his disagreement.
“I understand your personal issues,” she smiled, “But if you look at the bigger picture you have to admit that this union will only strengthen Cordoba, it does not weaken it.”
“Maybe,” Jose reluctantly admitted.
“Juan made this decision to take my child and exclude me from my birthright, not this does not benefit Cordoba,” she continued, “And now he has decided to entrust my birthright in the hands of my son, a baby. He is an old man. Who inherits the leadership should he not be capable? The child cannot. Who will guide both Cordoba and Eli, should Juan not be able?”
“We both know the answer to that question,” Jose’s jaw clenched, “I have no love for Rodrigo but if Juan trust him then that should be enough.”
“Rodrigo will kill Eli to cement his power within Cordoba,” she inhaled and her face reflected her pain, “Rodrigo is too ambitious to be placed in that position.”
“I do not know what you expect me to say,” Jose sighed, “I am a soldier not a general. I follow orders and I am loyal. A soldier’s role is to fight, to die, and to never question.”
“You are more than a soldier,” she laughed, “You are a loyal son of Cordoba not a mindless soldier. You have acted on behalf of Cordoba and have used your intelligence, resourcefulness, and good judgement in furthering the organizations efforts. You have the ability and the right to question who is giving the orders.”
“Again, I am flattered by your high opinion of me,” Jose smiled, “But I fail to see where this is heading. I am loyal and will not betray Cordoba.”
“I am not asking you to betray Cordoba,” she smiled, “I am asking you to question if Cordoba is the will on one man who is on a personal vendetta, who has kidnapped my child, and who is placing the future in uncertain hands, or is it something more than that? I am asking if Cordoba could be my right of inheritance?”
“What you want me to say,” Jose frowned, “Is not within my power. I will not wage war against Cordoba. I will not kill my brothers and plot to overthrow Juan.”
“I respect that,” she said, “And I am not asking you to do that. I am asking you to use your own judgement in deciding your future.”
“You speak like I have a future,” he glanced at Felix, “Your dog will bite me once it’s leash is loosened.”
“When you were sent here you were told to obey my orders and that has not changed,” she ignored his comment, “I need you to continue as my bodyguard and trusted man.”
“You what?” Felix spat from across the room.
“I need your protection from all the threats against me.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Felix snarled.
“Yes,” Jose’s face broke into a grin, “I see. You want me to continue my role and answer to you as per my original instructions.”
“And I need to trust that you will stay loyal to me,” she signed, “And only me, even once Juan learns you are alive.”
“I serve Cordoba,” Jose said slowly, “And you have given me much to think about.”
“You don’t need him,” Felix was standing and yelling, “I will protect you.”
“If it is your wish then I will continue to protect you,” Jose glanced at Felix, “But I will not take orders from him and I will protect you from him and his men if I see a threat.”
“Like hell you will,” Felix balled his fist, “I’d like to see you try.”
“And, if am to do this then you must understand that I will not willing operate against Cordoba,” Jose continued, “I will not divulge secrets or strategize war.”
“But if they attempt to assassinate me?” she asked.
“If anyone, Cordoba or Byrne,” he glanced at Felix, “Aim to harm you then I will do my duty to you.”
“Fuck off,” Felix hands were searching for his gun again, “What the fuck is this about, Emma?”
“Felix,” she breathed and finally turned to him, “You were right when you said that if I go into this life I will be forever in danger. I need someone who I trust to be my bodyguard who answers only to me. I need someone who is loyal to me above all others.”
“He isn’t that guy,” Felix threw a hand in the direction of the man he wanted to skin alive, “He’ll betray you to Juan in less than five minutes flat.”
“I don’t think so,” she glanced at Jose, “I trust him.”
“Just because you’ve fucked him doesn’t make him trustworthy,” Felix spoke through his teeth, “He has no reason to be loyal to you.”
“You’re one to speak,” Jose huffed a laugh, “How much should she trust you?”
“I’m going to fucking blow his fucking brains out.”
“Felix,” she said with her hand resting on his chest, “Do you trust me? Do you trust my judgement?”
“I trust him about as far as the splatter radius of his brain matter,” he glared at Jose, “I’m happy to demonstrate just how far that is.”
“Well, I trust him,” she smiled, “Jose will not betray me. He will protect me with his life, not because we had sex and not because he hates you, he will do it because I am right, and he knows it.”
“He didn’t even answer your question about Juan,” Felix turned to her, “If you have him as your bodyguard then I won’t be able to protect you should he betray your trust.”
“He won’t do that,” she smiled, “And if it helps matters then I will have one of your men on my detail too. I am doing this because of all the men available, I know Jose and I trust him most with my safety. I need you to see this so that you can operate without fear for my life. You need to be at your peak if we are going to get our son back and you can’t do that if you’re worried about me.”
Felix glared at Jose but he knew he was beaten. She was right. He had to know she was safe, and although he didn’t trust Jose to keep his hands to himself, he did know that he would protect her with his life. Juan might sway him or entice him to betray her, but that was true of all of the men. His men were loyal to him, but they didn’t know her, and didn’t trust Cordoba, so if they were blackmailed or bribed there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t kill her. Afterall Bruno was trusted and look what he did.
“Martin,” she must have seen his resignation and she turned to the other man in the room.
“Don’t need to convince me,” he answered immediately, “I’ve always like you, so sign me up.”
“Fabulous,” Felix groaned, “Now there’s two of them.”