“Dead,” I repeated in disbelief.
I was frozen in place by his latest story twist.
“How can he be dead?” I asked, staring at Kade in disbelief. “He was shooting at me two minutes ago. How can Deathly Blond be dead? How do you know?”
Kade didn’t reply, but held on to my shoulders, gripping them a little tighter in an effort to prevent me from hitting the floor. He must have recognized my natural inability to stand on my own two feet was kicking in. My legs were jelly and I was certain I would have been flat on my face in mere seconds if he wasn’t providing some leverage.
He watched me silently, telegraphing a message that my over taxed brain was just not able to decipher.
“Sit down before you fall down,” he said finally, pushing me back toward the couch and carefully shoving me down until my butt was firmly planted on the cushion.
He took a step back and stood with his hands on his hips.
For a guy quite adapt at hiding his feelings, a thousand different thoughts and emotions seemed to be flittering across his face. I could tell without asking that he was trying to assess how much to tell me or how left in the dark I should stay. I had already dealt with more than my fair share of issues today. Being lied to, or partially told the truth to, wasn’t going to sit well with me.
“Just tell me,” I said quietly as my eyes pleaded with him to tell me the truth. “I’m a big girl. Despite what you think, I can handle it.”
He stared up at the ceiling, probably praying for divine intervention or for God to give him strength dealing with a woman that managed to attract trouble as though the end of the world were creeping at her door.
He said nothing for a full minute and I could feel the panic start to well up inside.
I already knew the answer to the question that was whirling around in my head, but I wouldn’t be satisfied until I heard him say it himself.
“Did you kill him?” I asked quietly, suddenly surprised by how afraid I was of Kade but also confusingly comforted by the fact he had probably killed the man who had been hell bent on killing me first.
He looked back at me and sighed heavily.
“Are you sure you want the answer to that?” he asked. “I warned you before; there are dark things about me you can’t even begin to imagine. Asking that question will only open a door you may not be able to close.”
Okay, as far as deathly ominous warnings go I give it an A+. He officially had me scared shitless and without evening knowing why I should be.
“A man I don’t even know just shot up my shower, and I think it’s safe to assume he did it because he thought I was in it at the time. And when that didn’t work out well, he walked up to me and aimed a gun at my head, smiling because he was enjoying himself. I’ve already gotten a very rude introduction into the world of dark things, so why don’t you spare me the bullshit and just tell me the truth.”
I was shocked at my own sudden bravado. A sudden flash of anger came over me so suddenly, so fierce, that I don’t even know where it came from.
From the cocked brow on Kade’s face, I think he was wondering the same thing.
He watched me for a moment then took a seat on the ottoman facing me so that our knees touched.
“No, I didn’t kill him,” he said quietly.
Okay. Not the answer I expected.
“Then how did he die?”
He sighed. “He killed himself.”
Say what now?
“I don’t understand,” I replied, completely and utterly confused.
Kade leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. He intertwined his fingers, cracking them loudly before rubbing his hands over his face.
“How did he kill himself?” I asked when I saw that an answer wasn’t going to be so simply forthcoming.
He took a deep breath and met my gaze.
“He shot himself,” he replied simply, as if he were talking about some stupid television plot line and not my actual life.
“He wasn’t intending to. He just happened to be on the wrong end when he decided to pull the trigger.”
I swallowed down the bile that suddenly was rising in my throat.
Sadly, the first thought that suddenly flittered through my brain was of the mess that was now my bathroom and how like Lady Macbeth, it would never been clean again.
“So there’s a dead guy in my bathroom?”
“Shower actually,” he corrected.
“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” I said, stuck on repeat.
I put my head between my legs to keep myself from hyperventilating.
“Relax Princess,” Kade said, rubbing my back. “He’s no longer a threat. You should be relieved.”
“Relieved,” I shouted, jumping up from my fetal position. “What the hell do I have to feel relieved about? The guy who just tried to kill me is now lying dead in my shower. I have a body in my shower! What the hell am I supposed to tell the police? What am I supposed to say to my family? And where the hell am I ever going to shower again because I sure as hell can tell you it won’t be in the room that is currently occupied by a DEAD GUY!”
Hysterical level reached.
“Relax,” Kade repeated. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of it,” I shouted, throwing my hands in the air as I started pacing around the room. “Take care of it? How are you going to take care of it exactly?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, turning slightly to follow my disorientated trail around his living room.
