Damn time. It always picks the most inconvenient moments in life to decide to suddenly stand still.
My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty and I was pretty damn sure I was going to pee my pants again. I could not catch a break over the last two days and just when I thought this night couldn’t possibly get any worse, we throw another lurking killer into the dark corner.
I was beginning to wonder if fighting the inevitable was worth the trouble I seemed to be going through. Death was likely to be much more mundane compared to sprays of bullets and dead bodies at my feet.
But let’s be honest. I was young, at the prime of my life, and frankly, pissed off like hell that someone was making it their goal in life to end mine. And since mama didn’t raise no fool, I did the smart thing.
I opened the door and screamed for help.
Well, that had been the plan anyways. Of course, as I was learning over the past couple of days, life didn’t really seem to give a damn above my plans.
A hand clamped over my mouth at the same time the door suddenly slammed shut. An arm snaked around my waist, pulling me back before I could even process what was happening. I fell back against a solid wall. Well, what felt like a wall, and like before, instinct took over and I kicked and punched with every ounce of energy left in my body, hoping that I could break free for just a second to alert Ghost to our visitor. Unfortunately for me, my would-be-killer (What was this, #3? Man I will need some serious therapy if I live through this) seemed to anticipate my every move and managed to do a thorough job of blocking everything I threw at him.
With one option left, I did the only thing I could.
I bit him.
The hand immediately disappeared, followed by an expletive mumbled under breath. The arm released me and I fell against the bed, unprepared for the sudden drop.
I opened my mouth to scream.
“That’s fighting dirty, Princess.”
I clamped my mouth shut.
Only one person had ever called me Princess.
“Kade,” I whispered, trying to locate him in the dark.
A shadow moved past the window and seconds later, a soft light lit the room as the bedside lamp was turned on.
Kade stood in front of the window. He was wearing a black t-shirt and dark jeans. His hair was damp, like he had just gotten out of the shower.
I looked him over from head to foot, and with the exception of a white bandage peeking out from beneath his shirt sleeve, he didn’t seem to have a scratch on him.
“How did you…When…I thought…,” I stammered, completely dumbfounded.
He watched me silently for a moment before walking slowly around the bed until he stood in front of me.
I hadn’t even realized I had been crying again until he wiped a few traitorous tears from beneath my eyes.
“You okay?” he asked quietly.
I searched his face for any kind of explanation of what happened, but as usual he was masking his emotions.
And then out of nowhere, I was hit with an anger so strong, so raw and unrelenting, I didn’t know what to do.
“I thought you were dead!” I yelled suddenly, pushing on his chest.
He fell back two steps with a surprised looked. Either he hadn’t been expecting the anger, or he hadn’t been expecting the sudden force behind my push (admittedly, neither had I).
Considering I was talking about Kade, I was betting on the latter. The Kade I knew seemed to know exactly what I was thinking and feeling as they occurred. No doubt he knew that his sudden reappearance after his presumptive death would eventually piss me off.
“I have been crying for the past hour because I thought you were dead. I have been letting guilt and anguish eat at me for leaving you behind!” I yelled, poking him in the chest with my finger. “How could you do that to me? To us? Ghost was murderous at the very idea of leaving you behind and no matter how much I begged he wouldn’t go back because he said he had an order to follow. How could you put all of us through that?!”
I was running out of steam. The little bit of adrenaline that had spiked at his sudden reappearance was crashing with every passing second.
“How could you do that?” I asked again as fresh tears ran down my cheeks.
He reached out, and grabbed my arms.
I tried to fight back, to push him off, but I didn’t have the strength or the desire to fight him.
He pulled me towards him and enveloped me in a hug. I pounded his chest with my fists, yelling incoherent things as I cried. He remained silent, rubbing my back and letting me scream and wail.
After a few minutes, my sobs and sniffles stopped, but Kade continued to hold on to me. He always seemed to know exactly what I needed at the moment I needed it. I both loved and hated the idea that he knew me so well considering we didn’t know each other at all, but I would be lying to myself if I said that I wasn’t feeling a connection to him that I hadn’t felt with anyone else before.
A few more minutes passed before I finally gained my composure. I was unbelievably tired and drained, but the idea of sleep didn’t appeal to me at the moment.
Kade let go of me, taking a step back and watching me closely.
“Feel better?” he asked.
I swiped at my face, wiping away tears and snot in the most unladylike fashion.
“A little,” I said. “But I would feel a hell of a lot better if you let me kick you square in the nuts right now.”
He frowned at me and took another step back.
“Is this some sort of new therapy I should be aware of?” he asked.
“No,” I said, flopping down on the bed, “but it would make me feel better.”
He gave me a strange look before sitting down beside me.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a minute of awkward silence. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Epic fail,” I said, looking over towards him.
He smiled. “Guess so.”
“I don’t understand,” I said quietly. “What exactly is going on?”
He sighed and sat forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. The sigh and closed off body language told me that I was only going to get answers to questions I asked. He wasn’t going to volunteer any information he didn’t deem necessary.
“After you bolted this afternoon, it wasn’t hard to figure out you had probably overheard part of my private conversation,” he replied with emphasis.
I looked down at my hands in embarrassment.
“It was a pretty safe bet that you would go to Sam. From what I know about you, you’re not that close to your family so she was the natural choice. I didn’t want to spook you any further so I stayed back. Figured when you were ready to talk to me, you’d find me.”
“And you figured that I would go to Partridge Manor to find you?”
He shook his head.
“Not initially. I figured you would come back to the apartment at some point after everything was cleaned up, but you didn’t show. Since you don’t have my number, it was the next logical place, though I had really hoped I was making the wrong assumption about you.”
“What assumption was that?” I asked with a furrowed brow.