“How in the hell can I not worry about?” I asked, stopping mid stride and turning to face him. “A guy is dead in my apartment. The guy who tried to kill me just minutes before he accidentally managed to shoot himself in my shower. How can I not worry about it?”
“Let me deal with the cleanup. Right now I need you to focus on the more important issue at hand.”
“There’s a body in my shower. What could be more important?!”
“How about the fact that somebody wants you dead and went through a hell of a lot of trouble hiring a professional hit man to do it. Let’s start there.”
My mouth dropped open. “You think he was hired to kill me?”
He gave me a look that clearly said I was being an idiot at the moment.
“Think about it Addison. A guy you don’t know just happens to show up in broad daylight when the building is normally empty of all tenants. He manages to professionally pick the lock I just installed and just happens to know what you were doing at the exact moment. He was so damn confident you were in the shower at his precise moment of entry that he shot through the door rather than opening it and alerting you to his presence.”
His words washed over me like a cold shower.
“You think he’s a professional hit man,” I said, lowering myself to the couch and barely missing falling off by half an inch.
Kade turned back toward me, taking both of my cold hands in his and rubbing them gently before intertwining our fingers.
I stared blankly at our hands.
“Things would have been a hell of a lot worse if I hadn’t caught him off guard when I did,” he responded quietly. “Everything about this spells professional hit. So yes, I think someone hired a highly trained assassin to take you out. The question now is who and why.”
“You could be making the wrong assumption about all of this,” I said weakly. “It could all have been a coincidence or a case of mistaken identity.”
Kade squeezed my hand. “Not likely. The day and time of his attempt was a bold move, meaning he didn’t just choose it randomly. He came at a convenient time when normally no one else is around. It was a highly calculated move, which means he’s been studying you and your environment. Most people aren’t inclined to try to kill someone in broad daylight when the odds of being seen are usually stacked against them.
“Think about it. He knew exactly where you were, which means he was probably listening in or watching you somehow, probably with a small recording device that’s streaming to a laptop nearby, which is what I would have done. He knew enough about the residents here to know they would all be out during this time so it gave him the perfect opportunity to come and go unseen.
“He was able to expertly pick the reinforced locks I installed so he was definitely a professional but he was overly confident which made him messy. He used surgical gloves and sterile shoe covers so there would have been no physical trace of someone in the apartment, which was smart. But trying to take you out without entering the bathroom or being able to even see you was a rookie mistake. It would have been a good plan if he had waited just a few minutes longer.”
My head was spinning at everything he was confidently detailing.
“What does all of this mean?” I asked in confusion as I slowly pulled my hands away.
He sat back, never breaking eye contact.
“It means no physical evidence of your killer. No leads. No motive. It means you’re a cold case in a week and the rest of the world goes on living as if it never happened.”
My stomach started to churn and I was pretty certain I was not going to win the fight in keeping the Coke and bourbon from making a reappearance.
“How can you be so certain about all of this?” I asked, clutching my stomach as I willed it to settle back down.
His gaze sharpened, and he looked down at his empty hands before responding.
“Let’s just say that I have dealt with more than my fair share of dangerous assholes. After a while, you come to expect certain things.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” I said quietly. I was fighting a losing battle against my tears, and wiped them away shamelessly.
“I wish I had answers I could give you,” he responded simply.
I couldn’t say anything at that point. My stomach was upset, I was crying and at this moment, I wanted to fall into a peaceful oblivion and forget the last twenty four hours of my life.
Kade stood up and grabbed the blanket I had tossed to the side in my fit of hysteria. He draped it around my shoulders again, and grabbed a pillow from the end of the couch, placing it beside me.
“Lie down and get some rest. Between the adrenaline surge and the shock, your body is crashing. You’ll think more clearly once you’ve had some rest.”
I loved the fact that he seemed able to read my mind at that moment, so I gladly laid down, snuggling beneath the warm blanket that smelled faintly of his cologne.
“What if…” I started to protest.
Kade leaned down, and smoothed my hair back from my face.
“Don’t worry Addison. No one’s going to hurt you.”
I snuggled deeper into the blanket, a current of warmth running through me at Kade’s reassurance and gentleness.
He gave me a quick glance over his shoulder before wandering towards his bedroom, pulling out his cell phone and closing the door softly behind him.
I closed my eyes, willing myself to fall into a blissfully peaceful nothingness, but I couldn’t turn my brain off. Some of the things Kade had said were swirling around in my head, and a million questions came with each different swirl.
Kade had come to my rescue at just the right moment, getting the drop on my would-be killer with a loaded gun at his immediate disposal and gotten the upper hand that ultimately resulted in Deathly Blonds demise. The details were horrifying enough, but then he was so casual about it, so matter of fact, I wasn’t sure how to read into that. I mean seriously, no one should ever be that comfortable with the fact they killed someone. His detached demeanor was sending up red flags that I was having a hard time ignoring.
And then there was the offer to “take care of it” that bothered me, “it” being the dead body in my shower. (Ewwww!!) What the hell did he mean by “take care of it”? What would he do? How would he do it? The guy was big. How on earth would he get him out of the building unnoticed? Would he have to…You know what, scratch that. I don’t want to know. No normal person is equipped to handle something so macabre, so morbid, so…so…gross!
I could hear Kade speaking softly in the other room and I debated how nosey was possibly too nosey, but dammit, I wanted answer to things I clearly wasn’t going to get by simply asking. Well, actually he did offer, and included an ominous warning to go with it, but would he really tell me the truth? I mean, how would I know if he was lying? It’s not like I really knew him all that well. Sure, we had spent a little time together, but mostly it was discussing me and the mess that was my life. He rarely spoke about himself and when he did, he spoke in circles. He could give me a line of bullshit a mile long and I would never know.
What I did know was that he killed a man to protect me. I mean…he did, right? I hadn’t seen a body, hadn’t heard the gun, and only had his word to go off of. What if he and Deathly Blond knew each other? Was it weird that Kade just happened to be there the two times I was attacked in my own home?
A thousand bad situations ran rampant through my head until I could barely stand it anymore.
Tossing the blanket to the side, I tiptoed quietly over to the bedroom door, standing a few inches from it to avoid any potential embarrassing face plants. Not that that had ever happened to me before, but I had seen enough screwball comedies to know that’s generally how Nosey Nancy got caught.
He spoke in a hushed tone, but from where I was standing, I could hear most everything clearly.
“I don’t care,” he replied coldly. “That’s not the order.”
There was a pause. I assumed Unknown Voice on the other end of his call was speaking.
“I don’t give a shit. That’s the least of my concerns right now. Fucking Krieger just shot the place to hell. Our fucking timetable is off and I want to know why.”
“No, she’s fine,” Kade responded more calmly. “She got damn lucky this time. She’d be dead right now if I hadn’t been here. The woman attracts trouble like a magnet, but lucky for her she also appears to have nine fucking lives.”
There was another pause, longer this time.
He sighed. “That’s not an option. This is the second time she’s been attacked at home in the past two damn weeks.”
He was silent again, and I couldn’t tell if the call had ended or if Chatty Cathy on the other end was talking his ear off.
I started backing away from the door slowly, and in all hopes quietly, just in case the call had ended and Kade suddenly ventured back out into his living room. I wouldn’t be able to think of a quick enough lie to explain my sudden stalking outside his bedroom door should he suddenly appear, so I prayed that he stopped long enough to tie his shoes.
I made it about four steps back when his next words stopped me cold.
“Doesn’t sound like it. There’ve been other instances, but she claims they were accidents spanning over the past 3 months.”
Another damn pause.
“I don’t know. We didn’t expect that it would escalate this quickly.”
“He’s getting desperate. He thought he had time, but she threw a wrench in his plans so he’s no longer concerned with making it look like an accident.”
WTF? Who the hell was “he” and how in the hell did Kade know him? What the hell did “he” want from me? And why was he suddenly so intent on killing me?!
“It was clean. If she has it, it’s not in the apartment.”
“He didn’t. I checked it a few days before they tossed it. If he had it, Krieger wouldn’t have been necessary.”
Clean? Tossed? What was he talking about?
My head was reeling. He was talking like a character out of…out of…of…damn. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any good criminal movies to compare it to, but you get the picture.
“Find out what the hell is going on,” Kade said sternly, “and find out what other surprises he has in store. In the meantime, I need a cleaning crew to remove what’s left of Krieger before the authorities get wind and complicate matters further. And track down Ghost. Tell him to meet me at Partridge Manor at midnight.”
“I don’t think it will come to that, but I’d rather be prepared just in case.”
I had heard enough. Not to mention the fact that I was pretty certain he was ending his call so now was the time to get my butt back over to the couch before he came out and found me snooping.