“The assumption that you don’t know how to keep out of trouble,” he said, looking over his shoulder me.
Demonstrating my restraint, I didn’t reply. I didn’t demonstrate my maturity however and stuck my tongue out at him.
“Before you arrived, I briefed Ghost on what he could expect when he met you. You didn’t fail to meet his expectations.”
I bit my cheek to avoid repeating my earlier childish outburst.
“How did you know we were there?” I asked instead.
He laughed and shook his head.
“Subtle the two of you are not,” he said simply. “Ghost arrived first and spotted your car. I was about two minutes from the house when he called to let me know you were there.”
“Did you guys know that someone else was in the house?”
His smile disappeared as he shook his head.
“Unfortunately, no. Ghost was instructed to keep an eye on the two of you until I arrived. Ordinarily we would sweep the house first, but Ghost kept to his orders and stayed where he could see you. He had stumbled over Winters as soon as he got in the house so he was making sure he kept the two of you in clear sight.”
“I believe you referred to him as Unknown Dead Guy,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said quietly. “Who was he?”
Kade sighed and stretched his legs out in front of him.
“Winters was the one in your apartment the morning we met.”
I looked at him in confusion. “You mean he’s the asshole who trashed my apartment and hit me over the head?”
He nodded. “The one and the same.”
“Bastard,” I mumbled under my breath.
Kade let out a little chuckle.
We sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment before my curiosity started getting the better of me.
“How did you know I was in the house? When I got there, the two of you had been together in the living room?” I asked quietly.
“Silent alarm,” he said simply. “You triggered it once you stepped onto the porch.”
“There’s an alarm system in that house?” I asked incredulously.
He shook his head. “No. It was a small infrared trip line I stuck to the doorway when I walked in. It sent an alert to the monitor on my wrist.”
I looked down at his wrist.
He had a big black complicated looking watch on his right arm. Considering all the diodes and faces, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he could launch the space shuttle with that thing.
“So then what,” I prompted.
He sat back and stretched out his neck.
“You know the rest,” he said simply.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said sternly.
He turned to look at me, raising his brow in question.
“Don’t you dare suddenly decide to stop being so forthcoming. I want to know what the hell happened back there.”
He sighed and resumed his previous position.
“What happened after we all got outside?” I asked.
“Basic training 101,” he said. “Never assume.”
I waited for him to elaborate but he didn’t.
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked frustrated.
“We heard the car engine, but it wasn’t safe to assume he had left completely either. If it had been me, I would have double backed and taken up position in the wooded area in front of the house and picked us off one by one as we left.”
“Which is exactly what he did,” I said quietly. “How could you have known that was what was going to happen?”
He was quiet a little loo long before finally answering.
“It’s all part of that dark side I warned you about,” he said quietly.
Something told me he didn’t really want to talk about that right now so I didn’t push it.
“So you expected gun fire,” I said, leading the conversation back.
He nodded. “We expected some sort of ambush, just not the one we got at first.”
I smiled at the thought of Sam hauling ass over the car and crashing down on Ghost as she tried to beat him senseless with an umbrella.
“What happened after that?” I asked.
He rubbed his hands over his face. “Sam took everyone off guard. None of us, including our sniper friend, expected to be ambushed at the car, which is the only reason he didn’t shoot us when he had the chance.”
“Sam can be a bit unpredictable,” I said with an apologetic smile.
“She actually saved our ass, if you want the truth.”
I gave him a surprised look. “How?”
“Our sniper buddy knew you two were there. He must have been watching for a while from inside the house. He didn’t fire at us immediately after leaving the house because we were short one and he couldn’t take the chance of Sam getting away and alerting authorities. He had to wait until we were all together if his plan was going to work, which is why he started firing on us after we realized it was Sam trying to bash Ghost’s skull in.”
“Wow. Thank God Ghost had parked right out front.”
“It wasn’t luck,” he replied. “Ghost intentionally left his truck out in the open to block your exit. If someone started shooting at us, we needed cover.”
I chewed my lip for a moment.
“Ghost said he had orders. When I begged for him to go back, he told me no because he had been given orders. What was he talking about?”
“Ghost was under order to get you and Sam out of there if all hell broke loose and not to deviate from the plan. His first priority was to make sure the both of you were safe at all times. My job was to provide cover fire while he got you out of there. Draw him out if I could. Once I was certain you guys were clear, I aimed wide. With the limited visibility, he couldn’t see much, but enough to get the general location of where I was. Next time he fired, I knew he would aim for the last location he had seen the muzzle fire. I led him enough to graze me. After I was hit, I fell back and played dead.”
“You mean you used yourself as bait?” I asked horrified.
He looked over at me and shrugged.
“Not a big deal,” he said.
I bit back my initial response, which was to tell him what a dumbass idea it was and to call him every idiotic name in the book.
“So what exactly was your plan after you played dead?” I asked.
“Wait him out. Eventually he would need to confirm I was dead, or finish me off.”
“And then what?” I asked quietly, afraid to know the answer.
He stood up and walked over to door, crossing his arms as he leaned against it.
“Details aren’t important. Let’s just say that our mystery attacker and sniper are one and the same and we don’t have to worry about him finding you here.”
I swallowed down the bile that had risen in my throat at the thought of what he had done.
“How do you know he didn’t have a partner? Someone that followed us, or you, back here?”
He pierced me with an intense gaze.
“Guns for hire don’t work in packs,” he said matter of fact. “They loss all autonomy and it cuts into their pay day. When a million dollars is on the line, no one’s going to take the risk.”
“A million dollars?” I asked shocked. “Someone paid him a million dollars to shoot at us?”
Kade shook his head slowly.
“No. Someone paid him a million dollars to shoot you.”