I rushed over to the couch, slamming my toe against the foot of the ottoman. I bit back a string of swear words a mile long, and hobbled over to the couch, just landing with a whispered whoosh when the bedroom door opened.
I was winded with tears clouding my eyes. I needed to calm down before he grew suspicious. I feared he would know instantly I was up to something since clearly I wasn’t napping. That, and the fact I was freaking out like a caged animal.
As Kade approached, I looked to the front door with a wild eyed look of sheer panic, trying to gage the distant between it and me. Unfortunately the odds were stacked against me. I would never reach the front door before Kade reached me.
He walked out without a shirt and a towel draped around his shoulders. Considering he had been soaked when he entered the room, it was clear he must have been toweling off during his conversation. I was still on the verge of a complete meltdown, but I wasn’t dead, so I stole a quick, but very appreciative, glance of his beautifully sculpted body. Curse you traitorous hormones!
His blank expression turned to a look of concern as he got closer. He stopped a few feet short of where I sat, and sent a quick glance over his shoulder to the front door before looking back at me.
My heart was racing with all that I had overheard even though my brain knew logically I didn’t completely understand what hell was going on and I was probably jumping to some very huge conclusions. I had probably misunderstood the entire part of the one sided conversation I heard. I prayed that I was merely overreacting and willed myself to calm down and refrain from panicking, but I’ve never been one to really listen to my common sense.
“You okay?” Kade asked, stopping in front of me with a concerned look.
I didn’t answer. I was too afraid of what may come spilling out.
Kade Last Name Unknown, who I had actually come to trust (we’re just going to completely ignore the sexual attraction part) seemed to know my would-be-killer. Did that mean they were in on it together? Was I being played? Was he intending to kill me too? But why would he want to kill me after he killed my assailant all in an effort to help me escape? I
guess people have done crazier things. All I know is that the guy I had come to depend on in a relatively short time frame had a dark side darker than I would have imagined and I was afraid.
I nodded in response while biting my tongue to keep from screaming like a hapless damsel in distress..
He gave me a slow head to toe inspection, taking in what I could only assume was a complete look of dishevelment and fear.
“You sure?” he asked quietly.
He didn’t need to tell me I looked like I was guilty of something nefarious. I felt guilty and undoubtedly looked like a caged coyote ready to gnaw off my own foot if it meant my freedom.
“Panic attack,” I replied weakly.
He nodded in understanding. “Considering all that you’ve been through, that’s to be expected. You should still try to get some rest though. We need to figure out whose gunning for you before they decide to send someone else to try to finish the job.”
I nodded slowly.
“Okay,” was all I could think to respond with.
I grabbed the blanket, suddenly cold again, and laid down cautiously.
My body was exhausted and I could feel it giving in to the basic need of sleep, but my mind was too wired to give in.
I watched Kade silently as he walked back and forth through the apartment. He changed quickly into a dry set of clothes, and was lacing up a pair of well-worn black boots when his cell phone chirped.
He grabbed his phone from his pocket and glanced at the display quickly before turning off the screen and returning it to his pocket.
“Get some sleep,” he said, causing me to jump. “I’ll be back in a little while.”
My mind was a whirlwind of unprocessed information that I hadn’t even noticed that Kade had been aware that I had been watching him.
He grabbed a pair of keys he had tossed on the ottoman at some point and headed towards the door.
“Where are you going,” I blurted out.
He stopped with his hand on the door knob and looked over his shoulder.
“I have a mess I need to go clean up,” he replied calmly.
How he could be so calm when he was talking about the disposal of a body was beyond any comprehension. He wasn’t taking out the trash for God’s sake. A look of disgust, at a minimum, should have been his natural reaction.
“Get some sleep,” he replied quietly. “I’ll be back in a few. Keep the door locked.”
And with that, he was out the door.
I grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around my mostly bare chest and tiptoed over to the door seconds later. Looking through the peephole, and holding my breath just in case he had Vulcan hearing, I watched silently as Kade lead a team of four, all dressed in dark clothes, up the stairs to my apartment.
I counted to thirty before cracking the door open and peeking my head out to see if any stragglers were still lurking about.
Luck was on my side for once as the lobby and stairs all appeared empty.
And as I tend to do in most situations, I let my natural reaction overcome my common sense. Keeping my back pressed against the wall, I shimmied over quickly to the front door, checking once again for any more mysterious men in black.
Seeing none, I ran.